marriage bed symbol

marriage bed symbol

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Is the Bishop in Your Bedroom?


You said in one of your posts that Church authorities have said they will not interfere in the bedroom and will not say what is or is not OK between a man and a wife in sexual intimacy. I am glad that they don't, and feel it is no one’s business as long as both parties agree with what is going on and as long as they don't indulge in "sexual extremes."

However, I have still had TWO bishops tell me that oral and anal sex is forbidden even in marriage. I don't care what they say about anal, I have no desire to go there, but I feel that my husband and I would both enjoy oral sex.

I feel like it has a taboo and refuse to let my husband do it because of what these bishops have said. I know the best way to get an answer is to pray about it, but I can't bring myself to pray about sex.

I guess I am asking what you think. Should I listen to my bishop or should my husband and I decide for ourselves what is or isn't extreme??
-anonymous

Dear Reader,

I get these kinds of questions a lot, and when I was newlywed, I had the same question. Someone outside our church might consider this strange, but it’s not strange when you consider our beliefs, and it’s an honest question that deserves discussion.

My short answer to your question is that you should do both. Let me explain.

“Mine house is a house of order, saith the Lord God, and not a house of confusion”.[i]

When you’re looking for answers to questions regarding your married sex life, the Church counsels us to follow a certain order. This order can be found in the student publications printed by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints; “Achieving a Celestial Marriage” and also “Eternal Marriage.”
 
The first step is always prayer.

And now, my beloved brethren, I perceive that ye ponder still in your hearts; and it grieveth me that I must speak concerning this thing. For if ye would hearken unto the aSpirit which teacheth a man to bpray, ye would know that ye must cpray; for the devil spirit teacheth not a man to pray, but teacheth him that he must not pray.” [ii]

“If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not, and it shall be given him” [iii]

I noticed in your question that you are hesitant to pray to the Lord about sex. I have learned that there are many who share your same concern.

Without a personal interview with you, I cannot know your reasoning for not praying about your married sex life, but I can absolutely assure you that God is very interested in the success of your sex life, and wants to counsel you about it.

There is nothing we do sexually that could possibly shock the Lord. It was him after all that commanded all things to have sex – including Adam and Eve. Sexual intimacy is as vital to the health of a marriage as breathing and eating are to our physical bodies. Marriages and the love within those marriages – especially temple marriages – will shrivel and die without it. It’s that important.

For more clarification on this from our Church leaders, I invite you to read my other blog posts. I would especially recommend my post on Sexless Marriage and the Sacrament for your review.

So begin with prayer. Approach the Lord with your marital issues, big or small, and ask for counsel and guidance. Listen for his response through the Spirit.

The next appropriate step for finding counsel about married sex is to study the problem and go to the scriptures.

Yes, the scriptures talk about sex, and there’s more there than just sexual immorality. If we pray first and find it’s difficult to get a clear answer then we should go to the scriptures. The Lord will open your mind to revelation that can’t be found any other way. The scriptures are more than just a book; they’re a medium of revelation.

Other steps you might take in tandem with reading the scriptures might be looking up counsel from living prophets and apostles. Living ones are more relevant than past prophets and apostles, but a lot of knowledge is available through those who have gone before. You might also attend the temple with your questions on your mind, and while you’re doing service there, the answer may open to you. My wife and I received a lot of revelation about our relationship while serving in the temple.

I would also recommend learning more about the specific question you have. Whether it’s a problem, or if you’re curious about a particular sexual practice, Google it, or look up information at the library.  

Realize, however, that most of the sources about sexual practices that are available will contain a lot of worldly perspectives. Most of them conflict with the gospel in one way or another.

Find LDS sources if you can. Laura M. Brotherson’s blog or book "And They Were Not Ashamed" are terrific, especially for women. My other blog posts have lots of valuable information available as well.  Contact me on my blog or by email anytime for questions, and I will do my best to help you find answers.

While you’re investigating the specific problem, continue to pray about it and read from the scriptures and Conference talks. God usually won’t give you an answer if you don’t “study it out in your own mind” first.[iv]

Seeking Counsel from Our Parents and Grandparents

“If there are righteous priesthood fathers or grandfathers on either side, there may be wisdom in applying to them for counsel, for their knowledge of basic character factors is often greater than others.” [v]

If you exhaust these options, and you still can’t find an answer, the next appropriate step is to ask your family patriarchs and matriarchs. That’s right…I said ask your parents, or your grandparents, about sex. This should be considered before we ask our church leaders.

