Most of this blog has been quite focused on what “the truth” is, and the nature of religious experiences.
However, after a recent gathering of secular “ex-Mormons” that I attended in Canberra, and several other discussions with various people over time, it seems like a good idea to talk about post-Mormon sexuality: some ideas about how to approach it, my personal experience (if it is interesting or helpful to share with others), and possible good values that could be embraced.
There’s a lot of good content in this area. I have to shoutout to the Mormon Transitions project. They recently did a two-part series (here and here) that was really enjoyable and relevant to this subject. Mormon Stories has also done content here recently, and the Mormon Mental Health podcast has done two here and here.
I will put this content out there hoping that someone will benefit from it or it can contribute to someone’s thought processes in a positive way.
- It goes without saying that this is all just my opinion. I am not a qualified sex therapist or psychologist, my views are constructed around personal experiences, psychological research that I have done, and lengthy, thoughtful consideration on the topic. I open this as a discussion for people to share their thoughts. Please feel free to read through and contribute to the discussion in the comments below.
- This post goes into some personal details about my sexuality and history that I am willing to share. No names of any partners will be mentioned and no personal details disclosed. I’ve done my absolute best to avoid saying anything that would hurt or anger any of my (previous) partners. None of them know this article exists and I am only loosely in contact with them. I will write as respectfully and thoughtfully on the topic as possible, while revealing enough detail to have the article be “effective” as a discussion-starter.
I am assuming any reader is familiar with the “the law of chastity” as preached within contemporary LDS Mormonism. I’ll be commenting a lot on the law of chastity to provide a background context for commentary about post-religious sexuality.
My Story: Teenagehood
My story / personal history in this area is long and complex. Obviously I am not going to tell all of the details, just those that are most relevant to the discussion.
I was brought up in the LDS church and taught the law of chastity from childhood. As a fully-believing Mormon I accepted the teachings completely.
Partially as a result of being brought up with the “For the Strength of Youth” LDS “standards”, my sexual development was delayed somewhat in comparison to many other youth. This wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. The standard of group dating only after 16 and single dating after 18 is something I don’t vigorously oppose (however, I don’t think it’s a law from God or that kids are sinning if they have a boyfriend/girlfriend at age 13-14, it just allows kids to be more mature when they start dating) — It worked out fine for me — it allowed me to “stay out of trouble” and enjoy my childhood and youth in other ways. I wasn’t really interested in girls until about 16-17 in any case.
In my teens I believed sex was evil. In fact I wrote exactly that in one of my journals. I had very warped views of human sexuality, and strange views of Godhood and sexuality. I remember once having a crush on a girl and having a dream that I married her, and that she was pregnant, but that I had not had sex with her (so it was a virgin pregnancy). I viewed this as pure and wonderful. This dream shows my very weird views of sexuality; having kids is good, but sex itself is evil, and kids that are had without sex (like “Jesus” — with the virgin birth) are pure and good, while the others are not as pure and good.
About 18 is when interesting things started happening.
In my 18th year I got my first real, serious girlfriend. She is and was a really good person and dating her was a very important life experience.
Because she had more prior sexual experience than me, in a sense she “guided” me down a path towards physical interaction that was unfamiliar with me. In hindsight from my current viewpoint, I see this in a very positive light. However, at the time, due to my belief in the “law of chastity”, our physical interactions caused me much (unnecessary) shame and guilt.
I was very ignorant of sexual things. My parents had given me the “birds and the bees” talk at about age 12 or 13. I don’t think the emotional elements of sexuality were even remotely mentioned; it was strictly a biological talk. My schooling also had “sex education”, which was similarly biological and lacked information about the emotional intricacies of sexuality.
Like many young people do, we gradually walked down the path of closer and deeper physical intimacy. After several months of dating, one evening during our making out, I ejaculated for the first time. It was a complete surprise to me. I basically had no idea what had just happened. Of course, like all of the prior intimacy (holding hands, making out), it felt really great. But then the flood of emotions began to rush in because I thought I had “breached God’s law”.
To illustrate how ignorant I was of sexual things, I will read a sentence from my journal which I still have from the week after it happened:
“Well, me and (girlfriend) have been going out for almost 3 months, and now, this just had to happen, this Sunday night the making out just became a bit too hectic, we took it too far, she was on fire, I’ve never felt like this before, by the end of it I had masturbated. 🙁 That’s not such a good sign; it was really incredible though, really! But afterwards, I told her to slow down”
Yes… I didn’t even know the word “ejaculate”, I thought what I had done was to “masturbate”. I presume this is because of the truckload of rhetoric in the LDS church against masturbation — so I thought I had masturbated. Also, you can detect the conflict in that entry — “this was so amazing!” but “this is not good”.
