marriage bed symbol

marriage bed symbol

Friday, December 21, 2012

Sex in Marriage - Carnal, Sensual, and Devilish...?

Here’s a comment from one of my readers. My answer ended up being too long to post in the comments section, so I’m posting it here. I look forward to your thoughtful and constructive comments, and please, state your references! J

“Many scriptures (Moses 5:13, Alma 42:10, D&C 20:20) put "carnal" (pertaining to the passions and appetites of the flesh) and "sensual" (pertaining to the gratification of the senses and physical, especially sexual, pleasure) together with "devilish" (having the qualities of the devil).

So these scriptures would seem to indicate that sexual pleasure (in or out of marriage) makes us more like the devil. Don't see any way that can be wholesome.”

Thank you for your comment Anon Dec. 20 and for reading.

I can empathize with your concern. Fortunately, we have a modern-day prophet to give us clarification of the scriptures pertaining to sex and sexuality.

The belief that sex is evil and devilish inside of the bonds of marriage is a puritanical belief system constructed by early Catholic leaders such as Augustine and St. Ambrose. (Please see

Unfortunately, too many still hold onto this sub-cultural belief in the membership of the LDS Church, in spite of what living modern-day prophets have taught us.

“The lawful association of the sexes is ordained of God, not only as the sole means of race perpetuation, but for the development of the higher faculties and nobler traits of human nature [a wholesome result from married sexual activity], which the love-inspired companionship of man and woman alone can insure.”
~ Pres. Joseph F. Smith, Improvement Era, June 1917, pg. 739, parentheses added

“ 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 the process of creation and in an expression of love”
~ Pres. Spencer W. Kimball, Eternal Marriage, pg. 139

This is a bogus dilemma really, because the terms you have chosen do not always mean the same thing in every context. For what you said to be true, words such as sensual, or natural, or unnatural would have to mean the same thing all the time…and they just don’t.

As stated above, sensuality is wholesome in the context of marriage, but not outside of the context of marriage.

The context of ‘sensual’ and ‘carnal’ you are referring to are doing things that are “holy” outside of the bounds and conditions the Lord has set to keep them “holy”. When we do sexual activities outside of marriage, we are communicating that we believe these ‘holy’ things are nothing more than ordinary bodily desires and functions.

When I did my research into the term “natural”, I learned that there are many such terms that take on multiple meanings and must be understood in the context they were given. For example:

The natural man is an enemy to God (Moses 3:19), but men engaging in things “unnatural” is also considered unfavorable (2 Tim 3 :1-3); except when it’s considered favorable (Alma 41:12).

It’s all a matter of context. Take Moses 5:13 that you shared. The term “carnal” (if you look in the Topical Guide) shows it was referring to those not spiritually reborn yet.

In a marriage ceremony we make covenants to multiply and replenish the earth. That requires sex. To make the covenants, we first must be baptized, become spiritually reborn and keep the commandments. It would be a contradiction to then consider sex in marriage and under that covenant “unholy or carnal”.

Sex outside of marriage would be a counterfeit of this; a perversion of that covenant and therefore would be taking a “holy” act and making it profane or unholy or “carnal”.  

When looking at Alma 42:10, we also have to consider verse 9. This talks about the Fall and how we spiritually die when we stop living the commandments of God. Carnal, sensual and devilish here refers to living our life contrary to the teachings of God. Since sex was ordained of God from the beginning of time to today (D&C 42:22), sex in marriage is contrary to a carnal, sensual and devilish state.

Again in D&C 20:20, by transgressing the laws of God, our actions become carnal and sensual and devilish. The Lord is telling us here that he wants us to worship Him through keeping his laws and commandments. Having sex in marriage is a fulfillment of the commandments (again, see D&C 42:22).  When we break these laws we are instead worshiping our senses (the bad kind of 'sensual'), and worshiping the devil instead of God (which is what the word ‘devilish’ refers to here).

Now I realize that, no matter what I say or what evidences I present, some may be more likely to revert to the cultural belief systems that they are habitually accustomed to.

My hope is that no one will use the scriptures to trap themselves unnecessarily, but instead look at the scriptures together with the quotes from modern sources presented here in their full context, take this to the Lord in prayer, and let the Spirit tell them if sex in marriage is holy (or not) and thus wholesome in this context by the standards of the Lord.

It is my belief that sex in marriage is a wonderful tool that has the power to bring ourselves and our spouses so much joy and create eternal bonds. My hope is to stop any false dilemmas that would keep a married couple from enjoying the sexual pleasure that God not only approves of, but wants us to have.