065: Recommendations from two Mormon Sex Therapists

Jen-110523773_10204203479583411_6021023098012711089_nNatasha Helfer Parker, LCMFT and Dr. Jennifer Finlayson-Fife, PhD have a joint discussion where they share their recommendations to bishops, parents and members from the perspective of their clinical experience and training in sex therapy.  They start by discussing their position on masturbation being problematically perceived and treated in our current Mormon culture and recommendations on healthier framings that integrate and support the law of chastity. They also discuss suggestions as to how worthiness interviews could be shifted from current traditional approaches to those that would have less potential for harmful power differentials, cultural shaming, unnecessary discipline approaches and in worst case scenarios, ecclesiastical abuse.
Both Natasha and Jennifer have come to their positions through their training in their respective fields, human development, and human sexuality as well as through working with a primarily Mormon clientele for almost 20 years each. They have counseled with hundreds if not thousands of members, and take seriously the often unintended harm that comes from teaching and implementing correct principles in incorrect ways. This podcast might be found useful by individuals wanting to work through personal sexual issues, those wanting to develop healthy boundaries and parameters within church protocols, parents wanting suggestions on how to manage, protect and normalize adolescent sexuality within a healthy gospel construct, and ecclesiastical leaders who are looking for a professional’s perspective as to the implications some of our current rhetoric and traditions can have on members in any given congregation.

Natasha and Jennifer have been involved in providing therapy services and educational forums both in and outside of church settings, as well as presenting at national trainings and conferences in regards to relational and sexual topics, with Natasha being awarded the Schiller Prize for her presentation on Mormon Sexuality at the 2013 AASECT Conference (co-presenter Adam Fisher). Jennifer’s dissertation work focused on studying Mormon women and their responses to an LDS upbringing and framework from a sexual perspective. They currently serve on the board of the Mormon Mental Health Association which they both played roles in founding just last year – due to the variety of mental health needs they see within the Mormon population and their desire to have an increase of respectful, evidence-based, cultural competency in those who participate in the treatment of an LDS clientele. Both Natasha and Jennifer received their undergraduate degrees in Psychology from Brigham Young University. Jennifer went on to get her PhD from Boston College and Natasha her masters in Marriage and Family Therapy from Friends University.

My Official Stance on Masturbation

LDS Female Sexuality with Jennifer Finlayson-Fife

Many thanks to The Lower Lights for the beautiful bumper music and to Brian Dillman for audio production of this podcast.  Natasha Helfer Parker runs a private practice in Wichita, KS and writes at The Mormon Therapist for Patheos: Hosting the Conversation of Faith.

Donations to Mormon Mental Health are tax deductible and go directly to support the costs of producing the podcast.  If and when donations exceed these costs, they will go to support trainings, research, materials development, projects of the Mormon Mental Health Association and financial support for those who need help affording appropriate therapy services.


17 comments for “065: Recommendations from two Mormon Sex Therapists

  1. Polly
    May 8, 2015 at 10:49 pm

    Thank you for doing a podcast on this topic! I am no longer a member of the church (well, on paper I am but that’s it.) Part of why I left was the way the church taught, managed, and “dealt” with sexual health. Again, just part of the reason but an important part. I have seen time and time again how so many of my friends have really struggled with this, and how what they have been taught has been extremely damaging.

  2. A Happy Hubby
    May 9, 2015 at 9:57 am

    Natasha and Jennifer, thanks for taking the time for this episode. I just wish this was sent to each and every Bishop and Stake president in the church. It could really help ease some inadvertent pain. I am NOT a leader basher. I agree with a few comments the 2 of you made that almost all bishops and stake presidents are wonderful people trying to be Christ-like, and not to mention they spend a TON of hours. But that does not counteract when they inadvertently say and do things that hurt people.

  3. Charla
    May 15, 2015 at 2:05 pm

    Thank you for this episode. The shaming really needs to stop. Years ago in a church court at BYU, as a still-teenage young woman, I was asked a series of probing, detailed questions about my sexual behavior, including masturbation, for the benefit of a conference room full of serious looking men in suits (only one of whom I had ever even met before). I was the only girl in the room, the only young person, the only unmarried person … This remains by far the creepiest experience I’ve ever been through. It cemented my belief that the church’s stance on sexuality is damaging for individuals and relationships, and that there really must NOT be a place for me within Mormonism, since I disagreed so strongly with such a basic teaching. Looking back, I’m glad I had the self-awareness to not take it personally. I never had a problem with the chewed gum; chewing and enjoying is what gum is for. The approach you recommend seems healthy, loving, human, and connecting – rather than judging, shaming, alienating. I hope it catches on.

  4. Anna
    January 18, 2016 at 6:24 pm

    I understand that masturbation is a normal thing, but that doesn’t erase the fact that we’re commanded not to do it. It says so right in the “For The Strength of Youth.” So while I understand that this is a normal thing and that we shouldn’t shame people for it, I don’t understand how you can say it’s okay for an active member of the church to do it.

