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:
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!