1/11/11

Thoughts on this article

I would really like to know everyone's thoughts on the article. It was submitted to NYtimes in the relationship stories, and it has had me thinking a bunch today.

As a single (only 26) female Mormon, I think I could relate to this woman because I'm not living the cookie-cutter life with my soon to graduate from law school husband and our second adorable, bouncy baby on the way; instead, I'm living the dissenter's life in a city with my own job, food, car, and whatever else was listed. I too get annoyed that the only thing my relatives care about my life is whether or not there is a man in it. Over Christmas when I answered my aunt's questions about the man I was dating, she responded, "See, that is the reason you needed to go to San Francisco." "Yes," I thought, "if I wasn't dating anyone, than my job/location choices would be completely fruitless regardless of how living here has changed me as a person and the other experiences I am gaining." I hate it. I too, from time to time, feel as if I am not seen as a person but as a social status.

However, although beautifully written, I also felt sorry for her. I felt sorry that for whatever reason she has felt stunted and isolated in her community because she has been denied a sexual relationship (not being married). I thought, how could this woman feel independent and free and yet so tied down to sex and how it defines her?

I feel, sometimes, that in our church we treat the topic of human sexuality as taboo (okay, maybe not sometimes--more like all the time). Like, if we ignore it, than it doesn't exist--at least until you are married. It's an uncomfortable topic. Why can't we open up and admit we are all human? It doesn't mean that we are dirty minded.

I remember as a Mia Maid listening to a chastity lesson, and my advisor, with a nervous twitching lip and eyes that were on anything but us girls, explained, along with the preserving sex until marriage, we should also not pet or neck. At fourteen I thought, "what the heck is necking and petting?" I had visions of a couple vigorously rubbing their necks together. "Weird," I thought, "but, okay, I won't do that." And because the atmosphere was so awkward, I didn't ask the teacher to elaborate. It's taboos like this that I wonder about. If I ever become a young women's leader, I'll make sure to give it to my girls straight instead of using euphemisms and dated language, "You are going to want to touch each other . . . under your underwear! Don't do it."

For me, I think more than just saying, "It's a commandment; I will wait." I've had to honestly come to grips with my own body and my emotional needs. Yes, it would be nice and I could finally find out what it is I am missing, but I also know that there is no way that I would want that level of intimacy with someone who could walk away from me in the morning. In my heart, I know that would leave me psychologically torn and broken. I would need someone who I knew would be there tomorrow morning and the morning after that before I could let him get that close to me.

And then what has made us think that when we get married and finally get to jump in bed, all our sorrows will melt away and life will be bliss and a bed of roses (literally)? What happens if I get married, and we find out that we are not sexually compatible (oh, but if I followed all the rules, the Lord won't let that happen to me!)? Hopefully we've spent enough time together before the wedding night to establish a deep friendship . . . I don't know. I don't think I have an answer for that.

Although I feel sorry for her view that no sex has denied her her rite of passage (if this were true, we'd have a lot of 14 year old adults running around out there), I can't help but think that this is many of our view. But, shh, we are not allowed to talk about it.

I would be interested to hear what others think. And if this is an awkward post, it's only that way because we've made it.

15 comments:

karli said...

Sorry, in case you didn't get it, click on the title to view the article.

e.a.s. said...

I read this article yesterday as well. It's not the first article I've read by a disaffected Mormon (apparently the nytimes can't find any other brand). A common thread is the twisting of God to fit the writer's needs. (God wants me to be happy. Sex will make me happy. Ergo: God wants me to have sex.)
Along these lines, some thoughts about God from my cousin Sarah: "People all the time are going off about 'truth' but doubt absolutes, they are superstitious but will deny the power of God; they make moral judgments yet claim that there is no such thing as morals. It is frustrating to me--people claim that because there is bad in the world there can be no such thing as a loving and powerful God. (This one is weird because they also claim that if there is really 'goodness' there shouldn't be evil....) I'm not entirely sure what they want--they aren't either. They would like a God who permits us to be our own agents, yet prevents every evil thing and choice, who proves Himself, yet does no miracles. Who is just but has no punishments, who guides but does not speak to us. I don't think they have thought very clearly about this."
A well-written essay in the NY Times, but too much of a glossy paralogism for my taste.

