marriage bed symbol

marriage bed symbol

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Response to Reader Comment - The Purpose of my Blog


Anonymous Aug 5 said... 

"Dear Sam,
Please be careful using the word "worthy". That is a Mormon culture word and carries with it the connotation that God finds some people of lesser worth than others. Being "worthy" is as relative as being "nice" or "smart".

Also, is it not possible that the reason this man may be feeling guilty about masturbation is that he has been conditioned by his culture countless times over many years that it is sinful and he is now "unworthy?"

I also respectfully disagree with your statement that "I didn't make that rule up...that's natural law. That's the Lord's rules". Please show me where in scripture or in modern day revelation that sexual behavior agreed upon by spouses and within the bounds the Lord has set (granted those bounds are fairly undefined)is separating. I'll wait... Absolutist statements that fabricate doctrine are a hallmark of Mormon culture that desperately needs to end for the health of its members and to institute a sorely needed change in the sexual education of its members.

Although I appreciate a forum for people to privately discuss sexuality without reprisal and in anonymity, I find it saddening that counsel given to young people to abstain from masturbation is considered legitimate and binding for a married couple who have come to an agreement as to what is acceptable between them. I tell my kids not to talk to strangers. I would hope however that as adults they would know when talking to strangers is not only appropriate but part of a healthy psyche and considered normal human behavior.

You're welcome to not post this comment. I have no intention of visiting your blog again. I would be interested however to see how your views soften and/or change as you both finish your studies, and begin to see the damage done to people by well intentioned but misinformed church leadership and cultural conditioning in your practice as a therapist. In your posts you come across as eager to reinforce dogma and less eager to truly advise what is healthiest for your readers. I suggest a quick surfing of Natasha's site "Mormon therapist" for thoughtful, insightful, and healing advice. Good luck to you in your journey to serve the members of the church!"

Dear Anonymous Aug 5,

Thank you for your comments. I'm sorry it took me so long to get back to you. Somehow your comment ended up in my spam folder, and I just recently found it, so I apologize for that.
As a matter of fact, I have visited Natasha’s “Mormon Therapist” site many time, and I also enjoy her articles and podcasts. She is very helpful and informative.

I suppose a lot of people may feel as you do…that the directive towards youth and single adults against masturbation in the Church should be restricted only to those who are single, just as we tell our young children to stay away from the stove when they’re little, but to fire it up when they’re older; that it should only be a matter of preparedness, and that this should be canonized as being good and right in marriage in all circumstances.

I believe it’s wise that the General Authorities of the Church do not say this, because we’re very unable to make such blanket statements that cover everyone when it comes to sex in marriage. There remain statements such as this one from modern-day prophets, and from other Christian leaders. I hope this quote will satisfy your desire for doctrine on this point:

“Even in marriage there can be some excesses and distortions. No amount of rationalization to the contrary can satisfy a disappointed Father in heaven. In this connection, we quote a paragraph from a popular evangelist, Billy Graham: ‘…The Bible makes plain that evil, when related to sex means not the use of something inherently corrupt but the misuse of something pure and good.” 

This quote is in an older version of the Eternal Marriage Handbook called “Achieving a Celestial Marriage” put out by the Church. It is unfortunately out of print, but part of the above quote is still available in the new Student Manual called “Eternal Marriage”. You may be able to find a copy in your ward library, or this quote may also be available from President Kimball’s Conference talk in May of 1974, at www.lds.org.

There are other quotes like this as well, that lead me to believe that we can’t just give a blanket “ok” or “not ok” to any sexual practice in marriage, even if both partners are all right with it. 

We know, for instance, that married couples should not engage in pornography under any circumstances, which is different from how the secular world counsels married couples. We are only now becoming aware of scientific evidence that demonstrates how pornography affects the brain at a very deep, fundamental level, and how it can create a dysfunction in our relationships with others.

I believe there are some circumstances where masturbation is appropriate as a tool in the marital intimacy repertoire, to help strengthen the bonds between a husband and wife. I do not find evidence that solo masturbation in secret in marriage has proven to improve marital bonding and provide complete sexual satisfaction. In fact, I find secret solo masturbation to be mostly a selfish and separating activity, which are two attributes that can potentially kill a marriage. John Gray touches on this in his book, "Mars and Venus in the Bedroom". Mark Gungor talks in great depth in his "Laugh Your Way to a Better Marriage" DVD.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t find the reference you mentioned where I said the word ‘worthy’ in this article, so I’m not certain of the context in which you’re talking about the word. Perhaps you were referring to a different article I wrote...? If you do happen to come back (and you are certainly welcome to do so if you choose), you could point out to me what article you were referring to.

It is my belief that the dogma of the Church is true and correct, and will help my readers to have a better sex life and obtain a stronger, eternal marital relationship if they follow the commandments. I don’t know that any amount of secular education or experience will change my belief in the basic doctrines of the Church. 

I do know that misinformation about sex has damaged many in the Church, which is what I am working to correct. I have seen lots of this damage firsthand, and I myself have been a victim of this misinformation in the past. However, it was not the doctrines of the Church that was at fault, but the fallacies of individuals in the Church, teaching their cultural superstitions as truth.

I’m not interested in pandering to the secular world of the Gentiles (non-Mormons). There are many in the secular world who share some of our beliefs, or who are interested in learning about our beliefs. It would be a disservice to ourselves and to them to bend LDS doctrine to conform with the secular world. My goal is to do just the opposite - to show where secular teachings about sexuality and marriage harmonize with LDS doctrine.

The audience I’m writing for is one that has a belief in God the Father, in Jesus Christ as our Savior and Redeemer, and in the truthfulness of the words of the living prophets of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. 

