I did not write this but I found this discussion to be frank and truthful. Enormous guilt is heaped upon young people in the LDS faith because of masturbation. It’s a cruel form of spiritual abuse in my book. Here is what young men are taught. I can’t imagine the fear and self loathing a young boy/girl must feel.
LDS Physician – Masturbation
I feel it is essential to youth for us to speak out truthfully about masturbation. I am grateful for the internet so I can speak truthfully as a latter-day saint on a subject that I would otherwise receive social sanctioning for speaking out on. Perhaps in this forum members can truly “bear testimony” without fear or feeling a need for social conformity. The following is a sincere and truthful account of my masturbation experience in the church.
I am an LDS member who faithfully followed church teachings all during my youth. My parents were very loving and I had an excellent home. I always wanted to “do what was right” and had a hard time understanding why some other kids didn’t. In my teens, when my buddies from church experimented with alcohol etc. I just wasn’t interested. I had fun being the designated driver and felt I was doing my part protecting them from harm.
I wasn’t self righteous or judgemental, or stuffy about it. I just genuinely liked being a caring and healthy person and my friends knew I was there for them no matter which path they chose. I got good grades, didn’t smoke, drink, or swear, and was not unpopular. I was fairly popular at school and exemplified church standards. I went through the scouting program, served a mission, finished college and was married in the temple to a lovely LDS girl and now have a beautiful family and a new grandson. In short, I could have been a poster child for the church, inside and out. No, I wasn’t perfect, but by both American and church standards my life genuinely reflected successful living of healthy social ideals.
It is important for me to state the above, because I want readers to know I am a dedicated, highly self-disciplined, and spiritually dedicated person who will follow authority in faith. Leaders have my faith and trust until they obviously and repeatedly abuse it unrightiously. I am now in my 50’s and I have learned that the church teaches many helpful things, but I have also learned by experience that in some areas it has adopted American cultural values and unfortunately some leaders speak as men who promote their own personal ideals as truths that are frankly damaging to members. I believe when this happens it is unintentional.
Christ taught “by their fruits ye shall know them”. This is a simple test. It teaches us to follow the words of the church leaders in faith and see where they lead. Many times their words have steered me right, but sometimes their doctrine has hurt me and my loved ones. A wise church member will not ask “if the church is true” but rather “when are the leaders’ teachings true”. The concept of inner voice or conscience is our way to confirm when church leaders are human and fallible. As a missionary, I showed the film “Man’s Search for Happiness” hundreds of times. It states, “Prove all things, hold fast to that which is good. Only if you are unafraid of the truth can you find it”. I take that as wise counsel.
I have tested the words of church leaders about masturbation by following their advice to the letter by being abstinent and “worthy”. I have the capacity to be highly self disciplined and have lived for periods in my life sexually abstinent as taught by the general authorities of the church. After using the spiritual tests taught by Christ and comparing the spiritual fruits of masturbation abstinence to my experience masturbating, my personal experience bears testimony that the well meaning advice of LDS prophets on masturbation is false and damaging to physical, mental, and spiritual health.
I do not state this casually, but with serious and sobering experience. I have followed the words of Christ to see the fruits of church teachings on masturbation. Masturbation abstinence as taught by church leaders only has brought me suffering, and feelings of shame.
When I was a little boy I was innocent and had not heard the word masturbation. I discovered the joy of having a body. I delighted in running, playing, eating yummy food, and feeling the warmth of the summer sun on my skin. I loved all the wonderful feelings of my body including the beautiful ones in my penis. My penis magically got hard all by itself. I had no choice but to feel wonderful. Of course I felt joyful washing, discovering and touching it.
As I grew and I was attracted to girls, I noticed my penis would feel good in response. I naturally associated my delicious genital feelings with being in love. I remember at age five falling in love with a movie star on TV lamenting that I was just a little boy. I wanted to be grown up so I could marry her. I had no idea about sexual intercourse, but the pleasure of my sexual feelings in my genitals instinctively were associated to marriage and love.
I went through all the normal developmental stages of being a boy. I had crushes on girls, experimented with shy kissing games, and dreamed of becoming a man like my dad. I occasionally touched my beautiful penis all through my childhood. I had no reason to feel any shame. I loved the wonderful feelings I felt. Although I learned to be modest, I associated them with being in love and everything good. At eight I would dream of girls I liked as I caressed my penis in bed at night and drifted off to sleep. I had heavenly dreams of love and marriage. When I neared puberty, I learned about intercourse, and dreamed of marrying a beautiful girl in the temple one day.
Being in love, kissing, intercourse, temple marriage, loving kindness were all daydreams I had while lovingly celebrating my sexual feelings touching my penis in bed at night. I was experiencing a healthy integration of my sexual awareness with my spiritual and family values as I masturbated. Medicine and psychiatry recognize this as a healthy developmental stage toward maturity that young men experience in order to prepare for healthy bonding with their wife and future family. It is rightly called by some professionals “marriage preparation” or “marriage rehearsal play”. The term masturbation is popular but is an old one that predates developmental psychology.
