Let’s Stop Talking About Chastity as a Means to Preserve Purity

A good friend of mine emailed me about this article. She said, “I loved the essay, but your title was horrendous. Please re-post with a better title so that people feel compelled to read it.” I laughed, decided she was right and there you go.

We drove to California yesterday.

The drive went as most of our long excursions tend to go. Too many restroom breaks at bathrooms of ill repute. The kids watching the same movie in the back seat over and over and over again. Riley rolling his eyes every time I gasp because I am SURE that we almost hit that car in the other lane. You know, the usual.

By the time we got to Vegas, the kids had only made me turn around and angry whisper once. I stared out the window from our place of relative peace and contemplated our surroundings. The freeway through the heart of Vegas was busy, full of people rambling home after a weekend of food and drink. We all drove under billboards that advertised adult toy stores, cheap liquor and women in thigh highs with breasts the size of volkswagons.

Las Vegas is many things and there are several aspects of it that I enjoy when I find myself there. Good food, good shops, even a nod to the arts with a Da Vinci or Monet exhibit here or there. But in the end, the business of Vegas is gambling and sex. I’ve got thoughts on the gambling, but they are pretty short and sweet. You know, don’t do it. The sex thing is a little more nuanced. I think it is easy to look down on a place that sells the opportunity to have meaningless sex. I don’t think it is easy to explain all the looking down when you are asked to articulate the feeling.

What does the term “meaningless sex” even, you know, mean?

As I drove under those huge knockers and legs apart, I shook my head at the transient nature of the pleasure they sold. But isn’t all pleasure, even my pleasure, transient? Surely, that is the nature of all things in this life. The meal that made you tip your head back with delight. The night of laughter with friends from your childhood. Watching a sunset with sand in your hair and a little burn on your skin. Every single thing we do in this life leaves us or is left behind.

So what is the difference between the afternoon spent with your spouse under covers and out of all your inhibitions and a passionate encounter with someone you’ll never see again?

What makes sex in marriage more meaningful than sex out of it?

As we headed out of the city, our car was surrounded by mid size cars holding men a little younger than me and men a little older. Always the driver stared straight ahead and the others in the car slumped against windows and into each other in sleep. They had all had a big weekend. I thought about the people in the city that had come to find a night of lights, a willing stranger, a room and a bed.I felt a little sorry for my imaginary sub-group of pleasure seekers and then felt ashamed. The feeling of pity comes from a place of superiority and surely, I am not superior to anyone. Ask any living person that has spent even two minutes with me and they will happily attest to that fact. I think every one of those imagined tourists  would have taken my sorry and thrown it in my face. As well they should. Those emotions do not have a place in a discussion about sexuality.

Riley weaved in and out of lanes and I tried to navigate my feelings. So what if one has to go back to regular life in a sedan after a weekend of relative debauchery? Again, don’t we all go back to life after our escapes? Every time Riley and I escape to a hotel we eat food in bed, tear each others clothes off and then wake up in the morning to go home to a mortgage and cheerios on the floor. And on the drive home, I am usually slumped over in the car asleep having been exhausted after our various, ahem, exertions.

The girls chattered in the back seat and I shook my head. Zuzu piped up,

“Mom, why are you shaking your head?”

“I am trying to figure out how to explain something important to you girls. I want you to have everything you deserve, but sometimes you need to know why you deserve something before you can understand why you want it. I can feel what I want to say, but I haven’t found the right words for when you ask about it.”

“Okayyyyy….”

I looked out the window again and tried to remove myself from preconceived notions and the talk of sunday school teachers from my youth.

And then the words came.

