Pornography

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10 Myths About Pornography by Matt Fradd – 68 minutes

Masturbation

“That is why masturbation is bad: it substitutes subjectivity for objectivity, self for other. God designed sex to bring us out of ourselves, not into ourselves; out of our “my will be done.” Love is supposed to bring us out of the dark prison of the “my will be done” ego into the joys of “thy will be done”, both horizontally and vertically, toward both the human and the divine Other. But self-love turns it back on itself. Masturbation is the physical, sexual form of self-love. C. S. Lewis says: For me the real evil of masturbation [would] be that it takes an appetite which, in lawful use, leads the individual out of himself to complete (and correct) his own personality in that of another (and finally in children and even grandchildren) and turns it back: sends the man back into the prison of himself, there to keep a harem of imaginary brides. And this harem, once admitted, works against his ever getting out and really uniting with a real woman. For the harem is always accessible, always subservient, calls for no sacrifices or adjustments, and can be endowed with erotic and psychological attractions which no real woman can rival. Among those shadowy brides he is always adored, always the perfect lover: no demand is made on his unselfishness, no mortification ever imposed on his vanity. In the end, they become merely the medium through which he increasingly adores himself. . . . After all, almost the main work of life is to come out of our selves, out of the little, dark prison we are all born in. Masturbation is to be avoided as all things are to be avoided [which] retard this process. The danger is that of coming to love the prison. — The Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis (New York: HarperCollins, 2007), 758–59.” (Kreeft, Peter. How to Be Holy).

But perhaps the most penetrating description of the habit of masturbation is in a letter of C.S. Lewis, quoted by Leanne Payne in The Broken Image:

  • “For me the real evil of masturbation would be that it takes an appetite which, in lawful use, leads the individual out of himself to complete (and correct) his own personality in that of another (and finally in children and even grandchildren) and turns it back, sends it back into the prison of himself, there to keep a harem of imaginary brides. And this harem, once admitted, works against his ever getting out and really uniting with a real woman. For the harem is always accessible, always subservient, calls for no sacrifices or adjustments, and can be endowed with erotic and psychological attractions which no real woman can rival.”

Masturbation among seminarians by John Harvey

Years ago spiritual directors of seminarians, religious and diocesan, were vigilant in assessing the spiritual fitness of those under their direction. Masturbation was viewed as a serious problem which one should overcome before taking final vows or receiving the deaconate. It was suggested that one should be free of the habit of masturbation for at least a year before final profession or deaconate. If the masturbation had become involuntary, the person should seek professional therapy, because no one should enter the life of celibacy with the burden of guilt and shame engendered by such weakness.37 Seminarians were informed that they had an obligation to have a regular spiritual director rather than shop around from one confessor to another. Today with the neglect of the sacrament of reconciliation among religious and priests one needs to reiterate the importance of the regular confessor.

Now I do not believe that anyone really knows what spiritual directors advise seminarians who have a habit of masturbation. l would guess on the basis of giving retreats to priests and brothers over a twelve year period that such advice is honeycombed by the kind of moral theology which does not consider masturbation as a serious moral disorder. What is necessary, then, in the first place, is basic instruction on both the objective gravity of the act and personal responsibility to do something about it. Since, moreover, masturbation can become compulsive, it is sometimes necessary to explain the dynamics of sexual compulsion.

Among writers on masturbation Donald Goergen’s views continue to strongly influence seminarians and religious. Goergen holds that masturbation is not “intrinsically immoral.”38 Goergen believes that, for some, masturbation can be mature and integrated, and for others it is immature and unintegrated. Adolescent masturbation as well as many adult forms of masturbation may be healthy and not detrimental in any way. For the celibate, masturbation is not immoral or sinful, but does fall short of the ideal. Again, “masturbation is an element in a celibate’s personal life which reflects a genital need he hopes to outgrow, not because genitality is at all inappropriate, but because it does not particularly serve him in his celibate life.”39

Despite the fact that Goergen’s views contradict the teaching of the Church on the morality of masturbation and the meaning of consecrated chastity, they have influenced many seminarians and religious since their publication. I shall come back to Goergen later. Now, I am concerned for the seminarian who wants to overcome a habit of masturbation.