Today, as a physician, I know the history of masturbation. It is no wonder that it has suffered such a bad reputation in the past. Prior to 1900, Western medicine believed that loss of semen damaged the nervous system and caused insanity. Many diseases such as tuberculosis and STD’s were falsely attributed to masturbation. By the 1940’s we had scientific data that proved all these ideas false. This data showed that almost 100% of males report masturbation during puberty. This demonstrates that it does not lead to a change of sexual orientation, or disease, or anything negative, but that it is developmentally appropriate and leads primarily to a healthy marriage bond in the majority of cases.
Jesus Christ never said anything about masturbation. It was not an issue. It is significant that church leaders have not claimed or stated they received any “thus saith the Lord” revelations on masturbation from God. This is obvious since Joseph Smith and scriptures have said nothing about it. Church leaders only began talking about it in the very late 1800’s when they told youth the same false medical information that was popular at the time – that it caused insanity.
A few decades later, when that was obviously not the case anymore, and everyone knew that the masturbation insanity and disease story was false, church leaders adopted the new popular socially conservative American moral view (the “worldly” view). The church has a continual history of mimicking popular conservative public opinion when it comes to masturbation.
This behavior should make it pretty obvious that the Lord has not revealed the truth of the matter through the church leaders otherwise they would have not fallen for any of the false tales of “the world” and would have revealed the truth. Not only have LDS youth not received the truth about masturbation, they have suffered from extremely damaged self-worth. They are taught to fight against the Lord’s healthy developmental process that is only designed to drive them toward healthy marital bonding and family life.
I will never forget when a young inexperienced bishop’s counselor took it upon himself to come into our Deacons Quorum and “warn” us against the horrors of masturbation. This lesson was not in the manual. To this day, I have no idea why he felt compelled or authorized to give us such a lesson.
I was an innocent boy of 12 and president of the quorum. I had not fully reached puberty yet and had never ejaculated. I did not know what the word “masturbation” meant. I soon found out. I sat frozen as he graphically described what masturbation was and how it made boys “evil”. He told us that sexual sins ranked right next to murder. I could hardly believe what I was hearing. Of course I knew that it was not alright to be sexual with someone besides your wife, but what he was telling me about my penis was just the opposite of my own beautiful experiences. To me, my penis and the pleasure I derived from stroking it while daydreaming of girls I loved and temple marriage was holy and special.
In fact it was so holy that the bishop’s counselor’s words seemed sacrilegious and completely inappropriate. To me masturbation had no negative associations. It was a prayer of celebration for love and marriage. My own spiritual experiences with masturbation told me that he was lying. I knew inside my inner self could not lie to my heart and spirit.
The problem was that I was just a 12 year old boy. I was a deacon. What did I know compared to the bishopric? He was in the bishopric. He was Jesus’ mouthpiece. I was Jesus’ servant who held his holy priesthood. I loved Jesus and loved to obey him. My own tender testimony of love for my masculinity and my desire to marry and share love with my wife and family were totally crushed beneath the weight of authority. I was now an “evil” boy, who had been committing a sin next to murder in seriousness all though my innocent childhood. It was horrifying to realize I was so evil.
Today I recognize this action by my priesthood leader as spiritual and sexual abuse of an innocent child. His authoritarian position invalidated my authentic inner spiritual voice. In that moment my priesthood leader created clinical neurosis in me that I struggled to heal far into my adult life. It was unquestionably abusive and damaging.
The tragic irony of this whole situation is that the top leaders of the LDS church sincerely want to help the youth be sexually healthy and have good marriages. Their failure to meet their responsibility to become medically educated about masturbation has resulted in one of the great social tragedies of Mormonism – unintentional and covert sexual and spiritual abuse of the youth.
Masturbation was a hot topic for all us neurotic unintentionally abused Mormon boys. We talked amongst ourselves about our struggles with abstinence; our successes and ultimate failures. We repented over and over in an effort to feel worthy through high school, missions, college and into marriage. Our self-worth was seriously damaged.
One serious boy I knew told me he “knew he was naturally evil” because he tried and tried repenting many times over but could not remain totally abstinent. He begged God to take away his sexual desire or bless him with “wet dreams” like other boys (Even after months of abstinence he never had a nocturnal emission – his spiritual leaders were ignorant of the medical fact that a sizable percentage of males are completely incapable of having nocturnal emissions). Since he was “naturally evil” he accepted that drinking was no worse than masturbation and sadly found some solace for his internalized shame in alcohol.
