August Young Women Lesson: Why is Chastity Important?

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Our young women’s (and young men’s) teachers are asked to choose what lesson they will offer on any given week, from a list of possible topics for a given month, centered around a single, broader topic. With August’s unit on marriage and family, there falls a spectrum of lessons from rather benign to rather fraught. I chose one of the fraught, “Why is Chastity Important?” in an attempt to be more mindful about what it would mean to offer a thoughtful lesson on the subject. I am sure I will not do so perfectly, but that is where we can help each other.

Throughout it all, I would try to talk to the girls in a real way. I would try to help them know that the classroom setting that we shared was a safe space, an honest space, and a gentle space, where they could ask genuine questions and receive genuine answers, without judgement.

I would try to remember myself at that age, and how for much of it, I didn’t know what “necking” meant, or “petting,” or “masturbation.”Then I would also try to remember myself at a later age, when I did know what those things meant, in part because of personal experiences. I would try to remember how frustrating it was to repeatedly be spoken of as an object of sexual desire, but never as a person who might possess her own sexual desires (purely because I am a she and not a he). Above all, I would try to emphasize the message of the Atonement, and that Christ’s love can cover a multitude of sins–including ones that are, for better or for worse, sometimes scripturally paired with murder (Alma 39:1-13).

I would likely start by trying to find out where the girls already are: What do they know about chastity? What do they want to know?

And then I would choose a few (or all) of these additional concepts, depending on the time:

  • The law of chastity deals with life.
  • The law of chastity deals with faithfulness.
  • The law of chastity is a kind principle.
  • Breaking the law of chastity tends to hurt.
  • There is a kind of guilt that is good, and there is a kind of guilt that is bad.
  • If we have been sexually abused, it is not our fault.
  • Living the law of chastity helps prepare us for the blessings of the temple.

1) At its highest level, the law of chastity deals with life. This is important because life is at the heart of the Plan of Salvation.

Thus, when I read the verses already alluded to, that emphasize the gravity of breaking the law of chastity by setting it next to murder, I see the shared connection to life as the biggest point: God does not want us to take the possibilities for life’s entrance or exit lightly.

While our Heavenly Parents want children to be born, They want them to be born in the best possible circumstances (The Family Proclamation). Some of these circumstances includes a home with two parents who are committed to one another through a binding covenant, who desire the baby, and can provide for his or her physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual wellbeing.

2) The law of chastity deals with faithfulness–to God, oneself, and one’s spouse or potential spouse. As such it can bring an increase of trust, and an increase of closeness.

3) The Law of Chastity is a kind principle from a loving God.

In short, obedience to it brings blessings that are worth having. In a marriage relationship it brings great trust and intimacy, as well as increased feelings of the best safety and the best peace.

This is where I might add that bodies are wonderful things, and we are meant to feel the desires that we feel, and that this is as true for women as it is for men: sexual desire is normal, and healthful. It means that we are human and that our hearts can love and feel.

4) Those natural, good desires are also powerful. (Elder Jeffrey R. Holland repeatedly likens them unto fire.) If we embrace them before we are a) ready and b) bound with someone else in the strongest (marriage) way that we know, we will almost certainly get hurt.

I include this warning voice not to frighten the young women, but to inform. I know the pain and anguish that can come when this law is broken more personally and deeply than I would like to. I have witnessed a baby born before a marriage covenant, where the child was warmly welcomed, but the mother was immensely grieved when the father remained unwilling to commit.

I have witnessed another father leave his wife and two small children for a woman who was not his legally or lawfully anything, simply because he thought it would make him happier. Instead, his life has deteriorated in every measurable way. His wife has faced this un-ideal situation with grace and courage, but occasionally (and very understandably) finds herself mourning all that she has lost.

I have seen myself. I have broken measures of this law, and it has hurt me. I am fairly certain I would tell the Young Women this, if I were teaching in person. The main reason would be because I have, and it did, and because I want those who either have, or are presently struggling, to know that they are not alone.

Without mentioning the details of my transgressions I would tell them the vulnerability, fear, and sorrow that came into my life for a long time, and how instead of feeling more whole, I only felt more empty. And then I would tell them something else: there is hope and healing.

