(Some “extra-curricular” material for Lesson 17 of Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Spencer W. Kimball)

Chastity is not the natural state of man.[1] But in a religion that believes that the natural man is an enemy of God (Mosiah 3), we need not fret too much about that. There are many things we may want to do but should still discipline ourselves to avoid. Such is the life of the Christian disciple.

In his famous talk on chastity, Elder Holland said that, “Clearly God’s greatest concerns regarding mortality are how one gets into this world and how one gets out of it. These two most important issues in our very personal and carefully supervised progress are the two issues that he as our Creator and Father and Guide wishes most to reserve to himself. These are the two matters that he has repeatedly told us he wants us never to take illegally, illicitly, unfaithfully, without sanction.”

Sex can result in both the creation of life and the taking of life, and in that light, chastity makes a lot of sense. But there’s something unsatisfying about promoting this argument too strongly, especially to those who do not see a spiritual side to sexuality: with safe-sex so readily available (thus de-linking sex with “life”), is chastity unnecessary, outmoded?[2] One could argue that even in the era of the free condom, teenage pregnancy and STDs are still rampant. On the other hand, there are plenty of careful people having sex outside of marriage. Is there a pro-chastity argument to be made that would reach the secular masses?

Perhaps not. Naturally, Elder Holland bases his defense of chastity on a religious doctrine — the doctrine of the soul (and remember, for Mormons soul = spirit and body):

[P]artly in answer to why such seriousness, we answer that one toying with the God-given–and satanically coveted–body of another, toys with the very soul of that individual, toys with the central purpose and product of life, “the very key” to life, as Elder Boyd K. Packer once called it.

Evidently, church leaders see a danger to the soul in unchastity. Some dangers are obvious: adultery can do real danger to lives (and consequently souls); some unwanted children have their souls tragically blighted from the very beginning. Elder Holland also believes that any extra-marital sex is “moral schizophrenia” one “that comes from pretending we are one, sharing the physical symbols and physical intimacy of our union, but then fleeing, retreating, severing all such other aspects — and symbols — of what was meant to be a total obligation, only to unite again furtively some other night or, worse yet, furtively unite (and you can tell how cynically I use that word) with some other partner who is no more bound to us, no more one with us than the last was or than the one that will come next week or next month or next year or anytime before the binding commitments of marriage?”

In other words, the danger of unchastity is to marriage, whether the marriage we now have, or the one we may one day enjoy. I suspect, again, that this argument will still fall flat for most non-believers. After all, what about those happy marriages where sex was a part of courtship? And what of miserable-but-chaste marriages? Or the sexual dysfunction that characterises the otherwise kosher unions of some believers?

Paul did not worry about all this. As Lauren Winner explains (writing in Christianity Today):

Sex is, in Paul’s image [1 Cor 6], a joining of your body to someone else’s. In baptism, you have become Christ’s body, and it is Christ’s body that must give you permission to join his body to another body. In the Christian grammar, we have no right to sex. The place where the church confers that privilege on you is the wedding; weddings grant us license to have sex with one person. Chastity, in other words, is a fact of gospel life. In the New Testament, sex beyond the boundaries of marriage—the boundaries of communally granted sanction of sex—is simply off limits. To have sex outside those bounds is to commit an offense against the body. Abstinence before marriage, and fidelity within marriage; any other kind of sex is embodied apostasy.

Put simply, chastity is God’s will, and as our bodies are not wholly ours, but God’s too, his will is paramount. End of story. This notion should ring true to the Christian; that it will not convince others is fairly irrelevant for our own personal application of the commandment. (I remain open to a strong secular defense of chastity, though.)[3]

So, how to be chaste? Winner has an interesting idea. Given the characterisation of libido with “appetite,” she suggests fasting as a means of instilling discipline:

Francis of Assisi famously called his body “Brother Ass.” It is fasting, I think, that helps us say to our body, You are Brother (or Sister), but you are also Ass. Fasting, in other words, is the practice that most obviously helps us learn to discipline our physical selves. A woman of the early church known as holy Syncletia taught that “bodily poison is cured by still stronger antidotes; so fasting and prayer drive sordid temptations from us.” I have a happily married friend who puts that in a modern idiom. He says that when he wants to have sex with someone other than his wife, he fasts. In remembering that he can discipline his desire for food, my friend reminds himself that he can discipline his desire for sex, too.

Fasting as a means to chastity is an intriguing idea. Winner’s practical and candid approach to the issue is welcome (I recommend the whole article). Too often we wrap chastity up solely with guilt, not bothering to offer either a sensible apologia for it, or practical suggestions on how to be chaste. We must also try to put things into their proper perspective: the natural temptations and fumblings of youth are not sins one whisker away from murder.[4]

Question: chastity seems to be the number one virtue promoted by the church and the centre of the “moral” life. Is the church fighting the right battle, and if so, is it fighting it in the right way? Given the crushing effects of promiscuity [5] I see in my own country, I think this is a virtue Christians are right to champion, but I fear we lose many young people because the quite forgivable kinks in their own sexual roads become impassable barriers to a communion with the church.


[1] Nor of women, but especially of men!

[2] I have studied some of the marriage law of the ancients and much of it seems concerned with safeguarding the legitimacy of children. In these terms, sex outside of marriage was a rather obvious danger. Acceptance of prostitution and homosexuality muddy the moral waters somewhat, however.

[3] For the record, I am not a fan of abstinence-only sex education. It is wholly unrealistic and doesn’t work. Oh, and as I don’t believe gay marriage to be a threat to my marriage, I think married gay sex is “more moral” (whatever that means) than unmarried gay sex. But do not rise to this threadjack!

[4] See Mike Ash’s article in Sunstone 143.

[5] And we return to the problem of automatically linking unchastity with irresponsible promiscuity.


  1. Julie M. Smith says:

    Interesting stuff, Ronan. The closest I’ve seen to a secular defense of chastity is Wendy Shalit’s _A Return to modesty_ which is the work of a too-long thinker (but I will be quoting it when I teach this lesson tomorrow).

    Lauren Winner and Rob Bell have done some interesting work on chastity from an evangelical perspective.

    Your main question requires more thought.

  2. Wonderful stuff.

  3. I know this isn’t exactly on point with chastity, but there is a fascinating post about modesty that addresses some of the same interpretive issues discussed (wonderfully) by Ronan here.

