I have a secret.
I was born and grew up Mormon. Yes, those “weird people” who don’t drink coffee, tea or alcohol. Mormons tend to marry other Mormons and refuse pre-marital sex on religious and spiritual grounds. Church services last three hours and the men and women are divided into separate groups in the last hour to give them their own gender specific lessons on faith and family. It all sounds wonky, but I promise, it’s really not so bad.
The thing is, I’m not those things anymore. I don’t go to weekly worship services and take sacraments. I’m certainly not abstaining from my morning tea and my late afternoon latte break. Let’s not venture into my dating life, because my track record reads like a “who’s who” of human wreckage, most of whom were definitely not Mormon.
When I first told my mother and father that I didn’t believe in God and that I wasn’t sure what religion even stood for anymore, their reactions weren’t surprising. How do you know? How can you be sure? Why don’t you pray about it? My brother’s reaction was worse. I just think you’d be so much happier if you started going to church and reading your scriptures again. He cried. I cried. I felt like I was letting him down. I told him I couldn’t keep attending a church I didn’t believe in, that saying prayers to some deity I wasn’t sure existed seemed pointless. I told him how I had tried for so long to get an answer to my prayers, to know things that others claimed to know “with a surety”. I told him that if God existed, I was positive he’d want me to question his existence to know for myself, that he’d want me to push the boundaries and inquire as much as possible about what life meant and what humanity was even for. I walked out. We apologized to each other later that day, saying we still loved each other, but that this was just something we had to get past. We did. Sort of.
When you’re a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, you’re taught to “question but not question” in a sense. Question whether the scriptures are true, whether this is the true Church, but don’t ask whether God exists. They tell you to accept that God has a plan for you, that he loves you no matter what, that the scriptures will always be the best guide for you. Even the worst sins like sexual transgression before marriage can be forgiven; homosexuality is a natural tendency that many in our church have to live with, but they can overcome it and still lead happy lives… which means they can never have sex or have a romantic relationship with someone of the same gender. This is also the same for single women: Single women in the church, you should never sabotage your eternal happiness by sacrificing marriage for a job opportunity… but as long as you’re single, don’t have sex. Don’t have sex, because you will get pregnant and die (I apologize in advance for the ridiculous Mean Girls reference).
Basically, you’re screwed. No pun intended. As long as you’re unmarried, your chances at earthly happiness decline with each passing year. As for this next bit, I should probably warn you, mom and dad, to skip this part. Are you looking away? If you’re reading this, you’re not.
One of the things I can personally vouch for, that so many young singles in the Mormon Church struggle with so desperately, is their new-found sexuality as it progresses over the years. The idea of moral and sexual purity is shoved down your throat so much that any tiny slip-ups are looked upon as being next to nefarious. You’re immediately labeled a lecherous sinner and told to look to God for forgiveness and guidance to never do it again. The first time I made out with a boy in college and he got a bit “enthusiastic”, he looked at me somberly and said “I think we need to confess this to the bishop. I think our relationship would be better if it was pure and built around God”. No sex had occurred in any form, but I still felt like I had a giant “A” emblazoned across my jumper for the next two weeks. Subsequent relationships were the same. When you’re told time and again that being physically involved with someone is wrong and sinful, you start to feel dirty. You feel like maybe you’ve been programmed incorrectly. A friend of mine was abruptly released from her church position because of “certain sexual transgressions” with her fiance. No one was told about it, but everyone else in the church ward could guess what had transpired. People looked down on them as if they had committed a heinous act of sexual terrorism against humanity.
A few years later, I stumbled across a book by author and comedian Elna Baker entitled The New York Regional Mormon Singles Halloween Dance. I had read a review of the book, which tagged it as “whip-smart”, “dazzling” and “raw”. After reading that Baker was a young, single Mormon living with her puritanical standards in downtown Manhattan, I didn’t bother previewing it, I grabbed a copy and ran—no, bolted to the cash register.
I devoured the book. Baker managed not only to keep my attention but to speak to my soul. She wrote humorously on all things spiritual and moral, sinful and silly. Her woes over losing her virginity and finding love without sex were real and relatable for so many. I realized, finally, that I wasn’t alone. She talked about how she wanted to give herself fully to the man she loved, the one who understood her situation and wanted to wait as long as she needed… until he realized that “as long as she needed” meant forever and ever until the wedding night. “Not even if you’re in love? Or engaged?” he asked her at one point. “No. Not then either.” She broke his heart and her own at the same time. As I read, I looked down at the page and noticed it was wrinkled, that the lines were smudged. I realized suddenly that I was crying.
That’s when everything clicked. Sex wasn’t sinful. Intimacy was intimacy. It was natural and human and everything delicate and messy at the same time. To feel guilty over something so real and complex was, to me, a slap in the face of the Universe and a banner of illegitimacy above the feigned control I had over my life. I started to take things as they came and to question everything with a new perspective. My relationships felt healthier and less forced; the world was colorful again and the strain on my heart started to ease at last. Finally, I could live and be the person I was meant to be, “sinful” tendencies and all. I will never hate the Mormons but I also don’t think I’ll ever be able to return to a life that labels me a “problem child”.
It’s not my obligation to tell you what my status is at the moment. All you need to know is this: sex is a personal matter and it’s only for you to worry about and no one else. Not your friends, your parents, your cousins, uncles, aunts, teachers, pastors. Not even God, as much as people will tell you otherwise.
So go ahead, make a choice. Be who you’re meant to be and stand up for yourself, no matter what your sexual experience. All you need to remember is the following advice: do it or don’t do it. Everything else is just details.