And They Were Not Ashamed-Strengthening Marriage through Sexual Fulfillment is a book about sexual intimacy and marital ONEness that provides principles and practices to help couples strengthen their marriage by improving emotional, spiritual and physical intimacy. The last three chapters help parents teach and prepare their children to be morally clean and better prepared for lasting fulfillment in marriage. This three-part series of articles is an abridgement of those chapters.
(PART II) “Preparing Your Children for Intimacy in Marriage-What to Teach”
A Positive Approach-Teaching Light and Truth Regarding Intimacy
Society is saturated with sexual information-most of it negative, distorted, even corrupt. Parents must go on the offensive, teaching a healthy and holy understanding of sexuality. President Gordon B. Hinckley counseled parents to “teach their children the sanctity of sex, that the gift of creating life is sacred” (Hinckley, Teachings of Gordon B. Hinckley, 48). Parents must transform their teachings from an almost exclusive emphasis on dire premarital warnings, to a positive emphasis on the marital blessings of sexual purity and the righteous sharing of physical intimacies within marriage.
A conviction regarding the sanctity of sexual relations in marriage can inspire youth with a compelling desire and ability to resist Satan’s snares. Satan seeks to keep us from the light, for light and truth have the power to “forsake that evil one” (Doctrine & Covenants 93:37). Parents unwittingly play into his hands when they do not teach light and truth regarding sex and the body.
Sex as a Sacred Marital Ordinance. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland gave an inspired discourse on human sexuality entitled “Of Souls, Symbols, and Sacraments.” Defining sexual relations in marriage as a sacrament or sacred marital ordinance, he stated, “Sexual intimacy is not only a symbolic union between a man and a woman-the uniting of their very souls-but it is also symbolic of a union between mortals and deity. . . . Human intimacy is a sacrament, a very special kind of symbol” (Holland, “Of Souls, Symbols, and Sacraments,” 12).
Defining marital intimacy as a “sacred ordinance” reserved by God for marriage can have a subtle but powerful influence and provide the spiritual insight and understanding youth need to resist temptation. Reverence and respect can be instilled within the hearts and minds of youth as they are taught that sex is a symbolic ordinance, reserved for marriage. This will also provide a much broader and stronger vision regarding the seriousness of toying with sexual intimacies outside of marriage.
God’s Purposes for Sex in Marriage. Physical intimacy is ordained of God and has holy purposes. Teach your children that God created the sexual union of husband and wife for purposes such as:
Expressing love and passion,
For physical, emotional, and spiritual bonding and healing, and
For mutual pleasure and joy.
Pleasure is generally thought of as negative-something for which we must repent. The concept of sexual relations as a righteous means of sharing enjoyment and pleasure within marriage-in addition to being for procreative purposes-need not be foreign to our youth.
Gender Acceptance and Role Learning
It is important that parents teach that there is a special reason that each of us is either male or female. Early in life the foundation of sexual health is established when children have firmly accepted their value and identity as male or female. Sexual distress begins when children feel unaccepted, which leads to self-rejection and potential gender confusion. (See the Church’s Parent’s Guide, 20).
For healthy gender identity to develop, children need the influence, involvement and teachings of both the father and mother. Mothers tend to teach feminine characteristics and perspectives. Fathers tend to teach masculine characteristics and perspectives. Both are needed for a balanced life.
The Body Is Good and Is a Gift from God
Our physical bodies are one of our greatest earthly gifts. Elder James E. Talmage taught, “We have been taught . . . to look upon these bodies of ours as gifts from God. We Latter-day Saints do not regard the body as something to be condemned, something to be abhorred. . . . We regard [the body] as the sign of our royal birthright. . . . We believe that these bodies . . . may be made, in very truth, the temple of the Holy Ghost” (Holland, “Of Souls, Symbols, and Sacraments,” 6).
Let us teach our youth that we are spirit children of our Heavenly Father and that the body was created as a temple in which our spirit dwells. Understanding the sacred purposes of the body as a temple for the spirit self can instill reverence for the body. We would never defile or misuse a house of the Lord, neither should we defile nor misuse our bodies for sexual pleasure outside of marriage. Youth who fully understand that God’s spirit resides within their bodies have power and protection to help them resist the devil’s deceptions.
Though some may believe the body and sex to be “carnal, sensual and devilish” due to Satan’s deceptions, they are mistaken. Satan and his followers do not have bodies and seek to destroy us by encouraging us to misunderstand, mistreat, and misuse our bodies.
Though many in the world do not understand the blessings and divine nature of the body, you can arm your children with the power of truth.
