Mormonism and the Focus on Sex

I made this comment in a friend’s facebook thread a few months ago. My friend was finally leaving her marriage and was blaming herself for her husband’s infidelity, a theory in which I adamantly disagreed. Do you agree or disagree? On my good days, I think Mormons are focused on Christ. But on other days….. well, read for yourself.  Please keep in mind, my New Yorker sarcasm* is strong.

 

I personally think that when you meet anyone with [control or blame issues], and they are Mormon—the problem is found in sex. Sex is HUGE in the church. 
Think about it: Men have more than one wife, and some claim it is because there were so many dead men from mobs and so on? Not true. Then there’s the story that men need more than one wife so they can populate the earth with “righteous spirits,” – ya know—so men need lots of women for pro-creative sex. Then the teaching that we have sex in heaven. Because eternity for women means eternal pregnancy, which means eternal sex. This is pretty much the only time we get taught about Heavenly Mother—because we aren’t supposed to talk or pray to her, and not really teach or even speak about her (thanks, Gordon B. Hinckley!), so she is basically the lesser God who gave spirit birth to us, and nothing else. It’s like Father God only likes Her for sex, too. 

Then we get taught that men have less willpower when it comes to sex, so women have a bigger responsibility to “protect” men from bad thoughts—i.e. men followed satan’s plan and have no agency, but women followed Christ and have agency (um. What?). Then, men get to interview women and ask them about sex—seriously, the “leadership” here asked my 7 year old daughter if she obeyed the law of chastity in her baptismal interview—then when she didn’t know what he was talking about, he tried to describe somewhat of what he was talking about to her (sexual abuse, anyone?) (I was in the interview and stopped him, then emailed a follow up complaint.) 

But men get to ask girls and women of this as a matter of fact in the church — ya know, because men get priesthood because they are the right sex for that, and women get babies (oh, wait—except for infertile women—you’re just evil. Or useless. Or get to be pregnant in the next life. Or something.) Then gay people are bad because – no, no—not the fall of Adam where we all have individual (random) differences—no, gay folks are just plain evil and they like evil sex. (*sarcasm reminder. I don’t believe homosexuality is evil) Oh, and if you were around pre-1985, homosexuality was believed to be cured by getting married and having heterosexual sex. Sex cures! Then we get porn—and who’s fault is that? WOMEN! Of course! I mean, David was a fallen prophet—not a peeping Tom, amiright? A prophet who couldn’t keep it in his pants with all those wives and concubines. Darn that Bathsheba for bathing! She beguiled him not knowing he was even around! 

So then we change the word “modesty” from meaning “humble” (the meaning everyone else still uses) to mean something “not-sexy.” Then, we start dressing 2 year old girls with t-shirts under their sun dresses whilst we let boys run around without shirts—sexualising the shoulders of TWO YEAR OLD GIRLS. And then we wonder why Utahans are so into porn – when we even treat CHILDREN like sex objects!! 

Oh, and speaking of that baggage, Brother Ballard – thanks for also telling women that thongs (the shoe kind) are “immodest”/disrespectful for women to wear to church! Because a pair of $2 thongs is NOT modest but a pair of $80 closed-toe shoes is! (We don’t even mention men’s shoes, but we sure do comment on even women’s shoes in general conference!) 

And why should Young Men go on missions? Because you only get sex if you go to the celestial kingdom! And you get to the celestial kingdom (and get virgins as bonus prizes- D&C 132:61-62) if you are a great missionary! But because you went on a mission, you now deserve a sexy wife. Just for you! A sexy wife is a sex prize for being a righteous RM! That’s why if you are female and overweight, or don’t have the right hair, or anything else unfashionable—well, you’re a “sweet spirit,” but not sexy enough to be wife material—those RMs need trophy wives as prizes! (*sarcasm reminder)

There’s a reason why I married a non-Mormon: I could not take the sex baggage. (And he joined the church —but he also loves me for me, not for sex. Very un-Mormon of him.) IMO, until the church sees fit to give women priesthood keys, Mormon women will be subject to the sex issues of the church and will continue to shoulder the weight of all of these issues alone. 

Just my $0.02. But I think it’s all about the Mormon focus on SEX. What do you think?

Spunky

Spunky lives in Queensland, Australia. She loves travel and aims to visit as many church branches and wards in the world as possible.

