WARNING: This post contains a topic of a sacred sexual nature and is intended for married readers only. Those who are currently unmarried are advised to keep to the standards of the Church and refrain from reading the married sexual instruction that follows.
“Decency is as important for married people as for the unmarried. Perversions are perversion whenever indulged in, and the marriage ceremony cannot take away their stain.”[i]
What “perversions” is Mark E. Peterson referring to?
I have yet to find a list of definitions from the General Authorities (past or present) to spell out what specifically they mean by sexual perversions, and I felt this may be a question for many of my readers. The word is so loosely defined that anything sexual could be placed under the umbrella of “perversion”, rightly or wrongly, even in marriage.
Therefore, in an effort to give some clarity, I have gathered some definitions for you to think about and pray about in your own marital relationship.
According to the Free Medical Dictionary[ii], a sexual “perversion” is as follows:
“Sexual perversions are conditions in which sexual excitement or orgasm is associated with acts or imagery that are considered unusual within the culture. To avoid problems associated with the stigmatization of labels, the neutral term paraphilia, derived from Greek roots meaning "alongside of" and "love," is used to describe what used to be called sexual perversions. A paraphilia is a condition in which a person's sexual arousal and gratification depend on a fantasy theme of an unusual situation or object that becomes the principal focus of sexual behavior.”
In other words, a perversion of sexuality is when a person can only be sexually aroused when they’re thinking about something or someone other than their spouse. Their minds have been programmed away from their spouse and towards another person or object.
The same dictionary lists these as some examples of what is deemed as paraphilia, or sexual perversions:
“Paraphilias include fantasies, behaviors, and/or urges which:
- involve nonhuman sexual objects, such as shoes or undergarments
- require the suffering or humiliation of oneself or partner
- involve children or other non-consenting partnersThe most common paraphilia are:
- exhibitionism - exposure of the genitals, or engaging in sexual activity in public or in front of other individuals
- fetishism - the use of nonliving objects
- frotteurism - touching and rubbing against a non-consenting person
- pedophilia - the focus on prepubescent children
- sexual masochism - the receiving of humiliation or suffering
- sexual sadism - the inflicting of humiliation or suffering
- transvestic fetishism – the wearing of articles of clothing or full outfits that are usually worn by the opposite sex
- voyeurism, or watching others engage in undressing or sexual activity”
This last item, voyeurism, translates to all forms of profane erotica, in male form (watching videos, reading magazines) or female form (reading explicit erotica, creating images in the mind of people undressing and engaging in sex acts)” I would also add sexual coercion and rape to this list.
Sexual Fantasies in Marriage
In my blog series “My Porn is Okay Your Porn is Not Okay – Avoiding The Double Standard”, I discussed how women’s porn is different from men’s porn and that use of this profane erotica can be detrimental to a marriage relationship. Women use written porn to help create fantasies in their mind that allow them to become aroused and ready physically for sex. For women, the desire for sex starts in the brain.
I was asked once by a reader if sexual fantasies can play a role in an LDS marriage. My research tells me that sexual fantasy does play an important part in our marital intimacy. Typically this is more for the wife than the husband, but fantasy does play an important part and can be done in a way that doesn’t violate the sanctity of the relationship or the sacredness of sex.
The first thing we need to understand is that our primitive brain (the limbic system) controls our sexual desire. Because men’s brains function in a more compartmentalized fashion than women's, it is easier for men to shift gears and stay in sexual mode. This is important to the procreative process. It allows men to always be ready for sex and perform their biological roles as initiator of sex.
Women’s brains are so connected that it is often difficult for them to move out of their thinking brain and into their primitive sexual brain. In order for women to get into their primitive brain, a channel must be created. This channel is created through fantasy, or what I prefer to call “intimacy visualization.” This is one of the reasons why it may take a woman longer to be ready for sex. She has to think of a romantic scenario first, let it play out in her mind, allow it to connect to the primitive sexual brain and then connect to her husband. Some women refer to it as their "lizard brain."
A husband can help her more quickly connect to her primitive brain by talking to her, learning what scenarios she likes (for example, she’s aroused by thinking about walking on the beach in Hawaii and kissing.) and then build a intimate visualization with her that involves both of you. Doing things that touch her heart will also go a long way toward preparing her mentally to receive her husband sexually.
Paraphilia in Sexual Fantasies
“…if ye do not watch yourselves, and your thoughts, and your words, and your deeds…even unto the end of your lives, ye must perish. And now, O man, remember, and perish not.”[iii]
I don’t believe it’s possible to monitor every thought that goes through your head. The average human being has tens of thousands of thoughts a day.
While we cannot control the thoughts that enter, we do have some measure of control of the ones we allow to stay in our minds.
There is no temple recommend question that asks you about your thoughts. Thoughts or fantasies involving adultery or paraphilia will not, of themselves, make you unworthy to attend the temple. Be aware, however, that no action was ever done without first originating as a thought in the mind.
