[This post is an imagined guest post on the Good in Bed blog. I just had to get this out of my head, so here it is. Some of what I say will only make sense if you keep that in mind.]
I curled up under the sheets and earnestly prayed that I would die. I had never prayed more fervently. The thought of facing even one more day terrified me.
I had come home that night from spending time with my fiancÃ©e and absently turned on the television. A Frontline show about the pornography industry was on PBS. Before I knew what was happening, before I had a chance to change the channel, I saw familiar sights and heard familiar sounds. A yearning fire was lit inside my brain. I prayed for deliverance from my temptation. Perhaps my prayer wasn’t very sincere. The thing that I had battled against all of my youth drew me inexorably toward itself.
Thoughts of all that I stood to lose flashed through my mind. Chief among these was the temple marriage that was scheduled only weeks away. None of this mattered enough in that moment to dissuade me from succumbing to my addiction and masturbating.
Immediately afterward, a crushing weight of shame pressed down on my shoulders. What could I tell my fiancÃ©e? I was positive that she would cast me off. I didn’t want to face my bishop. I was certain that he would call off the marriage. I had no doubt that I was irredeemably lost. I didn’t want to face God. I felt that He should end my life because I had failed my test in life. I saw no reason to continue my miserable life. If ever I understood the scripture that said “mountains and rocks, Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb”, it was that horrible night. (Revelation 6:16)
I slept very little that night, and only fitfully. In the morning, I slowly worked up the courage to call the bishop and confess. I could hear the pain in his voice as he asked me to come to his office immediately. Later that day, I also confessed to my fiancÃ©e. To my great relief, she was ready to forgive me. After much discussion and prayer and with the bishop’s blessing, we still went on to be sealed in the temple.
I am the happy husband of that forgiving young woman and the proud father of two beautiful, intelligent girls.
I enjoy my relationship with my wife, including our sexual relationship. However, some nights when I want to have sex, she is too tired or stressed from a day of corralling our girls. In general, I seem to be the more interested partner, at least at this point in our lives. This used to be hard for me. I would feel disappointed and rejected. I felt sexually thwarted. It was easy to feel resentful. I wasn’t very sympathetic.
Things have changed since then. When my hopes for sex with my wife aren’t in the cards, I may feel disappointed that I can’t be with my wife, but I sympathize with the reasons that she can’t be available to me at that moment and I take my sexual needs into my own hands. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist.)
For various reasons, I have become convinced that masturbation is not a sin. For one thing, it is never mentioned in the Standard Works. Some think that the story of Onan was about masturbation. The truth is that he was struck down for failing to live up to his obligation to his new wife and her deceased former husband, his brother.
Secondly, I learned about the history of attitudes toward masturbation in and out of the church. It seems clear to me from what I have learned that the attitudes toward masturbation that I was taught were based on people’s opinions. These opinions originally came out of popular culture, not as a revelation from God. Please bear with me as I paint the picture.
1700s Masturbation is first erroneously connected to insanity and disease in popular and medical literatureâ€”anti-masturbation sentiments rise in responseâ€”homosexuality and pederasty are erroneously linked to masturbationâ€”hysteria becomes widespread and leads to the popularization of male circumcision (which was previously only a religious rite) in an effort to curb masturbation
1830 Joseph Smith organizes the Church of Christ
1800s Smith remains publicly silent on masturbation leaving no record of any statements on the issueâ€”Brigham Young is also silent on the issue of masturbation leaving no record of any statement on the issueâ€”in the absence of official guidance, members of the church tend to go along with the baseless popular opinion of their day
1870â€“71 The subject of masturbation is addressed in meetings of the School of the Prophets by Apostles Daniel H. Wells and Lorenzo Snow and President George A. Smith, First Counselor in the First Presidencyâ€”polygamy is seen as a cure for masturbation by church leadersâ€”Elder Wells echoed the common sentiment that masturbation would lead to insanity and an early death
1883 Masturbation lumped together with excessive marital coitus as a cause of disease in a meeting of the First Presidency
Late 1800s increased acceptance of the bacterial causes of disease undermines the idea that masturbation leads to disease
