Poll: Self Gratification

The topic of female sexuality is a sticky one. Historically seen as sexual objects but given little room to explore their own pleasure without being labeled, women have only recently been able to express themselves as wanting equal pleasure from their bodies as men, and still only in developed countries. But even as we move into understanding the female sexual response and empower women to expect more in the realm of church approved intercourse, conservative religious culture continues to frown upon and denounce any form of autoeroticism. Masturbation as a word has become associated with dirty and sinful images that we are told pollute the body and mind and remove us from the presence of the Spirit. But is it truly a sin or transgression? Is this view damaging to women by making us afraid of discovering our own pleasure and sexual fulfillment? It is inherently difficult for most women to be satisfied with intercourse alone, but many feel that anything outside of those lines is unnatural and should be avoided. How does this affect single women? Do men get more of a social “pass” because it is viewed as more difficult for them to control themselves? Please share with us your view of the morality of masturbation, particularly as it affects women’s sexuality in our poll this week. And feel free to respectfully and tastefully discuss your thoughts on this topic in the comments.

And for further reading and discussion, check out Jessawhy’s great post on the subject here.

Corktree

Corktree is exploring life and spirituality in new ways and new environments while studying midwifery, reiki, yoga, homeopathy, herbology and evolutionary nutrition. She has 3 daughters and one son, which add up to what now feels like an enormous family of 6.

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41 Responses

  1. MJK says:

    Ok, I’m laughing here. I remember Jessawhy’s post from spring and went back to re-read the comments. Are your reader views down? You need more site hits so you re-post the topic that had to get locked at 100 posts?

    That having been said, since I have a chance at my comments actually being read this time and not buried in the argument among three extremely vocal commenters…

    I was raised in the Church by a single mom who did her best to teach us about sex in the right context. I don’t recall what if anything our talks mentioned about masturbation except explaining what it was. She may have even mentioned that it was something that men wanted to do more than women did;perhaps she felt that only having two daughters it wasn’t something that needed focus. Either way when I started actually feeling sexual desires at around 16-17 and exploring my own body I don’t recall much guilt associated with it. I never did actually get the hang of masturbation – apparently I am one of the people who can’t “tickle themselves” as was mentioned in the comments of the old post. Even after having been married for over 7 years now (and yes, I did wait until I was married to actually have sex) I still have yet to reach orgasm on my own, though my husband can get me there anytime he tries. I definitely need a partner.

    Because of this, when I was a teen, I would seek out young men who wanted to make out and go further. Though I always drew the line well before sex, I should never have been with most of those boys. I wish I had been able to satisfy my own sexual desires so that I did not have some of the experiences that I did.

    We actually have talked extensively about masturbation and our views and what we plan to teach our children. Our young men and women will be told that while porn can be addictive and harmful, masturbation can have a place in a normal, healthy sex life, and if a bishop or other church authority asks them about it, their response is “I don’t have a problem with that.”

  2. MJK says:

    Interestingly, I see that the last comment made on this site before mine was LDSAnarchist who linked to a post on their blog. A post related to that one applies here.

    http://ldsanarchy.wordpress.com/2009/08/18/the-law-of-chastity-what-it-is-and-what-it-isnt/

    For TL;DR – it gives the temple definition of the law of chastity and then explains “To break the law of chastity, at least two people are required. Therefore, masturbation, which is sexual self-stimulation, does not break the law of chastity.”

  3. Stella says:

    I always thought the very word was dirty when I was growing up. I never really discovered my sexuality until I was nearing 30. That, in my mind, is a tragedy.

    Now I can say the word without wincing–however, I notice that many others wince when I say it so casually.

    I think masturbation is healthy. I think vibrators are amazing in and out of a relationship. I think an orgasm a day for everyone might lead to world peace. I think that a healthy relationship between men and women is one in which they can be open and honest about their needs.

    I also think that masturbation for the single girl should be encouraged. Too many women have NO IDEA what turns them on, how to orgasm, and how to enjoy their sexuality without it being overshadowed by a misplaced guilt.

  4. Erasmine says:

    Okay. This is hard to write, but it needs to be said.