    I have 2 sons and 4 daughters. I have come to the conclusion that the only way to teach chastity that will form a foundation that will last is to highlight the principle that the central goal of mortality is to become complete and whole (perfectly united with another person – physically and emotionally), and that such a goal is only possible as a unified couple. Part of that principle is that, at the most fundamental level, sex is meant to accomplish two objectives: 1) be an integral part of truly becoming one (which is the ultimate objective of marriage); and 2) be the process of replicating yourself.

    I teach my children there are very effective ways to circumvent #2, but there is no way to accomplish #1 without sex – and that “full, undivided” unity (physical and emotional) cannot be accomplished if you are sharing yourself with more than one person.

    I think, in our modern world, we simply have to remove children from the equation when we discuss chastity. If sex is only (or even primarily) about kids, and not fundamentally about the joining of our entire souls (body and spirit), then we have turned a religious principle into a scientific one – and we lose.

  4. Eric Russell says:

    “impassable barriers to a communion with the church.”

    If there’s something we talk about more than chastity, it is repentance, and our ability to return to full fellowship both with god and church. Anyone who finds a “forgivable kink” to be an “impassable barrier” either doesn’t want to overcome the barrier or isn’t paying any attention.

  5. Supposedly Dawn Eden’s “Thrill of the Chaste” reviews some of the secular reasons for chastitiy. Has anyone read it?

  6. Eric,
    In theory, yes. But the people who are hit hardest with the rhetoric of sexual sin and guilt often don’t have the spiritual maturity to deal with it: teenagers.

  7. Ronan, this is a great post. While chastity probably is only part of the issue, our greater than 92% inactivity level among single people is simply disastrous. A great secular argument for chastity would be great, but so would a convincing one for our own people, it would seem.

  8. J’s point about inactivity among single adults also highlights the need for average husbands and wives in the Church to be actively involved in sharing the Gospel and the Church with other husbands and wives. There is a natural connection between young, single missionaries and young, single citizens that is not so natural with married couples, but it is much harder to remain active in the Church as a young, single convert – especially in areas where there is not a strong singles ward or branch or extensive YSA program in place. For a YSA convert in a ward without other YSA members, the situation is analogous to a Black convert in an all-white congregation. Ideally, the conversion is deep enough to survive the isolation long enough for others in a similar situation to join the congregation, but that is not the case in way too many cases. What that often leaves us with is a disproportionate percentage of new converts who are the least equipped to remain active – which is an indictment of the membership at large rather than the missionaries.

    Having said that, I agree fully with J’s point about needing a convincing argument for our own people. First, we simply have to get over our aversion to discussing sex; if we don’t do that, we never will be able to discuss chastity appropriately.

  9. wow J. Any data to back that up with? (I am expecting you have some, as you normally do)

  10. Here’s my secular argument for monogamy/chastity.

    Multiple Sexual Partners creates competition. Competition creates lack of trust. Lack of trust means shallow relationships. Shallow relationships mean subpar satisfaction. subpar satisfaction is undesireable.

    Or, imagine you are 85 years old. Do you really want to be in the competitive market for a mate at that age.

    Finally, Sex isn’t just about having fun, it’s about having kids. If you have kids, do you want to do anything to jeapordize that relationship with them?

  11. Let’s just all go back to good old fashioned Nauvoo polyandry, then we won’t have to worry about all this anymore. The Oneida community (circa 1848) did pretty good with complex marriage (group marriage).

  12. Re: 10,

    Here’s my secular argument for monogamy/chastity.

    Isn’t there such thing as “unchaste monogamy”–that is, exclusive sex partners living in a committed relationship, but who aren’t married?

    In light of this group of people, arguments for chastity that assume the “unchaste” are not monogamous might be problematic.

    Sex isn’t just about having fun, it’s about having kids.

    But what about those with fertility problems? Is sex less meaningful for them?

    I’m not trying to be contentious, but I think these are questions worth thinking about.

  13. Matt, those arguments make sense for those who believe that trusting relationships are important – and those who value relationships with their biological offspring – and those who are looking for a long-term mate. However, there are pockets within our society now where the illegitimacy rate is reaching 90%. Those who are contributing to that rate (especially men, but also the women who are participating actively by bearing multiple children from multiple men) apparently do not place the same degree of value on these things that we do. Until they experience a mighty change of heart that changes their actual behavior, I don’t see that changing – especially if we continue to empower them financially in the name of “taking care of the children.”

    As a society, we have trivialized sex to such a degree that we commonly use the term “sexual partner” – which, by its very nature, offers a “legitimate” option to a “wife” or “husband” and reduces “mate” to its biological definition. When “partner” no longer even implies a contract of any kind (but merely contact of a certain kind), I’m afraid the only choices available to change people’s actions are severe social measures (like eliminating welfare payments and/or levying taxes for any children following the first one to someone who was receiving welfare at the time of – or within an established time frame prior to – conception of the additional child) or deep conversion to the Gospel standard of chastity. Given our obsession with enabling illegitimacy and taking care of all children, regardless of the circumstances of their birth (a twisted version of compassion, IMO), I’m not optimistic that the first will happen; the latter might be the only option – and that is a very difficult thing, as well, since it requires an unyielding call to and acceptance of repentance.

    Again, that simply highlights the need to find a way to make an argument that appeals to the spirit, since we are losing the argument with those who are focused on the body. I just don’t see a way to change or “control” sexual behavior if we focus on the physical / political reasons for chastity – unless we are willing to punish extra-marital activity in a real and restrictive way – and I just don’t see the willingness to do that.

  14. Kevin Barney says:

    In regard to your opening point, note that BY once opined that it is the unnatural man that is an enemy to God: the natural man is of God. A very Mormon twist on the famous saying.

  15. Most people agree that it is immoral to drive while drunk, even though most drunk drivers do not get into accidents. Most people also agree that it is wrong for a pregnant woman to expose her child to the risk of fetal alcohol syndrome by drinking, even though most children born of women who consumed alcohol while drinking do not have fetal alcohol syndrome. Behaviors that entail significant risk of harm to others or to oneself are often criticized and characterized as unwise, reckless or immoral, even though they do not invariably result in actual harm.

