Mormons — Is it time to start talking about sex?


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.



'Mormons — Is it time to start talking about sex?' have 33 comments

  1. March 6, 2017 @ 12:39 pm Sarah

    I really appreciate this article. Sexual sin doesn’t make you worthless, and it’s honestly harmful to teach it that way. Yes, the atonement part is harder than the normal repentance process you’re used to, but you can be made whole again and even while you’re restoring yourself, you are never unloved, never unwanted, never worthless. Thank you for bringing this side of it to light.

    Reply

  2. March 6, 2017 @ 1:46 pm Don

    Thank you for your perspective. Unfortunately some in the church do a pretty good job of convincing our youth that this is a ‘fatal’ mistake. What about me? I spent 4 years in the U S military. Unfortunately, it was not about military conquests, it was about the girls we ‘conquered’. If that sounds adventurous; I was the one that was hurt the worst. I would say I’m a fairly smart good looking guy (even at 70). The wounds I incurred were truly life threatening. At 24 after the military and 2 marriages and a few girlfriends that I was too involved with; I heard about the church for the first time. It took a long time for me to overcome many of my addictions. But, now when I sit in the temple, I feel at peace. I know I have been forgiven even though my past sometimes haunts me. My youngest daughter taught me that she is convinced no good man would want her now. What a horrible thing for her to believe. My heart is broken.

    Reply

    • March 7, 2017 @ 3:04 pm Weston Morris

      Trauma, emotions, thoughts, are forms of energy. These negative or positive energies can be absorbed or passed on/and or inherited from one another. Yes, some of your guilts/negative emotions can be experienced in your children/posterity from you as a parent. Same thing between you and your parents growing up. I’ve found this many times with myself and others I’ve helped with my energy healings. These can be found and corrected, therefore changing the negative imbalances in ones famIly tree. 😇

      Reply

      • March 8, 2017 @ 2:31 am Tuesday Taylor

        Yes!!!!! I wish more people were accepting of energy and emotional healing. I absolutely believe it is a tool to give us greater access to the atonement and to further the work of our family lines by healing generations along with temple work.

        Reply

  3. March 6, 2017 @ 2:16 pm Braydon

    I have believed this since before I left on my mission, and though I am still single I am already a willing advocate for open, honest sex-related discussions. Those discussions need to happen between parents and children based on the mental and developmental readiness AND curiosity of the children, and between youth leaders (and other church leaders) and those they are called to lead, in a respectful and promoting light – advocating both premarital-waiting (without shaming but rather with understanding and respect) and complete fidelity in marriage – , thus preparing men and women to have appropriate discussions about their needs and wants for sex in marriage while in the courtship and engagement stages so that they are ready for when the wedding comes and ready for their expectations from each other as they begin their sexual journey. I further believe that such discussions are and will be crucial to helping youth have theirs curiosities addressed in gospel setting before they turn to pornography. I have seen the difference these discussions can make from the experiences of various of my peers and friends.

    Reply

  4. March 6, 2017 @ 2:39 pm Leanna

    I’ve been thinking about this issue for a while. I heard a podcast once that I could not forget and I hope that Mormons will start talking about sex differently so that new couples are not so afraid and unprepared for a sexual relationship, which is supposed to be a really healthy and beautiful thing. http://rationalfaiths.com/category/podcast/ask-the-mormon-sex-therapist/

    Reply

  5. March 6, 2017 @ 2:43 pm Victoria

    This is the content I have always wanted to read in the Scroll, and its so important to talk about. This is one of the most important articles the scroll has published in years. Thank you for finally starting this conversation!

    Reply

  6. March 6, 2017 @ 3:16 pm Anonymous

    Why weren’t any males interviewed for this issue?

    Reply

    • March 6, 2017 @ 6:13 pm Sandra

      Good question….

      Reply

    • March 6, 2017 @ 8:22 pm Kellie

      No males wanted to be interviewed, she could only get females to do it.

      Reply

    • March 8, 2017 @ 9:05 am Laura

      Loren Kertamus is a male….

