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Sex is Bad – Then You Get Married and “Like a Light Switch” It’s Supposed to Be Good

The Boca Raton ward once hosted a stake Relief Society conference. One of the popular classes was “How To Keep the Romance Alive in Your Marriage.” Fun! Exciting! Romantic!

Sex Bad - Married Good

In my late 20s with two kids, I settled in toward the back and began listening. At one point the teacher explained her method. It went something like this:

I light a candle in a special candle holder that makes a butterfly shadow on the wall. Sometimes I put rose petals on the sheets. That’s how I let him know I’m in the mood.

From the back row a friend of mine muttered, “Why would you want to?” Much giggling and head nodding ensued.

I went home confused on two counts:

  1. Was I supposed to have a signal? Should there be a coordinated plan of attack? Could I afford that many flowers?
  2. “Why would you want to?”? What???????

When I got home, I asked Sam if he would rather that I orchestrate things more. I said, “Is there something wrong with just saying, ‘Hey, baby. Let’s go!’?” I also asked him it I was too, um, interested.

“Honey, you’re every man’s dream.” 

Now, I’m not under any delusion that his statement was (or is) true. But his assurance that what I was doing was perfect for him — was what I needed to hear. Once secure in the knowledge that I didn’t need to change all my “tactics,” I thought a great deal about the why-would-you-want-to-have-sex-with-your-husband “joke” and all the affirmation it received.

Often this perceived lack of sexual desire in LDS women is attributed to being told it’s a “no no” during all the formative years.

A pretty common issue in LDS marriages is problems in the bedroom – we are told “sex is bad sex is bad sex is bad” for the first 20-odd years of our life, and then we get married in the temple and it’s supposed to be like a switch has flipped. And it’s not. LDS women, in particular, struggle a LOT with this and many of us have extremely unsatisfying sex lives (and it’s supposed to be the purest expression of love between a husband and wife).

I have heard this, but I’m not sure it bears out in reality. Do LDS women (or other women who are taught abstinence before marriage) generally dislike sex?

If they actually do, were they really told sex was “bad”? I’m pretty old and although, yes, I was warned pretty strongly (and sometimes fallaciously) in church to stay away from sex (or anything like unto it) until I was married, I don’t recall ever being told it (meaning the sex itself) was bad, icky, yucky, nasty, awful, or otherwise horrific.

We teach kids that sex is powerful because the intimacy binds people together and has the power to procreate. Because of that power, it is best used within the confines of a loving, committed, exclusive relationship. For the purposes of LDS doctrine, that relationship is a sanctioned marriage between a man and a woman.

And, yes, we teach them that outside these boundaries, it’s apt to cause you a host of problems, but afterward, go right ahead.

I don’t  have a problem teaching people the “light switch mentality” because we teach similar things all the time in other areas of life and we don’t claim the same damage to the psyche.

We teach children that they can’t:

  • Get baptized until old enough to be accountable, but anytime after that, it’s a go.
  • Drive until they are of legal age and have learned the associated laws and skills to drive safely, after that we encourage them to be transportationally independent.
  • Date until they meet a minimum age standard, should be mature enough, know proper dating etiquette, and keep relationships within appropriate bounds, then push them to get out there in the game.
  • Leave home until they are mature enough to care for themselves and make sound decisions, then we nudge them toward adulthood.
  • Brush their own teeth until they are able to do a thorough job and we make it clear that day can’t come soon enough.
  • Choose their meals until they have the capacity (if not the will!) to understand the health impact, then we assign them to cook for the family.
  • Have access to (even earned) funds until of an accountable age
  • Take prescription meds for recreation, only for proper medical use.
  • Pick flowers in their neighbors garden, but once they grow their own flowers in their own garden, they can pick to their heart’s content.
  • Etc.

Given the power of sex for both good and harm, it seems logically consistent to have guidelines about its use whether you are religious or not. And given our belief that God has put these guidelines in place, furthers the argument. It seems that counseling kids (and adults) to reserve something so consequential for times/situations when it is most reasonable is a good thing all around.

Do you think we, as LDS youth leaders and adult teachers/counselors, generally teach chastity in problematic ways? Solutions? Ideas?

{ 35 comments… add one }
  • Bethany November 24, 2013, 5:10 pm

    I think that there is a problem, but I don’t have the answer. I strongly believe in being clean and chaste before marriage, but I was one of those women who had a problem flipping the switch. I think it’s because its inappropriate for leaders to get any more in-depth than they do. My mother was loving, caring and wonderful, but sex was not openly discussed in my home. I am not sure what the “correct” way is. All I know is that it took me years to figure everything out and be comfortable. My husband is a saint! Sidenote: I feel REALLY bad for woman who don’t want sex. I don’t think their husbands are doing it right…
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  • MB November 24, 2013, 5:47 pm

    Have you listened to the podcast interview with Dr. Jennifer Finlayson-Fife on female sexuality and feminism within the LDS framework? She is an LDS licensed psychotherapist who has done research and work with sexuality counseling for couples. It is on the mormonstories.org web site, podcasts 214-216.

  • Alison Moore Smith November 24, 2013, 6:06 pm

    Bethany, if you feel comfortable, I’d love to hear more.

