Limits of the Law of Chastity

Wendy’s comment in the latest SSM thread provoked an interesting discussion between my wife and I yesterday. Wendy wrote:

Is same-sex kissing a sin? What about same-sex flirting and dating? Can a same-sex couple live together, love each other, come to church holding hands and sit together in the chapel, hold callings and be okay church-wise, as long as they don’t have sex?

This comment relates to the broader issue: What exactly does the law of chastity prohibit?

PART I: Black-letter law; “normal” analysis

Let’s start with the points that everyone agrees on. I’m going to be extra cautious and nail these down, so that when things get strange in Part II, we can be sure that the assertions are based on correct doctrine. So, to start, the law of chastity, as officially defined, is:

No sexual relations except with a spouse to whom you are legally and lawfully married.

The spouse part we understand, but what exactly is a “sexual relation”? Let’s figure this out by calculating some data points. Start off by asking the question:

Is hand-holding a sexual relation?

Now, we know that if it were a sexual relation, and people did it outside of marriage, they would be in violation of the law of chastity, and not worthy to enter the temple. Therefore, we can ask,

Do church leaders prohibit people who are not married to each other, but who hold hands, from retaining a temple recommend?

I can attest to the answer of that one. I held hands with girlfriends (including one who I eventually married), and that act was known to church leaders. I sometimes held hands with girlfriends in church meetings. I was never censured for this or told that I was violating the law of chastity. I was not married to women whose hands I held (at least, not at the time we’re discussing). And I observed that this was commonly accepted and tolerated behavior — other church members routinely did the same. So I think we can safely say:

For purposes of the law of chastity, hand-holding is not a sexual relationship.

Apply the same logic to snuggling, kissing, and even making out (as long as there is no inappropriate touching going on) and the answer is the same. It looks like we can draw a dividing line:

Acts that constitute a “sexual relationship” for purposes of the law of chastity: Sex, oral sex, inappropriate touching — “petting” (does anyone actually use that term anymore?) — including on-top-of-clothes feeling
Acts that are not a sexual relationship: Hugging, kissing, holding hands, snuggling, making out (as long as there is no inappropriate touching).

Still with me so far? All of the above, non-sexual-relationships, must be considered such because single members routinely engage in such behavior without temple recommend removal (which would be necessary if they were violating the law of chastity). Now for the interesting part.

PART II: Unexpected consequences.

The law of chatisty prohibits sexual relations with someone to whom we are not married. Thus, the law of chastity does not prohibit acts that are not sexual relations. This limit on the law of chastity provide some very unusual consequences. Here are two particularly strange ones:

1. A man may kiss, hold hands, cuddle, and make out with another man, without violating the law of chastity. (Ditto for woman-woman relationships).

2. A married man may kiss, hold hands, cuddle, and make out with a woman to whom he is not married, without violating the law of chastity. (Ditto, again for a married woman).

2a. You can even combine (1) and (2), with a married man kissing another man (or woman-woman), and not be in violation of the law of chastity.

Let’s look over these. First, it seems possible that (2) (including 2a), while it would not be a violation of the law of chastity, would be a violation of the marriage covenant. That is itself a serious problem. (What does the marriage covenant entail, anyway?). Also, it would likely be a source of great marital disharmony.

As far as (1), I’m not sure that there are other considerations (such as the marriage covenant) that would serve as a bar to this behavior. So (to answer Wendy’s question), same-sex kissing, handholding, etc., seems to be within church guidelines.

And that was about as far as my conversation with Mardell got. We were both pretty shocked to come to the conclusion that the law of chastity has this much flexibility. But I’m not sure that there’s another way to approach the issue. I suspect, however, that others may have a different view.

85 comments for “Limits of the Law of Chastity

  1. D. Fletcher
    July 9, 2004 at 12:30 pm

    There aren’t really answers to your questions, Kaimi, but here’s a tangent…

    In the midst of my “afflictions,” I asked my father whether he could approve of my loving and perhaps marrying another man who was a paraplegic, i.e., no sex would ever happen. My father replied that he thought it would still be a sin that I loved this other person of the same sex, because I desired him in my heart.

    Interesting, isn’t it?

  2. D. Fletcher
    July 9, 2004 at 12:36 pm

    One thing missing from your list: viewing a naked body without touching.

  3. Hellmut Lotz
    July 9, 2004 at 1:13 pm

    Thanks for your leadership. Your discussion of Part II demonstrates that Part I is much more interesting then appears at first glance.

    (At some level) all relations are sexual. The question is not whether or not we have sexual relations but whether or not we have appropriate sexual relations. Mormon practice has the propensity to reduce the gospel to a check list. We like to demonstrate that we are in good standing and check on others whether or not they are loyal Mormons. In the process, a lot gets lost and before you turn around we are entangled in nonsense.

    The purpose of free agency is to exercise it. Check lists can only serve simple tasks. Sexuality is too complex to be addressed in terms of check lists. Negative lists such as the Ten Commandments that define the limits of behavior are less problematic. But even there exceptions may be necessary to preserve the principle that justifies the rule. Jesus’ teaching about the Sabbath is a good example. The martyr and teologian Reinhold Niebuhr, may be the most inspired Christian thinker of the 20th century, reportedly taught that if truth favors evil then it is the duty of Christians to lie. Given that Niebuhr attempted to save his friends from the Gestapo one can hardly argue with him.

    Christ was a person who associated with thieves and prostitutes. The day he showed up in paradise he was in the company of a murderer. What is it about Mormons that gives shunning and excommunication such a big role while we claim to adhere to the only true church?

  4. July 9, 2004 at 1:29 pm

    Kissing, cuddling and “making out”, at least when they show up in the same sentence, seem to signify some kind of foreplay. Whether that foreplay culminates in sex or not isn’t necessarily the issue. These behaviors signify a special kind of romance and intimacy.

    I don’t think men are supposed to be engaged in these kind of intimate behaviors with other men or that women should be engaged in these sort of behaviors with other women. However politically incorrect it might seem to say so, I don’t believe it’s right or appropriate because they will inspire sexual desire — dare I say, lust.

    Does it signify breaking the law of chastity? By the letter of the law no. But it’s behavior that perverts the proper pattern of courtship that normally leads to the marriage that has been ordained by God.

    And I’m pretty sure I just got myself into a whole heap o’ trouble for saying so.


    You said: Christ was a person who associated with thieves and prostitutes. The day he showed up in paradise he was in the company of a murderer. This is true but Jesus wasn’t kissing the prostitute, or abetting theft or murder. If he was interacting with them, it was to express divine love, to teach and to encourage these people to repent.

  5. Julie in Austin
    July 9, 2004 at 1:30 pm

    Good post, Kaimi.

    What’s that joke about the seminary student who concludes that it is OK to have sex before you are married as long as you are in a group, over 16, it is before 10pm, the lights are on, and you have one foot on the floor? (Point: little rules get in the way of the big picture.)

    As for your part two, I think you are on to something that while certain behaviors do not violate the law of chastity, they violate the marriage covenant. Not only would I have a massive coronary event if I found my husband even just holding hands with another woman, but I wouldn’t be too thrilled to find him having frequent, deep, personal conversations with one, either.

    I’m still not sure, personally, about the answers to Wendy’s question. It seems to me that one wouldn’t want to engage in these behaviors in a same sex context, because things could get out of hand, but, of course, one could make the very same argument for heterosexual couples doing these things.

  6. Nathan Tolman
    July 9, 2004 at 1:34 pm

    I can tell this is going to be another legalese discussion. Oh well.

    Response to II 2: Being Married, I would think, gives a higher standard of Chastity to a person, and thus would preclude these things.

  7. Thom
    July 9, 2004 at 1:35 pm

    “Shunning?” What are we, Amish? I have never in my life witnessed anything in the church that could be considerd “shunning,” nor have I seen excommunication play any sort of “big role” in the church. In my experience, excommunication, while it does happen, is a pretty rare thing indeed.

  8. Kaimi
    July 9, 2004 at 1:36 pm

    A possible further data point for Part II is that LDS actors and actresses, if married, may still kiss other actors / actresses, I believe.

    This would almost certainly not be allowed if such acts were a violation of the law of chastity.

    (And that relates to Danithew’s point as well; such behavior may be permissible precisely because it is not viewed as foreplay, likely to lead to sex).

  9. Hellmut Lotz
    July 9, 2004 at 1:46 pm

    I agree with Danni that repentence is a good thing. But the question was why excommunication and shunning plays such a great role in our social life.

