The Black Hole

This post will likely make you uncomfortable. I know that I am going to be uncomfortable writing it.

When I was in Boy Scouts, I washed vans for the Stake President to make money for the troop. He was the head of a plumbing company and there was a vast back lot in which we engaged in water fights and exploration when the washing got dull. One time, some of us found some pornographic magazines in an old container back there. They had something to do with vampires, pregnant ladies, and a whole lot of nudity. All of us snuck a glance, due to the bizarreness of the magazine and the fact of naked ladies. A similar thing happened on another Scout trip to clean up someone’s old homestead. In sorting through all the crap, we found a stash of photographic slides of nudes. All the scouts involved had a look. I’m not proud that I did it, but I’m not terribly surprised that I did it either.

There are certain lessons that we could take from these two anecdotes. Certainly it is appropriate to wonder where the leaders were in all this. I think that they were inside, in the cool, in the plumbing back lot and that they were carefully steered away from the slides by us. Certainly they could have been more vigilant. In this same era I remember that one of the benefits of going on overnight temple trips to Atlanta was the possibility of seeing R rated movies at the hotel, where the chaparones were present. So we could read this as an opportunity to condemn my youth leaders.

Or we could turn it into a critique of pornography in general. I don’t know that the other young men struggled with pornography in the intervening years, but I do know that I am one of only a couple who are still active in the church. Perhaps these brushes with porn began to poison these boys, sapping their connection to the Lord and eventually leading them to reject missions and eventually the church itself. I’m sure that I wasn’t the only one who thought about driving out to that homestead and retrieving those slides, which, when you think about it, is about the most inconvenient way to view pornography, especially if you don’t have a slide projector. That said, I often felt like I was. I remember, one time, I told a bishop, in a fit of guilt, that I had masturbated. He looked at me and, stifling a laugh, told me that if everyone who did that came to see him he’d be holding interviews 24/7. He left it to me to figure out my repentance with the Lord.

I think either of these approaches misses the point. I was of sufficient age to understand what pornography was. I had attended umpteen lessons regarding the dangers of porn, its degrading nature, its poisonous influence. I understood that I was a child of God, meant for better things. Yet when the opportunity arose I, like all my peers, partook of the forbidden. I didn’t do it because of my peers (although their participation doubtless didn’t hurt); I did it because I was deeply curious about sex, about what women looked like without clothes on, and about what it meant to be grown up.

It is something of a cliche in the bloggernacle that female sexuality is somewhat stifled in the church and there are plenty of people who enjoy the transgressive nature of posts that offer anonymous sex advice. However, aggressive female sexuality, initially thought of as a feminist triumph, still allows women to be considered primarily as sexual objects. The status of masturbation as a sin is a regularly debated topic (one which that bishop, at least, seems to have resolved for himself). Pornography itself is occasionally treated, usually with kid gloves, because too much empathy may indicate sympathy and too much stringency may indicate judgment beyond one’s pay-grade. Both of these problems within the church are, moreso, symptoms, I think; it might be helpful to treat the cause. The cause, I think, is to a great degree our tendency to ignore the elephant in the room: male sexuality.

This isn’t only an issue of our church; all of American society is gripped with the same issue. At best, we have some notion of the libido in men. My wife tells me that much male sexual behavior and desire can be explained by evolutionary biology and psychology. Freud certainly acknowledged the power of male sexual desire, but I don’t know that we have much progressed beyond his thoughts. Certainly I am no sexologist, but it strikes me that we can have lengthy discussions of the best way for women to masturbate in the bloggernacle, but the opposite simply isn’t true. Male sexuality is a big, powerful mystery and our unwillingness to confront it directly is leading to a lot of trouble.

I feel a need to note that I am not advocating free love, a loosening of sexual taboos, the breaking of commandments, or a weakening of the church’s position on pre-marital sex. That way lies madness (literally, in the case of syphilis) and a host of other social problems. Nor am I interested in hearing about your fantasies, fetishes, or freakishness. This post isn’t about confession; go see your bishop or your counselor if you need to unload. This post is a call for some understanding of why our young men seek sex, in spite of all our well-meaning warnings, with a couple lousy suggestions for improvements in how we teach and talk about sex.

We have a tendency to treat male sexuality as a great untamed beast. This is, I think, setting all our young men up for failure. We take it for granted that a father might tell a son or daughter to not stay out late with their partner “because I know how boys are at your age.” But what is the message sent by that saying? That every boy is a potential rapist? That the father understood that he might have raped someone if he didn’t go to bed by 11:30? Obviously, these scenarios disregard the potential willingness of the girl (we’ll set aside homosexuality for now, although our treatment of it is another symptom of our great fear and unwillingness to directly address male sexuality). But if it is all about what boys at age x are like, we’re ignoring her feelings about the matter anyway. Now, I don’t want to dismiss the problem of acquaintance rape, which is real and happens a lot (at least, that’s the case in Utah valley), but rather I want to emphasize that we treat male sexuality like the Hulk. You don’t know when it will come to the fore, but when it does it will take over everything in your life and the results won’t be pretty.

Another example: it is a commonly held belief amongst my students at UVU that porn leads to serial killing. Everyone knows that Ted Bundy looked at pornography and Bundy said that it was pornography that led him down the path to killing women. They say that in addictive behavior, such as that induced by porn use in conservative communities, the addict escalates. Therefore, after you’ve browsed a Playboy, it won’t be long before you are slaughtering young girls on the hillside. This is, of course, absolute crap. As far as I know, every single boy over 14 in Utah County (possibly in America) has seen porn and yet our serial killing still seems relatively rare. But because male sexuality is the great bear, ready to attack and consume, this is how we understand it.

The problem with this approach is that, of course, once you’ve looked at porn (had sex, wondered what that girl you like would look like without clothes on), then you are obviously in the grip of powers beyond your control. You can’t help yourself now, because the force of the thing is too powerful. Certainly, the libido is a strong force, but the bigger and more intimidating we make it, the less likely young men are going to be able to learn to control it. The less we discuss and consider it, the bigger a problem it is.

When I looked at those magazines, I was interested in the pictures, but I was equally interested in what they represented to me: adulthood. It is crazy to think of pornography as sophisticated, but I did. Sex indicated a new stage of life, the final border to between me and autonomy. It was what grown-ups did and, as a teen, I was determined to assert my ability to be grown up. Of course, the manner in which I did this was deeply childish and selfish (which all pornography is), but I didn’t/couldn’t/wouldn’t see that. Looking at porn, amongst other things, made me feel strong and in control of my life. That was its allure, as much as or more than the promise of nudity. That’s what Hollywood sells, not sex, but sophistication and autonomy.

It seems to me that, if we want to teach our young men successfully about sexuality, we should focus on what a truly adult approach to sexuality would be. This shouldn’t cloak it in secrecy, but its proper application should be acknowledged. Stable, strong, sexual relationships make us happier. Pornography, sexual deviation, and a lack of reverence for your partner can harm that relationship. Again, I don’t think explicit description is necessary (or helpful), but I think that a sense of the power of a loving, sexual relationship is necessary to convey to young men (and women) why waiting for the one to whom you’d like to be married is necessary. And if providing that sense makes the young men and women deeply uncomfortable and embarassed in the meantime, that might be helpful, too.

On the bus on the way to school the other day, I heard the hoary ol’ saying “If you don’t look, you are not a man. If you look twice, you are a bad (missionary/husband/boy scout).” If being a man has been truly reduced to having the ability to objectify a woman, then we are all in pretty sorry shape. I know this goes contra culture, but what if we did teach kids (and provided examples ourselves) that sex is only a part of healthy relationships, a necessary part, but not the spice. The spice is having someone you trust to put up with your quirks and having the joy of putting up with another’s. The spice is getting to be a part of someone else’s plan without feeling or being used. The spice is giving oneself over to another, taking the risk of intimacy and having it work out. In marriage, sex is often obligatory; trust never is.

I remember President Hinckley once giving an anti-pornography talk about being the person your future spouse wants to marry. That’s the sort of thing that, I think, will help. But our present tendency seems to me to be to treat our young people, involved in sexual sin, as lepers, victims of an eventually fatal, lingering, consumption. If we want male sexuality to stop being our societal cancer, then we need to deal with it directly, instead of stepping lightly around it. After all, cancer is uncontrolled growth; if we actually started teaching boys to direct it properly, what heights could they achieve?

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Comments

  1. Excellent, brave work, John. Thanks for sharing. I’d be curious to hear what you think further examples of not “stepping lightly around [male sexuality]” might be? What is the sort of language that could move us, as a community, further along towards non-explicit descriptions of “a loving, sexual relationship”? (I have suggested Marvin Gaye before, but there have to be more examples than that.)

  2. Mark Brown says:

    John, this is a post which I will need to think about before I can respond effectively, but it is a very good post and I wanted to thank you for writing it.

    I wonder how many other LDS men besides you and me were first introduced to porn on a scout activity?

  3. Boy scouts here. 7th grade.

  4. I agree that there is a fine balance, and don’t have a great answer. Juxtaposing books like the Miracle of Forgiveness’s attitude toward masturbation with the fact that 99% of male boys do it leads to very unnecessary guilt and angst. I think it is unhealthy and am glad that your bishop didn’t turn it into some major crisis.

    I think a similar thing happens with regards to alcohol when we don’t want to talk about that either. In college, I was in a fraternity where there were obviously parties with alcohol. There were enough LDS members, that no one really cared if you drank or not, and I was completely comfortable staying sober. Interestingly, the non-LDS members tended to have a few drinks, but stayed in control (most of the time), much like most of the world does who has a glass of wine at dinner, etc. The LDS people who made the decision to drink, however, went completely overboard. They were the ones who ended up passed out, etc.

    I think the suppression of thinks like male sexuality, discussions on alcohol, etc., are all very unhealthy. It is fine to say, Don’t ever do it and put our heads in the sand, but the reality is that the majority of even LDS youth are going to masturbate, have a drink at some point, and see a naked woman online or in a magazine.

    I don’t have a good answer, as we certainly don’t want to condone it, but I agree with this post that we could do a better job of facing reality and coming up with a better solution.

