Dear 100 Hour Board,
I've struggled for much of my life with how to appropriately express my sexuality. I am LDS, and so believe that any kind of "sexual relations" are to occur only within a marriage relationship between husband and wife. I also seem to have a strong sex drive. I am unmarried, and up to this point in my life, I have spent years struggling with overcoming various inappropriate ways of expressing my sexuality. I've often felt like my relationship with God and my sexual nature were at odds. I also have a hard time believing that sexuality is necessarily evil or anything other than God-given, even outside of marriage. However, I'm certainly open to alternative ideas or my ideas being challenged.
I've thought a lot about wrong ways of expressing sexuality as a single LDS member; are there any right ways? What would that look like? How do you reconcile being human/having a sexual identity/inclination with your spirituality and values?
- zero sum?
DISCLAIMER: Commentary comes from Anne, Certainly, and she may be doctrinally incorrect or incomplete.
1) Sexuality isn't evil outside of marriage. I'll note definitionally at the outset here that when I discuss sexuality I'm referring for purposes of this question to a rather limited definition of sexuality: that guys and girls are frequently sexually attracted to each other.
It's not like there's a part of you that is "evil" until you get married and then that part of you is now "un-evil." You probably already understand this distinction, because I hope that at least some people who have taught this principle in your wards/family/etc. have been clear on this, but in case you really believe that sexuality is "evil" outside of marriage I want to shoot that down. (Shout out to parents/leaders/etc. who helped to teach me this is a thing). What is evil is using a God-given ability or characteristic contrary to the responsibilities that we have as His children to follow His commandments. A probably really bad comparison: randomly beating up strangers is an abuse of the power of your physical body. We're commanded to love others, and randomly beating up strangers is not in compliance with this requirement, nor does it help us to become better people. By contrast: being willing to fight to defend your family (see, e.g. lots of the Book of Mormon) is using the same physical ability and with many of the same results for the person you're fighting. It's not that your ability to fight or the power of your body has transformed from evil to good, it's that you've entered a situation where rather than using your power for an inappropriate purpose, you're using it to accomplish something God wants for you (protection of your family.)
Similar reasoning applies to sexuality: your sexuality isn't "bad" before marriage, but use of that power or quality in situations that a) disobey divine commandments or b) run contrary to the purposes for which you were given that power (e.g. strengthening a marriage, having kids, etc.) are inappropriate and disrespectful.
Furthermore, the idea that sexuality is inherently bad outside of marriage is problematic from a practical standpoint. We know God wants us to find an eternal companion. Having sexuality be part of pre-marriage character rather than springing up only after marriage not only provides an opportunity for us to be tested, it provides us incentive to do something that can make us happier and better (enter a successful marriage). Everyone knows that one of the reasons Mormons often get engaged or married faster is because there is an aspect of the relationship that is on hold until marriage.
A fantastic quote that summarizes this principle comes from President Gordon B. Hinckley: "The Lord has made us attractive one to another for a great purpose. But this very attraction becomes as a powder keg unless it is kept under control. It is beautiful when handled in the right way. It is deadly if it gets out of hand."
So, I just wanted to put that out there first.
2) Sometimes temptations ARE at odds with our relationship with God; this is distinct from our divine natures being at odds with Him.
Having established that sexual desire is not inherently evil, let's move on to the acknowledgment that God has given us commandments which He wants us to keep. If we weren't tempted to break those commandments, there wouldn't be that much point to our being tested. We know that there are a lot of things we're often tempted to do that aren't in alignment with what we are actually supposed to do.
This is part of the answer to your question. There may be certain sexual desires you have that are simply inappropriate to express right now, full stop. Again, that doesn't mean that they're bad, it just means the situation isn't right. (Note: there are also sexual temptations or desires that will never be appropriate to express, but here I'm focusing more on the timing aspect than on that).
3) So what do we do?
I think the Hinckley quote gives us a hint here: we are "attractive one to another for a great purpose." I think that one of the best ways for a single person to appropriately use their desires for intimacy is to allow that desire to encourage them to take righteous action towards achieving the married state in which such intimacy is blessed. After all, if humans weren't sexually attracted to each other, we'd probably see many fewer relationships (and children, for that matter).
I recognize that this isn't necessarily the most helpful answer: many of the "do's" of pre-marriage sexuality have to do with appropriately expressing our sexuality by remaining sexually pure, which can seem like a "negative" or a "don't," while after marriage the encouraged participation in intimacy seems like a "do." In reality, though, both sides are a "do" commandment. At the beginning of this article, Elder Christofferson gives a helpful explanation: "[Lucifer] attacks everything that is sacred about human sexuality, tearing it from the context of marriage with a seemingly infinite array of immoral thoughts and acts."
So, in sum:
1) You're correct that sexuality isn't evil.
2) However, that doesn't mean that sexuality is unbounded. As the Christofferson quote above clarifies, there is a "context" for the sacredness of sexuality.
3) So we all have a responsibility to respect that sacredness in whatever context we're in, whether that means not even hugging girls when you're a guy on a mission, or not going too far with a boyfriend/girlfriend, or keeping only to a spouse after marriage, or whatever is reflective of the situation you're in.
Your question ends with two kind of overarching questions: To the one about what sexual expression looks like outside of marriage, I don't really have an answer for you in the sense of having sexual activities that I think are "okay" before marriage; however, I think that maintaining sexual purity is still acknowledging your sexuality. Denying selectively as we wait for the proper context does not equal denial of self. To the one about how I can reconcile, it's similar: the desire to love a spouse in every way helps us become more than we were, and God wants that for us.
