When Virgins Collide

(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.

Nervous laughter.

I waited.

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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  1. Sarah says:

    You’re right… I think MANY LDS members feel this way about sex. I’m glad that you felt comfortable enough sharing your story with people. It is an important subject to be discussed in appropriate circumstances.

    Thank you!

  2. Zhenya says:

    “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.”

    THAT, surely, is the key!

  3. Gordon Hill says:

    My wife and I had some experience with sex before we were married. Yes, we’re sinners! But even then the strong Mormon taboos about sex were difficult to neutralize.
    There are still some questions/problems we have after 40 years… but I must say it’s still getting better…slowly.
    Some of my Mormon friends however are still struggling mightily to bring meaning to the sexual experience and some have just given up and have preplanned sex once a week for 15 minutes just to ‘fulfill their duties’.
    There is a great deal of dysfunction out their and there likely will be little resolution for many. Only those who put their childlike Mormon taboos behind them and behave like self fulfilling adults will be able to solve this puzzle.

  4. Mr X says:

    I had a great 10 minutes readingthis account. I had an eventful ‘first few nights’ although I wasn’t a virgin but I had sex out of an emotional meaningful relationship.
    I actually remember my former Stake President in France and his wife were running a course of several sessions on marriage issues for a group of soon-to-be-wed members. It was right out in the open while very uplifting and comforting. So it can be discussed, and may I suggest that the talented author of this personal account write a book for the youth of the Church. I know I’d spend the money to get it…and laugh with my kids.
    Sex is non-stop taught the wrong way, either by the many voices of an ungodly and selfishly unrighteous world, or by puritans who think the consumption of that most sacred and bonding intimate relationship flirts with the devil’s ways. It is also taught by Hollywood portraying the act as some kind of mindblowing art that fulfil the ‘partakers’.
    I personally feel the key of a sexual relationship is found in the fact that this is part of a wider relationship of discovery, spirituality and the coming together of 2 different persons. And this is so unique as each person’s situation is unique (I can assure there are not 2 guys like me)that one must listen to his feelings and if position 56 in the book hidden behing the stack of Ensigh Magazines feels wrong, then turn to pafe 57…or read the Ensigh instead! Each relationship is unique, and the issues are to be faced within that frame of uniqueness. And since it is a private matter, there shouldn’t be any fear of not keeping up with the trend or not being an accomplished bedroom gymnast. The only person we should have concern for is ourselves, and of course our husband/wife whose feelings must not be offended. Deal with it your way, and if you feel good about it, then it is the Lord’s way.

    PS It is my first visit of this website and I hope none of ny words were apropriate (don’t know who visit this site, what age group, strong memebers or NOMs…)

  5. Jennifer says:

    Your article is phenomenal. I would love to see discussions like the one described in yours RS happen in more wards.

  6. Becky says:


    An excellent article, and I agree completley. Luckily, my husband and I are finally getting over those taboos (after four years of marriage). It’s much better that way, and I’m glad someone else feels this way!

    I think everyone woman in the Church should read this article.

  7. Julie says:

    I loved reading this. It is so true. I was fortunate enough to have 2 older sisters who weren’t afraid to talk to me about the joy of sex.

  8. Melona McCarthy says:

    Thank you so much for this great article. Thankfully, in my case I had sisters and sisters-in-law and an OB who were all candid w/ me and helped me to prepare for my wedding night. Not that it wasn’t awkward and painful, but it wasn’t terrible. And w/in a few weeks it was very enjoyable.

    I think it is true that while we teach our children to obey the Lord, that we do teach them that w/in marriage sex is wonderful and enjoyable and to be celebrated between a husband and wife.

    I am saddened to see others go through these kinds of things. Thank you for this great article! Hopefully it will help someone.

  9. Hunter says:

    Thanks for a wonderful article. I endorse your suggestions and think we have a long way to go in this regard.

    However, I wonder if this isn’t a generational thing. I am in my mid-30s. Before my wedding, I remember hearing pah-lenteee of advice about my wife and orgasm. And since then, other 30-somethings in my Ward are very open about talking about this topic.

    Is this something that we are less inhibited about in my generation? Or are there other 30- and 20-somethings out there whose experience mirrors the author’s?

