Wednesday, January 3, 2018

“Don’t Touch” -- Addressing Sexual Taboos in the LDS Faith Intro

The following are selections from my forthcoming book on LDS sexuality. This has been a very difficult post to write; not because of the subject matter, anyone who follows me knows how comfortable I am with discussing this topic, but how to concisely address such a deeply rooted topic as masturbation. It feels impossible to be concise without missing some necessary details without which the topic would be overly simplified. As such, I am going to address the topic of Masturbation within the LDS faith as outlined below:


“Don’t Touch” -- Addressing Sexual Taboos in the LDS Faith Part 6

Previous Chapter: 5. A New Culture is Born: “Doctrine and Addiction” and returning to the 1700’s

Purity, Modesty, and Moral Ambiguity
A quick word on purity and modesty and how it’s negatively feeding into our perception/paradigm and preventing healthy solutions. These are probably two of the most ambiguous terms I hear in the context of sexuality. Possibly due to the misunderstanding of lust and coveting in Matthew 5:27-8, purity is most often used in the context of naiveté. Jason A. Staples Ph.D., Professor in the Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies at NC State University addresses this topic well here: “Whoever Looks at a Woman With Lust”: Misinterpreted Bible Passages”. Also see “Modesty: I Don’t Think it Means What You Think it Means” by Rachel Held Evans and “The Costs of Misunderstanding Modesty” by Julie de Azevedo Hanks.

Our current paradigm, I believe, is a product of our reincorporating 1700’s ideas into our cultural belief system. A phrase parents use in “sharing too much” with their children, they must “protect their purity.” Some parents have described how exposure to various media and forms of pornography puts their children’s purity at risk. The “For the Strength of Youth” (FSOY) reinforces this idea in its section on “Sexual Purity”, it reads;

Do not do anything else that arouses sexual feelings. Do not arouse those emotions in your own body. Pay attention to the promptings of the Spirit so that you can be clean and virtuous. The Spirit of the Lord will withdraw from one who is in sexual transgression.

Avoid situations that invite increased temptation, such as late-night or overnight activities away from home or activities where there is a lack of adult supervision. Do not participate in discussions or any media that arouse sexual feelings. Do not participate in any type of pornography. The Spirit can help you know when you are at risk and give you the strength to remove yourself from the situation. Have faith in and be obedient to the righteous counsel of your parents and leaders.[1]

I believe there is great wisdom in the cautions given in this guidance. While at the same time it seems to communicate a confusing paradox. It placed parent and youth in a potentially in a double bind predicament. Will discussing sexual development, sexual desire, exploring concerns, curiosities, questions, discoveries intentionally or unintentionally lead to “arousing sexual feelings”? As loving parents, we would never want to make our children impure. I have worked with youth and adults who “remove” themselves from therapeutic discussions involving sexually related topics. One wife experienced this paradox when she sought out help for “intimate issues” in their marriage, but refused to discuss or explore any sexually related details.  Unfortunately, soon after she stopped coming to therapy.

Biologically, pubescent youth will, without any intent at all, experience arousal. It’s not just expected, it’s normal and healthy, YAY their body is functioning exactly as designed. Will discussing sexuality lead youth (or adults) to experience some sort of arousal? Maybe, yes. This predicament appears to leave parent, youth, and leaders with ONE option, “Have faith in and be obedient to the righteous counsel of your parents and leaders.” Which is to not do any of the above or anything that will potentially increase your temptation.

As one insightful YSA woman observed; “Leaving all the confusion, arousal, blame of inadvertent arousal, and curiosities to fester inside the child in silence. Building up fear in the child of themselves, their body and the thought to seek answers. Resulting in the child either repressing the natural curiosity that it is to understand their body or seeking the answers out through individuals who may not have the right intentions in mind - or accurate understanding of it themselves (kids to kids or kids to porn, or to experience it themselves just to understand).”

Under this interpretation, I do not fault parents’ fear of harming their child's purity.

But I don’t believe this is the intent of the message of sexual purity. I don’t believe it discourages meaningful, preparatory discussions with our children or those we have stewardship over. The above message is a warning against engaging in sexual relationships. The FSOY is providing a definition of sexual purity in the context of physical relationships with others. “Do not have any sexual relations before marriage, and be completely faithful to your spouse after marriage. Do not allow the media, your peers, or others to persuade you that sexual intimacy before marriage is acceptable.”

