As long as sex and pornography addiction remains in the shadows, the LDS marriage delay will continue.
Local and national news outlets have picked up on a trend among LDS men: they keep pushing back marriage. Singles wards and branches across North America are full of eligible and interested women–as well as a lot of eligible men. Whether these men are interested in marriage, however, seems to be an open question.
The newspapers have delved into the reasons for which LDS men delay popping the question and moving on to the next great adventure in Heavenly Father’s plan of happiness. They quote BYU professors as well as Church leaders such as President Monson and Elder Scott. Apparently young Mormon men are either having too much fun being single, are too picky or are too concerned about an unpredictable future. For decades, the Brethren have repeatedly counseled the single LDS brethren to man up and get on with it. And yet the trend continues. What’s going on?
Sometimes, someone has to tell it like it is. Even if it’s uncomfortable and makes a lot of people fidget. Here we go. I submit that many young Mormon men are putting off marriage not so much because of a desire for fun or for a financial head start, but because of the problem of sex. If you had to parse it out a little more, you’d come across two words that we don’t like utter much in the Church (especially the second one): pornography and masturbation.
According to one survey of Christian men, fifty percent (50%) of them admit to being addicted to pornography. (By the way, in Mormondom as well as in Greater Christianity, “addicted to pornography” is code for “addicted to pornography and masturbation.”) Seventy percent of American men under 35 consume internet pornography at least monthly. Latter-day Saint therapists as well as bishops and stake presidents acknowledge that the problem appears to be just as prevalent among the Mormons as it is in other communities. In other words, the issue of “sex with self” is a front-and-center concern for single Mormon men.
Now, I want to be clear about this. I am not suggesting that LDS men are delaying marriage because they are “getting what they need” from pornography and masturbation. I don’t believe for a second that young LDS men are forgoing the wonderful and fulfilling experience of complete intimacy–spiritual, emotional, mental, social and physical–that comes only in marriage to a woman they love merely because porn and masturbation have somehow proven to be “satisfying enough.” To suggest as much would be to reduce young Mormon men to mere caricatures of what it means to be a man of God. I believe there is a much deeper spiritual battle going on inside these men and it is one that nearly all of them are fighting in isolation and silence.
What I further believe is that most of these Latter-day Saints genuinely have a testimony of the Restored Gospel. Their faith centers on Jesus Christ and His infinite Atonement. They want to live a life of Christian integrity because they know that is where true peace and happiness are found. They want to be married–and they want to do it the right way. Each of these men wants to be worthy of the love of the adoring young woman who will join hands with him across the altar in the temple and covenant to be his companion for eternity. Pornography and masturbation are crushing the life out of this dream for a huge number of LDS men.
These LDS guys are struggling. They binge on porn and sex with self, they feel miserable, they swear it all off forever and then they binge again. Once more, they vow, “Never again!,” only to return hours, days, weeks or months later. It eats away at their self-esteem and it deadens their ability to relate to and interact in a healthy way with women. It leaves them feeling hollow and unworthy, alone and isolated. Although marriage remains one of their greatest ambitions, it is a dream that is slowly riding off into the sunset while these fellows remain mired in a muck of pornography and masturbation that just won’t let go of them.
I think that these men are actually trying to be noble–and trying to do the right thing (sort of): they are attempting to correct their problem first (albeit on their own and in silence) so that they don’t take their problem with them into a marriage and then afflict their future wife with the pain and sadness that would come from discovering that their husband is a porn binger.
Since addiction cannot be overcome in isolation and silence, however, these legions of single Mormon men continue to struggle with their “little problem” as they repeatedly try and fail to forsake the sin on their own. In the meantime, the years pass and as they pass, these men, practically none of whom truly understands addiction, keep up the hope that someday, somehow, the compulsions to consume porn and masturbate will miraculously just go away.
As Church leaders and members become more educated about the nature, strength and complexity of addiction as well as what is required for recovery, these young men will themselves come to understand that salvation and serenity lie in admitting addiction and then getting help. Hopefully this will happen sooner rather than later. They will then seek and embrace an addiction recovery plan that includes therapy and an effective 12 Step program. They will finally experience that one missing piece of the repentance equation–forsaking the sin. They will enjoy the redeeming power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ. It will buoy them up and give them at the same time both humility and confidence.
Many people worry that as our society dances drunkenly down the primrose path to hell, it will draw with it horrifying numbers of young LDS men who are unable to shake themselves out of the trance that keeps them frozen in place on the carnal conveyor belt. My vision is different. I believe that Latter-day Saints will soon wake up from a different trance and shake off their aversion to the word “addiction.” They will realize that it merely describes an inability to stop engaging in undesirable behavior despite growing negative consequences to self and others. They will come to understand that there is a solution to addiction, but that the solution cannot work in secret and isolation. They will become convinced that Heavenly Father will help these young men if they first become willing to do whatever it takes to get well.
I believe further that as our young LDS men find recovery from sex and pornography addiction, they will become stronger in their testimonies; firmer in their resolve to live the Gospel; and able to be 100% of the husband and father that their future wife and children need them to be. As with Alma the Elder, Alma the Younger, the Sons of Mosiah, Corianton, Zeezrom and Paul, their experiences with forsaking their sins and embracing the purifying effects of Christ’s Atonement will make them missionaries and leaders of a caliber not seen in generations–perhaps not even since the beginning of the world. If I am right, the “pornography problem” will actually produce a kind of grand-scale miracle of true conversion within the Church. “That the fulness of my gospel might be proclaimed by the weak and the simple unto the ends of the world, and before kings and rulers” (D&C 1:23).
I pray every day that greater understanding of sex and pornography addiction will distil upon members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. We can save the world if we can just save ourselves first.
Image 1 credit: Jeff Belmonte from Cuiabá, Brazil by Wikimedia Commons