1920s and ’30s the Church’s response to masturbation changes to reflect the available evidenceâ€”masturbation shame linked with mental health concernsâ€”official church manuals encouraged parental guidance rather than repression of masturbationâ€”church warns against parental overreaction to masturbation
1940s the idea that masturbation leads to insanity fades from professional opinion and is soon all but forgotten in popular thought
1950s several church leaders publish opinions which encourage total abstinence from masturbationâ€”church reverses previous moderate stance, the first time that church policy diverged from the common medical opinion of the day
1958 Elder Bruce R. McConkie publishes Mormon Doctrine with a statement that directly condemns the psychiatric opinion that masturbatory shame is a mental dysfunction thereby creating the impression of an authoritative denunciation of masturbation because of his position as an Apostle
1969 Elder Spencer W. Kimball (still just an Apostle at the time) writes The Miracle of Forgiveness which denounces masturbation and states that religious authority trumps any empirical evidence on the matter
1972 the American Medical Association declares masturbation to be normal behaviorâ€”Boy Scout manual is rewritten to affirm the normalcy of masturbation and its positive role in sexual developmentâ€”25,000 copies of the manual are destroyed at the behest of the Catholic and Mormon churchesâ€”revised edition advises boys to counsel with parents and spiritual leaders regarding masturbationâ€”Mormon health care professionals come under increased pressure to condemn masturbation in contravention of their professional oaths and standards
1976 the church distributes pamphlet To Young Men Only, a reprinting of an speech by Elder Boyd K. Packer in which he promoted his personal ideas about sexual physiology and desire which contradicted contemporary empirical medical evidenceâ€”the pamphlet promotes the erroneous idea that sexual desire would be almost absent during puberty if it were not incited, that masturbation causes sexual desire
1980s Elder Mark E. Petersen authored Steps in Overcoming Masturbation targeted to young, male missionariesâ€”his pamphlet advocated harsh psychological control methods and aversion therapy techniques to control masturbationâ€”Mormon psychiatrist Cantril Nielsen pays a large settlement in the wrongful death case of 16-year-old Kip Eliason whom he advised to follow his bishop’s counsel to abstain from masturbation in order to be worthy (contrary to the standards of his psychiatric profession)â€”Kip Eliason committed suicide due to overwhelming feelings of unworthiness while trying to abstain from masturbationâ€”medical experts in the case confirmed that masturbation posed no risks to mental or physical health, but that attempted abstinence from masturbation had a documented history of suicidal risk
1990 LDS church publishes For the Strength of Youth pamphlet which continued to denounce masturbation as morally unclean
1994 Is Kissing Sinful?, a book by church member Grant Von Harrison, is published which promotes the extreme position that â€œIf you allow yourself to become sexually aroused prior to marriage, you commit a moral sinâ€
1995 In a study of 103 married Mormon women (91% of whom attended church services weekly, 5% monthly), 43% reported that they masturbated currently, 54% when they were younger
2001 The church publishes a highly revised For the Strength of Youth which no longer mentions masturbation by name
2004 And They Were Not Ashamed: Strengthening Marriage through Sexual Fulfillment by church member Laura M. Brotherson aims to counteract some of the sexual shame in popular LDS cultureâ€”she admits to suffering from psychosexual shame which caused marital dysfunctionâ€”she advises that masturbation is permissible when intended to promote marital health
Most of this timeline comes from Historical Development of New Masturbation Attitudes in Mormon Culture. I no longer feel guilt in connection with masturbation. I cannot tell you how much gratitude fills my heart for that. Based on my own experience, I must conclude that the guilt that I used to feel was misplaced. The guilt that made me long for death that night was a chimera that I had conjured in my own mind.
So now, the naturally differing levels of sexual desire between my wife and me are much less of a stress in our marriage. I think we’re both happier. Masturbation hasn’t distanced me from my wife. Quite the opposite is true. And as a bonus, regular masturbation/ejaculation helps prevent prostate cancer.
When I read some of the comments on this blog, it reminds me of me the way I used to be. It hurts me to think of the people who struggle with guilt about masturbation, the guilt my experience has taught me to believe is unnecessary and unhealthy. My addiction was created by that guilt. Now that the guilt is gone, so is my addiction. The guilt was my problem.