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Sexual Epidemic

The only way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it.—Oscar Wilde

I accept that idea with some skepticism. It contains a grain of truth, especially when we create the taboo that tempts us. We all know the power of the forbidden fruit. Tell any one of us that we can’t do something, and suddenly it tempts us.

In The Natural History of Alcoholism, Dr. George E. Vaillant found that cultures which forbid children from drinking and condone adult drunkenness (e.g. Ireland) have much higher incidence of alcoholism than cultures which allow children to occasionally sample alcohol and which look down upon adult drunkenness (e.g. Italy). Further, children from families who forbid drinking at the dinner table but the adults drink elsewhere are seven times more likely to become alcoholics than children who grew up with adults drinking at the dinner table and drunkenness was forbidden.

(I wonder about the incidence of alcoholism among those who completely forbid alcohol.)

What I take away from that study is that in cultures where drinking will take place, it is critical that adults model moderation and make alcohol an ordinary part of life. Making alcohol a rite of passage or a secret pleasure for adults only makes alcoholism more likely.

I want to make a connection to our culture’s attitudes toward sex. I don’t have a study to cite. I have only my own experience of growing up in a culture that treats nudity and sexuality as secret rites of passage and of later rejecting those notions. We display these attitudes everywhere: we label erotic materials as “adult”, you can’t see a woman’s bare breast in a movie until you are 17, and we allow ourselves to be distracted from two wars by a few seconds of Janet Jackson’s nipple because we’re worried that children might have see it. We seem to believe that children would be asexual if not exposed to adult sexuality.

The church of my youth took this further. The LDS church taught me that I shouldn’t allow myself to express my sexuality in any meaningful way until I was a married adult. They made even sexual thoughts taboo. No wonder then that members of that culture have dysfunctional relationships with sexuality. Abuse of pornography runs rampant within the church.

I commend the LDS church leadership for addressing this issue, yet their strategy saddens me:

On the other hand, however—and extremely alarming—are the reports of the number of individuals who are utilizing the Internet for evil and degrading purposes, the viewing of pornography being the most prevalent of these purposes. My brothers and sisters, involvement in such will literally destroy the spirit. Be strong. Be clean. Avoid such degrading and destructive types of content at all costs—wherever they may be! I sound this warning to everyone, everywhere.…

My beloved friends, under no circumstances allow yourselves to become trapped in the viewing of pornography, one of the most effective of Satan’s enticements. And if you have allowed yourself to become involved in this behavior, cease now. Seek the help you need to overcome and to change the direction of your life. Take the steps necessary to get back on the strait and narrow, and then stay there. (Thomas Monson, April 2009 General Conference)

They think it best to heap on more fear and guilt for being a sexual being before you are married. The LDS—and American—fascination with sex results from a perverse set of mixed messages. I fell prey to that fascination as a child and only recently escaped. I appreciate that many of us believe we should protect children from their sexuality while (married) adults can properly enjoy sexuality away from their fragile eyes. But I see an analogy to the cultures that have high levels of alcoholism.

I recently rejected that culture and its mixed messages too. I learned to be titillated by sexual material—a healthy human response—and yet to avoid being swept away by guilt or fear. In truth, sexuality has lost some of its naughty savor as it became an ordinary part of my life enjoyed in moderation.

I suggest that we change our messages about sex to the next generation. Rather than sending them the message that seeing adult nudity is too dangerous for children, we should make nudity perfectly ordinary. I don’t foresee becoming a nudist, but viewing fine art nudes—along with other fine arts—could become an ordinary, nourishing part of childhood. We can divorce nudity from sexuality.

Likewise, we could give balanced information about sexuality and its consequences instead of short, uncomfortable, shamed discussions or over-the-top portrayals of sex in the movies. What our children need is real information.

If pornography becomes epidemic despite all our efforts, we must conclude that what we’re doing doesn’t work. We need to set aside our ideologies and ask ourselves what helps our children to grow up healthy and happy. Perhaps it is time to become more comfortable with sexuality, teaching our children through our examples how to enjoy it responsibly.

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What Women Want

I just finished a fascinating article focusing on women’s sexuality. In the process of discovering what makes women tick, it shines the light on parts of female sexuality that we would rather not admit exists.

No matter what their self-proclaimed sexual orientation, the women showed, on the whole, strong and swift genital arousal when the screen offered men with men, women with women, and women with men. They responded objectively much more to the exercising woman than to the strolling man, and their blood flow rose quickly and markedly as they watched the [bonobos engaging in sexual intercourse], though to a lesser degree than during all the human scenes, except the footage of the ambling, strapping man. And with the women, especially the straight women, mind and genitals seemed scarcely to belong to the same person. During shots of lesbian coupling, heterosexual women claimed less excitement than their vaginas indicated; watching gay men, they reported a great deal less; and viewing heterosexual intercourse, they reported much more.

[Dr. Chivers] has confronted clinical research reporting not only genital arousal but also the occasional occurrence of orgasm during sexual assault. And she has recalled her own experience as a therapist with victims who recounted these physical responses. She is familiar, as well, with the preliminary results of a laboratory study showing surges of vaginal blood flow as subjects listen to descriptions of rape scenes.

