Thursday, June 21, 2012

Scary sex!

A discussion on the wonderful Keepapitchinin blog has brought to mind what, to my mind, is one of the most troubling aspects of Mormon culture: the degree to which sex, and particularly the fear of sex, consumes us.

Consider the following:

  • Full-time missionaries aren’t allowed into the homes of single women* (which means that, say, a 70-year-old woman can’t serve lunch to the missionaries in her own home unless she goes through the trouble of getting a chaperone).
  • Mixed-gender couples who are married but not to each other, as well as mixed-gender couples where one is married and the other is single, aren’t allowed to ride in the same car to and from church events or meetings. (And this one’s even enshrined into church policy in the Handbook!)
  • A home teacher isn’t supposed to go into the home of a single sister he home teaches until the other home teacher is there, leading to the absurdity of guys waiting in their cars in the cold or stifling heat instead of going inside and being able to fellowship with the saints (and, in fact, the particular saint they’re assigned to fellowship as a priesthood responsibility).
  • There is a strong social pressure on romantically involved couples to get engaged quickly, and to have a very short engagement, rather than taking time to get to know each other a bit better.
  • Relatedly, there is pretty strong pressure brought onto young Mormons to get married pretty young (for the men, very soon after their return from a full-time mission), even to the point of being taught in general conferences.
  • There is a strong social stigma attached to the sight of perfectly sexually innocent patches of skin, such as bare shoulders on women. (Or even prepubescent girls!)
  • …And so on.

Basically, many (maybe most, but even i'm not that cynical most days) faithful Mormons seem to believe that nonmarital sex is something that human beings have no ability to resist, and therefore we have to build fences around the law—really, really horrible fences, in some cases.

I don't really get it, myself, but it's there—and i find it remarkably unhealthy. Not sure what to do about it, though. Thoughts?

* This rule wasn’t enforced in my mission when i was a full-time missionary twenty or so years ago, or at least all or most of us full-time missionaries in that mission weren’t aware of the rule. I’ve met others who served around the same time who report that it was an incredibly firm rule for them, though, and it’s been a pretty intensely-taught rule for the full-time missionaries in every mission i’ve lived in since then, too.


jennifer anderson said...

it doesnt hurt to have boundaries. a lot of trouble can be avoided that way.

David B said...

Boundaries? Sure. My worry is that we’re (culturally, at the very least) a bit beyond having boundaries, and we’ve moved into the realm of fences around the law—and even fences around those fences.

Not to mention that this is the way the burqa happens. (And no, i don’t think i’m being hyperbolic here.)

Mallory Nuzman said...

I feel like my mom explained the whole "modest shoulders" issue really well. It wasn't that shoulders were bad, or even suggestive, it was that I was preparing to go through the temple. One very practical reason being that I would have to throw away lots of my sleeveless shirts, etc. Another reason being that the adjustment would be much simpler than having to change my clothing style. And I did find that helpful and very practical. I don't think it became "bad" until I became a teenager and everything was a little bit more umm...for lack of something better "sexually charged". I had many experiences where at church something I wore was considered suggestive...but I was modest (i.e. shoulders covered, undershirt on, jacket over that, knees covered)! And that usually came from women that were in their 30s and 40s (I don't know why). And other times the young men (both LDS and not) that I was around led me to believe that shoulders were suggestive. Either by their actions or by what they said. And for the missionaries and mixed gender couples...I know that that is more to protect people from both false accusations and being molested in some way. The policy is in place so that there is a witness. I think it is unhealthy for us to think of sex as scary. But at the same time, the standards for the youth and the policies in place when I follow them have protected me from some "scary" things. That said, I agree that culturally we're kind of extreme when it comes to teaching about sex. Nonmarital sex can be avoided even when it's staring you in the face...but it's a lot easier to avoid it when you aren't in the situation. And the standards and policies help prevent those situations. I hope that makes sense.

David B said...

I’ve never really fully understood the idea of having to make sure that kids’s shoulders have to be covered ’cause one day they’ll have attenbed the temple. I mean, it’s not like we expect toddlers to go without breakfast one day a month ’cause one day they’re going to be observing fast Sundays, you know?

Not to mention that this is a fairly recent development, given that sleeveless dresses were a normal thing in church contexts just a few decades ago, and i dont’t think Mormons were less focused on temple preparation back then.

I really do worry, as i’ve said before, that this is a tendency toward burqa-ing ourselves, and i actually think that that would be a Bad Thing, maybe even a collectively sinful action.

Mila Wijaya said...

I grew up in indonesia, a moslem country where people cover themselves, and i was baptized when i was 8 yrs old. Pretty much i have been a church member all my life. When i moved to USA some 20 yrs ago, i was so shocked to see how church members dress here (now is even worse than before). I see church members wearing inapropriate clothes to church and i see them walking around the neighborhood wearing shorts shorts very short with tank tops,,,,,i'm still did they get their temple recomends?. And as for sex is being scary, i agree that is is unhealthy. I was taught by my father that sex is SACRED not scary, it is a covenant that is made by me, my spouse, and the Lord. I was taught that sex is a beautiful thing and that the Lord created man and women to multiply and replenish the earth and if we do it right(sex after marriage) we will be as happy as can be. On the other hand, if we don't do it under the covenant, it will bring so much heart ache to ourselves,parents, anf families.

Loyal Butterfly said...

The more you emphasize something, the more charged it becomes. If God made us naked and was surprised when we put clothing on, what does that say? That He didn't now what he was doing? Would the problem be worse if everyone was naked? Why? The real issue is that something is missing from peoples' lives, and so they are drawn toward thinking of sex. Solve the real problem. Ah, but we don't know what it is... You are not afflicted with it, apparently, so you don't know. And the people who are, do not know either.