The Two Sides of Being Single and Chaste

(Once a month, The Exponent is featuring posts from members of the Exponent II board. This is the second in the series.  Suzette serves as the Treasurer of Exponent II on the Executive Board – and also writes the 4th Sunday Poll on this blog.  She lives in the Washington DC area.) 

Single and chaste is a precarious way to live. There are (at least) two sides to the situation. On one side, making the difficult and committed choice of chastity gives confidence and grows sensitivity for ones own body. One the other side, this unnatural way of life, leaves a hurt that is difficult and sorrowful.

Last year, an article in the New York Times generated a lot of discussion around this topic in my single social circles.  The author describes her decision to leave her celibate, Mormon life to explore sexual experiences. She writes: “Most troubling was the fact that as I grew older I had the distinct sense of remaining a child in a woman’s body; virginity brought with it arrested development on the level of a handicapping condition, like the Russian orphans I’d read about whose lack of physical contact altered their neurobiology and prevented them from forming emotional bonds. Similarly, it felt as if celibacy was stunting my growth; it wasn’t just sex I lacked but relationships with men entirely. Too independent for Mormon men, and too much a virgin for the other set, I felt trapped in adolescence.”

On one side
This article states that the lack of touch leaves one feeling adolescent and handicap, but, for me, that same lack builds a deeper consciousness of my body.  I consider my sexual feelings deeply because I am compelled to consistently reconcile my beliefs and my passions.  I have considered my choices and fully own my sexuality. This depth of feeling creates, for me, a keener understanding of intimate relationships, rather than a feeling of adolescence.

Additionally, I grow tired of the word “virgin” being tied to ideas like naive, simple, scared, fragile, and ashamed.  I would like to see the word make a shift to connect with ideas like courageous, determined, strong, clean, and sound … all attributes of a fully aware and responsible adult.

On the other side
I give the author credit for describing a situation that has my complete empathy. Living chaste, at arms length with ones sexuality, into mid-adulthood is a hard way to live.  Sex is a normal part of adult life.  It is, however, a missing part of my live or the lives my friends who live single and chaste.  We are not only missing the act of sex, but the intimacy of shared living.

Many adults live without sex for a few years into adulthood while they finish college or “find the right one”, but we live without sex for an additional 15, 20 years or more. Over time, this physical isolation changes us; creating a wound in body and spirit. It is a dark hurt of longing, unsatisfied yearning, aloneness, and insufficient closeness.

The situation is exacerbated by the feeling that this wound is invisible to our married brothers and sisters who see only the benefits of a chaste life.  It seems that for them there is no real difference between chastity at age 17 and chastity at age 40.  Their sermons about the benefits of saving ourselves for marriage don’t fall on deaf ears, but seem to lack understanding. The emphasis on “not slipping up in the backseat” misses the mark because it equates their 20 year old single experiences with our current situation. We also see the benefits of living chaste, but our situation differs for that of a youth. Making sensible choices in a passionate moment is not as difficult in mid-adulthood as it once was.  We’ve had practice with drawing boundaries and are fully aware of consequences.  The harder part is the living; making the choice every day as the loss of a shared bed and a life companion grows. We miss intimacy into the deep parts of ourselves and know that some of those losses cannot be restored.  We pay a price for the benefits of being chaste.

My Side
Choosing a chaste life comes with its price, but it has been a powerful choice for me.  I feel strong. I feel free. I feel whole. And the scope goes beyond myself, which gives me reason to continue choosing it. On its own, the Law of Chastity may fall short on benefits, but combined with all the principles in the gospel of Christ, it holds greater weight and the choice becomes more clear.  All of these principles, together, create a tight weave in the fabric that connects me to God and to others in my faith community. It provides a sense of safety that spreads throughout my life.

Living chaste allows me to participate fully with my community of Saints – and holds me in solidarity with them. This community sustains me with their own faith and trust. I am better and live richer because I am whole with them.

By choosing to live chaste, I sacrifice parts of myself and am built stronger in others parts. My relationship with Christ allows me to believe that His atonement will, in time, heal my wounds and deepen my understanding.


What are your experiences with living single and chaste or with interacting with those who choose this for their lives?

 

 

 


Suzette

Suzette lives in the Washington DC area and works as a Professional Organizer. She enjoys blogging and serving on the Exponent II Board. Her Mormon roots run deep and she loves her big Mormon family which includes 20 nieces and nephews, 6 sisters, 5 brother in laws, 2 parents - and dozens of cousins. Her favorite things about church are the great Alexandria wards, temple worship, and all things Visiting Teaching.

You may also like...

55 Responses

  1. Jenessa says:

    As someone who married for the first time as a forty-plus year old virgin, I saw no benefits to the law of chastity as an older single.

    In the strictest sense, the law of chastity also prohibits masturbation.

    Living a life devoid of sexuality is detrimental to one’s health. For a married church leadership to impose this on older singles is cruel and sadistic.

  2. Tina says:

    Thanks for your insightful input. I was single until I was thirty three and I felt many of the same emotions that you do at that time. Talks for instance that insinuated that chastity lead to marriage seemed pointless (it hadn’t so far). Other Mormon leaders who were married and presumably having sex on a regular basis were clueless about what singles might be missing. Their talks were often condescending and insensitive, completely missing the boat that at a later age, a sexless life was a real sacrifice.