5) There is a kind of guilt that is good, and there is a kind of guilt that is bad. The first leads us to look at things in our life that are bringing us joy, and the things in our life that our not. It can help us embrace the joyful ones, and let go of all others. The second keeps us feeling low. It is the guilt that tells us that we can’t change, that God can’t forgive us, and that no one will love us. It is the same guilt that tells us we are a licked cupcake or chewed up piece of gum instead of a $20 bill that retains its worth. It is hogwash, pure and simple, and is not from God.

We know this because God tells us over and over in the scriptures that as often as we repent They will receive us (Mosiah 26:30), and, crucially, that Christ’s grace is sufficient (2 Corinthians 12:9). Christ suffered the many things that he suffered precisely so he would be able to understand us and know how to help us (Alma 7:11-13). Let us let him.

6) If we have been sexually abused, it is not our fault. Not even a little bit. It can never, ever take away our “chastity and virtue,” which makes Moroni 9:9 one of the parts of the Book of Mormon that is in error through the fault of man, but not of God. Moroni was right, however, in asserting chastity to be “dear and precious.” His fault lies in suggesting that violent men could rob it from innocent women by force (which he did in an attempt to demonstrate exactly how wicked those men had become).

Rape or other acts of sexual abuse are never warranted: Revealed shoulders, clavicles, and knees are not sufficient reasons. Neither is partaking of substances sagely counseled against in the Word of Wisdom.

7) Lastly, the law of chastity prepares us to receive the blessings of the temple.

It does this in part by helping us be worthy to enter the temple. I would briefly discuss all of the reasons why women are able to receive their endowment: marriage, mission, and because the individual is spiritually ready. It is important to remember that not every young woman will be married. The second purpose may be particularly relevant to today’s young women, as more and more are choosing to serve full-time missions. Some of the Laurels might only be a year away.

And now this is where we can help one another:

What else would you include?

What questions might you ask the girls?

And, if any of you have had particularly good experiences teaching this subject to youth (or non-youth), what went well?

Rachel

Rachel is a PhD student in Philosophy of Religion and Theology at Claremont Graduate University. She co-edited _Mormon Feminism: Essential Writings_ with Joanna Brooks and Hannah Wheelwright. She is also a lover of all things books and bikes.

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25 Responses

  1. Em says:

    This is awesome. I logged in to look for a lesson plan to use this Sunday and I am already excited for August! Yay! One lesson on chastity I remember helping with last year went pretty well. I don’t remember questions etc. that we used, just that the other leader and I were focused on being honest and affirming. I do remember telling them that their sexuality is a gift from loving Heavenly Parents, and that it is powerful and something that they should use wisely. I think seeing sexuality as a gift helps to take away feelings of shame and instead see that this is something a loving God gave us for our happiness as well as to learn.

    • Rachel says:

      Thank you, Em. And thank you even more for sharing what went well in one of your past experiences. I really think that the dedication to being “honest and affirming” that you mentioned are the biggest keys to success here.

  2. Chris says:

    If we have been sexually abused, we are still virtuous, pure, and chaste in God’s eyes.

  3. spunky says:

    Rachel,

    This is beautiful, Rachel. Thank you so much for such a powerful lesson… you have done an amazing job on a very loaded topic.

    I especially appreciate your emphasis on faithfulness. I might include something about divorce- that sometimes we choose marriage partners with all good intentions, but the relationship is still flawed and fails. A second marriage can sometimes be healthier and more righteous than a first marriage, and the faithfulness is not always about “only one.” Divorce is not ideal, but dedication and faithfulness is ideal. Have more than one sexual partner in a lifetime as a result of divorce and remarriage is just as chaste as single life-time partner. Likewise, for those who led different lifestyles prior to conversion to the gospel, baptism and atonement is a re-birth that cleanses and purifies them, so they are just as chaste as a life-long devoted church member.

    I also think that there is too much scare talk when it comes to sex within marriage. I am putting myself out there for this one, but because I knew I could not have children naturally, and everyone spoke of the “right” of children to be born in marriage—I fell into a deep and dark spiral downward wherein I questioned: “If I can’t have children, and chastity is reserved for the creation of family only, then am I born to be like Isbel, the harlot (Alma 39:3)?” (i.e. does this law not apply to me *because* I can’t have children? I seriously questioned this as a young woman, and wondered if this scripture was telling me that I was born to be a harlot because I could not have children. It was not because I sought license to be sexually active—I seriously thought God hated me so that even if I obeyed the law of chastity, I was unworthy of a family.) This can be addressed by noting that even when we obey the law of chastity, we could face infertility and other challenges. Obedience to the law of chastity does not equal rewards of fertility or perfect children or otherwise. Instead, it guarantees us the accompaniment of the spirit as we deal with personal challenges.

