marriage bed symbol

marriage bed symbol

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Reader Question: Mormons, Masturbation, and Maternity

 WARNING: This post contains a topic of a sacred sexual nature and is intended for married couples only. Reader discretion is advised.

Anonymous said...
I have a question....I am a new convert to the church. (my wife was born into it) Ive been a member for almost a year and my wife and I are planning to seal in the temple next month. My wife is 5 months pregnant. 2 months after we married we concieved a child.She is now 5 months pregnant. During courtship we were often very affectionate and close however we maintained the law of chastity. After marriage for the first couple of months our love life and sex life was great and then we conceived a child. She is now 5 months pregnant and she doesnt want anything to do with me in the form of any intimacy. I am trying to be supportive and I know she is uncomfortable, often tired and she doesnt feel good. I also know she is self cautious of the changed in her body to a small extent. I have expressed to her both a physical and emotional need to make love to her but she ends up feeling guilty when she turns me down. I try and remain patient but sometimes get frustrated. I want to put her first and I love her so much. I try and show support and be patient and try my best to help her to feel beautiful and let her know these things in more ways than one. I find lately a lot of tension building up in the fact that we have a lack of intimacy and there is no release for me. Is masturbation in this case considered a sin? I know it wont fulfill my full needs because it is without her and it will feel as if something is missing. Most of all I have a desire to feel connected and close to her. I have two young boys from a previous marriage that ended due to infidelity (on the wifes part) and she has a child she brought into the marriage too so it is added pressure and stress on her - it isnt as if she just gets to lay around and do nothing all day. She is a great mom and wife all around. I just want to be the best husband i can for her and put her needs first...but lately my sexual frustrations are getting the best of me. 

Dear Anon Dec. 28

Thank you for your question and for reading. Congratulations on your marriage, expected child and sealing in the temple. I also commend you both for trying to be thoughtful of each other’s needs at this challenging time in your lives.  That gives me a lot of hope for the both of you.

Is masturbation a sin in marriage from a gospel perspective? That depends. When it comes to masturbation in marriage, we really don’t get into the realm of “sin” against God and/or your spouse until we are talking about solo masturbation. This article by Laura M. Brotherson has some helpful ideas for husbands with a wife who is struggling sexually called "Help for Husbands Stranded in the Sexual Desert"

As I mentioned in my previous articles, masturbation only becomes a problem in marriage when you do it alone and/or without your spouse’s knowledge and consent. Sex is intended to bond a couple together in marriage. If you are masturbating alone, you’re not bonding with anyone but yourself. It often tends to come back later with negative consequences to the relationship.

What can happen is that you start training the brain to prefer masturbating over vaginal intercourse. Repeating an activity over and over again with dopamine reinforcement programs the brain to associate sex with that activity, and it can make it more difficult to become aroused for intercourse if masturbation is done over a long period of time. Neurons that fire together tend to wire together, making it into a regular habit.

A lot of what we do is habit-oriented…tasks such as driving, brushing our teeth, etc. Over time, these activities get easier, and we think less and less about the details involved. Our brain’s natural tendency is to find the quickest and most efficient solution to any circumstance we encounter regularly. Sex is no different. We develop sexual habits over time.

In the ganglion, our brains stores information of repeated activities that we do. This gives the brain a more direct route to action, so we don’t have to think as much about a task. These habits consist of cues that run the habit routine, which gives us the reward we seek. (For more interesting insights on how habits are formed and broken, try Duhigg, Charles. The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do In Life and Business. Random House, NY. 2012)

If we apply this to your situation…if the reward you’re seeking is sexual release…and the cue is when your wife refuses to have sex with you…then every time she says no, you go and masturbate, and your logical mind says that this will solve the problem.

Each time you receive the cue to have a sexual release, you go masturbate. Your ganglion stores that routine as a habit, until you reach the point that your brain associates sex with masturbating, and not so much with having sex with your wife. Over time, your efficient brain begins to tell you that there is no reward for having sex with your wife, or even attempting to do so, since there is pain in the rejection.

You stop approaching her, and simply take care of yourself, leaving her feeling disconnected and lonely, wondering why you don’t want to be intimate with her. You don’t talk about sex, because it’s emotionally painful. Sometimes masturbation may become augmented with pornography for a greater rush, and then the spiritual and psychological problems only grow from there.

Lack of intimacy is actually the root of your challenge. Men and women die without intimacy with another human being. People have affairs because they’re starving for intimacy. They want another person to know them deeply, to care whether or not they’re alive or dead, and to tell them they’re loved. No ones dies from lack of ejaculation.