The next week was hell for me and my girlfriend. I asked her to slow down because I thought we’d broken the law of chastity. She said she needed space. I think she was very hurt by my actions because for her it was normal, but she was investigating Mormonism at the time and might have also felt guilty (I actually don’t really know). I remember walking to school one morning from seminary (I think it was the Friday) — listening to some really sad music and crying terribly because of what I’d done.
The long story short is — after about a week of “slowing down” (and a lot of shame and guilt), we resumed our relationship and took it slow. However, over time, intimacy resumed. Within about two months from that incident, we were on the road to doing similar things, and later on we basically resumed where we’d stopped. In the entirety of our relationship we would never have sex, but basically other forms of physical intimacy that are “sexual”.
It was a confusing time. I loved the intimacy we had, but I felt in the back of my mind that I was doing something wrong. But I wasn’t sure I was actually “sinning”.
Our relationship had its ups and downs like any relationship. During one of the “downs”, we had not been physically close or intimate for a period of time. One day, I was lying on my bed thinking about us — and I had yet another unique, first-time experience: I masturbated (really this time) — again I was 18 and a half years old this first time I masturbated.
Ironically, due to all of the rhetoric around masturbation, I experienced more intense guilt and shame about masturbation than I did from being physically intimate with my girlfriend.
I stopped taking the sacrament at church, which my mother noticed. Interestingly enough, when she asked me about it I said I didn’t want to talk about it — so she sent me to a therapist (and not the bishop?!).
The therapist was non-Mormon, but might have been Christian. To this day I am not entirely sure. She told me masturbation is OK and that having this relationship with my girlfriend is good and healthy (she also gave some helpful advice about how to have a relationship which I remember to this day and it has been very helpful).
To cut the long story short, I went on my mission both sexually “active” with my girlfriend (without having had sexual intercourse itself, we never actually took our clothes off), and sexually active from a masturbation point of view.
Funny sidenote: in my mission interviews with my stake president, he asked me if “I had a problem with masturbation”. I said “no, no problem” (because — it wasn’t a problem right!? 🙂 ).
My Story: Mission
The beginning of my mission was an incredibly difficult time, but that’s another story (that I actually tell here).
In the first few months of my mission I picked up a dictionary to learn new words and improve my English.
One morning during “scripture study”, I randomly decided to look up the words “necking” and “petting”. Because, believe it or not, I didn’t know what those words meant, and all I knew is that they were bad and condemned in the “for the strength of youth”.
Necking: noun. Affectionate play (or foreplay without contact with the genital organs). verb. Kiss, embrace, or fondle with sexual passion
Petting: noun. Stroke or caress in an erotic manner, as during lovemaking
I was floored. “Wait, have I actually broken the law of chastity?” — because I didn’t actually know what these words meant, I never really realised that I had actually done those things.
I had necked and petted.
That morning I went tracting with my trainer. I was on the verge of tears the entire time. My soul was heavily burdened. I experienced immense guilt and shame for 4-5 hours.
My companion could tell that something was up. I asked him if we could go home. At the apartment, I admitted to him that I just learned I had broken the law of chastity many times. I called the mission president right then and there during lunchtime, and broke into tears as I told him what I had done.
As mission presidents do, he asked for the “details”. He wanted to assess if I had crossed the line badly enough to be sent home. I told him I’d never had sex (never even took our clothes off actually) — but that we’d necked and petted. I also told him that I had masturbated, and had been masturbating as a missionary. He told me that we could talk later that week in our interviews. It turns out that he actually had to tell HIS leader about me to ascertain whether I could stay on a mission.
A few days later, we had interviews. In the interview he told me that God had forgiven me and I was clean (the presumption!!). I still felt too guilty and insisted that he take my temple recommend for a month. He took it.
He also told me to write three letters apologising: first to my bishop for not telling the truth, second to my stake president, and third to my girlfriend. I wrote those letters and sent them.
After a while, I felt the “joy of forgiveness”, the relief. I felt forgiven, I got my temple recommend back.
However, I would still masturbate occasionally. Probably no more than once every week and a half to two weeks. I felt immense guilt each time. I would call the mission president each time I masturbated and confess (literally within an hour or two of having masturbated). At one point he got me to call him every Friday night to check in. I remember one particular morning not sleeping well due to sexual pressure, but holding off the masturbation, I called him excitedly the next morning to tell him I’d managed to “not do it”.
