Pornography and masturbation

(also see “Modesty” and “Sexual purity”)

 

Pros of Mormonism from the perspective of the
Believer
Nonbeliever
Many believers are happy that Mormonism protects them and their families from the evils of masturbation and pornography. Pornography is an avalanche of evil, and the prophets repeatedly warn us against it and thus keep us safe from spiritual and physical harm.
 
The physical harms created by masturbation and pornography are real, and Mormonism’s counsel to be sexually pure protects us from them. These include:
 
Potential harms of masturbation: it can hurt relationships as one member seeks sexual fulfillment in other ways than with their partner; it can hamper sexual performance, especially  if one has unusual masturbation habits that differ significantly from what their partner is comfortable with
 
Potential harms of pornography usage:  it objectifies men and women (mostly women), it can be addictive, it can harm relationships, it can hamper sexual performance with one’s partner, it can cause insecurities and problems with body image.
 
Modern prophets have shared many valuable insights about pornography and masturbation.
 
From a talk by President Hinckley: “[Pornography] is like a raging storm, destroying individuals and families, utterly ruining what was once wholesome and beautiful… Pornography is not some titillating feast for the eyes that gives a momentary rush of excitement. [Rather] it has the effect of damaging hearts and souls to their very depths, strangling the life out of relationships that should be sacred, hurting to the very core those you should love the most. Continued exposure leads to addiction that is almost impossible to break. Men, so very many, find they cannot leave it alone. Their energies and their interests are consumed in their dead-end pursuit of this raw and sleazy fare. “
 
Those who seek out and use pornography for sexual stimulation obviously violate [the baptismal] covenant. They also violate a sacred covenant to refrain from unholy and impure practices. They cannot have the Spirit of the Lord to be with them… Pornography impairs one’s ability to enjoy a normal emotional, romantic, and spiritual relationship with a person of the opposite sex. It erodes the moral barriers that stand against inappropriate, abnormal, or illegal behavior. As conscience is desensitized, patrons of pornography are led to act out what they have witnessed, regardless of its effects on their life and the lives of others. Pornography is also addictive. It impairs decision-making capacities and it “hooks” its users, drawing them back obsessively for more and more. A man who had been addicted to pornography and to hard drugs wrote me this comparison: “In my eyes cocaine doesn’t hold a candle to this. I have done both. … Quitting even the hardest drugs was nothing compared to [trying to quit pornography]”
 
The church has programs to overcome pornography addiction. Whether addicted or not, overcoming the temptation to masturbate and look at pornography is essential to overcoming the natural man. Teaching oneself to overcome sexual urges is a valuable lesson in mental and physical self-discipline. The fortitude of mastering oneself is an invaluable life lesson.
To many nonbelievers, the principle of self-control is sound and valued. Thus, the nonbeliever might agree that teaching oneself to overcome sexual urges is a valuable lesson in mental and physical self-discipline. The fortitude of mastering oneself is an invaluable life lesson.
 
The nonbeliever might also appreciate how Mormonism tries to protect people from some actual harm that excessive masturbation and pornography can cause:
 
Potential harms of masturbation: it can hurt relationships as one member seeks sexual fulfillment in other ways than with their partner; it can hamper sexual performance, especially  if one has unusual masturbation habits that differ significantly from what their partner is comfortable with
 
Potential harms of pornography usage: it objectifies men and women (mostly women), it can be addictive, it can harm relationships, it can hamper sexual performance with one’s partner, it can cause insecurities and problems with body image.
 
Cons of Mormonism from the perspective of the
Believer
Nonbeliever
There is a lot of guilt and shame about pornography and masturbation in Mormonism. A believing Mormon may or may not think that this guilt and shame is a byproduct of how Mormonism addresses these topics. Some believers might think that individual bishops are too harsh in disciplining Mormons with porn or masturbation habits, and they might wish that there was more room to be lenient. In the end, however, it is likely that most believing Mormons won’t see the guilt and shame of masturbation and pornography as a byproduct of Mormonism, but rather a byproduct of the terrible sin itself.
 
It is offensive to many believers that the church teaches that masturbation is a gateway to homosexuality. Spencer W Kimball said that masturbation “often leads to grievous sin, even to that sin against nature, homosexuality.” (The Miracle of Forgiveness, pp. 77-78

 
Because the church rarely preaches to women about not masturbating or watching pornography, many women get the impression that this is a problem women aren’t even tempted by. Thus, Mormon women who do masturbate and watch pornography can feel like they are extremely abnormal and that there is something extremely wrong with them. This is in contrast to men, who might feel guilt and shame, but who realize that they are in the same boat as most other men out there.
Because there is a lot of guilt and shame about pornography and masturbation in Mormonism, many nonbelievers believe that Mormonism unnecessarily exacerbates the problems of both.
 