      Reply

  7. March 6, 2017 @ 7:28 pm Al

    I agree with the article. I also think an open conversation about what is “acceptable” before marraige is important also. That’s where I got confused as a teenager and college student. One bishop I had said making out was unacceptable before marraige and others would completely look the other way at it. It’s not just sex the church discourages before marraige, but also “sexual sin.” The term “sexual sin” means a lot of different things to different people, and things are kind of vague. I understand why… you don’t want a kid to see a term for the first time in For The Strength of Youth pamphlet and have their eyes opened to something they would be better to be ignorant of. But how do I approach this subject with a child when things can get confusing about where “the line” is and what warranted a visit with the bishop?

    Reply

    • March 6, 2017 @ 8:31 pm Kellie

      I don’t believe there is such thing as terms that a child “would be better off to be ignorant.” I just believe it is the parent’s job to be more specific in conversation with their own children. If you keep that line of communication completely open with your children and be specific when they need you to, then they can ask you about more specifics as they go, and you can discuss with your children if they feel the need to see the bishop. Also teach them how to use the spirit, and they will know for them selves where the line is. Or otherwise they will figure it out.

      Reply

  8. March 6, 2017 @ 7:44 pm Jon

    Great article. Best place…ever…to learn these good ideas is in the home. C’mon parents! You can do it!

    Reply

    • March 8, 2017 @ 1:50 pm Maya

      I feel like many of the parents want more guidance from the church on this subject…and are uncomfortable teaching because they are in the same situation as their children. It seems like a cycle to me. People look to church leadership for direction, but honest, natural sex discussion is considered taboo in the place that people take the most guidance from. Parents have learned to be just as uncomfortable talking about sex as their children because they’ve never had an outlet in church.

      I wish I knew a solution, as this is seriously damaging the (natural) sexual health of many married couples that I know. They are so confused and uniformed that many feel like a failure when it comes time. Either that, it they are unable to separate guilt from sex, and are left feeling dirty afterwards. This is an experience similar to my own.

      Reply

  9. March 6, 2017 @ 9:13 pm N

    First, I would say that the leaders trying to teach the law of chastity are just doing the best they know how. Nobody is perfect and neither are most analogies. Though I agree the crumpled paper analogy probably has more wrong with it than it gets right.

    Second, there’s some truth in what they are saying. The powers of procreation once invoked can have permanent and life altering effects. For example atonement won’t un-conceive a child or erase the deep emotional connections formed (which outside marriage have a higher chance of being one sided).

    Most importantly, I think that the article is overselling how often chastity and sexual relationships are taught incorrectly and underselling how often they are taught correctly.

    Reply

    • March 7, 2017 @ 12:07 am Mark

      Thank you for a voice of reason! Has no one read For the Strength of Youth? It teaches it perfectly! The brethren have taught these things in every talk I have ever heard! The Church curriculum is clear about it also! But instead of focusing on that, they dig up some old folk lore story that someone once supposedly taught and pretend that represents Church teachings. Furthermore, being upset about the Church not teaching the specifics of sex is like being upset because the Church never taught you how to change your oil or do your taxes. It is not the job of the Church to teach us everything, it is their job to teach the gospel.

      Reply

      • March 8, 2017 @ 4:42 pm Maya

        But aren’t t the specifics of the law of chastity gospel? I’m just confused how this issue (with sexual sin being second only to murder) is not considered important enough to discuss in church. I would not put sexual discussion on the same level as something as menial of doing your taxes or changing your oil. The act is crucial to marriage and procreation, as well as a serious sin when used outside of marriage.

        I feel like a lot of parents are too uncomfortable and unguided themselves to teach it to their children. They are looking to leaders for how to teach their children this tricky topic, especially for issues as important as this. When all children hear is “sin” and “sex” in the same sentence, they will have a hard time separating them once they’re married.

        Reply

        • March 9, 2017 @ 6:05 pm Nate

          We have to be careful not to confuse “sexual education” with “law of chastity”. It is not the church’s responsibility to teach you how to have a healthy sexual relationship, or how to be comfortable or uncomfortable with sex once you’re married. In this respect, it is the responsibility of “The Church” to give God’s children access to the teachings of the gospel of Jesus Christ as it pertains to sexual Right and Wrong . Period.

