Great (S)expectations


By Jana

Although I’d like to think that I got married for all of the “right” reasons, the bottom line is that I married for sex.

I mean, I did marry me a good man: an RM with smarts and ambition.

But if I had made my marriage decision based on practicalities–financial and otherwise–the wedding would have been held years later. But it wasn’t. Because I wanted very much to sleep with this man that I loved and I knew IT (meaning sex) would happen soon rather than later.

So we bumped up that wedding date and found ourselves temple married within four months of engagement. And, of course, we entered our 2-week honeymoon with great expectations, anticipating the pleasures of sexual freedom that we’d been pining for during those four very long months that we were engaged.

So we had the wedding night. And the honeymoon. And those first few weeks of crazy newlywed freedom after so many months and years of waiting. But we were simultaneously saddled with the enormous responsibilitites and pressures of making our way in an expensive and competitive world with incomplete college degrees, little money, and within a few months there was a baby on the way.

I know this pattern isn’t atypical in LDS marriages. We tend to marry young and fast to avoid any ‘mistakes.’ But at what price? Many friends have discovered huge sexual incompatibilities after their marriage. Others’ decisions were so eclipsed by their surging hormones that they don’t choose their spouse wisely.

When I was all set to marry young and fast, my parents did all they could to talk me out of it even as they showed their support for my righteous choice. They had married later in life when they were more established and encouraged me to do the same. But I was faced with a difficult choice: to marry young and stay chaste, or delay the wedding and risk the chance of not having a temple marriage. I chose the young marriage path. And while it’s worked out, the years of poverty and the emotional struggles of taking on such responsibilities so young…well, it’s not really a path I would recommend.

Now that I’m a parent of teens, I’m thinking a lot about how I’ll offer my kids advice about marriage and sexuality. And as heretical as it sounds, I think I’d rather have them experience sex before marriage than have an improvident wedding because of their surging hormones. Yes, I know the consequences of irresponsible sexual activity are legion, but so are those of marrying too young.

On the recommendation of a friend, I’ve been reading a book called Sex for Christians, which offers practical advice on sexuality for both married and non-married stages of life. Much of the material in this book goes right along with Mormon beliefs about the sacredness of sexuality, but there are a few significant deviations, one of which is a chapter titled “Responsible Petting.” The author, Lewis Smedes, acknowledges that it is good for followers of Christ to save sex for marriage, but at the same time acknowledges that it can be healthy for young people to explore their sexuality in safe relationships prior to the time that they are ready for marriage. So by his definition, “responsible petting” (RP) is sexual behavior that doesn’t lead to sex, whereas “foreplay” is–even though both RP and foreplay may involve the same activities, he suggests a distinction between them could be helpful because RP “can be a delicately tuned means of mutual discovery. It need not be a cheap way of having thrills without the derring-do to finish it….it can be an end in itself.” (151).

He continues:

“Realistic awareness of what happens to young people in the actual process of petting is what prompts moralists to judge petting as part of a package with coitus. This is why they apply the morality of law to petting. But, of course, this will not really do: the dynamics of sexual relations are too complex to put them all into the category of natural passages to the bedroom. Moreover, it is psychologically important to insist that sexual relationships are not all stages en route to penetration. The importance comes to this: the more we believe that all sexual relationships have only the bed as their terminus the more people involved in sexual relationships will act on this premise. Their action will take one of several forms. Out of fear, they may needlessly cheat themselves of the creative experience in personal growth that can come from innocent sexual relationships; or they may indulge in innocent sexual relationships with a burden of false guilt; or they may get into the habit of experiencing every bit of sexually interesting communication as an inner push to sexual promiscuity, and then act accordingly.” (153)

So my question to you is this: Do you agree, at all, with Smedes that responsible petting can be a good option for young people who are attempting to wait for marriage but continue to value chastity? Do you think that stressing a distinction between RP and foreplay might help young people to act on their sexual feelings without going all the way? And do you agree with his assertion that believing all sexual relationships ultimately lead to the bedroom creates a mindset that pushes our young people into premature marriages simply because they desire sex?


Jana is a university administrator and teaches History. Her soloblog is

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55 Responses

  1. mb says:

    Nope. I don’t think that stressing a distinction between RP and foreplay would help young people to act on their sexual feelings without going all the way.
    My goal, when I talk to my children about physical relationships isn’t to prevent them from having pre-marital sex. The goal is to teach them how to act in ways that help them to be able to think clearly as they approach one of the most momentous decisions of their lives. Becoming physically involved with someone you are attracted to or love (petting, extended kissing, sex or whatever) makes it much harder for you to see the relationship and the other person clearly. It also makes it harder have the emotional strength to discontinue the relationship if that is the wise thing to do.
    So actually, I think that if you adopted Smede’s philosophy and gave RP a green light, you would actually make it harder for young people to make responsible marriage decisions.
    As for believing that all sexual relationships lead to the bedroom…I don’t think that is a prevalent mind set in the part of the world in which I live. As a matter of fact, I think that most young LDS people that I work with think that they are already totally in control of their passionate relationships and far from engaging in sex (whether they are or not).
    I do find the phenomenon of moving up the wedding date sometimes, though. Once you’ve decided that you do want to marry, you can either ratchet down the physical to keep your head clear and your actions from consummation until the set date, or you can keep the sexual momentum going and move the date closer to accommodate the speed-up. I’ve seen couples do both.

