Some Latter-day Saints reject exclusively “thou shall not” teachings on sexual intimacy

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Marriage and sex therapist Laura Brotherson says some women struggle to believe that sexual intimacy is OK, even with their husbands after they are married. (Natalie Bothwell)

Some members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are advocating for a more open dialogue about marital intimacy and a shift away from the commonly used “thou shall not” teaching approaches in order to help young adults — especially women — transition from single to married life.

“Women especially have a hard time going from no, no, no, to go, go, go,” LDS marriage and sex therapist Laura Brotherson said. “There really are not enough positive, affirming statements and emphasis on intimacy in marriage.”

Brotherson decided to write about spiritually based sexual intimacy because she saw a need for positive female voices on the topic. She has sold more than 60,000 copies of her book “And They Were Not Ashamed.”

Others in grassroots settings have advocated similarly. LDS blogger John Huntinghouse has also called for more comprehensive sex education.

The LDS Church, among other churches, teaches strict abstinence from sexual relations before marriage and complete fidelity to one’s spouse after. Huntinghouse said the law of chastity is important, but there’s a lot more to it.

He shared these views in a post on LDS Smile, a blog he runs with his wife. LDS Smile is known for its fun, feel-good posts, and the change of pace to address this more serious issue did not go unnoticed. His audience responded — the post is one of his top-five most shared.

So where is the attention coming from? Does the fact that people are talking mean the church’s current approach to teaching the law of chastity isn’t meeting the needs of its members?

“Specifically in a church setting we kind of overemphasize the shame-based approach,” Huntinghouse said. “I think there are negative unintended side effects.”

Brotherson said despite it being primarily a parent’s job to educate their children on these matters, the church “is doing the best they can considering they have a whole lot of other focuses as well.”

LDS Church member Jenelle Klingler who has served as a youth leader said well-intentioned leaders drill into the minds of the youth that sex is bad and that’s the only message they receive.

“Youth leaders receive a lot of direction on how to prepare the girls to stay morally pure and nothing to prepare the girls for marriage,” Klingler said.

Brotherson said in some instances, the “thou shall not” approach may be best for teaching young men, but not young women. She said there are distinctions between male and female sexuality that can go overlooked.

“Because girls aren’t wired the same way, our arousal is further away from us,” she said. “It’s not ever present and we have a harder time transitioning to it.”

She said that this distinction combined with the messages put out by church leaders causes some women struggle to believe that sexual intimacy is OK, even with their husbands after they are married.

Brotherson said LDS women need to be given more of a proactive, positive approach to sex than do men. When people in the church talk about the dangers of sexual intimacy, they should throw in a disclaimer or a reminder about the positives because it is an important part of healthy married relationships.

One resource BYU students have to educate themselves about healthy sexual intimacy is the Student Health Center’s premarital class. Separate classes are available for men and women several times throughout the year.

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Lisa Lance, RN, one of the course instructors, said topics addressed include basic anatomy, physiology of sexual intimacy, contraception, how to prepare for the wedding night and how to avoid common problems couples run into.

“We want people with enough information that they’re comfortable going into their marriage situation,” Lance said.

Former associate director of the BYU School of Family Life Jason Carroll said in a Mormon Channel talk, titled “Family Conversations: Teaching Gospel-Centered Intimacy,” that men and women should understand the arousal systems of the body, and appreciate that “the sexual response of the body is also a response of the mind.”

He said it is insufficient to teach that chastity is just about abstaining from the physical act of sex until marriage.

“If young people don’t see chastity as a condition of a spirit, not just an action of the body, then they will be unprepared for the intimacies of marriage,” Carroll said. “We’re not just trying to help people enter marriage pure, they need to enter prepared — and that’s emotionally and relationally prepared, too.”

There are many voices calling for a more open dialogue on sexual intimacy. However it seems the best thing people can do is educate themselves, based on what part of life they may be in. The resources are out there, it’s just a matter of seeking them out in order to access a positive voice in what is usually a sensitive topic for conversation.

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