Introductory note #1: I’ve changed the title of my series and taken out the word “woman.” While I’ll still be speaking from my personal experience as a woman in the church, I’m really hoping that single men will comment and share their experiences as well.
Introductory note #2: This is not my post on the law of chastity itself. Instead, this is a post on trying to figure out how to deal with your sexuality when you’ve made a commitment to live the law of chastity. So, I don’t want the comments on this post to end up in a debate on the merits of the law of chastity (I’ll give you a chance to have this discussion at a later date). Instead, I want to discuss a more complicated (and to me, pertinent) problem: how do you deal with your sexuality when you’re committed to living this law, especially when there’s no clear end in sight?
I have a healthy attitude about my sexuality, but I don’t have a healthy relationship with it. Which I think is kind of inevitable if you’re a 31-year-old single member of the church who’s trying to live the law of chastity. Luckily, I don’t have a dysfunctional relationship with my sexuality–thus far, I’ve managed to avoid a pornography addiction, and my sex drive and I manage to live in the same body relatively peacefully a lot of the time.
But my relationship with my sexuality is complicated. My own strategy for dealing with things has been to take my sex drive and try to shove it as far down into my psyche as possible. And when and if it emerges, repeat. This worked pretty well through college, but it’s become increasingly more difficult the older I get. I think part of this is hormonal/physical–I’m quite aware of the studies that show that most women’s sex drives peak as they approach their 30s. I think part of it is also that my relationship with the church has changed over the past decade, and this has made me reconsider my relationship to my sexuality on a few occasions.
I spent a large portion of my early years trying to follow the counsel of my leaders and live the commandments with exactness. This meant that when sexual thoughts entered my brain (which they inevitably do unless you’re a completely asexual person, which I am not), I sang hymns, read my scriptures, etc. In fact, I repressed awareness of my sexuality so severely that I had difficulties negotiating relationships with members of the opposite sex–any encounter with someone I liked triggered the possibility that unwanted thoughts, emotions, and feelings would come rushing to the surface, and I didn’t know how to deal with these. So I made them all go away instead.
This is not a strategy that works indefinitely. First, if you actually want to date and have relationships, you have to be a little more open and a little less repressed. You have to be able to recognize attraction and act on it, which wasn’t possible in the state I lived in throughout much of high school and college. About the same time I was figuring out that I needed to be a bit more self-aware when it came to this issue, I was immersing myself in feminism (and critical theory more generally) and realizing that my relationship with the church was going to be more complicated than I initially had supposed. I could no longer obey leaders just because. I had to figure out if their counsel was the right counsel for me.
To make a long story short, I decided the church’s stance on sexuality didn’t make a whole lot of sense to me, and I got pretty close to throwing in the towel on the whole chastity thing. However, in the end, I (re-)decided to live the law of chastity, which was, incidentally, the right decision for me. However, at that point, full and total denial of my sexuality was no longer an option. It was here to stay, and I’ve since realized that my sex drive is quite healthy (well, as best as I can understand these matters given that I try to repress my sex drive almost all of the time).
And here’s where I’m stuck (which I suspect is where a whole lot of other singles my age are stuck). While I am by no means perfect, I generally do my best to avoid media imagery, etc., that might arouse unwanted thoughts and feelings. But honestly, even when I’m super careful about media exposure and am preoccupied with life stuff, my sex drive doesn’t go away. It’s quite annoying and frustrating, and to be honest, the church isn’t giving me a lot of helpful advice on how to negotiate a sex drive that won’t stay repressed. I can’t sing hymns and avoid all media for the next 30-40 years of my life (even doing that for the next 5 sounds daunting). Also, right now I’m not really dating, but things are likely to get more complicated when I end up in another relationship. Repression is much more challenging to maintain when you spend a lot of time with someone to whom you are attracted.
I am currently committed to living the law of chastity, and a lot would have to change in my life for me to reconsider this commitment. I know that I’m currently making the right decisions (or the best decisions I can make under the circumstances) in regards to my sexuality, and I accept that the gospel entails hardship and sacrifice. But I find that the church’s discourse on sex, sexuality, and chastity is pretty much non-helpful for someone in my situation–someone who’s in her 30s, hoping to get married at some point, but with no surety that that this will actually happen anytime in the immediate future (or ever). I’ll manage somehow down my current path, but I’m hoping to hear from others in a similar situation (i.e. have spent at least a decade of your life trying to negotiate this issue) and how you’ve managed dealing with your sexuality and living the law of chastity simultaneously. Or, perhaps, what you’ve learned from your difficulties doing so?
P.S. This is an issue of concern for me, but please don’t assume that this is the primary trial of my life. I have a meaningful, fulfilling life with many joys and sorrows, and the issues with my sexuality are often on the back burner. Therefore, if you tell me something like “go out and get a life and this problem will go away,” I will likely delete your comment.