I know that some of you may cringe at the very thought, but bear with me for a moment.  Your parents and grandparents, by virtue of their position in your family, are entitled to receive revelation for you. This is still the case even if you’re grown, married and not living with them anymore.

To parents, President Ezra Taft Benson counseled “Fathers, yours is an eternal calling from which you are never released. … Its importance transcends time. It is a calling for both time and eternity” [vi]

Your parents have lived years longer than you have. They are farther down the road of experience than you are. They know you, and chances are good they love you. You’re married; they’re not going to be surprised that you’re having sex with your spouse. I’m sure they hope that you are having good sex with your spouse.

If you approach them for counsel, not only will they do their best to counsel you with wisdom, but they will probably pray morning and night for you until things improve. You would be hard-pressed to find a marriage counselor that will approach and petition heaven in your behalf.

If they are righteous, and if your relationship is such that you can talk relatively comfortably about marital intimacy issues with them, I would not ignore this avenue of finding answers.

Seeking Counsel from the Bishop

Now, if you’re praying about the problem (notice I say “praying” – one prayer will probably not be enough to solve a difficult problem), continuing to read scriptures, reading Conference talks, going to the temple if you’re able, and asking your parents if you’re able – if you still need clarification – now is the time to go and ask the bishop about the problem – and even before you do that, there are some things you need to know about the bishop or stake president.

Your bishop may be an old man. He may be a very young man. He might be a lawyer for a living, or a plumber, or a janitor. It’s highly unlikely he will be trained as a sex therapist or marriage counselor…but he doesn’t have to be.

When he was ordained as a bishop, he was given a mantle of authority from the Lord. This mantle doesn’t allow him to read your mind, and it doesn’t automatically make him better or more spiritual than any other member of his congregation.

Through this mantle the bishop is given the ability to discern if something is spiritually wrong in your life. [vii]

 If you are interviewing with him, and you are withholding anything that may make you unworthy spiritually, he may sense that something is spiritually wrong. He will tell you that, and encourage you to share more with him so that he can get a better idea of what’s happening in your life. His handbook of instruction tells him not to lead or suggest things for you to confess. Your confession (if any) must be yours and yours alone.

If there is a problem with a certain sexual practice in your married life, and you counsel with the bishop about it, he will probably counsel you to discontinue. But you must consider why you received that counsel.

Did the bishop sense a spiritual problem occurring? Some problems that are sexual have a spiritual problem at their base, and no marriage therapist or professional can sense that as well as your bishop can. That is what that leader’s mantle gives to them, and how the bishop can help your marriage in that way.

You did say that two bishops have already told you that oral and anal sex is forbidden even in marriage for all people. The fact is that the scriptures and the words of the living prophets do not currently support this view. There is nothing I have found in repeated searches of any of our scriptures, nor in over 30 years’ worth of Conference talks that says that oral or anal sex is forbidden for heterosexual married couples.

So why would they give you this counsel then? There could be any number of reasons.

It could be a reflection of their personal worldviews. A person who joins the LDS Church has not necessarily left former worldviews behind. It could be leftover puritanical beliefs from their convert ancestors that your church leader was raised with. Many of the world's religions have their own doctrine and traditions about what is an "acceptable" sexual practice in marriage.[viii] 

Many in the wider Christian world feel these practices are not righteous, but they may also feel that any kind of sexual contact is inherently sinful, or that the body is evil by nature. They may feel that we only need to endure sex now to have children, and that someday in the next world we will leave all things of a sexual nature behind.

The gospel of Jesus Christ does not support any of these views.[ix]

Another reason your bishop or stake president may advise you to abstain is because of the laws of the land where you live. You don’t specify the area you live in, but in some areas of the United States and world, certain sexual practices are currently illegal, even in a heterosexual marriage.

As an example, because of the way the sodomy laws are phrased in Utah (as of the date of this post), they could easily be interpreted in a way that oral and anal sex are illegal between any two people, regardless of gender or marital status.

In contrast, the state of Texas’ current laws on sodomy state that oral and anal sex are illegal if practiced between two people of the same sex, or homosexuality, which is outside of  our definition of marriage.

A bishop or stake president will never counsel you to break the laws of the land, nor should they (regardless of whether or not those laws can be enforced).

Now, if this is the case, and you choose to engage in these practices anyway, you are breaking the law, which can endanger your worthiness for a recommend as we believe in obeying the laws of the land.

