A Mormon therapist takes on masturbation

A Mormon therapist takes on masturbation August 23, 2012

I typically do not blog here about exclusively Mormon issues.  When I do bring up my history with Mormonism or my interactions with Mormons now (through my family) on this blog, I relate it to my Paganism.  However, I recently read a post on the Mormon Therapist blog at Patheos about mastrubation and I have to reblog it here.  I re-read the post with my son because, as I explained to him, shame and guilt from masturbation colored my entire experience of Mormon and Christianity.  It’s possible I might still be Christian today were it not for the years of real emotional self-abuse I put myself through over the issue of perceived “self-abuse”.  I was literally moved to tears when I read Ms. Parker’s statement, in response to Mormon adolescents believing that masturbation was a sin that approximated murder in seriousness: “If this is what we are teaching our youth – then we are emotionally abusing them.  And it needs to stop.  I will no longer be a compliant witness to this type of psychological assault.”  Thank you Ms. Parker.  I am relieved to know that my son is growing up in a church where at least some of its members have the courage and wisdom to take this stand.

My Official Stance on Masturbation

What about masturbation if you are endowed and unmarried? I am 29 and have my endowments and have this problem.  I am trying to stop the guilt and tell myself it is ok but is it?

The following post is extremely important for me personally and the opinions I will share have been 7-10 years in the making.   I know I have alluded to my stances on masturbation in the past – but largely within the context of marriage and/or parenting small children.  This has largely been due to my not wanting to take a stance against church policy, culture, and/or perceived doctrine.  However, this approach has left me largely silent when it comes to our adolescents and single members of the church – and I can no longer stay silent and consider myself to be an ethical mental health practitioner.  In fact, I want to offer an official apology for not having spoken up in a more direct way sooner.

So here goes my position:  Masturbation is not sinful behavior in of itself nor is it a transgression.  God has created us as emotional, spiritual, intellectual and sexual beings.  He has created these capacities in the context of both relational purpose and self-suffiiciency.  Meaning we are social creatures – meant to thrive in relationship with others.  At the same time, we are also individual creatures – and when not able to be in relationship have capacity to meet our own needs for certain periods of time depending on age and developmental stage.

Through the studies of pediatrics and human sexuality we now know that stimulating our genitalia is something we start doing in the womb.  Males experience erections and females experience vaginal lubrication as fetuses.  Taking our LDS position on children being innocent, and yet having the capacity for sexual feeling and exploration – we are challenged to look at some of our ideas about sin in regards to masturbation.

We know we are born and die sexual beings.  The capacity for marital sexuality only occurs through a set period of adult life – if it happens at all.  Therefore, isn’t it wonderful that God would create a self-regulatory system where we can count on ourselves to experience the benefits of sexual release when it is not appropriate for us to be in sexual relationship with another person?  Isn’t it wonderful that we would have a natural drive to self-explore – getting to know ourselves – as we prepare to share a sexual life with another person?  If approached within this context, masturbation can be used to help our teens and single adults keep the law of chastity in ways that empower themselves regarding knowing and controlling their sexual drives/cycles and owning their sexuality in non-shaming and normative ways.  Orgasm has been shown to help with relieving stress, aiding with pain (especially helpful for menstrual cramping), regulation of hormones and prevention of certain cancers.  For our single adults who are not married, masturbation provides this release and its healthy ramifications.  It can help with loneliness when single and it can help nonorgasmic women find their sexual capacity.  It can help married couples manage libido differences and add variety to sexual monogamy.  These are just some of the positive results that come from the healthy use of masturbation.

I understand that like any normal human tendency, masturbation can become an unhealthy behavior.   This is also true for eating – yet we don’t couch our physical desire to nourish ourselves with food as sinful.  I believe it is unhealthy for masturbation to be done in a way which interferes with your daily functioning or quality of relationships.  I do not want to minimize this for those who have struggled or who have suffered in a marriage where their spouse has withdrawn sexually in part because of an unhealthy masturbation habit.  At the same time, I believe unnecessary masturbatory shame and unmet attachment needs are at the core of most compulsive masturbatory behavior – becoming an unhealthy coping skill used in times of stress and discontent (topic for another post).

I understand there are many who might comment with old quotes in our church’s history which will attempt to show my position is incorrect.  I am sure I have read the quotes and I am uninterested in them – just as I am uninterested in the quotes that have to do with racism or other forms of bigotry from our past.  If you are one who would disagree with me, I would encourage the following reading:

Historical Development of  New Masturbation Attitudes in Mormon Culture

Masturbation Timeline in LDS History

In short, the church itself has moved away from its positions on masturbation which were largely promulgated during the early to mid 20th century – a time when culture at large had incorrect and inaccurate ideas about sexuality.  For example the word “masturbation” has been taken out of the For the Strength of Youth pamphlet and it no longer shows up in the Bishop’s handbook (leading me to believe that bishops should not even be asking about masturbation in their interviews – and one has a right to refuse to answer such questions).  Through the past 15 years, I have spoken to numerous bishops, stake presidents, relief society presidents, and high councilmen attempting to understand an official stance on this matter.  What I have come to understand is the answers I received largely depended on which leader you approach and what their past experience has been with leaders of their own.  This type of non-directive nuance on such an important matter is not okay with me.  Especially when within the last 6 months I’ve known of two LDS adolescent boys referred to the addictions program offered by the church because they masturbate 1-3 times a week and three LDS adolescent clients tell me they believe their masturbatory behavior to be a sin next to murder!!!  If this is what we are teaching our youth – then we are emotionally abusing them.  And it needs to stop.  I will no longer be a compliant witness to this type of psychological assault.  I know my language is strong and I intend it to be.  The numerous stories I could share about masturbatory shame run in the thousands and I find it unnecessary, harmful and life altering.