    You say you had trouble “flipping the switch.” In the context of this post, I assume you mean that you had a problem moving from “don’t have sex” to “do have sex.” Right? Why do you think the change in CONTEXT didn’t change your level of acceptance?

    I know kids, for example, who are nervous to drive even after they turn 16 and have taken driver’s ed, but few who feel “guilty” or incapacitated by that fear.

    In your opinion, what is it we are doing wrong to make this so very different from other things we are warned about?

    MB, I’ll look for that resource, thanks!
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  • Alison Moore Smith November 24, 2013, 9:00 pm

    P.S. Perhaps one of the problems is that we think it shouldn’t take “years to figure everything out.” Why not? What’s wrong with a couple learning and working together to get good at it? 🙂
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  • Annette November 24, 2013, 9:05 pm

    Oh, yes. I’ve seen this idea over and over. I personally had no problem “flipping the switch,” but I credit that to my mother’s attitude that sex is natural and nothing to be ashamed of. For me, the ceremony flipped the switch, and that was that.

    When I’ve served in YW, I’ve used the very analogy you did–talking about a driver’s license and all the good that can be accomplished with one, but how detrimental driving would be in the hands of a four-year-old, then comparing that to sex outside of marriage. I’ve seen a lot of girls have a light bulb go off over their heads at having the dots connected.

    To me, I think the problem is that as a culture, church members tend to focus so much on the “don’t; it’s bad” side of the message that they forget to mention more than in passing the “afterward, it’s not only okay, it’s good” part.

    On the other hand, while my mother was very much open about sex being natural and nothing to be ashamed of, she also looked down on women who hinted at wanting or liking sex. That mentality was detrimental to me for a while. (Fortunately a thing of the past. 🙂 )
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  • Bethany November 24, 2013, 11:18 pm

    Annette, I really like what your are saying. I just got called to a calling in YW, and I think I will use that!
    Allison, I guess I misspoke. It wasn’t really figuring each other out, it was getting comfortable with the concept. I felt like my body was closed off. I can only explain it, like I was ticklish, and my husband couldn’t touch me. My MIND told me it was a good things, but my self conscious self wanted to shove his hands away, and therefore everything just took FOREVER. I don’t know, does that makes sense? I read a few books about it, written by LDS authors, but the most helpful thing was just the passage of time, and slowly getting more comfortable. Maybe the whole thing stems from mistakes I made growing up. I spent a lot of time “near the edge of the cliff” so to speak. I was in situations where I had to bat boys’ hands away, (instead of making the correct choice to not “pair off”) so maybe that is the root of the problem.

  • carboncopy November 24, 2013, 11:22 pm

    Awesome post. Can’t believe I just found this site last week.

    As I get older I really appreciate the idea of taking time to work together. If your wedding night is even close to the best sexy you have, that’s SAD!

  • Kathleen November 25, 2013, 12:08 am

    It is very interesting that you posted this tonight…this issue is something that I have been dealing with personally for the past several months. And yes, I am the same person you went to school with so why am I at almost 50 dealing with it? Because I have struggled with a great deal of other things, most specifically PTSD from years of police dispatching which has in turn lead to a lot of soul searching on other issues. I need to also preface my comments with the fact that I came from a broken home (saw my mother go through domestic violence and endure many years of an unhappy marriage because she had very low self esteem) and I myself was a victim of sexual abuse several times.

    Here is my take on this subject: I believe that the stress on going into the wedding night being virtuous does not mean sex is wrong and shouldn’t be discussed with the youth of the church and that is what has become the norm. We are told we need to make it to eternity with our mate as husband and wife and the only way to do that is to have a sexual relationship as well as mental, emotional, spiritual and loving marriage. But going into the wedding night expecting that as worthy temple recommend holders we should rely on “knowing” what to do just doesn’t work. And that “light switch” most times are not going to work.

    But as with everything else in life, we need education and open discussion about passion, love, intimacy, sex and how wonderful it can be. I don’t believe it should be done on a church level, I believe it should be done by families. If it isn’t, then relying on the pamphlets from the doctor’s office (which is what happened to me) or being told “you’ll know what to do” just doesn’t work.

    It is because our grandparents generation is the first generation to be fully involved in/try to live the teachings of the Gospel and suddenly being told being chaste is a virtue, thus they didn’t want to discuss it with our parents and they had no idea what to pass on to us. And that doesn’t help marriage work…it is one of the biggest struggles most married couples have and what causes divorces or infidelity. No one wants to take responsibility for teaching it or even talking about it when the time is right.

    No wonder the YSA wards in the church have such a hard time with pornography among their ward members, they want to know about it and our Heavenly Father gave us such a strong ability for physical attraction and urges there is no doubt it can be beautiful and right but no one wants to be open in discussing it. Outside the gospel, society is very willing to be open about it but primarily on a physical desire level rather than on a relationship and growth and sharing level thus information about it is so widely published via the internet. But that isn’t the way it should be taught.