    I think masturbation is similar to a glass of wine. Some people can drink a glass and handle it just fine. They learn about how their body handles alcohol, they learn what that buzz feels like, use it as a source of modest pleasure and relaxation and maybe even enjoy a minor health benefit. There are, however, others of us, susceptible to alcoholism, who must chart a course of complete abstinence. It’s not that a glass of wine is dangerous in and of itself, but alcoholics know that one drink can easily be the gateway on a quick ride to extreme self-indulgence that damages their emotional and spiritual health and their ability to respond with charity to others.

    For some of us masturbation presents a similar challenge. Many people find they can masturbate with very few negative consequences. It is merely a form of modest pleasure and relaxation that might have a few helpfully informative consequences. However, some of us are highly susceptible to finding ourselves in a place where indulgence in masturbation leads amazingly quickly into extreme self-obsessive self-preoccupation from which it is very difficult to extricate ourselves and makes it very hard for us to respond to others unselfishly or with charity. Been there. Not good.

    I know it is hard to comprehend. It is hard for many casual wine drinkers to comprehend or respect the challenge faced by an alcoholic. But there it is.

    I don’t think God counsels against masturbation because it’s dangerous to all of his children but rather because for some of his children it leads to an emotionally and socially crippling selfishness. I think he knows and expects that the vast majority of children (estimates range from 80-90%) will experiment with masturbation and learn about their bodies and about sexual pleasure from it. I believe he wants parents and teachers to teach children about their bodies in healthy ways and teach self-mastery and truth about sex and sexual pleasure in spite of the weird, perverted, embarrassed or prudish views of the world. I certainly do.

    I abstain from drinking alcohol or advocating its consumption out of respect for the Lord’s counsel against it and in solidarity with my friends who deal with the challenge of alcoholism. I believe that counsel is inspired not because a glass of wine is damaging to me, but because that counsel helps strengthen my friends who struggle with that. Similarly as one of the women who deals with the challenge I’ve outlined (even in a marriage with a very satisfying sex life) I appreciate people who abstain from advocating masturbation as perfectly fine. For some of us, it simply is not. Please respect that.

    Finally, I agree with MJK that if masturbation is to be classified as a type of sin, it is not a sin of unchastity. When it is a sin it would fall, rather, into the category of of self-indulgence or intemperance.

  5. Jessawhy says:

    Erasmine,
    Thanks for your thoughtful comment. You bring up very interesting reasons to keep the current church ban on masturbation.
    I totally agree with your assessment of both drinking and masturbation as “sins” (used loosely) that can be dangerous to a small portion of people where a majority can enjoy them in moderation.

    In fact, the idea of not drinking in order to be in solidarity with those who might be alcoholics is what really appeals to me from the Word of Wisdom. With masturbation, it’s a little different. It’s not a social thing, so there isn’t pressure to drink with friends. As a married person, it’s more like a private decision between me and my husband. I imagine as a single person, though, I would be seeking information about how my peers handle this topic.

    In the end, I would only emphasize your point that masturbation not be seen as a sexual sin, but as self-indulgence. I remember a friend telling me once that she thought masturbation was worse than sex because at least with sex, you are allowed to do it when you get married. Masturbation, in her mind, was NEVER allowed.

    This type of thing can lead to a lot of guilt for Mormons who already experience a lot of guilt. I’d like to see the guilty rhetoric taken down a notch (and the ‘little-factory’ Packer pamphlet “For Boys Only” jettisoned as well).

  6. Whitney says:

    It’s very unusual for me to fall in the minority on some issue on a feminist blog, but that is the case in this instance. Here are my thoughts on the issue. I would sincerely like to hear what you folks think….

    The church teaches that pre/extramarital sex is wrong for two main reasons. 1–children deserve both a mother and a father, and
    2–“those feelings” are meant to bring husband and wife closer together

    I feel like reason #1 is kind of bogus because there are plenty of sexual acts that we consider breaking the law of chastity that do not result in conception (I won’t list them here, but you can use your imagination). This includes coitus when effective birth control is used (or for post-menopausal women).

    So that leaves us with reason #2. Reason #2 suggests to me that we should only be experiencing “those feelings” with our spouses; that if we experience “those feelings” *without* your spouse (with someone else or solo), then the connection and intimacy that results from the “proper” use of “those feelings” is undermined.

    Now, I’m all for women figuring out what gets them going/gets them off. For
    many women, it is unlikely/impossible to ever achieve orgasm with a partner until they first figure out how it works when they’re alone. Fine. But maybe once she and her partner have figured it out, she should let it alone?