  2. caroline says:

    Very interesting.

    I have mixed feelings. On the one hand I don’t want my kids to rush into hormone driven young marriages. On the other, I’m not thrilled by the idea of my children becoming fully sexually active pre-marriage. So while I probably wouldn’t advocate RP to my kids, I might be secretly a bit relieved if that’s all they do before marrying wisely.

  3. jcv says:

    I would strongly agree with mb’s post. Both my husband and I were sexually active before we married (in the temple, long period of repentance of course) and the only thing it caused us was pain down the road. The only benefit of our former choices was that we did not fumble in the bedroom on our wedding night and it did not hurt.

  4. turleybenson says:

    While I still think there is an “ideal”, I firmly believe that there are worse decisions than having sex before marriage, namely, marrying the wrong person (as you say). I have lately thought that if I had a child who was in a clearly wrong relationship, but insisted on marrying for the chastity reason, I would hand them a condom and tell them to get it over with. Because sometimes we equate sex with happiness. I had a good friend in HS who would often proclaim that her main reason for marrying would be that she really wanted to have sex. Well, she did get married (in the temple), and the rest is not happily ever after.

    It’s too simple to assume that the temple-marriage path, and chastity before marriage, always lead to happiness. We are human, and let other emotions get in the way instead of making decisions that are right in the long run. While I’m uncomfortable with Smedes’ suggestions, I understand that abstaining completely does sometimes lead people to make commitments to people who are wrong for them. And that is far more sad to me than bringing an imperfect past into the right marriage later on.

  5. aep says:

    No way. You’ve crossed an uncrossable line here, well beyond the fringes or borderlands or cultural hall or however you want to style it, and are standing far outside Mormonism. While in general I oppose comments that question others’ righteousness or good intentions, we eventually reach limits — you have exceeded mine, and like Tevye toward Chava, I have to say you are no longer “of us.”

  6. Tom says:

    1. Heavy petting in no way replicates a full blown marital sexual relationship. Not even a little bit. I don’t see how one could gauge “sexual compatibility” based on premarital petting.

    2. Sexual compatibility is not static. It changes as life happens to both partners. So even if you could gauge initial compatibility by premarital heavy petting, that wouldn’t guarantee that five or ten years later the couple might experience frustration in their sex life. Not only does it not guarantee it, I could actually see it making frustration down the line more likely.

    3. Yeah, letting hormones have undue influence on marriage decisions is a bad idea. But the remedy is not more sexual contact. Actually, I think more sexual contact between people committed to not having intercourse would make it more likely that hormones would unduly influence the marriage decision. I think physical gratification in a premarital relationship keeps people together who wouldn’t stay together if they had to rely on emotional and intellectual gratification as the basis of the relationship. You run the risk of building a marriage on the unstable and temporary foundation of physical gratification rather than on the sure, enduring foundation of friendship and shared values.

    4. Do you agree, at all, with Smedes that responsible petting can be a good option for young people who are attempting to wait for marriage but continue to value chastity?

    By the LDS definition of chastity, which I hold to, indulging in heavy petting, no matter what name you give it, is a violation of chastity. So I don’t think that a Mormon can simultaneously value chastity and think that heavy petting is OK.

  7. Tom says:

    Oops. In my point #2 it should read: “…that wouldn’t guarantee that five or ten years later the couple WOULDN’T experience frustration in their sex life.”

  8. The vast majority of Mormons get married too young, and it’s usually because they want to copulate.

    Bad move.

    If a little premarital immorality prevents a premature marriage and maybe even a life of misery, then I vote for immorality.

    On the other hand, there is abundant virtue in the Joycelyn Elders approach. STDs are so nasty.

  9. Kristine says:

    aep, I don’t think it’s necessary to pass judgment on where Jana stands in relation to the church–after all, she’s largely recapitulating someone else’s ideas. It’s perfectly possible to label those ideas as far outside of LDS thought without rendering personal judgment. That said, I’m inclined to agree that a distinction between RP and FP isn’t likely to gain much traction within Mormonism, and possibly that such a distinction is doctrinally (not just culturally) impossible for Mormons.

  10. Brad Kramer says:

    Any act that could effectively and legitimately serve as a gage of sexual compatibility would have to be a form of “sexual relations” — and could not be considered outside the realm of “foreplay”, even if unfulfilled. There are real and sometimes painful costs to lack of sexual experience before marriage, but they are vastly outweighed by the costs of premarital sexual experimentation — if not in certain individual cases, certainly in terms of the sum total of consequences that such new sexual license would produce in the majority relationships affected.

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  11. RoAnn says:

    I strongly disagree with Smedes. Tom expressed my views very well, especially when he wrote (comments #7 & #8, if I counted correctly):

    “I think physical gratification in a premarital relationship keeps people together who wouldn’t stay together if they had to rely on emotional and intellectual gratification as the basis of the relationship. You run the risk of building a marriage on the unstable and temporary foundation of physical gratification rather than on the sure, enduring foundation of friendship and shared values.”

