First off, I want to apologize... this is going to be a long post.So... We'll jump right into something. I've been skipping around on a few other mormon blogs recently. I was reading on the culturalhall.com, and which I'm sad to say has shut down (temporarily I hope). Anyway, I ended up there linked from another blog, but found my way to an article called "Confessions of Serial Masturbator/Repenter." A very interesting read.
So, since the site is shut down for comments, I thought I'd put my two cents in here. Fair warning, this may take a while for me to get through everything. But, be patient.
We'll start at the beginning, my beginning. I grew up in a Mormon family... pretty much. We went to church every week. But there was very little religion at home, no FHE, prayers, scripture study, etc. I grew up more or less believing that the church was true, but never really had reason to doubt it either. When I was approaching puberty, my dad lost his job, and had to go back to school. Since we live in a rural area, that meant he was gone during the week, and came to visit on weekends for a few years. That meant dad was no longer coming to church. I'd also reached that age where you start to question things, and, long story short... I pretty much decided over the next few years that there was no such thing as God, and that was ok.
It was during this time, when left with large open spaces, solitude, and a rather introverted personality, that I discovered masturbation. I really don't remember when that happened. But I discovered that it felt good, somehow intuitively knew I probably shouldn't tell people, yet I don't remember even the slightest pangs of guilt about it. I grew up with a lot of empty fields and streams and trees around, so I found secret pleasure in the summer skinny-dipping alone on a hot day, which often involved me masturbating.
Over the next few years, I struggled with my self-esteem, not related to masturbation, but rather because of issues with trying to gain my father's approval (long story, didn't happen, not gunna, I kind of shut off emotionally, and now I'm pretty much over it... that'll be a post another day). Sometime around my junior year I once again gained some interest in the church. After a lot more investigating, a LOT of reading, and a LOT of prayer, I received a very powerful witness that the Book of Mormon was true, and that the LDS church was true, and that I needed to actually put my life in line with it's teachings... and for a teenage boy, that meant stopping masturbating.
Trying to Quit
I thought, that's ok. I've always had pretty good self control in almost all aspects of my life. So I stopped. No problem. But then, I don't remember how long after, it happened. I had this irresistible urge to masturbate. I did. I fell down. I came down on myself really hard for that... (I have a knack for that: being way to hard on myself. I'm getting better though) I eventually picked myself up again, and was on my merry way. But I fell again, and thus began a long cycle of masturbation, shame, feeling miserable about myself, masturbation for self soothing, occasionally making a new resolution to free myself from it. I sometimes made it a long time (several months), in fact enough so that I felt worthy to go on a mission.
That lasted about half-way through the MTC, then it began again. I fought with it throughout my mission. Scriptures "no unclean thing can dwell in the presence of God" and GA quotes (miracle of forgiveness, etc) just tortured me. I probably slept for 2-3 hours per night most of my mission. I couldn't forgive myself, couldn't imagine that God could forgive someone who'd committed one of the sins second only to denying the Holy Ghost and murder. Finally, two thirds of the way through, I went to my Mission President after one of the best talks I've ever heard on forgiveness, and how to know when we're forgiven. He helped me so much. He let me know that this was extremely common (I'd always felt I had to be one of the only men in the church with this problem). He said that there were tons of missionaries in the field with me that did it. It wasn't at all as I'd feared: He didn't send me home, told me I should still be taking the sacrament, didn't release me from my calling as zone leader, didn't take my birthday away, or faint of shock. He told me to work to try and avoid it, and kind of directed the conversation as more of being an issue of self-control, rather than one of the worst sins on earth. He even told me that he, as a younger man, had masturbated as well. This was the first time I'd had any hope of being able to overcome this and become a responsible man in the church one day.
Unfortunately, despite my best intentions, it happened again. I called my MP, and he gave me some support. Before I left for home, he offered encouragement, and told me I should talk to my Stake President about it when I got back. I did, and he told me to visit with my Bishop. When I did that, he was very disappointed in me, but again, the main thing I got from him was that this wasn't nearly as bad as I thought it was. I was still to take the sacrament, and the temple could be a source of strength. I should read, pray, and strive to avoid it. I did that for a long time. But it still really was hard for me to let go, and be ok with an occasional mistake. I still really struggled with my self esteem, for a while taking a break from dating after the mission, because, "even if I find someone I like, why would she be interested in me?"