  3. Libby says:

    Suzette, thanks for this thoughtful and lovely post.

  4. MJK says:

    The biggest thing for me was the inequality I perceived (mind you I say “perceive”) between those like myself who waited for marriage and those who did not.
    To this day I resent the freedom others have who did not make the choice I did. I have two cowrkers right now who are engaged and constantly talking about the upcoming weddings. They both live with their husbands-to-be.
    And they ask me my opinions about this color or that cake and it’s all I can do to bite my tongue and not snap. “I didn’t give a f*** about any of this at my OWN wedding but I had to go through the song-and dance routine because it’s not socially acceptable to want to get married quickly so you can have sex. You know for those few of us who actually waited.”

    Honestly I wish that once my husband and I decided we were right for each other we had just eloped, and damn anyone in the family who complained.

    The fact that I’m still resentful of having to wait after 10 years make me suspect something is wrong with the system.

  5. Linda says:

    The insights you share in this post are powerful to me on many levels because I share many of the same thoughts and feelings. I was married for the first time in my mid forties and always viewed the law of chastity as a protection for me that strengthened and enriched my life. My disappointments about not being married and being able to fully enjoy all that marriage entails, were tempered by my faith in Christ and His Atonement because I knew (and still know) the law of Chastity is not something imposed upon me by a church leadership of married men (as a previous response suggests) but it is a higher law of God and keeping my eye on the bigger picture of who I am, a daughter of God who loves me and knows me by name, my faith in God as my Father and Christ as my Savior and Redeemer was and continues to be strengthened by my choice to live according to His plan so that I can return to His presence and be like Him, which is the ultimate goal. Thank you Suzette for your fearless example and choice to allow your adversities to strengthen you and refine you into the amazing person you are instead of choosing bitterness and anger. I stand up and applaud you!

    • Memorized says:

      Funny, Mormons pride themselves on not having memorized their individual prayers or testimonies, often commenting that the prayers and testimonies are more sincere, more direct, even more righteous somehow than those of other religions who quote memorized prayers. But this comment is almost entirely word for word what is told to YW throughout their entire lives. Is it knowledge, or just brainwashing other another name.

      • Linda says:

        to answer your question, for me it is knowledge. You know nothing about me or my experience with the Mormon church or how I came to this knowledge. Please refrain from judging. It’s my knowledge, my faith and I own it. Feel free to go get some for yourself.

  6. Dri says:

    Suzette, thank you for your courage here. Beautifully stated. This is such a personal and complex issue. Thank you for really adding to the discourse with a very thoughtful post.

  7. Damien says:

    It’s sad that you have resigned yourself to a (for the forseeable future) sexless existence to please a mass delusion. I hope you come around.

    • April says:

      Damien, it is against the comment policy to “disrespectfully refute people’s personal religious beliefs.” If you would like to talk productively about your own beliefs and how they differ from the author’s, you are welcome to, but please refrain from calling people with different beliefs than yours “delusional.”

  8. April says:

    Suzette, I appreciate your willingness to talk openly about such a sensitive topic. I am also tired of the word, “virgin.” Actually, I can’t stand that word. Here’s what bothers me about it: Do we have special words we use to either demean or praise people who happen not to have had any of a variety of other life experiences? Is there a word for people who have never climbed Mount Everest, or worked in a cubicle, or survived cancer? Any of these experiences could be life-changing…or not. Sex is just another maybe or maybe not life-changing experience. Whether someone has had that experience, last night or twenty years ago or never, probably has little bearing on who they are.

    Another way I relate is that I also chose to follow my faith’s guidelines and lead a chaste life until marriage and I am happy with that decision. Unlike you, I am now married and get to have faith-approved sex. I like sex, but for me, at least, sex has not been a life-changing experience. I am the same person I was when I was referred to by that awful word “virgin.”

    As a married person who does believe in chastity, I appreciate the reminder of how insensitive speeches about chastity to adults can be when they are copied and pasted from chastity talks for teens. Thanks for reminding me to avoid that pitfall.

    • Memorized says:

      If sex and the emotional connections developed through sex has such little bearing on an individual, then why the blog and comments in the first place. Obviously, it is very life changing or all these people who feel they are making a sacrifice and feel empty in some way would not be discussing the issue to begin with.

      • April says:

        As I said, I think sex may be life-changing for some people. But it wasn’t for me. I think our society’s tendencies to demean people who aren’t having sex, with words like “virgin,” unrealistic glamorization of sex, condescension and pity toward people who don’t happen to have had sex yet in their lives, and the nonsensical equation of sex=adulthood, are what is really damaging.

  9. Keri Brooks says:

    Suzette, fantastic post. I’m 30, single, and I live the law of chastity. There are so many posts in the Bloggernacle that really irritate me because they seem to say that it’s stupid to live the law of chastity past a certain point or that no older single is actually living it. I love how you explain the benefits and the challenges, and I can totally relate. Thank you for giving voice to my feelings.