The same principles which I have applied to the single person apply to the seminarian with this difference: The seminarian has made a commitment to the celibate life, and the lay person may seek marriage. The seminarian may fear that he is not capable of living the celibate life because of his present difficulties, and he may consider leaving the seminary or the religious life. Before he makes such a decision, he should realize that he needs the counsel of both the clinical psychologist and the priest-director, who should be given permission to consult with one another concerning the situation of the seminarian. It is unwise for the priest-director, or the psychologist to work in isolation from one another, as happened so often in the past with tragic results.

It is also unwise when the spiritual directors of a seminary, or the formation team of a religious order, do not have a clear policy concerning the necessity of interior chastity, including freedom from masturbation, as a requirement for ordination or final profession. The spiritual director in the seminary should look carefully at the personal history of individuals troubled by obsessive temptations to masturbate. The temptations may have meanings beyond ordinary lust, and there is no way of knowing this without some form of counseling. Sometimes, if an individual is uncertain of his vocation, he will be stormed by erotic lore. Perhaps he needs to address the motivation at the root of his vocation.

Each situation will be different. If the confessor or the psychologist or the seminarian are in doubt, perhaps a year’s absence from the seminary in some form of pastoral work will be beneficial. At the end of this period reassessment will be in order. It should be kept in mind that any formation program of a seminary or religious order does not really confront the workaday world. It is life in a relatively protected

environment where fantasy works overtime, where ordinary setbacks of life are magnified, and where emotional difficulties with confreres can become an obsession. Under such circumstances it comes as no surprise that imagination can get out of control, provoking sexual fantasies and temptations to masturbate.

To sum up my reflections on seminarians and male religious in formation, I believe that today we have better means at our disposal in overcoming habitual and compulsive masturbation. We have recognized the value of spiritual support systems in the effort to be chaste, and we have learned to look beyond the acts of masturbation to its causes. As spiritual directors we see the whole man. On the one hand, we note that an individual has shown marked improvement over a period of time in overcoming temptations to masturbation, we should encourage him to keep on trying. By “improvement” I include more than the avoidance of masturbation. I mean a change in attitude towards one’s own sexuality, an acceptance of one’s bodily nature, and an integration of sexual desires into one’s perception of his role in priesthood or religious life what William F. Lynch calls the “free sublimation of sexual desires.”

If, on the other hand, we perceive that an individual’s effort to overcome the practice of masturbation does not lead to any improvement, and this despite psychological counsel as well, then it seems that we should advise him to leave religious life or the seminary. The lack of improvement constitutes a solid doubt about the person’s religious vocation, and such a doubt should be resolved in favor of the Church by the individual’s departure.

Addiction by Bishop Barron

One of the most fundamental problems in the spiritual order is that we sense within ourselves the hunger for God, but we attempt to satisfy it with some created good that is less than God. Thomas Aquinas said that the four typical substitutes for God are wealth, pleasure, power, and honour. Sensing the void within, we attempt to fill it up with some combination of these four things, but only by emptying out the self in love can we make the space for God to fill us. The classical tradition referred to this errant desire as “concupiscence,” but I believe that we could neatly express the same idea with the more contemporary term “addiction.” When we try to satisfy the hunger for God with something less than God, we will naturally be frustrated, and then in our frustration, we will convince ourselves that we need more of that finite good, so we will struggle to achieve it, only to find ourselves again, necessarily, dissatisfied. At this point, a sort of spiritual panic sets in, and we can find ourselves turning obsessively around this creaturely good that can never in principle make us happy.” (Catholicism, Bishop Robert Barron, p.43)

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