Another close friend once in a moment of purging his guilt before leaving on his mission confided to me his own unique strategy. We lived in a farm community and he decided that since he had never heard that sex with animals was sinful he was safer to place a stool behind a cow to stand on and have sex with it than he was to masturbate. His dad, by the way, was our stake president and his uncle was a notable apostle. We had never heard of bestiality. He too was trying to cope. Today he is a respectable judge, family man and priesthood leader in his community.
As church leaders ignore the medical data of science about the psychological damage that masturbation abstinence causes, they ignorantly perpetuate some of the very things they seek to prevent. Youth turn to damaging psychological coping strategies to cope with the unbearable internalized shame that Mormon leaders create by labeling the healthy developmental process of masturbation as “evil” and associating it to the concept that “sexual sin is next to murder” (Such generalization without qualification is irresponsible by church leaders. There is an obvious difference in the social impact of various sexual behaviors, for example the extreme difference between masturbation and rape).
A tragic wake up call to the General Authorities of the church came in 1982 when an Idaho priest Kip Eliason committed suicide after deciding he was “unworthy” to live because he could be 100% abstinent all the time. His Bishop promised him he could. In his suicide note to his dad he said he hated himself for not being able to conquer this “sin” and could not stand to live any longer. Kip was a 4.0 student, Eagle Scout candidate, school track star and held up by his teachers at church and school as an ideal youth.
He was the consummate Mormon boy who was dedicated to Christ far beyond the commitment of most boys. His innocent blood cries out as a testimony against the false Mormon teachings about masturbation. Unbelievably, even as one of Mormondom’s finest priesthood youth lay dead before their own eyes, church leaders have not ended the abusive masturbation “worthiness” interviews that were unquestionably the direct cause of this innocent 16 year old priest’s death. I suggest you read the case report, examine the evidence yourself, and then put the question to Christ’s test:”By their fruits ye shall know them”. You can find the article published online on several websites by searching under Kip Eliason’s name.
After serving many years in the church in various callings, today I have healed from most of the spiritual abuse caused by my priesthood leaders being influenced by false masturbation ideas of “the world”. It took a lot of personal spiritual growth, prayer and study to separate out what were healthy true principles that are mixed with the false social concepts in the church. My medical schooling has shown me empirical proof that masturbation is not an “evil” behavior.
There is absolutely no evidence whatsoever that masturbation results in any physical, psychological, spiritual damage or unhealthiness. Some Mormons leaders falsely equate feelings of guilt with “loss of the spirit”. These feelings actually are psychological responses that result from leaders “promising” individuals they will feel guilty. This is not the “loss of spirit” it merely is a psychological self-fulfilling prophecy caused by internalized shame. I have treated numerous individuals suffering from church caused masturbation shame. Their spiritual feelings return when their neurotic shame is healed. These patents report they masturbate and feel more psychologically and spiritually healthy than they did before.
I want to tell anyone struggling with this issue to remember your joyful innocent God given feelings that you knew while masturbating as a child, before you were told it was “bad”. Why would God give you the natural desire to masturbate if it were not good for your development and serve to prepare you for marriage? It is part of his plan to prepare you for bonding with the one you love. As a missionary I had many investigators, members, and priesthood leaders tell me they felt the spirit of God in me on days I had masturbated. I struggled like most Elders to be abstinent, and was most of the time, but my priesthood leaders acknowledged God’s spirit the same on “masturbation days” as “abstinent days.” The same held true in all my church callings. Since my priesthood leaders acknowledged that the spirit was with me, this was a further witness to me that masturbation did not cause spiritual damage.
Today we also know that masturbation is vital to health. New medical studies verify the importance of masturbation to health. Masturbation prevents prostate cancer, and keeps the reproductive system strong and healthy. There is an overwhelming body of data that demonstrates that individuals who are abstinent from masturbation are at greater risk for cancer, youth suicide, depression, psychological dysfunction, and marital problems.
A final word, I suggest to you that masturbation can be a spiritual celebration, and that God absolutely approves of masturbation. I testify that I have experienced some of my most spiritual moments while masturbating as a child and also as a man. I have felt God’s presence and spirit with me as I have thanked him for the great gift of sexuality while masturbating, and while daydreaming of how much I love and am attracted to my beautiful wife.
Masturbation helped my wife learn how her body can experience orgasm. Women do not have an automatic orgasmic response like men do. Many women who have marital problems solve them through masturbation as a therapeutic exercise. My wife’s ability to orgasm has increased our bond and capacity to love one another. In this way masturbation contributes to LDS family values by enriching marriage (LDS leaders have acknowledged repeatedly that a large percentage of LDS divorces are based on sexual unhappiness).
I have felt God’s spirit with me more, while masturbating with love, than in any church or temple. I was experiencing God dwelling in my temple, and approving of my sexuality. Masturbating with loving intention is a prayer of gratitude and celebration of life.
Other things I’ve written on the topic: