Editor’s Note: The following article is an updated version of the original article, which was originally published as a news article.
How does the lack of positive conversation about sex within our church culture affect members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints?
Remember that uncomfortable chastity lesson in Sunday School when your teacher licked a piece of bread and then offered it to you? Or when the instructor would crumple up a piece of paper, offering the same analogy that the bread or the paper is now useless and unwanted — then compare it to your virginity?
“In reality, these lessons totally frustrate the gospel,” said Abbey Barney, a BYU-Idaho alumna. “The Atonement makes those crumpled papers completely new again.”
Why is sex talked about like this in the culture of the Church?
“I think one of the reasons why we teach it so weird is because we teach it like everything else in the Church,” said Kendra Sather, a junior studying psychology, “where praying is always good, drinking alcohol is always bad, but sex is the one thing that changes, and we need to figure out a way to teach it differently.”
LDS church members are frequently taught the harmfulness of having premarital sex, but once they are married, sex is suddenly encouraged. This stark contrast of how it is viewed by the Church can sometimes be confusing for its members. It can blur what’s right and what’s wrong.
Barney said she started crying on her wedding night because she felt guilty about what she and her husband were doing.
“Sex in and of itself is not bad, in fact it’s beautiful and sacred,” Barney said. “That’s why it’s important to wait for marriage — not because it’s dirty and sinful. If we taught it as it should be, no one would grow up feeling damaged, and I think less people would struggle with chastity.”
If we want church members to feel more confident talking about and understanding sex, then there needs to be a change in how chastity is taught.
“I think there’s a stigma about it in the Church because the sacredness of it is hard to comprehend for the youth because of where the world is at and where it’s heading,” said Ashley Nelson, a junior studying public health. “It’s such an important part of life, and it’s so prevalent in the world that we need to teach correct principles early on so there isn’t any confusion about what’s right and wrong.”
Loren Kertamus, a former BYU-Idaho student, said he initially felt awkward when he first married his wife because sex was always viewed in a negative light. He said his wife, however, did not have any issues with sexual relations after marriage because she understood its purpose between a husband and wife.
“The main problem for me was that I was never taught about sex after marriage when I was a teenager,” Kertamus said. “I was always told, ‘just don’t do it until you’re married’ but if I had a better understanding about sex after marriage when I was younger, I would have been better off.”
The general authorities of the Church do their best to publish helpful guides for church members so that they might know what is right and what is wrong.
“I feel like most of the time we will have a paragraph on the good things and then pages on the bad things, and I think that discussion needs to switch,” Sather said. “We should talk about the benefits of waiting.”
The doctrine of the law of chastity is pretty clear-cut. The Church’s For the Strength of Youth pamphlet states that “the Lord’s standard regarding sexual purity is clear and unchanging. Do not have any sexual relations before marriage, and be completely faithful to your spouse after marriage.”
Looking at sex in a different and more positive light may help, and the church is clear to support appropriate sexual relationships.
“Remaining sexually pure helps you to be confident and truly happy and improves your ability to make good decisions now and in the future,” For the Strength of Youth states.
Kellie Brockbank, a senior studying biology, said she and her husband struggled with this change at first because she was raised in an open-discussion household and her husband was not.
“When my husband and I were first married we actually would pray about working on our sexual relationship because we wanted to make sure it was good,” Brockbank said. “I was abused as a child, so it was kind of a hard thing for me to remember to have a good or a new perspective versus my childhood that was bad.”
Brockbank said they prayed a lot together as a couple to develop a good sexual relationship and create new memories with the help of their Heavenly Father.
Prayer alone is not always the answer, but it can help on the path toward a healthy sexual relationship.
“Sex builds the connection between you and your spouse,” Sather said. “Sex is just as normal in a relationship as being hungry. It’s so vital and so normal, but we talk about it as if it is the exception, when in reality having sex is the rule.”
So, how can LDS members change this perception?
“It’s kind of up to the parents to take what they know doctrinally, and obviously, every person is different and they have a different comfort level and personality,” said Rachel Pollard, a married Rexburg resident. “It’s not like every parent is going to feel super comfortable talking to their kids about it and vice versa, but I would hope that more parents would take on that challenge than not.”
The current generation has a responsibility to change the way sex will be taught for the future generations.
“I’m hoping that our generation can change this mentality,” Barney said.