  5. I don’t have very much to add, John, but I just wanted to say: wow. Excellent post. You’ve really been on a roll lately.

  6. RAF,
    I remember listening to Dave Matthews’s Crash and thinking it unspeakably filthy, but then I changed my internal context and it well described my feelings regarding intimacy with my wife, making the whole thing seem a little holy to me. So, I think personalizing it is appropriate, even if (especially if) it makes teens all squirmy.

    However, I don’t think we should engage in the process of telling people that they’re sex will be automatically amazing. The give and take of a good sexual relationship takes time and understanding.

    Honestly, I don’t have a clue what appropriate boundaries should be, just an intuition that the current approach (male sex drive is big, bad, and scary) isn’t helping and is probably hurting.

  7. I don’t have a clue what appropriate boundaries should be, just an intuition that the current approach (male sex drive is big, bad, and scary) isn’t helping and is probably hurting.

    I agree with you there, though I would argue that such isn’t the total or sole approach taken by the church. In fact, I suspect the argument could be made–by, I don’t know, pulling out general conference addresses and doing a content analysis over the past 30 years–that the “official” line of the church isn’t all about the male sex drive being big, bad, and scary, but is more balanced, and is sometimes even affirmative. (See Elder Holland’s “Of Souls, Symbols, and Sacraments,” for example.) However, that affirmation doesn’t carry particularly well through lowest-common-denominator teaching, bare-bones manuals, or committee-designed youth programs. I don’t know. I do know that, eventually, there came a point where I had to acknowledge that there had been a (perhaps unconscious, perhaps panic-driven) selectivity in what I heard in church regarding sex and what I didn’t, with the result that I realized I’d missed hearing and learning ,when I was younger, approaches and conceptualizations that have since become very helpful to me.

  8. “This shouldn’t cloak it in secrecy, but its proper application should be acknowledged. Stable, strong, sexual relationships make us happier. Pornography, sexual deviation, and a lack of reverence for your partner can harm that relationship.”

    This is how it should be taught and is taught at least in my Exp.

  9. While I agree with this post, I have to say that in my experience as a young person growing up, I don’t think it was ever communicated to me that my sex drive was “uncontrollable” or “big, bad, and scary”. I was never told thing like, “because I know how boys are at your age.”

    I think in general this may be, in some ways, more of a parental, familial issue than a church issue. In church and at home I was always taught to respect myself and respect women. I was taught self-control and self-mastery.

    What I think helped me in a lot of ways was to point my sexual feeling and thought to the idea of a future spouse. Sexual feelings in young men and women are unavoidable and, as you point out, we need to find a better wait of dealing with sexuality. I think the fact is that as parents we need to be more open in discussing healthy sexuality in the context of a Latter-day Saint home/marriage. Then, point them towards that.

    But then, what do I know. I’m just some guy. :)

  10. John, coupled with the series on Sunday School teaching, this post proves that you should change your name to John C. Fearless. Well done.
    The first time I encountered a skin magazine was when my middle school art teacher sent two other students and I out to her car to get some boxes. We took the opportunity to waste time by rifling through her car, and we eventually found a Playboy. We all stole a glance, or seven, and then one kid suggested that we steal it. As soon as he said it, though, we put it back in its place and went inside. I should mention that none of us were very good kids, and one was locked up in detention more often than he went to Algebra. I’m convinced that if it had been any other teacher, those pages would have been passed around the entire school. However, this teacher had earned way too much love and respect from us over the year. Plus, if we had taken it, we couldn’t have done what we did next, which was to go to her room and try, in our 7th grade way, to mock her. In retrospect, I imagine that having a Mormon kid approach her with some pre-pubescent joke about how she had stained my eyes probably sounded a little scary to a teacher. At the time, though, I was certain that she would be embarrassed, but the thought of how the situation could have blown up didn’t cross my mind.
    Luckily,she took everything perfectly in stride; convinced us that it was her husband’s, but that she read the articles all the time, and laughed with us.
    The three things I take away from the experience: One, a little humor and frankness took the poison out of what could have been a career-threatening, horrible situation for her. Two, it made a huge difference that this woman had spent hours and hours over the year, helping us, chatting with us while we worked on projects, made us laugh, and treated us like equals. Three and most importantly, hearing a woman who was confident enough to approach this openly but without switching into crisis mode made a huge impact on me.

  11. I suspect the argument could be made–by, I don’t know, pulling out general conference addresses and doing a content analysis over the past 30 years–that the “official” line of the church isn’t all about the male sex drive being big, bad, and scary, but is more balanced, and is sometimes even affirmative. (See Elder Holland’s “Of Souls, Symbols, and Sacraments,” for example.)

    RAF,
    I think you make a good point with that, but I also think that excellent resources such as Holland’s work are underused at the relevant level–the local level–because the “big, bad, and scary” view is so prevalent and dominating locally that it requires an Apostle to rebut it. I just can’t envision many local leaders sitting down with their priests and teachers and talking with the same level of openness, clarity, or authority.

  12. Steve Evans says:

    I think approaching sexuality by saying, “sex is a river of fire that must be banked and cooled by a hundred restraints if it is not to consume in chaos both the individual and the group” is asking for problems, even if it is true. Will Durant came up with that saying in 1968 and we’re still using it today. But it establishes a relationship of fear with our own sexuality, and so long as sex is an aspect of ourselves we approach with hostility or fear I worry that we’re missing something very important.

  13. Latter-day Guy says:

    A very interesting (and gutsy) post. However, I am curious regarding the Holland talk: How does a quote like “sex is a river of fire that must be banked and cooled by a hundred restraints if it is not to consume in chaos both the individual and the group” not fall into the “big, bad, and scary” view?

  14. Latter-day Guy says:

    Ah, beat me to the punch!

  15. My first encounter with porn was when me and my friends found a Playgirl in a ditch in our neighborhood. I must’ve been about 8 years old. I thought it was kind of weird that a grown man would be sitting naked on a tree trunk, and man did that thing look weird.

    Now that I’m older, I really wonder whose magazine that was and what it was doing in a neighborhood ditch.

  16. Scott,

    I just can’t envision many local leaders sitting down with their priests and teachers and talking with the same level of openness, clarity, or authority.

    I agree–while I’m sure there are many leaders who can pull it off (I’d like to think I was able to a little bit, sometimes, when I was YM Pres.), many others can’t, especially with the banal supplements and manuals that so many hastily-called teachers depend upon. (Though Holland’s SSS sermon has been reprinted often, and been made available through a variety of different sources.)

    Steve,

    Will Durant came up with that saying in 1968 and we’re still using it today.

    So true! And he was making a huge, simplistic, cultural/historical observation as well. Not that he didn’t have a point–he obviously did–but it really isn’t the evidence in support of an argument for personal chastity and caution in regards to personal sexual behavior which so many authorities think it is. But here, I would blame the path-dependency of general authority rhetoric upon well-worn pithy quotes, more than a controlling ideology. The ideology may well be there, but the desire to sound learned is there also.

  17. (Though Holland’s SSS sermon has been reprinted often, and been made available through a variety of different sources.)

    Yeah, it’s really too bad. I can easily envision a Bishop handing Holland’s SSS sermon to YM advisor who is standing in front of 14-16 year olds, asking him to do nothing more than read it verbatim, and having the fellow just crumble in embarrassment or irrational shame.

  18. Just in relation to the topic of how we talk about or discuss sex – sometimes we are not told to be fearful.

    I remember a Standards Night that was held at our ward and the young married man who was asked to speak to us (I think I and my friends were fifteen or sixteen at the time) told us to imagine hitting a home run in Yankee stadium. Then he said that having sex was better than that. Of course he was saying it was worth waiting for, but … my mother had managed to invite some of my non-member friends to attend (how embarrassing) and they were Yankees fans. At least one of them became sexually active soon thereafter.

    Standards night was always interesting. We would hear that we should be careful not to do anything that could lead to sexual behavior and on the other hand we were hearing at least a few ‘testimonies’ of how great married sex was.

  19. 1. John, bravo. Homerun. I’m very impressed at how you put yourself out there and were willing to confront a “taboo” topic such as this.

    2. Re: Male sexuality. Does the current culture we live in play a factor? Yes, sex is discussed more than 30-40 years ago, but the male sexual desire is made into a punchline. Listen to any stand-up comic talk about sex, and it’s “MORE MORE MORE” for men, and women are just “too tired.” Does that have something to do with this discussion?

    3. Re: Teaching sexuality to youth. As a Deacon’s quorum adviser, I’m struggling with this one. Is there not a line that needs to be drawn in the sand? I’m not too far from my teenage days, and every sex lesson that we had the same question was either brought up or thought about: Where is the line? Which brings the same question to your post…where is the line?

    3a. Doesn’t there need to be a line? A lot of references to Elder Holland’s talk, but even he brings up a line to be crossed. Is there something to be said for reverencing sexuality, even among youth (whose hormones are a’blaze?)

    I think I’m going to use Russell’s suggestion and go with some Marvin Gaye when I finally have to teach said lesson. Then again, I do enjoy Mr. Ben Harper’s version as well.

    3b. Is it time we do a proper examination of Alma 39:5? Does this have some of the stigma behind the “Big bad scary sex monster”?

  20. Mark Brown says:

    I think Durant’s line illustrates exactly what John is talking about. While the law of chastity applies to both men and women, the overblown rhetoric about a river of fire gets reserved mostly for males. Let’s face it, the church thinks we’re bozos in need of housebreaking.

  21. The juxtaposition of male versus female sexualities in Mormon discourse is fascinating. Put overly simplistically, boys are volatile, Hulk-like, time-bombs of sexual desire packaged in relatively innocuous bodies. Girls are pure, undefiled, pristine, angel-like bundles of caring, guileless spirituality trapped in pornographic bodies that are the perpetual objects of unrestrained male lust.

    Keep the young men away from the young women, because if the former catch a glimpse of the latter’s flesh, God help us all…

  22. Mark, the irony is that the Church may be right! Men are frequently sexual bozos. But it’s not just a question of regulation and governance from above, but also that of perpetuating the system. Keeping bozos in check is important, but we seem unable to do so without also perpetuating the expectation that boys are bozos.