As for; “Do not do anything else that arouses sexual feelings. Do not arouse those emotions in your own body.”  At best, this is confusing and at worst fosters anxiety, depression, guilt and sexual dissociation. This can lead to tragic consequences which are medically substantiated and unfortunately occurred in the case of Kip Eliason, in the early 80’s.

The Church has made leaps and bounds in updating its material and pulling away from the moral absolutes of President Kimball and Elder McConkie, not to mention the decades of Elder Vaughn J. Featherstone’s personal mission to purge masturbation from the earth, with his quoting from President Clark and teaching medically incorrect information. In a somewhat bizarre lecture to a group of LDS counselors at an Association of Mormon Counselors and Psychotherapists (AMCAP) Elder Featherstone makes some bold and impossible-to-substantiate claims about the missionaries he presided over. Further he called a married couple to repentance for participating in masturbation together as a couple.[2] This interviewing behavior appeared to be in conflict with a First Presidency letter in January 5 and October 15, 1982. “When interviewing married persons, the one doing the interviewing should scrupulously avoid indelicate inquiries…” and interviews are to precisely follow as outlined in the “temple recommend book.” That no one should ever “inquire into personal, intimate matters involving marital relations between a man and his wife...if in the course of such interviews a member asks questions about the propriety of specific conduct, you should not pursue the matter…”.

Nonetheless, the hard hitting, absolute statements made in the 60-70’s has made it culturally difficult to part from. Ironically, as often as we boast in the uniqueness of our faith by repeating the Prophet Joseph Smith: “I teach them correct principles and they govern themselves.” we are a very directive people. We crave black and white answers. These absolutes are spoken with such conviction as to either be interpreted as doctrine or literally taught as doctrine. As in the case of this mission president in 2003, who is teaching “doctrine” while clearly not knowing what he is talking about. Saying “the brethren call that “self abuse” instead of masturbation. It’s a little softer word. It’s more dignified.” What’s even more surprising is that this mission president is also an OB/GYN physician. He should know better. “It’s more dignified”? Culture is difficult to change. But these statements are becoming less and less frequent. Is anyone else excited we haven’t heard a single mention of porn in priesthood conference the last couple years?! Why? Because it’s a poor, in effective approach.

Therefore, simply saying “Do not do anything else that arouses sexual feelings,” etc., is confusing and sets youth up for failure. Based on following comments, and our cultural understanding of purity, ANYTHING can arouse sexual feelings. For a 14-year-old boy, mind pumping full of hormones, walking into a donut shop can elicit all sorts of sexual feelings. Not to be silly, but real and honest. Does that innocent boy now swear off all donut shops? By the way that’s a real example. Youth (and adults) struggle to differentiate between intentional arousal and the biological experience they are naturally having.

I have often wondered why the Lord would “bless” a child so young to experience something so powerful as sexual desires and arousal. One youth expressed, “I’m two different people; the worthy priesthood holder passing the sacrament. The other, a dark, isolated kid who enjoys these ‘feelings’.”  

Furthermore, what FSOY doesn’t address is what to do when you do nothing that “arouses sexual feelings,” and a young boy has an erection for going on for hours and all he did was wake up. What about the young girl who experience “butterflies” in her stomach and can’t seem to shake the urge. Furthermore, and I say this in the most sincere and respectful tone, have faith and be obedient to what righteous counsel of parents and leaders? Even if the child was unashamed and fortunate enough to have adults in their lives who could discuss the topic, what are they putting their faith and obedience into?

As a result you leave children with a couple of options. One, somehow completely suppress the feelings. Two, spend years battling the compulsion. These are such negative perspectives and have lasting consequences as previously discussed. There are more options than sucky choice A and sucky choice B, as my wife so often says.

Next Chapter: 7. Solution: Real Self-Mastery Cultivating Sexuality

7. Solution: Real Self-Mastery Cultivating Sexuality

[1] https://www.lds.org/youth/for-the-strength-of-youth/sexual-purity?lang=eng
[2] Featherstone, Vaughn (1 October 1990). "However Faint the Light May Glow". Issues in Religion and Psychotherapy. 16 (1): 65–66 http://scholarsarchive.byu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1311&context=irp

“Don’t Touch” -- Addressing Sexual Taboos in the LDS Faith Part 7

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

Solution: Real Self-Mastery Cultivating Sexuality

Masturbate. Yes, masturbate.

