Friday, July 17, 2009

He Said: Victimless Sins

I have heard the term victimless sins used by LDS bloggers this past year as something that is just between the person and God. Victimless sins I have read arguments or comments about include the Word of Wisdom, Sleep Patterns, Pornography, and Masturbation.

In a recent post on Retire to Thy Bed Early BiV and several of her commenters discussed victimless sin. They suggest that counsel given by the Lord in the Book of Commandments or Doctrine and Covenants is merely a guideline without actual implications and if they choose to stay up late at night there aren't any real consequences.

When I worked at BYU I worked for Reed Benson who had a sleeping disorder. He couldn't sleep at night and would get just a few hours of sleep if he was lucky. One day he came in and told me how he fell asleep at the wheel and drove down the hill by the Grant Building. He was lucky he didn't get killed. There are many cases of people who have limited sleep that have slower response times in doing things. My post showed that longevity is affected by those who don't get enough sleep. I admit that sleep is a minor problem but if we are all put on this earth with a mission and we cut that mission short it might have eternal consequences. For example a person is tired and they don't interact with someone that might have been converted to the gospel. If the Lord didn't think there wasn't an affect he wouldn't have given this as a revelation to Joseph Smith.

The concept of victimless sin has been grating at me ever since I wrote a post last year on masturbation. Nick Literski and others criticized me justifying their acceptance of this practice as a victimless sin. I argue that when a person masturbates they visualize some person in their minds many times a real person as the object of their desire. I posted a couple of weeks ago about whether mental adultery is a sin. I thought for sure the proponents of victimless sin would raise up arms but they were pretty tame. BiV didn't even respond saying that no one would refute it.

Today I came across a case study on masturbation and pornography that give us real life consequences of just how such sins are not victimless but can devastate other family members.

One blogger in Addicted to Porn who is very open on her blog tells the sad story of her husband Jack who engaged in such supposedly victimless sins as pornography and masturbation. I don't know if this is a fictious name or not but it is very revealing story of how supposedly victimless actions affect others:

Our sex life continued to struggle, his interest in me was nil, he would literally do anything he could to avoid me. It really hurt. I often thought he was gay but told myself that it’s ok for him to have those tendencies as long as he doesn’t act on them. I really didn’t know what to think. I knew that being around him made me feel dirty, discouraged, and unattractive; it drove me crazy! I knew I never would have thought that marriage to a return missionary priesthood holder would have been so lonely. I loved having my babies and tried very hard to mentally and emotionally block out the mean and negative things that Jack would say and do.

Ten years after we were married, I was pregnant with my fifth baby (finally a boy), Half-way thru the term of that pregnancy for whatever reason, (a conference talk, I guess) he decided to tell me that he was addicted to pornography and that he was on his way that night to repent. I went thru stages of disbelief to horror to depression. I wasn’t even sure what pornography was. I associated it with pedophiles, rapists and perverts. I was very shocked and scared. I went to therapists, we went to therapists, he went to therapists, and all left me more shocked and more discouraged.

One of the hardest things to accept was the habit of masturbation that came with the addiction. “Addiction” I could not understand at all why anyone would call pornography and masturbation “Addiction”! If it was an “addiction”, would he never stop? If he could never stop… how would I stay married? How could he have repentance? I had so many mixed up feelings and emotions. I hated him. He stole ten years of my life, he threw away my righteous desires, he took the love and cherish that I could have had, and wanted with all of my heart, and tricked me. What kind of sick person could hide something so awful, for so long from his wife! When I would cry myself to sleep with loneliness and despair, he never once tried to calm me with the true reasons he didn’t want me? Why did he want so badly for me to hate myself in every way? He let me lose my self esteem, he let me feel dirty, he let me be angry and lonely, he let me hate myself for wanting to be with him.