    The emphasis on family can be further damaging for those who deal with adoption- I felt like I was wicked for praying for someone to break the law of chastity, then to “hope” that they would go through the turmoil of giving their child up for adoption- just so I could adopt the child, then be a parent. I could not pray for that. In this vein, we often speak of children being abandoned and then adopted. But this terminology does not serve the child who is adopted (who wants to be told that they were at one time abandoned, or *ever* unwanted?). Nor does it serve a teen who might be secretly pregnant and deciding what to do (i.e. telling her she is abandoning her child is not a positive way to support her in a difficult situation.) Nix the terms abandonment, and unwanted. Unexpected pregnancies happen- married or not.

    For those who break the law of chastity resulting in pregnancy, IT IS NOT A CONDITION OF REPENTANCE TO GIVE A CHILD UP FOR ADOPTION. Repentance and atonement are personal. As you discussed, “breaking the law of chastity tends to hurt;” and it can make our lives suddenly very, very complicated if there are STDs or a resulting pregnancy. But this does not mean they will never be blessed again. I would emphasize the atonement- the atonement can heal from the mistakes we have made with the law of chastity. This repentance can bring us spiritual guidance to know exactly the right choices to make if there is an unexpected pregnancy. For those who end up dealing with infertility or seek to adopt, there is no need to feel like our bodies are less, nor do we need to seek to pray for someone to break chastity laws on our behalf. The atonement can direct us even in our prayers, thus, keeping the law of chastity can help us to be in tune to the spirit when we face the difficult challenge of non-traditional family construction (I know I have sloppily written this, but hope it makes sense).

    • Rachel says:

      Spunky, thank you, and thank you for reminding me (and all of us) that there are so very many things to think about here., and sensitivities to consider. You brought up such beautiful points.

  4. Braids says:

    The law of chastity also teaches us self-control. My dad used to say that it’s important to control our sexual desires before marriage because we will still need to control them after marriage. After marriage we may find ourselves attracted to someone other than our spouse, but we have to control that attraction. There might be times when we want to have sex but our spouse doesn’t, and we will need to control ourselves. After 11years of marriage I’m still realizing how smart my dad is.

  5. Rachel says:

    That is wisdom. Thank you for sharing it here.

  6. Guenevere says:

    When I think about teaching girls and boys about chastity, I think about teaching them that their own worth is too great for them to give a precious part of themselves to someone who does not or cannot appreciate the gift.

  7. Caroline says:

    Rachel,
    This is beautiful, brilliant and brave. Young people would be very privileged to hear a lesson like this.

  8. Steve says:

    I have generally agreed that Moroni 9:9 was in error, but I just reread it and thought maybe it is our interpretation of the verse that is in error. Maybe Moroni saw chastity/virtue as that positive feeling we have when we abide by the law of chastity. One way you could lose that feeling is by breaking the law of chastity, meaning willingly participating. But maybe being abused does at least temporarily take away those happy feelings, that there are temporary negative ramifications. The feeling of abuse is in opposition to the feelings and positive state of Moroni may be calling virtue/chastity.

    Nowhere does Moroni suggest that these things were taken away permanently, or that (contrary to popular interpretation of the verse) the virtue/chastity lost here insinuates some sort of moral deficiency that occurs in the abused, or that the women cannot be restored to perfect happiness/virtue/chastity thereafter through healing. Rather it may simply be a statement of the evil consequences the sinner unjustly places on the abused for at least the time of abuse, and how evil it is to ever steal somebody’s current state of happiness, even if for a moment, especially the precious happiness that comes from abiding in chastity and virtue. (On a much lesser scale it is comparable to saying somebody loses their comfort when another person punches them in the gut. Just because they temporarily lose their comfort does not mean they lost something that made them morally deficient, or that they are somehow permanently damaged or never the same again. It may be sore for a little while after being punched, but in time the victim’s comfort will be restored. In other words, Moroni may have considered chastity and virtue a state of being–not indicative in any way of moral worthiness/worth of the abused.