Time passed, nothing changed. My masturbation frequency slowed down to about once every 2-4 weeks. Later on I would go over a month without masturbation or wet dreams. I confessed every single time via phone call to my mission president. I got a new mission president and soon started confessing to him too. I remember several specific occasions (even to this day) trying to hold masturbation away, on one occasion even running down the stairs of our apartment building, kneeling in prayer to ask God for help, and still masturbating literally while praying because the sexual pressure was too intense to hold back (that’s what happens when you’re 20 years old, don’t have any sexuality, and go almost two months without masturbating).
I estimate that I confessed masturbation to my mission president about 50-60 times in total on my mission, mostly via phone call immediately the next morning.
My Story: Pre-marriage
I got home off my mission. The masturbation situation was more or less the same as what I just described. Instead of confessing to my mission president, my “local priesthood” leader (bishop) was the replacement. I started confessing masturbation to my very first bishop, and every subsequent bishop until I got married (about 3-4 bishops).
Each time I changed to a new bishop was awkward, because the first confession was always difficult when “breaking the ice”. The subsequent confessions were easier. Sometimes I wouldn’t confess immediately afterwards but a few days later because the guilt had mounted up, so I’d confess. Occasionally I would start to get the idea that I don’t have to confess each time (and could just confess to God in prayer) — and would pray to know if I should confess to the bishop. Inevitably, each time I prayed for that I felt that I should confess to the bishop.
There’s some scripture that says when you commit a sin again “the former sins return”. What this meant for me was that each time I masturbated I felt that all of the former times I’d masturbated would “return”, and thus when I was confessing for time number #156, I wasn’t just asking for forgiveness for that time, but each and every time before because they had all returned since I just repeated the same sin.
This vicious cycle continued for about two years after my mission until I got married. I even felt it necessary to tell my soon-to-be wife that I had “masturbation challenges”.
My Story: Pornography
So I got married and life changed.
I had very minimal exposure to pornography throughout my youth, mission, and pre-marriage. I avoided it as much as possible.
About 3-4 years into my marriage, I gradually began to look into pornography. It started with some extremely gentle content, (which by my current understanding of what “pornography” is, was not actually pornographic).
I felt very guilty for doing this. And so the confession routine began again. Each time I “looked at something”, I would confess to my wife, my bishop, and God.
It started very gently and progressed slowly. I gradually started to look at things that are closer to what could be counted as “pornography” — and each time I did I confessed to the bishop.
I’d estimate I “looked at stuff” about once every month, and confessed each time. I’d estimate I confessed “looking at pornography” to my bishop probably 25-30 times.
Somewhere in the middle of this, I had my faith crisis. To this day I am 100% certain that my faith crisis had nothing to do with pornography — because I was still confessing and “doing my best” to avoid it all the way through my intense research period, and, I know my heart.
Even with all the doubts I had about Mormonism, I still called or emailed my bishop each time to confess. This went on until about July/August 2015.
The way the confession routine ended was quite profound. Even though I still had all of my doubts about Mormonism, I was still active at the time. I had emailed my bishop to confess a previous time about a month and a half before. When I went to confess again, I read through the old email thread with the bishop. I read his response again. I remember realising something very simple:
“This guy has no idea what he’s talking about”
His previous response was just … weird. It was all over the place — totally incoherent and random. I had asked him several specific questions (about “confession”, “worthiness”, etc. not about Mormon history or anything) and he just skipped them and went off on a random spiel about my spirituality and challenges, being very generic and unhelpful.
I then realised that my bishop had no clue what he was doing, and something significant clicked inside me. I realised I had wasted my time confessing to this bishop, and, decided to hold off while I figured things out. (Later on I realised that I had wasted an immense amount of time and energy with all of my confessions to previous “priesthood leaders”)
From that moment onward the locus of control shifted. I took control and ownership of my own sexuality.
And I never called or confessed or discussed anything sexual with Mormon leaders again.
Thoughts about castration
I actually did consider castration at certain points. I experienced depression about my sexuality and sexual desires (thinking them to be evil) and wanted it to end because of the suffering I endured as a result of the law of chastity. Ironically, I didn’t go through with it because I knew one day I wanted to have children (also a “commandment of God”).
Because telling this story became so long, I’ve decided to split this into a series. This has been primarily about my story to give a background / context for the future posts about sexual values.
However, there is one significant sexual value to illustrate with this story above all of the others to come:
Each person should own their own sexuality. The locus of control should be internal. No “authority” figure should dictate to you what your sexual values or sexual template should be. Each person should be free to reason for themselves concerning their sexual values and the moral framework around sexuality.
Take control of it. It is yours. It is your right. And it is beautiful.
Of course, there should be a moral framework and positive values around sexuality. But these can be found through philosophical and moral reasoning, and, I strongly believe, the results of this reasoning are much more positive and healthy than the so-called “law of chastity” from Mormonism.