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.
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