What do you keep in your nightstand? Maybe your Bible, a Kindle, the TV remote, or chapstick? I imagine your nightstand harbors the things that you want easily accessible. Well, I kept all of those things in mine, but I also kept my vibrator in there, too. When the mood struck me, or after I read a steamy sex scene in my latest fiction read, I could simply reach over and grab it without even shifting. I made it easy to masturbate. And for most of my life, I didn’t see an issue with this.

I’m a cradle Catholic, and while I understood the Church’s teaching on other sexual issues like premarital sex, pornography, and extra-marital affairs, I had difficulty understanding the Church’s prohibition of masturbation. The blanketed “no, nope, never” sometimes felt unnecessarily severe to me.

The Allure of Masturbation

Throughout college, I was your average Catholic girl who drifted away from the Church – not completely, but enough that I didn’t feel too guilty about partying, binge drinking, and sloppy random make-outs.

When I was a senior, I confided in my roommates, telling them that I had never orgasmed. They laughed and could hardly believe it. Masturbation was so natural to them. Healthy, even. They gave me a few tips and told me to have some fun. So I did.

I felt a little bit of shame after masturbating, but mostly I felt empowered. “I’m sexually liberated!” I thought. I felt like I was stepping out of a dark, oppressive cave and into the light. I even remember feeling smug towards my Catholic friends, thinking, “You have no idea what you’re missing.”

Once I learned the magnificent power of the clitoris, I began to masturbate regularly. Still, I prided myself on keeping my habit in check. I masturbated at most a few times per month. I never used pornography (though this is definitely a topic worth discussing). I occasionally fantasized about men, but that didn’t feel problematic. I didn’t think I was hurting anyone just by letting my imagination run a bit wild. And certainly, I assumed that masturbating was better than sleeping around.

Masturbation became a form of self-love. I convinced myself that rejecting masturbation was equivalent to not loving my body. After all, the general consensus is that the clitoris is purely a pleasure point, something to be enjoyed for its own sake. God designed our bodies and designed them with clitorises. Who are we to reject something that God made for our pleasure?

Masturbation: Self-Love or Selfishness?

After I got married, I continued to masturbate. I justified it by fantasizing less and instead focusing on the physical sensation of stimulation. “It’s just about a physical release. It’s a healthy and natural thing to do,” I told myself. It wasn’t about lusting after a person.

As I grew in my faith, I learned that the Catholic Church describes masturbation as “an intrinsically and gravely disordered action.” The word “intrinsically” implies that the act itself is problematic, regardless of one’s intent.

This Church teaching just didn’t make sense to me. I didn’t understand how something that felt so natural and seemed harmless could be wrong. Still, I vowed to take a look at my motives and evaluate whether masturbation was purely physical for me.

I surprised myself – masturbation wasn’t just a physical, mechanical act to me. I didn’t watch pornography. I didn’t read romance novels beforehand. But I did have to recall a previous sexual encounter, whether that was between me and a partner, or between a fictional couple on TV or in a book. Usually, recalling a previous lovemaking session with my husband wasn’t enough to achieve an orgasm.

This was a hard truth to accept: I was essentially getting off on lust. And I was immediately reminded of Jesus’s piercing words in the Sermon on the Mount when He tells us that lusting after another is the same as committing adultery in one’s heart.

I thought masturbation brought sexual freedom, body positivity, and self-love. But what it really brought was detachment from my spouse, separation from God, and an unhealthy attachment to my vibrator.

This wasn’t self-love; this was selfishness.

Abstaining from Masturbation Is Empowering

Once I realized that lust and selfishness drove me to masturbation, I couldn’t do it with a confident, clear conscience anymore. I stopped masturbating abruptly, relegating my vibrator to the back of my nightstand drawer.

Now, I feel empowered when I abstain, even though I used to find abstaining to be oppressive. It’s empowering to know that I can resist temptation. It’s empowering to deny myself something that feels good. It’s empowering to rest in the fullness of my sexuality in healthy ways, rather than through acts that feed my lustful desires. 

Abstaining from masturbation has also given me a new outlook on what healthy marital sex can and should look like. Sex is meant to be a beautiful expression of love for your spouse. Yet when I masturbated frequently, I didn’t desire sex as much with my husband. Sex often became a chore, with me reluctantly agreeing to sex but telling him to “keep it quick” and “just focus on getting your orgasm; I don’t need one.” I often looked forward to masturbating more than having sex with my husband. Now, I view intimacy with my husband as the gift that it is, and I strive to give my whole self to him during sex.

I admit I’m a work in progress. I still struggle with temptation, and I’ve given in once since I made the decision to abstain. But as I continue to see the fruits of abstaining, each day becomes a little bit easier.

Can masturbation be boiled down to a harmless expression of self-love and body positivity? Not for me. Simply put, I don’t think I can be the woman God intends me to be while maintaining the habit of masturbation.

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