  10. Kirsten says:

    Wonderful post, my friend! I am glad you articulated something missing in our discourse about remaining chaste before marriage. To relegate this discussion only to what it means to young men and women in their teens/early 20s is to dismiss the experiences and feelings of those who do not marry while quite young.
    You have given voice to those who have chosen to stay committed to chastity, realizing that there is a complexity to how adults see it. I appreciate how you’ve expressed yourself in terms of strength. I agree with your comment:

    “I grow tired of the word “virgin” being tied to ideas like naive, simple, scared, fragile, and ashamed. I would like to see the word make a shift to connect with ideas like courageous, determined, strong, clean, and sound … all attributes of a fully aware and responsible adult.”

    I hope to incorporate this idea as I teach the YW…

  11. Laura says:

    When I finished the post, my first thought was “Wow.” This was powerfully written and provided some insights for me. I married young and have friends in their 30s and 40s who have never married and have remained chaste. Thank you for sharing your experience as it has given me a potential glimpse into theirs and will make me more thoughtful in my relationships.

  12. Jules says:

    “Luckily” I do not have a job in which I meet dateable men, and I live in a section of the country where there are zero single men my age at church. So the choice to live singly and chaste is simply default. No choices to make here. Though I still approach the LOC they way I did as a youth–it saves a ton of drama to just live it.

    That said, more than the lack of sexual intimacy, I crave and ache for just everyday touch. If I don’t visit my little nieces and nephew regularly, I go without a single human hand on my body for weeks or months at a time–pat on the back, hug, or even just nearness. And when I do get an unexpected pat on the back or hug from an unexpected source, it feels unnatural.

  13. Julie says:

    “All of these principles, together, create a tight weave in the fabric that connects me to God and to others in my faith community. It provides a sense of safety that spreads throughout my life.”

    A beautiful post Suzette. Having recently been widowed and unexpectedly recelibate at a young age, I have also had to carefully reconsider what the LOC means to me. Turns out, a tremendous amount; as hard as it is, I think it’s really important. I second your sentiments above and applaud you for your thoughtful words and your inspiring example.

  14. Z. says:

    Suzette, thank you for your thoughts!

    I would point out that, while we certainly have been given direction from from leaders who are in comfortable relationships, that is not always the case. Some of the clearest counsel I have heard on chastity has come from leaders, like Elder Scott and the late Sister Okazaki, who have been single for many years as the result of the death of a spouse. It would be easy to say “that’s different, they’re old people”, or “but they’ve been married already”, but is it really that different? The loss both of companionship and of intimacy has to be just as real. I recall, in particular, attending a singles conference where Sister Okazaki spoke, and she was surprisingly direct in sharing her feelings of just how much the loss of intimacy impacted her after her husband died. Her counsel then was much the same that you might hear from any cheerful Young Men’s or Young Women’s counselor, but it was tempered by hard experience.

    • VirginiaDC says:

      I would agree that for older people that are widowed or divorced it must be challenging to be chaste and not have the intimacy or physical touch. But the act of having been married and having had sex promotes them into adulthood while those who have not are still treated as youth or young adults.

      • vivian says:

        That´s TRUE!!
        If you were married and then you are divorced or a widow it is absolutely different than never married, and WORSE if your time for children has gone…
        Not to mention that children never was a dream for me (it makes me automatically a “strange woman”)
        It seems that no matter your age 30, 40 o more, you are still a young woman that needs to be treated as a weak person or with a certain level of pity from some people. Because you know, “she is single… lonely. She never found love… and even worse, no children””

    • kathy garrett says:

      Yes, it’s twice as hard to live this way after you have had a lifetime of sex and intimacy. To make the change and the choice for chastity at 43, like I am, is actually harder than doing it while young. Once you know what it is you are missing, it’s excrutiating.

  15. Bradley says:

    Is it worth it to honor God? Who do you love?

    It’s like the Bud Light commercial with the hitchhiker and the axe. “Hey buddy, what’s with the axe?” “It’s a uh, bottle opener.” “Hop in!”

    Chastity – always a good decision.

    • rachel says:

      really, bradley? you’re going to compare this to a bud light commercial? gag. please do not EVER use this if you happen to teach youth. i beg of you.

  16. Mason says:

    This is one of the most tragic posts I’ve read in a while. I’m so so so happy I got out when I did. Sex is awesome, sacred, special, fun, exciting and so on. I bear my personal witness that meaningful sex within or without marriage is powerful and beautiful and never something to be ashamed of or afraid of.

  17. jodi says:

    As a single woman who joined the Mormon church when I was 28 years old, I have lived both sides of this coin. And I can honestly say, without hesitation, living a chaste life is better. That’s certainly not meant to imply I don’t miss intimacy…..quite the contrary. I do miss it. Very much. But giving it up was the best decision I have ever made. It is worth it……

    Living the law of chastity really is freeing and has allowed me to see things in a different light. And I don’t just mean while dating or within a relationship (although that’s a given), I’m talking about ‘the bigger picture’ – just as Linda said in her comment. It really has enabled me to realize my value and worth as a daughter of God. Seven years ago (before I was a Mormon), when I would think to myself, ‘I am a daughter of God’ – it just sounded like a nice little sunday school thought. I didn’t have a clue what that really, truly meant. It is as if living the law of chastity has entitled me to a key, unlocking infinite wisdom and understanding with regard to how my Heavenly Father sees me and what I mean to Him. And I love seeing myself through His eyes. I love being able to love myself the way He loves me. Today, even though I’m basically the same person (have the same personality, etc.) as I was before I was a Mormon…….deep inside, I’m as different from who I was then as night and day. Living all of God’s commandments (including the law of chastity) and remaining worthy to have the Holy Ghost reside within me has made me a better version of myself. Far better. And I wouldn’t trade that for all of the intimacy in the world.