    • Ruby
      February 1, 2018 at 6:08 am

      I agree. I dont understand a lot of these podcasts, especially when they are from Mormons. WE are told no pornography and no masturbation in or outside marriage right? Am I wrong? If we do then you are unable to get a temple recommend right? So why would you suggest this?

  5. March 17, 2016 at 11:49 pm

    There is no commandment or scriptural reference to masturbation. Church members who believe that masturbation is a sin or is harmful are simply wrong.

    • Griffin
      July 22, 2016 at 10:30 am

      See my other comment

    • Cody
      February 1, 2017 at 8:56 pm

      There actually is scriptures about masterbation

    • Ruby
      February 1, 2018 at 6:09 am

      A prophet’s (latter day) word is scripture. Its stated in some recent talks.

  6. Griffin
    July 22, 2016 at 10:26 am

    Doctrine does not only consist of what can be easily found in the scriptures. The scriptures exist as words of prophets of old and as a history of god’s interactions with man. Not all that is doctrine has to be found in scriptures; the word of wisdom for example, the word of wisdom was changed from advice, as it is written, to a command later on. And mind you that many doctors believed alcohol tobacco etc. was healthy at the time it was written; notice the parallel? What prophets say today is doctrine. They are still the prophet(s) If not so we would be just like any other sect, and very confused at that. It is wrong, but understandably wrong. A bishop who uses shaming tactics is a problem in and of itself. Bishops shouldn’t shame, period. But I know personally that it is harmful. I went from a pseudo masturbating problem to not masturbating at all. It was hard to stop, but so rewarding. When I masturbated I perceived people more carnally, my body told me to lust after them, even though I resisted that perception was just there. Why? Well when you masturbate, you reward your body for being sensual, and so it looks for more opportunities. When I finally was able to stop for a long while those urges dissipated into almost nothing, if not all gone. This was because I payed the urges no mind, therefore my body realized “it’s not happenin” and it let go of them. I was so much happier seeing girls more for their souls and not stressing about carnal urges.it may have just been a 5% change but it didn’t matter, I loved it. If the apostles are clear on their stance, we should be too. Studies today come out biased because they study people who are taught their whole life to satisfy their urges. This has become the norm. But from what I’ve deciphered from most of what I’ve read is that your body will adapt to how you treat it. This is true when measuring a male’s arousal with novel sex partners. If the male keeps getting novel partners his body becomes more aroused when seeing new women. But if a male sticks to one or none, this reaction eventually subsides. I assume the same principle applies to masturbation, as this is exactly what happened to me. I believe God gives us a choice between carnal and spiritual, and spiritual is endlessly more rewarding I promise you so. It may be harder and you may make mistakes. But it’s okay, just get up, pray, and try again, this is the beauty of the gospel.

  7. Alyssa
    December 11, 2016 at 2:14 am

    I really want to be respectful and careful in sharing my opinion. I came on here very open-minded but I had some red flags pop up. And so I felt a course correction take place during this discussion. Masturbation has never been okay with Heavenly Father. It’s not about the church or the ecclesiastical leaders putting that standard forward. It is about what the Lord has asked of us to do. Is it difficult? you bet. And the repentance process is there for us when we fall. This podcast was interesting and I really do appreciate the perspectives presented but I feel that the underlying message that could be construed here, is that the leaders of the church don’t know what they are doing. Which is like saying, that because they may be uneducated on how to deal with sexuality issues that arise within the church, that they shouldn’t have the authority to say this is not okay. They DO have the authority and as they have taken their callings seriously by following the Spirit, they DO know what they are doing because the Lord is guiding them along. They don’t need a degree. God has the answers. I’m not sure I agree with what is being said here. This is like a very subtle way of saying, “listen to your body and don’t worry so much about what the church standard is”. Isn’t this the very thing that we have been warned of in the latter days? We as latter-day saints need to be so careful about what we say and what we believe. This type of conversation could be a segway for a lot of members falling into deeper transgressions. There will be many who currently have issues they are working through and suddenly it will seem to them that sexual sins are okay and we shouldn’t feel bad about them. I do not think that there should be shaming involved when it comes to this issue. EVERYONE struggles with knowing what to do with their sexuality, what is okay and what is not okay. It is part of the mortal experience. But God laws are set. Feeling the guilt, shame, and remorse is a vital process of our spiritual learning. Adam and Eve partook of the fruit. They needed to partake in order to understand more of the laws of the universe. Yes a law was broken. But it does not mean that they can mosey to the tree of knowledge of good and evil, chop up a fruit salad and eat it whenever they’re in the mood for a snack. I mean, right? They learned an enormous lesson about the perimeters that were set for them and what happens when they are broken. The Lord has asked us not to stimulate or arouse sexual feelings within ourselves. That will never change and it never has. Yes the body is beautiful. Yes, sexuality is beautiful in so many aspects and it is divinely appointed for us to love our spouses in all the glorious ways of intimacy. But our bodies are not a toy for our own pleasure. Our bodies are sacred instruments and we can do all that is asked of us to bridle our passions and respect Heavenly Father’s laws. Refraining from masturbation is good and it is right. I say this because I have made many errors. As I have come to the Lord with this very issue I have found that He is most pleased when we follow this guideline. Let’s be so careful not to allow ourselves to lower our standards of morality, especially in these latter days. We are much better off following the counsel given to us by our church leaders than not. It is more damaging to explore masturbation than it is to refrain from it. End of speech. I say this with deep respect and love. Thank you for the way you have respectfully and carefully presented this podcast. It is refreshing and liberating to hear members celebrate the sacred nature of sexuality instead of presenting sexuality as dirty or wrong. Sexuality is good and right but only along the pathway that the Lord has set for us.

