Myths about solo sex, bodies, and self-care for Mormon folx.
1. Masturbation is wrong and breaks the law of chastity.
So many of us received strong and highly-loaded messages from various sources from the beginning of childhood and even into adulthood about the wrongness of masturbation and the supposed moral implications of touching our bodies.
Each of us gets to choose what is most right, healthy, and good for our bodies, period. If it helps to hear it from someone else (and there are many others who feel this way, too), masturbation is not wrong. It is not breaking the law of chastity to listen to the needs of your body. It is not wrong to have time alone with your body sexually to comfort yourself and feel safe in your body. It is chaste and so important to be in touch with the needs of your body and to respond to those needs, whatever they are.
In the wise words of Heather Corinna (2012):
“If it’s wrong, it’s a wrong thing that the vast majority of the population does at one time or another, most starting so young that we don’t even remember when we first did it. If it’s wrong, it’s a wrong thing most people do with some frequency, which doesn’t do anyone else any harm whatsoever, and which can have positive health effects (like reducing cramps for women during menstruation, reducing stress, increasing circulation, and helping to prevent prostate cancer in men), and has no negative health effects.
If it’s wrong, it’s a wrong thing people do which usually results in feeling better about their sexuality, knowing their body better, and having more enriching sexual relationships, by virtue of that comfort, self-knowledge and being able to better communicate sexual likes and dislikes through what’s learned with masturbation.
…If it’s a wrong thing to do, then we’d have to say that there is something wrong with someone knowing when they just want to satisfy themselves and choosing to do so, rather than seeking solely or primarily to satisfy themselves on someone else’s body. I’d also say that if it’s a wrong thing to do, so then would be all the other things we do to comfort ourselves or relive stress or treat ourselves to a sensual pleasure: things like making a meal that tastes delicious, taking a long, hot bath, enjoying a hike in the open air, or having a good snuggle with someone we love.”
2. Masturbation is okay only in moderation.
Masturbation is not a food that we are trying to avoid or manage out of shame or fear. The language of moderation comes from the Doctrine and Covenants, which outlines suggested practices related to the word of wisdom and body intake. In addition, the word of wisdom arguably does not account for all of the variation in needs or preferences for all bodies, as does the idea that masturbation is acceptable only in certain situations, frequencies, or for certain people. Furthermore, we would never say to a cisgendered, heterosexual, married couple “in your sex life, sex is only okay ‘in moderation.’”
Second, masturbation is about self-care and comforting and tending to ourselves just as much as any other non-stigmatized form of self-care is (e.g., taking a hot bath, enjoying nature, etc.). Again, we would never say, “Enjoying nature is okay, as long as it is in moderation” or “Taking a hot bath is okay, as long as it is in moderation.” Engaging with yourself sexually is just as okay as those other things. See the attached discussion from Heather Corinna regarding the double standard that exists between the comfort and self-care that comes from self-pleasure or sex vs. other sensory and self-care activities that are not as stigmatized in society.
3. Masturbation is a (poor) replacement for partnered sex/people only masturbate until they can have partnered sex.
This is an important one. This is not true. Masturbation and partnered sex are related to each other, but they aren’t the same thing (see Heather Corinna’s really well-written discussion of it here). People who are happy and satisfied in partnerships (married or otherwise) masturbate and folx who aren’t partnered also enjoy it. Sometimes people in partnerships even do it as a shared activity. In addition, the inherent assumption in this is that cisgendered, heterosexual penetrative sex is the best kind of sex, and that’s also not true. It is only one kind of sex, and masturbation is not just a “means to an end” while we wait for a very limited type of sexual activity.
There are a couple of reasons why we should recognize and validate solo sexual experience. The first is that we are our own primary comforter and partner – both emotionally and sexually. We are the only person who is with us our entire lives. We are the one who knows best our feelings, needs, preferences, and desires. Even when we are in partnership or married, we are first and foremost responsible for our thoughts, feelings, and experiences. We take on the role of primarily comforting and nurturing ourselves, and there is no reason why this comfort should not extend into our sexual experience if we want that. We are whole and intricate people who deserve nurturing and self-care. Engaging in intimate contact with ourselves is just as meaningful and important as having intimate contact with a partner(s). This is the case even during times of our lives when we are in partnership with others or are married.
