History of Mormons and Masturbation

Paper about masturbation in mormonism[1]

Below are select highlights from the above article with my own commentary.

1920s – 1930s manuals did not forbid masturbation, just over masturbation.

From the article:

Official church manuals endorsed secular books about sexuality and suggested that sexual interests be guided rather than inhibited. During this time masturbation did not always carry the same onus that it does in the popular Mormon literature of today. Rather than focusing on abstinence supervision as is practiced today with current church youth interviewing policies, lessons instead warned parents that they could create emotional problems in their adolescents by an “unintelligent” over response to their masturbation (Bush, 1993)…

Prior to the 1950s the sparse church literature specifically mentioning masturbation generally agreed with moderate views of secular medical authorities.

Early church beliefs/records.

These records offer no indication of any official ‘prophetic’ or ‘revelatory’ church statements on the issue, but rather that masturbation became a topic of concern and discussion in private top leadership councils.

When the Boy Scouts were founded, one of the major dangers boys were warned to avoid was masturbation.

Very interesting indeed.

“That fear was even used by some to justify polygamy, at least in the twentieth century, when some fundamentalist Mormons still taught that any loss of semen in men was hazardous and dangerous.”

[Joseph] Smith chose not to speak on the subject at all and early church members’ questions were left to be answered by popular secular or medical opinion.”

“Brigham Young finally went public with the secret plural wife doctrine in the 1850s in Salt Lake City, but even then, he still said nothing about masturbation.

“In fact, the literature of Mormonism appears to be entirely absent of any statements on the topic at all until the late nineteenth century.

“During Brigham Young’s day, Mormons were unabashed and outspoken in discussing sexual health and morality issues such as adultery, fornication, and prostitution in print. For the first pioneer Mormons however, the question of masturbation was never discussed in the church press and the Mormon prophets took no official doctrinal position. No known early Mormon doctrinal statements from this period exist specifically on the topic.”

Earliest quotes I can find about masturbation.

18 June,1870 – First Counselor George A. Smith tells Salt Lake School of Prophets about “the evil of masturbation” among Utah Mormons. Apostle Lorenzo Snow says that “plural marriage would tend to diminish the evil of self pollution and the indulgence on the part of men was less in plural marriage than in monogamy.”

– ibid

The following year, the 1871 School of the Prophets minutes recorded Apostle Daniel Wells as stating, “a great many of our young men [are] abusing themselves by the habit of self pollution.” He regarded this as “one great cause of why so many of our young men were not married, and it was a great sin, and would lead to insanity and a premature grave” (p. 767).

–ibid (Sourced from D. Michael Quinn’s extensions of power)

1883 meeting of the LDS First Presidency with stake presidents who received special instructions about “Masturbation … self-pollution of both sexes and excessive indulgence in the married relation” (p. 782).

In 1886, the polygamous leader of Salt Lake City’s Fourteenth Ward, Bishop Thomas Taylor, “was excommunicated for masturbating with several young men in southern Utah” (O’Donovan, 1994, p.135).

“The practice of masturbation was indulged in by many young people in church schools. Pres. Smith remarked that this was a most damnable and pernicious practice, and the face of every apostle, president of a stake, and high council should be set as flint against it. The priesthood should be called together at the stake conferences and the brethren and parents should be instructed and warned in relation to this matter” (Mormon Apostle Rudger Clawson, 1902).

The church was also late to the game on masturbation, learning from science that it was not harmful and then setting policy.

In time, twentieth-century medical thinking abandoned the false theoretical concept of masturbatory insanity. Bush notes that the church also revised its opinion. He states: “Eventually an official instructional manual for adult Mormons on a variety of health issues spoke forthrightly of ‘the pernicious fallacy that insanity is the result of excessive masturbation. The facts do not support any such view” (Bush, 1993: 148).

But some men did not believe what was being taught.

In October 1953, [B.Y.U.] President Wilkinson, alarmed at the implications of Alfred Kinsey’s reports on male and female sexual behavior, appointed a faculty committee to determine if the school’s sex education program was providing a strong defense of chastity… at least two faculty committees were appointed to address the “Masturbation Problem” (Bergera & Priddis, 1985, p.81).

