Zelophehad’s Daughters

Being a 30-something Single in the Church: Part V, the Law of Chastity

Posted by Seraphine

I apologize for the delay in this series. First semester grades and comments were due this past month, and work takes priority over blogging. But here’s a new post, and there will be more to come…

I have been obedient to the law of chastity for my entire dating life. I’ve skirted the boundaries once or twice, but I’ve never done anything that necessitated a serious talk with my bishop. While this has not necessarily been easy, I can unreservedly say it’s been the right path for me to follow. Let me start by mentioning my personal reasons.

To make a long story short, I have a tendency to get strongly attached to people and to have strong emotional reactions to friendships and relationships. This can be beneficial for maintaining friendships even when things get rocky, but it can make dating and romantic relationships (which are good at causing intense emotions by their very nature) more emotionally volatile. Looking back at the emotional turmoil I’ve experienced stemming from the few relationships and almost-relationships I’ve had, I am immensely grateful that the emotional complications of sex were not added to already difficult and painful situations.

Also, while there are questions I do have about the law of chastity, I generally think that sexuality is treated too lightly and casually by the culture at large. I’m not in the “sex is only for procreation” camp by any means, but in addition to recognizing the very real consequences that come from being sexually active, I firmly believe that sex should be a meaningful act of intimacy. It is the act through which we create life, and it symbolizes the union of two people, and should not be treated casually. Elder Holland’s thoughts on this subject (primarily in his book Of Souls, Symbols, and Sacraments) really do resonate with me.

BUT

There have been times in my life when I was ready to throw the law of chastity to the wind. Let me tell you about why I struggle. (Please read these as honest attempts to grapple with a difficult commandment to live and understand rather than an attempt to justify sinful behavior.)

Challenge #1: Living the law of chastity is hard. Our bodies are designed to want and take pleasure in sexual feelings, and as I discussed in one of my previous posts in this series, trying to deny or repress these feelings for years and decades presents challenges.

Negotiating the law of chastity when you’re dating makes things even more complicated. Many singles find themselves in a geographic area, life situation, age bracket, etc., where there are no or few people for them to date in in church circles (see my post on dating). If they actually want to be dating, and don’t want to try and find someone long-distance (which presents its own set of challenges), these singles often choose to date non-members.

I’ve tried doing this on a few occasions, and it’s challenging for a variety of reasons, but one of the reasons is the law of chastity. It is possible to find singles outside the church who do not treat sex casually, who understand its physical and emotional consequences, and who view it as a manifestation of commitment. However, there is not a large population of singles that believe in something akin to our law of chastity, and if you’re trying to expand your dating horizons, the majority of people you meet aren’t going to understand this aspect of your religious life. Even those people who may share some similar values on this issue are probably going to be baffled at why we believe sex can’t happen in a committed relationship that is not marriage. And even if they care about you and respect you, it’s a difficult issue to negotiate.

Let me refer you to a comment (on a recent thread by Kevin Barney at BCC) by the commenter “in the trenches”:

Take me. I’m 30 and single. I can count on one hand the single LDS men I’ve gone on dates with since I graduated at 21 from BYU because I’ve lived in areas with very few single members and therefore have been in family wards for basically all of my 20s. I’m cute. I’m smart and independent and have a really great career. I get asked out ALL the TIME by non-member guys, cute, nice ones. I’m human. I want to go on dates with nice, cute boys. But I also have 14 years of dating experience and I can tell you, it is a CONSTANT walk on a tightrope to date non-member guys, because it’s not just intercourse, it’s everything else that leads up to intercourse, too. It is EXHAUSTING constantly trying to enforce those boundaries, even with very well-intentioned and respectful guys, and it is difficult if not impossible to do it successfully 100 percent of the time. (I would say that is also true with two LDS people once you get past your mid-20s … it is just a different deal when you are 27 than when you are 17 or even 22 or 23. I’m sorry, but it is. Trying to give a relationship time to develop the way it should to enter into a marriage and also walk that line is HARD, no matter who is involved.)

What I think “in the trenches” is trying to get at is that, for better or worse, older singles (both inside and outside the church) tend to be cautious about jumping into marriage. At the same time, they’re typically looking for relationships with serious commitment. And trying to obey the law of chastity when you’re in a committed relationship with someone that you care about (especially if you’re trying to give the relationship time to develop) is pretty darn tricky. And if one of those people isn’t fully committed to the law of chastity, well, then, it makes it that much more difficult. Even if he/she is trying their hardest to be respectful, he/she doesn’t emotionally understand why such caution is necessary. And then when you pit that against strong sexual desires…

Challenge #2: Even though I do not view sex as something to be treated casually or lightly, I’ll admit that I don’t fully understand the law of chastity.

One of the main reasons I struggle to understand the law of chastity is because I see a disconnect between what our leaders teach us and what is happening around me in the daily lives of my non-member friends. While I do see the problematic consequences that can come from casual sex, sexual infidelity, etc., that’s not all I see. I also see adults who are not abstinent making wise and careful decisions about their sex lives in ways that bring them happiness and fulfillment and that don’t necessarily lead to horrible physical and emotional consequences. Take Stella’s story on my previous thread about “no sex”, for a specific example:

…I finally decided, at 30, that I would figure out my sexuality on my own. It’s been freeing in many ways….It didn’t lead to any addictions of any kind. It didn’t lead to thoughts of guilt or evil. It didn’t put a rift between God and myself, though I can’t go to the temple anymore, I’m ok with that because the temple, honestly, was never a place I felt really good in….I have come to realize that it is possible to feel close to God and not deny my sexuality as well.

It is a hard road to travel. When you’re not married you have to take into account the other people your partners have been with. It takes a lot of guts to tell the man you love to go and get tested before anything is going to happen. And still, even then, you have to be very careful in avoiding a lot of things that are just not worth the chances. You have to learn about condoms and birth control and so many things you didn’t deal with when being abstinent. However, there are very good and logical ways to do this and that has been a good education for myself.

One night stands were never ok for me and so it still does take a lot of work to actually get to a place of intimacy and sex. I have more understanding and empathy for married couples who find themselves in bad sexual situations. Truth be told, from what I’ve seen, there are more bad sexual relationships going on in marriages than good. I wonder if it’s because one or the other isn’t sure what they want/like etc….because even the thoughts of sex were off limits.

For me, learning what I like and don’t like, learning about sex in general has been very rewarding and satisfying. I know this isn’t helping the post at all, I just wanted to share the fact that having sex, for me, didn’t do so many things I had been taught that it would. I always heard that once you had it it became SO much easier to have it again and again and to get careless. That’s not true. Its just as easy or not easy to control it as it was before I started having sex. It’s helped me better understand problems in sex. I’ve now had a few partners and honestly, only one of them was a really good match sexually. This makes me grateful that I know more things to see and understand when finding a life partner. It helps to go into a relationship knowing my limits and desires. It has helped me know the frustrations and figure out ways to deal with them ( I dated a man who only wanted to have sex once a week and that was a huge struggle between us) et etc etc.

It’s, in all honesty, made me feel normal and aware instead of infantile and repressed. And while I don’t have a boyfriend now, it’s still a struggle to not have sex, but at the same time, I am in control and I know myself and my body. I know how to handle things and I am not frustrated anymore. It’s been the best decision I’ve made the past two years.

I’m not sure what to do with stories and experiences like this. I know that the gut reaction of many in the church would be to say something like “you can find happiness in sin, but you can find more happiness in living a higher law,” but to me statements like this feel too simplistic to describe the reality on the ground. Many people I know seem authentically and deeply happier (*not* in a “ooh, look I’m sinning”) kind of way from having sex. And they are not necessarily facing all the horrible consequences I was told about by my YW leaders, and it makes me wonder.

I fully acknowledge that I don’t fully understand all these issues. Additionally, I take my covenants with God extremely seriously, and I’m choosing to live the law of chastity even though I don’t fully understand it because of the covenants I’ve made. These covenants are something that I cannot easily set aside. And like I said initially, I have no doubts that obeying the law of chastity has been the correct decision for me.

But I also want to say that my personal decisions regarding the law of chastity are open to future revision. Currently, the best choice for me is to be sexually abstinent, and there’s a very good chance this won’t change until I’m married. Now that I’m dating again, I will not allow others to pressure me into any kind of sexual actions (or any degree of physical intimacy) that make me uncomfortable. But I reserve the right in my future relationships to make decisions about my sexuality that are right for me, whatever those decisions may be.

A final note: While I realize this issue produces strong feelings, and I encourage people from divergent positions to express their thoughts, opinions, experiences, etc., I do not want to see any judgments about other people’s experiences or thoughts if they differ from your own. You can disagree, question assumptions, etc., but any calls to repentance, name-calling, etc., will be deleted. Let’s all assume that those of who have made different decisions regarding this issue are doing so for real, meaningful reasons.

140 Responses to “Being a 30-something Single in the Church: Part V, the Law of Chastity”

  1. 1.

    This is excellent, thank you.

  2. 2.

    [...] Being a 30-something Single in the Church: Part V, the Law of Chastity. AKPC_IDS += "2224,";Popularity: unranked [?] [...]

  3. 3.

    I agree with SB2; this was absolutely terrific. I appreciate how carefully you parsed between various aspects of this challenging issue as it affects you. Well done. A fine addition to your series.

  4. 4.

    I agree all around. This is just a classic. Thanks for the opennes and honesty. My niece has already commented that she felt empowered by this post.

  5. 5.

    Really fantastic post. Beyond just elicidating the issue so well, I am very impressed with your personal approach.

  6. 6.

    Ditto to what everyone else has said, Seraphine. Fantastic post. Thank you so much for your courageous openness and honesty.

  7. 7.

    I think part of the problem is that it’s difficult to convince the non-LDS men you contemplate, i.e. someone who doesn’t personally have a commitment to absolute chastity but values sex as an intimate act reserved for serious relationships, that they are in fact in a serious relationship even though sex isn’t a part of it. Sex such a thoroughly ingrained part of adult dating culture that it’s difficult to get to the point of talking seriously about marriage without it, because the absence of sex creates a nagging feeling that the relationship is not really serious. (I’m very sympathetic to those who would abstain from sex, I’m just describing how I think the interaction of cultures plays out.)

  8. 8.

    Non-LDS women too, I didn’t mean to limit it to just men.

  9. 9.

    Seraphine, fantastic post. You make excellent points, and bring up things I’m thinking about a lot lately.

    When I joined the church, I was already married and my, um, wilder dating days were behind me. Now, I am divorced and looking at the possibility of dating again, only knowing now that the ways I did it in the past are not for me anymore. But it’s a minefield. I am not a 20 year old girl anymore. I am 37 and have three children, and let’s face it, any dating I do is really a job interview.

    I appreciate your honesty and openness in dealing with a tricky subject- at least within the church culture.

  10. 10.

    I’ve been reading your series, and was especially interested in the “no sex” post and this one, but I felt strangely removed from the topics – even though I read them with great interest. And then it dawned on me that I was IN this position, and went very much the other way when I was single. Though I have obviously repressed that aspect somehow!

    When I was in college and dating my now husband, I was in the process of walking away from church in search of understanding my beliefs and if they were truly mine. Because of this, I convinced myself that taking my relationship to the next level was right for me at that time. But I really wasn’t that far down the inactive path, so it is interesting to me that I was able to so easily right off everything I had so recently believed about the law of chastity.

    Of course, much of my influence was the fact that I was committed to my boyfriend in a way I had never felt, and was easily swayed by his perspective that a physical relationship was a natural extension of what we had. He never pressured, but it was clear to me that he would never consider marriage with someone he wasn’t physical with. I KNOW how that sounds, but I can’t find a way to make it sound better, and it is NOT as sketchy as you think. In the end, our relationship DID grow in ways that it couldn’t have otherwise, and I see now that in the year that we lived together before getting married, that we were experiencing the life of newlyweds anyway.

    I don’t necessarily regret my decisions, though I wish I could have tested our relationship to see if we would have made it under different circumstances. We now have a beautiful family, my husband converted years ago, and we’ve been sealed in the temple. I know it seems like a fairy tale ending from bad choices, but in the end, the lessons I learned were what I needed to come back to church.

    I found it interesting though, when I read the comment from the last post about sex from the women that also made the choice to embrace that part of her relationships, and I couldn’t figure out why I had such a negative reaction, even though I had made the same choice. I don’t know, maybe in my mind I wish I could tell my daughters a different, less complicated story (our first was conceived before the wedding). But in reality, I’m grateful for my experiences.