    Both men and women are sexual creature made in our Heavenly Father’s image. Sex shouldn’t just be reserved for procreation because once the child bearing is done or maybe can’t be achieved to begin with, where does that leave couples – no more sex since that basic reason is no longer involved? No, our church leaders have said many times and the temple tells us sex between husband and wife lawfully married should be the more amazing part of a marriage.

    Our self-esteem also has a bearing on our attitude in this area. Those who haven’t been taught and helped or even allowed to have healthy self-esteem from our early years are going to struggle more I think in this area without having a healthy basis and foundation started by parents. And by parents telling children something is right but not telling them why and not being willing to explain things those feelings that start as teenagers give that esteem a ding and starts breaking it down. Honesty, openness, and trust is what our children need.

    Some couples are able to have their relationship work from the beginning and that I believe is from open communication beginning with parent/child and then moving to engaged couple to husband and wife. But as the years go on life throws challenges be they emotional, physical, mental and spiritual at us and if we don’t or can’t change with those ups and downs, it hurts the relationship.

    So in the long run, sex should be openly discussed between parents and children, then on to husband and wife. And it should be taught that it is for both men and women and should be enjoyed by all. Everyone is a creature of nature, built and designed in our Heavenly Father’s image and we know how many children he is responsible for so there has to be a need in eternity for a strong sexual relationship for our own worlds to come.

  • Sarah November 25, 2013, 12:32 am

    I got married at age 32 just under a year ago, so I’ve got some recent thoughts about this, FWIW. I personally did not have a problem “flipping the switch” for maybe a couple of reasons. First, I wasn’t ignorant–and therefore fearful about sex–because I had a decent sex education (really just the biology) through public school and both parents being medical professionals. (My Dad’s actually an OB-GYN, so I think that helped to normalize a lot of stuff.) I had a really helpful conversation with a female nurse in my father’s office about a month before I got married, specifically so I could ask questions to someone who wouldn’t be embarrassed by them. Second, I *decided* that I was going to look forward to sex and allow myself to anticipate it with excitment. I made it a point to talk about the wedding night with my-then fiance a few days before the wedding. We were able to express our desires and concerns with each other and I especially could tell him how to make things easier for me as a woman. Some of the things I read online previous to marriage suggested that one of the reasons women don’t enjoy sex is because it’s uncomfortable/painful/unfulfilling because they never orgasm. (I don’t know how many LDS men come into marriage knowing how to make sex enjoyable for their wives. Probably too few.) And I suppose third, is that my husband *also* came into the marriage being mentally and emotionally prepared for sex. He didn’t feel the need to do as much “research” as I did, but he had the proper frame of mind. We knew we could trust each other and talk about things. And we still do and we’re still trying to make things better each time. I think there’s also something to be said for ignoring the portrayals of sex in the media–in movies, it’s always easy, thrilling, satisfying, what-have-you. Real people have to work at it.

  • Tammy November 25, 2013, 12:52 am

    Sex needs a beauty added to the teachings. A spectacular moment in a relationship. If the church wants to teach abstinence then add sacred and special. Not bad, wrong, evil, or no. Teach as a positive worth waiting for. The negative teaching does just as much harm as running around giving away their preciousness. Young women need to understand sex and their own sexuality. Taught that is a pleasure and joy shared in moments of love. This teaching negative adds sex is not just for men or that they have to obey in the bedroom. Many oft friends including yawls have experienced rape with their companion from the temple. They need to know and have to power over their privates even in marriage. Encourage female sexuality in a positive powerful light. Really women have the most presious powerful organ. Not just a place for men and child birth but enjoyment and pleasure.

  • Toriann November 25, 2013, 7:13 am

    I’ve always thought it has a lot to do with our sex-saturated culture. It’s not so much what we are taught not to do, but that we see so much that we shouldn’t see before it is our turn. And what we do see is glamorized and dramatized–and basically terrible unrealistic.

    And, because we are told that we shouldn’t be watching those activities in the media–but it is difficult to avoid because sooooo much of the media has that kind of thing in it–the subconscious part of the brain equates those activities with bad and wrong.

    In a nutshell–you see something on tv or in a movie that displays private, intimate moments, you know you shouldn’t watch because that is what you’re taught (and because I think our spirits, when they aren’t desensitized, just know we shouldn’t be watching), you feel guilty for watching. Because that can happen hundreds or thousands of times before you get married, your brain is programmed to connect intimate relationships with feeling guilty and bad.

    And the media saturation is so subtle, we don’t even realize it is happening.

    I’m not saying that is the only reason that mormon women struggle with “the switch,” but I think it is a big part of it.

  • cara November 25, 2013, 7:18 am

    Think we need to better understand,many inputs. I have grown children all over the spectrum on this.

  • Joni November 25, 2013, 8:30 am

    I came up in a YW program that had, I think, an unhealthy obsession with sex. That’s pretty much all I remember from 5.5 years in the YW program. And not only did we manage to turn every YW lesson into the chastity talk, but I always came away feeling guilty and slightly dirty, even though I wasn’t anywhere NEAR “the edge of the cliff” (I didn’t so much as kiss a boy until college). I don’t know how typical my experience is, I am sure it varies greatly according to region and chronology. (This was upstate NY in the mid-1990s.)