Dear Zero Sum,
I thought I'd add some thoughts to the answer above. Mormon Culture does a pretty crappy job discussing sexuality with youth. We believe in chastity before marriage and complete fidelity after marriage. That is our standard. That doesn't mean that sex is evil, or the boogeyman, or unnatural. We just need to get better at dealing with the desires.
To me, the best way to deal with those desires is through truth and correct principles. So, learn the gospel, and the principles that are important.
First of all, it is important to realize that the world is lying to you. Constantly. Blatantly. Openly. Please remember that. The chick flick romance movies are just as fictional as Toy Story. Everywhere we are inundated with "sex is fun and safe and fun" as a constant message. And, the biggest lie: there are no consequences! So, do what you want! In reference to this, Elder Neal A Maxwell gave a fantastic talk, which I recommend for deep and repeated study. Among the other ridiculously cool things he said was this:
"There is an underlying reason, brothers and sisters, for all this fleetingness: those who bestow the transitory things of the world are, themselves, transients. They cannot confer that which is lasting because they do not possess it! Some, so sensing and seeing so little, want to have it all now!" (Maxwell, emphasis added)
The world is lying to you about what sex is, and why it is. So, we need to keep discussions of sexuality in that perspective.
Sadly, the response of most Mormons is to tell all youth "sex is evil". That is wrong.
So, what is a principle that we should be building on? Overcoming Selfishness. Love is thinking of the needs of others before your own. And, therefore, there is no place for selfishness in our lives. This includes sex.
One of the best interviews I had with a member of the Bishopric during my youth brought up the question of Pornography and youthful sexual frustration. He taught me that sexual relations are so much better when you are thinking primarily about the needs of the other person, not about yourself. Sex needs to be unselfish.
In fact, overcoming selfishness is a key principle of the gospel across the board. We grow more as we serve others. The Priesthood exists to lift and help others, and cannot be used "in any degree" for selfish needs (go check out D&C 121 for that fun stuff).
Porn and masturbation and casual sex are most often selfish pursuits. "How can I stimulate myself and my own desires?"
The other principle related to that is your relationship with your spouse. He/She is THE MOST IMPORTANT PERSON IN THE WORLD to you. And, she is to be the subject and object and everything of your existence--because you need each other. Personally, I am so glad that I have shared the experience of sex with only her.
Now, that ideal doesn't always work, but in retrospect, I am glad I overcame most of the concerns you outlined. It was NOT EASY. But, nothing of value ever is. But, I remember looking at President Hinckley and Elder Haight and the way they talked about their wives. They spoke of Marjorie and Ruby with such honor and respect. That is what I dreamed to be, and the thing that kept me focused on finding "true love." I am so glad I did.
Finally, I will come back to the original point: sex is not nearly as important as the world makes it out to be. It is, obviously, fun.
But, one of the reasons that so many people are unhappy even though they are sexually active is because SEX does not equal HAPPINESS. In fact, many experience what I will call "sexual boredom" for lack of a better word--which leads them to a near-addiction behavior.
There is so much more to life than our sexual desires. The world is constantly lying about that particular topic. And, I think part of your concern about your own sexual desire comes from the world telling you it is the most important thing.
Again, I will come back to the basic principle: sex is fun; it is a unique experience. I am so glad that I am sharing that experience with just one person--ideally for the rest of my life and eternity. There are SO many things I enjoy about my wife. Sex is just one of them.
Try to take the long view. Learn to overcome selfishness. And, remember that the world is lying to you... constantly.
And, let me offer the promise of so many prophets and testimonies before: it is hard, but it is worth it. Try to find ways to avoid the lies of the world--and you may just find something amazing in what the Lord has promised you (of which, sex is just a small but significant part).
That is all.
Since you've gotten responses thus far from only married people, I just wanted to chime in and say, "Yup, it's difficult!"
Happily married/partnered folks have more sex than single people, and if you add being LDS into that mix, it's a lot more, and I think that that opens a gulf between the married populace and single people in the culture. Since an important part of adult development is supposed to be put on the backburner indefinitely, I've seen that sexual immaturity can correlate with social immaturity.
But not always. Those who are better-adjusted to a choice to stay celibate seem to acknowledge they're sexual beings and not be too priggish about the matter. This is backed up by research that if you pour a lot of cognitive resources into not thinking about something, it can colonize every available neural resource. I know for me, the times when I was most frustrated on this dimension usually coincided with deep frustration with other circumstances in my life, whether in romance or reaching my goals.
As for what boundaries you set for yourself, I think that's a deeply personal decision and some people are comfortable making out, some aren't, but whatever you choose, learning good communication skills will benefit you in a future relationship. Among straight folks raised Mormon, often the men will be entitled or pushy and the women will be passive: these patterns aren't eternal principles and in my opinion set up both genders for less happiness in the long run.
Mormon doctrine doesn't believe the body is evil. Also, contemporary "the world" culture doesn't believe that sex is indeed everything, although, yes, the sexual revolution means that LDS goals are increasingly seen as old-fashioned. Lots of members hit their late twenties or early thirties and decide they can't make that commitment anymore. I think such people don't deserve to be castigated; it's a tough road. Probably even tougher if you're not straight and living somewhere with a big dating pool.
If you need to vent or have a listening ear that isn't easily fazed, shoot me an email at portiaofbelmont, gmail.