It’s no secret that humans are sexual beings. Yet, many of us have been taught from a young age to suppress this part of our nature, to hide it, or to see it as wrong or evil. The negative effects of this conditioning can be far reaching, and can last a lifetime.
Not everyone who grows up in a sexually oppressive religion or culture ends up with unhealthy sexual beliefs, or has shame surrounding their sexuality, but I believe I’m not the only one who’s felt these feelings. In this post, I want to share my experience of how I dealt with this shame. I’m tired of hiding and suppressing these important parts of myself, and I’m hoping my story may be a comfort to others who are going through similar struggles.
Sex as Sin
As a young teenager in Mormonism, I was taught that if I see a pretty girl and find myself aroused or thinking sexual thoughts, I must immediately remove these dangerous and sinful thoughts from my mind by singing a hymn, or distracting myself in other ways. I believed that if these thoughts were allowed to continue, they would lead to even worse sin, that being “carnal and sensual” is associated with being “devilish” (Moses 5:13), and that the “natural man” is an “enemy to God” (Mosiah 3:19). Yet, try as I might, I continued to be attracted to girls, and aroused by the thought of them, causing me to feel impure and ashamed.
As a teenager, I was curious about what a naked woman might look like and how sex would work. I had no detailed understanding of female anatomy, and sex was off-limits until after marriage. In this mystery, I was drawn to the bra ads that came in the mail, and whatever bikini pictures I could find on BBS’s (a way to share information before the Internet). Occasionally, I was lucky enough to stumble upon actual nudity. I felt immense shame for looking at these pictures, yet somehow I couldn’t help but be attracted to them and aroused by them, sometimes accompanied by masturbation.
After looking at these pictures, I would always get down on my knees and pray for forgiveness, because I felt so guilty and like I had offended God and done something awful. Usually, these prayers would bring me a measure of peace. But I knew I wouldn’t be completely forgiven until I confessed to my local bishop and then took the sacrament (bread and water) the following Sunday, as a deeper cleansing of my sins and renewing of my promises to follow the Savior. Confessing these sins to the bishop was humiliating, and I was reminded that sins of a sexual nature are considered next to murder in severity (Alma 39:2-5). I learned how I must work harder to reject this part of my nature.
To compensate for the shame I felt, I tried extra hard to be “righteous” and keep the commandments in all areas of my life, and be as good and clean as I could be. I listened to Classical music and hymns instead of rock. I read my scriptures and church books instead of novels. I avoided sports because they were too “violent”, and focused on my music instead. I prayed constantly, and attended the temple habitually, avoiding parties, dances, PG-13 movies, or anything that might take away the “Spirit”. But despite the outer appearance of what I tried to make perfection, I often felt impure on the inside because of this dirty secret I had to keep hidden. I couldn’t stop being attracted to girls, I couldn’t control my thoughts about them, and I sometimes acted out in secret by looking at arousing images. I thought I was somehow bad, and I even prayed for these feelings to go away so I wouldn’t be tempted by them anymore.
Eventually, I taught myself to look away when I saw something arousing, whether a provocative billboard, banner ad, or a woman’s cleavage. I’d hold my hands up to cover my eyes, or turn my face away almost in disgust for fear of feeling sexual attraction and committing a sin. I’d sing a hymn or recite scriptures I’d memorized to distract me from these feelings. This was effective to a degree, but left a damaging trail of consequences I never expected.
In my later teens, when I began dating, I was also careful to follow the rules I’d been taught by church leaders and seminary teachers. If I kissed a girl, I’d make sure I had both feet on the floor. I didn’t French kiss (actually, my current wife French kissed me once while we were dating, but I felt guilty about it and told her to stop, even though it felt nice). Hand holding and hugging became somewhat “sexual acts” for me, and I derived as much pleasure as I could from them while controlling my thoughts of wanting more.
Waiting for Sex
I very much looked forward to marriage, where all of these thoughts and feelings would suddenly become “okay” and where I would finally be allowed to look at a naked woman and to feel these feelings, not to mention intercourse itself. And I was encouraged by my church leaders to get married and have children as soon as possible. So immediately after my 2-year mission to Japan (where I worked every day to convert Japanese people to Mormonism), I began looking for a wife, and about one year later, I was married.
Neither of us had ever had sex before. I was 22 and she was 24. By that point, we were old enough to know how it worked, and were excited at the prospect. But we were also completely inexperienced and both of us had a lifelong habit of unconsciously repressing our sexuality. For example, one way Mormon women are taught to repress their sexuality is by dressing “modestly” (keep shoulders, knees, and stomach covered, and no tight-fitting or sheer clothing).
Our first sexual encounter was great as far as we knew, but we had nothing to compare it to. Looking back, it wasn’t all that sexy. We prayed before we got in bed to invite God to be with us there. And for years, we felt the presence of God in the room watching. In some ways, this helped make the experience more holy and connecting. However, this imaginary white-bearded chaperon mostly inhibited us from creating deeper levels of intimacy, self-expression, and authenticity, which we didn’t even realize were possible at the time.
But how could it have been any other way? Our entire lives, we had believed that sex and sexuality are bad until you’re married. We had become masters at suppressing these emotions and these parts of ourselves, to the point where we didn’t feel comfortable feeling or expressing them, even when we had permission to do so.
It wasn’t until several months after we left the church that I realized how much I had held myself back by suppressing my sexuality. I came to understand that I wasn’t accepting myself for who I was. I saw part of me as bad or evil, and couldn’t love it. Instead, I covered up and pushed down my emotions, leaving a big part of myself unexpressed and trapped inside. Even after leaving the church and dropping my beliefs about what is right and wrong sexually, I found myself feeling guilty for finding women attractive. These long-standing patterns didn’t go away overnight.
