A Difficult Message to Hear

Last week, Delaware Senate candidate Christine O’Donnell came under fire after some 1996 MTV video footage surfaced of her speaking out against masturbation: As far as I can tell, one of the most common reactions people have to the message in the video is to say little or nothing, other than maybe to simply refer to O’Donnell as “anti-masturbation candidate Christine O’Donnell” — as if it’s clearly obvious that someone who says masturbation is wrong is crazy. Or even dangerous — as Kathleen Reeves wrote at RH Reality Check wrote, “Her campaign against masturbation was only the beginning of a lifelong assault on human well-being.”

The Elephant in the Living Room

Unfortunately, it seems very few people are defending the entirely sane message that O’Donnell (and the other members of S.A.L.T. interviewed in the video) communicated in the video. And this, I think, illustrates the problem. Since our founding in 2002, giving talks on Chastity to junior high and high school audiences has been one of the main aspects of our youth outreach efforts at Generations for Life. Whenever I make arrangements for one of these talks with a teacher or youth minister, I’m always up front about the fact that in the course of my talk I address masturbation (and why it’s wrong), along with the — obviously — very closely related issue of pornography. Inevitably, the teacher or youth minister wholeheartedly agrees that these issues have to be addressed, and that this message is one that students don’t hear often enough. Why is this? Parents, of course, are the primary educators of their children, especially in the area of sexuality. But a lot of parents, for many reasons, seem to not do their job. One of the major reasons, I think, is due to guilt that parents (and fathers especially) may feel about their own past — or even present — problems with masturbation and pornography, and they may feel too embarrassed to talk to their kids about these issues.

Feelings of Guilt

After I saw the MTV clip, I remembered a series of articles written a few years ago by Catholic chastity speaker Mary Beth Bonacci that dealt with masturbation. In one of these articles, she wrote:

When they “threw off” the old morality, they forgot to throw off human nature itself. They can spend all day telling us that masturbation is normal and healthy and natural and will bring your blood pressure down and your stock portfolio up and make your life perfect or whatever. They still can’t change the fact that something about it feels very wrong, and that our hearts and our deepest selves rebel against it. That’s where the feelings of guilt come from. They come from the inside, not the outside.

Now, of course, those who believe there’s nothing wrong with masturbation also believe that no one who does it should feel guilty. This is hardly surprising: if you tell yourself something often enough — in this case, the idea that masturbation should be guilt-free — eventually, you’ll believe it. And yet, lots and lots and lots of people still report that masturbation makes them feel guilty. Imagine that. That feeling of guilt is not a bad thing. Instead, it’s the conscience’s way of sounding an alarm and saying there’s something wrong. Catholic chastity speaker Jason Evert explains why:

Masturbation does not “get rid of” temptations any more than prostitution does. Both may temporarily relieve sexual desires, but our goal as Christians is not simply to get rid of temptations but to glorify God with our bodies. The idea that masturbation can be used to decrease sexual desires is like saying that lighter fluid can be used to extinguish a fire. If anything, masturbation incites lustful thoughts and teaches a person that he or she deserves—and needs—sexual gratification whenever the desire arises. To understand why masturbation is wrong, we need to step back from the world’s constant clamoring for the fulfillment of sexual “needs” and go back to God’s plan for sex. Sexuality is meant to be a gift between a husband and wife for the purpose of babies and bonding. When it is taken out of that context, the gift is degraded and, in the case of masturbation, altogether ceases being a gift. The purpose of sexuality is abandoned, because the center of the sexual act becomes “me” instead of “we,” and the person is trained to look to himself for sexual fulfillment. The gift of sexuality is misused for the sake of lifeless pleasure. When people misuse their sexuality in this way, they may begin to use pleasure to change their mood, release tension, or forget their loneliness. Masturbation becomes an escape. It may pacify them, but it will never satisfy them. They use the fantasies of their mind and the pleasures of their body to flee from reality and the call to love. Their goal in sexual activity has been reduced to merely receiving pleasure instead of showing love. If men and women have trained themselves to use their sexuality in this way, why would this suddenly change once they are married? The husband or wife will simply use the spouse as a substitute for the fantasies. The problem is that the lust will be transferred to the other, not healed within.

In one of the other articles Mary Beth Bonacci wrote, she gives advice on getting over a masturbation habit:

We were made to give our lives to others in love. Temptation to sexual sin is usually strongest when real love is weakest. In order to break out of its spiral, we need to absolutely fill our lives with healthy, loving, holy relationships based on recognizing the image and likeness of God in ourselves and others… [Fr. Benedict ] Groeschel says that it takes about three months to substantially reduce the pull of a habit. In other words, if someone can, through practicing these steps, manage to go three months without falling into sin, they have won a significant battle in the war against unchastity. That is not an easy task. But the rewards are fantastic. We were made, on the deepest level, to live chastity. There is a joy and a peace in sexual self-mastery which is indescribable.

The only alternative to controlling sexual temptations is to let them control to us. To repeat: It’s. Not. Easy. But then again, if we want to follow Someone who said things like, “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect,” and, “Unless you take up your cross and follow Me, you cannot be My disciple,” we can’t expect that it will be.

Note: As a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization, the Pro-Life Action League — Generations for Life’s parent organization — is prohibited from endorsing candidates for elected office. This blog entry should not be construed in any way as an endorsement of any candidate.

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