    Premarital sex entails significant risks to oneself and to others. There is always a risk that another human life will be created in circumstances that could be extremely damaging to that child and perhaps to the parents. There is a significant risk of disease. There is also significant risk that by prematurely engaging in sexual relations a couple will become emotionally bonded when they should not be so bonded, either due to lack of maturity, mutual commitment or for other reasons. This creates much emotional and sometimes physical harm. All of these risks are substantial and they cannot be avoided no matter what kind of “protection” is used. Therefore, it is wrong to have sexual relations until the couple is ready, willing and able to become a real family. That means marriage in our society.

    How’s that?

  16. Thomas Parkin says:

    It has always interested me that the Law of Chastity is presented so late in the endowment. I think being a truly chaste person (surely more than simply abstaining from prohibited sex) is a late spiritual development for most people, a crowning rather than foundational achievement, and is closely related to developing divine qualities of love. Obedience to the letter of the law of Chastity seems to me for temporary protection – gets us through till we arrive.

    Just quick thoughts.


  17. Latter-day Guy says:

    RE #11: Yeah, “complex” marriage is the right term. You’d definitely have a few after being initiated into sexual intimacy as a young teenage male by a post menopausal woman! [shudders, wakes weeping in the night]

  18. Thomas, I have been struck multiple times by the same thing about the timing of the covenant. In that light, we do a great disservice to our youth if we don’t acknowledge openly and honestly that asking them to obey the full Law of Chastity (not just the preparatory Mosaic commandment of not committing adultery) is a central aspect of asking them to be peculiar – that we are asking them to abstain from something that can be wonderful – that for many of them it will be against their natural impulses – and that it is not an easy thing.

    I know a woman quite well who was not told these things as a young woman. She simply was told that sex before marriage was a bad thing that she should avoid at all costs (because of potential pregnancy and disease). Her young mind translated that into, “Sex (and those things that are like unto it) will be repulsive until after I get married.” At 15, her boyfriend showed her that some of those things like unto it were not repulsive at all – and her amazement destroyed her defenses, bringing about her eventual pregnancy as a 16-year-old.

    I am not advocating graphic explanations for our youth, but once our young men and young women turn 12 (in this day and culture) I believe strongly that they need to begin to understand that they are being asked to follow a standard that is not a simple, easy thing. If we believe it is a good thing (both the sex and the chastity), we need to make sure they know that – and why we are asking them to be different. They need to “commit” to it, not just “believe” it – and to commit to something, it needs to be communicated and discussed regularly and openly and honestly – just like we hope they will *continue* to do once they are married.

  19. MikeInWeHo says:

    Great post, Ronan, although I must admit that my first thought was something along the lines of “Talk about closing the barn door after the horses have already escaped….”

    I’m not sure there is a convincing secular argument to be made against premarital sex, especially in Western societies with economies that encourage late marriage. When most people marry around 30, virtually all of them will have pre-marital sexual experience (even the LDS). It’s biology. Ray’s attempt in #15 proves my point (sorry Ray). You can’t reduce the risk of drunk driving or drunk pregnancy-ing, so you just shouldn’t do it. You can dramatically reduce the risks associated with sex.

    Trying to convince people not to engage in pre-marital sex with the hope that this will improve their spiritual situation gets it entirely backward. Focus on improving their spiritual lives, and the sexual morality will follow. Preach chastity, and most people just walk away. Preach Christ, and some people will follow him and become more sexually moral.

    I see this all the time in the gay community. People who retain their religious identity and stay connected to a faith community are much more likely to strive for and obtain stable, monogamous relationships.

  20. That’s ok, Mike. I didn’t write #15. :-)

    Basically, you said exactly what I said in #13 – just more concisely, which doesn’t surprise anyone, I’m sure.

  21. I can’t make a secular argument for total chastity between responsible adults. Sorry.

    I might be wrong, but the case for chastity as a ‘special sin’ seems to grow out of some doctrines from BY that we no longer promote. (Were those doctrines stressed because of sensitivity about sexual sins because of polygamy? Just guessing.) So the idea that a lack of chastity is second only to murder as a sin, masturbation invariably leads to rape and homosexuality, women should not date men who have looked at porn in the last five years … well, that’s a tough environment in which to be thinking about sex every eighteen seconds (or whatever the alarming statistic happens to be this week).

    To second-hand quote an unnamed GA, ‘If we sent home all the missionaries who confessed to masturbation, we would have to close half the missions.’ (How’s that for doctrinal authority?)

  22. About what Ray said:

    I am not advocating graphic explanations for our youth,

    I may be, depending on what graphic means. But knowing less never made it easier to keep a commandment.

    but once our young men and young women turn 12 (in this day and culture) I believe strongly that they need to begin to understand that they are being asked to follow a standard that is not a simple, easy thing.

    True that.

  23. Somehow I don’t think Jesus would promote chastity by cutting off aid to the sinful unmarried mothers.

    Anyway, I’m not sure I’ll have the guts, but I thought I’d start my chastity lesson by discussing women who want families without men and who choose to be artificially inseminated instead. Then I’ll contrast that with the trend among Japanese men to just buy life sized latex dolls…all sex, no kids, no women who might say no.

    God gave us the gift of orgasms not as drug to pursue like heroin, but as a sacrament to share between a married couple and God. Orgasms are not just for men. Sisters, demand yours or its not a sacrament you’re sharing, you’re letting yourself be used like a latex doll in Japan.

  24. but once our young men and young women turn 12 (in this day and culture) I believe strongly that they need to begin to understand that they are being asked to follow a standard that is not a simple, easy thing.

    I think that process starts when they are about 6. Not the graphic part, but laying the foundation for our standards, and why we have them, and how they are different, early on.

    It is something that makes us peculiar.

    Dr. Laura has seemed to find secular ways to approach this. She disparages anyone who ‘shacks up’ and talks about how sex should happen in a committed marital relationship, period.

  25. Trying to convince people not to engage in pre-marital sex with the hope that this will improve their spiritual situation gets it entirely backward. Focus on improving their spiritual lives, and the sexual morality will follow. Preach chastity, and most people just walk away. Preach Christ, and some people will follow him and become more sexually moral.

    Wow. I missed that the first time around. I’m going to paraphrase that in church tomorrow.