If you don’t feel the law is a just law, you as a citizen of your state or country can work to change that law, or you are also free to move to a different area where laws are not a conflict.

Someone reading this may get hung up on the word “sodomy.” We are taught as Latter-Day Saints that sodomy is evil and should never be practiced. Each state and federal law has their own definition as to what sodomy is. 

When it comes to how the Lord defines it, the only definition I found was in the King James Version of the Bible’s Topical Guide. Under the entry for “sodomy”, only the words “see homosexuality” are found. Homosexuality is impossible to practice within the marital bounds the Lord has set.

I have been unable to find any other definition on www.lds.org or elsewhere in other Church reference materials. My understanding is this is how the Lord, the prophet and twelve apostles define it. Oral or anal sex is not defined in the scriptures as an evil practice when it is exercised in marriage.

Bishops and stake presidents are counseled to give instruction based upon the scriptures and their handbooks. It is very likely that they are told that if a sexual practice in marriage bothers a member enough to ask them about it, they are to advise you to discontinue it.

Bishops and stake presidents are people too – usually extremely busy and burdened people, having taken on a calling that’s the equivalent of a full-time, volunteer job. Most bishops and stake presidents do a heroic service in this capacity.

Putting ourselves in their shoes, if you were a bishop, and you were counseled by your stake president to tell people to discontinue practices that bother them, and when people continually don’t pray about or research it for themselves and then approach you about the rightness of oral or anal sex in marriage…do you see where this is going? It’s not hard to make the assumption that, if so many people are unsure about it, then it must not be okay for anyone.

Finally, you may also live in an area of the world (like the Congo or the Amazon where there is no running water, disease is rampant and you live in a hut with a dirt floor) where the sanitary conditions would not be conducive to a health-sensitive practice like oral or anal sex. You would then be breaking the Word of Wisdom and the bishop is not going to advise you to do that either.

Seeking a Marriage Counselor

If it happens that you need further counseling beyond your bishop, the next appropriate avenue of help is to go to a competent LDS marriage counselor or psychologist if one is available. If a sexual problem is physical or hormonal in nature, you may need a medical doctor. Your bishop or stake president can advise you where you can find one.

So the Long Answer to Your Question Is…

It is my belief that sex in marriage is good and righteous and holy, no matter what form it takes, as long as both spouses enjoy it, are loving and respectful of each other, communicate well, and  respect the bodies and freedom to choose that God provided for each of them.

Sex in marriage invites children into the home, and creates greater unity and compassion and love between couples. When done in marriage, what isn’t righteous or holy about that?

So should you listen to your bishops? I would say yes. But pray about it and seek to understand why you received that counsel. I can’t tell why, but the guidance of the Lord and a little research on your part can.

Should you and your husband decide for yourselves? Yes. I always recommend investigating all the options available to you sexually, experimenting, and deciding what works for you and what doesn’t. What works sexually for you may not work for other couples and vice-versa. A purpose of sexual intimacy in marriage is to unify and bring you closer together.  A good way to know if a sexual act doesn’t work is that “the tempter will drive a wedge between you and your spouse.” [x]



[i] D&C 132:8
[ii] 2 Ne 32:8

[iii] James 1:5
[iv] D&C 9:7-8
[v] Achieving a Celestial Marriage Student Manual, CES, 1992, pg.88
[vi] President Ezra Taft Benson Ensign, Nov. 1988, p. 48
[vii] D&C 46.27
[viii] See my blog entitled “The Sexual Spectrum” for more background on this.
[ix] Eternal Marriage Student Manual, CES, 2003,  pp. 139,140
[x] Eternal marriage student Manual, CES, 2003,  pp. 145


14 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for this! Prayer, and lots of it, helped my husband and me learn to have a great sex life.

Melissa Jones, Ph.D. said...

Another reason why some bishops may discourage those practices is because of a 1980 letter from the First Presidency written to priesthood leaders. (Note that the letter was not written to members in general, just to bishops, stake presidents, etc). Some older leaders today may still be thinking of that letter written over 30 years ago. As a side note, a subsequent letter was sent to the same leaders less than a year later instucting them to not probe into married couples sexual practices. I really appreciate your insights and opinions on this topic.

CoachSam said...

Thank you for your remarks Dr. Jones and thank you for reading. :0)

Anonymous said...

Just a note - as far as I can tell, there's an exemption to the Utah sodomy laws for married couples, so that may not be a valid reason.

CoachSam said...