    I think it’s great that this is being openly discussed.

  11. 11.

    Sorry that was so long, I’ve never had a good chance to discuss this before I guess!

  12. 12.

    My insightful comments went to bed an hour ago so I will just say that this was a well-written post that I plan to share with women I know in similar situations.

    Thank you.

  13. 13.

    Excellent and thoughtful post. As a middle aged divorced man I can say that chastity seems much harder than it was when I was younger. Once you have tasted the fruit it’s hard to resist. :)

    I had the dicussion with my bro just a few months ago. He is a bishop and has a lot of people in his ward dealing with marital issues. He says, in his opinion, a lot of member are really messed up. There is so much preaching on abstinence that when they get married many people are still confused about the sexual part of the relationship.

    How many other things in life are taught this way? Strictly taboo in preparation and practice and then jump right into the game head first. I don’t mean for that comment to imply a position one way or the other on the law of chastity.

  14. 14.

    I also see adults who are not abstinent making wise and careful decisions about their sex lives in ways that bring them happiness and fulfillment and that don’t necessarily lead to horrible physical and emotional consequences.

    I’m so glad you included this. It’s so easy to take the simplistic view that singles who decide to have sex have to completely throw away their morality, or their membership, and this doesn’t have to be the case. I love how you presented many facets of this issue, and especially enjoyed your thoughtful reasons for keeping this covenant, especially since you seem to have such a nuanced understanding of chastity.
    Wonderful post.

  15. 15.

    This is really interesting–thanks.

    From my perspective (divorcing and facing abstinence again, probably for the rest of my life, if I had to bet), I think that the reward for chastity is largely not realized until you are at the end of that road–in a married and sexual relationship. I think I would have said the same thing before I was married, but now I feel that way even more.

    During the period of abstinence, it is largely a thankless task. True, we never have to deal with pregnancy and STD scares, but those are easily enough avoided. More important, I think, is your point about emotional attachments. Since sex can magnify the emotional attachment, break-ups can be more devastating, and, frankly, marriages can be made that maybe ought not to be (attaching to the wrong person). So the chore of border control is a real bitch. But the reward of a special bond in marriage and simple obedience is great, just seemingly illusive for single Saints.

    z’s comment above about people in our modern culture not viewing a relationship as serious is very valid, I think.

  16. 16.

    z, interesting–what you say makes a lot of sense.

    corktree, thanks for sharing your experience. As you say, this is a complicated subject. I’m glad that things worked out well for you.

  17. 17.

    cyclingred, I can totally understand how trying to figure out sex in a marital relationship could be made more complicated by strict abstinence previous to marriage.

    ESO, like I said in the original post, one of the biggest consequences I’ve had to think about is emotional attachments, so I am sympathetic to your point. And I also agree that the Lord will reward us for obedience to commandments generally. Still, I have to think it’s possible to find a special bond in marriage even if you choose not to live the law of chastity previous to marriage.

    And thanks, everyone else, for your kind and appreciative comments!

  18. 18.

    Yeah–I am not saying that marriage is unspecial or without a bond if you have previously had sex. Perhaps it is a matter of degree? Dependent on repentance? I don’t know.

    I just have a hard time imagining that someday we (as a Church) will view sex as we now view kissing: in times past it might have been a big deal but now no biggie. I don’t think that is an evolution. It seems some individuals get to that point themselves, but I (personally) think they are missing out. It is beside the point that you couldn’t go to the temple anymore, and of course, no one expects that God’s love will disappear if you start having sex. I think it is more along the lines of taking something special and cheapening it by making it less of a big deal. Wow–now I sound like a YW leader–not my intent. I guess I have just had a negative reaction to that comment and am trying to figure out why. Like someone said, it is not a path I would want someone I love to take.

  19. 19.

    I question the idea that the “horrible consequences” aren’t happening in the premarital sex that is rampant in our society. Sure, there are individuals who manage to avoid unplanned pregnancy, STDs, feeling used, casual sex, abortion, etc. But if we look at the statistics, even using birth control people people accidentally get pregnant. Even using condoms or getting tested, people get STDs (some of which aren’t curable, condoms aren’t very effective for some STDs, some STDs don’t show symptoms but a person can pass it along). Choosing to become sexually active as a single person often means that you end up having a lot of sexual partners which might not be your original intent.
    Choosing to become sexually active does open the door of that much intimacy without the commitment behind it. Waiting for sex helps an LDS couple choose to marry rather than just date or live together. I am convinced that my husband and I would have broken up if we hadn’t gotten married and had that commitment to each other. We are coming up on 18 years and we are really happy, the happiest we’ve ever been. Yet I truly believe we wouldn’t have this if we’d been sleeping together before marriage.
    50% of pregnancies aren’t planned. The fact is that having sex risks pregnancy. Since I was married during my unplanned pregnancies, they were simply surprises. Happy surprised. Yes, married people have unplanned pregnancies because they are a part of life…..even with birth control.
    I don’t think it is just YW leaders scare tactics to talk about these things. If you are a man having sex, you really should think about if this is a person you would want as the mother to your child even though she might not marry you, or she might want an abortion, etc. If you are a woman you need to be thinking the same thing.
    Do we just give up the fight? Since everyone else is doing it?
    I think we should question the idea that what one person does doesn’t affect the world around us. I believe that my choices DO effect others..
    The fact is my daughter wants a cell phone. Because all the kids have them. So each parent that chooses to get their kid a cell phone affects the feelings of the other kids and parents. At a certain point I will have to get my kid a cellphone because otherwise they will be unable to interact with their peers since all their friends will be texting each other. We are naive if we think getting our kid a cellphone because it makes sense for them doesn’t affect the other kids around them.

  20. 20.

    ESO, I appreciate your perspective. On the one hand I can see what you’re saying–but on the other, I think that framing the reasons for chastity in terms of how it will pay off in the context of an eventual marriage isn’t as compelling when you’re in a situation in which you have no idea whether you ever will in fact get married–which is the situation of 30-something LDS singles. Not that anyone has that guarantee at any age, of course, but if you’ve hit this age, I think you’ve had to think a lot more seriously about what your life will be like if you don’t. I guess what I’m wondering is whether there’s a way to talk about what the choice means outside of the narrative of, the reason you should live by this is because it’s important for your future marriage. Not that I don’t think that’s relevant. But it’s not enough, either.

    (That’s one reason why I think that the way we talk about the issue to teenagers doesn’t always work when transferred to older age groups, and I wish there were more acknowledgment of that.)

  21. 21.

    z (#7), I definitely think you’re on to something there. My sense is that sex has such a different meaning to many people outside the LDS church, that it’s not even so much a disagreement about is premarital sex okay (yes/no), but an even more fundamental disagreement about the way the issue is even being framed. Not an easy thing to negotiate.

    A bit tangentially, people often point to the WoW as the most distinctive marker of Mormons, but I think that pales in comparison to how utterly strange our law of chastity is in the contemporary world. I have friends who for various reasons don’t drink or smoke. But I struggle to come up with any non-LDS friends who share the LDS view of premarital sex. And like Seraphine, I don’t see much evidence that that has had a particularly detrimental effect on their lives–which of course raises some questions for me.

  22. 22.

    It seems to me that the, “if you have premarital sex, it will ruin your life” tactic suffers from the same problems which come up with that tactic in other realms. We tell kids that if they take just one drink, or glimpse porn even once, they’ll skid right down that slippery slope into addiction and anguish. And then they do decide to dabble a bit in the forbidden–and for a lot of people, it doesn’t wreck their life. They don’t immediately become alcoholics. And there goes any credibility. The fact that we’re using that narrative might actually make such situations worse, because it has the potential to leave people thinking, well I’ve already ruined things, so why go back now?

    I’m not denying that those kinds of behaviors can have real, and sometimes devastating consequences. But they’re not universally experienced that way–and I think the way we talk about them needs to take that reality into account.

  23. 23.

    I think another thing that complicates the issue is not just sex (as in intercourse), because really what LDS singles are taught is that very little other than kissing is a good idea (it’s not like the lines are clearly discussed anywhere except maybe “For the Strength of Youth” which rules out passionate kissing and beyond).

    While it might be possible to date non-LDS people who are okay with not having sex (at least for some period of time, perhaps even not until marriage), but who would definitely expect more physical intimacy than just kissing. And really, a lot of those things can arouse the same feelings (attachment, etc.) that intercourse does.

    Most of the LDS singles I know who are in their late 20s or 30s do more than kissing (often, a lot more, and not just with non-LDS people)–so even if they aren’t having sex, I am not sure that they are avoiding some of the “consequences” of sex. I would be curious to know where other members of the church define the line between keeping the Law of Chastity and breaking it, and whether that changes as they get older. Maybe people don’t talk about it freely (except on the internet), but my guess is that a lot of people move closer along the spectrum to intercourse, even if remaining abstinent.

  24. 24.

    I don’t recall having MIA or other lessons on chastity framed as violating the law “will ruin your life,” although I may just not be remembering. I do remember admonitions on “this far and no farther” and “both of you keep both feet on the ground” and “this is the hands-off zone” and that kind of thing.

    The way I’ve lived with chastity is a philosophy that is applicable for married and single, with the reward not being contingent on marriage at all. It’s the whole cleanliness and purity aspect, that I can stand unashamed before God and any mortal, including myself, knowing that I am free from that kind of stain.

    I remember the high point of my first temple experience being not the making of covenants or entering the celestial kingdom or anything to do with that end of the endowment. It was the moment in the beginning when I was pronounced “clean, every whit.” That moment came with an unexpected joy, and I understood, I believe, how converts may feel at baptism. Even though I couldn’t keep that actual feeling of joy for long, the stains and strains of mortality being what they are, I remember that I felt joy. Living the law of chastity, being clean, being pure, being worthy, being unashamed, are all tied in with one another, and that’s reason enough for me to avoid the most obvious failures of mortality, and the incentive to work on the areas where I’m weaker.

  25. 25.

    What an amazing post- thank you!

    This is a tough topic to discuss without emotions on either side. I will say that a few of my LDS single friends are in a horrible conundrum. They want to wait to have sex until they are married. There aren’t many LDS men around. So, the reality is that they also have to abstain from any real satisfying dating relationships because mostly no one is going to wait for sex until after marriage. Or, if someone is strongly religious and is willing to wait, they’re going to think LDS members are members of the devil’s church so won’t consider marrying someone of our faith.

    And abstinence is not natural. We are made to want and crave sexual intimacy. To deny that means that those feelings will be manifest elsewhere, and sometimes in really super unhealthy ways. One of my very strict LDS friends is now on the verge of having an affair with a married man. She started down this path of flirtation because the guy was married and ‘safe’. Now there is a serious emotional attachment between the two and it wouldn’t surprise me if, at any moment, it crosses into sex. Had she been having healthy relationships with single men, sex would’ve been far less sinful and with fewer repurcussions. The other friend who is trying to be abstinent is replacing those feelings with finding fullfillment in food. I wonder if by making herself less ‘attractive’ to men, she isn’t somehow doing this on purpose in a subconscious way.

    I am married now to a really awesome man. He is an incredible father, a great husband, an excellent provider. And we had sex before we were married. It allowed us time to develop in our relationship in a very natural way. I can’t say I regret our decision. It was a wonderfully intimate courtship and it never felt wrong. If I had insisted on no sex, he probably (out of frustration) would’ve left me and found a more ‘normal’ relationship, and we wouldn’t be married.

    Yes, a lot of grays when it comes to sex outside of marriage. It certainly is not the black-white that I was taught my entire life growing up in the church. Not sure how I’ll handle it with my daughters but I would rather them have healthy relationships that involve sex rather than marrying the first cute guy when they’re 19 because sex isn’t going to be put off any longer.

  26. 26.

    The other issue with dating people who are interested in having sex is that refusing to have it can come across as (and basically is, I guess) a rigid, uncompromisable, fiat decision laid down by one party to the relationship. It’s hard to maintain a spirit of sharing and compromise with something like that going on, because even if the other person wouldn’t dream of pressuring someone into sex, it’s not exactly a joint decision.

    There’s also the opportunity cost, because mainstream overeducated grad student culture normally involves several years of exclusive dating before even becoming engaged. For people who derive a lot of emotional sustenance through committed-relationship sex, that’s a long time to wait, and a lot of time off the marriage market.

