S.T.D.’s – Sexually Threatening Discussions

Stake visitors amble through the hallways during Sunday School time of ward conference in an urban Chicago ward. Suddenly, bellowing from the young women’s classroom, comes the teacher’s mighty voice: “Chastity means NO SEX, NO SEX, NO SEX!”

Just how do we communicate sexual standards in understandable, meaningful, practical ways?

The teacher in question knew her girls. The majority of her new convert teenagers (at least one already a mother) knew from personal experience what sex was. But chastity? It sounded like just another fancy word like “virtue” or “exaltation.” Straight talk was the only way to get the point across clearly. Of course there’s more depth and power to the principle of chastity than “no sex,” but at a certain level, basics are required.

Imagine the poor missionaries doing pre-baptism interviews with sisters who have no idea what the “law of chastity” means in practical terms. Are these young men, who may not be completely clear on the concept themselves, be glossing over an important topic to avoid everyone’s embarrassment?

Most stakes have some kind of (often dreaded) Standards Nights. In one neighboring stake, the no-nonsense young stake president gets quite explicit. Definite lines are drawn without equivocation, not too unlike butcher charts. The youth of the stake now know how long it takes for a teenage guy to get “turned on” (I believe he said 3 seconds), how girls in provocative clothing put the guys under a lot of stress, how getting horizontal is asking for trouble, how repentance is available but hard, hard, hard.

I appreciate that he’s given the kids some kind of parameters (a.k.a. “standards”) even if I don’t agree with where he’s drawn all his boundaries. I don’t like having our girls made to feel like watch dogs for the guys, for one thing. Keeping things zipped and keeping hands off privates was about as specific as I was advised way back when. I have heard tell of stake presidents who expect their dating teens and young adults not to kiss until over the altar. I don’t see how this squares with “bridling one’s passions.” Sounds more like squelching them to me. My public health nurse friend insists that exchanging saliva is not a good thing at any age. Are we all doomed?

The advice given to 12-year-olds is not necessarily the same counsel appropriate for college students or older singles. (Unless you’re really buying into the “don’t kiss until over the altar” policy.) “I wish somebody would spell things out specifically,” one robust 21-year-old complained. “It’s all so euphemistic.” If he read that “necking” was considered beyond the limits by some revered leaders, would he wish he hadn’t asked?

Is this one area where “teaching them correct principles and let them govern themselves” needs more clarification? Or are we just all hopelessly uptight?

10 comments for “S.T.D.’s – Sexually Threatening Discussions

  1. Julie in Austin
    February 29, 2004 at 8:34 pm

    Hm, maybe this comes from living in Northern California for too long, but I will report that the youth of our stake would be the first ones to tell you that they feel there is too much specificity in lessons about chastity.

    Case in point: I am trying to get through Joseph and Potipher’s wife with my seminary students, and the implications thereof, but I can’t because of the tittering of the young women. I ask them to kindly share with the class. They tell me that they can’t stand another lesson from their YW leader who tells them that sex is *wonderful*, it is just so *special* and such a *terrific* gift . . .

    The fact that this particular YW leader was the bishop’s wife didn’t help . . .

    But on the other end, at a CES conference, I heard a BYU prof say that not a semester goes by that he doesn’t get a recently married woman in his office, telling him that it just seems so *wrong* to have sex with her husband . . .

    We are failing on both ends of the spectrum, and we can’t get the message right.

    BTW, if there is anyone out there who hasn’t read Elder Holland’s _Of Souls, Symbols, and Sacraments_, s/he should.

  2. Aaron Brown
    March 1, 2004 at 4:07 am

    I don’t have much wisdom on this topic, but I have a question:

    How common is the problem that Julie’s BYU professor described? Does anyone have any idea? A good friend of my family and professional therapist for many years once told me that not too many years ago, the vast majority of Mormon women who sought out her therapeutic services were dealing with difficulties in making the sexual transition into marriage. (Apparently there are many other LDS therapists with similar stories.) And she did not specialize in sex therapy. She attributed this trend to much of the sexual rhetoric directed at LDS women coming from the Brethren at that time — rhetoric which has been modified in more recent years(?). I’m told the problem is less common than it used to be, but I’m really not in a position to know.

    I’m interested to know what any LDS women lurking on this site (particularly those old enough to have some historical perspective) have to say about this.

