Friday, October 23, 2009

Let me tell you 'bout the birds and the bees and the flowers and the trees

This past Sunday we had the sex talk in our Marriage and Family Relations class (link to the Marriage and Family Relations manual). I'm sure those of you who've had the sex talk in any mainstream Mormon Sunday School class can venture a guess as to how it went. Here's the usual scene: the teacher, barely looking up from the lesson manual, speeds through the material (this section is particularly loaded with quotations from the prophets and apostles---in other words, as I'm sure many read it, stick to the script), nary asking a question of students in order to avoid any awkward conversations about, you know, the "s-e-c-k-s" word, and deferring any questions about said act to the prophets and apostles, who often, in turn (at least this is how many may read their comments) defer discussions to the bedroom, to be kept between husband and wife. Of course, many things about sex should be kept between husband and wife. But there's also much about sex that we can and should be open and candid about.

And this was the approach I took Sunday because, yes, I was the one in front of the classroom. I contextualized the discussion by opening with Moroni 7:45-47 and comparing the Gospel vision of charity laid out here to the world's take on love. Then we moved into the list of quotations offered in the manual, which we explored openly and candidly and with an eye toward what they really convey about sex.

We started with Richard G. Scott on "the purposes of physical intimacy in marriage":
Within the enduring covenant of marriage, the Lord permits husband and wife the expression of the sacred procreative powers in all their loveliness and beauty within the bounds He has set. One purpose of this private, sacred, intimate experience is to provide the physical bodies for the spirits Father in Heaven wants to experience mortality. Another reason for these powerful and beautiful feelings of love is to bind husband and wife together in loyalty, fidelity, consideration of each other, and common purpose.
One purpose, as Elder Scott defines it: procreation in all its loveliness and beauty. So sex is lovely. Sex is beautiful. Why be afraid of it, that is, when properly contextualized and directed? I mean, how else are we going to create bodies for the brood of spirit kids running around heaven, waiting for their chance at mortality?

Another purpose, as Elder Scott defines it: to bind husband and wife together, to facilitate greater loyalty, fidelity, consideration of each other, and common purpose. One common purpose, obviously, hearkens back to purpose one; but, and this came up in class, another refers to the mutual pursuit of pleasure, which can only happen when husband and wife trust each other enough to become vulnerable in the other's presence, to trust the other with their nekkidness, which in turn and in conjunction with consideration for the other, facilitates greater trust. Because, again, sex is lovely. Sex is beautiful. And it's not all about the kids (thank goodness).

Next we tied in Dallin H. Oaks---
The power to create mortal life is the most exalted power God has given his children. Its use was mandated in the first commandment [given to Adam and Eve], but another important commandment was given to forbid its misuse. The emphasis we place on the law of chastity is explained by our understanding of the purpose of our procreative powers in the accomplishment of God’s plan. The expression of our procreative powers is pleasing to God, but he has commanded that this be confined within the relationship of marriage.
---from which we took two laws: the law of procreation (in all its loveliness and beauty, which should be explored openly and contextually in appropriate company) and the law of chastity (which is explored heavily in Mormon culture, often at the expense of fostering an understanding of the first law; hence, our Victorian prudery). So why not talk with one another (and, when the time is right, with our kids) openly and contextually about sex?

And this led to Jeffrey R. Holland's open and contextual exploration of human intimacy, from which we considered this:
Human intimacy is reserved for a married couple because it is the ultimate symbol of total union, a totality and a union ordained and defined by God. From the Garden of Eden onward, marriage was intended to mean the complete merger of a man and a woman—their hearts, hopes, lives, love, family, future, everything. Adam said of Eve that she was bone of his bones and flesh of his flesh, and that they were to be ‘one flesh’ in their life together. This is a union of such completeness that we use the word seal to convey its eternal promise. The Prophet Joseph Smith once said we perhaps could render such a sacred bond as being ‘welded’ one to another."
Keywords we drew from Elder Holland and tied into our efforts at contextualization: total(ity), union, complete(ness), merger, seal, bond, weld. A brother in the class, an engineer, honed in on "weld," pointing out that the strongest point between two pieces of metal that have been joined together is along the weld. So, if we follow the analogy, as Elder Holland suggests we should, the properly contextualized physical union between husband and wife may well be one thing that strengthens and fortifies that marriage.

And this pointed us back to our exploration of gospel love vs. worldly love (which is too often focused on the physical act of sex without any of the spiritual/emotional/psychological context made possible through a gospel vision of sex). That's pretty much where we ended, observing how the world generally views sex without context and how the gospel allows us to view it in an eternal context (and fruitfully so). (Yes, pun intended.)

Something that didn't come up, but that I've had on my mind since first reading the lesson material, was this from Howard W. Hunter:
Be faithful in your marriage covenants in thought, word, and deed. Pornography, flirtations, and unwholesome fantasies erode one’s character and strike at the foundation of a happy marriage. Unity and trust within a marriage are thereby destroyed.
After reading this, I've been asking myself, "If porn, flirtations, and unwholesome fantasies erode one's character and strike at the foundations of a happy marriage, then might sex and the body properly contextualized and discussed in art and literature constitute, in part, wholesome fantasies? And can such strengthen one's character and help build unity and trust, loveliness, beauty, and happiness in marriage? If so, and if this is justified in the prophets' words, how might we focus on these matters of eternal eros more in Mormon culture?" Obviously, I think such can be the case. And I'm trying to do my small part by being open and candid myself in various forums. But I'd also like to know what you think.