But over time, and through much therapy, writing, and feeling, I have come to accept that it’s okay to have a body, and all the instincts and sensations that come with it. It’s okay to be me. It’s okay to feel pleasure. It’s okay to be sexual. It’s okay to like sex. And it’s okay to have fun with it.
Now, depending on your beliefs concerning sexuality, you may not see anything wrong or damaging with the type of suppression I experienced. Yes, if we’re successful at keeping our sexual feelings at bay, we may avoid pre-marital or extramarital sex, children out of wedlock, and broken families. We learn self-control, and can focus more attention on spiritual things. But is this the whole picture? Can this ideal last forever? Does it always work this well? What is the flip side of this kind of control? My story is one example.
Another is the fact that Utah, where the highest percentage of Mormons reside, has the highest rate of pornography subscriptions than any other state in the U.S. In addition, the LDS church continuously lists pornography as one of the biggest problems within the church (they even launched a dedicated website to deal with the problem). I don’t see this as a coincidence. The emotions we suppress and try to hide (no matter which emotions they are) simply build up pressure inside of us until they either make us sick, or we act out our emotions in unhealthy ways, either in secret or in public. And because we believe we have done something wrong, this results in guilt and shame.
It’s All Okay
Now that I have faced these shadows within myself, felt these emotions fully, and released my judgments of them, I no longer see anything morally wrong with having sexual feelings, looking at pornography*, masturbating, or even having sex outside of marriage. Therefore, my shame is gone, and I feel more healthy, whole, alive, and peaceful than I did before. However, all of our choices have consequences, and taking anything to an extreme can be risky. Pornography and masturbation can be relaxing and fun alone or with a partner. Or they can be used to numb and cover over feelings we don’t want to feel, and can lead to unrealistic sexual expectations and a compulsive sexual addiction. Sex outside of marriage can be a way to get to know ourselves better, connect intimately with others, and deepen our sexual repertoire. It can also cause hurt feelings and confusing relationships, STDs, and pregnancy. We don’t have to make things “evil” and shameful to avoid them. We can choose mindfully. And we will learn from every choice we make.
I now accept that I find female bodies to be beautiful. I can appreciate a beautiful woman just as I can appreciate a beautiful landscape or a piece of art. I can allow myself to enjoy the pleasures that arise as I connect with a woman in whatever form (a passing by, a gaze, a word, a hug), becoming more present to the experience and to her and more aware of my own inner responses, witnessing them, rather than turning away in shame. When I feel aroused, I can enjoy this sensation inside myself only, or I could share how I’m feeling with the other person. It’s a choice. Because I’m in a committed monogamous relationship, I’m cautious about not sending out sexual vibes in my interactions with other women.
I’m also feeling more connected to my body in every sense. I’m now more comfortable expressing my sexuality through dance, dress, and in the act itself. Jen and I have found greater enjoyment and connection with each other as we’ve allowed ourselves to express our sexuality more fully. But we also realize we’re just beginning to understand all that’s possible in the power and pleasure of this type of vulnerable and intimate connection, from multiple and long-lasting orgasms to blissfully losing ourselves in the oneness of this sacred and spiritual union of souls.
From Shame to Love
It has been said that guilt is the feeling that we have done something bad, and shame is the feeling that we are bad. Neither feeling is pleasant, but both teach us about ourselves and our beliefs and are therefore important to feel and understand deeply. But once we’ve done that, and we understand why we’re feeling the shame and where it’s coming from, then it’s time to let our judgments go, to take responsibility for our choices, accept ourselves for who we are, and start being vulnerable and authentic in our relationships.
No more hiding. Be your authentic self. And love that self. We are good just as we are. Interestingly, when we stop judging ourselves and our actions as “wrong”, then we also tend to stop judging others for those same things and can reach a place of greater understanding, love, and compassion for them.
I have not completely eliminated feelings of sexual shame from my life. I still judge myself and my desires from time to time, but the shameful feelings are so much less intense than before, like a distant memory. When I feel an emotion like shame now, I no longer try to avoid the feeling, but I welcome it and seek to understand where it’s coming from and what it means. By welcoming all emotions, from joy and sexual pleasures to anger and shame, I become enabled to make appropriate decisions from a place of love and wholeness rather than a place of shame and shadow.
* Update: It’s important to be aware that sometimes pornography is created in conditions which do not respect the autonomy or consent of the individuals (human trafficking, etc.), and supporting it can affect more than just the viewer. That said, I believe there is nothing shameful in finding yourself aroused, especially by something that’s intended to be arousing.
Note: I understand that this post may have stirred some feelings, and will likely bring a variety of comments. I just want to state that all is welcome. For example, if you believe I’m living in sin and that porn is always damaging, or you want to share how you grew up as a sexually healthy Mormon, were helped through your challenges by Christ, or you think I interpreted the doctrines wrong, I welcome all of that. I’m not claiming eternal truth, just sharing my own experience and what I’m learning, and I respect that your beliefs and story are valid for you. Likewise, if you’ve struggled with feelings of shame surrounding your sexuality and have found my post comforting or helpful in letting go of that, I welcome your comments and invite you to share your experience also, either below or via email.
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Good post and I agree with (and have experienced) a lot of what you said. I’ve had a lot of discussions with people about sexual morality (including the WSJ and Today Show) and have come to a lot of the same conclusions, especially that treating sexuality as a hiss and a byword leads to immense guilt and shame and even depression.