  26. Norbert, I will be as graphic with my own children as I feel I need to be – and I will answer anything they ask. I also don’t mind fairly graphic mechanical discussions (scientific explanations) in school health classes – as long as it doesn’t delve into all of the possible ways to experience it. I just don’t want others teaching my kids about anything but the basics – even though I define “the basics” quite liberally.

    m&m, Amen as to the age to start teaching the principle in Primary. In my own home, again, I will answer any question my children ask, although I will adapt my answers to the age of the asker.

    nona, 1st paragraph: Agree. I said it would be a practical, political way to deal with illegitimacy. I do think, however, that He would not approve of paying without teaching and admonishing. 2nd paragraph: That would be interesting. I would have no desire to attend and would encourage others as a function of my calling not to do so (as a Church lesson), but that’s me. 3rd paragraph: Agree completely with the sentiment, but I don’t like the “sacrament” description (understanding the Catholic usage and meaning) because that terminology is so foreign to most Mormons – and because I have heard extrapolations on that wording from members that end up being far, far, far from what the Church actually teaches. Again, that’s just me.

  27. #16. Thomas Parkin

    Re: the chastity covenant is presented so late in the endowment.

    Brigham Young: “….when we give the endowments, we are obliged to confer upon you the Melchisedec (sic) Priesthood; but I expect to see the day when we shall be so situated that we can say to a company of brethren you can go and receive the ordinances pertaining to the Aaronic order of the Priesthood, and then you can go into the world and preach the Gospel; or do something that will prove whether you will honor that Priesthood before you receive more. Now we pass them through the ordinances of both Priesthoods in one day, but this is not as it should be and would if we had a Temple wherein to administer these ordinances.”

    I’ve had a copy of that page for about 15 years. I believe BY gave the talk to a priesthood meeting at the Odgen Tabernacle. The page number is 309 and the heading at the top of the page reads, “Turning out the Water of the Weber, etc.”

    So, it seems that Brigham’s idea was that we would first go to the temple to make the easy AP covenants, go out into the world, prove that we could keep those,then return to take on the meatier Laws of Chastity and Consecration.

  28. Mike, I didn’t make it explicit, and I should have done so. The part of your comment that Norbert excerpted is one of the most concise, profound summaries of the issue I have heard – from anyone in any setting.

  29. Source is Journal of Discourses. Just don’t know what volume.

  30. BR, it is vol. 10 and it was a sentiment that was not only held by Brigham, though there was never an effort made to separate the rituals, even when he had the chance during he and Woodruff’s codification.

    nona (#23), I definitely think that “sacrament” is not an appropriate appellation.

  31. ray,
    then you didn’t like holland’s of souls symbols and sacraments?

  32. MikeInWeHo says:

    re: 28 Thanks. Sorry I confused you with Gary.

    m&m, I’m not sure turning to Dr. Laura is a good way of proving there is a secular argument for pre-marital abstinence. She makes Ann Coulter look like Mother Theresa. : )

  33. #31 – I liked the sentiment and the message, just not the usage of that word in that setting. That’s a personal opinion that in no way at all affects my sustaining of the man as an apostle and prophet.

    I am not going to elaborate any further than to say that I believe misconceptions about what it means to talk of sex as a “sacrament” have contributed as much to the warped way we view sex as just about anything else throughout history. As a very simple example, that’s not a time when I want to be thinking of the Lord – and, unfortunately, that is how such verbiage has been interpreted by too many. There is a passion and carnality about sex that is perfectly appropriate – and, IMO, shouldn’t be neutered by an incorrect view of what “sacrament” should mean in that setting. Therefore, I don’t like to use the term at all to discuss or describe sexual activities.

  34. #31 – nona, I support and sustain him as an apostle and prophet, and the message he was conveying I accept, but I just don’t like the use of the word in that setting.

    I am not going to elaborate any further than to say that I believe misconceptions about what it means to talk of sex as a “sacrament” have contributed as much to the warped way we view sex as just about anything else throughout history. As a very simple example, that’s not a time when I want to be thinking of the Lord – and, unfortunately, that is how such verbiage has been interpreted by too many. There is a passion and carnality about sex that is perfectly appropriate – and, IMO, shouldn’t be neutered by an incorrect view of what “sacrament” should mean in that setting. Therefore, I don’t like to use the term at all to discuss or describe sexual activities.

  35. Re: Gary (#15)

    Therefore, it is wrong to have sexual relations until the couple is ready, willing and able to become a real family. That means marriage in our society.

    The thing is, in our society, marriage isn’t a great qualifier when it comes to a couple’s readiness to bear a family. A mature couple might be “ready, willing and able” to have kids, yet not be married. Also, there are those who are not emotionally, mentally, or financially “ready” to have children, yet happen to be married (think Utah Valley). So I’m not sure that your argument against premarital sex would be entirely convincing to a secular audience.

    However, if you replace “premarital sex” with premature or irresponsible sex, then I think the argument is quite persuasive.

    It’s difficult to argue for absolute premarital abstinence in the secular sphere, probably because such arguments depend upon notions of morality that are not shared by all. In my opinion, secular arguments should center on how to promote responsible sex, because that’s a goal that pretty much everyone can agree on, and there are some clear, objective risks that irresponsible sex entails.

    Within the home, however, it is certainly the prerogative of LDS parents to teach and promote the standard of chastity espoused by the Church.

  36. I am not advocating graphic explanations for our youth

    I am. My husband and I were both raised non-members, and we both wandered far and wide; our kids will know their facts, AS WELL as what our standards and the standards of the Gospel are.

    There is no way I would send my kids out into the world without knowing what they were dealing with.

  37. Tracy M, I agree completely. See #26.

  38. #32
    Come now, Ann Coulter is much, much worse.

  39. Anyway, I’m not sure I’ll have the guts, but I thought I’d start my chastity lesson by discussing women who want families without men and who choose to be artificially inseminated instead. Then I’ll contrast that with the trend among Japanese men to just buy life sized latex dolls…all sex, no kids, no women who might say no.

    God gave us the gift of orgasms not as drug to pursue like heroin, but as a sacrament to share between a married couple and God. Orgasms are not just for men. Sisters, demand yours or its not a sacrament you’re sharing, you’re letting yourself be used like a latex doll in Japan.

    Nona–wow, I must say that what you have so far is considerably more engaging than any chastity discussion I’ve ever heard in my entire life. That should wake any sleepers on the back row riiiight up.