I still wonder what porn star he was making love to in his mind when I conceived our children. For the last ten years I’d given birth to four of his daughters! During that time I stayed in the house as much as possible; I didn’t want to go anywhere. I loved being home with my babies, I loved holding and playing with them, I loved watching them play with each other and with their friends. I loved planning things for them. When the kids were sick or they would not go to bed, I had a hard time; Otherwise, I loved and cherished every minute with each one of them. I felt so blessed to have them.

When Jack was in town, he was a great dad. I seemed to let that trump all the other negative behaviors he had. Jack was out of town all the time! When he was gearing up to leave, and when he would return, we would always fight! I felt so guilty because I was convinced it was me being controlling. I wanted his help when he was home, but I hated it when he would undo and/or redo everything when he got back. Not once did he hint that the fighting before he left and after his return had to do with the sick double life he had when he was gone.

Church was the worst! That was his Turf. He was the honorable priesthood authority in our home. He was a return missionary! He prayed long prayers every night. He diligently served in his callings. He took the kids to church and I stayed home. I was insecure about what other women thought of me. I was not active enough growing up to always follow their LDS lingo, and I was certainly not pretty enough or worthy enough to be in their circle. For ten years he knew my struggles and my insecurities and never once gave a hint of his own short comings, sins or dirty little secrets. It was very hard to accept that I had married a person who could keep up such a lie.

I wondered what kind of sick thoughts he had. What did he think of our daughters? What did he think when he saw other peoples daughters in porn? If he didn’t respect women, how could he even have a testimony? Or did he? What kind of stupid girl was I, that I did not see this coming? I remembered JG saying “he could not imagine only seeing one naked woman for the rest of his life” I knew my husband felt the same way.

He punished me for not smelling good, not looking good, not taking enough time with the kids, not praying enough, not driving well enough, not making dinner good enough, not wearing the right socks, using the right knife, anything he could think of he would make it a point to make a personal attack on me, I believed that I wasn’t good enough. All that time, he was holding me to a ridiculous standard. He wanted me to be a fantasy! No matter how I tried, he would never be satisfied or pleased because what he wanted was porn. He married me, not because he loved me, but because he thought that being married would cure him. Just as I thought being married to a priesthood holder would make me happy, we both lost.

You can read the rest of her post and see how she lost her self-esteem and how a supposed victimless sin destroyed her trust in her husband.

There are other victimless sins such as the phenomenon of chatting with other men for women or women with men which can sometimes go from supposedly harmless gospel discussions to flirtatious online affairs to possible mental adultery. David Bednar decried this tendency in a recent CES fireside Things As They Really Are. The really is a promise that temple goers make about who are feelings should be toward. Once a person engages in such practices it is hard for them to stop.

Victimless sins are like a pebble thrown in a pond that ripple in ways that a sinner has no idea will affect others. Many times the victimless sinner blames an unintended victim such as a spouse of why they practice a supposed victimless sin in the first place.


  1. Do you consider nocturnal emissions a victimless sin? Should young women and men that have orgasms in their sleep go to the Bishop for repentence?

    What about a man who suffers from sexual dysfunction? Would a treatment that included masturbation be a sinful treatment?

    The reason I'm so interested in this topic is that my grandfather, Dr. William E. Hartman, got excommunicated in part for his advocacy of masturbation.

    His position was that masturbation was generally a healthy activity. Granted, good things can be done to excess, like eating, but those who take things to extremes should not be cause for others to not engage in that activity. Many things can be good or evil depending on circumstances.

    My grandfather's position resulted in hundreds of marriages being saved. Masturbation was a key element in treating the dysfunction that threatened those marriages.

    Also, it's nearly impossible for a man to learn to be multi-orgasmic without masturbation. Something that most women would greatly benefit from.

    For a more detailed view of my grandfather's positions, you can read a couple of his books "Treatment of Sexual Dysfunction", or "Any Man Can".

    My postition is that the Church's position on masturbation actually leads to greater harm than good. The reality is most teenagers masturbate. If they already have the view that they are grievous sexual sinners then it's not hard for them to take that next step. I know for a fact that this happens.