    But I have talked with a lot of other LDS women who grew up in other parts of the country and they’ve reported feeling the same way. That it’s really hard to flip the switch. And it’s not even that we don’t enjoy sex (the conversations I’ve had with my LDS women friends are impressively frank) but it took us a long time to get there. In my case, it wasn’t until after 2 of my 3 children were born that I even felt comfortable broaching the subject with my husband of what *I* actually want.

    I see a lot of things in LDS culture that contribute to this problem. The Modesty Hammer is a big one, as I mentioned before. But also, our inability to be frank about sex and sexual desire is another. We can’t keep referring to sex as “the sacred and holy power or procreation” or something similarly vague and flowery if we want our members to have satisfying sex lives without the associated guilt.

    As a sidenote, I’m jealous that you had a RS class talking about sexual intimacy in marriage. I’ve been in the Relief Society nearly half my life and I’ve never attended one of these. Actually, there was an Enrichment meeting scheduled once that was going to be given by an LDS family services employee… but it was scheduled on 9/11/01 so it was cancelled and never rescheduled. 🙁

  • Alison Moore Smith November 25, 2013, 9:11 am

    Thanks for the clarification and your willingness to help, Bethany. Do you think your taking “forever” was a normal adjustment period like, say, moving from being an overly cautious driver who has to think about every step to a more natural, assured one? Or do you think the adjustment was more problematic?

    Here is a book I really like (and give to all my kids as a wedding shower gift!):

    Here is another book. I’m not recommending it since I haven’t read it. But I saw it when looking for the book above. In the past, I have liked some of Leman’s work, so this may be good as well. It is highly recommended by readers. (And clever name!)

    Do you have personal recommendations from your own reading?

    I spent a lot of time “near the edge of the cliff” so to speak. I was in situations where I had to bat boys’ hands away, (instead of making the correct choice to not “pair off”) so maybe that is the root of the problem.

    Why do you think this would be a cause for being uncomfortable after your marriage? Do you have insights into that?
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  • Alison Moore Smith November 25, 2013, 9:17 am

    carboncopy, you make an EXCELLENT point. Why do we expect the wedding night to be the pinnacle of all sexual experience? (Do we?) Why don’t we intuitively understand that the first time you do something it’s going to be a learning experience? Not necessarily awkward or horrible or anything negative, just not the. best. thing. ever.

    I’ll be honest, I had a great honeymoon. Could not have been happier all around. But if I compare it to sex after 28 years of marriage, well, we were rank amateurs. 🙂

    IMO one of the very, very, VERY best things about the church’s teachings on abstinence before marriage is that it allows both parties to practice and learn and grow together, learning to please each other AND to be pleased by the other — without lots of baggage and comparison (or the fears of it).

    I think we need to let our kids know that it’s not just OK to think “I don’t know what I’m doing” on their wedding nights, but that it’s AWESOME. 🙂
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  • Angie Gardner November 25, 2013, 11:02 am

    Interesting comments from everyone. For me, honestly I never was told that sex was bad – in fact, I would say quite the opposite. I was always taught it was this amazing thing that I will love and enjoy but it needs to be in the proper setting. (I was raised in Utah and Idaho in the most conservative of all communities in the 1980’s and seriously I NEVER remember being told that sex was bad).

    But, this “it’s awesome just wait” philosophy also has it’s problems. In the perfect Mormon world (which I would say mine pretty much was) both of you come into the marriage having waited and then expecting this amazing thing. I understood the biology of it well enough but I don’t think until you are there you actually know what will work for you and what won’t. My thoughts after the first few days of marriage were more of the “what’s the big deal?” sort. I didn’t think it was horrible. I didn’t think it was amazing. It was nice in the sense of a deeper connection between us and I guess you could say it was “fun” but really if I’m being honest it was a little disappointing. That’s not to say it hasn’t gotten better – I can now say that it can be awesome – but I think too many of our youth are expecting that response immediately and it’s just naive to think it’s going to be automatic.

    Additionally, you have what was mentioned about media’s impact and the huge issue that is porn. Most of our boys (yes, even good LDS boys) have been exposed to it and engaged in it on different levels and many of our girls as well. If you believe the porn world, you will think there are certain things that girls just LOVE to do and then the guy is willing to work until the girl enjoys it too or at least until she pretends to. Is that reality for the LDS virginal youth? Hardly. So you might have two people who know technically what to do and how all the parts work and that they should be liking it, but then they get in the situation and then it’s like, “hmm…that wasn’t quite what I expected!”

    As for my kids, I think what I will teach them is that sex CAN be wonderful but to not expect miracles at first. Communication is key before the marriage, on the wedding night, 15 years later and 50 years later!

