And now for something completely different! In this 12th installment of the “Ask a Mormon Sex Therapist” series Brian and Laurel talk with Dr. Jennifer Finlayson-Fife about the cultural anxiety surrounding oral sex in a married relationship, and in the second question we discuss objectification and appropriate lust. Also look forward to and make plans to contribute to our fundraiser for the Liahona Children’s Foundation that will be released here on Rational Faiths and on our indiegogo campaign page. This year we have an ambitious goal to raise $10,000 for the LCF. Woot Woot!!!
In order help make that a reality some wonderful LDS artists, authors, and our very own Jennifer Finlayson-Fife have offered their work(s) as prizes/perks for contributing to the LCF fundraising campaign. So head over and check out the cool stuff available for being a charitable person.
In regard to the question of oral sex I suggest reading a post called “Prophetic Counsel About Sex Within Marriage: A Brief History.” Here I’ll offer my own summary and analysis of the 1982 question, “Is oral moral?” During the presidency of Spencer Kimball an increased concern over members sexual behavior emerged which impacted the way members and leaders thought about all sexual activities.
Specific temple recommend interview guidance for priesthood leaders was issued from the First Presidency on Jan 5, 1982, which on the second page indicates oral sex as an “unnatural, impure, and unholy” act. Following the initial advice, another letter came out ten months later on Oct 15, 1982 seemingly correcting interviewers who had asked too personal of questions regarding the couple’s specific sexual activities. I have looked around the web for old news articles and asked older bloggernacle folks what went down to provoke the October correction. (Unfortunately the Salt Lake Tribune’s digital archives only go back to 1991 and I doubt the Deseret News covered this story so I didn’t bother looking there.) I have found nothing but a rumor of a letter writing campaign of some sort but have not been able to verify such an action (you see, I was somewhere between a fetus and an infant at this time, so my memory is not so clear).
One might fairly assume that many Bishop’s themselves were just as uncomfortable with asking such questions as members were hearing them. Somehow from a grassroots collective action or from complaints sent through normal and ‘proper’ lines of authority the top leaders got the hint that they should advise Bishopric members or Stake presidency members to not enter so boldy into other people’s bedrooms. Though the story is not so cut and dry. According to a Sunstone article published in 1988 there was an additional question added to the TR interview protocol, with an explanation for those who wanted or needed one, on ‘impure’ practices that did not leave the books until four years later in 1986. If a member would have inquired of what might constitute an ‘unnatural’ practice the interviewer was instructed to then read a paragraph that included oral and anal sex as ‘unholy.’ It seems to have taken some time to get away from such prescriptive and intrusive sexual probing in temple recommend interviews.
As Jennifer points out in the podcast discussion this deviation from the previous and subsequent counsel along the lines of, “you guys do your thing but if you feel icky doing it you probably shouldn’t,” didn’t come out of a vacuum. This time period was the tail end of a long battle over the Equal Rights Ammendment (ERA), which was a proposed amendment to the United States Constitution designed to guarantee equal rights for women and was popular and gained much support during the earlyu 1970’s but eventually produced an astounding degree of polarization and ultimately failed to be ratified. The ERA and the ‘hippy’ children of the 60’s challenged the gender roles that have been and continue to be church dogma. The increasingly strict guidelines toward sexual matters seems to be an erotophobic reaction provoked by the ‘deviant’ crowds ‘lax’ behavioral standards that made it’s way into prophetic guidance.
In discussing this topic with a few people I have learned some things worth ponderizing.
(1) This time period is when members of the first presidency were incapacitated periodically and it is proposed that later when their health improved they were not amused with the detailed interview suggestions and hence the change in counsel. This could have been a top leader with an axe to grind and an opportunity taken in a power vacuum (though Spencer Kimball wasn’t known to be liberal in the area of sexuality so I can’t fully remove him from the hook).
(2) As you can tell from the question, this ‘guidance’ that officially has since been corrected or at the very least dismissed, is still getting around as advice or counsel from the prophet. In looking for the images of the letter I found that many sources generally critical of the Mormon church discussed the January letter to show just how obsessed or anxious Mormons are about sexual pleasure.
In addition to the anonymous questioner featured here, many people have told me that they were similarly counseled by Bishops as they were preparing for their temple marriage. They also were taught the same sexual rigidity (only missionary position) in Eternal Marriage courses at BYU-I and BYU (reported to have occurred as recent as 2007) and most recently a Bishopric member told a LDS woman where she and her husband could put their hands while making love.
(3) Like Facebook discussions, the Letters from the FP tend to get buried under more recent ‘news.’ (And who has the time to routinely flip through old guidance when the new stuff is right there in front of you?) Like it or not Bishoprics and Stake Presidents are busy, and staying sharp on everything is a big task so they most likely stick with their own values whatever previous guidance is salient enough to stick in their mind on any particular topic. Unfortunately that January letter is salient in the collective Mormon consciousness. I have to admit that it is troubling how often past mistakes and missteps are forgotten and seem to be unnecessarily perpetuated because of the back channel correcting methods the church seems to employ.
Now things are a little better since leadership and members can search using modern computers, should questions arise.
I think this particular problem can be chalked up to culture, leadership roulette, and misinformation. I do think, or at least hope that that climate around sexuality is getting a bit better.
Dr. Jennifer Finlayson-Fife is a psychotherapist who focuses on issues surrounding female sexuality and feminism within the LDS framework. She holds a PhD in Counseling Psychology from Boston College where she wrote her dissertation on LDS women and sexuality. She has taught college-level classes on human sexuality and currently has a private therapy practice in Chicago. In her private practice, she primarily works with LDS couples on sexuality and relationship issues. She also teaches online courses to LDS couples on these issues. She is married, has three kids, and is an active member of the LDS church.
Be Sure to check out Dr. Finlayson-Fife’s site for the holiday sale on all her courses.
If you have a question for the good doctor you can comment below OR send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org
Music: Sugar Blues (Pubic Domain)