          While the parents in the home might be too embarrassed to teach their children how to have a healthy view of sex and sexuality, it’s ABSOLUTELY NOT the responsibility of the church or church leaders to ensure the child receives this education. On that level, it is exactly like an oil change or taxes. The church has ABSOLUTELY zero responsibility to teach those aspects of life to our children.

          The other concern here is that this article presents the opionized instruction of sunday school teachers as being synonymous with the doctrinal instruction of “The Church”. You can’t do that. You need to very clearly separate the two. You can call it “culture” but it doesn’t change the fact that licking a piece of bread and handing it to someone is SO NOT a part of the church instruction manual. It is solely the OPINION of that teacher. Sunday School teachers teach false doctrine in the form of personalized views every Sunday in probably every ward. If you understand that now, then you will be able to be the parent who corrects the incorrectly taught doctrine and principles taught to your children (and you!) and prevents the spread of misinformation.

          Please understand, I’m am NOT complaining or trying to be a debbie-downer haha but it is important for us to recognize when we need to wake up and be “agents unto ourselves” in how we act, what we believe, and what we allow to be taught. If your teacher in church is teaching something that is just blatantly incorrect, stop being timid and embarrassed and SAY SOMETHING. If you dont, then you have no right to complain about how poorly the “culture” is handling that topic of instruction. You are literally a participant in that culture you look down to so much.

          Thanks for the article, it was well written. But, I would suggest you really think about what responsibility the church has in raising your children, or raising YOU. It might not be to the extant you suggest here.

          Reply

  10. March 6, 2017 @ 10:09 pm Katherine

    I think though it is good to note the Latter Day Saint culture may not be good at talking about sex (and the same problem exists in many other Christian cultures by the way) the Brethren have sought to be so clear about the standard. Elder Holland addresses marital sexuality so beautifully in his talk Of Souls, Symbols, and Sacraments (http://www.familylifeeducation.org/gilliland/procgroup/Souls.htm), and he is not the only one! It is really up to the saints as parents, leaders and teachers to follow their example and do the same. It isn’t a conversation that can be ignored and hoped that the church will educate our youth about. We live in a society of sexual promiscuity guised under the term of “sexual freedom.” If we aren’t having proper and developmentally appropriate conversations with our children, youth, and young adults, someone else will be, and my guess that person who is having that conversation with them (be it the internet, friends, movies, etc) certainly doesn’t have your child’s best interests and future in mind. Or the future of our society for that matter either.
    I know that the Atonement heals all. Not a scar will be left. Not a smudge or mark will remain.
    There is safety in obeying the commandments though, and much less risk for severe negative consequences if abstinence from sexual relations before marriage is taught. While the Atonement heals, it does not make the consequences disappear. Chastity should be taught out of respect and love for God, self, and the future family that you will have. Not out of fear, disgust for sex, or damnation.

    Reply

  11. March 6, 2017 @ 10:36 pm Jacky

    I had problems understanding the reasoning behind virginity because it was never discussed in my ward..and found it difficult to ask others for advice about charity and such..I too believe that the church needs to provide more information , discussion, and reasoning to help teach the youth and singles in our church. I just remember setting goal to marry a returned missionary and set my standards “high”..thats not a good fit for everyone nor a good enough reason to put in a girls head that the only good and desireable men out there are returned missionaries. Dating with others helps establish experiences for having communication skills and learning what you don’t and do like in a relationship. My brother in law has this Mormon assumption that a Mormon marriage is all about sex..clearly her in for a rude awakening..lol..so this is such an important matter that shoild be addressed more openly.