  • LovingTruth November 25, 2013, 11:26 am

    I wouldn’t say the problem with women being less than welcoming of sex is about how it’s taught to them at all – or at least, not completely. I’m more inclined to believe it is a sensitivity to the emotional realities involved, which simply aren’t conducive to our enjoyment of it.
    I say this because with my first experience on my wedding night (20 years ago), I had no problem ‘flipping the (mental) switch’ to embracing such activity in my life – and yet, the cultural expectation of sex being part of the newlywed experience didn’t support any surge of -passionate- desire in the moment for an act that, truly, has no love -inherent- to it. (If it -did-, rape in such a form could not exist.)
    -Mentally-, this was the discovery foremost on my mind upon my first experience with it… which untimely observation quite naturally and thoroughly distressed my poor and loving husband, as you might expect. He was certainly not at fault for being just as clueless and innocent as I was.
    But the fact remains that emotions don’t flip right along with the mental switch. And, for women, much more than men, they are what she -needs- to be able to enjoy the experience with him. And all this is independent of the underlying lovingness of the relationship to begin with (because -that- was never in question). And so, it’s easy to start out with a less than stellar experience, because neither of us had previously/effectively been taught how important it is to cater to that -feminine emotional- aspect.
    Naturally, all of the superficial inadequacies of this scenario are able to be overcome with time and practice. And with -Love- underlying the relationship, eventually they will be. However, over time, I’ve also recognized that in actuality: the problem goes much deeper than that.
    Inevitably, in my effort to wholeheartedly nurture and embrace the spiritual, rather than natural-man element of our identities… I have found it impossible to become passionate toward such a carnal aspect of our lives. About truly bonding and connecting with the spirit I have no issue; and indeed, therein -is- my passion. But because sexuality, though properly a tool lovingly used to this (bonding) end, is nevertheless an instrument of the -male- (natural man) aspect of the body, it is all too easily susceptible to the promotion and exercising (aka: nurturing) of his -fallen- (aka: carnal) identity. (-He-, by nature of his gender, is simply not as sensitive of the emotional truth underlying a union as -she- is; indeed, more often than not, he isn’t even truly -aware- of it. Yet, that is what makes -all- the difference.) Thus, until and unless -I- (the -she- here) can somehow look past his desire of the moment and honestly find spiritual -rightness- in the sexual act, allowing any single encounter to truly be a passionate bonding and divinely connecting celebration of -Love- (which emotional accomplishment happens all too infrequently), this is not something I can -want- for him. Or for -us-. Because his -divine- identity is the only one I wish to nurture.
    What an awkward catch-22.
    Ultimately, the realities of living in a Fallen Man society make for an easily frustrating intimate life (through no fault of his own!)… and have only -belatedly- produced whatever truly promising ideas ever occurred to us. At least I -know- that our love truly is -eternal-, and strong enough to weather it all.

  • Patient Love November 25, 2013, 1:07 pm

    LovingTruth, whoever said sex is due mortals only?! I think you may be limiting yourself with such thoughts/generalizations. Whatever knowledge we gain in this life will be for our benefit in the next, except sex! Not! Heavenly Father (and mother(s)) has billions/trillions of children on this earth alone! Men (women) are that they might have joy! Sex is joyful and useful. Slightly out of context but, Pres Kimball said Do It!
    Let’s not overanalyze, keep it sacred with spouse, teach children spouses need “alone time”, when older they’ll get it and appreciate it. And, just have fun with each other and have joy!

  • ellen patton November 25, 2013, 1:32 pm

    Was it Kim that had the special candle holder?!?

  • Alison Moore Smith November 25, 2013, 1:35 pm

    ellen patton, no! (At least not that I know of!) heh
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  • LovingTruth November 25, 2013, 2:36 pm

    I never said sex was for mortals only. I merely observe that it is a function of our -bodies-, mortal or immortal, and in a fallen (mortal) state – is prone to nurture the natural -man- of our natures unless specific care is taken to address the emotional needs of the -feminine- (which the spiritual realities of our fallen-man society can make even harder to do).
    Theoretically, this accomplishment is a natural part of the exhalted immortal/heavenly experience, in which case it would be a non-issue. It doesn’t change the fact that our lives could benefit from such a focus now. I only mean to highlight the wisdom of doing so.

  • Kathleen November 25, 2013, 3:31 pm

    I wasn’t raised LDS, but converted as an adult. In my view I don’t think it’s so much what is said, but that so much isn’t said. I have LDS friends who won’t even talk about sex with their kids. They also don’t show any affection at all in front of their kids. I think this leads to unhealthy attitudes towards sex.

  • Angie Gardner November 26, 2013, 4:10 am

    Luckily, that was not the case for me at all Kathleen. While I have seen a few extreme cases, most LDS families I know are open about the topic and speak of it as a positive thing.

  • Amy Lockhart November 26, 2013, 9:14 am

    I think abstinence should be taught, including health risks and benefits, in a very simple and basic manner, in a combined setting. A minimalistic, no-nonsense, and most importantly, standardized approach, once or twice a year with parent/guardian attendance and involvement. Alison would get my vote as official spokesperson and curriculum developer! I also think Elder Holland’s talk should be viewed at least twice a year by the youth, again in a combined setting. Done.

    I think broadening the discussion in a church setting, even in RS, opens the door to making light of a scared thing and casual discussion on the topic is not appropriate. There is a big difference between romance and sex. Good romance lends itself naturally to communication and exploration in all areas of marriage, including the bedroom. Specifics of a couple’s sexual relationship whether it be how they set the mood or what acts they deem appropriate, are really to be set by the couple and not discussed openly.

