Perpetual adolescents will demand that the masturbation quotes dog her campaign (and O’Donnell should prepare to hear boisterous strains of “Every Sperm is Sacred” from the Monty Python crowd), but here again, a Catholic (and for that matter a Buddhist or a Taoist) should appreciate the point O’ Donnell was clumsily trying to make: that human sexuality is deeply powerful in co-creative and energetic ways, and that it has meaning beyond its pleasures, which are great, but never meant to be solitary.
O’Donnell recently worked to reassure voters that sexual matters are ultimately private and that her “faith has matured” since her early pronouncements; she has had a masturbation maturation. But a “matured” faith could mean anything from Puritanism to Relativism; doubtless, someone will eventually ask her to be more explicit.
At that point, O’Donnell might wish to borrow some of the sane and helpful language of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which has already wrung the matter through the processes of faith and reason:
“The deliberate use of the sexual faculty, for whatever reason, outside of marriage is essentially contrary to its purpose.” For here 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.”
To form an equitable judgment about the subjects’ moral responsibility and to guide pastoral action, one must take into account the affective immaturity, force of acquired habit, conditions of anxiety or other psychological or social factors that lessen, if not even reduce to a minimum, moral culpability (CCC 2352).”
I confess that the whole O’Donnell/Masturbation thing is, to my way of thinking, TMI. I don’t really need to know how my elected officials, um, “feel” about these things. It’s not an issue that will necessarily have a serious impact on reducing the deficit, or help define our policy toward Iran.
But I have to wonder: would this message have been received any differently if the candidate were male? What if, say, an unmarried young Catholic man running for Senate had said the same thing about masturbation? I have to wonder how it would have gone over. (On a hunch, I’d say: probably worse…)