I believe sexual fantasies enter into the perversion realm when they involve paraphilia like the ones mentioned above. Building sexual visualizations in your mind or the mind of your spouse that involve these perversions and then reinforcing them with sex and orgasm programs the primitive brain to respond sexually to these perversions.
My understanding is that this can be prevented or reversed by building in your mind or telling your spouse sexual fantasies that don’t involve paraphilia, and do involve your spouse exclusively. In essence, you would be creating a kind of sacred erotica instead. You then would reinforce that programming with intercourse and orgasm. Neurons that fire together, wire together.
“Yea, and [God] looketh down upon all the children of men, and he knows all the thoughts and intents of the heart, for by his hand were they all created from the beginning.”[iv]
If your mind has become programmed to get sexually excited along the lines of perversions, you can take deliberate steps to reprogram yourself in a more positive direction.
“I feel like I should have an orgasm even though I don’t need one. In order to get aroused enough to reach orgasm, I can’t think about my spouse every single time. I have to think about other things or other people or situations that don’t always involve my spouse.”
It’s important to recognize that it’s okay for women NOT to have an orgasm every single time they have sex. A husband should understand this as well. This is one of those fundamental differences between men and women.
She may be perfectly okay, and feel perfectly satisfied, simply to bring him to orgasm. Sometimes it’s okay to just have a quickie, so that the man is satiated and feels loved, and the woman can get on with her day. This doesn't mean she doesn't like sex or doesn't love her husband. On the contrary.
If a woman’s having trouble getting aroused or coming to orgasm, her body may just need a break. Sexual fasting once a month, or just having a quickie without giving her an orgasm is okay, and will allow her body and her libido to rebuild.
Later, when her libido comes back and she feels ready for an orgasm, and can fantasize about her husband and feel aroused, she can let him know this. Ladies, it’s important to let him know; otherwise, he’ll go on having quickies and never reciprocate for you.
It’s okay to ask for an orgasm if you want one. It doesn’t make you a loose woman to enjoy sex with your husband. Good girls do this, when they’re married!
President Spencer W. Kimball (I felt) made it very clear about how God feels about sex in marriage when he said:
“In the context of lawful marriage, the intimacy of sexual relations is right and divinely approved. There is nothing unholy or degrading about sexuality in itself, for by that means men and women join in a process of creation and in an expression of love”[v]
On the flip side, husbands – it’s important to be considerate of your wife and her needs, and ask her if she wants an orgasm. Don’t just assume she wants one like you want one. If she doesn’t want one, ask her if it’s okay to have a quickie. Good boys do this, when they’re married!
“I can only get aroused by thinking about sexual perversions (or paraphilia, as you say), and things other than my husband. I’m concerned, but when I try to talk to my husband about these things, he refuses to talk about it. So in order to keep the peace, I just keep fantasizing. Everything else is all right on the outside, so it’s okay as long as I don’t act on my fantasies in real life, right?”
Let’s consider this situation on the flip side, from a male point of view. A wife refuses to have sex with him, or discuss their sexuality. So in order to “keep the peace”, the husband doesn’t bother her with sex, but finds alternative outlets elsewhere, such as watching porn, maybe even without masturbating to it.
It’s a thought. There’s no action involved, and everything’s okay…right?
Both of these are separating activities, that shape our spirits and desires in frustrating ways . Communication, compromise, sharing, selflessness, self-sacrifice, patience, unconditional love…these are the attributes that build a successful marriage. If a spouse or both spouses are exercising the opposite of these, they don’t have a marriage. They’re friends with benefits. They’re roommates. They’re not married…not truly, and they’re not building a loving, trusting relationship that will last into the eternities.
The solution is that there must be communication. If a spouse is able to communicate, but refuses to, the hard reality is that this is abuse, and a marriage cannot survive on abuse.
If there are secrets being held back from a spouse, tell them. Secrets may destroy your marriage if they aren’t told. They also have a way of coming out eventually anyway. It may take some courage to risk changing the status quo, but you must try, or the situation won’t change, and then eventually it will be too late.
If there’s selfishness, then start to share and compromise. We can take the emotional energy we’re spending on perversions, and turn that energy back towards our spouse. If a couple is spending too much time apart, find ways to spend more time together. If a couple isn’t talking, get talking about anything and everything. Communicate.
I don’t believe we as Saints need harder and harder fantasies, filled with all manner of perversions, to fully enjoy our sexuality. Instead, we need to look towards our spouses with love, appreciation, patience and trust.
“Marriage brings greater possibilities for happiness than does any other human relationship. Yet some married couples fall short of their full potential. They let their romance become rusty, take each other for granted, allow other interests or clouds of neglect to obscure the vision of what their marriage really could be. Marriages would be happier if nurtured more carefully.”[vi]
[i] Elder Mark E. Peterson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, Marriage and Common Sense, pg.94-95
[ii] Copyright © 2011 Farlex, Inc.< http://medical-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/Sexual+Perversions>
[iii] Mosiah 4:30, paraphrased
[iv] Alma 18:32
[v] The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, ed. Edward L. Kimball , 311)
[vi] Russell M. Nelson, “Nurturing Marriage”, Ensign, May 2006