    And, although some LDS young people many marry just to have sex, I don’t think the majority do.

    Statistics show that many celibate LDS singles are deferring marriage nowadays. Do you suppose they are postponing marriage and committment because they are getting all the sex they want by following Smedes’ advice?

  12. Jacob J says:


    Setting lots of other obvious problems aside,
    like the legions of problems associated with
    pre-marital sex mentioned in the post:

    Most people are sexually active before marriage,
    but, they are not statistically more likely
    to stay married or to be happier in their
    marriages. So, I don’t think a single premise
    in this post holds up under scrutiny, except
    perhaps the suggestion that people marry early
    to have sex.

  13. Correlation does not establish cause and effect. Isolated statistics like the ones Jacob J mentioned mean very little.

    Just because people don’t get divorced doesn’t mean they’re happy in their marriages. And just because people say they are happy in their marriages doesn’t mean they aren’t in a horrible situation (e.g. FLDS women). In some societies, people are afraid to get divorced because they rely on their spouse or don’t have quality education or career opportunities, and so they do not feel like they could survive on their own. Or perhaps the same people who don’t have premarital sex avoid divorce because of fear that they would be ostracized by their conservative family and/or culture. Religious conservatives are also more likely to claim happiness just because this bolsters a righteous self-image (even if it’s subconscious reassurance they’re after).

    In an EQ lesson once, a teacher gave a statistic (from a BYU professor, no less) about how 80% of people who don’t get divorced are glad they didn’t get divorced. I don’t really understand what that means anyway. 80% of people whose marriages weren’t bad enough to motivate them to go through with a divorce are glad they decided not to get divorced? 20% wish they had gotten divorced but still haven’t gone through with it for some reason? The people whose marriages were bad enough to get divorced would be happy if they hadn’t gotten divorced?

    Not much can be concluded from isolated statistics like the ones that were suggested. It’s not fair to oversimplify the discussion with almost meaningless correlations.

  14. opinion says:

    As someone who has purposely stayed very celibate–mainly because of watching her 2 siblings play around too much with not being celibate enough before marriage; As someone who had to yell at her 16 year old sister, asking her what she was going to do when she was pregnant; as someone who’s younger sister at a very young age put up with sexual assault from a very older man; as someone who has sat in Seminary class and Temple sessions–and heard the truth; and as someone who’s parents were VERY open with her about sex from a VERY young age; my vote is: Inform your children. Don’t leave them stupid; Inform them about what sex is, how it happens, how babies are made, and HOW TO PROTECT THEMSELVES from STD’s, pregnancy, AND from abuse (another reality of my siblings I’ve had to deal with) BUT your children should KNOW when and how sexual relations should occur (within marriage), as outlined in the temple. It is VERY possible to either wait or move up the temple date. And, getting married too early, or later is not really the point. The point is that I have seen the results of both–and I’d much prefer a marriage where both members were strong enough to hold off the physical no matter what it took–in order to get married in the temple without a guilty conscious, long time of repentance beforehand, and/or “knowing” beforehand–and work together as a couple to figure all the ins and outs out–then rush into either marriage or sex before really being ready only to have negative experiences because of it. Marriage is not just for sex. I think we’ve gotten far too distracted by the “worldly” view here–what is really the point of marriage? Is it only to fulfill our physical urges? I much prefer being a very chaste person–even with all the negativities it has resulted in as I’ve gotten older–then to be something else. Life is much better this way–then rushing something just cause I can (whether it be marriage or pre-marriage sex). That’s my vote. I would agree with aep here. Telling your children it’s okay to have pre-marital sex is not appropriate–nor will it lead to better sex nor marriage. Yes, being open about sex is good–but handing them the condom is not. Neither is promoting “just not going all the way”–neither of my sib’s “went all the way”—but they, and the rest of the family have been greatly affected by their decisions to just “play around” for years. You’re playing with fire here–and a line has to be drawn or everyone will be hurt. Believe me–it is better to be safe–than sorry later. I’ve seen it–I know.

  15. janeannechovy says:

    I think it’s great to not look at intercourse as the inevitable result of french kissing, or petting, or even oral sex. I think because of the risks of STDs and unwanted pregnancy, intercourse should definitely be in a category all its own. Young people should be taught that to say yes to one is not to say yes to all, and not to think, Well, I’m already sinning, so I might as well just go all the way.

    There’s a feminist point to this, too–for many women intercourse does not lead to orgasm, and for these women the risks even more greatly outweigh the rewards.

    I also think that you don’t have to go all the way to RP to provide enough of a sexual outlet to avoid wrong marriage choices–sometimes even masturbation would be enough to take the edge off and enable clear thought.

    I say this as someone who married (in my very late 20s) in the temple as a not sexually inexperienced technical virgin. The only regret I have from this time period (which began in my mid-20s–I definitely think the rules should be different for teenagers) was one incident that was not fully mutual and inspired by heartfelt affection.

    YMMV, but to sum, I think:

    Intercourse not inevitable = good.
    Cost-benefit analysis of some sexual expression vs. entering into bad marriage = not per se bad.