    But really, given the many, many difficulties of inter-faith dating and marriage, I have to ask if the sex issue is really the stumbling block, or whether it’s just one among many cultural differences. It may seem more important because it’s more keenly felt in the present, compared to something like religious instruction of children, which is far in the future and may not seem so difficult from a distance.

  27. 27.

    I didn’t mean to make the whole thread about the difficulty of dating non-members, though! And I do realize some see this aspect of chastity as a “feature, not a bug,” as some say.

  28. 28.

    ESO, I don’t know either, though I agree that I think the church is going to maintain its boundaries on this one. It’s too engrained in our rituals, central teachings, etc. It would take doctrinal changes for the church’s approach to sex/chastity to change.

    JKS, you’re right that there are a lot of serious consequences that have to be taken into consideration when you choose to be sexually active. But I think it’s possible to navigate these consequences if you’re careful and honest. At the same time, I agree that doing something because everyone else is doing it is not a good enough reason to be doing anything. Speaking personally, if I ever chose to be sexually active, it would be because it was the best decision for *me* (which is something that hasn’t ever happened and, honestly, may never happen).

    Lynnette, good point–I think we can have narratives of why abstinence is a good choice (obviously, since I’m making this choice, I think it’s a good one for me), but for people who are facing the possibility of not marrying, I don’t think the future marriage narrative is sufficient.

  29. 29.

    Saying “I’m not having sex before I’m married” is also telling someone you’re dating to make a really FAST decision if this is going to lead to marriage, propose to me, or you’re not gettin’ any. Talk about FREAKING someone out at the beginning of the dating process. That is a LOT of pressure put on two people waaaaayyyy before they know enough about the other to even begin having that conversation. Pressure pressure pressure. It’s different if you’re at BYU, 21, horny, everyone is LDS, and everyone assumes everyone else is on the marriage track (and so are you). But outside of that dynamic, it becomes really impossibly difficult. My many single LDS friends, many of them highly successful, education, financially independent, well traveled, smart, interesting, and attractive, attest to the fact that having that barrier can (and very oftentimes is) a real relationship stopper at the get-go. I’m not saying that living the law of chastity isn’t worth it (although let’s acknowledge that it’s not worth it for all, or even really feasible). I have no answers or insight or advice. But I don’t know how single people navigate this issue. And as Janie said above, not having intimate relationships is not healthy or natural. So what’s the answer? Don’t date?

  30. 30.

    anonymous, good point about the complication of all the past-kissing, pre-intercourse stuff. I think the church pretty strongly teaches that any kind of physical intimacy beyond kissing is a violation of the law of chastity, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there were quite a few single members who were doing these kinds of things without actually having intercourse.

    Ardis, thank-you for those thoughts. I think that is a very meaningful narrative for keeping the law of chastity.

  31. 31.

    Janie Doe, thanks for sharing your thoughts and experiences. As is probably evidenced by my post, I’m also of the opinion that this is a complicated issue.

    z, no worries! you’re making some really great points, and I think the issues that arise when dating non-members are important to think about because a lot of LDS singles in their 30s find themselves with the option of either not dating or dating non-members. I’ve actually recently started dating non-members myself (well, I’ve been on one date, but I’m guessing more will follow), and so the questions you’re asking are actually quite pertinent to my life right now!

    Lulubelle, I don’t think there are any easy questions to the questions you’re asking. I’m actually in the middle of asking these questions of myself because I’m dating again, and I’m primarily dating non-members. My personal approach is that I’m not going to bring up the sex/abstinence thing until I’m starting to get serious with someone. Then I’m going to say something along the lines of “I am currently sexually abstinent, and here’s why, but I am potentially open to the possibility of sex in a committed relationship.” I guess what I want to communicate is that my choice to remain abstinent is very important to me (and will not be reversed lightly), but also that I am not going to unilaterally decide at the start of a relationship what the best decisions regarding sex are for myself and for my potential partner down the road. I am sure there are many people that I may date for whom even this would be a dealbreaker (because if I do ever decide having sex is the right thing, it is most definitely not going to be early in a relationship), but if they’re not going to take this aspect of my religious beliefs seriously, it doesn’t bode well for negotiating religious differences down the road.

  32. 32.

    Best of luck with it, Seraphine– I think you’re right to use it as a bit of a filter. It really can be wearying though, to be periodically asked in even the most respectful manner if the relationship is now sex-worthy, and to have to say no, and wonder about hurt feelings, etc.. In some ways a bright-line rule is easier because it’s not pronouncing a judgment on the specific relationship.

  33. 33.

    Lynette and Seraphine–good point that the reward for LoC being couched in marriage is not necessarily meaningful. I think that beyond that, Ardis’ articulated desire to be clean is it. We don’t obey the LoC for our Bishops or our visiting teachers or our parents–it is for ourselves.

    I know this isn’t palatable to many people but, quite frankly, if I was one of the many LDS people who felt that marriage was not coming their way, I would likely turn to interfaith marriage.

    But Lynette–I must have a much more prudish crowd, because I know a good number of non-LDS who also reserve sex for marriage. Most of them do so out of religious conviction (Muslim, Jewish, Hindi, and Christian) but not all. And I would say that LDS theology is certainly not alone in teaching LoC, but we do seem to have higher expectations of obedience, perhaps?

  34. 34.

    Oh–and when I say turn to interfaith marriage, I mean an interfaith marriage sans pre-marital sex. I see what you guys are saying about making unilateral decisions, but if I were to betray my faith (and lower my personal standards) thus in the courtship, for the sake of the relationship, I would hardly have a leg to stand on further down the road. It would definitely filter out a lot of people, though.

  35. 35.

    z, my intent is not to set it up as a judgment on the relationship. I intend to set it up as something that will only happen in a committed relationship, but also, only as something that will happen when and if I’m ready for that step. Because really, if I decide not to have sex or to delay it indefinitely (which is certainly a reasonable possibility), I’m guessing it will be about me and my own personal commitments and not a judgment about the other person or the relationship. Of course, that doesn’t mean things won’t be hard, and the other person could still end up feeling hurt. Also, I will have to face the consequences that the relationship might not work out if indefinite abstinence is not a feasible option for the other person.

  36. 36.

    I’ve only had one or two non-member friends who have practiced something akin to the LoC, but then again, most of my friends have been liberal English majors/grad students, who are typically not known for their dedicated religiosity. :)

  37. 37.

    I just wanted to clarify something I’ve thought about since posting…my husband and I were in an extremely committed relationship before even discussing physical aspects. But when we did get around to it, it became clear to me that his non-member though not non-religious upbringing, had a VERY different view of chastity. In fact, I don’t know if he got any talk on the subject from church OR his parents, so the decision was largely his own. I think this happens more than we think in cultural pockets outside our own. And all things considered, his personal choices on the matter were pretty conservative.

    As far as the difficulty Lulubelle mentions in approaching the subject without freaking people out, it IS a very difficult subject to navigate, and at times when we had talked about it, I felt as though we were speaking different languages.

    I never meant to justify what I did by sharing my experience, or to show that it can all turn out okay, but there were some aspects of our relationship that told me before we ever went down that path that we were meant to be together (and both of our patriarchal blessings could be interpreted to say the same). I realize it’s hypocritical to site confirmation of the spirit in the situation I was in and the decisions I made, but I was in a weird place and walking a line.

    Anyway, this may sound weird, but my view of the situation of singles in their 30s and facing a lifetime of possible singleness, is skewed because I couldn’t have imagined limiting myself to such a small dating pool. I don’t how else these situations can be made better, but there are so many amazing women in the church that I think would find amazing men in opening up their dating standards (though I’m not advocating relaxing chastity standards). I know this is from my own limited experience, but I felt that I was supposed to find my husband and introduce him to the church, and he feels like he was waiting for it. I just wish I had had more courage to do it the right way and that I had figured things out for myself before.

    I really respect people like you, Seraphine for having strong convictions and knowing your covenants the way you do. And I hope that women in your position will find the other men out there that are being prepared for the Gospel. I’m sorry if that sounds trite and overly optimistic. But if I had been wiser, I think things would have gone differently for me, and been even better. Though I am sublimely happy with how they turned out.

    Sorry again for the length. I don’t want to be misunderstood.

  38. 38.

    Seraphine, I’m glad to hear you’re starting to date again. I really believe that for a lot of LDS women the answer is to date non-LDS men. And I think the way you’ve framed how you will approach this particular issue if and when it should come up is simply excellent. I really hope good things work out for you; Lord knows you deserve them!

  39. 39.

    corktree, thanks for sharing your own experiences, and no worries about the length. My original post was quite long because I didn’t want to be misunderstood either. :)

    Kevin, thanks! I actually feel really good about my decision to date non-members. I’m sure I’ll face challenges, but right now I’m feeling optimistic about my ability to navigate them. Hopefully, that won’t change. :)

  40. 40.

    Seraphine, this is a great post. And thanks to all of you who have made comments. I haven’t thought about this issue in remotely this kind of depth, and you all raise some really good points I hadn’t even thought of. Lulubelle (#29), I thought this was a particularly good point:

    Saying “I’m not having sex before I’m married” is also telling someone you’re dating to make a really FAST decision if this is going to lead to marriage, propose to me, or you’re not gettin’ any.

    Anyway, nothing to add, but thanks for letting me listen in.

  41. 41.

    We have to be wary of those who seem to be happy and prosperous while breaking God’s commandments – because we might draw the wrong conclusions from the observations we are making.

    Some of this post, I see as a re-wording of end verses of Malachi Chapter 3:

    13 Your words have been stout against me, saith the Lord. Yet ye say, What have we spoken so much against thee?
    14 Ye have said, It is vain to serve God: and what profit is it that we have kept his ordinance, and that we have walked mournfully before the Lord of hosts?
    15 And now we call the proud happy; yea, they that work wickedness are set up; yea, they that tempt God are even delivered.

  42. 42.

    Seraphine,

    This has been a great series. And I really think you deserve to succeed at dating. So here is some stuff to consider.

    Between 65 and 75 percent of Americans have intercourse by the age of 19. And by age 24, around 85 to 90 percent have had sex. The odds of finding someone in their 30′s or early 40′s who has never had sex are about 1 or 2 out of a 100.

    Two out of every three (young to middle-aged) single men and women in this country report that they have had sexual intercourse in the past three months. That’s counting both people in and out of relationships. Elna Baker said the longest relationship she was able to sustain without sex lasted four weeks.

    Lots of people say they have sex to figure out their compatibility. Some women will always feel pain with men of a certain size. Others will find that their partner’s desired frequency for sex is higher or lower than their own.

    Seventy percent of 19-year-olds in this country have had oral sex. This means single Mormons who date non-members will probably find that their partner has something else in mind than just the missionary position. And you probably know about the connections that some feminists see between oral sex and patriarchy.

    Let’s say you meet the really nice guy who defies these statistics, seems compatible with you, and loves you enough to put your feelings above his own. Once he realizes all of the time and effort you have put into remaining a virgin, while virtually everyone else was having sex, and how much psychological and spiritual investment you have in your virgin status, what are the odds that he will balk at being the one who takes all of that away from you?

  43. 43.

    We have to be wary of those who seem to be happy and prosperous while breaking God’s commandments – because we might draw the wrong conclusions from the observations we are making.

    One could as easily say, “We have to be wary of those who seem to be happy and prosperous while [keeping] God’s commandments – because we might draw the wrong conclusions.” There is an interesting interplay between the Mormon notions that “wickedness never was happiness” and “when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated.” These tend to cause us to (often unreasonably) deny the happiness of those who make choices we consider wicked––”No, they’re not truly happy,”––and question the goodness of those who suffer––”If you had been righteous, you wouldn’t have gotten sick” (a verbatim quote from my aunt’s Mission President, while she was lying in a hospital bed after an emergency appendectomy). Interpreted so literally and applied so broadly, those principles reduce Deity to a vending machine. We create a very neat and comfortable image of life, and then ignore an observably contradictory reality. (I should clarify that I am not necessarily saying that this is what you are doing, danithew.)

    This is a very interesting post, Seraphine. Thanks especially for providing such a balanced and honest appraisal––even though it might appear to contradict (in part) popular proof-texts.

  44. 44.

    danithew, what Latter-day Guy said (thanks, Latter-day Guy!)