Hi Anon May 22,
The state code I'm referring to in this blog is UTAH CODE 76-5-403. Sodomy -- Forcible sodomy
I've looked through the Utah state codes and couldn't find an amendment to this code that would exempt married couples. That doesn't mean it doesn't exist. If you find anything, please let me know. :0)

Anonymous said...

The way you phrased it above, it sounds like if two consenting adults engage in oral or anal sex in Utah that they could be breaking the law... what does the forcible sodomy law have to do with consenting adults?

CoachSam said...

Thank you for expressing your concern Anon May 23rd.
What I said was that the way the Utah Code is written, it could be interpreted to include married couples.
Forcible sodomy can and does happen even in marriage. Forcible, in Mormon-speak, is coercion. Spencer W. Kimball as well as other church leaders have condemned any kind of coercion in marriage.
But, this is my interpretation of that Utah law, and it's unclear which interpretation would be the legal one. If there are any lawyers reading this who are familiar with this law, a little illumination for those who live under this law would be appreciated :0)

Anonymous said...

I had just seen bits here and there - for example, in this article it states
"The remaining nine states, including Utah, ban sodomy for everyone, although the Utah law exempts married persons."

http://www.deseretnews.com/article/515036530/Judge-dismisses-suit-over-Utah-sodomy-laws.html

And
"In Utah, state law says only married couples can engage in sodomy."
http://www.heraldextra.com/news/local/article_5da77a2d-d65d-52e3-bdb0-515cb77807aa.html

I can't find the actual law or bit that says that, though. Strange. And of course forcible, married or not, should not be allowed.

Also, from what I can tell, all of these laws have been declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 2003. If they're still on the books, I'm not sure how that squares in the "following the law of the land" - do you follow the local one, or the national one that says the local laws aren't legal and are unenforceable?

Anonymous said...

Your misinterpreting scripture. Any activity deemed to be animal like, or homosexual in nature is restricted and Heavenly Father frowns/considers it a grave sin.

Sex was afforded to us by Heavely Father for the purpose of creating life and enjoying our spouse, e.g., woman, since I am a man.

"Sexual Perversion:
The sin of sodomy involves perversion - unnatural sexual activity. It is not ordinary, and is nowhere so viewed by God. It occupies the bottom rung of the latter of moral degradation. It is the direct result of rejecting God, and evidences abandonment by Deity. This is not a philosophical view, but one revealed from heaven. "Because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie ... For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. Their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural, and the men likewise were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in their own persons the due penalty for their error" (Rom. 1:25-27, RSV).

Condemned by the Law:
The Law of Moses commanded, "Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind; it is an abomination" (Lev. 18:22). Again, it is written, "If any man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them" (Lev. 20:13). In a stern admonition Moses said, "There shall be no... sodomite of the sons of Israel!" (Deut. 23:17). By the law is the "knowledge of sin" (Rom. 3:20), and thus these words cannot be ignored.

Dealt With by Apostles:
In a solemn warning to the Corinthians, Paul affirmed that no one guilty of "homosexual perversion ... will possess the kingdom of God" (I Cor. 6:11, NEB). The very affection of men for men and women for women is unnatural. When passions are inflamed after this manner, a departure from both God and nature has taken place. Not even grace can make place in God's kingdom for such.

I am aware that sodomites that claim identity with Christ, conveniently explain this condemnation to refer to acts of perversion. They give themselves the luxury, of course, of defining what "acts" are perverted. Such "acts," of course, exclude their own. But if one that hates his brother is a murderer, and, for that reason, does not have eternal life (I John 3:14-15), those that nurture unnatural affections - fulfilled or not - are also under the curse! The lusts of the flesh are to be mortified, not explained (Col. 3:5)!

In the case before us, the fact that those in question have called themselves a "gay and lesbian church" demonstrates that they have not "crucified the flesh, together with its affections and lusts" (Gal. 5:24). They have, by that admission, confessed that they are not of Christ Brother Garrett's analysis notwithstanding. It would make just as much sense to have a church for stealers and murderers, or for the covetous and drunkards ... etc"

Anonymous said...

To Anon 10/16 - I think you missed the point Coach Sam was trying to make.

You're defining 'sodomy' as 'anal sex'. That's not sodomy, if you look at the KJV version of the Bible. The LDS Church uses the King James version; we don't use the NEB or the RSV or any other version.

In the Bible Dictionary, under 'sodomy', there's only one word: homosexuality.

