Lord, I never wanted to be separated from You.


St. Thomas is girded by Angels with a mystical
belt of purity after his proof of chastity

Let me begin with two saintly anecdotes on purity as a fitting intro to our topic: The stories of St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Benedict of Nursia.

The father of St. Thomas Aquinas strongly disagreed with his decision to become a mendicant of the Order of Preachers. So, he made an arrangement for a prostitute to visit Thomas while he was detained inside an old tower. It was freezing and a fire was burning in the fireplace when the woman approached him and tempted him to sin against purity. It must had been difficult for Thomas to resist but his purity persisted. He took a brand of burning wood from the fire and threatened to burn the woman should she come any closer. She fled in panic.

St. Benedict faced a great temptation in the form of the memory of beautiful and voluptuous women that he had encountered before. So great was the lust kindled by this recollection that he almost abandoned his vocation. To deal with the temptation, he tortured his body by wallowing naked in thorny bushes, badly tearing his skin but healing his soul. He later told his disciples that after this, he was never again sexually tempted.

The Temptation of St. Benedict, c. 1587
by Alessandro Allorini

Purity is still an issue today just like before. An online article entitled “Masturbation good for your health?” published at abs-cbnnews.com [02/22/2010 (1:41 PM)] provides a clinical study on the physiological benefits of masturbation. According to the McKinley Health Center at the University of Illinois, masturbation (which they defined as "touching one's own sex organs for pleasure") reduces stress, induces sleep, and can help people to become familiar and comfortable with their body. The Center claims that masturbation:

  • alleviates premenstrual tension for many women 
  • provides a healthy sexual outlet for people who choose to abstain from sex with partners or who do not currently have available sexual partners 
  • can be a route to safer sex, to help prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections, including HIV 
  • allows for sexual pleasuring for those who are not ready to engage in vaginal, anal, or oral sex 
  • increases blood flow to the genital region, which can help overall sexual functioning 
  • helps women learn how to achieve orgasm 
  • helps men to increase ejaculatory control and manage rapid or delayed ejaculation.

Furthermore, the Center debunked myths that masturbation leads to insanity or hair growing on the palms. It added that it does not drain excessive energy from the body. "There are no harmful side effects of masturbation," it said, adding that regardless of cultural attitudes and values, masturbation has been found in all societies. Here are some myths that the Center said are unfounded in medical and social science:

  • Only people who cannot find sexual partners, or who are socially inadequate, masturbate 
  • Masturbation leads to physical problems such as mental illness and growing hair on your palms 
  • Masturbation "ruins" a person for partner sex 
  • Men will run out of semen or sperm if they masturbate excessively 
  • Others, including medical doctors and sexual partners, will be able to tell if you masturbate.

On the other hand, the Catechism of the Catholic Church defined masturbation as “...the deliberate stimulation (not just merely touching) of the genital organs in order to derive sexual pleasure.” (CCC, 2352) The Church remains consistent with her teaching. The document Persona Humana (1975) of the Congregation of the Doctrine of Faith is a declaration on certain questions concerning sexual ethics. This is what it says about masturbation:

"Both the Magisterium of the Church, in the course of a constant tradition, and the moral sense of the faithful have been in no doubt and have firmly maintained that masturbation is an intrinsically and gravely disordered action." (CDF, Persona humana, 9) "The deliberate use of the sexual faculty, for whatever reason, outside of marriage is essentially contrary to its purpose." For here sexual pleasure is sought outside of "the sexual relationship which is demanded by the moral order and in which the total meaning of mutual self-giving and human procreation in the context of true love is achieved."(ibid.)

By its very nature, masturbation is in direct opposition to the purpose of sexual activity between husband and wife, which is to procreate, not to get sexual pleasure alone. Sexual pleasure must be expressive of mutual self-giving between two persons of the opposite sex founded by the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony with the purpose of human reproduction in the context of true love as ordained by God, not self-satisfaction.

In other words, Masturbation is a sin that must be confessed in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. It may be good for the body (as claimed by the McKinley Health Center) but definitely not for the soul.

St. Benedict, pray for us!
St. Thomas Aquinas, pray for us!

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