Self Mastery

“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 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