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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 email@example.com
Music: Sugar Blues (Pubic Domain)
I really like your article Jennifer. My wife and I (married 43 years)as, converts to the Gospel of Jesus Christ…and his Church and yet products of the 60-70’s made for some wonderful changes and yet long lingering challenges regarding sexuality. Raising 4 boys and 2 girls in the midst of all of this proved to be…interesting. I have a son who’s leader would not sign his acceptance to BYU because he had problems with masturbation.I had a good convert friend who left the church because he was denied a TR for his daughters wedding. I’m not saying they were right or wrong. The sad part is that I do no believe these good men trying to do right had the ability to handle these situations. Their role was basically reduced to “it is a sin” therefore you have to repent. No ability to address the “practice” other than to let them know they were not acceptable to the Lord and they had better stop doing what they were doing. Way to simplistic in either case and a great burden put on two people who did not have the spiritual depth to find their way to a better understanding. With regard to the question of is “oral moral?” I believe two people who truly love each other know when something is “off” and then the dialog should begin based on the the Gospel meaning of love. I believe Paul when he spoke of the marriage bed being undefiled (in a strong marriage). For my wife and I we just hold each other sing the song between Tevyev and his wife Golde in Fiddler on the Roof…”do you love me?” and we know we do. The rest is between us and the Lord.
My wife and I have been married for 12 years. We have two kids. I would like to say that we are “happily” married, but I have been growing increasingly frustrated over the last several years. I am clearly the “high desire” partner, and am also a lot more curious/adventurous than my wife. When we were dating, she was always a bit more reluctant about intimacy than me (we never “made out” until our honeymoon—we came close a few times, but she shut it down each time), but I expected that, once we got married, she would open up, now that things were “allowed.” I don’t want to paint a picture that portrays her as a total “prude,” because she is not, but she is still rather unadventurous in bed. She doesn’t really like me to stimulate her manually. Oral sex is out of the question (in either direction). We started working through “And They Were Not Ashamed” quite a while ago, but once we got to the sections about identifying things that turn us on or talking about fantasy, she stopped. The suggestion that she should use a mirror to explore a bit and see what things looked like “down there” was a total turn off for her—What would I gain from that? was her response. I think that thinks of any type of exploration of her body = masturbation, which = sin.
I have thought to myself, on more than one occasion, “maybe my *next* wife will be into oral sex; maybe my *next* wife will be more interested in my body.” This is a scary place to be.
I have tried expressing my frustrations to my wife, but it never really makes much of a difference. She says the thought of oral sex is completely unattractive to her. She gets upset that I have continued to bring this up throughout our marriage. I have tried to move past my frustrations, but it is difficult. I feel like I have been very accommodating and patient, but I am getting tired of that.
How can I help my wife see what a big deal this is for me without offending her? Am I to simply resign my desires for oral sex because she doesn’t like the idea? Twelve years in, I am feeling like our intimacy has moved backward, having never really reached the place that would like.
apostrophesplease… Your wife is entitled to feel comfortable with her experience, and her body, when the two of you are having sex. If you have any interest in “pleasing” her, it would be admirable for you to “care” about her feelings, and realize who “she” really is, and what she really means to you, and ask yourself, “why do I feel the need to gratify myself, and cause her anxiety and displeasure?” You wrote: “I have thought to myself, on more than one occasion, “maybe my *next* wife will be into oral sex; maybe my *next* wife will be more interested in my body.” This is a scary place to be.” Yes indeed apostrophesplease, that is a very scary place to be! And this will possibly become your own self-fulfilling prophecy soon, “your next wife”, do you think? It is perfectly natural for a husband and wife to develop their own pleasurable experiences when they are sexual, “over a span of time”, there is no race; but you seem more interested in creating experiences that only meet your needs, because you are “bored”? Your “frustration” as you call it begs the question, “what is the origin of your frustration, where are your desires coming from? How did you become familiar with “oral sex”? Have you experienced it, if so, what were the circumstances? And, here is the most important question, how frequently are you looking at porn?
You are a total jerk for jumping to that conclusion. ” porn?”. 15 years of marriage and I’ve never indulged in the stuff, however my desire to explore and experience a fullness of joy. No, I did not dabble in it before either, not that you are smart enough to understand why you are contributing to moral decay of masculinity.Oral is a large part of my wife and my marital bliss. Neither of us experienced more than a brief makeout before marriage. To the man in question, my heart goes out to you. Its tough bridling these feelings. Obviously I don’t have a silver bullet answer, but it’s very likely its going to take time. My suggestion, find a friend who has a wife that is more open and comfortable with her husband and may instill a more confident personality about it. Once she agrees, perform perform,perform! It can take 30 to 40 minutes, but you have to assure her you have been gifted by her with a larger than life opportunity and show her you love every second of it. You know how to communicate with her in this way. Don’t give in to the toxic “shame on me” mentality. If you feel guilty, repent and move on knowing that you are entitled to know the truth of all things, especially sexual relations with your eternal companion.