  23. Kevin Barney says:

    I think you’re right, John, that male sexuality is a big boogeyman in the Church we don’t know what to do with. And I think Mike S. no. 4 raises an excellent point about the disconnect between a supposed pie in the sky Miracle of Forgiveness ideal of purity and the boots on the ground reality regarding male masturbation. Yet we as a church almost totally ignore that. Many young men are backed into a corner of either ceasing involvement in church, missions and so forth, or searing their consciences with a hot iron and learning how to lie expertly. That is a failing of our system.

    And our lay leadership structure is a serious problem in any attempted resolution to this problem. One bishop might laugh it off, whereas another might impose some sort of draconian censure. Bishops are just ordinary guys chosen to administer a ward, they don’t necessarily or even usually have any training in how to deal with these issues effectively.

    Which is to say I don’t know what the answers are, but I think you’re raised a provocative question. (And to go where you didn’t quite go, I think our discomfort with male sexuality is a big part of why we see homosexuality as such a boogeyman, too.)

  24. As with so many issues we discuss these days, I am really thankful for the generation that we live in, that, in this particular case, we live in a world where sexuality is explored enough so that we can better understand it. Imagine us having this kind of discussion previous to the sexual revolution.

  25. Put overly simplistically, boys are volatile, Hulk-like, time-bombs of sexual desire packaged in relatively innocuous bodies.

    Yep. Like a bottle of rootbeer somebody just shook up.

    I think Durant’s line illustrates exactly what John is talking about. While the law of chastity applies to both men and women, the overblown rhetoric about a river of fire gets reserved mostly for males. Let’s face it, the church thinks we’re bozos in need of housebreaking.

    I think one problem is that we are talking about a need for some policy or approach to a topic, when there are actually multiple policies or approaches that may or may not be required.

    Durant’s statement, and the associated approach with Mormonism to male sexuality, while perhaps “overblown rhetoric” in retrospect, it actually worked really with me, to be honest. I was just that sort of teenager, I guess.
    However, a danger here is not only that the “big scary monster” approach doesn’t work for everyone else, but that when it doesn’t work, it seems to compound the cycles of guilt, shame, recurrence, and difficulty in overcoming the problem for the very people the “big scary monster” approach is trying to help.

  26. John, excellent post. When I served as bishop, I had regular interviews with the YM and YW, and I suspect that I played into some of these stereotypes. I was much more frank with the YM in those interviews, than with the YW. Part of that may have been that as bishop, there were lines that I didn’t want to cross in discussions, but also a recognition of the raging male hormone thing.

    What I did feel was successful in helping young men who admitted to masturbation problems was a discussion about avoiding “triggers”, ie what sort of things they did that led them to give in to the temptation. Were they at home alone without parents a lot in the evenings? Were they with certain friends who encouraged viewing of porn? Did they have a computer in their bedroom?

    I tried to stress avoiding those triggers, rather than guilt, and talked frankly about how certain behaviors were barriers to spirituality. We would ask them to voluntarily excuse themselves from participating in administering the sacrament for at least a week, and generally followed up with them about every other week just to see if they felt things were going better, and they were avoiding the trigger behaviors. At least as much as they would admit to me, the process seemed to help, and talking about the problem was the first step to overcoming it.

    Adult males in the church, however, were pretty much not ever talking about either porn or masturbation, even though I suspect a lot of it was still going on. Not the bishop any more, so I’m out of that loop now (thank goodness).

  27. I suppose that, for me, the “big, scary monster” approach is wrong because I think it is wrong to characterize male sexuality that way. It sets up the notion that it is without control from the very beginning. It is that notion that creates pedophiles and rapists. While the whims of the human heart may vary, a notion that our sexual turn-ons are beyond our control (so why bother?) strikes me as more destructive of appropriate sexuality than supporting.

    I hate, HATE the practice of telling RMs that their wife will be more beautiful if they work hard on a mission. The implication that your sex will be better if you wait until are married is, to me, deeply icky. The reason I dislike both of these is that they reinforce the notion that sex is a reward that you deserve for your super-awesomeness. The sex shouldn’t be the reward; the relationship should be. Our inability to really deal with the appropriate usage of sex can mean that our young men keep confusing the ends for the means.

  28. kevinf,
    I’m divided on trigger talk, because while there is a real, ritualized aspect to addictive behavior, the notion that the addict is out of control is emphasized by trigger discussion. If an addict pulls the trigger, then they may feel obligated to follow through (of course, that’s what triggers are. Maybe this is all too circular). That said, many addicts find strength in admitting they are out of control, so that might be useful.

    I am also relatively certain that porn use among adult males is just as rampant as among young men (no stats to back that up; just assuming). Why we’ve decided to address this to young men primarily mystifies me; perhaps it is to maintain the dignity of the priesthood, but I doubt it does that. This also addresses our various rules regarding men being alone with women. I understand the need, of course, but it also plays into the myth that all men are potential rapists.

  29. John, we never approached this in any way to suggest that they were broken or addicted, just that they were not totally subject to the raging hormones. They were better than that, and the idea was to help them act in accordance with their better selves. Talking about it really did seem to lessen the feelings of being subject to forces they could not control.

    It was interesting that the YM were far more open to these kinds of discussions than the adult males. Perhaps part of that is that the feelings of guilt get calcified, and that they really do feel they have no control. But since they rarely if ever would discuss it, we’ll never know for sure.

  30. John, thought provoking post, but I’m really uncomfortable with the idea that porn viewing or masturbation are synonamous with addiction. I think that is negative in two ways–it increases the boogeyman idea of pv/m, and it makes light of the seriousness of addiction.

  31. Karen,
    I wouldn’t say that they are synonymous (part of the reason for the post is to argue that viewing them as synonymous is making it all worse for everybody). However, if you give some folks the checklist for Alcoholism and replace alcohol with porn, they will be able to check off everything on the list. Whether or not it is a “real” addiction, folks experience it as one which is good enough for me.

    That said, addiction and big, bad, scary monster are roughly synonymous to my mind.

  32. Excellent post, John. Forthright and honest, and you bring up some good points.

    I think about how to talk about this with my own sons- and I worry about walking the line between open honesty about our bodies and how they work with still teaching the value of self-respect and chastity. I never want my sons to feel as though they are the Hulk, that someone pretty in a tight shirt could turn them into an unmanageable beast.

    I first saw a playboy on the coffee table in my own home growing up. I think I was 8- someone gave it to my dad for his birthday. It was just sitting out with the rest of the magazines. That’s how sex was in my house. No biggie. When I was 17, I was told by one of my parents that I should sleep with my boyfriend then I wouldn’t be so stressed out.

    I’ve got to find the middle ground.

  33. kevinf,
    I wonder if it has to do with the perception that the perceived penalties for porn use are greater for men than for boys. Higher priesthood and marriage equates to greater chance of church discipline and divorce in many minds.

  34. “That said, addiction and big, bad, scary monster are roughly synonymous to my mind.”

    Yeah, me too. But… I don’t see looking at porn, no matter how many times I hear it framed that way, as destructive and ghastly as drug addiction. I know the checklists are the same. I know people have a problem with it- and yet, I still pause. I agree with Karen in #30.

  35. Scott,

    I can easily envision a Bishop handing Holland’s SSS sermon to YM advisor who is standing in front of 14-16 year olds, asking him to do nothing more than read it verbatim, and having the fellow just crumble in embarrassment or irrational shame.

    It was actually, in retrospect, quite hilarious to have been in the Marriott Center when he gave the original version of that sermon as a BYU devotion, more than 20 years ago. My roommate had brought a date to the devotional (because, hey, that’s what you do at BYU: devotionals = date night!), whom he was hot and heavy with, and in fact later married, post-mission. When Holland got to the part about pointing guns, pulling triggers, and yet not going all the way, they were ashen-faced.

    John,

    I hate, HATE the practice of telling RMs that their wife will be more beautiful if they work hard on a mission.

    I would hate it to, if I ever heard. I know it is said; I know people who have had it told to them by parents and priesthood leaders; I know it gets passed around amongst missionaries themselves. But I’ve never been convinced that it is truly common, because I’ve never personally heard it in a serious way; only ever in a mocking, laughable, passed-along story (“You can’t believe what Elder Shiz was told by his parents…”).

    That said, many addicts find strength in admitting they are out of control, so that might be useful.

    For what it’s worth, the very first step in the church’s approved addiction recovery program–which borrows very heavily from Alcoholics Anonymous, for which the first step is the same–is “Admit that you, of yourself, are powerless to overcome your addictions and that your life has become unmanageable.”

  36. I remember going to years of firesides about how awesome sex is if you wait until you’re married and then when we finally got married, my wife and I were actually slightly disappointed that it wasn’t some transcendental burst of spiritual and physical ecstasy, like we both had somewhat envisioned. Not that it was bad; in fact, it was really fun. Just not quite what we expected.

    Truth be told, I think a large part of the problem might have something to do with the fact that we not only refuse to communicate frankly with children but also with each other. I recently noted to my wife that my closest friends are those that I can talk frankly about sex and they don’t either giggle or react with horror. Not that we share intimate details, but that the discussion of sex can be handled maturely and frankly.

    Not only do we fail in bringing up sex in a realistic construct with our youth, we rarely ever talk about it in our own adult classes either. The entire subject is locked under taboo. Both my wife and I discuss all the time how we will teach sexuality to our future kids and both agree that more openness and honesty is needed. Instead of hiding details, employing scare tactics, or sugarcoating the entire situation, we wish our parents and youth leaders were simply more open toward our natural curiosity.

  37. Tracy,

    I don’t see looking at porn, no matter how many times I hear it framed that way, as destructive and ghastly as drug addiction.

    Unless you look at some extremely rare, sexually predatory cases, I would agree with you that it almost certainly isn’t as destructive or ghastly. Especially nowadays, obtaining and entertaining oneself with pornography is most cost-free and private; those who consume it usually can drive, work, play, budget their money, obey the law, and interact with others without much or any recourse to violence or physical harm, to themselves or others. But the point is, in my view anyway, the same can be said for masturbating, drinking wine, smoking a cigar, consuming lots of pain-killers, taking the Lord’s name in vain, blaming everything on your mother, etc. For whatever biological, psychological, developmental or spiritual reason(s), however, for some people, some of the time, these sins become habitual, even addictive. Once that line has been crossed, ranking some addictions as worse or better than others is–again, just in my hopefully somewhat informed opinion–irrelevant; they have become a burden, a crutch, and as such prey upon a person’s identity and relationship with God. At which point they cannot be treated like other sins committed because of selfishness or pride; they need something different, something more.