  10. Adam Beckham says:

    I really don’t know where to begin.

    I see comments like “we have a long way to go” and “Only those who put aside their childlike Mormon taboos behind them…” and I am floored that there seems to be no acknowledgment that it is the fundamental tenets of the faith itself that are the problem here.

    There is a malignant contradiction in the notion that people should be “more open” without shifting the entire dogma on sex. Either you address the problem or you don’t.

    You cannot lock someone down for 20 years and then suddenly throw open the gates expecting healthy outcomes. Sex is shameful and awkward and unnatural for some because it is pounded into their heads for 20 years that sex is shameful and awkward and unnatural.

    And the terribly irony here is that I am asking the prisoner born in prison to visualize the free world. The reason this “change from within” thing cannot happen is because the entire conversation is taking place between those already indoctrinated with the one, single, specific, and stifling worldview.

    How can you expect someone to grow up with a healthy sexual attitude when you tell them, from their first moments of sexual awareness, that their every sexual impulse is shameful and that they need to confess to an old man in a closed room or else they aren’t allowed to go to the place where all the good kids go?

    While I appreciate Mr. X’s tone, I think categorizing sexual desire as involving 2 people is absurd. Sexual gratification starts with you and you alone. It naturally grows to encompass others, but it begins as self-exploration. And if you cut it off at the root it is not going to grow and you will find yourself stuck with people in their mid-20s completely incapable of basic sexual behaviors and attitudes; essentially a massive and articulate child who needs help feeling good about one of the most essential parts of human nature.

  11. Cindy says:

    This is a terrific article – and very true! However, I’d like to also point out that it IS entirely possible to grow up as a good, chaste Mormon kid and still enjoy a terrific (and very fulfilling) relationship after marriage. I am a brand-new newlywed (seven weeks) and thanks to a married friend’s gift of Tim & Beverly LaHaye’s terrific book “The Act of Marriage” (not an LDS book, but written by a pastor and his wife specifically for engaged or newly-married virgins)… I’ll just say that my husband and I have not had any problems! Yes, there was awkwardness and some pain and physical complications, but within a few weeks all of that had cleared up and left in its wake a highly satisfying relationship (for BOTH of us). I personally was very appreciative of the tasteful-but-open conversations that I had with parents and friends before my wedding day, and will be sure to make sure that my as-yet-unmarried friends also go into marriage armed with helpful knowledge.

  12. Leah says:

    I’ve been married for 6 years now and like you, my husband and I were both virgins when we got married. Don’t feel so bad.. I personally had a moment during our first experience where I said “I think we should stop.. this isn’t a good idea!” And afterward was the “I don’t see how any girl would want to do that twice!” Thankfully I have a very loving husband and eventually we got the hang of it.

  13. Sid says:

    What do you think about this idea?

    Any young couple who is planning on getting married (temple or not) is hopefully developing strong sexual attraction to each other. We teach kids that no sex before marriage is the goal (including petting, etc). Most young couples I have known get pretty close to the edge prior to their wedding day. I think that is normal and OK.

    What happens when the fateful night comes is that they usually go straight to the part they weren’t allowed to do (actual sex), instead of working up to it like they will learn to do later.

    My advice to all young couples is this:

    “You probably already know about how things work. If not, read a book together. The most important thing you can to on your wedding night is pretend that you are still not married and allow yourselves the opportunity to kiss and hug (like you have been) until the point that you just can’t stand it anymore. When you get to the point where you used to stop…just keep going. Let nature take over from there.”

    I have had many people come back and thank me for sharing this advice.

  14. Stephan Wyatt says:


    Your parenthetical perspective on sexuality makes the Puritans appear like hedonistic, beer-swilling strip club attendees. What exactly do you mean by heavy petting? Before you euphemistically stumble through this response, could you actually define the concept without blushing or using clinical terms to describe the behavior?

