Mental and Spiritual Health Conference Challenge

Mental and Spiritual Health Conference Challenge

Twice a year we have the wonderful privilege of hearing from our leaders to receive spiritual guidance and counsel. Each year the messages of these amazing men and women seems to have a greater impact on my life. Maybe you're like me and sometimes feel they prepared their message specifically for you. Conference is a spiritual feast that nourishes your soul when so many other responsibilities and life tax your soul.

However, if you are like me and many others, conference can also be anxiety provoking and overwhelming. There are times a leader’s message doesn't seem to align with scriptural or spiritual guidance received in the course of seeking answers to prayers. Other times, the feelings of anxiety become overwhelming as you have spent the last weeks, months and even years doing all you can to be met with a message of "do more." Sometimes a speaker doesn't seem to understand the complexities of life with their overly simplified solutions, which then elicits the guilty, self-reflective, self-punishing idea that maybe you don't have enough faith.

Elder Holland warned about this risk;

"My brothers and sisters, except for Jesus, there have been no flawless performances on this earthly journey we are pursuing, so while in mortality let’s strive for steady improvement without obsessing over what behavioral scientists call “toxic perfectionism.” We should avoid that latter excessive expectation of ourselves and of others and, I might add, of those who are called to serve in the Church—which for Latter-day Saints means everyone, for we are all called to serve somewhere." Be Ye Therefore Perfect—Eventually

Although I think most don't believe our leaders are infallible, this is this cultural assumption—that ALL things spoken in conference are "right", "true", "doctrine", or "scripture" and are meant as an infallible guide for your personal life. Unfortunately, this cultural belief feeds the toxic perfectionism spoken of by Elder Holland. Therefore, this conference I encourage you to get the most out of every message by taking the mental and spiritual health conference challenge. Here it is:

1. Verbally remind yourself that God is working though imperfect people with their own perceptions, bias, family culture and predispositions.

2. Verbally remind yourself that not everything—in fact most things—spoken in conference are NOT doctrine, but rather personal experiences of imperfect people making sense of an infinite and eternal gospel.

3. Verbally remind yourself to conscientiously check in with your Father in Heaven if the message is meant for you and is something you should prioritize in your life.

4. Verbally acknowledge that even leaders say things that are confusing, unclear and even wrong. Trust your ongoing relationship with God and allow clarity to come from HIM.

5. Verbally acknowledge if you come away from conference with the idea that you need to do more, be better, work harder, read more scriptures, sacrifice more. Most likely it’s the influence of toxic perfectionism and not the spirit of Christ.

6. Verbally promise yourself that you will not assume a speaker’s words are more important or correct than your personal relationship and revelation from God.

7. Verbally acknowledge that emotions are NOT the same as spiritual confirmation or revelation.

8. Verbally remind yourself to be present, feeling and thinking about your own experience during conference.

The gospel is joyous. We should be rejoicing and feeling God’s love and learning how to emulate that love. His love is healing, not hurtful or depressing.

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The Unintelligent Parent

The following is an excerpt from Relief Society Magazine: Guide Lessons For April 1927 Lesson IV Social Service (Fourth Week in April).

Emotional Problems of Childhood—Jane and Henrietta 

Serious and difficult emotional problems are presented by the two adolescent girls, Jane and Henrietta. Both were the victims of unintelligent parents. The basis of these problems is not uncommon in adolescent development because of lack of understanding by their parents; one girl was on the verge of a mental breakdown, and the other was contemplating suicide. Both suffered these serious emotional upsets because of the lack of sex education and guidance.

It will be remembered from the introductory discussion of emotional problems that the individual has three dominant instincts or urges—the ego, or self; the herd, or social; and the sex or love instinct. The three instincts all seek expression, and if thwarted or frustrated cause emotional disturbances the individual expresses his ego urge by accomplishing certain ends and experiencing the joy and satisfaction of expression. He satisfies his social urge by gaining the confidence and approval of his family, playmates, and friends. In the studies of the emotional problems of childhood, it has been pointed out that the failure to gain normal expression or the failure to gain approval seriously affects the development of the child. His defeats, and unhappiness, and sense of failure deeply affect his emotional life, limiting his development, and making his conduct abnormal.

In our home and school life the tendency has been to ignore inquiry into the other important instinct, sex. The subject has been a taboo. Because sex has been recognized as a compelling life force, but its aspects have not been generally understood, the whole subject has taken on an atmosphere of morbid secrecy.

Sex education is the responsibility of the home. The first questions of the origin and development of life are asked in the home. The relation between parents, the relation between parents and their children, the attitude of brothers and sisters toward one another, and toward their friends, are all phases of sex relationships, and depend on wholesome; home guidance to lead the child to normal, healthful attitudes.

The method of sex education will not be the subject of this discussion, for the subject itself deserves special attention and study. The purpose of studying the problems of Jane and Henrietta is to observe the real dangers and pitfalls that endanger adolescents if, through lack of home guidance, they have wrong information concerning sex, and unwholesome attitudes because of their misconceptions.

Jane at nineteen was at the beginning of a mental breakdown she was suffering from what is known as an anxiety neurosis. This condition was the result of a secret worry that she had tried to crowd out of her conscious life. In spite of her effort to forget her worry, the unconscious mind kept harboring and remembering until she came near a breakdown All her anxiety, and nervousness, and weeping, and unhappiness, were the result of wrong sex information given her by her mother. She had at twelve, and again at sixteen met an experience not at all uncommon in childhood. Her mother had observed that she masturbated—practiced self-abuse—and had used the unintelligent method of correcting her by telling the child that she would go crazy if she did not stop the practice.

The mother filled the child's life with fear, shame and inferiority. The (girl felt herself unclean and unfit for friendships and love. The shame and self-reproach continued, for at no time was she given frank, sound, sex information.

Her other home guidance was also harmful. Her mother was most rigid and severe in her regulations concerning her friends and social life, and this close supervision intensified her feeling of weakness and impending dangers.

When she was given a frank explanation of the function of sex by the physician she consulted, her danger was past. Her doubts and fears disappeared as soon as the atmosphere of secrecy and accompanying feeling of shame were removed.

Our author states that this practice occurs frequently among children, and should call for attention but not anxiety. The hazard is not the effect on the mind or body, but the fears and anxieties aroused by the method of correction. Parents should not express horror or instill fears to meet this behavior difficulty. Sympathetic understanding, patient teaching, and frankness by the parents will lead the child more readily to overcome the practice, and will not undermine his confidence and self-esteem.

Henrietta at sixteen found life dull, and contemplated self-destruction. Her thinking then led her to consider finding pleasure and securing pretty clothes by pursuing a course already adopted by her sister. Her poverty, her lack of normal childhood amusement, made the course of abandoning her moral principles seem exciting and attractive.

It is not fair to pass judgment on Henrietta and girls in her position, for the attitude they develop. Youth is a time for amusements and gaieties, and if no wholesome recreation is afforded young persons, it is quite natural for them to seek it in thoughtless and unwise channels.

The developing sex impulse in adolescents needs to be better understood by parents. In homes where boys and girls meet frequently to play and dance and enjoy youth together, there is no great occasion for alarm. Where this harmless, natural association is denied, either by lack of a pleasant home or by too rigid puritanical standards, the frustrated impulse may lead to real difficulties.

Henrietta's difficulties were both the lack of frank instruction, and the lack of constructive direction. The importance of children gaining their information regarding matters of health, of the life processes, and the ideal of parenthood in a sane, natural way, cannot be over-emphasized. In homes where questions are evaded and the subject of sex physiology and development is left a mystery, the child's curiosity is not only stimulated but he develops a morbid attitude toward the whole subject. He then gains his information from sources such as his gang, and lurid magazines, and his entire conception of the part of sex in life becomes distorted. It becomes an unspeakable subject, one from which he gains an unwholesome pleasure in discussing and contemplating its unsavory aspects. The very mystery that his parents place upon the subject makes his attitude abnormal, morbid and unwholesome.

The child who receives frank answers to his early questions, and who has his own development explained to him in terms of ideals of parenthood is protected from this unpleasant and harmful speculation. Fore-armed with sound, accurate information from the parents whose sincerity he does not doubt, he will be able to dismiss the misinformation that he will later hear from his crowd or gang. He will also be spared the emotional upset when he finally realizes that his parents have deliberately given him false information.

Henrietta had further difficulty besides the lack of instruction. Her home had given her no opportunity for the outlet of her emotional interests. The release of this emotional energy is important to give the individual normal stable personality. The inherent craving of individuals for emotional satisfaction is termed the libido. If the libido finds expression for its great store of energy in harmless channels, the individual maintains a normal attitude towards life, and normal interests in the affairs of everyday living. If the libido finds no opportunity for release, that is, finds no emotional satisfaction in the daily associations, and in the regular scheme of living, the libido will find an outlet in some other channel, which may have undesirable effects on the person.

In terms of Henrietta her libido found no wholesome outlet. Her natural craving for emotional satisfaction was frustrated. Her parents did not realize how important these satisfactions are, until the effect of her barren emotional life was explained to them.

The libido can find expression and satisfaction in many channels. Affection and appreciation in the home are sources of emotional release. Games, parties, outdoor sports, recreation, new clothes, success in work, are all easily recognized as sources of emotional satisfaction, and releases of emotional energy.

Henrietta responded to the treatment prescribed, and her nearsighted plans of securing clothes and pleasures by sacrificing her standards was forgotten. She was not scolded, nor lectured, nor criticized. No attempt was made to change her attitude by discussing her responsibilities and duties. Her thwarted emotional life made an intellectual appeal futile.

The treatment outlined was agreeable work away from home, where she found pleasure in her work and in being with children. Her earnings made it possible for her to gain other small pleasures in the way of recreation. Her days that had been spent in pent up brooding were now changed to active happy ones.

It is apparent that wholesome activity, recreation and pleasant associations are normal releases of the emotional life. Associations should be varied. There is some danger of too strong attachment between parents and children or two children. A mother, especially a widowed one, might devote herself too entirely to her only son or daughter. Two friends of the opposite sex at. too early an age may make emotional ties that are upsetting when the necessity rises for separation. Two friends of the same sex may also become too dependent on each other for their later happiness.

There are types of individuals who do not mingle with groups readily or frequently. Such social expression as possible should be encouraged in these persons, but it must be remembered that the emotional energy can find expression in channels other than amusement. Creative work of any kind has been identified with emotional life. Any expression, whether through poetry, painting, music or other creative work, gives the person a real emotional satisfaction. This expression through creative effort, known as sublimation is the sex impulse released through other channels.

The program of sex education is based on frank information given by parents to children, and also on the direction of the emotional energy into channels of work, recreation, activity, and of its sublimation to satisfying, useful forms of expression.

Reference -- The Challenge Of Childhood by Ira S.Wile, pages 215-227

Questions and Problems

1. Why is frank sex information to children important?

2. Why should this information be given in the home ?

3. What is meant by the libido?

4. How can the libido find expression in normal channels?

5. What are normal emotional satisfactions for adolescents?

6. What are the dangers of lack of emotional expression?

7. What treatment was outlined for Henrietta?

8. What is meant by sublimation?

-------------------------------------------

1. The Relief Society magazine : Organ of the Relief Society of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://archive.org/stream/reliefsocietymag14reli#page/102

2. The Challenge Of Childhood. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://archive.org/stream/in.ernet.dli.2015.274695/2015.274695.The-Challenge#page/n227

He Restoreth My Soul Chapter Two

A review and response to the book "He Restoreth My Soul: Understanding and Breaking the Chemical and Spiritual Chains of Pornography Addiction Through the Atonement of Jesus Christ" by Donald L. Hilton Jr., MD (Neurosurgeon).

This response addresses chapter two, "What Is Addiction?" pgs. 7–12.

Ambiguous, Opinion and Tangential

It would be reasonable to expect that a medical doctor specializing in neurosurgery, in a chapter called, "what is addiction?" would include a well-informed, formulated, medically-sound definition and explanation of addiction. But the reader is void of any such clarity. Instead, Hilton interjects ambiguity, opinion and tangential reasoning, which has little to no relevance to addiction or porn as an addictive behavior. The inadequacy of this chapter is embarrassing, let alone completely baffling for a medical doctor to have authored.

Defining Pornography

Hilton presumptuously and arbitrarily defines pornography as, "anything that induces an inappropriate sexual interest for that person."

This statement is potentially one of the most blatant evidences of Hilton's ignorance and inexperience on the topics of addiction and pornography. Nonetheless, his lack of experience aside, as a trained medical professional, I am confused as to how he can assert this as a "functional definition." It lacks complete functionality. As mentioned in chapter one's response, he leverages familiar terminology within the LDS culture but fails to deliver substance. This is far from a functional definition.

First, "anything that induces an inappropriate sexual interest" is completely subjective, cultural, individual and familial. Who defines "inappropriate"? The bishop? A therapist? Parents? Society?

For example, a 19-year-old woman meets with me regarding her confusion regarding "inappropriate" sexual thoughts and behavior. For the last three years she had been concerned with particular thoughts and behavior, which she at first thought were normal and "appropriate." However, after talking with her bishop a few years ago, he expressed a heighten concern and took "preventive" measures to prevent the behavior from escalating.

Although the young woman wasn't spiritually concerned and was only talking with her bishop because she felt it was the right thing to do, the bishop’s response made her feel she was committing a serious sin. Now, three years later she is experiencing anxiety and spiritual confusion. What complicates this situation more is how her new bishop at college has responded to the behavior. The young woman said the bishop "was not concerned in the least" with her thoughts and behavior. In fact, he emphasized that it was normal and not something to be concerned about.

In another example, one young man sought treatment for his "pornography addiction" and "inappropriate sexual interest." This young man at 14 experienced a life transition when his parent remarried and the step parent moved in with a 16-year-old daughter. In his words, she was beautiful and he was experiencing "inappropriate sexual interest." At an age when his erections are unpredictable and frequent, it was difficult for him to keep his mind "pure." He had no desire to be inappropriate, and he didn't act out any feelings; in fact, he ended up locking himself in his room most of the time to avoid any potential "thoughts." Based off Hilton's definition, this young man is experiencing porn.

Many adolescence and adults believe they are experiencing pornography based on the subjective definitions of other people. One couple had an agreement to not go to either the beach or the gym. The wife expressed concern that her husband seeing other women in bikinis would trigger inappropriate thoughts. The husband had the same concern for his wife going to the gym and seeing men lifting without a shirt.

Second, Hilton fails to understand the contradictory nature of his opening paragraph when he further states, "Each person knows in his own heart what is a temptation for him, and that is the true test." What?! That is your functioning definition of pornography?! He just made a highly subjective statement of "anything that induces an inappropriate sexual interest" then leaves it up to the individual to determine what is inappropriate. Hilton's profound lack of understanding human nature, cultural influences and family dynamics on an individual is glaring. As you will discover, this lack of understanding feeds into every aspect of his book.

Third, it’s no surprise Hilton’s "functioning definition of pornography" is incoherent and unscientific because there is NO functioning definition of pornography.

If you ask a thousand people to define pornography, you'll get a thousand different answers. It is the only treated "illness" that has no specific definition of the problem or recovery. Mark Kim Malan, Ph.D. addressed this significant problem in A New Taxonomy: Scientific Misuse of the Term "Pornography", the following are extracts from his paper.

"Since the term ‘pornography’ has no agreed upon scientific definition, and since it has evolved into a term associated with pejorative bias, what terminology can scientists use to replace the term ‘pornography with a more accurate unbiased variable?

Efforts to answer this question led to examining not only the many various definitions of the term ‘pornography’, but also when it is used as various parts of speech. Such usage effectively expands and multiplies its definitions. Usually the term is used as a noun to define an object, for example when a photograph is called pornography. But also, it is sometimes used with an adjective to describe an object, usually in a pejorative way. An example would be the term ‘political pornography.’ A third approach is using the term to express individual subjective interpretation of an object. In this case pornography is modified into an adjective to describe another noun. The statement, ‘The Edsel, was simply a “pornographic automobile design”,’ would qualify as such an expression."

Dr. Mark Kim Malan continues to explain in his paper,

"Historically the term ‘pornography’ has an unreliable history of usefulness as a scientific term. Instead, it is a social construct of the human mind. Its social use is vague, inaccurate and is often co-opted for use as rhetoric by those who use it to further their social or political agendas. Over time the term has taken on negative connotations, and is now, also used as a pejorative term, in expressions of disapproval. The term ‘pornography’ is like using the term ‘lemon’ to describe an automobile. It describes a negative quality of an object in the minds of many people.

Sexual scientists look ridiculous, at best, and unethical at worst, when we refer to therapeutic depictions of healthy sexual behavior as ‘healthy pornography’. To the public, who colloquially views the term as a pejorative expression, the term ‘healthy pornography’ becomes an oxymoron. To the public, it is a contradiction in terms. It is like hearing the term ‘healthy poison’.

The term ‘pornography’ has socially evolved over time into a negative term. It has become ‘sexy stuff’ with bad press. Now is the time for scientists to break a bad habit of using this socially biased, non-scientific term. As scientists we create problems for ourselves when we adopt unscientific terminology that has culturally evolved, and is loaded with cultural or moralistic bias. We handicap the social effectiveness of our research when we use such terms.

The term ‘pornography’ is not going to go away. The public, politicians, moralists and the press will continue to use it to promote their agendas. Replacing the term ‘pornography’ with ‘sexually explicit material’ is a step in the right direction, but still the problem remains of who decides what is ‘sexually explicit’. This term, like ‘pornography’ is a subjective interpretation of an object, or group of objects.

As a solution, I am proposing this taxonomy of objects and subjective human response, for use in naming, and specifically defining objects as scientific variables. Instead of using the term ‘pornography’, I suggest naming objects and the human subjective responses to them in a more specific and standardized way, using this taxonomy as a guide.

When others use the term ‘pornography’ in dialog with us, we can simply respond by stating facts: ‘The term “pornography” is not scientific. There is no agreed upon scientific definition. It is more scientifically accurate to talk about specific objects and how individuals subjectively respond to them’. It is our responsibility to teach the public to be accurate and think in scientific terms."

Defining Addiction – Wait what just Happened?

The reader is left to fill in a void as wide as the Atlantic as Hilton transition from a "functional definition" of pornography to a "structural definition" of addiction. Is he suggesting any and all pornography is a form of addiction? What is he saying? This is HUGE! Am I an addict?!

Nonetheless, Hilton fails again at any reasonable or coherent attempt to define "addiction." Instead, he quotes a "structural definition" of addiction, from what appears to be a random article in a journal published in 1979! "Addiction represents a pathological, yet powerful, form of learning and memory."  (Memory deficits associated with senescence: a neurophysiological and behavioral study in the rat)

First, this is in no way a structural definition of addiction. At best, it’s an outdated hypothesis describing the potential effects of hard drug use.

Second, literally no clinician refers to, defines or explains "addiction" in this way. Furthermore, this is completely tangential. Hilton is making a false assumption and unsupported conclusion that hard drug use is the same as porn use.

Third, Hilton confuses and uses "process (behavior) addictions," compulsion, chemical addiction and sin interchangeably.

"Applying this definition (structural) to pornography, addiction is simply a repetitive behavior which damages the person and others in his life and which the person is unable to stop." (pg. 6)

Aside from this being a poor and problematic definition of addiction, this more closely describes a process/behavior addiction. Or rather, an unhealthy habit. His statement, "addiction is simply a repetitive behavior which damages … " suggests habit and is also confusing in the context of the chapter and book. Is the action "simply a repetitive behavior" that causes damage? Or is it,

"The impaired thinking alters the belief system, and the acting out becomes the drug that reinforces the impaired beliefs … . [the] Brain chemicals and the adversary synergistically act in an unholy alliance of soul-searing destruction." (pg. 11)

This definition, also problematic and not how medical or professionals refer to chemical addiction, is more closely aligned with substance abuse.

Also, take note of the unnecessary use of the adversary in this definition. This is a foreshadowing of the frequent misuses of the gospel to elicit fear. Hilton solidifies his ignorance regarding human behavior and the gospel with each similar statement. What value does he think he is providing by emphasizing "the adversary synergistically act in an unholy alliance of soul-searing destruction"?

Sin and the adversary's power is a function of our agency, not a biological impairment. This narrative of Satan and brain chemicals isn't unique to Hilton. It’s a popular pop-psychology idea adopted by inexperienced therapists and treatment organizations. For the purpose of drawing in the "religious" element of addiction, this topic is so convoluted and pervasive that I will need to address it throughout the various chapters. In short, this is a perfect example of men wresting the scriptures, mingling science, religion and the concepts of men. It’s damaging and destructive; ironically this misuse causes much unneeded "soul-searing destruction."

For example, a young man sat in my office with a blank look on his face. This kid was known as a model youth, charismatic, loving of the gospel and serving fully in his callings; however, as he sat and described the horrific despair and soul-crushing fear he possessed, one would have thought he committed the unpardonable sin, or murder. In his words, he was "evil." Why? Because he was "addicted" to pornography. This young man was on the verge of losing all hope. He is not alone; this is not an exception.

Although his porn use was habitual, it wasn't an addiction — far from it. But according to Hilton and his bishop, both untrained to provide this type of counseling, had nonetheless convinced this young man he was in danger of losing his salvation and being controlled/possessed by the adversary. After working with this young man, although his porn use was still being addressed, he returned to the joyful and hopeful teen he once was. By unlearning concepts like Hilton's statement, this teen is now on a path to recovery.

Habits, compulsion, chemical addiction and sin are sometimes overlapped. But they are NOT the same, these behaviors will be addressed why its critical to understand the difference for successful treatment. Hilton's failure and even neglect to define or adequately explain addiction is abysmal. Not a single reference to scientific literature, diagnostics manuals or research. He doesn't provide any clarity or insight in this chapter on "addiction". The reader is left to believe, whether they have had one "inappropriate" sexual thought or many, are addicts like those using hard drugs.

What does the medical field actually say about porn "addiction"? 

Hilton's beliefs are not only wrong scientifically, he is going against the teachings of our leaders. Elder Dallin H. Oaks has said,

"We recognize these different levels, we also recognize that not everyone who uses pornography willfully is addicted to it. In fact, most young men and young women who struggle with pornography are not addicted. That is a very important distinction to make—not just for the parents, spouses, and leaders who desire to help but also for those who struggle with this problem." (Recovering from the Trap of Pornography)

Elder Oaks embraced a more scientific and correct view of (1) inadvertent exposure, (2) occasional use, (3) intensive use, and (4) compulsive use (addiction). Hilton on the other hand doesn't believe in such varying degrees of use.

As for the scientific definitions, neither of the two official medical classifications and diagnostic manuals, the ICD-11 (International Classification of Disease, used as a coding manual in healthcare) or the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM 5 or the DSM-IV-TR) contain a diagnosis for porn or sexual addiction.

This is a critical fact that Hilton neglects to address in this chapter. Its very possibly why he avoided the topic at all.

The most recent addition to the ICD-11 allows for a classification of "Compulsive sexual behavior disorder." This is a critical distinction from "addiction."