    I would agree that talking about sex solely in terms of addiction is terrible. Talking about pornography solely in terms of addiction is also missing the point, but less so.

  38. But RAF, if we still the “addiction” tag on anything that becomes unhealthy, were undermining the seriousness of Hardcore Addiction. Perhaps it’s a nomenclature problem, and we need another word for someone who’s crossed the line form a sin into something more serious, without robbing people who are dealing with captial “A” addiction.

    I don’t think I can be convinced- and I don’t think it’s particularly helpful- to confuse someone who has a porn problem with the guy who’s bankrupted his family. lost his house, endangered children by taking mail-order opiates.

  39. Steve Evans says:

    Tracy, there are reasons you probably can’t be convinced about the comparison between someone with sexual compulsions and a chemical addiction. But that doesn’t mean, from the perspective the person with the compulsion, that it is any less potent or spiritually destructive. Honestly, I don’t think alcoholism or drug addiction are in any danger of being robbed of their seriousness! I don’t get the turf war over the term “addiction;” when we are talking about behaviors that people can’t control by themselves, the term can and ought to be used, without lessening the seriousness of the addiction from one form to another.

  40. Stephanie says:

    Someone close to me may lose his wife and children over his p0rn addiction that started when he was a teen. Another concern I have for him is that he could potentially lose his job if caught at work. This addiction is devastating to his life if he can’t overcome it. DH just finished reading a book about how viewing p0rn chemically alters your brain. I do think it can be as destructive as drug addiction.

  41. Stephanie says:

    I don’t think I can be convinced- and I don’t think it’s particularly helpful- to confuse someone who has a porn problem with the guy who’s bankrupted his family. lost his house, endangered children by taking mail-order opiates.

    It could be the same guy. A p0rn addiction could lead to all these same results. (Would you consider viewing p0rn in the same room as your children endangering children? I know someone who’s done that)

  42. Tracy, I won’t argue the point with you; heaven knows you’ve been through more than enough to make you an authority on taking truly desperate additions seriously, and the risk of diluting the phrase. It is the clinical term that is used, though, and not merely within the church; it describes any physical and psychological compulsion, though obviously the church uses it mainly in the case of drugs, porn, and various Word of Wisdom infractions. I will attempt to qualify my use of it more carefully in the future. I apologize if my comments above seemed too casual.

  43. Yes, maybe it can. And certainly this is too close for me to be objective. But I stand by my opinion. Watching porn is bad- and can lead to bad things- but they are not comparable in the imminent danger posed to those around them

    I’ll bow out.

  44. Having a porn problem isn’t the same as being addicted to porn. In LDS culture, any porn use is a problem. Addiction is another matter entirely.

    Sex-related addictions deserve the term. Absolutely. They can be much, much more difficult to treat than drug addictions simply because sexuality is a normal, healthy aspect of human life, while substance abuse is not. There are similar difficulties with food-related addictions, because people can’t quit food. Similarly, they can quit porn, yes, but they can’t quit sexuality.

  45. Tracy, you’ve had way more than your share of imminent danger lately. And you’re right, the dangers of sexual addiction might not be comparable in some ways, but they can destroy lives and families just as well.

  46. “we treat male sexuality like the Hulk. You don’t know when it will come to the fore, but when it does it will take over everything in your life and the results won’t be pretty.”

    Great line! Makes me laugh!

    Sexist as this is, when I was a young man, I was taught to be a protector of YW, mind and body. With me, no harm should come to them. Through my exertions and guidance, they could enter the savage world (of boys) and emerge unscathed! I would guide them past the forbidden paths and the tempting fruits and return them safely home, despite themselves! ‘Course, the greatest “danger” they faced was me, and my exertions to protect them grew mightily before my mission, but protect them I did.

    Okay, I mock (myself), but sexist as it is, the idea of being a protector served me very well. I couldn’t bear the idea of a girl shedding regretful tears after being in my care.

    Any room these days for this “protector” concept?

  47. Martin,
    As I understand it, the primary problem with the protector role is that protectors are also understood as determiners. The brother that protects a sister from sexual advances also exerts control over her sexual choices. If you feel that reeks of chauvinism, you may not approve.

  48. I don´t really mean to be a negative Nancy here, but as a mother of many boys, grown ones, I just wonder if it really matters how we address this issue. In my experience we taught them all we could and at the same time they were being dumped on by the media ten times as quickly. I am sorry to admit the media won! Of course maybe we just leveled them out and they are not the mass murderers they would have been had they not had some teachings counter to the media being dumped on them.

  49. John, I’m well aware of that. The fMh’ers beat that into me once, but it truly worked so well I don’t want to abandon it completely. But I likewise haven’t arrived at a non-chauvinistic formulation.

  50. Roblynn,
    I disagree that media, in and of itself, is to blame. The divide on sex in Mormon culture/doctrine (great after marriage/the sin like unto murder before marriage) makes it a subject of great curiosity and something that a grown up should understand. Of course, everything in our culture outside of church is also geared toward that understanding. That’s why I don’t just blame media. The whole wide world seems to make adulthood about sex. I actually think that there may be something in there to help teens looking to resolve identity to deal with and control their sexuality, but I am not yet sure what it might be.

  51. John, re: # 33

    Except for really egregious cases, I don’t see porn viewing rising to the level of a disciplinary council for disfellowshipping or excommunication. It’s more likely to be handled as informal or formal restrictions by a bishop. I’ve been involved in disciplinary councils at the ward and stake level, and they were generally reserved for more serious offenses, such as adultery. I can certainly see where a man might fear that it would damage his marriage, and perhaps earn him a release from certain callings, but if they fear for being dis’ed or ex’ed, then we’ve helped to feed the myth of the “molten river of lava”.

  52. >I hate, HATE the practice of telling RMs that their wife will be more beautiful if they work hard on a mission. The implication that your sex will be better if you wait until are married is, to me, deeply icky.

    Hear, hear, John. I heard this plenty of times and didn’t put much stock in it, but I was probably a little more sensible than some.

    I suppose this statement would mean that if a person has sexual problems later in life, it clearly means that they didn’t work hard enough while in the mission field, or should have gone in the first place, so any issues or frustration is a divine reward for being a slacker. I remember a Home Economics class in high school where the (non-LDS) teacher dealt with all sorts of these issues, and made it known to us that there the shame is NOT in having problems, the shame is in refusing to see a doctor, urologist, or therapist when the problems do happen. We get so hung up on punishing ourselves in this life that we forget the half of the scripture that says “Men are that they might have joy.”

  53. Jim Donaldson says:

    “This also addresses our various rules regarding men being alone with women. I understand the need, of course, but it also plays into the myth that all men are potential rapists.”

    In fact, it’s worse: new rules play into the myth that all men are child molesters. Given the relatively new logistic requirements of having a man teach in primary, in our small ward, we simply decided not to call men. It solved lots of mostly logistical difficulties. Necessary, but not right.

  54. What an insightful and brave post, John. I wish I could figure out how to talk to my kids about these things. Before we had kids we planned on openness, frankness, and being model parents. The reality is the topic as culture taboos around it that make both parents and children uncomfortable by the time the subject is pertinent to their lives. I tried to open conversations by watching Buffy with them, and it did open many, but evenso, when I tried to talk with them about specifics it always felt forced and we were all glad when the conversation was over. When we lived in North Carolina it was easier because the schools had sex education that demanded parental evolvement. The children brought home a sheet on what topics they had covered and parents were supposed to sit down and go over point by point to add moral framework and bring up parental values. And we did and it was great. It provided structure for my oldest kids to frame a discussion. Now I live in Utah where we cover Rodans in the name of modesty. I know I need to be having these kinds of conversations with my kids but it was easier when someone else had opened the biology book for me.

  55. I think it’s funny that this is considered a brave post. I think that’s part of the problem right there. I think we need to be braver at discussing this. I think part of the problem is that guys aren’t hearing about this from from their fathers (generally speaking of course). I think usually the mother takes care of talking about sex and even if the father does get invovled, it’s probably just one awkward conversation. The father is going to have a lot more understanding and insight about male sexuality and I think should be regularly having conversations with his sons. As awkward as that might be initially. I think we see it as a huge uncontrollable beast because it’s something we don’t talk enough about and therefore don’t understand. It’s easy to let things you don’t understand control you. Soymademegay posted something interesting about talking to your kids about homosexuality. I think it also contains some insights that are applicable to teaching your kids about sexuality in general.

    Fantastic post!

  56. Oh, and here’s the link to the soymademegay post:

    http://www.soymademegay.com/2008/12/why-you-should-teach-kids-about-homosexuality/

    :)

  57. Jon,
    please note that, although I am a little scared of potential consequences, I don’t consider this post a particularly brave act.

  58. haha, John C. you mean scared of what people might share in the comments?

  59. Great post John C. It brought to mind 2 things:

    1) When I was a Beehive, a friend and I went on a hike and found the local neighborhood boys stash of Playboy magazines in a large garbage bag behind a local pioneer monument (!) We were both quite embarrassed by the pictures and debated whether to take the magazines and get rid of them. We decided instead to take markers and draw clothing on all of the women or replace the entire interior contents with New Era magazines. That somehow felt better to us than simply getting rid of them. And besides, who could the boys complain to about their stash being vandalized? I never stopped to think at the time why I was so bent on teaching these young men a lesson about “respecting women”, though.

    2) About 10 years ago when my father was a Stake President, he decided that the issue of sex and sexual feelings was being inadequately addressed by the YM & YW leaders in the local wards, so he put together a fireside for each ward in which that would be the sole topic. The youth were encouraged to submit ANY question they wanted anonymously beforehand and my father would answer each one no matter how explicit or embarrassing. He told me that he received some real doozies, but that the experience was extremely well received by the youth and he was able to clear up some misconceptions that appeared rampant among the youth there. Having a well-respected PH who connects well with the youth being willing to do that, can go a long way, I think.