  2. Just curious... am I committing a sin when I masturbate while thinking of my wife when I am away on business? Remembering her and some of our fun, intimate play while we are hundreds of miles apart... is that a sin in your mind? In mine, it is strengthening the bonds of marriage, not weakening them.

  3. When pornography shows up in a society, as measured, actual sex crimes go down by about 85%. Refs on request. I have no doubt that everyone quoted is nothing but totally sincere, but the plural of anecdote is not data.

    Plus, masturbation lowers prostate cancer. Also peer reviewed.

    I think you should just stick to "God hates it," rather than trying to justify your particular religious beliefs using examples. Everyone has examples.

  4. Ummm, "Everyone has non-peer-reviewed, non-evidence based examples."

  5. Dr. B. said: "The concept of victimless sin has been grating at me"
    I am fascinated by your frustration with this topic. Having pondered many of my own victimless sins I often wonder what the best approach is to a topic we find frustrating. I recently attended a meeting where people who masturbate, eat a lot, drink alcohol, or any number of other habits come together and talk about how they feel like they have a habit or addiction that they are not happy about. I think that attending this meeting on a regular basis really helped me understand victimless sins better. I watched one person who was overweight contribute to this meeting by learning to talk about their addiction to food. I watched and listened to another person talk about their addiction to masturbation. I contributed to this meeting by talking about one of my own arguably bad habits. We all benefited from hearing each other talk about our own weaknesses and shortcomings. This probably sounds silly to a person who has never attended one of these meetings but it was an amazing thing to feel the internal change of perspective that happens as we all learned to talk about our own insecurities and weaknesses. The frustration, tension, and fear evaporated as we realized it was okay that we didn’t feel in control. Perhaps when we feel like we have no control over something we fear may hurt us, we become frustrated by it and in our confusion we reach out and try to control others because their weaknesses are so obvious to us. It’s a tragic knee jerk reaction that I have often been guilty of.

  6. Steven:

    That is an interesting perspective. I agree that it is good to talk through such feelings. BiV has an interesting perspective on gradations of sin in response to my post. Owning our sins helps us to be free of the guilt. We need to just accept our humanness and the fact that the atonement takes them in to account.

  7. Thanks for this post Dr. B. I think it is a good one. The topic began with "I have heard the term victimless sins used by LDS bloggers this past year as something that is just between the person and God."

    One way to pursue this train of thought might be as follows: I do believe that everything I choose to do, sin or not, has an effect on the world around me, the question remains however who has the right to criticize my actions. If I choose to masturbate and claim I do not fantasize about other women while doing so does my wife or bishop have a right to correct me?

    Another way to approach the same subject: I do believe all of my actions effect the world around me, but I also believe it is not okay to criticize or critique anyone else's actions. That is why instead of trying to pinpoint the wrongness in justifications my friends use for some of their habits I am going to choose to focus on things about my own personal behavior that I think could be improved and let go of behaviors others have that bother me. In other words going back to the beginning of the topic letting others around me with questionable habits be "something that is just between the person and God."

  8. Personally I choose this topic because I keep hearing it used as a justification as being no big deal. Since I am supposed to write on controversial topics I thought it would be interesting to explore it. I had hoped that some TBMs would have given their side. As to masturbation there seems to be a lot of angst. The only comforting thing is that the LDS leaders no longer get in to the bedroom so it is between the man or woman and the Lord it is not a confessable sin for married people but as to single people that is another matter. I don't know if it is a double standard I don't write the Handbook of Instructions.

  9. I am no expert but here is my 2 cents worth. I think the problem with solo masturbation is that it is selfish. Its purpose is self gratification. When a person makes a habit of self gratification, it is more difficult to focus on mutual gratification when engaging in sex with a partner. Sex within marriage is supposed to bring 2 partners closer in a loving way. When the goal of self gratification carries over from the masturbation experience to the marriage act, the other partner will feel dirty and used. Masturbation can also lead to unrealistic expectations of sex within marriage. I am all for mutual masturbation within marriage - it enhances the experience.