  16. Kaimi says:

    I think there’s something to this notion, Jana.

    My own experience colors my views, of course. As a recent RM, I began dating The Wrong Girl. TWG had a lot of interesting and appealing qualities, but she was clearly a very bad match for me. She was also cute, and aggressive. She told me flat out, “It’s okay if we have sex, because we’re just going to get married afterwards anyway.”

    Fortunately, the alarm bells about our incompatibility eventually woke me up, and I ended the relationship. (And no, we didn’t have sex.) But the truth is, I damn near married the woman — who was flatly, completely wrong for me — simply because I was a hormonally charged 21-year-old.

    If I had married her, we may have eventually figured out a way to coexist. But looking at it in hindsight, I have serious doubts that the marriage would have been a good one, or even tolerable.

    And I know multiple people who have married absolutely wrong, because they made their decision based on hormones. It never turns out good, and it’s a mistake that never ends.

    I agree with the commenters who have noted that premarital sex is against LDS doctrine. Yes, it is. No questions about that.

    But, goodness. As a matter of relative harm — far, far better that one slip up and repent of premarital sex, than that one create a much larger problem by marrying the wrong person, or, heaven forbid, having kids with the wrong person.

    You can repent of sex before marriage. You can’t repent of a bad marriage, and you sure as hell can’t repent of kids from a marriage that never should have existed in the first place.

  17. What difference does it make? says:

    I’m shocked you would suggest such a course of action–mostly because it’s one I totally agree with. I engaged in “RP” with a couple of boyfriends who I had no intention of marrying and found that an entirely enjoyable and safe outlet for sexual feelings. It also allowed me to get through the initial “I love this man SOOOO much I want to be with him FOREVER!” stage of the relationship and realize that I wasn’t really compatible with the guy.

    I have only had sex with my husband, though I admit we didn’t wait until marriage. Mostly we didn’t wait because I was convinced petting and sex were equal by the way they were presented in YW, so having gone as far as I had I thought it wouldn’t matter if I went all the way. Wow, was I ever wrong. I dearly wish that in YW we didn’t equate all sexuality with sex, giving the impression that if you’ve done anything, you might as well have had sex.

    I hope the distinction between sex and petting, and the relative seriousness of the two sins (as in, THEY’RE NOT EQUIVALENT) is something we can agree is a good thing to teach children, even if you disagree with this approach to sexuality.

  18. Tom says:

    Several commenters make what is to me an obvious and inarguable point: it’s better to mess up and commit some premarital sexual sin than to enter into a poor marriage. I fail to see, however, how that supports the notion that one should indulge in premarital sexual sin or that we should treat chastity less seriously than we do. The question at hand isn’t what’s worse, but whether or not indulging in premarital sexual sin makes successful marriage more likely or unsuccessful marriage less likely. I see no reason to believe that such is the case.

  19. joanna says:

    In my last singles ward, the bishop was totally realistic about singles and sex. In public, he gave regular Chastity Talks, but also said that if any of us truly felt we could not be chaste, we should be careful and use protection. In private, he encouraged women who were not dating to, um, take matters into their own hands. People either loved or hated him, but he was genuine and pragmatic about us older singles. There was even a couple in our ward who lived together. He was totally accepting and loving.

  20. Rivkah says:

    Wow. I am amazed at how lightly the law of chastity is being taken by some here. And a bishop encouraging masturbation and accepting cohabitation? Seriously?? I too am an “older single”–and yes, it’s hard, but I am not at the mercy of my sexual impulses. How easy it is to be taken in by the world’s view of sexuality! I’m assuming most people here are familiar with Elder Holland’s talk “Of Souls, Symbols, and Sacraments”??

  21. dazed&confused says:

    My husband and I had a very physical courtship and ended up having sex. We continued to date and struggled to keep ourselves under control. We eventually married in the temple. The whole time we were engaged I knew I should not marry him, but I was so ashamed and felt that if I ever met anyone else that I would want to marry I could not keep it a secret. I was still in love with the man I had dated previously and was so afraid that if he ever found out I had already had sex he would reject me and that thought was too horrible. The only solution seemed to be to marry that man I had sex with. We have two children are now separated. We have always had a disfunctional sexual relationship due to unrealistic expectations which only got worse after the birth of our first son. My husband developed an addiction to pornography, which of course I did not find out about for about 3 years. His addiction did not help our already troubled intimacy. His addiction is now in its sixth year and he continues to struggle. So do I advocate premartial sexual relations? NO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  22. joanna says:

    To clarify about the cohabitating couple in my ward, the bishop did not condone fornication, but he said that since we were all adults, until someone came to him of his or her own volition needing to repent, he would treat the sexual sinners the same way he treated the liar, Sabbath breaker, etc. That couple even had callings.

  23. Paradox says:

    As a teenager, I disagree with the concept of irresponsible petting. It creates a moral vaccuum where what is OK and what isn’t suddenly becomes very confusing–and the more hormones that are involved at the time, the harder it is to think clearly about what you’re doing AND where to draw the line. I gotta stick with the prophets on this one. Pre-marital petting belongs in the same category with pre-marital sex; not to be trifled with. At all.