Not only is Utah among the top states for pornography use and subscriptions, it’s also among the top for suicide and depression: http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/health/2007-11-28-depression-suicide-numbers_N.htm
While I don’t have any direct data on the correlation between porn, depression, and suicide… from my own personal experience, I can say a major factor for me has been dealing with the suppressed emotions caused by the acts that church leaders have labeled as grievous sin (next to murder! *gasp*). Assigning a natural condition present in all life forms (and one of the most basic ones at that) as one of the most horrendous sins EVER is pretty messed up.
Okay, it sounds like I was bashing there (I admit, I kind of was); I do think the repression of those feelings when done based on the premise of sin and eternal damnation does lead to a really messed up perspective. However, choosing to repress those feelings because it’s what works for you, has it’s benefits. It’s the difference between working for sex and making sex work for you.
On another note: pornography. I find this statement interesting: “I no longer see anything morally wrong with […] looking at pornography.”
This is something I’ve been looking into for some time. If there’s not a big bearded old white-man in the sky dictating what you can/can’t do with your genitals, is there then, any moral downside to pornography? At first, I was inclined to say no; however, the more I started delving into that subject, the more I realized how rotted the industry is. I have learned that a substantial amount of online pornography is created by illegal sex trafficking, and that the women in the industry are heavily abused psychologically and physically.
Of course, not all porn companies fall into this category. But which ones do and which ones don’t? Right now there is no way to tell; so I ask, would it not be morally right to stay away from it? I’m not judging or condemning you for your thoughts or decision to look at porn, but it is something to think about. I’d be interested in your thoughts.
Also, in my mind there is a difference between porn and naked people. Religion often lumps the two together.
A couple links you may find interesting:
Thanks for your comments, Chris. I almost included the depression stat myself so I’m glad you mentioned it. I find it interesting also that the next highest rates after Utah are in the Bible belt.
As for the morality of pornography, I haven’t done much research into how the industry operates, so you could certainly have a point there. Of course, what you see as morally wrong depends on your personal morals. But I appreciate the distinction between hard core pornography and pictures of naked people. I’ve never purchased pornography myself, and have been confused at why someone would pay money for it when there is so much available for free online. And I also wonder how much (if at all) the industry is supported if someone just looks at the free stuff.
It doesn’t matter if you are religious or not (we aren’t). Porn is a HUGE problem at both the individual and societal level and there are a lot of problems in the industry. You probably just haven’t found the correct middle ground going but it’s definitely harmful in many ways. I studied this in graduate school and am familiar with the research. You need to stop. Everyone does. Our culture normalizes it far too much. I can tell from your writing that you have problematic views of women which likely stems both from the church and your consumption of pornography. Just try and do more research on everything you consume. I don’t understand why people think about what they put in their mouth/food but not what they put in their minds!!
Cool, I love research. Would you like to post some links to relevant studies? I agree that porn can have damaging consequences on both levels. My point is that these consequences are an important part of deciding whether or not to participate, and that shaming someone because simply because they believe porn is inherently “wrong” is an ineffective and harmful approach. Also, B&K, based on your research and experience, how do you feel about nudity in general? Are you familiar with any studies about sexualization and pornography usage in indigenous cultures or among naturalists? In your opinion, at what point does nudity become porn or art? Would you define it based on the image itself, or does it depend on the intention it was created for? Or could it be any of the above depending on the response it invokes in the individual beholder in the moment it’s viewed?
Thank you for being so open with your experiences and emotions. That takes a lot of courage.
I find it interesting that you and I grew up together, yet we had such different experiences with this. (I think this has a lot to do with gender roles within the church.) The underlying theme of “sex = sin” was obviously the same for both of us, but I was always a bit more lax with the rules (I never had sex before marriage, but by the time I graduated high school, I was an expert french kisser), and didn’t feel guilty about most of it.
However, your experience is not uncommon. I have met quite a few men (since it’s mostly the men who get chastised for this) who were raised in the church and who, in their thirties, still have issues with feeling guilty about sex- with their wife! There are also many other men who were raised in the church who did NOT have the negative experience with the sexual repression, but in my experience, with the men I’ve met and talked to about it, having guilt/frustration/shame/issues is actually more common than not.
I’m so glad you have been able to work through all of this and have come to a more healthy place in life :) (And I’m glad your sex life is better, even if it’s TMI, sometimes. Haha) Love you, brah!
I think you are brave Brandon and Jen both. I think leaving the comfort of your former life and explore and learn is awesome! I am saddened to think you both had shame for your selves, because you are both such great people. I think sexuality is part of human behavior. How would we have survived this long on the earth with out sex? Religion is just a fear mongering way of controlling people. I am so glad you broke free and are enjoying life and sex now ;-)
Interesting read, but I can’t say I agree. I have one big problem with your reasoning.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but you are basically saying:
“We shouldn’t resist the ‘natural man’ within us lest we inadvertently repress emotions (sexual or otherwise) that will build up over time due to guilt cycles. We should just ‘be ourselves,’ follow our instincts, and don’t resist inner desires.”
The reason I have a problem with that is because I believe the “natural man” is not only an enemy to God, it’s an enemy to society and even yourself. The “natural man” is that inner voice that desires all that is pleasurable, easy, and advantageous to us, and as it should: the natural man are those primal instincts that have developed over thousands of years that drive us to reproduce, eat fats and sugars, and horde resources. Just because my brain tells me “this potato chip is delicious, you should eat the whole bag” doesn’t mean I should. After, the natural man is only looking out for number 1, and he recognizes “oh, that’s a fat, evolution has taught me that fats are rare in nature, therefore you should eat as much as you can!” My point is, just because your brain desires something does not mean it is beneficial to you or society to do that thing. This is where our ideologies differ: I think it’s very important to have self-restraint for the greater good of yourself and society, even it means doing things you might not fully understand. I think it’s important to constantly re-evaluate ourselves (i.e. judge) in order to find where we can improve. Sure, having sex doesn’t (usually) result in anyone dying, but are you saying you can predict the effects wanton sexual promiscuity would have on a society over a long term? Perhaps you’re right and it would fix Utah’s pornography problem. Would it introduce other problems, though? If you’re wrong, what kind of impact would it have on society (and therefore individuals) long term? It’s hard to tell.