    I have found that situations like Alison’s, going to her husband and discussing the matter after the RS class, are the exception. The rule, again in my experience, is a bunch of ladies discussing things, often immaturely, with a result that is actually demeaning to their husbands and damages things in the bedroom. Even more interesting, the same ladies would be horrified if their husbands openly discussed such things with their pals.

    To be fair I have also heard of, and seen, LDS women gathering in the name of positive, fulfilling, and healthy sex lives within marriage, sharing tips, detailed stories, and toys. I believe this is something to be explored in private with one’s spouse, not in a Tupperware Party type setting. A need to discuss such things in a casual way is most definitely an indicator that the spiritual benefits and nature of the sexual relationship between man and wife are not being taught correctly.

    I don’t see a problem with the light switch approach at all. Unless, there are a slew of mixed messages coming along with it.

    * You are a chewed up piece of gum if you participate in this act before marriage.
    * Once a bite is taken from the apple, you can’t make it whole again.
    * “Those” feelings and urges are evil before marriage. We must control the natural man.
    * and the list goes on and on and on ….

    I was told, by a male seminary teacher (full-time in Utah), as a young adolescent that, “Sex could not possibly be a part of the Celestial Kingdom. I mean can you imagine Jesus doing that?”

    I had no idea what he was talking about, but I couldn’t imagine the horrors of such a base and vile act that Christ wouldn’t even do. If it wasn’t celestial then why would I want to seek it? Hadn’t I been told my entire little life that I was to seek all things celestial and holy? This happened before I “learned” about sex in my 9th grade math class, from the girl sitting in the desk in front of me.

    I would also like to see masturbation removed from the conversation. Can it be problematic? Sure. Does it automatically make one evil? No. This topic falls under parental responsibility for me.

    I would like to see more discussion and education for parents, by professionals. Parents should be shouldering the lion’s share of this education. Even if they drop the ball entirely, making it the responsibility of youth leaders is problematic in my view. The possibility of too many approaches has already been proven and the results are not good. Beyond basic abstinence education, group settings, Sunday lessons, and off-the-cuff conversations simply can’t be a healthy way to tackle the issue.

    In my experience attitudes and confidence surrounding sex are generally a much more personal thing related to self confidence and the home climate a person comes from. I did not grow up in a family that was open about much of anything, especially sex. My “education” on the matter, and I mean all of it, came from that girl in my math class and a bucket full of uncomfortable analogies and misguided statements from, at times immature, leaders. The jokes, sarcasm and assumptions of attitudes, beliefs, and knowledge on the subject made it especially difficult and harmful. Had I learned about it in straightforward basic way by one mature enough to be frank, and kind/gentle enough to be considered approachable, I would have benefitted.

    My intent is not to place blame on leaders that were certainly well-meaning, but more to bring to the forefront that the home is the primary source for learning. Even if that means no learning or poor learning. I would have preferred being completely ignorant and figuring this out with my husband that having confusing messages rolling around in my head.

    I completely understand that not all circumstances are traditional. By home/family I mean whatever combination works, including a Bishop/YWorYM leader that acts as a parental figure for someone without that influence in her life. The point being that it is an individual thing best done in a setting where questions can be asked and the topic explored at the comfort level of the one being educated.

    The sources already cited have been beneficial for me and thankfully I learned about Elder Holland’s talk shortly before I met my husband. As a convert from a non-religious and uncommunicative family background, he had no idea what I was talking about when I asked,” So what are your views on sex and how it affects a couple spiritually?” I tend to be a no-nonsense type of person and simply let him know that we would be watching Elder Holland’s talk together upon my next visit and then frankly discussing the matter. We did and it was a great foundational piece for our marital relationship.

    My approach with our children is very matter of fact. They get the information whether they want it or not and I allow them the space to mull. I don’t have an age, as I know some do, but I look for signs of readiness from the child. Based on curiosity and the types of questions the child asks, I have been able to tell how much information is appropriate and when “the talk” happens. I also don’t believe in “the talk”. At the very least it’s plural and more of an ongoing conversation than a defining moment where one crosses the threshold of innocence. I also strategically place age appropriate books, they are all suckers for an informative book, on anatomy and physiology and the like and then slip in a question or two like, “Was there anything on page __ that you had questions about?” “Have you thought of any questions or concerns since our conversation about sex?”

    Who knows if my “method” will prove successful, but I am determined to have an open door and make it as comfortable as possible for my children. They will also all be getting a copy of Elder Holland’s talk with the book “And They Were Not Ashamed” for an early wedding gift. If I am feeling particularly bold, I may just play it off as a double date and Sam and I will hunker down and watch with the lucky engaged couple. There’s nothing family movie night and a little sticky popcorn can’t solve.

  • Amy Lockhart November 26, 2013, 9:17 am

    I am sure there are many typos, as I worked on this for a couple of days in small spurts of time, but I just had to clarify this one;

    “making light of a scared thing and casual discussion on the topic is not appropriate.”