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23 Responses

  1. Kate says:

    All consuming and rarely talked about in a healthy way. Speaking of sex, there is an interesting discussion of (Mormon) sex on Design Mom this week. Ironically, it is a response to an 18 year old Mormon woman who doesn’t know who else to talk to/ask questions about re: sex.

  2. Andrew R. says:

    Spunky, I know you are lucky enough to have lived on at least one more continent than I have. However, I sometimes think we live on different planets with different Gods.

    I recognise so little of what you write.

    • spunky says:

      What parts do you recognize, Andrew? I am sincerely interested as I believe women are instructed differently to men, especially in the formidible teens.

      (And keep in mind, I was trying to redirect a friend’s dark and self-harming thoughts because she was blaming herself for her husband’s infidelity, yet also terrified she’d still be sealed to him.)

      • Andrew R. says:

        I will try.

        “I personally think that when you meet anyone with [control or blame issues], and they are Mormon—the problem is found in sex. Sex is HUGE in the church. ”
        I do not believe this is a Church thing. You don’t have to be Mormon, or female, to blame yourself for a partner’s infidelity. Sex is HUGH in and out of the church.

        “Men have more than one wife”
        Unless you meant “had” then this is not the current church.

        “so men need lots of women for pro-creative sex”
        pro-creative sex is not a reason for cheating on your wife in my religion.

        “Then the teaching that we have sex in heaven. Because eternity for women means eternal pregnancy, which means eternal sex.”
        I have never been taught that the process for bringing Spirit Children into existence is via a physical sexual act. Nor, to my knowledge, has my wife or my daughters. Will we be able to engage in physical sexual intercourse in an eternal state of marriage? I hope so. And I know my wife hope’s so too. However, it isn’t the driving force for staying true to my covenants.

        “Then we get taught that men have less willpower when it comes to sex”
        I think this is probably true. On the whole men seem to be more likely to fail to keep the law of chastity.

        “so women have a bigger responsibility to “protect” men from bad thoughts”
        Maybe not the bad thoughts. But I do believe that they should protect themselves – don’t trust the men as your means to keeping the law of chastity. It shouldn’t be that way, but it is often the case. The only people my eldest daughter has dated that have tried to dissuade her from keeping the law of chastity have been Melchizedek priesthood holders – mostly endowed. Never has a non-member not respected her religious beliefs.

        “my 7 year old daughter”
        The experience you had with your daughter is something I have never heard of. It certainly didn’t happen with my daughters. I am wondering, and I could be wrong, that your being there helped empower him to take it beyond the question – “Mum will back me up here”.
        When I had my baptismal interview (aged 7) my Branch President asked if I was morally clean. That was it.

        David and Bathsheba – I have never once heard any blame placed at Bathsheba’s feet for what David did.

        “But men get to ask girls and women of this as a matter of fact in the church — ya know, because men get priesthood because they are the right sex for that, and women get babies (oh, wait—except for infertile women—you’re just evil. Or useless. Or get to be pregnant in the next life. Or something.)”
        This is such an over simplification of what I believe (and have expounded here before) that I can’t speak to it here. Suffice it to say – IMO Priesthood and Having Babies are not the balancing factors in Male Female power.

        “So then we change the word “modesty” from meaning “humble””
        We didn’t change it to mean this. We continue to use it to mean this. Modesty in the way we use it is old-fashioned and out-dated. But still in the dictionary. I still use Thee and Thou, etc. in my prayers.

        “Then, we start dressing 2 year old girls with t-shirts under their sun dresses”
        My wife and I have a “start as you mean to go on policy”. So in general all of our children have worn, to a very great extent, clothing that would cover garments should they be wearing them. We have not done this to avoid sexualising them. We have done it for the same reason that we started praying with them before bed even when they could not speak.
        I personally do not like seeing bra straps and strap tops. I don’t like strapless dresses and tops. Not because I struggle to keep my eyes off them, but because I don’t like seeing all that flesh. It’s not a sexual thing at all – in fact for me it more likely to induce the exact opposite.
        Having said all that, I would never tell anyone how to dress their child – only exception being in terms of acceptable dress codes for church activities and temple attendance in a general setting.

        The whole mission stuff ?!? I think your rant took a gear change for this.
        I did not serve a mission – though I did marry a member, in the temple. I did not marry for sex, I married for love, and to be with someone I loved. Sex was a benefit, certainly.
        And if what you wrote were true I better get a whole lot now because no mission, no sex!