    However, I think it would be helpful for the young people in the Church to have the stigma taken off of sex as a subject within the Church AND the home. I lost my virginity young, and had already gained years of experience by the time I converted at 16. It’s not a path I will ever condone for myself again, nor will I for my future children. I don’t want them to go anywhere NEAR where I was at that time in my life.

    But at the same time, my experiences–combined with the don’t-you-dare rhetoric of Young Women lessons and the like–have got me so frazzled about sex and relationships that I am so particular about dating, I barely date. And I don’t see that being an easy road for me to navigate in the future.

    And had my mother (an non-member) and I been able to talk openly about sex BEFORE I had gone rushing in with hormones squirting around in my head–fully intending not to go beyond Responsible Petting–I think it would have been easier for me to talk to that young man from my past about what I really wanted.

    When that open conversation can exist between young people, in a sober environment, I think that leads to more realistic thinking about relationships. Putting our Young Women up on a pedestal, while at the same time giving our Young Men the you-are-the-scum-of-the-earth talk, may get them to see each other differently than the world teaches them to see each other…. but where in that relationship is there any room for dialogue about sex, even once it’s appropriate?

  24. ScottyDoo says:

    I happen to agree with his views.

    My wife and I very early on knew that this marriage was right, and it had nothing to do with sex. We waited for 3 years to get married and it was long journey. We are both very sexual people and knew what the rules were if we wanted to get married in the Temple, as good little mormon boys and girls are taught that they should.

    We never had intercourse, but definately came very close. The only reason we felt any guilt over it was because of the ridiculous views of our local leaders and the church in general. There is a very fine line I know, but I happen to feel that in certain circumstances and relationships, RP (as it’s abbreviated) is a GREAT view. Our Bishop asked us some very explicit questions regarding our physical relationship, which I found innapropriate, and determined that because it involved “touching below the belt” that we would have to wait a minimum of 1-2 years before he would green light us for a temple wedding. That’s just ridiculous, imho.

    We both decided after much prayer that we would simply not share any details with him as it was truly none of his business. We knew what things we had done and so did the Lord, and you know what? We were fine and on good terms with God. So we didn’t worry about what anyone else thought. It’s a personal decision and if RP can help to alleviate some of your God given sex drive, and help to keep you on course then great, that’s a positive thing. Do I think that out and out petting is just fine. Absolutely not. I would never have taken things to the point with just any girl. However we knew that we were going to married and as I mentioned, this had nothing to do with sex, and due to that, I feel there is nothing wrong with a little RP. It can be very beneficial in certain circumstances and relationships.

  25. BeenThere says:

    Having raised four children to adulthood (and having been a child/teenager once myself), I know that we walk a fine line in teaching our children about sex. On the one hand, we want them to abstain before marriage, but on the other hand, we want them to thoroughly enjoy it afterward. We discussed sex openly in our home as our children were growing up, and we didn’t hide the fact that we were sexually active as their parents. However,children need to know that sexual activity is a choice, and there are good reasons to abstain, both inside and outside of marriage. A person who can’t learn to restrain his/her sexual activity before marriage will not be a considerate sexual partner after marriage. In every marriage (that lasts long enough) there are times when it is either physically or emotionally unhealthy for one of the partners to engage in sexual activity. Loving partners, who have learned restraint, work through these difficult times, finding other ways to express love and intimacy. But if either partner has a problem with restraint, all the love in the world won’t keep the marriage going.

  26. joanna says:

    We need to acknowledge that not everyone marries soon after their teens, and not everyone can stay celibate for years on end. On the other hand, if we give a pass to straight singles, why not our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters? If anyone deserves RP, it is them, not us!

  27. madhousewife says:

    The answer isn’t responsible petting. It’s responsible (mandatory) pre-marital counseling, where you thoroughly discuss things like finances, goals, childrearing, values, sex, and a whole host of other issues, so you can have a clearer idea of how compatible you really are and what challenges you are apt to face as a married couple. Of course, mandatory pre-marital counseling is about as likely to be instituted in the Church as RP is to show up in the For the Strength of Youth pamphlet, so I’m not holding my breath.

    I don’t want my kids to marry prematurely or otherwise imprudently, and I don’t want them to have premarital sex, but it’s not like it’s an either/or proposition in the first place. They could have sex or “responsible petting” and still marry imprudently. They could marry imprudently and have it all work out in the end. I don’t actually think we suffer from an epidemic of not talking about sex openly enough. I think we don’t talk about marriage openly enough. I think we teach our young women that temple marriage is the goal, when it’s really only the beginning of a very long and (usually) difficult road (no matter how compatible you are).

  28. Tronchik says:

    As a single LDS woman, I wouldn’t want to include this practice in my dating life. Not to talk about PTs, but I just don’t want any more close call situations. I am in a relationship right now and I have to say that it’s the most chaste relationship I’ve ever been in. It isn’t boring and I am not preoccupied with sex but I still desire him. I think that respecting each other is so important. If I do marry him it will not be simply because I want a piece. It will be because of who he is and who we can become together. Maybe I feel this way because I am a little older, but I recognize now that “bridling my passions” is much more satisfying than giving in, even if it is just a little bit.

