The church has an unhealthy obsession about masturbation. This was never more clearly outlined than in Boyd Packer's talk, "To Young Men Only." This talk, and associated pamphlet, were recently retired by the church. As I got older, and particularly on my mission, I was provided a copy of this talk, and told to study it, pray about it, and live its teachings. From my first worthiness interview prior to being ordained into the priesthood, all the way through my mission to my last temple recommended interview, my leaders would always ask if I masturbated. As a missionary, I was asked at least once a month in interviews. As far as I'm concerned, it is an inappropriate question that really shouldn't be asked of the youth. It's frankly none of their business. And I treated it as such. I was usually quite forthcoming in my interviews, but that was one are I almost always lied about. I suspect most males were the same. I don't know if females were ever asked about these habits.
Flashback to my 9th grade year. I started attending released-time seminary on almost a daily basis. This was also the time serial killer Ted Bundy was about to be executed by the state of Florida for his crimes. The night before he got the electric chair, Ted gave his final interview to James Dobson from the organization Focus on the Family.
As I recall, the interview lasted about an hour, and my seminary teacher chose to show the relevant parts of that interview to our class. In the interview, which can now be easily found on YouTube, Ted made it pretty clear that he started out with "soft-core" pornography, which led him to more violent material, which then led him to commit the grisly murders he was found guilty of.
At the time, it made a huge impression on me. The implication was obvious: look at porn, and you'll start on the path to becoming the next Ted Bundy. Add to that the implications found in the "To Young Men Only" (that masturbation leads to homosexuality), and it was truly a recipe for disaster.
However, I hadn't yet really figured out critical thinking, and I certainly hadn't applied that to my religious upbringing, so I believed what that seminary teacher taught that day. He was not the only one to mention it either. It was a common topic in Sunday School classes and priesthood meetings. Of course, Focus on the Family ran with it too, to spread the anti-porn message.
As I got older, and really started to study the life and actions of Ted Bundy, one thing really struck me, and caused me to reconsider that day and that interview. In retrospect, it should have been painfully clear to me at the time: Ted Bundy was a pathological liar, and had proven that he could not be trusted. He was very likely lying his ass off to James Dobson, telling Dobson exactly what he wanted to hear. And Dobson loved it.
I don't know what was going through Ted's head during the interview. Obviously, it's impossible to know, so I can only speculate. While it is within the realm of possibility that there was some truth to what he said, I sincerely doubt that what he said was very accurate at all, insofar as it was porn that led him down the path to murder. It may have been a factor, but I really doubt it had the kind of impact on him as he described it to Dobson. The fact is that the path to becoming a killer as prolific as Bundy is extremely complex, and really cannot be boiled down to this one risk factor.
So why did Ted say what he did, the night before he died? It is my belief that he was giving a final middle finger to the system that was going to take his life away, a final middle finger to America, his way of remaining famous and relevant for many years after his execution. It worked. While he was a notorious liar, he was also extremely intelligent and calculating in his actions. He did not want to be forgotten, even in death. He did not want his narcissism to die with him. He left with us the final impression of him that he knew we wouldn't ignore or forget.
Focus on the Family, the Mormon church, and the evangelicals all ran with it. "See? This is what happens when you watch pornograohy! Don't be the next Ted Bundy!" was shouted from the rooftops. It didn't matter whether Ted was lying or not, because it fit their narrative. They used it, quite effectively for the time, as a propaganda piece.
This is a battle still being fought today in Utah. Many states and school districts still refuse to teach comprehensive sexual education to our kids, relying on "abstinence-only" education instead. The church continues to preach this from their pulpits, which I suppose isn't too surprising.
Yet the damage to young minds continues, despite the 1950's attitudes of the church leadership. This left me seriously and ridiculously unprepared to approach my own sexuality in a normal, healthy way. The message that was drilled into me ad nauseum was abstinence, abstinence, abstinence. They also drove home the point that your virtue was precious above all else. Kimball's book "The Miracle of Forgiveness" took it even further, declaring that it was better to die with your virtue intact than to give in to temptation. This book was required reading on my mission, although I could never get through the whole thing. It was simply too depressing. There was a very good reason missionaries I knew called the book "It's a Miracle if You're Forgiven."
Thankfully, I do see hope on the horizon. Elizabeth Smart has been really vocal about the damage abstinence-only education did to her. It is my hope that finally, the church leadership will listen to her, understand the negative effects of their teachings, and correct course. It is my hope, but I'm not holding my breath.
As I reflect on that experience now, it is clear that my seminary teacher's lesson that day, and the Ted Bundy video along with it, had a major impact on my life. In the short term, it probably had the desired effect. I was terrified of looking at porn, because I certainly didn't want to be a serial killer. But realistically, the effect didn't last long. I was a curious teenage boy who was determined to figure the whole thing out, and since my schools and church wouldn't give me the answers I was looking for, I searched where I knew I could at least get something.
The long term effect was far more damaging to my testimony and my belief. I first reflected on this experience as I was starting to critically examine the church, and it made me realize that just as in this case, maybe there were other situations where the church may have stretched the truth, been deceptive, or even blatantly dishonest. I had no doubt that my seminary teacher had good intentions that day. He may have even felt impressed by the Holy Ghost to do it. But if Bundy had been right about porn back then, it would seem to me that just about anyone on the internet today would be out killing. Porn is everywhere, instantly accessible, free of charge, and anything you can imagine. Bundy's interview and statements really ring hollow today, though they may have been relevant at the time. In any case, there was absolutely no doubt in my mind that the solid foundation my testimony was built on had started to crack.