    Just a new thought I had, what do you think of this alternate view?

    • Rachel says:

      Steve, thanks for chiming in. Your new thoughts/interpretation are certainly ideas I haven’t heard before, or thought of on my own. A big part of me hopes that that is what Moroni meant by it, and I agree that something was taken away from those women (and any women who have been abused) for a time. I still am not as certain that what was taken away can or should be equated with virtue and chastity.

      If Moroni (and/or Joseph Smith as the translator) did or did not mean something different by it, we still need added commentary or perspective to understand it in our day, when most readers will interpret it as saying that virtue and chastity can be taken away from an individual, through no fault of their own. It is the type of mentality (too often taught in Young Women’s lessons through harmful object lessons) that made someone like Elizabeth Smart feel like it wasn’t worth escaping or surviving, because she had lost her worth.

      In truth, she didn’t lose her worth, and if there is one single person who might read that scripture in that harmful way, it is our responsibility to nuance it.

      • Steve says:

        Agreed.

      • Melissa says:

        Interesting, I always interpreted that scripture to mean their agency was taken from them.

      • Lisa H. says:

        Very interesting interpretations, I find valuable insight in everything said. As I’ve thought about this scripture Ive interpreted it on a societal scale, not necessarily an individual one. Is it possible that the men may have degraded and demeaned the women in the society by much the same means as today! Not by force, but by sexually objectifying them and causing society to gradually embrace a debased role for them with a grossly disproportionate emphasis on her physical beauty and as an object of lust. As these views have become pervasive in our society today we see less importance placed on virtue and even many who mock and cheapen the idea, even many who simply yield to a seemingly overwhelming tide of public opinion dismissing virtue. It’s so sad to see some women foster this degradation by wearing clothes with pornography logos on them and in any number of ways encouraging this kind of objectification by men. This matches the scripture well in my mind, the men had deprived the women of that which was most precious. Not by force, but by men AND women failing to value and protect virtue, it ceased to remain a worthwhile social value in the minds of the people. I imagine a slow slide into a world view where men and women both fail to see each others divine role and instead focus on physical gratification. He happens to be speaking of the men toward the women, but perhaps the same could be said of the women, had he been addressing a woman in this verse. Who knows if that is a correct interpretation, but perhaps worth some thought…

  9. Mandy says:

    I love Brene Brown (look her up on TED.com), and what you said about two types of guilt reminds me of something she says. She says that guilt is thinking I DID SOMETHING bad. It can help us learn from our mistakes and become better. Shame, on the other hand is thinking I AM bad, and it is depressing and unhelpful. Just an idea of a way to teach that.

    Also, I don’t know a good way to do this, but I am wondering if there is any way to address LGBT issues in a lesson like this. Maybe at the very least acknowledge that some of your young women may be attracted to other girls rather than to boys? And letting them know that this biological drive doesn’t make them any less of a person?

    • Rachel says:

      I love Brene Brown’s TED talk on vulnerability, and know at least one of the other Exponent bloggers has read her books… And you’re right, her distinction is a perfect way to get at the heart of what I was trying to express.

      The point that you bring up is important. I’m not sure exactly how to do it, but it does seem like a lesson on chastity might be the place.

      I also realized after publishing the OP that pornography might be worth mentioning as well. If I were to do it, I would operate under the assumption that almost every single youth (male or female) will come across it at some time in their life, if they haven’t already, not necessarily even on purpose. I would want to help them develop skills to know how to interpret it and respond to it.

  10. Cassie says:

    I will be teaching about chastity this Sunday and came here for lesson helps. I just want to say that this brought me to tears and everyone’s comments are amazing. I hope that I can teach this lesson with the same kindness and love that you have expressed!

  11. Rachel says:

    Here is a great resource for teaching the youth about chastity (written by a licensed Clinical Marriage and Family Therapist, Sex Therapist, and Latter-day Saint):

    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/mormontherapist/2013/08/teaching-about-chastity-to-the-youth.html

  1. July 20, 2013

    […] have really struggled to prepare an outline for the August lesson.  Like Rachel, I decided to challenge myself to prepare an outline on a topic that I felt was difficult or […]

  2. August 27, 2014

    […] And, Rachel’s “Why is Chastity Important?” […]

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