    Moreover, human sexuality can be better understood by removing moral lenses. How do newly married couples “let nature take over” when the natural is reviled? Let us look two sets of ancestors, one group we’ll assume as purveyors of our contemporary understanding of sexuality, Augustine and the early Latin rite church (Catholic); the other is a disputed set of ancestors, the Bonobo chimps. Augustine believed that the account of Adam and Eve’s sin against God in Genesis 3 uses symbolic language, that the ‘forbidden fruit’ actually represented sex. He thought Eve conceived and bore children in pain (Genesis 3:16) because sex is sinful, and any kind of sexual activity brings pain. Thus, something naturally pleasing to us physically brings spiritual pain. Cultivated with this ethos was a throng of homilies that affected attitudes toward sex that have developed into two contemporary extremes: a clinical understanding and a pornographic understanding. Because of these two extremes many Christians (excluding Gnostic Christians) have a suffocated understanding of what to do on their wedding night.

    On the other hand, the Bonobo chimps openly demonstrate their sexual behavior in front of their offspring, thus they are not preoccupied and hindered by performance issues. When was the last time you witnessed an animal taking Viagra or consulting pornography for sexual stimulation? Although I am not advocating imitating our disputed ancestors by openly having sex in front of our children so as to demonstrate how to engage in the pleasurable act, I am recognizing that what apparently seems to come natural to us cannot if we continue to approach the behaviors as “wrong”. How does one come to learn that “hugging and kissing” leads sex? It is a behavior we learn vicariously from films and television! What is unnatural are our attitudes toward one of the most satisfyingly creative acts we are consciously aware of.

    There are wonderful features to our anatomy that need to be explored before our wedding night. And as Beckham made plainly clear in lucky post #13, it starts with self-exploration. Thus, the wedding night will not be fettered with immature sexual experiences that rivals a toddler learning how to walk, but a healthy physical dialogue between two adults who clearly understand what is going to happen next.

  15. Kent says:

    Interesting stuff, however, the real issue here is WHY…so many couples haven’t had sex before marriage. Templetempletemple. If you have sex outside of wedlock you WILL be damned, so we mormons have been taught. The sad thing is that now I’m in my 50s and single, there are two choices: Find a bar-hopping, drinking smoking lady, or…go to the sinlges dances and try to find one that doesn’t do that. It’s impossible to find anyone in between. There are SO many gorgeous mormon ladies out there but you have to approach them with your temple recommend out front or you’ll get nothing but meaningless flirting from her. And she HAS to have that card-carrying, priesthood honoring, mormon man or…yeah…off to hell you go. I try to tell these women that the man they want simply does NOT exist. Any endowed mormon man is either…uh…not so smart as to believe all the mormon nonsense, or is lying. The only thing these women live for is to find an endowed mormon man. They either get married repeatedly because you just can’t get close enough with your mate to know that it will last, or they never marry again because they can’t find a handsome, honest, endowed man. Why is Utah the top in ant-depressant use…well, there’s the answer.

  16. David says:

    My father-in-law to be has spent more than 30 years as a Bishop or member of a Stake Presidency. Not that that matters. But I will never forget what he told me three days before I married his daughter.

    He said, “David, the bretheren have taught that what goes on in your bedroom is between you, your spouse, and the Lord.”

    “…and that might be one person too many.”

    “Oh, and remember, Ladies first.”

    That was the BEST council I have ever recieved on the subject!

  17. Matt says:

    I totally agree with the writer that we need a more open dialogue about sex in the church. But a part of me feels sad and realizes how much I’m missing that I’m not married and I’m a male virgin in my late 30s.

    Unfortunately most women in the church now view me being faithful and a virgin at my age to be a liability instead of an asset. (I must be gay or have severe emotional issues or afraid of committment, right? I heard it all before from LDS women)

    I wish more women in the church would give guys like me a chance. But I don’t hold my breath. Most guys I know in similar situations in their 30s have given up or just date and marry non-members who actually appreciate them much more than the single women in the church.

  18. Jules says:

    Somehow I managed to be raised in Mormonism and Utah with the idea that sex a good and natural drive and would be a fulfilling part of married life. To act on those feelings before hand would be wrong and would risk heartache, pregancy, STDs, among other things. I enjoyed kissing before marriage and struggled to contain other impulses. My fiance and I began reading a book on sex before our wedding and when the time came we had a great time.

    17 years later: Our sex life has been wonderful and fulfilling although not without its bumps along the way (newborns and nursing, anyone?). I think I was raised understanding the tenets of the gospel. Luckily familial and local culture allowed me to develop what I believe is a healthy attitude towards sex.

