Sunday, April 15, 2012

LDS and BYU struggles with Masturbation and Worthiness

So I recently started this blog in response to some recent experiences I have had while attending BYU, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saint's approved University.  My purpose in creating this blog is not to demean the church or it's university in any way, as I am a faithful member who supports the church and who strives to live the teachings of Christ.  Instead I want to create this blog for people in similar situations so that there is a place where these types of things, which normally are kept in silence, can be discussed and shared openly.  My goal is that by sharing we can strengthen each other's testimony by applying what we know to be right to draw closer to the Lord.

Too often as members of the LDS faith we do not talk as openly as we should about sex and about issues that many people are struggling with.  While searching for articles on masturbation in the church I found that there is little literature or church approved counsel or instruction on the matter.  The only official things I found were a talk by Spencer W. Kimball, Vaughn J Featherstone, and "the little factory" referenced by Packer.  All of these articles or talks were given decades ago and I wonder why there is such little talk about it when I believe it is a common problem among the youth and adults of the church.  I am going to talk very openly about my story.

When I turned 12 years old I was called into the Bishop's office for an interview to be ordained to be a deacon.  Because the Bishop was a family member, he talked to me very openly (which I appreciated) during the interview about masturbation.  He advised that sexual feelings from the body were natural and god-given and could lead to some of the closest experiences that I could have with my father in heaven, but then went on to explain masturbation and warned that it could become addictive and destructive.  I do not remember all that was said on the subject, but I remember leaving that day with the impression that it was something that was kind of bad but natural and shouldn't be done to the point where you become addicted.  I was young and innocent and prior to the interview didn't even know what the term 'masturbation' meant or what it was.  Months after the interview  I began to become curious and began touching myself in my room late at night as I would fall asleep.  It began as innocent exploration of the feelings that touching myself brought and I began to get to know myself and what aroused me and what did not.  I came to know myself and the powers that God had given me.  At times I would think about what it would be like to be married to a beautiful woman and to show her how much I loved her.  I thought about how much I would one day want to be married in the temple so that God would allow me to use this power with a woman and so I could make her feel good and so she could make me feel good.  It was safe to say that the feelings I had were quite innocent and good in nature.  Much of my experience is similar to an article I read

This continued until I was about 13 or 14 when  I went over to my school friends house where he introduced me to pornography.  I remember sitting in a room as he typed a dirty website address into the internet browser.  I was afraid to say anything.  I was curious, as I never before had to deal with anything like this and didn't really understand the situation.  Inherently, I knew this isn't what I should be doing.  Later that week my curiosity led me to take this act into my own home where I began searching the internet for dirty pictures.  I remember one day my dad called me into my room and confronted me about the website adresses he had seen in the search bar.  I felt ashamed and knew this was something I needed to stop.  I worked on the problem throughout high school, struggling off and on.  I began masturbating after viewing pornography and began to feel ashamed and like I was abusing these powers.

One thing to consider is that I have never had a wet dream.  I have heard friends and missionaries talk about having them.  In Boyd K. Packer's talk about "To Young Men Only", (which was a conference talk in priesthood 1976, but since then has been taken out and off the website)  it talks about how the body has a mechanism for relieving the sexual urges through wet dreams, and how this is the natural way.

"As you move closer to manhood, this little factory will sometimes produce an oversupply of this substance. The Lord has provided a way for that to be released. It will happen without any help or without any resistance from you. Perhaps, one night you will have a dream. In the course of it the release valve that controls the factory will open and release all that is excess.
The factory and automatic release work on their own schedule. The Lord intended it to be that way. It is to regulate itself. This will not happen very often. You may go a longer period of time, and there will be no need for this to occur. When it does, you should not feel guilty. It is the nature of young manhood and is part of becoming a man."

I got the problem under control just before my mission and served an honorable mission where I never viewed pornography, but occasionally masturbated about once a month.  During lessons I felt the spirit.  I attended the temple and had many sacred experiences.  I received revelation for my investigators.  Here I learned that freedom from pornography enables you to feel the spirit, which had been lacking through periods of youth when I viewed pornography.  However, even though I occasionally masturbated on my mission, I was still able to feel the spirit on my mission.  Masturbation, without pornography, became much more innocent during this time, similar to the way it was in my childhood.  I would imagine more about the temple and dreamed of one day being married and being able to share these sacred powers.