    I meant sacred 🙂

  • misssrobin November 26, 2013, 5:04 pm

    I just finished a three year stint in YW. As a presidency, each time the chastity lesson came up, we made sure we discussed the positive side of sex in a marriage — and in a positive light. I think so often parents are so worried about needing to scare kids away from sex before marriage that they don’t teach the “it’s okay and even wonderful after marriage” part. I think the positive and allowed side is being taught more these days. I think it’s a generational thing that’s getting better.
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  • Tiffany W. November 27, 2013, 3:51 pm

    I definitely think there are some LDS women who have trouble making the switch when they get married. But I don’t think that disliking sex is a problem exclusive to LDS women. There are plenty of women who aren’t LDS who find sex to be a chore, uncomfortable, or difficult. Why do we have desserts that are jokingly called “better than sex”?

    Honestly, I don’t think that it is fair to lay the blame solely upon religion or church teaching. Sexual abuse is unfortunately far too common, even within LDS communities, which can make it very difficult for survivors to be able to enjoy a healthy sexual relationship with their spouse. Women are pretty complex and individual in how they are aroused, which requires a lot of time and energy from their partner to work through that. Not only that, it is clear that there are high rates of pornography addiction among men and that can lead to unrealistic and inappropriate expectations of sexual intimacy among couples–LDS or otherwise.

    I don’t have a good answer other than good sex education that is initiated by parents teaching to their children and then a willingness for couples to work together to communicate and share intimacy.

  • Brook February 8, 2014, 11:22 pm

    I was born and raised LDS and continue to be an active member at my current age of almost 31. I have been married twice; once at 19 and the second time at 25. I did not have difficulty switching on the light bulb either time – this was never the issue. It was certainly frustrating to turn the light bulb off after two years of marriage and keep it off for four years until I was married again and frankly, having switched on the light bulb before my second marriage, my second wedding night was memorable, in a good way. In some ways, I feel it a shame that as LDS members, sometimes our first experiences with our eternal companions can be less than enjoyable and I considered it a blessing to not be naive the second time around.

    I do, however, feel that not enough chastity talks had occurred during my time in Young Women. My mother “paired off” as a young teenager and subsequently, allowed me to do the same. I had never heard the “No dances until you’re 14” or “No dating until you’re 16” or “No pairing off” rules. I knew a few girls whose parents enforced them, but I thought they were rules of those parents (who, by the way, were “super strict”).

    I had a boyfriend by the time I was 16. I was an incredibly strong person when it came to the law of chastity, but I’m not saying that it was always easy to obey. I think that a lot of my “strength” came from not knowing exactly what was considered okay and what wasn’t. I know some people say that the Spirit should guide you if you are listening but at that age, I was inexperienced with my communication with the Lord and so I felt it was best to error on the side of caution. I remember that when the first boy who kissed me stuck his tongue in my mouth, I thought that we had committed a major sin (even though I did not reciprocate) and I immediately met with my bishop to “confess.” This is a prime example of how “Following the Spirit” is easier said that done. Perhaps it was my fear of doing something I didn’t know was “bad” that kept me in line.

    My parents never really had the “what’s good and what’s bad” talk with me. I was kind of left to figure this out on my own which was confusing. I know that the easy answer to this is to tell kids to not pair off and while that is all good and well in a perfect world, many of us found ourselves in situations where specifics would have been helpful. With such a gray area (especially because the topic was so avoided by my parents and leaders), there was a lot of confusion and I would also say, a lot of unnecessary guilt. I look back to the whole experience now that I am an adult and I can say that I never had any cause to see a bishop (I REALLY was a good girl) but back then, my inexperienced and Type-A self walked around feeling like a dirty piece of crap all the time.

    Things were much more difficult after my divorce. I was still obedient, but I felt it to be quite unfair and at times caught myself feeling that the requirement for chastity after one had already been married, was cruel. Of course, I see it now as a law given to me by a loving Father in Heaven to keep me safe physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually and it certainly helped me avoid some land mines, but it was difficult. It, too, was riddled with years of guilt. The guilt did not come from having done anything outside of the prescribed parameters of sexual purity, but it came from wanting to experience intimacy from another human being so badly that I nearly did.

    I do believe that the law of chastity is best taught in the home. It is not your neighbor’s job to teach your kids how to keep their hands to themselves… given, they can be an excellent resource, but perhaps we should enable parents with the tools necessary to help them have these conversations with their own children. Also, the “gray area” needs to be narrowed. Adults are so afraid to “go there” with their kids that I think a lot of misinterpretation and guilt occur unnecessarily.

  • Lacy March 3, 2014, 5:08 pm

    I think that we don’t articulate the reasons why sex outside of marriage is wrong. We usually just hear

    “Because God said so.”
    “Because it’s bad, but in marriage, the Lord turns his head.”

