Sunday, April 30, 2006

Sex Attitudes and Teaching our Youth

From the time we are young, Mormons are raised with a dual message about our bodies. On the one hand, the Restoration informs us that our bodies are good, beautiful things that were given us by our Heavenly Father. They are to be used to accomplish many great works. They are temples that must be kept clean and holy. On top of everything else, we are taught that our Father in Heaven has a body, too.

On the other hand, bodies are the cause of much temptation. Young Men, aged 12 to 17, are told not to touch themselves or to look at the sweet-spirited sisters of the ward (and I mean the girls of the same age group). The Young Women are taught not to wear revealing clothes and are forced to wear jeans or sweats on the hottest day of the year, rather than tempt a boy with her sexy ankles.

The Young Men and Women of each ward are given lectures every Sunday, are encouraged to read pamphlets and books about how sex is bad, and even watch films put out by the church with catchy but simplistic messages like “fire can warm, fire can burn.”

Yup, it sure can.

What is that? Does anyone else remember that video? It talked about what true love is and had some nice messages, but I don’t think it’s possible for the church to put out a more cheesy video. Independent films like Saturday’s Warrior don’t count; the church didn’t make that one (and the doctrine is all speculative).

Don’t get me wrong. I think morality and abstaining before marriage are wonderful things. A purely forged marriage can bring greater closeness and trust to a young couple. However, there must be a reality check.

Many young Mormons, after a lifetime of being told that sex is bad, get married and suddenly, sex is good, even encouraged. Gotta start procreating, after all! But how is this fair? Is it really giving the right message?

I know the intention is to tell the youth of the church that sex outside of marriage is wrong, but the message gets lost amidst the scare tactics:

You might get sexually transmitted diseases.

You are sinning against God.

You (or the young girl you sleep with) might get pregnant.

All these things are potentially true. But the Lord helps those who do make a mistake to repent. I have known many young men and women who have grown up in a morally ambiguous society, made a mistake or two, and yet, somehow, turned out just fine? Does that mean the scare tactics were wrong? Well, no. But the gospel of Jesus Christ is about repentance, not about punishment. Sure, there will be a punishment, for those who do not repent, but that is not the emphasis. In fact, I would say that the leaders that try to scare the youth of the church are misplacing their emphasis, in the attempt to keep their kids on the straight and narrow.

I am not recommending that leaders encourage their youth to experiment and sin so they can experience the repentance process. But they need to know that the option is there, so that when they make mistakes, they will know what to do. I didn’t say “if” they make mistakes, but “when.” Everyone makes mistakes, no matter how hard they try. I make mistakes constantly. Some are more serious than others, but all need repenting of for me to progress in this life and the next.

When teaching about sexual relations, parents, leaders and teachers should teach a balanced view. They need to be taught that bodies are sacred. They need to be taught that sex is meant to be between a married man and women. They even need to be taught the consequences of not following God’s laws. All of these elements are important. Those who instead limit their message to “sex is bad,” only help generate the next generation of neurotic members of the church. It is no wonder to me that the church has a huge number of closet perverts. I’ve read of statistics that the Provo area has one of the highest Pay Per View sex movie purchase rates in the country. This is telling of the message and attitude passed from one generation to the next.

A balanced message about sex might help youth to develop a healthy attitude about sexy, instead of an intense curiosity. By always restricting discussions about sex, youth begin to experiment, on themselves, on others. Sometimes of the same gender, sometimes of the other gender. The very thing leaders are fighting against is happening, in part because of their teachings.

Adolescents are known for rebelling; it just happens. Every one of them does it. Rebelling is part of the process of becoming an independent adult. In simplistic terms, the more restrictive and punitive the moral system, the stronger the rebellion. A hypothetical illustration of my point: if a young man is told that sex is bad and is never allowed to even talk about it in an open manner with his parents, he will get more and more curious, wanting to know what they are hiding. As soon as he decides to establish his independence, he will seek out that forbidden knowledge. He may use the internet, movies, books, magazines, girls, boys, whatever, but he will learn about it. Many sad mistakes may be made. He may get a disease, he may get a girl pregnant, he may get addicted to pornography, who knows? But if that same young man were allowed to ask questions, and saw that sex in the Lord’s preferred environment (i.e. marriage) is a healthy and pleasant thing, he may just start to think differently. His friends will still have their own message to give him, but he might think for himself.

There are no guarantees, though. All a parent or leader can do is the best he or she can, and seek the spirit to guide. However, arming one’s self with a little knowledge can’t hurt. Having a game plan that won’t make them more interested in sex may also be wise.

