Son, everyone does it. But, you see, no one talks about it.
John Goodman as the father on Roseanne
I'm going to candidly address an uncomfortable topic here and one that is more than a little embarrassing for me. If the topic of masturbation offends you, then please move along.
When I turned 12 I received the Aaronic priesthood. This meant that every Sunday I now had to get to church at 9:00 am for priesthood meeting before sunday school at 10:30. I also had to go to stake priesthood meetings twice a year and the general priesthood meeting broadcast twice a year. I also had to pass the sacrament each Sunday during sunday school and sacrament meeting. I also had to be a junior companion to an adult for monthly home teaching visits to three or four families that we were responsible for.
In those days, the churches didn't have satellites for receiving general conference broadcasts. Instead Bonneville, the church owned broadcasting company, had broadcast the audio over phone lines that were hooked to the PA system in the chapel. So, for general priesthood meeting all the priesthood holders would come to the chapel on Saturday evening and sit in the choir seats to listen to the crackly audio of the sermons being given from the Tabernacle on temple square in Salt Lake City.
I still remember an early general priesthood meeting. In it Elder Boyd Packer addressed the young men of the church. His talk was later published by the church as a pamplet entitled, To Young Men Only. For some reason I couldn't find it on the church's web site any more so maybe continuing revelation has again revealed that what was true when I was young is no longer relevant. I remember my father going on about how delicately the apostle handled such an important topic. I guess the message got mixed up for me.
The basic premise of the talk is that your testicles are like a little factory that produce at a certain rate. The body produces until it has too much semen and then it has a natural safety valve that releases the excess. This is a natural process that shouldn't be tampered with. But if you stimulate them then they start working overtime and the more you stimulate them the more release is needed in an ever increasing spiral. The only solution is to leave them alone and let things slow back down to their pre-ordained function.
Now, I remember having no idea how to go about doing this, but most of the boys at school were already going through puberty and getting pubic and armpit hair as well as getting much bigger. Meanwhile, I hadn't grown at all and didn't have a hint of hair anywhere on my body except my head. I wondered if perhaps stimulating my little factory might make jump start me into puberty.
This led a period of experimentation whose main goal was to grow some pubes and hopefully stop being the smallest, scrawniest kid on the football team. I had no idea what I was doing but I eventually figured it out. It actually took a long time before I independently discovered what an orgasm was and why you should always keep a box of Kleenex next to your bed. Now, that was a pleasant surprise and suddenly I had a new reason for stimulating my little factory.
Of course, as I started doing it more regularly, I felt increasingly guilty. Every year we had a lesson in priesthood meeting telling us that masturbation was a sin. When I neared 14 I had a personal worthiness interview with my bishop. He asked if I masturbated. I was mortified and of course I lied. He then proceeded to explain that masturbation was also called self abuse and that it really was abusing your own body. I listened attentively and then lied again. No, I wasn't abusing myself. I was terribly worried about lying to the bishop and I felt really guilty about it, but I wasn't about to confess to something so horrible and get in trouble.
I'm not lying when I say I felt guilty. We read scriptures as a family and I remember the story of the priest who reached out to steady the ark and was struck dead on the spot. I remember one Sunday. I'd masturbated in the shower that morning and had to pass the sacrament. As the prayer was said I fretted about whether or not I was worthy. I was seriously worried that perhaps I'd be struck with some kind of shock as I took the tray of sacrament bread. But I risked it and hesitantly reached out my hand. Nothing. Whew!
Later in my teenage years my father pulled me aside at least twice to interview me and ask if I masturbated. The first time I lied. The second time I said I used to but that I'd stopped some months before.
I really tried to stop. But the longer I went, the worse it got. Finally, I'd give in to temptation and fall again. But I did notice that it didn't really work the way that the apostle said. The longer I went, the worse it got. When I didn't masturbate my thoughts became obsessessed with sex. More so than normal. But as soon as I serviced myself, I had a period of peace.
This went on despite my feelings of guilt and unworthiness. I lied again when I was interviewed at 16 to become a priest. I kept trying to stop right up until I prepared to go on my mission.