  29. Jacob J says:

    Mormon Mudphud,

    It’s not fair to oversimplify the discussion with almost meaningless correlations.

    All data, all studies, all surveys, and all
    experiments have limitations. However, that
    does not mean they are “meaningless correlations.”
    The alternative is for everyone to just make
    whatever claims they want without regard to
    whether those claims can be shown to have any
    validity, which is I guess what you want given
    the cavalier way you dismissed the mere mention
    of data-driven analysis of the situation.

  30. C. L. Hanson says:

    My bias is that sex is not necessarily wrong for unmarried young people. However, not all teens are ready for all of sex (for various reasons, religious and otherwise), so I can see some very positive points to teaching young people “RP”.

    Recent studies I’ve read seem to indicate that (1) kids who receive accurate/detailed sex ed tend to delay sex and actually become sexually active later than those who are taught “abstinance only”, and (2) incidence of date rape is higher among regular churchgoers than in the general population. You here can contest me on these claims since I don’t have the studies handy, but I can think of some fairly obvious reasons why this might be the case (if it is). It has to do with actually knowing what comes next (so you don’t get your “sex ed” as on-the-job training and discover how it works by doing it) and being able to discuss your expectations clearly with your partner.

    Religions that emphasize chastity typically tell kids to “draw the line” at a very early stage in physical contact. For example, even deep kissing might not be considered okay, and certainly any kind of touching of various private bits is right out. The problem is that if both kids voluntarily choose to cross that line — and they’re not comfortable with their own sexual feelings, and certainly not with discussing them — then it’s not clear to each person where the new line should be, if there is one. It shouldn’t be surprising if date rape is often the outcome. A big advantage to “RP” would be that it can provide a framework for the participants to be clear and accurate with each other about exactly what they do and don’t want to do.

  31. Dora says:

    Like Eve, mother of us all, I think that knowledge is a good thing. I think that teens should know about sex so that they can make informed decisions.

    They should know about the mechanics of their own bodies, how they will change during puberty, and what physically happens during sex.

    They should know the risks of unprotected sex.

    They should know how sex may affect their relationships with their partner.

    This is a lot to learn. However, I think that this knowledge, and not just surging hormones OR fear, will help them make wise decisions.

    And where do kids get their information about sex? Hopefully it would be from their parents, who have stable and lasting relationships, and are open to answering questions. However, I would guess that most are geting what little they know from television and their friends, and in the case of the LDS culture, from chastity talks at church. And while I hope that there are some church leaders who are able to do a good job at helping teens see how abstinence can be beneficial on many levels (religious, emotional, physical), I can say that this has not been my personal experience.

    Personally, I’ve decided to wait. I’ve been ready to have sex for about … well, it seems like forever. However, I’m of the disposition that sex in an uncommitted relationship would be too emotionally wrenching. So, I wait. And read books like _Bonk_ (which I highly recommend … it’s hilarious), by Mary Roach.

    And I second Kristine’s assertion that passing judgement on each other is not warranted, and is harmful to both the passer and supposed receiver.

  32. LetsJustifyItAll says:

    “And while it’s worked out…”
    Evidently, since your spouse no longer considers himself a Mormon, you should have just gone for it. Your entire argument is a bit flawed.

  33. Jana says:

    Dear “Let’s Justify It All”:
    You have the advantage here, my friend. You seem to know a great deal about me and yet I know nothing about you. The biting nature of your remark makes me feel that I’ve wronged you somehow–perhaps personally. If so, let’s talk about it. You can email me privately at phddillyATyahooDOTcom.

  34. JCV says:

    It’s sad that some can not have an intelligent discussion on this topic. This should be a safe place to share and a place where things can be debated with out resolving to personal attacks.

  35. Janna says:

    I think LetsJustifyitAll’s assertion reflects an attitude I’ve heard in others: If you are not going to get married in the temple, then there is no reason to live the law of chastity. Am I readin that right?

  36. Matt Thurston says:

    As it is with most things, (and probably more so with regard to SEX), we tend to read our own experience into complex issues where one-size-fits-all solutions are tempting but unrealistic.

    Those who have argued for education, open communication, full disclosure, accountability, and responsibility are on the right track, I think. With such a platform as a jumping off point, I’d think that most approaches to pre-marital sex — whether abstinence, responsible petting, or responsible sexual relationships — will result in a positive, healthy, and well-adjusted adult.

    As for myself, I was sexually active, to one degree or another, for 15 years leading up my marriage at age 30. Though I made some mistakes, and would do some things differently, I don’t regret the sexual experiences or relationships per se — instead, I regret the remarkably volatile shame/guilt rollercoaster that accompanied the journey.

    And while I’m sure the shame/guilt/fear triumvirate prevented me from making some (not all) bad decisions, I’d like to think proper education and a more varied set of healthy alternatives (as opposed to the blunt, one-size-fits-all Law of Chastity approach) would have done just as good (if not better) job of preventing me from making mistakes.

  37. D'Arcy says:

    Joanna, I want to have your bishop! Thank you for your comments. I agree with everything you have to say, and love that he didn’t differentiate between the sins of his congregation. I think if more leaders could be as accepting as he is, then many of us, myself included, would feel comfortable going to church again.

