I have observed through listening to people speak, through music lyrics, through what screenwriters write as reality about sex, how couples interact, and from various Internet posts that there are many conflicting beliefs about sex in the world today.
Where do these conflicting beliefs about sex come from? What are their origins?
As members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we learn from Genesis in the Bible and modern-day revelation that God gave Adam his wife, Eve. Like all the life forms on the new earth, Adam and Eve were commanded to multiply and replenish the earth. They were taught their purpose for being on the earth and they were given additional commandments so that they could show their obedience to God and live life in harmony with one another.
After partaking of the forbidden fruit, they gained mortality, the ability to have children, (2 Ne. 2: 22-23) and were cast out of the garden. In the world, Adam and Eve found no supermarkets, no schools, no governments, no churches, no welfare programs, no hospitals or midwives to assist with birth, no jobs, and no tools or weapons. They literally had nothing but the clothes on their backs.
They had to make their own tools, build their own shelter, produce their own heat source, and make their own food. Neither Adam nor Eve had any training in any of this. They were utterly and completely dependent on God to teach them everything they would need to know to survive.
Having known God in the garden, they knew they could trust him. They knew he was real. They taught their children to trust God. They taught them that the world and all its creations came from God and they taught them the commandments that God gave them to keep.
One commandment that stood out and was the easiest to relate to was that commandment given to all living things – to “be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 1:28; Gen. 9: 1; D&C 132: 63; Moses 2: 28; Moses 5: 2; Abr. 4: 28).
This was an easy one to keep and understand, because of the tangible benefits. When the plants had sex, there was food. When the animals and fish had sex, there was food. When there was food, the people could have sex and have children. Where there was lots of food and children to make more food, there was prosperity and happiness.
Conversely, when plants and animals didn’t have sex, there was starvation and death. Adam and Eve taught their children that all living things were commanded to multiply, and the prosperity they enjoyed as a result came because of God. Therefore, they should worship Him only.
Adam’s family prospered. They had many children and those children had many children. As families grew, they formed family groups and moved away. Many of these groups forgot about God, but they never forgot the first commandment to multiply and replenish the earth.
Their ability to have food was everything. When the things of the world had sex, there was food and prosperity. Over time, as they forgot about God, the procreating forces of nature were worshiped as gods. This is evident in the pagan cultures of the Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, Hindu, and the Celts.
The additional commandment of sex to remain between a husband and wife was reduced to the easier commandment; the only one given to all living creatures. Have sex and lots of it. Marriage was not a requirement given to animals. Physical prosperity became the pagan man’s greatest aspiration, and engaging in sex was their way of influencing nature and the gods to have sex and thrive.
Public festivals such as the Festival of the Egyptian god of sex and fertility Min flourished. Egyptian priests and priestesses had sex continuously in their temples as a fertility rite to ensure the prosperity of the crops and people.
The Mahashivratri is a Hindu festival where their gods Shiva and Shakti (symbolized by a giant phallus penetrating a vulva) have a grand wedding ceremony. When the ceremony is complete, Shiva and Shakti copulate constantly for one hundred of their God-years. When they do, all living things have sex and everything prospers. (Ereira, Grabsky, and Jones, The Nature of Sex) One of the many names of these gods (lingam and yoni) literally translates to mean penis and vagina. (Elwood and McGraw, Many Peoples, Many Faiths, Pearson Education, 2009)
The Celts held that same belief that sex was directly linked to prosperity. They worshiped Mother Earth and Father Sky. Mother Earth was symbolized by a great mound of earth like a womb. When penetrated by the shaft of light by Father Sky, their joining caused fertility in the earth. The kings of the land would become king when they engaged in a marriage ceremony with a hag who would transform into a beautiful woman when they had sex. When they had sex, everything had sex and there was prosperity. (Dugan, Sex and the Celts)
The Roman and Greek gods also followed this pattern of sex and prosperity. The penis (because of its procreative power) was viewed as a symbol of luck, protection and prosperity. It was hung and found on their person as a charm, on the walls of their homes, their public buildings, and in their art. (Ereira, Grabsky and Jones, The Nature of Sex)
The Hebrews held tightly to the teachings of Adam, Abraham, Moses and the prophets. They had a correct view of sex and sexuality because they worshiped the one true God. They understood that when all living things copulated, there was prosperity and they rejoiced in it. They understood that sex was from God and must be good. They also understood that sex was only to be between a husband and wife and to be enjoyed in all its forms in marriage, except when it conflicted with their laws of health. Sex was only condemned if engaged in any form outside of marriage or if abused within marriage.
