My First Nude Photo

By: Stephen Carter
July 10, 2011

(My sister did not go through the Provo Missionary Training Center, so I provided her with a snapshot of that fine institution.)

Dear Sister Carter,

What can you say about the Missionary Training Center? It’s the one place in the world where you’ll find thousands of clean-cut, suit bedecked 19-year-old boys who will one minute weep vigorously during a Jesus movie, and the next enter a no-holds-barred farting contest. The MTC is the chapel where the natural man and spiritual man are joined in a stormy matrimony.

It was in the MTC that I had my first nude photo taken—an event that occurred in the shower room. I don’t know how things are set up in the female dorms, but in the male dorms, the showers epitomize communality, with neither wall nor curtain separating one bather from the next. We were a flock of Adams flapping through an Eve-less garden of porcelain and tile. Elder C walked in as I was taking an evening shower (in order to avoid the morning rush), hoisted a camera to his eye, and pressed the button. The flash went off as I swung my hips Elvis-style in hopes of obscuring my nether regions behind the shower pillar—though more likely I only added a little more groove to the final product.

Why would Elder C do such a thing? Why would he behave in such an unmissionarily manner? Possibly because earlier that evening, I had walked into his room and snapped a picture while he and his roommates straggled about the room in various states of undress. I thought it was a great joke, as there was no film in my camera, but the joke was evidently lost on Elder C., who always had film in his camera.

The BYU photo lab processed all the film that came from the MTC. What must that job have been like? Did the developers dispose of the doubtless hundreds of lewd photos that flowed from the Mormon monastery, destroying the negatives for good measure? Or did they tack them to a bulletin board for the enjoyment of all? If the latter, how did my snapshot rank? I sometimes wonder if the advent of digital photography will reveal a view of the MTC that had previously been suppressed by the BYU photo development lab.

But we were talking about farts, weren’t we? Sorry to get off track.

I imagine you had much the same culinary experience I did at the MTC. The food was nice enough, but even if it was specifically formulated to produce as little methane as possible, the inescapable fact was, all of us sat for hours on end in a windowless classroom after each meal. The rooms were small enough, and their population large enough, that no fart could go undetected. There were simply too many noses and too little air. So we sat with buttocks clenched in mortal fear of a gaseous outbreak, the trapped miasma boiling into a venomous stew inside our intestines.

Thus, the epic farting contests we conducted after hours. If the Church would let the Guinness Book of World Records into the MTC, Mormonism would have one more accomplishment to be proud of.

Meanwhile, the sister missionaries were doubtless studying the discussions and learning 20 extra vocabulary words.

14 Responses to My First Nude Photo

  1. Andrew S on July 10, 2011 at 7:03 AM

    haha, imagine how this story could have gone had it happened in 2011 with digital photos and twitter.

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  2. Jacob M on July 10, 2011 at 11:31 AM

    Too true, particularly with the “Tree of Life” showers where there was just two central poles with shower heads shooting out in all directions.

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  3. Stephen Marsh on July 10, 2011 at 11:38 AM

    Hmm, one more thing I missed by getting only the 5 day SLC MTC experience.

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  4. CS Eric on July 10, 2011 at 5:23 PM

    With the title of the post being “My First Nude Photo,” I am left to wonder about your other nude photos. Is this the start of a series of posts?

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  5. CatherineWO on July 10, 2011 at 7:22 PM

    I’m loving these posts, Stephen. With the title of this one, I’m guessing many more people are reading it than have commented.

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  6. hawkgrrrl on July 10, 2011 at 8:45 PM

    This does help explain why we as sisters had far superior language mastery than did the elders.

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  7. Irony on July 10, 2011 at 10:18 PM

    With all the blathering about modesty in church and elsewhere, I wonder why the Church allowed a couple of “tree of life” showers to shower 50,000+ missionaries annually (maybe slightly less).

    Seriously, we fret about men having beards at BYU, or about knee-length skirts, or about YW girls camp attire protocol, or making sure shirts cover the shoulder, but somehow we’re OK subjecting missionaries to the shame and ridicule of showering with dozens of other men at the same time, starkly, completely, entirely nude. Bizarre.

    Tell me the cost savings is worth the benefit of the months/years of psychological damage that missionaries have to go through after seeing all that junk. [Pun mildly intended.] ;)

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  8. hawkgrrrl on July 10, 2011 at 10:39 PM

    The women’s MTC shower stalls are completely private, BTW.

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  9. MoHoHawaii on July 11, 2011 at 12:43 AM

    Tell me the cost savings [of open showers] is ….

    It’s not about saving money. It’s about stopping the Elders from masturbating by allowing them absolutely zero physical privacy.

    In due time, when the fear of homosexuality overcomes the fear of masturbation, the showers will be replaced with private ones. That day is coming.

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  10. Dan on July 11, 2011 at 5:28 AM

    It’s not about saving money. It’s about stopping the Elders from masturbating by allowing them absolutely zero physical privacy.

    That is exactly what it is about. There is zero privacy for men in the MTC.

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  11. Gilroy on July 11, 2011 at 4:58 PM

    When I was an elder in the MTC just a few short years ago, we did have private showers. I don’t know if it was just my building, or if it is the entire MTC now. But since I haven’t heard other RMs of my age talk about the “tree of life,” I think that communal showering has been done away with at the MTC.