When I returned from my mission I was great and kept up the mission standards until a few months later when I began to get involved with pornography.  Again, masturbation transformed into something more crude and without going into detail, it changed into imaginations of things that were not wholesome.

I have always tried to fight against urges, especially against pornography.  I finally overcame pornography and had left it for quite some time and went into my bishop for a temple recommend interview.  I told him about my problem with masturbation and he advised me to go to the temple more frequently to find strength there.  This kind of shocked me at first, but as I thought about it it made sense.  I was doing my best to be clean and needed the Lord's help as my motives were pure.

About 2 more years went by and I dated and lived the best I could.  I got into a relationship with a girlf who wasn't the best influence and we touched each other inappropriately.  I brought it up with her and we discussed our desires to be better.  I went into my new bishop to talk with him about it and told him that I wanted to fix it.  The girl and I wanted to improve so over the next month we worked on it.  We sat down and made rules, set limitations ----but still we struggled.  Finally I decided it was best if we broke up because I wanted to be worthy to go to the temple and knew I was not on a path that would take me there.  After the break-up I felt so good and felt like I was doing what was right and began to feel the spirit again.  Sacrament became much more meaningful to me during this time.  I felt the calm reassurance through the spirit that I had been forgiven.

A few months went by and I went to the same bishop to renew my temple recommend.  He asked me all the normal questions and when he asked me if I viewed pornography and I answered no.  He asked me if I have inappropriate thoughts or masturbate and I answered yes and he asked me more about it.  His responses were in a very rude tone and he said "I cannot give you a temple recommend, pulled the recommend book away, and proceeded to tell me that I could not get a recommend until 5 months went by without any relapse."  Part of me understood and part of me was upset because of the spirit I felt other times in my life and from what my last bishop told me.  I remember leaving his office in tears frustrated and angry with him, but most of all with myself.  My thoughts were on anything and anyone but the savior.  I felt like I was a terrible person.  I went home and cried and asked the Lord for help.  I asked him if I was unworthy to go to the temple.  It seemed all of my progress thus far in my life was a waste and that I was just as worse as ever.  I became discouraged and at times depressed.  While crying in my bed that night I told myself I would not be bitter and that I would trust that what the bishop said was right.

Discouraged, but determined to be obedient I tried with everything I had over the next few weeks to not masturbate.  The first little while was easy, but after a week it built up until the temptation was constant.  I began touching myself and when I was near climax would catch myself and say "you can't do this!"  I found that as I caught myself it was more so I could answer yes to the temple recommend interview question in five months than it was because I wanted to "do what is right."  I would for the next few days touch myself but avoided climax.  The urges built up more and more but would return each day more powerful than the last.  I became more discouraged and felt like it was impossible. I would pray and ask the Lord for strength to not give in so that I could go to the temple. I began to look at pictures of girls in bikinis and caught myself getting worse and worse.  The thought came to mind to go further and to look at hardcore pornography.  I immediately stopped and saw where I was going, and I did not like it.  All of the feelings, emotions within that were building up the longer I went were too much to resist.  I was frustrated with myself and felt helpless.  I closed my computer, masturbated to climax, so that I could relieve myself of my sexual feelings so that I would not begin looking at pornography again.  I am so glad that I decided to close my computer and the past little while has again been easy.  But after this experience, I am faced with the dilemma:  do I continue to remain abstinent from masturbation and give it up cold turkey and risk those feelings building up inside me again.  If this is the right answer I worry that again I will turn to pornography, though I want to avoid it so badly.

From all these experiences, I have come to the conclusion that the real question is, how bad is the sin of masturbation.  One bishop tells me that I need to go to the temple more to keep my thought more on the Savior while dealing with the problem, and another bishop tells me I am flat-out unworthy to go to the temple.  Part of me wants to overcome masturbation, but my worry is that stopping all at once may do more harm than good (as I worry that sexual urges will build up so bad and that temptation will lead me towards more serious sins like pornography) I believe the best and healthiest and most beneficial way to overcome it is to slowly improve (i.e.-- once a week, to once a month, to once every two months, etc.) I will struggle with it for some time, maybe years until I can fully master control.  If this were the case, and masturbation makes you unworthy to go to the temple then what if I find a girl I want to marry?  I am nearing the end of my college career and am therefore a bit older.  Do I postpone getting married until I master this?  I want to be better and I want to be worthy to go to the temple, but it is more complicated than that.  Believe me, If I could quit all at once I would!  But I feel it is not an option, with how it went when I tried giving it up all at once.

