Masturbation

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

Previous Chapter: 4. What Went Wrong?

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

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

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

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

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

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Kimball’s “Miracle of Forgiveness” posed and felt the useful parts were "overshadowed by a host of negatives and also outdated policies that the church itself doesn't even endorse anymore."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

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

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

Stop Calling It An Addiction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Table of Contents:

0. Introduction

1. Background — It Happened Again

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

3. Cultivating Versus Condemning

4. What Went Wrong?

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

6. Purity, Modesty, And Moral Ambiguity

7. Solution: Real Self-Mastery Cultivating Sexuality

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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







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

Back to Introduction

Background — It Happened Again

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next Chapter:

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

Table of Contents:

0. Introduction

1. Background — It Happened Again

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

3. Cultivating Versus Condemning

4. What Went Wrong?

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

6. Purity, Modesty, And Moral Ambiguity

7. Solution: Real Self-Mastery Cultivating Sexuality

Additional Resources

Facebook Group "Improving Intimacy in Mormon Marriages

Blog, "Mormon Marriages"

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

Previous Chapter: 3. Cultivating Versus Condemning

What Went Wrong?

The Depression, WWII and Kinsey.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why the change in approach at this point?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Additional Resources

Facebook Group "Improving Intimacy in Mormon Marriages"

Blog, "Mormon Marriages"


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




Female Struggles With Porn And Masturbation

Anonymous Question Series:

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

See also:

A Place of Healing, Not Hiding

ARP Fails Women Support Groups

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

A: 

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

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

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

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

Take a moment and read Kathryn Kirk’s blog:

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