    Reply

  12. March 6, 2017 @ 10:42 pm Eliza

    This is a really important principle. Physically, the things we do to our body leave scars. We can’t change those mistakes. Sex leaves a mark, physically and emotionally. But, the atonement heals your soul without scar. As we claim the power of the atonement that’s has been offered to is through Jesus Christ, we can acheive spiritual “perfection” so to speak. We’re not perfect, but the atonement prepares our spirits to receive immortality and eternal life. That is the goal. So, whatever mistakes we make, if we utilize the power of the atonement, out spirit can heal without a scar, even though physically we may still have the mark of our mistakes. But, the purpose of this life is higher than just physical things. As I’ve read the comments, everyone makes great points, but there is something major we need to remember: first, if you are looking for a fault, you are going to find one. Having an open, understanding mind is crucial to progression. Second, this article isn’t saying that people that taught those old chastity lessons didn’t understand the gospel, it’s saying that as we change and learn, new aspects of the gospel come to light and different principles need to be emphasized. What it is saying is that we need to teach more of the atonement in Chastity lessons, and remind our youth IN THE HOME that marital intimacy is sacred, not bad. That’s why we save that part of ourselves for marriage. It is so sacred that it must only happen between two individuals who are devoted to each other and are sealed together by the power of God. That’s why we teach chastity. So we know just what a gift marital intimacy is.

    Reply

  13. March 7, 2017 @ 7:53 am Ger

    I do believe Sex is a multi purpose action and needs to be discussed in church differently . Sex is Beautiful and could be described as a glue that bonds relationships. Sex is a way to- make babies, express Deep loving emotion, give re assurance, have fun, my child done it all by the book Stayed Pure, served a mission , married a RM is married a few years now and physically cannot have Sex due to Emotional / Psychological / physical issues! She’s tried almost everything my heart bleeds for her and her Loving patient husband . . Yes we need to teach things differently. With loving patience and communication The worst Sex will be between to people in love is great weather you’re married or not. But to be obedient to God’s law we should wait till we’re Married.

    Reply

  14. March 7, 2017 @ 3:58 pm Jim

    Where to start, where to start… I’m in an age group where there is a lot of divorced LDS women, with kids. When sex is taught that it’s only ‘good’ inside of marriage, and that certain acts are never good, well you have 70% of the male priesthood holders in that church saying porn is okay because they wonder. And you have a large subset of women getting divorced, with their 3-8 kids, thinking it’s perfectly okay… boy, I was raised different. The LDS church teaches masturbation is bad, though it’s the safest form of sex available, (I guess it’s pretty easy to take orders from men in their 80’s, way the hell past their sexual prime, isn’t it?) I guess I’m just really, really frustrated with how the LDS church, and her membership, looks down on anything sexual.

    Reply

  15. March 7, 2017 @ 4:05 pm -

    Although this article has good points, I don’t think they’re right when the say “the Church”. “The Church” is the doctrines and principles God has organized, and the culture of the church is a different thing. The way that LDS parents, or other members like teachers, have taught youth about sex has been..incomplete to the reality of what sex is. I agree it should change and we should more comfortably teach youth of the awesomeness that sex is in a marriage. But it’s not “the Church” who misguided people to think otherwise.

    Reply

  16. March 8, 2017 @ 4:02 am Ruta

    I never imagined my life would be like this – being married, but wishing to be single. I really don’t know, how other people (I mean – other mormons) deal with this. While dating my future husband everything seemed to be extraordinary well. I had found my soulmate and the picture of our future was absolutely clear. I thought I loved everything in and about my future husband. Sometimes I had a feeling we shared one brain – finishing each others words, knowing exactly what the other wants without saying it… We did talk about sex, BUT it is the same as talking about the taste and aroma of a fruit you have never tasted, never even seen in your life… So THE DAY came. I was almost happy. Almost – because my parents could not share this moment with me due to church rules (they do not belong to our church). But I was prepared for that. BUT our first night together was something I totally wasn’t prepared for. When the moment came I couldn’t stand the idea of taking my clothes off, sharing one blanked, bed, room. I suffered a panic attack. My husband said he will sleep on the floor but even that was too much for me. He tried to approach me but I was sooooo afraid that he might touch me. That day I lost my best friend, a person with whom I felt so safe and comfortable. We are married for a while now. I had agreed to have sex few times because I felt guilty. But now I know that he is not the person with whom I want to share physical intimacy. But there was no “legal” way to find out that before marriage. I want to end this miserable situation but my husband still thinks we can work things out. But I don’t want. I want everything go back like it was… before the wedding… when I had my friend whom I trusted, when I felt safe.