    Sterling, you’re not telling me anything that I don’t already know! I’m pretty sure what I’m trying to do will be full of messiness and difficulty (guys who are not sure what to do with my religious beliefs generally, guys who can’t deal with all the complications of my abstinence, etc.). But I’m tired of sitting around wishing for the things that I want in my life to happen. If I can’t get any relationships to work, it’s not going to be for lack of trying!

  45. 45.

    The older I became as a single woman in the Church, the more I realized that even though the counsel was that single men (and women) not “arouse passions in themselves and others” and stay as “morally clean” as possible, that was decidedly NOT what I wanted in a future companion.

    I was staring 40 in the face, and realized that to meet and marry someone who had never once explored his sexuality alone or with others was not only next to impossible, but completely unrealistic and undesirable. I wanted someone who was comfortable in his own skin, vibrant, flawed, passionate, libidinous, lively. The kind of man who ascetically avoided masturbation, petting, and sex was not the kind of man I was looking for in the first place!

  46. 46.

    And they are not necessarily facing all the horrible consequences I was told about by my YW leaders, and it makes me wonder.

    Seraphine, as usual, fantastic post, and some really good comments.

    The above quote resonated with me. My last relationship was with a wonderful non-member man. He knew early on there would be no sex, but he was 31 and ready to settle down so he went with it – I was really lucky there. The challenge came about 6-7 months in when we were seriously contemplating engagement. Although he was very respectful and really tried to hold back, he asked me once (in a moment of extreme frustration) “why is not having sex so important? I love you, I see a future for us and I want to share this experience with you.” And it really left me speechless. Because in a lot of ways, it wouldn’t have been that terrible (temple covenants aside) if we had. We were in love, we were committed and both craved that physical and emotional intimacy.

    In the end I’m glad we didn’t – I made a commitment to God I intend to honor and also it would have made our recent breakup that much more excruciating. But in that situation, it didn’t seem wrong, and that was difficult for me to reconcile. I don’t really understand the L of C myself, but I’m clinging to it for now. And I don’t know if I’ll ever find another guy that will be so understanding. But when I hear experiences like the ones you posted and other comments, it makes the L of C, despite my commitment and understanding, seem strange.

  47. 47.

    I don’t mean to threadjack or give TMI, but this has been milling around in my head and might be pertinent to share here. The aforementioned relationship at one point required a trip to the Bishop’s office for me. We hadn’t had sex, but had gone waaaay too far, perilously close. I was nervous but figured there was no point putting it off, and as an endowed sister I was fairly certain there would be some serious consequences. So imagine my shock when my Bishop said “Do you plan to do it again?” I replied (honestly) that I didn’t, and he said “Okay, you’re fine to take the sacrament. Follow up with me in few weeks.”

    This left me in serious befuddlement. I had always been taught that the Law of Chastity was a very serious thing, and I truly believe that. I wasn’t looking forward to more serious consequences (and was of course RELIEVED), but my Bishop is known for his cut and dried principles so I expected them. If violating the L of C is akin to murder, a ‘don’t do it again’ response sends some serious mixed messages.

    I realize that if we teach it with a more lax attitude that could spawn a host of related problems, but imagine the guilt that must plague some people. I don’t have any answers, but there seems to be a huge disconnect here.

  48. 48.

    In theory, I think there are lots of reasons to wait until one is in a truly committed relationship–and, let’s face it, marriage is the point of true commitment–until having sex. In practice, though, there are are fair number of marriages that break up in part, at least, due to issues of sexual compatibility. I know a lot of people for whom their sex life or lack thereof is a major source of misery in their marriage.

    For me, choosing to be chaste before marriage ended up contributing to divorce after a couple of decades of soul-crushing efforts in a truly impossible situation–my husband turned out to be gay, but because both of us were so committed to not being too sexual, not focusing on that part of our relationship (and for him, not giving mental space to those troubling thoughts and desires) meant that neither of us saw the warning flags, and that a well-meaning bishop counseled him to ignore the ones he did see and not warn me. I don’t think that premarital sex would necessarily have helped us avert disaster, but it might have. The wreck of my life (and our children’s) seems a high price to pay for the peculiar mix of innocence and ignorance we call chastity.

  49. 49.

    I don’t have much else to add, but I wanted to say that this discussion is one of the most thought-provoking ones I’ve ever seen on this subject. I really appreciate everyone sharing their experiences and talking about the complexities of the issue from various angles; it’s given me a lot to think about.

  50. 50.

    Agreed. This has been an excellent series–I’d love to print it up into a pamphlet to be distributed to all singles’ ward bishops!–and an excellent post and discussion.

  51. 51.

    Frida, I’m not really sure I had thought about things from that perspective before. Thanks for giving me some food for thought.

    Martine, thanks for sharing your experiences. I’ll be honest and say that I don’t know what a typical bishop’s response would be in this situation (it probably varies), but I’d like to think that your bishop had discernment to know what was best in your particular situation. My guess is this is something bishops deal with quite regularly (at least bishops with single members), and while I’m not advocating that they treat it laxly, I would guess they treat different offenses and situations with differing consequences.

    anonymous, for all the benefits of chastity, you are right that not having sex before marriage opens oneself up to a different set of consequences that those that often follow premarital sex.

    Lynnette–I agree! Thanks, all, for being so thoughtful and measured and open in your responses. This was exactly the kind of discussion I was hoping for!

  52. 52.

    Latter-Day Guy and Seraphine,

    I quoted Malachi because it specifically points out that the righteous seem to complain that they are walking mournfully while the proud are happy and are delivered. The post seems to be doing the same – it is saying that keeping the commandments isn’t very rewarding and that those who break the commandments are in fact doing okay.

    Malachi doesn’t say whether the wicked/proud are truly happy or not. But it points to a future awful fate that the wicked will suffer. That fate (being burned to ash) is described at the beginning of Malachi chapter 4. I didn’t quote it before because it’s almost too awful to contemplate. But the scripture says what the scripture says.

    1 For, behold, the day cometh, that shall burn as an oven; and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly, shall be stubble: and the day that cometh shall burn them up, saith the Lord of hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch.
    2 But unto you that fear my name shall the Sun of righteousness arise with healing in his wings; and ye shall go forth, and grow up as calves of the stall.
    3 And ye shall tread down the wicked; for they shall be ashes under the soles of your feet in the day that I shall do this, saith the Lord of hosts.

    It should be noted that Jesus made a point of re-quoting these very chapters (Malachi 3 and 4) to the Nephites during his visitation to them in 3 Nephi. If Jesus himself is pointing this out to the Nephites, then it must be worth paying some attention too.

    Malachi 3 and 4 are interesting to me because in Hebrew they constitute a single chapter 3. It’s a single revelation and should be read as such.

    So if we see people who are fornicating or committing adultery and they seem to be self-satisfied or happy or prosperous – that doesn’t mean we should re-think our standards.

    Again, I’m not looking forward to the image of wicked people being burned to death. The point is that Malachi recognizes the conundrum of “why are the wicked/proud so happy?” and has a very stark response to that question. So we need to beware of any false idea that we should emulate their behavior so that we can also be happy. It seems to be a path to ultimate disaster.

  53. 53.

    danithew, you are clearly misunderstanding the message of my post. In no way am I mournful–while living the law of chastity is hard, I made sure that I was very deliberate to say that living this law has been a blessing in my life. And I have no desire to break the law of chastity because I think doing so will make me happier.

    Also, I don’t find scriptural warnings of being burned a very strong motivation. While I’m not denying that living the law of chastity may be the best or ideal choice (or what God wants me to do), I’m not going to choose to live this law because I want to avoid being burned. I need more than that (so I would appreciate it if you stopped quoting Malachi at me).

  54. 54.

    Seraphine,

    Sorry my comments weren’t as helpful as they could have been. What I said was probably written more for anyone who hasn’t heard about what Laura M. Brotherson calls the Good Girl Syndrome. Your realism will probably serve you well. Best wishes with things this weekend.

  55. 55.

    Seraphine, it seems obvious that you feel I am attacking you, that I am quoting scripture “at you” in an offensive way. I am sorry. I wasn’t judging you – I recognized that you said you were living the standard. And even if you weren’t, it’s not my place to judge.

    Even saying that probably comes across as offensive. As if. Right? But I mean it sincerely and there are ways to understand it without being offended.

    However harsh Malachi is – I didn’t make it up, couldn’t have made it up. I brought up specific verses because I believe it squarely confronts problems/issues/questions that are raised in the post and comments that follow. So it is relevant, not a tangent or a threadjack. Also, in saying that Malachi is harsh, I am not criticizing the scripture because I think it’s harshness is part of the point. It’s seeking to be a bulwark for those who are the frustrated faithful – that they are on the right track, despite what they are experiencing/observing – and that they should continue to endure in the way. At least that’s how I understand it. If it doesn’t achieve that for you, that’s fine. None of my business. But if it can be useful, then great.

    I think in an odd way we might be more in agreement than you know – and that we are talking past each other, in some ways misinterpreting each other.

    Anyway, for what it’s worth, I apologize. I want to explain myself because I feel that I’m being dismissed as a superficial jerk. But I would hope I am neither of those things. Maybe in trying to explain or work through this further, I am just making things worse.

  56. 56.

    Martine

    I know of whence you speak! There is a person in my ward, in Canada, who has done so much bad stuff and they haven’t been excommunicated or disfellowshipped or anything really. They don’t take the sacrament but that could be on their own accord. So its like we hear about all this stuff from the pulpit,”don’t do this or that” yet when it happens nothing happens to the people that do it. I don’t want to be vindictive or anything but like what is the bishop thinking? Are we that desperate for members that we don’t want to risk offending people who break the law and violated covenants? I don’t know! It seems you could get away with anything under him!

  57. 57.

    Sterling, no worries.

    danithew, thanks for your response. I’ll admit that it did feel like you were quoting Malachi at me and that you were trying to imply something along the lines of “if you sin, you will be burned.” Still, I think you’re trying to make the point that you should endure even though it may cause you distress in the short term (because in the long term it’s the best choice). And I think this is an important point–I think God asks us to make sacrifices, and I think that sacrifice and endurance are an important part of religious commitment. It’s just that a scripture about how I’ll be burned if I don’t endure or keep my commitments is not going to be motivation enough for me to make this choice. :)

  58. 58.

    Thanks Seraphine. You stated things, summarized things, beautifully. I think we’re starting to see how we agree rather than how we disagree. If that is the case, then I’m already feeling much better about our conversation that is taking place.

  59. 59.

    Thank you, seraphine; this discussion is surprisingly kind and sweet. I have my own problems i thought i’d mention, however. II grew up mormon, it goes without saying. I was taught that if I stayed away from R rated movies, naughty pictures, bad music, inappropriate clothing and the like, my sex drive would sit there, quietly, until it was turned on by the appropriate righteous young man at the appropriate time.

    This didn’t happen. I, a girl, just a normal girl, hit puberty and was assailed by sexual thoughts even though i did my very best to avoid even the hint of something naughty. It didn’t help.

    Puberty = sex plus for at least some of us. i spent years in my room, deeply depressed, basically, ashamed, overwhelmed with guilt, because it was pretty clear I was a very bad person even though i hadn’t done anything even remotely bad. i just thought about it constantly. Couldn’t help it. Years later, still can’t.

    Yes, I left the church, sadly and reluctantly.–but i could think of nothing but sex until i did it; and kept doing it.:) Then it retreated to a lovely but not obsessive part of my life.

    It’s why i suppose I’m commenting, because I am sad that i’m not wanted as a Mormon. Mormonism has no place for sexual girls, to put it in the bluntest terms. I have no interest in returning to church if it means being excommunicated (I wouldn’t do that to my parents) even though i’ve lived a life for many years that many of you might even think admirable.

    I have no interest in pornography of any kind, i don’t read even slightly romantic novels (I find them embarassing) yet i am that impossible character, a woman that really truly needs sex. It’s generated from within., I either don’t exist in mormonism or am a jezebel. if you knew how quiet and normal i was, you’d find how amusing the jezebel accusation would otherwise seen.

    Now I’ve written this much, i suppose i’ll continue. Woman who can’t handle the celibacy leave. We don’t have the priesthood or missions or the whole hierarchy to climb to keep us in.
    Besides, who want’s to be treated as damaged goods? Not me, thank you

    So, let’s think about who remains in that dating pool.