        “IMO, until the church sees fit to give women priesthood keys, Mormon women will be subject to the sex issues of the church and will continue to shoulder the weight of all of these issues alone.”
        You poor, poor, women. Really, no sex issues for boys/men. We have plenty.
        That aside – how exactly would women having priesthood keys (I hold none) change anything?
        You said yourself that YW may be taught differently from YM. If that is true it is women doing the teaching to YW, not men.

        I am not saying that sex isn’t a large component issue for YM, YW, YSA and even post-marriage. Of course it is. But it is for many outside of the church too. And I don’t believe it is all on the women.

      • spunky says:

        Andrew R.,
        I think you are a pretty great dad, I really do. And I love that you have had such a very different church experience to me so we can learn from each other. Perhaps the people in my church circle and upbringing had an undue focus on sex. But my experience is not alone. I was taught as a Mia Maid that if I were raped, I would be better off dead; I was taught that suicide was okay in that situation, and if I didn’t die trying to protect that virtue, then I might as well have been soliciting for sex. I was 10.

        I felt at the time that the teacher was wrong. But after a youth of similar teachings, I can’t but help to question the individual imperfections that become so thematically administered that they are taught as doctrine. Like your daughters, I had a great father who taught me to sift between doctrine and culture. But that has made me both a feminist and an outcast in the Mormon community.

        I think you have been very blessed to have been raised in such a safe space. But many of us have not. Many women are taught that a covenant marriage means that the man– not the spirit— makes the decisions in the marriage, and/or is the “tie breaker” (covenant marriage is a marriage of 3- wife, husband and God).

        I’d like to think that you are better than this typification. I’d also like to think that you might have compassion for those who have survived this life without the safety within your family has flourished. I have not lived with that privilege. But I am a voice for at least some who have not had that safety. Surely you can tell the difference between culture and doctrine and individual interpretation that is passed off as truth?

      • Andrew R. says:

        I think it is awful that you were taught such things at any age, let alone 10. I barely knew the facts of life at 10 – let alone what rape was. Granted, in today’s world we are not so lucky and have to better inform children younger.

        My two youngest girls are 16 and 14. This Sunday just past their YWP was away and she has no counsellors. It may please you to know that they, together with one other YW (the other three were absent) were taught by the stake YMP (a member of our ward). In a Come, Follow Me month of “Priesthood and Priesthood Keys” she taught them how to be feminists. That they should seek for equality. She didn’t go quite so far as to say she wanted the priesthood, and to be honest I am not sure she is decided on that.

        However, this same sister would welcome polygamy! Go figure.

  3. Lily says:

    I have said, to more than one person, that we have turned into a big fertility cult.

  4. Rachael Brown says:

    Andrew R. I was also taught that rape would be our fault if it happened to us. We stood int he wrong place, we where wearing the wrong thing and if we didn’t fight to the death we had wanted it to happen to us. This was taught in all 8 of the various wards in YW, that I grew up in. ( military family, we moved a LOT). When Elizabeth Smart was kidnapped (she is my age,) All I heard from leaders was that that was horrible and why didn’t she fight back? When she was rescued and her story was heard, people still asked why she didn’t run, fight, escape? And boy will she have a lot of repenting to do. These words all hit hard. I was a young teen who simply saw that a young girl that I had helped look for had been hurt, scarred and yet she was still alive and had been found! I was so happy to have her save home to her family. And I couldn’t understand why my leaders, bishopric included felt the that poor girl had have any repenting to do. Also the question ‘Are you morally clean? Have you obeyed the law of chastity has been a question that has been asked of me in every ward I have ever had an interview in, including my baptismal one. You should be aware this kind of thing is in no way isolated or unique for mormon girls or women to hear.

    • Andrew R. says:

      Rachael, please be aware I am not disbelieving of what has happened. Having said that, you were taught these things in YW – by women. This was not men telling you this.

      And as for Elizabeth Smart, what people may have said is irrelevant. She did not have to repent, she served a mission and is happily married – thankfully.

      Too often here I read Church when I believe it should read “members of the Church”. There is no doubt that members have some wild thinking.

      • spunky says:

        Yes. Taught to young women by thier female leaders who read it from YW manuals and programs which are written and approved by men.

        Follow the chain, Andrew R.

  5. Christine Balderas says:

    You must below to another church then I do. I have NEVER heard most of the things you referred to. I live in the heart of Mormonism and I kept saying, ” what…?”