    I am now 35 years old and still single. I still have confident hope that I will marry and enjoy many years of intimacy with my husband…..however, if, for some reason it’s not part of the Lord’s plan for me to be married in this life, I will gladly stay celibate and resist those human/natural desires so that I may continue to enjoy all of the blessings that come from keeping the Lord’s commandments…….so that I never lose sight of who I am, and everything the Lord is helping me become.

    It makes me quite sad to read some of the comments that have been posted, just as it saddened me to read the NY Times article referenced from last year. Maybe it’s because I have the gift of comparison, and I don’t have to ‘wonder’ what the other side is like. Maybe I am just lucky…..to know with a surety from personal experience that those short, instant seconds of pleasure, no matter how often you might be able to enjoy them, are just simply not worth enduring all of the infinite complications and blindness that accompany them. I’m not trying to pass judgement….that is not my intention at all. Rather, it just saddens me that there are others (Latter-Day Saints especially) who do not trust in their Heavenly Father’s great plan for them. Who haven’t allowed the Lord to show each of them who they really are, and what they can become by following Him…..by doing things His way. This life isn’t supposed to be easy and make perfect sense while we’re going through it. None of [us] ever thought that we would be single this long…….but we have to lean on the Lord’s understanding, not our own. We have to seek the greater wisdom and understanding He is willing to give us, not give up and rest upon how WE think things “should” be.

    • Kobie says:

      Thank you so much for your thoughts Jodi. Your experiences on both sides of this “coin” I think wonderfully exhibit the point when we are asked to live the Law of Chastity.

  18. Jenessa says:

    To add to my earlier comment, in retrospect I believe I was robbed of some pretty important formative experiences that would have been developmentally and emotionally beneficial.

    People mean many different things when they say they “live the law of chastity.” as someone who grew up in the ’70s and ’80s, it meant:

    • No masturbation
    • No making out
    • No fondling
    • No oral sex
    • No vibrators
    • No viewing porn (some would say even R-rated movies qualified)
    • And of course, no sexual intercourse (or outercourse)

    I even belonged to a singles ward in the early 2000s whose bishop advised the ward members (all in our 30s and 40s) to not even he hands if that would get us too excited; to not watch the TV show Friends, and to not look at the shockingly pornographic Sports Illustrated magazine.

    Do singles who date in 2012 really live this way? Is it really considered noble and healthy and so goshdarngollygeewonderful? I would never date or consider marrying someone over 30 who didn’t at least think about sex and masturbate.

    • vivian says:

      Jenessa you’re not alone in your questions.
      I´d be VERY suspicious for me to meet a guy in his 40’s and … with no, no list as a check list. NETX!

      (Sorry my english it is not my native languae)

  19. Bravo, Suzette.

    One of the points used for “adulthood” is to “take charge of your sexuality”, which usually means having as many sexual experiences as possible. Choosing to be celibate (which can even happen within marriage, given circumstances), is derided as frigid, old-fashioned, or even harmful to physical, spiritual, and emotional well being.

    You don’t eat meat? Drink alcohol? Coffee? Sure, I can get behind that. No sex? What a weirdo!

    • amelia says:

      Frank I don’t disagree that the choice for celibacy is often derided in our culture. However, I do take issue with your characterization of what “take charge of your sexuality” usually means (in your words, “having as many sexual experiences as possible”). I don’t think that’s what it usually means for most people at all. Or maybe I just know a weird subset of people. But amongst the friends with whom I am close enough to have some knowledge of their sexual histories and their thinking about their sexual choices, this is a gross mischaracterization. Even for those who have had what seems like a lot of partners to someone raised as a chaste and very obedient Mormon girl like me, the goal was not “as much as possible,” but rather honest connection with other people. Sometimes that connection was largely sexual; other times it was as much emotional and intellectual as sexual; but for the most part they were about real connections, not just profligate sex any chance they got.

      I find it just as problematic for those of us who value celibacy outside of marriage to deride those who do not as vice versa and I think this characterization of how “most” people approach taking charge of their own sexuality is very derisive. I just don’t see what purpose is served by dismissing those who do not choose celibacy as therefore by definition promiscuous other than to reinforce the self-righteousness Mormons so often attach to their approach to chastity.

      • You’re right, it was a bit overly simplistic and divisive. Perhaps I’ve simply read about and dealt with too many people who have used “claiming their sexuality” as a defense for mistakes they knew they were making. I think I’ve tried to use it myself, years ago.

