(Editor’s Note: This piece comes from issue 150 of Sunstone. It was written by an anonymous author. Subscribe here. The illustrations are by Jeanette Atwood.)
At age twenty-four, I, a female virgin, married a twenty-five-year-old male returned missionary, also a virgin, in the temple of the Lord.
While most modern, non-LDS Americans consider the marriage of virgins miraculous, for my husband and me, it was simply the one true way. After all, we were obedient Latter-day Saint kids with our sights set on eternal exaltation. We were prepared for temple marriage. We were eager to fulfill our duty to be fruitful, multiply, replenish the earth, raise up righteous seed unto the Lord, and fill an Econoline van or two with our offspring.
We were not, however, prepared for sex.
We believed then, as now, that the salvation of our souls depends on our willingness to align ourselves with God’s commandments. So, as an unmarried couple, we followed the sage advice of our church leaders and parents. You know it well: Be in by midnight. Feet on the floor at all times. Never enter the bedroom of a member of the opposite sex for any reason. Don’t touch anything that bulges on your date’s body. Don’t touch yourself.
Admittedly, we paid less attention to the admonitions against kissing. Our kisses were hardly like those between a brother and a sister, and had President Kimball (the prophet at the time) happened upon one of our embraces, he might well have tapped us on the shoulder and said, “Dear children, that behavior is in similitude of the marriage act.” But all temptations considered, our courtship experience was downright wholesome. So wholesome, in fact, it’s a wonder we got married.
But we did wed.
I finally danced with the last uncle on the list, the band packed up, the reception ended, and suddenly we were joining the generations of Mormon newlyweds before us who had raced toward the Moment—that singular moment when two virgins collide atop the marriage bed.
My brand-new husband, who drove in near silence, broke every traffic law en route to the hotel. He was thinking . . . Well, actually I don’t think he was thinking at all. My mind, on the other hand, brimmed with one dreadful realization: Everyone who knew me knew exactly what I would be doing in half an hour. (Of course, that minor embarrassment wasn’t going to stop me.)
Alone in the bathroom of our bridal suite, I slipped into the white negligee I had bought at J.C. Penney with my mother’s credit card. I skipped the blush since I didn’t need it and instead, touched up my lipstick and mascara.
I stepped out into the darkened bedroom. By the light of the muted television, I watched my new husband, clad in his sacred, polyester garments, turn down the bed covers. He came to me, kissed me, and invited me to lie down.
Being a perfectly prepared new bride, I asked, “Don’t you want to pray first?”
His brows pinched and he looked at me like I’d lost my marbles. “No,?” he said and gave me a gentle, downward push of encouragement.
I complied. He stood at the foot of the bed, between me and the flickering television, and slowly removed his garment top—a striptease I suspected him of rehearsing alone in front of a mirror.
As I watched his silhouette, backlit by a muted, late night television show, I worried that we weren’t starting our marriage off on the right foot. My mind replayed the testimony meeting in which the token young-married counselor in my BYU ward had told the story of his wedding night—of how he, as the priesthood bearer in their newly formed family, had insisted that his virgin bride pray with him before they consummated their marriage. He indicated that, to this day, they continue to pray before intercourse as a reminder that sex within marriage is sacred.
My new husband obviously wasn’t thinking about anything sacred. And quite frankly, I was having a hard time myself considering that he now had his thumbs hooked in the waistband of his garment bottoms.
Down they went.
I’m sure my husband expected a squeal of delight, but I’m afraid the noise that came out of me as he pulled down his drawers wasn’t quite that. I had never seen a naked man before, except for that time my younger brother had chased me around the house with a magazine photo he’d rooted out of a dumpster: Burt Reynolds in his all and all.
And let me tell you, Burt’s limp little buddy bore no resemblance to my new husband’s noble Prince Albert. I had no idea Prince Albert would jump up like that.
I didn’t mean to scream. More than twenty years later, I’m still apologizing for it.
To this day, I clearly recall the expression on his face as my shriek subsided. I knew that, at that moment, my husband was having his first complete cogitation since we’d left the reception. Sadly, like mine, it went something like: “This isn’t starting out right.”
In spite of his shattered ego and my shattered illusions, we proceeded on schedule and completed the deal in record time. He rolled over, thanking God marriage is eternal, and I lay, sprawled out on the bed, wondering, “Was that it?”