Avoiding coercion and cultivating good communication about sex is really your best tool in the long run to meet each other’s intimate needs. This is especially true during periods of difficulty such as pregnancy and young parenthood. Problems tend to develop when the couple stops talking and expect the other to read their minds. Men and women don’t always think the same, and they need to verbalize what they’re thinking and restate for understanding in order to keep connected to each other. My article on avoiding gender prejudice may help in this case 

Masturbation, under some circumstances, can help when you’re going through a period where sex is not possible. But pregnancy doesn’t have to mean going sexless for months. On the contrary, there are a multitude of positive health reasons to continue having sex during pregnancy, if you both feel up to it.

I don’t know any more about your situation than what you’ve already shared, so I’m including some tips here for you to consider. Some may apply to you, and some might not. Feel free to use or discard any of these as you choose:

  • Your wife may be under the belief that sex will harm the baby, but this is unwarranted as long as her pregnancy is normal. In fact, sex during pregnancy can actually strengthen the uterine and vaginal muscles which will help your wife to tolerate delivery better. The hormones in your semen can help keep the cervix soft and may also help during dilation of the cervix during delivery. This is according to Dr. Robert Bradley, who founded the Bradley Method of childbirth .

  • When she has her next prenatal visit, ask the doctor or nurse if there is any reason why she should not have sex. If she is healthy and not at risk of going into early labor, this may help alleviate some of her concerns. She may have fears that were instilled in her from her parents or friends. Talk to her to find out what her beliefs about sex during pregnancy are. This article from the Mayo Clinic website may help to spark some conversation.

  • Discuss with each other what you both might enjoy doing. Help her to understand that sex is something that will keep you feeling close to her and strengthen your relationship. Having young children and infants around is the hardest time to have sex, but sex needs to continue through this period in order to be good later in life as well….and it does get better with continued practice.

  • Pregnancy and caring for small children is absolutely exhausting. Ask her what would help her to have the energy to have sex with you. Does she need a nap? Does she need a relaxing shower? Does she need time to think, or just be alone for a little while? Find out what you can do to give her a break to have time for her, to get some rest, and to mentally prepare herself for sexual intimacy.

  • If sex is painful for her because of dryness, try using a lube such as Astroglide or KY jelly to make things more comfortable for you both.

  • Experiment with positions where you are not lying on top of her, or her on you if the extra weight bothers you. The spooning position would likely be a comfortable position for you both. You may also want to try having her lay on her side while you (in an upright position) enter her is a kind of sideways doggy-style. There are lots of other positions to try. Find something comfortable. Here’s a link to a website of different positions that use CGI models . Best to view this one together, as the figures are anatomically correct.

  • If intercourse is out of the question, there are different ways she can masturbate you and you her. Intimacy doesn’t always require intercourse. The point of intimacy is to get emotionally and physically close. Cuddling and pillow talk can increase intimacy. Mutual caresses and massages feel good, and can create intimate feelings. Mutual masturbation is an option. Oral sex is an option if she’s open to the idea and can’t have sex for a time. Taking a bath or shower might be a good time for some sex play that wouldn’t involve intercourse, or it could get her in the mood for it.

  • Allow her to serve you. Be a gracious receiver – even if she is not technically very good at first. Don’t get impatient. She doesn’t have a penis of her own, and most likely has no clue what you feel sexually or how you want your penis stroked.  Gently and lovingly show her how you prefer to be touched, and tell her how good she makes you feel. Don’t tell her she’s doing it wrong, but redirect her to something that makes you feel good, and tell her what she’s doing right.

  • Have you considered the use of a vibrator? Vibrators are not sinful as long as you both agree to their use, and are respectful of each other’s feelings and bodies. If she uses a vibrator on you, that would be an easy way for her to bring you to orgasm without wearing out her arms or mouth. Because of the upper body strength and stamina needed to masturbate you, she may not be very good, or have the energy, or may become frustrated easily when she’s trying to please you. This can especially be the case when she’s pregnant and tired.

  • She sounds like she wants to be accommodating because she loves you. Talking to her is the best way you can show you care and will help her to be more open to you sexually. Talking with her about sex is also a turn-on, because it stimulates curiosity. If she allows you, let her know you will take it slow and be prepared to stop if she expresses discomfort. You can then troubleshoot from there to try and identify what is causing her discomfort and make adjustments. Love can find a way. J

  • Abstinence is also an option, but be careful. No one has died from failure to ejaculate, but she does need to know (gently and lovingly tell her) that going sexless for many months to years is undesirable. Few men and women get married to be celibate, and going without sex can become a destructive habit. For short periods (short being a month or less), abstaining from sex for a time can increase your desire for each other and keep the passion fresh when you are both physically able to have sex again.