    I’ve enjoyed reading the other comments too.

  60. John,
    Beautiful (not really the word to use here, I know) post, as always.

    The reality is that porn is everywhere. And young people are very curious, both boys and girls. I have been discussing this a lot with people close to me lately, but none of us can come up with the best way to teach the dangers, and the reality of healthy sexuality. Yes, teaching that the male sex drive is a bear isn’t helpful, but really very hurtful, so what do we do?

    I feel like we’re losing the porn battle, addictions to it are real and damaging. But I think telling boys that will someday walk down the street in Moscow or Paris as missionaries that it can completely avoid it, is not only a lie, but leads them to focus on it more when they come into contact with it–if only because they haven’t yet learned the reality of sex (not sure this is possible before marriage anyhow) and don’t know what to do with themselves in the new and uncomfortable elements that pornography present. Perhaps the best course of action would be to teach them to embrace their own sexuality (I’m not sure what that looks like though), and be aware of their own reactions when they see it, and instead of feeling guilty, learn how to control it.

  61. It’s refreshing to read such a frank discussion of this topic. Thanks for the post and comments.

    I thought I was an abnormally wicked young man for masturbating, and the Church certainly strengthened that belief. The only thing I heard about it in Church was that it was wrong. Ironically The Man Show (the Comedy Central show with Jimmy Kimmel and Adam Carolla) helped me gain a much healthier view of myself. I didn’t realize how common masturbation was until I watched that show. How sad is that?

  62. Gilgamesh says:

    I have made it a practice to be very open and available to my teenage son re: porn and masturbation. When he first shared his own struggles, I normalized it for him and let him know it is a common issue with all boys and that I had similar experiences when I was his age. I reminded him that he was not a “bad person” but was experiencing natural urges, and the reality that certain actions can become habit forming and much more difficult to control without self discipline. We then talked about consequences for his choices, including passing the sacrament and temple attendance. The discussion focused on the freedom one has when urges can be overcome and the blessings associated with that freedom. He has since asked me, on numerous times, if I ever felt… or wanted to… I have been very honest with him and shared my own experiences of blessings/consequences for my choices – good and bad – around sexuality.

    They have been the most difficult discussions I have had as a father, and I would have rather ignored his moodiness and angry outbursts instead of delving into what the cause of the moodiness was -because I had never had those discussions with my own father. But I love my son and knew I needed to let him know he was not alone.

  63. About teaching the youth… I do think there needs to be more forthright discussion about where and how to draw the line. It could have saved me a lot of trouble and guilt (much of it misplaced) if I had just had a better understanding of what was okay and what wasn’t.

    I want my kids to take the Our Whole Lives course taught by the Unitarian Universalists. My friend taught it one year and it sounded wonderful. Completely takes the mystery out of all kinds of sexual activity, and they talk about deciding what your values are and how to communicate them, and respecting yourself and others. Something like that would have saved me a lot of time spent ruminating over what “necking and petting” meant.

  64. Latter-day Guy says:

    “I do think there needs to be more forthright discussion about where and how to draw the line.”

    Hmmm. I’m not sure there really is a line. It’s kind of like that linguistic activity: drop one match on a table––is that a pile of matches? No, clearly not. Drop two––is it a pile yet? Nope. If you keep going, you’ll get a pile, but good luck determining the precise number of matches required to make a pile. Where does media become pornography? At the moment of sexual arousal? Doesn’t arousal fall somewhere on a spectrum? It’s not like a light switch. (Furthermore, for young men, anything from bicycles to muskrats might qualify, given the tendency for––ahem––spontaneous excitement.) When does kissing become unchaste? Is there a time limit? Does it require tongue involvement? Is it when you’re tying cherry stems into knots and threading them like macrame through your SO’s tonsils?

    Finding “the line” is a fool’s errand, particularly because every priesthood leader has his own ideas about the relative sinfulness of various behaviors. A few years ago, there was a youtube clip from a Zone Conference in a French mission in which the MP lowered the boom on the missionaries regarding––erm––private recreation. Conversely, in my mission, the MP specifically instructed elders not to confess masturbation to him, saying, “Repent and resist as best you can, but I don’t want to know about it.” It’s no wonder LDS youth are confused! There’s little consistent dialogue beyond “married sex = good; unmarried sex = bad.”

  65. leisurelyviking says:

    I think it would help if the church treated male and female sexualities more similarly. The young women have strong sexual feelings and are tempted by porn and masturbation too, though they often express it in slightly different ways. While I did plenty of things in my youth that I now see probably did not fall under church standards, I didn’t even recognize them as sexual at the time. I think that recognizing young women as sexual would make men’s sexuality less overbearing and scary. If porn talks were addressed to all the youth and the examples included men and women, perhaps men would feel less guilty and we could see it as more of the universal issue it is.

  66. Mommie Dearest says:

    This is fascinating, and there are lots of ideas here I have not considered much. But finally, on comment 65, I read the one I was looking for, that women are similar to men in that they have a strong libido too.

    I was nearly clueless about sexuality as a teenager; those in authority rarely explained anything useful to me but dispensed a bit of folk-tale here and there, and I learned everything real by trial and error, and got burned pretty bad at times. After marriage and children came, I learned, also by trial and error, that women have a libido that is similar in strength to men (generally speaking; individuals often vary from the mean) and one difference is in the ease in which each gender is aroused. I attribute this partly to the variety of ways in which women make use of their reproductive systems, and the relative lack of variety in the ways that men use their reproductive systems.

    As usual, our culture takes a superficial approach and “teaches” us that men have a great big unruly bear of a sex drive, and women have a little kitten sex drive, and Culture (whether church- or world-culture, it doesn’t matter) gets it wrong on both counts. What I learned by trial and error, and by observing the trial and error of my husband and other women and men I know, is that we are both human, with a very few key differences, and we both make mistakes which we can, and usually do learn from, and thus we bring this thing under our control. And the majority of us manage to control ourselves.

    What I could have really used in my trial and error learning (and did eventually find and benefit from) was sensible, truthful ideas that informed my learning process, such as chastity is important, fidelity is important, kindness and generosity and unselfish thinking make you more mature sexually than hot lingerie or a well-endowed bod. Most of which ideas apply equally to either gender.

    And you are right…it’s hard to write about this topic.

  67. This is a wonderful post and a useful conversation. Two additional ways I can see the ‘men can’t be tamed’ myth being damaging are these
    First: similar to what Mommie Dearest mentioned- women have libidos too and will struggle to keep themselves in check. Expecting girls/women to control their own libido’s and those of men sets them up for failure.
    When we believe that women don’t have those desires and that men have big monstrous libidos it’s easy to expect that women will be able to keep a level head when men can’t. A few of my dates had similar expectations and in many ways gave themselves over to their urges expecting me to reign them in. Imagine my surprise when I found that I was struggling to keep myself in check, let alone being able to set boundaries on my boyfriend. It is very frustrating to to feel like you’re fighting that battle alone- especially when you feel like there’s no alternative.
    Second: when people get to the point where they have sex regularly and discover that they are fairly evenly matched, or even that the woman has a higher libido they start feeling like something is wrong with them. Women start searching for explanations as to why their husband isn’t the raging ball of hormones they expected (am I ugly? Are you gay?), men start feeling inadequate and unmanly and lose interest in the whole thing even more.

  68. 28: Why we’ve decided to address this to young men primarily mystifies me

    Our bishop just told us flat out he was going to focus on the youth as they still had a chance to be influenced for good. As for the codgers 18 and up? They’ve made their bed, let them lie in it.

  69. I guess it falls to me to be comment 69. Is it not strange that 68 of these comments place great emphasis on the damage done by sexual stimulation, and only one on the much larger damage done by sexual repression.

    I think that explains a lot.

  70. Latter-day Guy says:

    Are we reading the same post, Dan?

    Male sexuality is a big, powerful mystery and our unwillingness to confront it directly is leading to a lot of trouble. (OP)

    Or perhaps:

    I think Mike S. no. 4 raises an excellent point about the disconnect between a supposed pie in the sky Miracle of Forgiveness ideal of purity and the boots on the ground reality regarding male masturbation. Yet we as a church almost totally ignore that. Many young men are backed into a corner of either ceasing involvement in church, missions and so forth, or searing their consciences with a hot iron and learning how to lie expertly. (#23)

    And then again:

    The entire subject is locked under taboo. Both my wife and I discuss all the time how we will teach sexuality to our future kids and both agree that more openness and honesty is needed. Instead of hiding details, employing scare tactics, or sugarcoating the entire situation, we wish our parents and youth leaders were simply more open toward our natural curiosity. (#36)

    [All emphasis mine.]

    It’s true the post hasn’t addressed the considerable(!) complication that homosexuality adds to already culturally-normative repression, but I see lots of acknowledgment of the negative effects––on young males specifically––of repressive sexual mores in general. (I suppose I should clarify that I do not feel sexual self control and/or the expectation of such control is repressive per se. Rather, the damage is done by an unwillingness to accept sexuality as it exists in the hinterlands of mortality––not some climate-controlled laboratory of dogmatic theology––both by treating the young male libido like a rabid, uncontrollable animal, and by promoting rose-colored ideals of purity that only blow kisses to reality from a safe distance.)

  71. I think we are reading the same post differently.

    Male sexuality is a big, powerful mystery…

    Or not. Sexuality seems to me (based on animal models) to be fairly straightforward. It is only when value judgments are adduced that things get complicated.

    we wish our parents and youth leaders were simply more open…

    More likely, we wish that we wish. Be careful what you wish for. I believe few LDS members are truly prepared for true honesty about sexuality, especially in the nexus of sex and love. Saying that you like to be spanked is not all that scandalous. Saying that you love deeply but do not lust after your wife is too much honesty, though for most people lust falls off or wanders away.

    by promoting rose-colored ideals of purity

    What is the problem with this? I infer that most Mormons would say it is that this ideal cannot be attained. To my mind, the problem is that this goal, though worth pursuing, is not worth attaining. Purity is the absence of complexity: there are many ways to sin but one way not to. The goal of a grayhound is to catch the rabbit, but it is not in the interest either of the spectators nor of the dog to actually catch the rabbit. (Perhaps there is a God/man metaphor trying to get out here?)

