Masturbation

“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