    There shouldn’t be so much guilt associated with petting. If you are both adults, I think you can decide when to draw the line. I am 30, and I just don’t feel the need to tell some older man I don’t know at all what I do on my dates.

  38. Jared says:

    Interesting ideas for LDS to debate. Taking the idea of experimenting with sex via petting and beyond, but not going all the way, and taking this concept across categories—with money for example—should we suggest to our children that taking some money dishonestly is OK, like a little white lie, just don’t go all the way and rob a bank. Applying this concept to education we could tell our children that it’s ok to cheat on some test but not on all of them. You get the idea—its call rationalization.

    To those who will argue that my comparison is not reasonable and that sex, money, and education are not comparable, then please choose your own “cross categories” and make them fit.

    As usual inspiration from the Spirit is not brought up in these types of discussions where we rely on our own reasoning (the arm of flesh). The arguments some of you made sound reasonable, reasonable to the natural man/woman in each of us.

    I hope that each of us will learn to trust and rely on the Spirit more than the arm of flesh.

    I wasn’t sure when I married that the Lord approved of our marriage. I was older and had dated for so many years I couldn’t see myself asking anyone else out. I told the Lord I was going to marry her. After a month of dating we were married in the temple. It wasn’t until after we were married that I received a witness that the Lord was pleased. That was a long, long time ago. We’re very happy and sex has never been a problem, whereas, other things like disciplining the kids have been issues.

  39. amelia says:

    what is interesting to me in this discussion is not whether or not we should encourage our young people to experiment with their sexual compatibility by way of responsible petting (or whatever other means you want to identify), but the way this author tries to redefine sexual activity so it’s no longer named “bad” or “sin.” Perhaps I’m reading into his words, but I see his rejection of thinking about sexuality in terms of “law” as an effort to stop defining it exclusively as “right” or “wrong.” Which I think is a very good thing. I think it’s wrong to explain chastity in such a way that our children think of sexual acts per se as sins. Those acts are not in and of themselves sins; they are only wrong based on context. But that doesn’t translate very well because of the way we hammer home the “law” aspect of chastity. I know quite a few women who really struggled making the transition from one day any sexual activity being a “sin” and the next day it being perfectly okay simply because there had been a 30-minute (or less) ceremony in the temple. Yes our rational minds can wrap themselves around the idea. But sex, and sin, have to do with our subconscious every bit as much (if not more) as they do with our conscious, rational minds. Jared’s comment (#39) indicates how fully Mormons perceive sex as a sin when he compares it to theft or cheating. sex is not like those things. Stealing is not okay when we change the context; nor is cheating. Sex is.

    I like that this author attempts to nuance sex–to turn it into something that doesn’t have to be all or nothing, whether we’re talking about sin (all sexual activity = sin) or sex (all sexual activity automatically leads to penetration). I far too often went away from chastity talks believing that sex was a slippery slope and that once you put one foot on it, even if only so far as necking or petting, that foot would slip right out from under you and the next thing you knew you’d find yourself in the pit of sexual despair at the bottom of that slope. I also far too often came away from those talks believing that sex was this crazed, driven by hormones so powerful that once you found yourself engaged in any sexual activity you wouldn’t be able to *choose* to go no further. neither could be further from the truth. i recognize that once someone engages in one activity it’s easier to justify another, but the problem there is not sex as slippery slope; it’s the problem of unthinking, unexamined justification. I also recognize that sex does in fact involve passion and hormones and those things can contribute to bad decisions; but again, the problem is an absence of thought, not just passion. Even in the throes of passion it is entirely possible to make a choice to not go further. to argue otherwise is, in my opinion, to counter God.

  40. John says:

    Very interesting idea. As an outsider dating a member with a temple recommend, I’ve struggled with my attitudes towards chastity. One of my criticisms has always been the hurry to get married to have sex (“I knew [it] would happen sooner rather than later.”).

    Ultimately, I think sexual morality is more complex than chastity. Casual sex certainly doesn’t seem like a good idea, but blanket chastity rules don’t seem like a good idea either. There’s got to be a middle ground. But again, I’m a non-member.

  41. Anonnocity says:

    Jared – I completely agree that listening to the spirit with regards to sexuality is essential. Thanks for bringing that up. However, are you prepared to hear from God that some sexual activity outside marriage between consenting adults is okay, and perhaps, even essential to the development of love (and later marriage)? I am, because I think sometimes it is all right. By the way, I am not justifying my own actions since I am a 36 year old active Mormon, and a virgin – I’m just saying that we need to be open to promptings that may be way out of our presumptions. Most Mormons would argue that God would NEVER tell someone it’s okay to have sex before marriage, but I disagree. He/she just might.

  42. SAP says:

    My husband and I didn’t get married for sex, but I will admit that it was definitely an incentive to get married sooner. But I think it is important to note that getting married young does not have to be the cause of hardship and poverty. It is possible to put off having children until education is completed.

  43. Michael Scott says:

    …that’s what she said.

  44. Marie says:

    My only question is, “what technically is ‘responsible petting’?” Do you mean masturbating one another by hand? Do you mean oral sex? I can think of several ways of achieving orgasm that do not entail sexual intercourse. Do all fall under the umbrella of “RP”?