"Compulsive sexual behaviour disorder is characterized by a persistent pattern of failure to control intense, repetitive sexual impulses or urges resulting in repetitive sexual behaviour. Symptoms may include repetitive sexual activities becoming a central focus of the person’s life to the point of neglecting health and personal care or other interests, activities and responsibilities; numerous unsuccessful efforts to significantly reduce repetitive sexual behaviour; and continued repetitive sexual behaviour despite adverse consequences or deriving little or no satisfaction from it. The pattern of failure to control intense, sexual impulses or urges and resulting repetitive sexual behaviour is manifested over an extended period of time (e.g., 6 months or more), and causes marked distress or significant impairment in personal, family, social, educational, occupational, or other important areas of functioning. Distress that is entirely related to moral judgments and disapproval about sexual impulses, urges, or behaviours is not sufficient to meet this requirement." 6C72 Compulsive sexual behaviour disorder

Take note of the very specific language used in this classification, particularly to the last sentence: "Distress that is entirely related to moral judgments and disapproval about sexual impulses, urges, or behaviours is not sufficient to meet this requirement." Hilton's entire book is basing addiction on "moral judgement and disapproval about sexual impulses, urges or behaviours ... " An article about the ICD-11 explains compulsive sexual behavior disorder:

"Concerns about overpathologizing sexual behaviours are explicitly addressed in the diagnostic guidelines proposed for the disorder. Individuals with high levels of sexual interest and behaviour (e.g., due to a high sex drive) who do not exhibit impaired control over their sexual behaviour and significant distress or impairment in functioning should not be diagnosed with compulsive sexual behaviour disorder. The diagnosis should also not be assigned to describe high levels of sexual interest and behaviour (e.g., masturbation) that are common among adolescents, even when this is associated with distress.

The proposed diagnostic guidelines also emphasize that compulsive sexual behaviour disorder should not be diagnosed based on psychological distress related to moral judgments or disapproval about sexual impulses, urges or behaviours that would otherwise not be considered indicative of psychopathology. Sexual behaviours that are egodystonic can cause psychological distress; however, psychological distress due to sexual behaviour by itself does not warrant a diagnosis of compulsive sexual behaviour disorder.

Careful attention must be paid to the evaluation of individuals who self‐identify as having the disorder (e.g., calling themselves “sex addicts” or “porn addicts”). Upon examination, such individuals may not actually exhibit the clinical characteristics of the disorder, although they might still be treated for other mental health problems (e.g., anxiety, depression). Additionally, individuals often experience feelings such as shame and guilt in relationship to their sexual behaviour2, but these experiences are not reliably indicative of an underlying disorder." (Compulsive sexual behaviour disorder in the ICD‐11)

The diagnostics manuals have written the diagnosis in this way for two reasons. First, there is little to NO evidence that porn/sex is an addiction. Second, writers of the ICD particularly have identified a growing trend of self-diagnosis and clinicians misdiagnosing patients. Any medical practitioner understands the great risks in misdiagnosis individuals, but this concept seems completely lost on Hilton.

In chapter six "It is a Drug," Hilton argues that porn/sex are not only an addiction but are exactly like a drug. I'll address those specific studies he quotes and his failure to understand the research. Even when the authors of the research specifically say its not like a drug.

Currently, there is an active scientific discussion about whether compulsive sexual behaviour disorder can constitute the manifestation of a behavioural addiction. For ICD‐11, a relatively conservative position has been recommended, recognizing that we do not yet have definitive information on whether the processes involved in the development and maintenance of the disorder are equivalent to those observed in substance use disorders.. (Compulsive sexual behaviour disorder in the ICD‐11)

(Additional information about CSBD: Compulsive Sexual Behavior Disorder in ICD-11)

A Special Form of Insanity and Circular Reasoning

Hilton, without defining addiction or a meaningful criteria for pornography has effectively pathologized each reader. Dooming each reader to a terminal mental illness, he then moves directly into a section he calls "A Special Form of Insanity," in which he leads the reader to believe they are experiencing yet another mental disorder as a result of their "addiction" and "sinful" behavior. But when you don't think Hilton could be any more reckless in his misdiagnosis and labeling individuals insane, he categorically judges addiction as the "very definition of selfishness, the ultimate contracture of perspective."

In words that can only be spoken by someone who hasn't worked with addiction, Hilton boils this complicated and complex issue down to a "basic problem in addiction is rooted in perspective. Pride, stemming from a lack of gratitude, allows the person to entertain desires that selfishly disregard the consequences visited upon not only the addicted one, but also upon his loved ones." Furthermore he believes "willpower" is the means to sobriety.

A few years back, a bunch of friends of mine were praising an individual for his financial prowess. They were impressed with his insights into and strategies for "playing the market" and improving wealth. Because of my background in finance, my friends thought I would also be impressed with this individual’s perspectives. Although this individual knew I had a career in finance and a strong knowledge of the market, his confidence preceded him. Not five minutes into his dialog, it was clear he didn't actually know what he was talking about. He used the right lingo but out of order. There were nuances in his communication that would sound impressive to someone without a financial background but complete garbage to someone trained in the field. Sure enough, he was attempting to set up a ponzi scheme of sorts, which would have wrecked my friends’ financial futures.

Hilton confidence precedes him too; he uses all the correct lingo, but confuses basic terminology and is dangerously reductive, which can harm the reader. He plays a dangerous game of circular reasoning, leading the reader to believe that if they are denying, they are addicted; it’s because they are sinning and experiencing a form of insanity. The solution is willpower through the atonement and to give up being selfish. I cannot image the lives this chapter alone has wrecked.

Finally, and again, in a tone of irony that is carried throughout the book, the only "expert" he draws on in this "addiction" chapter is Patrick Carnes who famously self-promoted as, "the acknowledged expert in a field that until recently didn’t exist," who made his living and fame off diagnosing individuals with a non-existent illness. Hilton follows up in the next chapter "The Money Trail."

See also:

He Restoreth My Soul Introduction

See also:

He Restoreth My Soul Chapter One

He Restoreth My Soul Chapter One

A review and response to the book "He Restoreth My Soul: Understanding and Breaking the Chemical and Spiritual Chains of Pornography Addiction Through the Atonement of Jesus Christ" by Donald L. Hilton Jr., MD (Neurosurgeon).

This response addresses chapter one "Out of the Mouth of the Lion" pgs. 3–6.

Obstacle - Collective Identity

Chapter one is only three pages. In those three pages, Hilton leverages a "collective identity" or "collective behavior" to signal safe passage to his readers. This safe passage is critical to the LDS community. Within our culture, we are leary of "outside" sources in general, but especially those regarding sexuality or issues involving sexuality. The sanctimoniousness in which we address sexuality is both beautiful and hindering. Our view of sexuality is beautiful because of our connecting it to eternal progression. It’s hindering because we perceive external (those outside the faith) experts as a threat to that sacred sexuality.

Therefore, because Hilton is generally unknown among the faithful members of the church — he is neither a General Authority or an "official" resource for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saint — he signals to the reader that he is a safe source by using language, analogies, scriptures and conclusions the collective identity already agrees with.

In social psychology there is a concept referred to as collective behavior:

"Collective behaviour, the kinds of activities engaged in by sizable but loosely organized groups of people. Episodes of collective behaviour tend to be quite spontaneous, resulting from an experience shared by the members of the group that engenders a sense of common interest and identity. The informality of the group’s structure is the main source of the frequent unpredictability of collective behaviour....

The U.S. sociologist Robert E. Park, who coined the term collective behaviour, defined it as “the behavior of individuals under the influence of an impulse that is common and collective, an impulse, in other words, that is the result of social interaction.” He emphasized that participants in crowds, fads, or other forms of collective behaviour share an attitude or behave alike, not because of an established rule or the force of authority, and not because as individuals they have the same attitudes, but because of a distinctive group process." Britannica

Hilton's appeal to the collective identity isn't inherently bad. Knowing your audience and connecting with the culture of your audience is good communication. However, when that appeal is used to perpetuate unfounded claims and assumptions, it’s contributing to a systemic problem. Whether he intended it or not, his leveraging a collective identity and backing it up with his credentials creates unchallenged buy-in within the community. 

Wresting

Hilton leverage the collective identity with a simple recipe:

  1. Identify a concept the particular community already agrees with: "Porn is evil."

  2. Quote a from a scripture or prophet/apostle that vaguely supports identified concept.

  3. Share a miraculous/captivating story/analogy that emphasizes concept.

  4. Provide vague non-solution that is often in the form of the "atonement".

1.

Hilton isn't sharing anything new to the intended community; however, he is feeding into the fear and panic of the "porn epidemic." He capitalizes on the readers’ fears by conveying the idea that no one is safe, and if we all are not vigilant, the dangers of porn will, like a lion "[grab] them by the spiritual throat and [strangle] the life out of happiness, joy, companionship, learning, love (both romantic and platonic), spirituality, reason, and life itself." He later references pop-psychology jargon, that if exposed to porn "even the sexual self being ruined and consumed as the chemically altered brain is left to crave what can never be fully satisfied." These statements are deeply problematic, untrue, divisive and communicate a confusing message of despair and hopelessness.

2.

Hilton's use of 1 Peter 5:8 is ironic. Hiltons's use of scripture here is referred to as proof-texting.

"Many Christian ministers and Christian teachers have used some version of the following humorous anecdote to demonstrate the dangers of prooftexting: "A man dissatisfied with his life decided to consult the Bible for guidance. Closing his eyes, he flipped the book open and pointed to a spot on the page. Opening his eyes, he read the verse under his finger. It read, 'Then Judas went away and hanged himself' (Matthew 27:5b). Finding these words unhelpful, the man randomly selected another verse. This one read, 'Jesus told him, "Go and do likewise."' (Luke 10:37b). In desperation, he tried one more time. The text he found was: 'What you are about to do, do quickly.'" (John 13:27) Wikipedia

Also refer to "Proof-Texting is a Bad Habit that we Need to Break".

Throughout his book, Hilton assigns his own meaning to the particular passages he quotes. As for 1 Peter 5:8, he fails to emphasize the "sober" concept that Peter was conveying in "Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour."

Isolating verse 8 from the context of Peter's message would lead any reader to believe we SHOULD be fearful of the "roaring lion." However, Peter’s message was quite the opposite. "Be sober" is a message of hope, love and grace. Peter is teaching about God's grace through the Atonement. We are safe, inspite of the "roaring lion," to be vigilant and observant how the fear of the lion will rob us of our joy. Let’s read this verse in context:

"6 Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time: 7 Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you. 8 Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour: 9 Whom resist steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world. 10 But the God of all grace, who hath called us unto his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that ye have suffered a while, make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle you. 11 To him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen." 1 Peter 5: 6-11

How should believers live, believing in a real devil — a spiritual enemy with an agenda to bring harm to Christians? Peter's answer to that question begins this verse: Be sober-minded. Be alert. It's the third time in this letter Peter has urged his readers to be clear minded (1 Peter 1:13; 1 Peter 4:7). It matters that we are paying attention, with serious minds, to what's going on in our lives and in the world around us.

"Peter writes that there is danger beyond the physical persecution some of his readers were facing. There is a deep agenda, far beyond that of the powerful men who might inflict that persecution. The devil, not the men or women who might harm us, is the real enemy of a Christian believer.

Our enemy the devil desires to devour us, to cause real and lasting harm. The Greek word here is katapiein, literally meaning to "swallow," or to "drown." Peter has made it clear that our place in eternity with our Father is secure. The devil cannot take that from us, but he does seek to damage our faith. He wants fear to shake our submission to the Father, and lies to distort our understanding of God's goodness. Since He cannot touch the believer's soul, Satan seeks to leave us as weak and ineffective servants of our King.

In the next verse, Peter will describe how to fight that enemy. Notice, also, what he doesn't tell Christians to do. He doesn't say to live in fear. Nor does he say to live as if the reality of the devil is unimportant. We are not instructed to ignore the devil, nor to cower in the shadows." BibleRef

3.

Ironically, Hilton's focus is on the fear, the devil, the hopelessness, the loss, the damage. Unfortunately, he continues to misuse Peter's lion analogy, convincing the reader they are not safe, to hyperventilate before shadows. This does not create a clear and sober mind, let alone an informed mind. It creates panic and fear, and turns power over to the devil — exactly what Peter was warning us not to do.

Additionally, Hilton reinforces his faulty interpretation of the scripture by quoting non-experts on the subject. Although President Hinckley has perceived a potential danger that seems to be associated with pornography, both Hilton and Hinckley's comments oversimplify the complexity of the problems and fail to address the root issues involved in "damaging hearts and souls."

In Hilton's reference to a professional in chapter one, he not only quotes the therapist incorrectly, he again takes it out of context and misrepresents the intent of the therapist. In quoting Mark Haney, Hilton claims "pornography addiction" is what leads a teenager to experience "isolated agony."

First, "isolated agony" is nowhere in John Mark Haney's article "Teenagers and Pornography Addiction.”

Hilton, although vague in his misquoting Haney, the misquote leads the reader to believe pornography is what creates the isolation. This is false and NOT what Haney stated.

"Normalize the Issue: Many teenagers who are developing compulsive pornography problems do so in agonized isolation, often believing that they are perverts and alone in their actions. It can be helpful for the professional to educate them on the prevalence of the issue while still clearly communicating the dangers so they don’t trade their isolation for an ‘oh well, since everyone is doing it …’ idea, for that is common too."

Hilton's careless and self-serving misquoting and changing of context is reckless. Haney's only use of "isolation" is in a section educating the reader to "normalize the issue" with teens, recognizing that teens "often [believe] that they are perverts and alone." It is NOT because of the pornography, but because of the lack of education and clarity (sober thought) on the subject. This is a HUGE misrepresentation and is foreshadowing of Hilton's carelessness throughout the book.

Second, it seems like Hilton didn't even read the "Teenagers and Pornography Addiction" article.

"Some critical cultural, religious, and socioeconomic factors with pornography and youth warrant mention. Some cultures have much broader parameters surrounding what is considered appropriate with sexuality, while cultural norms within other groups make the topic almost unmentionable. Therefore, practitioners must attempt to educate themselves about cultural mores. ... Similarly, approaches to spirituality and religion can have a profound impact on a teenager’s sexual development, and not always in the way that a parent intends. For example, some youth who come from rigid and legalistic religious backgrounds that wrap sexuality in shame and guilt, try to forcefully repress their desires, which causes them to unconsciously bond with the same profane elements they are trying to ignore. When they act on these repressed desires, the resulting shame and self-loathing just perpetuates the cycle."

4.

After a confusing message of hopelessness and fear, Hilton's solution is the atonement, but he doesn't actually talk about the atonement. In just two paragraphs, he demonstrates his lack in doctrinal understanding and his mockery of those who have embraced the atonement without reprieve. He confuses agency, sin, transgression and biological limitations.

Somehow he is under the impression that women experiencing pornography is limited to chat rooms. This is complete ignorance, and potentially another misreading of the "Teenagers and Pornography Addiction" article.

Hilton suggests homosexuality is a similar issue as pornography and an addiction. Is Hilton suggesting reparative, conversion or aversion therapy?

Hilton's leveraging a collective identity is irresponsible and mitigates readers from identifying and questioning his inconsistencies and double checking his references.

See also: 

He Restoreth My Soul Introduction

He Restoreth My Soul Introduction

A review and response to the book "He Restoreth My Soul: Understanding and Breaking the Chemical and Spiritual Chains of Pornography Addiction Through the Atonement of Jesus Christ" by Donald L. Hilton Jr., MD (Neurosurgeon).

This response addresses the Introduction to "He Restoreth My Soul", pgs. ix–xv.

General Thoughts and Impressions

While reading Hilton's book, the voice of Lemony Snicket would frequently enter my mind,

“Assumptions are dangerous things to make, and like all dangerous things to make — bombs, for instance, or strawberry shortcake — if you make even the tiniest mistake you can find yourself in terrible trouble. Making assumptions simply means believing things are a certain way with little or no evidence that shows you are correct, and you can see at once how this can lead to terrible trouble.”

As a clinician, father and husband with a profound desire to solve the "porn problem," I have spent my career and free time consuming every case study, research article, book, program and literature addressing porn and sex addiction both in the church and academia. Each study Hilton refers to in this book I have dissected and reread numerous times prior to reading his book. Not only am I well versed in the research, I routinely work with clients within the faith who struggle with out-of-control sexual behavior and pornography. Although this is a complicated emotional and spiritual issue and each individual is different, I am familiar what works and what doesn't work. Furthermore, I am aware of paradigms and treatment interventions that appear to work in the short term but have damaging long-term consequences.

Therefore, it is perplexing to me how Hilton, a medical doctor, has published a book full of assumptions and confirmations biases, especially considering such an important topic. I have no desire to question his integrity. In fact, I assume the best in that he has the desire to solve the "porn problem" too. However, his assumptions, conclusions and frequent use (and interpretation) of research are often off the mark, unsupported and sometimes hysteria that I can't help but wonder what he was thinking and how he thought this would be helpful. For someone not trained in medical science, regardless of the field of study, I could easily give a pass for authoring a book like "He restoreth My Soul." But Hilton is a medical doctor and uses his credentials on the book and throughout as a means to authoritatively back his statements.

Using his credentials adds weight to both his statements and a necessary backing to those statements. Using one's credentials, whether intending to act in that role or not, carries with it an important responsibility to accurately represent that profession and professional responsibility. Although each of are not excused from due diligence, the misuse of credentials can have lasting and harmful consequences. For example, when working with clients who dismiss sound therapeutic guidance and interventions, referencing the "science" from the neurosurgeon’s book "He Restoreth My Soul."

Furthermore, although I don't recall Hilton specifically stating that his book is a manual for leaders in the church, he has interwoven the LDS 12-step Addiction Recovery Program (ARP) throughout the book and frequently appeals to scriptural authority making it that "He Restoreth My Soul" has become a go-to book for bishops supporting their ward members. Again, this results in leadership dismissing sound therapeutic counsel for the "science" from a neurosurgeon’s book. Whether he intended it or not, Hilton has interfered with the health of a client.

If he simply published as a concerned member in the faith, providing his opinion, without any reference to his credentials, that might be one thing. But he's asserting authority and making scientifically false statements that ARE wrong and potentially damaging.

Due to the significant number of claims, statements and assumptions and popularity of this book, this review will address each chapter in its respective blog posts. The purpose of this review(s) has at least three goals: 1) provide hope, clarity and healing to those struggling with porn and out-of-control or undesired sexual behavior, 2) correct misinformation that prevents healing, 3) provide readers of "He Restoreth My Soul" a meaningful response to Hiltons assumptions.

Introduction

Within his introduction, Hilton states his purpose for writing "He Restoreth My Soul" as a "response to what I regard as the primary threat to our peace as individuals, families, Church members, and as a society, culture, nation, and world." (pg. ix)

It's important for me to point out and give Hilton credit for stating this as his opinion, "what I regard" and emphasizing in the following sentence that these thoughts are his alone and not of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. However, even with that "disclaimer," he establishes the premise of his book, which draws heavily on literature, research and scripture. His opinion is given as an absolute, not a thesis or hypothesis.

Ironically, Hilton emphasizes later in his introduction, "knowledge is power," though he seems to neglect essential facts. The very premise of his book is based entirely on opinion and not fact or knowledge. His opinion that pornography is the "primary threat to our peace as individuals, families, Church members, and as a society, culture, nation, and world." His belief that it's the primary threat is not only unsupported but oversimplifies the problem and prevents meaningful solutions.

His "regard as the primary threat" functions as the filter and lens through which he interprets every study, literature and personal experience. In science, this is referred to as confirmation bias.

"Confirmation bias, the tendency to process information by looking for, or interpreting, information that is consistent with one’s existing beliefs. This biased approach to decision making is largely unintentional and often results in ignoring inconsistent information. Existing beliefs can include one’s expectations in a given situation and predictions about a particular outcome. People are especially likely to process information to support their own beliefs when the issue is highly important or self-relevant." Britannica

Hilton acknowledges his confirmation bias by stating, "I began writing some thoughts after searching the current medical literature on the chemical aspects of sexual addictions and then focused on pornography addiction." He then further acknowledges his very limited and isolated experience with "addiction" was during a mandatory psychiatry rotation in a substance abuse clinic while a medical student.

Hilton is clearly stating here that 1) his confirmation bias led him to only read "chemical aspects of sexual addictions," and 2) those findings led him to adapt those findings or focus on porn addiction. Further, his limited experience wasn't as a trained therapist in psychiatry, but as a medical student in a substance abuse clinic addressing severe substance abuse. Despite his limited and filtered knowledge and experience with addiction, he concludes that "rat models of Parkinson's disease, which is a defect in one component of the dopaminergic system of the brain, just as addiction is an imbalance in another dopaminergic system."

He jumps to conclusions and absolutes are not only evidence of Hilton’s confirmation bias but are also misleading, incomplete, and wrong. Also notice how he draws on his limited experience studying rats with Parkinson's disease to alert the reader, "which is ONE component of the dopaminergic system."  He compares and oversimplifies Parkinson to ONE component. Then he states absolutely, "just as addiction is an imbalance is an imbalance" of a DIFFERENT dopaminergic system. He not only concludes that dopamine deficiency is cause of addiction, but uses something scary like Parkinson's to heighten the reader's attention. (I'll address the fallacies of the dopamine claims in my review of chapter 2 "What is Addiction?")

The introduction is riddled with misinformation, scientifically and therapeutically erroneous statements. He also perpetuates unhealthy dynamics in relationships by warning for women in the church to be aware of these dangers so they can "be discerning in dating and eventually choosing a marriage partner." I can't tell you how many men have said women have left a dating relationship because the men have said they have looked at porn. Good men have resulted to hiding, lying or justifying their behavior because they are afraid the girl they are dating or their wife will leave them and view them as an addict.

Hilton in the "What Can We Do?" portion of the introduction reinforces these assumptions and absolutes, unhealthy and potentially dangerous suggestions. I will address each of these at length in the following reviews. But a few of the most troubling and uninformed suggestions I will mention here:

"Treat pornography and sexual addiction as a full addiction, and not from a behavioral/spiritual perspective alone." 

This suggestion is an example of Hilton’s profound lack (or isolated) experience and knowledge on the topic of addiction and sexual behavior. As I will point out in forthcoming reviews, his definition of addiction is nonsensical first of all. But treating pornography as a "full addiction" could be compared to requiring brain surgery every time someone has a headache.

"Disclosure of each incident of viewing or sexually acting out is essential to obtain both repentance and recovery." 

If one can't share with their spouse what they have viewed or sexual acting out, I assure you, the problem isn't pornography. As for confessing to a bishop of "each incident," this is not only ridiculous, but there is no support for this in church policy or doctrine. It also perpetuates the problem. Clients have routinely reported, "Oh well, I backslid. Since I have to tell the bishop I might as well make the most of this." This comment also sets the bishop up as something he is NOT. He is not a therapist; he is not an intervention specialist. Disclosing each incident is also not repentance; it's not measuring success or failure. Furthermore, how is an "incident" defined? By the bishop, by the individual, by the individual's spouse?