    Can I visit your ward tomorrow?

  40. MikeInWeHo: I understand the differences between drunk driving and sex. However, my point is that since you cannot eliminate the risk of significant harm, the mere fact that such damage does not always occur, or does not even usually occur is no answer to the argument that the mere risk of damage is sufficient to make it wrong.

    SteveM: I agree with you that is a leap of logic to conclude that my attempt at a secular argument justifies a ban on all premarital sex. In the extreme case, it certainly would not justify classifying as “wrong” premarital sex between a mature couple on the eve of their wedding.

    Frankly, I agree with those who argue that there is no satisfactory secular argument which would apply to a committed, mature couple who happen not to be married in accordance with the laws of the land. I am not entirely sure that there is a good religious argument either, because I can’t see why a marriage certificate granted in accordance with secular law or tribal custom makes all the difference in God’s eyes, but that is another issue entirely.

  41. What a fascinating discussion. It makes me a little sad that tomorrow I will attend Sunday School and will be treated to yet another superficial discussion. However…maybe I will be surprised.

    Anyway, I’m convinced that no secular argument can be made that will fit everyone. Instead, the argument must be tailored to the individual. For instance, youth need to understand that if they cross the chastity line then they might bring a child into a situation that isn’t optimal. Married adults should appreciate the argument that unchastity ruins marriages. Where does that leave the responsible single adult? I don’t know what argument may appeal to them.

  42. Anon for This One says:

    And there are so many categories of “responsible single adult”, yet the Church often refers to only the adolescent/slightly post-adolescent group (late teens-late twenties).

    Is premarital (i.e. extramarital engaged in by single people) sex always wrong/always against the law of Chastity?

    1. Almost every single man and most single women masturbate.
    2. Most adults–if they remain single their entire lives, will have at least one sexual experience before they die. Can anyone–even God–begrudge them that?

    3.What is so wrong with a 43 year old never-married woman with a hysterectomy having sex with her first and only boyfriend for the first time in her mostly-unhappy life? True story, and she is about to get excommunicated over this.

    4. What is wrong with a piar of 70 year olds in a rest home sleeping together? Or an engaged 30 year old couple? Or a couple who have divorced each other, but still get together once in a while?

    IMO, any of the above situations is more justified and more moral than an 18 year old couple eager to marry because of hormones.

  43. Eve,
    I’m up early trying to finalize my game plan. I’ve thought my whole life I would do things differently if I ever had to be the one in front giving the chastity lesson, but now that I”m faced with it, I’m sure I don’t have the courage. I won’t be talking about chewed gum or any of those degrading sexist analogies. But I just might bring up the orem porn store that was able to stay open because they supoened cable records to show utah county loves porn. If I can’t work up the nerve to tell the sisters they should be having orgasms too, then maybe I can at least tell them to make sure they inspect the cable bill.

  44. Anon Today says:

    Anon for This One (42)–
    I can understand how the world in general would see the situations you’ve listed as more moral than a young couple rushing into an unwise marriage. But it sounds (from your mention of excommunication) like you are talking about church members in those situations. If that’s what you mean, then I think you’ve really missed the boat. As much as we can come up with arguments about “responsible” and “mature” sexual relationships, the bottom line is that we abstain from extramarital sex because God said so. It’s a commandment, and, like the other commandments, it doesn’t matter why we’ve been asked to live it. But if we do, the blessings will come.

    I am a never-married single adult, and I am sick and tired of people writing off my demographic as somehow unable to live the law of chastity. Do I think about sex? Do I look forward to it someday? Of course! But in the meantime, I have a happy, fulfilling life, because I’m doing my best to keep my covenants. True joy comes from the gospel, not from an illicit encounter.

  45. As I read the situations presented by Anon for This One, I am wondering why those people should not be advised to marry first. Seeking justification for transgression as being relatively less of a sin is thin stuff.

  46. What is so wrong with a 43 year old never-married woman with a hysterectomy having sex with her first and only boyfriend for the first time in her mostly-unhappy life? True story, and she is about to get excommunicated over this. This would only get her disfellowshipped, and only then if she is endowed and possibly an RM.

  47. Anon for This One says:

    I don’t sit in councils; I’m only telling you what I know. I am aware that “discipline” is meted out for many reasons, and sometimes unfairly. All the situations I refered to were of members I know. My point isn’t to talk about discipline. My point is that ALL of these situations are of people who have broken the law of chastity, but who don’t follow the Sunday School anecdote formula very well.

    Generally when the Church talks about fornication, they refer to young unmarried college-age students. The justification against such relationships is more often than not a no-brainer. (And on the other hand, since adult brains don’t mature until at least the mid-20s, perhaps the Church should come out against early marriage, which is often a safeguard against premartital sex).

    Marriage isn’t (and shouldn’t_ be) a cureall or a preventative against the disease of premarital sex. Not all couples who have sex should get married.

    My question is just this: Why are the above situations so heinous? One person answered by saying “Because God said so.” I can live with that, but are there any more takers? If Heavenly Father is going to ask such an enormous sacrifice of so many of His children, isn’t there another explanation that doesn’t have to do with fertility and heartbreak of youth?

  48. Anon for This One,

    “Heinous” is a loaded word and one I use rarely when discussing chastity (never in situations like those you outlined), but it is clear throughout all of our scriptures and the recorded words of our prophets that chastity is a central commandment and covenant in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It really couldn’t be clearer.

    Also, there are some VERY good explanations in the original post and also in some of the comments in this very thread that don’t “have to do with fertility and heartbreak of youth.” I would suggest going back and carefully and slowly reading the original post again and each and every comment, then asking either for clarification or additional detail about them. I don’t mean that to be condescending at all (truly, I don’t), but I think what already has been contributed should be considered before more is demanded.

    Having said that, let me add one small, but in my mind, critical point: “God is no respecter of persons” carries an implication that, in many cases, He wants all of us to follow the same standard, regardless of our own individual strengths and weaknesses and lifestyles and inclinations. I have found that often those who complain the loudest about a particular commandment being unfairly applied to *all* are the ones who are weak in that area and want *special* consideration for their own individual situations – to justify their difficulty accepting and following a particular commandment. (I learned that personally years ago when I got called on it by a friend – correctly so.) I cannot say that about the people in the situations you list, since I do not know any of them, but I can’t help but wonder given my experience dealing with these issues over the years.