Learn your body, cultivate and master your God-given desires as early as possible. Rejection, suppression, and ignoring are not tools of self-mastery. We treat sexuality as an exception to the concept of self-mastery. We have convinced ourselves that it’s a gateway drug to all sorts of illness, addictions, and selfish behavior. We shouldn’t tell people they can’t pray if their prayers aren’t in harmony with God’s will, that they are in danger of the “sin of the Zoramites.”  We don’t tell people they can’t bear their testimonies because what they’re sharing is not really a testimony. We don’t tell people they can’t eat if they don’t know how to eat healthy; at least we shouldn’t. You might say, it’s different, it doesn’t involve those powerful sexual chemicals. If that’s true, ALL the more reason to learn and master earlier on.

Self-mastery is a physical discovery of limitations and passions through intimate knowledge of oneself. Why is it any different with sexual desires and masturbation? I would argue that forced abstinence from masturbating is just as sinful as those who say that doing it is, because you are not valuing, understanding, nor mastering the body God blessed you with. Why have we pulled away from the healthy understanding of this concept taught in the 1920’s? 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 1920’s 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 in between you and the Lord. Discover how your body and mind function at its 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 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.

  1. 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 contributes 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 “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 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 see 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 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.

  1. Out of the best books - Study and learn body
Learn about your body, it's beautiful and awesome. No matter your age, single or marriage. Find the best that experts have to offer. Become familiar with your arousal cycle and desires. As you learn to cultivate your sexualality. 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 a few I recommend;

Jennifer Finlayson-Fife, Ph.D
LDS Relationship and Sexuality Counselor

And They Were Not Ashamed: Strengthening Marriage through Sexual Fulfillment
by Laura M. Brotherson
Link: http://a.co/aPExHqZ

Kristin B. Hodson

Real Intimacy: A Couples' Guide to Healthy, Genuine Sexuality
by Thomas G. Harrison et al.
Link: http://a.co/hlVLj2i

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 pornograhy out of 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 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 to 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.

No mention of sin. No need to “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 restorying 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. Such as, “go without masturbating for two weeks.” This is ironic, since I often get push back 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 with their parents. Without breaking confidentiality, do your research, find a therapist who understands this concept. Let the therapist determine if the what is the 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.

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 discontinue continue with their religious behaviors. My theory is twofold; first, is the new years resolution effect. Feeling a rekindle 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 associated it with 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, “only if I read the scriptures for another 15 mins 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 will “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.




[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 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 they 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 LDS 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, eventually he 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 continued to elaborate 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 of 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 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 this 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 LDS Church

“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 1700’s
In my book I explore in detail the historical development and 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-’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] 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 LDS 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


To further complicate the issue, the “sex addiction” model was popularized during the ‘70’s when a couple of individuals involved with AA 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 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.”

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.” -- Perfect Love Casteth Out Fear By President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, Second Counselor in the First Presidency 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 occurs. 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 couples to function in healthy sexual relationships.

These compassionate Kelloggs are modeling the 1700’s 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, “Love Versus Lust” (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 could 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 the powerful chemical argument being a cop out and not entirely true. “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.

Logically, these type 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, 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 can not 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





[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 4

Previous Chapter: 3. Cultivating Versus Condemning

What went Wrong?
The Depression, WWII and Kinsey.

The Leadership noticeably changed their approach to sexuality in the ‘30s-’40s which was culturally reinforced in the ‘50s-’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; 

“...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;


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 mormons of the time. It’s entirely possible this was a religious concept by his parents who were raised in the “New Dunkers” or Church of God before converting. From an early Mormon “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 Mormon 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 thinking 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 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.”


As a zoologist and 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 it was 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 LDS 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 lead to nothing good. Although, not medically or religiously supported, masturbation seemed to become the new measure of sexual purity and a “preoccupation” that required a 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 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 LDS 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 now became a message that thinking and acting on these desires were 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 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 were 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. 




[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