I’m going to come right out and say it: why don’t we talk about sex in Mormon culture? I think we avoid the topic because it is considered taboo, which I would argue is never a good reason to not talk about something. When we allow a subject to become taboo, we relinquish our power to discuss it in a healthy environment; and the roots of the negative effects of treating this subject as taboo run deep in our culture. I would attribute a host of societal problems surrounding dating, marriage, and the fact that Utah is the greatest consumer of pornography of any State in the country to the fact that Mormon culture treats sex like a taboo when it should be treating it as something sacred.
So, what is the difference between something that is taboo, and something that is sacred? In both cases, we set cultural limitations on how much we talk about the subject. On the surface, they might look the same, and we excuse ourselves from closely examining the issue for this reason, but they are drastically different. I think the key difference between the sacred and the taboo within Mormon culture can be summed up in a single word: shame. Let’s go back to the very beginning of shame, to the first moment of shame, and see if there is anything to be learned from it.
Adam and Eve
When Adam and Eve were created, they were naked, but they were not ashamed (Gen. 2:25; Moses 3:25; Abraham 5:19). They were comfortable with being seen by each other and by God—this, at least in part, was because of their innocence and lack of knowledge. After they ate the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil and fell from innocence to knowledge, they understood they were naked, covered themselves, and hid from God when they heard his voice (Genesis 3:7-10; Moses 4:13-16). Adam and Eve transitioned from not being ashamed of their naked bodies to hiding themselves completely out of fear of being seen. Neither of these mindsets are ideal. The former comes from a place of ignorance, the latter from a place of fear. Only after Adam and Eve willingly reveal themselves to God do they start to reach the right balance: knowledge or enlightenment as opposed to innocence and ignorance, coupled with the humility and willingness to be seen.
Understanding this story as metaphor, I have come to believe that the story of Adam and Eve is the story of every man and woman, because we all fall from innocence, grow in knowledge, and as a result must learn to face shame, or the fear of our nakedness being seen. In the case of Adam and Eve, they were afraid to let God see their naked bodies, but as individuals learning to deal with shame, our figurative nakedness could be anything from an addiction to pornography to an intimacy problem within a marriage. In any case, to get the help we need, we must overcome the fear of being found out, or being seen. Otherwise, we give our undiagnosed shames control over our lives.
I’m afraid that far too often in Mormon culture, many of us allow the subject of sex to be taboo because of shame, or the fear of being seen. I think the correct way to treat the subject of sex is as something sacred, which is something else entirely.
I think the way we hold aspects of temple worship sacred and thus do not share it with anyone except in certain settings could be a good metaphor for how we should talk about sex, especially since we consider our bodies themselves to be sacred temples. Personally, I don’t strike up conversations about my sexuality with perfect strangers, nor should I. But I should feel like I could talk about those things with people I trust. We should be able to bring up these topics in our certain meetings in a way that feels tactful and reverent. Doing so could help those who have questions or problems with pornography to have the courage to talk to the right people about it without feeling shame. Having lessons in Priest quorum, Teachers quorum, Mia Maids, and Laurels on this subject would help prepare young men and women to teach the Law of Chastity as missionaries. It is my hope we can even help curb the growing statistic of young men and women within the church who are committing suicide because they are so ashamed of their sexuality.
Now, I’m not saying Mormons should be nudists, but I do think we need to loosen up a bit. We can talk about sex and sexuality. We don’t have to be ashamed of those sacred parts of ourselves that hint at our divine potential for creation, love, and life. I think if we treat these things with reverence and humility, without shaming ourselves or one another, the Spirit will guide us to truths about our divine nature as sons and daughters of God.