Reflections on a Footnote on the Subject of Masturbation: The Question of Gravity, and the Matter of Chastity
Appeared in Spring 1997, Vol. XXIII, No. 1
In the presentation of his own thoughts a quarter of a century ago, Charles Curran alluded to a serious study on the subject that, had it been more widely circulated, or translated for the english-speaking world, would have provided some important complements to American “revisionist” positions on the question of the gravity of masturbation that passed about liberally in the late 1960s, through the 1970s, and beyond.
After chronicling summarily some of the “older teaching” in Contemporary Problems in Moral Theology (Notre Dame, 1970), Curran exposes the new light:
A more personal approach and better psychological as well as physical knowledge point out that masturbation is ordinarily not that important a matter. There is no blanket gravity that can be assigned to every act of masturbation. Masturbatory activity is generally symptomatic…. Masturbation might be expressive of a deep-seated inversion or just an adolescent growing-up process.41 Generally speaking I believe masturbation is wrong since it fails to integrate sexuality into the service of love…. this wrongness is not always grave; in fact, more times it is not…. Catholic educators should openly teach that masturbation is not always a grave matter and most times, especially for adolescents, is not that important…. however, the teacher should not leave the adolescent with the impression that there is absolutely nothing wrong with masturbation. (pp. 175-176)
It is curious-perhaps just a “typo”-that footnote forty-one1 was placed precisely where it was. One would hardly have gleaned that the article-an immensely comprehensive treatise-provided more than some empirical data that either described what masturbation might be “symptomatic” or “expressive” of … or defined it as “just an ado- lescent growing-up process.”
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