    So that’s my reasoning of why I think people shouldn’t masturbate, but I really want to hear what you guys think of my explanation. Am I totally off base here? Is there anyone in that 10% who agrees with me? What do you all think?

  7. Justin says:

    As with most polls — my feelings lie in between many of the possible responses. For example, I think that:

    It is a normal, natural part of human sexuality and neither men nor women should be made to feel ashamed of exploring their bodies. It should not be discussed in church interviews.

    and

    Women should be encouraged to know their bodies so that they know how to tell their partner what works for them and can enjoy a satisfying sexual relationship.

    yet

    I think it is unhealthy outside of a marital relationship.

    I had written a post at LDSA that was more focused on pornography use, but it addressed masturbation as well. My main issue with both behaviors is that they focus the connecting and unifying powers associated with the sexual act towards non-real and/or non-human things [like images in the mind, pixels on a screen, etc.]. We ought to focus on humans connecting with other humans as being sexy — which is why I would say that it is unhealthy outside of a marital relationship, yet still agree with the other two.

  8. Kristen says:

    I agree with Whitney. I think a certain amount of exploration might be healthy and even necessary to help a person understand her/his own body, but that it should be done carefully with the real goal in mind — connecting with your spouse.

    As for single women, let’s say specifically single women in the Church, I don’t think it’s end-of-the-world-go-run-to-the-bishop kind of thing. However, I do see how it *could* end up being an obstacle to intimacy in marriage should they ever get the chance. Perhaps I am just theorizing here, since I truly don’t know, but isn’t it possible, if not frequently the case, that people that spend too much time with self-pleasure can end up having a hard time receiving pleasure from someone else? Like, they get stuck in a rut, and need things to proceed really, really specifically to achieve orgasm?

    My general feeling with all things sexual is that we should embrace much less doom and gloom, but approach things with respectful caution and self-honesty.

  9. Starfoxy says:

    I’m curious how others would define masturbation. In my house growing up any contact with the genitals was masturbation- even tampon application. So when I was figuring this stuff out as an adult I knew that ‘masturbation’ was a sin, but where is the line between masturbation- the sin- and harmless, or even beneficial self-touch? I think I ended up defining masturbation much more restrictively than most people would, because I saw what sort of self-touch is clearly wrong, and unhealthy, called *that* masturbation and declared anything less than that to be something else. To my mind ‘masturbation’ is that particular sort of compulsive, secretive, distracting self-pleasure- especially if it is connected with pornography or other unwholesome fantasies. Anything less than that isn’t really masturbation- it’s self-awareness, having sex when done with a partner, or self care.

    • Corktree says:

      I think this is an important point. I remember thinking at a young age that just *washing* down there was inappropriate. I quickly self corrected but I’m sure that for some women these types of messages contribute to the “good girl syndrome” that plagues marriages.

      We absolutely need to make sure that when we teach youth about it that we are drawing a clearer line and helping them to understand what positive self exploration is but also what negative effects can come from unbridled self indulgence.

      I also think Whitney and Kristen and Justin make good points. I don’t want to say that single women shouldn’t be entitled to a sexual release, and I think that for men it is somewhat expected that they are doing this before marriage. So I want women to feel okay getting that same benefit. BUT, I do think that bad things can come from it and that it IS possible for women to become attached to a certain pattern that makes it hard for them to enjoy intercourse with a spouse. But that can also be overcome with effort, so not really a good reason to make anyone feel guilty for exploring that outlet. Like I said, sticky subject.

      I really like the focus on viewing it as a sin of self indulgence rather than sexual. I think this allows for more self examination of the reasons behind why we do it and when it gets out of control. But mostly, I don’t want my children to feel guilty for accidentally discovering that their body gives them pleasure, and I want them to know that it’s okay to experiment with the goal of increasing intimacy and connection in their future committed relationships.

      As for me, after thinking I needed to confess to a bishop in college and then having him give me a book on how to overcome addictive and compulsive behaviors in church, I was a bit scarred. Then I struggled for a while in my early marriage when I came back to church because I was afraid that what I was doing *during* sex by touching myself was considered wrong because it so closely resembled masturbation. I actually felt guilty doing the only thing that allowed me to orgasm with intercourse with my husband! I read Brotherson’s book hoping to find specific mention that what I was doing was okay. I was mostly relieved by what it said but am horrified now by how I felt then.