“Female desire is not governed by the relational factors that we like to think rule women’s sexuality as opposed to men’s.’’ [Dr. Meana] finished a small qualitative study in the past year consisting of long interviews with 20 women in marriages that were sexually troubled. Although bad relationships often kill desire, she argued, good ones don’t guarantee it. The generally accepted therapeutic notion that for women, incubating intimacy leads to better sex is, said Meana, often misguided. “Really, women’s desire is not relational, it’s narcissistic,’’ she said. It is dominated by the yearning to be the object of erotic admiration and sexual need. Still on the subject of narcissism, she talked about research indicating that in comparison with men, women’s erotic fantasies centre less on giving pleasure and more on getting it. “When it comes to desire,” she added, “women may be far less relational than men.”

According to an analysis of relevant studies published last year in The Journal of Sex Research—an analysis that defines rape as involving “the use of physical force, threat of force, or incapacitation through, for example, sleep or intoxication, to coerce a woman into sexual activity against her will”—between a third and over a half of women have entertained these fantasies, often during intercourse, with at least 1 in 10 women fantasising about sexual assault at least once per month in a pleasurable way.

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Free Playboys

As I have mentioned before, when I was growing up copies of Playboy were like gold. So it feels a little like Christmas when Playboy makes 53 past issues available for free (with a zoom function). If only my teenage self could see me now.


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What do Mormons like more than Jello desserts?

We have further evidence that it is the red states (if you’ll forgive me for being so 2004) who are the biggest subscribers to porn. Utah tops the chart. As I’ve long said, being ashamed of sex really whets the appetite. :)

I’m being a little flippant here, but this statistic points to the sad truth that many of us live with unnecessary shame. Being ashamed of something that can be so beautiful and healthy as sex doesn’t help anyone.

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The Day I Wished I Was Dead

[This post is an imagined guest post on the Good in Bed blog. I just had to get this out of my head, so here it is. Some of what I say will only make sense if you keep that in mind.]

Part 1

I curled up under the sheets and earnestly prayed that I would die. I had never prayed more fervently. The thought of facing even one more day terrified me.

I had come home that night from spending time with my fiancée and absently turned on the television. A Frontline show about the pornography industry was on PBS. Before I knew what was happening, before I had a chance to change the channel, I saw familiar sights and heard familiar sounds. A yearning fire was lit inside my brain. I prayed for deliverance from my temptation. Perhaps my prayer wasn’t very sincere. The thing that I had battled against all of my youth drew me inexorably toward itself.

Thoughts of all that I stood to lose flashed through my mind. Chief among these was the temple marriage that was scheduled only weeks away. None of this mattered enough in that moment to dissuade me from succumbing to my addiction and masturbating.

Immediately afterward, a crushing weight of shame pressed down on my shoulders. What could I tell my fiancée? I was positive that she would cast me off. I didn’t want to face my bishop. I was certain that he would call off the marriage. I had no doubt that I was irredeemably lost. I didn’t want to face God. I felt that He should end my life because I had failed my test in life. I saw no reason to continue my miserable life. If ever I understood the scripture that said “mountains and rocks, Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb”, it was that horrible night. (Revelation 6:16)

I slept very little that night, and only fitfully. In the morning, I slowly worked up the courage to call the bishop and confess. I could hear the pain in his voice as he asked me to come to his office immediately. Later that day, I also confessed to my fiancée. To my great relief, she was ready to forgive me. After much discussion and prayer and with the bishop’s blessing, we still went on to be sealed in the temple.

Part 2

I am the happy husband of that forgiving young woman and the proud father of two beautiful, intelligent girls.

I enjoy my relationship with my wife, including our sexual relationship. However, some nights when I want to have sex, she is too tired or stressed from a day of corralling our girls. In general, I seem to be the more interested partner, at least at this point in our lives. This used to be hard for me. I would feel disappointed and rejected. I felt sexually thwarted. It was easy to feel resentful. I wasn’t very sympathetic.

Things have changed since then. When my hopes for sex with my wife aren’t in the cards, I may feel disappointed that I can’t be with my wife, but I sympathize with the reasons that she can’t be available to me at that moment and I take my sexual needs into my own hands. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist.)

For various reasons, I have become convinced that masturbation is not a sin. For one thing, it is never mentioned in the Standard Works. Some think that the story of Onan was about masturbation. The truth is that he was struck down for failing to live up to his obligation to his new wife and her deceased former husband, his brother.

Secondly, I learned about the history of attitudes toward masturbation in and out of the church. It seems clear to me from what I have learned that the attitudes toward masturbation that I was taught were based on people’s opinions. These opinions originally came out of popular culture, not as a revelation from God. Please bear with me as I paint the picture.

