Mormonism & Sexuality: A personal Experience
I recently had the pleasure of interviewing a friend of mine (who wishes to stay anonymous) on her discovery of sexuality. Being raised as LDS or Mormon in Utah, sexuality and pleasure is something that is usually swept under the rug, promoting a culture of shame and secrecy. My own interest in sexuality came about partly because I became my school's self proclaimed local sex educator, many of the people seeking advice being from the LDS faith.
The biggest trend I saw was the instilled shame of sexuality, especially in women. This was followed by intense lack of education, with my worse encounter being a female who classified her vagina as her urethra. As uneducated teens do, they found every which way to try and explore sexuality without breaking penetrative chastity for the sake of God, which we all clearly know sex is performed in many ways.
I hope that more of you submit your stories to me, or are willing to be interviewed! Discovering your sexuality post religious suppression can be scary. What helps is education, a good support system, and learning about others experiences- nothing is off the table!
I hope you enjoy.
When we met a few years ago, I would have never thought we would be discussing the topic of healthy sexuality. Coming from a very religious upbringing, you have told me about all the trials you have faced coming to terms with yourself as a sexual being.
In a nutshell, how was your childhood growing up in terms of talking about sexuality?
Talking about sexuality among my family was almost nonexistent. When my school did the maturation program in 5th grade, my mom kept me home and had “the talk” with me herself. Prime example of Mormons’ belief in abstinence only sex education in school- they believe sex should be taught in the home, which doesn’t always happen. My mom basically explained the physiology of sex and stopped there. She didn’t explain orgasms, pleasure, etc. I think the goal was that I would believe that sex was to make babies and that was its sole purpose.
My parents were super strict and conservative. We weren’t allowed to watch PG-13 movies, and they would fast forward ANY scene of any movie that portrayed sex, without saying a word about why. SO AWKWARD. I learned to assume that we didn’t talk about sex and just pretended that it didn’t exist.
Not all religions see sexuality the same, but the LDS seem to have one of the strictest views on sexuality- what were some ideologies you were taught that you remember most?
No sex before marriage. That’s the hard, fast rule. There were some guidelines, like no necking or petting (how the heck was I supposed to know what that meant as a 14 year old?!) And no prolonged kissing, or laying on top of each other while kissing.
We were also taught no dating until 16, and my parents had a rule of no exclusive boyfriend/girlfriend relationships until we were allowed to pursue marriage (18 for girls, after a mission for boys at age 21).
The church tries to be very modest in how they direct members about sex, I think to prevent teens from learning about things they don’t already know about. For example, I didn’t know if hand jobs, oral sex, fingering, dry humping etc. were explicitly forbidden. There’s a lot of gray area. Those things aren’t actually sex, I thought, so I wasn’t breaking any rules, right? But I knew I was still breaking rules. So I felt pretty lost. It’s pretty confusing
When growing up with these rules, do you recall a moment in your earlier life where you were curious about your sexuality but couldn’t act on it?
After the maturation program in 5th grade, I was super curious about sex. I remember being at the library with my mom and I found a book for teens about sex. I learned more from that book than any other source. I hid in the aisle and made sure my mom didn’t see me reading it. It was pretty light, with cartoon drawings of couples having sex and question bubbles above their heads. Good read. And I also stood and sat in front of mirrors and explored my genitalia, but felt like it was super wrong to do that.
Did you ever explore masturbation, or experiment with a partner even if it was frowned upon?
Oh heck yes! I started masturbating at 12! I had no idea what I was doing or why or if it was wrong (it is, according to the LDS church). Masturbating became a pretty regular activity for me. The best thing happened when I discovered that our family vibrating back massager would give me an awesome orgasms! I proceeded to steal it to masturbate and then secretly put it back where I found it. Eventually I started keeping it in my room by my bed. My dad asked me about it once and I said something about my legs being sore from track practice. I
I’m not sure if he bought it, or if he knew I was masturbating and decided to let me? Again, super unclear about what was allowed and what was actually going on. I would always think about whether my family knew I was doing it, and if it was normal. I had no idea. I didn’t really even know what it was. I read some juvenile literature novel about a girl in junior high who learned what the word “masturbation” meant in gym class. That’s how I learned what it was I was even doing. I masturbated regularly up until my junior year of high school, when I repented of sexual activity with a boyfriend and became super active in my spiritual beliefs. I would then try to kick the habit and felt like I had this terrible addiction. Eventually I threw the massager away and that ended things. I didn’t masturbate again until my junior year of college.
As far as experimenting with a partner goes, I did everything except penis-in-vagina sex. I had a steady (secret) boyfriend my junior year, and we would do oral in the car. He told me he wanted to have sex and I thought “there’s no way I’ll ever do that.” Little did I know, oral sex is sex, and sometimes a more intimate form of penis-in-vagina sex. There was another guy my senior year who I would dry hump (clothes on) with. We would both orgasm.