I think my solution is equally valid also, though – if people were to work towards more self restraint, how many STDs and unwanted pregnancies would be prevented? Unfortunately, people are weak, and my solution requires putting off the natural man (i.e. it’s hard, and people don’t like doing hard things instinctually). But, I believe nothing great (be it a person or computer program) can be produced without hard work, which is why I reject that line of thinking. Convincing yourself something is okay is much easier than working on your own self-discipline, wouldn’t you agree? The former only takes a few months, the latter could take a whole lifetime.
Also, like you said, the only reason your guilt went away is because you’ve convinced yourself that sexual acts are not immoral, regardless of if they really are or not. It like a society that legalizes something that was once illegal – whereas before guilt may have existed when the illegal act was committed, the guilt is now gone now that it is legal. The morality of the act remains the same regardless of the legality, be it murder or marijuana. Your article on healing sexual shame is akin to me writing an article about “healing guilt brought by traffic violations” by writing “I used to feel guilty when I would drive over the speed limit and treat stop signs like yields. Now I’ve convinced myself that it isn’t immoral to break traffic laws, so therefore I no longer feel guilty and I can drive as fast!”
It comes down to this, I think:
– I believe that we should eliminate guilt by working at becoming better at self control so that we can avoid doing the acts that cause the guilt
– You believe, in general, that we should eliminate guilt by convincing ourselves that the acts which bring guilt aren’t immoral
Take it for what it’s worth-
After all* (not “After)
Instinctively* (not “Instinctually”)
as fast as I want* (not “as fast”)
Sorry, I wrote this kind of fast.
Hi Bryan, I actually agree with you about the value of self-control and working hard to overcome bad habits, etc., and that this can reduce guilt. But I think you misinterpreted what I was trying to say.
I’m not saying that we should follow every animal instinct we have. I’m saying that by releasing judgment that these things are bad and shameful, it allows us to make decisions from a more well-rounded perspective, taking all options into account. Self-discipline certainly still comes into play, as we may still choose to go against the “natural man” in some choices. Like I said in the post, “We don’t have to make things ‘evil’ and shameful to avoid them. We can choose mindfully.”
By removing judgment, I don’t mean that we ignore the consequences of our choices. I mean that we stop labeling choices as eternally right or wrong in every case for every person. By removing these labels, we remove the shame, allow greater freedom and growth, and we make way for fuller love and more complete understanding of ourselves and our fellow human beings.
I see nothing morally wrong with running a traffic light or having extramarital sex. But I see potentially negative consequences in doing so, and therefore I avoid it. But if I want a little more excitement or danger in my life and am willing to face the consequences (or if I’m driving away from a tornado in the traffic light example), I may choose to do so, guilt-free. One of humanities greatest capacities is the ability to choose. Filling those choices with guilt and shame limits us from our full potential, and cuts us off from a fuller enjoyment of life.
I’m so happy for you and all you’ve been able to learn. I’ve seen how painful and difficult it has been for you, and I’m amazed by your progress. I didn’t feel nearly as repressed as you in my sexuality, but your journey is helping me see things more clearly, and to grow in many important ways. Thank you for being such a catalyst. :) It’s so nice to finally be learning these new things and transforming all that repressed energy into something beautiful for ourselves and our relationships, and of course in our relationship with each other.
As I’ve been learning more about sexuality these past few years, I’ve come to appreciate even more the powerful and integral part of human existence that it is. Along with that, I’ve come to feel that instead of being feared, repressed and shamed, sexuality is healthier when encouraged, celebrated and embraced. It makes sense to me that when we reflect that attitude in our thoughts and conversations, we’re empowered as individuals to fully accept and make the most of this amazing gift. I’m finding great value in the experiences and understanding I’m gaining, as I allow myself to be more authentic and vulnerable in this area. It’s helping me overcome inhibitions and open up to a greater expression of who I am.
I love seeing how you’ve opened up to embrace this part of yourself more fully, and I completely agree with your statement that “I’ve come to feel that instead of being feared, repressed and shamed, sexuality is healthier when encouraged, celebrated and embraced.” Beautiful comment, thanks.
It’s funny, I was talking with my son about this very thing just last night. How I was always made to feel ashamed and “sinful” for having those feelings when I was LDS. I explained to him that I simply got tired of the shame for just being who I was and feeling the way I felt, so I walked away. Still, even after more than 20 years, I still find myself in moments of shame for having sexual thoughts, or wanting to express any sexual needs.
It’s interesting how far reaching the effects of this childhood shaming can be. In addition to growing up in a religion that shames sexuality, however, I think society in general looks down on the subject of sex. It has certainly become less shameful over the years, in some circles, but it’s still quite a taboo subject overall. And this has an affect on how comfortable we are embracing this part of ourselves.
It’s funny – I actually never felt any of these feelings of needing to repress things as an LDS youth. I do wish my parents had actually taken the time to explain sex and so forth to me so that I didn’t have to go looking to learn and understand it on my own – but I hold my parents accountable for that, not the church. I never felt that having sexual feelings was wrong or immoral – but rather natural, and something I would happily wait to enjoy fully until I was married, in a loving committed relationship where I could trust the most intimate parts of me to one person who I knew wouldn’t judge or use/abuse me. Maybe I merely grew up in a different environment than you – but I don’t believe the church teaches sex=sin, or even having sexual feelings=sin, but rather that having sexual feelings is normal and natural, and by controlling the urges until we are married we will be able to more fully enjoy the intimacy that sex will bring in a committed monogamous relationship.