Many of the original Hebrew doctrines about sex became warped and perverted by outside influences as they did what God commanded them not to do – such as marry outside the religion. (Mal 2:11, Neh. 13:27) Their interactions with the Egyptians, Romans and other cultures along with corrupt leaders led to misinterpretation and perversion of the gospel. An example would be that a woman having sex outside of marriage would be stoned, but there were exceptions made for men.
When Christ came, he and his apostles reorganized the gospel. The true religion that Adam knew was once again on the earth. They worked to teach correct principles about God’s plan for his children, including how we should treat each other, and what our attitudes should be toward sexual relations. No sexual activity of any kind in the bonds of marriage was ever condemned by the Lord; only those sexual practices and lusts and lasciviousness engaged in outside of marriage or sexually abusive practices in marriage.
After the apostles died and the Church fell into apostasy, followers of Christ attempted to keep Christ’s church alive on their own. Without the authority and continuing revelation, they took the gospel as well as the beliefs about sex in another direction. Early Christians’ interpretations went in the opposite direction of the pagan. Rather than viewing sex as a gift from God, sex and desires of the body were esteemed as evil.
The pagans believed that sensuality and sexuality were divine gifts that gave life and richness to the world and empowered mankind when expressed in any form. Unfortunately this belief gave license for considerable sexual deviancy. Sex outside of marriage, sex with your own gender, sex with children, sex followed by human sacrifice, sex with animals in any way imaginable, and sex with animals followed by their sacrifice and consumption became the norm.
The pagan beliefs completely contradicted this belief of control of bodily appetites. Early Christians, in order to separate themselves from the pagans, forged beliefs that would take them in the complete opposite of the pagan beliefs; especially about sex.
Primitive conditions of the time encouraged the adoption of these anti-sex sentiments. Birth control was practically unheard of in those early times. Medicine was not what it is today. Pregnancy often brought death to women. Sex brought unwanted children that taxed the economic systems and transmitted poverty and misery. No one wanted to associate misery with Christ, who was supposed to bring peace and happiness to the world.
Early Christianity became the gospel of exercising self discipline and the control of bodily appetites. Many monks blazed the trail to new beliefs about sex by denying themselves of all bodily desires. Some took their aestheticism to extremes. The Instructions of King Carmoc, written by an anonymous monk around 1390, made the extraordinary claim that it would be better to kill a woman than to live with her. “Green martyrdom” drove men into the woods to live in isolation from temptations of the flesh. A notorious Irish monk who popularized this practice was St. Kevin, who was also praised for actually killing a woman who made him feel tempted. (Duggan, Sex and the Celts)
The appearance of a female (no matter how modest she may be dressed) stirred the natural biological responses in men and led them to the misogynistic point of view that women were creatures of the devil sent to lead man into bodily sins against God. This belief eventually led to the denouncement of the first commandment given to Adam.
Marriage was now not of God. Tertullian (cir. 160–220) taught that “…marriage is a moral crime, more dreadful than any punishment or any death.” St. Ambrose (cir. 340 -397) also taught “marriage is a crime against God…a prostitution of the members of Christ.”
Early Christian leaders couldn’t stop the members of the church from having sex, so they sought to control it. For example, they could only have sex in the missionary position, and sex on holidays or fast days was forbidden. A person could never have sex without clothes on, and enjoying it was definitely out. The penalties were eternal damnation. Abstinence was the preferred state until the 16th century when marriage was only to be performed by a priest.
Bodily desires became so repugnant that even the thought of God having a body or being associated with sex had to be rejected. Mary, the mother of Jesus, and her “sexless conception” of the Savior was held up as an example that if God intends you to have children you will conceive immaculately. It didn’t take long for women to make the biological connection that conception doesn’t work that way.