"Recognizing that many married men are secretly addicted, and have support groups ready to help them emerge from addiction." 

Yes. Hilton is absolutely correct. At least with the "secretly." But not because of the lack of resources or support groups. Rather, because they are sick and tired of being told they are addicts. "Of course, that's what an addict would say." Right? Wrong. Most individuals who have a "porn addiction" are aware of it. They don't deny it. But they hide it because of how their support community reacts to them.

As I mentioned, there are many errors in the introduction. I never discourage someone from reading, but I would strongly caution the reader of "He Restoreth My Soul" to be wise and question these bold assumptions. I encourage the reader to question my review also, just as I encourage you to challenge Hilton. Challenge me. Look of the research in its full context and expand your experience and resources.

Chapter 1: "Out of the Mouth of the Lion"

My Son Is Not Baptized And That Is Okay

My son isn't baptized. I'm okay with that and he hasn't missed out on any blessings.

My son's mother has refused to provide permission for his baptism, and I'm not only okay with that, I support her decision.

I wasn't okay with it at first. When his mother and I decided to separate, I knew it would become an issue, and I was troubled and confused with how to approach the topic with him and his mother. It would not be appropriate to represent her side without her personally contributing to this article. What I have felt is appropriate to share, I wrote in my blog post, "Because I loved her I left her."

However, there is some risk to not including details. Generally, when I share my experience with why I am okay with my son not being baptized, someone almost always dismisses my experiences because their divorce and ex were hostile and not agreeable in the least. My not sharing the details in all its messiness, pain, resentment, years of court and finical ruin is with purpose. The absence of my sharing isn't to be mistaken as an absence of those trials; rather, it’s an example of how I personally decided to model healthy behavior to my children.

Learning With Every Opportunity

Today, as my son and I drove home from church, he did what he does every Sunday afternoon drive home:  he was reviewing what he learned in Sunday School class. Today, after sharing the particular lesson, he also reflected on how it's sometimes difficult to hear the teachers get excited about his class graduating primary this year. They mentioned how the boys will be able to start passing the sacrament. He said, "I wanted to raise my hand and say, not everyone will get to pass the sacrament." But he didn't want to make anyone feel uncomfortable. We used the opportunity to revisit the meaning of baptism, priesthood and looking forward to when he turns 18 and can get baptized.

The conversations are always wonderful. Sometimes the conversations are started as a result feeling left out and sad, like today. Sometimes that feeling continues throughout the conversation, and sometimes he has a rekindled hope that his mother might provide her permission. What makes it a little more difficult too is his older brother is baptized. He is the only one in primary and in his current family dynamic who is not baptized. Whenever and however these conversations come up, we explore and validate his emotions and feelings without removing them. We also never frame the conversation in any way that suggests his mother is wrong or bad for her not providing the permission.

Praying Without Parenting

Over the years, we have prayed and fasted many times that his mother would be willing to change her decision. But this was not the prayer we should have been having. Although it’s appropriate on occasion to have faith that others will change their hearts, this was not the only prayer we should have been having. In a divorce especially, there is a huge problem with each separating spouse "parenting" the other. This is often done through divorce decrees, court, manipulation, threats, using children as "pawns," and "righteous indignation" (which is a form of spiritual abuse).

Not only as a divorced father, but as a therapist who routinely works with divorcing couples in the church, I've routinely seen good parents become so fixated on demanding their child's other parent accommodate religious activities that they become abusive. One parent had become convinced that her child would be denied all the blessings of the church if they couldn't get baptized. She spent years in therapy, court and tens of thousands of dollars attempting to get her child's father to grant permission for baptism. Her child during this period began to mirror their mother’s anxiety and fear of losing blessings. The child also started to view their father as an evil man who hated God.

Why is it spiritual abuse? When we place ourselves in a position of power to control, dictate or parent someone in a way that removes, blocks and prevents their choice, it's abusive. When religion is used as that vehicle of control, its religious/spiritual abuse. We don't get to parent, control or demand how our ex decides to parent. Their house, their rules. Our house, our rules.

Isn't it spiritual abuse to deny a child's baptism? No. It could be abuse if that parent is denying baptism out of a desire to hurt the child or the other parent. But this is problematic. Because we don't get to read people’s minds and hearts. But what if the ex SAYS they are doing it to get back at the other parent? Well, pay it no attention. Some people are more married divorced than when they were married.

Abuse is a serious accusation. I have no tolerance for abuse in any form, as a parent or therapist. If the child is in emotional, spiritual or physical danger, there is no gray area. What I have seen, however, is the word "abuse" used to describe a behavior one doesn't like or agree with in the other parent. Neglect is another word that is sometimes lightly used too. For example, the child's other parent is being "neglectful" by not agreeing to be consistent with church attendance or agreeing to let the child be baptized. Divorce is already difficult enough for us and our children. In most divorces, there are going to be clear differences in how each parent decides to parent or not parent. The best thing we can do is teach our children how to thrive in this environment.

Pray And Fast To Change Your Heart

Through our frequent prayers and fasting, it became clear my son was becoming overwhelmed, overwhelmed in not seeing his mom's "heart change," feeling like he was not having enough faith, feeling like he must continuously ask/pester her for permission and fear of getting her angry. Also, I was communicating a subtle and sometimes not so subtle message that his mom was wrong. Quietly, our prayers have never stopped for her to change her heart. But now we pray for a change of our own hearts. In this hyper-focus to change his mother’s heart, we were missing beautiful opportunities to learn and prepare for baptism — whenever that might happen.

When he would ask questions like, "Why won’t my mom let me get baptized?" instead of focusing on the differences in parenting, we would validate and explore how he could love and support his mother. We also explored how God will never deny him any blessings and that we should find ways to serve, and strengthen OUR OWN faith. This has radically and wonderfully changed the spirit of our conversations. Religion has not become a divide in my son and his mother’s life. Where pain could have thrived, beauty and love flourished. Neither I nor my son get to "tell" his mother how to parent. But we have taken the opportunity to learn our Father's will in our lives, in our current situation.

Changing Our Heart Will Increase Our Love For Others

Some parents decide to leave the church, and that's okay too. One of the most destructive things parents can do to their children is engage in "holy wars." Whether that's a parent who decides the LDS faith is bad and requests their name be removed from the records, or one whose religiosity changes over time, or a parent who insists on unwavering church attendance and service, there is a place for each of these parents in parenting well-adjusted and healthy children. But regardless of one's belief in God or the LDS church, what are we teaching our child if they can't love the parent who thinks differently? To a child, you have placed them in an impossible situation. You are communicating that if they stop believing as you do, they will experience the same rejection you are showing the other parent.

Sometimes the situation is reversed. Some parents who believe the church is hurting their child will go to the same lengths to prevent them from attending. But regardless of which parent it is, this divisiveness teaches children how to hate. Or at the very least, how to condition their love based on someone else’s belief system. Learning how to change our own heart restores confidence and expands our ability to love and value others.

No Blessing Is Ever Prevented Or Delayed

My son will not be passing the sacrament when he turns twelve. But that is not to be confused with a denying or preventing of his blessings. As sacred and symbolic as the sacrament is, the act of passing should never be confused as the blessing. My son knows and is intimately familiar with the covenants made in baptism and passing and taking the sacrament. He has been blessed with a spiritual growth, insight, maturity and faith that is far beyond what I had at his age. Sure, it’s difficult at times for him and I to know he's not going to be passing the sacrament or doing temple work with the other youth. But we use that as an opportunity to have our hearts changed and our faith strengthened.

I encourage those in similar situations to exemplify to their children who don't have permission to be baptized to find ways to love and grow, how to lovingly honor their other parent’s decision, how to expand one's faith beyond controlling others, and how to use faith to increase one's agency.

For those serving in callings over youth in similar circumstances, find ways to model the same love. Frame the conversation in ways the youth can participate versus focusing on what they can't do. There is never anything wrong with exploring or understanding a child's situation. But generally, do that with their parent. What I do recommend avoiding is asking "why" questions like, "Why do you think your mom won’t let you get baptized?" But rather, explore with the child what they are doing to grow in the gospel, and emphasize that our loving God will bless them fully in their desires.

I am so thankful for each of my son's teachers who have done exactly this. Their love and support has made this process easier to experience.

Daniel A. Burgess is the author of the forthcoming book on LDS Sexuality. The creator and Admin at the Facebook Group "Improving Intimacy in Mormon Marriages" and content developer at its accompanying Blog, "Mormon Marriages."

“Don’t Touch” — Summary

Why This Article

As an active Latter-day Saint marriage and family therapist, I have worked with many clients who have struggled for many years with pornography and masturbation. At the same time, most of my couples work involves a need to cultivate increasing desire. The current approaches of reading more scriptures, prayer, temple attendance, more faith, and the 12-step addiction treatment model are just not working. In some cases, this approach of sin and fear-based motivation does more harm than good and makes the problems worse.

I have found a solution to struggles with masturbation and pornography that matches The Church of Jesus Christ doctrine on sexuality and gives dramatic results within months.

Historical Background

Church leaders in the 1800s and early 1900s, in contrast to prevailing notions of the day, taught that sexual urges and feelings are to be celebrated and encouraged as God-given. However, not one mention of masturbation as a sin can be found in scripture or in official teachings of this period. This was in stark contrast to culturally common medical quackery ideas from the 1700s, similar to bloodletting, that masturbation led to all manner of physical and mental disabilities. In the early 1900s, as medical research disproved these inaccurate fears, The Church published manuals that embraced the science that masturbation did not cause insanity.

Beginning in the 1950s, perhaps as a reaction to zoologist Alfred Kinsey’s 1948 and 1953 popular books on human sexuality that dismissed marriage and morality, Church leaders began an abrupt shift toward emphasizing sexuality as a serious sin. They also for the first time began asserting masturbation as a sin. This emphasis continued in various teachings through the 1980s. All of these assertions about masturbation, however, were given without support from scripture, and without support from medical research, which now mostly contradicted leaders’ assertions. Some people even specifically opposed medical science on the topic, in at least one case resulting in the suicide of a client and a wrongful malpractice settlement.

Current Teachings And Research

Anti-masturbation pamphlets and books are no longer available from official Church sources, though they are widely mocked among critics of The Church and are viewed with deep concern by medical professionals. The best known current official publication on the topic, For the Strength of Youth (2011), does not mention masturbation, but does suggest, “do not arouse these emotions in your own body” in the context of sexual contact with others. This statement is helpful in the context of caution around premarital sexual relations. However, it can also leave youth confused and guilty when they experience hormonal surges in which “these emotions” are aroused every day, without intention, through all kinds of normal healthy activities. Concerned young men are praying for God to take away the daily erections that are part of normal, healthy development. Local leaders vary widely in their approaches — some asserting masturbation is a serious sin, others convinced it is not a sin at all.

In the past few decades, the idea of “sexual addiction” has been introduced, and Latter-day Saint efforts often utilize ideas based on the Alcoholics Anonymous 12-step program. Elder Oaks’ 2015 Ensign article did not discuss masturbation but suggested caution about the over-use of addiction treatment for pornography, asserting, “In fact, most young men and young women who struggle with pornography are not addicted.” His article cited extensively from medical research. Many medical professionals argue that research does not support categorizing sexuality as an addiction and that treating it as such does not work because it reduces personal responsibility and uses fear as a motivator. In addition, this anti-biology mentality can lead to many married couples who struggle with overcoming past fears and shame to cultivate healthy sexual desire.

A Solution That Works

Below is a solution that I found works and is compatible with scripture with the restored gospel that sexuality is a God-given, healthy and positive part of our mortal experience. It avoids fear or addiction as a motivator and is compatible with scientific research.

The goal: sexual self-mastery, not sexual self-rejection

Understand the truth that God created your sexual feelings because He loves you and wants you to have joy and to multiply and replenish the earth. Recognize that masturbation is not supported as a sin in any scripture, and was not mentioned at all by Church leaders until the 1950s. Therefore, it cannot be as serious as sins such as failing to love yourself or others and a number of other issues repeatedly emphasized in all the standard works. Medical science does not support physical or mental harms from masturbation, but does show significant harms from excessive guilt, shame, fear, and aversion to sexual feelings. Involve the Lord in the process of cultivating, appreciating, and mastering, and not removing, suppressing, or rejecting sexual desire.

Track baseline activities for 2-4 weeks. Measure your normal daily activities without attempts at abstinence — record when you use porn or masturbate as well as prayer, scriptures, temple attendance, and physical activity, and note emotional or other life challenges.

Measure progress toward your own individual goals on these items and report to the Lord in prayer. Use these data charts to identify patterns related to scripture, prayer, temple, fitness or time connecting with others. Continue to masturbate as a beautiful, respectful discovery of one's individual sexual desires, including planning time to explore and enjoy your body. The goal is sexual self-mastery, not rejection and elimination.

Study and learn from the best books. Using accurate and well-researched information, become familiar with your own arousal cycle and desires, and male and female biology and hormones.

For parents:

Teach by example the beauty of sexual desire. When addressing your child’s sexual desires and masturbation, focus on the beauty of desire and emphasize how amazing those feelings are. Offer them insights into how we are to learn and master our bodies. Celebrate with them that they are experiencing this new phase of life and how much more amazing it will be if mastered and learned. A youth learning and developing into their pubescent years is no more experiencing a sin by masturbating than a diabetic learning how to control and regulate their blood sugar.

For leaders:

Teach self-mastery concepts to parents. Stop telling youth that masturbation is a sin or dwelling on spiritual or physical fears. Avoid abstract timelines like abstinence for 14 days. Also, your role is spiritual counselor, not a mental health professional. You are not qualified to call a struggle with self-mastery an addiction. Don’t immediately send youth to the church’s Addiction Recovery Program or an effort modeled like Sons of Helaman or Daughters of Light. If the problem is severe enough that they cannot function in everyday life, recommend a professional therapist and let that professional determine the mental health issues that may or may not be involved.

Additional Resources

Facebook Group "Improving Intimacy in Mormon Marriages

Blog, "Mormon Marriages"

________________________________

Read the full blog here:

Table of Contents

0. Introduction

1. Background — It Happened Again

2. Context Is Important: A Brief History Of Masturbation Beliefs Within The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

3. Cultivating Versus Condemning

4. What Went Wrong?

5. A New Culture Is Born: “Doctrine And Addiction” And Returning To The 1700s

6. Purity, Modesty, And Moral Ambiguity

7. Solution: Real Self-Mastery Cultivating Sexuality

“Don’t Touch” — Addressing Sexual Taboos In The LDS Faith Intro

The following are selections from my forthcoming book on Latter-day Saint sexuality. This has been a very difficult post to write — not because of the subject matter (anyone who follows me knows how comfortable I am with discussing this topic), but because I have to concisely address such a deeply complicated topic: masturbation. It feels impossible to be concise without missing some necessary details, without which the topic would be overly simplified. As such, I am going to address the topic of Masturbation within the LDS faith as outlined below:

Next Chapter: Background - It Happened Again

Table of Contents: TL;DR — Summary

0. Introduction

1. Background — It Happened Again

2. Context Is Important: A Brief History Of Masturbation Beliefs Within The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

3. Cultivating Versus Condemning

4. What Went Wrong?

5. A New Culture Is Born: “Doctrine and Addiction” And Returning To The 1700s

6. Purity, Modesty, And Moral Ambiguity

7. Solution: Real Self-Mastery Cultivating Sexuality

Additional Resources

Facebook Group "Improving Intimacy in Mormon Marriages"

Blog, "Mormon Marriages"

“Don’t Touch” — Addressing Sexual Taboos In The LDS Faith Part 6

Previous Chapter: 5. A New Culture Is Born: “Doctrine And Addiction” And Returning To The 1700s

Purity, Modesty And Moral Ambiguity

A quick word on purity and modesty and how it’s negatively feeding into our perception/paradigm and preventing healthy solutions. These are probably two of the most ambiguous terms I hear in the context of sexuality. Possibly due to the misunderstanding of lust and coveting in Matthew 5:27–8, purity is most often used in the context of naiveté. Jason A. Staples Ph.D., professor in the Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies at NC State University addresses this topic well: “Whoever Looks at a Woman With Lust”: Misinterpreted Bible Passages.” Also see “Modesty: I Don’t Think it Means What You Think it Means” by Rachel Held Evans and “The Costs of Misunderstanding Modesty” by Julie de Azevedo Hanks.

Our current paradigm, I believe, is a product of our reincorporating 1700s ideas into our cultural belief system. A phrase parents use in “sharing too much” with their children is they must “protect their purity.” Some parents have described how exposure to various media and forms of pornography puts their children’s purity at risk. The “For the Strength of Youth” (FSOY) reinforces this idea in its section on “Sexual Purity.” it reads,

Do not do anything else that arouses sexual feelings. Do not arouse those emotions in your own body. Pay attention to the promptings of the Spirit so that you can be clean and virtuous. The Spirit of the Lord will withdraw from one who is in sexual transgression.

Avoid situations that invite increased temptation, such as late-night or overnight activities away from home or activities where there is a lack of adult supervision. Do not participate in discussions or any media that arouse sexual feelings. Do not participate in any type of pornography. The Spirit can help you know when you are at risk and give you the strength to remove yourself from the situation. Have faith in and be obedient to the righteous counsel of your parents and leaders.[1]

I believe there is great wisdom in the cautions given in this guidance while at the same time it seems to communicate a confusing paradox. It placed parents and youth in a potentially double bind predicament. Will discussing sexual development, sexual desire, exploring concerns, curiosities, questions, discoveries intentionally or unintentionally lead to “arousing sexual feelings”? As loving parents, we would never want to make our children impure. I have worked with youth and adults who “remove” themselves from therapeutic discussions involving sexually related topics. One wife experienced this paradox when she sought out help for “intimate issues” in her marriage, but refused to discuss or explore any sexually-related details. Unfortunately, soon after she stopped coming to therapy.

Biologically, pubescent youth will, without any intent at all, experience arousal. It’s not just expected; it’s normal and healthy. YAY! Their body is functioning exactly as designed. Will discussing sexuality lead youth (or adults) to experience some sort of arousal? Maybe, yes. This predicament appears to leave parents, youth, and leaders with ONE option: “Have faith in and be obedient to the righteous counsel of your parents and leaders.” Which is to not do any of the above or anything that will potentially increase your temptation.

As one insightful YSA woman observed, “Leaving all the confusion, arousal, blame of inadvertent arousal, and curiosities to fester inside the child in silence. Building up fear in the child of themselves, their body and the thought to seek answers. Resulting in the child either repressing the natural curiosity that it is to understand their body or seeking the answers out through individuals who may not have the right intentions in mind — or accurate understanding of it themselves (kids to kids or kids to porn, or to experience it themselves just to understand).”

Under this interpretation, I do not fault parents’ fear of harming their child's purity.

But I don’t believe this is the intent of the message of sexual purity. I don’t believe it discourages meaningful, preparatory discussions with our children or those we have stewardship over. The above message is a warning against engaging in sexual relationships. The FSOY is providing a definition of sexual purity in the context of physical relationships with others. “Do not have any sexual relations before marriage, and be completely faithful to your spouse after marriage. Do not allow the media, your peers, or others to persuade you that sexual intimacy before marriage is acceptable.”

As for the part that says “Do not do anything else that arouses sexual feelings. Do not arouse those emotions in your own body,” at best, this is confusing and at worst fosters anxiety, depression, guilt and sexual dissociation. This can lead to tragic consequences which are medically substantiated and unfortunately occurred in the case of Kip Eliason, in the early ‘'80s.

The Church has made leaps and bounds in updating its material and pulling away from the moral absolutes of President Kimball and Elder McConkie, not to mention the decades of Elder Vaughn J. Featherstone’s personal mission to purge masturbation from the earth, with his quoting from President Clark and teaching medically incorrect information. In a somewhat bizarre lecture to a group of Latter-day Saint counselors at an Association of Mormon Counselors and Psychotherapists (AMCAP) meeting, Elder Featherstone makes some bold and impossible-to-substantiate claims about the missionaries he presided over. Further he called a married couple to repentance for participating in masturbation together as a couple.[2] The interviewing behavior he described appeared to be in conflict with a First Presidency letter in January 5 and October 15, 1982, that stated “When interviewing married persons, the one doing the interviewing should scrupulously avoid indelicate inquiries…” and interviews were to precisely follow as outlined in the “temple recommend book.” Further, no one should ever “inquire into personal, intimate matters involving marital relations between a man and his wife ... if in the course of such interviews a member asks questions about the propriety of specific conduct, you should not pursue the matter …”

Nonetheless, the hard-hitting, absolute statements made in the ‘60s and ‘70s are culturally difficult for people to part from. Ironically, as often as we boast in the uniqueness of our faith by repeating the Prophet Joseph Smith’s “I teach them correct principles and they govern themselves,” we are a very directive people. We crave black and white answers. These absolutes are spoken with such conviction as to either be interpreted as doctrine or literally taught as doctrine. As in the case of this mission president in 2003, who is teaching “doctrine” while clearly not knowing what he is talking about. Saying “the brethren call that ‘self abuse’ instead of masturbation. It’s a little softer word. It’s more dignified.” What’s even more surprising is that this mission president is also an OB/GYN physician. He should know better. It’s more dignified? Culture is difficult to change. But these statements are becoming less and less frequent. Is anyone else excited we haven’t heard a single mention of porn in priesthood conference the last couple years?! Why? Because it’s a poor and ineffective approach.

Therefore, simply saying “Do not do anything else that arouses sexual feelings,” etc., is confusing and sets youth up for failure. Based on the previous comments and our cultural understanding of purity, ANYTHING can arouse sexual feelings. For a 14-year-old boy, mind pumping full of hormones, walking into a donut shop can elicit all sorts of sexual feelings. Not to be silly, but real and honest. Does that innocent boy now swear off all donut shops? By the way, that’s a real example. Youth (and adults) struggle to differentiate between intentional arousal and the biological experience they are naturally having.

I have often wondered why the Lord would “bless” a child so young to experience something so powerful as sexual desires and arousal. One youth expressed, “I’m two different people: the worthy priesthood holder passing the sacrament and the other a dark, isolated kid who enjoys these ‘feelings’.”

Furthermore, what FSOY doesn’t address is what to do when you do nothing that “arouses sexual feelings,” and a young boy has an erection for going on for hours and all he did was wake up. What about the young girl who experience butterflies in her stomach and can’t seem to shake the urge? Furthermore, and I say this in the most sincere and respectful tone, have faith and be obedient to what righteous counsel of parents and leaders? Even if the child was unashamed and fortunate enough to have adults in their lives who could discuss the topic, what are they putting their faith and obedience into?

As a result from these teachings, you leave children with a couple of options. One, somehow completely suppress the feelings. Two, spend years battling the compulsion. These are such negative perspectives and have lasting consequences as previously discussed. There are more options than sucky choice A and sucky choice B, as my wife so often says.


