Ripped from the pages of a blog: Thoughts on Mormon Perception of Sex

I put this up here originally, but there is no comment feature there in case people want to issue a rebuttal. So here this thought is again.

Rerum vulgarium fragmenta: Thoughts on Mormon Perceptions of Sex

The other day I was in the office of the free cinema on campus (it’s a university program which shows three international films per week, completely free, with visiting lecturers. It’s probably the greatest thing I’ve ever had in my life), talking with a friend. Due to strictures from the university, the films shown for free on campus have to be censored in order to avoid offending anyone, as well as to escape culpability in the event that anything shown in the film might lead to a moral transgression and, thus, a transgression of the illustrious BYU Honor Code. All of the cursing must be removed, any nudity or adult things must be removed, any promotion of drug use or loose morals must be trimmed and hedged. All of this editing is done with clearance from the filmmakers, so there aren’t any copyright laws being broken (don’t worry internetland). The friend I was talking with is the head of the program and ultimately responsible for the smooth operation of the whole thing.

He was telling me how the movies get edited. He and a panel pick the films, which are then viewed. Review cards are made to specify which parts of the film might be offensive and therefore need to be removed. Here’s the interesting thing: no males are allowed to do the actual editing of the film. There is usually one woman who does the editing and if she is not available then it must be another woman. I said that this was interesting (considering the fact that over the centuries, women have been far more associated with the concepts of transgression and lust). He then said said that it makes sense to him due to the Church’s conception of females as being less sexually stimulated by images of pornography. He even quoted a General Conference remark pertinent to the subject.

To me, this is striking. The LDS Church prides itself on its historicist view of Christianity - that it is the inevitable, late incarnation of the original church of Christ - and thus it has a huge mix of thematics that range from Classical antiquity to early modern moralists. The LDS Church’s stance on lust is a great example of the church’s historical borrowing, and its overall views of sexuality. Every year in our university sanctioned wards (congregations organized upon geographic location and marital status), we have the so-called “sex talk”. In it, the bishop (the pastor, or priest to normalize the term) speaks to the congregation both at large and in closed, gender-specific meetings. He speaks to the general congregation about sexuality and the pitfalls of pre-marital relations (with others and with yourself). Then, in your gender-specific meetings (Elders quorum for men, Relief Society for women), he goes into further detail regarding what is correct sexual conduct for the gender roles in the context of the Church. Normally, men get the “don’t coerce girls into sex” and “it’s your job as the male to set the boundaries” line. I don’t know what the women get, but from what I’ve heard, it’s more of a “your body is a temple” idea; A.K.A. don't let anybody into it without a temple recommend. The stress, then, is one of passive resistance, predicated on the idea of women as less interested in sex and lest tempted by immorality and carnal desire.

The Church, as I’ve mentioned, draws from a huge array of classical and romantic influences in its outward expressions of gender, gender roles, and cultural perceptions of sexuality. I find it most closely limning the Renaissance’s idealization of the feminine form in art (an outward manifestation of a nearly timeless societal strata). It is no secret that women in the LDS Church are held to a standard that, at almost all times, higher than the male standard. The male standards are explicit, stated in all texts, often with an eye to “prevention” of moral transgression. Though the Church doctrinally does not believe in the concept of original sin, it does profess belief in a deep strain of constant and overwhelming temptation. What’s more interesting is that it almost without question that this temptation (sexual, substantive, credible) is male-centered (I must stress that this isn’t a doctrinal concept, but a cultural reaction to the doctrine). The temptation is for men, as are most of the rules. As an example: when we discuss homosexuality in the Church, we are discussing male homosexuality.

Thus, the Church’s primary disciplinary job, it seems, is to regulate the behavior of men. They are, after all, the ones responsible for the eternal sanctity and salvation of their families. The rules for women, however, are far more open-ended. Women are not constantly told to not look at pornography or to cheat on their spouses because, it seems in the eyes of the members of the Church, women are not as susceptible. The disparity in guidelines and rules between the sexes, as well as the general idealization of women in the Church, leads to a Pygmalion-like existence for women within the Church. Men make women, who then make men, who then are responsible for the sanctity of the marriage, which is between man and a woman, and all of which is forever and ever. Sounds like a pretty standard summation of the perceived history of the world.

N.B.: Sorry for no sources, links, or evidence. This is more of a thought exercise than a total dissertation and is open to total logical destruction. In fact, total disproving is encouraged. Make your comments politely in the comment section please.


casey j. ross said...