I love the gospel of Jesus Christ.  I am an active member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and am proud to stand by the teachings I have been taught since Primary: stand for truth and righteousness, dare to do right, choose the right and let the consequence follow, abandon unrighteous traditions, personal revelation is part of my divine heritage, not all has yet been revealed, etc.  Sometimes, sadly, this means doing so even within my own cultural framework of Mormonism.  Sexual shaming has had a long history within religious paradigms – with disastrous results for many.  I am no longer willing to participate in any way, shape or form with such shaming.

I am sorry if this stance alienates some of you from wanting to be associated with me or my blog.  I am sorry if I unintentionally offend.  I am sorry if my opinions would keep you from wanting to see me on a professional level or referring to me – because I truly love working with members of the church.  I am doing the best I can with the knowledge I have both from a spiritual and professional perspective.  I cannot go against my professional ethics and stand silent when I witness harmful behavior or belief.  I believe in the plan of happiness and see my role as a therapist being to promote physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual health.  It is incredibly sad for me when biases and/or outdated ideas, not substantiated by doctrine, within our own culture get in the way of the true joy which can be found within the gospel teachings of Jesus Christ.

So in answer to this woman’s question:   Yes, it is ok that you are single, endowed and masturbating.  This is not a “problem.”  You are a woman with sexual needs and drives – your marital status does not change this.  Be willing to trust your sexual self so you can masturbate in a healthy way, enjoy and stop shaming yourself!

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  • Ericka

    The church should not penalize youth or adults for masturbating. However, I believe that masturbating to pornography is wrong, because pornography opens the gate to so many more problems.I have been married for eleven years and for the first four years, I could never figure out how to have orgasms. My husband and I would try all kind of things, but yet I could not have an orgasm. Unfortunately, I lost interest in sex for about a year. I would still have relations with my husband but I hated it. Then I got determined to figure out how to have orgasms. I started doing lots of research, and I started to learn my own body-masturbating. Finally, I learned how to have orgasms, and now I love sex!! However, I ended up talking to my bishop and stake president about whether masturbation during marriage is wrong. They both said yes, that it is wrong, and that I should not have done that by myself, and yes that masturbation will definitely keep you from attending the temple. I tried to include my husband in on things, but it basically came down to ME figuring things out(my husband knew what I was doing). If I wouldn’t have masturbated, then I would have NEVER learned how to have orgasms. I don’t regret learning, and it makes me sad and upset that a lot of LDS women/girls are taught not to touch their bodies, this is why I didn’t do it for the longest time. If women are not having orgasms, they are not going to enjoy sex, and this is going to affect their marriages. I finally understand why men need sex, and a big part of that is getting a “release”. The tension and build-up that I get is very powerful, and keeping that all bottled up is very tortuous. If I didn’t have a partner to help me, then I should be able to release it myself. Even with a husband, there are times that I masturbate, because he is tired etc. My sexual desire is a lot stronger than his right now. My heart also hurts for the youth, who can’t take the sacrament, pass the sacrament, or go to the temple because of this issue. They carry around a lot of guilt/shame, and they shouldn’t have to. I know that it would be nice if everybody could master their bodies, but it may take a life time for some of us to do so. Does this mean that we should never be able to take the sacrament, go to the temple etc? We need to get the church to open their eyes and change this rule/policy. They are hurting a lot of their youth and members.

    • Ericka:
      I agree. And thank you for sharing your story. My experience as a man is very similar, and I think stories like yours are so important for revealing that men and women are not all that different. Thanks,

  • danielashenafi

    The whole point of christianity is to be more like Jesus Christ, to live in the spirit, know the love and fear of the Lord, and see His glorious power manifest in our lives. Therefore our christian lives should NOT consist of compromise but sacrifice! I am convinced that Jesus and other men and women of God in the Bible did not masturbate. Masturbation is unnatural and almost always involves lust and impure thoughts (leading to an impure heart). To live a life pure and pleasing before God, this is one of the things we need to address. I have written about my own struggle with this sin..


    I hope that this has opened your hearts to the truth that there is no place for mediocrity in following Jesus Christ, and that I rebuke out of love and not any other motive


  • Any religion which puts itself above or ahead of science borders on being cultish, since it puts superstition above fact. One may consider a spiritual nature to be above a physical nature (or in Christian vernacular, “carnal” nature), but one should be compelled to understand that ignoring inevitable rules of physical nature will most certainly result in physical (and therefore, possible mental or spiritual) harm to the adherent.

    Masturbation, or more to the point, ejaculation, is a physically necessary event. I know that in men, a complete abstinence from the sexual crescendo has been shown to be physically detrimental. the lack of release causes a measurable increase in the level of testosterone (up to 16%). Apart from the notable increase of aggressive tendencies, this also doubles a man’s risk of stroke or heart attack, and may also increase the risk of certain cancers. The lack of release is also associated with lower levels of immunoglobulin A, causing a decrease in the overall immune system.

    Much more could be written about the known physical effects, but I’ll delve no further here. Overall, I feel that any concerns over the act itself should be in regard to the motivation and facilitation, and far less over the act itself.