  49. anon for this this one says:

    Ray, Thanks for your comments. I assure that nothing is wrong with my reading and comprehension abilities.

    I also never quoted you as saying “heinous”–that was my word.

    In answer to your veiled inquisitive comment about my “hiding sins”: no, I am not. I married as a virgin over 40, and like 98% of every other human being on earth, had only broken the law of chastity through masturbation.

    If you don’t want to answer my questions, fine; but I assure you that the answers to my questions were not satisfactorily found in the preceding comments. Otherwise, I would not have asked.

  50. Anon,

    For what it’s worth, I don’t think they’re heinous either.

    Unfortunately, although Matt W. is correct, Church discpline is not meted out with much consistency regardless of the handbook. Much depends on the local leader and his view of sexual sins. (I was going to type “his/her view” but realized there are no “her” views that matter in the Church.) I have a very good friend with a large family, who had been a bishop and higher, he was unfaithful with several women and was only disfellowhsipped. He was back in the temple in a year. Maybe that was the correct action in his case, but it certainly didn’t follow the handbook.

    The Church does absolutely nothing to prepare youth for marriage or to discourage them from marrying young. Bishops have no training in this area–nor should they, it’s not their job. We have no pre-marital courses that could really identify potential problems and address them as do other churches. In the Catholic Church, such courses are mandatory and not superficial.
    Our prohibition on pre-marital sexual intercourse leads many to marry too young and totally unprepared for the rigors and demands of married life—and for a successful, fulfilling sex life, I might add.

    Our teacher is new; this will be her first lesson. i wonder how she will handle it. This has been an interesting discussion.

  51. I hope someone does a post on this paragraph (or have they already and I just missed it?):

    ” If one has [homosexual] desires and tendencies, he overcomes them the same as if he had the urge toward petting or fornication or adultery. The Lord condemns and forbids this practice with a vigor equal to his condemnation of adultery and other such sex acts. … Again, contrary to the belief and statement of many people, this [practice], like fornication, is overcomable and forgivable, but again, only upon a deep and abiding repentance, which means total abandonment and complete transformation of thought and act. The fact that some governments and some churches and numerous corrupted individuals have tried to reduce such behavior from criminal offense to personal privilege does not change the nature nor the seriousness of the practice. Good men, wise men, God-fearing men everywhere still denounce the practice as being unworthy of sons and daughters of God; and Christ’s church denounces it and condemns it. … This heinous homosexual sin is of the ages. Many cities and civilizations have gone out of existence because of it.”

    Our EQ got into a heated discussion. Someone had a copy of the pamphlet “God Loveth His Children” which seems much less-bigoted than the Kimball quotes. After 15 to 20 minutes of comparing and contrasting the pamphlet to the paragraph above a full-time missionary from Utah stood, and in a quivering voice, strongly rebuked us. He was upset with the contention in the Chapel and asked that we move on without further discussion. He might be a greenie.

  52. Anon,

    First, I didn’t mean to imply at all that you were “hiding sins”. I didn’t say that about anyone, much less you. I would never make that charge; period. You seemed to say that the situations you were describing were situations about which you were aware in others’ lives. Honestly, I took our word for that. It never occurred to me that you would think I was saying they were about you, since I don’t “veil” much, if anything – and if I do I say so up front and explain why. I am a staunch believer in parsing only what actually is said, and this is a perfect example of why I take that stance.

    I also didn’t challenge your reading and comprehension skills. I just assumed, incorrectly, I’m sure, that you had responded to a comment without reading the entire thread. I apologize for that.

    Carlton, the official position of the Church has changed somewhat and softened greatly (hence, the abandonment of talking about criminal activity when fornication and adultery are consensual), but the overall principle (homosexuality *and* its heterosexual counterparts – adultery and fornication – considered as sinful behavior) has not changed one bit. If the EQ discussion was truly contentious, then it probably needed to cease; if it only was “heated” but not really contentious, then the missionary was out of line. (FWIW, in my callings, I have had occasion to call a halt to class discussions for various reasons – not very often, but it has happened.)

  53. #50, I would disagree that the Church does nothing to prepare our youth for marriage. I would say that a great deal of what the Church teaches is meant to prepare the youth to have happy, successful marriages. I think what you meant was that it does not prepare youth to have a healthy and mature view of what sex in marriage is supposed to be like, and to that extent, I agree with you. I think that the restriction of sex to marriage pushes youth (in their most vulnerable and hormonal stage) to get married quickly and we do not do enough to impress upon youth the extra-sexual features of marriage, some of which are not so gratifying and are often where the relationship really breaks down. The decision to get married should always have its pros (the companionship and the opening up of the possibility of sex) and cons (the resultant increase in responsibility and loss of personal freedom) for the individual, and these consequence should be recognized and appreciated for what they are. In the Church, it seems to be all “pros.”

  54. #50 – To say that the Church does nothing to prepare its youth for happy, successful marriage flies in the face of statistics that say that those youth who follow what the Church teaches concerning marriage the most closely (at least by a standard that is measurable – like temple marriage) are *far*more likely to have happy, successful marriages (at least by a standard that is measurable – like divorce) than those who do not follow what the Church teaches about marriage. The general statistic on divorce among those who marry in the temple is around 5%; that of Mormons who marry outside the temple is at least 35-40% – essentially even statistically with the rest of Christianity and Judaism and slightly higher than atheism.
    Obviously, not every temple marriage is “happy and successful”, but such radical differences in divorce rate suggest strongly that the Church is doing an amazing job preparing its youth for marriage – at least those that live the teachings consistently and fully enough to marry in the temple.

    MikeinWeHo’s 3rd paragraph in #19 (that Norbert excerpted in #25) explains it well, I think. The Church doesn’t insist on formal marriage classes, although it does offer Marriage Prep classes that can be exceptional, but instead it focuses on teaching principles from 18-month-old nursery onward that can make Christian disciples of its members – and that process creates people who can have happy, successful marriages.

    Whether or not individual wards and stakes do enough to retain the youth can be debated separately, but for those who “complete” what the Church offers, that preparation is exceptionally effective.

