Anonymous Question Series:
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?
There are three concepts in this question that need to be answered: 1) transparency in relationships, 2) stigma/shame of sexual sins/behaviors, 3) masturbation, is it really that bad?
The main focus in this question is transparency and stigma/shame of sexual sins/behaviors. I will address the third concept in a separate post.
The quick answer: yes, and if you can't/don't, you should not get married.
Transparency In Relationships
"Where there is respect, there is also transparency, which is a key element of happy marriages. There are no secrets about relevant matters in marriages based on mutual respect and transparency. Husbands and wives make all decisions about finances together and both have access to all information." —Elder L. Whitney Clayton, Marriage: Watch and Learn
I understand the above quote is specifically addressing social media in marriage, which I will address more specifically in my forthcoming post on, "Jealousy and Social Media." Once published, I will put a link to it here.
Nonetheless, this quote is absolutely applicable to premarital relationships, especially if you are engaged. How do you ever expect to be transparent or desire your partner to be transparent if you yourself keep secrets?
Let's dispel a myth right now. I have searched all over for a source, a reference, or the origin of one of the most ridiculous myths and traditions in our faith. But I cannot find an original source nor anything that supports it. That is, if you have "repented" of something, you don't need to divulge it to your future spouse (or current spouse). I cannot emphasize how naive, controlling, and dangerous this concept is.
There are women who say, "If it is in the past, I don't want to know about it, I don't need to know about it." For some reason, I've only heard women express this idea, but please realize that this is a rejection of your partner. Not wanting to share and not wanting to know is anything but love. Many excuse it as "true love" and "embracing the atonement" when they don't "dig up the past." These individuals believe it is a rejection of the atonement to bring up the past. When women desire to learn about their loved one, the men often respond defensively, "Why do you keep wanting to know about the things I've repented about?"
This is a huge RED FLAG, and if it wasn't so common, I would tell you to turn and run as fast as you can. Unfortunately, it is far too common of a conversation, which means it's a tradition and myth that good people truly believe. It can be worked through and properly understood, but transparency is an absolute must! Without exception!
Clarity And Perspective
It boggles my mind that we still speak as though pornography is some type of sin of "perdition," unrecoverable and mentally damaging — a sin that turns beautiful, intelligent, amazing individuals into social pariahs. The social and self shame around this topic is unjustified. I assure you, nearly 100% of individuals, male and female have viewed pornography and 80–95% of people have masturbated. In today's information age, it is impossible to not view and even engage in pornography.
Additionally, there is a real problem with even the word "pornography." It's a nonsensical, abstract word. Let me give you a real life example. A wife demands her spouse repent to the bishop because he saw breasts in the movie "Titanic." The bishop, whom the husband will potentially confess to, went on a date with his wife to see "Deadpool." One can argue the bishop and his wife are in serious violation themselves. This is the problem; who gets to define pornography?
Recently, I was interacting with a anti-porn advocate who uses her spouse's "short comings" as a platform for her "trauma." Yet, she has a plethora of highly sensual books and movies on her own Facebook "Likes" page. Some could easily be considered "harlequin"-type material. When that was pointed out, she defended it saying there was no "nudity" in those types of entertainment. That statement wasn't entirely true, but it's an example of the double standard and confusion around the concept of pornography.
"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.
... 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." —Mark Kim Malan, Ph.D., A New Taxonomy: Scientific Misuse of the Term "Pornography"
As I pointed out in my previous post, problematic sexual behavior is an ambiguous terminology socially defined by white middle class christian males. (See also ARP Fails Women Support Groups)
Fortunately, Elder Oaks has addressed this topic well in an Ensign article October 2015 where he embraced a more scientific and correct view. He said there are four types of pornography use: (1) inadvertent exposure, (2) occasional use, (3) intensive use, and (4) compulsive use (addiction). The Church is making great progress in defining the "problem" and eliminating the shame.
Stigma/Shame Of Sexual Sins/Behaviors
From a "doctrinal" and spiritual perspective. Our culture has traditionally lumped ALL "porn" into the same level of severity and seriousness. In spite of logic and the infinite atonement, we conceptually view — even 5 minutes of pornography — as a sexual "sin next to murder," which is not accurate.
"Corianton’s sin was a composite of several elements, specifically sexual immorality by a priesthood leader that caused him to abandon his ministry and therefore neglect the spiritual needs of his flock, thereby leading them into apostasy. In effect, Corianton metaphorically “murdered” the testimonies of those he was commissioned to bring unto Christ when he was lured away by Isabel (cf. Alma 36:14).
This understanding of Corianton’s particular situation is strengthened by of the fact that in Alma 39:5, Alma speaks of “these things” (plural) being “an abomination in the sight of the Lord.” Apparently, “these things” included not only Corianton committing sexual sin, but purposefully neglecting “the ministry wherewith [he] wast entrusted” (v. 4). Perhaps, then, “the more serious infraction was the resulting spiritual damage inflicted upon others who had witnessed Corianton’s sinful actions.” —Michael R. Ash and B. W. Jorgensen, "Knowhy #147"
Let me be clear, the prevalence of a sin or behavior doesn't make it right (just because everyone is doing it). However, we treat pornography and masturbation with such rejection, that emotionally we loath ourselves and others for engaging in it. In the great words of Elder Uchtdorf, "STOP IT."
Doing it Right
We must stop it; stop being ashamed and own it. The fact that people view it with such seriousness makes this a landmark conversation in the relationship. My suggestion is to go into a relationship with the assumption that the other has engaged in these behaviors. As the relationship matures, it will provide appropriate opportunities to discuss the history and severity of the behaviors.
Every relationship is different and there is no fast and set rule on when to divulge your past. You cannot control your partner’s responses, but you can begin to view yourself in the loving context of the atonement. Their response is a reflection of their spiritual and emotional maturity. In fact, your sharing and their response can be an excellent indicator of their marriage readiness.