It is to that community that I write this blog…to provide a resource for obtaining correct principles and learning how to apply them in a married, sexual context that will bring the fulfillment that I feel God intended. 

I realize that not everyone will agree with me, and that’s fine. I find disagreement to be a good opportunity for me to review what I believe and decide whether or not my beliefs come from a gospel basis, or from a cultural myth. 

When I've studied whether or not the wrongness of masturbation in marriage is a gospel principle or whether it's a cultural myth, the answer is that it depends. Solo masturbation may not disqualify a married person from going to the temple, but in most cases, it does not serve the purposes of marriage progression and growth. Mutual masturbation is much more useful in that regard.

The definition of abnormal behavior in psychology refers to behavior that cripples your functionality in society. If masturbation keeps you from communicating clearly with your spouse, or causes resentment, or if porn is involved, or if you prefer masturbation to sexual relations with your spouse, this is when abnormal behavior begin. 

Occasional solo masturbation done in marriage with full knowledge, mutual consent of the spouse and good feelings about the exercise of it from both spouses does not fall under this abnormal definition, in my opinion. This is because you are expressing your sexuality as a couple and not as an individual.

"Nevertheless, neither is the man without the women, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord." (1 Corinthians 11:11-12)

I feel this idea is in keeping with this scriptural statement.

I am still in the midst of my studies, as you mentioned. I’ve been an active member of the Church for 40 years now, and spent the last twelve years as an educator in the Church in various capacities. I’ve been happily married to my wife for almost 20 years, and I have over 20 years of research (institutional and otherwise) in sociology, biology, anthropology, sexuality and marital relationships. This blog is where I share my findings, and I learn from all of my readers' experiences, and the couples I have coached as well.

I can’t claim to be a licensed professional…only a continuing student of sexology and sociology. I quote a lot of either professional resources or gospel authorities for this very reason – because I can claim very few institutional credentials myself at this point. 

I don't mind letting them be the experts - there are some amazing experts that we as LDS couples can learn from, both in and out of the Church. I think even after I get my Ph.D., I couldn't comfortably claim to know everything there is to know about the gospel and sexuality and life and the world. It would be presumptuous of me to say so. I hope I always stay a student.

Thank you for your good wishes. It will be interesting for both of us to see my progression over time in helping people’s marriages.

2 comments:

Strong Man said...

Thank you for adding this post. I appreciate your courage for standing for doctrine.

I've written a full post on masturbation in a sexless marriage, but even that post wouldn't apply as directly to masturbation in a relationship where the wife wants sex.

In general, on this issue, I wish we would place heavier emphasis on encouraging men to be strong, to be leaders, to practice self-control in general. I wish we would focus on the value and positive blessing of their sexual desires strengthening their intimate relationship with their wife.

Too many LDS and other religious men who are incredibly righteous and spiritual feel guilty that they've committed a crime far worse than bank robbery ("next to murder"). This feeling can incapacitate and limit their confidence in their own spirituality and their ability to lead their families.

We sometimes overweight the importance of the word of wisdom in the same way. Is smoking a sin? Yes. But is it on the same scale as not loving your neighbor? Not close. Many early apostles and Church leaders used tobacco, coffee and tea at the same time they were receiving powerful revelations, converting thousands, and leading the Church.

Avoiding masturbation and pornography helps keep sexual desires focused on real relationships, to motivate marriage, and to motivate positive and healthy intimacy in marriage.

But a worse problem is men who are incapacitated by guilt for their God-given desires, and feel as a result they cannot get spiritual guidance for their families.

But, if men think they're not the leaders in general, think they shouldn't always be initiating intimacy--or if they're stuck with a wife who doesn't like sex or feels it's unrighteous, AND also believe masturbation is evil, they're left with a bottling-up pressure that has no positive outlet.

Something has to give--and I believe it should be in giving men confidence to take the lead in the intimate relationship with the wife.

Brian Phelps said...

I thought your use of the word "dogma" interesting. Dogma is defined as "A principle or set of principles laid down by an authority as incontrovertibly true." Yet the church itself tells the media in Approaching Mormon Doctrine that:

"Not every statement made by a Church leader, past or present, necessarily constitutes doctrine. A single statement made by a single leader on a single occasion often represents a personal, though well-considered, opinion, but is not meant to be officially binding for the whole Church. With divine inspiration, the First Presidency (the prophet and his two counselors) and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles (the second-highest governing body of the Church) counsel together to establish doctrine that is consistently proclaimed in official Church publications. This doctrine resides in the four “standard works” of scripture (the Holy Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price), official declarations and proclamations, and the Articles of Faith. Isolated statements are often taken out of context, leaving their original meaning distorted."

Thus, a church leader's statements--aside from those activities proscribed in scripture--may be inspired guidance, but it is not doctrine and is subject to confirmation by personal revelation. It doesn't matter whether the couple is knowingly engaging in solo or mutual masturbation or anal intercourse, it is between them and the Lord.

Taking this a step further, solo masturbation is not mentioned in the scriptures. While the church leadership has chosen to speak and write forcefully against the behavior, it is as you accurately describe it, dogma, not doctrine. So it is a very large stretch to extend the prohibition against masturbation from unmarried individuals to the marriage bed and claim that it is a "basic doctrine of the Church". And where do you draw the line? Is "mutual masturbation" limited to one spouse stimulating the other, or can they practice solo masturbation in one another's company? Where's the doctrine or the dogma guidance? What if one spouse is on an extended deployment and they give each other mutual consent to practice solo masturbation on occasion?

You are correct in saying that "it was not the doctrines of the Church that was at fault, but the fallacies of individuals in the Church, teaching their cultural superstitions as truth." This extends to church leaders, who are not infallible, but do their best to interpret and represent the Lord's will.