Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Commentary: "Women, Do Your Wifely Duty To Prevent Your Husband From Sin


          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.”
(O…K…)
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.   

27 comments:

  1. I think this line of thinking is also insulting to men. It assumes they don't love their wives in ways that make them want to please and pleasure their wives. It makes every man just a choice away from adultey, and that choice is not theirs to make.

    My biggest response when reading this is that it does not belong at church, given by someone who is not a mental health professional. Even a professional should not be addressing this topic with half of a married couple, especially in a group meeting. For anyone who is struggling with past or present issues of sexual or emotional abuse, or who is trying to work through the challenges of forgiving the sexual misconduct of a spouse, a discussion like this could be devastating. Without immediate crisis intervention and individual or couples therapy available, the damage to a marriage or the self esteem of a person, could becoming a mental health crisis.

    I have had my share of bad bishops, but this one certainly takes the cake!

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  2. It is quite insulting to men as well.

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    1. Agreed. It makes men sound like desire-mad animals instead of adults.

      Incidentally, there's a post at Love, Joy, Feminism that addresses this very issue among purity culture and evangelicals.

      http://www.patheos.com/blogs/lovejoyfeminism/2012/09/the-purity-culture-and-sex-as-a-duty.html

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    2. It is insulting to men. This particular bishop clearly has some deep-seated issues with sex. His poor, poor wife.

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  3. I continue to be amazed that perverts like this bishop even get to be bishops, and as you say, why aren't they fired when the do stuff like this? Insane. Glad you wrote about this!!!

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    1. Thanks for suggesting I weigh in on the subject!

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  4. As the only guy so far,I'm assuming Ahab is not a man as they have a direct link and synopsis of a feminist link.

    This bishop is not exactly wrong. The male libido is quite the albatros to carry around in america in general where feminism has for all intents and purposes demonized any expression of male sexuality, and criminalized quite a few of them.

    And in religious america where sex is generally veiwed as dirty and sinful, and even more so in evangelical religious groups like the LDS where even masterbation can send you to hell, well . . .

    As a guy, the first thing I figure when I see a woman is whether or not I'd have sex with her. It automatic, and invollentary. As I find out more about her the 'doable' classification might change(rarely does though).

    And before I left the church I must admit the only thing that kept me hanging on was the thought of marrige. Given how many women threw away their long term boyfreids to marry the first returning missionary in their ward I always had the sneaking suspicion that unduly constrained sexual desire affeted them as well.

    Back to my main point though. MEN WANT SEX. Unless they have a serious psychological or physical problem they want it far more often then women do. It is a hard wired biological imperetive.

    And while I dont hold to the notion that men will cheat given the opportunity, barring a psycological condition, any one who cheats chooses to.

    That being said, as far as I am concered, witholding sex is no different than having sex with someone other than your partner. And for most men who have sex with held for various reasons most of them justify their cheating as 'if the wife doesnt want to do it why should she care if I do it with someone else?'

    This problem like so may others always devoles to a lack of communication. I remeber an old cartoon. It is a split screen of a wedding party. The groommen are congradulating a guy on getting married and how he'll get blow jobs every night.

    The bridesmaides are congradulating the bride and telling her she'll never have to give blow jobs again.

    Now, does a woman who refuses to have sex with her husband deserve to get cheated on? Of course not, but she shouldnt be suprised either. The entierly of civilization was built my men looking to get laid.


    I think this clip from my favorite show sums it up nicely.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vKGK2fplV_w


    Now this isnt to say that a woman should spread her legs on demand whenever and where ever her husband demands. What I am talking about is comprimise. Doing it only when the wife feels like it is no more fair to a husband the sex on demand is fair to the wife

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    1. Actually, Ahab is a guy. And although with-holding sex as punishment is never healthy, I do think that differences in sex drive can be handled in a far more effective manner than either expecting the woman to have sex when she is not in the mood or the man cheating on his wife.

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    2. "The Mood" as it pertains to women is nothing like men, many women are never struck by the mood. Wait for the mood to stirke might take a month of sundays.

