Friday, January 31, 2014

Teaching the Law of Chastity: We Simply Must Be More Open about How Great Sex Can Be

I love teaching the Law of Chastity in adult classes in the Church - but I'm weird that way. I teach it very, very differently than most people, and I like to see people's reactions.

We had a lesson about the Law of Chastity in High Priests Group a couple of years ago (yeah, with men who generally are grandfathers), and the teacher (whom I love) started the lesson with a joke he heard personally at a conference in Utah for LDS marriage counselors. Vaughn J. Featherstone was the one who told it, so I'm just passing on the words of a General Authority (*grin*):

A man walked up to his wife with his hands cupped in front of him and said, "If you can guess what's in my hands, we'll have sex." She smiled and responded, "an elephant." He opened his hands, revealing nothing there, and said, "Close enough!!"

The teacher then talked about "the elephant in the room" with regard to the Law of Chastity - that almost everyone wants sex, and that it's a WONDERFUL thing. When we focus only on the "bad" use, we end up re-enforcing the idea that sex itself is vulgar or "dirty" or shameful in some way - which feeds right into many pornographic presentations and other harmful depictions.

When homosexuality was discussed, one of the men in the group immediately said, "We have to be VERY careful we don't end up judging people when we talk about this." I mentioned how glad I am that the Church has moved away from the mistaken idea that homosexual attraction is "unnatural" - that we are beginning to realize how complicated human sexuality is and write policy accordingly.

It was a great lesson.

We talked about the Law of Chastity in a High Council training later that week, largely because one of the Stake Presidency members attended the High Priests Group class and was impressed by the lesson. Near the end, when we talked about how to teach the Law of Chastity to our children, youth and young adults, I mentioned that we simply MUST start by making sure they know sex is great (generally) and that we like it. I mentioned that all of my children know my wife and I have sex and that we enjoy it greatly - and it is from that foundation that we teach about it and why we believe in limiting it to marriage. Some of the people there were a bit shocked, I think, that I was so open about it, but not one of them objected in any way - and I was the youngest person there.


Anonymous said...

I was raised with parents who taught what you taught. Sex is great. Save it for marriage.
However, I think that isn't the best message to tell people. If sex was always so great, why does every magazine promise the secret of better sex?
Instead of married sex being the ultimate prize that will be perfect and great, I have opted for a more nuanced way to teach my children.
Sex is like a language. You can use it in positive ways or negative ways. This way to teach it helps my children understand that sometimes we might talk about rape, sexual assault and the consequences of that. I want my children to understand that someone might hurt them with sex or they might hurt someone else.
I might be able to post the rest of my thoughts later.

SilverRain said...

Thank you, Anonymous. I don't think teaching about how great sex is presents much of a problem. Every bit of media teaches that, which leads to unrealistic expectations. Teaching it as a language, a means of communication, is much more accurate and valuable approach.

Howard Dirkson said...

I'm happy to see this attitude at church! I think one of the problems is the way we teach children to shut down sexual thoughts so they only have "clean thoughts". Reenforced over time this teaches us to attenuate our sexual feelings and many young women report via the bloggernacle having difficulty overcoming this training in their new marriages. Also sexual fetishes are typically innocently formed at a very early age in life and typically include a significant shame component. People with fetishes are somewhat compelled to replay the scene in which they were formed in some representative way and shaming them just fuels the compulsion! When this is understood "dirty" takes on a different meaning than evil.

Stacey P said...

Ray, you need to write a book on teaching sex. I want to do right by my kids but I need some direction.

Anonymous said...

I'm finally back to finishing my comment #1.
The reason why we need to say more than "sex is great after your married" is because most marriages don't just automatically have great sex. Sex is an important part of marriage so couples need to be able to communicate and be understanding through the ups and downs of life. Sex is sometimes very far from great during a 50 year marriage but if a couple has healthy relationship skills they can deal with challenges and be happy.
I think I have a good sex life and a happy 21 year marriage. The good sex life has been just as much work to effect as the happy marriage. If I had been a little more selfish or a little more stupid, or if my husband had been a little more clueless we would probably have a rotten sex life complete with resentments, insecurity, and misunderstandings.
I don't want to sell my kids on the Hollywood version of sex. The Hollywood/Mormon version is that you will find someone, get married and have amazing sex for the rest of your life. The reality is that it isn't always amazing for most people or most couples (there's enough individuality that I'm sure some couples have amazing sex everytime for 50 years but I think that is the exception rather than the norm). Thus, the magazine articles that are trying to sell you tips on how to improve your sex life.
I don't think that simply telling kids that sex is great will mean that they will be able to have great sex once married. There are so many factors that go into a sexual relationship.
As for continuing my language analogy, it is a language just between a husband and wife and it is a form of communication. Sometimes it isn't the sex that is the end in itself, it is a way to share something between just the two of you.
It is very important to communicate love rather than selfishness, and respect rather than ownership.

Papa D said...

Notice I said "generally". This post is about not framing sex in negative terms, and I never meant to imply it always is perfect - although study and practice and open communication help a lot. That's another area where I are lots of room for improvement in how we teach about sex. We ought to teach proper study and practice and open communication after marriage, "from the best books" - and I'm not talking just about books from a religious perspective.

Papa D said...

Also, equating Hollywood sex and Mormon sex just doesn't work for me. Each had it's own issues, and they overlap in select cases, bit there are more differences than similarities.

If the comparison was Disney . . .

Papa D said...

I am on a phone. Sorry for the typos.

Anonymous said...

Ten years ago, as Bishop, I taught the Young Women's lesson on chastity. I told them that sex was great and that it helps bring a couple closer together. No chewing gum, or mangled cupcakes. Sex like everything else is good in it's place.

One Young Women's leader thanked me for not making sex sound dirty.

Anonymous said...

Same Anonymous as 1:
By Hollywood Mormon sex, I meant that everyone I know thought once they got married they would have the fantastic sex promised by Hollywood. They really looked forward to it.
All you need is to be in love and lust and great sex will follow.......for Mormons it will happen after the wedding but for others Hollywood promises it can happen on a one night stand.
I know some women say that they feel ashamed and worry that the church taught them sex was dirty. I don't think it is as big of a problem though. My theory is that is way, way, way more complicated than that.
But obviously, teaching that sex is bad just because we want people to not have sex before marriage is completely wrong, damaging and unwise. I just don't want people to go overboard about the sex is great thing. I thought I was taught the sex is great by my parents and by the church back in the 80s.

Paige Peña said...

I just want to say, thank you for making this blog post. I have the chastity lesson in Relief Society on Sunday and I really don't want it to be awkward for anyone. I grew up in a home where my parents are not uncomfortable about teaching us about healthy sexuality, so I'm very liberal about talking about it compared to probably all of my Mormon friends. (I have a friend who didn't know what a condom was among other things till third year girls camp!) I feel like if I'm going to teach the things that I think are important, like how sex is an amazingly beautiful thing that's meant to heal people and bring them together and that it's Satan who teaches that it's dirty and shameful, and also how to not put yourself in a position where you could have an affair, then I have to be really frank and to be myself. So I'm glad that someone out there agrees with me and that you shared a story so I know that I can probably pull it off appropriately.