Sexuality. I know it’s a word that we don’t address head-on in Mormon culture that often, but I’ve found it to be a central part of fully understanding and living the gospel.
News agencies, bloggers, and other social media influencers love to publish stories about “The Mormons” and their rigid rules that have led to an epidemic of sexually repressed zealots.
Though trendy, this stereotype couldn’t be further from the truth. In my personal life, I’ve found that striving to live the gospel to the fullest has only increased my sexuality, while also building my feelings of self-confidence and worth.
Why I’m writing this in the first place.
Now granted, I’m no expert with a doctorate in sexuality. All I can share is what I’ve learned from personal experience, as limited as that’s been.
You see, growing up I wasn’t one of those girls who was highly conscious of the opposite sex growing up. I was one of those run-around-and-kick-a-ball kind of girls, not one of those run-around–and-try-to-kiss-a-boy kind of girls. I was just a bit of a tomboy and a dreamer who usually had sports or lines of poetry running around in my mind, not boys. But that didn’t stop me from developing my sexuality in my own way—as everyone should.
I never really even thought about sex much.
That is, until I began traveling and making friends who weren’t LDS. Without fail whenever I brought up the “Mormon” card with new friends who didn’t grow up with the Church, they would ask—sometimes bluntly, sometimes embarrassed and beating around the bush—“don’t you guys believe in not having sex until after your married?”
The first time I was asked this, I unashamedly and quickly gave the answer: yes!
But then the follow-up question hit me like a slap in the face: “Isn’t that hard?” Other variations I often hear are “why?” or “doesn’t it seem limiting, to only have sex with one person?” or “how do you even know you’re a good match physically?”
The first few times I got these questions, I didn’t know quite what to say. My entire life my parents, my Church leaders, and my personal experiences had taught me how essential sexual purity was to my health and happiness. It was ingrained into my identity—a truth I took for granted. How could I explain something so basic to who I was—something I felt but had never consciously acknowledged?
I stumbled through some basic Sunday School answers, but I could tell I didn’t leave anyone too convinced, including myself. I didn’t understand why it was so hard for them to understand, because it had never been hard for me.
How I learned things the hard way.
And then, like so many stories in life, everything changed. And it all began with a boy. Suddenly, that soccer-loving, day-dreaming, independent little tomboy didn’t know what she was talking about. Suddenly, she had to bite her tongue and admit she didn’t know everything.
You see, I began to love this boy in a way that spun and flipped and turned everything inside out even while it made my life clearer and wonderfully more vivid. I loved him not in a romanticized way, but in an all-too-real exhilarating, frustrating, exhausting, and totally worthwhile kind of way. I loved, and still love, him completely—in every possible way.
Suddenly, I craved being with him. Suddenly I began noticing that side of myself that had been developing unbeknownst to me. Suddenly I had to agree with my friends.
Sexual purity is hard—dang hard.
In fact, I’d say it’s the toughest and most confusing thing all humans have to face at the toughest and most confusing point in their lives.
Once I finally reached this level of understanding, I realized that simply feeling that sexual purity was important wasn’t enough. With so many other overwhelming and euphoric feelings and emotions added on top of a chronic lack of sleep, I couldn’t always trust my feelings anymore.
I had to know. I had to gain and earn a testimony for myself. And in the resulting hours of prayer and scripture study and painful goodbyes, I came to find the answer to all of my friends’ questions—answers so simple, so ingrained within our eternal nature and yet so divinely beautiful, I simply couldn’t imagine living in any other way.
What I finally learned.
I realized that sexuality and spirituality are not opposing forces. Sexuality is not something that needs to be stamped out of us or hidden in embarrassment. It is an exquisite, sacred thing—something that enhances our spirituality if we treat it with the proper respect and reverence.
So, with this newfound, deeper perspective, is it still hard staying sexually pure? Absolutely! But everything worthwhile in life requires patience and work. That’s what adds to its value—what we’re willing to pay for it. And now I know that what I can gain is so much more valuable than any temporary or sensual pleasure.
My sexuality has not been misguided, repressed, or stifled by Mormonism or the gospel truths I have learned. In reality, my spirituality and my sexuality have both grown equally and side by side as I’ve learned more about the divinity and the potential within me.
And here are just a few simple ways that I’ve found living the gospel benefits my sexuality.
1. It clears confusion.
Did you know humans are the only animals who sexually mature long before they intellectually mature? Before condemning this as a flaw within our makeup, maybe consider the purpose behind this type of development. First of all, humans have incredibly complex brains, so we should be grateful for the nearly quarter of a century we have to develop those brains, along with our identities and personalities.
Second of all, this gives us the opportunity to learn how to fully master our physical nature. If we want to become like God and learn how to master physical creation, how can we expect to do that without first mastering ourselves? The beauty about living the gospel is that during this confusing time, we never have to guess about the changes within ourselves—we understand that they are wonderful, desirable impulses.
As President Packer observed:
“The power of procreation is not an incidental part of the plan; it is the plan of happiness; it is the key to happiness. The desire to mate in humankind is constant and very strong. Our happiness in mortal life, our joy and exaltation are dependent upon how we respond to these persistent, compelling physical desires. As the procreative power matures in early manhood and womanhood, very personal feelings occur, in a natural way, unlike any other physical experience.”
In waiting to have sex until after marriage, this allows us to have the maturity and comprehension to understand the significance of what we are doing and to keep the Spirit with us. In this way, our sexuality and experiences with physical intimacy actually increase, because the measure of sexuality is not in a number. It is in its meaningfulness in our lives. So many people today take sexuality lightly, but Mormons understand it in a higher, eternal way.