  60. 60.

    soul sparkle, you may be very much surprised at the reception you would get from a bishop, should you have a desire to return. Nothing you’ve said here automatically means excommunication or even disfellowshipment — the church system isn’t like the criminal system where a fixed punishment follows a given crime, regardless of circumstances, especially if your life for many years has been admirable, and especially if you had not yet made temple covenants. Please don’t let that misunderstanding keep you away from at least talking to a bishop if you do ever want to come home. No one else ever needs to know a thing about the past. Ever.

  61. 61.

    Thank you for the kind post Ardis E. Parshall, but that has not been the experience of my friends (admittedly only two) who have attempted to return.

  62. 62.

    Perhaps I’m just sensitive, but it’s possible to have one too many licked cupcake lessons. Besides, I understand, Ms. Parshall, that you’re not someone anyone would consider a sinner, and so perhams don’t understand the specific problems dependent entirely (perhaps) on the specific priesthood leaders in your area. There is no way on this lovely bloe-green planet i would tell any priesthood holder (insert horribly embarassing, humiliating, shaming, disgusting questions involving words i won’t even write here.)

    I suggest you ask someone about this sort of thing. You might be surprised at the answer. Or perhaps those with the disturbing answers will be elsewhere.

  63. 63.

    Sorry, sorry sparkle. I don’t think I deserved that kind of response. Best wishes.

  64. 64.

    I didn’t intend to insult you, Ms. Parshall, or however you prefer to be called. i just meant, as a compliment, even, that such a situationn had not occurred in your life. That’s all. Please forgive me for my ineptness.

  65. 65.

    I’m really sorry, Miss Parshall; i assure you no slight was intended. Really. I’m shutting up now. The discussion is clearly one i am not intended to join. Again, so sorry for the misunderstanding.

  66. 66.

    Though if a single healrtfelt attempt gets this sort of response, it’s pretty clear i should stay far far away from any actual church involvement.

  67. 67.

    soul sparkle, in my own experience, when my husband and I started attending church it was very limited and I was very wary of being judged, even though no one could have known my past. I’m sure it depends on the Bishop, but I was fortunate to find one that really took the time to listen to all of my concerns about my past and to address them in the right way. I went through the usual period of abstaining from the sacrament, but repentance for what had happened so long ago felt weird. Since I was by that time married, sex was no longer a sin, but I never felt a moment from before marriage to after that it all of a sudden felt “right”. My Bishop was sensitive to the spirit but firm – he somehow knew that I was not confronting my past directly and helped me to do so.

    I wouldn’t think it so unlikely that you would be able to find a similarly kind leader to listen to you if you were interested. I, too, was not the type of person that anyone would have pictured as having made the decisions that I did. And I can relate to feeling like I had an overly active sex drive and improper imagination when I was much younger,
    but even with strong desires, for many women, giving in to sex does not immediately satisfy those desires. Emotionally, yes, but physically, no.

    This is something that I think should be considered for single women who feel that they are fighting those urges as they form relationships. Aside from how it affects their relationship on a commitment level, it would be worth noting that sex is not going to be or feel all that you imagine it to be when your body and hormones are screaming for it. Which I guess is just another reason to advocate waiting for marriage, when you know that you will be with someone that will take the time to explore with you and open up that world, which could otherwise be very unfulfilling .

  68. 68.

    Soul Sparkle brings up a crucial issue that’s related to Seraphine’s OP: at least in the era in which I was raised, and it sounds as if in the era she was raised, girls were not ever addressed as sexual subjects, only as sexual objects.

    In all my years of YW and seminary and youth firesides and standards nights, I heard not a *word* about my own sexual desires or sexual nature or how to manage them. All I ever heard was, more or less, to fight off the boys. The implicit message I got, loud and clear, was that only bad girls had sexual desires.

    Girls need a lot more than that if they’re to have a positive view of sex and of themselves and not be tormented by guilt for having sexual feelings. There are so many problems with this approach, as Soul Sparkle’s experience demonstrates.

    I can only hope we’re doing better by our YW now, but somehow, given the manuals we’re still using, I have my doubts.

  69. 69.

    sorry soul sparkle, I missed that last interchange, so maybe you aren’t looking for advice. If so, ignore my comment.

  70. 70.

    soul sparkle, I’m not sure what Ardis said to you to make you think your comments here weren’t welcome. She merely said that your fears of what may happen should you approach a bishop might not be realized. And I don’t think someone’s experiences (or lack thereof) with this make it false.

    That being said, I can definitely understand your fears–what will happen should you go and talk to a bishop is very dependent on your local priesthood leaders.

  71. 71.

    Thank you very much for your kind commenk corktree. I suppose I’m seriously worried about finding the correct bishop, which if you knew my (close friends’) experience, would make sense. But, only one bishop is available, the one on my ward. So, what to do?

    On a related note, now that i’ve tainted everyone’s view of me, i loved everything about sex. still do. Some of us are just like that, and it was quite the shock to me when i found this out; because as mentioned by Eve, this was never ever even mentioned as a possibility when i was younger. I do hope things have changed.

    i just need to bite the bullet and throw myself on some poor random overworked soul for forgiveness. a few bad experiences in the past by my friends shouldn’t be seen by me as anything but anonmalies.’ certainly everyone online is the soul of kindness.

    that’s all. thanks.

  72. 72.

    Corktree, I feel bad about the Ardis Parshall comments, especially as you seem to have misunderstood them. To me, it sounded like she was either snidely accusing me of lying or just ‘slut shaming,.” Neither are pleasent, and no one seeks out such behavior.

  73. 73.

    Especially, as it is exactly (did I mention exactly) what i am afraid of.

  74. 74.

    soul sparkle, I read Ardis’ comments quite differently. So, now that your fears have been alleviated, can we drop the issue of Ardis’ comments and chalk it up to a misunderstanding?

  75. 75.

    I completely understand being sensitive. It’s probably why I have never really shared my thoughts on these experiences before now. I hope you find what you are looking for and that you find kind, understanding people in real life as well as online.

  76. 76.

    corktree said:

    Which I guess is just another reason to advocate waiting for marriage, when you know that you will be with someone that will take the time to explore with you and open up that world, which could otherwise be very unfulfilling .

    I take from this post (and agree) that the whole point is that as abstinent singles age, “waiting for marriage is often the least of considerations. It’s one thing to tell a teen or twenty-something that all they have to do is wait a year or two and then they can swing from the chandeliers throughout the eternities. It’s quite another to tell a 45-year old virgin who has learned to suppress, stuff, or divert his/her sex drive for decades in the name of “obedience” that marriage is just around the corner. This is damaging.

  77. 77.

    I’m sorry Frida, in that part of my comment I was referring more to the general idea of telling anyone to wait, not just older singles. I realize that marriage is not always going to be an option. My point was more that I think it is damaging to portray the notion that sex is automatically going to be what a virgin dreams it will be. For me it wasn’t for a long time.

    I understand that just by telling singles “it’s not all it’s cracked up to be” that it won’t help suppress they’re desires or make anything easier, but I still think it is important to be open about something that for many women ends up becoming a fact when they finally do make the choice to go ahead with a sexual relationship. It may make regret even worse to find that what you sacrificed for was not as worth it as you built it up in your mind to be. I know the opposite is true for some, as with soul sparkle, but I do believe that is the minority of women, sadly. So, for those that end up making choices based on sexual desire alone, I think it’s something to consider.

  78. 78.

    corktree, what you say makes a lot of sense. My sense of sex is that it’s like any other part of a relationship–something that can be immensely rewarding, but something that can be extremely complicated to figure out (whether because of different sex drive levels, struggles with communication, etc.). Also, speaking personally, I am pretty sure that my many years of sexual repression are going to make sex a challenge initially when I reach that point in my life.

    And Frida, I agree that telling older singles that marriage is “just around the corner” is not only likely not true, but potentially damaging.

  79. 79.

    Seraphine,

    I appreciated the honest way you dealt with this. I was in my later 20s when I got married and can attest to the fact that keeping the law of chastity is not easy.

    I have one thought on the comment from the person who had decided not to hold that line anymore…I think there is something to be said for exploring and figuring out the sexual relationships with your spouse. I think of sexuality not as an individual thing, really, but something ultimately given as a gift to a partnership, not just a person. Not saying that is always the easy road, either, but I do think it’s part of the potential blessing of it, too. Sexuality can ebb and flow so much during a lifetime, and learning to work with all of that with a life partner is no small thing.

  80. 80.

    I have a question for those who believe that sexuality is only to be shared within marriage:

    is it optimal for those who never marry or find themselves later unmarried via widowhood/divorce to be asexual? Is the ultimate goal for single people to never have sexual thoughts, never masturbate, never kiss passionately? Aren’t these things also sexual behavior? Are these only to be done within marriage too? Why or why not?

  81. 81.

    I don’t buy into LDS interpretation of chastity. Nor do I accept conventional modern wisdom that late marriage is a good. Sex is essential for life, and one’s twenties are the best time for reproduction. We should deal with the elephant in the room and encourage early marriage. If a woman is blessed with good genes, she shouldn’t be risking those genes not making back into the pool by waiting for some hypothetic ideal mate and conditions. The cock in hand is worth a dozen in the bush.

  82. 82.

    Wendy J, the Prophet of the LDS church, President Kimball, said ‘Nor does immorality begin in adultery or perversion… Little indiscretions are the berries—indiscretions like sex thoughts, sex discussions, passionate kissing, pornography. The leaves and little twigs are masturbation and necking and such, growing with every exercise.’ So, to answer your question, for some Mormons sexual thoughts, masturbation and the like are not to even be indulged in during marriage.

  83. 83.

    Soul sparkle, I would agree with you assessment. I think this is part of the whole singles problem when it comes to sex. Masturbation, petting, and passionate kissing are all obviously sexual behaviors, but many members of the Church see no problem with indulging in some sexual behavior before marriage.

  84. 84.

    “|If a woman is blessed with good genes…” What, “straight talker,” are you talking about? Are you the one that gets to choose who has the good genes? How does one spot such a paragon? I find that “good gene” statement truly offensive.

  85. 85.

    soul sparkle, I think it’s probably best just to ignore straight talker’s comment.

    Also, I wanted to add (and I think this comment draws a lot of things that many people have said in this thread), I wish the church offered more general guidance on sexuality for the adult members of the church. The church spends a lot of time talking about what is off-limits with the youth and single adults (i.e. “don’t do ______ until you’re married”), but they don’t really do a good job addressing this issue with older adults, single and married.

  86. 86.

    Seraphine, I think this is an incredibly important subject and I applaud the way you’ve put all these different posts together. Well done.

    Someone dear to me who’d been single for many years, well beyond their 30′s, revealed that she’d had an affair with her boss for years. This person was and is active LDS. I won’t go into anything else of the specifics of the situation. But I did tell her there are many worse things she could have done with her life and that she was still beloved of God.

    I never judged her and I never will. And I do believe there are many worse things a person can do. Don’t quote me scriptures, anybody. God judges each of us individually and on our hearts and our loneliness and desperation.

    soul sparkle, I was disfellowshipped as a youngster for an affair, long time ago, came back. Not my worst experience in life, but I had a decent ward and bishop. (I liked sex, too :). I think, don’t know for sure, that the church is treating girls in the situation I was in more kindly these days. I don’t hear too many stories of excommunications or disfellowshipmen anymore. It sounds like you don’t have much choice in your ward or bishop and that could be a problem. We can be hard on each other, that’s for sure.

  87. 87.

    annegb, your comment makes me realize all this talk of non-members being reluctant to abstain from sex assumes that members would be fine with it– which obviously isn’t true!

    I think it actually does matter quite a bit where the physical line is drawn. If there’s not going to be any snuggling at all, not even fully clothed on the couch, I think that would be much harder than going without sex!

  88. 88.

    Of course it would be difficult to be 100% abstinent, but that’s the point. Over time, some sexual behaviors have increasingly been acknowledged as acceptable among single LDS adults and even church leaders. I find this very curious. Perhaps there really is no line, and maybe the strict interpretation came about because (a) birth control used to be taboo and (b) some excessively prudish leaders were in control in the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s.

  89. 89.

    In other words: is sexual behavior before marriage considered sinful because of the possibility of conception? Or are sexual acts themselves (from solo acts to intercourse) frowned on by God because the participants are unfortunate enough not to be married?