      That being said if most guys were better at sex and knew how do more than spasm back and forth really fast there women might be more receptive

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    3. I'll give you a hint - a big part of "the mood" for women is feeling respected and secure within the relationship.

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    4. 1. I do just fine. Purely physical orgasams I can get on my own if that all I was after
      2. Womens libido and mens have different triggers and waiting for women to feel physically aroused will always take longer than then most guys want to wait. That there are statistical outliers dont change this fact for the majority of couples
      3. Most men dont cheat to get sex, they cheat to feel an emotional connection(some are just assholes) - that doesnt justify it though. An ethical person would have a conversation with their partner and inform them of their needs, inquire of their partners and leave them if their respective needs are incompatible

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  5. Incedentally if you dont mind a smidge of off color humor you should watch the entirety of the TV series. I've never laughed so hard in my life

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  6. Wow. That really is ridiculous. I would be offended too. Chastity, masterbation, porn, all of those as standards are fine, but what he is implying about sex and marriage is just dumb.

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  7. In a way, I think men raised in a sexually repressed culture (i.e. Mormonism) do often develop an unhealthy obsession with sex. The Mormon culture very much objectifies women as being created for men's needs. Sounds like that bishop has something of a fetish with reminding women what they're really good for. My own observation is many such men have unhealthy attitudes about sex even after some of them leave the sexually repressed culture.

    When my first husband was incredibly disrespectful toward me and our marriage was spiraling into the toilet, I had a well meaning bishop listen to my husband complain about the fact that I wasn't putting out, then counsel me to give my husband what he wanted. I had to do my part, he said. I'm so grateful for that inner part of me that silently told the bishop what he could do with his counsel. I knew he was wrong. It's so profoundly degrading to a woman to suggest her feelings, desires, and intellect are not nearly as important as pleasing her husband sexually, especially when he's treating her like garbage. What a crock.

    On a side note, my never-mo husband who has a very healthy libido does not look at every woman as someone he would or would not like to have sex with. He sees them as people. Moreover, he would never treat me like an object or demand sex. He respects me and himself far too much to do anything like that. After reading some of these comments I feel very lucky.

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    1. I'm so sorry you had to hear that - I'm glad you had enough presence of mind to realize the advice for what it was worth.

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    2. I must say I resent the veiled insult as my "comments" was the only one that did more than blindly agree. And perhaps you missed the point where I did ultimatley agree, just not for the same reasons as PMG objected

      First off your husband does indeed look at women and gauge whether or not he'd have sex with them. Reproduction is a biological urge. Just because humans have the capacity to supress and override their baser animal urges does not mean such urges have ceased to exist. Such apprasials are practically subconcious and no more a matter of control than having a particualr hair color or being near sighted. He'll never act on it, or mention it, but deep down in his animal brain his hard wired mating ugre keeps a list

      " It's so profoundly degrading to a woman to suggest her feelings, desires, and intellect are not nearly as important as pleasing her husband sexually"

      First let me say I am loath to partially quote anyone, and in its entierty I do agree with your sentiment but I needed this segment to make my point.

      How is it any less degrading to ignore the desires of your husband/boyfreind?

      I think there is a segment of this you ladies simply fail to comprehend. Men in american society in general and religious society in particular, how do I put this?

      We grow up being taught that we are WRONG, wrong just for existing, our sexuality in an of its self is filthy, disgusting, perverse, degrading to anyone on whom we have the temerity to inflict it on.

      Can you really understand that? Growing up in a society which views you as a sex obsessed proto rapist?

      That your natural feeling and urges are not something to be controlled, respected, and indulged in when appropriate, but FUNDEMENTALY wrong, evil, and wholly unnatural?

      This is how males are brought up to view their sexuality

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    3. I don't agree with how men are brought up within Mormonism; teaching anyone to fear and loathe their sexuality is not acceptable. But in return, women are taught that their intrinsic value is only as good as their modesty. And yes, there is something very off-putting about the idea that men assess every woman in terms of sleeping with them. It's a very uncomfortable notion, especially in this day and age where most women have to work in an environment with male peers and male superiors.

