Heavenly Mother wants us to feel safety, comfort, and pleasure in our bodies.

 

By LMA

November 2018

I want to write about the most delicate and powerful thing about who I am. Even with all of the work I have done in therapy to talk about these things, this still feels vulnerable to share openly, but I feel like it’s too important not to.

I  think Mormon women (and all women) should feel comfortable, safe, and cozy being sexual in whatever way feels good to them. That means being sexual on our own (i.e., masturbating) and with others (i.e., partnered sex with 1 person, or more than 1 person) and for some, not being sexual at all. This shouldn’t be a revolutionary idea, but more and more, I feel like it is provocative to say these things.

This month, a new episode of This American Life included a segment called “The Old Man On My Shoulder.” Elna Baker talked about her own and others’ experiences with Bishops’ worthiness interviews.

When I read through some of the comments posted online about the podcast by women in the Exponent’s Facebook group, I was struck by how much shame and pain and trauma so many women have experienced in their bodies and sexual experiences. It is devastating and tragic and not okay. I understand the leaders and parents of our childhoods taught and conveyed what was taught and conveyed to them. Nonetheless, the things that many of us were taught about our bodies and our sexual experiences were unhelpful at best and profoundly traumatic and damaging at worst.

I think so much of what we are taught about our bodies and sex becomes second-nature to us without really realizing it. As little kids, or sometimes even teenagers or adults, when we hear certain things from our parents, other family members, or friends, we don’t know something is unhelpful or inaccurate because that is what has always been said and we know no other way for it to be.

By the time I was 29, I had no idea that I had sexual feelings and very little vocabulary to even say it out loud, let alone to talk about how ashamed and embarrassed I felt about it. I had no idea about my own sexual anatomy, despite the fact that I am a highly educated woman and hold 2 graduate degrees, 1 of which is terminal. I had almost no information about my body or about sex because I was told it “wasn’t appropriate for me.” I went to the gynecologist for the first time before my 30th birthday determined to make sure my reproductive health was in order and everything was okay. Even though I saw a provider in an area where Mormon folk are a tiny minority, I still felt like I wasn’t allowed to be there and had to justify why I wanted to see a gynecologist because I wasn’t married.

What makes me so upset and angry about this is that even though the details may vary from woman to woman, these feelings of shame, guilt, unworthiness, embarrassment, and trauma related to our bodies and sexual identities and experiences seem so common for women inside (and outside of) our faith. My flavor of shame and embarrassment about my body and sex might be different from someone else’s, but the feelings are quite similar in function and outcome.

These feelings hurt our emotional health and our sense of safety in our own bodies. They make it more difficult and confusing to make decisions about our bodies and intimate contact with ourselves or others. They lead us to feel that we are bad for having normal, good, and healthy sexual desires. These feelings make us feel like we have to keep our sexual experiences a secret, even when we’re grown women, and first and foremost answer to no one else but ourselves.

These are some of the things I wish I had been taught about my body and my sexual self:

1. I have absolute dominion over my body and my experience. I say what is right and safe and comfortable. I know what’s best. I know what’s needed and wanted.

2. I am the first and most important authority on my sexual identity, preferences, safety, and desires, period.

3. I have absolute dominion and choice in terms of who I allow close to me and who I engage (or don’t engage with) with in intimate contact in any form.

4. It is lovely and good and normal to want, seek out, or have intimate contact with yourself or others if that is what’s wanted. If you want to masturbate, it’s totally good and lovely and safe to masturbate. If it helps to hear it, you don’t have to confess to your Bishop or anyone else. If you want to have partnered sex, and everyone is consenting and cozy and safe, it’s totally good and lovely and safe to have partnered sex. I also don’t think you have to confess that to anyone if you don’t want to. You know what’s best. And if you don’t want to be sexual at all, that’s good and lovely and safe, too.

5. I think Heavenly Mother is really happy and cares so much about when we feel safe and comfortable and are feeling pleasure in our bodies, and when we make decisions that are right for our emotional health, safety, and desires. She doesn’t want us to disassociate from our bodies. She wants us to feel safe and cozy and present in them.

6. I do not need anyone to judge my goodness or standing with Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother. I decide if I’m worthy and good and okay, and being worthy and good and okay is not affected by my sexual identity, preferences, safety, and desires.