    It is true that sexual feelings generate within the individual and need to be nurtured there. However, I believe that self-gratification is a hollow and empty substitute for the give and take of a sexual relationship with a beloved and trusted spouse.

    The author is correct that cultural attitudes and taboos need to be overcome and improved. This can be done in harmony with the doctrine of the gospel. No need to chuck the baby with the bath water.

  19. Cetti says:

    Dialogue Journal’s 2007 article of the year, Cetti Cherniak’s “The Theology of Desire,” was all about this. It goes into the whys and wherefores of the disconnect between LDS theology of the body and LDS cultural practices surrounding the body. Female sexuality is explored, polygamy, masturbation and so on, all within a believing framework. It is very well-reasoned and documented — I should know, I wrote it! Hahaha — and I wrote it for people like you. I’d be pleased if more people read it. Spring and Summer 2007 issues.

  20. Adam Beckham says:


    Bonobo chimps are not ancestors, they are primate cousins. We shared a common ancestor with them roughly 6-7 million years ago.

    We obviously took the right path, seeing as we drive cars and watch television and they run naked around the jungle waving sticks at each other.

    Hmm… maybe we didn’t take the right path…


    In what way is self-gratification “hollow”? Perhaps in a certain context it could be hollow (over-stimulation, derangement, etc…), but the same could be argued of any sexual act, including vanilla missionary.

    If you are happy that is fantastic, but your happiness doesn’t mean anything with regards to the overall view. Just because it works for you does not mean it works for others, and to use your own success as a justification for continuing to impose moral strictures and dogmas on others for whom the same context may not work is spiritual totalitarianism.

    Also notice that the wrongs you pointed out are secular wrongs (pregnancy, heartache, STDs, and pregnancy). The intrusion of deity is completely unnecessary to craft a rational and effective moral guideline with regards to sex.

  21. Calvin Arnason says:

    Our undigested polygamous history remains the primary roadblock to a progressive and rational attitude towards sexual desire. The leaders of the church for almost 100 years have tried to distance themselves in every way possible from that lurid history. As a result they are prisoners to ridiculous sexual attitudes that were common when indoor toilets were a novelty in Salt Lake City. That practice has just BARELY begun to budge into the last century.

    Consider this statistic – for every minute spent in General Conference or Priesthood or Sunday School lessons on the positive aspect of sexual desire, 100+ minutes are spend repeating loudly “DON’T DO THAT !! DON’T DO THAT !!” It is a losing strategy. How long will it take to change?

    Calvin Arnason

  22. Ryan Jenks says:


    I would wholeheartedly disagree that the tenets of the faith are at fault and need to be changed or left behind. The truth of the matter is that it is the CULTURE of the church that leads to this problem, not the religious beliefs. LDS doctrine specifically states that the fall of Adam and Eve was not related to sex. We do not believe that sex is the original sin, nor do we believe that it is dirty or bad. The problem is that the culture of the church has lead to people predominately ignoring that sex exists (because they do not want to encourage sexual thoughts in their children) and they are expected to make a 180 degree turn and be all for the act the moment that they are married.

    The only change that needs to happen is a more open conversation about the act within the home. If children learn that sex is a good thing, when kept within the bounds the Lord has set, they will grow up with a more well developed understanding of its proper function. I should know, I grew up in such a home. Because of this I was a virgin when I got married and my wife and I have had none of the issues that are talked about in this blog. We have friends that do have these issues because they grew up with the “sex is bad” mentality and that continued into their marriages.

    I know that you disagree with the religious tenets, and that is fine. The problem is that you blame the religious beliefs for the issue under discussion. What you need to realize is that continuity does not equate to causality.

  23. Ryan Jenks says:


    One more thing.

    You spoke to Jules about the imposition of moral structures and dogmas. I think you fail to realize that all teachings given to children are “moral structures and dogmas” whether they are of a religious nature or not. I am sure that you have (or will) taught your children the naturalist and evolutionary philosophies that you have put forth in your comments. Those are no less dogmatic nor lacking in morality than those taught by any religious organization. They are just of a different moral and dogmatic fiber.