I also feel that it was never the church’s responsibility to teach parents HOW to teach their children about sex, just as the church doesn’t teach them HOW to teach children anything else other than the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
As a child of a broken family (which I believe you are also), and now in a more solid family, I believe the teachings of the Gospel, particularly the Law of Chastity, have blessed my life immensely. It is not just the Law of Chastity, or the Word of Wisdom or all the other rules/commandments – it is the use of these commandments to teach love for God and one another. The obedience to the rules is not what has brought me happiness – it is the way obeying those rules with a sincere heart has taught me and my family to truly love and care for one another. My family broke not because of disobedience to commandments, but because of a lack of love, compassion, respect, repentance and forgiveness. These principles are what help my family get through the day to day struggles we experience because we live in a world where people are not perfect in remembering to love one another.
Hi Tenille, I’m glad to hear your had such healthy views about sexuality growing while up in the church. We all interpret the doctrines and scriptures differently depending on our personalities and how they are taught to us. I didn’t consciously feel suppressed growing up, but I did feel ashamed for what I now see as natural feelings. Blaming the church or my teachers does no good, as others heard the same teachings and interpreted them differently. But I do hope to bring some awareness to how these teachings are often interpreted, and the damaging effects this can have. So I appreciate your more balanced views, and recognize that they have served you well.
I really resonate with your statement that it wasn’t your obedience that brought you happiness, but the intention with which you obeyed. I think our intent has an immense impact on how we feel, and on whether or not we feel guilt and shame.
We might feel guilt in “helping” someone if we think we’re not doing it well enough, or if we don’t really want to be there and are just doing it out of duty or fear of some kind of punishment. Likewise, we might feel no shame in masturbating if we’re doing it with the conscious intent to improve our connection to ourselves, or to practice becoming a better lover (assuming we don’t have an underlying belief that it’s “wrong”).
And certainly, we could all benefit from showing others and ourselves more love, compassion, and the other great virtues you listed. Thanks for shining your light. :)
I can relate to basically everything in this post. Thank you for having the courage to write it! Sitting in the bishops office as a per teen having to talk about these things with an older man was humiliating and I am thankful my daughters will not have to go through that. There has to be a better way to encourage teenagers to make smart decisions than through shame. When you figure it out please write a lengthy post about it!:)
I’m no expert, but what we’re trying to do is give our kids plenty of opportunities to make choices and learn from their mistakes while they’re young and the stakes are low. I want to encourage my kids to explore their sexuality responsibly, safely, and respectfully (and that does take some education on the effects their choices can have), but ultimately, it’s up to them to decide how they want to lead their lives — it is their life after all.
Dear Brandon and Jen,
Thank you for sharing this!
I was raised in a society that condemn anything related to sexuality. The repression, the shame, the guilt that you experienced — I can relate to those for I myself experienced them.
And I do agree with what Jen’s said, “…instead of being feared, repressed and shamed, sexuality is healthier when encouraged, celebrated and embraced.”
Some may confuse “love” over “lust”, and as I read this piece, and knowing how you and Jen love each other, I do believe that it’s sex based on love — not based on lust only.
So happy for you both.
As a young teenager in Mormonism, I was taught that if I see a pretty girl and find myself aroused or thinking… http://t.co/eaaVN4yvtZ
Some of the reactions on here, particularly Brian Gillespie, are missing the point entirely. Saying there is no such thing as sin is not the same thing as saying “anything goes.” Rather, it is seeing life through a lens of choice and consequence rather than cosmic reward and punishment. My personal story regarding sexual shame is very similar to Brandons and I have arrived at very similar conclusions.
I detest the notion that men and women are inherently evil (Joseph Smith himself changed his tune later in his life and his later teachings do not reflect that Book of Mormon reference). It is a manipulative tool that religions use to assert their doctrines and I’m sorry for anyone that subscribes to that belief. If you didn’t believe God was telling you to not rape and murder, would you go out and do it? I doubt it; and neither would most people on the planet. Learning self-restraint is a good thing, but this can be viewed entirely in terms of choices and consequences. There is no need to insert a manipulative myth in the middle of it all to inject liberal amounts guilt and shame for simply being a product of nature.
Inserting God between people and their choices threatening them with punishment for sin does not make people inherently more moral. You and me and everyone on this planet are “natural” men and women. You will always, always be that way. The good choices you make are just as much a product of the “natural man” as the bad ones are. Most people have a sense of empathy / sympathy and judgment that allows us to make good choices. We also have the ability observe outcomes, predict consequences and plan for the future. God is not a requirement for good. In fact, sometimes God gets in the way of good, and Brandon’s experience (and my own) are examples of that.
Incidentally, on the pornography question, I agree that the evil of porn is not that it shows people engaging in sexual acts but that it often is created under abusive and harmful circumstances.
I could argue that the perspective Brandon outlines is in fact a departure from the natural man and Brian’s is a gravitation toward more basic human instincts. I could argue that the natural man is fearful and looks for an external authority to tell him what to do (i.e. religion), thus giving to an institution something that is rightfully their own; their innate goodness (i.e. morality).
Why is it that when a religious person experiences something good in their life, they give the credit to God, but when they experience something bad, they take the blame on themselves?
I think the higher road is for people to own their own morality. Do not offload the good or bad onto God and/or Satan. Realize that you are a good person, that you are a sexual being, that you are a learning and progressing being and that you deserve credit for the good and bad that you do, because it all comes from you.