Next Chapter: 7. Solution: Real Self-Mastery Cultivating Sexuality

Table of Contents:
0. Introduction
1. Background — It Happened Again
2. Context Is Important: A Brief History Of Masturbation Beliefs Within The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
3. Cultivating Versus Condemning
4. What Went Wrong?
5. A New Culture Is Born: “Doctrine And Addiction” And Returning To The 1700s
6. Purity, Modesty, And Moral Ambiguity

7. Solution: Real Self-Mastery Cultivating Sexuality

Additional Resources
Facebook Group "Improving Intimacy in Mormon Marriages"
Blog, "Mormon Marriages"

[1] https://www.lds.org/youth/for-the-strength-of-youth/sexual-purity?lang=eng

[2] Featherstone, Vaughn (1 October 1990). "However Faint the Light May Glow". Issues in Religion and Psychotherapy. 16 (1): 65–66 http://scholarsarchive.byu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1311&context=irp

“Don’t Touch” — Addressing Sexual Taboos In The LDS Faith Part 7

Previous Chapter: 6. Purity, Modesty, And Moral Ambiguity

Solution: Real Self-Mastery Cultivating Sexuality

Masturbate. Yes, masturbate.

Learn your body. Cultivate and master your God-given desires as early as possible. Rejection, suppression, and ignoring are not tools of self-mastery. We treat sexuality as an exception to the concept of self-mastery. We have convinced ourselves that it’s a gateway drug to all sorts of illness, addictions, and selfish behavior. We shouldn’t tell people they can’t pray if their prayers aren’t in harmony with God’s will, that they are in danger of the “sin of the Zoramites.” We don’t tell people they can’t bear their testimonies because what they’re sharing is not really a testimony. We don’t tell people they can’t eat if they don’t know how to eat healthy; at least we shouldn’t. You might say, “It’s different, it doesn’t involve those powerful sexual chemicals.” If that’s true, ALL the more reason to learn and master earlier on.

Self-mastery is a physical discovery of limitations and passions through intimate knowledge of oneself. Why is it any different with sexual desires and masturbation? I would argue that forced abstinence from masturbating is just as sinful as those who say that doing it is because you are not valuing, understanding, nor mastering the body God blessed you with. Why have we pulled away from the healthy understanding of this concept taught in the 1920s? Because modern day Tissots, Kelloggs, Martens, and organizations such as FTND have convinced us that sexual desire is the “New Drug”!

What I am not saying: Free-range masturbation. That is not self-mastery. It’s interesting, when I teach self-mastery, it’s often interpreted as “no limits,” but when I work with clients on fitness, diet, or emotional behaviors, it’s well understood what self-mastery is in those cases. When I say, “you need to master your anger,” no one has yet snapped at me (fortunately) saying, “How dare you say it’s okay for me to be angry.” Yet that’s what people both hear and believe is being communicated when the topic involves masturbation.

Self-Mastery: Specifically. Although the concept is simple, the concept needs to be adapted to various situations: personal, biological, and emotional needs. These will not be covered in this post, but will be addressed in my book. After identifying four general concepts, I will suggest what that might look like for an individual, parents, and leadership in general.

The goal is to bring souls closer to Christ, by cultivating sexuality through self-mastery.

  1. The Lord must be included in every step of the process.

This should go without saying. But the paradigm change since the 1920s has changed the way we include the Lord in the cultivating of sexual desire. Instead of praying to remove sexual desire, pray to understand it, to value it, to learn it. Whether it’s for yourself or in teaching your kids. Confront the awkward with the Lord. Call it what it is, don’t make up words. Discuss masturbation (and sexuality) openly with the Lord and your children.

1. Track baseline.

One of the most ridiculous concepts I hear people convey regarding masturbation or sexual drive is that it's the same for everyone. This is communicated in the idea that everyone is to be absinate from masturbating. This is a form of perfectionism and prevents an individual from learning and mastering their own body. Learning and understanding your sexual desires is between you and the Lord. Discover how your body and mind function at their best. This is critical in our sexual development and happiness.

When I began to improve my physical health, I made the mistake of just hitting it as hard as I could. As long as I showed up at the gym, I was good. I would eventually get frustrated I wasn’t make the expected progress, burn out or get injured. Without making a plan and tracking my progress, I was setting myself up for failure. I had no clear data to assess and understand how to improve. Working out would become dreaded and feel impossible. Many make the mistake believing the idea, “Just don’t masterbate because its a sin. The goal is just to abstain.” Those who are not successful with this rejection method may move on to tracking “failures” or duration between episodes. But this would be like me just walking in to the gym and running 20 miles or lifting 500 lbs when I’ve never done either. Then tracking how many times I failed to run 20 miles or lift 500 lbs.

"When performance is measured, performance improves. When performance is measured and reported, the rate of improvement accelerates." [1]

When one decides with the Lord that a behavior needs to be mastered, tracking allows for meaningful discovery. Here is an example of how to track this in a spreadsheet. Each of the following are column headers, which are tracked daily.

Important: Spend 2-4 weeks tracking behaviors as typically engaged. That's the baseline. Sometimes individuals start recording during a time of forced abstinence. This skews the data and doesn’t accurately reflect and individuals starting baseline.

Date

Pornography (Duration in minutes)
Masturbation (Frequency)
Kneeling Prayer (Frequency)
Scriptures (Duration in minutes)
Gospel (General study: such as preparing for Sunday School lesson, duration in minutes)
Workout (Duration in minutes)
Connections (Meaningful interactions, duration in minutes)
Temple Attendance (Frequency)

Key Measurements and Concepts: These are NEVER to be used as a form of punishment. Success is celebrated in the context of self-mastery, NOT merely abstinence. Although abstinence, in the case of porn, might be the ultimate goal, success in self-mastery is celebrated by following a plan and or the reduction in a specific behavior. This will be further explained in the next section.

2. Measure performance and report

The importance of measuring is being able to see things “as they really are.” Too often I have met with youth and adults who express their “addiction” has caused them to fail again, only to discover they had AN episode of porn or masturbated. Not to dismiss their very real concern, but the way in which they viewed their “failure” was horrifying and only contributed to the problem. I then ask, “How long has it been since you engaged in the behavior?” Depending on the individual, they may say a month, a year, or years. Then I reply, “Then it appears you’re successful!”

This inability to see success in sexual struggles, I believe, has been exacerbated by the misuse of D&C 82:7 — which again, oddly enough, only ever seems to be used in the context of sexual sins. It reads,“but unto that soul who sinneth shall the former sins return, saith the Lord your God.” Therefore, individuals feel they have never made progress. Their belief is real; individuals hold to decades of sexual “sin” because of a new occurrence. No wonder there is such a sense of hopelessness in conquering this issue. This scripture, used in this context, was popularized with the book “Miracle of Forgiveness,” but is a misuse of this scripture and misrepresents the atonement. Stephen E. Robinson and H. Dean Garrett, in their “A Commentary on the Doctrine and Covenants” address this misunderstanding.

“Doctrine and Covenants 82:7 must be understood against the backdrop of Mosiah 26:30: "Yea, and as often as my people repent will I forgive them their trespasses against me." Faithful Saints need not fear that their occasional weaknesses will put them outside the covenant and the power of the Atonement. On the other hand, those whose loyalty is to their sins first and to Christ second, third, or not at all, need not expect to be shielded from justice in any degree for all they may have done in this life. If we sin, we must repent. If we sin often, we must repent often. But we must never let go of the rod, never shift our commitment from Christ to our sins. Finally, should we repudiate our covenants, thus losing the shield of the Atonement, not only will our former sins return but they will bring with them a disposition to evil even greater than before (see Matthew 12:43-45).”[2]

In the case of masturbation, it provides a biological baseline from which we can more effectively address and learn unique individuals behaviors. It becomes a beautiful, respectful discovery of one's individual sexual desires. This data can now be specifically discussed with the Lord in individual prayer, allowing the Lord to guide your mind and heart in areas that are determined in the spirit of cultivating and self-mastery. This is usually a private matter in which one is returning to the Lord and learning. However, in cases where one feels they need extra support, a therapist or a loved one can review the data to help point out potential issues the individual is struggling to see.

For example, one individual couldn’t understand why they were increasing an undesired behavior, at what seemed to be random times with no obvious triggers. When the data was graphed by date, two things became clear. The frequency of undesired behavior occurred in proportion to when the individual's fitness and time connecting with others decreased. It was obvious after the discovery, but when you are in the emotion of the struggle it's difficult to make those observations without the data.

3. Out of the best books — Study and learn body

Learn about your body. It's beautiful and awesome. No matter your age or marital status, find the best that experts have to offer. Become familiar with your arousal cycle and desires. As you learn to cultivate your sexuality, your confidence and desires will become a wonderful and positive experience. For those feeling a need to improve their impulse control, in combination with learning your body, tracking the above data becomes an educational experience and exercise in cultivating God-given desire.

There are many great resources. But here are a few I recommend:

Jennifer Finlayson-Fife, Ph.D
LDS Relationship and Sexuality Counselor

http://www.finlayson-fife.com/

And They Were Not Ashamed: Strengthening Marriage through Sexual Fulfillment
by Laura M. Brotherson
Link: http://a.co/aPExHqZ

Kristin B. Hodson

http://www.realintimacybook.com/

Real Intimacy: A Couples' Guide to Healthy, Genuine Sexuality
by Thomas G. Harrison et al.
Link: http://a.co/hlVLj2i

Here is some specific advice for individuals, parents, and leaders:

Individuals

Hopefully you see your body and its arousal as beautiful and not something to fear. However, if you have decided with the Lord that there is a need to improve impulse control, find power by using a loving strategy and reclaiming agency instead of just shear will and rejecting of the desires. Stop punishing yourself. Learn yourself. Identify and build on the successes. DO NOT use fear or pain of any kind to motivate you. For example, instead of going for abstinence, identify your baseline in masturbating. As you track your behavior, let's say the data shows that on average you masturbate once a day. Therefore, in prayer and learning your body, you’ve determined that twice a week is a more healthy behavior for you. Schedule and plan the masturbation.

Yes, you heard me correctly. Schedule and plan the masturbation. This is absolutely critical. I can’t emphasize it enough. The old, broken approach of aversion concepts and sheer willpower ignores everything beautiful about desire and biological function — even in the cases of replacing arousal and desire with other good things, to distract yourself. You are not actually learning about your desire or mastering it. Your biological sex drive is individual, and those who say you can live without sex and everyone can be abstinent is akin to saying everyone can live off of 1000 calories a day. Yeah, maybe, but should they? Each individual is different. You must learn your body with the Lord and with the best science and medical information has to offer. But more importantly, you are actually now reclaiming your agency!

One can say, CHOOSING to be abstinent is using your agency. Yeah, then go choose to live off a 1000 calories a day — that makes just as much sense. No, the power in scheduling and planning the masturbation is that you are taking a proactive, line upon line, approach. There is little to no learning or self-mastery in the abstinence approach.

In the case of Kathryn, shared at the beginning, she has completely rid pornography from her life, after almost two decades of “failure.” It was by learning, understanding, and mastering her sex drive. Scheduling planned masturbations gave her power to withstand impulse control issues in the moment, knowing she would be able to masturbate and cultivate her desires in the way she and the Lord dictated, at a specific time.

When one starts this approach, maybe they have a history of porn associated with masturbating and they battle pornographic thoughts during masturbation. The goal is to reclaim that beauty in sexual desire. This can be done by praying before engaging in the masturbation. Are we not to include the Lord in all things? The fact that many find the concept of including the Lord as weird is evident of the adversary's success at making sexual desires a dirty thing. What better way to prepare individuals to include the Lord in marital sex. A formal prayer may not need to continue with every scheduled masturbation, as long as the pornographic is disentangled from the Godly.

Parents

Teach and prepare your children for the experience of sexual desire. The best way to do this is naturally and daily in your interaction with your spouse. Let your children observe how you discuss it with each other. Confront the awkward and make it beautiful. My wife and I have openly discussed details of sex (not our personal acts of sex) in front of our children from a young age. Integrating it this way creates a very comfortable environment; it allows them to learn and know it’s safe to ask questions. The whole idea of “age appropriate,” conversations around sex, I feel, is a fear-based concept. This fear or concern of conversations being age appropriate, I believe, prevents us from speaking openly in general. It’s the sit down, focused conversations, that I believe are inappropriate and create more awkwardness.

When addressing your child’s sexual desires and masturbation, focus on the beauty of desire, and emphasize how amazing those feelings are. Offer them insights into how we are to learn and master our bodies. Celebrate with them that they are experiencing this new phase of life and how much more amazing it will be if mastered and learned. Offer something similar to the above four concepts to support their development.

Remember the case of the young man who was trying to pray his erection away? He has reclaimed a joy and peace he had lost by cultivating and masturing his desires with the Lord. He again loves attending church and has found a new confidence.

There’s no need to mention sin. No need to say “stop it.” Masturbating isn’t the sin; avoiding self-mastery is. Approaching it this way will empower youth to feel in control of their desires. They will not see their desires as a curse but a blessing from God. It will also teach them that they are in control of their own sexual experiences. Porn will have less power and influence, and they will learn how to honor, master, and respect their sacred sexual experience. They will treat their dates and future spouse with the same respect as they have learned to treat themselves.

Leadership

Teach the concepts of self-mastery to the parents. There is absolutely no need for you to dive into these topics in detail in an interview. The best and most efficient path to success is changing the culture of how parents teach sexuality to children. Stop telling youth it's a sin. They already believe that and that's why they are in your office. Telling them that again doesn’t improve health or faith. Educate parents. Help them understand the importance of restoring beauty in sexuality and desire. Be the example of confronting the awkward and making the taboo easy to discuss. Help parents understand the importance of healthy, loving, respectful sexual education. Provide them with the concept of cultivating and measuring — being able to see things “as they really are” — for the purpose of self-mastery.

Avoid abstract timelines. Although I don’t believe it's within the stewardship of the leader to counsel on the biological functions of their ward members, some insist on giving “spiritual” challenges and goals. These include “go without masturbating for two weeks.” This is ironic since I often get pushback for my approach of scheduling masturbation. But isn’t that what these leaders are telling them to do? Are they telling youth to abstain for 14 days and on day 15 they may reward themselves with a day of masturbation? No, no they’re not. Again, it's confusing and makes no sense. The child or adult struggling knows that, at least subconsciously. As a result, the individual doesn’t hear 14 days; they hear eternity. This is why most who get that challenge rarely can make it 14 days. It’s nonsensical.

As you already know, your role is a spiritual counselor. Therefore, if you feel the individual is struggling with sexual self-mastery, do not call it an addiction; you don’t know that. I also caution against immediately sending them to ARP or some other 12-step program, especially if it's a kid. I caution against programs like Sons of Helaman or Daughters of Light. If you sense the issue is significant, encourage the child to discuss it with their parents. Without breaking confidentiality, do your research, find a therapist who understands this concept. Let the therapist determine if it is related to behavioral or mental health issues. Unfortunately, some children don’t have parents capable of teaching these concepts. Where appropriate, provide the above structure and insights in a group setting where that child can be present.

An Important Note On Consistency And Sustainability

For those leaders who are working with individuals on their spiritual development, I share this insight: some individuals tie their “church” performance to their ability to abstain from an undesirable behavior. One of the reasons I track scriptures and gospel study is to observe this pattern. What I have found based on the data thus far is those who increase their time spent in gospel-related efforts more than ~15-20% experience equally undesirable results as those who decide to continue their regular religious behaviors. My theory is twofold. First, is the New Year’s resolution effect. Feeling a rekindling of hope, the individual recommits with increased dedication. Some try to match their dedication with their missionary years and others some vague perception of what constitutes the ideal amount of gospel study. This new surge of activity is neither consistent or sustainable. Like those that flock to the gym in January, the majority are gone in February. When the rekindled hope begins to fade and the intensity begins to become more difficult to maintain, they emotionally and spiritually associate it with faith, or their lack of faith.

The second, individuals begin to associate their increased gospel performance as a repellent to their undesirable behavior. This is due to a false association between success in sexual self-mastery and their time involved in gospel works. For example, one adult male was reading his scriptures daily, for more time than most scholars I know. One day he came in reporting he didn’t do as well as expected in masturing his behavior, to which he said, “If I had only read the scriptures for another 15 minutes today.” Routine, meaningful gospel study is more important than more of it. Even if that individual is only studying 30 minutes, two days a week, I would rather see that individual maintain that routine than have them believe that more gospel study could “cure” them of their behavior issues.

Conclusion
In language much more poetic, Adam S. Miller in “Letters to a Young Mormon,” expressed the concept of cultivating and Christlike self-mastery beautifully when he said,

“Caring for the hunger will take practice and patience. Be kind to yourself as you stumble through. In church, we say: learn to be chaste. This is right, but we have to be clear. Chastity, as a way of practicing care, doesn’t purge or deny this hunger. You are chaste when you are full of life, and you are full of life when you are faithful to the hungers that root it.
To care for this hunger, you must do just as you did with the others. You cannot get rid of your hunger either by pandering to it or by purging it. Both strategies deny hunger and leave you undead. Church-talk about sexual purity is meant to keep you close to life and warn you against trying to end your hunger by carelessly indulging it. And trying to get rid of your hunger by purging it, even for the sake of purity, will just as surely leave you spiritually dead as indulging it. The measure of chastity is life, and life, by divine design, is messy. If used without care, aiming for purity is as likely to maim you as save you. Don’t become a slave to your hunger and don’t try to make a slave of your hunger. Slavery is sin, and sin is death.”[3]

The goal is to bring souls closer to Christ, by cultivating all things including sexuality through self-mastery. Both unbridled indulgence or abstinence are unhealthy in sexual development and have negatively affected many in their faith and marriages. Those who have embraced a self-mastery approach with masturbation have reported a greater feeling of joy and faith in Christ. This is the goal, the hope. Sexuality should not be a scary, awkward, resented, or a painful experience. It’s beautiful and God-given. Let’s teach, model, and communicate joy in the sexual experience.

Table of Contents:
0. Introduction
1. Background — It Happened Again
2. Context Is Important: A Brief History Of Masturbation Beliefs Within The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
3. Cultivating Versus Condemning
4. What Went Wrong?
5. A New Culture Is Born: “Doctrine And Addiction” And Returning To The 1700s
6. Purity, Modesty, And Moral Ambiguity

7. Solution: Real Self-Mastery Cultivating Sexuality

Additional Resources
Facebook Group "Improving Intimacy in Mormon Marriages"
Blog, "Mormon Marriages"


[1] Thomas S. Monson, in Conference Report, Oct. 1970, 107

[2] Stephen E. Robinson and H. Dean Garrett, in their “A Commentary on the Doctrine and Covenants” (4 vols. [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2004], 2:12-13)

[3] Miller, Adam S. 2014, “Letters to a Young Mormon” pg 62

“Don’t Touch” — Addressing Sexual Taboos In The LDS Faith Part 5

Previous Chapter: 4. What Went Wrong?

A New Culture Is Born: “Doctrine And Addiction” And Returning To The 1700s

In my book, I explore in detail the historical development of how we’ve come to culturally believe masturbation is such a serious sin. Even in this brief summary you can see how the leadership appears to have overcorrected from the ‘40s and ’50s. Building on strong cautionary language given by President Clark, Elder McConkie and President Kimball (just to name a few) reinforced those cautions by ironically breaking from the medical field again. But this time, in a regressive way. They were teaching that participating in masturbation was a sin that led to emotional, spiritual and further sexual sins in addition to warning against “would-be authorities” who taught otherwise:

“Youth come into contact early with masturbation. Many would-be authorities declare that it is natural and acceptable, and frequently young men I interview cite these advocates to justify their practice of it. To this we must respond that the world's norms in many areas — drinking, smoking, and sex experience generally, to mention only a few — depart increasingly from God's law. The Church has a different, higher norm.

“Thus prophets anciently and today condemn masturbation. It induces feelings of guilt and shame. It is detrimental to spirituality. It indicates slavery to the flesh, not that mastery of it and the growth toward godhood which is the object of our mortal life. Our modern prophet has indicated that no young man should be called on a mission who is not free from this practice.

“While we should not regard this weakness as the heinous sin which some other sexual practices are, it is of itself bad enough to require sincere repentance. What is more, it too often leads to grievous sin, even to that sin against nature, homosexuality. For, done in private, it evolves often into mutual masturbation — practiced with another person of the same sex and thence into total homosexuality.”[1]

Allen Bergin, a retired psychologist from Brigham Young University and past president of the Association of Mormon Counselors and Psychotherapists (AMCAP), recognized the moral dilemma President Kimball’s “Miracle of Forgiveness” posed and felt the useful parts were "overshadowed by a host of negatives and also outdated policies that the church itself doesn't even endorse anymore." In his respect and admiration for the “Yoda-like Mormon prophet” he recognized the good it offered and said, "It is unfortunate that his reputation for goodwill is obscured by some extreme adjectives he used 45 years ago." President Kimball's grandson Jordan Kimball also said, "I would want him to be remembered ... for his love, compassion and encouragement." Recognizing that the book addressed the needs “of the 1940s, '50s and '60s, and, in its time, it didn't seem out of place," Jordan Kimball says, "but it was used beyond its due date. Even the church has moved on." Jordan Kimball wished the now-anachronistic book could have been "allowed to sunset."[2]

Years after publication, Kimball reportedly remarked that its tone may have been too strong. “Sometimes I think I might have been a little too strong about some of the things I wrote in that book.”[3] Elder Richard G. Scott's wise advice was to “read the last two chapters first to appreciate the full miracle of forgiveness before reading anything else.”[4] That comment probably came 30-some years too late.

Nonetheless, President Kimball’s bold clarity, echoing McConkie's “Mormon Doctrine” established itself as an unquestionable measurement of righteousness. If the “doctrine” that masturbatatory insanity wasn’t re-established by this time, it would become a concrete and irrefutable commandment in The Church culture over the next two decades. He gave members and professionals no other option than to agree, as mentioned earlier: “Many would-be authorities declare that it [masturbation] is natural and acceptable, and frequently young men I interview cite these advocates to justify the practice of it. To this we must respond that the world’s norms in many areas ... depart increasingly from God’s law. The Church has a different, higher norm.”[5]

Stop Calling It An Addiction

“In thirty-one years as a sex therapist, marriage counselor, and psychotherapist, I’ve never seen sex addiction. I’ve heard about virtually every sexual variation, obsession, fantasy, trauma, and involvement with sex workers, but I’ve never seen sex addiction.” —Marty Klein

To further complicate the issue, the “sex addiction” model was popularized during the ‘70s when a couple of individuals involved with Alcoholics Anonymous decided to organize a special group for those who routinely cheated on their spouses. There was absolutely no scientific evidence or support that sex addiction existed. Although we are discussing masturbation specifically, I am going to address it in the following comments under the idea of “sex addiction,” as that is often the reason given to avoid masturbation.

“After 40 years of the sex addiction model existing, there is not a single published randomized-controlled empirically-reviewed study that reveals that sex addiction treatment works.” —Dr. David Ley

Why is that? If this sex addiction existed and was so dangerous, why hasn’t there been a single study on its effectiveness? Try to find statistics on addiction recovery programs (ARP), other than the ARP missionaries bearing their testimonies that it saves lives. If ARP mirrors AA at all, then peer-reviewed studies peg the success rate of AA somewhere between five and 10 percent.