        My intent was to deride those who would deride. Its not the job of mine or anyone elses to dictate the choices another has and will make. I should have remembered my own advice in not seeking to create a “them” in any aspect of life; it is often a way to make ourselves feel better than others, rather than seek meaningful discussion.

      • amelia says:

        I certainly agree that many people use the notion that they’re taking ownership of their sexuality to excuse doing something they perhaps shouldn’t have done (and may have known they shouldn’t have done when they did it). I’m not a fan of dishonest rationalization in any regard, and certainly not of sex.

        I think I responded so strongly because I get very frustrated by the all-or-nothing attitude that so often gets adopted by proponents (Mormon or not) of an abstinence-only approach to sex/chastity before marriage. The rhetoric of “all sex outside marriage is promiscuous and sinful sex, and all people seeking it are doing so thoughtlessly” is very often connected to that all-or-nothing thinking. I personally think it’s entirely possible for individuals to make wise, informed, thoughtful decisions about their sexuality and how to explore and own it that could lead to abstinence or to gradual exploration or to any number of other outcomes. I don’t think the law of chastity is supposed to be about a list of things you can and cannot do; I do think it’s supposed to be about learning to be thoughtful and responsible and wise about one’s sexuality and sexual relationships.

  20. Chrissy says:

    Suzette, I appreciate your blog and comments. I was married young (19) and divorced at 25. For a number of years I willingly lived a celebate life. But, where I live there are very few single Mormen men my age. I had no prospects to marry a member of the church, so sex via marriage was most likely not an option. I began to date non-members. Of course, once things got serious, sex was expected to be part of the package. I found no man who was willing to forego it until marriage. The men I discussed my beliefs with thought my goal was admirable, but quickly lost interest in me. I began to grow bitter. The lonliness got to me, resentment for my situation grew, feelings that married members of the church couldn’t possibly understand my situation festered, and eventually I successfully rationalized that the only way to feel healthy and normal was to allow myself the freedom to engage in sexual activity. For a few years I went astray from the teachings of the church due to not following the LOC. I lost, (maybe a better term would be, gave up) my temple recommend. At the time I felt as some of the other posters have expressed. Entitled to the physical intimacy accompanied by an active sex life that is promoted by popular culture as being as necessary as food, water and shelter. I was a beautiful, healthy single woman. Why shouldn’t I enjoy my sexuality? And so I decided that rather than face a life of loneliness I would allow myself to have sex outside of marriage. I told myself that my circumstances were different than the average, married member of the church. That since God understood my situation he would forgive my indiscretions. Why would he want me to live a life of loneliness? Why would he be so cruel? Why would any human being have sexual desires and feelings so strong and not be expected to act on them if they were not blessed with marriage? After a few years passed and none of the serious relationships I’d had ever culminated in marriage I began to question my logic on the matter of sexuality in adulthood. One thing was for sure. None of the men I’d been in serious relationships with were on a mission to find a wife. They were all on a mission to find happiness in a relationship, and that meant having lots of sex was part of that happiness. As soon as they got that, what more did they need to fulfill their desire for happiness? Putting a ring on my finger was only a formality, and I found that as soon as we’d slept together my ability to respect the men I’d had relationships with diminished greatly. These same men wouldn’t be dating me if I wasn’t willing to have sex with them. They would claim that sex wasn’t everything, but if I’d said we couldn’t have it anymore I knew the relationship would end. If sexuality was key to being a normal healthy adult, then why was I no happier? If having sex was enough to fulfill my desire for intimacy, why was I still lonely? I realized I’d been deceived. As hard as it was, and it was hard, I went to my bishop and began the process of full fellowship back into the church. At first I was petrified. I felt sure I’d be judged and ostracized. That everyone in the Ward would find out about the process I was going through and be cruel to me, or tell me how stupid I’d been for breaking the LOC. to my surprise the members of my Bishopric were extremely compassionate to my situation. They expressed sorrow for the fact that I hadn’t found a lasting and loving relationship. They cried with me during the first meeting of my disciplinary counsel. Their kindness went far beyond the kindness any of the men I’d been in serious sexual relationships had ever shown to me. I did complete the steps of the disciplinary counsel.. It was hard. However, during this time I grew in my understanding of how much my Savior loves me, wants to help me and wants to show me what my true worth is. It took two years to fully repent and be worthy to receive a temple recommend. And don’t think that during that time I wasn’t tempted constantly to just walk away, leave the church behind, and just be bitter for how different my life had turned out compared to how I always had dreamt it would be. Now at the age of 39 I am still single. But I am in full fellowship in the church because I want to be. My faith and testimony of my Savior’s love for me is something I find impossible to quantify. I’m happier than ever. I hold callings in Young Women’s and Relief Society. The relationships I have with my brothers and sisters in the Gospel fill the gaps of my loneliness. I still struggle with desires for sexual intimacy. But the Atonement strengthens me in my weakness. It is truly a miracle. I know I may never have sex again. But through the Atonement of Jesus Christ I feel whole, valued, important and strengthened.