Petting is indecent and sinful, and the person who attempts to pet with you is himself both indecent and sinful and is likewise lustful… Is that what you want? Will you not remember that in the category of crime, God says sex sin is next to murder? (Apostle Mark E. Petersen, General Conference, 3 October 1956).

To keep the Children of Israel from committing these sins, the Lord proceeds to name them and to prescribe penalties for their commission. I am going to name a few of them. First is incest. I am not enlarging on it. In the law incest included more than we now ascribe to it. It included marriage between people within prohibited relationships. The penalty for incest was death to both parties. Fornication-sometimes adultery and fornication are used interchangeably. But for most kinds of fornication, the penalty was death. For adultery, it was death for both parties. For homosexuality, it was death to the male and the prescription or penalty for the female I do not know (Apostle J. Reuben Clark, Jr., Conference Address, April 8, 1957).

How like the mistletoe is immorality. The killer plant starts with a sticky sweet berry. Little indiscretions are the berries — indiscretions like sex thoughts, sex discussions, passionate kissing, pornography. The leaves and little twigs are masturbation and necking and such, growing with every exercise. The full-grown plant is petting and sex looseness. It confounds, frustrates, and destroys like the parasite if it is not cut out and destroyed, for, in time it robs the tree, bleeds its life, and leaves it barren and dry; and, strangely enough, the parasite dies with its host (Prophet Spencer W. Kimball, General Conference Address, April 1, 1967).

Unedited First Vision account could imply masturbation (Willard Richards removed the all caps section):

I was left to all kinds of temptations; and, mingling with all kinds of society, I frequently fell into many foolish errors, and displayed the weakness of youth, and the foibles of human nature; which, I am sorry to say, led me into divers temptations, offensive in the sight of God TO THE GRATIFICATION OF MANY APPETITES (Times and Seasons, v. 3, pp. 748-749)

The next verse, verse 29, was added later after Smith’s death, which says he was merely guilty of “levity.”

Bonus thought: “His [Tissou's] association of masturbation with weakness and an almost endless list of symptoms were particularly frightening to his readers and he initiated in that era a popular new belief that came to be known as “masturbatory insanity.”

“Masturbatory Insanity” is a great name for a band.

In the 1980s, LDS Psychiatrist Cantril Nielsen found himself caught between his conflicting religious and professional oaths. Nielsen paid a sizable wrongful death malpractice settlement in the masturbation-shame suicide of 16-year-old Kip Eliason. The lawsuit alleged that Nielsen violated professional standards of psychiatric care by prescribing that his patient should follow his Mormon bishop’s advice to abstain from masturbation in order to be “worthy,” rather than basing treatment on empirical medical evidence required by medical ethics. Medical experts in the case verified the empirical evidence that masturbation is not only harmless, but that masturbation abstinence has a documented history of suicidal risk (Eliason, 1983; Steckel, 1917/1953).

When masturbation was declared to be a normal behavior by the American Medical Association in 1972, the Boy Scout Handbook was updated to reflect current health information. The new edition stated:

Many young men like to masturbate…. People used to think this caused weakness, insanity, and other physical and mental problems. Doctors today agree that it doesn’t cause any of these and is really a part of growing up sexually (Boy Scouts of America, 1972a: 334).

This edition met with disapproval from Mormon and Catholic authorities, who are major sponsors of the Boy Scouts. The moral views of popular church culture were now at odds with modern medical science. Church influence on Boy Scout officials resulted in 25,000 copies being destroyed. A new revised printing removed the medical facts about masturbation health that were in conflict with church leader’s opinions (Rowan, 2000). This revision advised:

You may have questions about sexual matters such as nocturnal emissions (also called “wet dreams”) masturbation and even those strange feelings that you may have. Talk them over with your parents and/or spiritual advisor or doctor” (Boy Scouts of America, 1972b, p. 334.).

Yes, my scout master would have totally been the person to talk to about masturbation. ::eye roll::

This entry was posted in Current issues, Timelines. Bookmark the permalink. Last edited by EmmaHS on February 2, 2013 at 8:34 pm

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