    Just like so many other decisions in the church, I wouldn’t be surprised if the change was spurred largely by concerns of liability issues. In addition, I think our culture today is not only more homophobic, but we’ve equated nudity with sexuality.

    For example, I doubt my grandpa and his brothers thought much about having to use communal showers in high school and in the Navy. But it seems to me that most men today are pretty cautious about not showing anything in the locker room, even to the extent of contorting themselves while putting their undies on under their towels. At my high school, guys wouldn’t shower after gym class unless they really had to.

    MoHoHawaii touches on an important point, in that MTC/church leaders might have been concerned that communal showering would be bad for elders with homosexual tendencies, hence the change to private showers.

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  12. Jamie on July 11, 2011 at 6:24 PM

    It’s not about saving money. It’s about stopping the Elders from masturbating by allowing them absolutely zero physical privacy.

    Alas, thankfully there were doors on the toilet stalls.

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  13. Jaramiah on July 11, 2011 at 11:08 PM

    I think there were more to the communal showers than just deterring masturbation. Those who designed the MTC were probably born in the 30s and had their own communal shower experiences in the 40s and 50s. My dad was in this age group and he grew up in a small hick town where the family heated water on the stove and filled the tub once a week for baths.

    The communal showers that existed in the high schools of his era were likely simplistic in nature out of cost concerns and tradition. Communal showers were for quick rinses. Men didn’t condition their hair and probably didn’t even shampoo. Why go the expense of private showers when a shower was such a brief event? Besides, young men in my dad’s town had grown up together swimming naked in the ‘crick’ and innocent nudity and socializing were something to which they were conditioned.

    Communal showers similar to those in the MTC were in interstake centers and institute buildings of the same era. A communal shower culture from those on athletic squads also probably affected those who approved designs for the MTC. Confident athletes had nothing to hide and in high school gym classes, it became another way of separating the alpha males from those who were less aggressive. Being surrounded by male nudity without ‘looking’ was a sign of manliness. If someone did ‘look’ the consequences were violent and were more-often-than-not tolerated in communities. Thus there was an implied necessity to ‘Turn it Off’ as the hit broadway musical riffs–although that was not exclusive to Mormon culture at the time. Philadelphia, the movie with Tom Hanks, showed how hetero males positioned their business within gyms where they had the ability to exclude women or homosexuals from their inner circles. This is a perpetuation of that culture.

    So the designers of the MTC showers probably looked at this as a setting where group think would result in a ‘turn it off’ effect, as it was commonly believed in that era that one could easily do so. As a young bisexual man coming of age in the early 80s in a small town, I knew quite well of the pressure to ‘Turn it off’ when it came to same gender attraction in the communal shower. It wasn’t limited to being a ‘Mormon’ thing then.

    In ‘turning it off’, however, the other aspects part of the communal shower bonding were experienced. Asking ‘hows the water?’ lead to brief conversations with those I didn’t know well and those conversations resumed later on (out of the showers)into making friendships. The MTC was no different in that respect. Divided shower curtains would reduce the social aspect and still would hardly provide enough privacy to engage in masturbation.

    Installing shower curtains probably requires less effort than trying to teach that nudity is healthy and can result in positive male-male bonding. I lament in a simliar way the alteration of our washings and annointings from a more intimate and sacred experience that was clean and holy into a ‘we don’t want to offend anyone’ blander version of the ritual. Again, the easier choice is to make a quick change rather than to educate.

    As to Elder C and his camera, any prankster should respect common prank decency that would restrict use of cameras in the communal area. Elder C must have had some judgment issues. :) I remember being pranked while I was standing at the toilet in a stall and felt a stream of fluid hitting my feet. I tried to pull my foot out of the way because I had the sinking feeling that someone’s urine was splashing onto my foot from the under the stall next door. When I stepped out, I realized that an Elder had been squirting his contact lens solution onto my feet to fake me out.

    I will mention an occurrence that I found odd while I was in the MTC. In the evenings, some elders who had been there longer than I and in other districts would tape sheets in place to cover the entrance to the shower and would sit on chairs or on the floor with the hot water running to create a ‘steam sauna’. I knew my ability to ‘turn it off’ had its limits, so I steered clear of that setting. In fact, in spite of being well-acquainted with masturbation, the environment and the daily activities of the MTC quite successfully maintained my focus so that I can say that I was masturbation-free by choice and not because of communal showers.

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  14. Jon on January 10, 2012 at 2:19 PM

    I just came across this while searching for something else.

    I was in the MTC April/May 1987 and the ‘Tree of Life’ showers were in existence then. I hated the experience, so I got up earlier than my comp, and the 2 other Elders in our room to beat the rush.

    It didn’t help much, but one morning I happened to find the ‘other’ showers in the large bathroom. I think there was 3 or 4 separate shower stalls, and even a bath tub. Each shower had a small dressing area with a curtain in front of the actual shower stall, so it was private. As for the ideas on stopping masturbation with the communal showers, that’s a joke. I know it still went on in these other showers. And like Jamie above said, there are doors on the toilet stalls.

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