    • ceci says:

      Two things strike me about what you write: first, you describe yourself (at the time your were engaging in, what I assume were serial sexual relationships) as a beautiful woman who was entitled to enjoy her sexuality; second, you describe your experiences with men as “serious sexual relationships.” I wonder if you weren’t getting too caught up in being young and beautiful and , thus, picking or gravitating to men who valued that and the sexuality that went along with it over a more meaningful, deeper relationship. It is interesting that you describe these as “serious sexual relationships” rather than just “serious relationships” to me that seems that both you and the men you were with put more emphasis on the sex than on the relationship. It didn’t have to be that way, at all and I am sorry that you did not meet the type of man who was interested in a serious relationship (in which sex and intimacy played a role) and only found men who were interested in a relationship that was primarily about sex.

      • kathy garrett says:

        So many men want all the benefits of a marriage without having to actually be in one. Too many women provide all the goods without demanding a marriage.
        If we don’t collectively make these changes with regards to allowing men full access without a commitment, things are bound to only get worse.

    • Kobie says:

      Beautiful. Thank you for being so open about your own personal experiences that allow us to learn and grow. I admire your courage. Thank you.

  21. Sharee says:

    Here’s the perspective from an older woman. I am 70 years old and have been divorced for 41 years–and have been celibate for that 41 years. Do I miss the sex and the intimacy? Constantly; even at 70 I have a strong sex drive, so don’t go thinking we old folks don’t have the same feelings younger people do. But I don’t want to destroy my eternity by breaking God’s law of chastity, although I have had plenty of opportunities to do so.

  22. Jenessa says:

    I highly doubt occasional masturbation is going to damn one to a lower kingdom for eternity.

    • Mike H. says:

      If it did, we would need to dismiss a number of full time Missionaries. A study estimated 10-15% of them having an issue with it at any given time.

      • MJ says:

        Janessa, I completely agree, and am raising my boys to know there is a time and a place, but that it’s not going to damn them to hell. Because I’ve seen first hand the damage that kind of thought does to incredibly good men.

  23. Rebecca says:

    I love this, Suzette.

    I’ve been thinking about how living the law of chastity is like fasting (it IS a form of fasting, obviously). If I focus on what I’m missing on Fast Sunday, then I’m just hungry and irritable. But when I consecrate my fast to God and focus on the meaning and purpose of it, it becomes something that strengthens me, bringing me closer to Him and farther along the path to holiness.

    Similarly, if I’m focusing on how unfair it is that I can’t have sex, chastity doesn’t have much meaning and I’m likely to feel bitter. But when I view it from a gospel perspective, as an offering to the Lord, it becomes something that refines me and makes me whole.

  24. amelia says:

    Suzette, I really love this post for its honesty in expressing your own personal experience with making the choice to live a celibate life in keeping with the law of chastity as it’s taught in the church. I really appreciate that rather than simply dismissing the experience of the author of the NYT piece as somehow invalid, you instead used it as a comparison point to help illustrate your own experience. What troubles me is that so many of the comments on this thread do not maintain that degree of respect for others. I simply do not believe that we can say with absolute assurance that one answer is right for every person out there, and I liked that instead of saying your answer was right for everyone you instead said that it was right for you, that it freed you and gave you strength.

    I have absolutely no doubt that there are many people who make the conscious decision to remain celibate and deal with some of the hurtful consequences of that choice because on the whole it is more constructive and positive than hurtful. I similarly have absolutely no doubt that there are many people who make the conscious decision not to remain celibate and who deal with the hurtful consequences of that choice because on the whole it is more constructive and positive for them to not live a celibate life. What I wish I could see in conversations such as this is respect for all choices and an acknowledgement that even if we personally think some courses of action are more likely to lead to harm than others, we are not actually in a position to make decisions for others and as such our obligation is to respect and honor them in their journeys as much as it is their obligation to respect and honor us in our journeys. Sadly, I think this is an unachievable pipe dream in the Mormon world as it is now constituted. And, at the end of the day, it’s this inability to respect others’ choices without judgment (and protestations to the contrary notwithstanding, many of the comments here are very judgmental, both comments in favor of and comments against celibacy) that led me to make my own decision not to continue being actively involved in the church. Immersion in a culture in which there is not that kind of base level tolerance for others’ to make the decisions that are right to and for them is not something I’m willing to live with, no matter how many other good things that culture might offer. Much as many of the commenters here are not willing to engage in sexual relationships outside marriage no matter how many other good things they might offer. For these commenters, the nonconformity with the law of chastity poisons the well. For me, the absence of basic respect for others’ life choices poisons the well of Mormonism, and this conversation has reminded me of that in spite of the fact that the OP so beautifully represents an absence of condemnation for others, an honest acknowledgement of what is hard, and a celebration of what is good for the individual who made her choices.

    • Suzette Smith says:

      Amelia – since writing this post and reading the comments I have had many thoughts along these same lines. There is a lot of “right and wrong” thinking and speaking around sexuality. Perhaps, because it is such a difficult and conscience choice on both sides, most people hold to their own choice with determination and defensiveness. I find that in my choice, it just a thin line between that and stepping in to a different choice. I hope it’s not a “pipe dream” that we might all do better at embracing and honoring the choices of others. All choices around sexuality come with difficulties and blessings. Perhaps a topic for a longer discussion if ever we meet in person.