David J. Ley, Ph.D., doesn’t mix his words when he expresses his concern with this fake diagnosis:

"Criticisms of the concept of sexual addiction are not just intellectual egocentrism. There are real dangers inherent in the sex addiction concept. I believe that for the field of health care, medicine, and mental health to endorse and reify a flawed concept creates a very dangerous slippery slope of moral relativism, where any socially unacceptable behavior is labeled a mental disorder subject to psychiatric treatment.

“The concept of sexual addiction is intimately connected to the conflicted sexual morality embedded in our culture at its deepest levels, where sexuality is seen as a dangerous evil temptation that must be constantly constrained and feared. It also reflects the influence of the media and the changing strategies of the 24-7 news and entertainment industry. The concept of sexual addiction is driven by the news and entertainment industry as well as the professional treatment providers, facilities, and industry that serve the needs of self-identified sex addicts.

“Lastly, the label of sex addiction affects our efforts to enforce expectations of responsibility, holding ourselves, and especially men, responsible for their choices and actions. If we accept the notion that sexual addiction is a disorder, what is the impact upon our understanding of sexual arousal itself, and upon our view of masculinity and personal responsibility for one’s sexual behaviors? A challenge to those of us who criticize the concept of sex addiction is that we are ignoring the very real suffering of clients who are desperate for help.

“People around the country are dealing with the effects of their sexual desires and behaviors, as they affect their lives and the lives of those around them. Men and women are struggling with answers to why they or their intimate partners are making unhealthy, destructive sexual decisions, decisions that destroy families, careers, and marriages. I don’t disagree with the idea that there are people who are desperate for help. I just frankly don’t think that giving them a label of sex addiction is ultimately going to be helpful to them, to society, or to the field of mental health. I’m troubled by the defensiveness and attacking response to criticism." —David Ley, Myth of Sexual Addiction

But what about all the research that “proves” sex addiction is real? There is none. For example, one popular study Fight the New Drug (FTND) and others love to reference to prove sex addiction is just as harmful as drugs, is the Voon study titled, “Neural Correlates of Sexual Cue Reactivity in Individuals with and without Compulsive Sexual Behaviours.” You’ll notice FTND “quote mining” these studies like a Jeremy Runnells googling Church History, concluding “pornography harms the brain almost exactly the same as drug addiction.

But not too fast — even the authors of the research say that’s a bad idea.

“Voon is quick to caution against using her studies to leap to conclusions about the addictiveness of sex or porn. ‘Much more research is required,’ she explains. Meanwhile, a study from Nicole Prause at the University of California, Los Angeles, used electroencephalography (EEG) to measure the brainwaves of people presented with sexual images and found something different. She observed that volunteers who believed they had a problem with porn reacted to the pictures with low levels of excitement in the brain, unlike other addicts faced with triggering cues. ‘These people may be having problems, but of some other type,’ says Prause. ‘Addiction is not a good way of understanding it.’” —Emily Borrow, “Can You Really Be Addicted to Sex?”, The Economist

In a movement I call “Compassionate Kelloggs,” FTND and other organizations like them, such as Sons of Helaman, may not use penis-sized iron maidens or suggest sewing your foreskin, but their emotional message is still damaging. They set themselves up as saving the public from the dangers of these behaviors but are using fear to accomplish their objectives.

President Dieter F. Uchtdorf summed up this concept brilliantly and precisely when he said,

“People who are fearful may say and do the right things, but they do not feel the right things. ... They often feel helpless and resentful, even angry. Over time these feelings lead to mistrust, defiance, even rebellion.” — President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, Perfect Love Casteth Out Fear, April 2017 Conference

There are few things I’ve seen more clearly than this: when fear is used as a motivator, we cause people to feel and experience the wrong things. As a result, resentment, pain and rebellion often occur. This is by far the number one problem I see when individuals — regardless of age — visit with me regarding sexually-related issues. One of the discoveries is that those who used fear to avoid sexual stimulation, pursuits and desires now struggle as married individuals to function in healthy sexual relationships.

These compassionate Kelloggs are modeling the 1700s sexual messages: “If you engage in this behavior you will become addicted, you are ill. And we love you.” In the case of the Sons of Helaman, the creator Maurice W. Harker identifies in his trademark “The Chemical Spill,™” wherein he defines God’s gift of sexual desire as “Deviant Sex Chemicals.” The intellectual dishonesty of organizations like these is blatant, but few question their legitimacy. Why not? Because it’s “something.” It makes people feel good when they are doing “something,” rather than nothing.

This lazy, fear-based message is so far reaching and pervasive that we’ve become experts at shaming with love. I hear it all the time from leaders. It usually goes something like this: “We are removing the shame around masturbation and reminding them it’s a sin.” Guess what? They never forgot it was a sin. Additionally, I would argue a youth learning and developing into their pubescent years is no more experiencing a sin masturbating then a diabetic learning how to control and regulate their blood sugar.

Even FairMormon posted some standard, run of the mill, lazy, fear-based masturbation material done in the tone of love. The material is intellectually dishonest and forced to fit a moral view that can’t be scientifically or doctrinally supported. This podcast is far below the standard of FairMormon.

“Any claims you have heard that you will be physically harmed unless you do masturbate are simply false, or greatly overblown. There is a study that shows that older men have a lower risk of prostate cancer if they ejaculate more frequently. However, this same finding was not replicated in the case of young men. In fact, higher rates of masturbation raise the risk of prostate cancer in young men. Interestingly, more frequent intercourse did NOT raise the risk, but masturbation did.”[6]

Yes, Steve Densley Jr., made a refute of “simply false” and used a “study” that contradicted its own findings to support his argument. Of course, it was a cancer study too, but I don’t blame him; there is NO research to support his claims. Yet, he doesn’t stop there. He goes on to quote from Spencer W. Kimball’s “Love Versus Lust” talk (Brigham Young University Speeches of the Year [Provo, 5 Jan. 1965], p. 22) and concludes, “if we are not willing to obey him in the ‘little’ things, when faced with a greater trial, we will not have developed either the strength or resolve to obey in the big things.” Densley Jr.’s usage of these sources and “studies” is an example of how pseudoscience of sexuality has, like in Tissot’s day, become a go-to phrase. He is an impressive and intelligent individual whom I admire, and I value what he has done with FairMormon. In this topic, however, he doesn’t appear to know what he is talking about.

Furthermore, Densley Jr. dismisses the valid question, “Can masturbation be done without lusting?” by stating the go-to “sacredness” and “powerful chemical reactions” argument, using these as if to say that personal arousal couldn’t be sacred and using the entirely untrue cop out of the powerful chemical argument.

Overall, it is clear from the data that the functional neuroanatomy of sex is very similar to that of other pleasures and that it is unlikely that there is anything special about the brain mechanisms and networks underlying sex.” —J.R. Geargiadis & M.L. Bringelbach, in “The human sexual response cycle: Brain imaging evidence linking sex to other pleasures”

Logically, these types of arguments are trite, lazy, and frankly downright confusing to kids. Are we really telling them that their wedding night is a gateway drug to addiction, cancer, and uncontrollable sex? If sex was so addictive, the majority of my couples work would be strategizing planned abstinence and recovery. Nope, the majority of my couples work is interventions in creating desire. That pesky addictive sex drive sure is never around when it counts. Culturally, we have taught — and especially women — how to reject sexual desire so well that the dysfunctions present in their marriage. But of course, they’ll “figure that out” with a spouse who also doesn’t know their own body.[1] [2] [3] [4]

This is the problem. It’s not working. The addiction model is failing and the aversion approach is creating a far bigger problem. It’s creating a bigger problem because the real issues are not being addressed. Why is diagnosing someone as a sex addict problematic?

"Anecdotal reports within sex addiction, and some research, suggests that personality disorder is extremely prevalent in sex addiction. Some estimates suggest that personality disorders and mood disorders are present in almost all cases of sex addiction. Multiple studies show that alleged sex addicts almost always have some other major mental illness. So, when such individuals present for sex addiction treatment, their hypersexual behaviors are most likely to be a symptom of the existing disorders. As one sex therapist and clinician described to me, 'The sex addiction diagnosis is a lazy diagnosis.' It ignores more relevant emotional and psychiatric issues to focus exclusively upon a person's sexual behavior.

“Because periods of sexual promiscuity are a frequent symptom for clients with bipolar disorder when they are in a manic phase, we would not normally diagnose hypersexuality and bipolar disorder, since bipolar disorder would subsume the symptom of periods of hypersexual behavior. According to the theories of sex addiction, the use of sex to manage negative emotions is identified as a core symptom of unhealthy sexuality and sex addiction. But if those negative emotions reflect the influence of depression or post-traumatic stress-disorder, it is more important to diagnose and treat the negative emotions. A diagnosis of sex addiction is superfluous at best and a dangerous distraction from the real treatment needed at worst." —David Ley, "The Myth of Sex Addiction"

The next time a research claims it’s a study of sexual addiction, review whether or not it has factored in preexisting mental health issues. Many studies like this one have found 80% or more actually are suffering from other behaviors; the sexual issues are usually a symptom of coping with the preexisting condition.

Furthermore, what about that very dangerous and highly addictive reward chemical dopamine? Dopamine does not equal reward, or at least, it's not that simple; refer to the study “The Mysterious Motivational Functions of Mesolimbic Dopamine.”[7]

Dopamine has become the scapegoat neurological chemical. It's just not that simple. Yes, dopamine is involved in sexual experience. But no more than a mother breastfeeding, or the pleasure of seeing your kids after a long work trip. Additionally, the brain and biological response to sexual experience cannot be simplified down to one or two chemicals. You can explore this topic further here: The unsexy truth about dopamine. And here: No, Dopamine is Not Addictive.

Next Chapter: 6. Purity, Modesty, and Moral Ambiguity


Table of Contents:

0. Introduction

1. Background — It Happened Again

2. Context is Important: A Brief History Of Masturbation Beliefs Within The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

3. Cultivating Versus Condemning

4. What Went Wrong?

5. A New Culture Is Born: “Doctrine And Addiction” And Returning To The 1700s

6. Purity, Modesty, And Moral Ambiguity

7. Solution: Real Self-Mastery Cultivating Sexuality

Additional Resources
Facebook Group "Improving Intimacy in Mormon Marriages"
Blog, "Mormon Marriages"


[1] Prophet Spencer W. Kimball, The Miracle of Forgiveness, pp. 77-78

[2] Peggy Fletcher Stack (July 24, 2015). "LDS classic 'Miracle of Forgiveness' fading away, and some Mormons say it's time". Salt Lake Tribune. http://archive.sltrib.com/article.php?id=2762815&itype=CMSID

[3] Edward L. Kimball, Lengthen Your Stride: The Presidency of Spencer W. Kimball, SLC: Deseret Book, 2005, 80

[4] Richard G. Scott Of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles “The Path to Peace and Joy” https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2000/10/the-path-to-peace-and-joy?lang=eng

[5] Prophet Spencer W. Kimball, The Miracle of Forgiveness, pp. 77

[6] “Fair Questions 4: What’s Wrong with Masturbation?” Steve Densley Jr. https://www.fairmormon.org/blog/2013/01/02/fair-questions-4-whats-wrong-with-masturbation

[7] The Mysterious Motivational Functions of Mesolimbic Dopamine http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.neuron.2012.10.021







“Don’t Touch” — Addressing Sexual Taboos in the LDS Faith Part 1

Back to Introduction

Background — It Happened Again

It happened again. Within the same week, on two different occasions, a young man and then a young woman sat in my office and said the same thing, almost word for word. “I need help. I’ve seen the bishop and I am doing everything he says, but I can’t stop. I need something more.” This is a frequent occurrence. Fortunately, with these two individuals had the insight to recognize the dilemma to their struggle before assuming it has something to do with their faith. They both believed in the Lord Jesus Christ with all their heart and soul. They were taking all the right steps to conquering their undesired behavior but it wasn’t stopping the behavior.

Unfortunately, many youth (and adults) are so ashamed that they can’t stop engaging in pornography and masturbation that they quietly stop trying. Or they see their inability to stop as a reflection on their faith, or rather, their lack of faith. Lack of faith couldn’t be further from the truth. Let's take for example the case of Kathryn Kirk, a mid-singles woman who struggled with pornography and masturbation since she was in her late teens.

From early on, Kathryn did all the right things. She identified the problem, spoke with her bishop and embraced his counsel. She fasted, prayed, and was obedient to promptings given her by the Spirit and leadership. Her struggle would come and go with varying intensity, but like many others, she again found herself in the bishop's office working through the same struggle she had been experiencing for years. Nonetheless, with her bishop’s encouragement and authorization, she participated fully in church responsibilities and callings, including serving weekly in the temple. However, in spite of her profound faith, obedience and service, the struggle would repeat — sometimes worse than in previous occurrences.

Now, in her early thirties she is feeling the years of struggle weighing on her and wondering if her faith was ever real. She did everything right. She followed every piece of counsel, blessing and priesthood instruction, and now hope was wearing thin of ever overcoming this struggle. Before giving up she wanted to try one last time, as a final reassurance to herself that she did everything she could before calling it quits. She recognized doing more of the same wasn’t working and decided to include a therapist in her recovery process.

In July of 2014, she found me in a listing of Latter-day Saint counselors and reached out. I remember getting the call on a Saturday afternoon and hearing her bravely explain her situation in raw honesty. She was much like the two youth I previously mentioned. She was out of options — and other than doing more of the same, she didn’t know what else to do. Not only that, but her leadership didn’t know what else to offer her other than to pray, study and have “more faith.” But she was doing all of those things with no success in stopping the undesired behavior. Kathryn was and continues to be a brave, insightful and full-of-faith daughter of God. After introducing a more effective approach, her hope was rekindled, and it wasn’t more than a couple months later that there was significant progress and a glow about her, a change in her entire countenance. Now, over three years later, she has not returned to the previous struggle she battled with for so many years.

There is hope! There is more that can be done. More that leadership and parents can offer. But it will require a huge paradigm shift. Although there are more effective approaches to mastering this behavior, the biggest hindrance is the shame and taboo around the subject of sexuality, desire and passions. Our current approach is fear-based and in general misinformed as a result of that same fear. As such, before we can proceed to the effective tools, a change in thinking has to occur. You see, Kathryn, like every other individual that comes into my office usually doesn’t have a problem with faith. It’s that their faith is informed by and motivated out of fear.

A young man quietly sat across from me in the therapeutic office. As he searched for the right words to express his shame and embarrassment, he eventually found the courage to vulnerably express his frustration. My bishop recommended I come and see you. I need help, more than just “stop doing it.”

He was the first to articulate the limitations of parents and leaders alike in teaching and training our youth in regards to sexual desire and impulses.

He elaborated that his bishop had been absolutely loving and supportive, but that praying more, reading the scriptures more, and trying harder didn’t work when addressing sexual impulses. Another young man reported his attempts of “praying his erections and desires away.” This began with 5-minute prayers, but rapidly turned into 90-minutes of pleading in tears to God to “remove his temptations and desires.” His natural biological experience of growing into adolescence through his pubescent years and experiencing sexual desire had quickly become a source of pain and rejection of himself. When prayer wasn’t working to eliminate these feelings, his faith began to wane and he began to struggle. Doubting himself and then God, he began to wonder if he had faith and if God even existed.

In all the above cases, the solution was simple, effective, and most importantly, sustainable. No addiction recovery program (ARP), 12-Step programs, or required routine bishop visits. While I say the solution was simple, I do not dismiss the emotional struggle that had accompanied their challenges; sometimes the emotional healing will take a little longer. It’s the physical interventions that are so simple — successful even after just a few visits. Interestingly, even in the simplicity and effectiveness of the solution, some become frustrated that they didn’t know or weren't taught the concepts years ago. Just recently, I found myself in the office of a bishop of a large YSA Ward. After sharing the solution with him, he was brought to tears as he shared how it finally felt like he had something tangible to give to his many struggling members. He then continued by expressing a mixture of joy and frustration as to how obvious the solution was, but the current cultural paradigm had prevented him from even thinking of the solution.

I don’t want to tease you with the solution, but every time I’ve begun with the solution I’ve had to address the context anyway. If you want to see the solution first, be my guest. Skip down and read it. The following is not intended to be an exhaustive history, as I will provide greater detail in my upcoming book. It is just a sampling of the few individuals and events that are significant to the purpose of this post.

Next Chapter:

 2. Context Is Important: A Brief History Of Masturbation Beliefs Within The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Table of Contents:

0. Introduction

1. Background — It Happened Again

2. Context Is Important: A Brief History Of Masturbation Beliefs Within The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

3. Cultivating Versus Condemning

4. What Went Wrong?

5. A New Culture Is Born: “Doctrine And Addiction” And Returning To The 1700s

6. Purity, Modesty, And Moral Ambiguity

7. Solution: Real Self-Mastery Cultivating Sexuality

Additional Resources

Facebook Group "Improving Intimacy in Mormon Marriages

Blog, "Mormon Marriages"

“Don’t Touch” — Addressing Sexual Taboos in the LDS Faith Part 4

Previous Chapter: 3. Cultivating Versus Condemning

What Went Wrong?

The Depression, WWII and Kinsey.

The Church leadership noticeably changed their approach to sexuality in the ‘30s and ’40s, which was culturally reinforced in the ‘50s and ’60s.

In the 1942 April Conference, which was a time of great upheaval in the world with much uncertainty, the First Presidency, under the direction of President Heber J. Grant, issued a much needed message to the Saints. The First presidency message filled almost 10 pages and addressed a spectrum of topics including testimony and parenting during a time of medical and doctor shortages (they were being shipped off to help in the war). This was unusually detailed counsel, but understand that for the decades they were in it wasn’t surprising. This counsel included the following:

“We urge all parents to guard with zealous care the health of their children. Feed them simple, good, wholesome food that will nourish and make them strong. See that they are warmly clad. Keep them from exposure. Have them avoid unnecessary crowds in close, poorly ventilated, overheated rooms and halls. See that they have plenty of rest and sleep. Avoid late hours …”

Additional topics included: “Welfare Work,” “False Political Isms,” “Hate Must Be Abolished,” “Mission of the Church,” “Sending of Missionaries,” “Church and State,” “Church Membership and Army Service,” “God Is At The Helm,” “Righteous Suffer With Wicked” and a number of other topics addressing the needs and concerns of the time. However, it is the brief two-paragraph statement on sexual purity in which the First Presidency boldly declared, “Better dead, clean, than alive, unclean.” This phrase was a pivotal change in how LDS addressed the topic of sexuality and desire. In its full context the message reads,

Message to the Youth to the youth of the Church we repeat all the foregoing advice, but above all we plead with you to live clean, for the unclean life leads only to suffering, misery, and woe physically, — and spiritually it is the path to destruction. How glorious and near to the angels is youth that is clean; this youth has joy unspeakable here and eternal happiness hereafter. Sexual purity is youth's most precious possession; it is the foundation of all righteousness. Better dead, clean, than alive, unclean. Times approach when we shall need all the health, strength, and spiritual power we can get to bear the afflictions that will come upon us.”[1]

Not necessarily with the intent of defending the word choice, but in its full context the statement (although still a bold declaration), “Better dead, clean, than alive, unclean” may feel a little less abrasive when you consider both the historical chaos and the First Presidency’s desire for the youth to experience “joy unspeakable here and eternal happiness hereafter.” Although this was a first presidency message, its wording and theme is very similar to President J. Reuben Clark’s Conference message a few years previous, wherein he spoke specifically about marital relationship issues of “promiscuous sexual relationships that ends in misery, disease, and shame …” In maybe a concern that parents were becoming neglectful in teaching the Law of Chastity, he reminds them to “teach the youth as the children of God, with spirits that are to live throughout eternity and tell them plainly and clearly that the laws of God, and of men also, demand that they live chaste … let us not make the mistake, any of us, of assuming that our children are beyond temptation and may not fall. This is a delusion and a snare that will bring us to the very depths.”

It would seem, from a historical reading, that parents were neglecting to teach healthy sexuality and its eternal significance during these stressful times.

He continues, “Please believe me when I say that chastity is worth more than life itself. This is the doctrine my parents taught me; it is truth. Better die chaste than live unchaste. The salvation of your very souls is concerned in this.”

If his parents did teach him this “doctrine,” it was not one that appears to be common in the culture of the early Latter-day Saints of the time. It’s entirely possible this was a religious concept believed by his parents who were raised in the “New Dunkers” or Church of God before converting. From an early Latter-day Saint “doctrinal” teaching, it doesn’t appear to be present, at least not publically.

There is a fascinating warning Pres. Clark later gives in his talk. In what may well have been insights into behaviors we now recognize as narcissistic and maybe further evidence of the emotional/spiritual climate of the time, he warns of the emotionally manipulative behaviors of individuals who use “love” to convince others to lose themselves, abandon their values. He cautions,

“I say that whenever a man or woman, young or old, demands as the price of his friendship that you give up the righteous standards of your life, or any of them, that man's friendship is not worth the price he asks. You may not trust that friendship; he will cast it off as he does his worn-out coat. Friendship is not now, and never was, the offspring of debauchery or unrighteousness.

“I ask you young women to believe me further when I say that any young man who demands your chastity as the price of his love, is spiritually unclean, and is offering something that is not worth the purchase price; his love will turn to ashes under your touch; it will lead you to misery and shame; and too often it will curse you with dread disease.”[2]

I share this quote not in an attempt to defend the word choice nor the use of fear as a motivator to follow God's commandment, but in light of President Clark’s conference message and the First Presidency message, it was a reminder to parents that they had neglected teaching youth to avoid those who don’t honor their values and also an admonition to hold on to hope in a time of war and uncertainty. I believe this is important to understand and why the idea of “better dead, clean, than alive unclean” became a part of Latter-day Saint culture.

I don’t believe it is better to be dead than unclean, but whether or not he meant it literally, it eventually became a literal belief and “doctrine.” As such, a critical gospel thought process needs to reconcile the apparent contradictions it presents. The first is that the statement “Better dead, clean, than alive, unclean” is ambiguous. What does it really mean? What specifically, or at what point, is the First Presidency referring to as unclean? Are they also suggesting that purity can’t be obtained again through the Atonement? Are they referring to only sexual intercourse outside of marriage? What about thoughts, desires, feelings, impulses, lusts? “Better dead, clean, than alive, unclean” seemed to negate the idea that the Atonement redeems.

Maybe this statement would make sense if what the First Presidency meant by “unclean” was in the act of completely denying the Atonement, the saving power of Christ. But even in this context, only those who have had a sure knowledge of Christ are capable of such a dire rejection. Those who “lose” their way from The Church still have the fullness of the gospel available to them through the infinite power of the Atonement. The Atonement also allows for those who have have lost their “purity” before marriage to become pure again. It would seem the idea “Better dead, clean, than alive, unclean” wasn’t so much a doctrine or absolute, but an emphasis on the need to be ever watchful.