  8. Z
    January 3, 2017 at 3:04 pm

    I would like to recommend this for those of us who are more readers than listeners. Leave a drop down option to show the transcription of audio in your posts. http://otranscribe.com/

  9. Timothy Birt, MS, LPC, LMFT
    February 6, 2017 at 1:02 pm

    Thank you for this important topic which is long overdue in the Church. As a licensed mental health professional with years of experience dealing with the most serious issues involving youth and sexuality and abuse and as a member of the LDS Church I agree with and support the positions presented here. From my discussions with some local Church leaders questions about masturbation are not encouraged to be asked in interviews. This is a positive change; however, like many previously held stances the change has been quitely rolled out with no officially communicated change in policy, stance or beliefs communicated to members of the Church at large. So so many members and perhaps some leadership my still view masturbation as a sin needing repentance and needing the involvement of a bishop. Millions of members of the Church have grown up with shame based teachings by church leaders about masturbation and normal sexual thoughts and desires. Untold personal, spiritual, and relational trauma have genius in a negative shame based approach to sexuality. Some suicides are also attributed to conflicts over such.

    I applaud your encouraging individuals to have ownership and acceptance of their own sexuality and base their personal commitments to their standards from internalized principles consistent with themselves and what they hope for in relationships.

    My only comment in addition to your suggestions here is that we also need to be careful with out language when discussing sexuality in an LDS context. Terms like “sexual purity” “chastity” “repentance” we use liberally are frought with ability to be interpreted in so many ways when they are not defined more clearly. The most common interpretation in LDS context is from a shaming perspective and can produce extensive trauma especially when applied in sexually abusive contexts. Given that appeoximately one in four girls and one in eight boys are at risk for sexual abuse before age 18, we should learn to be very careful in equating lack of sexual experience to virtue or purity in any form.

  10. Parker
    May 28, 2017 at 7:34 pm

    I’m curious what your thoughts are on the LDS resource A Parents Guide – Chapter 5 Where the following quote is found “One example: masturbation is considered by many in the world to be the harmless expression of an instinctive sex drive. Teach your children that the prophets have condemned it as a sin throughout the ages and that they can choose not to do it. Throughout childhood, boys and girls have touched their own genitals frequently to wash and to dress. This is a behavior that usually has the same meaning as keeping one’s feet warm in the winter, enjoying a swim on a hot day, or scratching an itch. We ought to be friendly to our bodies and appreciate the body’s marvelous range of senses. This innocent touching is not the kind of behavior warned against by prophets through the ages. The sin of masturbation occurs when a person stimulates his or her own sex organs for the purpose of sexual arousal. It is a perversion of the body’s passions. When we pervert these passions and intentionally use them for selfish, immoral purposes, we become carnal.

    Masturbation is not physically necessary. There is already a way by which the male system relieves excessive spermatic fluid quite regularly through the nocturnal emission or wet dream. Monthly menstrual flow expels the female’s egg and cleanses the womb. For both sexes, physical or emotional tensions can be released by vigorous activity. Thus, in a biological sense, masturbation for either gender is not necessary. In a gospel sense, it is a sin: “Masturbation, a rather common indiscretion, is not approved of the Lord nor of His Church regardless of what may have been said by others whose ‘norms’ are lower. Latter-day Saints are urged to avoid this practice” (Spencer W. Kimball, Love Versus Lust, Brigham Young University Speeches of the Year [Provo, 5 Jan. 1965], p. 22).”

    This is official church stance which the shared views seem to contradict.

    • Lea
      September 17, 2017 at 12:20 pm

      “Monthly menstrual flow expels the female’s egg and cleanses the womb.”
      This has absolutely nothing to do with masturbation or a woman’s sexual function. No part of a woman masturbating goes anywhere near the womb, and orgasms do not clean the womb or have anything to do with the womb or egg. Menstruatiom has nothing to do with sexuality.

  11. Ruby
    February 1, 2018 at 6:48 am

    It would be nice if either of the podcast ladies responded

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