  25. Miri says:

    I had never seen that NYT article before, and I was really happy for the writer. If I were in her situation now, I would make the same choice. I have serious issues with the way the church approaches sexuality, so I fully understand how the other commenters—the ones disagreeing with the original post—feel. But I’m surprised at the lack of respect being shown for the poster’s choice; this is usually a much more respectful forum.

    Suzette, thank you for sharing your experience and your feelings about such a personal issue.

    • Suzette Smith says:

      Miri – thanks for your thoughts. I won’t write again my feelings on the comments, but you can read them above in my comment to Amelia. Hopefully we an all come to a better place about respecting all choices around sexuality – and hopefully those choices are made with conscience and deliberate thought. S

  26. Jenessa says:

    I really think the Law of Chastity needs an overhaul. Basically, in the 21st century, when singles say they’re following the Law of Chastity, or say they’re chaste, all they mean is they’re not having penetrative sex with someone they’re not married to.

    Ask 100ormons and they’ll give you 101 different answers about whether the Law of Chastity includes sex thoughts, masturbation, prolonged kissing, or fondling. Most older singles who date will exhibit some kind of sexual behavior with a partner. Most ham beings masturbate or think about sex.

    I think it’s abusive for a church led by married clergy to insist that single adults btw main completely asexual until eventual marriage, even if that means until death.

    I happily remained a **virgin** until marriage in my 40s. There’s a big different between cautioning against sex that can cause pregnancy and banning sexual behavior altogether.

  27. Jenessa says:

    Sorry for the typos above. Just wanted to add that I wish the church would just leave its adult members alone–no policing, no haranguing, no witch hunts, no wagging fingers. Just let adults particate in adult behavior, and of they feel they need to repent, let them do so privately. It’s nobody’s business. Eventually, people will realize others’ sexual behavior is no big deal.

    Unfortunately, it’s a huuuuuuuuuuuge deal in the church. You’re simply not allowed to have an orgasm until marriage. If you do have an orgasm, you’d better be prepared to talk to a bishop behind closed doors and promise never to have one again.

  28. Rachel says:

    Suzette, this post was beautiful and important. I think you highlight something very important when you mention that the way the Law of Chastity is frequently taught to older singles is too often the same way that it is taught to young men and young women as per documents like “For the Strength of Youth.” I wanted leaders to acknowledge the difference, or simply say they knew it was harder for us now.

    I also wanted them to acknowledge that it could also be hard for women. It seemed that leaders only addressed the men in such discourse, which could make a single sister experiencing natural desires for physical intimacy feel even more alone.

    I also craved genuine discussion about why living the Law of Chastity was worth it. This is not to say that I needed details of individual’s sexual lives, because that is not what I mean at all. I simply needed to hear someone testify how living it has blessed their life, or how continuing to live it in marriage still blesses their lives. A sentence such as, “I feel closer to my spouse because of this principle,” would have done wonders for me at the time.

    I do however feel for leaders, and sense that they simply don’t know how to teach these things well (or even deal with this constituency well), either due to their own feelings of awkwardness in broaching such a sensitive and deeply personal subject, or something else.

    The other thing I loved about your post was the general sense of honesty I felt as I read it. I nearly always find things more compelling when they talk about the opportunities and the challenges. You discussed both meaningfully. My personal experiences, both before and after my own (fairly late for LDS standards) marriage, lead me to believe that there is great wisdom in this commandment, though I deeply know the struggle, and understand those who make a different personal choice.

    I applaud you for so thoughtfully (and firmly) making your own.