Though we practiced faithfully throughout our honeymoon, sex didn’t get any better for me, and I began to wonder if God hadn’t made me right.
Needless to say, “it” was not like in the movies—not that I’d ever seen movies that showed detail. But my husband made plenty of suggestions to remedy our problem, culminating in the desperate act of visiting the local bookstore. I went along, but in the end, I found it too humiliating to stand beside my S-E-X partner and in front of “those kinds” of books.
The result? My husband picked the book. I soon found myself sitting beside him on the edge of our mattress looking at sketches of naked couples in the most diverting of positions and listening as he earnestly read instructional excerpts from More Joy of Sex. Somehow I lacked faith in the title.
My husband pointed to one particular pose and said, “Let’s try that.”
I turned the book sideways, then upside-down . . . “I don’t think that’ll help.”
“It can’t hurt,” he said.
I’ve always been a pretty good sport, so we tried it. It didn’t help, and when my husband wasn’t looking, the book mysteriously vanished.
I won’t divulge how long it was before I figured out that my anatomy wasn’t aberrant and that my button could be pushed, but I will say that it was a long time. A very long time. I mean, it seemed like such a really, really, long, long, long time. Interestingly, I didn’t figure it out until I did what a stay-at-home Mormon mom like me wasn’t supposed to do.
I watched TV.
Then as now, the prophetic counsel to LDS women who spend their days at home with small children included the advice to refrain from watching television unless, of course, the show was educational for the children or had to do with cooking or decorating. Those soap operas would put strange ideas into our heads, and the talk shows were godless. But loneliness is a powerful enemy, so I’d leave on the television in both the family room and the bedroom. This way, no matter through which room I chased my little one, I had the soothing companionship of an adult voice.
Generally speaking, though, I tried to be a good girl even with the TV on. I religiously kept away from the soaps and turned off the talk shows that outraced my minivan lifestyle. In fact, on the day of my epiphany, I had changed the channel on the television in the family room when the talk show promised a sex therapist who would give advice to several unmarried couples. When I passed into the bedroom with an armful of clean laundry and a screaming toddler clamped to my kneecap, I reached for the remote, intending to turn the show off in this room as well.
But just as my finger poised over the power button, that sex therapist uttered the sentence that changed my life. She said, “No woman has ever had an orgasm from sexual intercourse alone.”
Stop the presses! Hold the door! Step away from that remote!
I plopped down on the edge of the bed (suddenly a hopeful place). I clasped my hand over my little one’s mouth and tried to listen while he struggled for air. Fortunately, they quickly broke for commercials.
I ran back to the kitchen, filled up a sippy cup and shoved Peter Pan into the VCR in the family room. I returned to my bedroom and drank in every word that therapist said, even though she was giving immoral advice to people participating in illicit sexual relations. Hallelujah and thank God for them. To my consternation, I realized that my husband had had the right idea all along. But now I knew the secret that would make it all better. That night I slipped off to the grocery store, bought my first tube of K-Y, and finally, finally, learned what all the fuss is about.
I know what you’re thinking. You’re wondering what on earth possesses me to air the intimate corners of my life in so public a place. I’ve chosen to do so because I expect that my experience is not uncommon. The topic is on my mind because I have children who walk the straight and narrow and are now approaching a marriageable age. I know that they think as I thought: that since they understand the mechanics of procreation, they know all they need to know about sex. But I also know from discussion with them that they don’t understand the pleasure principle, at least as it relates to women. I think ahead to the time each becomes engaged. How will I broach the subject?
I realize that for most couples in the Western world the idea of receiving sex advice once they are already engaged is akin to telling a child how to use a spoon after he’s wolfed down his oatmeal. But faithful Latter-day Saints are not like most people. We’d sooner starve than eat before the prayer is said.
But once those few magic words over an altar change “No! No!” into “Go! Go!” physical passion ought to become a gospel principle that is freely and openly supported and discussed by our people. We often claim that sacred is not secret. If we believe this, we must, as parents, be sure that our children are prepared to not only engage in, but also enjoy, the intimacies of married life.