When a young man in the church turns 18 he has to get ready to submit his "mission papers." These papers include medical and dental exams. They also include a worthiness form and recommendation that has to be filled out by the bishop. I was healthy but I was worried about the worthiness part. I decided to come clean and when I went in for my interview with my bishop I confessed that I had a problem with masturbation. It was really embarrassing and he notified that I couldn't serve a mission with this problem. His counsel was that I should go running or exercise when I felt the need. I tried this, but the physical activity just made me hornier than ever.
I managed to keep clean for a couple of weeks and passed the next interview. But he wanted to make sure so he made me wait and come back for another interview. Of course, I gave in, but I'd already gotten a scholarship deferral from BYU for my mission and if I didn't go I'd lose my scholarship. So I lied. The bishop's spirit of discernment was inadequate to detect my lies. So was the stake presidents. My mission papers got signed and sent to Salt Lake City.
Then I had to wait for my mission call.
It came as my family was preparing to move from Iowa to Washington D.C. I was called to Cochabamba, Bolivia and I was entering the Missionary Training Center in September 1983. Now I got ordained an Elder in the Melchisedec priesthood and got a temple recommend so that I could receive my temple endowments before leaving on my mission.
I've written about my temple experiences elsewhere. It was shocking and unsettling. I felt guilty that perhaps I hadn't felt the spirit because I was unworthy due to not only masturbating, but also lying about it to my church leaders. I once again resolved to stay clean and went back to the temple to try to feel the spirit. It didn't really work.
Once I got to the MTC, it was somewhat easier to resist temptation. The missionaries lived in dormitories with 4 people to a room in two bunk beds. No privacy there. The showers in the rest rooms didn't have shower curtains and the water was at best luke warm. No privacy there either. I really doubt the shower situation was a coincidence.
I was in the MTC for 2 months in order to learn Spanish. I only fell once. I was in bed and got a throbbing, pulsing erection that wouldn't go away. With an image of Victoria Principal in my head (from Dallas) that wouldn't go away I gave a couple of squeezes and it was over. I was crushed. I was so intensely guilty. Then next day was a disaster. I put my head on my desk on the verge of tears. What was I going to do? I felt I'd have to go confess my sin to my branch president and I was terrified of being sent home in disgrace for my sexual impurity.
Eventually my fear of disgrace overrode my guilt and I kept my sin to myself and resolved to postpone the price for the eternities. Maybe God would forgive me if I worked hard.
Other than that, I worked my butt off. Maybe my guilt made me work even harder.
Throughout my mission, I continued to struggle with my sin and occasionally gave in to temptation. But my concern lessened when I noticed that I was often more effective afterward. In fact, I noticed that some of my most powerful spiritual experiences and missionary experiences came after sinning. I was consoled by the fact that God seemed to be more than capable of working through me despite my sins.
After my mission I went back to BYU. One Sunday our bishop, a psychology professor at the university, stood up in priesthood meeting and talked to us about masturbation. He said that it was normal and that we should stop coming to him to confess about it. As long as it wasn't an obsession that controlled our life then it wasn't a problem. There were nervous chuckles all around, but I was quite relieved. Maybe I wasn't such a terrible sinner. When I got back to my apartment I had a roommate who was incensed. He told us what a huge problem they had in his mission in Guatemala with masturbation. Apparently lots of missionaries were doing it. I was secretly relieved.
Apparently everyone does it. We just don't talk about it. Normally.
Sorry for sharing, but this was a serious subtext throughout my mission that caused me to constantly feel guilty and unworthy to be in the work of the Lord.
Update: A little searching on Google explained why I couldn't find this talk in the conference report in the November 1976 Ensign. The talk was given on October 2, 1976. In December 1976 the Ensign had the following:
The recent October conference address of Elder Boyd K. Packer, given in the priesthood session of conference, has been published as a pamphlet to be distributed to bishops for further distribution to parents of young men. Elder Packer’s address was not included in the November Ensign’s conference report by determination of the First Presidency. The address was a sensitive treatment of the important subject of chastity.I suspect that the topic of sex was deemed inappropriate for a magazine that would be read by the general membership of the church. I believe that church leaders can still order and distribute this pamphlet to cultivate guilt in their young men like they did with me.
As someone else said, "Guilt is great for the church. If they can convince you that something is wrong with you then they can convince you that they have the cure."