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    4. It aint just mormonism teaching fear and loathing, its western society in general.

      And just becuase a notion is uncomfortable doesnt make it not exist. Humanity is barely evolved beyond the mammalian heat cycle. You might as well be uncomfortable about digestion, pheramone production or any other of the dozens completely automatic biological functions.

      Whether or not a mans reproductive impulse finds you a compatable match has no bearing(or at least it shouldnt if they have any self control) on how he behaves and interacts with you on a personal level. I cant speak from personal experiance but what from what I've read in psychological and anthropological articles women do the same thing, albeit with different parameters

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    5. I just want to jump in and say that you're making a lot of assumptions as to how *every living male* views sexuality. Saying with certainty that you know what another person is thinking (ie, "Your husband DOES look at women the way I say all men do because biology!") is sort of ridiculous. You don't know that, and biology, while helpful in explaining physical reactions, is not a key to mind-reading.

      And you're also exaggerating quite a bit (or maybe you really do view sex in this way). Yea, as a teenager my mind would be on sex frequently. But since age...I don't know...22?...it hasn't even remotely retained that kind of status in my thoughts. And it's definitely NOT the first thing I think of when I look at a woman. Do I get in "the mood" sometimes? Yea, of course. But my sexuality isn't some kind of involuntary reflex. And it has never been something I've felt was an "albatross" or some source of persecution in my life. That's completely ridiculous.

      I'd like to think that my mindset changed because I went through a couple of long-term, healthy sexual relationships, and sex isn't some sort of exotic mystery to me anymore. I matured. But hey, maybe you're right, and there's something wrong with me. I've got a "serious psychological or physical problem."

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  8. Why is it so essential that perfectly natural sexual feelings be supressed at such a young age? It's not like humans have a limited reproductive capability.

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    1. Social control. If you can train a population at large, or in smaller numbers to subsume their natural desires to the will of the ruling elite you can get them to do just about anything you want

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  9. I'd also like to address the post itself.

    The first seven paragraphs build up to how hurt and betrayed this woman felt. Though by her own admission she can’t articulate why. Now, peoples individual emotional responses are their own and subjectively valid. But if you can’t explain why you feel the way you feel you can’t expect others to understand why, let alone agree.

    The remaining paragraphs offer a promise of an explanation (not delivered) and an account of a general synopsis of the types of material she sent her bishop, but nothing definitively descriptive as to how those materials differed from the bishop’s views.

    Incidentally why is it the only view point women are comfortable listening to about MALE sexuality is from FEMALE feminists?

    And finally there is a comment about her intention to take copious notes and then a claim that she liberally paraphrases. Next time take a 20 dollar camera and videotape it. I don’t know this author or how accurate her edits of someone else words might be.

    Point 1 -
    Title: Don’t have a problem with it
    Subtitle: Complete crap, unless this is paraphrasing
    Point: I am an atheist so I don’t believe in god, but the male sex drive is natural and biological in nature

    "(So basically, God made men’s sex drives strong so that they’d need to keep coming back for more from their wives. This way, the irresponsible men will be inclined to stick around and provide for their kids.???!!!)"
    Dozens of years of biological, psychological, and anthropological study stated as such back in the 70's

    Point 2 -
    Title: Self Evident
    Subtitle: I'm beginning to think these are sarcastic inputs of the author
    Point: Pisspoor analogy but essentially true

    Point 3 -
    Title: Appeal to vanity (you ladies get the best)
    Subtitle: Defiantly sarcasm, and patently false sarcasm, Utanin's but more porn per capital than any other state in the union - it aint just Carbon county and those non mormon miners buying all that porn
    Point: Numbers are for shock value and immaterial, his final sentence is accurate

    Point 3(redux)
    Title: Offense to what?
    Subtitle: Might be harsh, but it is true
    Point: I remember those scriptures; I'd get in trouble for choosing them in class and seminary. And Song of Solomon is basically a nonstop orgy. But again offense at what?

