When I talk to fellow speakers who give chastity talks on high school campuses, they tell me the topic that always creates the most heat is homosexuality. I have seen students become nearly hysterical in their condemnation of the Church’s opposition to sexual acts between people of the same gender. Why are some young people so passionate about this issue?
Their anger is especially strange given their responses to the Church’s opposition to other sexual sins such as masturbation, which the Catechism describes as an “intrinsically and gravely disordered action” (CCC 2352). When I mention masturbation in talks on sexual ethics, the students become uncomfortable that the "M-word" has even been mentioned. There are usually no follow-up questions and I can’t remember when a student ever said to me, “How dare you spread your hate about how I choose to love my own body. You are nothing but an ignorant bigot!”
Instead, it seems that most students know deep down that masturbation is wrong, or at least something to be ashamed of. Even if they don’t accept what the Church teaches on the subject, they don't brag about how they violate this teaching. Why am I called a bigot for condemning homosexual behavior but not for condemning masturbation? Let’s examine the reasons our culture gives for why the Church is wrong in condemning homosexual behavior:
- Homosexual acts are consensual and don’t hurt anyone. This represents the lowest bar of sexual morality in our culture, i.e., “As long as it’s not rape, it’s not wrong.” Studies detailing sexual health among homosexuals are a minefield to navigate, but even granting that point, surely masturbation does not carry the physical risks present in homosexual acts, and no one else is “forced” to take part.
- Homosexual acts are natural and occur in many animal species. Any trip to the zoo will tell you that animals such as chimps enjoy stimulating themselves, but I’ve yet to hear an angry student defend masturbation on these grounds.
- Homosexual acts involve genuine feelings of love. A critic could say that sex acts between persons of the same gender should be celebrated because they involve loving another person, while masturbation is a self-centered act. This actually gives me hope, because that is one of the reasons the Church opposes masturbation. The Catechism says that in masturbation “sexual pleasure is sought outside of ‘the sexual relationship which is demanded by the moral order and in which the total meaning of mutual self-giving and human procreation in the context of true love is achieved’” (CCC 2352). This still doesn’t explain our culture’s rabid defense of homosexual behavior, because masturbation could easily be twisted into a kind of “self-love” that would likely be lauded in a self-obsessed culture like ours. Furthermore, when I talk about the sinfulness of sex outside of marriage among men and women, most students do not say I am a bigot and instead react in a similar way to my discussion of masturbation.
I think this shows that people defend and even celebrate homosexuality not because they think there are necessarily good reasons in favor of it. Instead, I think this happens because our culture aggressively celebrates homosexuality in popular media, and people simply associate “homosexuality” with “charming, nice, winsome people” while “masturbation” is associated with “hopeless losers.” This frame of mind doesn’t come from careful reflection; it comes from cultural indoctrination.
There aren’t television shows that glorify masturbation like there are shows that glorify homosexuality (instead of “Modern Family” we don’t have “Modern Guy Who Lives Alone in His Apartment”). Granted, the solitary nature of masturbation would make shows about that lifestyle abundantly boring, but even in shows that celebrate homosexuality, masturbation becomes a joke or something to ridicule. A person who resorts to that is “missing something” in what it means to be human.
I think this should give Catholics who want to change our culture two things to think about.
- If we want to change the culture we have to change the media that programs people to think about culture. We must encourage skilled Catholic artists to become professionals in mainstream film and television. Retreating into a Catholic media “ghetto” is not an acceptable response.
- We can begin a dialogue with the culture that starts with some basic common ground. When sex regresses into pure self-stimulation, people naturally sense that something is not right. Our culture has at least embraced the idea that sex in its “highest form” is an expression of love and faithfulness. What it has rejected is the idea that such an expression needs to take place between people of different genders. Instead of engaging in a frontal assault on sexual sin, we should start with a message of hope that people’s desire to be unconditionally loved and not used is a God-given one. We can help them see that the Church’s teachings on sex help us become complete and joyful persons made in the image of God.