    I am surprised that Thom is not aware of social pressures to conform in the church. If you want to find out more about shunning and similar forms of social exclusion then you may want to check the reports of the Mormon Alliance.

    May be, it is time someone writes a systematic paper on this issue.

  10. Aaron Brown
    July 9, 2004 at 1:58 pm

    “Is same-sex kissing a sin? What about same-sex flirting and dating? Can a same-sex couple live together, love each other, come to church holding hands and sit together in the chapel, hold callings and be okay church-wise, as long as they don’t have sex?”

    These aren’t just hypothetical questions. I’ve been told by a very reputable source that one of the wards in my stake contains an active member who is perhaps confronting these very questions (and presumably causing his Bishop and Stake President to have to confront them as well). Apparently, the gentleman in question lives the Law of Chastity and has a temple recommend. At the same time, he dates men and is open about the fact that if he finds the right companion, he may settle down in a long-term relationship with that person (and deal with the ecclesiastical consequences, whatever they may be, at that time). He is apparently very open about all of this. I don’t claim to know what he does and doesn’t do on dates exactly, but he has supposedly been up front about whatever he does and doesn’t do to his ecclesiastical superiors, and apparently still has a temple recommend.

    Admittedly, this is second hand information, and it may be irresponsible of me to make claims about what’s really going on, but like I said, my source is in a position to know.

    Aaron B

  11. Thom
    July 9, 2004 at 2:13 pm


    There is “social pressure to conform” everywhere in the world. Its part of the human experience. Sometimes its appropriate, and sometimes it isn’t. To slide from “shunning” to “social pressure to conform” is, I think, at least a little disingenuous.

    Any actual “shunning” (ie avoiding someone and acting as though they do not exist) goes directly against the teachings of the church and any members of the church engaging in such behavior are clearly stepping out of line.

    It is true that church members step out of line all the time, and they should repent and we should forgive them. But that is a far cry from saying that “shunning” plays a big role in the church.

  12. July 9, 2004 at 2:24 pm

    Aaron B.,

    Wow … thanks for sharing the real-life situation and how it bears on an individual’s temple worthiness. It isn’t hypothetical. We’re talking about a real-life situation where a man dates other men AND has a temple recommend? That’s the first time I’ve heard of that sort of thing.

    Does he ever go on double-dates with heterosexual church member couples? :)

  13. John H
    July 9, 2004 at 2:27 pm

    This is a very interesting post, Kaimi. Your logic (as an attorney) is quite sound. However, I find I’m still uncomfortable with this definition of the law of chastity. Could we not argue, for example, that the definitions you put forth change with circumstances? Obviously no one (well, no one normal) would object to two seventeen year olds holding hands. But someone would clearly object to two married people holding hands with someone other than their spouse.

    I suppose my qualms about your definitions can be summed up in the definition of obsenity by a Supreme Court justice – I can’t define it, but I know it when I see it. (Man, I’m opening myself up, wading into legal territory when I know NOTHING about it!) My incredible ignorance of the law, the realistic implications of that statement, etc., I very much like the sentiment behind it. I may not be able to define the law of chastity, but I know when I think it’s being broken, and a guy making out with someone other than his wife crosses that line.

    I grant that your definition gives us solid, workable terms that makes it possible for the law of chastity to be applied equally to everyone (again, a very lawyerly move). But it’s a double-edge sword – if someone argues they haven’t broken the law of chastity, they’re still eligible for a temple recommend, even if they’ve been making out with someone other than their spouse. (Unless I’m mistaken, the recommend interview doesn’t ask whether you’ve violated marriage covenants, but asks about the law of chastity.) My approach has as many, if not more problems – if what constitutes the law of chastity is up to each individual bishop or is determined by “feelings,” then we run the great risk of having people treated unfairly by their leaders.

  14. Randy
    July 9, 2004 at 2:37 pm

    The temple recommend interview questions ask whether you strive to keep all of the covenents you have made in the temple–this would include the marriage covenants (at least for those who have married in the temple).

  15. Randy
    July 9, 2004 at 2:49 pm

    It is hard to deny, as John H suggests, that there are certain areas of ambiguity in the law fo chastity. But like Kaimi, I think the marriage covenant adequately answers scenario (#2 and #2a). As for scenario #1, Pres. Hinckley has said, in General Conference no less, that gays and lesbians are to be welcomed into the church–they simply must abide by all of the laws and commandments that the rest of us are required to adhere to. Why doesn’t that answer the question as to scenario #1?

  16. gst
    July 9, 2004 at 2:58 pm

    Our current teaching on homosexuality, as I understand it, requires us to not only live the law of chastity but also to refrain from “homosexual behavior.” Kaimi outlines certain sexual behavior that conforms to the law of chastity–handholding, appropriate kissing, etc.–and should therefore be unproblematic. It seems to me, however, that what is permissible sexual behavior in a heterosexual setting would be impermissible homosexual behavior if it was between two people of the same sex. So we really separate the commandments: live the law of chastity AND don’t engage in homosexual behavior. Is this really a controversial point? (Controversial within the Church, I mean; I understand that it’s controversial outside of the Church.) Am I right descriptively?

  17. Hellmut Lotz
    July 9, 2004 at 3:04 pm


    It is true that there is social pressure everywhere in the world. Having lived in fifteen cities, attended three universities, participated in a fraternity, worked in politics and the armed forces I can say that I have seen an institution yet that approaches Mormon practice in terms of conformist pressures.

    There is a reason why individuals fear excommunication: because they fear to lose their social relationships.

    There are cases of excommunication merely for a person’s research and opinions. So it is not true that exclusion is only a result of erring members. Even if it were a matter of individual mistakes, the church as an organization must still take responsibility for engendering these patterns of behavior.

    One ofd the causes of coercive social dynamics is the tendency to reduce gospel principles to check lists, which allows strangers to make judgments about people’s worthiness and trivilizes the teachings of the Lord.

    Imagine what would happen in your family if you decided to leave the church. I have to say that I do not feel free to discuss the gospel in my ward.

    Cheers, Hellmut

  18. Nate Oman
    July 9, 2004 at 3:23 pm

    John H.: My approach has as many, if not more problems – if what constitutes the law of chastity is up to each individual bishop or is determined by “feelings,” then we run the great risk of having people treated unfairly by their leaders.


    The other side of this sentiment is the problem of “legalism” or “arid formalism.” It seems that much of Jesus’s polemics against the Pharisees is directed at this issue. Oddly as well, the Church gets accused of being both overly formalistic and not formalistic enough. These seem like issues that don’t get sorted out very well in the criticisms.

    If you spend much time studying the law you realize that there are limits on one’s ability to understand correct outcomes in terms of the logical application of rules. Indeed, in the United States the entirely first year of legal education is more or less devoted to beating this idea out of the heads of putative lawyers.

    In our legal system we get around this issue (in legal philosophy it generally travels under the name of “formal realizability”) by assigning issues to juries, which are more ore less mute decision makers. We do this precisely because of the difficulty of setting forth clear, formally applicable rules. Potter Stewart’s obscenity example is rather unfortunate because on a “funamental” constitutional issue it seems like a rather lame punt. If you look from the ethereal nonsense of constitutional law to the real world of tort, property, and contract, however, the same issue re-emerges. For example, every contract carries with it an implied duty of good faith performance. How do you apply that rule?

  19. Randy
    July 9, 2004 at 3:49 pm

    gst raises a good point. It seems to me, though, that the arguments as for why homosexuality is a sin loose much of their force when one is talking about holding hands. I don’t recall seeing any church guidance that addresses the specific questions raised by Kaimi in scenario #1. Rather, the instructions I’ve seen from church sources address the issue generically. It seems to me, though, that a good faith argument could be made that engaging in conduct that does not qualify as “sexual relations” with a member of the same sex would not qualify as “homosexual behavior.” I suspect this view might be considered unorthodox by most members. Perhaps we should ask Nate, since he IS orthodoxy.

  20. Jared
    July 9, 2004 at 4:11 pm

    I think we should all start using the phrase “the ethereal nonsense of constitutional law” much more often in our posts.

    I’m sure all former law students are having flashbacks to first year while reading this thread. I, for one, am recalling Frug (an experience Nate and I endured together), whose main goal seemed to be to teach by confusion.

    Kaimi is raising the issue of rules vs. standards and pointing out that rules are always over and under inclusive, while standards are often too malleable to achieve predictable outcomes (blah blah blah blah)

    Has anyone else ever noticed, however, that the temple recommend questions are phrased in terms of standards? Are you honest? Do you live the law of chastity? Etc. Does that say anything about the Lord’s preference for bright line rules vs. standards?