    Free Agency can be observed only in its failure to conform, not in its success. Humans are not good at extrapolating without observational reinforcement: cheating on a diet reminds us of why we are dieting in the first place.

    To quote History & Faith:
    Reflections of a Mormon Historian
    by Richard D. Poll

    Two definitions of the term “fanatic” come to mind: “A fanatic is a person who redoubles his efforts after he has lost sight of his goal.” Also, “a fanatic is a person who is doing what God would do if God had all the facts.”

    Fetishizing sexuality seems to my obviously biased mind to be a conceit of man, not a divine plan. Rarely are fetishes overcome by obsessing about them.

  72. @71 – Honesty is precisely what my wife and I plan to follow and we really wish our parents and youth leaders did. Everything else my parents or leaders have been honest to me about (polygamy, murky points of Church history, admitting that sometimes, we don’t have an answer to such perplexities of evil acts against good people or why do babies die or how come I was born in the United States and not in Nigeria) shocked me at first, but eventually, I came to grips with it and appreciated their honesty. Every time my parents or leaders sugar-coated the answer or flat-out made stuff up about the aforementioned subjects, when I discovered the truth (and we all will eventually discovered the truth), bitterness at feeling deceived compounded my disappointment and sorrow.

    To us, sex and sexuality shouldn’t be a huge mystery, and in my opinion, we definitely use sex in a marriage situation as a carrot on a stick – missionaries are motivated by the prospect of hot wives, youth are promised that if they abstain now, it will be mind-blowingly awesome when you finally have it (whereas the truth is more likely the opposite since you have no idea what you’re doing). There are some basic principles to sexuality – you will be attracted to the opposite gender. This is okay. God gave us rules on how to govern our sexuality in order to optimize happiness and security. If you use sex improperly, it can really mess up your life and that’s why we give it a lot of concern, but as long as you understand the consequences, we trust you. Here’s what God wants us to do about sex. It is advisable to stay within the lines as much as possible, but if you make a mistake, that’s what the Atonement is for. These are not especially hard truths to swallow.

    Maybe it’s because my wife and I are blessed with knowledge that our parents never had (I still have to remind myself that genetics is a relatively new field, young whippersnapper that I am) but despite all of the advances we were aware of in biology and psychology, for the longest time my wife and I thought something was wrong with us because we weren’t having this ridiculously overblown, romanticized, and sugar-coated sex that we’d been promised. And when we felt intense attraction for each other while dating, we felt ashamed and full of sin. Not saying if people were straightforward with us we’d never have a trouble, but I think our perspectives would definitely have been more grounded.

    I think for the most part, teenagers appreciate straight-forward honesty. At least I know I did as a teenager. I still remember telling my priests quorum advisor how I had been feeling depressed because I didn’t want to say goodbye to all of my high school friends. He looked me in the eye and said very bluntly, “In 10 years, you will all most likely drift apart, but it’s okay because you won’t care.” Up until then, most people would commiserate with me and give me platitudes and cliches. His honesty shocked me out of that haze of romanticism. I couldn’t see how that was possible at first, but I trusted him, and eventually, time proved him right.

    On the one hand, we have a media and a world obsessed with sex, glorifying it at every turn. Characters on sitcoms will do anything – anything! – to have sex, and parents on the news wring their hands nightly over new trends like sexting or hooking up. On the other hand, we have a large Church population that not only tends to stay mute on the subject, but when they speak, they give just as unrealistic views on sex – the male libido is a wolverine chained and tethered away from the quavering, scared-senseless female cowering in fear! If you wait until your wedding night, there will be rainbows and sparkles!

    If my bishop had sat me down when I told him how hard it is to not want sex and told me, “I know you don’t understand now, but sex is actually overrated when it comes to what the media and others tell you; there will come a time when your future wife and you will actually prefer to read, play a board game, and then fall asleep on the couch together watching Castle on TV rather than have sex and it’s going to be okay,” I think I would have taken sex much less seriously.

    Of course, everyone is different. But a little bit more honesty in the long run I don’t think would hurt. It might make us supremely uncomfortable (I don’t kid myself into thinking that when I have a son, I’ll be able to talk about such sensitive topics as easily as I could talk to him about video games or sports), but it could save a lot of grief in the end. At the very least, we try to equip them with realistic expectations. Realism makes sin less tempting and prevents hysteria concerning sensitive subjects.

    This has become too long. I’ll stop ranting now.

  73. Latter-day Guy says:

    71: Sorry, Dan. You lost me.

    I think we are reading the same post differently.

    Boy howdy.

    “Male sexuality is a big, powerful mystery…”

    You’ll notice that part of the quote isn’t really germane to addressing the issue you mentioned: the fact (almost) nobody was mentioning the destructive effects of sexual repression. However, the portion of the quote I italicized (“…[O]ur unwillingness to confront [male sexuality] directly is leading to a lot of trouble.”) Does seem to acknowledge the “damage done by sexual repression.”

    I believe few LDS members are truly prepared for true honesty about sexuality, especially in the nexus of sex and love.

    I’m curious as to how you arrived at this conclusion. In any case, judging by #36 and #72, it would seem that Tim is ready for greater condor.

    Saying that you like to be spanked is not all that scandalous.

    That really depends on when and to whom you say it. To your spouse? I agree; not scandalous. To the Junior Primary during “Sharing Time”? It might cause a bit of a stir.

    Saying that you love deeply but do not lust after your wife is too much honesty, though for most people lust falls off or wanders away.

    Yes, I can see that could be painful. Nevertheless, I have heard that sentiment expressed (in different words) on several occasions, both in official Church settings and in private conversation.

    …[T]his goal, though worth pursuing, is not worth attaining.

    Then it isn’t really the goal; it’s misdirection/manipulation to get you to pursue the real goal, whatever that might be (as per your greyhound analogy).

    Purity is the absence of complexity: there are many ways to sin but one way not to.

    What does this mean exactly? Is greater “complexity” the goal we should really be pursuing? Are we just part of God’s giant greyhound race?

    Free Agency can be observed only in its failure to conform, not in its success.

    While driving, I can choose to drive over the speed limit. This is an example of exercising Free Agency. I can also choose to conform to the posted limit. I am still exercising Free Agency; I’m just making a different choice.

    Fetishizing sexuality seems to my obviously biased mind to be a conceit of man, not a divine plan. Rarely are fetishes overcome by obsessing about them.

    Agreed. That is why so many of the posters would like to see greater openness and realism in the Church when it comes to sex. Strict observance of Mormon cultural taboos engenders a skewed view of sexuality, lending creedence to the “fetish,” and enabling unhealthy sexual repression.

  74. >>>Put overly simplistically, boys are volatile, Hulk-like, time-bombs of sexual desire packaged in relatively innocuous bodies.

    >>>Yep. Like a bottle of rootbeer somebody just shook up.

    I can remember many mission companions and other RMs who viewed their mission as a period of sexual frustration build-up [being bottled up in "a can"]…that upon returning home they were “cans ready to explode”.

    Those who viewed themselves this way (about to “explode” or “time-bombs”), seemed to conclude that the only solution (without falling into sin) was to get married as soon as possible. I wonder how much drive this sort of thing plays into some Mormons’ decision to get married. I mean, compared to other cultures, Utah/BYU/Mormons do have a much shorter ‘dating to engagement’ or ‘engagement to marriage’ timeframe. How much of that shorter timeframe is due to the viewing of oneself (conscious or unconsciously) as a “time-bomb”. Does viewing marriage as a safe and proper place to let the bomb go off have consequences? Is that a healthy or an un-healthy reason to get married? If unhealthy, can we argue any affect on the divorce rate among Mormons? Probably a whole other topic of conversation, but it seemed to fit.

  75. Dan,
    I’m going to agree with LdG that either you missed my point or I failed to convey it.

  76. thanks for this post. i grew up in a family where male sexuality was feared as uncontrollable and now looking back i can see what a number this did on all my brothers. true, my dad had issues of his own and he didn’t know any better. thankfully i have a (convert) husband with a super healthy attitude about sex. he kind of laughs at all my (mormon/family imposed) hang-ups, and then i see how silly it is and we move on. i’m pregnant with a boy and so happy my husband will be able to help him navigate this part of growing up. (i’ll help too of course, but we definitely won’t be teaching what i saw my bros taught at home.) and btw, i think my bros were all introduced to porn from scouts or mormon friends.

  77. False dichotomy? Perhaps I was just using your post to make points of my own. It is always risky business trusting another with the conch. :)

  78. MikeInWeHo says:

    Normally I don’t comment on a post like this because I simply don’t agree with some current LDS positions on sexual morality.

    Just one outsider’s observation, then: It really does appear that Mormons fetishize sexuality and cause themselves lots of problems as a result (guilt, depression, broken marriages, inactivity, etc). I am always struck by the obsessive nature of bloggernacle discussions of porn, for example. It gets a little weird at times.

    Am I the only one who finds it odd and troubling that any young LDS man would fall away forever due to guilt about masturbation or having stashed a Playboy under the socks?

  79. I can’t believe that any missionaries believe that nonsense that diligent service as a missionary will result in their landing a hot babe for a wife. It sounds like something a Zone Leader made up as a joke somewhere, and anyone who didn’t realize it was a joke just fell off the turnip truck.

    If sugar-coated sex isn’t working for you, you might try honey.

  80. I thought I was a chaste teenager, but looking back there were always the underwear sections of catalogs and other sources of stimulation that were attractive to me, and nobody really talked about. I was very interested in sex, but knew the basics–no masturbation, no petting, or french kissing, etc. and pretty much lived that until married.

    Then after getting married and I didn’t really know where the boundaries were anymore. While sex before was all about “not yet”, now it was all about how far is still OK? The dam had burst! I started watching R-rated movies with my wife, checked out some sex books to spice things up a bit, and eventually found myself masturbating for the first time and doing some internet porn. I rationalized that it was all just part of exploring my sexuality “in marriage”. Of course when my wife found out how far it had gone, I talked to the bishop and scaled it way back. Years later I still feel like I damaged my relationship with my wife and our fun sex life has scaled way back too. I miss some of the fun, and don’t have anyone to tell that too, or to compare notes with.

