The M Word

It’s not pretty, folks, but you knew it was going to show up here sooner or later, right? I’m talking about — I really don’t like the word — the big M, solitary vice, M-A-S-T-U-R-B-A-T-I-O-N.

Whew, that wasn’t so hard! Back when I was a wee lad, I glommed onto the fact that you didn’t have to say the word itself in confession. You just say “an impure act” and he says “with someone else or by yourself?” and you say “by myself” and you take your Hail Marys and you go and you swear never ever to do it again, not even if you really want to.

Lather, rinse, and repeat.

I don’t even remember where I got the phrase “an impure act,” but he knew what I meant. A friend in seminary tells me they specifically train you in common Confessional Euphemisms, as in: “Bless me father for I have sinned, I gave my boyfriend a birthday present.” (“But that’s not a sin! You’re a very thoughtful young woman.”)

Sort of strange that it should be so embarrassing to say, because I doubt I know a man who hasn’t done it. It might be because sexual matters lie very close to our hearts. Or maybe because it’s such an obvious failure: for Christians, a failure of chastity; for secularists, a failure of getting an actual woman (or man) to do the job.

I notice that lately, the Powers That Be are trying to deweirdify the phenomenon. Not an entirely wrongheaded goal, though their reasons for it certainly are. The idea abroad, just watch any sitcom, is that masturbation is healthy, masturbation is fine, nice people masturbate all the time. Here’s Planned Parenthood on the topic:

There are a lot of myths out there that masturbation is dirty, dangerous, or something to be embarrassed about doing. But the truth is, masturbation is a safe and healthy way to have sex, and it’s here to stay.1

Pardon me while I guffaw. Someone is very confused about what “having sex” means. They’d like to call everything “having sex.” I’d reverse it — what they call having sex, viz. wrapping yourself up in plastic to keep from making actual contact with your beloved, I call masturbation.

Tom Wolfe, reporting from the inside the wretched hive of scum and villainy that is a college frat house, relates2 this scene, in a similar vein, in I Am Charlotte Simmons:

Ivy Peters…appeared in the doorway and said, ‘Anybody got porn?’…This was not an unusual request. Many boys spoke openly about how they masturbated at least once every day, as if this were some sort of prudent maintenance of the psychosexual system.

The idea, I know, is that now that we’re all finally free of the rigid, puritanical, body-hating3 Catholic Church, we can do what we like and not make a big deal about it.

Now, there is actually something to this idea — at least the “not making a big deal about it” part. I remember reading in Healing the Unaffirmed4 about a man who was only able to stop his compulsive masturbation after being told by his therapist that it wasn’t that bad. And a friend has told me that, in order to deal with his problem with masturbation, he had to recognize that his usual cycle of (1) jerk off (2) descend into emotional self-flagellation (3) go to confession, was a kind of addiction in itself, sort of a binge-and-purge. The cycle can be broken by not giving in to temptation, but it can also be broken by not giving into self-hatred.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s a big deal, because all sin is a big deal; because our sexuality isn’t to be treated lightly; and because, even if you can’t get your head around it, you have to at least admit that the Catechism very clearly calls it “an intrinsically and gravely disordered action.”

Be mindful that the enemy always tempts us twice: first to sin, and afterwards to despair. If we could see clearly, we’d know how shameful every sin is, not just the obviously icky ones. But if we could see that clearly, we’d also know how much God loves us, and how ready He is to leave our sins, big and small, behind in the confessional, 100% forgotten.

1 For more Planned Parenthood goodies in their own words, see here.
2 A work of fiction, yes, but the scene has a ring of truth. I can’t recommend the book, by the way: I love Tom Wolfe, but I found this one unconvincing, pornographic, and depressing.
3 Pardon me while I guffaw again. If Catholics hated sex, we’d treat it like the secularists do: as a commodity, or just another need: like eating, scratching yourself, or farting.
4 I don’t remember much else about this book, so possibly it wasn’t that great. It’s a case study of various people with what the authors refer to as Emotional Deprivation Disorder.