    We all choose what we will teach our children as truth; and one “truth” is no more provable than another. We all just follow what we believe to be the correct path. To assume that the teachings someone else chooses for their children are dogma, while the ones you choose to follow are not, shows a fundamental lack of understanding on your part about the psychology of learning.

  24. Calvin Arnason says:

    Just a short anecdote from 2006 (2005?). The lesson in Priesthood and Relief Society was on the sacrifices early apostles had to endure in order to accept missions in Europe while raising a family, moving a family across country in covered wagons, etc. etc. and foregoing conjugal joys. In High Priests the men all nodded and murmured assent without further comment and the lesson continued(I was there). In Relief Society (my wife was there – a visiting non member) the teacher asked, “What is meant by conjugal joys”?. No one answered (maybe 50 women in a high socio-economic ward). After a long pause she asked a women who had a English (?) degree what it meant, and the response was, “I don’t think this is an appropriate place for us to be discussing this topic!”

    This was in a ward of high socio-economic and educational level.

    Calvin Arnason

  25. Adam Beckham says:


    Point 1 –
    How can you separate the beliefs from the culture?
    If the beliefs do not determine the culture, of what practical use are the beliefs?
    (Or, more specifically, if the beliefs do not lead to desirable outcomes then why are the beliefs considered valid?)

    Point 2 –
    “Secular dogma” is an oxymoron, by the way. Dogma, by its very definition, involves a liturgical imposition.

    My ideas about sex are the opposite of dogma, they come through reason and experience. I can share that reason and experience and engage in a discussion of those ideas with a complete openness to the possibility that my ideas are inferior and need to be changed/replaced.

    As far as whether or not one truth being more provable than the other, I beg to differ. I can easily prove that masturbation is harmless while it is impossible for you to prove that masturbation will lead to eternal suffering.

    When your argument rests on “well you’re just as bad” you’re in a very weak position; (a) because you’re not inspiring much confidence in the strength of your own position and (b) you might very well be wrong about it.

  26. Sid says:

    Thou Shalt NOT… (fill in the blank) is a recipe for disaster.

    Whatever a teenager believes is a “Taboo” will be placed number one their “To do” list.

    The negative energy (the NOTS) we place on actions we don’t want for our children only makes it more intriguing for them to experience. I would like to see the 10 Commandments rewritten to be more positive.

    “Thou shalt not have any other Gods before me” could read something like “Thou shalt always show respect to God”, OR “Thou shalt not kill” could be said, “Thou shalt respect all lives”.

    By our simple message of telling children NOT to do something is one of the causes of the problems we are seeing in today’s immorality among the youth. We should only tell them the positive reasons for living righteously.

  27. Ryan Jenks says:


    1)Dogma (the plural is either dogmata or dogmas, Greek ?鬥?è?í?é¬??鬺?鬱, plural ?鬥?è?í?é¬??鬺?鬱?è‚Äû?鬱) is the established belief or doctrine held by a religion, ideology or any kind of organization, thought to be authoritative and not to be disputed, doubted or diverged from.

    Your philosophy fits every bit of this definition; to claim otherwise would be fallacy. You claim to be open minded, yet the tone of your argument makes it clear that your beliefs are not to be “doubted or diverged from”.

    2)You stated to Jules that experience does not matter, that it cannot be extrapolated. Yet you claim that your own can. So, which is it? My understanding comes through reason and experience just as yours does. That is the foundation of all learning; experience. To state that your own is valid while negating that of someone else is hardly the open mindedness you claim to possess.

    3)You stated that you can prove masturbation is physically harmless. I can prove otherwise by citing scientific studies. I cannot prove that it will lead to “eternal suffering”, as you put it, but you cannot prove that it won’t. That is the basis of faith. You put your faith in certain philosophies and I put my faith in others.

    4)Doctrine is a completely different matter than culture. Catholic doctrine, for instance, in no way matches the culture of many people who are Catholic. They interpret the doctrine in a way it wasn’t intended and they live their life accordingly. Being a member of a religious organization in no way means that you understand the religion. That does not mean that the beliefs don’t create a desired outcome. It means that mal-interpretation of the beliefs can lead to an unintended outcome. For instance, I do not believe in abortion, but that does not mean I support people killing doctors who perform them even though that is a possible outcome of someone believing as I do.