In regards to masturbation, many nonbelievers might see potential harm (such as isolating one partner from another in some situations), but overall it’s frequently viewed as at least harmless and even beneficial in some ways (it feels good, it provides sexual release, it is generally safe). In regards to pornography, most secular people acknowledge that pornography can be bad in some ways (it can be objectifying, exploitative, possibly addictive, possibly harm relationships, hurt sexual performance, etc), but they would argue it can harmless or even good in other ways (it can be enjoyable, entertaining, and can strengthen relationships and improve sex). To the nonbeliever, it would seem that Mormonism eliminates all the good aspects of porn mentioned above, and it also worsens two of the problems mentioned above:  Mormonism makes porn more addictive and more harmful to relationships. It also makes masturbation more addictive and unnecessarily harmful to relationships.
 
To explain this, it needs to first be explained that many nonbelievers see pornography in many ways as being natural, harmless, and as normal as masturbation. The two can complement each other and are a substitute for sex. When a nonbeliever wants to have sex but can’t, viable options to satisfy this biological urge is to watch porn and/or masturbate.  The nonbeliever might, at times, watch some pornography, masturbate, and then move on with their life and stop thinking about sex for a while as their libido recharges. This is probably the healthiest and most ideal way for interested parties to approach masturbation and porn.
 
Mormonism, however, forbids this approach.
 
Let’s look at what happens with a believer who masturbates and/or watches porn and the guilt and shame that are created. The nonbeliever wants to have sex, but they can’t (perhaps they aren’t married or perhaps their spouse is unavailable for one reason or another). Because they can’t have sex, they want to masturbate and watch porn, but they resist doing so. They might resist for minutes, hours, or days. Every time they resist, however, the desire to have sex does not go away. Eventually, the natural and biological desire to have sex builds until they literally cannot stop thinking about sex, and they lose control (some faithful Mormons never lose control… kudos to them!). They eventually masturbate and/or watch porn. Now, instead of moving on with their life to nonsexual topics like the nonbeliever can, they are stuck in a world of sexual guilt and shame. After they have sexual release, they do not get a time period with no libido and no sexual thoughts. On the contrary, because of their guilt and shame, they are still thinking about sex. And now, not only do they have a biologic libido which is recharging and will eventually stimulate them to want to have sex, their guilt and shame is forcing them to think about sex all the time. In addition, the human brain that is overwhelmed with negative feelings of guilt and shame will desperately search for a way out. The brain knows that the very thing it feels guilt and shame about will also bring dopamine release and happy feelings. A vicious cycle is thus formed because of the guilt and shame, and an “addiction” to porn or masturbation is created. In many cases, this guilt and shame can only be erased with intense prayer and confession to a bishop or mission president. All is well until the cycle restarts, when they masturbate and/or watch porn hours, days, weeks, or months later. Relapsing is psychologically traumatizing and only makes the guilt and shame worse.
 
This unhealthy situation happens all the time. Mormonism can literally make it harder to stop thinking about sex. I have heard from many Mormons who left the church that pornography and masturbation lost their appeal and/or addictive properties when they were no longer taboo and associated with guilt and shame.
 
To the nonbeliever, it can also seem that Mormonism makes pornography a bigger problem for families. It is true that some men/women truly do get addicted to pornography inside and outside of the church. These people spend hours looking at porn every day, they spend lots of money on it, they can’t function at work because of it, and they aren’t sexually functional with their partner because of it. For these people, regardless of Mormonism, pornography hurt them and their family.
 
Let’s look how Mormonism makes this worse. Mormonism makes pornography and masturbation into such a huge deal that casual participants are called addicts (being falsely labeled an addict is, in and of itself, harmful!). Casual participants who function fine socially and professionally, who only watch porn an hour or so a week, and who have great sex with their spouse are called addicts because they don’t stop using porn or masturbating. And while many nonbelieving spouses wouldn’t mind if the other spouse masturbated or watched porn (they might even join in!), a believing spouse is likely to get so offended by the masturbation and porn that it causes serious marital discord. Some even consider divorce. Fear of a negative reaction prompts many masturbators or pornography users to do it all in secret, which is generally bad for a marriage and makes the eventual feeling of hurt and betrayal worse.
 
This is not hyperbole. This really happens. Mormonism literally destroys families with its teachings on pornography and masturbation. It literally exacerbates or even creates addiction with guilt and shame. The cynic might even wonder if this is intentional, because it keeps people broken and dependent on the church and the solution it tries to sell. Many “addicts” are only cured when they realize that they shouldn’t feel shame or guilt for masturbating or even for watching pornography.
 
It is offensive to nearly all nonbelievers that the church teaches that masturbation is a gateway to homosexuality. Spencer W Kimball said that masturbation “often leads to grievous sin, even to that sin against nature, homosexuality.” (The Miracle of Forgiveness, pp. 77-78)
 
Because the church rarely preaches to women about not masturbating or watching pornography, many women get the impression that this is a problem women aren’t even tempted by. Thus, Mormon women who do masturbate and watch pornography often feel like they are extremely abnormal and that there is something extremely wrong with them. This is in contrast to men, who might feel guilt and shame, but who realize that they are in the same boat as most other men out there.

 

Comments relating to your lived experience with Mormonism are welcome. Although it can be difficult to distinguish at times, please focus on how the church helps and harms rather than it being true vs untrue.

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