40 Comments on “The M Word”

  1. Dante says:

    “Lather, rinse, repeat”? Priceless and in more ways than one.

  2. Tony says:

    This is great! Well as “great!” as an article on the topic can be. I recently had a really great incite in confession. I went in a confessed per usual after only a couple days since my last “purge” (take that as you may) and the priest, as if he knew me and my inner workings very well, told me that I should not wallow in the sin, that is, he went on, not to be so consumed by this particular problem that takes time to heal that I think that God cannot do good work through me now. That I am not a hypocrite for struggling with this and wanting to grow spiritually, morally, and do God’s work. This was something that I was starting to realize was a problem. I was getting better about not being so down on myself but I felt uncertain about actively helping people and growing in other areas of my life while I felt so chained in this area. I’m glad he woke me up to the contrary. I have definitely found that so much of life is the struggle and that God is pleased with our striving (reference Thomas Merton’s prayer for the Journeyman- so good!). Anyway, good work Steve, God bless. Keep striving!

  3. A Girl says:

    You know what’s really embarassing? Confessing your chronic masturbation and thinking I know, I know. Girls Just Don’t Do That. It’s not supposed to be our vice, apparently. But it is.

  4. BeauLy says:

    Dante, you’re SICK!

  5. Lori says:

    “Be mindful that the enemy always tempts us twice: first to sin, and afterwards to despair.”

    I love that – thank you!

  6. Jamie says:

    “The cycle can be broken by not giving in to temptation, but it can also be broken by not giving into self-hatred…Be mindful that the enemy always tempts us twice: first to sin, and afterwards to despair.”

    SO TRUE! If you want to gain a lot more insight into this idea, read “Searching for and Maintaining Peace” by Fr. Jaques Philippe. It’s so good—it really changed the way I view myself after I sin. Here’s one of my fave paragraphs:

    “In the daily experience of our miseries and faults, this [peace] is the fundamental principal that must guide us. It is not so much a question of our making superhuman efforts to completely eliminate our imperfections and our sins (that which is, in any case, beyond our reach!), as it is a question of knowing how, as quickly as possible, to recapture our peace when we have fallen into sin or have been troubled by the experience of our imperfections, and to avoid sadness and discouragement. This is not laxity, nor resignation to mediocrity, but, on the contrary, a way in which to sanctify ourselves more rapidly.”

    Also, right after I read Fr. Philippe’s book, I found something Blessed Columba Marmion wrote on the same subject:

    “Your inconstancy ought not to alarm you, but inspire you to keep very near to him who is all your strength. He loves to see that we are making efforts to be pleasing to him, even when these efforts are not always as happy as we would have them.

    “It is not an illusion to think that one has the desire to belong entirely to our Lord, even when one has failings at the same time. Even if we happened to fail fifty times a day, we must still each time get back immediately to our Lord and make acts of love. The desire to love is already an act of love.

    “To correct yourself of vanity, of the desire to please men, of self-consciousness, the best means is:
    •To do everything directly to please God. The more you look at God, the less you will look at yourself;
    •To thank God, He is the source of all good, for all the good you do, for your success, etc.
    •Not to be astonished, nor troubled, when you happen to fall into imperfections, but to ask forgiveness and, immediately, sursum corda, lift up your heart…

    “Nothing is more fatal in the spiritual life than the thought that we can do anything good without our Lord, and our self-love is so subtle, that unconsciously we attribute to ourselves the little good that we do, which spoils everything. Our Lord, out of love, leaves us sometimes to our wicked nature, and then we are frightened in seeing all the evil and the possibilities of evil hidden in us. It is not that we are worse than before, but our Lord let us see the depths of evil which grace had covered. During these moments, we should act in union with God’s designs, by humbling ourselves profoundly and throwing ourselves into God’s arms.