  29. Anna Karin says:

    Sexuality has many forms, meanings, and myriad reasons why people engage in some form of sexuality. Sexuality is integral to life and having intercourse is hope through creating life. Studies about sexuality list curiosity, new experience, opportunity or uncontrollable circumstances on the bottom of the list for reasons why people have sex. For all the “infinite complications and blindness that accompany them (the short, instant seconds of pleasure), I’d presume this 35 year old female’s ‘Jodi’ experiences rank at the bottom of the list and that is sad as well as unfortunate for someone her age, particularly for someone without the courage or convictions to not have sexual relations outside of marriage or a loving relationship.
    It is sad that in this culture, sexuality is nothing more than base physical stimulation that leads to what ‘Jodi’ describes as “short, instant seconds of pleasure”. Sexuality in its end is the physical pleasure, but its derivative begins from the pure sharing exchange between two people who evolve to the state where sexuality transcends the instants through to the complete realization that sexuality is to be given and shared.
    I have to presume the “gift of comparison” involves her lack of self-awareness early in her growth of her own internal value of her own virtue, conviction and beliefs. Her simply dismissing her sexuality to “those short, instant seconds of pleasure, no matter how often you might be able to enjoy them, are just simply not worth enduring all the infinite complications and blindness that accompany them” is most likely her lack of ever having been in a relationship that encompasses a strong, intimate, loving connection with another person. Sexuality means giving as well as receiving and there is a joy when pleasure in life’s most personal expression of love is shared. You have to at the very least care strongly or at the ultimate, love another person to whatever depth love can range.
    I associate the word ‘virgin’ with strength and virtue because I chose to not give myself freely to whomever attempted to seduce me, but instead waited until I was with someone who I felt truly was in love with me and whom I loved. Being a virgin took courage, foresight, determination and inner strength in my values and convictions. I was being true to myself. Being a sexual person is not something that can be started and stopped. It’s a mindset that incorporates touch, sensory, visual and opening your senses to touch, sight, smell. Breasts have a duality, both stimulating sexually and nurturing to a baby suckling. Having an openness to sexuality allows freedom to feel sexual about breasts during sex and nurturing when breasfeeding.
    Being sexual involves attracting a partner and maintaining a sexual interest, which can include flirting, to attract the sexual attention of another in order to encourage romance or sexual relations. Flirting involves body language, conversation, joking or brief physical contact. Seduction is the process whereby one person deliberately entices another to engage in some sort of human sexual behavior. The medium of communication of sexual interest can be verbal or visual. Dating is the process of arranging meetings or outings with a potential partner to investigate or enhance their suitability for an intimate partnership. The prospect of physical intimacy is at times, the most effective means of sexual attraction. This can be by way of an expression of feelings as close friendship or love, including holding hands, hugging, kissing, or caressing.
    Urges and desire can be suppressed and behaviors controlled and that is hwat differentiates huans from animals. We have a choice and it is a lifestyle choice. since the advent of birth control, the choice has greatly expanded and now we can choose to hav esex with whomever, whereever we desire. It is sexuality, choosing to have sex with no regard for the responsibilities, consequences and committment and love that produces negative aspects of sexuality. Sex in itself is not bad or ugly or worng. After all, it’s how the majority of us came to being. In it’s vaied forms, and methods, its’ intercouse that the majority of us has come to be. It’s integral, it’s basis, its’ natural it’s governed by hormones and the environment and as well as mind, cultures, religion. We are told how we should manage it. We are given guidance, standards, insights. Sexuality in itself is a celebration of life, how it’s produced, through this mechanism and can be used in beautiful or destructive methods. If one cannot or chooses not to embrace their sexuality, how can one be suddently changed that mentality once married and it’s given sanctity under the legal system? God did not dictate or create the legal system. Will a paper certificate legitimize sexuality? I think not. In it’s glory, sex between two people begins with a connection, intimacy and eventually love for another person. Having sex is a way that one person can show and demonstrate their care, touch that begins simply. It heals and heving intercourse is simply one degree and the ultimate sensation one can hope to give another person. When a person is able to demonstrate, to physically connect with another person beyond the emotional and spiritual, it is the ultimate connection. I applaud those who choose to remain celibate and chaste, but beware not to lose your sexuality. How can a person arguably be non-sexual become suddenly sexual once married? Does sexuality have a switch on and off? Embrace sexuality because it is the route through which most of us exist and intercourse is the means through which the majority of us become beings. I choose to enjoy my sexuality. My sexuality begins with my thoughts and I express my sexuality in myriad methods, verbally and physically with my husband. Although, I have not gone beyond my marriage to explore my sexuality because of my strong beliefs, I believe that the intimate sex that I have with my husband could never be replaced. It’s only natural when a person who shares the emotional, spiritual with another person to begin to connect and feel closer to that person.

  30. Anonymous says:

    Hi All,

    First let me say that I am a man – a priesthood holder who married at 22. However my wife passed away when I was around 40. I I learned a lot from this experience. First, as God said in the beginning it is not good for the man – or the woman to be alone. We all need the intimacy that grows within marriage and sex is an important element for strengthening that relationship. Unquestionably, we cannot reach our full potential without a mate and living without the intimacy that comes from marriage, including sex is not normal. That being said, God’s house is a house of order and one does not have to look very far to see why He commands that all of our passions, desires etc must be confined to the bounds he has set for them.

    All I can say is that we need to look at chastity for what it is, a commandment, and like all other commandments it is given for our happiness and the happiness of others. Sure, sometimes those who speak on the subject are insensitive but can you really blame them? Like many Latter-Day Saints they struggled in their youth with their own sexual desires but that struggle ended when they got married. Most of them will never know what it is to gain complete mastery over their sexual desires because they never had to. Personally I am happy for them. As I have already said we are not supposed to repress our sexuality. We are built to celebrate it with our mates.

    Finally, I cannot speak for everyone who is alone. But for me, I can testify that the Lord is very aware of my situation and that he blesses me as I struggle to remain pure. I know that when I leave here I will be reunited with my wife and I find hope in that knowledge. For those who have never married I hope and believe that opportunity will come to you some day. But I know this. We need to keep the commandments upon which blessings are predicated if we are to exercise the faith necessary to remain obedient. And if we break this commandment we will suffer loss because of it, loss that will not make up for what we “gain” in return.

    It sucks but there it is. One day, what is seen will not be seen and what is not seen will be brought to light. And on that day those who struggled to remain pure will know the joy that comes from enduring well. Although I don’t know it in its fullness yet, I have had glimpses of it. God bless all of you.

  1. September 1, 2015

    […] group of women with varying marital status will require a lot of forethought.  I recommend reading “Two Sides of Being Single and Chaste” and acknowledging that living out your adulthood as an abstinent person is a quite different thing […]

Leave a Reply