Hello daughters in the not so distant future. I am so glad you asked me why we encourage you stay celibate until marriage. You should always ask questions. I hope you never do as you are told simply because you were, you know, told. You know our religious beliefs and how they guide us in all things, including this issue. But even if we didn’t believe what we believe, I would still sit down and tell you I hope you wait. It isn’t because I think having sex before marriage makes you less pure or takes away from your value. Honey, we are all smudged by mortality. Purity as derived from Old French means “unalloyed”, metal that has not been mixed. Baby girl, you’re made of stuff much finer than any metal and there isn’t a thing you could do to change that fact. That is a truth of both science and spirituality. As to your value, it was determined and set for eternity the moment you were created. You are helpless to detract from it. Girls, that is the kind of helplessness you can and should revel in.

It is really the only kind.

I hope you wait to have sex until you meet a man worthy of you, because, in so many ways, sex is the power to create. I am not just talking about procreation, although heaven knows that is a divine thing. I am also talking about the creation that comes from speaking the language of sex with someone that walks with you through life. The creation of a space where time doesn’t seem to touch. A place that is forgiving and forthright and takes every mark mortality has given you both and acknowledges and consecrates them. A refuge that is only built after time and trust and love above each other.

The act of sex is at once vulnerable and empowering. It is a place where you can be fulfilled and act to fulfill. It is an opportunity to acknowledge and validate desire. It is a time when you can be stripped down to your core until it seems there is nothing left. It is a way to express just a portion of the force that makes you up, the steel and fire that compose you. It is something you give and something you take.

People will tell you that sex is sacred and they are right, but the act does not stand apart from you. Sex is sacred because YOU are sacred. If you decide to wait, I hope it is a decision that you reach because you understand who you are. You do not abstain because some man hopes to marry a virgin. This act of consecration has nothing to do with the desires of the opposite sex. You are not made to bend for the wants of men. No, rather, that choice has everything to do with an acknowledgement of your true self.

When you do get married, expect – no, demand – marriage in its fullest sense. Marriage is a commitment, not just to be faithful to each other and pay the mortgage together. It is a commitment to build, a commitment to pioneer, a commitment to breathe for one another through the depths and shout out in happiness when you have touched the sky. Sex is the language you speak when words have no hold on the experience of a shared existence. It is the expression of the inexpressible. It is funny and passionate and starbursts and slow and fast. And sometimes, it is the warmth that sustains you through the cold. When you have sex with someone who doesn’t know you, doesn’t cherish you, isn’t beloved by you, it is like speaking Greek in a place that doesn’t know the difference between alpha and omega. An interesting exercise, but without much point beyond the moment.

But isn’t life just a series of moments? Why does it matter what one contains when it will just be followed by another and another and another?

Here’s the thing. I think we get to leave the dross of this existence behind when we leave it. I do not believe in a reality in which we are haunted by the missteps of a mortal life. I do believe that when we live well and powerfully here, we are able to glimpse our true nature and gleaming truth of a reality beyond our current comprehension.Your heart will break in mortality, you will endure loss that claws and regret that eats. I can’t keep you from those things. But we are bigger than this experience and there are moments we create here that echo eternity back to us. Moments that build upon one another in the circle of those who share them with us. I cannot tell you how comforting those bright bits of insight are when tears seem ready to drown my heart. I want as much of that truth, and that seeking of truth, for you in this life as is humanly possible. I’ve found more opportunity for that shining sight in the arms of your father and in the life we have built together between all the “in the arms” business than I can ever tell.

And, darling girls, that is just the beginning of what you deserve.

And guess what? If you don’t “wait”, everything will be okay. Because every day is new. If one morning you wake up and decide that you want all the things I’ve wanted for you since you were born, you can have them. We are all bungling along here the best we can and this life is not a zero sum game. You get to change your mind and get to go out and find what you want. But, “Mom!” You say, “What if I never wake up wanting the things you hope for me? What if I don’t seek for truth the way you seek for it? What if I am happy differently?”

Oh, sugar babies, that is alright, too. I will love you no matter what space in this life you occupy and I will always hold you up to the light so that I can see better through you.

Because you will always be so much more than I deserve.

