The Chastity Talk, Applied to MarriageJanuary 31, 2008
Since BiV already addresses how I feel about ‘the chastity talk’ I thought I would take a little different approach. I want to share some of my thoughts about what the principles of purity and chastity should mean in a marriage.
[This is all fresh on my mind because I just finished a book by Wendy Watson (now Nelson) about this topic. Her book reinforced already-strong feelings I have on the topic. (I have written about this elsewhere, so more of my thoughts (with some overlap) can be found there as well).] I believe the doctrine of chastity transcends the dictionary definition of the ‘thou shalt not’ aspect of it. I also believe there are teachings associated with this law that can have a great impact on a marriage.
First of all, if we are going to teach our children that sex is wonderful and sacred, we had better believe it ourselves. What might this mean?
One thing that makes sex sacred is that it takes place between [edited] a married man and woman who are supposed to be, as Elder Holland has said, totally united (‘a complete merger’), in every way. Sex was never meant to be fragmented out to be a ‘need’ that simply must be fulfilled. It is not supposed to be a separate element of a marriage, or an activity divorced from the rest of a marriage. It is designed to be a part of a greater, Spirit-driven whole. If we believe sex to be sacred, we should strive to make the whole marriage sacred and Spirit-filled. There is no room for manipulation, or unrighteous dominion, or emotional game-playing, or demands, or criticism, or any of those self-centered actions. I like this quote (I’m looking for the reference):
Thus, physical intimacy is a blessing to married couples when it is an expression of their mutual benevolence and commitment to each other’s well-being, an affirmation of their striving to be emotionally and spiritually one. The key in sexual matters is unselfishness. Self-centered pursuit of physical desire is destructive of the unity and love that characterize healthy marital relations. Such love or charity is long-suffering, kind, not envious, does “not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not [one’s] own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil” (1 Cor. 13:4-5), and is compatible with the Light of Christ, which directs all in the ways of righteousness.
Another reason sex is sacred is because it is tied to the power of procreation. While we all know the decisions about when to have children and how many to have is between a couple and God, the doctrine of multiplying and replenishing demands that we never forget or take for granted the power that is given us and the responsibility to respect that power. I believe we must be careful and prayerful about how we approach this power and Godlike gift.
Some (including Jeffrey R. Holland, in that talk linked by BiV) have called sexual intimacy a sacrament of sorts. I have heard many people scoff at this notion, but I believe it has merit. This is not to say that sex can’t be fun, exciting, passionate, heated, and physical, but if we believe that God never gives only temporal commandments, we had better believe that there is more to sex than physical/temporal desire, need, and fulfillment. This is a spiritual blessing that should be approached with the Spirit (even with the guidance of prayer), even while recognizing (and, of necessity, understanding) the physical side of it all.
I think in short, recognizing that sex is not primarily about physical pleasure (and surely not about one-sided selfish pleasure) can help us remember its sacred and important role in the big picture of God’s plan for marriage. God surely intends it to be pleasurable, but not as an end unto itself.
Secondly, if we teach our children to separate love or care or concern and sex (“you don’t have to have sex if you love someone, or to prove that love”), then I think we can apply that principle in our marriage as well. President Spencer W. Kimball said: “Love in marriage transcends sex.” While surely one way to express love is to be intimate, this should never be manipulatively (is that a word?) be held over a spouse’s head to ‘prove’ that love. (“If you really love me, you will do this, or engage with me this often,” or….) Perhaps you, like I, have friends whose marriages fell apart because of this kind of unrighteous dominion. (Unrighteous dominion can also go the other way, with a spouse withholding sex as a tool of control. Either way, this is wrong.) Sex is not an entitlement or a bargaining or manipulation tool. It is a blessing and a gift, a stewardship, even, and something that, in the end, needs to exist to be pleasant and meaningful for both spouses, to bring them together, not apart. If it’s doing the latter, then something is not right.
If we teach our children that the way the media portrays sex is not really real or true, then we had better believe it ourselves. Sex is usually not something that just works with passion and perfection like the first encounters we see portrayed in movies. Marriage, with all of its facets, takes work, which means that a healthy sexual relationship will take work, both outside and inside the bedroom. With regard to working through sexual issues, in such a tender side of life, we should be tender, loving, compassionate, patient, caring, unselfish, honest, and also willing to work, sacrifice, compromise, and communicate. A truly healthy marriage, including the sexual relationship, requires the best of our Christlike selves. And it takes a constant willingness to revisit and communicate and revisit again, because life changes and family dynamics change and bodies change. We should never assume that things should just ‘work’ and that if they are, something is wrong, with us or with our spouse. I believe we are meant to work, and work hard, to make our marriages and thus our intimate relationships rich and fulfilling.
Separating ourselves from the lies of the media, I think we should also take Elder Nelson’s counsel to heart and not corrupt our marriages with media (or any other thing) that offends the Spirit.
Because it is ordained of God, the intimate physical expressions of married love are sacred. Yet all too commonly, these divine gifts are desecrated. If a couple allows lewd language or pornography to corrupt their intimacy, they offend their Creator while they degrade and diminish their own divine gifts. True happiness is predicated upon personal purity. Scripture commands: “Be ye clean.” Marriage should ever be a covenant to lift husbands and wives to exaltation in celestial glory.
Being clean involves more than just sexual purity. It’s about having clean hands and pure hearts, which (as Elder Bednar recently explained) is about being purified and sanctified through covenants and the Atonement of Christ. We must not limit ourselves to thinking that principles of purity are only about sexualtiy, because they are not. Any impurity in our hearts and spirits will affect the marital relationship, including the sexual relationship.
The world’s ways should not be our ways. This applies to our perceptions about sex (which the media distorts) but also our approaches to addressing challenges with sexuality. There are many out there willing to give advice and counsel, and while there may be some situations where a counselor’s help might be sought and helpful, I think we should never forget that the solutions to our struggles with sexuality (because let’s face it, many couples have them) can be found as we humbly and lovingly and jointly approach God in prayer. He is the best counselor of all. (At the very least, He should be counseled if a couple needs to seek a counselor, because there is a lot of bad counsel out there.)
One last thing. I hope that as we teach our children to love and respect their bodies, and that they have infinite worth as spirit children of God, that we will believe the same in our lives and our marriages (about ourselves and our spouses). We should never reduce ourselves or our spouses to being just physical beings, just bodies. We should care for and respect our bodies as temples of our spirits. We should remember the eternal worth of our spouses’ souls as well. We should never tie our love only to the body of our spouse (which means we should be accepting of his/her physical limitations or faults, differing sexual performance/desire, brain chemistry and wiring, etc. — not to facilitate bad choice, but to love along the way of eternal progression), but remember that he/she is a living, beloved soul — a imperfect body joined with a beloved spirit child of God. We cannot mistreat another’s body or spirit without hurting our own soul.
So, there are some of my thoughts. Just as I am not a fan of a one-time chastity talk with our children, I believe that the doctrine of sexuality should be ever-present in our interactions with our spouses, in this eternally-important aspect of our marriages.