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??

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 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