 

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6 Comments


  1. While this title is undoubtedly better, it still begs the question: how do you justify what you wrote here–that a girl’s physical/sexual purity does not determine her worth–while being part of, and indoctrinating your children with, a religious belief that states otherwise? Despite your good intention to teach your daughters values a bit grander than your church does, they’ll be indoctrinated with the belief that their self worth is determined by choices made about their bodies by teachers other than you. How do you counteract that? Or do you not?

    • Kate,

      What a great question! You know, Mormon doctrine in its purest form (without the influence of culture and the changing opinions of men and women that have difficulty seeing outside their own circumstance) absolutely supports what I have written here.

      The Mormon concept of the Atonement is so far reaching and the reason behind creation is so expansive, that the only conclusion that works within our doctrine is something like what I’ve written here. I am going to teach my children the beauty of those truths.

      One of the most enlightening things about the LDS faith is its foundational regard for personal revelation. There is no separate “they” or “the church”. Because of my ability to receive revelation, I am as much “the church” as anybody. And yes, of course, like in any organization there are many people within the church that will disagree with what I’ve taught my kids. And there are also many that wholeheartedly agree. But that diversity of thought and understanding is something we will all meet everywhere in life, right? Not just among those that adhere to certain religious traditions.

      I am going to teach my children to do the same thing in their spiritual life as they do in every interaction they have during this human experience. Love people even when you disagree with them. Seek to strengthen your convictions. Never be afraid of truth. And finally, accept that while the church and people within the church are absolutely fallible, the gospel and the eternal love of Christ and Heavenly Father are infallible, complete and utterly saving.

      These aren’t just good intentions. The value that I know we each hold comes FROM my understanding of the gospel, not in spite of it.

      Much love,

      meg

    • The thing with purity culture is that it is without a doubt not just a problem for LDS specific doctrine, but it is actually anti-Christian. I know it can come from good intentions, but teaching that a person can not be made clean again, and emphasizing that more on a particular gender, completely ignores the purpose of the Atonement.

      There are other cultural myths that people “teach” at church too, although I’m not sure any are as particularly harmful, both spiritually and psychologically, as teaching purity is equivalent to chastity.

      Most of the Mormon families I have spent time with spend a lot of their time discussing doctrine with their children, and even talking about which things said in Sunday were wrong. We live and talk about the teachings everyday. And we believe in fallible leaders (although there is a thread of cultural myth in the opposite direction for that too), so it’s not unusual to say “I understand what he/she was going for there, but he/she missed the mark.” We’re a very questioning people, and we don’t leave it up to the Sunday school teachers to get it all right(sometimes there are lively debates in the adult Sunday School lessons)! And it would be quite silly if we did leave it up to them, since all teachers are untrained amateurs (unless you get a BYU religion prof or something.)

      I majored in math in college, and I remember my math teachers growing up. Because of that, I don’t expect my kids’ teachers to teach them math the right way all the time. I take the same approach to Sunday school!

      Finally, there seems to be a movement among all types of Mormons to rid the language of the rigid damaged-forever purity examples. So I believe the church and its members will continue to move in the Atonement-focused direction.

      • Ro, I love how you address this. And I think you are right, the movement against purity culture within our faith does seem to be growing to encompass all sort of mormons.

    • Good question, Kate. It looks like others have said the same thing. And I echo them. Amazingly, what I found as a Mormon mom of three now-adult children is this: what is taught at home (assuming the home is a relatively healthy and stable environment, which mine was) has far greater influence in a child’s life than what is taught in a few hours at church.

      My two daughters and one son are all faithful, observant Latter-day Saints. None of them accepted or incorporated the dysfunctional modesty rhetoric woven into LDS teachings in primary or other meetings. Balanced home life=balanced humans. That was my experience anyway.

  2. This was an excellent read, putting words to thoughts that one would hope people think. I grew up in a very strict religious environment. We were told what to think, or so I thought. I thought so much as a child but it wasn’t until adolescence that I realized that my thinking was unique and that unique thinking was good and mattered. I love that you are encouraging thinking about thinking for your daughters.

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