    “The devil tries to trouble you by his subtleties, so that you may cease to act well for fear of acting from vanity. We must never cease doing well for that reason, but quietly purify our intention. The best way is to unite it with Jesus Christ, and with his intentions, and if there is anything imperfect in your intentions, this union with Jesus Christ will heal it.”

  7. Theresa says:

    I actually was addicted to masturbation (and yes, I am a girl) and found great healing in the Lord from what I was able to find was the root of the addiction: not thinking I was good or able to be loved. My real healing from this started after reading “The Christian Meaning of Human Sexuality” by Fr. something or other. In the section on masturbation is says that someone who masturbates is quite tragic because he (or she) so desperately wants to be loved but will not let anyone love him–this was exactly where I was at and where I often find myself still. While I am no longer addicted, I still sometimes struggle. This is a great post, Steve. Thanks for this. Another great book that gets at this and chastity from a woman’s POV is “The Thrill of the Chaste”.

  8. Dante says:

    I had a profound spiritual renewal in this whole area during and after reading Fr. Philippe’s “Interior Freedom”. AWESOME book which I have recommended to other Catholic gay buds and they agreed with its beauty and helpfulness.

    You know I honestly think we Catholics in general and gay ones in particular, put WAY too much emphasis upon the sin or faults of sex/masturbation. We tend to magnify them as if they are Sin #1 in the whole universe. Look at St. Paul and his espistles and see that while he includes “impurity” among his various lists of sin it is only ONE of many and not usually the first-listed. Look at the Gospels and see how God himself in Jesus does indeed teach on sexuality but spends WAY more time and teaching on other forms of failing to love. For thos who are Aquinas-inclined I believe he also wrote that sexual sins while prominent are not among the most horrid because they tend to come from weakness in our strinbg human drive to love and be loved, while other sins are way worse for they proceed from malice (e.g., gossip, lying, revenge, etc.)

  9. Dante says:

    Oops, typo. Last sentence should have the word ‘strong’ not ‘strinbg’ (I must have lapsed into my native Martian tongue). But I also want to add this: how many of us, and of Catholics in general, would prepare for confession HONESTLY convinced that the downgrading water-cooler gossip and a couple of lies are way worse sins to confess than the latest solitary rumba?

  10. Peter says:

    Man, what a mess. The Scylla of despairing of God’s forgiveness on one side, and the Charybdis of giving yourself a free pass to sin on the other. God help us. Tony, Jamie, and Dante are right, the devil tries to blind us to our many other faults by getting us to think that the most savory sins are the whole ball game. Great post, Steve.

  11. BeauLy says:

    Dante is completely right, and the comments are right on the money. Girls have problems with this too, sometimes out of boredom, but also needing to feel loved, as the girls have already pointed out. I despise how many times I’ve had to mention the “M” word through a “Confessional Euphemism” in confession, and I HATE this sin, partly because I know its root and am determined, by grace, to ANNIHILATE IT. I have to say, also though, that gossip is way worse in my view. Whether I do it or I hear it. Gossip kills, masturbation wounds.

    1. Another Girl says:

      i just wanted to respond and say that it has not been my experience that girls/women masturbate out of “boredom” or because they want to feel loved, but simply because they have crazy strong sexual urges just as men do and are looking for a sexual release. i have talked with many a priest about how to deal with the intensity of such sexual urges (in my own case, if i don’t masturbate, the feelings become more and more overwhelming, as does the various sexual imagery in my mind) and have received responses such as “go running more often” to “well, that really is something to be considered.” but no real answers. i would appreciate it if the catholic church would even address this aspect of the issue.

      1. Saki says:

        Hi Another Girl!
        I’m hoping my answer can you help you some way! thanks God I’ve 15 months ‘out’ of it.

        I don’t think RCC is omitting us on purpose. Different stages in our hormonal period -specially the fertile one- make the sexual desire reaches its maximum. Still strong urges appear suddenly. Do not hesitate for any real or apparent fall, please!

        Sexual impulses/pleasure doesn’t oppose inherentally to the selfgiving love RCC mentions as desirable, but lust does.