Teach children to take special care to nourish and keep their body clean. Teach correct names for body parts and model healthy acceptance and respect for all parts of the body. Children are not curious about things they already know about. Parents of young children must remember that exploration of the body is natural to a child. How parents respond to innocent exploration will affect a child’s feelings about themselves, their bodies and their sexuality.
The Essentials of Procreation
When most parents think of preparing their children for intimacy in marriage they think primarily of teaching the mechanics of procreation. While that is an important part of teaching your children it is not the only teaching or even the earliest teaching that is needed. Depending upon the age and readiness of a child parents need to prayerfully consider how much and when what teachings are needed. This is why “sex education” must not be a one-time event.
As suggested by Dr. Wayne Anderson, LDS psychologist, there are six general categories of information that need to be taught about procreation: (1) bodily organs and their functions; (2) physical differences between boys and girls; (3) the origin of babies; (4) intrauterine growth; (5) the birth process and (6) the father’s role. (See Curtis and Anderson, Living, Loving & Marrying, 208-16). LDS and Christian resources to help teach these topics are listed in Chapter 15 of the book, And They Were Not Ashamed-Strengthening Marriage through Sexual Fulfillment.
Sex Can Be Controlled
Some youth, particularly young men, have come to believe that they simply cannot control themselves when it comes to indulging in sexual behavior. This is a lie. Teach your children that sexual feelings and behavior can be controlled. The Lord has asked that we refrain from sexual relations outside of marriage. We know the Lord will ask nothing of us that we will not be able to do (see 1 Nephi 3:7). Teach your youth to develop mental discipline and to strengthen themselves spiritually, which will give them power to master their physical appetites and passions.
Teach youth that we don’t want them to extinguish their God-given desires and passions, but to harness and preserve them, like electricity that is channeled into an electrical outlet, providing a productive use of that power in the appropriate time and place. The scriptures teach, “bridle all your passions, that ye may be filled with love” (Alma 38:12).
Some fear that as the world grows more and more wicked and blatant with sin, they will not be able to resist the temptations that abound. This is untrue. Teach youth that as they live on the Lord’s side of the line and couple their strength with God, they can overcome any temptation.
Like a road map through a dark and dangerous forest, God lovingly provides standards of moral behavior, which provide physical, emotional, and spiritual safety. Moral standards keep youth from physical dangers, such as unwanted pregnancy, or sexually transmitted diseases; they provide emotional protection by maintaining self-respect, self-esteem, confidence, and peace of mind; and they provide spiritual safety by keeping youth from the heart-rending pain and sorrow necessary for true repentance from sexual sin. Parents must stay close to their children to encourage the development of maturity and guard them from situations that can easily get out of control.
Our Heavenly Father knows that reserving sexual relations for marriage brings the greatest happiness. This is His standard. Just as baptism is reserved until the age of eight and serving a mission is reserved until age nineteen for men and twenty-one for women, so, too, must youth wait until they are legally and lawfully wedded before God authorizes sexual relations.
Sexuality is good when used within the bounds the Lord has set. Sexual passions are driving emotions given us by God, but we also have the responsibility to reverence and respect them as a sacred part of the sacrament of marriage. Teach youth “good girls (and guys) do” . . . they just wait until marriage.
It is critical that our youth not only understand God’s standards, but also the good news of the gospel that we can repent when we make mistakes. We can be forgiven and cleansed of our sins until we remember them (with anguish) no more. Using an oft-used analogy, the power of the Atonement not only removes the nail from the piece of wood, nor does it simply fill the hole with wood putty, but it can restore the wood, so the hole is gone. “Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow” (Isaiah 1:18).
Modesty. Keeping God’s standards of modest dress and appearance is an important way to show our respect and appreciation for our bodies as sacred gifts from God. Appearance or dress that causes any part of the body to be more interesting to look at than the face and the eyes could be considered immodest. Encourage youth to wear clothing now that would also be appropriate after they have received their temple endowments.
Modesty is important to teach to both young women and young men. Be careful not to imply that young women must be modest, so that young men can control themselves. This is a dangerous message for both sexes! It incorrectly teaches young women that they are responsible for another’s sexual behavior. This also incorrectly teaches young men that they are helpless to control themselves when someone else dresses immodestly.
A negative or over-zealous approach to teaching modesty often carries over into the marital bedroom. Many women are unable to comfortably share their bodies with their husbands during lovemaking in marriage. Parents and leaders must be careful to balance their messages of modesty to avoid unnecessary marital inhibitions. This is no easy task. If we are not careful in our approach, encouraging modest appearance and behavior during youth will conflict with the scriptural counsel to be “naked and not ashamed” after marriage (see Genesis 2:25; Moses 3:25; Abraham 5:19).
