Last week, there was a guest post on the site Feminist Mormon Housewives that has left me speechless. I wasn’t planning on writing a commentary – there are so many angles to discuss and so many uncomfortable points to the post – but I feel that I must, if for no other reason than that this issue needs to be addressed.
The post is called Women’s Conference (Or Do Your Wifely Duty To Prevent Your Husband From Sin) This post details a talk that a Mormon bishop gave on two separate occasions to the women of his congregation. The author sat through the first one in shock; the second time, a full year after the first talk, she came armed with a notepad to record the bishop’s PowerPoint presentation and accompanying lecture. Both of the lessons had the implied message “Good Mormon women have regular sex with their husbands in order to keep their marriages “happy” and keep their husbands from sin.” The first time the bishop gave the lesson, the title was “The Key To A Happy Marriage”, the second time the lesson was simply referred to as the “Sex Talk”.
A couple of nuggets from this bishop's lesson include
Next he puts up this big picture of a line of german shepherds at a police academy. In front of this line of dogs walks this little cat and it is obvious that all the dogs want to do is pounce on the poor thing. Everyone giggles at what this picture is suggesting and he continues on with his message. “This is a stupid cat. Luckily these dogs are so well trained that they can fight against even their deepest genetic desires and stay in line.” “But,” he said, “Just because they are keeping formation doesn’t me they don’t REALLY want that cat. Trained dogs STILL look at cats.”
“He then reminds us that, “…there are women who WILL take your husband’s…” and Solomon says, “…be ravished with your wife…” he goes on to add that if you won’t be ravished with him, a stranger will.”
He tells the women that all through young men’s lives there is a drumbeat going on in their heads that says: “When I get married I can have sex…when I get married I can have sex…when I get married I can have sex…” “I just need to hold on until a beautiful wife lets me.”
He tells us how often times the deprived spouse is loathing the thought of eternity with his wife. The deprived spouse takes the sexual rejection as a personal rejection and becomes resentful. And the deprived spouse is more tempted when he is deprived.
I don’t know what disturbs me most about this series of talks. I am disturbed by the fact that an entire year went by between the bishop’s two talks with identical themes, with no apparent backlash. I am also disturbed by the fact that this bishop wasn’t fired or chastised and that there wasn’t more of a backlash. Most of all, I am deeply unsettled by the message that this particular authority figure gave to a group of Mormon women.
There are two main points related to Mormon practices that I would like to address, as I feel they are directly related to this incident.
(1) The majority of local authority positions within the Mormon Church are filled by volunteers. Bishops and stake presidents, in addition to their day-job, also spend an additional 20+ hours tending to the needs of their congregation. These positions are considered to be divinely inspired; when a new bishop or stake president is selected, the General Authorities will come and interview possible candidates. The General Authorities claim to have divine revelation when it comes to selecting the right candidate. These bishops and stake presidents receive very little training to perform their duties; instead, they are told that the Holy Ghost will be their guide. Members look to their local leaders for guidance on everything from marital issues to crises of faith, yet these leaders are ill-equipped to carry out the roles they are assigned. This leads to a wide variation of leadership between wards.
(2) Mormons have very strict laws on chastity. Pre-marital sex – and any forms of sensual foreplay – is strictly forbidden within Mormonism. So is masturbation and porn. Part of Mormonism involves going through a temple recommend interview, starting at age 12 with youth temple trips. During this interview, a local authority will ask the interviewee about obeying the law of chastity, including issues with masturbation and porn. As a woman, I was taught to safeguard my virtue, as it was seen as a gift for my future husband. The lessons on chastity start at a young age and only continue to intensify. As a result of this repression, sex becomes a very twisted and uncomfortable topic to address and is often associated with a sense of shame.
In addition to these Mormon-specific points, there are also the aspects that apply to a more general audience. There is the very disturbing analogy of the German shepherds, trained not to attack the tasty cat in spite of their instincts. There is also the idea that a woman bears responsibility for her husband’s infidelities.
I simply do not know how to react. I don’t know where to start, what to address. All I know is that reading this post made me upset in a way that I have not been in a very long time. I wish I could write satire about this bishop’s attitude like Donna Banta. I wish that I could write a sharp, incisive commentary that distills this issue into a single point. Instead, all I have to offer are a jumble of opinions and a need to talk about this issue. Sex is not shameful. Women should not be blamed for the infidelities of their husband; neither should they feel compelled to fake desire at risk of losing their marriage.