        Indistinctively if you have SSA or attraction to opposite sex (I’ve both), realizing that lust it’s all about you and lil’ or nothing about the other one -fictional or real-, brings the need to be honest to yourself and find if lust may be ‘feeding’ from somewhere else, like your pride for example, in order to start attacking the roots.

        Back to masturbation, for me analyzing how often I did it as a mechanical thing (without sexual imaggery on my mind, only for the ‘feeling’) or as a sexual release of a fantasy (either if it included myself or just others, if it was about a ‘culmination’ of a love story or just sexual gratification) helped me to discover a pattern, where none of my deepest longings (marriage, family & love) seemed to match the ones I included in those fantasies.

        You can manage to do it as a mechanical thing, fooling yourself about lust ‘evaporating’. But masturbation still addictive.

        Eventually got to see 3 things: those longings for love with family & marriage faded away. People worth started to be around irrelevant things. And selfishness increased a lot.
        The ‘usage’ of sexual pleasure rarely brought a sense of shame. However, my decay on the view of others & myself did. I mean, everyone has the value given by God, and no one is an object to be used! not me nor anybody else.

        After unsuccesful trials, I included praying wholeheartly to Virgin Mary (for the 1st time in my life).It felt unreal the Mercy of God and His unconditional love for us started to make more sense than ever, even helping others started to feel joyful again. I’m not good at being chaste, yet been free of masturbation it’s a big step and good start point.

        Another plus I got was an enhancement on the view and value of God’s free will given to us, it felt like the first time making total use of it.

        Asking God for selfknowledge and having times of sincere introspection, will lead you to find a way out of it. He’s with us, always willing to help when we decide to ask for it.

        A-girl & Steve, God bless you!
        Amazing blog & needed topic!

  12. Dante says:

    Yeah euphemisms…not to mention all the slang options and some are dang creative too. (“But my son, there’s nothing sinful about petting the puppy, unless you were mean to the little creature.”…”LITTLE????…listen, Padre….”)

    My spiritual director told me (and oft repeats) to make my examination of conscience without any reference to sexual sin (since I know that so well anyways), and see what I come up with. You know what? It took a while to learn to become as sincere in that as i had been with the Big M. Without realizing it I had developed this attitude of being almost canonizable as long as i didn’t j/o. Funny huh? Man how we can fool ourselves in so many ways.

  13. BeauLy says:

    Dante, you need your own blog. You freakin’ crack me up!

    I always know when God has spoken to me, b/c I hear it repeatedly…”Be mindful that the enemy always tempts us twice: first to sin, and afterwards to despair.” Steve, you’re the best. My Rosary was for you this morning…

  14. Dante says:

    BeauLy..thanks but no thanks. Steve is doing a great job of blogging the topic and its all his enchilada…damn there I go with those slang terms again!!!

  15. Matt says:

    ‘Someone is very confused about what “having sex” means.’ – Yes, and that person appears to be you, sir.

    From wikipedia: “The term sex can be taken to mean any mutual genital stimulation (i.e. all forms of intercourse and “outercourse”),[2][8]”

    So sex is anything physically sexually stimulating with a partner and masturbation is anything physically sexually stimulating by yourself.

    1. Ohhh, well if Wikipedia says it, it must be true.

    2. Laura says:

      “So sex is anything physically sexually stimulating with a partner”

      Besides the obvious “Wikipedia is not truth revealed”, by that definition making out sesions would be having sex, which are not

  16. Dante says:

    I can go to Wikipedia and put in a group consensual defintition then THAT one will obviosuly be true!

  17. BeauLy says:

    Dante, I only put the capital “L” because Steve misspelled my (ahem) name. So it’s Beauly.

    Anyway, so Steve, even my Protestant “friends” are finding your blog b/c of my FB postings and are totally blown away (in their comments) by any gay (/SSA) man who might also be chaste/pure. I find this particularly hilarious b/c I was once non-Catholic, and it never occurred to me that gay men and women would be anything other than sexually active in all the wrong ways. You’re a pioneer, and I am totally excited to be “friends” with you. Let’s do an article!!

