Sunday, 11 January 2015

Sexuality and Spirituality

Something that is commonly said by marriage bloggers, counselors, and those who write books on marriage and sexuality for Christian audiences is that sex is a physical, emotional and spiritual need for men.  I have no problem seeing the truth of the first two, but it has always been hard for me to see sex as a spiritual need

For the first 22 years of my life I didn't have any kind of sexual relationship with anybody, and it had no impact as far as I could tell on my testimony or my relationship with God or any aspect of my spirituality.  Also, after getting married our sexual relationship was not so good in the early years and is better than ever right now.  The ups and downs of my love life however do not seem linked the state of my spiritual life. 

Sure, when things are good there is that much more to be grateful for, and being sexually satisfied within one's marriage can lessen the temptation to commit sexual sins and increases one's desire to qualify for the Celestial Kingdom where the relationship can continue for eternity.  But I see our relationship with God as being defined by our own individual behaviour. 

An intimate relationship that is not mutually fulfilling may or may not be caused by something that also hampers that person's spirituality, and having a mutually fulfilling sexual relationship doesn't indicate anything about somebody's spirituality.  Certainly it is beneficial to have that part of a marriage going well, but it is not a requirement for being in tune with the Spirit.

What I have come to understand is that more than sex being a spiritual need, sex has a spiritual need.  In other words, both the husband and the wife need to have a deep commitment to keeping their passions, appetites and desires inside the boundaries set by the Lord so they can maintain a satisfying intimate life now and forever.  A loving Heavenly Father has given us standards and commandments to allow us the joy of sexual fulfillment safely.

Without a resolve to live by the standards of the gospel, the ecstasy of sexual pleasure can wear away at those boundaries over time.  A person or couple can begin to stray further and further out of the light seeking more and more forbidden fruit or exotic thrills.  Over time righteous sexuality can morph into rebellious hedonism.

Sexual pleasure is a powerful force for good in a marriage, but it can also turn destructive if handled carelessly, and nobody is immune from the danger. The Lord warned it can start small and end up with large consequences:
Doctrine and Covenants 42:23
And he that looketh upon a woman to lust after her shall deny the faith, and shall not have the Spirit...


Doctrine and Covenants 63:16
And verily I say unto you, as I have said before, he that looketh on a woman to lust after her, or if any shall commit adultery in their hearts, they shall not have the Spirit, but shall deny the faith and shall fear.
A Case Study

This was all brought into focus for me though my participation in a sex and marriage online forum, and I think the story is instructive.  This forum is specifically for Mormon couples to talk with each other in seeking answers and sharing advice in the hope of achieving a mutually fulfilling sex life.  I joined it and began posting there seeing an obvious connection between their objectives and my own with this blog. 

The big difference however is that the forum allows posters to promote, encourage, glorify and advocate for things that are contrary to the standards of the gospel.  You don't have to look hard to see posts and threads that promote masturbation for example.  Look some more and you'll find the same for removing temple garments so that immodest clothing can be worn on date night or for the thrill of sleeping nude together.  There is also tolerance for posters blaming the church or church leaders for failing to take care of things that in reality they are not responsible for, anti-Mormon accusation against Joseph Smith or the church over polygamy, watching porn as a couple to 'help' a marriage, and even promoting the swinging lifestyle and the adultery that goes along with it.  For that reason I'm not going to promote, link to, or even name the forum.

To be fair, there was a lot of good discussion as well, and the good far outweighed the bad with the possible exception of all the discussion on masturbation, but something very interesting happened when I began to point out the church's position on these things.  I was met with anger, LOTS of anger.  Did I insult people?  No.  Was I trolling for flames?  No.  I simply expressed clearly that the Church's position was that masturbation was wrong.  I supported it citing numerous official publications from the church including where President Spencer W. Kimball spoke on behalf of the Lord saying He did not approve of it in the October 1980 General Conference Report, and even referring to the fact that Handbook 1 (section 6.7.1) refers to it as something contrary to the standards of the Church alongside violating the Word of Wisdom and using porn.

In trying to justify their anger they complained about my being repetitious, yet I was only replying to the claims they had repeated over and over.  They also took offense that I would not take the clear direction of prophets, apostles and the church and downgrade it into a personal opinion of my own for their personal comfort.  Nephi said 'the guilty taketh the truth to be hard, for it cutteth them to the very center' (1Nep 16:2) and I think this was a classic example of that in some cases.  Some posters even decided or threatened to leave the board.