Go ahead and ignore Porn Kills Love, the name implies an agenda and preconceived notion, the final questions in the post only confirm it. This person is not in touch with reality, they are only out to create a faux crisis, convince you that you’re broken, and sell you the cure. Fight The New Drug is an abhorrent sham, a crusade of charlatans wearing the mask of pseudo-morality.
I feel your pain, brother, you have every right to be frustrated, your sexuality doesn’t exist in a vacuum. I’m in exactly the same boat as you are (18 years marriage, not 12), and my prognosis isn’t good. I have spent years trying to properly convey my feelings and frustrations with my wife, and though she may occasionally make a small change, it is ALWAYS temporary, she regresses back to boring, vanilla sex within a few short weeks.
Your wife’s discomfort with her body, fantasy, oral sex, and anything beyond basic intercourse is something that only she can decide to confront. No amount of communication, suggestion, or outright badgering on your part will work. My wife has made token efforts, borrowed books from the library and never read more than a couple pages for instance, but that doesn’t change her aversion to oral sex or her disgust with her own body. It’s entirely possible that your wife will never change, and that is incredibly frustrating, that has been my reality. I love my wife deeply, but I won’t lie and say that there isn’t a great deal of resentment. There are good days and there are days where I feel completely trapped. Your “next wife” musings aren’t yours alone…
Simply put, there are many women (and men) out there who don’t like certain aspects of sex, and there is nothing you can do about it. If you’re supremely lucky, you’ve got one of the very few that are capable of making progression, but I’ve read dozens of stories of dead ends for every unicorn.
My only saving grace is a declining libido and finding distractions, because when I think about sex or listen to podcasts like these, it tears my heart out.
I know you wrote this almost 2 years ago, but you almost sound like you could be my husband. I don’t know if your wife would be willing to listen to the podcasts, but they helped me a lot. We have been married for almost 15 years, but it wasn’t until this last year that I matured sexually. These podcasts helped a lot as well as the HHS Facebook group (happy, healthy sexuality for lds women). It has been truly life changing. I wish you two luck!
My wife was advised by a literature teacher that oral sex was immoral and had no place in worthy marriages; this advice was given as recently as 2013. Luckily, I had studied up on this issue (as had my wife) and determined that this counsel was dead wrong. Regardless, the statement left my wife feeling unworthy for a while and I was half-tempted to go find that teacher give them a good talking-to.
My position on this issue is simple: Whatever you do in your marriage bed should support a healthy, emotionally connected relationship with your spouse. Your role in sexuality is to please your spouse, NOT yourself; masturbation and pornography were wrong before marriage, and they remain wrong in marriage. Manual stimulation is an entirely different matter, as it represents interaction with your spouse, not yourself, and without it, many would never find the experience gratifying in any way.
The biggest advice I can give to men who find themselves stunted is simple: Go on a never-ending quest to figure out what makes the experience enjoyable for your wife. If you succeed, your marriage will connect more often and at a deeper level than you ever though possible, bridging physical and emotional in a mosaic of experience that serves as a powerful binding agent in happy marriages.
As for fantasies your wife doesn’t share with you, forget about them for now. Instead, make your relationship safe enough that your wife can tell you her fantasies and you can make them real without making fun of them. If you answer to her innermost desires first, she’ll be a lot more likely to seek out yours.
In short: stop worrying about your own pleasure and start worrying about hers, physically, emotionally, etc. It will take some time, but you’ll find your relationship goes places you never thought possible.
I usually love what you say but I couldn’t get my head around the dress up for husband answer.
I have no problem with couples spicing things up but encouraging women to get in touch with themselves because her husband is bored seeing her in her garments really irks me.
What is he wearing? Garments and a tshirt? Why isn’t the pressure on him to dress up and be eye candy?
It’s the double standard that irks me. If he’s already the high desire partner then perhaps he should be the one having to make the effort to get her interested?
Usually I feel you’re bang on with empowering women to access their own sexuality to give and receive love. This time it seemed more about her being prudish just because she didn’t want to dress up for him…for whatever reason. 🙁
Also would you prescribe the same framework to anal sex that you would to oral? And if so when does “safe, sane and consensual” kick in?
(Sorry for the comments three years later btw…I’m very late to the party! 😉 )