Let me know if you have any additional questions. I’m glad to help you troubleshoot and have a happy and healthy sex life. As endowed members of the Lord’s Church, it’s not only possible to have great sex, but a successful sexual relationship is what God wants for us. It’s worth the work to get there.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Giving and Receiving The Gift of Sex

Each and every time, sex is a gift our spouse gives to us from the deepest part of who they are.

Do we receive that gift with joy and gladness?

Can we give that gift with joy and gladness and expect nothing in return? (Moroni 7:8)

"As we get older...our ability to receive gifts with the same enthusiasm and grace seems to diminish. Sometimes people even get to the point where they can’t receive a gift or, for that matter, even a compliment without embarrassment or feelings of indebtedness.

They mistakenly think that the only acceptable way to respond to receiving a gift is by giving back something of even greater value.

Others simply fail to see the significance of a gift—focusing only on its outward appearance or its value and ignoring the deep meaning it has to the sincere giver...

...At Christmastime we talk a lot about giving, and we all know that “it is more blessed to give than to receive,” but I wonder if sometimes we disregard or even disparage the importance of being a good receiver."

~ Pres. Dieter F. Uchtdorf

Friday, December 21, 2012

Sex in Marriage - Carnal, Sensual, and Devilish...?

Here’s a comment from one of my readers. My answer ended up being too long to post in the comments section, so I’m posting it here. I look forward to your thoughtful and constructive comments, and please, state your references! J

“Many scriptures (Moses 5:13, Alma 42:10, D&C 20:20) put "carnal" (pertaining to the passions and appetites of the flesh) and "sensual" (pertaining to the gratification of the senses and physical, especially sexual, pleasure) together with "devilish" (having the qualities of the devil).

So these scriptures would seem to indicate that sexual pleasure (in or out of marriage) makes us more like the devil. Don't see any way that can be wholesome.”

Thank you for your comment Anon Dec. 20 and for reading.

I can empathize with your concern. Fortunately, we have a modern-day prophet to give us clarification of the scriptures pertaining to sex and sexuality.

The belief that sex is evil and devilish inside of the bonds of marriage is a puritanical belief system constructed by early Catholic leaders such as Augustine and St. Ambrose. (Please see

Unfortunately, too many still hold onto this sub-cultural belief in the membership of the LDS Church, in spite of what living modern-day prophets have taught us.

“The lawful association of the sexes is ordained of God, not only as the sole means of race perpetuation, but for the development of the higher faculties and nobler traits of human nature [a wholesome result from married sexual activity], which the love-inspired companionship of man and woman alone can insure.”
~ Pres. Joseph F. Smith, Improvement Era, June 1917, pg. 739, parentheses added

“ In the context of lawful marriage, the intimacy of sexual relations is right and divinely approved. There is nothing unholy or degrading about sexuality in itself, for by that means men and women join in the process of creation and in an expression of love”
~ Pres. Spencer W. Kimball, Eternal Marriage, pg. 139

This is a bogus dilemma really, because the terms you have chosen do not always mean the same thing in every context. For what you said to be true, words such as sensual, or natural, or unnatural would have to mean the same thing all the time…and they just don’t.

As stated above, sensuality is wholesome in the context of marriage, but not outside of the context of marriage.

The context of ‘sensual’ and ‘carnal’ you are referring to are doing things that are “holy” outside of the bounds and conditions the Lord has set to keep them “holy”. When we do sexual activities outside of marriage, we are communicating that we believe these ‘holy’ things are nothing more than ordinary bodily desires and functions.

When I did my research into the term “natural”, I learned that there are many such terms that take on multiple meanings and must be understood in the context they were given. For example:

The natural man is an enemy to God (Moses 3:19), but men engaging in things “unnatural” is also considered unfavorable (2 Tim 3 :1-3); except when it’s considered favorable (Alma 41:12).

It’s all a matter of context. Take Moses 5:13 that you shared. The term “carnal” (if you look in the Topical Guide) shows it was referring to those not spiritually reborn yet.

In a marriage ceremony we make covenants to multiply and replenish the earth. That requires sex. To make the covenants, we first must be baptized, become spiritually reborn and keep the commandments. It would be a contradiction to then consider sex in marriage and under that covenant “unholy or carnal”.

Sex outside of marriage would be a counterfeit of this; a perversion of that covenant and therefore would be taking a “holy” act and making it profane or unholy or “carnal”.  

When looking at Alma 42:10, we also have to consider verse 9. This talks about the Fall and how we spiritually die when we stop living the commandments of God. Carnal, sensual and devilish here refers to living our life contrary to the teachings of God. Since sex was ordained of God from the beginning of time to today (D&C 42:22), sex in marriage is contrary to a carnal, sensual and devilish state.