I wish someone had told me these things before I turned 29 years old. If you need to hear these things, please consider them lovingly and powerfully said over and over and over again.

LMA is PhD-holding boss lady that teaches child development to university students. She cares deeply about issues that affect women inside and outside of our Church.

 

 

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16 Responses

  1. Kaylee says:

    When one of my daughters was 2, she was patting her bottom during a diaper change. She stopped suddenly, looked right at me, and said, “Mom, touching my bottom is *amazing*!” I looked right back at her and said, “Yes, it sure is. But right now it’s time to get your diaper on so we can get in the car.” That experience has been something I remember every time I talk to my kids about sex. I really hope that she can still have that enthusiastic, unembarrassed attitude about sex when she is grown.

  2. LMA says:

    That’s really lovely, thank you for sharing that. ❤️ I think it really speaks to the excited and fun feelings we have about our bodies when we’re young, and it’s powerful and special when we’re able to keep it. It’s such a blessing and powerful thing we’re not born with those negative feelings with our bodies. That’s so wonderful that you’re paying attention to that, and want to foster it.

  3. Violadiva says:

    I love the powerful claiming of self-authority. Yeah!

  4. Mansfield says:

    Points 3 and 4 as written would mean there is no such sin as adultery, that a husband or wife has an absolute right to engage sexually with other people and has no duty to make known (“confess”) such actions to a spouse. Is that what the author intended?

    • LMA says:

      Thank you for asking for clarification. I am not referring at all to being dishonest or adulterous with your partner or spouse. That is completely not okay. I was referring to confessing within the context of formal confession, as in with a Bishop or other ecclesiastical leader. The segment in the podcast (and in a lot of other places as well) talked about how many people feel a great deal of pressure to confess or share personal, intimate details about their sexual lives and identities to Bishops or other ecclesiastical leaders in order to feel clean or okay before God. Does that make things more clear?

  5. Rivkah says:

    So apparently it thrills Heavenly Mother when we have group sex, sex with prostitutes, and sex with our adult relatives, as long as we’re all consenting and cozy and safe. Got it.

    • LMA says:

      I think all of us are and should be able to make decisions about our bodies, sexual identities, experiences, and safety. So long as those things are not illegal or inappropriate (e.g., incest, abuse, etc.) or hurting us or others, I think all of us need to be able to make those decisions about what is best for ourselves.

      • Rivkah says:

        You realize, of course, that you are simply doing what so many others have done in replacing traditional religion with the worship of sexuality and the self, while retaining some of the trappings of religious language. There’s nothing new or provocative about your approach to sexuality. I don’t deny some of the problems you mention in your OP, but the framework you have come up with isn’t the solution.

        Your standard for sexual behavior is inconsistent and makes no logical sense. You already know that different areas deem different practices to be illegal. And what does “inappropriate” even mean? What’s inappropriate to you may be entirely appropriate to someone else. You might have a problem with adult incest; others think it’s fine. Others think that threesomes are inappropriate; you seem to think they’re fine.

        And then there’s proclaiming an act to be OK as long as it’s “safe and cozy.” What if people like sex to be risky and dangerous? What if they like to be tied up and whipped? What if they are turned off by all things safe and cozy?

        So what it comes down to is doing what you want with whoever you want, as long as you’re obeying the almighty law of consent. But what if someone enthusiastically agrees to a sexual encounter with you, despite there being no context of real love or commitment, and you both are smiling and laughing and feeling all safe and cozy together. But afterward this person walks away with a bigger hole in their heart, because somehow they know they’ve been used for your physical gratification. And the hole in your heart is bigger too, because you’ve just shared part of your soul with them (if you’ve retained any belief in Mormonism at all), and you know you’ve used the body of another human being for your own selfish reasons. What if people consent to things that end up being damaging in ways they don’t anticipate? What if something that seems harmless in the moment is actually pretty harmful in the end? What if traditional religion gets it at least partly right, and sex is actually a lot more significant than whatever gives you personal pleasure and personal empowerment and a nice, safe, cozy feeling?

