One of the vital truths of the restored gospel is that “the spirit and the body are the soul of man” (D&C 88:15) and that when the spirit and body are separated, men and women “cannot receive a fulness of joy” (D&C 93:34). In this simple truth, we discover a key to help our children avoid the trap of sexual fragmentation and the foundation for helping them eventually develop sexual wholeness in marriage. This doctrine of the soul teaches us that all sexual experiences in this life affect both our bodies and our spirits. It also teaches us that our spirits are the source of our emotions and thoughts, and that in order to have true sexual fulfillment we need to appreciate how they are enmeshed with the physical reactions of our bodies.
The spiritual dimension.
We should always remember that our children are spiritual beings having a mortal experience. Because of this, it is in their inherent nature to seek meaning and purpose in their lives. The Proclamation on the Family teaches that each of us “is a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents, and, as such, each has a divine nature and destiny.” Thus, we all have an innate desire to progress. As President Dallin H. Oaks has taught, “Our theology begins with heavenly parents. Our highest aspiration is to be like them.” So when we help our children live according to God’s will and have faith in His divine plan for them, they will feel contentment and peace because they are filling “the measure of [their] creation” (D&C 88:25). But when our children feel a lack of progression in their lives, that same divine nature gives them feelings or ideas that something is amiss, leaving them to feel restless or frustrated. When such lack of progression results from being out of alignment with God’s commandments, they often feel a sense of unworthiness and see a decrease in their faith.
This innate desire to progress is also a part of our children’s sexual nature—they all seek for sexual meaning. When our children’s sexual expressions are in alignment with God’s purposes, they will sense that sex has meaning and purpose in their own lives; it becomes inseparably linked to strong feelings of love for God and for their eventual spouse. This quietly endows them with a sense of worthiness and a growing appreciation for the positive role sex was designed to play in their lives. At times, however, our children will express their sexuality in shallow or meaningless ways that are not in alignment with God’s divine purposes for sex. When this happens, their spiritual nature reacts and causes them to feel less content and unfulfilled. We need to help our children recognize the inner promptings they feel related to their sexual development and help them learn more and more each day to follow those promptings and rely on the love and grace of our Savior Jesus Christ.
The physical dimension.
The current cultural discussion about human sexuality, in both popular and professional circles, is dominated by the size of body parts, sexual techniques, and products that claim to enhance physical responses. Even sexual desire is seen as emerging from physical origins, as reflected in popular notions of “libido,” “sex drive,” or “horniness.” This has its professional origins in Freud’s psychoanalytic theory that viewed humans as having an involuntary, physically-generated sexual energy that must be expressed. The notion of humans having an involuntary, physical sex drive is often used to rationalize inappropriate sexual expression—whether before or during marriage. Such physical-only perspectives fail to include the spiritual and emotional dimensions of our sexual nature, which emphasize the voluntary and controllable capacity for sexual expression and the true human need for love and connectedness. True expressions of love and commitment were never intended to be just one-dimensional manifestations of genes and hormones.
Even though spiritual perspectives caution us to teach our children not to embrace lustful practices that may lead to them focusing on seeking only the physical sensations of their bodies, we should not discount the significance of the physical dimension of our children’s sexual nature. Again, Elder Holland’s teachings about the doctrine of the soul help us see that our physical bodies are essential to our happiness. In fact, one of the major purposes of this life is for the spirit children of God to receive physical bodies, and we know that after this life, through the power of Christ’s Atonement and Resurrection, we can live like our Heavenly Parents—with an immortal physical body. Thus, helping our children live virtuous lives does not mean teaching them to reject the joy of their physical senses; rather, it enlarges their capacity for a full and satisfying enjoyment of them.
The emotional dimension.
Each of us has a fundamental need to be deeply connected to others; this is a core part of our divine nature and is shared by all people in all cultures. Elder Bruce C. Hafen explained, “People simply desire to be connected with others, especially in close relationships. They are feeling the longing to belong. . . . Both our theology and the feelings of our hearts make us want to belong, now and eternally, to the father of our Spirits, to his Son, and to those we love on earth.” Through the fulfillment of this need we discover genuine security and happiness, as well as lasting motivation to trust, love, and sacrifice for others. Through such belonging and unselfish investment in others, we develop a more complete sense of happiness and well-being.
Our children’s innate need for emotional attachment is another part of their sexual nature, and it includes the desire for sexual belonging in a loving couple relationship one day. One of our most important tasks as parents is to help our children learn to appreciate the deep emotional aspects of sex. In contrast with the physical dimension of our children’s sexual nature, which gives them the desire for sexual satisfaction, the emotional dimension of their sexual nature provides them with the surprising yet welcome capacity to experience profound fulfillment in the sexual satisfaction they can provide to another person. Their emotional nature makes them relational beings with a capacity for charity and the ability to express true concern for the well-being of others. It is to this part of our natures that Christ was referring when He taught, “He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it” (Matthew 10:39). We must help our children learn that true happiness cannot be found in simply satisfying their own desires; it must include meeting the needs of others and fulfilling their need to be loved.
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For more help on teaching your children about sex, check out A Better Way To Teach Kids About Sex by Laura M. Padilla, Ph.D., Dean M. Busby, Ph.D., Chelom E. Leavitt, Ph.D., and Jason S. Carroll, Ph.D., available at Deseret Book stores and deseretbook.com.