    5)I never used the argument that “you were just as bad”. That is a misinterpretation on your part by starting with the assumption that my position is bad. What I stated is that your beliefs are wrought in the same manner as mine; they just turned out to be different. Thus, your attacking the beliefs of others on the basis of dogma while heralding your own (ignorant of the fact that you do indeed have your own form of dogma) is not a strong logical position to take.

  28. Ryan and Adam,

    It’s nice to see some vigorous discussion going on over this issue. But let’s make sure that we don’t dismiss each other’s viewpoint as dogma or closed minded. Such characterizations are counterproductive to a skillful discussion.

    When you encounter a person you disagree with, it’s very likely that you can still learn something from him/her. And that learning is the most valuable thing you can take from the conversation. You’ll find that as you give each other the benefit of a doubt, you will understand each other’s point of view better.

  29. Barry says:

    “Prayer before having sex” is something that I have never done, nor even heard of until reading this article, and I’ve been a member all my life. No prayers before, but many a silent prayers offered up after!

  30. Ryan Jenks says:

    Re: The transitive value of experience.
    You stated that reason and experience were the basis for you point of view. You base arguments upon this reason and experience and upon this your life view has its basis. People act according to their beliefs that are based on experience. This is true for you and it is true for me. The only place that we differ is that you believe truth is in flux and I believe it is absolute.

    You state that you do not threaten eternal damnation. I do not threaten eternal damnation, but it should not matter if I did because you don’t believe what I do. It should not affect you in the least. What you fail to realize is the LDS faith is not one of blind faith. We do not tell our children that what we believe is true and they have to follow it. We invite them to find out if it is true.

    Re: Proving that masturbation is physically harmful.
    Go and study. Look up the harmful effects that masturbation can have on ones sex life. I can “prove” it does sexual harm and you can “prove” it does not. That is my point. Upon what “proof” do you choose to base your opinion (and thus your actions)?

    Re: Doctrine & Culture
    I’ve already explained this. Perhaps it is semantics that is keeping you from understanding. Doctrine is a belief system. Everyone, religious or not, has doctrinal points of view in their lives. This does not mean that the point of view is bad, it’s what the person chooses to do with the point of view that can be good or bad.

    Re: My Supposed Dogma
    Any and all beliefs that you have (of a moral character) are dogmatic when applied. Everyone has a zeitgeist that influences their actions; this is dogma. As stated previously, you will teach your children naturalism and evolutionary principles. Because you approach these views as truthful, they are dogma. All viewpoints must, as a rule, be based on certain assumptions that are considered to be fact. An attempt to separate these from religious assumptions that I make is futile. Dogma is no more nor less than an assumption of truth.

  31. Calvin Arnason says:

    Sid, we’re on the same page. My Bishop said that the prohibition to young men to NOT touch or look at pornography is like telling a child “Don’t put these beans up your nose! Don’t put these beans up your nose!” First thing, the kids have beans up their nose.

    On matters of sexual desire the church is 100 to 1 more negative than positive. Probably higher. That ratio is way off what it should be to be effective (in my humble opinion).

    Calvin Arnason

  32. Adam Beckham says:

    What you fail to realize is the LDS faith is not one of blind faith. We do not tell our children that what we believe is true and they have to follow it. We invite them to find out if it is true.

    I doubt there is an acceptable way to say this per the board’s policy, but this is simply not true. The LDS faith is perhaps the most insidious of any faith I have ever heard of when it comes to the creeping totalitarianism of spiritual life. Not only are children pressured by the threat of eternal torment, they are “sealed” to their families in elaborate ceremonies and filled to the brim with dire warnings and fears about separation in the afterlife.

    And if you leave the faith, do not pretend that church members are unconcerned and treat those who leave the same as they did before.

    Go and study.

    You said you could show me, so show me.

    Everyone, religious or not, has doctrinal points of view in their lives. This does not mean that the point of view is bad, it?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s what the person chooses to do with the point of view that can be good or bad.

    Of what use, then, is the doctrine if it has no positive effect on outcomes?