Even after Protestants rebelled against the Catholic Church and attempted to bring their faith in Christ closer to what he originally taught, many of the new puritanical faiths held tightly to the practices of abstinence and restraint from the enjoyment or discussion of sex.
In modern societies, the strict anti-sex view of early Christian teachings (being an act or desire that will send you to Hell) caused men to question their faith. Their choices were either to have sex and go to hell, or not have sex and go to heaven. But sex felt good, and they liked it, and didn’t want to go without it. This false paradigm caused further dysfunction, with people believing that they must either “laugh with the sinners [or] cry with the saints”, as Billy Joel popularized in his song, “Only the Good Die Young”. This also leads to the rationalization that, since they’ve gone this far, they might as well go all the way, causing people to abandon their faith entirely, or seek a faith that conforms closer to their own desires.
Here we have discussed three patterns. To the pagan, sex linked you to God. To the Dark Age and medieval Christians, sex cut you off from God. To Adam, the Hebrews, and Christ’s restoration of the gospel, sex was a gift from God to be performed only in the bonds of marriage (The Nature of Sex. Alan Ereira; Phil Grabsky, Terry Jones)
In psychology, there are spectrums for what is considered normal and what is considered dysfunctional. When it comes to gospel teachings about sex, the truth was established with Adam and Eve in the beginning. Pagans held strong beliefs about sex and their bodies, but became dysfunctional in sex’s proper relationship to God. Early Christianity (in order to separate themselves from the pagan) took the dysfunction to the opposite end of the spectrum and attempted to eradicate sex from the gospel completely.
In reading the apostle Paul or any of the gospels in the light of revealed knowledge, it becomes apparent that the eradication of sex was never intended by Christ, but rather to be reeled back in to be governed again by the laws the Lord had set in the beginning.
This spectrum would look something like this:
Sex is not of God_____Sex is joining with God_____Sex is God
When the gospel of Jesus Christ was restored in 1830 through Joseph Smith, the sanctity of marriage was also restored. It linked us to God by helping Him to fulfill his plan for his children. Through marriage, families are sealed together for eternity. The spirit children of God are provided with bodies so they can know the joy that God has from having a body, and become like Him by learning to control it and keep appetites and passions in the boundaries He has set. (Alma 38:12)
God has provided our bodies with special sexual functions that not only give intense pleasure, but when (and only when) exercised in marriage, bind us together completely body and soul.
Jeffrey R. Holland taught:
“...sexual intimacy is not only a symbolic union between man and woman…but it is also symbolic of a union between mortals and deity…a rare and special moment with God himself and all the powers by which he gives life in this wide universe of ours …may I suggest that human intimacy, that sacred, physical union ordained of God for a married couple…was ordained to be a symbol of total union: union of their hearts, their hopes, their lives, their love, their family, their future, their everything…It is in that act of ultimate physical intimacy we most nearly fulfill the commandment of the Lord given to Adam and Eve…as all (married) couples come to that moment of bonding in mortality, it is to be just such a complete union.” (Holland, Jeffrey R., Of Souls, Symbols, and Sacraments)
Many married members of the Church carry with them combinations of either pagan or strict puritanical Christian paradigms towards sex. Mormons were not always Mormon – especially in Joseph Smith’s time. Most of those who joined the Church brought with them their family’s ancestral beliefs about sex and taught them to their children, or didn’t teach their children about sex at all. If not properly educated, we naturally gravitate toward assimilating the beliefs from our surrounding environment. Like an infant's desire to stand and walk, our thirst for knowledge about ourselves and our sexuality is inherent and strong.
As shown on the spectrum above, the beliefs on opposite ends are dysfunctional and were not what God had originally intended for his children. As we evaluate our sexual relationship with our spouse and find our self with feelings of uncleanness, uneasiness, disgust or revulsion toward sex with our spouse, we must try and understand where those paradigms come from. Seek the teachings of men of God and the scriptures about sex and seek the Spirit in what they teach.
We will find a whole world of sexual exploration and pleasure in our marriages that is not only permissible but encouraged. This exploration will help us fill the measure of our creation and bring us great joy in our marriages.