  90. 90.

    It’s really hard to be chaste. Obviously, I didn’t succeed, I was single most of my 20′s. I wasn’t promiscuous, but I did meet somebody who shattered my defenses in that area.

    Wendy, I don’t have any answers to your questions. The older I get, the less I know for sure (paraphrasing Oprah). I do believe in chastity before marriage and fidelity after. I believe that somehow breaking the law of chastity injures our soul in a real and profound way unrelated to bearing of children.

    However, like I said, I don’t believe it was the worst thing I ever did. And there’s a difference between being a pure and Christian “behold the handmaiden of the Lord” type of chaste and being a shriveled up bitter old maid.

    Because I wasn’t obedient in that area, I can’t speak for those who have never had sex. But I know women in both categories. Those who have managed to remain cheerful and kind and those who’ve become rather judgemental. Sheri Dew, in my opinion, is judgemental. She rather blithely condemns many who have a hard time navigating home and family life because she doesn’t have a clue how hard it is to do all the things we’re supposed to do while doing the dishes and laundry and working and…….etc., etc.

    Perhaps that’s one of the challenges of the single, chaste life.

    I abhor of casual sex, though. I believe, like I said, that is soul destroying.

    I wonder if this is a category where, like divorce, the Lord rules against the act, but realizes humanity will break the rule and He judges with some degree of compassion. I sure hope so.

  91. 91.

    Annegb, your last paragraph makes a lot of sense! My personal feeling is that only a sadistic god would demand that human beings go decades or a whole lifetime with any sexual contact or release just because they happen not to be married, or because they are gay.

    Some people insist that they are fine as celibate bachelors or spinsters, and have successfully kept their sexual passions at bay. Whether out of low libido or sheer willpower, is this really an optimal way to live? Why is a giddy, reckless 17 year old who marries her first crush entitled to sexual behavior, but a mature 45 year old who has never been propsed to is not?

    I have a close friend who is divorced and in her 60s. Despite their other differences, she enjoys a regular sexual relationship with her ex- husband. They are both active temple-recommend holders (attended the sealing of their youngest son last June). I once asked pig she felt she needed go repent, and whether she needed to tell the bishop. She laughed and said her sex life was none of the bishop’s business. At that moment, it seemed absurd to me, too.

  92. 92.

    LOL– the word “pig” in my last post should be “if.”

  93. 93.

    I guess I think that the law of chastity mostly finds its importance in temple ordinances – which are meant as part of a celestial marriage in preparation for the celestial kingdom. If you’ve decided to date non-LDS men, then the celestial (temple) marriage isn’t really on the radar – at least for the time being. So then, is abstinence the only form of chastity in this situation? Probably not, its just the only form of celestial chastity.
    Please don’t read this as judgmental, or as me saying that by dating non-LDS you are already on the wrong path. I’m not saying that AT ALL. Really, I believe the opposite. I don’t know that there is anything intrinsically bad (sinful) in pre-marital sex if temple sealing is not the immediate goal. And if I’m completely wrong I still agree with what has been said by annegb and others – pre-marital sex really isn’t the worst thing that could happen.

  94. 94.

    The Law of Chastity doesn’t seem the least bit relevant for single adults. Over the last 30 or 40 years, the LoC has been used as a scare tactic for teens and prospective missionaries, with the threat of “you’ll turn homosexual if you masturbate! (gee, thanks, Spencer W. Kimball) to “you’ll baptize fewer people if you masturbate even once on your mission” to “you’ll be a lousy future spouse if you ever have sex as a single person.”

  95. 95.

    I have thought long and hard about what to say about this. I am a mom of teens and twenty-somethings, a former YW pres, and presently serving in a stake YW. So here are my thoughts:
    #1 The Lord’s definition of a “committed relationship” is marriage. If you are truly committed, then you will have no qualms about getting married. If you or your partner have doubts or think “you are not ready”, then that means that this relationship is temporary, and subconsciously you already know that. Adding sex to the relationship will only prolong the inevitable and make the ending even more painful for all involved.
    #2 NO ONE should EVER make you feel that you have to “audition” in the bedroom, or that they are somehow entitled to have sex with you based on how long you have been dating, or how old you are, or that they think your beliefs are obsolete or unrealistic.

    #3 Our faith is an integral part of who we are as latter-day saints. NO ONE who truly loves and respects you would ask that you betray and break those covenants you have made before our Father in Heaven. They don’t have to believe in them, but they can have enough respect for you to not require you to break them to prove your love for them, etc.

    #4 We are not animals acting on instinct, and sex is not an uncontrollable appetite that must be sated and satisfied to be happy. We are commanded as sons and daughters of God to exercise control over the natural man, and to use the powers of procreation ONLY within the bounds the Lord has set. “…see that ye bridle all your passions, that ye may be filled with love;” The Lord does not have certain age limits or circumstances under which we are no longer expected to keep his commandments regarding the laws of chastity.

    #5 Deciding now to have sex, then marriage to someone who is not of our faith will only make it even less likely that they will join the church later. If it wasn’t important enough to you to keep to your beliefs and standards before, they why should they believe you later? What will they really be thinking when the missionaries are teaching them the importance of keeping the law of chastity, but, obviously, you did not? You will have near zero credibility for the rest of your relationship regarding what really is a standard and what is negotiable.

    #6 One of the most difficult trials of mortality is not having all the consequences of our choices be immediate consequences. If everyone who broke a commandment were immediately given and electrical shock or severe emotional pain, then living by faith would be impossible. In fact, that was Satan’s plan. Sometimes, choosing to keep our covenants is hard, and sometimes even painful in the short run. But the Lord has promised us incomprehensible eternal blessings for us and our families, if we will just trust Him enough to keep the covenants we make with Him.

    LDSMOM

  96. 96.

    I’m beginning to think that I have no idea what the point of sex is in the eternal perspective and how much of what we understand about it is based on us, incorrect assumptions by science, and incorrect assumptions by well meaning Mormons.

    This is just plain confusing.

  97. 97.

    LDS Mom is right. While I believe God approaches these cases individually and often with a “go and sin no more” approach, we are not without responsibility or consequence.

    If we submit ourselves to doing God’s will, then we will be chaste. Promiscuity isn’t in God’s vocabulary. But if you yield to temptation, you are not lost.

    When I lost my virtue, I immediately went to my bishop. I submitted to his decision and I remained faithful—and chaste until my re-marriage. It was not easy.

    I can’t bring myself to condemn those who’ve made other choices. That’s between them and God. All the defensive posturing in the world won’t allow a person to avoid consequences of sin.

    And yet…I still feel that having that affair wasn’t the worst thing I’ve ever done in my life. Not that I’ve killed anybody or anything.

  98. 98.

    LDS Mom: when you mention breaking the Law of Chastity, are you just talking about sexual intercourse, or anything from a motherly kiss onwards? The advice I was given by priesthood leaders (based on Pres. SWK) was that a chaste kiss was one that was like the kind of kiss between a mother and son. I don’t know anyone who maintains ghat standard, and most people at least masturbate, so IMO it is impossible to truly, completely keep the law of chastity, especially if one has a normal libido.

  99. 99.

    Just wanted to chime in that I was able to read the post and glad you were able to use some of my words. I hold by them.

    It’s funny. I had a detailed sex talk with my friend who is 35 and will be getting married soon. She’s kept the law of chastity completely her entire life. And I found it a bit disheartening how little she actually knew about sex and her body. I am so open in this area now (a far cry from before I left the church at 30). I think that Soul Sparkle has a good point about church counsel/ideas about women and sexuality.

    I know that what I do and who I am is between God and myself and I would never, ever go to a Bishop again…some man I don’t really know…and tell him personal details about my life. For me, this just isn’t right. Though I have friends who gain a lot of comfort out of the same act.

    Thanks for your courage and wisdom Seraphine. Best of luck to you!

  100. 100.

    @ #19 JKS, I just don’t buy it. There are so many ways to be careful. Life doesn’t have to be a big, huge orgy just because you aren’t keeping the LoC as defined by the church. There are many, many ways not to get pregnant or get an STD. The larger problem, in my mind, is that so few people ACTUALLY know and TEACH these preventions and safety methods to their children ( I know I certainly had to research and learn everything on my own, because all my parents said was “Don’t do it until you’re married”…which is perhaps why one of my LDS friends contracted an STD from her temple marriage because the guy had been unfaithful and unsafe and was ashamed to speak of it).

    What you say is a possibility, perhaps, if people are just having lots and lots of unprotected sex with random people, then maybe these scary things come into play. But people who know their bodies, their cycles, their partner, protection methods, and options…um, yeah, it’s a pretty safe and healthy crowd out there. It’s not just lots of rampant, uncontrollable sex for a lot of us mature adults.

    @ Sterling F–I agree. I know many friends who now have left the church, in their 30s, and wanted to engage in sexual activity and it’s been VERY VERY hard to explain their virginity and find someone willing to actually be the ones who “take” it away (so to speak, though I dislike the idea that a man is taking anything away from the woman…but that’s another topic).

  101. 101.

    Wendy J, I was specifically addressing intercourse, which is a direct violation of temple covenants (the letter of the law.) But I also teach my kids and the youth the importance of keeping the spirit of the law, which means not doing anything to arouse or stimulate sexual feelings in others or ourselves. Our number one rule is simply “Never be 100% alone with your date.” If you are not comfortable with your mom & dad seeing what you’re doing with your date, then it is probably not OK.

  102. 102.

    LDS MOM (101) While I respect your different view on the topic, and don’t desire to change your opinion in general. I wonder how “Never be 100% alone with your date.” applies to 30 year olds. Especially given the fact that adults who date are encouraged by the GAs these days to get away from group dating and to go on single dates. Doesn’t seem to apply to the topic of the OP.
    Additionally the mom and dad scenario falls apart easily as well. I’m married, but I wouldn’t want my mom and dad seeing what I do with my wife, even though I’m sure in their minds its a good thing. Quite frankly thats a strange comparison. I wouldn’t want my mom and dad to watch me kiss a person I was dating, thats really weird, but I doubt they’d have a problem with me kissing someone (assuming I was single – in this scenario).

  103. 103.

    152, great response. This is a good example of why single men and women in the church feel infantilized…

  104. 104.

    152 Yes, most of my response was aimed at those just beginning to date. Going out ot dinner or movie, etc, in public alone–no big deal. You are not “100% alone.” Inviting your date to be alone with you in your or their home–that’s inviting problems. Even as adults, we can be so wrapped up in “I’m not going to do anything–I’m adult enough to handle it before it goes too far..” Then, unfortunately, what you intended NOT to happen DID.

  105. 105.

    Adult singles are not just overgrown adolescents with jobs and house payments. It’s pretty patronizing (or comes off that way) to insist that the social behaviors of a 16 year old and a 46 year old should be exactly the same just because they are unmarried. For crying out loud, a 50 year old should bs able to go hiking with a date (gasp!alone!) and invite her to stay on his couch overnightight, or even in the same bedroom–or bed!

  106. 106.

    I’ve been watching this and like others, have had difficulty being able to convey what I want to convey, for I truly do not wish to sound self-righteous.

    I have a loved one who has made gross violations of that law and I hope/pray one day she will feel full forgiveness from a loving Priesthood leadr and the Lord for some choices.

    For my personal feelings, II think I will simply say that I am one in my early 40s who has kept this law. It isn’t easy, for as humans we desire to love and be loved. However living it is something I am proud to have done. It is totally depressing to contemplate going thru life without someone to love me and hug me. But it is more distressing to contemplate breaking covenants despite the fact that it can be hard to keep them. Sadly few in the world seem to respect these types of choices.

    I appreciate the honesty of others who have shared their decisions on this. I want to encourage people who might be struggling with which way to go to stay faithful to these convenants and promises to live a certain way, even when it is painfully isolating and even when we don’t feel respected. (ie sometimes I’ve heard local leaders congratualte a young newly wed couple on their living righteously to be married in the temple. But no one ever says congratulations to a 40 something or older that has kept those same laws so much longer)

    I like Elder Christofferson’s recent conference talk on moral discipline in which he discusses a realistic view of chastity. I’ll come back and quote the part I want to mention.