    As stated previously, you will teach your children naturalism and evolutionary principles. Because you approach these views as truthful, they are dogma.

    My beliefs are amenable to reason and argumentation. It is possible, though exceedingly unlikely, that evolution will be disproven, and if that is the case I see no point in teaching it.

    All viewpoints must, as a rule, be based on certain assumptions that are considered to be fact.

    Not all assumptions are equally valid. Not all beliefs are equally valid. I do not subscribe to such relativism.

  33. djinn says:

    “Re: Proving that masturbation is physically harmful.
    Go and study. Look up the harmful effects that masturbation can have on ones sex life. I can ?¢‚Ǩ?ìprove?¢‚Ǩ¬ù it does sexual harm and you can ?¢‚Ǩ?ìprove?¢‚Ǩ¬ù it does not. That is my point. Upon what ?¢‚Ǩ?ìproof?¢‚Ǩ¬ù do you choose to base your opinion (and thus your actions)?”

    Double-dog dare you to do this. Masturbation not only improves your sex life, but lessens you chance of prostate cancer, and improves prostate functioning. ANd keeps you from going totally nuts. If you’re a woman, masturbation, for some large percentage, may be required to have a good sex life.

    Waiting for those references….

  34. Mary Ellen says:

    I think double dog daring someone to masturbate falls outside the rules of engagement outlined in our comment policy…

    By all means, vigorously discuss the issues raised by the original posting. We do ask that these exchanges be respectful of the person, even if you disagree with the attitudes, doctrines or dogmas to which they subscribe.

  35. Adam Beckham says:

    I don’t think you understood what djinn meant by “Double-dog dare you to do this”…

    Jenks has repeatedly stated he could prove that masturbation is harmful and do so using scientific studies. He has been asked repeatedly to do so.
    I said, “Please do so.” and now djinn has said, “Double-dog dare you to do this.”

    Neither djinn nor I were daring Jenks to masturbate.

    I am sure djinn would agree with me that the decision to masturbate or not masturbate is best left up to Jenks himself.

  36. Mary Ellen says:

    I did know what dijnn probably meant and was trying to inject a little humor regarding an alternate way to read that imprecise sentence.

    That said, I don’t know that double dog daring someone is the most effective way to ask them to provide evidence. It comes off as slightly belligerent and kinda takes the fun out of talking about sex. Hoping we can carry on the conversation with our senses of humor engaged.

  37. Adam Beckham says:

    Excellent. I was just seeing how many times I could use the word “masturbate” in one post.

    So yes, back on topic, does anyone think the church should stop teaching that masturbation is an inherently bad thing and teach instead that it is the abuse of masturbation that is a problem?

  38. ShellyM says:

    Excellent comments by the posters. Very well thought out and articulated.

    Ryan, Kudos for having the insight and just the right words. Only those who have experienced the confirmation of truth can tap into exactly what you are saying. It is foreign to those who rely only on themselves for education.

  39. Stephan Wyatt says:

    To some degree, Shelly, you also rely on experiential knowledge for education, otherwise you would not have come to the “confirmation of truth” that you boast of. Moreover, your expression of the idea that “the confirmation of truth being foreign to those who rely only on themselves for education” has superbly pushed someone with a dissenting view of religion out instead of lovingly engaging those who rely on themselves for education in a dialogue so as to help pull them into the fold. This tenor and blithe arrogance is what pushes many away from Christian organizations. The either/or idea creates divisions. Christ ministered to the disenfranchised in 1st century Israel–lepers, prostitutes, widows, etc. His ministry was designed to pull those from the outside into the middle with love,mercy, and compassion, not divisive language. Moreover, in Mark’s Gospel, who identified Jesus as the Christ? The same person that was part of his execution–a Roman centurion, not his followers.

    It is counterproductive and antithetical to Christ’s basic theme of loving your neighbors/enemies when you make the binary argument that either you have the truth or you don’t. Djinn, Beckham, and many others have made dissenting remarks which are on the outside of your basic tenets of belief. Nonetheless, it is curious that you meet their dissent with indignation, not love, mercy, and compassion.