Since the experience I have read church talks, studies, and many articles on the subject.  Some studies are now finding that masturbation has positive health benefits and leads to less prostate cancer.  Some studies show more confident and positive sexual relationships within marriage of those that masturbate.  They found that couples are better able to express love because the partners know their body and what leads them to climax.  From this knowledge of their own body they are better able to help their partner show their love for them in the natural god-given ways.

In years prior and even in recent times masturbation has been the silent and assumed "no, no" of members, but I have never personally heard talks directly on the matter from church leaders.  I believe a large percentage of members struggle with masturbation and I feel like if it was such a serious sin to keep you away from the temple that it would receive more attention from church leaders.  My personal intuition and spirit tells me that sure masturbation shouldn't become so addictive to the point where it consumes your life or where it leads you to do much worse sins like pornography, rape, incest, etc. From this belief I hope not to be misunderstood--  I am not trying to justify masturbation.  I am simply expressing my concern and question:  How bad of a sin is masturbation, and is it a sin because it itself is wrong, or is it wrong when it becomes addictive or leads to other sins?  Part of me feels like I shouldn't have to be masturbation-free to go to the temple as long as it is innocent like in my youth and if I do not let it become addictive or destructing.  I to become completely free from it to go to the temple?

There is much to consider and so many factors and uncertainties:
  • Pres Packer in the "For young Men Only" makes it sound like the body is designed to help you with the urges as it is released naturally.   I don't have wet dreams.  For me, it builds up more and more and it becomes almost unbearable.  Am I just weak?  
  • Which Bishop is right?  Is masturbating something where I can still go to the temple to get added help from the Lord, or is it a sin that makes me from going to the temple?
  • If it was so bad all along, how could I feel the spirit so strongly on my mission and when I have been to the temple in the past?   
  • If it is a "serious" sin, why is it not talked about more by church leaders.  Gambling became a big problem and we heard the gambling talk.  Many people struggle with masturbation yet there hasn't been a talk by church leaders in the past few decades. 
  • Was my masturbation while a child a sin?  I felt it drew me closer to righteous things.  For me, it only became damaging when that was mixed with pornography or went to a point of addiction.  
  • If it is wrong altogether, do I give it up all at once or work on it little by little.  Doing it over time will be most successful I feel but delays other commandments like going to the temple and getting married. 
Though there are many questions, my main concern is this:  If it was so obviously wrong to one bishop, why was it acceptable and encouraged for me to attend the temple by another?  The counsel given by each were in complete opposition to each other.  Which is right?  

I have read experiences of fathers who's sons committed suicide because their bishops were untrained to deal with the issue and told the kids that they would go to Hell if they couldn't overcome masturbation.  When seeking solace for their son's suicide the bishops said they were going to Hell for committing suicide.  Many people have left the church because of the issue of masturbation and because of the confusion on their worthiness.  I try not to blame the church.  In stories like these where members are counseled incorrectly or inconsistently,  we must realize members have flaws and that only the Lord knows and will be the final judge.

I feel so helpless, frustrated, and alone.  I know the savior is there to help and I pray to him every night that I may figure this out.  I want to follow the Savior and just don't know how to do it because there is not enough help and talk about the subject.  In the mean time I have been praying to receive personal revelation on what to do, or what is right.  I agree that masturbation in its unrestrained form is bad, but is there a time and a place for it and does it deem somebody "unworthy" to go to the temple? Please post and share this with friends throughout the LDS church.  Post any input you have. 

Again, I post this with humility, honestly wanting to change and be better.  Hopefully I am not the only one that feels this way and that this reaches ears of others who are struggling with this same problem.

Side note:  Understand that everyone has their weaknesses and to each their own.  We all struggle with our own trials and each suffer in our own Gethsemane.  For me, I do everything else almost to the exact but this is the one area what I personally struggle with.  I believe each person's tests are specifically tailored to the individual to help them grow and I am merely seeking to know what is right and wanting to learn and grow from this trial.