No one ever instructed me about sex. When I was about 12 years old I figured out the basics from a magazine article about female condoms in my parents’ living room. Soon thereafter, I saw vague diagrams in a middle school science class, but remained quite naive.
At some point in my religious education I began to be taught that ‘marital intimacy’ is special and sacred and holy. My years as a young woman in church were filled with lessons on the virtue of ‘purity’; which was presented as a code word for chastity – and it could be lost. I was supposed to defend it. I was told that romance novels were pornography and never to read them. Even speaking the word ‘sex’ was taboo; I was taught to avoid even thinking about, much less engaging in sex. I was taught to wait until marriage. I was promised that would make it the special, powerful, and sacred act it is supposed to be.
When I was barely 20. I sat in the BYU library and read what I could find about sex in the week leading up to my marriage. I didn’t know anyone more informed than myself to enlighten me about this mysterious practice I would soon be authorized to participate in. I had no idea how to be actively involved in the act of sex, or that I should enjoy it. A roommate who was also engaged told me that her older sister warned her it would hurt. No one talked to my husband about sex either.
Two days after our spring wedding we had successful intercourse for the first time. ‘Successful’ meaning my husband deposited sperm in my vagina. This was sex as I understood it. As I had been prepared to understand it. I was basically a passive participant. The act left the opening of my vagina torn in three places due to my very tight hymen and inadequate arousal. I called my mom the next night because I had finally gotten a hand mirror and looked down there and it was still hurting and bleeding. I told her I could see three places had torn. She said it’s not a big deal. She said you still have to give him sex so he will feel loved. My body was mangled and my own mother said it was no big deal! There was no discussion about how this had happened or what to do to improve the situation. This was the first and only time I ever in my life spoke to my mother about anything of a sexual nature.
Four months later we were back for fall semester at BYU and I finally went to a doctor to get some repair work done. A few snips were significant in reducing the pain I had continued to have. Still no one told me what had happened to me was abnormal or preventable.
The way I had been taught in the church, I didn’t expect to have sexual feelings. I spent a lot of energy suppressing these as a teen and young adult. I strove to be the ‘pure’ woman of God I was supposed to be to enjoy peace and happiness in life. I avoided romance novels and sexy movies. I was careful what media I engaged with and avoided what I was suppose to avoid. I was never told what I should do to make the experience more enjoyable for myself and my spouse except to be ‘pure’.
There was one time in the early years of marriage I actually felt particularly good during sex. My husband finished and rolled off. I asked him to touch me, but he declined; he was done and fell asleep. I touched myself. I experienced my first small orgasm. Ashamed and demoralized that I had masturbated, I confessed to my husband the next day. He thought I needed to tell the bishop, so I did. I was not allowed to take the sacrament for a while.
Six years later, while pregnant with my first son (my fourth pregnancy), I experience an orgasm during sex with my husband for the first time. Wow. Is this what he’s been experiencing all along? Did it take that extra bit of testosterone from the baby for me to join in the fun? In the next few years, this happened only occasionally, more often when I was pregnant. I was so naive that I still really didn’t understand my own body’s capacity for arousal and sexual activity.
The typical sexual experience in the first 14 years of my marriage was one initiated by my husband in the middle of the night. By the time I became partially aroused, he was done and asleep again. I was left wide awake with no prospects of fulfillment.I became increasingly frustrated with this status quo. I read LDS books on marriage and tried to awaken my sexuality, still concerned that I was getting my information from the approved channel.
Gradually I began to feel cheated. God had made my female body in such a way that arousal and sexuality was hugely complex and difficult to enjoy, yet the bulk of reproduction was directly my responsibility and pain. God made men that they might have joy, but women that they might suffer bringing forth the children of men. My main goal in a sexual encounter was to avoid discomfort, and I only rarely felt any physical pleasure. Sex was a huge disappointment in my life.
Sex is so built up (and yet so taboo) in LDS culture. Why is it that we can’t even say the word ‘sex’ in an LDS context? Talks about “God ordained marital intimacy” really seem to have set women like me up for disappointment. Sex was supposed to a special powerful act reserved for the context of a celestial marriage. Living the law of chastity was supposed to have made my love deeper, richer, more meaningful. Growing up, I was frequently reminded that only by perfect obedience could I find true happiness. I think that is one main reason why, for me, I was left feeling so disappointed. Despite my best intentions, and living according to the commandments, I often felt like I had been used and was more lonely after sex rather than loved, nurtured and understood. If personal purity is the key to the joy of marriage and sex, and I am not happy in the sexual aspect of my marriage am I to conclude I am not pure enough? That hardly seems fair when the people involved (myself and my spouse) are not given an approved channel for becoming informed of sexuality except through the Holy Ghost. I found the Holy Ghost to be just as absent in teaching me as everyone else in my life. My prayers for help in this area of my marriage were left unanswered.
I have come to a place where I now reject many of the ideas I was taught about sex. First, I was taught sensuality was among the carnal ‘worldly’ passions to be avoided. But the only way I could begin to enjoy sex was by letting go and allowing myself to enjoy my body and my sensuality. Focusing on enjoying the feel of the wind on my skin, relaxing in a warm bath, the feel of my husbands skin against mine, etc. Experience has taught me that I will enjoy sex with my husband a lot more if I break many of the proscriptions I was taught. If I read or watch something romantic or sexy I will be more likely to get in the mood and have a better experience. I think it was wrong that I was taught anything to do with sex was basically pornography and off-limits. I’ve learned from reading about women’s sexuality that women are often better able to enjoy sex when they think about it first. Having been taught that ‘preoccupation with sex in thought word or deed’ was wrong because it did not give the context for when it would be appropriate to engage in sexual thoughts in order to prepare for an enjoyable experience with your mate. It was wrong that I was punished for trying to explore and understand my body’s ability to experience pleasure. How could I teach my husband about my body if I didn’t know myself? Most of all, it was wrong to throw two ignorant, naive, yet ‘pure’ young adults together and expect them to figure things out on their own once are married; and to promise them it would be amazing if done this way. It was wrong to have sex become so taboo that no one talks about it. And what if mutual satisfaction were part of the standard for what constituted ‘sex’? Not just what is necessary to procreate, but what is necessary to bring both husband and wife joy and fulfillment from their expression of love? Growing up in the church, I was also taught that only those who achieved the highest degree of the celestial kingdom would continue having sex eternally. What a strange doctrine we have!