Taboo

***Warning–Adult Topic***

If offended by mature matters, pause your perusal NOW!!!   I mean it.

Quiet. Young woman with her finger on lips.

Masturbation

There you go. I’ve said it. I’ve said it out loud and in print. Whew!  When I became a man, at 62, I finally gained the courage to make this hitherto verboten verbalization. So, if you are under 62, or not adult yet…please pause your perusal, NOW.

In order to not overuse this provocative term, I will also refer to the subject as SS (self-satisfaction).

Background

In my religion, the youth are generally taught that masturbation is a sin.  Some bishops and their counsellors regularly pose the question, to young girls and boys, “Do you touch yourself down there?”  This starts at age 12 and continues until 18.  Queries regarding this sexual practice are made behind closed doors by an older adult male. The man and the child are alone.  No parent is present.  Usually, the parents are unaware that SS is being discussed with their child.  Almost universally, the adult leader asking the question is untrained in how to discuss sexual matters with a child. Often, a twelve year old’s first introduction to the term ‘masturbation’ is when he/she is questioned by their ecclesiastical leader.

Fortunately, at least I consider it fortunate, when I was growing up, no adult leader ever brought this subject up in a private interview.  For over 5 years, I served as a Mormon bishop.  During that time I never once asked anyone, adult or child, about SS.  It simply never entered my mind.  No direction or training was ever given by my ecclesiastical leaders that I should delve into such matters with the kids.

The purpose of this blog post is not to explore whether or not masturbation is a sin for young people.  But, I do have BIG concerns about the practice of adult men questioning 12 year old girls, behind closed doors, without a parent’s knowledge, permission, or presence. Frankly, it sounds creepy and inappropriate. But, again, that’s not the point of this treatise.

Adults

My real question is this: “For married people, is masturbation a sin?”  During my entire adulthood, which now spans 4 decades, I have never once heard this issue addressed.  You may be wondering, “Why do I care?”  Patience, my reasons are detailed further on.

Attempt #1:  My first attempt to find the answer was last summer. In priesthood, a men’s meeting held on Sunday, the topic of chastity came up. I said, “I have some questions about what the law of chastity entails.” Immediately, this response was given, “We don’t talk about details of forbidden activities relating to chastity. It can unnecessarily give people ideas.” OK.

Attempt #2:  Since, I’d been stopped in my tracks at church, I decided to ask for opinions in private.  To eleven friends and family, I posed this question, “For a married person, is masturbation a sin?  I was shocked at the results.  Remember, these eleven are all members of the LDS church.  Perhaps my friends and family are more liberal than most.

Results:
1 = Yes. It’s a sin.
5 = No. Some discomfort, not knowing exactly where the church stood.
5 = No. Categorically, not a sin.

Attempt #3:  A couple of weeks later, the lesson for the men’s meeting was going to focus on chastity.  After my prior experience, I wasn’t taking any chances. Once the teacher introduced the topic, I blurted out my question, “Is masturbation a sin if you are married?”  The instructor’s response, “I’m so glad you asked that.  I wanted to talk about it, but didn’t know how to bring it up.”  Amazingly, an open and frank discussion ensued.  I’m sure it was uncomfortable for many.  A semblance of a consensus was reached.  “Masturbation is not a sin, as long as you discuss it with your wife first.”  S…H…O…C…K…I…N…G   Only one person voiced an opposing opinion, “Like abortion is next to murder, I consider masturbation next to adultery.”   In attempts #2 & #3, the vast majority of LDS members believed SS was not a sin if married.

Attempt #4:  So far, I had only posed my query to rank-n-file church goers. Certainly, the leadership could give a definitive answer. NOPE.

Leader A:  “Why do you even care, Sam?”
Leader B:  Unwilling to give any answer to the question.
Leader C:  “I never ask about what goes on in a couple’s bedroom.”
Leader D:  “It doesn’t say anything in the manual.”
So, what the heck does that mean? Clear direction?  No way.  Sin or not sin?  It appears that nobody really knows.

Out of the eleven who I individually interviewed, 4 had been asked by a bishop or stake president if they engaged in SS. Wouldn’t that alone indicate that it’s a sin? Otherwise, it sounds perverse to ask about such a personal practice in a personal interview.

Why Do I Care?

Consider the following scenarios.

  1. It IS a sin. However, many members view SS as not a sin. Isn’t it important that we warn them? Sin has consequences. In this life and the next. Ultimately, we could lose our salvation. Big reason for the prophets to send a clear and unmistakable message…..It’s sinful.
  2. It is NOT a sin. In that case, it’s unfortunate that some members view masturbation as a SERIOUS sin.  A person engaged in a practice he views as sinful is subject to guilt, shame & depression. Why would we let a person suffer in silence when their behavior is not sinful?  That seems SUPER cruel.  Gigantic reason for the prophets to send a clear and unmistakable message…..It’s NOT sinful.
  3. It’s up to each individual to determine if it’s sinful or not. Yes, I have been told that.  Not sure that I understand it.  But, I kind of like the concept of God giving me agency to decide for myself.  Whatever I decide, He won’t hold it against me.  But, again, it seems like the message should be clearly stated by the leadership rather than speculated by the members.

Conclusion

We have made masturbation a Taboo topic.  Yet, it’s consequences are ambiguous. Balmy for some, brutal for others. So, why do I care?  It brings a little anger and a little teardrop, thinking that someone in my congregation is needlessly suffering guilt, shame & depression.