Those who were angry complained to the moderators who then gave me a warning in a private message sent near the start of December.  It said it was a 'final warning' and any further complaints would result in my being banned.  I do not recall receiving a previous warning like that from them but I'm not able to check that any longer.  I politely responded to them saying why I felt the accusations made were not warranted and giving examples to back up what I said.  Being open to correction however, I asked them to show me the post(s) that justified the warning to help me understand.  I received no reply at all.

A week ago the lead moderator bowed to the pressure put on him and banned me.  They announced it to the forum in a public area and said I was not banned for my views but for driving people away. I believe in their hearts they really think that, but I would say the truth of the matter is that anybody who expresses the same views as I did will be met with the same reaction no matter how they word it.  The guilty would again take offense and rise up demanding their removal unless they be quiet or censored.

They also said I caused 'serious harm' to another poster.  Hard to picture how that could happen.  And if that really is so, why can't they point out to me where it happened?  I was polite and factual (as I am here), even when others were rude and insulting.  It feels to me like my crime was being steadfast in upholding what the church said and unwilling to validate actions contrary to the teachings of the church. 

I emailed the moderators after being banned, speaking to their concerns and I asked them again to show me what post(s) of mine justified their action.  Again I got no answer from them.  I believe they are not able to find a post of mine that meets the standard for banning.  I think all they have are invalid complaints from people who wanted me silenced.  They are free to reply to my email to them anytime if they actually do have something more substantial than that.

Ironically, my banning is causing other posters to consider leaving the forum as well.  As one of them said, it is no longer an LDS forum.  I took this past week to ponder the whole thing rather than make some knee jerk reaction, and that is where it crystallized in my mind more than ever before that sex needs spirituality, not the other way around.  That forum has not committed itself to upholding the standards of the church, and so it has backslid into a place where people who have gone outside the boundaries set by the Lord will try to influence others to do things that are contrary to the gospel, and react with anger and hostility to anything or anyone that brings those boundaries into focus and show they really are the Lord's boundaries.
 

I'm sad things turned out this way.  There are very few resources out there for Mormons who want an LDS specific approach to sex and marriage that fully conforms to the standards of the church. That forum has the potential to become one.  If the moderators required that posts not conflict with the standards and commandments of the church, or attacked the church and it's leaders,  and enforced that, they would lose some posters right away but they would make it a place where 10,000 times as many Mormons would feel comfortable.

I'm grateful for the posters who objected to my banning, especially those who did not agree with me but recognized it was the wrong approach.  If my account was unbanned and the forum became a place that upheld the standards of the church I would be happy to return, but I don't expect that will happen. 

If any of you from that forum see this and want to say anything to me about what happened over there or ask a question about it, please do so by email (scroll to the bottom to see the address).

4 comments:

  1. Thank you for your blog and post. I came across it during one of my many many research moments regarding members of the faith and sexuality. As a active member of the faith and also a Marriage and Family Therapist I understand profoundly the importance of this topic, the sensitive nature and wide variety of perspectives. Its what I do everyday and value your attempt to provide clarity.

    Your "Case Study" is all too common. Although forums can provide an excellent medium to communicate, it is however an equally horrible place to communicate. I avoid them now, little good comes from them. Fortunately I am in a position in which I get to actively work with members and leadership in clarifying this and other marital related topics.

    I usually avoid commenting but sense your sincere desire for truth and understanding. The comments in this blog post are items I hear almost daily, interestingly almost entirely from men in the church. I have a theory as to why that is from the patterns I have discovered. But that's a different discussion.

    First I want to praise you for your comment, "But I see our relationship with God as being defined by our own individual behaviour." If I could have married couples truly understand that concept, healing and love would abound!

    1. "it has always been hard for me to see sex as a spiritual need." I believe the problem is in the usage of the word "need". Sex or rather a sexual relationship between a man and woman married and sealed in the temple are ordained of God. Eternal marriage is a need for receiving the full blessings of eternal life. Ergo BOTH men and women NEED a sexual relationship ordained of God.

    In the mean time, as you point out the first 22 years of your life is similar (but I hope I don't overly simplify), baptism. We need baptism, but prior to the age of eight we are learning, growing and developing (we hope) a level of self mastery that prepares us to enter into the baptismal covenant. So it is with intimacy, during those years prior to marriage we are learning, through the atonement how to harness, master, and control our sexual desires. We NEED these desires, absolutely. (We can discuss the various biological and genetic issues that are involved in mortality that prevent and make this need difficult at another time.) But as the Proclamation to the World states, "Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose."