  21. Randy
    July 9, 2004 at 4:19 pm

    The temple recomment questions are actually a mix of rules and standards. You’ve listed some standards questions; here are some rules questions:

    Do you wear your garments both night and day?
    Do to attend all your sacrament and priesthood meetings?
    Are you current in your financial obligations to a former spouse/children?
    Do you strive to keep all the laws and commandments of the gospel?

  22. wendy
    July 9, 2004 at 5:14 pm

    gst — I may be wrong, but I think the “homosexual behavior” prohibition is just a BYU Honor Code thing. Wondering about the reasons for that would be its own thread. Except, it is related to one of the arguments against scenario #1, if not in theory than at least in practice — that it would confuse Mormon kids to have kissing, hand-holding homosexuals around at church and church functions.

    Child to mom: “Mom, those two men kissing, hugging and holding hands at the ward picnic — what’s up with that? That’s not something I’ve seen before.” “They are homosexual. They aren’t committing any sin. The prophet himself said that homosexual people are not sinners per se and are welcome at church as long as obey the same laws that everyone else must obey, ie, obey the law of chastity. If we find out they are having sex with each other, then they are not welcome anymore, as homosexual sex is a sin that offends God.” Am I stating Hinckley’s position correctly, and is that workable?

  23. July 9, 2004 at 5:23 pm

    “It seems to me, however, that what is permissible sexual behavior in a heterosexual setting would be impermissible homosexual behavior if it was between two people of the same sex.”

    While this is obvious when it comes to actual sexual actions, I have to wonder how applicable it is to such things as holding hands and kissing. It is more than obvious that many members of the Church find same-gender kissing to be objectionable and offensive. However, does a dislike for it make it impermissible? Will there be ecclesiastical repercussions for two men kissing?

    Not to bring up the whole gay/race debate, but it wasn’t long ago when kissing (or even holding hands) among two people of different skin colour was held with the same amount of disgust same gender kissing is today.

    Again, does a dislike for something make it wrong?

  24. gst
    July 9, 2004 at 6:05 pm

    After re-reading the original post I realize that I was using the term “sexual behavior” more broadly than Kaimi did. Let us term chaste handholding, kissing, et cetera, between an unmarried man and woman “heterosexual behavior short of sex.” The Church objects to parallel homosexual behavior short of sex.

    It is a Church-wide policy, and not just that of BYU, that homosexual behavior violates the commandments of God. My point is that the proscription of homosexual behavior seems broader than just proscribing homosexual law of chastity violations.

    Kim, I’m not sure how anyone’s dislike of it matters one way or the other. I suppose we should find it “objectionable and offensive” because it violates the commandments of God. And even if we can’t muster those feelings personally, we shouldn’t be surprised or indignant when the Church takes institutional stances that reflect its understanding of the commandments.

  25. July 9, 2004 at 6:12 pm


    I’m going to stick with the idea that same-gender kissing is disgusting (assuming we’re talking about romantic expressions of intimacy). And the more passionate it gets, the more disgusting it becomes.

    I went to the airport to pick up my wife a week ago and there at the gate two young women were really letting the whole world know that they liked each other — a lot. It seemed to me that they carefully arranged themselves to be in the most public portion of the terminal, where you couldn’t help but pass and see them (you can’t enter the terminal … you have to wait at the gate until the person arrives). I had to wonder if it was a deliberate exercise to flip off the Utah Mormons who might be around.

    Maybe this is a PDA issue more than a gender issue — but seeing a man kissing a man or a woman kissing a woman is just grotesque.

  26. Matt Jacobsen
    July 9, 2004 at 6:20 pm

    Now I’m starting to question the chastity of the women in my ward. I see them holding hands, hugging, touching each other all the time. And most of them are married. Heaven knows what they do when they get together in relief society or the (gasp!) mother’s lounge

  27. July 9, 2004 at 6:25 pm

    LoL. They seem awfully affectionate … but anyone who has seen the movie Mean Girls knows better.

  28. July 9, 2004 at 6:52 pm

    (Although I’m not granting the premise, assume for the purposes of this comment that sexual orientation is something which cannot be changed during mortal life.)

    There are some people whose sexual orientation is exclusively homosexual. There are some people whose orientation is exclusively heterosexual. And then there are some people whose orientation is somewhere in between.

    Let’s ignore the exclusively homosexual and exclusively heterosexual people for now, and focus only on those who are capable of being sexually attracted to members of either sex. (They might be predominantly attracted toward one sex or the other, but they are still capable of being attracted by either.)

    Given the Church’s position that marriage is desirable but only heterosexual marriage is permissible, it seems reasonable that those capable of being sexually attracted by both sexes should be encouraged to act on only the attraction to the opposite sex.

    Thus, handholding, kissing, etc., with the opposite sex are seen as part of a relationship which may result in a temple marriage, or at least as part of learning how to relate with the opposite sex as preparation for finding a marriage partner. The same behavior between members of the same sex is not seen as leading toward a temple marriage, but rather as leading away from it.

    Remember, we’re talking here only about people capable of being attracted to either sex, so we’re not talking about changing someone’s sexual orientation. I’m only trying to explain why, with the premises of the Church, there may be a rational basis for encouraging behavior between members of the opposite sex while discouraging the same behavior between members of the same sex.

  29. July 9, 2004 at 6:57 pm

    Some seem to be suggesting that kissing between a married person and someone not their spouse is different because they are married. OK, what if it was two siblings? Isn’t that wrong? Yet I’ve never heard that tied to the law of chastity.

    The problem is, I think, that we are considering the law the written “don’t do X” rather than something broader that can’t be encapsulated easily by words. It’s understandable, since we have a tendency to understand divine law in terms of our mortal laws passed by legislature. But I’m not sure it is accurate. I doubt you’ll find anywhere an expressely written “law of chastity.” Rather you have the command, a few vague generalities with the left open to interpretation. So you get new GHI policies every few years dealing with the changing situations.

    I must admit that in past discussions I got rather uncomfortable with people thinking they were keeping the law through a trick, simply because kissing wasn’t mentioned anywhere. It makes me think they think of the gospel as akin to a rich guy and his lawyers and accountants looking for tax loopholes. As if the gospel works that way.

  30. Kaimi
    July 9, 2004 at 7:03 pm


    Strangely enough, your theory would rule out (2), while not necessarily affecting (1).

    After all, the married person might be looking for a new temple relationship. Or maybe even an initial temple relationship, if his/her current marriage was a non-temple marriage. (Or even an additional temple relationship, if we think that polygamy is going to be restored).

    That’s particularly strange. I had thought that the marriage covenant might prohibit (1) while allowing (2), (which would make some sense to me), but it looks like you’ve stumbled on a line of reasoning that would have the opposite effect.

  31. July 9, 2004 at 7:06 pm

    Matt’s comment–although made in sarcasm as comic relief, I suppose—actually touches upon the most interesting aspect of this discussion to me. I often mourn the fact that our world has become so hyper-sexualized. Almost all physical affection now is eroticized with the possible exception of mothers/grandmothers and their own young children/grandchildren.

    I grew up in an extremely affectionate extended family. My parents hugged and kissed all of us silly. I regularly hugged and kissed my grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins (on my Dad’s side). These were emphatically not erotic experiences. They were routine, innocent, loving, tender and sweet.

    I hate the fact that our culture has made it shocking for me to greet my grown up married female cousin, whom I’ve loved my whole life, with an embrace and a kiss on the cheek. I find it disturbing that hugging and kissing my female cousins on campus may cause raised eyebrows, but erotic heterosexual backrubs between practical strangers abound without reproach at BYU.

    I think nonsexual physical affection is important to maintain emotional and psychological health and that our hypersexualized culture has sadly resulted in less embracing, kissing, and nonsexual touching overall (even within immediate families) to the detriment of our society. This, of course, further complicates the problem by unnecessarily reducing all affection to sex.

  32. July 9, 2004 at 7:23 pm

    I think Melissa is right on with everything she said. I keep trying to add more to this reaction but I can’t say anything better than she already did.