  55. “homosexuality *and* its heterosexual counterparts – adultery and fornication – considered as sinful behavior”

    Hmm, this sound a lot like the Kimball quotes. The new pamphlet says that “same gender attraction,” which is what defines if one is a homosexual or not, is not sinful.

    “Many people with same-gender attractions have strong testimonies of the gospel and, therefore, do not act on those attractions. Attractions alone do not make you unworthy. If you avoid immoral thoughts and actions, you have not transgressed even if you feel such an attraction. The First Presidency stated, “There is a distinction between immoral thoughts and feelings and participating in either immoral heterosexual or any homosexual behavior” (letter, Nov. 14, 1991).”

    Acting on the desire, having homosexual sex, is the sin and the counterpart to heterosexual adultery and fornication. This was the basic gist of the conversation. The Utah missionary determined that for our quorum (included the High Priests) he was the authority to determine what was considered contention. I admit there was a low level of contention and some snarky remarks but for the most part everyone was just trying to work it all out. I guess being from Zion entitled him to intervene in our discussion because he felt uncomfortable talking about “homos.”

  56. You are correct, Carlton. I meant to type homosexual activity and its heterosexual counterparts – as I emphasized in other posts on this topic. Sorry for the confusion.

  57. I wasn’t there for the PH lesson mentioned in #51 & 55, but I would be willing to bet that the FT missionary who stood up and asked for the discussion to move on did NOT do it because he thought he had special authority or privilege simply because he was from UT — but because he was a FT MISSIONARY feeling a bit uncomfortable with the discussion given his current calling and focus.

    There can be some heated discussion with the topic of chastity, and much of it comes into play because of our perspectives based on our life situations — young single adult, single adult, married (happily or unhappily), divorced, widowed, missionary… We all react, think, and say things differently based on where we are in life and our experiences.

    It seems that tolerance, respect, and patience are qualities that help in most areas of our lives (not just in discussions of this nature).

  58. I do not want to come across as contentious or judgmental, but there are some aspects of this discussion that, for me, are really quite simple and basic. And I personally do not have a problem using the SWK lesson to answer the questions in #42/47.

    “[Morality] is not an outworn garment, faded, old-fashioned, and threadbare. God is the same yesterday, today, and forever, and his covenants and doctrines are immutable… Old values are upheld by the Church not because they are old, but rather because they are right.” [180]

    “The Lord has only one standard of morality — total chastity for both men and women before marriage and complete fidelity afterward.” [179]

    The short answer to the question of whether premarital sex is always wrong/always against the law of chastity is yes — because, in each situation given, the person is breaking commandments.

    To answer the question about why it is so heinous, read the entire talk by Elder Holland that Ronan quoted.

  59. Ray,

    I’d like to know where those stats come from. I do not believe that if temple divorce rates were 5% GAs would be as concerned about divorces as they are. I don’t even believe 10 0r 20% would get them so worried.

  60. I, too, found those marriage statistics a bit extreme. A quick web search turned up a page written by an Orem member of the Utah Governer’s commission on Marriage. In it, the Utah divorce rate was listed as 4.3 per 1000, slighly higher than the National rate of 4.1 per 1000. However, we’re the lowest in the Intermountain West! Yay! Unless non-temple-marriages have an astoundingly high rate of divorce (which seems exceedingly unlikely) then Temple Marriages have the same chance of failing as non-temple marriages. I suspect that the discrepancy in statistics comes from the difficulty in receiving a temple divorce these days, but that’s another topic. So, this would mean that the statistics Ray cites are not for civil divorces of Temple married couples, as Ray seems to feel, but for Temple Divorces of couples; many, many of whom have been divorced civilly without a corresponding temple divorce. The paper went on to list that 50% of divorces in Utah were within 5 years of marriage, with 18% occurring within the first year. This compares to an average of 20% of divorces occurring within the first five years nationally. It seems, then, that quite a number of first (temple) marriages hit the skids very early on, quite possibly for reasons alluded to on this thread. I write (and am reading this) because a rather hasty (ill-advised? We’ll see) marriage just occurred in my family–I was discussing this with a relative; he blamed the marriage on the chastity requirements (which I have no reason to believe he hasn’t followed faithfully his whole life.) To say I was astonished is something of an understatement. What to do? I have no idea; but I suspect acknowledging that there might be a problem is a good way to start. Actually, institutionally, all that would need to happen is to loosen up the “chastity” requirements just a bit for couples that are almost married — it doesn’t even need to be done formally; just a slightly less heavy hand.

  61. whoinventedfreeride says:

    RE #14


    Although I mostly agree with your ultimate conclusion, I must say that the logic you used to arrive at your conclusion is laden with many, many instances of faulty logic. I think as members of the church we should be wary of arriving at certain conclusions by way of comparing instances of statistical odds.

    Here’s a great example of why we shouldn’t do this:

    The sum total of contemporary church membership makes up less than 1 percent of the world’s population. So, if 99 percent of the world’s population is pursuing other routes to salvation, then perhaps I should choose another route besides Mormonism.

    anyway…this is just an example…for what it’s worth…

  62. There is general agreement that the divorce rate for temple marriages is about 6% (1 in 16-17). That number is not sealings that have been granted temple divorces; it is for temple married individuals who have ever been divorced, according to what I was able to determine. There are a lot of places that speculate about the divorce rate being skewed by temple marriages and civil divorces – that essentially say, “That’s the rate the Church reports. We know it’s *really* much higher than that.” There are some that go through fairly extensive and obvious steps to show that the “real” rate is as high as 17% – but they all rely on the assumption that it just doesn’t make sense that the numbers would be so low. The best explanation I found when I looked for the stats I quoted above was: (It actually goes into a more in-depth breakdown of the numbers – and it reports on those who simply were asked if they had been sealed in the temple and if they had ever been divorced. The likelihood that some members with a civil divorce prior to a temple marriage would misunderstand and respond “Yes” to this question probably offsets any who might lie and say “No” – or who would misunderstand and not report a civil divorce simply because their temple sealing had not been granted an official divorce.)

    The generally accepted rate for any Mormon who marries another Mormon is about 13-14% (1 in 7-8). That was quoted even in obviously “anti-Mormon” treatises. The rate for any individual who identifies as Mormon is about 24% – fairly even with those of any Christian denomination; that of a Mormon who marries a non-Mormon is about 35-40% – one of the highest rates among Christian categories.