    1. Heh heh, oops. Sorry, Beauly. Does that mean I should stop thinking of you as gorgeous?

  18. Another girl says:

    I struggled with this for years, and, I decided to woman up and call it for what it was when I went to the confessional- no more Euphemisms.
    When I said that awful word aloud I was so disgusted and sorrowful over it, that the sheer terror of ever having to say it aloud again helped me break the dreadful habit.
    Calling your sins exactly what they are is important. IMHO, using Euphemisms not only makes me feel sneaky, but it just doesn’t represent how horribly sorry I am for the sin. When you’re sorry, you’re honest, and if you can’t be honest with yourself about what you did, how can you forgive yourself and be open to God’s forgiveness?

    1. Hm, maybe. But if you know what you mean and the priest knows what you mean and God knows what you mean, then you’re not being dishonest. I’m glad saying it straight out was helpful for you (and I don’t use euphemisms either), but maybe this depends on the person. The Church makes a lot of allowances for human weakness, and sometimes it’s nice to just say — “Thanks! I’ll take it!” And I don’t know if I’ve ever been cured of a sinful habit out of fear or disgust.

  19. Lauren says:

    This is so great!

    “Be mindful that the enemy always tempts us twice: first to sin, and afterwards to despair.”

  20. Dante says:

    For all my joking I don’t usually use euphemisms either…but I do use slang if I am confessing to my best friend who also just hapened to become a priest after college. But then he has known me a LONG time and all I have to say much…he can read it in my eyes (though to make things legit I DO say it). I will never forget the first time a priest used SLANG on me in the box…it just seemed funny to hear a man of the cloth asking if I _ _ _ _ _ _ _ __ _ _ _ _. But then he was a military chaplain and anyone wanna guess how many times he heard THAT kind of confession?

    Lastly, call me weird (or whatever) but I really odo not find the word ‘masturbation’ to be dirty, naughty or disgusting. I think when we see it that way them MAYBE (not the exception included in the choice of word) its more how we are seeing ourselves at the time.

  21. Joe says:

    I’d like to second Another Girl’s comment here. I am both terrified and disgusted about having to tell a priest that I have masturbated.

    I don’t know if it’s as cheap as “I’m scared to go to confession, so I won’t do it,” but there is something genuinely life changing about realizing “this act is So grave that if I commit it, I Must go confess before a priest. You do not want that, and you do not want to deal with what it means. This is a big deal; just stop.”

    I of course have other reasons to avoid masturbation. I do genuinely see it as grave sin (sometimes I think people just think it’s another frustrating rule). But it becomes Real when I am forced to embarrass myself before a priest. At any rate, without being too intense, I very much support exposing all of your sins in great detail to the priest—even/especially if it is enormously difficult.

    Anyway, this has worked for me. I have broken the habit, and I have not struggled much about going back to it. It has been many, many months since I stopped (before I joined the Church at the beginning of this year).

  22. Mary says:

    Hi….I do think the malicious sins are worse…even something as benign as gossip can breed a horrible kind of resentment and hate.

  23. Mary says:

    I should say, I am still at the point where I cannot understand why it is considered such a terrible sin. What if you don’t use any visuals and just manually get along?

  24. Dante says:

    Again, following Thomoistic thought, we should be more ashamed to confess revenge, gossip, slander…do we find these to be shameful, disgusting and vile?

  25. Justin says:


    It’s a sin because it divorces the sexual faculty from the loving embrace of a husband and wife using it to united themselves in one flesh and to imitate God’s fecund love. The family is an image of the Most Holy Trinity. The love between husband and wife imitates the total self-giving love within the Holy Trinity, and the love of Christ for the church. This love is totally directed to the Other; it seeks not its own pleasure. The sexual faculty is not a recreational accessory; it’s not for fun and entertainment. Rather, it is meant to bond a husband and wife together in love. It is also meant to be life-giving, that is, fecund, so any sexual act which is not intrinsically (by it’s nature) fecund is immoral. (This does not include situations which involve organic infertility, which are not deliberately sterile.)