Sounds like our experiences paralleled except for the part that I was promised that when I got married I’d turn straight. Actually not having sexual thoughts about a woman was not a problem but being my authentic natural self was not an option. Still isn’t but we’re getting there. Great post. Thankyou
Brandon, for many this topic represents so much pain. My favorite quote from John Larsen goes like this, “Religion (Mormonism) takes what is yours, repackages it and sells it back to you.” As Daniel suggested above, morality is not an external control it is intrinsic. History will judge you not god. The way you treat your fellow humans will be your legacy.
I left the church at 16. I suffered the repressive sexual guilt as I became aware of my sexuality. Guilt for masturbation was extreme. I am amazed it didn’t crush me. More importantly, the first 10 years of my marriage were sexually repressed and unsatisfying. Not because were were active Mormons but because of the years of damaging messages we both ingested while being Mormon. Like you, a little therapy and a lot of communication helped resolve that. While I think that those who engage in swinging and other “alternative lifestyles” are free to do so and I don’t judge them for it. I am deeply committed to the woman I married and its not for us. But being free sexually doesn’t mean sexual anarchy. It does mean that where two or more consenting adults choose explore is fine.
The reality of sexual repression is that is succeeds in creating harm. It does not succeed in preventing unwanted pregnancies nor does it really curb the spread of STD’s. Education does. Education also helps inform society as to what is “normal” what is “Harmful” and helps develop empathy. It is not through controlling messages of modesty and chastity that we elevate humanity it is through empathy. It is through those expressions of empathy that we are truly moral.
I am raising children now. 3 are out on their own. They have not been saddled with sexually repressive messages. Two are in committed relationships. I have always encouraged them to “Date… Date… and co-habitate.” I have encouraged them to find out before hand if they are compatible both sexually and emotionally. I also subscribe the to notion that humans are serially monogamous. As a result, there may come a point a relationship has run its course. It is okay to acknowledge that and to move on.
It is for the harm that is perpetuated, that I continue to openly and militantly speak out against these negative sexual messages. They are harmful. They mar the individual in their core.
Very well said, Kevin. Thanks for your comment.
Woah, Brandon! You’ve told us more than we needed to know. Naturally, most of us have had a struggle with the issues you mention. Some just don’t feel the need to announce it on Facebook. A strong sexual drive is necessary to keep the world populated. However, boundaries are set to protect children and preserve the family. The moral code given in the Ten Commandments is still in force for many people on earth today, notwithstanding the rise of secularism. I know you to be an avid reader. Have you recently read the New Testament, particularly the Epistles of Paul? The Apostle Paul had an unusual grasp of things relative to our day. Also, you might expand your reading to include a book called Visions of Glory by John Pontius. It’s not what you might expect.
With regard as your friend and teacher,
Hi Morris, thanks for sharing your thoughts. I understand that some people may be uncomfortable with the fact that I publicly shared something so personal, but after suppressing and hiding so much for so long, publishing this post was powerful step toward acceptance and love for myself, and I hope has encouraged others to accept and love themselves, just as they are, including their beautiful sexuality.
I’m not opposed to setting boundaries around sexuality, but I am against the judgment, guilt, and shame that are placed upon people who choose other paths. While boundaries may be set “to protect children and preserve the family”, the fact is that they often don’t accomplish this goal very well, especially when the boundaries are given by authority figures rather than chosen by the individual. As indicators of this, I present high divorce rates, numerous children and adults who are harmed by staying in abusive relationships because they think they’re “supposed” to, and people who live in fear of the societal or eternal guilt or punishment that arises when they experience natural bodily sensations.
Whatever Paul meant in his writings about women and marriage (there are many interpretations), it’s what worked for him, and that’s great. We all need to decide what works for us, and I think any way is fine, as long as individual freedom is respected. It’s when we try to impose our way on others that the damage is done.
What a wonderfully honest piece. This is a great piece that I’m sure will be helpful to many people. I grew up as a Catholic, and despite leaving it behind, some of the guilt inherent within that faith still lingers within me. That, couple with being British (a nation famous for its prudishness) has meant that becoming comfortable with my sexuality is something I’ve had to work on to (and am still working on). Thank you for sharing and showing people like me we’re not alone.
Brandon – I respect and admire your honesty and your vulnerability and how deeply introspective you are. Thank-you for this post.
I can identify with SO much of this story. My background isn’t LDS – but rather evangelical (charismatic) Christian… and sex – and sexual feelings and masturbation (and, and, and…) were all things that were deeply frowned upon and regarded as terrible sins.
All this shaming has had tremendous negative repercussions – but my husband and I have since parted ways with our religion and have come such a LONG way towards healing.
Again – thank-you for your frankness… your open heart (and open mind) – and your vulnerability. You’re not afraid to dig into the depths of your soul and to share your story with others.
Thank-you for being brave with your life – so that others can be brave with theirs.
I agree with some of the things you have said like the reason pornography is so potent in the religion, but I wish that you made it clear that the way you behaved when you were Mormon before marriage was on the extreme end of things. Was the way you chose to be at that time. The church does encourage those things to help one to stay away from “sin,” but I would say majority of Mormons do not take it to the level, ie PG-13 movies, singing a hymn if you felt impure, etc, that you did. I just don’t like that this will give those non-LDS people an idea that we are all that extreme. I’m glad you have found your sexuality.
Certainly not all LDS are as extreme as I was. I hope I made this clear in the first couple paragraphs. Still, as a young man, I can’t tell you how many times I heard from church leaders (including prophets) that I should sing a hymn whenever I had a sexual thought. (See https://www.lds.org/new-era/1989/05/qa-questions-and-answers?lang=eng). Shunning PG-13 movies and certain dating rules mostly came as suggestions from numerous bishops and seminary teachers (although some of this advice can be found in the general level also). And all for good reason when verses like Matthew 5:28 and Mosiah 3:19 are truly believed.