    I don’t know the actual rates, but I tried to weed out obviously biased estimates on both sides of the aisle when I gave the original estimates. Based on my own experience over the years, I thought the 6% figure was fairly accurate. Will I put a wager on it? Not even if I was a bettor. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was now as high as 10%, but 6% just seems like the best unbiased figure available right now. Regardless, every objective source agreed that it is significantly lower than any other religious group and much lower than the national average.

    btw, I don’t want this to turn into a divorce rate debate. I only mentioned it to refute a particular inflammatory comment. I won’t argue about this on this thread.

  63. But it’s a very interesting question, Ray. Maybe you could write a guest post for BCC ?

  64. Mike, I don’t feel qualified. I tried to get a decent feel by looking at what is available easily on the web, but it would take someone much more immersed in the research than I to do it justice. I do think it would be an interesting topic, but I also think it probably would be one of those topics that might bring out the worst in internet conversations. From what I read as I perused the low-hanging fruit, I’m not sure I would want to participate in the ensuing discussion. Seriously, the trolls might come out of the woodwork.

  65. If the church doesn’t classify same gender attraction as sinful (see #55) is that the church saying that same gender attraction (aka homosexuality) may be genetic?

    Has the church ever taken a stance on whether homosexuality is genetic or chosen?

  66. #65 – It used to; it no longer does. The exact quote from an interview with Elder’s Oaks and Wickham posted in the newsroom on is:

    “The Church does not have a position on the causes of any of these susceptibilities or inclinations, including those related to same-gender attraction. Those are scientific questions — whether nature or nurture — those are things the Church doesn’t have a position on.”

    From “God Loveth His Children” – the Church’s new pamphlet:

    “God does indeed love all His children. Many questions, however, including some related to same-gender attractions, must await a future answer, even in the next life.”

    I have advocated careful parsing so many times that I’m known as the resident parser, so I won’t speculate openly about what the overall message seems to imply to me. Having said that, neither option is excluded explicitly in the interview or in the pamphlet.

  67. Very interesting ideas here- I only wish I had been around to read this a few days ago. Unfortunately these threads seem to have a very short life….

    I apologize if these ideas were raised already- I’m still catching up on all the comments.

    For me, traditional chastity is a “no brainer,” but I wonder if there is more to it than “abstinence before marriage and complete fidelity afterwards.” For example, can a spouse be so absorbed in work, children, or a multitude of other hobbies or activities that he/she neglects his/her spouse, and in this sense, is that also being unfaithful?

    Normally, I think most people associate chastity with what we don’t do. But what does chastity entail that we “do”?

  68. Jim, fwiw, I have known too many people who are chaste but lousy spouses. That’s why I loved MikeinWeHo’s comment so much (#19); it focuses on Chastity as just one characteristic of full discipleship (and faithfulness in a marriage), not as an end to itself.

  69. I wanted to jump in and back up Ray on the divorce stats. He is right based on my own research.

  70. “Our prohibition on pre-marital sexual intercourse leads many to marry too young and totally unprepared for the rigors and demands of married life—and for a successful, fulfilling sex life, I might add”

    I have to say that I read comments like this in the bloggernaccle all the time. Based on the really low temple divorce rates that Ray and I have mentioned I feel that statements like these are not backed up by actual research/facts.

  71. Re: Ray #68
    In my opinion, and again, without any data to substantiate, I believe the number of mediocre spouses far outweigh the number of “lousy” spouses.

    I believe that there is a tendency for husband/wife to become complacent after a few or several years of marriage. This is probably more prevalent than unchastity (IMO) and is also detrimental….

  72. Agreed, Jim.

  73. I don’t have the info right here but I have read 2 studies that those who wait until marriage to have sex are more likely to have happy marriages. There is another study out which also says that the reason why cohabitating couples are more likely to divorce is because they are also associated with more premarital sex partners which is associated with a higher divorce rate. Overall the statistics seem to state that Chastity before marriage leads to higher rates of satisfaction within marriage. As far as what problems chastity may cause concerning a sexual relationship within marriage, most of those will be greatly moderated by Committed and caring spouses who are willing to put each others needs before their own.

    I also have done some research on temple divorce rates and the statistics show that those married in the temple have the lowest divorce rates of group that we have statistics for including different religions, non religious etc. By far actually. Keeping the commandments does make you much more likely to have satisfying relationships.

  74. I’m a single woman in my late 20s. I’ve never had the opportunity for any sexual activity with another person so I can’t really say how I feel about premarital sex or whether church ideals should be changed on that. I don’t think I’m ever going to understand the harsh stance on masturbation though or the misconception that it always leads to greater sins. For some people it does but for the vast majority of people it doesn’t. Otherwise we’d all be out having one night stands with multiple partners and pornography addicts. At least that’s what all the law of chastity lessons I’ve heard in my singles branch have intimidate. Although for me I’ve found that it’s quite the opposite of what is preached and that when I went for a long time without doing it because it’s considered a sin, it was the first time I felt tempted to do something worse like go out and pick up someone to have a one night stand with. I’m not going to justify it but it still bothers me to a certain extent that it is considered so wrong when it’s the one thing that’s curbed me from doing something far worse. Maybe if there was less guilt and implication of evil tied to masturbation there’d be less actual premarital sex. Or maybe I’m wrong and just trying to justify my own wrong doing.

    I do not have a problem with waiting for marriage to actually have sex but I do feel like there is an assumption in church teachings that I can turn off that need for it or ignore it because I haven’t been blessed with marriage yet.

  75. I’ve never had the opportunity for any sexual activity with another person

    You’ve obviously not been hanging out in the right bars.

    As for masturbation; I can’t remember when I’ve heard a mormon woman stand up for it as a hobby. You go girl!

  76. i am a single mother of a single mother,children are a gift not all people experience, its not a sin to have children, look at mary, the mother of jesus, she was a single mum, get over it

  77. i am a single mother of a single mother, children are a gift not a sin, mary was the origin single mother, the mother of jesus, get over yourselves.

  78. jo,

    Are you serious? Mary was far from being a single mum. She was married to Joseph and had several children with him. Not to mention the fact that God the Father had a significant role in raising her Firstborn son. She was hardly alone. And I don’t think anyone’s criticising single parents here anyway….


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