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Friday, April 19, 2013

Let's Talk About ...

by Shawn Tucker (bio)

Image by Mike Monaghan

The other night at Institute we had a very interesting discussion. My students asked the age-old chastity question about what physical intimacy is appropriate before marriage. They happened to ask the simultaneous question of what is appropriate inside of marriage. I find the second question to be easier to address than the first one, but in answering the second a new thought occurred to me about the first.

I told the students that it is my opinion that the church does not have very many specific or hard-and-fast rules about what intimacy is appropriate in marriage. It seems to me that for obvious reasons that intimacy should not involve other people either directly or indirectly. It also seems obvious that the expression of intimacy should never be demeaning, manipulative, or coercive. Beyond that, it seems to me that every married couple must communicate openly about sexual expression, about what each person wants or needs or finds satisfying. I also told my students that these discussions are probably ongoing throughout a marriage.

When I then turned to address the first question, the students proposed a number of different rules or guidelines that they had heard. Such guidelines help them to determine what physical intimacy would be appropriate before marriage. When it became clear that those guidelines were far from identical, I proposed to the students that discussions similar to those that married people have might also be just as essential. It seems like two people who love one another and want to express that love physically while keeping the covenants that they have made with the Lord need to have open discussions about how to do that. I also expressed my opinion that this may be like Sabbath observance in that righteous or worthy people might reasonably disagree. Given that that is the case, I also proposed that students should anticipate some difficult conversations around this area. Those difficulties should not necessarily mean that one is righteous while the other is not, that one is prudish and guilt-ridden while the other is not, but simply that reasonable and righteous people can disagree.

What struck me about this idea was first that it had never occurred to me when I was dating (though there were impromptu discussions, especially with non-LDS girlfriends), second that I never recall hearing it from anyone before I was married, and third that this could be an excellent preparation for similar discussions which would happen after one got married. Helping righteous young people anticipate reasonable disagreements and difficult yet important discussions around sexuality might give them the sort of expectations and tools that might make them more successful in their relationships and in making sexual expression as exalting as possible.

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