2. It provides stability.
As we become older, we develop a stable identity and an emotional maturity that allows us to have sex without losing a part of who we are. We have the perspective to realize our sense of self-worth does not rely on our physical appearance, our sexiness, or our sexual performance. Instead, it is based on something solid and eternal—our identity as children of God. When we can understand that about ourselves, sex does not become a selfish way to prove or please ourselves, it becomes a selfless act that allows us to connect with another person on a level that completely redefines modern understandings of sexuality.
A huge part of sexuality is about exploring our gender and the possibilities that identity creates. The light of the gospel provides insight into our gender and how it relates to eternity, an understanding that provides stability and clarity in a world which is now so full of gray areas and muddled, politically-correct definitions.
As it states in “The Family: A Proclamation to the World:”
“All human beings—male and female—are created in the image of God. Each is a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents, and, as such, each has a divine nature and destiny. Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose.”
With that understanding of our divinity and our eternal prospects, we can move forward secure in ourselves—if not secure in ourselves now, secure in what we can become and what our Heavenly Father sees in us. And that knowledge can help provide clarity when we are bombarded with confusing media and mind-fogging hormones.
3. It builds more complete romantic relationships.
Waiting until we are mature enough to understand the nature of our own divinity is not enough. Committing ourselves to one person is not enough. As Latter-day Saints, we are blessed to have the added stability of eternal marriage—that everlasting covenant that spans time, death, distance, and even worlds—before we experience physical intimacy.
Said Elder Holland:
“Such an act of love between a man and a woman is—or certainly was ordained to be—a symbol of total union: union of their hearts, their hopes, their lives, their love, their family, their future, their everything. . . .But such a total, virtually unbreakable union, such an unyielding commitment between a man and a woman, can only come with the proximity and permanence afforded in a marriage covenant, with the union of all that they possess—their very hearts and minds, all their days and all their dreams.”
Sexual intimacy is one of the most vulnerable of human experiences—but with that comes exhilarating and beautiful opportunities. It is an act of sharing our full selves, not only physically but emotionally and spiritually. Those who treat sex lightly miss out on the full opportunities it can provide for strengthening relationships. Often times, they hold back to try to protect themselves from the pain or fracturing that can occur with rejection. They do not give of themselves fully, so they cannot experience sex fully.
By waiting for the right time, the right place, and the right person, Latter-day Saints not only have the protection and peace that covenants provide, they also have the added gift of the Spirit, something which can help intensify the emotional and spiritual bond between husband and wife.
And this entire, everlasting experience between husband and wife makes for the most romantic expression of love possible. How lucky are we that we can obtain a happily-ever-after shared fully and solely with our true love?
4. It gives new dimension to sexuality.
As Mormons we understand sexuality in a richer, fuller way. We understand that sex brings men and women nearer to each other even as it brings them nearer to God. We understand sexual intimacy not as a carnal, necessary drive that exists only to carry on the human species. We understand that physical intimacy is an eternal principle—that our Heavenly Father and Mother birthed spiritual children and that our own potential for offspring—physical and spiritual—is eternal and unending.
Through our covenants and our ability to create life, this act brings us closer to our Heavenly Parents.
Elder Holland once again instructs us:
“Sexual intimacy is not only a symbolic union between a man and a woman—the uniting of their very souls—but it is also symbolic of a union between mortals and deity, between otherwise ordinary and fallible humans uniting for a rare and special moment with God himself and all the powers by which he gives life in this wide universe of ours.”
5. It brings heavenly power.
Working in tandem with its ability to bring us closer to God is the way in which sexual intimacy allows us, in a small degree, to participate in God’s ability to create. In His desire to teach us how to become more like Him, Heavenly Father has blessed us with the opportunity to become fathers and mothers ourselves.
Again, I revert to Elder Holland’s superior wisdom:
“I know of virtually no other divine privilege so routinely given to us all—women or men, ordained or unordained, Latter-day Saint or non-Latter-day Saint—than the miraculous and majestic power of transmitting life, the unspeakable, unfathomable, unbroken power of procreation. . . .
And I submit to you that you will never be more like God at any other time in this life than when you are expressing that particular power. Of all the titles he has chosen for himself, Father is the one he declares, and Creation is his watchword—especially human creation, creation in his image. . . . Human life—that is the greatest of God's powers, the most mysterious and magnificent chemistry of it all—and you and I have been given it, but under the most serious and sacred of restrictions. You and I who can make neither mountain nor moonlight, not one raindrop nor a single rose—yet we have this greater gift in an absolutely unlimited way. And the only control placed on us is self-control—self-control born of respect for the divine sacramental power it is.”
Why this all matters.
Sexuality is good. It is a divine, eternal gift given to all of us. And because of that, it is not something we should shy away from, feel embarrassed about, or fear. But it is something that we should treat with the sacredness and reverence it deserves. At the same time, Latter-day Saints can respect the fact that other people have the liberty to live their lives and establish their sexuality as they see fit. But this should never stop us from sharing the truths we know.
I hope that in the future, when someone asks you a question similar to the ones I have been asked so frequently throughout the years, that you will not be afraid to share your testimony. That you will not be afraid to show how the gospel really does increase our spirituality right alongside our sexuality—and in every possible way.
To own a copy of Elder Holland's powerful talk, check out Of Souls, Symbols, and Sacraments at deseretbook.com. Or, for additional reading on sexual intimacy in marriage that is in-depth, frank, open, and uplifting, check out And They Were Not Ashamed and The Act of Marriage.