Of course not everyone in the church follows or even hears this advice. Some don’t take it seriously and trust their own judgment more than their leaders (which I now see this as a good thing). But I wanted to be as good as I could be so tried to obey every direction that was given, because I believed it was inspired and for my highest good. (Because that’s what I was told.)
While I agree that it’s not fair to say that everyone in the church is extreme, it’s also not fair to say that it doesn’t encourage extremism in some form. Then again, what is extreme to one is normal to another — it’s simply a matter of perspective.
I think it is awesome that you have used your platform to speak so authentically. Vulnerability is a powerful thing! I have dealt with sex addiction, pornography addiction and even been involved in ministries reaching out to those in homosexual lifestyles. I have learned two things, (1) childhood shaming is incapacitating into adulthood, and, (2) surrender to, and acceptance of, the unconditional love of Jesus Christ is the answer to healing.
While I agree with your overall premise, in my opinion you’ve swung too far the other way. If you get into a moral relativist situation you end up with absurd arguments about beastiality being okay because no one is “harmed.” Without saying so expressly, you seem to make a necessary distinction between art and pornography. Art that depicts the nude human form can be beautiful. Pornography, made for the express and only purpose of sexual arousal, is degrading to the viewer and the participants. Also, if you believe in scripture, this is a form of adultery.
Religion, and based on my experience with folks in and coming from LDS backgrounds the Mormon Church in particular, can scar people by inserting judgment and condemnation where there is none to be found. Jesus Christ recruited Matthew, a tax collector who hung out with drunks and prostitutes, to be his disciple. Song of Solomon is a text devoted to showing that sex and intimacy between a husband and wife is a beautiful thing. (I lost count of the number of times breasts are referenced) But sex and intimacy are reserved for a loving, committed marriage relationship in which that special, sacred bond can be deepened by connecting on a sexual level. Proverbs 5:15-22 gives a strict warning about adultery, but it has to be understood in the context of a father who loves his son advising him based upon his life experience. It’s not a judgment or condemnation, it’s a “Don’t do this because it’s not good for you, I love you and don’t want you to get hurt” speech.
Based upon my experience, I have seen many, many lives destroyed because of non-marital or extra-marital sex. I have seen many, many lives blessed by the proper use of sex within the sacred context of marriage.
A church that teaches (only) the Bible, should not neglect sex. If we leave the conversations about sex to the “World” we know what that conversation will look like.
Until more people like yourself engage in open and honest dialogue about the issues and the failure of churches and religions to effectively instruct our youth, the cycle will not end. I know that you are on a journey of discovery. I hope that you will look back to the Bible and see the wisdom contained between its covers. The more I read and study the wisdom in the Bible the more convinced I am that it can only be the inspired, inerrant word of God. I don’t think anyone was ever more in tune with being in “the moment” than Jesus; it seemed like everything important happened “on the way to…” somewhere. Jesus had plans, life happened, and he embraced that moment to impact the lives in front of him.
Thank you for your post and letting me comment. You and your family have had an amazing ride! All the best for the next chapter(s)!!
Thanks for sharing your experience about how damaging shame can be. I also agree that surrender, acceptance, and unconditional love can heal. And while I’m sure many have been healed through directing this love toward Jesus Christ, I don’t see that as a necessary component, just one of many tools that can help us get to the point of unconditionally loving and accepting ourselves and others.
As for beastiality or zoophilia, I don’t think it’s something I would ever do personally, but if someone wants to experience that, and isn’t forcing the animal, why make it a matter of shame or of right and wrong? Doesn’t that just do more harm than good, cause emotional problems, and make the act even more enticing for some simply because it’s forbidden?
Certainly, many people who engage in sexual acts (from beastiality and extra marital sex to looking at pornography and “lusting”) do so without thinking through the consequences, and this can be detrimental to themselves and others. But I don’t see these things as wrong in and of themselves. And often no harm at all is done (except for the possible shaming by others who judge the behavior as wrong).
As far as the Bible being “the inspired, inerrant word of God”, I would argue with that point. Of course there are some wonderful teachings in in the Bible, but there’s some pretty abhorrent stuff too, like God commanding his people to rape, murder, and pillage, take slaves, etc. (See http://www.evilbible.com for some references.) I wouldn’t use it as my textbook for morality, but I do glean inspiration from its pages and appreciate the wisdom that’s there.
“As for beastiality or zoophilia, I don’t think it’s something I would ever do personally, but if someone wants to experience that, and isn’t forcing the animal, why make it a matter of shame or of right and wrong? Doesn’t that just do more harm than good, cause emotional problems, and make the act even more enticing for some simply because it’s forbidden?” By extension of the same argument, someone could argue that they wanted to experience sex with a toddler; they didn’t force the toddler to have sex with them. If we forbid that, doesn’t it cause more harm by making people want to do those acts…… Obviously, as with other moral relativist arguments for unrestrained satiation of human appetites, you have slipped down the moral slope into a world where there is no right or wrong. While shame doesn’t have to be a component, there must be a component of right and wrong.
If nothing is right or wrong, then there is no good or evil. If there is no good or evil, there is no God; as Richard Dawkins says, we’re just dancing to our DNA.
I truly believe that there are things that are actually evil and wrong. Therefore, in order to differentiate things, there has to be a transcendent law giver that classifies things as good and bad. I believe that this is the same creator of the universe described in Genesis. While the evilbible site does pull out many of the problems of the old testament, John 1:14-17 talks about a new law based on grace and truth that replaces the old: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John bore witness about him, and cried out, ‘This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.”) For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” Romans 8:1-3 expounds: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.”