  107. 107.

    http://lds.org/conference/talk/display/0,5232,23-1-1117-34,00.html

    “All of us experience temptations. So did the Savior, but He “gave no heed unto them” (D&C 20:22). Similarly, we do not have to yield simply because a temptation surfaces. We may want to, but we don’t have to. An incredulous female friend asked a young adult woman, committed to living the law of chastity, how it was possible that she had never “slept with anybody.” “Don’t you want to?” the friend asked. The young woman thought: “The question intrigued me, because it was so utterly beside the point. . . . Mere wanting is hardly a proper guide for moral conduct.”7 “

  108. 108.

    here is a link to the article from which Elder Christofferson got the above quote, iti s an interesting read:

    http://www.firstthings.com/article/2009/03/002-subversive-virginity-3

  109. 109.

    Thank you “Thoughts on this topic” I guess I would have to say that as fully as you believe in your choices, I just as fully believe in my choices. Which means that BOTH of us are right…for us. The is no right or wrong here, there is simply living your authentic life and being true to yourself, wherever that takes you. If you are living your best life, I admire and support that.

    I know I am living my best life too (with nothing to repent of or feel guilt about). And that’s a good feeling.

  110. 110.

    Thanks, everyone, for thoughtfully continuing the conversation.

    LDS Mom, building on what others have said, what happens when two older singles are dating, each of whom own their own house? Do they only meet in public places? Do they invite over a chaperone if they want to meet at one of their homes? While I understand the general guideline of avoiding temptation, following the guidelines for youth doesn’t really make sense for older singles, and as Wendy J said, “adult singles are not just overgrown adolescents with jobs and house payments.”

    Stella, thanks. And thanks for your words–they illustrated so clearly some of my own questions, and I’m happy that you are okay that I used them.

    thoughts on this topic, you don’t sound self-righteous at all. You are talking about your own personal conviction regarding your obedience to this law, and that is no small thing. I truly think that people who make sacrifices because they are attempting to live commandments and keep covenants will be blessed. I am actually quite a firm believer in the principle of sacrifice–the idea that life may be harder in the short term so that we can become better people in the long-term.

  111. 111.

    Re LDS mom’s comment # 101: Thanks for answering my question about your definition of the Law of Chastity. I think I asked that question before, and no one took the bait.

    If– in your opinion–passionate kissing, masturbation, petting, and oral sex are not actually against the Law of Chastity, what should it matter if adults are alone with each other on dates and participate in any number or combination of these activities? As you say/claim, only sexual intercourse actually violates the law.

    Most reasonable temple-worthy singles actually do stop somewhere on that continuum, so it definitely is possible to stop short of intercourse. So why the strict pre-teen rules for bever being alone, etc., etc.?

    On the other hand, if Miracle of Forgiveness and many Church manuals are to be believed ( not to mention actual temple wording) any sexual relations (including self- stimulation) outside of marriage is against the Law of Chastity. Otherwise, temple recommend questions would/should simply be: “have you had sexual intercourse” for singles and “are you sleeping with anyone else?” for marrieds…

    I think the solution is for the church to stay out of singles’ sex lives. Whether having actual intercourse or not, most singles have some kind of a sex life, with some kind of sexual activity, whether procreative or non-procreative, solo or with others . And if the don’t, they should– as human beings, as animated souls in a body with functioning gonads, by golly, they should!And it should be nobody’s business!

  112. 112.

    Wendy J, I’ve been thinking a lot about your questions because I have always felt that the *unspoken* definition of the LOC (which culturally includes petting, masturbation, etc.) that we give to youth ends up being part of what screws up women’s perceptions of sexual satisfaction later in life, whether single or married. Of course, it does make sense to me to encourage a stricter boundary for young teens who don’t have as much foresight and emotional understanding as a single adult does. There is a reason that they DO frequently go too far without intending to and that they are unprepared for the consequences.

    But in general I’ve always thought the church should stay away from these peripheral issues, especially for women. I can see where excess in these areas can be harmful in certain situations, but as Brotherson’s “And they were not ashamed” points out, I think our overly conscious concern about not having ANY outlet for sexual release is creating some bad trends.

    If women feel guilty about exploring their bodies and using their hands, they will have very frustrating sex lives, single OR married. And this is tactfully mentioned in Brotherson’s book as well, but I think it could go a step further and encourage women to know themselves and what they like and NOT feel sinful about it – otherwise the potential exists for a woman to feel like she was not created to enjoy sex equally. And no one, even a willing partner, can figure it out FOR you. I don’t think this is necessarily contrary to self mastery, either.

  113. 113.

    I am involved with a thirty-something, single liberal adult LDS woman. We have been dating seriously for almost a year and we adore one another. We have not engaged in sexual intercourse and she has been holding fast to her beliefs regarding chastity.

    AND…

    It is causing a great deal of anxiety and doubt on my part. Even though I love her dearly and want to be with her the rest of my life, I find it extremely difficult to establish and maintain a degree of hope, or even trust, in the future of this relationship. She states she is not intrinsically opposed to sexual intimacy, just unwilling to engage in it outside of marriage. She also states she may never be interested in marriage and mentions sometimes that she may not marry me, ultimately. I don’t know what to think about this kind of logic.

    She says she loves me. We are always together and enjoy each others company very much. She tells me I am the Love of her life and she can’t see a future without me.
    But, I just can’t seem to connect with all of the uncertainty. I don’t know what to do without the level of commitment increasing between us. To me, sexual union is a manifestation of this willingness to commit. It represents a very powerful outward declaration of our willingness to bond together and forsake all others. Her reticence regarding it feels like rejection, though, rationally, I understand her processes. I find it hard to really connect with her emotionally and spiritually and can’t really allow myself to be completely open and intimate with her as a consequence. I see her internal struggle. I do not share in it and am totally unable to see the logic in it. To me it is easy and clear. To her it is fraught with cognitive dissonance and existential angst. Which is a healthier, more spiritually evolved process I wonder…?

    I am considering allowing this relationship to fade away through attrition because my emotional needs are not being addressed. I feel that the decision to abstain from sexual relations is one sided, that she entered the relationship knowing I did not have the same views of chastity she held but allowed my to believe that they were negotiable and demonstrated that negotiability, to an extent, when the relationship was in its infancy. I feel that I was enticed with a promise. I became attached to her emotionally. THEN she decided to remove the enticement and enforce her boundaries. I feel I have been used and manipulated to an extent. It is creating anger and resentment.

    She is struggling over the concept of temple marriage. She is highly educated, has a Master’s degree, drinks occasionally, smokes a joint a few times a year and is a fireball on the sofa (with limitations). I feel that she is using these boundaries to safeguard her freedom and independence rather than out of a concern for actual “cleanliness”.

    This is an example of the dissonance created when one partner makes the rules regarding physical intimacy within a committed relationship. I am feeling the ramifications of her decision to adhere to the law of chastity and neither one of us is really happy here. It feels manipulative and very, very inauthentic. I am growing tired. I am worn out by the inconsistence that this awkward, self imposed, rigid mindset dictates within our relationship.

    SO….

    WARNING!!! If you are interested in keeping clean and adhering to the Law of Chastity, please DO NOT get involved with a man, like myself, that does not share that belief. You are inviting heartache and sadness into your life. It isn’t fair to enforce your standards on someone that does not share them after you have gone outside of your standards to find him. Do us a favor and pass us by. It is better, and easier, for us to date people that share a certain degree of similarity regarding sexual norms within a relationship. It really is.

    If you want someone that shares your Mormon views, date and marry Mormon men and leave us alone. Do you even realize how much of a demand you are making? No one can really be a casual Mormon. It permeates every aspect of your life and demands total adherence and engagement. So, what if you are unable to find a man within the church that fits your needs and wants? I guess you have a couple of choices to make regarding your own level of commitment to the Mormon Church. You cannot, to borrow from the semantics, serve two masters. Figure out where you stand BEFORE you try and enter a relationship with a non-believer, PLEASE. It is only fair.

    PS. I am happy in “sin”, as many of you have referred to it. I was a 25 year member of the Mormon Church and was never really happy there. LDS Mission, BYU grad, temple marriage…didn’t stop my wife from sleeping with my best friend’s brother. I have some background here. I understand the mindset. Even so, I am tortured by her approach to sexual intimacy.

    As a consolation…polygamy may be reinstated sometime and you may not have as limited a selection then. I’m just sayin’.

  114. 114.

    I have witnessed, over the years, a frightening tendency. Young Mormon couples, some admittedly, are marrying after ridiculously short periods of dating because they are unable to stave off their natural drives. I believe in a long engagement, possibly involving cohabitation, before the actual marriage.

    The fascination period in dating typically lasts about 18 months to two years, the attraction and passionate interaction typical of the early months relaxes into familiarity after that. This is driven by biology and is almost universal. A short engagement does not allow for this transition to occur before a decision can be made and the attraction, or anticipation of sexual congress based on this attraction, often carries the horny couple into the marriage contract prematurely. This is a recipe for post nuptial regret.

    Also, lack of or limited sexual experience or education prior to the actual event may lead to a very unsatisfactory sexual relationship after the ring is on. Physiological compatibility (and you all know what I mean by that), differing sexual needs, wants, and expectations, actual shock and dismay regarding the act itself… all of these can be negative factors in the relationship and should at least be discussed prior to the ceremony. I find it disturbing that young Mormon women are often taught that intercourse is dirty or unnatural or that the penis is a “monster” that should be feared.

    Before you deny that…I have several female friends that have stated this, independently. Very unhealthy. Kinda sick, actually.

  115. 115.

    PS LDSMOM,

    I feel sorry for you. I really do.

  116. 116.

    Richol, thanks for sharing your perspective on what it feels like to be in a relationship with someone who is dealing with law of chastity angst. I don’t want to speak to the particulars of your relationship (since the only perspective I have on it is the quick snapshot you’ve shared with us), but I will say that you’re raising really tough issues I’m currently in the process of thinking through.

    I guess I will say that while I am currently a committed Mormon, I’m completely okay if the person I date and marry does not share my faith. I’ll be perfectly fine if I don’t get married in the temple, for example. What I want is someone who respects my religious path and who loves me for me (and I think I might actually have an easier time finding this outside of the church than in it). Honestly, for me the choice right now is not between Mormon and non-Mormon men, it’s between non-Mormon men and not dating (and right now I’d rather deal with the complications of trying to date non-Mormons than not be dating).

    That being said, I’m still trying to figure out what to say/do about the whole law of chastity issue (luckily, I haven’t been on more than one date with anyone, so it hasn’t been an issue yet). Even though this is a personal religious decision, it is something that would affect any relationship I have with a non-Mormon. I think part of my own struggle with what to say to someone regarding this issue is that when I start dating someone more seriously, I don’t know what my relationship with that person is going to look like 3 months, 6 months, or a year down the road. I can talk through hypothetical scenarios and the angst I would likely have over certain decisions, but I can’t predict what decisions I will make in the future. And two people can’t predict how their relationship is going to play out.

    I guess my plan is to be as transparent as I possibly can about how I’m approaching the issue and things that are likely going to be difficult, and then let the person I’m dating decide if they want to deal with all the complications.

  117. 117.

    PS RICHOL,

    I feel sorry for you. I really do.

  118. 118.

    I don’t really get why someone wouldn’t think it’s important to be married in the temple, if being LDS is really really important to that person. Perhaps my lack of doctrinal knowledge is showing, but I do understand that temple marriage is supposed to be different from non-temple marriage in very important ways. So why is ok to not make it a priority? And if temple marriage isn’t really necessary, why not take the same attitude towards chastity?

  119. 119.

    It’s all well and good to make temple marriage a priority when you’re in your early 20′s and surrounded by other LDSaints. When you are over 30 the ratio of single women to men is something like 15-1 or worse (if you’re a woman), then committing to a temple marriage or no marriage at all is very much like committing to never marrying.

  120. 120.

    Yeah, I totally get that kind of reasoning, but I’m asking about the doctrinal basis.

    The other issue that occurred to me, which I don’t think has come up in the comments, is the possibility of a lifetime of bad sex. I think the nonmember spouse might legitimately worry that without the opportunity to try out sex, it would be hard to know if the member spouse is going to be a good, creative, enthusiastic sexual partner with a minimum of difficult issues to work through. Especially having been raised in a culture that has some very problematic ideas about sexuality which, I have read, can be hard to shake off after marriage. Years and years of complicated and problematic issues surrounding sex (e.g., feelings of guilt or shame, or obligation) doesn’t sound very fun, and while I’m sure many older LDS singles don’t have problems in this area, it’s hard to predict whether there will be issues. And then there’s the question of coaching a sexual neophyte. It can be fun, but it can also make the relationship very weird, or it can just be kind of tiresome after a certain age.