In the following decades, we see this concept morph into beliefs that are not supported by scriptural teachings but merely by logical assumptions at best — and at worst reverting to archaic medical warnings. Where previously The Church’s stance on sexuality was in opposition to the 1920 medical findings that abstinence increased suicidal ideation (a stance which is further supported in current medical and emotional health), it had adopted the unsubstantiated ideas of self-harm and self-abuse. President Clark declared that those who engaged in masturbation were sinful and those — even in the medical and psychological field — who taught it where like "the teachers who prostitute the sex urge."[3]

Why the change in approach at this point?

1953: This change and urgency might have been compounded from publications of Dr. Alfred Kinsey (the father of the sexual revolution) on male and female sexual behavior — which sold like Harry Potter.

“President Ernest Wilkinson, alarmed at Alfred Kinsey’s reports on sexual behavior, appointed a faculty committee to determine if the school’s sex education provided a strong defense of chastity. When members of the sociology department learned that the committee had decided ‘who shall teach [sex education] and where,’ they registered ‘strenuous objection to administrative prurience in this regard.’ Wilkinson, however, knowing of ‘no more important need on our campus,’ pushed for a BYU-authored health textbook. One of the school’s faculty assigned to the project became skeptical that his treatment of sex could pass the scrutiny of both trustees and colleagues. Some university administrators agreed, and the project was abandoned. Instead, BYU officials arranged to have a national publisher remove objectionable material from a health text. When the publisher overlooked one offending page in 1967, BYU bookstore employees excised the page before placing the text on store shelves. Student reaction ranged from amusement to outrage. Studies undertaken since have found that many freshmen enter BYU misinformed about sex, and that student attitudes towards sex education become more disapproving following enrollment in the university’s required health classes.”[4]

President Wilkinson’s concerns were valid and spiritually guided. Kinsey wasn’t simply providing scientific findings but actively stripping morality and human emotions out of the research. It's appropriate for science to approach research objectively, however, Kinsey went above and beyond his role as a scientist. As much as he felt morality interfered with science and skewed what normal is, his disdain (a result of his father's abusive aversion methods) for a moral guideline highly influenced his approach, findings, and sample selections.

Scientifically and socially, his findings would be defined as the new “normal,” and his influence was far spread. Kinsey would become known as the “father” of the Sexual Revolution; he would usher in the massive social and cultural upheaval of the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s. As much as we needed improved science of sexuality, it could have been done with significantly more respect and dignity. Furthermore, many in the science field were questioning his “scientific methods.”

Supporters of Kinsey have claimed that even though he may have been disturbed and engaged in immoral behavior with his clients, his fundamental conclusions and his data still remain accurate. This too proves blatantly false. According to Dr. Reisman,

1. [Dr. Kinsey’s team] ‘forced’ subjects to give the desired answers to their sex questions, 2. Secretly trashed three quarters of their research data, and 3. Based their claims about normal males on a roughly 86 percent aberrant male population including 200 sexual psychopaths, 1,400 sex offenders and hundreds each of prisoners, male prostitutes, and promiscuous homosexuals. Moreover, so few normal women would talk to them that the Kinsey team labeled women who lived over a year with a man ‘married,’ reclassifying data on prostitutes and other unconventional women as “Susie Homemaker.”[1]

As a zoologist and with his rejection of morality, he viewed his subjects (including himself) as little more than “animals” and actively removed the human and emotional —let alone the spiritual element — from sexuality. His debasing of the sexual experience wasn’t just a normalizing of sexual behavior but was an attack on a moral center. It is true the Puritan era rejected scientific developments and forced a suppressive and “evil” ideology of sexuality; Kinsey on the other hand entirely rejected a human moral center. This rejection of morality did more harm in the study of sexuality than the Puritan ideology. His lack of ethical center tainted and skewed his research; he engaged in unethical and illegal methods, including sampling children and condoning pedophilia. The disturbing and unethical details of Kinsey’s behavior, much of which would not be revealed for a few decades, don’t need to be included here. But suffice it to say, although the full details of Kinsey’s behaviors were not known at the time, the leaders of the Church were justified in their concern for how he was influencing society and inevitably members in the faith. Kinsey was highly influential and convincing, removing ALL definitions of “right” and “wrong.” Moral guidance was needed. The Church’s response wasn’t unreasonable, like one can find in scripture when a people become so indulgent the Lord will sometimes take a hard line to refocus his followers. This example can be seen with the Children of Israel when the Law of Moses was established. However, like I will demonstrate with the sexual culture of our church, sometimes those laws and commandments grow into something they were never intended to become.

In the following decades of the sexual revolution, you will see a similar response, rigidity and clarity from the leaders. While there was a need for a strong and clear voice of morality, you will also see how this rigidity grew into the sexual shibboleths (Stephen Smoot provided an insightful writeup on shibboleths here) of the ‘60s and ‘70s. Instead of growing into a more healthy view of sexuality, tradition and cultural assumptions turned the moral guidelines into doctrinal absolutes.

Is it any wonder that the leadership increased focus on sexual issues intensified with previously unseen rigidity? As such, and in the desire to save souls, preventing Latter-day Saint moral decay with societal values, they attempted to reinforce the moral lines. Therefore, during this time the Brethren addressed masturbation as a gateway perversion that led to nothing good. Although not medically or religiously supported, masturbation seemed to become the new measure of sexual purity and a “preoccupation” that required complete abstinence. President Kimball published “Be Ye Clean,” which would later be included in his book “Faith Precedes a Miracle.” This became the first track that focused on the “reprehensible nature” of masturbation and thoughts of sex.[5]

General Conference has always served as a guidepost to current social issues. Therefore, in this decade, as in previous, increased attention was given to The Church as a whole regarding sexual issues. It makes absolute sense in context of the history. Society's increase of moral decay was met with an increased moral rigidity. Was it the best way? I can’t judge that. It's not my desire to judge their approach, but it is important to see these developments in the correct context to better understand the solution. Therefore, in this societal context, the conference messages, books and articles more frequently identified behaviors associated with sins “next to murder.” It was at this time that there was a clear Latter-day Saint cultural change in how sexual desire was taught. The idea that sexuality and desire were beautiful and to be mastered and cultivated in one's youth then became a message that thinking and acting on these desires was committing grievous sins; masturbation became a grievous sin.

1956: “Petting is indecent and sinful, and the person who attempts to pet with you is himself both indecent and sinful and is likewise lustful … Is that what you want? Will you not remember that in the category of crime, God says sex sin is next to murder?”[6]

1957: “To keep the Children of Israel from committing these sins, the Lord proceeds to name them and to prescribe penalties for their commission. I am going to name a few of them. First is incest. I am not enlarging on it. In the law incest included more than we now ascribe to it. It included marriage between people within prohibited relationships. The penalty for incest was death to both parties. Fornication, sometimes adultery and fornication are used interchangeably, but for most kinds of fornication the penalty was death. For adultery, it was death for both parties. For homosexuality, it was death to the male and the prescription or penalty for the female I do not know.”[7]

Four years later, Elder Bruce R. McConkie boldly and emphatically stated that masturbation was not only "condemned by divine edict," but was among the "chief means" the adversary is "leading souls to hell."[8] He also solidified the teachings of President Clark with the rebuke of medical, psychiatric and mental health workers who were teaching that masturbation is "not an evil," and stated the “guilt and shame” experienced by individuals was a result of disobedience. In a return to archaic medical beliefs, he said they were keeping Latter-day Saints from being clean and experiencing the blessings of the gospel, which would lead to "mental and spiritual peace" that helps one overcome mental disorders of masturbation.

“An individual may go to a psychiatrist for treatment because of a serious guilt complex and consequent mental disorder arising out of some form of sex immorality — masturbation, for instance. It is not uncommon for some psychiatrists in such situations to persuade the patient that masturbation itself is not an evil; that his trouble arises from the false teachings of the Church that such a practice is unclean; and that, therefore, by discarding the teaching of the Church, the guilt complex will cease and mental stability return. In this way iniquity is condoned, and many people are kept from complying with the law whereby they could become clean and spotless before the Lord—in the process of which they would gain the mental and spiritual peace that overcomes mental disorders.”[9]

The leadership, specifically Elder McConkie, did have a valid doctrinal concern in that psychotherapists prior to 1970 predominately held to Freudian anti-religious ideas: “Trouble arises from the false teachings of the Church.” In the psychodynamic models of the time, they were not equipped to address the various faith practices, rituals and beliefs. But it would have been poor and unethical therapy to clinically assert one's culture is “false.”

It is the responsibility of the practitioner to provide healthy mental/physical solutions that are both within good medical science and within the individual's faith rituals and culture. As such, I completely agree with Elder McConkie in that it was improper for psychologists to be so blatantly rejecting of one's faith and culture — even in those cases where one's faith and culture might be in conflict with current medical standards. To blatantly dismiss the culture of that individual could create additional mental health concerns. However, I see this as a separate issue. Elder McConkie refuted the validity of the scientific intervention while tying it to the treatment method. This would be similar to condemning doctors for prescribing medications because they may be addictive.

Next Chapter: 5. A New Culture Is Born: “Doctrine and Addiction” And Returning To The 1700s

Table of Contents:
0. Introduction
1. Background — It Happened Again
2. Context is Important: A Brief History of Masturbation Beliefs Within The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
3. Cultivating Versus Condemning
4. What Went Wrong?
5. A New Culture Is Born: “Doctrine and Addiction” And Returning To The 1700s
6. Purity, Modesty, And Moral Ambiguity
7. Solution: Real Self-Mastery Cultivating Sexuality

Additional Resources

Facebook Group "Improving Intimacy in Mormon Marriages"

Blog, "Mormon Marriages"


[1] First Presidency message, 112th Annual Conference April 1942 p. 89 https://archive.org/details/conferencereport1942a

[2] President Ruben J. Clark, In Conference Report, Oct. 1938, pp. 137–39. https://archive.org/details/conferencereport1938sa

[3] Clark, J. Reuben (Dec 1952). "Home and the Building of Home Life". Relief Society Magazine: 793

[4] Religion and Academics at Brigham Young University A Recent Historical Perspective Gary James Bergera “Religion, Feminism, and Freedom of Conscience” Edited by George D. Smith pg. 98-99 http://signaturebookslibrary.org/religion-and-academics-at-brigham-young-university/#20

[5] Kimball, Spencer. "Be Ye Clean!: Five Steps to Repentance and Forgiveness". churchhistorycatalog.lds.org. LDS Church

[6] Apostle Mark E. Petersen, General Conference, 3 October 1956

[7] Apostle J. Reuben Clark, Jr., Conference Address, April 8, 1957

[8] McConkie, Bruce R. (1958). Mormon Doctrine. Deseret Book. p. 708

[9] McConkie, Bruce R. (1958). Mormon Doctrine. Deseret Book. p. 610




“Don’t Touch” — Addressing Sexual Taboos In The LDS Faith Part 3

Previous Chapter: 2. Context Is Important: A Brief History Of Masturbation Beliefs Within The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Cultivating Versus Condemning

In spite of these popular moral and medical views on sexuality and masturbation, which persisted well into the mid 1900s, The Church leaders embraced a progressively healthier view that focused more on self-mastery and cultivating the Godly desire of sexuality (versus the shame and fear-based medical and religious ideas of the time). Among the many beautiful doctrines the Restoration ushered into this new dispensation, the true nature of the Fall was revealed — this while Christendom viewed the fall of Adam and Eve, the “original sin,” as a sexual betrayal of God's commandments.

“As recounted in Mormon’s text, Adam and Eve were instructed from the very outset to ‘have seed.’ Fulfillment of this divine command depended on the commission of a (nonsexual) transgression which brought with it both mortality and fertility … The early Mormons view went far beyond a simple rejection of a devilish origin of sex. Like ‘knowledge of good and evil,’ reproductive sexuality itself was soon held to be an attribute of deity.[1]

However, there were a few early leaders who warned in private meetings about the dangers of “self-abuse.” These comments were usually tied directly to serious abuses or individuals who expressed their opinions on the topic.

An example of condemning masturbation in connection with abuse, and one of the first times anything is recorded about masturbation, is from the personal diary of Apostle Rudger Clawson in 1902. Church leaders discussed educating parents about The Church leaders’ beliefs regarding masturbation:

At a meeting in the Temple with the Twelve, Joseph F. Smith was recorded as stating in 1902: that the practice of masturbation was indulged in by many young people in the church schools. Pres. Smith remarked that this was a most damnable and pernicious practice, and the face of every apostle, president of a stake, and high councillor [sic] should be set as flint against it. The priesthood should be called together at the stake conferences and the brethren and parents should be instructed and warned in relation to this matter.’[2]

President Smith's admonition to warn, and the leadership’s vocal increase might have been indicated in the the above quote: “Many young people in the church schools …” During this time and years previous, there were abuses of leadership involving children and group masturbations. In one case, a little more than a decade previous (1886), the polygamous leader of Salt Lake City’s Fourteenth Ward, Bishop Thomas Taylor “was excommunicated for masturbating with several young men in southern Utah” (O’Donovan, 1994, p.135). There might have been continuing issues with similar behavior, if not with adults, then with the students engaging in this behavior together. This type of behavior is definitely not in keeping with the beauty and direction the Lord has established. In this case, it is absolutely within reason to condemn the practice of masturbation and similar behaviors. This context, I believe, is important to understand on two fronts: it wasn’t masturbation or sexual desires as much as it was orgy and pedophile behaviors that were evil. Their focus specifically on masturbation might be reinforcing the scientific belief of the time that the “indulging” in masturbation would ultimately lead to types of “mental illnesses” and sin.

In the following example Apostle Rudger Clawson wrote of a meeting of the general board of education of the church:

“[Wednesday, 24 June 1903] Salt Lake City. Clear and mild. I spent the forenoon at the President’s office. At 2:30 p.m. attended a meeting of the general board of education of the church. During the meeting I called attention to the importance of the study of the science of life, which I thought was being neglected in our schools. It seemed to me, I said, that [more] of [the] young people should receive instruction in relation to love, courtship, and marriage, and should be warned against self-abuse and kindred evils. Many of the young people acquire the habit of self-abuse without knowing its baneful effect upon the health.”[3]

Elder Clawson’s wording is particularly interesting here, as it mirrors the medical guidance of his time. This is indicated by his emphasis on “the importance of the study of the science of life” and “its baneful effect upon the health.” What baneful health concerns would he have? “Insanity,” “homosexuality,” and mental/physical health. These ideas would persist well into the new century. These, among other documented comments, appear to be more medically informed than doctrinally established.

With exception to these few occasions, the Church as a whole cultivated sexuality in harmony with the restored knowledge. As time went on, the medical field gradually rejected the prior quackery and published evidence-based sexual guides, and the early church leadership embraced the medical field again. The healthy view of sexuality among the saints was obviously visible:

“The late 1920s and most of the 1930s saw a more explicit ‘sex education’ in church lessons, to a degree not matched before or since. As one invited speaker explained to a general conference of the Relief Society, adults needed to realize that ‘you and I have been brought up in a generation where we just could not talk about sex. Not so our youngsters. They are talking and thinking about sex as frankly as anything else, and so far as I can discover, as wholesomely.’ Official church manuals endorsed secular books about sexuality and suggested that sexual interests be guided rather than inhibited. During this time masturbation did not always carry the same onus that it does in the popular Mormon literature of today. Rather than focusing on abstinence supervision as is practiced today with current church youth interviewing policies, lessons instead warned parents that they could create emotional problems in their adolescents by an ‘unintelligent’ over-response to their masturbation (Bush, 1993).”[4]

For all the criticism The Church and its leadership gets for failing to address sexuality in a healthy way, the leadership — at least in the beginning of the Restoration— were insightful and ahead of their time. This would become evident at the turn of the century when a few brave individuals in the medical field began to refute the established science.

Austrian physician Wilhelm Stekel confronted the medical field in the early 1900s about the dangers of prescribing masturbation abstinence and the unsupported diseases associated with it. He later published his findings in his 1953 book “Auto-Erotism: A Psychiatric Study of Onanism and Neurosis,” informing the general reader of the medical misconception of sexuality. His keen insight and observations clearly identify the underlying problem:

“Suicide represents merely the extreme consequence of abstinence. It is possible to construct a scale, approximately as follows: anxiety, neurosis, hypochondria, moodiness, depression, melancholia, suicide. From the day masturbation is given up life ceases to be worth while[sic] for these persons.

“The inexperienced inquirer may raise the question: why do these persons fail to find gratification upon the allerotic [focused on another] path? Why do they not seek their libido in normal sexual intercourse, or even in perverse acts with other persons? Precisely because masturbation is the only possible adequate form of gratification for them ...”

I have personally observed the concept “adequate form of gratification,” as Stekel will point out. There is this emotional, moral and spiritual conflict that individuals raised in a rigid moral system experience. Bottling up and resisting doesn’t always work, but they also know that acting out on another is viewed more seriously. Also, those who are avoiding masturbation are not sick, disturbed or going insane as the doctors of the time were saying. A good individual who loves the Lord and desires to do right still struggles. Many viewed masturbation as the only “adequate” way to deal with this struggle. But when they stopped, in the hopes to end the “addiction,” it escalated:

“We have seen that the neurosis breaks out as soon as the masturbation is given up and that the consequences of the abstinence are then regarded as the result of the habit … These cases demonstrate to our satisfaction that many persons are unable to live without masturbating and that they would rather renounce living altogether than try to get along without the customary gratification.

“... I only want to emphasize that the warnings by which parents attempt to scare children away from the practice of masturbation frequently have the opposite effect

“There are persons who have lost the courage to love, who have been inculcated by well-meaning but mischievous parents, and such persons are unable to experience pleasure without a sense of guilt.”[5]

It was these scientific findings that were taught within The Church in the early 1900s. For example, in the official instruction manual for Latter-day Saints, “Community health and hygiene: a study-course for adult-education” on page 138, the Latter-day Saints were taught,

“The pernicious fallacy that insanity is the result of excessive masturbation. The facts do not support any such view, and if they did, the attempt to control self-abuse — injurious as it is — by capitalizing the child's fear of insanity, would still be morally reprehensible and mentally unhygienic.”[6]

Next Chapter: 4. What Went Wrong?

Table of Contents:
0. Introduction
1. Background — It Happened Again
2. Context Is Important: A Brief History Of Masturbation Beliefs Within The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
3. Cultivating Versus Condemning
4. What Went Wrong?
5. A New Culture Is Born: “Doctrine and Addiction” And Returning To The 1700s
6. Purity, Modesty, And Moral Ambiguity
7. Solution: Real Self-Mastery Cultivating Sexuality

Additional Resources

Facebook Group "Improving Intimacy in Mormon Marriages"

Blog, "Mormon Marriages"

[1] Health and Medicine among the Latter-day Saints: Science, Sense, and Scripture by Lester E. Bush, Jr pg. 140

[2] The Apostolic Diaries of Rudger Clawson,” http://signaturebookslibrary.org/confidences-held-sacred/

[3] The Apostolic Diaries of Rudger Clawson,” http://signaturebookslibrary.org/balancing-the-ledger/

[4] Health and Medicine among the Latter-day Saints: Science, Sense, and Scripture by Lester E. Bush, Jr pg. 144

[5] Wilhelm Stekel Auto-Erotism - A Psychiatric Study of Onanism and Neurosis

[6] “Community health and hygiene; a study-course for adult-education” https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=wu.89097565964;view=1up;seq=144






“Don’t Touch” — Addressing Sexual Taboos In The LDS Faith Part 2

Previous Chapter: 1. Background — It Happened Again

Context Is Important: A Brief History Of Masturbation Beliefs Within The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

"Some persons have supposed that our natural affections were the results of a fallen and corrupt nature, and that they are 'carnal, sensual, and devilish,' and therefore ought to be resisted, subdued, or overcome as so many evils which prevent our perfection, or progress in the spiritual life...Such persons have mistaken the source and fountain of happiness altogether." —Elder Parley P. Pratt, Essential Parley P. Pratt Ch 10, p.124a[1]

In reading through the goggles of presentism, this quote is unimpressive and obvious; but in historical context, it’s revolutionary, progressive and controversial. Dr. Mark Kim Malan, in “Historical Development of New Masturbation Attitudes in Mormon Culture: Silence, Secular Conformity, Counterrevolution, and Emerging Reform,” asserts that the Latter-day Saint view on sexuality — specifically masturbation in the ‘60s — was the first time “the moral views of popular church culture were now at odds with modern medical science.” (pg 97) But Elder Pratt’s quote would suggest it wasn’t the first time.

As Latter-day Saint medical historian Lester Bush notes,

“The procreative process is so central to Mormonism’s cosmic view that at one time or another developments in every issue here addressed have been measured in terms of their impact on ... LDS thought ... on sexuality and sex education, birth control, abortion, sterilization, infertility, homosexuality, and sex change surgery [masturbation, eugenics, reproductive technologies, birth defects, and ‘ensoulment’ of the fetus are also treated]. As with nearly all other LDS teachings, those related to birth and sexuality can be understood only in the context of a considerable historical legacy …”[1] As such, exploring the historical ‘legacy’ of masturbation is critical to informing how we view it culturally and ‘doctrinally’ within the LDS faith today.”

The medical, scientific and religious knowledge of masturbation in the 1800s (and culturally within the faith today) are deeply rooted in quackery. Masturbation is often described as “self-abuse,” which was a term coined and popularized in a British pamphlet, “Onania; or the Heinous Sin of Self-Pollution.” “Onania” or “Onanism” refers to Onan in the Old Testament (Genesis 38:9-10). It was a predominant belief at the time (and is still held by many today) that “Onan’s sin” and punishment of death was a result of him masturbating. Therefore, individuals who masturbated were committing the sin of Onan. However, as Ben Spackman points out in a nuanced reading of the scripture, he suggests that the sin of Onan wasn’t masturbating but “Onan’s actions vis-à-vis Tamar were particularly heinous in Israelite eyes: ‘By frustrating the purpose of the levirate institution, Onan has placed his sexual relationship with his sister-in-law in the category of incest—a capital offense.'[21] Thus the death of Onan at the hand of the Lord.

“Onania” was published under an anonymous author in the early 1700s, later identified as John Marten: “an imposing, cheating quack, and an ignorant pretender, and that his Letters, Stories of Cures, pretended Medical Secrets, etc.” (pg 112) John Marten’s sensational quackery, not unlike pseudo-science today, fed on the worst fears of the reader while providing a miracle cure which could be purchased at enormous cost. Although not unique to the topic of sexuality, the modern day “sex addiction” intervention programs mirror Marten’s model of capitalizing on an illness they invented. Such programs like Fight the New Drug (FTND), Sons of Helaman, and In-patient sex treatments, can cost easily $30,000 dollars a month and with little or no statistical evidence of success to justify the treatment other than unconfirmed testimonials. You’d think at such a cost, and with the best resources and treatment available, there would be at the very least a high level of transparency into its success-failure rate.

