I’ve heard estimates that 50% of all return missionaries have a problem with pornography to a lesser or greater extent. Why is this? Shouldn’t the spiritual discipline of a mission make it easier for Mormons to deal with the temptation of pornography? Yet the statistics suggest that LDS consumption may be as high or higher than that of non-members.
While there are probably many complicated reasons why rates are high, I would like to suggest that perhaps one problem is the overused and misunderstood phrase “sex is sacred.” I was taught that sex was so sacred, that it was like things in temple we should never discuss outside the temple. I believed the sexual imagery surrounding us was a perversion because it was depicting sacred things that should never be shared in public, a little like making billboards with temple secrets on it.
However, I’ve come to the personal conclusion that it is unhealthy to think of sex as sacred. Rather, sex is a biological instinct given to all God’s creatures who procreate in endless varieties of ways, including through rape and cannibalism in some species. What could be sacred about promiscuous humping bonobos? Nothing I can think of. It’s just normal life. What IS sacred about sex, are the taboos and limits we, as children of God put upon it. This is true for all “sacred” things. Sacred places of worship are only sacred because people have built temples upon them, or revere them because important historical events happened there. Likewise, sex is only sacred when we sanctify it through sacrifice, limiting it’s use and creating a sacred space to practice it.
Saying “sex is sacred” creates big problems for a proper understanding of the role of sex in life and marriage. Growing up, because I heard a constant refrain that sex was sacred from my church leaders and parents, I thought my horny feelings were “sacred” feelings that were only appropriately expressed in marriage. Because I thought the gospel is designed to make us blissfuly happy, I assumed that in marriage, my sacred sexual desires would be even stronger, and far more satisfying than if I gave into my sexual desires as a teenager. If I could just hold out, that I would get even more amazing sex in a temple marriage. Thus temple marriage, fidelity, and chastity, were all associated in my teenage mind with the highest limits of horniness. I don’t think I’m alone in having come to this conclusion as a young man.
As anyone who is married knows, marriage does not represent the highest possible degree of sexual fulfillment. Rather, it requires just as much, if not more discipline and sacrifice than it takes to stay chaste before marriage. The feelings of sexual desire for people outside of your marriage are probably just as strong as they were before your marriage. The joy of marriage does not come from the fulfilling of sexual desires, but from learning sacrificial love, mingled with a very disciplined sexual element. This leads to lasting peace and fulfillment. Not lasting, earth-shattering horniness
I think some married Mormons may feel that they have been cheated, or that something has gone wrong. They thought that because sex was sacred, and eternal marriage is “so much better” that if they obeyed the commandments, their sexual desires would be fulfilled beyond their wildest expectations. They were holding out for a fulfillment that never came. When they realize that it will never come, then where do they have to go, but into a depressed state of falling in and out of an addiction to pornography, a place where their “sacred” horny desires are fulfilled at much higher levels than in marriage, even as they destroy that marriage in the process.
On my mission in Italy, it was hard not to look at the scantily clad women on billboards and the miniskirts on the street. Most of us missionaries were in constant torment. Then something remarkable happened. My mission president told one missionary who was having a problem: “You know, it’s really not that great. You do it to please your mate. Me, I’d rather go fishing, or hit a home run!” This quote became legendary, and the missionaries ate it up like starving men. So sex wasn’t that great after all. We could all relax about it. Why did the missionaries devour this quote so hungrily? Because it was true! Because they felt the Spirit confirm the truth of it, and because, this truth set them free from the unrelenting fight with their “sacred” bodily functions.
We are surrounded by sexually provocative images. If we see these images as sacred things, like pearls cast before swine, we see them as evil, something sacred Satan has perverted, which is drawing us away into temptations that are “rewriting our brains” and destroying our chances for happiness. This emphasis makes them all the more unbearable, and laden with guilt, dread, and lust which leads to addiction. But the truth is, these are not sacred images, they are not pearls cast before swine. There is nothing more natural, basic, or mundane than the biological desire for a man to look at a naked woman. It’s not special. It is not sacred. It’s life. Sex is not a big deal. What is a big deal, is to learn to limit and restrain sex, and mingle it with true and sacrificial love. That is the big deal. That is sacred. It is an act of creation and an act of discipline.
- Do you agree that the phrase “sex is sacred” can be an unhealthy misrepresentation of a mundane biological instinct?
- Are there better ways to teach young people about sexuality in a balanced way?
- Are unhealthy expectations about sex being fostered in LDS culture?