  33. Kingsley
    July 9, 2004 at 7:26 pm

    Amen, Melissa. I recently saw a funny episode of King of the Hill where Hank tried to reclaim certain words (hot dog, buns, etc.) that “our hypersexualized culture” had stolen. And did any of you see the recent episode of SNL that featured a Harry Potter sketch? One juvenile masturbation joke followed another, all along the lines of “We’re going to beat some Bludgers,” etc., and the audience roared appreciatively each time. Complain about this, or even merely roll your eyes at it, and the knights of pop culture will immediately lance you (no pun intended—see? it’s impossible to avoid), crying, “Prude! Bigot! We’re comfortable with our sexuality,” and so on. But people, it’s not funny anymore. It’s tired. It’s stale. Bathroom humor is easy to write and easy to laugh at, and, what’s worse, as Melissa pointed out, it eventually pulls everything “virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy” down the toilet with it.

  34. Kaimi
    July 9, 2004 at 7:35 pm


    Agreed, definitely agreed. So . . .

    Consider yourself e-hugged. (I don’t think I know you well enough to e-kiss you on the cheek, sorry). And more e-hugs for Danithew, D., Eric, Clark, Wendy (who I don’t think I’ve ever hugged in real life, actually) (I’m really not much of a hugger, though I do try to work on it), Kris, and even Nate. Hugs for everyone! (All in a non-sexual-meaning way).

    Is that better? :)

  35. July 9, 2004 at 7:35 pm


    I should have specified that I was talking about unmarried people. It seems obvious to me that married people should not be getting into a new intimate relationship.

  36. July 9, 2004 at 7:35 pm

    Amen to that Bro. Kingsley.

    I wonder if we as humans suffer from pendulums and extremes. We really are a hyper-sexualized culture and it’s gone to such an extreme that I’m afraid of what the cure for the disease would be. The other scary part is that our society seems bent on even getting more hyper-sexualized than it is now, which is almost impossible to imagine.

  37. Matt Jacobsen
    July 9, 2004 at 7:49 pm

    Thanks for picking up on my comment, Melissa. While it was sarcastic, the intent was also to bring up the point that touching is important even in intimate, non-sexual relationships.

    I did not grow up in a physically affectionate family, but I am trying to change my ways. Without being very demonstrative, I do feel the urge to communicate with friends and family through touches and hugs. But the thought is always there that both men and women may take it the wrong way. My charity is defeated by the fear of (wo)men. I actually envy the supposed freedom that women seem to have had with each other in this regard. Sorry to hear you feel this is disappearing.

    I’d only like to reiterate what you said about the sad cycle of hyper-sexuality reducing all signs of affection to ones related to sex.

  38. July 9, 2004 at 7:50 pm

    Thanks for the e-hug Kaimi. I’ll take those anytime. Right back atcha.

  39. greenfrog
    July 9, 2004 at 7:58 pm

    In one of the many coincidences of my life, recently, I was reading about some primate communication studies that involved taking newborn primates and isolating them to evaluate the development of communications techniques free from acculturation that might have been provided by parents or other primates.

    Then, a couple of days later, I was listening to a lecture where the professor noted a study undertaken in Europe during the Enlightenment to evaluate the development of language in humans that utilized roughly the same approach.

    In both cases, primate and human, the infants died — not from lack of food, which was readily provided in each case — but from lack of touch and care from a community. Without those the infants simply stopped eating.

    Should we understand any set of rules whatsoever to require our gay or lesbian brothers and sisters to undergo a similar kind of treatment, whatever conclusion one wants to draw regarding celibacy? I would find it particularly repulsive to require anyone, gay or straight, to forgo any human physical contact simply because someone else might find it objectionable.

    In my ward recently, I noticed a sister missionary scratching the back of her companion during sacrament meeting. Since I’d had at previously a discussion of issues akin to those Kaimi raises here, I couldn’t help but wonder how such a harmless gesture might have been perceived if it had occurred between two celibate, gay men. Then I wondered how it might have been perceived if it had occurred between two married (to other women, of course), heterosexual men. Then I wondered how I’d feel if each time I entered the Church, I was forbidden from greeting my brothers and sisters with a touch, a hug, or (*gasp*) even a kiss. If I could endure it, I’d hate it.

  40. July 9, 2004 at 8:04 pm

    Greenfrog, I think part of the phenomena you notice is the fact that a lot of touching between men is far less socially acceptable than between women. Even lesbianism is often tolerated far more than male homexuality. Indeed, judging by Hollywood entertainment, it appears to be a common male fantasy. Even a lot of homoerotic actions between women are acceptable so long as they retain their desire for men. It is amazingly hypocritical but is a fact of our society. I suspect that, in part because of that, female touching will always be more acceptable than male touching.

    As homosexuality becomes more and more mainstream then those who think such acts are wrong will react more and more to avoid the appearance of evil.

  41. Kaimi
    July 9, 2004 at 8:15 pm


    I’m not sure exactly who your “knights of pop culture” are, but I think it’s quite acceptable to complain about lowbrow humor.

    The New York Times movie review of “American Wedding” — the most recent major lowbrow movie — was devastatingly harsh:

    [It] struggles so hard to be tasteless that it’s almost quaint. (Don’t presume such a remark to be a compliment; you’ll see better film on ponds.) The key word in that sentence, however, is “almost,” which could also be appended to the noun “movie.”
    . . .
    With any luck “American Wedding” should finally finish off the series.

    The Washington Post is not much kinder:

    If you do not bring pride, good taste or sense to this third “American Pie” installment, you’ll have a good time.

    Yes, it’s true that movies are still made for the 14-year-old gross-out crowd. But everyone in society — not just the Mormons, sorry — is quite aware that lowbrow humor is not classy.

  42. July 9, 2004 at 8:24 pm

    Afternoon, everyone.

    Just a few comments.

    First off, by way of directly commenting on the FPP: although I think that such a close and (as some say) “lawyerly” investigation of the law of chastity may prove fruitful, I fear that we risk missing the forest for the trees. It may be obvious, but I think it necessary to note that the law of chastity exists within an entire framework of principles, customs, and laws. Moreover, though its name may suggest otherwise, the law of chastity is hardly the only law that addresses our sexual lives — dressing modestly, clean language, disciplined thought (among others), all come to bear.

    I say it’s necessary to note as much, as the discussion that has followed from the post leaves me with the distinct impression that some among believe that if it’s not proscribed by the law of chastity, that it’s fair game.

    To put a finer point on it: I believe that while it may be a fruitful intellectual exercise, Kaimi’s framing of the discussion does little to actually answer Wendy’s question because it frames the discussion too narrowly (which, if I were a defense lawyer trying to get a guilty man off, would be a wonderful tactic — but is not genuinely helpful).

    One of concepts that I think is particularly useful in discussing Wendy’s question directly (and Kaimi’s FPP by extension), is that of “sin”. As a missionary I taught, and have since heard taught, that sin is most simply described as any thought or deed that takes us _away_ from God. If you accept that definition (with all it’s limitations/shortcomings), then it would be appropriate to re-word Wendy’s question (“Is same-sex kissing a sin? What about same-sex flirting and dating? Can a same-sex couple live together, love each other, come to church holding hands and sit together in the chapel, hold callings and be okay church-wise, as long as they don’t have sex?”) thusly:

    Does same-sex kissing, flirting, dating, coupling, holding hands, or the like lead one away or toward God?

    … But let’s hold-off on answering that question for a moment.

    Another concept that I think may prove useful in discussing Wendy’s question would be the principle of aiming high. It doesn’t sound like a religious principle when called that… but it’s a common thread in many of the teachings we find in the Church. We are told to strive for perfection in every aspect of our lives, even though there is a great deal of room to fail, we are reminded time and again that joy is found in striving (oft times regardless of our success). Succinctly put: striving for perfection is a godly attribute. Though this is tangential to the issue, I would submit that striving is so highly esteemed because it’s in striving for the visible that we exercise spiritual muscles that are otherwise invisible.

    Another principle of interest would be the teachings on the Great Plan of Happiness. We’re told that man is that he might have joy… and that the Great Plan of Happiness is not only calculated to bring us that joy in some great measure in this life, but to bring us ultimately into the presence of God. That Great Plan of Happiness includes finding and marrying a (in my case) woman who will compliment my male (gender identity in the context of the Church is something we should chat about some time) soul, encouraging me to grow in areas that I wouldn’t/couldn’t address alone or among my own kind — in other words, _being_ a husband to a wife is part of the process of learning and growing that will lead us back home.

    I am sure there are other areas that might be useful to address, but frankly, my fingers are tired, and I’m only half done.


    So let’s get back to the re-worded question:

    Does same-sex kissing, flirting, dating, coupling, holding hands, or the like lead one away or toward God?