    Well you might say, its referring to gender not sex. That would be a limited reading and understanding of the passage. The celestial kingdom, the full reward of eternal life is the only kingdom that those who inherit will have the blessing to continue creating life in a sexual relationship.

    2. "[sex] Certainly it is beneficial to have that part of a marriage going well, but it is not a requirement for being in tune with the Spirit." I think I understand what you are saying here. For the most part I think I agree. But I would suggest as you alluded to in the paragraph previous to this comment. If you and your spouses sexual relationship is not working, I would say it can definitely hinder being in tune with the spirit. Go back to my first comment, additionally reference Elder Hollands talk on "of Souls and Sacraments". The sexual relationship is a type of sacrament, in a sense a temple experience in joining with your spouse. If it doesn't happen, or if it is neglected. Like not partaking of the sacrament or neglect in temple attendance, your being in tune with the spirit will defiantly be hindered!

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    1. Thanks for the comment. I get what you are saying, and in other places here I do talk about the need for sexual fulfillment in marriage. All needs are tied to some kind of objective or outcome and in this post I was talking very narrowly of the idea of sexual fulfillment being something that is needed for the sake of being sufficiently spiritual.

      While sexual problems in a marriage and disconnection from the spirit of the Lord may have a common root cause, it is also possible for a person with a refusing spouse (or a single person) to have a healthy relationship with God in spite of their situation.

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  2. 3. "Without a resolve to live by the standards of the gospel, the ecstasy of sexual pleasure can wear away at those boundaries over time. A person or couple can begin to stray further and further out of the light seeking more and more forbidden fruit or exotic thrills. Over time righteous sexuality can morph into rebellious hedonism." I hear various comments like this a lot from members. There are some major problems with it. First, it really doesn't make sense and there is a lot of judgement in it. It suggests (and if I am off bases of your intent and meaning, forgive me. I accept full correction.) That a couple who looses (or doesn't experience) the ecstasy of sexual pleasure is a couple who is not living the full standards of the gospel.

    This is almost NEVER the case. I have worked with great men and women in the church from Bishopric to Relief society presidents to Primary workers. These individuals/couples in almost every situation where amazing, faithful, temple attending and covenant keeping members.

    Without going into the details here; its interesting that in almost every case that is NOT biologically sexually related issue. It is traditions, myths and beliefs within there sexual understand in the church that has prevented the full sexual experience from happening. I hear them quote from talks like you did from 30, 40 even 50 years ago. Leadership letters sent out in the early 80's about what a leader "thought" was appropriate and not. But they fail to look at modern teachings and the example that the church has set. They often say, the same phrase you said. The guilty taketh the truth to be hard. And guilt themselves out of further light and knowledge. I find it interesting, and I mean this purely as an observation, no disrespect or judgement at all. There are usually two groups of people who rely on revelation that is 30 years old. Those who apostatise from the church and those who struggle to embrace the church's current understanding and teaching of sexual behavior and relationships.

    Many will argue that the church has not clarified specifically what is or isn't right in a sexual relationship. You are correct. That is the churchs position. I have worked with bishops and stake presidents. The current training and doctrine is that it is to be left up to the couple and the lord.

    Working with many of these wonderful, faithful couples and guiding them into more meaningful sexual relationships. Lots of them have put aside their previous understandings and embraced as you said, "the ecstasy of sexual pleasure" that has brought them physically and spiritually closer and more fulfilled. It is a true joy to see. These are couple in leadership positions throughout the church.

    I am happy to hear your thoughts. Again I value your sensitivity, respect and thoughtfulness of the topic.

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    1. The point I was making was that sexual temptations are powerful. If we don't stay close to the Lord we could find our resolve to keeping our passions inside the boundaries set by the Lord weaken over time.

      My wife and I have always been strong in the church and have always been in love with each other but we had some years where the intimate relationship was rocky, so I certainly didn't mean to imply that sexual fulfillment was a measuring stick for one's spirituality. Rather spirituality helps a couple to experience the greatest joys of intimacy while helping them keep from crossing the line into forbidden territory. The Lord has defined some very generous boundaries, but they are still boundaries.

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