Again in D&C 20:20, by transgressing the laws of God, our actions become carnal and sensual and devilish. The Lord is telling us here that he wants us to worship Him through keeping his laws and commandments. Having sex in marriage is a fulfillment of the commandments (again, see D&C 42:22).  When we break these laws we are instead worshiping our senses (the bad kind of 'sensual'), and worshiping the devil instead of God (which is what the word ‘devilish’ refers to here).

Now I realize that, no matter what I say or what evidences I present, some may be more likely to revert to the cultural belief systems that they are habitually accustomed to.

My hope is that no one will use the scriptures to trap themselves unnecessarily, but instead look at the scriptures together with the quotes from modern sources presented here in their full context, take this to the Lord in prayer, and let the Spirit tell them if sex in marriage is holy (or not) and thus wholesome in this context by the standards of the Lord.

It is my belief that sex in marriage is a wonderful tool that has the power to bring ourselves and our spouses so much joy and create eternal bonds. My hope is to stop any false dilemmas that would keep a married couple from enjoying the sexual pleasure that God not only approves of, but wants us to have.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Wholesome Married Sex

At first glance, the two words ‘wholesome sex’ together may seem like an oxymoron, but is it possible to have a wholesome sexual relationship?

Growing up as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, I heard the term “wholesome” my whole life. Eat wholesome food, engage in wholesome activities, use wholesome language, and watch wholesome shows…these were some of the phrases that were commonplace in my ward and in my home.

The term even appears in the For the Strength of Youth booklet:

 “How you speak says much about who you are. Clean and intelligent language is evidence of a bright and wholesome mind…”[1]
If you are like me, you hear a lot of this sort of terminology in the church, but took it for granted.

I learned how important it was to take the time to look up these words and understand their meaning when my understanding of the terminology began to conflict with what I believed. I’m finding that some of the intimacy problems I’m seeing in the couples I coach come from their misunderstanding of the meaning of some of these Mormon terms.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary provides the definition of wholesome as “promoting health or well-being of mind or spirit.”

So based upon this definition, is it possible to have “wholesome sexual activity” in your life?

Douglas Brinley, who has a PhD in family studies and is the author of “Between Husband and Wife” recently wrote an Ensign article called “What Happily Married Couples Do” where he said:

“Intimate relations were designed by the Lord as a sacred opportunity to renew marriage covenants, provide therapy, and keep you two in love. It is essential in a stressful world that the two of you enjoy your physical and emotional relationship.

Intimacy is not to be abused. This is your spouse, companion, confidant, lover, and therapist all rolled into one, and you two should enjoy the privilege of sharing your masculine and feminine traits in a wholesome way.

Of course, the relationship must be healthy if this part of the marriage is to be cherished. Intimacy should not be used as a punishment or a weapon to hurt the other spouse or reward “good behavior.” It is also important not to solicit behavior that is offensive to your spouse. Rather, loving, kind interactions facilitate greater unity.”

For greater clarification, let’s break this down.

Does sex promote health of the body, or the well-being of the mind? Let us consider the following from WebMD’s article "10 SurprisingHealth Benefits of Sex:"

Does sex in marriage promote health or well-being of the spirit?

“The expression of our procreative powers is pleasing to God…”[2]

 “…Participation in [sex] offers an experience like nothing else in life. When entered into worthily, it combines the most exquisite and exalted physical, emotional and spiritual feelings associated with the word love. Those feelings and the lifelong need for one another bind a husband and wife together in a marriage wherein all of the attributes of adult masculinity are complemented by the priceless feminine virtues of womanhood.
 That part of life has no equal, no counterpart, in all human experience. It will, when covenants are made and kept, last eternally…”[3]

Can these benefits be obtained outside of marriage? Perhaps for a time when it comes to physical or mental benefits, but even these cannot last long-term.

If you ever question whether or not sex outside of marriage can truly be wholesome, may I suggest reading Mark Gungor’s article, entitled ‘It’s Not Just a Bunny’.

To Mark’s article, I would like to add that, for those who may have already transgressed the law of chastity in some way, that repentance and forgiveness is available to us through the Atonement of our Lord and Savior.

He can take away the pain and regret that we may feel from such sins, but consequences can remain. The physical and mental consequences that Mark Gungor talks about can linger, even after proper repentance. Medical or mental or legal counseling, learning new habits, and/or an additional measure of discipline can be required to manage the fallout from sexual sin.

It is always better not to sin in the first place.

Is sex in marriage a ‘wholesome’ activity? You be the judge.

[1] For the Strength of Youth pamphlet, pg. 22
[2] Dallin H. Oaks, Ensign, Nov 1993
[3] Boyd K. Packer, The Fountain of Life, Things of the Soul, pg. 105-17