  40. djinn says:

    I am sorry (and somewhat confused) that my remarks were take to request that anyone indulge in any sort of sexual activity. I asked that he produce studies that show that masturbastion is bad. Studies show (wow, what a comment) that masturbations is pretty much necessary for almost all men to have a well functioning prostate. Ask a urologist. This masturbation thing is some batty holdover from I don’t know 1920’s beliefs? It’s wrong, causes actual harm to actual humans, and probably is a major contributor to what seems to be the widespread porn problem in the Mormon church, because of the twisted sexual attitudes it engenders. Meet some normal nonmormon guys, guys, they’re not all porn addicts. Surprise.

  41. bruja says:

    as a married woman with a very satisfying and enjoyable sex life (has always been so) i hold the opinion, soley based on my own experience that masturbation (for both genders) in moderation is healthy, both before and after marriage.

    it’s just human nature that one or the other person is going to be in the mood when the other isn’t. and while compromise and sacrifice should be exercised first and often have great results, sometimes you just take care of yourself. it’s expectations that your spouse will be the fulfillment of your every emotional and physical need that causes disappointment, anger, loneliness and frustration in marriage.

    my spouse and i have reached a point in which appreciation of the others’ sexual desires and expressions–in any form, masturbation included–increases desire in the other.

  42. Willis says:

    Married 35 years to a good LDS woman (a great-great-great granddaughter of Brigham Young) who still believes after 35 years of marriage and 3 kids that it’s OK to have sex with your husband, but if you want it or enjoy it, you’re a slut. And if you read books about improving sex, you’re a slut. It seems that some conditioning is impossible to overcome.

  43. Rusty says:

    Sorry folks, but life without masturbation is effectively impossible. The Mormon ‘no sex before marriage’ paradigm is excellent for finding the most compatible mate imaginable for every aspect but sex. I love my eternal companion, but we are completely sexually incompatible.
    I remember being asked point blank by a bishop during a temple interview whether I masturbate, and being the honest fellow I am, I said that I did. He told me to, “…work on that, and come back when you have kicked the filthy habit… besides, what are you going to do while your wife is pregnant?” Well, no temple recommend from that bishop. Thank heavens he was released shortly thereafter. My thoughts? Masturbate, of course, you self righteous prig! (By the way, the only time my wife was up for sex any time, anywhere, was while pregnant! I don’t know what that did to her sex-drive, but it turned the key, and put her in over-drive.) Masturbation has taken the pressure to perform off my wife, who has no interest in sex. She is disturbed by the idea that I would even have a sex-drive, and told me she felt like my attentions were only because I wanted to coax her into haveing sex. Masturbation has made it possible for me to face the vast eternities of a totally unsatisfactory sexlife, and proven to my wife that my attentions are because I love her whether or not we have sex. (Not that we have sex anymore…but now I don’t feel like she’s not fulfilling her part of the ‘mariage bargain’ and I’m not obsessing about sex now either.) If I had it all to do again, I’m not sure what I would do, but I do know that the church’s no premarital sex policy has led a lot of expectant future husbands to a very disappointing let-down.

  44. Char says:

    I think we often look past the mark because we are sure exactly where the mark is. In this case discussing sexual relations with teens or newly engaged couples isn’t easy and can easily be misconstrued into something mroe. However the thought of discussing sex is nothing new. I grew up in an active LDS home but sex was discussed daily. As such when my husband and I became engaged we read a book entitled “The Act of Marriage” by Tim Lahaye (a christian authot). It covered everything from differing anatomy and explained it in everyday terms and kind of gave an overview of how to approach the first night. It covered the emotional and spiritual aspects thoroughly as well. This book prepared us for our first night together and allowed us both to fully enjoy the new bond created. I now give it to the future bride whether or not I attend the shower. While some are confused when the receive it, I have been thanked multiple times. It makes a difference in a marriage, especially starting out. Find a way to talk about it women – especially if you have had problems in your own life.

  45. Anthony Shipley says:

    My question on this and many other topics is “Would God’s only true church really be like this?” God created our minds and our bodies to be “naked and unashamed”. In my opinion anyone who really knows the Lord will face life with joy and excitement and the thrill of finding new things. Truth always makes us free. Don’t be afraid to let go of things that aren’t helpful. From a happy ex Mormon

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