I’ve heard it said that you don’t have to teach a hungry person how to eat, but hunger has never been declared a sin second only to murder. As a parent who has been there, done that, I will make sure my children are better prepared for sex than my husband and I were when we married. If that means sitting down with them and their intendeds and drawing a diagram, then I guess that is what I’ll do.
Thoughts of my own children lead me to thoughts about others. I worry about the young LDS women who, like me, enter marriage unaware of how their bodies work. They’re embarrassed, ashamed, guilty, or simply naive. They lie beside their husbands at night thinking that something is wrong with the way God made them. I worry about the young faithful men who risk feeling inadequate and frustrated.
Furthermore, I am unsettled by a story my husband told me about a conversation he’d recently had with an elderly Mormon man—a husband, father, and grandfather to dozens. The topic was lesbianism.
“I just don’t get it,” the old man said, looking squeamish. “What do those women do to each other, you know, to feel good??
Somehow, as I think about the cluelessness of this aged gentleman and what I imagine as the heartache of his wife who has lived for so many decades with a man who believes intercourse alone is what satisfies, my decision to be brutally candid about my husband’s and my youthful sexual missteps seems worth the trouble of “baring” a little more than my testimony. If our culture can produce married men and women who reach old age without understanding the mechanics of female orgasm, something is obviously amiss.
It is difficult to overcome cultural taboos. We can’t exactly call on the Church to produce a video about the topic or to write a handbook to be given to brides and grooms on the way out of the temple. There won’t be a Sunday School class on the subject. No one will ask you to raise your hand to the square and give a sustaining vote to some good, healthy carnality among Mormon married folk. If our culture is to become more open, more willing to discuss physical pleasures, the change can occur only through the attitudes and behaviors of individual members.
Speaking about sexual pleasure with Mormons can be difficult, to say the least. When I get together with my non-LDS girlfriends, we talk sex. Not dirty sex. Marital sex, and we do it joyfully. But when I meet with LDS women, we talk about our kids; we talk about our jobs; we talk about scrapbooking, and occasionally world events, but we never—and I mean never—discuss our personal level of sexual satisfaction, though we might bemoan the frequency of male desire or the resulting painful episodes of childbirth. This lack of frank discussion comes at a price, and, as with most things, the cost is often highest for those least prepared to pay.
I recently had the opportunity to practice what I am preaching. A member of my Relief Society presidency felt inspired to ask me to substitute-teach a lesson that included a discussion about the marital bond. I read a remark by a prophet that referenced “wifely duties,” and we listed on the board what those duties might include. But all the words they came up with were more than three letters long.
So I asked them to think of “wifely duties” as a code phrase spoken by a genteel, nineteenth-century prophet, and then I waited some more. Finally, I drew a hangman on the board with three lines for letters underneath. “Give me a letter.”
Silence. Wide-eyed silence. Jaw-hanging silence.
I laughed and told them the noose I’d drawn wasn’t going away. Then I wrote a great big “S” in the first spot.
Finally, one of our unmarried college students, home on break, blurted out: “I’m not afraid to say it. Sex.”
The response was instantaneous. We had a conversation like none I’d ever experienced in the Church. Fun, but in no way frivolous. The end result was a general agreement that the physical pleasure associated with sex is a gift from God intended to draw husband and wife closer. We concluded that it is a holy thing to enjoy sex.
The Relief Society president may have turned white, but she allowed the closing prayer.
Needless to say, I became an overnight sensation with the elders quorum. I also received an outpouring of appreciation–over the phone, by email, and in person–from mature, married women who confessed to being uplifted in a whole new way. I discovered that my people do hunger to approach the topic of physical pleasure and intimacy with a sense of joy and thanksgiving.
I encourage those of you who are like me–people with more passion than brains–to find ways to open the discourse, both in your families and among your Mormon friends. Go ahead, brethren. Use a double entendre in priesthood meeting. And sisters, if you really want to have fun at the next bridal shower, leave the toaster on the Wal-Mart shelf and wrap up a silky pair of bikini briefs–for him. Then, when the hostess asks you to give the bride some marital advice, skip the rote and boring “never go to bed angry” and “pray every night.” Instead, give a good, solid piece of sex advice. You’ll be at the top of every guest list created by every future bride in attendance, regardless of what her mother thinks. Or, for that matter, knows.
More important, you’ll go to bed at night knowing you have helped a young married couple to sleep much, much better.
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