4. There is a set number of times it’s ok to masturbate within a single week.
There is no magic number of times it’s ok to masturbate within a single week. Everyone’s desire for sex is different, and we each get to choose what is right for us. Several resources describe one simple guideline should be considered: as long as your solo sex time isn’t affecting you doing the things you need to do (e.g., work or school or family obligations), however often you’re masturbating is totally okay and fine. This guideline is discussed here on Scarleteen and here from Planned Parenthood. If or when it does become a concern, you can talk to a therapist or someone you trust. It is totally good and healthy to seek out support and talk about these things.
5. Masturbation is a distraction from more important things we have to do.
For a lot of people, spending quiet time with their bodies is a very important thing to do, and engaging with themselves sexually allows people to experience comfort, satisfaction, and clarity that helps them be able to accomplish what they need to in other areas of life.
In addition, when people talk about masturbation as a distraction, a potential addiction, a possible obsession, or something bad or wrong, that is a symptom of the shame and stigma about sexuality and sexual expression that exists in our society and faith, particularly for single people. If someone makes some kind of statement about masturbation being bad, ask yourself, “would this person say this was bad if we were talking about other forms of self-care like taking a cozy nap?”
6. Any kind of sexual experience is only reserved for partnered or married people.
This one is extra important to talk about. Having a sexual identity, desires, and sexual experiences is relevant to everyone, regardless of age or partnership or marital status. In the church, we are clearly taught that the cisgendered, heterosexual relationship is the only relationship where sexual identity, desires, and experience are sanctioned. This clearly does not include the lovely diversity and intersections of gender expressions, sexual identities and experiences, and anatomy captured in human sexual experience. All of us have some type of sexual identity, including not having a preference for sex at different periods of our lives, or at all (i.e., the experiences of ace folx).
The idea that sexual feelings are shameful and bad until the moment you get married is wrong and damaging to so many people. Single folx have sexual feelings, experiences, and identities. Partnered but not married folx have sexual feelings, experiences, and identities. And married people have sexual feelings, experiences, and identities – some of which they may also have very complex and delicate feelings about, especially if they were taught to suppress those until marriage. Attaching taboo and shame to sexual feelings and identity until they become sanctioned at the arbitrary outcome of heterosexual marriage denies the lived experience of many people. It also fails to capture the lovely, healthy, good, and natural sexual feelings, experiences, and identities we all have.
7. Masturbation is a requirement for physical and emotional health.
No, you do not have to masturbate if you don’t want to. There are so many lovely ways to build and practice physical and emotional health! The important thing to remember is you get to have complete control about how you engage with your body. If you want to masturbate, you can. If you don’t, you don’t have to. You get to choose what is desired and safe. You get to choose what your self-care routine looks like.
7. You have to have a thin body or look a certain way to enjoy being sexual.
This is really important. You do not have to have a thin body or to look a certain way to enjoy being sexual on your own or with others. You just have to have a body. People of all body sizes and types enjoy different forms of sexual expression. I wrote about my experience attending to my sexual self in my fat body here. It’s ok to have cellulite, rolls of fat, stretch marks, a large tummy, wobbly skin, scars, body hair, genitals that look and smell like genitals, etc. Your body is a good body. Your body is perfect as it is. You can enjoy being sexual in the body you have right now. You deserve to feel safety, comfort, and peace in that body.
8. If you masturbate, you’ll go to hell and your “secret acts will be shouted from the rooftops.”
I’m pretty sure my mom has actually used this scriptural reference in regards to masturbating (I wish I was joking – insert many crying emojis here). My therapist taught me that we are allowed to have private thoughts in our minds and private time in our lives. You don’t have to share any information about your private sexual life with friends, family members, or ecclesiastical leaders if you don’t want to. If you feel safe and comfortable sharing this information with a trusted friend, know it is completely normal and good and healthy to have solo sexual time, and to talk about it with people you feel safe with. They might even have things to share with you, too! I have written previously I strongly believe Heavenly Mother is really happy when we experience pleasure and are feeling safe and comfortable in our bodies. I still believe this. You are entitled to your private sexual life, as is anyone else, married or not. Amen.
What are the myths about sex, bodies, and self-care you wish could be eliminated in society and in our faith? What things do you wish had been said about it? What would you say to your younger self or a younger person you know?
Please see a list of affirming, inclusive resources on bodies and sex from the blog last month.