    Reply

    • March 8, 2017 @ 4:28 am Ruta

      I think the problem was that I thought the sealing ordinance would make us ONE. And I somehow believed that once you are married, all things work for the spouses automatically. I believed that the only things that matter are: being pure and worthy. But now I know there is something else, something I am not familiar with.

      Reply

      • March 8, 2017 @ 9:50 am Tazona

        Hello Ruta! Just saw your comment and couldn’t help but feel impressed to share my thoughts with you. You seem to really appreciate and cherish the friendship you have with your Husband and that is beautiful. It sounds like your husband is a wonderful man and I will give you a few reasons why this is the case based on what you have presented in your comment. 1. He respects you. Although the natural intense sexual feelings and urges were surging through his veins your first night together, he respected your needs and concerns so much so that he resisted to allow his feelings to take control and trust me, this is really difficult for us men but he did that for you. He even slept on the floor, because he respects and loves you. 2. He wants to make things work. He wants to make things work with you and I don’t know exactly how your situation is but it sounds like he is willing to make sacrifices for you. This is huge! This sounds like a true man right there. Im not telling you what to do, I only hope you realize how lucky you are to have a man like this in your life. Hard fact is that we as men are all in some way the same when it comes to wanting to share physical intimacy with our spouse, so someone who can understand you and love you for you is worth fighting for.

        Reply

    • March 8, 2017 @ 1:33 pm Maya

      I feel like your experience is very common. Many members are unsure how to separate sex from guilt, and it negatively affects their marriages for months, if even years. I am so sorry for what you’ve gone through. I hope that you find what’t right for you in life.

      Reply

      • March 8, 2017 @ 1:39 pm Maya

        Don’t let anyone tell you that sex isn’t an important part of marriage. You should feel comfortable fulfilling a basic human need and not forced to stay out of a sense of moral duty. You do not always have to take the fall to give the appearance of stability. Women are told to do this all too often. Please know this, as others will basically tell you to get over it (in a nice way). A friendship and marriage are two different things that fulfill separate needs for closeness. You should be friends with your partner, but there should be a dynamic that separates them from being “just” your friend. That’s what makes marriage, marriage.

        Reply

  17. March 8, 2017 @ 1:42 pm Maya

    When sexual sin is considered to be on a near-equal level to murder, it’s no wonder people who have committed these sins feel so worthless, even after marriage. This can seriously damaging to a sexual relationship for married people if they’ve never been able to let go of this past guilt. We really need to adjust how we speak about these things in church. People who have committed sexual sin need to be told that they are not worthless and that they will not be judged or punished by their bishop for confession. This only makes people better secret keepers. How can they ever let go if they are too afraid to bring it up with a trusted figure?

    It is natural.

    We view sex as so sinful that many people can’t separate sex and guilt, even when married. I know so many members who are so sexually repressed or guilt-ridden that they develop strange sexual habits, even to the point where it becomes an obsession. As a convert, I have noticed that odd sexual behavior are much more common in the church than in the outside world. We just don’t like to talk about it (or admit it). Of course, not every situation is like this, but it is common enough that I find it worth mentioning. Some couples that I know feel like they have an unhealthy sex life because they go into marriage without any knowledge of how the body works. When it doesn’t “work”, each side becomes equally frustrated and it causes resentment and a sense of failure in the marriage.

    Sex should be talked about casually. Not everything about natural human behavior is a sin. We need to remove the stigma and make church a more comfortable place to ask questions and overcome past transgressions.

    Reply

  18. March 9, 2017 @ 7:01 pm Aly

    Several weeks before I got married, I read several books about sex. Some books were more helpful than others. My favorites were these:
    And They Were Not Ashamed
    The Language of Sex

    Reply

  19. March 13, 2017 @ 10:38 am Erin

    “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?”

    NO, I don’t remember those lessons. What kind of ward did you grow up in? Why would the writer assume we all had those weird lessons?

    Reply


Would you like to share your thoughts?

Your email address will not be published.

Copyright 2015 BYU-I Scroll