My college boyfriend was the one who I got the most intimate with. We would hump naked, but his penis was on the outside of my vagina, on my labia. We would both orgasm sometimes, and we did a little oral, fingering, and hand jobs.
All of these things are frowned upon by the church, and I always felt so much shame and guilt after each time they happened. I confessed most things to my Bishop (the leader of my local congregation) and had some consequences, but he actually said that since I didn’t have real sex, I didn’t cross the line. So I guess there is a line..? Still not sure! Ha.
You are now happily married with two beautiful children. As you have told me, your sex life wasn’t as vivid and exciting as it is now. With both of you marrying into the church and starting your life together, what were some restrictions you felt within your sex life?
We never talked about what we wanted to do or what we were allowed to do, I think we were both scared to talk about it too much. We did talk about what I needed in order to have an orgasm, thanks to my experience with my trusty old vibrating massager. But it pretty much stopped there. It’s pretty unclear within the church if toys are allowed, if oral is allowed, if anal is allowed. I think most people assume no, but it isn’t talked about. So we just avoided all of those areas. At one point I told my husband I wanted oral and he said he wasn’t comfortable with it. He did suggest anal once, just because he wanted to see what it was like. We did it and he said it wasn’t better than vaginal sex, so we didn’t have to do it again.
When was the breaking point where you felt as a couple it was time to explore?
We had a long talk about our entire sexual histories, including masturbating, experiences with other partners, and porn.
"We showed each other what kind of porn we like, and promised we wouldn’t delete our browsing history anymore. That helped so much with being comfortable trying new things."
I think because my husband knew I had looked at porn, he wasn’t scared to try things on me that happens in porn. And Oh. my. Gosh. it has been amazing. Sex is better after he has looked at porn recently, because he’ll try new things on me! And I love it! And he isn’t scared to try those things because I already know where he got the idea and he doesn’t have the fear of my freaking out about porn.
You’ve said a big part in this breakthrough was showing your husband a podcast called Celestial Sex, which is ex mormons discussing sexuality. How was he when you first suggested he listen and be open to other ideas?
He was a little hesitant. He didn’t like it at first because they talked a little bit negatively about active mormons (which we still were at the time.) But then he realized he was being a hypocrite by not being open to hear other opinions. We would listen to every new episode, then talk about it. We would talk about how the experiences people on the show had were exactly what we had gone through. That opened up so much discussion between the two of us, that it helped us understand each other in ways we didn’t even imagine.
I could imagine that opening up sexually together was like fireworks- how has this affected you two as people? As a couple? As parents?
Like fireworks! Such a perfect way to explain it. It has helped both of us heal. We both had lingering guilt and secrets from each other. But now that it’s all out there, we have no secrets and no reason to have any secrets. My husband was a regular porn viewer, and I assumed he wasn’t. He would feel so much guilt about it, but now I don’t care at all and he knows that. I actually like it because it makes our sex life better! We don’t feel any reason to keep anything from each other. How liberating it is knowing that you can absolutely trust your partner.
We don’t have to hide anything from each other with the fear that the church will tear us apart because it says we shouldn’t do something that we’re going to do anyway.
I feel like we know each other in ways we couldn’t before. This allows us to have honest, open communication in all things and be a true team in raising our children. We are so so happy.
With the knowledge you have now, do you feel it’s important to educate your children on basic sexuality and health when the time comes?
This is something I am so passionate about. I don’t think sex or curiosity about sex/sexuality should be shameful! It’s so natural! Everybody is going to explore and have questions, and we shouldn’t be punished for it with guilt and shame. My husband and I both were, for no reason! A lot of Mormons suffer from so much shame and guilt for something that every human needs: good sex! Good orgasms!
I plan on discussing sex very openly with my children from a young age. There will be no secret that Mom and Dad have sex and that they like it. I also plan on using correct anatomical terms to teach my children about their bodies. I want them to know that they own their bodies, and to have the language necessary to discuss them. It is my hope that this will create an open environment where we can talk about what is happening to them as they go through puberty and explore sex, so that they don’t have any guilt. It will also help prevent sexual abuse and victim guilt if (God forbid) anybody attempts to sexually abuse my children. Heaven help anyone who has the courage to mess with my children. But I want my children to know that our home and family is a safe place where they can come for refuge, and not have any doubt in their mind of where to go if they have questions.
What is something you would say to a couple struggling with sexual shame from religion?
Just talk about it. Be completely honest. It hurt a little bit finding out that my husband regularly looked at porn, because the church had pounded it into my head that this was an addiction and would destroy our marriage. But once I got past what the church told me to think, and decided for myself that I didn’t care, I’m not hurt by it anymore. My husband was hurt that I had explored sex with other partners, but he got past that, too. There were tears and pain, but it brought us so much closer together. Wouldn’t you rather not have any secrets? Know that you can trust your partner 100%? There is truly nothing better.