  6. Anon says:

    I can add my experience to Spunky’s.
    1. Polygamy was needed to build up righteous seed. This idea is supported by scripture in B of M and should not surprise anyone.
    2. Women/girls are more responsible than men/boys if a couple breaks the law of chastity. This was taught in my freshman seminary class in Salt Lake County. A few of us (females, no males) vocally rejected this nonsense, but I remember the statement twenty-six years later.
    3. Women are ‘responsible’ for men’s thoughts. Within the past five years, we had a special relief society activity and lesson on dressing modestly. This was in southern Utah. Apparently, our wardrobe choices were super duper distracting to the boys who were blessing the sacrament. Yes, Andrew, this was women teaching women, but the content of the lesson was directly assigned by the Stake President. (Also, if I remember correctly, our super duper sexy mom church outfits were also to blame for our young men’s porn problems.)
    4. Uncomfortable interview questions about chastity (asked by a member of the opposite sex) are a matter of course for LDS women. (The little girl interview was new to me, however. Appalling.)
    5. “It is better to die in defense of virtue than to lose it.” -April 1980 conference. Taught in church classes, and misinterpreted* to mean “It is better to die than to survive rape.” (Like “modesty,” “virtue” has an amusingly narrow meaning in LDS speak. Time to break out those dictionaries, people!)
    *I hope that is a misinterpretation.

    I wonder how many of us have had experiences like this. I don’t think they rare.

    • Anon says:

      they *are rare.

    • Andrew R. says:

      1. I don’t believe I repudiated the Polygamy claims. I am content to believe it in the absence of any evidence that JSjr and BY were perverts and not following God’s will.

      2. It may be what is impressed upon YW by leaders and teachers – or how it comes over. However, I can tell you that I know for a fact that YM and male YSA are much more likely to undergo formal discipline than YW female YSA. At least, in the stakes I have lived in, in the UK – not the sainted state of Utah.

      3. Men are clearly responsible for their thoughts. However, do you seriously believe that no matter how a women chooses to dress it should be a simple matter for a young man to keep his thoughts in line? Let me tell you, since you are a women and can’t possibly know what it is like to be a young man, it isn’t that simple. Young women are the object of young men’s desires already. Making that objectification easier, doesn’t help anyone.
      Having said that I have never told any of my six daughters that the reason we have rules on what they are able to wear is so they don’t make the boys more horny. Rather, as I said above, so that they are prepared to go to the temple and commit to wearing the Garment of the Holy Priesthood.
      You may also note that I personally find large displays of flesh a turn off. I don’t like boob tubes, or off the shoulder dresses. Maybe that is cultural, but I don’t think so. So clearly not everyone is affected the same way. But we sat for a long time on the second row of the chapel for sacrament meeting – because I played the organ and one or other of my daughters was the music director. My second youngest daughter (15/16) who is always dressed within acceptable LDS standards (by her own choice) however was very uncomfortable by the constant starring from the one priest in the ward, sitting at the sacrament table. The same boy she has been in seminary with for 3 years – just the two of them. She would not want to do anything to make him think this admiration was wanted or reciprocated.

      4. Do you honestly think that these interviews are any less uncomfortable for men?

      5. Unfortunately Church members are no better not misinterpreting than anyone else. Since one of the long held reasons for “acceptable” abortion in the Handbook has been pregnancy as the result of rape and/or incest it is clear that the institutional Church does not hold with the view that one should die rather than be raped. Only stupid members, as I said often female members, teach this idea. And hopefully we are moving away from it with each generation.

      There are a lot of stupid (uninformed, uneducated, and unwilling to learn) people in this world. And the Church has its fair share.

      Again, as I said somewhere on this board this week, my two young women daughters had a YW lesson last Sunday from the stake YWP with an entirely feminist slant – one my daughters didn’t really appreciate.

      • spunky says:

        Andrew- just quickly– “3. Men are clearly responsible for their thoughts. However, do you seriously believe that no matter how a women chooses to dress it should be a simple matter for a young man to keep his thoughts in line? Let me tell you, since you are a women and can’t possibly know what it is like to be a young man, it isn’t that simple. Young women are the object of young men’s desires already. Making that objectification easier, doesn’t help anyone.”

