Now there's a topic for some interesting dialogue. The Catholic church proclaims that wanking is as serious a sin as gay sex because all sexuality is designed to be exclusively procreative - both as a matter of divine will but also, critically, because this is readily apparent to anyone by reason alone. (See George, Robert, or my first couple of chapters in The Conservative Soul.)

Man on woman (on top, of course) sans rubber or pill is the only way - the only way - for sex to achieve its natural ends and benefit the human being under natural law. This, I have to say, has always struck me as bizarre. I speak only for males here but Shaw was certainly right in saying that 99 percent of men masturbate and 1 percent are liars. I once caused a little stir at Notre Dame by pointing out that every priest in the audience was masturbator, as of course they all were. The natural cause of this is obvious: the male body produces far, far, far, far more sperm than can ever possibly become babies.

And the erotic impulse from puberty on (especially from puberty on) is one of the most powerful natural impulses we have. The Church insists that we nonetheless resist any temptation to do what comes naturally to any boy who discovers the best new toy he will ever have and let all this sperm soak our pajamas night after night. The fine distinction between this and just getting it over with seems somewhat exotic to me. A reader makes another point:

Recently scientists have determined that, at least in a man's older years, masturbation seems to have some preventative properties in relation to prostate cancer. Indeed, some doctors are now prescribing "masturbation therapy" to men over fifty. If further research sufficiently determines the health benefits of masturbation, will the Catholic Church endorse it on that basis? Even more importantly, can I get a return on the several hours of Hail Marys I said in penance in my teenage years?

Nature is an elastic concept. The Church's grasp of it remains umbilically linked to the biology of the thirteenth century. And its allegedly celibate clerisy is the only group allowed to examine it. Hence what most adult, intelligent human beings regard as the hilarity of the hierarchy's claptrap. And hence too the impossibility of actually changing it.

So we continue to live in the late Soviet period of Catholicism. They pretend to make sense; we pretend to believe them.