I really understand completely how you could come to this conclusion. Especially if you have a really analytical mind, like you obviously do. However, I don’t agree. You have many good points. The fact that men are treated and talked to differently is true.
The reason that any "talk" isn't given the same in relief society as it is in elder's quorum is for the same reason we split into rs and eq. Men and woman are different. Always and forever. That is the way it should be. There are eternal characteristics that come naturally with each gender (and gender of course is also eternal) Now obviously, this isn't to say that every single man and every single woman fits into a cookie cutter of gender attributes. We are speaking generally. With that being said, men are given a far more straight forward approach for a reason. That tends to be what men respond to best. Also, the church actually is cracking down and saying that pornography is NOT just a problem for men. Action is being taken. Relief Society isn’t quite as warm and fuzzy as it might sound sometimes. We get chastened as well. But, you must admit that it is more of a problem for men. (We have more problems with gossip than sex haha) I think this is simply because women don't care about sex as much as men do (in general) women are far too emotional for that to be the focus. Now, to give the boys credit, they do get hit pretty hard all the time. But that is because the problem is getting worse! It isn’t that women aren’t susceptible or that no one thinks they are susceptible. Everyone is susceptible because we are all human.
As far as the whole "general idealization of women in the Church" goes...I don't think it is an idealization. Respect for women in the world is not very high. Yes, women have more rights blah blah blah. I don't care. I'm talking about the way women are treated and viewed. The world's perspective on that is terrible. Women and men are essential for God’s plan. We need each other. I think though that the church wants for its members to understand the special role that women can play in the world.
”Notwithstanding this preeminence given the creation of woman, she has so frequently through the ages been relegated to a secondary position. She has been put down. She has been denigrated. She has been enslaved. She has been abused. And yet some few of the greatest characters of scripture have been women of integrity, accomplishment, and faith.
We have Mary, the very mother of the Redeemer of the world. We have her as the chosen of God, described by Nephi as “a virgin, most beautiful and fair above all other virgins” (1 Ne. 11:15).
She it was who carried the child Jesus into Egypt to save His life from the wrath of Herod. She it was who nurtured Him in His boyhood and young manhood. She stood before Him when His pain-wracked body hung upon the cross on Calvary’s hill. In His suffering He said to her, “Woman, behold thy son!” And to His disciple in a plea that he care for her, He said, “Behold thy mother!” (John 19:26–27).
Crossing through His life we have Mary and Martha, and Mary of Magdala. She it was who came to the tomb that first Easter morning. And to her, a woman, He first appeared as the resurrected Lord. Why is it that even though Jesus placed woman in a position of preeminence, so many men who profess His name fail to do so? –Gordon B. Hinckley “The women in our lives”
I’m not giving you this quote as a “see we are better than you” or anything. That isn’t true. Honestly, I don’t know what else to say. But, I do know that as members we have a lot more knowledge…we are held to a higher standard. It doesn’t matter, man or woman, things like pornography and chastity are a problem. Perhaps if we were more concerned with serving each other and coming closer to Christ than we are about sex there wouldn’t be such a big problem.
Sanctity of marriage is the job of the man AND the woman. That is pretty common knowledge in the church.

casey j. ross said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
sara said...

One time last year, my ward had a combined priesthood/relief society lesson for the "sex talk" and it was made clear that both women and men were equally responsible for keeping things clean in a relationship.
Also, in a lot of Relief Society lessons that I've gone to, at least in CA, they did talk about pornography/homosexuality/etc and how it can be a big problem for women, too.
So, at least in my opinion, things are a little unbalanced, but I think that it isn't nearly THAT bad.. but it's definitely worse in Utah

redneckzilla said...

That's good to know Sara. I definitely think that things are changing within the cultural climate, for sure. But, you know, it's BYU and we're stuck in the 1950's.

Thanks for the insight, both of y'all. As I think I mentioned, it's not so much a doctrinal problem as a cultural problem, so your quotes are quite relevant to my point. Regardless of any fundamental difference in the eternal identities of women or men, it's the idea that both are and should always be on the same footing. This could extend a million different ways, but you know. Yes.

Thanks again!

Dream Factory said...

The article below is the best explanation I have seen for this particular issue. It's respectful, but it also emphasizes the fact that things could definitely improve.

redneckzilla said...

Well that's a wonderful bit of awesome.

gina prows photography; said...

looking at gender superficially, it's easy to wrap it up in bundle and reduce it [gender] to--men and women are fundamentally different. i challenge that. in fact, i would wager that there are more differences among women and among men than there are between men and women. it's an oversimplification to say that all of our human interaction boils down to 'natural,' 'inherent' differences. it's an illusion that our culture has come to embrace. what about other factors within the social context that construct our behaviors, rather than simply evoking some package of traits based solely upon our genitalia?
fair, this is how you see gender, but i think there's a more flexible perspective that is liberating to both men and women. i think there is a place where men and women can be more similar than different and still maintain the specific delegations of responsibilities that men and women have been given within the context of the LDS church.

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