Saturday, March 17, 2012
Talkin' 'Bout Sex
I've been thinking a lot about sex lately...not the actual act, but people's attitudes towards it, especially in Mormon culture. HB363 is a bill that was passed by both the Utah House and the Senate which would have allowed Utah school districts to opt-out of teaching sexual education altogether and which would have required abstinence-only instruction in those that kept it. This in spite of the fact that parents already have the choice to opt their kids out of sex education if they so want to.
I already wrote about this misguided bill here. After it passed in the House, I wrote my senator a letter urging her to vote against it, which I believe she did. And after it passed in the Senate, I wrote Governor Herbert urging him to veto it. To my great surprise and to his great credit, he did.
This whole sex education bill has had me thinking about how we view sex in Mormon culture and how and what we choose to teach our children about sex. And then I have thought about my own sexual relationship with Jonah and how I feel about it. And, coincidentally, I recently heard this very interesting interview with a Mormon sex therapist on The Cultural Hall Podcast, and so my mind has just been swirling with thoughts about sex.
I don't talk about sex much on my blog. Sex for me has always been a personal thing. And I don't expect to talk about the most graphic and intimate details of my sex life. It, frankly, is none of your business.
But I will say this: I am very satisfied by the sexual part of my relationship with Jonah. As far as I can tell, he is, too. I hope so anyway.
I remember at my church disciplinary council, I read a four-page statement explaining why I made the choices I made to be with Jonah, and one of the things I said was that my sin was loving someone of the same sex. One of the brethren challenged me, essentially asking, "You say that your sin was loving someone of the same sex, but really, wasn't your sin having sexual relations with a person of the same sex outside the bounds of what our Heavenly Father has commanded?" At the time, I was taken aback by the question and simply said, "Yes, I guess you could say that is true," but after I thought about it, I was kind of annoyed that I hadn't said, "But aren't we taught that sex is an expression of love between two people? Why is it wrong for two people of the same sex to express that love in a way that is not only accepted, but encouraged, for members of the opposite sex?"
It doesn't seem fair to me. Jonah and I never had sexual relations prior to our commitment ceremony. We weren't two people just looking for a good time or a quick hop in the sack. We were and are two people in a committed, monogamous, loving relationship. Sex is an important and intimate way in which we express our love to each other. I also think we're both very conscious about wanting each other to enjoy the act of sex. The other's pleasure is usually more important than our own, and I think that shows a great expression of love and a desire to meet each other's needs rather than our own. And actually, I think it makes the sex better.
I enjoy sex. Not all the time. Like most people out there having sex, there are times when I am not in the mood. But most of time I enjoy it very much.
If you had told me when I was twenty that there would ever come a time when I wasn't in the mood for sex, I would have thought that impossible. I was a raging bag of hormones back then. I probably could have had sex a few times a day every day if I'd been married or I'd been sexually active. Nowadays, age has curbed my sex drive a bit, although I would say Jonah and I have a healthy and active sexual relationship.
I think in America we don't always have a healthy dialogue when it comes to sex. I think too often sex is such a taboo subject. Coming from a Mormon background, I think this attitude is too often prevalent in Mormon culture, and I think it bleeds into a lot of the problems that we encounter sexually.
Referring to HB363, some things were said on the aforementioned Cultural Hall Podcast such as how there is this attitude that "if we start talking about [sex], people are going to start to think about it...teenagers are going to go out and have sex because now they know it exists," as if they didn't already.
Dr. Emil Harker, the sex therapist that was being interviewed, used the following anecdote to make a point. He said he didn't know if it was based on reality or a joke, but it wouldn't be hard for me to imagine it being based in reality, and regardless, the point is still a good one:
"Small town Utah..the adults decide, 'What we're gonna do is we're really gonna reduce the amount of teen pregnancies' 'cause it's a really big problem in this small community. So what they decide to do is to take anything that would have any association with sex and remove it. So they took all the condoms and they put all the condoms under the counter; so if you needed a condom, you'd have to ask specifically for that. And so what happened was unbeknownst to them, shockingly, pregnancy rates started going up. ...And their explanation was 'Satan is really powerful now.'
There is this attitude that if we don't talk about sex, kids won't do it, but to me that is such a "bury-your-heads-in-the-sand" mentality. And actually, I think the attitude makes things worse; if you don't have a healthy dialogue with your children about sex, it becomes all that more mysterious to them, and they go off in search of answers somewhere else, and sometimes the places they find their answers turn out to be far less healthy than if the parents had just addressed the issue honestly and unabashedly.
Dr. Harker continued, "...There's a huge moral component, and I think sometimes...in an effort to try to sustain a morality base - a value-based education, - what's happening is fear starts to hijack reason...and what happens when that happens is..now the fiber of reason, logic, and understanding - the light of truth - starts to go out because there is no knowledge, and when you make decisions based on poor information, why would we be surprised that the outcomes are turning out crappy?
"...I hear all these people talking about, 'Well if you talk about it, then you're advocating it.' What the crap is that?! We're not advocating it. We're talking about it, we're putting light on it. It doesn't mean we're promoting it, and so this language of advocating; promoting; - that is just political mumbo-jumbo garbage to push their agenda. It isn't about understanding and making good choices based on information. It isn't. It's...dictating, actually..."
One of the interviewers said something I quite liked. He said, "...So the Church teaches that we should be informed. Intelligence is the only thing we take out of our lives with us, and so...I think that a lot of people would assume this bill is kind of being backed by the LDS Church...because it's so conservative, but...I think that the Church, if they were pressed about it, would say, 'You know what? We want people to be informed. We would like you to not have sex out of marriage; that's something that we've said from the very beginning. Read in the scriptures, yes; but, you know, be informed.' People should have knowledge about the consequences if they decide to have premarital sex or sex, in general...once they're inside marriage 'cause some of these things apply...if your partner...was sexually active before you got married..."
