This is the second of a series of guest posts on learning about sex within different religious contexts. Here’s a link to our guest post invitation. The author asked to remain anonymous.
I started masturbating when I was 17 or 18 years old. For most outside the church, this is probably quite late. Teen magazines like YM and Seventeen made me curious, and I wondered what it would feel like to take my arousal from beginning to end, instead of cutting it off (as I had become quite adept at doing with my frisky teenage boyfriends). So I did the things the magazine suggested.
Wow. My body can do that? I wanted more.
I became stuck in a constant cycle of sin–repent–sin–repent because I had not outlet for this drive of mine. The thought of going to a new bishop every year (sometimes 2 or 3 times/year depending on how often I moved in college) was paralyzing, and I would punish myself for months, not taking the sacrament and avoiding the temple in an attempt to take care of the problem on my own. No matter how I flagellated myself, I felt that sitting alone in a room with a man twice my age and talking about vigorously rubbing my clitoris was somehow a necessary part of the repentance process.
I knew that the opposite sex was doing it, but as a female I felt like a freak. Halfway through college I was obese, felt out of control in all areas, and couldn’t get my thoughts and actions under control. I was only able to pull up out of this downward spiral after a series of meetings with a kind bishop who helped me realize I was not abnormal, helped me find a wonderful therapist who prescribed depression medication, and helped me work through my emotional and physical issues. I lost weight, started succeeding in school again, and felt like I had my masturbation “addiction” under control.
I have been ashamed of this for almost a decade now. I was taught that those outside of our faith might try to convince me that self-stimulation is a normal, healthy part of mortality, but I was not to listen because that was Satan attempting to drag me down and enslave me with the bonds of sexual sin. Never mind that the majority of the world’s population somehow managed to masturbate while leading productive fulfilling lives, or that children often discovered the process naturally (later learning from their parents that this feeling of release and satisfaction they could stimulate in their own body was a dark mark of evil that prevented them from communing with God), the Puritanical elements in our faith have deep roots reaching back to our pioneer ancestors raised during a time when the wisdom and superstition of those who went before guided thoughts, actions, and belief. (Don’t believe me? Read this article on Cracked titled 5 Insane Ways Fear of Masturbation Shaped the Modern World.)
Before now, I had never thought to ask why. Why is it so wrong? Why would God give us a desire so strong, so incredibly natural that even a young child can discover and utilize it, and then tell us that we are evil and cast out from Him unless we abstain forever (for in the LDS faith the only source of sexual relief can be found with your spouse, from the time you are born to the time you die, and those who never marry must… suffer.) What if I only felt guilty about masturbating because I had been taught to feel guilty? And my parents learned the same thing from their parents, who learned the same thing from their parents, who learned the same thing from their parents, and so on. What if the pain and guilt I had experienced through high school and college didn’t come from God after all, but were a product of man-made superstition? Recently I found a quote by a well-known church leader suggesting that solo masturbation would lead to mutual masturbation with someone of the same gender, which would eventually lead to homosexuality, and continue to progress until the most deprave acts were committed.
Was I taught to avoid masturbation because someone was worried I would have sex with a girl, and then maybe want to get it on with the family dog? My faith has changed and developed in many ways since I was a teenager, and in this area specifically, I am now at peace. I’m married and have a sexual outlet, but that doesn’t mean masturbation is something I avoid. I don’t need anyone else telling me whether it’s okay for me to spend some time alone with my body. That’s for me to decide (with input from my spouse when I feel it is relevant).
As for my children, I haven’t decided how I will handle this subject yet. I think I’d like to tell them they are free to seek release as long as it isn’t harming others (the pornography industry is problematic) or inhibiting day-to-day life. Whether they are able to beat down the rhetoric and feel good about doing youth temple trips, going on a mission, marrying in the temple, etc. while masturbating will be a choice they have to make.
[Last post in the Teaching Sex guest post series: I Apologize]