“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