The most important “law” from the lips of the manifestation of God on Earth was LOVE. The harm of pornography is to the soul of the person engaging in it and the soul of the person selling their body to be used as a sex object. There is no LOVE in pornography. It is dirty, masochistic, misogynistic, and damaging.
I hope you understand that all of what I say comes from a place of love for your, your family, and your journey. I wish you the best of luck as you wrestle with your beliefs. Hope you have safe and fun travels!!
The point I’m making isn’t that some choices aren’t damaging to ourselves and others. Only that they aren’t universally “right” or “wrong”. Can’t we make decisions based on the potential consequences of our actions, rather than because some outside authority (either human or God) said that this is right and that is wrong? I suppose you could say that by choosing, we follow own internal sense of right and wrong (so it exists in that sense), and if so, I’d say that’s good enough.
Of course, if we take away right and wrong, not everyone will make the choices you would. People will hurt each other, maybe even intentionally. But making something “wrong” doesn’t prevent that. (And it causes other problems, as you’ve seen.) I think that by removing a belief in a universal/eternal right and wrong, people become more responsible for their own choices, learn better from their mistakes, and are hopefully enabled to make better choices in the future. And we can all learn from each other.
Now, perhaps at a symbolic level, we’re both on the same page. By “walking according to the Spirit” we eliminate the need for a “law” or for “right and wrong”, and we begin living according to a higher law (our own intrinsic law, which is love, and which takes into account the good of all). I just don’t believe we need Jesus to reach this point, but he may be a good example of someone who’s done it.
I would forget religion and turn to science and politics next. In the past there was a need for both sexual restraint to avoid diseases which could not be treated in those times and to ensure resources were available for pregnancies and it just happens that sex is how people get pregnant and can also be how people get diseases. Hygiene standards were not as good in the past, limited water supply to get washed etc, behaviour of individuals had to be managed to save the community from disease, certain STI’s can lead to children being born blind, foul smells and probably early death if not treated, sterility is another one. People in those times did not know why these things happened but they may have noticed a connection with sex, and blamed the act itself. People used to think fever was demonic possession and that was the origin of telling people to avoid food to starve out the demon , women were seen as having the power of the devil and people could not understand why women bleed once a month. People had taboos around lots of other things as well as sexuality, but this one is more lasting because there are lots of other emotions tied up with it like envy etc which were also seen as evil, and which are not pleasant for the person experiencing them. A lot what is in religious scriptures is about events that took place which people did not understand via the rational mind and the rational mind is prone to fear of what it does not understand. The rational mind has expended in the past few thousand years, down to genetic changes and diet providing the right stuff for it to grow, this is why things have changed so much now, but it turned out that religion is useful for social control so many choose to still preach it despite being able to see how most of it is not possible. Control of people via sexuality and gender role are very effecting for those with power to hold onto power, those on the right. A lot of it is about controlling women due to the fact increasing numbers of women are choosing not to have children, it just happens mammals evolved a sex instinct and that usually results in reproduction, the sex instinct though may not be as powerful as they once thought it was now its not as suppressed, its a bit like people on diets they crave food more than the rest of us. Our minds are able to put off sex or use things to not reproduce, a hard wired maternal or paternal instinct might not be there in mammals until they catch sight of their young, unless its highly socially encouraged via gender roles and banning contraception and then enforcing sexual restraint until marriage to make the sexual current appear stronger, when people get married and actually have sex they find after a while its not that overbearing impulse. If people find this out sooner, they can plan ahead and drop the birth rate, and thats whats happening. The world is so overpopulated its surprising anyone cares, but the reason the far right care so much is because they fear the white middle class population are disappearing and the white population in general, its a very racist agenda underpinning the current far right in america. To them too many intelligent white women are lapsing out of their reproductive “duties” and ending up either choosing not to reproduce or leaving it too late. This is the reason for the modern resurgence of the old ideas, it has nothing to do with faith in god, and everything to do with politics.
Wow! This is such an insightful and inspirational post. I too struggled with sexual shame when I was a kid. I felt deeply shamed by masturbation, and it led to some messed up sexual fantasies. Weird how that works- suppressing sexuality CAUSES strange sexual fantasies! Hence, why many people fantasize about rape and violence, despite being, in reality, very very messed up.
I greatly appreciate you sharing this part of your journey. While I did not grow up LDS, I grew up with a lot of guilt and shame around sexuality — and it is only now in my thirties that I feel like I’m healing from that. I know a lot of people are uncomfortable with talking about sexuality as openly as you have in this post, but I applaud you for your honesty and it’s this type of discussion that helps take the shame and guilt away from something so natural and positive as sexuality. Thank you!
Thank you. I appreciate hearing that, as I still continue to receive some flak for this article. :)
Thanks so much for sharing what you have.
It’s almost a revelation to me that I could perhaps see myself differently and allow myself to want sex and not see it as me being bad and disgusting and shameful. That fact that you have achieved that is the equivalent to walking up mount Everest in my book!
I’m not religious but I have been brought up in a Christian society. Around the time I went on a school trip run by a teacher and her family who were devout Christians (9-10 years), I had already been, and was in the process of being taught how to have sex, by another child of the same age. The school trip I went on turned out to be a trip where the children were overly encouraged to talk and think about god and sin and wrong doing. I came back from the trip believing I would die for Jesus. I was secretly I relationship with God, hiding that from my family.
I didn’t think that my sexual shame had anything to do with that experience but I think in hindsight alot of my beliefs that I was evil and bad for engaging in sexual acts also stems from the beliefs which were pumped into me on this trip.
I continue to strive to end my sexual pain and shame (It’s so bad now it’s effecting my wanting and ability to have a second child :( …)
Reading blogs like yours really do shine alot of hope for me and I cannot thank you enough for talking with such honesty and openess. Thanks so so much.