    There is very little talk of how to deal with sexual thoughts and feelings and how to express sexuality even within marriage. What if one partner wants it more than the other. What if they want it a lot more? How do you even talk about it? I can’t imagine I’m the only one who has unresolved issues around this, even 10 years after being married.

    I wonder how many of my quorum brothers are struggling with porn, or just sexually saturated media images? Where do we put our eyes? How do we deal with this, day in and day out? We don’t talk about these things. And for this Mormon man, it can sometimes be exhausting just trying to not look at the images that are everywhere. I’ve even scaled back my television watching, but our culture of sexually objectifying women seems to have seeped into my soul. It’s a tough burden, and I don’t even know how many other LDS men are in my same boat.

  81. I am an EQ pres and wondering how to best approach this in my quorum. What is an appropriate level of discussion on this one at church, or maybe during an “off-site” quorum activity?

  82. So, is this what Soundgarden’s song Black Hole Sun is about? I have never been able to figure that out.

  83. I can’t believe that any missionaries believe that nonsense that diligent service as a missionary will result in their landing a hot babe for a wife. It sounds like something a Zone Leader made up as a joke somewhere, and anyone who didn’t realize it was a joke just fell off the turnip truck.

    I concur completely.

  84. I don’t know Russell – it worked for me. (grin)

  85. Me too :-)

    And seriously, don’t most single guys believe (or at least hope) that EVERYTHING they do will help them “land a hot babe for a wife”?

  86. I have proved it wrong. My wife is a hot babe. I was a slacker missionary.

  87. Cynthia L. says:

    > or maybe during an “off-site” quorum activity?

    Brothers, this is a nudie bar. This building next door is a pr0n shop. You should try to avoid these sorts of establishments. Thank you for your attendance.

  88. Chris is probably on to something.

  89. #79: JJ

    This goes along with my post up at the top about drinking – where LDS people who choose to have a drink are so unprepared for it that they end up being the ones who pass out drunk, etc., while others tend to have a “healthy” relationship with alcohol – ie. a glass of wine with dinner or a beer at a ballgame.

    It sounds very much like this is what you went through – no petting, masturbating, or even french kissing before you got married. This unhealthy relationship towards sexuality before marriage led to problems after you were married. I don’t really know where the “line” is, but I never thought french kissing was wrong. And I don’t know the exact number, but I would be less than 10% of LDS males make it to marriage without masturbating (this would be an interesting anonymous poll on here).

    I think the Church needs to have a realistic viewpoint towards all this. People are sexual beings. This develops when we go through puberty. While I certainly wouldn’t condone premarital sex, etc., there needs to be a concession to reality. I think it is extremely damaging if a child grows up to be a married adult with the tremendous guilt of thinking that is he/she masturbated or french kissed someone that it is a sin “nigh unto murder”.

  90. This is a great icebreaker. We need to be more open about sexual issues, and I think they can be discussed openly while maintaining our commitments to living a chaste lifestyle.

    I think one of the problems about not addressing sexuality is that as we grow up we tend to learn about sexuality from the “boys underground” or from tv, movies and the internet.

    We may form ideas about what sex is or is not from these sources and so when we get married those ideas we have formed can cause conflict in our relationships.

    In regard to porn, the bottom line is real sex is so much better :) If you have a healthy sex life there is no need for it.

  91. I’m glad my mom was a marriage and family therapist (or studying to be one while I was in my early teens). I probably got a different sex talk than most, and different intro to marriage talk than most.

    Men and women do relate to sexuality differently. I do think our religion affects how we related to our sexuality. It’d be smart discuss what turns on a man as opposed to what turns on a woman-where the simliarties lie-the power being the same. I don’t thinking of men as animals but they are a bit faster on the uptake and

    I think it’s important to discuss emotional intimacy and how powerful that is as well.

    Porn can be addictive…I wonder though if there is some sort of predisposition (like alcoholism) so that people are not affected similarly and not lead to addiction. I have a three friends whose husbands are dealing with porn addiction (one member and two non). The devestation they feel is incredible…the pressure to keep quiet so it doesn’t affect their husbands jobs, much of society normalizing all porn as normal. Porn is objectifying and selfish-which would automatically affect a loving intimate relationship.

    A Bishop in a single’s ward drew a broad line putting french kissing in what he called the DMZ.

    I also think it’s always helpful to inspire our youth and adults with a concept of individual mission-find a way for a youth to test out being an adult and change the world-meaningful service, real interests and talents. If they have meaningful activities to choose from they will have less time and energy to spend otherwise…and the will better understand what it means to live as an adult in the world.

    My first opportunity to teach chastity was my freshman year in a BYU ward. My roommate, a recent convert, was engaged and scared to death of sex-knew next to nothing about her body and had been abused by her step father. She had already “jokingly” asked me to drug her husbnad on their wedding day. It opened my eyes to what we can teach in church and how we should talk about sex. One thing i will always remember about that lesson is my thoughts as an athlete…we spend a TON of time practicing for the HARD parts of the competition and scarcely a minute preparing for the celebration…yet frequently dating to prepare for marriage is 80% kissing 15% fun and entertainment and less than 5% doing meaningful things together and learning about your future potential spouse-their character, their ability to love, how they handle stress, how they handle money, talking about children and health…

    We are honest. We are blessed with many children which has meant many pregnancies and many questions about how the baby got in there. We have just gone for an age appropriate response. We have also used http://www.amazon.com/Growing-Up-Gospel-Answers-Maturation/dp/157345821X this book..so that we know we haven’t missed pieces in the more constant conversation.

    I’m also a big believer that our current culture over emphasizes attraction. Porn doesnt’ help with this. We have come to equate attraction with love-love at first sight frequently means attraction. Love isn’t a place you fall, it isn’t a thing you can’t think through and be smart about. It isn’t for your own pleasure. Attraction is a wonderful part of marriage but it waxes and wanes with stress, health, pregnancy, general mood, and a multitude of other things. Love is love-selfless, patient, kind, tender, loyal…that is what makes a marriage work. Yes I like being attracted to my spouse, but it wouldn’t work if we weren’t loving.

    oh dear that was way too long

  92. I wonder sometimes if our obsession with male sexuality has a theological basis. Perhaps we aren’t as comfortable with the idea of embodied Diety as we like to think. Perhaps that is why we seem so obsessed with demarcating the lines of acceptable male behavior.

  93. My first experience with an adult magazine was in 1st grade at the dentist office waiting room. I couldn’t figure out why the people were naked in a magazine about houses. I am surprised no one said anything to me as I looked through it (btw this was on a military base so certain magazines were acceptable in waiting rooms).

    But after that the boy scout assistant (teenager) to our webelo troop always had a magazine with him at activities (again not an LDS troop or environment). I guess the BSA is a good place to encounter it

  94. Can somebody answer SJT’s questions (#74)?? I’ve also wondered how the drive to have sex influences some of our members to get married….Obviously it’s not the same for everyone but it sure seemed that way when I was at BYU…. But I’m curious about what y’all think

  95. Am I the only one who finds it odd and troubling that any young LDS man would fall away forever due to guilt about masturbation or having stashed a Playboy under the socks?

    I think it’s really important to note that such a response denies the very core of our doctrine about the Atonement. One of the things that I don’t know is often really internalized when we talk about chastity — and it is said often — is that repentance is always possible. If youth are falling away out of excessive guilt, it’s because they don’t understand the atonement. If adults’ fear to talk openly and comfortably about sex with their kids is part of the problem (“I can’t talk to my parents about this — they’ll freak!”), then let’s address that, but it’s not the *doctrine* that creates that problem.

    John, thanks for this post. Been thinking lots about it. What keeps coming to mind is the notion that doctrine changes behavior more than talking about behavior changes behavior. The doctrinal whys of chastity are essential to living a pure life — whether married or not. I think the culture has put sex so much at the center of everything, and treated it as an entitlement, an absolute need — making it seem impossible — even torturous — to be chaste. The whole ‘return to virtue’ thing to me is significant. There is power in purity, spiritual power that can enable us to see sex (and intimacy, which is so much more than sex) in a spiritual light rather than just as a physical need that simply must be met because it’s there and strong.

  96. First, a great post and a great discussion. Obviously there’s plenty to talk about.

    I’m intrigued by the reference in The Miracle of Forgiveness, which says, “Our modern prophet has indicated that no young man should be called on a mission who is not free from this practice.” That phrasing — if I’m not reading too much into it — suggests an acknowledgement that adolescent boys as a part of their normal maturing may engage in masturbation, and, therefore, may need to enjoy the blessings of the atonement in their lives.

    One of the grea lessons of the gospel is not that we will never ever sin again, but that there is a remedy if we do.

    As in so many things, in the law of chastity the stakes are huge. Most parents would like to see their children make it to adulthood without pregnancy or STDs, and many religious families (including LDS) try to build fences to protect their youth. Whether those fences are successful at holding in the raging hormones is another question. It is generally more successful to suggest what kids CAN do rather than tell them what NOT to do (my experience, anyway).

    As for open discusision about male sexuality — among young people they are often as reluctant to talk about it as the adults are. It is a rare (but wonderful, I’m sure) case that a young man has that relationship with his father. All the more reason that senstive youth leaders and priesthood leaders might also come to their aid.

    I remember three specific “sex” talks when I was a kid — one from my dad (the night before going to Jr. High — that was our family’s timing), one from a great bishop (in a one-on-one interview) and one from a Sunday School teacher. But I didn’t put it all together until I happened to hear a guest speaker at a youth conference give a rather “standard” morality lesson to the young men (yes, there was probably a “protector” comment or two in there) that all those points connected in my brain and I began to make some conscious choices.

    My point is that there is likely not one path for each young man (or old man) in this matter. But I agree that paths ought to be available.