    So this fundamentally excludes many fundamentally sterile forms of sexual activity popular today, not just masturbation, but also anal sex, oral sex, and contraception.

    1. Jeff Barbose says:

      By that definition, the Rhythm Method should be included, because it’s a conscious choice to have a “sterile form” of sexual activity.

      As is sex with any woman — including one’s wife — who’s post-menopausal.

      Or sexual activity by ANYONE who knows he/she is biologically sterile.

  26. Rebecca says:

    On your last few sentences there, may I just say AMEN!

  27. S says:

    Hey Steve,

    I read this post way back when you first posted it, but only acknowledge its worth in the peripheral– among my many vices, masturbation was not one of them. But when that changed, this post helped me get to confession.

    The first time I ever masturbated, I ran immediately to the church and was kneeling in the chapel when I saw my own version of Fr. T step out of the confessional, and all it took was a kind of pleading look from me at my pew and he turned back around and went back in.

    Since then, I fell again, and each time confession became harder. As many women commenters have already said, this is just not something women DO. Or at least, that’s what we’re told.

    That last time I confessed it, I was really dreading it. I was trying out all sorts of excuses and justifications. “It’s my body; why can’t I touch it where and how I want to?” or “Hey God, why don’t you send me a husband and then I won’t need to masturbate, huh?” I even had a well-thought-out dissertation in my mind on the similarities between using pleasure itself as an end to sexual acts and eating dessert.

    But regardless, I couldn’t convince myself. I remembered that you wrote something encouraging about confession and masturbation, so I reread it and it really gave me the push I needed.

    The thing about masturbation is, I don’t even enjoy it. Really. Immediately after, all I feel is this intense loneliness, and at the same time, like I will never want to be touched again. Sex in any form suddenly loses its appeal. For the hours following, I feel utterly asexual, but have a burning, desperate need for intimacy, if that makes sense. Something like a conversation about something important. Or a hug from a friend. I realized that that was how I felt every time I did it—frustrated, lonely, and unsatisfied. This makes sense when you realize that pleasure by itself really isn’t that great and it’s not what people are really looking for. What people want—or at least, what I wanted, when I masturbated—was to feel love. And a self-centered act like masturbation will never do that.

    Anyway, you’re incredible. You’re helping not only Catholics with SSA, but straight men and women who struggle with chastity as well. Thank you!

    –A Long-time reader, rare commenter

    1. Hello commenter,

      I think you’re spot-on about the experience of sexual sin — no sooner do we give in then we realize it isn’t what we wanted at all. It’s the old bait-and-switch.

      Thanks for letting me know that my post meant something to you.


    2. Another girl says:

      S, I know just what you mean. Masturbation has only recently become a problem for me (the last two months) and I have been in and out of Confession trying to fix it. The first couple weeks I went to Confession 5 times in 3 weeks. It was just getting silly.

      I’m getting better at controlling it, but it’s really nice to know that you were able to handle it, since I go through the arguments in my head, and the deals with God, and especially the hollowness afterwards. Every time I masturbate I say, “never again” but it just comes back. Your comment and Steve’s post (your blog is awesome, by the way) really give me inspiration and hope. Thank you.

  28. gerard says:

    I thought I was the only one who used euphemisms in confession.

    Last year, when I was diagnosed with Leukemia, I thought I might die and go to hell. I went to the hospital chaplain to try to make a good confession. After quite about a half an hour of sobbing, he gave me absolution an told me to go forward.

    Well I am still hear this year, thank God. And thanks for your honesty. Purity may be tough, but so are all the other virtues.