If you think anal sex is not allowed in marriage, there's nothing in scripture or modern-day revelation that states this.

Where is the scripture that says we can't engage in 'animal-like' activities in marriage? Who defines 'animal-like'? You? Your parents? The bishop? Hopefully you can see where this is going...

It's physically impossible for a man and a woman to commit a homosexual act with each other.

If they're married, they can commit a heterosexual act all they want, in lots of different ways, and the Lord's okay with it. You don't have to just do missionary position forever! That's not what we teach or believe.

The scriptures you refer to refer to sex OUTSIDE of heterosexual marriage, which is condemned by the Lord.

Anal sex does not automatically equal 'gay sex'. Gay people do lots of different sexual activities, other than anal sex.

Gay couples kiss...should married couples not kiss because gay people kiss? That's absurd.

Shouldn't married couples be allowed to do lots of different things too? They're the ones the Lord WANTS to do sexual things.

That's how I feel about it, anyway.

That article Coach Sam did on what's holy and what's unholy kind of talks about this - I think the title was "Mormons Take Pleasure in Sacred Erotica". That one was as long as my arm, but it was good.

CoachSam said...

Dear Anon October 16th,

I found it curious that your post consisted of a large quote, without quoting your source, and that you referenced someone named Brother Garrett.

The quote that you reference (and didn't give credit to - please be careful about plagiarizing other people's works) is from an article in the Examiner, analyzing another article on sodomy written by Dr. LeRoy Garrett, a former editor for the magazine The Restoration Review, which appears to be affiliated with the Church of Christ.

We are not affiliated with the Church of Christ, or their doctrinal teachings. I'm not sure from your comments what Christian sect you associate with, but please know that this blog is specifically meant for married members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

We prefer any arguments be supported by using the LDS scriptures, which consist of the King James Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine & Covenants, the Pearl of Great Price, and the teachings of modern-day LDS prophets and apostles found at www.lds.org.

You are welcome to use any of these sources you choose. Sources outside of these may contain some truth, but we feel are generally less reliable from our perspective.

My most sincere thanks to you for reading and for sharing your thoughts and ideas.

RupertBuzzcock said...

Is a churchwide obsession w/rule keeping and sexual regulation a true paradigm for sane living in or out of the bedroom?

CoachSam said...

Dear Rupert,

Thank you for your question. I can't tell from your question if you're a member of the Church or not, although the tone of it leads me to think you're probably not.

It's important to avoid ethnocentrism in communicating with people who are different from you in your cultural belief system, if we want to have a productive dialogue across cultures.

You see our beliefs about chastity and sexuality as an 'obsession' or perhaps an 'insane' restriction. There are two ways to look at a fence that someone puts around their house. Is the fence built to keep the occupants in, or to keep undesirable things out? The answer would depend on the person who lives behind the fence.

I might say the same thing about fire. We're taught that the best place to build a fire is on the stove or in a fireplace. When we do, it has the potential (in a safe way) to warm our home, cook our food, and even make things.

What if I were to come into your home and say "that's too restricting. Why not let me build the fire on your bedroom floor? or anywhere else in your home that I feel an impulse to do so?" Would you allow me to burn your house down because I feel like it?

We in the LDS Church are not forced to live this way. We choose to follow the Lord's laws,morals, ethics, policies and standards to help keep things out of our lives that can ultimately make us and those around us miserable.

Some may ask "Why restrict yourself from doing what comes 'naturally'?" Why not let yourself be free to express sexuality with who, what, when or where you want?

We've learned that what many view as sexual "freedom" does make you free...free from freedom.

Keeping the Lord's law of chastity keeps me free from physical harm, potential disease or infection, heartache, abuse and manipulation, addiction, and fragmentation of the mind and soul.

We choose to follow these standards because we feel more at peace with ourselves when we do, there is less to no emotional trauma when we do, and our marriages and family are healthier and happier than they would be if we did not.

Having indiscriminate sex, to me and those who feel as I do, is a recipe for real insanity, in or out of the bedroom.

Anonymous said...

My wife & I both enjoy oral sex and both feel very comfortable with it. It does not replace sex but is part of foreplay and accentuates the sexual experience. And we don't always engage in it but when we're feeling it in the moment. Important note of hygiene - it's best if done in the shower or soon after. The important point is that both marriage partners are comfortable with it and it's about making each other feel good and coming closer together. If it leads to perversions, discomfort, or doesn't feel right then the sexual relationship needs to be reevaluated and some open communication is needed.