  97. I think that discussions of the line and the notion of the “raging hormones” are both part of the problem. The raging hormones for the reasons we have already elucidated (HULK PET! NOW!). The line because we don’t want people going up to it to test their spiritual fortitude. For that matter, the wall approach seems to be “We can’t defeat it, we can only hope to contain it.”

    m&m,
    I like your “return to virtue” approach (it is along the lines of what I think might help), but I don’t see why it has to be either or. Different people will respond to different things. Besides, some acknowledgment of sexual desire is necessary in order to make any sort of return to virtue seem appealing.

    SJT & Trevor,
    I can’t speak to any specific marriage, but I can tell you that once I was engaged, our bishop emphasized getting married ASAP! Before the monster rages, or something. I also recall that, while I was at the Y, there were rumors of people driving down to Vegas, getting married so they could have sex, and then getting it annulled the next day. I don’t know that they were any more than rumors, but in that culture at that time, it made sense.

  98. A friend of mine reported on a lecture she attended at BYU about pr0nography addiction. The speaker was an expert in the field, and said that these addictions are more common amongst religious people, because the need for secrecy and the resulting shame fuel the addiction cycle. Maybe most men don’t get addicted to pr0n because they don’t feel so horrible about it.

  99. The speaker was an expert in the field, and said that these addictions are more common amongst religious people, because the need for secrecy and the resulting shame fuel the addiction cycle. Maybe most men don’t get addicted to pr0n because they don’t feel so horrible about it.

    I don’t want to casually embrace the idea that pornography and other sexual compulsions aren’t horrible, because I think they are (whether they are more or less horrible that some other addictive behaviors is another question). However, I do agree that the damaging effects of secrecy is a key point here. Really, it fits into John’s whole original claim: one of the obvious ways to reduce the power of some sinful behavior becoming a black hole in one’s life is to expose it to the light–or in other words, to talk about it, to communicate the causes and attractions and consequences of it, more fully and honestly. Easier said than done, as this thread makes apparent, but at the very least the more people try to so express themselves, the less likely it is for any particular person suffering from drives they’re having a hard time relating to or controlling to feel like a pariah.

  100. but I don’t see why it has to be either or.

    Sorry. John — not sure what you mean abt either-or. Lil’ help?

  101. either a return to virtue or talking about it less evasively/more openly

  102. Oh, yes, I totally agree. My point is that it’s HOW we talk about it. I think that only talking about don’ts adds to potential problems. And only talking about it in terms of an impossible standard that we are taught gives ‘the beast’ power. The doctrine that we are here to act and not be acted upon, imo, is key to this.

    But I’m certainly not advocating silence as a means to tackle this. I’m all for openness…the the point of making others uncomfy sometimes with how I teach my kids. :)

    BTW, the ‘return to virtue’ thing is Sister Dalton’s mantra as YW General President, and I think the notion of a ‘return’ is talking about how our youth can lead the way in the culture to return to standards of virtue for the sake of the world, not just our own personal lives.

    (Sorry for the earlier shorthand comment…was typing one handed while eating…running out the door for church.)

  103. And I’m going to take it one step further to say that I think part of a return to virtue includes openness. Brings to mind Elder Ballard’s talk in Priesthood session — about having the ‘big talks’ with our children — imo, I think it’s too easy to think of talking about sex as one talk (you know, “the talk”) but I think it really needs to be an ongoing thing — not only to de-mystify it all, but also to keep a very clearly open door of communication so that kids can talk to parents without fear not only about questions but, if necessary, about mistakes if made along the way.

  104. “The speaker was an expert in the field, and said that these addictions are more common amongst religious people, because the need for secrecy and the resulting shame fuel the addiction cycle.”

    I disagree. I don’t think religiosity makes much if any difference in whether a person becomes addicted, but it complicates things once a person is addicted. The same is true of alcoholism.

    High religiosity can certainly heighten the guilt and shame (and impulse or need for secrecy). Breaking secrecy is a key part of recovery from sexual addiction, and it is probably tougher to break secrecy in a highly religious environment–especially one that views almost any p0rnography viewing or self pleasuring as significant sin.

    There is a silver lining to that cloud. There is a pattern in sexual addiction of escalation–it often occurs (but not always, just as is true in other addictions). I think highly religious people who are compulsive or addicted to p0rnography or self pleasuring are more likely to seek help before the addiction escalates. Thus, among those seeking help for sexual addiction that relates to p0rn, I think those from a highly religious environment will be disproportionately represented, and hopefully receive help before it escalates into more risky behaviors.

  105. I read above that a bishop and a mission president didn’t want confessions of masturbation. That’s good, and in accordance with official Church policy–

    “We must confess all our sins to the Lord. In addition, we must confess serious sins—such as adultery, fornication, homosexual relations, spouse or child abuse, and the sale or use of illegal drugs—which might affect our standing in the Church, to the proper priesthood authority. If we have sinned against another person, we should confess to the person we have injured. Some less serious sins involve no one but ourselves and the Lord. These may be confessed privately to the Lord.” from lds.org.

  106. Latter-day Guy says:

    ji,

    That’s good, and in accordance with official Church policy…

    I have to disagree. If there is an “official Church policy” regarding confession and the issue of masturbation, where is it?

    …[W]e must confess serious sins—such as adultery, fornication, homosexual relations, spouse or child abuse, and the sale or use of illegal drugs…

    I’m afraid that the words “such as” leave a great deal of room for interpretation. “Church policy”––in this instance at least––happens to be whatever your local priesthood leader thinks it is. For every leader like the aforementioned bishop (in the OP) and my MP (in #64), there’s a leader who believes it a matter of (at least informal) Church discipline.

    This is an example of a much broader difficulty and/or opportunity in LDS practice: the (surprisingly wide) latitude the Church allows local leaders to fill with inspired and customized application of policy, can be as easily filled with unrighteous dominion as with revelation. (I think most local leaders are quite good, but one bad apple can quickly initiate “rot” within a ward/stake that has devastating consequences and is very difficult to arrest.)

  107. Mommie Dearest says:

    I have come to view that latitude (where the Church leaves a lot of room for interpretation by local leaders) as wisdom rather than something that threatens “rot.” I think they want to avoid turning bishops, stake presidents, and mission leadership into the masturbition police. The damage from that scenario might be far greater than the damage done by a lone bad apple.

  108. My mission president was one of those who indicated that masturbation was an issue to be resolved without confession, citing D&C 42:92 “If any shall offend in secret, he or she shall be rebuked in secret….” and indicating that in this context “secret” meant between the individual and the Lord.

    That said, my experience has been that some individuals gain strength from discussing the matter with a bishop, perhaps because they do not have a father they can talk to. In that instance, the bishop has an opportunity to provide supportive counsel and offer help.

    Questions of church discipline are determined very much on a one-by-one basis, and a local bishop’s experience is as likely to influence that as anything. A bishop may also receive general or specific guidance from a stake president as it relates to discipline. And an individual who questions a bishop’s direction can always seek further counsel from a stake president.

    I have been in some units in which temple recommend questions have been amended to include a discussion of pornography and in others where no such discussion took place.

  109. Latter-day Guy says:

    107, I think that we are largely in agreement, Mommie Dearest. That’s why I described that kind of “latitude” as both “difficulty and/or opportunity.” The kind of “rot” I mean is characterized not by permissiveness (I’ve really never experienced a local leader who I thought was enabling sin, though there have probably been a few) but rather “unrighteous dominion”––asking about Diet Coke in a recommend interview, for instance––which is, I suspect, a more common problem. A ward in a stake neighboring my own had a terrible time with their Bishop a few years ago, who was more suited to a life serving in the Gestapo than in the Church. (Unfortunately their SP was cut from the same cloth.) There were rifts created and testimonies shattered that will to years to heal, not to mention family after family moving away just to get out of the ward. Eventually, after lots of letters and phone-calls, an AA70 had to intervene.

    Latitude is just latitude; it can be used either with wisdom or foolishness––or, worst, with malice.

  110. Folks,
    Let’s set aside the question of “Masturbation: Bad or Very Bad?” As mentioned in the OP, I think this is arguing about a symptom. Let’s try and keep the focus on better ways to teach youth/adults about sexuality.

  111. One thing to teach our youth, when the occasion presents itself and the time is right, is that masturbation is not a sin which requires confession to a priesthood leader — this doesn’t say it isn’t sin, just that it doesn’t require confession to a priesthood leader…

    “We must confess all our sins to the Lord. In addition, we must confess serious sins—such as adultery, fornication, homosexual relations, spouse or child abuse, and the sale or use of illegal drugs—which might affect our standing in the Church, to the proper priesthood authority. If we have sinned against another person, we should confess to the person we have injured. Some less serious sins involve no one but ourselves and the Lord. These may be confessed privately to the Lord.” from lds.org.

    This lesson on what sin categories require confession to a priesthood leader can be taught generically in our formal lessons whenever repentance and confession are taught — the particular application to masturbation might be best taught by a parent or a priesthood quorum adviser (or a bishop or mission president) when the time is right. Removing the confession weight from our young men might be a good step forward.

  112. Mommie Dearest says:

    @ LdGuy #109, well said.

  113. …it is a commonly held belief amongst my students at UVU that porn leads to serial killing.

    Groan. If you’re seriously addicted to it, like spending large amounts of time on it, that’s a warning sign of trouble. But, not all regular p0rn user become killers. It’ not good for their spirituality, though. Just like the crazy idea that masturbation makes someone homosexual.

    Standards night was always interesting. We would hear that we should be careful not to do anything that could lead to sexual behavior and on the other hand we were hearing at least a few ‘testimonies’ of how great married sex was.

    That’s always tricky. Some youth have though 0ral was OK, since they can’t find it in the scriptures (!), no one told them otherwise. Some youth get “Great ideas! I’ll try them!”, if it gets too detailed. Some youth get “scorched” ears & disgust from the details.

    Married sex is so great? I have a SIL, who had a wonderful sex life, by her own admission, but still got divorced for other reasons. I also have an ex-BIL, who never masturbated, but went down the p0rn path way too far.

    We decided instead to take markers and draw clothing on all of the women

    Ha ha, my sister got disgusted with my BIL’s p0rn magazine stash, and ran those “dirty” magazines through the washer to clean them up! And, some women I worked with years ago “desecrated” the naked girlie calendar of a guy at our work place. Now in days, that guy could have been canned for sexual harassment for that calendar.

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