Ironically, Marten detailed these illnesses and treatments with voyeuristic testimonials. Marten’s persuasiveness and fear-laced pamphlet told readers that masturbation would lead to essentially every illness and life-threatening disease, ranging from the common headache to rheumatism, short-sightedness, bowel disorders and gonorrhea. If left unrestrained, the habit would inevitably lead to a lonely and agonizing death. (Sound familiar?) His only avoidance to equating masturbation and its resulting emissions to murder is because, “What is wafted might prove a Child; if it were, all Nocturnal Pollutions, which No-body can prevent, would be so many Murders; but, because the Seed is wafted in a sinful Manner, it is a Crime which God hath punished with Death.”[2] Although not logically consistent, he at least acknowledged there were biological exceptions and that there are some things one has no control over.

The wide acceptance of this pamphlet would later infiltrate reputable science and medical practitioners who would expand on Marten’s quackery. In the mid 1700s, well-respected Swiss doctor Samuel Tissot would latch onto this hysteria and validate it with his credentials. Tissot’s recognition and influence reached American medical practitioners, making masturbation an official health hazard. Tissot further argued that ANY orgasm, whether induced by masturbation or marital sex, was medically dangerous. This belief persists today among those who still believe that sex should only be engaged in for the purpose of conceiving children.

For Tissot, the very worst kind of sexual activity was the solitary orgasm since it could be indulged in so conveniently and at such a tender age that excess was inevitable and the resulting supposed nerve damage irreparable. Let me again interject, there is a persistent paradigm today, among even the most “sex positive” members of the church, who believe that masturbation only leads to pornagraphic, indulgent, erotic and selfish thoughts. This idea is also rooted in early quackery. Although the correlation does occur, I believe it's because we are predisposed to believe it will occur. I’ll address this specifically in the solution section.

Tissot medically advanced the ideas associated in the dangers of wasted semen to include weakness, cloudiness of ideas, madness, decay of bodily powers, pains in the head, rheumatic pains, aching numbness, pimples, blisters, itching, impotence, premature ejaculation, gonorrhea, priapism, tumors and hemorrhoids. His association of masturbation with weakness and an almost endless list of symptoms were particularly frightening to his readers, which led to hysteria and initiated popular new belief that came to be known as “masturbatory insanity.” One medical solution was circumcision. It was believed that exposing the head of the penis would eventually deaden its sensitivity, preventing arousal. “In the 1890s, it became a popular technique to prevent, or cure, masturbatory insanity.”[3] For women — and get this irony — you know what the solution was for female hysteria (which was believed to be in the uterus floating around in the body)? Orgasm — which could only be performed by a medical doctor. There is some evidence that the vibrator was invented to aid the practitioner in this “cure” because it was taxing on the doctor to routinely perform this treatment, but was apparently safer for the practitioner to perform than patients self-stimulating for fear of increasing the risk of insanity or death.

Ergo, the use of the phrase “self-abuse” is a medically archaic belief that orgasms led to illness and even death. By the 1830s, religionists were embracing, popularizing and capitalizing on what they believed to be the harmful effects of masturbation. Sylvester Graham gave public lectures about Tissot’s findings and expounded on those beliefs when he published “A Lecture to Young Men on Chastity,” wherein he warned about the scourge of masturbation and the perilous nature of excessive sexuality.

He agreed with Tissot’s claim that the loss of semen was a major cause of mental, physical, and societal ills:

“Semen may be called the essential oil of animal liquors … [It] contributes to the support of the nerves ... [Semen] imparts to the body, peculiar sprightliness, vivacity, muscular strength, and general vigor and energy … that it causes the beard, hair, and nails to grow — gives depth of tone, and masculine scope and power to the voice—and manliness and dignity to the countenance and person; and energy, and ardor, and noble daring to the mind.

“Enfeebles the body more than the loss of 20 times the same quantity of blood … [H]ence the frequent and excessive loss of it, cannot fail to produce the most extreme debility, and disorder, and wretchedness of both body and mind.”[4]

Graham — like Tissot with Marten’s ideas — took the concept further, asserting that sex-induced orgasms were equally dangerous:

“[It] rapidly exhausts the vital properties of the tissues, and impairs the functional powers of the organs: and consequently, that it, in a greater degree than any other cause, deteriorates all the vital processes of nutrition, from beginning to end; and therefore, more injuriously affects the character and condition of all the fluids and solids of the body.”[5]

In 1877, Dr. Kellogg published “Plain facts for old and young: embracing the natural history and hygiene of organic life.” Stating his beliefs and medical solutions to the “heinous sin” of masturbation, he said,

“If illicit commerce of the sexes is a heinous sin, self-pollution, or masturbation, is a crime doubly abominable. As a sin against nature [again current ideas of what constitutes a sin against nature rooted in archaic science], it has no parallel except in sodomy (see Gen. 19:5; Judges 19:22). It is the most dangerous of all sexual abuses because the most extensively practiced. The vice consists in an excitement of the genital organs produced otherwise than in the natural way. It is known by the terms, self-pollution, self-abuse, masturbation, onanism, manustupration, voluntary pollution, and solitary or secret vice. The vice is the more extensive because there are almost no bounds to its indulgence. Its frequent repetition fastens it upon the victim with a fascination almost irresistible. It may be begun in earliest infancy and may continue through life.”[6]

But it was Kellogg whose solutions to preventing masturbation were sadistic and mutilating, including sewing the foreskin of the penis closed and using metal constraints to prevent erections (to be used if his intentionally bland cereal — created for the purpose of preventing arousal — didn’t work). Although these devices didn’t become universally used, it wasn’t rejected and is evidence of the fear associated with the practice of masturbation. This was the sexual climate during the time period of the Restoration of The Church.
What Kellogg did would become known as aversion therapy. This aversion-type treatment, although not mutilating, was used in one form or another for another century. "Steps in Overcoming Masturbation” by Mark E. Petersen is an example of aversion therapy approaches. Essentially, it's a “method in which a person is conditioned to dislike a certain stimulus due to its repeated pairing with an unpleasant stimulus.” Aversion therapy not only doesn’t work but the process of this type of therapy (also known as reparative therapy or conversion therapy) can lead to negative effects. As an American Psychological Association Task Force noted, conversion therapy can lead to “loss of sexual feeling, depression, suicidality, and anxiety.”[7]

I CANNOT emphasize this enough. The anxiety, stress and sexual confusion that is associated with any type of aversion treatment is damaging and unhealthy. The damaging results are the same whether it be “think[ing] of having to bathe in a tub of worms, and eat several of them as you do the act,” to prevent masturbating or using fear/pain in any way to avoid the behavior. Even the fear that if you masturbate you’ll have to tell the bishop again is unhealthy. Some aversion techniques use pacts with friends — that you have to pay money to them if you engage in the behavior. These are all varieties of using fear and pain to avert from what should be a beautiful, natural and God-given desire. Even the teaching that masturbating is addictive and will lead to impotence, cancer — or whatever FTND’s flavor of fear is for the month — is driven by fear and pain and often done under the pretense of “informing.”

There are very real consequences that are long lasting and often unseen for decades from aversion treatments, usually later identified in marital relationships. Many have attempted to convince me that, “it will be worked out in marriage when it's condoned by the Lord to explore sexuality.” That is both naive and dangerous thinking. I believe there is significant sexual dysfunction in Latter-day Saint couples. What further complicates this dysfunction is that our culture views a lot of it as “normal” and even healthy. These issues will be addressed in my upcoming book and possibly in a separate post, but for the purpose of this post, there is sufficient evidence that aversion therapy approaches have lasting and damaging consequences.

As for the leaders who used these approaches, please don’t misunderstand me; I am not criticizing Elder Petersen or other leadership. I believe our leaders were doing the best they could in the context of what they understood — especially in the ‘70s. Even though there was evidence that this technique wasn’t effective, it was still commonly used in drug treatment. But again, I address these topics in great detail in my book. Back to the historical context.

To further demonstrate the widely accepted sexual views of the time, in 1850, an editorial in the New Orleans Medical & Surgical Journal inveighs against self-abuse: “Neither plague, nor war, nor smallpox, nor a crowd of similar evils, have resulted more disastrously for humanity than the habit of masturbation: it is the destroying element of civilized society.”

And finally, the issue with polygamy might have had more to do with the secular view of disease than religiosity itself (I am not an expert on polygamy). It could be argued too that the religionist and medical practitioners of the time were one in the same. Nonetheless, the climate of fear and rejection of polygamy appear to be in line with the belief that increased sexual activity (more orgasms) caused and spread illness and disease of all sorts. This was at least one of the arguments made by Dr. Robert Bartholow, an army surgeon who published a paper on the “physical deterioration” of the Mormons despite the “excellent climate of Utah:

“He attributed this to the practice of polygamy, which subjected them to debilitating diseases and produced genetically poor offspring. He stated that this religious practice had made ‘Mormon people a congress of lunatics.’ In his paper, entitled The Physiological Aspects of Mormonism, he described the typical Mormon as "lean and weak of body, depraved[sic] of mind (with) … the cadaverous face, the sensual countenance, the ill-developed chest, the long feeble legs, and weak muscular system: typical of a hyperactive sex life. He attributed a rapidly diminishing population to lack of male virility and a high infant death rate. The number of defective children born in the community increased each year as well. Only new converts brought in from Europe and Canada prevented the complete and rapid disappearance of Mormonism.”[8]

As you’d expect, it was much to the surprise of those making these claims to see the members when they arrived in Utah. They found no ill-developed youth. They were in fact met with a thriving population of healthy and happy Latter-day Saints.

Next Chapter: 3. Cultivating Versus Condemning

Table of Contents:
0. Introduction
1. Background — It Happened Again
2. Context Is Important: A Brief History Of Masturbation Beliefs Within The LDS Church
3. Cultivating Versus Condemning
4. What Went Wrong?
5. A New Culture Is Born: “Doctrine And Addiction” And Returning To The 1700s
6. Purity, Modesty, And Moral Ambiguity
7. Solution: Real Self-Mastery Cultivating Sexuality

Additional Resources

Facebook Group "Improving Intimacy in Mormon Marriages"

Blog, "Mormon Marriages"

[1] Health and Medicine among the Latter-day Saints: Science, Sense, and Scripture by Lester E. Bush, Jr pg. 139

[2] “Onania; or the Heinous Sin of Self-Pollution” https://archive.org/details/b20442348

[3] Paige KE (May 1978). "The Ritual of Circumcision". Human Nature: 40–8. http://www.noharmm.org/paige.htm

[4] Graham S. (1834) A lecture to young men. Providence, RI: Weeden & Cory pg 52

[5] Graham S. (1834) A lecture to young men. Providence, RI: Weeden & Cory pg 56

[6] Kellogg, John Harvey “Plain facts for old and young : embracing the natural history and hygiene of organic life” pg 231 https://archive.org/details/plainfaorold00kell

[7] American Psychological Association. (2009). Report of the American Psychological Association Task Force on the Appropriate Therapeutic Responses to Sexual Orientation. Pg. 3 Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/pi/lgbt/resources/therapeutic-response.pdf?utm_source=LifeSiteNews.com+Daily+Newsletter&utm_campaign=635da942bd-LifeSiteNews_com_Intl_Full_Text_02_26_2013&utm_medium=email

[8] E. Victoria Grover-Swank “Sex, Sickness and Statehood: The Influence of Victorian Medical Opinion on Self-Government in Utah” pg 64 http://scholarsarchive.byu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=5729&context=etd

Because I Loved Her, I left Her

Anonymous Question Series:

The following two questions are so similar that I chose to include them both in this response. I will be speaking in terms of divorce, but these concepts are equally applicable to "break ups" prior to marriage and within engagements.

Q: When do you suggest that a problematic/troubled partnership separate? Or stay together?

Q: How do you successfully break up with someone that you see no potential with?

A: The quick answer, with love.

_______________________________________________

See also:

Marital Myth of Communication

Book: Real Love

Subdivisions in the Celestial Kingdom

Thank You Doesn't Quite Do It

Book: Exploring Mormon Thought: The Problems With Theism And the Love of God

 (vol. 2) by Blake T. Ostler

Additional Resources

Facebook Group "Improving Intimacy in Mormon Marriages"  

Blog, "Mormon Marriages"

_______________________________________________

I left my wife because I loved her. 

The following is true and personal. I hesitate sharing this 1) because the experience isn't mine alone and 2) it's a sacred and vulnerable experience. Sharing this experience opens the door for much judgement and misperception. Additionally, in sharing something so personal, there is an acknowledged risk of bias in my recounting of these experiences, and I fear I may misrepresent others’ perspectives. As such, I am openly acknowledging the following as my perspective alone. Despite these risks, I felt the clear impression to share these things. There are so many lonely and hurting souls who don't have a loving example of healthy break ups, that I would feel selfish not to share. Divorce and break ups are never easy, but they are also a taboo topic and few know how to navigate them, and fewer with a healthy perspective. With that, I hope my experience guides those who are currently struggling, hurt and alone to a more loving and healthy path. 

For the first time in my 13 years of married life, I lay next to my wife with a peace and clarity I'd never felt before — at least not to this degree.

There had never been a time when I didn't love my wife, although life presented challenges and pain I never thought possible. Those challenges and the associated pain often proved my character, while at other times it revealed — with heart-wrenching clarity — my weaknesses. Nonetheless, my love, devotion, loyalty and hope never wavered in our marriage. In fact, they deepened with each new challenge and blessing. But with each new challenge and blessing, I felt our relationship becoming more distant and lonely. 

How is it that marriage could be so painful and lonely? Our stake president once told us, "I don't understand. I see two smart and worthy people who are fighting for a good marriage." I too didn't understand, but what I felt was pain and loneliness during this time. No matter how much faith, prayer, fasting, temple attendance, service, scripture reading or selflessness was given, the relationship seemed to get worse. It didn't make any sense. 

Knowing that, there I was lying in bed next to my love, my wife of 13 years and the mother of our two children. I was feeling a peace and clarity I had not previously felt in our relationship. These feelings didn't come because we made a "breakthrough" in our marriage and felt connected and joyful, but because it was then I knew it was time to leave. As we held each other close, tearfully discussing the path forward, it was ironically the easiest discussion I felt we had had in our married life. 

In order to not inappropriately discuss too sacred of personal experiences, I will share the doctrinal concept that God answers all prayers, James 1:5. The decision to end the marriage was made in serious fasting and prayer. It was entirely a spiritual decision; in no way was it a flippant decision, but one involving God in the process.  There was no infidelity, "sin" or behavior that is otherwise viewed as "sufficient" to leave a marriage. I emphasize this fact only to clearly communicate that this was completely a decision I made with my Father in Heaven. Although unhealthy behaviors existed within our marriage, the decision was made between the Lord and I, not me running away from the behaviors.

To this point, and in response to the questions asked above, there are quite a few toxic myths and traditions in our culture that cause us to distance ourselves from God.

  1. The assumption that divorce is not really an option

  2. The idea that divorce is only a consideration if abuse and infidelity occur

  3. The feeling that divorce is equivalent to a failed marriage or relationship

  4. The fear that divorce is perceived as an easy way out or a form of giving up

These myths are devices used by the adversary to prevent heavenly communication with your Father in Heaven. These myths make the assumption that God will not tell you to leave your spouse, that divorce is only acceptable if a spouse becomes so dangerous that their behavior has essentially ended the relationship already or has put you and the family at risk. Where is the joy and agency in these perspectives?

Myth One — Divorce is not an option

Divorce is absolutely an option.

There is a notion that if someone believes divorce is an option, it's somehow synonymous with rejecting the marriage covenants and will prevent couples from "fighting" for their marriage. If this were true, I assure you there would be bigger issues within the individual and relationship than their ability to "choose" marriage first. If these unhealthy issues are present, a mantra, a belief, or a moral standard that divorce is not an option will only foster resentment, feelings of isolation and in some cases a feeling of being a prisoner. It's very common for individuals who believe divorce is not an option to privately hope that illness or a crisis like a car accident will take their spouse from them. Some may even privately hope the same would happen to themselves just to be free from the relationship. Depending on how toxic the relationship becomes, some spouses will add to the toxic behavior by setting their spouse up for failure. They do this by withdrawing, denying sex and intimacy, becoming passive aggressive and/or constantly finding fault with their spouse. Ironically, due to the natural human need to feel connection, the one spouse who views choosing to leave as worse than participating in a relationship may end up seeing the other spouse seeking companionship elsewhere. By participating in the toxic behavior, the spouse actually exacerbated the issue at hand, which leads to myth two (divorce is only an option in cases of abuse or infidelity).

For example, a young wife came into my office expressing suicidal thoughts, feelings of depression and anxiety, and her absence of joy in living the gospel. She was doing her best, doing everything she could to have the Spirit and love of God in her life. She felt that her depression was a function of her biology and considered getting medicated. Before we explored that option, we explored her relationship with her spouse. There was significant conflict and emotional distress. Her husband was a good man who also struggled with his own weaknesses. These were two good people who were "fighting" for their marriage. In a sincere desire to support and encourage her in her marriage, priesthood leaders would frequently say things like, “Divorce isn't an option,” “Don't consider it,” “Work hard,” and "Don't give up on him.”

In her mind this was logical, but also created a feeling of despair and resentment that was like quick sand. She wanted to do the "right thing" and therefore pushed aside her feelings as her just being "selfish" and "unrighteous."

She shared her "resolve" to not give up, using incongruent optimism (the words were optimistic but her affect was depressive).  I then asked her why she wouldn’t divorce him. She looked at me with a little confusion, but also with some curiosity and asked, "Why would you say that?" She quickly added, "Aren't you suppose to encourage me to stay married?"

I replied, “No, my professional responsibility is to improve individual health and happiness. If that leads to a stronger, happier marriage, that is wonderful, but if it leads you to move on from an unhealthy relationship, that is also wonderful. Either way, you get the choice to stay or go. That is not my choice. It's yours with God.”

She broke down in tears and asked, "I get a choice?!"

“Yes,” I said. “Isn't that the agency you were blessed with? The power of owning your authenticity and identity?”

"I've always been told I made a covenant and can't ever back out of that choice. It made me feel trapped and lonely, like my spouse can say, do and act in any way he wants because he knows I can't leave," she tearfully explained.

Again, I calmly but confidently reassured her, "You get a choice. That choice is between you and God."

Something interesting happened. She came back the next session excited and hopeful. Her whole countenance changed, she expressed feeling joy for the first time in years. But get this, she said she decided to stay in the marriage.

What changed? She made a real choice with God. She felt empowered and was able to own her decision because it WAS her decision. Some may say she always had a choice. Maybe so, but when you are told over and over that it's not an option, you stop making it an option. When you stop making it an option, you don't really choose. When you don't choose, you secretly and sometimes openly wish for death to take you or your spouse away, to free you from that decision.

The doctrinal mistake people are making here is to not use their agency, to not counsel with their Heavenly Father and decide with Him — together — what is best. It has nothing to do with "breaking a covenant"; it's the fact that they are not choosing for themselves the next step, not recognizing that they even have the right to choose. Not embracing our agency is the greater sin. The entire Plan of Salvation was provided for us to have agency. Father's plan was for us to have the chance to choose "wrong," ergo the Atonement was also provided. Not using our agency and the Atonement is a rejection of His plan. Too many are so afraid to "make the wrong choice" that they make no choice at all. This places them in darkness where the Atonement feels distant and hope dissipates. No wonder those who give up their agency experience depression and anxiety.

It is no surprise that clients who learn to embrace their agency often find they have the ability to choose to joyfully remain in their marriages, where otherwise they would have either left or stayed out of fear.  But again, it's not about me convincing them to stay or leave. If they choose to leave, that is their choice, not mine. When individuals feel compelled, forced or are convinced there is no other option, they experience increasing resentment.

Myth Two — Divorce only if abuse exists

If abuse is present, you waited too long.

Meaning, you deserve better and this has gone on far too long already.

"Satan uses your abuse to undermine your self-confidence, destroy trust in authority, create fear, and generate feelings of despair. Abuse can damage your ability to form healthy human relationships. You must have faith that all of these negative consequences can be resolved; otherwise, they will keep you from full recovery. While these outcomes have powerful influence in your life, they do not define the real you.

Satan will strive to alienate you from your Father in Heaven with the thought that if He loved you He would have prevented the tragedy ...

To find relief from the consequences of abuse, it is helpful to understand their source. Satan is the author of all of the destructive outcomes of abuse. He has extraordinary capacity to lead an individual into blind alleys where the solution to extremely challenging problems cannot be found. His strategy is to separate the suffering soul from the healing attainable from a compassionate Heavenly Father and a loving Redeemer.

If you have been abused, Satan will strive to convince you that there is no solution." —Richard G. Scott, To Heal the Shattering Consequences of Abuse

Abuse is a dangerous place to get to in a relationship. If experienced, it distorts our perceptions of our Father's love for us, our perception of human relationships, and even our ability to use the Atonement within our own lives. Abuse should never be tolerated in ANY degree within relationships. Abuse can be verbal, emotional, spiritual and physical. I have heard people say, if my spouse ever did ... to me, I would leave. Why would the Lord design a plan or commandment that would require severe abuse to be the only reason for divorce? Why do we wait until a relationship becomes so toxic and dangerous, to only then begin to consider divorce? If you have children, what are you teaching them? If you don't have children, what message are you communicating to yourself about what is acceptable in a relationship? 

For many years, I convinced myself that I must "long suffer" in my marriage and "endure to the end." There was hope that my spouse would "change," only to realize that my tolerating of the toxic behavior and me staying in it was merely enabling the unhealthy behavior and giving permission for it to continue. I was essentially teaching my children that "love" was to be abused and to accept abuse. When in fact, to honor the eternal marriage covenant is, in part, to teach our children how to love and be loved in God's way. Generations of youth have been taught that abusive relationships are acceptable and are a normal part of marriage, that unhealthy and unhappy parents are to remain in abusive or unloving relationships for "the sake of the kids."

"Men [and women] are, that they might have joy" is a concept I believe we fail to understand, embrace and teach to our children.

Myth Three — Divorce is equivalent to a failed marriage

Another form of denying agency is to view a marriage as "failed." This is a ridiculous notion and is toxic at its core.

To say a marriage has failed suggests that both people in the relationship can control each other, that one spouse's behavior is a reflection of the other's "righteousness" or "unrighteousness." This can be said in a different way: "Through my righteousness, I can 'control' my spouse's behavior. If their behavior doesn't change as a result of my prayers, fasting, obedience and sacrifice, then I must not have been faithful or righteous enough to save the marriage. Therefore, I have failed the marriage."

Sounds silly and a bit arrogant when written out, doesn't it? Now, think about how many actually view marriage that way, and then notice how that line of thinking — I argue — is similar to emotional and spiritual abuse.

It also suggests that someone failed or both individuals failed in the marriage. This is dangerous thinking and it does no good to entertain it. This line of thought isolates individuals and children of divorced parents. When my own divorce became public, those who knew me for many years made an assumption that I did something horribly wrong to cause the marriage to end. I'm not entirely clear why they came to that conclusion, other than they were influenced by a societal stereotype that women leave abusive men or that divorces are a result of men being unfaithful. With the exception of a couple people, I was fortunate not to experience this form of judgement publicly. What was more difficult was the absence of help during the difficult and lonely time of separation. As a single father working full time, I didn't get the support that is traditionally given to women in that same situation: meals, babysitting or emotional support. Fortunately, I did have amazing home teachers at the time who were as supportive as they could be in their visits.