    I’ve actually done a lot of thinking on this, and I have found, both from personal experience and from logic, that there are some good reasons why:

    Sex is for having children (it’s literally the only way to have children without any interference from science). Many take issue with this and say, “Oh, it is for showing love, too.” I’m one who disagrees, mainly because I don’t have sex with my parents, my friends, or my dogs, all of whom I love. If sex were for the presentation of our love for someone, then it would be appropriate to have with anyone we love, and many, many people will agree with me when I say that it is not.
    Why would it still be bad outside of a marriage? Well, if you have kids with some guy that you end up breaking up with, your life is now waaaaay harder than if you were in a good marriage with a wonderful man (these ideas come from a woman’s point of view, I might add – mine). Child support, custody, visitation, transportation, religious upbringing, who the child is around when they aren’t around you, the child’s psyche and impact of how parents treat each other on that psyche, etc. If sex is for making babies, then it’s something you wouldn’t want to do with someone you don’t want children with. We want our families to stay together forever. If I seal my first born to my future husband, he’s not going to be sealed to his father – which is sad, for me, because he deserves to have his father in heaven as well as here (he’s a great dad, just not the man for me). We have a broken family, and the choice of which family he (my son) will be a part of eternally: his father’s, or mine. One could hope that his father would go the same route (temple sealing), but he probably won’t, and this conundrum is my making.

  • Jessica March 8, 2014, 12:09 pm

    I think teaching the law of chastity in church settings, adults assume teens know more than they do. Vernacular like necking and petting are old fashioned, but the teens aren’t brave enough usually to ask for clarification, because the teacher assumes they all know, and they feel like everyone else must know, and they are the only teen who’s unclear.
    I think teens also prefer to have it straight, use the word sex rather than “intimacy” or squirreling around the issue. I remember in Mia Maids our lesson was on the law of chastity and towards the end, another girl (more naive obviously) interrupted and said: “you keep saying wait until you’re married. wait for what? What are we even talking about???” Not saying sex makes it seem more confusing and they don’t feel comfortable to ask questions or really discuss anything if the teacher can’t even say the subject.

    I think a lot of lessons I had growing up, adult women were afraid to embrace their sexuality and say they enjoy it, more “it’s a beautiful and sacred thing” and I think it’s helpful for girls to realize “you have body parts to make it feel good, Heavenly Father wants you to enjoy sex and so look forward to that part of your marriage.” Set an example of a pure, adult, married woman who values the lust element of married sex.

    Basically, greater emphasis could be taken in law of chastity lessons on preparing to have sex when you’re married and to look forward to that, rather than all the focus on “never” and trying to motivate obedience through fear, guilt or shame. Give them something positive to hold sacred and look forward to. Obviously a lot of this is mostly taught in their homes with their parent’s attitudes about teaching sex.

    I also feel a lot of lessons fall short in giving youth actual tools to help them choose purity. We give them the doctrine and throw them out into the world to fend for themselves where their hormones are so strong and self esteem is based so much on peer approval at that stage of life.

  • momma7 June 5, 2014, 12:55 pm

    I grew up with parents of the “Kimball era.” Unfortunately for me I was told never to have sex, and if I got pregnant I would have to put the baby up for adoption. That was basically it.

    But I did know more than what my parents thought I knew. Thanks to porn mags. It was just something that started before I was 8, when being babysat at my Mom’s friend’s house who was not LDS. Plus having a boy across the street who would try stuff. By the time I was 13 I was looking at it regularly bc I babysat non-LDS family’s kids, and it was just lying right there. It was very tempting. My Dad had a janitoral business which I helped with sometimes. Lots of porn mags in the guys bathroom.

    So, no wonder I wanted sex, or to make-out,so bad as a teenager, but didn’t want to risk it. Plus you know, I was going to hell anyway for looking at porn.

    I married at 19, 25 years ago. In the Temple, thankfully. You know what I was told by my Mom the night before I got married?

    Drum roll please…

    Sex is dirty. You will hate it.

  • Alison Moore Smith June 5, 2014, 7:07 pm

    momma7, if you will please send me the current address of your mother, I’d like to slap her upside the head.

    If she is no longer living, I’ll do it when I get there.

    For the love of pete. What is wrong with people?
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  • Ashley N. October 18, 2014, 7:41 pm

    There is a huge problem but it’s not the bad-now-good light-switch that’s the problem. It’s the fact that people don’t talk to their children about it until they have to, and then only enough to make them stop asking questions. Some lie. Some exaggerate. Most look terribly uncomfortable about it. And then at marriage, parents breathe a HUGE sigh of relief as they no longer have to worry about it because “they’ll figure it out.” Boys too often aren’t taught to respect women and girls aren’t taught what boys think and want in a relationship, so everyone ends up surprised (and sometimes traumatized) by what the other doesn’t know. It’s not the light-switch teaching that’s the problem. It’s the false and/or absent teaching that’s the problem.

  • Alison Moore Smith October 18, 2014, 10:14 pm

    Ashley N., I think that is sometimes true. And then some of us talk about it too much. 🙂 (Is there such a thing?)

    Once we get to “what boys think and want in a relationship,” well, I don’t teach my kids that either. What is that? I think it’s utterly individual. There is no way my parents could have taught me what Sam would think or want in a relationship and there’s no way Sam’s parents could have taught him what I would think and want in a relationship. Not a chance in heck! Trust me! 🙂

    Yes, I do try to teach my kids to respect their spouses. I know nothing of the “huge sigh of relief” but I do think they’ll figure it out. I think the couple themselves are the only ones who can figure out what will work for them!
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