    I would submit that for most people (and isn’t this really a question that is best answered for one’s self?), the answer would be that it would indeed be leading us _away_ from God… if we’re doing those things (and depending on where we fall on the Kinseyian scale, and where we are in our life), then we are most likely _avoiding_ the task of finding a mate — as it’s our natural inclination to favor the more pleasant task, over the less pleasant one (some day I should elaborate how I believe this principle plays into the whole women in the priesthood discussion). Moreover, I believe that such activities are antithetical to a personal disposition towards miracles… and are symptomatic (perhaps) of someone who has given up seeking after the best God has to offer, resigning themselves instead to a life of good works alone. This last point hit’s close at home for me, as the subtle voice that whispers “why try?” and “you won’t make it to the celestial kingdom” is a powerful one in my own life.

    A second point that I’d like to mention here — albeit only in passing — is that the danger in this buddy syndrome is not unique to homosexuals. Though it is not punctuated by an implicit or explicit sexuality, I have seen this behavior (and it’s un-fortunate consequences) in the lives of those around me. Take the story of Jack and Hilo (not their real names)… Jack was executive secretary of a BYU ward I attended several years ago. He was a year or two older than I was, he was handsome enough (for girls, at least) and gregarious. Hilo was from Hawaii… and he was just plain handsome, friendly, spiritually minded, Elder’s Quorum President. The whole package.

    Jack and Hilo were best friends — inseparable — when they weren’t working or at school, they were together… dating, playing, what have you. Their friendship was so close, though, that they had the nasty habit of talking each other out of relationships that would probably have resulted in marrying. A few years passed, and both got too old for the BYU ward scene. Instead of going their separate ways, they moved to Alpine, built a home, and moved in together. I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re still there together.

    They were straight as can be… but they let their friendship get in the way of progress. Take it for what it’s worth… but I think the story is instructional.

    A third (and final) point — which is related to the story that Aaron B related regarding the man in his stake — is to note that there is a trend among homosexuals in the church to idealize their same gender friendships and to be out-and-proud celebates. In fact, I attended the screening of a video produced by a member of BYU faculty and a professor at the University of Idaho (IIRC) that was aimed at bishops and hoped to encourage the acceptance of such behavior.

    I firmly believe that sexuality is maleable, and that choices we make as young adults can affect the paths we take into sexual maturity… Let’s face it: young people are (and have always been) anxious to define themselves as early and as forcefully as they can. In a bygone era (as recently 15 years ago, for crying out loud), the errant homosexual experience as an adolescent was seen as a one-off, or part of a passing phase… and there was plenty of support for youths who chose to accept those experiences as just that.

    Today, that support is all but gone — young people are being thrust into the sexual lifestyle earlier, the tides that push children to define themselves apart from their parent are stronger and more pervasive, and children that would have never considered such a move in years past are now self-identifying themselves as “gay” — 12, 13, 14 years olds, barely out of peach fuzz, are suddenly “homosexual” when “sexual” is only barely applicable.

    Which brings me to the point: I believe that for this reason alone, being out-proud-and-celebate may not prove the best course for latter-day saints who really seek the best for the flock as a whole. Of course, there’s a heterosexual corrollary: a) maybe we _all_ need to tone down the sexuality in our lives, and (albeit a little less related) b) if you’re happily married, flaunt it (and I’m not talking about the odd groping sessions we see from behind you in the pews)… as it may be the only testemant to happy marriage some kids will see today.

  43. Kingsley
    July 9, 2004 at 8:28 pm

    Kaimi: Where did I say it was “just the Mormons”? Good for the Times and the Post. Does this mean no hug for moi?

  44. Kingsley
    July 9, 2004 at 8:31 pm

    Also, while many are quite aware that bathroom humor isn’t “classy,” I think less accept the idea that it’s immoral and destructive.

  45. john fowles
    July 9, 2004 at 8:35 pm

    What about the spirit of the law as an end in itself, detached from any ambiguous formal rules?

    One thing missing from your list: viewing a naked body without touching.

    How can you really say this D.? We know that lust is a sin, so that knowledge alone prohibits that action. As it does, I would think, all of the other loopholes in Kaimi’s analysis. If those actions lead to lustful desires for one not your spouse, then they are to be avoided, whether the handbook specifically mentions them or not.

  46. July 9, 2004 at 8:44 pm

    Ah man… a number of interesting posts were being made while I wrote my treatise.

    Eric James Stone: the difficulty with your approach is that placement along the kinseyian scale is both spacial and temporal: a “6” didn’t necessarilly grow up a “6”. Moreover, as we reinforce stimuli, I would suggest that movement up the scale is quite likely (the converse is not necessarilly true, as it’s my experience that navigating heterosexual is hard enough for folks that started down that road in elementary school — and few folks are wont to walk up hill when there’s something to be had next door).

    clarkgoble: As an example of such hyper-sensitivity to perceived homosexual advances, I’ll mention a gentleman in my ward who literally jumps (JUMPS!) if you touch him on the arm. At first I thought it was just me who made him jump, but I’ve seen him have the exact same reaction no matter who touched him — members of the bishopric, the elder’s quorum president… any other guy touching him except via the standard handshake ellicited the most acute reaction — bordering on violence, even. Let me tell you: I’ve not touched him since.


    Finally, a general comment about the advanced state of decay we’re facing, here: researchers in the UK (I wish I could find the study… I saw it mentionned at Metafilter, but can’t find the link for the life of me) have started to document a trend of girls in the UK starting puberty at alarmingly early ages (8 year old girls starting their periods!)… they attribute the trend to the sexualizing of our culture.

  47. Kaimi
    July 9, 2004 at 8:46 pm


    Of course you get a hug too. Sorry I left you off of the first list (which was composed in an entirely ad hoc fashion – scroll up quickly, type a few names). :)

  48. July 10, 2004 at 12:41 am

    ” I suppose we should find it “objectionable and offensive” because it violates the commandments of God.”

    That’s just it, gst. Which commandment prohibits two men from kissing each other or two women from holding hands?

  49. Mike
    July 10, 2004 at 4:54 am

    “Of course, there’s a heterosexual corrollary: a) maybe we _all_ need to tone down the sexuality in our lives, and (albeit a little less related) b) if you’re happily married, flaunt it (and I’m not talking about the odd groping sessions we see from behind you in the pews)… as it may be the only testemant to happy marriage some kids will see today.”
    Loved this comment- agree with the number one

    On a somewhat related note, gst has said that it is against the commandments for same sex people to kiss or hold hands and people have asked what commandments say that is not ok. gst of course is referencing the command not to engage in homosexual behavior. But what the heck is homosexual behavior? Is kissing some one of the opposite sex heterosexual behavior? Most of the time I think we pretty clearly would say yes. Not all kisses of course- but making out certainly would be. Making out may or may not violate the law of chastity- but when done with some one of the opposite sex it is definitely heterosexual behavior.
    Thus- I think gst has a pretty good argument going here that same sex kissing is homosexual behavior.

    But hang on here-
    I also agree with Melissa that sometimes kissing, hugging, etc. aren’t sexual activities at all but are affectionate activities- and only our hypersexualized culture has turned them into (or perceives them as) sexual activities when often they are not.

    So how do we say which actions are affectionate and which are sexual. It may be a really, really, hard call when judging others- not quite so hard when looking at our own actions.
    Grant Von Harrison’s book Is Kissing Sinful (I think it was Grant Von Harrison) quotes President Kimble in drawing the conclusion that sometimes kissing itself is sinful even when there is not any inappropriate touching. What makes it sinful? A whole number of things. If these kisses among heterosexuals are sinful and defined by some to be violating the law of chastity, then it is pretty clear that they would also be sinful between two homosexuals.
    The gray area of course is kisses that express both affection and desire. Kisses like that between Virginia Wolf and her sister in “The Hours” (It seems more striking in the movie than in the book) hold some sort of grey area.

    gst’s arguments about these actions being sinful seem in many ways to sum up some of these questions. If our actions take us further from God, or progressing in a way God desires, or from being able to fill his commands in the future would pretty clearly be sinful. But what if our actions now don’t prevent us from taking the necessary actions in the future?

    Really what I am asking here- Is NCMO sinful? I think there should be an entirely new thread devoted to this topic- but that is probably because I am a single undergraduate student. However, where that to be answered in the affirmative then I think it would also follow that the homosexual equivalent would also be sinful.

  50. July 10, 2004 at 3:46 pm

    Hear, hear to Melissa’s comments on the over-eroticization of our culture. My brothers and I were always physically affectionate, as were my boyhood friends, and we often get strange looks when continuing to be so today.