    And why is there a perceived difference in the level of intimacy between this ambiguous “petting” to which you refer and conventional copulation? I mean, quite frankly, when my husband and I used to hear the mantra “if it’s oral, it’s moral” — we were always mystified, since we considered oral at least as intimate (if not more) than its supposed more “serious” alternative.

    Anyway, I guess I missed out on the official definition of “responsible petting.” Can someone help me out here?

  45. amelia says:

    Marie, I get the sense from Jana’s post that this author is less interested in spelling out what activities are “okay” and more interested in shaping attitudes. But I haven’t read the book, so I don’t know if he ever spells out what activities he thinks would constitute “responsible petting.” I also get the sense that this author would not necessarily define “responsible petting” as achieving orgasm. In fact, given his apparent interest in removing the emphasis from the end goal (and I would argue that defining that goal as orgasm rather than penetration would fit his writing), I imagine he would specifically not define “responsible petting” as necessarily leading to orgasm.

    so what is it? I imagine it’s just about anything between a quick kiss and intercourse. I don’t think this author intends to authorize such intimate behavior as oral sex without accompanying intimacy of mind and spirit. To the contrary, I get the sense that he’s trying to allow for a complementary development of emotional, spiritual, mental AND sexual intimacy.

    fwiw, my understanding of “if it’s oral, it’s moral” was a rebuttal of the old church stance against oral sex. but I’ve been known to frequently misinterpret such innuendos, so maybe your interpretation is more accurate. I agree with you, however–I see no logical argument that oral sex is somehow less intimate than “conventional copulation,” as you put it. I just don’t think this author is interested in ignoring that intimacy. In fact, I think he’s invested in acknowledging the intimacy and allowing it room to breathe.

  46. Kaimi says:

    amelia writes with capitalized letters now? wow. the times, they are a-changin’.

  47. amelia says:

    i’m not promising not to revert. in fact, i think i just did…

  48. Jason says:

    My wife and I hurried marriage, not just because of sex, but because we convinced ourselves it was right. I knew it we were rushing it before we got married, but by then I felt trapped and didn’t have the courage to break her heart.

    Ironically, had my wife and I “heavy petted” before marriage, it would have given me the courage I needed since we would have quickly discovered that the sexuality she projected was largely imaginary.

    The end result is a marriage without passion, but one which I won’t abandon since I keep the commitments I make. Neither will I cheat on her, though I worry my self-control will fail me if the right kind of woman comes along.

    I honestly believe we would have been better off learning beforehand that our sexual expectations were diametrically opposed.

  49. anontoday says:

    I am very grateful that my husband and I married later, by LDS standards. We both had Bachelor’s degrees, I had a Master’s degree, he had a steady dependable job in his field and neither of us had any debt. We both had sizable savings for people our age. That has been a real blessing for us. We’ve been able to purchase a house at a good rate and have enjoyed our childless time together. Of course Elder Packer things we’d be better off infertile, but that is neither here nor there.

    However, I do wish I had been able to distinguish between making out and mortal sin. I really built up a complex of guilt and shame about my body and its natural reactions when, retrospectively, I realize I never (rarely?) did anything that approached morally wrong. Yet there I was, repenting after every date and feeling horrible. I often wish I had had a little more experience with my own body and a little more knowledge of what sex and foreplay actually are. Now that I know what I know, I realize what I was doing was not foreplay or inherently dangerous.

    To me the problem with the quote above is that it is just like all those talks about “petting and necking” — what the heck is he talking about? I mean I’m not okay with my (future) kids manually stimulating to orgasm, but on the other hand kissing on the neck is okie-dokie as far as I am concerned. Using vague language just another way to feed the doubt and shame cycle.

  50. absolutely says:

    YES. I agree with Smedes. There is far too much guilt attached to sexuality amongst Christians. Not only do we tell kids it is a “grievous sin” to explore their own bodies, but we also keep them from making an informed ETERNAL decision about their sexual happiness. We can gloss over sexuality all we want, but if we are honest, we will admit what a huge part of a successful marriage a healthy sex life should be. I, myself, married a total prude. I expected that from him before marriage, as we were responsible young Mormons, and never, ever approached the line. I just thought he was very able to control himself. Little did I know that this was the norm for him. It’s miserable. It would have been nice to know ahead of time that jumping into this relationship would relegate me to an eternity of boring, uninteresting, hurried, and miserable sex. He doesn’t know, and is unwilling to learn, anything about how my body works, and what it needs. It’s certainly not for my lack of trying. I have even literally spelled it out for him. He’s a great guy. A wonderful person, but I wish we had at least approached “the line” before committing to an eternity of monogamy. A man, as we know, needs little out of a sexual experience. Women, on the other hand, are the ones that suffer because of the strictness of “the line.” What is meant to protect us on the surface, ultimately suppresses us.

  1. April 28, 2008

    […] Exponent: Great Sexpectations […]

  2. September 8, 2009

    […] comment on Jana’s post Great (S)expectations at the […]

  3. April 3, 2016

    […] Great (S)expectations by Jana […]

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