Dating. God has counseled youth to wait until age sixteen or later before they begin dating (see For the Strength of Youth, 24). This allows youth to develop maturity, which is demonstrated by regularly making good choices. In marriage, spending lots of time together builds emotional intimacy and closeness, which are wonderful precursors to physical intimacy. But those same behaviors can be dangerous outside of marriage to those unprepared for the powerful feelings of physical desire.
Loving parents can help youth understand the power of emotional intimacy in marriage and monitor how much time is spent together to avoid too much familiarity developing between their youth and members of the opposite sex.
Sexual Fulfillment Takes Time and Effort after Marriage
Parents and leaders must teach beyond being chaste and marrying in the temple-beyond “happily ever after.” Chastity before marriage does not ensure sexual fulfillment within marriage. Knowing what to expect of the sexual relationship is an important part of a successful transition from premarital prohibitions to mutual sexual fulfillment after marriage. Parents must instill the expectation that time, effort, study, and intimate educating between husband and wife will be needed after marriage to fine tune the symphony of sexual relations. (See also Chapter 3 and 4 “The Symphony of the Female Sexual Response” in the book And They Were Not Ashamed.)
Blessings of Righteousness
Long ago Satan launched his campaign that “sex in any season brings pleasure.” Others have countered with the strategy “sin brings pain.” It may be time for a new, more effective and positive approach using the inspiring message that “righteousness brings peace.” Sex education and moral training have often centered on the consequences of immorality and disobedience to God’s commandments. Fear, warnings, negative consequences, and dire statistics are not the greatest motivators of righteousness. No matter how high or alarming the statistics get, teens still maintain an attitude that says, “It won’t happen to me.”
Below are ten blessings of obedience to God’s commandments of moral restraint and of personal righteousness. Teach youth to understand and develop their own testimonies of the blessings of righteousness, helping them to fasten their personal shield of righteousness.
1. Companionship of the Holy Ghost. Each of us has a special role to play in building God’s kingdom. We need the power of the Spirit of God to fulfill our earthly missions. When we follow the Lord’s standards and strive for personal righteousness, we are promised that the Holy Ghost will be our constant companion (See Doctrine & Covenants 121:45-46).
2. Peace and a Clear Conscience. When that Spirit of Christ is heeded to avoid sin, or when repentance takes place after sin, peace of mind and a clear conscience are the rich rewards. Sin is a heavy burden, whereas repentance and righteousness bring light and peace.
3. Happiness. Everyone wants to be happy. Happiness comes from righteousness. Satan seeks to deceive some into believing sin is more fun, but wickedness never brings long-term happiness (see Alma 41:10).
4. Confidence in Self and in God. Righteousness creates an engaging countenance of confidence in self and in God. Confidence comes by keeping the commandments. What is there to fear when you know you are doing what pleases God?
5. Faith. Obedience to God’s commandments is rewarded with faith. Faith is a sure knowledge that a loving God is in charge and that He can help and heal us. With every act of obedience-every time unclean thoughts are expelled from the mind, every time temptations are resisted-faith increases. Increased faith makes it easier to be obedient the next time. Faith and obedience create a cycle of spiritual strength.
6. Self-discipline. Behaviors begin with a thought. Mental discipline is key to self-discipline. As youth choose to keep their thoughts and behaviors in check they develop greater self-discipline. Self-control gives one the ability to create life’s circumstances, rather than being acted upon.
7. Proper Focus in Life. The development of self-discipline builds the foundations of a successful future. A proper focus keeps priorities in place, putting first things first.
8. Self-respect. As we face the challenges of life with resolute determination to choose righteously we develop greater respect for ourselves. We also learn greater respect for God as we experience firsthand the blessings of obedience. Self-respect builds strength of character and spiritual fortitude.
9. Trust. To be trusted is an honor. Parents and others bestow trust when they see correct choices being made over a period of time. Instill in your children a desire to be trusted not only to resist temptations, but to also be trusted to stay away from potential temptations. Trust that is developed in youth carries over into marriage. Having made good choices morally in the past is a strong indicator of future marital fidelity.
10. Firm Foundation for a Strong Marriage and Family. The blessings of righteousness outlined here lay a firm foundation upon which a strong and secure marriage and family can be built. Youth can be taught to understand the connection between their choices now and their future happiness in marriage and family.
What is needed to successfully prepare children to be morally clean and better prepared for intimacy in marriage goes beyond teaching the birds and the bees. With a positive focus on God’s purposes for sexual intimacy and on the blessings of righteousness parents can endow their children with the power and protection of light and truth and better prepare them for lasting fulfillment in marriage.
To obtain the full chapters on preparing your children for intimacy in marriage you can purchase the book And They Were Not Ashamed-Strengthening Marriage through Sexual Fulfillment at http://www.StrengtheningMarriage.com.