      So I think the church needs to stop it’s generally hurtful statements that only confuse children and repress adults.

    • Alisa says:

      This reminds me of how adverse I was to anything resembling masterbation that I was seriously uncomfortable when my ob/gyn I saw for my premarital exam gave me a few syringe tops as dilators to use to stretch myself out before I was married. She said she was out of the large size dilator that I really needed, but that I should start on the smaller sizes and come back in 2 weeks and ask for the larger size. I didn’t go back for the larger size because I felt very awkward about the whole thing. At the time it felt to me that medical advice and church advice were conflicting (and the ob/gyn was actually from my old ward). Even getting ready for marriage, I just couldn’t fully shake that feeling.

  10. Genevieve X says:

    I disagree that personal hygiene/care could in any way be considered masturbation. That’s like saying a visit to a gynecologist is a sexual favor.

    As someone who was single until past 40, I quickly cast aside the Church’s teachings about masturbation. I had bishops who said that masturbation was masturbation was sex with oneself (sexual touch or manipulation to orgasm). That was laughable in my mind. LDS singles and gays should

  11. Genevieve X says:

    …not be expected to be asexual, and masturbation is the only sexual activity in which they can reasonably participate.

  12. Corktree says:

    This poll topic makes me keep thinking about the prevailing attitude in parts of the world that women are not entitled to even enjoy sex. Female genital cutting being the worst manifestation of this belief. We are mostly free to explore our sexuality in this country, but in many places, women are still not, even in marriage. Very sad.

  13. Suzette says:

    I’ll jump in with another single woman’s perspective. I’m now 40. I enjoy single life, but the area of sexuality is a tricky one for me and for my single friends.

    Sexuality is a part of who we are; it is a natural part of the human experience. My choice of abstinence (that is intercourse with a man) has been a powerful one for my life, but it feels unnatural to me and to my body.

    I have tried (and am currently trying) a variety of things (including masterbation) that take the edge off my desire.

    I have had many conversations with single friends about this and I believe it is much talked of and thought about in the single LDS community. There are many different ideas and options – and I think that’s OK.

    Ultimately, it is a personal choice.

    We all know the church says it’s wrong to do, so each woman has to factor that in to her choice about masterbation and sexuality. She needs to be able to go before her God and feel comfortable in whatever course she decides on. (And I do know that some single women choose masterbation and they feel comfortable with God in that choice.)

    A few guiding principles that I use:
    1. I believe that my body and my sexuality are gifts from God – and they are beautiful.

    2. I believe I should know and understand my body.

    3. I believe my sexuality should not be shamed.

    4. I believe that my sexual choices should be my own.

    5. I believe that if I violate the sexual boundaries I have set for myself that I should repent.

    I also feel that we should encourage the single women in our lives to think about this topic and should support their choices (even if it means they decide NOT to masterbate).

    Just my two cents,
    Suzette

    • Caroline says:

      Suzette,
      Thank you for articulating your perspective so beautifully. I had been wondering how mature single adults navigate this issue.

      As for me, I’ll speak as the mother of a boy. I am worried for him when he’s a youth and when he has to do interviews. I think I’ll suggest he say that his mom has told him that he is never to speak about issues like this with anyone outside his family.

      I think it’s a very natural thing for people to explore their own bodies. Not that I want my kid doing it 5 times a day, but I certainly think that it’s not something people should feel enormous guilt and angst about if it happens once in a while.

      • Rebecca says:

        My fifteen-year-old son just had a temple interview. He was asked “Do you live the law of chastity?” That’s it. No discussion of what that means exactly. I’m just fine with that. I’m of the opinion that breaking the law of chastity involves another person.

      • Caroline says:

        Good to know, Rebecca. I’d be very uncomfortable if the bishop probed further.

  14. Genevieve X says:

    If masturbation is not a sin of unchastity, it should stand to reason that gay and straight LDS singles should be free to experiment alone, and possibly with others (mutual masturbation). Kissing is not unchaste, so it’s allowable, for instance.

    Fantasizing (especially where no porn is used) accompanies masturbation in most cases. I have never Gerrd of fantasizing being against the law of chastity.

  15. Genevieve X says:

    That should be “never heard of.”