1700s Masturbation is first erroneously connected to insanity and disease in popular and medical literature—anti-masturbation sentiments rise in response—homosexuality and pederasty are erroneously linked to masturbation—hysteria becomes widespread and leads to the popularization of male circumcision (which was previously only a religious rite) in an effort to curb masturbation

1830 Joseph Smith organizes the Church of Christ

1800s Smith remains publicly silent on masturbation leaving no record of any statements on the issue—Brigham Young is also silent on the issue of masturbation leaving no record of any statement on the issue—in the absence of official guidance, members of the church tend to go along with the baseless popular opinion of their day

1870–71 The subject of masturbation is addressed in meetings of the School of the Prophets by Apostles Daniel H. Wells and Lorenzo Snow and President George A. Smith, First Counselor in the First Presidency—polygamy is seen as a cure for masturbation by church leaders—Elder Wells echoed the common sentiment that masturbation would lead to insanity and an early death

1883 Masturbation lumped together with excessive marital coitus as a cause of disease in a meeting of the First Presidency

Late 1800s increased acceptance of the bacterial causes of disease undermines the idea that masturbation leads to disease

1920s and ’30s the Church’s response to masturbation changes to reflect the available evidence—masturbation shame linked with mental health concerns—official church manuals encouraged parental guidance rather than repression of masturbation—church warns against parental overreaction to masturbation

1940s the idea that masturbation leads to insanity fades from professional opinion and is soon all but forgotten in popular thought

1950s several church leaders publish opinions which encourage total abstinence from masturbation—church reverses previous moderate stance, the first time that church policy diverged from the common medical opinion of the day

1958 Elder Bruce R. McConkie publishes Mormon Doctrine with a statement that directly condemns the psychiatric opinion that masturbatory shame is a mental dysfunction thereby creating the impression of an authoritative denunciation of masturbation because of his position as an Apostle

1969 Elder Spencer W. Kimball (still just an Apostle at the time) writes The Miracle of Forgiveness which denounces masturbation and states that religious authority trumps any empirical evidence on the matter

1972 the American Medical Association declares masturbation to be normal behavior—Boy Scout manual is rewritten to affirm the normalcy of masturbation and its positive role in sexual development—25,000 copies of the manual are destroyed at the behest of the Catholic and Mormon churches—revised edition advises boys to counsel with parents and spiritual leaders regarding masturbation—Mormon health care professionals come under increased pressure to condemn masturbation in contravention of their professional oaths and standards

1976 the church distributes pamphlet To Young Men Only, a reprinting of an speech by Elder Boyd K. Packer in which he promoted his personal ideas about sexual physiology and desire which contradicted contemporary empirical medical evidence—the pamphlet promotes the erroneous idea that sexual desire would be almost absent during puberty if it were not incited, that masturbation causes sexual desire

1980s Elder Mark E. Petersen authored Steps in Overcoming Masturbation targeted to young, male missionaries—his pamphlet advocated harsh psychological control methods and aversion therapy techniques to control masturbation—Mormon psychiatrist Cantril Nielsen pays a large settlement in the wrongful death case of 16-year-old Kip Eliason whom he advised to follow his bishop’s counsel to abstain from masturbation in order to be worthy (contrary to the standards of his psychiatric profession)—Kip Eliason committed suicide due to overwhelming feelings of unworthiness while trying to abstain from masturbation—medical experts in the case confirmed that masturbation posed no risks to mental or physical health, but that attempted abstinence from masturbation had a documented history of suicidal risk

1990 LDS church publishes For the Strength of Youth pamphlet which continued to denounce masturbation as morally unclean

1994 Is Kissing Sinful?, a book by church member Grant Von Harrison, is published which promotes the extreme position that “If you allow yourself to become sexually aroused prior to marriage, you commit a moral sin”

1995 In a study of 103 married Mormon women (91% of whom attended church services weekly, 5% monthly), 43% reported that they masturbated currently, 54% when they were younger

2001 The church publishes a highly revised For the Strength of Youth which no longer mentions masturbation by name

2004 And They Were Not Ashamed: Strengthening Marriage through Sexual Fulfillment by church member Laura M. Brotherson aims to counteract some of the sexual shame in popular LDS culture—she admits to suffering from psychosexual shame which caused marital dysfunction—she advises that masturbation is permissible when intended to promote marital health

Most of this timeline comes from Historical Development of New Masturbation Attitudes in Mormon Culture. I no longer feel guilt in connection with masturbation. I cannot tell you how much gratitude fills my heart for that. Based on my own experience, I must conclude that the guilt that I used to feel was misplaced. The guilt that made me long for death that night was a chimera that I had conjured in my own mind.

So now, the naturally differing levels of sexual desire between my wife and me are much less of a stress in our marriage. I think we’re both happier. Masturbation hasn’t distanced me from my wife. Quite the opposite is true. And as a bonus, regular masturbation/ejaculation helps prevent prostate cancer. :)

When I read some of the comments on this blog, it reminds me of me the way I used to be. It hurts me to think of the people who struggle with guilt about masturbation, the guilt my experience has taught me to believe is unnecessary and unhealthy. My addiction was created by that guilt. Now that the guilt is gone, so is my addiction. The guilt was my problem.

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