Matthew R. Hall, Esq. said...

This reminds me a lot of Elna Baker, another Mormon in the secular world of literature/articles based in New York. Baker is also preoccupied with her virginity, as if her sexual status is all that could define her.

And I like the quote in e.a.s' (whoever that is) comment about twisting God to fit the author's needs. Baker does this as well.

Articles like this make me feel . . . sad? Not in a mopey way, but in a, "You don't really seem to get it, and now a lot of other people are going to misunderstand the Church because of your influence" way.

I'm not sure what our LDS culture can do to be more normal about intimacy. Maybe in our conversations we can use the sexual euphemisms when we discuss making out? But it would still be a counterfeit--pretending to be part of a world we simply aren't.

Maybe we're just not meant to be "normal," and we have to come to terms with that.

karli said...

Yeah, those are some good points. And I did see the "making an exception for me" theme. It's interesting how we are warned against that, and it has made me wonder how you arrive to that point--maybe something like feeling isolated and then superior and then an exception.
It made me sad too to think of how, perhaps, she barred herself from developing any sort of relationship with an LDS guy, friendship or romantic, because she stereotyped them all. In her eyes there couldn't possibly be a guy out there how wasn't married yet because he too was waiting for a girl he felt compatible with--perhaps one who valued her individuality and opinions. No, there couldn't possibly be a guy like that. So sad.

karli said...

btw, the nytimes comments on the article were also quite interesting. Many people, some non-lds, had some world-weary advice to give her regarding sex--that it doesn't equal happiness. But, then there were others who applauded her for breaking away from her restrictive religion.

Shani said...

Most of the comments I saw on the article were those bashing our religion. Sad.
I felt her essay was whiny. Of course, I'm seeing that through a married, happily LDS lens. But It reminded me of when I was 13, sitting in my room feeling sorry for myself that I'd never had a boyfriend or held hands with a boy. Funny, I didn't achieve either of those until a week before my 19th birthday. But did that mean I remained in the same early-adolescent state? Of course not.
In my mind, seeing physicality as the factor that will change her life for the better (not love, not marriage) shows a misunderstanding of human nature and truth that has nothing to do with being a virgin. Even as a teenager I recognized that kissing wouldn't make me happy, it would just be fun. And while the world sees fun as the ultimate goal, I'm glad I knew better.
Karli, like you, I wondered in Beehives and Mia Maids what the heck necking and petting were. But I got the right principles through my head anyway, and for me that was the important thing. I didn't need my leaders to explain sexuality in the world's terms, I just needed to know why we were talking about it at all.
One thing I thought was really interesting was her breakdown of the steps that led her to PP. A movie; harmless, right? Going into a novelty store--just to look, of course. Friends who encouraged her to give in to the temptations in both areas. And of course the attitude you all have mentioned that she's the exception, or that her desires are more important than God's laws.
One of the saddest comments I saw was by an LDS mother of 11 who was thanking the author, talking about taking back her life, and wanting to teach her daughters to make their own freedoms just like the author of the article. I hope those daughters are strong enough to be their own persons just like their mother claims she wants, and that they choose the path that will actually bring them happiness.

Shani said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
e.a.s. said...

I used to dominate the Writing Center...someday, when Sister Morgan decides she's had enough, I will return as Supreme Director.

Matthew R. Hall, Esq. said...

For the record, I'm still not sure what necking and petting are.

karli said...