    • LMA says:

      You are in violation of the Exponent’s comment guidelines (see below, particularly #4). This is not a space to question others’ righteousness, personal religious beliefs, or to mock the language used in my post.

      Comment Policy

      1. No ads or plugs.
      2. No four letter words that wouldn’t be allowed on television.
      3. No mudslinging: Stating disagreement is fine — even strong disagreement, but no personal attacks or name calling. No personal insults.
      4. Try to stick with your personal experiences, ideas, and interpretations. This is not the place to question another’s personal righteousness, to call people to repentance, or to disrespectfully refute people’s personal religious beliefs.
      5. No sockpuppetry. You may not post a variety of comments under different monikers.

      • Rivkah says:

        LMA, I did none of the above. It seems you can’t respond to the substance of what I wrote.

      • Caroline says:

        Rivkah, it is clear you disagree with the OP. Instead of ripping her understandings and beliefs down, how about next time you share with us your own and why you have them? That would lead to a much more generous and productive discussion. Remember, these authors are human beings here who are sharing the truth of their lives and being vulnerable. Responding with grace and speaking of our own experience and insights is the kind of environment we want to foster.

  6. Sally says:

    I like the overall theme of this, by all means we should embrace our sexuality! The problem I have is “so long as those things are not…hurting us or others…” re: menage trois, etc. That’s why we have spiritual authorities, to help us know what hurts our spirits even though it feels good to our bodies. That doesn’t mean we need to give details of our exploits, but we can’t deny, believing what we believe, that our bodies are instruments of our spirits and it *does* matter, spiritually speaking, what we do with our bodies. Our heavenly Parents didn’t give us the law of Chastity to be controlling or have fun giving us rules, they did it because it’s a spiritual law that directly impacts our spirit.

    • Andrew R. says:

      Absolutely. We are preparing, in this mortal life, for Eternal Life – the life of our Heavenly Parents. The most important aspect, I suspect, of being a Godpair is control of Everything. We will not be able to act on whim. We will only be able to act in the best interests of Everything.

      Whilst I do not believe that we will come out of this life ready to be be all that our Heavenly Parents are, I do believe that how we act in relation to what we are taught will be vital in the assessment of our potential progression.

      Commandments are a part of learning to control the physical – our desires, appetites and passions. Because Gods have to do this. Imagine our fate if the Father and Mother could not have allowed the Atonement to take place.

    • LMA says:

      Thank you for your thoughts, I appreciate and respect your perspective.

      I think in certain situations, what is good for our spirits and bodies is one and the same, and those aren’t necessarily separate from one another (e.g., what feels good to our bodies can be good for our spirit). From my perspective, there is (or should be) choice in terms of how we choose to interact with our faith and how we choose to enact our beliefs about our bodies, sex, or anything else. I feel like this is really important given in the past, our system of spiritual authorities and confessing as we know it has been really damaging to a lot of people (e.g., what was talked about in the This American Life segment), and because of that, I think it’s important people are able to do what is safe and makes sense for them. I feel like above all, people need to be empowered to realize they know what is best for themselves ultimately, and if they want that spiritual guidance or feedback, they can access that, but people also need to have the choice to opt out if that is what is best for them.

  7. Libby says:

    It seems that some of our regular trolls are having knee-jerk reactions to some things LMA wrote without actually considering what she meant. Consider carefully the ideas of full consent and doing no harm to others before you comment again.

    And for Pete’s sake, y’all know that it’s explicitly against our policy to question someone else’s faithfulness. LMA has been awfully nice to leave your comments up, but do it again and I’ll stick you in moderation purgatory. Please consider what she’s said with the idea that she’s a) faithful and b) a lot smarter than you are.

  8. Jana says:

    This is a beautiful post that resonates with me on so many levels. I have been that person in a bishop’s office confessing ridiculously minute details of “sexual” things like making out and enjoying it, and I have been that person who decided that she would never again discuss her body or her sexual experiences with a stranger-man that happened to be a lay leader of my congregation. The latter decision led me to feel confident and happy. That being-wracked-with-guilt-over-things part of my life, well that was awful and made me feel that I was an Evil Person.
    It is hard for me to imagine a deity who would want his children feeling that they were Evil because they were human and loved others (and themselves) in responsible and consensual ways.

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