    On another note, does the law of chastity have any implications for the relationship between a man and wife? As an unmarried member, I’ve always wondered what, if any, guidelines are given to newly married couples about the boundaries of appropriate sexual behavior in marriage.

  51. gst
    July 10, 2004 at 5:33 pm

    Kim, I confess that I was relying on the Church Handbook of Instructions for Stake Presidencies and Bishoprics for the proposition that “[h]omosexual behavior violates the commandments of God.” I don’t put the handbook forward as scripture, but is surely commands bishops on this matter of Church policy, as on all others it addresses. The handbook cites no support, but I’m sure someone who has given this more thought than I have could refer you somewhere. Like Leviticus, I guess. I never pursued the point because it seemed like a settled question (and apparently uncontroversial to the authors of the handbook). Which is why Kaimi’s analysis surprised me. I had never supposed that the range of chaste but sexual behavior (like, say, passionate kissing) permitted to heterosexuals would also be licit homosexual conduct, and frankly I am doubtful as to whether such a proposition would be good policy or doctrine.

  52. Ben S.
    July 10, 2004 at 6:34 pm

    I don’t know if it’s been invoked yet, but FWIW the new For the Strength of Youth pamphlet gets rid of “necking” (who ever knew what the heck that meant, anyway. It’s replaced with “do not participate in passionate kissing” (from the .pdf version)

    It appears that there are some differences between the html version and the .pdf version.

    The html adds the following-“The Lord specifically forbids certain behaviors, including all sexual relations before marriage, petting, sex perversion (such as homosexuality, rape, and incest), masturbation, or preoccupation with sex in thought, speech, or action (see A Parent’s Guide, pp. 36–39).

    Homosexual and lesbian activities are sinful and an abomination to the Lord (see Romans 1:26–27, 31). Unnatural affections including those toward persons of the same gender are counter to God’s eternal plan for his children. You are responsible to make right choices. Whether directed toward those of the same or opposite gender, lustful feelings and desires may lead to more serious sins. All Latter-day Saints must learn to control and discipline themselves.”

    Compare the .pdf with the html.

  53. Ben Huff
    July 10, 2004 at 7:55 pm

    Yes, NCMO is sinful. That seems like a no-brainer.

    The fact that something doesn’t normally lead to the denial of a temple recommend, or other formal disciplinary action, doesn’t mean it isn’t sinful.

    Speeding tickets aren’t usually issued for going two mph over the speed limit, but that doesn’t mean you aren’t breaking it.

    Consider the temple recommend question as to whether there is anything in your conduct toward the members of your family that is [I forget the wording — anyway, contrary to the teachings of the Church]. Suppose I am impatient, or I do less than a fair share of the housework. These are sins, but not serious enough to merit having a recommend withheld.

    The fact that some things that go on on dates aren’t grounds for withholding a recommend doesn’t mean they aren’t contrary to the law of chastity. Sure, in some contexts when we talk about violations of that law, it’s clear we’re talking about grave violations that might warrant Church discipline. But that doesn’t mean the law has nothing to say about less serious matters.

    “Which commandment prohibits two men from kissing each other or two women from holding hands?”

    Why not the law of chastity?

    “does the law of chastity have any implications for the relationship between a man and wife?”

    I definitely think so. Non-consensual sex within marriage would surely be contrary to the law of chastity, tho not only that.

    I realize that what I’m saying implies that there is more to the law of chastity than is explicitly stated in the temple, even though there is an explicit statement about what the law is in the temple. But I still think what I said is right. Call it the spirit of the law. It would be ridiculous for the temple ceremony to comment on NCMO, so the fact that it doesn’t is no argument that the law of chastity doesn’t forbid it. Matt Evans, feel free to rip into me for my brazen moralizing here. I don’t have texts to appeal to, but I think it is more than reasonable to think of the law of chastity as a principle with broader implications than the narrow rule-type content Kaimi details at the start of this thread.

    Chastity is a virtue, like patience or courage or modesty, that involves good judgment and proper action with respect to sexuality. Being chaste is a matter of acting in keeping with that virtue, in whatever context one finds oneself in. Isn’t it?

  54. July 10, 2004 at 8:22 pm

    “The Lord specifically forbids certain behaviors, including all sexual relations before marriage, petting, sex perversion (such as homosexuality, rape, and incest), masturbation, or preoccupation with sex in thought, speech, or action.”

    This is a very poorly worded sentence. Does it mean:

    A) “all sexual relations before marriage INCLUDING petting” and thus giving us a list of all activities “forbidden” by the Lord ONLY BEFORE marriage. This could hardly be the meaning. Because it’s not like there’s a case where rape and/or incest is allowed AFTER marriage.

    Or the other way this sentence could be read is:

    B) that the Lord forbids certain behaviors INCLUDING: sexual relations before marriage, petting, etc.

    Depending on which way you read the sentence, either A) incest is allowed sometimes OR B) petting is ALWAYS forbidden, even when you’re married.

    Most of us probably know what is trying to be said; but again, it’s poorly written.

  55. Mardell
    July 10, 2004 at 8:57 pm

    Not doing your fair share of house work is a sin?? Someone please tell Kaimi.


  56. July 10, 2004 at 9:13 pm

    Using Aaron Brown’s real life example, let’s say we can all be one big happy Mormon family and let homosexual couples hold temple recommends while living together without being “sexual”. Then what? How long would that last? A simple analogy:

    Let’s say that my wife and I – two years ago before we were married – came up with this brilliant idea to be engaged for thirty years. We decided we wanted to live together in the same apartment without being “sexual” but still having the flexibility of kissing / making out with the understanding that we wouldn’t touch each other inappropriately since we’re only engaged.

    Even if a bishop were willing enough to entertain such an idea, how long would you give the two of us before we would have sex? And a homosexual couple would be different how?

    This sounds an awful lot like that “appearance of evil leads to evil” quote my seminary teacher taught me…

    I’m just not sure how any homosexual relationship of this nature wouldn’t end up in sex (both parties being able, that is).

  57. July 10, 2004 at 9:26 pm

    If it isn’t obvious, I should mention that the last sentence of my comment above isn’t singling out homosexuals. The point is that it’s the same for both homosexuals and heterosexuals. In other words, the fact that a bishop / stake president in Aaron Brown’s ward would seriously consider letting a homosexual couple hold temple recommends suggests a trace of partiality due to the we-feel-bad-for-homosexuals-because-they-get-shafted-in-our-church feeling. Because I’m almost positive that the same bishop / stake president would just laugh at the idea of the heterosexual equivalent.

  58. July 10, 2004 at 11:43 pm

    “Why not the law of chastity?”

    Perhaps it is; I wasn’t saying it wasn’t. However, since the law of chastity is very vague and open-ended, it seems to be a catchall commandment to place anything we think is wrong.

    “[h]omosexual behavior violates the commandments of God.”

    This isn’t any less vague. So, does this mean I can’t kiss my brothers or my dad? I can’t kiss my son? What exactly is “homosexual behaviour”? Is it the behaviour of a homosexual person? Does it include how a lesbian eats? After all, she is homosexual and she has to behave a certain way in order to eat.

    These statements and questions may seem ridiculous, but given the fact that there is no clear-cut, consistent definition of either the law of chastity or homosexual behaviour, it’s hard to say that certain actions absolutely fall under one or both of them.

  59. Ben Huff
    July 11, 2004 at 2:35 am

    Kim, I’m not sure what you’re getting at. Are you objecting to a notion of chastity that doesn’t have a clear-cut definition, and objecting in principle to saying something is unchaste without being able to point to a definition? Or are you objecting to particular claims about what is or isn’t chaste?

    “Love thy neighbor as thyself” seems pretty vague and open-ended. Does that mean there’s something wrong with it as a commandment? Do we need a clear-cut, consistent definition of love? of honesty or modesty?

    Virtues like honesty, modesty, patience and chastity are necessary because morality can’t all be boiled down to a bunch of rules. At some point Jacob was driven to say, “O be wise; what can I say more?” (Jacob 6:12)

    If on the other hand you’re objecting to this or that claim about a certain kind of behavior’s being unchaste, we’ll have to talk about the particular reasons why it is or isn’t unchaste.

  60. July 11, 2004 at 1:31 pm

    Given the original post of the thread and where the thread has gone, my concern lies with two things.

