25 July 2007

What's Wrong With a Little 'M'?

For those of you who don't know, in the online mormon discussion world, 'M' is the oft-used abbreviation for the all-too-fun-to-discuss topic of masturbation (AKA 'self abuse' in church manuals). I figured it was about time to 'go there' and bring this up when I was looking through some old discussion group posts and came across the following, which I wrote a couple of years ago:

I've been thinking for some time about it. I think a problem with masturbation is that it is...well...sort of akin to blasphemy...in a way. How to explain...? The power to procreate is magnificent and sacred, right? But we aren't 'procreating' when using birth control within marriage, so what of that? That's not condemned by church policy, right? Maybe there's another factor.

When you're making love with your spouse, what you are hopefully doing (yeah, I'm inexperienced and idealistic...bear with me) is giving yourself completely to him or her. You are sharing the most vulnerable parts of you, emotionally and physically, with the purpose of helping them achieve, with you, an intensity of emotional and physical and spiritual feeling and intimacy that the two of you can share as a precious and deeply personal experience that brings you together in a way completely unique to your relationship.

Intercourse is meant to be selfless and aimed at pleasing your spouse...as well as being highly pleasurable, no? So taking that and saying, "Forget commitment and focusing on her--I want to take that most special of experiences and keep it for myself. I want to focus on ME and pleasing ME." This self-satisfying, almost animalistic approach contributes to killing the sacredness of sexuality.

Now, stamping out the special nature of sex is done so relentlessly in every media form and in daily conversation that masturbation may seem just one small step...but it's an actual, voluntary, deliberate action, often mixed with "impure" thoughts and entertainment that degrades the beauty of humanity to base, spiritless lust, not just an off-color remark made in passing.

I guess I'll stop trying to expound. My main point is that I believe it IS, to some degree, wrong (no soap box--no pretense of perfection--just what I think). And no, I don't think we should feel immediately and irreparably hellbound for giving in to the natural, biological urges in us. But as with any impure action, one should tell him- or herself, "I will do better next time." ...and no, I don't mean 'do better' that way, sickos.

We pick ourselves up and move on, determined to eliminate impure and unholy practices from our lives, recognizing our imperfection and need for a Savior, and repenting by feeling the need to change, asking for help and forgiveness, and moving on. Our direction and attitude make all the difference, I think.

Yeah, it's probably not a holy practice. Yeah, you're probably not in the minority if you do it. I don't think anyone should be too hard on themselves over it (I tried to think of a better way to word that--work with me, here). But it's most often the subtle things that slowly lead us into places and attitudes we otherwise would not have approached. And I just wouldn't want to be controlled by it or let it foul my perspective on what it means to 'make love.'


I originally had some other thoughts but decided not to make this post longer. However, in response to a comment on this by iwonder, I've decided to include those thoughts, plus some, tacked onto the end of this post:

Regarding the fact that I often post past thoughts, I do feel pretty much the same now on a lot of these things as I did then. It's just that since I've already written out a lot of these thoughts, rather than rehash by rewriting, I just repost what I've written, slightly edited.

I understand the feeling that those of us who hold little hope for future "appropriate expression" of sexuality can't reasonably be expected to abstain from this form of "self-expression", if you will.

And I think that in that sense, as long as it's not accompanied by pornography use or lustful fantasies, it's still best to avoid it but also to move on if you engage in it, without feeling guilt-ridden. Even if it's not good or ideal, it's not the sin next to murder, either, folks. And if your past indicates that you're less likely to go have sex with strangers if you take care of business by yourself at home, then by all means, use it as a stepping stone to a better place. Again, even if not ideal, it's a lot better than the alternative (e.g. scratching your number into bathroom stalls or booty calling a Craig's List contact). Now, remember that you do, in fact, despite past experience, have free agency and need not always be a slave to your sexual appetite, so always have progression in mind.

In short, I'm a bit agnostic as to how bad simple self-stimulation, independent of degrading images or thoughts, is. We don't have ample doctrinal declarations or scriptural basis for such. Only sporadic mention. So that's why I didn't go in-depth into whether you should never engage in it but focused on the principles around the act I believe are helpful to keep in mind.

And in addition, I am not yet among those who holds no hope for a future marriage, so that affects my perspective, but I think I'll expound on that in another post.


Addendum (2009-09-27): When I first wrote this, I avoided making comparisons with other habits for a reason, but I'll just say I might compare the severity of the simple act to something like using crude language. It's not exactly virtuous. It's crude. It's certainly not indicative of self-mastery (somewhat like eating too much junk food). And in the case of masturbation, it may in many cases or for many people equate to committing emotional adultery with yourself against your spouse or degrading another human being to nothing more than an object for your self-gratification, and while occasionally indulging in such to a small degree is probably not going to turn you into a sociopath or a black-hearted hedon, I think seeing or thinking of people as playthings rather than living souls or taking sexual energy away from a spouse are best avoided. But in moderation, you probably don't need to prostrate yourself in lowly repentance for an hour because you "took matters into your own hands" for a moment.

I do still think pornography and fantasizing are more troublesome issues, but perhaps that, too, is another post for another time. One of my bishops told the congregation that, in response to questions about when porn and masturbation become "a problem", he said if it's more than once a month, come see him. I thought that sounded pretty fair, and I eagerly went home marked the first day of every month on my calendar as the monthly "my bishop told me it's OK" day...


iwonder said...

I've noticed you often re-post your past thoughts. Has anything changed? Do you still see this (and other things) exactly the same now?

I agree with you that ideally, masturbation is unnecessary and probably not a good thing. I would love to be able to "make love" to my spouse.

But to seriously live a life without any hope of that kind of relationship, to be devoid of any "sanctioned" sexual release or relationship is a lot to expect.

I recognise that according to the Church, masturbation is not something that ought to be engaged in. And yet...

It is one thing to tell yourself that you are "saving" yourself for your future spouse, and that you will only be intimate with that person, and will only desire to please that person. But one must also factor in that in such a situation, there is someone devoting themselves to you and doing their best to pleasing you. That's what a loving relationship is all about.

Not only do many of us feel we haven't a realistic chance of having the opportunity to devote ourselves to one person, we also haven't anyone who will devote themselves to us.

We're missing out on both of those things, and both of those things are, in my opinion, part of a physically, emotionally, mentally healthy life.

Does that make any sense?

Original Mohomie said...

iWonder, I do understand what you're saying and wrote an addendum that addresses some of what you're talking about. I don't know how much we agree on the notion of substituting alternatives when we can't have the ideal, but I'd guess we don't differ much in most of our conclusions.

by a thread said...

OMO...Hello. Interesting thoughts, and while I totally understand how this act of masturbation is selfish and self gratifying...I personally can't beat myself up over it anymore. I know you mentioned that you don't think that is necessary either. But do you really feel that way? I don't tell myself to go ahead and "do it", but if the urge is strong I don't care as much as I used to and often will just get it over with, and mostly enjoy it. That is probably a bit to blunt. Interesting topic though...king of taboo too. Interesting how it is becoming more acceptable like you mentioned...that might not be a good thing.

Forester said...

There have been times when the M has saved me from certain destruction. There have been a few occasions when I came close to hooking up with a guy. Lately though I've preferred the M over sex with my wife, and that bothers me. I haven't ever felt this way before. I've been avoiding sex with her and I feel bad about this. However, the last time we had sex, it was incredible.