Today I am going to take you on a journey from one end of the spectrum to the other when it comes to our bodies. On one end we find shaming, repressing and abusing the gift of our body and on the other end we find sexual indulgence. I will teach you where the middle ground for sexuality is and how it can be achieved.
Is our body a burden or a blessing? The prophet Joseph Smith taught that “we came to this earth that we might have a body and present it pure before God in the celestial kingdom.” Our spirits much be united with a body to attain that “great principle of happiness.” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Joseph Fielding Smith (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1938), p. 181.)
As Latter-Day Saints, we are taught that the soul, our real self, on consists of both the body and the spirit. Neither part can be exalted without the other; both are necessary. Joseph Smith also taught that Satan’s punishment for his rebellion is that “he shall not have a tabernacle.” Without a tabernacle, or a body, our spirits cannot progress.
We often see our body as something we “have” rather than something we are. Plato contended that the body was a prison of the spirit, a detriment to perfection, a hindrance to wisdom and knowledge. “The body is a source of endless trouble to us,” Plato wrote. He felt that man could not become pure until death, when “the soul will be parted from the body and exist in herself alone.” Then, “having got rid of the foolishness of the body we shall be pure.” But we know, because of our doctrine, that is not true at all. That in order to be exalted, we will experience a resurrection and be reunited with our perfected body. We need our body!
So why do we reject our bodies and the things that it is capable of? Why do we often see it as a hindrance to our spirituality? Why do we act as if our body is a burden and something to be overcome?
I believe that we have had many mixed messages about our bodies not only from the world, but also from the culture of the Church. The doctrine itself is clear, but the way that we often present doctrine is a misinterpretation of it. It is man’s ignorance to the ways of God. It is interjecting our own anxieties into our teachings.
Our sexuality is inherent as an embodied person. Sexuality itself is not good or bad. It just is. But it is the way that we use it that defines it for us.
I think of sexuality on a spectrum. On one end we have indulgence. We indulge in our sexuality and abuse it in ways that don’t serve us and our Heavenly Father isn’t ok with. This would include behaviors like abuse, pornography, pre-marital sex, or even pressuring our spouse into having sex if they don’t want to. It becomes a driving force in all we do and we often give in to the sexual urges instead of listening to our higher desires.
On the other end of the spectrum we have repression. To many, this looks like the “right” thing to do so that they don’t end up on the indulgence end of the spectrum. We are so afraid of our passions and our desires that we feel we must suppress them in order to not end up indulging them. But this isn’t ok either. This is not using our body in the way that was intended by our Heavenly Parents just as indulging in sexuality isn’t either. Repression is denying a part of ourselves, a Godly part of ourselves, with a misguided notion that to repress ourselves makes us more worthy. But that is a false notion. Denying an essential part of who we were created to be is saying to Heavenly Father, “I know better than you. I will not appreciate or feel grateful for something that you gave me that will bless my life.”
In Alma 38:12 we read about Alma counseling his son Sibling and telling him to “Bridle….your passions, that ye may be filled with love.” We take “Bridle your passions” to mean that we need minimize and suppress them and lock them away. But a bridle on a horse is used to direct it’s energy, not remove it. Steer natural power where you want it to go. When you want to deny a racehorse to exert it’s power you lock it up. When you want to utilize it’s power for your benefit you bridle it. Bridling our passions is all about being in control of them and channeling them in a positive, useful way. Elder Paul H. Dunn said about this verse “Bridling increases strength, increases power, increases love….Alma never said kill your passions. The implication is not that passions are evil, that we shouldn’t have them. On the contrary, we bridle something we love, something whose power we respect.” (Ensign, Nov. 1981, p. 72.)
I was reading a Facebook thread in a group that I am in about this topic and there were quite a few great comments that I wanted to share here. I share these anonymously and note that they are not my own, but that I have learned a great deal from the different insights they share.
One said “I think that a lot of LDS members are taught that they will have to tolerate sexual needs, wants, and desires..let alone prioritize and communicate them. It feels like the overriding church cultural message is the more sexual you are, the less spiritual you are. The TRUTH that should be taught is that sexuality and spirituality are on the same team and serve the same purpose.”
Another said “I think, in addition to the shame and guild and taboo that surrounds sex in the LDS religion, an equal problem is the idea that we need to bridle the “natural man.” So many of my church friends, male and female, believe that we shouldn’t enjoy it too much or it will increase our appetite to the point of being enslaved to sex. If we want it to be fun and amazing and adventurous, then clearly Satan is winning. Moreover many prize the idea that if they can keep their desires in check, by whatever standards they have established for themselves, then they are being more righteous and obedient. Therefore the Lord must be pleased with them putting off these desires and learning to control the body.”
Both of these comments point to the opposite ends of the spectrum we see in our culture. But I like the comment that said that “Sexuality and Spirituality are on the same team and serve the same purpose.” They are both necessary and good and are part of being human, which is what we came to this earth to experience. They are NOT mutually exclusive. Learning to unify the body and the spirit is one of the greatest joys in life. Richard Eyre said “Full joy is felt when we are most aware of our bodies. In moments of spirituality and great inspiration men are not less but more aware of all that is around them and of their bodies themselves.” Richard M. Eyre, The Discovery of Joy (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, Inc., 1974), p. 37.
Having a physical body is a Godlike attribute. We are more like God with a body than without.
So if you don’t indulge in sexuality and you don’t repress, what do you do? Healthy sexuality is in the middle of that spectrum. Healthy sexuality is engaging in sexual behavior that creates goodness for yourself and for your relationship. It is not indulgent for the sake of one’s self. It is not ungrateful or repressive. It is saying “this is who Heavenly Father made me to be, and I will use this body and this gift of sexuality to the best of my abilities to bless myself and my marriage.” It is bridling your passions and channeling them in a way that increases love. It is respecting those powers and using them wisely. And wisely doesn’t mean locking them away and only letting them out when necessary. Using them wisely is understanding them. Embracing them. Sharing them to create a marriage and sexual relationship that blessed you and your spouse. It is taking care of your body. Respecting it and all the desires and passions it is capable of. It is respecting others bodies, desires, and passions as well. Not to hold over them. Not to take from them. But to share in that goodness with them.
Many of my clients are at the end of the spectrum where they have shut down their sexuality. Most of them don’t even realize that this is what has happened. They just think they aren’t in the mood and don’t know why. Some want to get it back and some don’t, but are doing it because their marriage is suffering and they know this is the reason. So they aren’t really doing in for themselves (or so they think) but are doing it for their husband and the marriage. But when we work together, we start examining why it’s shut down and how to get it back. It’s an amazing process to watch. They go from completely repressed to more of a healthy outlook on their sexuality and engaging in it because they want to, for their spouse, for their marriage, and for them.
I’m going to once again invite you to come work with me. Even if you aren’t completely repressed, but just want things to go from good to great, I can help you. I can help you have an amazing relationship with your spouse and a great sex life. I can help you become the person you were created to be. It is the greatest investment you can make in yourself and your marriage.