Without actually demonstrating sex within marriage (which would be gross and wrong), how do parents show that sex within marriage can be a healthy thing? By demonstrating their affection for one another. Perhaps by talking about it in healthy ways, rather than trying to pathologize any interest in sex. By showing healthy affection to each of the children. By teaching in a consistent way what the gospel says about sex, the good and the bad. By answering questions. By normalizing this topic, not trivializing it.

This is very difficult to do, and I hope my wife and I are successful when our children reach that curious age. Only with guidance from the spirit will we be successful.

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

Alma 38:12 says, 'bridle your passions', which I think supports your essay here. He didn't use not 'extinguish', 'be ashamed', 'pretend they don't exist', etc. Just bridle- control them and use them to lead you in the right direction . . . the sacred nature of families.

Anonymous said...

sorry for the typo. Please delete the word "not". Thank you!

mathoni said...

Thank you for your comments. I don't know how to change the typo. However, this is one of those essays I plan on editing/rewriting some day, and the scripture you quoted is a perfect one to include. I didn't put a lot of direct doctrinal statements in this one, but I plan on it. I also have an experience or two I can add to it that will make it more personal. Again, thank you.

Anonymous said...

I think my parents did a pretty good job. Sex was emphasized as something good and special, never as something bad. I really don't feel like I got the message that sex was bad from church or from home. (Perhaps young men get a slightly different message).
Sex was something to look forward to in marriage.
My parents had the facts right about sex. I discussed sexual morality with my mother (only in more general ways with my father).
So I think it can happen.
With my own children I notice that I was a little nervous at first. But you start when they are too young to even know what you are saying.
My philosophy is a little information at a time. If it comes up, you say something. For instance, childbirth/pregnancy came up a month ago, and my kindergarten son said his imaginary friends mother had a baby puppy in her tummy and it come out of her mouth. I said, oh really,..... I then told him, btw, when a real woman has a baby in her tummy, when it is ready to come out it comes out between her legs.
Discussing sex isn't just a sit down dump all the info conversation. Occasionally, they might bring up a question in an inaapropriate place (my friend had a daughter who saw the tabloids at the grocery checkout and asked "Mom, what is rape?" She had younger children, everyone around her of course went silent. She simply said, "That is something we can talk about later.") But even with a car of three kids, I can matter of factly let my son know a little about babies being born.

Anonymous said...

BTW- Would you agree that we should stop reciting the 'chewed gum' analogy to talk about youth who have had sex? When we tell young YM/YW that if you have sex before marraige, that you are like 'chewed gum' and no one is going to want you anymore, we aren't attacking the sin, but the person. The repentance process is difficult and long, and the anchor that leds a person through it is a hope for change and a understanding that YOU are of worth, God loves you, as do your leaders. What could be more damning to a young soul contemplating repentance, than someone saying 'you are chewed gum and not worth it anymore'?
It also shows a very shallow (and almost nonexistant) understanding of the process of repentance or of divine nature. I haven't heard it in about 10 years, but it irks me and I squeak up about it.
J.A.T.

darth_ender said...

Can't say that I've ever heard the analogy, but I think it's terrible. I recall once hearing a lesson from a parent in Priesthood. He taught his child that certain things were wrong, and he shouldn't do them. But more importantly, he also taught his child that if something wrong was committed, the child could "repent" for it. For instance, if his 3 yr. old hit his younger brother, he taught the 3 yr. old that he should feel bad for what he's done, apologize to the younger brother, and pray and ask God for forgiveness. That idea really stuck with me. I think that we ought to not only teach what is wrong, but we should also make it clear that repentance, though a harder road, is available to virtually anyone, and that those who take that road will have their sins forgotten by the Lord. So in answer to your question (though you were asking my brother), I absolutely think that any teaching tool that leads one to believe that someone who has sinned can never be made clean should be done away with. It is literally a doctrine of the Devil.

Anonymous said...

I do think we should ditch that analogy. I grew up with that analogy, as well as similar ones, and when I made the mistake of having pre-marital sex, I went to the Bishop, and while I was discussing it with him, I broke down into tears and I said, "I know that no good member of the Church will ever want to marry me because I'm not a virgin now!" Thankfully, I had a wonderful and sensitive Bishop who assured me that if sexual transgression stopped people from getting married, most of the young adults in the ward would never get married. So I didn't feel so alone or "used up," as I was often told. Thoe analogies are awful and painful.

Terri said...

Hello,
I was looking for an article on talking to children about sex and ran into this site.
Just a quick comment to let you know that I am a convert and that in the last 14 years of participating in the church (including Young Women's) I have never gotten the impression that that the church communicates what you have indicated. What I do hear is that sex is special and sacred and is something you share with after marriage.... Imagine all the pain and hardship that would be elimniated in our society if more people followed this.
Terri

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