    Aaron B

  3. Ben
    March 1, 2004 at 9:49 am

    Elder Holland’s talk is available in .mp3 from http://www.byubroadcasting.com They’ve put a large number of talks in mp3 format there. Click on “find a talk.” Play it for the YW/YM…

    Souls, symbols link

  4. March 1, 2004 at 10:24 am

    Elder Holland also modified his talk and presented it to youth in a fireside format. BYU TV runs it every once in awhile and I am sure you could obtain a copy (www.byutv.org). It runs about an hour.

  5. March 1, 2004 at 2:51 pm

    How we communicate standards in a meaningful way is to be blunt with the caveat that just because doing x,y, or z hasn’t been mentioned as being inappropriate doesn’t mean it isn’t. Also, we need to explain why it is important to be chaste.

    I remember cringing during a YSA ward sacrament mtg when our stake prez showed up and they tossed the whole program so he could talk to us about why “dry humping” with clothes on was not a good idea. I was quite surprised that anyone thought it was. However, he’d discovered in several recommend interviews that this was common practice and people were surprised that anything short of intercourse was unchaste…???

    As for the flip side of people having a fear of intimacy in marriage, that needs to be addressed, too, to the older youth. While there are women with intimacy issues, there are men who think that marriage is a green light for every sex gadget, example in the kama sutra, fetish, and even porn. Both extremes contribute to an unhealthy sexual relationship.

  6. William Morris
    March 1, 2004 at 6:41 pm

    Has anybody else heard the “elbows and earlobes” injunction or was that peculiar to the member of the stake presidency who did the sex talk when I was a teenager? In a youth conference talk, he said that expressions of fondness during coutrship should be confined to those two areas. The elbows part makes sense, but I don’t know if we should encourage youth to engage in earlobe explorations ;-).

  7. Kristine
    March 1, 2004 at 7:41 pm

    Linda, (et al)

    Do you think Latter-day Saints are peculiarly bad at addressing this topic, or do we just reflect the discomfort and general ineptness of the broader American culture?

  8. Jan
    March 2, 2004 at 10:25 am

    I’ve never heard of the ‘elbows and earlobes’ rule, but I’ve heard the ‘neck to knee’ rule: anything between the neck and knee is off limits until marriage. I can’t tell you how many times this rule was preached to us in YW.

    Kristine, I think it’s a combination of both America’s Puritanical background and Mormon culture. American culture is strange in that it at once promotes and eschews sexuality. It encourages sexually indiscrete behavior through fashion and pop culture. At the same time, it avoids serious discussion of the consequences of such behavior. I suppose I’m saying that Americans in general have no problem with sex as a topic as long as it’s light-hearted, fun, and consequence-free.

    The opposite is true for the church. The church, when this topic is raised, is all about the consequences and the sin of that behavior outside of marriage. Because most members of the church shun the part of pop culture that deifies promiscuity, they’re missing out on any knowledge of the fun part of sex that’s perfectly fine (as long as it’s within marriage).

  9. March 5, 2004 at 12:01 am

    Jan, I’d have to say that pop culture doesn’t offer up much healthy about the “fun part” of sex. Getting advice from “close friends” is probably a better idea.

  10. annebg
    January 21, 2005 at 6:13 pm

    I am very open with my daughter on this topic and she has a healthy attitude about sex, that it is supposed to feel good, it is desirable, within the bounds of marriage. Actually, she’s so funny, she thinks we are in our golden years and that means you have lots of sex, so she thinks we are sex maniacs because we are still in love after all these years.

    HOWEVER, I’ve also warned her that once the physical enters into a dating relationship, I mean kissing and stuff, you lose the relationship, the bonding that you need in order to really know someone. She understands that. Not that I haven’t put it in a spiritual context, but I’ve been pretty matter of fact. I was open with her older sister also and the girls talk. Hopefully, that will ease the problems of temptation. She tells her friends “My mom told me sex is great, I can’t wait! I intend to attack my husband on our wedding night. But I’ll wait till then.” I wish you guys could read the paper she wrote for her English class on sex, it was just delightful. I could charge money for people to read it. But I won’t.

    Although just yesterday she told me she got her sexual desires from my side of the family and that’s why it’s so hard for her. I realized I need to tell her she got it from the human side of her family.

    One of her friends asked her something about sex, and she advised her to ask her mother, and she said, “I can’t do that. That would hurt my mother if she knew I was thinking about sex.” True story. Sad, huh?

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