I would go further to say that the reason there are probably so many dysfunctional sexual relationships is because people weren't informed about sex enough. As Dr. Harker states, "If we're not getting good information, what kind of choices can we make?"
In Mormonism - and in many other religions - we're sometimes given the impression that sex is a bad thing; a dirty thing; when in fact, sex is one of greatest gifts our Heavenly Father has given us. He just doesn't want us to misuse it.
Now I fully admit that according to Mormon doctrine, I am misusing the procreative power Heavenly Father has blessed me with. But I also don't believe that sex is just about procreation. I don't think it's just about multiplying and replenishing the earth. There are a lot of people having it - yes, even temple-worthy people - who can't have children, and there are a lot of temple-worthy people not having it at all because they are still single and may be for life, so it can't just be about having children.
I think God has blessed us with these powerful and really wonderful feelings to attract us to one another and to share the most intimate part of ourselves with another human being, hopefully in a great expression of love and unity. When you're having sex, a part of you is literally inside another person, and your are a close and intimate as two people could possibly be.
I think sex could stand to be demystified. I think especially when parents don't talk about all the aspects of sex that their children might be curious about as well as those that are necessary for their health and happiness, they aren't doing their kids any favors. I think if they don't get answers from school or from home, they will look elsewhere. Perhaps they will experiment in unsafe ways, thus resulting in unwanted pregnancies, dangerous diseases, and perhaps unhealthy addictions or attitudes. Perhaps they will look for answers in areas that give them an unrealistic and unhealthy picture of sex, such as in pornographic movies or in the solace of prostitutes.
In Utah, state law prohibits the advocating of contraceptives or homosexuality. I feel especially sorry for kids who are gay who are looking for answers in Utah because it's much more difficult for them to be given a healthy outlook as far as homosexual relations go.
I was always taught that masturbation was a sin and spent years and years feeling guilty and terrible about it when if I had just been taught that it was normal and healthy, I wouldn't have had hang-ups about it. Of course, I was taught the homosexuality was wicked and sinful, and it took me quite a while to get over that hurdle. My relationship with Jonah is so incredibly healthy and fulfilling to me. I still fail to understand what is so wrong about two people being together who truly love one another, regardless of their sex.
I don't think it's any great coincidence that there is such a pornography problem among members of the LDS Church. And if you don't think there is one, ask yourself why almost every General Conference has a talk dedicated to it and why there are so many couples going to LDS Family Services to figure out how to tackle it. And I think it is a big issue because there is so much repression in the Mormon faith when it comes to sex.
I am in no way advocating that Mormons need to flout the rules and start having sex. I'm saying that we shouldn't be afraid of talking about it in honest and meaningful ways. Mormons should not be afraid and embarrassed about it.
I knew a girl from Utah County (and yes, I am picking on Utah County because I am biased against it) who in her early 20s, no joke, thought she could get pregnant by French kissing a guy. Her 20s!!! What kind of education was she lacking as far as sex goes? How does someone go through life that long without getting a proper sexual education. Needless to say, she was very sheltered and her parents were very conservative. I was one of the first gay people she ever knew, and she told me after working with me that I had really changed the attitudes she had previously had about gay people. I don't necessarily think she was pro-gay, but what she had been taught (or not taught) about gay people did not match what she was experiencing actually knowing and caring for one.
I think sometimes because we grow up thinking that sex is wrong (until marriage, that is), we develop unhealthy attitudes towards it. It can create dysfunction. A new bride might not want to have sex because it makes her feel dirty even though it's not supposed to be. Or a new groom may think, "Wow, I can have sex now," and not put his wife before his own sexual gratification. Some couples may be so ignorant about sex that when they finally do end up having it, it is a terrible experience. I think there can be so much baggage attached to a poor sexual education.
I love how I feel when I am having sex with Jonah. Sometimes it is mindblowingly wonderful. Not every time, but there are times when it is so great. And there are also times when we are so comfortable and in love that sex is not even necessary. Sometimes I like foreplay even more than than sex act itself. Other times I am all about the act of sexual intercourse. But the cool thing is we just love each other. We care about each other's needs and wants sexually. It's not just about me. It's not just about him. It's truly about us. And I think that's what sex should be.
I'm glad we waited to have sex until after our commitment ceremony. It gave us two years to become friends and base a relationship on more than just sex. I have a friend who spent years sleeping with guy after guy after guy, never taking the time to get to know each one before she jumped in the sack with them, and she could never figure out why she couldn't sustain a relationship. She's thankfully past that stage and seems to have finally found someone that she's happy with.
I don't think sex should be a burden or uncomfortable or a chore. It should and can be really awesome. But I think sometimes our lack of education or unhealthy attitudes developed by either or both partners can cause it to be less than so. I also think good communication is absolutely key in a sexual relationship, and I think because we grow up in a culture where so often we're afraid or embarrassed or reluctant to talk about it, we bring those attitudes into the bedroom and don't discuss things with our partners, and really, if you don't talk about it, how are you going to make it better and more fulfilling?
You have to read a manual to learn how to drive. You have to take a bunch of classes in your chosen field to get a degree in it. Why should sex be any different? To be really good, you've got to have a good education and practice, practice, practice.
I really think the philosophy of fear and ignorance is Satan's domain. The philosophy of love and intelligence is God's.