  29. Greg says:

    This is kind of a big subject for me. I was a non-practicing Catholic, poorly catechized, who was a slave to porn and self-abuse. I am now a practicing Catholic in a happy marriage using NFP with my wife. It sometimes feels weird to me that I don’t masturbate every day any more, but it feels even weirder now when I slip up. It’s astonishing to look back at how enslaved I was to porn and sex. As unsettling as it is to me, I am reminded of how good my life is now and how intrinsically unfulfilled I was then.

  30. Heloise says:

    Thank you as always, Steve, for your open and faithful approach to these topics. This one strikes a chord and it has always been a challenge explaining the Church’s position to others. Truly it is not only a grave and lonely misuse of the sexual faculty of our bodies, which are temples of the Holy Spirit, but an abuse–a self objectification–of ourselves. I have heard in the Middle Ages masturbation was classified under acts of wrath, rather than lechery, because this abuse can be a somewhat violent act of self hatred.

    I feel Flannery O’connor’s definition of sin as choosing a lesser good over a greater good (in this case perhaps temporary relief over chastity) applies aptly and helpfully. Some things, including constant prayer, help me much:
    praying the rosary, working out, and in temptation reminding myself that that really doesn’t help at all. Also, not to be crass, but realizing that it is essentially like when my dog humps someone’s leg–ineffective, out of control, not worth it.

  31. yet another girl says:

    I just want to pile-on, so many months later, about Girls Doing This. Thanks to an “online life” that started at 13/14 and included erotic stories by 15, masturbation has been a huge part of my emotional life for as long as I’ve been capable of sexual feelings. I am honestly shocked (at this point) to learn that some girls DON’T do it, but I suppose at the beginning I thought it was something terribly wrong with me. Add in a lot of family trauma to do with my mom’s death (also when I was 15), the inward life of an introvert, and body image insecurity, and masturbation became something I could not get out of my life. When I entered the Church at 18 (previously an evangelical — I had numbed myself eventually to any feelings of guilt), I was terrified of confession *largely* because I knew I would have to confess masturbation — and not just embarrass myself on the other side of the grille, but, as someone said above, have to think of it as a serious sin, and take responsibility for it. I really should have been thinking of more than that — and I was, sort of. But masturbation and fantasy and its integration into my emotional life was the inner stronghold keeping me my own and helping me address emotional pain. Of course, in the end, it was only making things worse. But it took me a good three years after my conversion to even reach the point where I *wanted* to be rid of it, in my heart — and almost two years after that point, I have only just discovered the deeper reasons why (a) I do it and (b) I shouldn’t do it over the last several months. I have been putting those discoveries into practice, but it’s hard. My sacramental life (when I commune, when I confess) basically revolves around it, which sucks. At times over the last five years, on hinted recommendations from various priests, I have communed regardless, and sometimes that helped my prayer life, but ultimately it seemed to tarnish even my joy in communing.

    I had heard many times, before and after becoming Catholic, that people make sexual sins “too important,” and things like gossip or anger are more destructive and what God “really cares about.” I suppose this might be true, but ultimately it didn’t help me. This sexual sin is lodged in my heart, and God wants my heart. The only way I can actually achieve something like a feeling of integrity is by doing the cringingly Catholic thing of offering my desires and losses and secret safe places over to Christ. It’s not so backward that society treats sex like the most important thing when my own heart feels it is the most important thing, and just can’t let go. There’s so much tied into it in terms of trust and love and willingness to be seen. I sort of rolled my eyes at the term “self-abuse” when I read it in more old-fashioned guides to confession. Now I realize with pain how much that was and is true in my case. Obviously this isn’t the place to get all into it, but anyway.

    For the record, I never once had a priest make me feel bad about it (in an inappropriate way), and in 80-90% of my confessions that included my masturbation, the priest didn’t even address it, but just commented on the other stuff. Sometimes I think this WASN’T helpful, but what can you do? Not every priest can be given the grace right at that moment to say the things you might not be ready to hear. Once I had a very jolly Benedictine tell me about sexual addiction support groups, and that he knew a guy who had really benefited from them, if I wanted to try. Hee. Not sure how many 20-something Catholic girls there are in such places…

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