    I don’t mean to be a wet blanket, and I’m sure if you’re really in love these issues will be surmountable, but I think it’s an interesting set of problems.

    I thought this was an interesting article– it’s about a woman who was a virgin when she married and the difficult issues that the couple worked through over the first several years of marriage. Ultimately it turned out well, but the idea that sex can continue to be difficult after marriage is definitely a possibility for both members and nonmembers to consider.

  121. 121.

    http://www.salon.com/sex/feature/2003/11/20/virgin/

    is the link to the article, sorry.

  122. 122.

    Good thoughts and I understand what you are saying. We should have met a long time ago. I have the similar blessing and curse to form strong attachments.

    My thoughts if I may:

    We have been told by the brethren that sex is for children AND to bring couples closer together.

    Now, the law of chastity must be understood in an eternal perspective, as Abraham was taught and as the scriptures teach-especially as this covenant it taught in the Pearl of Great Price and the Doctrine and Covenants.

    Having children is uniquely and exclusively a part of being exalted. How we treat our bodies and this power of creation – not only just in terms of procreation – is a good indicator of our behavior and ability to be meek (power under control) in an eternal exalted society. Why would you give Paris Hilton all the power in the universe if she can’t control herself or fallow laws that govern happiness now and eternally? Living in an Eternal society being all powerful and all knowing; one would need some self-control and abide by those laws there. Sleeping around and all that it causes just doesn’t seem to fit-does it?

    This gift and power for eternal posterity is for those who come together to as husband and wife and become one eternally. When we speak of one we speak of the other.

    Personal note:
    I wish all the singles here could all get together like this in person and we would find the right person for us. Boy, it would be nice.

    God bless to you all.

  123. 123.

    z, those are really good questions.

    When it comes to temple marriage, it’s not that I don’t think it’s important, it’s just that I’ve realized there’s a good chance it’s not in the cards for me (as Ann pointed out). And I’m not willing to live a life with no relationship, love, marriage, etc., for some hope that at some point in the next life I will have an opportunity to have a temple marriage (which is not something there’s any guarantee of).

    And to answer your follow up question, for me, the difference between the law of chastity and the issue of temple marriage are the pragmatic consequences. If I don’t get married in the temple, there may be some kind of effect on my eternal state, but I can be a fully practicing member in the here and now if I so choose. However, if I disobey the law of chastity, it can have very real effects on my church membership now, and that membership matters to me.

    As for the issue of the possibility of a lifetime of bad sex, I think this is an important question to ponder. I can totally understand why a nonmember would worry about this issue. I worry about it. If one or both people in a relationship are unaware of their own sexuality, it’s definitely going to cause complications and difficulties, and you’re right that while some can be worked through, there are others that can’t (as anonymous pointed out in comment #48).

  124. 124.

    re: a lifetime of bad sex. Waiting for marriage can be a very good thing in this regard. It took my husband and I quite a few tries before we got the hang of it, and it was several months before we both felt confident and comfortable having sex. If we had gone for a “test drive,” it wouldn’t have been any different, but we might have given up much sooner and thus might not have married.

  125. 125.

    Richol–thanks for sharing your perspective. I think I understand the frustration you and others have mentioned about unilateral decisions, but can’t that be flipped? Just as you now bristle that your partner alone has made the decision that you both will not have sex now, is it any better for you to make the decision for the both of you to have sex? Presumably, the both of you have made bilateral decisions through your entire relationship about what the both of you will do, both in matters of physical intimacy and where you will eat for dinner.

    I also understand you idea that it would have been less complicated if Mormons would simply stick to their own kind and not search out people like yourself who are uninterested in the LoC. Surely, the same can be said of you: why date a Mormon if you are disturbed by their attitudes toward sex?

    z–re: a life of bad sex. There are lots of issues in marriage that go untested before marriage. Bad housekeeping, bad money management, bad gift-giving, bad in-law relations, etc. While sex may be a different tier, there are lots of areas in which people do not insert themselves before marriage. Sex is one, for many. Ought we really be making investment decisions for each other just to see if we are financially compatible while dating?

  126. 126.

    I definitely do think that investment compatibility should be established with confidence, although it’s not necessary to make decisions “for” each other to ascertain that. I think that’s a bizarre question, really. Your post here strikes me as a little odd in some way. I really didn’t mean to upset anyone or make anyone defensive. I’m very sympathetic to people who want to remain chaste. I just recognize how it may be unappealing to nonmembers in reasonable and important ways– it’s not just the lack of sexual relations while dating.

    I don’t know why you would think the things you list have to be untested before marriage. I don’t support the idea of getting married without having a clear idea of the potential spouse’s attributes in those areas. I just think that with sex, it’s very difficult to predict what it will be like, and a nonmember could reasonably be concerned that a lifetime of immersion in a cultural regime with very problematic ideas about sex and gender would result in some difficult issues.

  127. 127.

    Great discussion and post. I’ve really enjoyed it.

    These are complicated questions with no easy answers. I, for one, hope one day the church will ease up on its burdensome enforcement of the law of chastity. Not because I don’t believe chastity is important or pleasing to God, but because I fear we’ve turned it into an idol of worship. As a result, I think it’s safe to say that we’ve neglected the weightier matters of the law — judgment, mercy, and faith. These are far more important than who is or isn’t having “unauthorized orgasms.”

  128. 128.

    I’ve only seen one passing reference to the notion that sexual sin is second in degree only to murder.
    Because this is actually in the Book of Mormon, I see it as one reason The Church may never lessen their stance on sex before marriage, unless of course they ever dilute their stance on The Book of Mormon itself.
    However, I’m curious how many Church members or leaders truly believe sexual sin is second only to murder. It seems that this over-the-top approach, while it may be encouragement for many to not have sex, it may be part of why people have a hard time understanding the law of chastity. Can something which can so often be so wonderful honestly be worse than robbing a bank? Even within Mormon culture we certainly don’t think of it that way in practice.
    Another important issue here is masturbation. Every mormon boy except one or two I know does it. While having not having sex gets harder with age, I did find that not masturbating gets easier.
    As a teenager I felt such overwhelming shame and guilt about this. I wouldn’t mind if the church never relaxed their stance of intercourse, but think it would spare the self esteem of many young boys if they allowed masturbation. Would probably help with keeping the law of chastity as well.

  129. 129.

    @eso
    You make an interesting, and even compelling point when you you mentioned sex as being one of many untested relationship elements before marriage.
    You acknowledge that sex IS in a different tier, but still compare it to things like gift giving.
    I think that sex is in a radically different tier than everything else you mentioned. Sex is a fundamental aspect of a romantic relationship. Biologically, it is THE reason we have them. If sex is dysfunctional, the entire relationship can suffer in ways it may not if the partner is a bad gift giver or even bad with money(yes, being financially yoked is another huge aspect of marriage and perhaps should even be tested before marriage, but I do not believe it is as fundamentally relevant to a relationship the way sex is.)
    One can still have an otherwise satisfying relationship if your partner is a bad gift giver or bad housekeeper, and sometimes even have an otherwise good relationship if sexually incompatible. However, because a key reason we get married at all is for sexual companionship, it may be thought of as on par with things we in the modern world wouldn’t consider getting married without knowing about, such as if we enjoy being in their company(which is why don’t have arranged marriages).

  130. 130.

    Since this just discussion just came back to the top, I read something that I had missed the first time around.

    Physiological compatibility (and you all know what I mean by that)… all of these can be negative factors in the relationship and should at least be discussed prior to the ceremony.

    Richol, I don’t know if you’re still hanging around here, but actually, no I don’t have even the slightest idea what you’re referring to. I seriously would appreciate it if you could spell it out for me. This was a topic that came up on Mormon Mentality awhile ago. There are of course medical conditions that preclude any sexual activity, but I am not aware of any which make a person “compatable” (however that may be defined) with one partner but not with another. I don’t really know, but I guess there might be some sorts of fertility problems specific to a particular couple, but you don’t seem to be referencing fertility here.

    By definition (see “biological species concept”) if humans are all one species (and we are), we should all be physiologically compatable with other members of our species. Exactly what sort of physiological incompatability are you referring to here?

  131. 131.

    Left, it would be my guess that Richol is referring to incompatible levels of sexual need; cluelessness about how to make sex pleasurable for your partner; and lack of consideration for your partner’s needs, with the idea being that practice before marriage will help someone work through these things. I don’t happen to agree, but I do think there’s more to sexual compatibility than if the parts fit together.

  132. 132.

    But none of those things can be called “physiological.” Perhaps Richol meant to say “psychological”?

  133. 133.

    Left,
    When people use the word ‘physiological’ they are generally referring to things related to the body. Being physiologically compatible could refer to not only being sexually attracted to each other, but sexually compatible on a physical level. Compatibility doesn’t need to be an all or nothing thing as you seem to suggest. Being physiological incompatible in this context doesn’t mean being completely incapable of sex.
    If you have dated more than one person, I’m sure you’ve experienced some people where physical affection just doesn’t..work well. Not because you aren’t visually attracted to each other or have different psychological needs, but on a sexual level things just don’t physically click. Sexual interactions with that person are, for some reason, physically unemployable. This is how I would interpret physiological compatibility.

  134. 134.

    Differing levels of sexual need / libido can very often be a physiological thing. Fortunately for us, during our twelve years of marriage, Left Field’s libido and mine have remained exactly the same.

  135. 135.

    In my second to last sentence I meant ‘enjoyable’ rather than ‘unemployable’ although that would have been a funny thing to say.

  136. 136.

    Interesting topic – hope it’s ok to still post months later! I think it’s worth thinking about – since we have a lot of open minded people posting here – that a very large percentage of the world (at least Hindus and Muslims, so maybe 2 billion plus people) still believe in arranged marriages, including abstinence before marriage and fidelity afterward.

    It’s actually a very interesting and workable model, with a much lower divorce rate than the western model, so it’s worth thinking about. The eastern concept (if i may generalize it) is marriage first, love/sex second. If you’re kept away from the opposite sex until marriage, that’s a pretty good guarantee that you will find sexual attraction with your mate within marriage. Not saying that bad things don’t still happen within this system, but certainly no worse than the chaos in ours. Under this system, few would remain single, as the parents and other relatives would seek high and low to secure an appropriate mate, and make the match even as possible – including material compensation in the case of uneven socioeconomic circumstances, age, beauty or whatever.

    BTW, this was, of course, the practice in both the old and new testament times, and as such, would still be completely compatible with LDS understanding of the Law of Chastity and the temple covenants, in fact more compatible than the western system, as is evidenced by the posts on this board.

    Easy for me to say, having chosen for myself (25 years ago) a mate that my parents would probably have never picked for me had it been their choice – but still, if you think about it, it’s a pretty sweet way of doing things. I guess the next best thing is to seek the Lord’s help as matchmaker. :)

  137. 137.

    Very late in this conversation, but it is clear (at least, to me) that life is complicated. And fraught with nuance. Sexual expression and exploration can be difficult enough for old married folk – and moreso for adult singles. Yet, I believe that sex is part of our creation – and not just something to avoid completely.

  138. 138.

    It is hard being single, especially when you are feeling alone, fragile, and weak needing someone to love you and wanting someone to love this is when the law of chasity becomes more enticing to break. But God loves us and never lets us take on more than we can bear be a witness to confused souls out there do not become them help to rescue them don’t go astray help to lead the those who have gone astray it is only true, diginfied and honest way.

  139. 139.

    It is hard being single, especially when you are feeling alone, fragile, and weak needing someone to love you and wanting someone to love this is when the law of chasity becomes more enticing to break. But God loves us and never lets us take on more than we can bear be a witness to confused souls out there do not become them help to rescue them don’t go astray help to lead those who have gone astray it is the only true, diginfied and honest way.

  140. 140.

    It can be a deuce difficult law to obey but really, what other choice do we have? Sex is a desire not a need and desires, like passions, have to be governed or we are no better than animals. I want to have sex but only when “I feel” it is right, not when “I feel” I can’t resist. I can’t think of anything more soul destroying than “giving in” to my desires when my conscience tells me that what I am doing is wrong. Once you start down that path, where does it end?

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