Since waiting for marriage went out of fashion, the premaritally sexually active majority has often misunderstood those of us who still cling to this ideal, assuming that we must be prudish, naïve, guilt-ridden and even frightened of sexual relations. Clearly, those who make such assumptions have never attended a wedding shower with my big Mormon family. At a wedding, we celebrate true love, commitment, the beginning of a family and the achievement of a spiritual milestone. At a wedding shower, we celebrate sex.
But not just any sex—a grand sexual event: the very first sexual opportunity for two people whose obvious sexual tension amuses or grosses out all who surround them. For many Mormons, this first sexual experience is not wasted in the backseat of a car with a pimply teenage partner; it actually does take place in a honeymoon suite between two people who have committed to love to each other for eternity. How romantic! Not to mention sexy!
At the bridal shower, we come bearing gifts to enhance this much anticipated rendezvous. From the time I was very young, I would help my mom shop for the ideal offering for my one of my older, engaged cousins. Lingerie was a frequent gift choice. Of course, even as a child, I was familiar with the none-too-sexy Mormon undergarment that grown-up Mormons were expected to wear even while sleeping. But in my Mormon family at least, the idea that someone would wear that churchy stuff for honeymoon foreplay was laughable. Sometimes, we would bring two negligee offerings, though: something sheer and skimpy for “fun” and something that was still attractive, but opaque and much less skimpy for “actually sleeping” (and covering up that ugly religious underwear, we would silently add).
My favorite gift was the “bath kit for two.” I helped my mom build several of these during my childhood. We filled them with scented soaps, lotions, bubble bath, massage oil, bath salts, candles, wine glasses and a bottle of sparkling cider. (A Mormon doesn’t need alcohol to get in the mood.)
Of course, the assumption that the bride and groom were preparing for their first sexual encounter was not always correct. I remember one shower in particular when the youngest attendee boldly asked the bride, “Are you pregnant?” and I nearly choked on my hors d’oeuvres. This particular bride, I happened to know, actually was pregnant, but it wasn’t common knowledge yet. What would she say? How would her Mormon guests react?
The bride did not lose composure. “Yes, I am,” she said simply and went on to open the next gift.
The child’s mother was mortified. “Why would you ask her that?” she demanded of her daughter.
“Because they gave her kids’ toys,” the child responded innocently, gesturing toward the pile of open gifts. Sure enough, there were pink toy handcuffs and a doctor kit.
“That’s not what they’re for!” exclaimed the mother before covering her mouth to prevent herself from explaining the actual intended purpose of the gifts. Everyone laughed and the celebration continued.
A family wedding shower can be quite the educational experience for a curious youngster, as the conversation often turns to PG-13 rated stories about sex. My own mother had one of the best honeymoon stories. On her wedding night, she went into the bathroom to change into her negligee. Nervous about damaging the mood, she turned on the water to muffle the sounds of her nighttime routine. It didn’t occur to her to verify that the sink was unplugged. Soon the bathroom flooded. She screamed for her new husband to come help her. It was only after he did that she realized that she was completely naked. My dad didn’t mind.
Of course, PG-13 fare was not always adequate to convey the message. Once, one of my older cousins received a gift that baffled her a bit. “Um, what is this for?” she asked. Little me leaned in to hear the answer. Noticing my interest, my aunt whispered an explanation too quietly for me to hear.
I have heard the theory that a couple cannot know if they will be sexually compatible if they don’t have sex before marriage. The idea that a couple can predict their sexual compatibility two years, ten years, or a few decades into the future based on the earliest sexual experiences of their relationship, at the time period when they are likely to be the most horny (and/or awkward) seems naïve to me. Long before I met my husband, I knew from these bridal shower chats that libido and compatibility were fluid. I expected my sexual compatibility with my future husband to change with our experience, our biology, our circumstances and perhaps most importantly, our relationship with each other. When it came time for my own bridal shower, I was ready.