    The law of chastity as currently written seems to be geared to adolescents (don’t get pregnant, kiddies!) or married adults (keep your mitts off my wife!). It has no relevance for gay or straight singles, who should be ENCOURAGED by the Church to masturbate and have as many non-coital sexual experiences as possible.

  16. Genevieve X says:

    When single, I also bristled at the idea that “masturbation is inherently selfish.” really? So only married people get to explore their bodies and experience sexual pleasure? Are only married folks worthy of sexual fulfillment?

  17. D says:

    Justin I appreciated your comments/link. (Your post on pornography was fantastically frank. Loved it.)

    I know an individual that indulged in masturbation(and porn) for many years where after a while self gratification came to REPLACE a genuine sexual relationship with his spouse. The man absolutely did not see this as a violation of chastity. This is sad and wrong.

    If you’re married, don’t lie about masturbating. Being anything but open and honest only creates problems in your sex life.

    That being said masturbation I think can have its place in a marriage and help a woman orgasm more easily, and what’s not to like about that. 🙂

  18. Genevieve X says:

    I actually don’t see how this is a religious issue at all. Teens and singles should masturbate– both to discover their bodies and for sexual fulfillment. Married people can decide and negotiate what is acceptable within their relationship.

    The Church seems to expect an unreasonable standard of it’s full time missionaries, singles, and gays. Get over it! We are all sexual beings, and if we masturbate, that’s our ow

  19. Genevieve X says:

    our own business. Why should God care?

  20. Rebecca says:

    I’m late to this discussion but thought I’d chime in. I was reminded of reading something by sex therapist Laura Berman. She was of the opinion that masturbation for teen girls might keep them from seeking out premarital sex before they are ready. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find any statistics on the relationship between masturbation and engaging in premarital sex. Intuitively, I can see her point. Some curiosity satisfied without all the negatives that come with teenage sex.

    In surveys, women are less likely to admit to masturbation than men. It may be that they masturbate far less, something like 95% of men to 60% of women. However, given the double standard about women’s sexuality in general, I have to wonder how accurate the numbers are.

    As for the poll, I voted 1 and 3.

    • Corktree says:

      I think this is interesting to consider and probably depends on the individual. For me, self exploration only made me curious if sex felt the same way (and I was disappointed when it didn’t).

    • I think if masturbation were less taboo among Mormons, the divorce rate would decline because fewer people would get married just because they were horny. I have said to people in the past, “Which is worse? Masturbate, or marry the wrong person?”

      This is probably why I’ve never been called as YW leader. 🙂

  21. Stephanie says:

    Is it being proposed that masturbation is a gateway drug to porn and other sins? Am I back at BYU listening to my Bishop give us the morality talk in Relief Society by dishing out layers and layers of BS about guilt and shame that I’m a basically a woman? I’m really sorry, but I’m having a really hard time reading some of these comments. As someone who is in her 30’s, never been married, and still a virgin, I am shocked, especially to see this on Exponent, that people believe that masturbation is to only bring you and your spouse closer together and that it’s a downward spiral into addiction if done alone. Why is it anyone’s business what I do with my vagina? I’m an adult. Why is it that as a single woman, I have to be held to a higher standard and am still given the same “morality” standards as a 16 year old girl where, yes, perhaps those standards are appropriate at that age.

    I’m sorry for getting a little miffed, and I do really respect other’s opinions on this matter. I’m just surprised to see this being discussed in this way on Exponent. Am I alone in this?

    • Rebecca says:

      Stephanie – In light of the poll results, the majority of Exponent readers are not taking a hardline stance. It’s coming down with a super majority in choices 1 and 3. I find this encouraging but I think comments to the contrary are good because they give a breadth to the discussion, particularly when they involve personal experiences.

      It would be very interesting to see the results of the poll when taken by the adult members of my ward. I hope that the general attitudes about this are shifting to make it a non-issue. I suspect that Exponent readers are a more open group. 🙂

  22. Genevieve X says:

    Well, no, you’re definitely not alone in this. I’ve said the same thingin at least six comments now on this very thread.

  23. Stephanie2 says:

    I’m sorry. I didn’t realize there is another Stephanie commenting on Exponent. I’ll use Stephanie2 from now on to distinguish myself. (I’m the Stephanie from fmh)

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