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What’s the next political debate? Masturbation?

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By Ira Sharkansky

Ira Sharkansky

JERUSALEM — This column is immodest, and is likely to provoke condemnation.

It makes an appropriate nod in the direction of Jonathan Swift’s classic of a slightly different name. It also fits within my concern for politics, and the plight of Americans, old enough to vote and do other things, who are not yet  sure of what to do in November.

My proposal follows from an assessment of Barack Obama’s declaration of support for same-sex marriages and his opponent’s reaffirmation of his own staunch opposition.

A public opinion poll and its analysis suggest that the President may have erred.

Or maybe not. Analyses say as much about the analysts as about the American people.

USA Today, which commissioned the poll, headlines the findings that “51% agree with Obama’s endorsement of gay marriage.”

The first paragraph (the one readers are most likely to see before their interest pales, says
“More than half of Americans say they approve of President Obama’s stance that same-sex couples should be allowed to marry legally, but 60% say that his shift in position will have no bearing on how they vote in the November election.”
The next paragraph is not so good for the President.
“. . . . Nearly 13% say his shift in position will make them more likely to vote for him, while 26% say it will make them less likely, suggesting that more supporters of likely GOP nominee Mitt Romney feel more strongly about this issue than do base supporters of Obama.”

The Christian Post article about the same poll emphasizes the problems for Obama.

Its headline is that “Obama’s Gay Marriage Stance Could Cost Him Votes,” and the first paragraph
“A new poll shows that President Barack Obama’s decision to support gay marriage might make many independents and even some Democrats less likely to vote for him in November.”

So we are not sure, but the President may lose more than he gains.

He was wise to get his position out early, firm up his support among contributors and voters (in that order of importance) for whom the issue is vital, and hope that other matters will smother the importance of same-sex marriage by the time those who oppose, but not intensely, will be deciding how to vote.

Given the lack of certainty, my proposal can help Obama to drive his opponent into a corner where the vast majority of Americans will sneer or even jeer, at least in the quiet of a private room.

Beware. The following is for consenting adults only.

It is meant for a population that kvells at the opportunity to legislate about bodily pleasures.

The President should bolster his support for same sex marriage with a statement in favor of masturbation.

Research by a distinguished British medical college indicates that at least 75 percent of males and close to 40 percent of females admit to doing it. The data shows that admission of the practice increases along with socio-economic status. Authors of the study surmise that many more people do it, but that it is especially the better educated who are willing to admit it. A compilation of American studies find that the incidence is at least as high in the United States.

What’s the payoff for the President to admit that he supports masturbation, and may even have partaken of its pleasures himself?

Mitt Romney may be forced by the positions he has held in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Ward Bishop and Stake President) to support his Church’s doctrine, which is four-square against the dirty stuff.

The guide for Mormon missionaries makes explicit a prohibition against homosexuality.
 “God delights in chastity and hates sexual sin. . . .  Baptismal candidates are to live the law of chastity, which prohibits any sexual relations outside of a legal marriage between a man and a woman. They are not to participate in abortions or homosexual or lesbian relations.” (Preach My Gospel: A Guide to Missionary Service, p. 77)
Spencer W. Kimball, who served as Prophet and President of the Church 1973-85 linked masturbation with homosexuality.
“Prophets anciently and today condemn masturbation. It induces feelings of guilt and shame.  . . .  no young man should be called on a mission who is not free from this practice. What is more, it too often leads to grievous sin, even to that sin against nature, homosexuality. For, done in private, it evolves often into mutual masturbation-practiced with another person of the same sex and thence into total homosexuality….”
Apostle Mark E. Peterson, who served as a leading member of the Church hierarchy from 1944 to 1984, wrote a letter for missionaries that he entitled, “Steps in Overcoming Masturbation.” It included the following points:
  • “Never touch the intimate parts of your body except during normal toilet processes.
  • If you are associated with other persons having this same problem, you must break off their friendship. Never associate with other people having the same weakness.
  • When you bathe, do not admire yourself in a mirror. Never stay in the bath more than five or six minutes — just long enough to bathe and dry and dress and then get out of the bathroom into a room where you will have some member of your family present.
  • When in bed, if that is where you have your problem for the most part, dress yourself for the night so securely that you cannot easily touch your vital parts, and so that it would be difficult and time consuming for you to remove those clothes. By the time you started to remove protective clothing you would have sufficiently controlled your thinking that the temptation would leave you.
  • When the temptation to masturbate is strong, yell STOP to those thoughts as loudly as you can in your mind and then recite a prechosen Scripture or sing an inspirational hymn. It is important to turn your thoughts away from the selfish need to indulge.
  • It is sometimes helpful to have a physical object to use in overcoming this problem. A Book of Mormon, firmly held in hand, even in bed at night has proven helpful in extreme cases.
  • In very severe cases it may be necessary to tie a hand to the bed frame with a tie in order that the habit of masturbating in a semi-sleep condition can be broken.”

There are Mormons who consider themselves faithful, but depart from official doctrine. They are organized and publish regularly. Church officials advise the faithful to avoid reading dissenting publications, and have threatened sanctions against those who contribute articles.

Among the items produced by Mormons who hold reservation about Church doctrine, and an indication that an Obama endorsement of masturbation might attract some Mormon voters, is a long and thoughtful article from “a faithful LDS Physician (who) in fear of reprisal from church leaders . . . asked that his name be withheld.” Among his points:
“. . . Jesus Christ never said anything about masturbation. . . almost 100% of males report masturbation during puberty. This demonstrates that it does not lead to a change of sexual orientation, or disease, or anything negative, but that it is developmentally appropriate and leads primarily to a healthy marriage bond in the majority of cases. . . . Church leaders only began talking about it in the very late 1800’s when they told youth the same false medical information that was popular at the time – that it caused insanity. . . .   masturbation can be a spiritual celebration . . . God absolutely approves of masturbation. . . . I have felt God’s presence and spirit with me as I have thanked him for the great gift of sexuality while masturbating, and while daydreaming of how much I love and am attracted to my beautiful wife. Masturbation helped my wife learn how her body can experience orgasm.”

At times it may be difficult knowing if you are encountering a light-hearted affirmation of Mormon doctrine, or an anti-clerical spoof from among the faithful. See, for example, the clip linked here, “Mormon Beliefs: Masturbation Causes Homosexuality.”

Mitt Romney owes the American voter clarity. And those outside the country who depend on its support, yet also worry about sacred doctrines against spilling their seed. (Genesis 38:9-10)

Obama’s sense of propriety, or his staff’s calculations of offending voters by hitting below the belt, may curtail any such campaign in behalf of masturbation. It will demand artistry from his staff to produce comments as sanctimonious as those he made in behalf of same-sex marriage. Then he spoke about his daughters’ friends who were children of loving same-sex parents, and loyal aides in same-sex partnerships. Masturbation will bring the President to talk about his own behavior.

Did he do it? Does he still do it? Can he talk about it? Will it hurt Romney?

Will a presidential challenge dealing with masturbation do anything more than affirm the view that America’s style of politics is touchy-feely in the extreme, and prefers such stuff rather than debating the hard issues of economics and foreign policy?

*
Sharkansky is professor emeritus of political science at Hebrew University.  He may be contacted at [email protected]

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