I will never forget when a young inexperienced bishop’s counselor took it upon himself to come into our Deacons Quorum and “warn” us against the horrors of masturbation. This lesson was not in the manual. To this day, I have no idea why he felt compelled or authorized to give us such a lesson. I was an innocent boy of 12 and president of the quorum. I had not fully reached puberty yet and had never ejaculated. I did not know what the word “masturbation” meant. I soon found out. I sat frozen as he graphically described what masturbation was and how it made boys “evil”. He told us that sexual sins ranked right next to murder. I could hardly believe what I was hearing. Of course I knew that it was not alright to be sexual with someone besides your wife, but what he was telling me about my penis was just the opposite of my own beautiful experiences. To me, my penis and the pleasure I derived from stroking it while daydreaming of girls I loved and temple marriage was holy and special. In fact it was so holy that the bishop’s counselor’s words seemed sacrilegious and completely inappropriate. To me masturbation had no negative associations. It was a prayer of celebration for love and marriage. My own spiritual experiences with masturbation told me that he was lying. I knew inside my inner self could not lie to my heart and spirit.
The problem was that I was just a 12 year old boy. I was a deacon. What did I know compared to the bishopric? He was in the bishopric. He was Jesus’ mouthpiece. I was Jesus’ servant who held his holy priesthood. I loved Jesus and loved to obey him. My own tender testimony of love for my masculinity and my desire to marry and share love with my wife and family were totally crushed beneath the weight of authority. I was now an “evil” boy, who had been committing a sin next to murder in seriousness all though my innocent childhood. It was horrifying to realize I was so evil. Today I recognize this action by my priesthood leader as spiritual and sexual abuse of an innocent child. His authoritarian position invalidated my authentic inner spiritual voice. In that moment my priesthood leader created clinical neurosis in me that I struggled to heal far into my adult life. It was unquestionably abusive and damaging.
The tragic irony of this whole situation is that the top leaders of the LDS church sincerely want to help the youth be sexually healthy and have good marriages. Their failure to meet their responsibility to become medically educated about masturbation has resulted in one of the great social tragedies of Mormonism – unintentional and covert sexual and spiritual abuse of the youth. Masturbation was a hot topic for all us neurotic unintentionally abused Mormon boys. We talked amongst ourselves about our struggles with abstinence; our successes and ultimate failures. We repented over and over in an effort to feel worthy through high school, missions, college and into marriage. Our self-worth was seriously damaged.
One serious boy I knew told me he “knew he was naturally evil” because he tried and tried repenting many times over but could not remain totally abstinent. He begged God to take away his sexual desire or bless him with “wet dreams” like other boys (Even after months of abstinence he never had a nocturnal emission – his spiritual leaders were ignorant of the medical fact that a sizable percentage of males are completely incapable of having nocturnal emissions). Since he was “naturally evil” he accepted that drinking was no worse than masturbation and sadly found some solace for his internalized shame in alcohol.
Another close friend once in a moment of purging his guilt before leaving on his mission confided to me his own unique strategy. We lived in a farm community and he decided that since he had never heard that sex with animals was sinful he was safer to place a stool behind a cow to stand on and have sex with it than he was to masturbate. His dad, by the way, was our stake president and his uncle was a notable apostle. We had never heard of bestiality. He too was trying to cope. Today he is a respectable judge, family man and priesthood leader in his community.
As church leaders ignore the medical data of science about the psychological damage that masturbation abstinence causes, they ignorantly perpetuate some of the very things they seek to prevent. Youth turn to damaging psychological coping strategies to cope with the unbearable internalized shame that Mormon leaders create by labeling the healthy developmental process of masturbation as “evil” and associating it to the concept that “sexual sin is next to murder” (Such generalization without qualification is irresponsible by church leaders. There is an obvious difference in the social impact of various sexual behaviors, for example the extreme difference between masturbation and rape).
There is absolutely no evidence whatsoever that masturbation results in any physical, psychological, spiritual damage or unhealthiness. Some Mormons leaders falsely equate feelings of guilt with “loss of the spirit”. These feelings actually are psychological responses that result from leaders “promising” individuals they will feel guilty. This is not the “loss of spirit” it merely is a psychological self-fulfilling prophecy caused by internalized shame.
This policy of LDS leaders interviewing about masturbation or sexual questioning is unquestionably damaging and the psychosexual shame leads to adult sexual dysfunction and even in some cases to suicide. This must stop!