Expert Answer Forum
masturbation QUESTION from Priscilla Brewer October 12, 2000 Greetings,
I am a convert to the Catholic Church. Please help me decipher what I need to do.
When I was a little girl, I suffered sexual abuse at the hands of both my father and brother. These episodes usually took place at night, after I had already fallen asleep, I would be awakened by their advances. Without getting long-winded over other forms of abuse, I would like to add that my husband viewed sex as his right, and made no effort to secure my sexual pleasure. My husband and I have divorced and I have been alone for six years. Occasionally, during the night, I am awaken with strong sexual feelings; sometimes I masturbate and others not.
I told my priest of the frequency and the circumstances of my life, to which he said that in my case, masturbation was not a grave sin. However, I don't know if I need to continue to confess this when it happens? On the advice of my parish priest, I sought counseling. But it still happens.
I have been to confession with other priests, who, through their examination of details, have made similar comments. I am certain that they know what is best, but I am beginning to wonder if this is giving license to sin.
Two things have begun to develop, which I am uncertain if I need to confess or not. One, being I now have this overwhelming desire for punishment. Two, the desire to masturbate is not limited to arousing from sleep, ie daytime desires flood me.
I pray before I go to sleep for God's will, for St. Michael's protection, and for Mary to watch over me. Many times when I am awakened, I begin a prayer to Mary...then wake in the morning without incident.
There are other issues that I just don't know if they need to be confessed. I have found that when I am totally honest in the confessional, there seems to be great peace, not that I intentionally lie. But, in a way, I am. I mean, if I have masturbated and not confessed it, then I am lying, right? I am confused..the priest said it wasn't a grave sin. What should I do?
ANSWER by John-Paul Ignatius, O.L.S.M. on December 17, 2000 Dear Miss Brewer:
Thank you for your thoughtful and courageous question.
I work with people who have sexual addictions and problems. In fact, this website runs an online support group called the Catholic Support Group for Pornography Addiction Recovery. Although the name specifically mentions pornography, which is the subject the group was originally started for, it has evolved into helping people with all sorts, and any sort, of sexual addiction -- masturbation, adultery, fornication, homosexuality, etc.
Given your history, it is most likely that you are suffering from an addiction to masturbation. This is a common addiction. You are not alone. It is FAR more common among women than most people realize, but is a greater problem among men.
Nevertheless, due to the addiction, which was forced upon you by the sexual abuse, the priests have been wise in suggesting that this sin is most likely NOT a mortal sin. This is because your free will is impaired. In order for grave matter (which masturbation is) to be mortal sin, you must have full capacity of free will to commit the sin despite knowing that it is grave. You apparently are not able to make that free will decision because of the addiction.
Now, it should be said that I cannot determine for you whether the sin is mortal for you or not. I can only say that sexual addiction is one of those mitigating factors that prevents true freedom of will, thus a person's sin may be mitigated from mortal status to venial status, or in some cases maybe mitigated completely.
It is for your confessor and you to determine whether in YOUR case the situation is such that this sin is not mortal for YOU.
Apparently, your confessors have affirmed this.
Now, the question is what to do now?
Well, you need to stay close to God. Get involved in devotions such as a daily rosary, daily mass, adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. Keep yourself busy with devotion to God. Idle hands are the devil's workshop, as the old saying goes; so keep busy with work, with friends, and with devotion. Develop a devotion to St. Dymphna perhaps who is the patron saint of emotional and spiritual problems.
You need to pray some spiritual warfare prayers to eliminate any unsavory spirits around you. You can find a catalog of spiritual warfare prayers at: http://www.saint-mike.org/prayer/prayer_Forms/SW-Prayers.html
If you need help with these prayers you can write me at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Be sure to pray the prayer of Renunciation of Ancestral Sins. This is a prayer to close the door to any effects of the sins of your parents, grandparents, family.
Next, be sure to avoid the near occasion of sin -- in terms of anything that might incite you or tempt you, like certain kinds of movies, books, magazines, the beach, public swimming pools, dances, etc.
Pray a prayer of bedtime protection (included in the catalog linked above).
See a psychiatrist and ask him about medication for obsessive-compulsive behavior. Studies have shown that sexual addictions can sometimes be nearly cured if the serotonin and dopamine levels in the brain are properly balanced. The typical medication for Obsessive-compulsive behavior tends to level out serotonin. I know of people who had their sexual addiction to masturbation literally cured by doing this. But each case is unique, of course, there are no magic bullets.
As for feeling guilty about confessing knowing that you are likely to sin again. You need not be. Each time you go to confession you are sorry for your sins and WANT TO STOP. You ARE CONTRITE. That is what is required to have a good confession. You DON'T know for sure what the future holds even though you figure you will sin again.... The point is that you haven't sinned again until you do. Each sin is individual. Jesus said to forgive 70 times 70 times. Thus confess the sins you have committed. Don't worry about sins that you have not yet done. And if you sin again, then confess again, and again, and again.
Even though this sin may not be mortal due to your addiction, confession is a healing sacrament. You need to confess this sin, weekly if need be, knowing that each time you do, you are being washed clean and renewed with a new hope that maybe this time you'll make it. Let the future take care of itself.
Then if you sin again, confess again, be clean again. God understands and He loves you.
Let the confessional be your shower. Let the healing grace of God flow over you. Confession is not just for mortal sin. It is useful and efficacious for all sin, venial and mortal. It is our Lord wrapping his arms around us and crying with us as we repent and offer contrition and sorrow. He is holding us in His arms to comfort us and to restore us to cleanness and into full fellowship with Him once again. And the Lord NEVER gets irritated that we come back to confession week after week with the same sin.
If we are trying, if we are heart-broken over our addiction, God welcomes us again and again to the healing powers of confession -- and eventually, with God's grace, maybe the combination of the healing of confession, our devotional activities, and the other ways we try to resolve this problem we may find healing.
I will pray for you. Do not lose heart. You are not alone. God loves you.
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