        – Fair enough. But you are also not a woman and can’t know what it is like to be a young woman- what clothes feel most flattering and comfortable. And what clothing on men work wonders for individual women. I guarantee if you’re wearing jeans, I will check out your butt. I will. It’s my thing. No matter your age. I like men in jeans (my husband wears them a lot– at my urging.) Some men are “leg men” some are “cleavage men,” etc, I am a “jeans woman.” Shall we ban jeans and all other clothing for potato sacks from the ankles to the knees? — or shall I just learn to not “go there” and use self control? And if I can do this, why can’t I ask MEN to do the same (or at least teach YM the same that we teach YW to keep our thoughts clean)?

        “Again, as I said somewhere on this board this week, my two young women daughters had a YW lesson last Sunday from the stake YWP with an entirely feminist slant – one my daughters didn’t really appreciate.”

        -Maybe the lesson wasn’t all that “entirely” feminist. After all you mentioned that this teacher welcomed polygamy– which seems an oxymoron to me. (Unless she was talking women with more than one husband in the eternities…. that could be interesting!) I’d daresay that the lesson wasn’t as feminist as you and your daughters imagine.

        P.S. Be careful when you wear jeans!

      • Andrew R. says:

        Spunky, should we ever meet, and I think I would like that, I can guarantee I will not be wearing jeans. I’m 52 in September and I was 19 the last time I wore them. Just don’t find them comfy. Sorry if that disappoints 😉

      • EBK says:

        “I read the first quote in the article to mean that the combination of gay marriage and polygamous marriage was the issue since there is no limit to the number of people who can be intermarried to each other. ”

        I was taught this by Spencer W. Kimball. I didn’t think I’d live to see they day where Andrew R. referred to a prophet as a stupid member.

      • EBK says:

        Not sure why the quote came across incorrectly. Let’s try that again.

        “it is clear that the institutional Church does not hold with the view that one should die rather than be raped. Only stupid members, as I said often female members, teach this idea.”

        I was taught this by Spencer W. Kimball. I didn’t think I’d live to see the day where Andrew R. referred to a prophet as a stupid member.

  7. Anna says:

    I don’t disagree with anything you’ve said. Unlike some other readers, I’m quite familiar with all of these points. It’s a major topic of conversation among my friends. In fact, the article was quite predictable. What I would have loved to see is a deeper discussion. As a fellow Mormon feminist, I find myself questioning and doubting all ‘sides’ frequently. Do my feminist sisters ever have a crises of faith in the other direction? Wondering if something they’ve been so distraught by has been misinterpreted? Or perhaps feeling just as confused by some feminist thinking as by traditional Mormon thinking? You can’t go wrong exploring another angle, it would only make the article richer.

    • spunky says:

      Why don’t you write that and submit it as a guest post, Anna? I I mentioned above, this was a quick response to a Facebook post and attempt to redirect a friend who was in a very bad space. It was not intended as an in depth op-ed. But it would be lovely if you felt you had thectine and resources to do that perhaps even over a series of posts. We’d love to have you share your voice here.

  8. Kristin says:

    I too have had these experiences, Andrew R., in Utah, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. As a YW I was taught these things, and then as a YW leader for 7 years I saw these ideas passed off as doctrine in manuals–lessons I tossed and reformulated. I have female youth and students who are perpetually thanked by priesthood leaders at church and EFY for being “modest” and “protecting the virtue of young men.” The better to die than be raped idea/quote is from President Kimball (Miracle of Forgiveness?), and while the church has tried to distance itself from that idea, it is still perpetuated by those who were taught it in their youth because it has never been disavowed from the pulpit. Me, I’m a single woman who has been told countless times by priesthood leaders that my reward for living a good and chaste life will be getting married in the next and having “millions of babies.” (It’s also been taught me that such procreation will likely be as a plural wife for some righteous man.) YM are taught to sing hymns when they look at YW to keep the spirit, therein reinforcing that women’s bodies are inherently sexual. I had a four year old neighbor tell me she had to wear a sweater over her sun dress so she could be modest. I rejoice that you have not had these experiences, but I fear you are in the minority rather than the majority.

  9. Andrew R. says:

    “therein reinforcing that women’s bodies are inherently sexual.”

    Since I keep being told that not being a woman I can not know what it is like to be a woman, let me just turn that over here.

    I am a man, I have been a 12-16 year old boy. Let me tell you I didn’t need the Church to tell me that a female body is inherently sexual. I don’t fully understand the biology of it, and it often seems odd that it is.

    However, to a young boy, going trough puberty, girls are sexual. And, yes, of course, it is important to ensure that we teach our Young Men to keep their thoughts pure, and correct, and their actions even more so.

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