    Firstly, some have said that kissing and holding hands between two people of the same gender—in particular those with an attraction toe ach other—is against the law of chastity. However, I have yet to come across a definition of the law of chastity that explicitly states that two lesbians holding hands or kissing is in violation of it.

    Secondly, some have said that homosexual behaviour is against the law of chastity, implying that two gay men holding hands or kissing constitutes homosexual behaviour. This is despite any definition of what constitutes homosexual behaviour.

    I am not arguing that these things are not against the law of chastity or do not constitute homosexual behaviour. However, it bothers me to a slight degree that people claim these things without substantiating the claims. While, I think it is obvious two lesbians or two gay men having sex is against the law of chastity and most definitely constitutes homosexual behaviour, I have to wonder if saying the same thing about same gender kissing and handholding is as clear-cut.

    I also want to address briefly the idea that kissing is sinful because it does not bring us closer to God. While this may be true, I also do not believe it necessarily separates us from God. My wife and I kissed before we were married and, quite honestly, I did not find myself any closer or further from God because of a simple kiss. I feel simple kissing is quite neutral and is not inherently righteous or wicked.

    FTR, I am not trying to defend that kissing or handholding between homosexuals is right or proper.

  61. A Edwards
    July 12, 2004 at 12:28 am

    Davis Bell writes:

    On another note, does the law of chastity have any implications for the relationship between a man and wife? As an unmarried member, I’ve always wondered what, if any, guidelines are given to newly married couples about the boundaries of appropriate sexual behavior in marriage.

    I never got *the talk* when my wife and I got married 15 years ago. The issue had come up from time to time (eg — learning that oral sex was held at common law to be a form of sodomy) to the extent that I consulted my bishop. My bishop slipped out of this potentially nasty discussion by reminding me that I was a priesthood holder and should follow the dictates of the Spirit.

    I’ve taken this to mean that, barring adultery (in all its forms), pornography, public lewdness or immodesty, or unrighteous dominion by one partner over the other, everything else is fair game. As long as there is complete fidelity within the maritial union, I don’t believe the church has any interest in the manner in which the union is maintained. Which has the downstream implication, Brother Bell, that you should strive to pick an eternal companion with the same kinks and perversions that you have ;-)!

  62. Matt Evans
    July 12, 2004 at 1:00 am

    The propriety of affection between men or between women exactly tracks the propriety of affection between other classes that are commanded not to have sexual relations, such as siblings. Homosexuals may do with each other what they do with their grandparents, parents and siblings, no more and no less. Physical affection beyond what one properly expresses to close family is sexual and, in the case of homosexuals, violates the commandment against homosexual behavior.

  63. July 12, 2004 at 1:25 am

    I was indirectly trying to say what Matt said. But alas, I was nowhere near as clear or concise. Thanks, Matt Evans!

  64. Ben Huff
    July 12, 2004 at 1:30 am

    Kim, I think there is a place for discussions about why this or that action is chaste or unchaste, outside of the explicit and authoritative rules, like NCMO. There are a lot of particular cases, though, and I’m not sure I want to dig into the reasons right now for my particular claims. The main point of my last comment was to say that chastity isn’t just a rule; it’s a virtue and a principle (depending on whether you’re looking at it as a personal characteristic or as a public standard), with implications that aren’t captured by tidy and explicit rules.

    I don’t think anyone was trying to say that it was wrong or sinful for you and your wife to kiss when you were dating. Just that there are cases where kissing is sinful, and for an example I would cite NCMO. Driving fifty miles an hour isn’t just plan legal or illegal; it depends on what the speed limit is where you’re driving. It’s reckless in a school zone. Similarly, kissing can be appropriate or gravely wrong, depending on who you’re kissing and what your relationship is like.

  65. D. Fletcher
    July 12, 2004 at 10:48 am

    For a vaguely connected digression:

    Kissing is the only “sexual” act allowed outside of marriage, and yet in many ways, it is the most intimate of the acts. Kissing is…making love to another person’s face. Prostitutes will often be willing to submit to any sexual act — except kissing, because it represents love and emotional connection more than the others.

  66. July 12, 2004 at 12:26 pm

    D. Fletcher,

    I agree that kissing can be an extremely intimate act and “represents emotional connection.” I have never, however, heard kissing described as “making love to another person’s face.” It made me laugh, but I actually think there is some truth to the description.

    Any other descriptions of kissing out there?

    I HATE the term that Ben has used several times because it implies that the only problem with that kind of intimacy is the lack of commitment. I used to describe kissing as “communicating on a higher level” or “deep communication” For the reasons D. Fletcher has mentioned I think that communicating on a higher level should be reserved for people you love heart and soul and always will.

    Of course, there are different kinds of kisses; different kinds of physical affection. I think this issue comes down to what is appropriate in particular situations. I have never communicated on a higher level with anyone who hadn’t proposed marriage first–with someone I didn’t absolutely adore. This is also the girl who hugs and kisses her extended family without reservation. My point? Different situations call for different responses.

    I think some of relevant questions to ask oneself are the following: What are the circumstances? Who is the person you are with? What kind of relationship do you have? How close to the Spirit are you? What is the intent of your heart? Are you self-interested and lustful or full of selfless love? Will this activity negatively affect your personal purity? And so forth.

    These are questions that cannot be reduced to a rule very easily. But, I think that homosexuals, just like heterosexuals should refrain from all erotic encounters without deep emotional bonds and long-term commitment.

    (Notice that I said “erotic” instead of sexual. A kiss can be erotic or not, a touch can be erotic or not. All sexual activity, however, should obviously be reserved strictly for marriage)

    Of course, then we’re right back to the question of same-sex marriage.

  67. Matt Evans
    July 12, 2004 at 12:39 pm

    Melissa, your effort to distinguish erotic from sexual appears to be a distinction without a difference. Do you suppose the church would smile kindly on a father who, after passionately kissing his 15 year old daughter, explained that the kiss was erotic, not sexual?

  68. July 12, 2004 at 1:32 pm


    Although I did make it clear that different situations call for different, situation-appropriate responses, you are right that I didn’t begin to explain the distinction between erotic and sexual. It has to do with my theory of the emotions, which I can’t get into now because of time.

    I will say this: We tend to think of erotic love as synonymous with sexual longing. Some may also associate it with the desire to possess or control a person or object. Western tradition teaches us that philia is the sort of love that need not be sexual (even though it may be). So, perhaps for the sake of clarity I should have spoken in terms of eros, philia and agape. Using those terms as traditionally defined then, erotic feelings are perhaps never appropriate or only within marriage with certain stipulations. But this may have further complicated matters since we were actually not discussing forms of love per se.

    I depart from the traditional definition of erotic love, however, since I think that erotic love involves viewing the beloved as uncontrolled and unpossessed but necessary for the lover’s happiness in a way that isn’t captured by philia. While erotic love does seem to be an emotion that has some bodily implications (as do many of the other emptions like anger, fear, compassion, etc.), I do not think that sexual desire (i.e. genital arousal) need be present for eros. I realize that this is an ununsual understanding of eros, but I think it clears up the difficulties I see with a too-broad definition of philia.

  69. Kaimi
    July 12, 2004 at 1:43 pm


    I’m a little confused by your characterization of kissing as “communicating on a higher level.”

    Not that kissing isn’t enjoyable, but I’m not sure that it’s particularly communicative. (For one thing, you can’t exactly hold much of a conversation while kissing!). Of course, there is communication in kissing (at least, one hopes that there is!), but it’s not on a particularly higher level — the message being sent is “I enjoy your affection” or “I like it when we kiss” or “I like it when you do X” which are nice enough messages, but not what I would consider a particularly high-level communication. It seems possible to only kiss people who you’re already in high-level communication with (which might make the kiss seem like part of that communication), but the kiss itself doesn’t seem very communicative, least of all on a higher level.

  70. July 12, 2004 at 2:22 pm

    Man, I hate to miss a good conversation like this. But that won’t prevent me from trying to jump in…

    Returning to the main thrust of Kaimi’s post (whoever it was that said that you can make innuendo from any sentence was right), I think we need to make our reading of the law of chastity much more complex. Kaimi’s rendering allows only for the formulation of the banned acts. I think the law of chastity actually contains three dimensions: the acts, the feelings, and the participants.

    The various combinations of these three dimensions have been beaten dead, but no one has formulated them explicitly. Only with the proper combination of all three elements do we know whether the law of chastity has been obeyed or violated.

    As to the acts, I agree with Kaimi’s definitions, as far as they go. However, I think it’s easy to show that given slight tweaks in the other two dimensions, kissing or making out, which Kaimi defines as per se chaste, can easily become unchaste.