    Point 4 -
    Title: True
    Subtitle: That is how it the lack of porn and masturbation is sold to young men. Were victims too.
    Point: True. What exactly are your objections to this?

    Point 5 -
    Title: Stupid title, sometimes a spouse "needs" not to be pestered for sex
    Subtitle: I must admit I liked the snarky interpretations
    Point: Problem with this is the way people choose to define need.
    As for faking it NEVER DO THAT. Any guy with a modicum of maturity should be smart enough to realize men and women are wired differently and sex is no guarantee of an orgasm for women

    Bad analogies, but the lesson is true none the less.
    As for the woman on top scenario, I think you've crossed your wires in an attempt to disagree. Unless the bishop at some point suggested lower libido women should innate sex so their husbands never have to even ask and you failed to mention it

    Point 6 -
    Tile: Eh,
    Subtitle:Eh,
    Point: Weak finish

    If this is the gist of his talk, I'd be kinda pissed to. Quite frankly that should have only been a 1/4, with another 1/4 for the men from the female perspective and another half built around the importance of communication between married couple in ALL facets of their marriage from sex down to picking your damn socks off of the bathroom floor as small irritations unresolved lead to larger and larger problems

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    1. Closing paragraphs
      Again veiled promises of event to come!! Expound, elucidate, what are the deeper issues as you see them. Don’t just say such issues exist and pass them by without even really mentioning them.

      “But most of all, I’m upset by the head nods, the “…so trues…” and the internal “amen”-ing that streamed through the majority of the women in the room.”

      Sorry to break it to you but this is religion in a nutshell, what sort of reaction did you expect other than blind obedience which is all the church every really demands?
      This bishop might have been crude and uncouth, but the fact of the matter is aside from some cringe worthy analogies, most of the points highlighted here aren’t really wrong
      As a woman who doesn’t use sex as a weapon and enjoys sex with her husband I can see how you’d find such a talk a waste of time and brain cells. But trust me when I say men are worse gossips than women in their fashion, and you are in the minority as far as those two views go

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  10. I'm coming a bit unglued that he would say this in front of a lot of people and no one said anything... When I have told people that my bishop once told me it was MY fault that my husband had an affair, they tell me that was just one man saying something stupid. (My story also includes that I had "sex" with my husband every night, sometimes more than once a night, whether I wanted to or not. If I tried to say no, it became a violent physical fight, and I ended up having "sex" anyway. It got easier to just lay there and let him do his thing.)

    I KNEW I hated sex. I knew I did not want that man touching me, but I also believed what the bishop told me. It was my JOB as a wife to let him do his thing... So it WAS my fault that he had sex with other women...

    I have a different point of view now.
    I hated sex. It makes sense that he would find someone who wanted sex with him. I don't actually think there was anything wrong with his desire to find someone that liked being with him. (There was a whole hell of a lot wrong with his violent behavior, but that is a different issue.)

    I hate the whole idea of chastity/monogamy/no masturbation/no porn/etc. for this reason. If sex is a need, and the ONLY person that can meet that need is a spouse, that takes away a spouse's right to say no. I'm sure there are times when both men AND women don't want sex, for whatever reason, and NO needs to be a perfectly acceptable answer. Which seems to me also means that a person needs to be able to get their needs met in some way.

    Sorry for the long, rambling, novel.

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    1. "I KNEW I hated sex."
      Why did you get married?
      Did you love your fiancé so much you wished to condemn him to a life of misery?
      Or you assumed he hated sex too? (statistically a very DUMB assumption)

      You sound like my wife. With bated breath I await the day one of us dies. Eternal Companion my @ss; only if I'm the most unlucky bast@rd in the world.

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    2. How on earth could I know I hated it before I got married? I was a good Mormon girl that hadn't experimented at all. And I did what every Mormon girl was taught to do: get married to the man that asks.
      If you're not happy, why stay? Go to counseling. Talk about it. And if there's no hope of anything better in that relationship, why stay in it?

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I love hearing comments and I welcome all viewpoints; however, I request that if you do choose to comment, please do so in a manner that is constructive and respectful of others.