Dear Dr Ren,
I’m a 28-year-old gay man in a relationship for about a year and a half. I’m an ex-Mormon, and that’s causing a problem.
Coming out was costly for me. I lost my family, my church, my home. After a lot of personal work, I now feel satisfied with who I am.
I haven’t had such good luck with overcoming some of the church’s other messages. Regardless what I tell myself, every time I jack off it feels good while I’m doing it, but I feel shameful and guilty afterward. My boyfriend really enjoys doing this together. I haven’t told him how difficult it is for me. He didn’t come up through the church and wouldn’t understand this deep-seated disgust for something he views as just part of foreplay.
How do I get past years of programming that tells me masturbation is sinful? — Stuck in Shadows
Dear Stuck in Shadows,
Ah, there’s always another closet door, isn’t there? It’s always confusing when leaving behind one belief system and replacing it with another that serves you better. Bravo for the work you’ve already done to feel good about being queer.
The process of dispelling self-loathing messages about sexual behaviour is similar to coming out, but with a further complicating layer. Orientation is felt inside. It’s undeniable. Behaviour, however, is controllable, we’re told. When we fail at that control, we feel miserable, regardless of the spin we attach to it.
When faith and evidence collide, something’s gotta give. Oftentimes, the two cannot coexist. In these situations, assess what makes the most sense to you, regardless of the consequences. That may mean changing your mind, questioning your belief systems, even feeling foolish or grieving.
But just as in coming out queer, coming out “clear” eventually feels authentic, regardless of your choice of faith or evidence. Generally, it’s the confusion between the two that makes us crazy.
To make a good decision, you need more information. You know the Mormon message. What do you know about what science says about masturbation?
The answer is: a whole lot! I suggest you get Dr Martha Cornog’s The Big Book of Masturbation: From Angst to Zeal. Opinion-free, it is a compendium of scientific material and commentary.
Learn the facts and then reconsider masturbation. Better yet, read the Cornog book with your boyfriend, or introduce the topic after watching the thought-provoking movie Don Jon. I’ll bet your lover knows you’re squidgy about wanking. Sharing your story with him will help him understand your struggles and prepare him to help you through them. There aren’t many folks who haven’t picked up some sort of negative messages about “self-abuse” along the way, you know!
Be prepared. You can’t have your knowledge and your innocence, too. When you learn that masturbation causes no physiological ill effects and, indeed, helps to maintain ongoing prostate health, you may experience strong emotions over such information being withheld from you. You may resent your lost years of self-loathing. You may grieve your lost sexual potential.
But then you’ll experience a lightening of spirit, a gratitude for the joy yet ahead. You may even find it easy to close one book and open another.
Or you may choose to reject the claims of science and recommit to controlling your behaviour.
Either way, the choice is yours! I encourage you only to make that choice an informed one. The anguish you feel now, and the “secret” you think you are keeping from your lover, will erode your relationship. If you don’t resolve this issue now, you will struggle with it until you do.
Suffering is optional. Relief is not without effort, but clarity will bring you happiness. You’ll find that clarity with comprehensive knowledge. Informed decisions are always the best kind.