    Moving to the “who” element (and this gets to the meat of the same-sex issue): There’s some question about whether a same-sex kiss would be unchaste. Some people think such a kiss is conceptually identical to an opposite sex kiss. And yet all would agree that a kiss between an adult and a child differs significantly (assuming the presence of sexual feelings, the third dimension) from an opposite sex kiss, even one with feelings of sexual attraction. So we obviously believe that the “who” in the kiss matters. We all condemn pedophilia. WE all condemn bestiality. If we witnessed a makeout session involving those sins, we’d be rightly scandalized. And yet those instances still seem to fit within Kaimi’s definition of chaste.

    A simple analogy: Incestuous sex is sinful. An incestuous makeout would be sinful, even though it falls short of sex. Homosexual sex is sinful. And yet there’s some question here as to whether homosexual kissing that falls short of sex is sinful? I don’t get that. The “who” of sexuality matters every bit as much as the “what.”

    The third dimension is “feelings” which doesn’t need much explanation, and has already been much discussed. Suffice it to say that Melissa’s family affection, and those of Davis and his brothers, if done in the absence of sexual feelings, are fine. BUt keep the who and the what constant, and change the feelings to a state of arousal, and it’s very wrong.

    A bishop once told me that the law of chastity, simply stated, is a commandment that we not sexually arouse anyone besides our spouse. It seems that simple mandate is consistent with the three-dimensional model I’ve just elaborated. Of course, that also argues with Kaimi’s conclusion that kissing is always chaste, even among opposite sex people. The point is to avoid sexual arousal with anyone not your spouse.

  71. Matt Evans
    July 12, 2004 at 3:02 pm

    I don’t believe it is correct to say that the law of chastity is a binary commandment that places spouses on one side, and every other class on the other. Otherwise our definition fails to distinguish passionate kisses between a father and daughter, or between men, and those between fiances.

    A stake president interviewing prospective missionaries, for example, will not scrutinize an elder who confesses making out with his girlfriend to the same degree he would scrutinize one who confessed making out with his brother. There is more than a spouse/non-spouse distinction.

    The church allows dating couples to express a modicum of intimacy that is prohibited to those combinations of partners that are banned from all sexual and erotic behavior.

  72. July 12, 2004 at 3:31 pm

    “A bishop once told me that the law of chastity, simply stated, is a commandment that we not sexually arouse anyone besides our spouse.”

    What if, per some odd chance, you were making out heavily with someone, but that person was not getting aroused. Is that sinful then?

  73. Kaimi
    July 12, 2004 at 3:57 pm

    Ryan writes,

    “A bishop once told me that the law of chastity, simply stated, is a commandment that we not sexually arouse anyone besides our spouse.”

    Whoa, whoa, whoa! How exactly can we control whether or not we sexually arouse someone else? The woman on the street corner who walks past me, without saying a word, might sexually arouse me just because she’s good-looking. If we’re not allowed to sexually arouse anyone but our spouse, we’re in burka-land all of a sudden.

  74. July 12, 2004 at 4:02 pm

    “A bishop once told me that the law of chastity, simply stated, is a commandment that we not sexually arouse anyone besides our spouse.”

    Uh oh. No more church dances for 14 – 16 year olds.

  75. D. Fletcher
    July 12, 2004 at 4:08 pm

    “Uh oh. No more church dances for 14 – 16 year olds.”

    Just be sure there’s room for the Holy Ghost between them.


    P.S. As I used to tell my mother, the Holy Ghost doesn’t take up much room.

  76. July 12, 2004 at 5:49 pm

    Wow, didn’t realize I had such a controversial bishop. Kaimi, we’ve had the conversation before about the responsibility of tempting others to lust. I don’t support burqas, but I am more conservative than you, attaching some guilt to the provocateur.

    Let me add some qualifiers to the bishop’s rule that will clarify some of the confusion: Never take an action that is intended to arouse anyone not your spouse in a sexual way.

    Is that better?

    By the way, the other way in which Kaimi’s first formulation of the law of chastity fails is the assumption that chastity is just one line. There are many preliminary steps in which you could break the law of chastity without needing your temple recommend revoked. Of course, that’s difficult to accept for some. The fact that obsessive watching of Baywatch or heavy makeout sessions could be against the law of chastity might not sit well with those who have drawn strong lines around “pornography” and “fornication.”

  77. Kristine
    July 12, 2004 at 6:06 pm

    “If we’re not allowed to sexually arouse anyone but our spouse, we’re in burka-land all of a sudden.”

    And besides, some of us just can’t help how good we look in burkas!


  78. July 12, 2004 at 6:26 pm

    Kristine, I totally get what you mean. Sumer has this rather fetching stretch cotton burqua, it’s more of a deep charcoal than flat black, and it really brings out her eyebrows. Let’s just say it’s not her ‘Sabbath-Burqua’.

    p.s. my parents took the family to Burka-Land one summer, and it was the worst amusement park I’ve ever visited. I mean, the Tunnel of Knowing Furtive Glances was OK, but the Jihad-In-Space simulator was a little underwhelming. Don’t get me going about the concession stands…

  79. July 12, 2004 at 6:47 pm

    Burkas truly are very fetching… but it’s so hard to maintain that perfect salt-shaker shape.

    Whoops… what do you mean men can’t wear burkas?

  80. July 12, 2004 at 6:55 pm

    Danithew, I was about to type a response to you that included that hornk-producing word “chupa-burka”, but thought better of it. Our silliness tends to be utterly thread-killing.

    Sometimes, however, killing a thread can be the more moral choice (although bishops should NEVER so advise).

  81. July 12, 2004 at 7:05 pm

    There are those who argue that pulling a little bit on one thread (of a burka) is just a natural absent-minded impulse but I say that even this amounts to killing the burka and is a sin.

  82. Bill Clinton
    July 12, 2004 at 11:58 pm

    I once found myself in a difficult situation, trying to draw a distinction between “sexual relations” and “oral sex.” Take it from me, err on the side of caution.

  83. July 13, 2004 at 10:13 am

    Kaimi wrote:
    Not that kissing isn’t enjoyable, but I’m not sure that it’s particularly communicative. (For one thing, you can’t exactly hold much of a conversation while kissing!). Of course, there is communication in kissing (at least, one hopes that there is!), but it’s not on a particularly higher level — the message being sent is “I enjoy your affection” or “I like it when we kiss” or “I like it when you do X” which are nice enough messages, but not what I would consider a particularly high-level communication.


    There are forms of communication besides conversation. Music is communicative. The Spirit certainly communicates. I think physical intimacy, including kissing, is one of these kinds of nonverbal forms of communication. It might be described as “deeper” or “higher” insomuch as it has an spiritual quality to it (provided the proper relationships precedes the intimacy) that verbal communication need not contain.

    I think that kissing communicates a lot more than “I like it when we kiss.” I can’t tell you what kissing communicates, because every kiss “says” something different. Further, kissing can’t be reduced in that way. It is like trying describe what a Beethoven symphony says or what God says when you are filled with His love. Poets might try to find metaphors but what has been communicated defies accurate description.

    Would you claiim that sex isn’t deeply communicative? That sex communicates no more than “I like having this experience with you?” If not, why should passionate kissing be any different?

  84. Maren
    July 18, 2004 at 3:41 pm

    I am so happy to have found this website and to see that people are willing to dicuss real issues! Another question, a dear friend of my and I kiss each time we see each other. This is not very often, because is in Utah and I am in Manhattan. He is a homosexual man, I am a straight woman. If I were to get married, would this innocent greeting turn into something more?

  85. UKAnn
    June 18, 2005 at 5:47 pm

    The coverall phrase for excommunication is “conduct unbecoming to a Latter-day Saint” – and in my opinion a homosexual couple living together, holding hands and kissing would be candidates not only to lose their temple recommends, but be excommunicated for their behaviour should they not repent.

    Lest some think I am homophobic – I would also add that should a heterosexual couple be living together, even though they assert not to have a sexual relationship, they too could also be at risk.

    We just cannot legislate for every single sin and degree of it – we would end up becoming Pharasaical, but we must use the Spirit – and the above scenario feels way off being acceptable.

    Just my opinion. (My husband is an ex-bishop and stated categorically that should they have been living in his Ward whilst he was a Bishop, they would be called to repentance and be dealt with in a court should they refuse to repent – though I am sure he would have contacted the Stake Presidency for guidance first).

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