How do you break the habit of masturbation?
Prayer and patient perseverance. As you begin the battle, know that God is pleased with your desire for holiness and that his grace is working in your life. He will complete the good work he has begun in you (Phil. 1:6). Come to him in prayer and ask him often for the grace to be pure and specifically to overcome this habit.
The number one prayer you can offer is the holy sacrifice of the Mass. There is enough grace in one Communion to make you a saint. Tap into that fountain of purity! Spend an increased amount of time in personal prayer as well, and speak openly to Jesus about your struggles. Also pray the Hail Mary three times each day for purity of mind, body, and heart; frequent the sacrament of reconciliation; read Scripture; pray the rosary; make the stations of the cross; and develop a devotion to Saint Joseph. These form an arsenal of weapons against any sin.
When it comes to confessing the sin of masturbation, it’s understandable that many people would feel too embarrassed to mention it. But realize that there’s no sin that priests haven’t heard before. It’s not as if you discovered and broke an 11th commandment! Whether you’re male or female, you’re not alone in this struggle.
If you need to confess the same sin repeatedly, do so. The devil will try to discourage you, saying, “Hey, you’ve been back in the confessional so many times with this sin. Why don’t you give up? You can’t win.” Recognize these thoughts as a temptation and turn immediately to prayer. Know that the patient is healed who shows his wound to the physician. The confessional is the medicine box, Christ in the priest is the doctor, and that is the last place the devil wants you to be. You are on the winning team, and the Lord will not let you be snatched from his hand. You cannot do it alone, but you can do all things through Christ who gives you strength (Phil. 4:13).
Certainly, if you own any pornography, swimsuit posters, or vulgar music, get rid of them immediately. For the sake of love, guard yourself against such contamination. Replace these things with Christian music and put holy images in your room, especially where you usually fall into the sin. If you have a habit of watching a lot of television, find something else to do, such as exercise. This helps release tension and makes the body easier to master. Television is idleness filled with temptation, and that is kindling for the fires of lust. Saint Robert Bellarmine warned, “Flee idleness, for no one is more exposed to such temptations than he who has nothing to do.”
To help you grow in discipline, set reachable goals. For example, make a commitment not to masturbate for three days, a week, a month, or whatever you feel is a reasonable time. When you have made it to that point, you will have an increased sense of confidence that you do have control over your body. Then, without falling back, bump up the time and abstain for a longer period. Keep this up until the vice is overcome.
During this time of discipline, give up tiny things. For example, skip salt on your fries, or skip seconds at a meal. These small sacrifices will help you grow in self-mastery, so that you gain self control. After all, we are slaves to whatever rules us. The difference is like that between a jockey who has no control over his horse, which gallops wildly through gardens and living rooms, and a jockey who has control and can win races and stop on command. That is a person fully alive.
This kind of self-control is challenging, but with the grace of God, all things are possible. If you ask for purity, not one grace will be lacking. Be patient with yourself, and do not give in to discouragement. According to the Gospel of Luke, “By your endurance you will gain your lives” (Luke 21:19). The prize of true love awaits those who are truly free, because they are the only ones capable of giving and receiving.
Lastly, it’s helpful to identify the factors that contribute to your habit. Often, we assume it’s simply lust when there are often other causes (such as stress, loneliness, boredom, etc). Click here to read an article in our blog that explains this.
. St. Robert Bellarmine, The Art of Dying Well, as quoted in R. E. Guiley, The Quotable Saint (New York: Checkmark Books, 2002), 135.