Sunday, 28 August 2016

What's the word on oral sex?

This is a topic I approach knowing there is a risk of creating more heat than light.  Please keep in mind as you read this that my remarks here are my own personal understanding.  You are free to reject what I say here, and I actually hope nobody here blindly takes my word on anything I post but searches for confirmation from the highest authority.

Oral sex, both in the form of fellatio (ie: a woman orally pleasuring a man) or cunnilingus (a man orally pleasuring a woman), is nothing new.  Many Bible scholars say that Songs of Solomon 2:3 and 4:16 are alluding to oral sex, and although that book has a somewhat questionable status to us, it does at least suggest that ancient Jews and Christians were OK with the idea of oral sex.

Over the past several decades oral sex has become something talked about far more openly than in the past, and it is far more frequently referred to in popular media as a pleasurable act both men and women normally desire and even expect. It is not considered an uncommon act and I expect the percentage of married Mormons who have oral sex to be about the same as for married non-Mormons, at least among the younger generations of married couples.

There is no question that oral sex is a sexual act though, and any unmarried couple who engage in it are in violation of the law of chastity.  There is sometimes a question in the minds of some Latter-Day Saints however if this is also off limits for a married couple.

"The Letter"

In the entire history of the church, there has been one (and only one) time where oral sex has been referred to, and unfortunately that one reference was mistaken to be a doctrinal position of the church.  I believe that looking at what was said in context should lead to a different conclusion.

The document in question is a January 1982 letter from The First Presidency to all Stake, Mission, and District Presidents, plus Branch Presidents and Bishops.  The letter is two pages long and its purpose was to provide guidelines for leaders conducting worthiness interviews, not specifically to address any sexual questions.  I will not provide a link to the the letter since these days it can only be found on websites hostile toward the church, who use it to mock the church over the following part:

When interviewing married persons, the one doing the interviewing should scrupulously avoid indelicate inquiries which may be offensive to the sensibilities of those being interviewed.

Married persons should  understand that if in their marital relations they are guilty of unnatural, impure, or unholy practices, they should not enter the temple unless and until they repent and discontinue any such practice.  Husbands and wives who are aware of these requirements can determine by themselves their standing before the Lord.  All of this should be conveyed without having priesthood leaders  focus upon intimate matters which are a part of husband and wife relationships.  Skillful interviewing and counseling can occur without discussion of clinical details by placing firm responsibility on individual members of the Church to put their lives in order before exercising the privilege of entering a house of the Lord.  The First Presidency has interpreted oral sex as constituting an unnatural, impure, or unholy practice.  If a person is engaged in a practice which troubles him enough to ask about it, he should discontinue it.  (Letter from The First Presidency, Jan 5, 1982)
Unfortunately a lot of church leaders had a knee-jerk reaction that lead them asking couples what they were doing in the bedroom, and also counseling them that oral sex was a sin.  News of this reached The First Presidency and on October 15th there was another letter stating:

In conducting worthiness interviews you should follow carefully the instructions contained in our letter of January 5, 1982.  Also, you should never inquire into the personal, intimate matters involving marital relations between a man and his wife.   You should never deviate from or go beyond the specific questions contained in the temple recommend book.  If in the course of such interviews a member asks questions about the propriety of specific conduct, you should not pursue the matter but should merely suggest that if the member has enough anxiety about the propriety f the conduct to ask about it, the best course would be to discontinue it.  (Letter from The First Presidency, Oct 15, 1982)
What it means and what it doesn't

There is still the lingering belief among many that the church views oral sex as morally wrong because of these letters.  I would dispute that for the following reasons:

The first letter specifically states that their negative view on oral sex is their interpretation.  They do not claim it to be revelation, inspiration, church policy or anything other than their own interpretation.  Their interpretation is partly the product of their upbringing and cultural environment of their generation in that location. 

This was also something mentioned once in passing in a letter to certain leaders of the church and never taught to the body of the church.  Given that the church has no qualms over condemning masturbation, homosexual behaviour, fornication, immodest dress, and other socially accepted immoralities I would expect them to also be vocal about oral sex being immoral, if in fact we had some indication from God that it was.  Instead we have total silence on the question, and priesthood leaders being directed to not get into asking about it.  Even in Handbook 1 and 2 say nothing beyond what is in the second letter and I expect a great many of you reading this had never even heard of the first letter. 

Also, the first letter emphasizes that husbands and wives "can determine by themselves their standing before the Lord" and that the responsibility is on individual members.  In other words, couples are to determine between themselves and God where the boundaries should be in their relationship.  It doesn't make sense to give that instruction, then go contrary to it laying out a rule for all couples.  It does make sense however to see what they said on oral sex as an example of them following that counsel, and by so doing coming to that interpretation.  This is not a church however that is governed by the interpretations of men, and doctrine is not established by a one time opinion expressed in a letter that wasn't even to the church as a whole.  What they said deserves respectful consideration, but we are not obligated to adopt their interpretation.

So, I feel it is perfectly accurate to say that the members of The First Presidency back then held as their own view that oral sex was unnatural etc., but I do not consider it accurate at all to say that the position of the church was the same.  As far as I can tell, the church has no official position on oral sex now, and never has in the past either. 

A Definite Maybe

So, is oral sex an immoral act that every married couple should abstain from?  If you need an answer to that, you will need to seek it for yourself.  No such revelation has come to the church and I wouldn't expect it to.  If you personally feel this is something God doesn't want you to do, you need to go with that, but don't project on to God any personal inhibitions or feelings you may have about it.

Does that mean oral sex is perfectly OK for you and your spouse to do?  Perhaps, perhaps not.  It does mean however that you and your spouse should only go ahead with if you both are comfortable with doing it, and if you both feel that God is OK with you taking that path.  One couple may reach one conclusion, and another couple may reach another.  Not everything is one size fits all.

In my opinion (and I stress that this is my opinion), I do not feel it is inherently wrong within the boundaries of marriage.  God made more than one kind of tree, one kind of flower, one kind of fruit.  He gave us a world filled with variety, and likewise I don't think God requires us to limit ourselves to one form of intimacy.  For some elderly couples, people with disabilities or other conditions, oral sex may be the only form of intimacy they can enjoy.  Some women are only able to reach orgasm through oral stimulation. It fulfills the divine purpose intimacy has of bonding the husband and wife to each other.

But even without moral objections there may still be valid reasons for a couple to not include this act in their lives.  It is not unusual for somebody to be uncomfortable with the idea of oral sex for reasons that have nothing to do with morality and sin.  Hygienic concerns are common even though you expose yourself to more germs, bacteria etc. by kissing.  Body image or negative associations of oral sex with something undesirable can create inhibitions.  The idea may simply be a turn off, or it may be an act linked to past traumatic experiences they do not want to have re-triggered.

Pushing a spouse to participate in something sexual that they are not comfortable with, no matter what act it is, is abusive.  No intimate experience should pleasure one spouse at the expense of the emotional peace and well being of the other.  At the same time, choosing to overcome needless inhibition to become a better lover for your spouse is a very loving thing. 

It is also not a good thing to make one's happiness in their marriage dependent on a spouse's willingness to engage in oral sex.  Who you are intimate with is far, far more important than what form that intimacy takes, as long as there is intimacy.  A lack of oral sex may be a cause for a mild case of unsatisfied curiosity or longing, but it should never be a source of conflict in a marriage.  Don't let such a minor thing be a crack Satan can place his wedge in and hammer away at your marriage.