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Thursday, November 8, 2012

Guest Post: Dear Natasha Helfer Parker

Name Withheld is a prolific contributor of sad, embarrassing, and painful articles to other sources like STD Digest, Modern Train Aficionado, and Ensign. He also reports on Middle Eastern drone attacks under the name “sources who could not be identified because of the sensitivity of information,” and he has written thousands of lousy poems and given hundreds of so-so paintings to museums under the names “Anonymous” and “Anonymous Donor.” As this story would hurt his wife deeply, he chooses to remain anonymous.

Dear Natasha Helfer Parker,

Thank you for your contributions at Patheos. I teach Institute, and I came across your article on masturbation as I was preparing for a class discussion about sexuality. I found your article thoughtful and interesting. I would, however, like to respectfully disagree with some of your points, hopefully in a way that might inspire some dialogue. You have tremendous expertise and experience, so I value how you might respond to what I have to say.

a detail of Lust (1557) by Peter Bruegel the Elders
Like most boys, I encountered masturbation as a teenager. These first experiences were electrifying and shameful. Now that I have two sons, I hope that their experiences are not shameful. In fact, I'm still struggling with how to help them contextualize that experience. For me, part of the problem was that around that same time I also had my first encounter with pornography. The best description of this encounter is actually David Sedaris’ description of his first experience with crystal methamphetamine: "The moment I took my first burning snootful, I understood that this was the drug for me." (12 Moments in the Life of the Artist) Pornography had an immediate and powerful impact on me. Not long after discovering masturbation, I learned how pornography could heighten that experience.

I fall into what I believe is a pretty common pattern. I struggled off and on with masturbation and pornography before serving a mission, during which time I had no struggle. Soon after returning home, the struggle resumed. After getting married, this was not initially a problem. Asymmetrical sexual desire created a situation where my old struggle became my current struggle. In about 1998, I discovered pornography on the Internet, and, of course, this has been a much more difficult struggle ever since. I have worked with every single bishop I have had since that time, trying to overcome the struggle.

In 2010, I tried very hard to separate pornography from masturbation. I hoped to conceptualize masturbation as a physical, sexual expression that could be healthy if it were disconnected from pornography. In spite of tremendous efforts to compartmentalize each one, this did not work. In late 2010, a Bishop’s inspired blessing instructed me to seek knowledge. That seemed like strange counsel, because I had read a number of books and I am usually one to solve a problem with a book. What I did encounter was the Cyber Secrets conference at Brigham Young University.

These talks changed my life. They gave me knowledge, and with that knowledge came new tools for dealing with my struggle. In 2011, I began attending the church's addiction recovery program. That was a wonderful experience. Therapy, the addiction recovery program, and the compassion and love of friends and my father have been instrumental in creating a change in my life. This will always be a problem for me, but I have not had a relapse back into pornography and/or masturbation since the end of 2010.

My Perspective
Perhaps it was the early connection of pornography and masturbation, but for me, I don't believe that I could masturbate in a psychologically or spiritually healthy manner. Masturbation provides me with pleasure, a sense of control over my life and sexuality, and an escape from stress, boredom, loneliness, and pain. Unfortunately, it is inextricably tied with pornography, and it always ends up leaving me feeling ashamed, distant from God, defeated, dirty, and lonelier than before. Neither masturbation nor pornography really get me what I want. Now, when I experience the old triggers, I have to remind myself that instead of pleasure, control, and escape, I have to take the more difficult path of abstinence, which means the path of courage, freedom, and compassion.

One more important element--my marriage is one of substantial sexual dysfunction. After about a year of being married, my wife became more and more uneasy with sexuality. This was a time when I was having no struggle with my past problem. We have been married since 1991, and to give you a sense of our situation, I have not seen my wife naked since the first year of our marriage. She refuses to talk about the situation or to get help. I only pass along this information because this seems like a situation where one might find it helpful to relieve sexual tension via masturbation. But what I have concluded, at least for myself, is that for me all sexual expression must be interpersonal and interdependent. And it has to be linked or, perhaps to say it better, yoked to my covenants.

Right now, and I would anticipate for the rest of my life, sexual expression is infrequent and unsatisfying at best. Frankly, most of the time I feel lonely and unfulfilled and in a lot of pain in this aspect of my life and my marriage. But, given the choice between the pleasure, control, and escape that come with masturbation, I would still prefer the courage, and freedom, and compassion that come with keeping sexual expression interpersonal, interdependent, and yoked to my covenants. In this respect, I feel more like an abstinent single adult than the sexually active married man.

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