Finally, from doing some reading, especially online, I came to doubt whether or not it really was a sin. I questioned statements from GA's that were flat out wrong (masturbation leads to insanity, blindness, being gay, etc) or at least misleading. If they were wrong about that, were they wrong about it being sinful. Were they just reflecting cultural biases from generations past. Why haven't they said anything recently.. relying instead on pre 1975 quotes for FTSOY and such. I decided to put it to the test. I gave myself permission to masturbate without guilt, and then waited to see if I really did feel guilt from God, or if it was of my own making. I felt fine. I felt fine coming home from church, masturbating, then reading my scriptures. I never would have imagined I could feel ok about it. I didn't feel the Spirit withdraw from me. It was like my MP had told me, "I'm sure there are days when you've felt the Spirit on days that you'd masturbated..." He also told me that, "The Spirit is God's way of telling you when you are doing ok in His eyes." If I can feel the Spirit, it must not be the evil, terrible thing that Elder Packer/SWK said it was.
An interesting thing happened, when I gave myself this permission; when I no longer had the self-imposed guilt... I found myself happier, guilt-free (God didn't impose any on me for it), and surprisingly, I found myself masturbating less, and thinking MUCH less about sex. All this while meeting the girl of my dreams, getting engaged, and getting married.
That brings me to another experience. After I'd been married a good while, one night my wife and I were talking about a friend of hers who was engaged. This friend had told her about her fiance, who would sometimes ejaculate while they were making out. I thought that was a bit weird, and so did she. Then she casually asked how often guys ejaculate, and then how often I'd ejaculated. I told her that kind of thing never happened to me. Then she wanted to know how I had ejaculated before. When I told her that I'd masturbated, she broke down in tears. I was completely unprepared for the conversation, and especially her reaction. She was doubting whether maybe our temple marriage wasn't valid or should I be going to the temple, taking the sacrament, etc. I was blown back, and didn't know what to do.
So, I'll have to go into the deeper things, the arguments for and against masturbation being a sin later. But for now, I'd like any comments from any who might read, what has been your experience with this, particularly as it relates to dealing with a spouse. It's no longer really an issue, and I don't see it being a major thing for me anytime soon, until I have a kid that I have to tell about masturbation... what will I say?
Ok, I'm back... So the arguments. I think I've gained a lot from reading things others wrote in comments on other blogs. I really think that some GA's have stepped out too far in their interpretation of the Law of Chastity. I don't think that God ever intended masturbation to be included. President Kimball's statement that prophets ancient and modern condemned the practice (paraphrased) seems un-based in scripture. He also goes on to say that we shouldn't justify our actions simply because they aren't mentioned in the scriptures. I agree with that in general, but how does that apply here. This is an activity that 95 (or whatever incredibly high percent you want to use) percent of men (and a majority of women) do or have done, most likely in their teens to twenties. If this sin really falls into the same category as fornication and adultery, why on earth would the prophets not have spoken out on it. I remember reading a more scholarly study of the issue in Mormonism, "Historical Development of New Masturbation Attitudes in Mormonism." Some of the first reactions we have on record by the brethren were negative, for sure... but the reactions were along the lines of, this practice causes insanity (and rest of the 19th century medical ideas about masturbation's effects). They weren't "We've received revelation that this is wrong." If they believed it caused all the ill effects they talked about, of course it made sense for them to come out against it, to advise the youth against it. A few GA's continued to teach the same things, having been taught them growing up, and wanting to pass their wisdom along to the youth... only problem is, it was incorrect. (Especially Elder Packer's 'little factory' idea, that masturbating will cause it to increase, that if you don't, you'll hardly even notice!)
I don't buy the self-control idea any more either. We don't talk about self-control with food as meaning you never eat.... ever. Or even, only after marriage. It would be ridiculous. I think self-control is important with sex, but I don't think that means that people need to shut the drive off completely. It's all about channelling it to proper channels. (Just as it is after marriage) There are a significant number of people in the church who'll never marry. Why would God place these God-given urges in them if he never intended for them to be used.
I don't, however, believe that this is some sort of mind-control tactic used by the brethren. That is way too cynical for me. I believe they are inspired men, good men, trying to do the right thing. But here I think good intentions fall short. I have a testimony of the Church. I know it's true. I know we have a Prophet of God on the earth. But I also know that not every thing spoken by a prophet is the word of God. It's up to us to pray and find out for ourselves what is and is not revelation, by the power of the Spirit, as well as following the New Testament council to put the word to a test... try it, and judge it by its fruits.
A brief review of Mormon intimacy from J. Stapely @ BCC
Or Try This for a more scholarly look into the churches view, from the journal Sexuality & Culture