The view that divorce is a failed marriage affects the children in negative ways too. Each of my three step-daughters experienced this first hand.

In my current marriage and family, we consider each child our own full son and daughter and refer to them as such. But, for clarity's sake in the following examples, I refer to my daughters as step-daughters.

A friend of my youngest step-daughter found out that she was a child of divorced parents and promptly assumed she needed comforting. In his attempt to sympathize with her he said, "I am sorry you come from a broken home." She was a startled when she heard this comment from her friend. She was deeply confused by it and replied passionately, "My home isn't broken!" Never had she been happier and felt more loved than after her parents separated. Before the divorce, her parents' marriage relationship didn't allow her parents to connect with her or with her sisters. After the divorce, the result was a uniting of the relationships between parent and child, and therefore an increase of joy. The divorce allowed my step-daughter to develop a more loving and connected relationship with her mother. Because of this, she was seriously surprised anyone would make such an observation (brash assumption that divorce could only be so negative and not be fulfilling a need within the family as a whole).

My middle step-daughter, while in a seminary class, was taught that her parents did "not keep their temple covenants" because they got a divorce. That mindset implies it's a serious sin to God to get divorced. This interaction during class both deeply troubled her and angered her because she began believing one of or both of her parents were "wicked" and did something horrible to end the marriage. Fortunately, she was mature and loving about her response and said, "I have a problem with that." She asked her teacher for further clarification. To the teacher's credit, he did his best to explain what he believed but ultimately left her troubled and unclear on the topic.

My oldest step-daughter also experienced the judgement of others assuming that divorce could only be a negative thing, but in a more abusive way. When her boyfriend was experiencing jealousy, he told her he didn't want her to have friends outside of their relationship. He accused her of being unable to commit to him because she came "from a broken family," insinuating that she didn't know how to be in a relationship with him due to her parents being divorced. He used similar language later when she recognized their relationship was not working and needed to end it.

These specific incidents occurred because individuals boldly judged a situation incorrectly. Unfortunately, the social stigma is prevalent within society and even within our faith. Children often see themselves as the cause or reason for their parents divorce and that they have become a "statistic" of a broken home, more likely to repeat their parents' behavior in their own relationships.

I wonder if this has lead to individuals delaying marriage? What if the need to separate can be viewed as a healthy alternative to a living in a toxic relationship? What if we taught ourselves and our children that a successful marriage is one in which you haven't lost yourself nor lost your relationship with God? Thriving in your relationship with God might mean leaving a toxic marriage you have no control over.

Myth Four — Divorce is an easy way out

Anyone who says divorce is "an easy way out" is profoundly ignorant and dismissive.

Individuals who tend to say divorce is an easy way out, fall into a pattern of the first two myths.

  1. They fear to use their own agency or "give up" on their spouse

  2. They view divorced couples as weak and unloving

After all, we promised to "endure all things" with our spouses, but that does not include abuse. 

One divorcee observed,

"People who make this claim about divorce have clearly never been through it or they would never say such a thing. I don't know a woman [or man] out there who has been through a divorce and didn't fight with everything she had to save her marriage. I guarantee you, leaving or being left was the scariest and bravest thing she had to go through.

Those on the outside may see this decision as being rash and quick because they didn't share the same four walls in which the couple changed, fought, and tried. It's not a "get out of jail free" card. You do not pass go, do not collect $200, nor do you ride off into the sunset. It affects you deeply and for the rest of your life.

The pain you feel during this time is like no other. So nobody gets to sit on the sidelines and say you took the easy way out.

Every time you look at your kids or see another family holding hands crossing the street as you sit alone in your car, you are constantly reminded of how hard you fought and how much you gave and how it still wasn't enough." —Katie Smith, I Really Wish People Would Stop Saying Divorce Is the Easy Way Out.

Here’s another:

"When I first started telling people about the divorce, a lot of responses I got were the "choosing love" idea. But it takes two people for a relationship to work. It takes trust, communication, openness, and honesty — things my ex and I had lost or never had.

Divorce is an incredibly personal, difficult decision. And what it comes down to is that no one, but the people in it, knows the dynamics of the relationship. When we first made the decision, I had my week of crying, of freaking out, of feeling lost. But then I gathered myself up and started working towards making the best life I can for myself and my kid. Many people took my pragmatic, positive attitude as either not caring or the divorce being solely my decision. I know there are a lot of people out there who are disappointed in me, but if I've learned anything from becoming a mother, and now going through a divorce, it's that I can't control how other people act or what they say. I can control how I react and how those things make me feel.

I'm learning that it's okay for me to do what I know is best for my family, despite what others think." —Rachael, On divorce and the "you just didn't try hard enough" myth

There was NOTHING easy about my divorce. Even with the knowledge I had from God to proceed with the divorce, and feeling his hand in my life through the process, the intensity of this refiner's fire was more than I had ever experienced. It tried me, it tested me, it strengthened me, and it crushed me. There were times I felt the Spirit stronger than I had ever felt before, but there were also times I felt a despair I'd never thought possible. There were times I felt more love for my ex-wife than I had ever felt for her.

I chose divorce out of love. I did not hate my ex-wife, nor did I think she was wicked or sinful or dangerous. I chose divorce because when looking at all the options, this was the most loving thing I could choose.

Too many turn their spouses into monsters to make it palatable to leave, to justify their "giving up." I don't take divorce lightly, but when we view divorce as an absolute no, we remove choice and foster resentment, we wander in darkness and wish for other acceptable ways out. Own your choices. Know your limits. Trust your relationship with your God. Recognize that sometimes the most loving thing to do is to leave. 

Additional Resources

Facebook Group "Improving Intimacy in Mormon Marriages"  

Blog, "Mormon Marriages"

Anonymous Questions

Anonymous Questions

Whenever I am invited to speak or present a workshop, I provide the participants an opportunity to ask anonymous questions. It has been a valuable experience to hear the weighty, raw and real concerns of those who are struggling for answers. After presenting for five years now, the questions appear to have similar themes. Also, it is very clear that these concerns are not unique and many would value from the answers.

I have chosen to leave the questions exactly as written/asked. I believe it's important to read the emotion in the way it was asked. Therefore, I have decided to share those responses and have included below, in what will eventually function as a table of contents, sorted alphabetically by topic.

When a question has been answered, I will link the question to its blog post.

The Slides from the Authentic Living in Christ Presentation YSA / MSA Fireside can be found here: Authentic Slides

__________________________________________

Addiction” — Pornography And Sexual-Related Issues

Q:
Why does the church's ARP program assume that men are addicts and women are "related to addicts"? It is SO difficult to find a women's support group.
A: ARP Fails Women Support Groups

Q: What is your advice to females who have watched pornography or masturbate?
A: This is actually two different questions. 1. LDS Women — Overcoming Pornography 2. Coming soon.

Q: If someone has watched pornography or masturbated in the past, do you feel they are obligated to tell their future spouse? Does it depend on how long ago it was?
A: Transparency In All Things

Q: I used porn years ago to numb problems and feelings and am now in a much better place. I try to be open about this in relationships with girls. Some take it well but most do not. It's difficult to be vulnerable not knowing how they will respond, so I am less likely to pursue relationships. What should I do?
A: 1. Female Struggles with Porn and Masturbation 2. ARP Fails Women Support Groups 3. LDS Women — Overcoming Pornography

Communication

Q: How do I keep communication alive when two partners hold opposing viewpoints on things (with the potential to constantly disagree with each other)?
A: Marital Myth of Communication

Q: What kind of marriage partnerships have you seen that are the the happiest? Give some examples of how they work through times of disagreement or misunderstanding.
A: 1) Happiest Marriages 2) Marital Myth of Communication

Dating / Marring Outside Of Faith

Q: I am a 40+ women and still single. I have a hard time finding quality prospect who wants to be married. How to find joy without ignoring my faith and reality?
A: 1) Marrying Outside of Faith 2) Marital Myth of Communication 3) Happiest Marriages

Q: I met a man who is generous, grateful, patient and compassionate but knew nothing about my faith, which is important for me. Is happiness possible with such a person who does not believe in Christ?
A: 1) Marrying Outside of Faith 2) Marital Myth of Communication 3) Happiest Marriages

Q: Would different faiths work out in a marriage?
A: 1) Marrying Outside of Faith 2) Marital Myth of Communication 3) Happiest Marriages

Divorce / Break up

Q: When do you suggest that a problematic/troubled partnership separate? Or keep them together?
A: Coming soon.

Q: How do you successfully break up with someone that you see no potential with?
A: Coming soon.

Q: When does being separated or divorced with kids and get easier?
A: Coming soon.

Q: I’m separated and divorce is taking a while. Is it bad to start dating or start talking to a guy?
A: Coming soon.

Emotional Abuse

Q: My husband gets jealous about Facebook likes, emojis, and comments I get from other men who are just friends. How do you recommend dealing with such situations?
A: Jealousy and Social Media

Family Systems


Q: How does one work through one's own childhood/parental negative behavior patterns influenced by one's own upbringing which manifest later in dating/marriage relationships?
A: Coming soon.

Homosexuality

Q:
How can queer members of the church live authentically while still trying to be a part of the church?
A: Coming soon.

Marital Sex

Q: What would you do if you had a sick spouse you loved but was unable to perform sex due to illness?
A: Sex and Illness

Mental Health

Q:
How to date someone who has medicated but chronic depression, anxiety, and panic attacks?
A: Coming soon.

Q: Is it better for certain people with mental instability, like psychopathy, sociopath, narcissism, to stay unmarried?
A: Coming soon.

Q: When is the best time to tell your new boyfriend or if you are dating about your diagnosis?
I'm scared to date because I have mental health issues such as depression and bipolar disorder. How can I over come this? Or some tips on what to do.
A: Coming soon.

Q: I am having a tough time maintaining close companionship with the Spirit with all this uncontrollable chaos around me. How can I strive to feel the Spirit when I cannot control some of my circumstances?
A: Coming soon.

Q: How do you stand strong on stigma of mental health?
A: Coming soon.

Q: What if you're not okay with your past? What do you do?
A: Coming soon.

Personality Types in Relationships

Q: How do you make things work between an unlikely pair in which each partner's Myers Briggs letters are completely the opposite? (the second letter, iNtuitive vs Sensing, make it hard to understand each other's view points.)
A: Coming soon.

Q: How to make "the wrong" partnerships "right"?
A: Coming soon.

Single

Q: Is it unrighteous to enjoy being single?
A: 1) Coming soon. 2) Subdivisions in the Celestial Kingdom

Self-Care

Q: Is making my little brother a priority over ward activities because of a fear of social instances okay?
A: Coming soon.

Marrying Outside Of Faith

Anonymous Question Series:

The following two questions are so similar that I choose to included them both in this response. 

Q: I met a man who is generous, grateful, patient and compassionate but knew nothing about my faith, which is important for me. Is happiness possible with such a person who does not believe in Christ?

Q: Would different faiths workout in a marriage?

See also:

Happiest Marriages

How to Train Your Spouse

Marital Myth of Communication

Book: "Real Love"

A:

The quick answer, yes! Be mindful that it must be guided by the Lord.

Yes, absolutely. However, as you know, marrying outside the faith adds an additional complexity to the relationship. Though, marrying within the faith doesn't guarantee success or happiness, having an interfaith marriage or marrying someone without a faith also doesn't mean you can't have a successful and happy marriage. You must simply be aware of the potential challenges.

Here are some interesting statistics: 21 Intriguing Interfaith Marriage Statistics

As I have shared in my other post, Happiest Marriages, there has to be a solid foundation of true love — a foundation of what it means to truly adore each other. You must not in any way go into the marriage with the belief that you will "convert" your spouse. Neither should the other ever make you feel the need to compromise your beliefs to any degree. Go into the marriage recognizing that it is inappropriate for you to make your spouse comply to your belief system, just as it would be for them to make you loosen up on your belief system. You will both need to explore what it will look like to raise kids and if that will be in or out of the faith. It will be hard, but if you can both truly embrace each other in adoration, and the Lord guides you in that direction, then yes, absolutely, it can work — and it can work really well.

Happiest Marriages

Anonymous Question Series:

Q: What kind of marriage partnerships have you seen are the the happiest? Give some examples of how they work through times of disagreement or misunderstanding.

See also:

How to Train Your Spouse

Marital Myth of Communication

Book: "Real Love"

After I complete my book on sexuality in the Latter-day Saint faith, I will complete the writing of my "marriage" book in which I address this and other questions more thoroughly. Much like our Latter-day Saint cultural approach to sexuality, our couples approach needs a revamping. 

A:

The quick answer: Couples who know how to adore versus accept. These couples learn how to be okay with the "messy" of each other. Those who value and encourage individuality and those who see each other as truly equal, regardless of perceived differences or shortcomings.

Marriage books don't work. Marriage communication skills don't work. No amount of techniques, skills or dating will improve a relationship if the fundamental understanding of love (Atonement) and agency is flawed. The problem is most don't recognize their understanding of love is flawed.

The concept that most of us have a flawed understanding of love is a complex one. However, it's rooted in how we view our relationship with God/Christ and our spouse. For example, you most likely have seen a diagram similar to the following:

Preparing for an Eternal Marriage Teacher Manual, (2003), 51–53 "True Love" 

You'll find a similar diagram in almost every lesson in the church-provided manuals regarding marriage. Its focus seems to be heavily on what marriage is NOT: "infatuation, selfish desire, transitory, domineering, and lust." Although those are important to know, those same lessons tend not to provide good examples of what love IS — that is, other than providing the marriage triangle and sharing some stories about "cleaving" to your spouse. 

Despite teaching the marriage triangle in its traditional context, what I've noticed is couples' emotional understanding of the triangle is actually as depicted below:

Logically, the couple knows that they are two separate people with their own agency. They know each person in the relationship is an individual, but they cannot reconcile the paradox of being "one" in the marriage. Emotionally, they believe "cleaving" means oneness in everything. In some marriages, individuals may even believe oneness is supporting and sustaining the "priesthood" in all things — no matter what. This idea creates a dangerous and toxic environment of dominance and unrighteous dominion, which leads to eliminating individuality in the marriage. This is a deeper concept few seriously weigh out and will need to be explored in depth at another time. But as a result, this is why many wait so long to address their pain, depression, anxiety and the eventual resentment in their marriage.

The concise answer to the question, "What kind of marriage partnerships have you seen are the the happiest?" is those who can truly value each other as equals in their individuality. Those who put aside every survey, research article and pop psychology piece that defines the "perfect couples." Those who understand whether their differences or similarities improve the relationship or how to "compromise," and use good communication. These are all required in a happy marriage, but these ALL pale in significance to one's own ability to adore their partner in ALL their strengths and perceived weaknesses. 

You should never compromise who you are.

That is putting your spouse before your relationship with God. Compromise is a ridiculous pop psychology/business approach that results in resentment and prevents couples from seeing any other option than sucky choice A and sucky choice B. Compromise puts couples at odds with each other; it assumes one is right and the other is wrong. It creates a "balance sheet" type marriage, void of revelation. It's the epitome of what the marriage triangle is not. It also assumes our spouse has perceived weaknesses that we should avoid and makes them inferior to us.

"As a way of honoring my marriage, I try to make sure I don’t ever compromise about anything I really care about. “Compromising” means doing something other than what I know is best, not saying or doing what I really think I should say or do — not, in essence, being who I am. How could doing that be helpful to either my wife or me? About anything before us — any subject we’re discussing, I mean — I’m either right, or I’m wrong. If I’m right, or at least really think I’m right, then it’s my job to (politely, carefully, kindly—which is everything) say why I think I’m right; it’s important that I not compromise my convictions about that matter. It’s then my wife’s job to listen and carefully consider what I’ve said. If, having done that, she concludes that in some relevant way the position I’ve taken is wrong or mistaken, it’s her job to (politely, carefully, kindly) tell me why she thinks that. Then it’s my job to truly listen to her (as opposed to, say, pouting and walking out of the room)."—John Shore, A Great Marriage is About NOT Compromising

Let's consider, for example, an individual who is skilled at budgeting and compare him/her to their spouse who has never taken budgeting seriously. Who is better? Who should take the lead? Does this perceived weakness or difference become a source of contention? Compromise would suggest that one of the two must be less skilled while the other is more skilled and the better one is to take over the budgeting completely and view the other as incapable. Compromise fosters resentment. Compromise is a version of acceptance in a relationship, and acceptance is a form of judgement.

Where judgement exists, love and the atonement cannot flourish.

Do not compromise, rather adore. Adore and value your spouse’s differences. See them truly as an equal. When you can learn to fully adore/love your spouse in their differences, you provide a safe and vulnerable love that is only known through the atonement. This type of love can be experienced in the proper marriage triangle. 

Unfortunately, because this concept is unfamiliar to many, some assume that this type of "love" is a justification for abuse to exist in a relationship. Some see that adoring a spouse is equivalent to being blind to harmful behaviors, but it is quite the opposite. When we allow compromise into our relationship, we lose who we are (relationship with self) and our connection with the Lord. In the absence of those two relationships, feelings of insecurity and anxiety develop, causing individuals to feel trapped. They feel they can never "give up" on their spouse or that they just can't abandon the family and leave them like this. This is dangerous thinking. When we don't compromise, we improve our relationship and confidence in our Father above. We allow Him to clearly communicate to us how to proceed in a relationship or to end it.

Here’s an example or something I see frequently. This example is of a wife discovering a husband's porn usage. There is no abuse or adultery in their marriage; the behavior is limited to the husband viewing porn. This couple has a loving relationship and is doing well until one finds out that the other is engaged in pornography.

There are usually two types of responses in these types of situations.

One response is a wife who no longer sees her spouse as an equal, but sees his behavior as a betrayal of adulteress level. She disengages and dictates to him how he is to behave, usually withdrawing sex and other intimate connections during this time. These are those wives who often become anti-porn advocates and use their spouse’s struggles as a soapbox for the dangers of porn. They express they have been traumatized by their spouse’s behavior and have to recover from this betrayal.

In no way am I minimizing or mocking wives (or husbands) who have truly been traumatized. Neither am I condoning pornography. What is important to see in this example is how we view the perceived weakness of our spouse.

A second response is a wife who, rightfully so, is overwhelmed and hurt that he could not divulge his struggles. She decides to continue to view him as an equal in the atonement and joins him emotionally where he is at, without compromising who she is.

Imagine the Savior kneeling down to bring himself eye level with the woman caught in adultery. His thoughts and words are of safety, peace and comfort. He adores her. As the Christ, he does request that she not sin anymore, but that is not our role as the spouse. Those who can join, love and adore in their spouse’s struggles will find profound fulfillment and comfort — even in these difficult issues. Wives (or husbands) who can embrace their spouse in these types of moments are the happiest. However, with the previous example, the couple usually spirals downward and resentment increases.

The natural question is, isn't the wife "compromising" her standards by adoring her spouse? NO. Think back to the example of Christ comforting the woman found in adultry. The Pharisees are more like the first wife, holding to an expectation that was anything but adoring. Meanwhile, Christ did not compromise his standards by adoring and joining the woman, but merely loved her. It is unloving to cast stones and punish our spouse. If the situation becomes abusive, or to a degree that is toxic, the wife's confidence in the Lord will guide her to the best choices. This may mean leaving the relationship before it becomes toxic and dangerous.

This example is a sensitive and difficult issue because of the intimate nature of the struggle. The first woman's response is usually how husbands and wives show "love" to each other. A husband who is skilled at budgeting now becoming annoyed at the wife. So he begins managing every penny and taking her to every Dave Ramsey course available to improve her. He continues by controlling her through apps that notify him of every penny spent and "holding her accountable" for her behavior. You see, this behavior seems acceptable in cases of pornography but outrageous for the case of finances. The truth is that they are the same in level of destructive consequences.

The most successful marriages are those that honor and thrive in individuality, agency and love (Atonement). Without the ability to truly adore your spouse, without losing yourself, no amount of "I statements," communication skills, or improved sex will ever heal and improve the relationship. When adoration exists, communication skills enhance an already loving relationship.

Keep a look out for my book that will include more on this topic and others:

Chapters in forthcoming book:

  1. Not Another Marriage Book

  2. Avoidance and Courage

  3. Embracing our Fears

  4. The Importance of You – Order of Importance

  5. Assuming the Best

  6. The Divorce Equation

  7. It’s Never About Communication

  8. 30 Minutes

  9. Don’t and Be

  10. The Most Important Thing

  11. Daily Adore

  12. Trust Partners Needs

  13. Foster Independence and Individuality

  14. Be Messy, Not Hurtful

  15. No Divorce Equation

  16. No More Parenting Books

  17. Sex is communicating not a reward or punishment

Female Struggles With Porn And Masturbation

Anonymous Question Series:

Q: "What is your advice to females who have watched pornography or masturbate?"

See also:

A Place of Healing, Not Hiding

ARP Fails Women Support Groups

Furthermore, as I have stated in other posts; this is a great question and will be a little difficult to answer concisely, for me. This has been a topic of GREAT interest and equal concern for me, so much that I have taken up the opportunity to write about it. I am over 100 pages into a book I hope to complete by the end of this year that addresses this issue and other related topics and their solutions. Additionally, Kathryn Kirk and I have attempted to fill this gap, of women not having a resource, with "LDS Women Struggle Too" Blog and Group. But because of our Latter-day Saint culture, it is very hard to get the word out.

A: 

The quick answer: Love yourself, be kind to yourself, retain the joy and beauty that is your sexuality, come out of hiding, and be confident in your struggle.

Your question is important to me, one I am addressing in depth in my book. There are too many women struggling alone. There are few resources and even fewer good resources. There is much I want to say, but there is so much misunderstanding, negativity and flawed ideas around the subject, and a more lengthy response is required. I am working frantically to get good resources out to our dear sisters alone in this battle.

But for now, avoid negative self-talk and avoid viewing sexuality as bad or evil. Discover joy and beauty in sexual desire. Understand these desires are of God; they are not evil. Also, recognize that every individual's biology and sexual drive is different. Be careful to not compare your sexual urges and desires to another person's. Focus more on untangling the unhealthy views of pornography from your own sexuality. Develop a true self-mastery plan that measures progress as apposed to abstinence.

Continue to be brave! Porn is everywhere and everyone defines it differently. You do not need to be ashamed. In fact, I encourage you to put off all shame that is preventing you from feeling joy. You love the Lord and you know that. Don't let your struggle define your love for Father.

Take a moment and read Kathryn Kirk’s blog:

"Being open about my struggle with pornography has changed my life. I haven’t been wide open about it, but I have opened up to some very key people, and as you can see from this blog, I’m starting to share my stories and experiences with whoever wants to listen. Once I stopped trying so hard to hide from everyone, I slowly started finding room to heal. This ongoing transformation has been something I never could have imagined, and now I want others to experience it too." (A Place of Healing, Not Hiding)