Once upon a time, my father and I attended priesthood session. On our way there, my father commented how bad he felt for Boyd K. Packer because he always had to take the “conversation to the young men”. He was a junior apostle at the time and he assumed that the discussions of homosexuality and masturbation was handed down to him from everyone else who didn’t want it.
However, Boyd K .Packer is now the most senior apostle and he still speaks most frequently about homosexuality and masturbation. This lead me to chase down a bit of why he talks about these things so frequently.
So I asked myself, what do the scriptures say about Masturbation?
That’s right, there is not a single instance of masturbation talk in the scriptures. Not just the bible; but the scriptures for “our day” as well have no mention. There is one scripture about Onan who uses the pull out method of birth control and dies from it, but having sex with your brother’s wife (to fulfill a covenant) and masturbation are not even close to similar.
So what did Joseph Smith say about Masturbation?
Well, almost nothing. He wrote in his 1838 version of the first vision that
“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”. The edit was made by Willard Richards, afraid it was too obvious that it meant masturbation, which was unseemly for a prophet to do. (Hey, he was a 14-year-old boy)
So when is the first mention of masturbation in the history of the LDS church?
18 June, 1870 – George A. Smith tells Salt Lake School of the Prophets about “the evil of Masturbation” among Utah Mormons. Apostle Lorenzo Snow says that “Plural Marriage would tend to diminish this evil self-pollution,” School of the Prophets record quoted in D. Michael Quinn’s “Extentions of Power” page 766)
A year later they discussed it again, with polygamy being the solution. That’s 40 years of church history with nary a mention even at the top. So maybe they just didn’t talk about sexual topics?
“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.”
I think it should be mentioned that a bishop thought it okay to group masturbate with teenage boys, for which he was excommunicated in 1886. So there is some precedent, but even then no literature or formal advice was produced
In 1902 George Albert Smith again spoke on the evils of masturbation; but nothing was done
“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”” –1902 Mormon Apostle Rudger Clawson
Following the majority of the Brethren would have led one to think there was nothing wrong with having a wank.
In the 1920-30’s
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. http://www.mormonstudies.net/pdf/mormon_masturbation.pdf
So we’re up to 120 years with no mention to the youth except to follow your doctor’s recommendation. It’s not a sin, no youth talks, no pamphlets with smiling teenagers on them, nothing.
In fact, when medical science decided that masturbation did not cause insanity, the church published manuals stating “the pernicious fallacy that insanity is the result of excessive masturbation. The facts do not support any such view….”
So why is it a “sin” now?
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).
Ah, you see there was this guy, Kinsey, and he ran some studies on what is “Normal sexual behavior” as well as what was abnormal, and he publisehd in 1948 (men) and 1953 (women). But the normal behavior became sin when BYU president read the report that women did it too.
What follows is a set of speeches by apostles that ban more and more of the “normal” mentioned by the Kinsey Report:
“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.
That’s right, in 1967 masturbation is as “wrong as necking”. Almost 140 years of the church’s history and it barely gets a mention.
So why were we chosen to live in an era with a “new sin”. In 1975 Vaugh J. Featherstone gave a talk on masturbation at BYU.
In 1976, Boyd K. Packer gave a speech in priesthood session that was then printed out and distributed to young men entitled “To Young Men Only” (Still hosted on LDS.org). To be clear, Boyd K. claims that the Lord has given young men powers to procreate only to be used with their wives, a new doctrine not before stated by scripture, or any of the other brethren in the history of the church. He is entitled to his opinions, but his decision to promote or proselyte them is in question.
This pamphlet is famous for the “little factories” analogy.
In 1980 Spencer W. Kimball gave a talk about it as well. As a side note shortly after 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).
Despite a death and lawsuit in Sep 1981 – Branch presidents at the Missionary Training Center in Provo receive 21-point handout to help “both male and female” missionaries avoid masturbation.
From 1976 on, the act of masturbation became a “Sin” pretty much completely put into the minds of the LDS by recent leadership. Further lawsuits of suicide victims discussing the feeling of unworthiness would come and still do against the church or specific local leaders over this invented sin.
For a complete list of talks regarding this sin since 1975: https://www.lds.org/search?q=masturbation&lang=eng&domains=general-conference&sort=date-old
After the church found out something was normal, and that women also enjoyed their bodies, the apostles started to discourage the practice that Joseph Smith himself thought no big deal, and God seems to not care about. Boyd K. Packer, pushed the correlation department to print out pamphlets that invented a sin, and then the leadership talked about it at almost every conference with Boyd K. being the foremost speaker for the rest of his life up until this point.
Death, shame, guilt for a “sin” so vile that God never mentioned it, and church history almost never speaks of it. Now, who should be excommunicated for misleading members with personal doctrine?
More history available here: http://www.mormonstudies.net/pdf/mormon_masturbation.pdf