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And Er, Judah's firstborn, was wicked in the sight of the LORD; and the LORD slew him. And Judah said unto Onan, Go in unto thy brother's wife, and marry her, and raise up seed to thy brother. And Onan knew that the seed should not be his; and it came to pass, when he went in unto his brothers wife, that he spilled it on the ground, lest that he should give seed to his brother. And the thing which he did displeased the LORD: wherefore he slew him also.
Medieval interpreters were convinced that a future child is contained in the male seed. Onan wasted his male seed and thus human life. That was the essence of Onans sin according to these medieval theologians, a sin which was identified with masturbation. However, in view of our present-day knowledge, modern Catholic moralists are agreed that the wastage of seed is not sinful. Every male ejaculation releases nearly 400 million seeds and only one is necessary for fertilization. Moreover, what is condemned in Genesis 38,7-10 is not the wastage of seed, but Onans refusal to raise children for his brother.
From the Middle Ages on the conviction gradually grew that masturbation was very bad for a persons health and wellbeing.
Such medical opinion has been totally overturned. There is no evidence for the physical ills traditionally ascribed to masturbation. The practice of masturbation for its own sake may, in the long run, turn the person in on himself/herself. For it deprives the human sexual act of its main purpose and context, namely the creation of a holistic and intimate relationship.
Influenced by such medieval and medical opinions, Christians interpreted some New Testament passages as directly referring to masturbation.
There must be not even mention of fornication among you, or impurity in any of its forms, or promiscuity.
Fornication, gross indecency and sexual irresponsibility .... I warn you that those who behave like that will not inherit the kingdom of God.
Galatians 5,19; see also Mark 7,20-22; 2 Corinthians 12,21;Colossians 3,5.
None of the terms used, however, refers to masturbation. They all refer to external breaches of marriage. Basing a scriptural prohibition on those texts is not justified, as is now generally agreed.
Experiencing pleasure is not in itself sinful. There are other forms of body stimulation that generate pleasurable feelings: luxuriating in a perfumed bath, lying on the beach and feeling the suns rays beating down on you, enjoying a delicious meal, experiencing a sensual massage. In each case, some external agent stimulates nerve endings which in turn generate pleasant feelings. The only difference with masturbation is the intensity of those feelings.
So while there may be other unwanted side-effects in masturbation, it is not the fact of feeling pleasure that makes it sinful.
Pope Paul VI issued a declaration in 1975 on many aspects of human sexual ethics. It was entitled: Persona Humana - Declaration on Certain Questions Concerning Sexual Ethics, issued by the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, on 29 December1975. We quote some typical excerpts:
The teaching is thus based on the traditional view that equates sex totally with having children. The conclusion of that approach (1) puts a total ban on artificial means of contraception, (2) considers any physical act between homosexuals as intrinsically corrupt and (3) condemns any form of masturbation.
Many Catholic theologians and moralists now reject the view expressed in this papal letter and in similar ones regarding the intrinsic nature of sex. They do not accept the traditional view that sexuality has been exclusively designed for procreation and that all sexual acts that cannot lead to conception are condemned as against natural law.
Sexual acts have other legitimate purposes apart from procreation, such as releasing sexual tension in the individual and strengthening the bonds between partners. In other words: though unimpeded intercourse of husband and wife is the ideal, there are valid reasons for a married couple to use contraceptives during intercourse or fondle each other in mutual stimulation, also for homosexual partners to be involved in physical acts of love, and for individuals to allow themselves to masturbate in certain circumstances.
Even those (few) moral theologians who still consider masturbation in itself a serious mortal sin, concede that subjectively it often is only a venial (small) sin.
It seems more helpful to consider masturbation as morally neutral. To quote some authors:
attenzione alla morale sessuale cattolica
|Il godimento cristiano del sesso||Domande frequenti|
|Le fantasie||La nudità||I contraccettivi||La colpa||Lomosessualità||masturbazione|