I’m really glad to hear everyone’s thoughts. They’ve helped me answer some questions I had rolling around in my head.
Matt, necking is heaving making out and petting is touching inappropriate areas such as under the underwear.
I don’t think it necessarily means that in the church we have to be vague about sexuality to preserve its sacredness, and to be honest about it also doesn’t mean stooping to the world’s level either. I think it is good to teach (and perhaps this is a responsibility that should be placed on the shoulders of the parents) teenagers and young adults that we are human and biological impulses. I feel that when people acknowledge their limitations and that they are human, then they are better able to controls themselves by not putting themselves in situations or partaking in things that would be a temptation.
Actually, I’ve heard our leaders speak quite frankly about sex, and I have greatly appreciated it. One of the best talks I’ve heard is by Jeffrey R. Holland called Of Souls, Symbols, and Sacrament (here is the link http://www.familylifeeducation.org/gilliland/procgroup/Souls.htm). I read this talk when I was eighteen, and although it made me squirm somethimes with its directness, I was so grateful that Elder Holland didn’t pussyfoot around the subject or mince any words (something he is very good at). It really helped me understand my limitations and why sex was sacred.
I feel so sad for all those who feel sexually oppressed by the gospel. I feel that obsession with sex prevents one from seeing many many other beautiful things in the world and also prevents one from enjoying those beautiful things.

karli said...

Sorry I’m commenting so much, but it is my post and my questions. I guess the reason why I bring up sexuality and how we treat it in the church is that sometimes I feel that we too are sex obsessed. I have been to numerous bridal showers where instead of the theme being a new life for this girl with her soon to be a husband—a life that will involve car payments, grad school, children, dish washers, etc.—but where the theme is that this girl will finally get to lose her virginity. Phallic symbols, racy underwear, nods and winks from the already married—these sorts of things make me feel terribly awkward. And while, yes, it is a part of marriage, it is this kind of attitude that makes me wonder if we really do understand.

Sky said...

I love that the only article directly related to sex is generating the most comments. Also, love to see you on here Karli? And who is e.a.s., who plans to come back as Supreme Director? I'm curious.
Mostly, I feel sad for the girl who wrote the article because of many of the reasons already mentioned. She doesn't get it. L will also feel sad when she faces Heavenly Father and realizes she misrepresented the church.
And, don't misunderstand this next statement, but sex is actually overrated in terms of having deep and fulfilling relationships. Don't get me wrong. Sure, it's great. Anyway, when I was married, I loved it (which may be sharing a little too much info). But we're made of a lot more than just our bodies. When two people are close spiritually, and work to get closer together emotionally and intellectually, the sex is the real and symbolic part of a whole union of all those parts. When your partner (husband) is not your friend, or when your feelings are hurt, and you haven't talked about it, or when you feel misunderstood, having sex is little more than a great physical sensation with not much to do with that magical realm called real love that I will believe in until I die.
In other words, a deep giving relationship is a whole lot more than having sex.

Sky said...

I have to add quickly that nothing is as simply as I make it sound. And is e.a.s. Anona? It is, isn't it?

e.a.s. said...

Yes, tis I. A little bored here in Utah. I'm trying to figure out how to stay intellectually stimulated while spending most of the day meeting the physical needs of two little girls. My efforts usually devolve into reading blogs and online news.

Shani said...

I think another misconception is that you'll either have a great sexual relationship with your spouse or you'll be incompatible. But just like the rest of your relationships, it's going to have its ups and downs.
A friend of mine had been dating a guy for quite awhile, and he wanted to marry her, but she wasn't sure, and eventually she said to Cooley and me that she loved everything about him, but, "I'm attracted to him, but I don't know if I'm attracted enough to marry him."
We asked her to clarify, and she said she thought if she didn't get butterflies every single time she saw him or heard his voice, they might not be compatible. But when we questioned her a little further, it turned out that the times she didn't get butterflies were usually when she was overly stressed about tests or her job.
Cooley and I both laughed, and we explained to her that for guys' physicality there's a light switch, but for girls it's sometimes like a switch board, and if everything doesn't match up (tests, unresolved arguments, dirty dishes, whatever), the physical aspect might not be appealing. Even when you're married. And she was genuinely surprised by that.
Is that really a surprising thing? There are so many factors that go into a marital relationship, and they're all going to affect each other. It's that "deep and fulfilling relationship" that Sis. Morgan mentioned. Chemistry is important, of course (I would not advise anyone to marry someone who feels like their sibling), but it's just one unpredictable factor in a relationship that's so much bigger.
And Karli, Elder Holland's talk is so powerful and clear. I had to actually watch it for one of my religion classes, and it's even better that way than reading it.