*(If you know what the acronym M&P stands for, you're a real Mormon.)
I want to take a minute to comment on what the new LDS Church handbook says about masturbation and pornography (yes, M&P). What's most surprising is what's not said.
Masturbation is mentioned in only one place in the handbook and that is in an instruction to bishops and stake presidents about what does not warrant a Disciplinary Council. (The handbook refers to it with the archaic term "self-abuse.")
Masturbation is not mentioned in the section of the handbook that describes the law of chastity. The chastity section includes language that prohibits "unholy, unnatural or impure practices." You might imagine that masturbation could be construed as one of these practices, but there's a bit of evidence against this interpretation. The very next sentence says that engaging in these practices will result in Church discipline, which is not the case with masturbation. Breaking the law of chastity appears to require more than one person in the room.
While there still is a strong LDS cultural prohibition against masturbation, we're seeing less emphasis from Church leadership. There's virtual silence on the subject of masturbation from the pulpit in General Conference. It seems as if it's evolving into a don't-ask-don't-tell situation.
Unlike masturbation, pornography has been a common topic of discourse in General Conference. Yet, from the handbook you wonder what the fuss is about. The handbook mentions pornography in exactly the same section as masturbation: it's in the list of issues that don't warrant a Disciplinary Council. Like masturbation, pornography is not mentioned in the section that defines standards for the law of chastity.
Pornography gets its own dedicated section in the handbook. However, this section mainly presents pornography using a medical metaphor: the use of pornography is seen as a kind of addiction. The language in the handbook focuses on counseling and treatment options; it contains contact numbers for LDS Social Services.
Frankly, I'm puzzled by what's going on here. I think the silence about masturbation is a sign that some kind of change is in the works, perhaps a movement toward the more mainstream view that masturbation is benign. The silence about masturbation seems at odds with the increasing rhetoric over the pulpit on the subject of pornography, rhetoric that is not backed up in the handbook by policy. Is it possible that pornography for the LDS hierarchy is more of a symbolic issue? I'm wondering if the fight against pornography is really a fight against cultural change and secularization. I don't have evidence for this conjecture, but it's an idea I'd like to explore further.
Do you have any thoughts on M&P and why the new handbook virtually omits them?