Debra from Australia, writes:
Have you ever run a forum on the libido of menopausal women? What does LDS sexuality look like? How do LDS couples learn to explore their sexuality, once the honeymoon stage has passed? “Hot and sweaty” just isn’t so practical when time is precious and privacy is limited!
How does the male learn to be courteous to his wife, and vice versa, when there are these myriad activities/stimuli impinging on time and mood? How do couples manage the natural cycles that each experiences?
At some levels I am also interested in notions of overcoming the “natural man and woman” and to overcome the sense of duty and obligation that often exists. My personal “natural woman” struggle is not over interest, but rather a general libidinal disinterest. At present I feel as if I could not be bothered. This is both a hormonal issue, as well as a psycho-sexual one.
A thousand questions from my middle aged mind!
Dr. John Lund has done a little work in this area but I find some of what he says insufficient in answering my questions.
At some levels the intimacy/sexual experience has defied all description and is totally different to the experience I thought it would be. Have we all been duped by hormones in our young adult years of chastity only to marry and find that the faithful, marital/sexual experience is much less fulfilling than we expected? Or are we still learning that Christian/Mormon sexuality is very different from what we once thought it was meant to be at both procreative and mutual levels? Can it be better/improved?
I suspect that frank disclosure and introspection coupled with scientific knowledge could be the liberation of many husbands and wives who currently live in a quandary regarding how to have a wonderful intimate life as a means of expressing their mutual sexualitythe infamous “becoming one.”
I suppose I could write a thesis, but I doubt that it would cut much mustard in academic circles because it is somewhat of a delicate issue.
Wow, Debra. Loaded question!
As you have probably guessed, I am not shy or reserved. Not even (or, perhaps, especially not) about this general topic. When my teenage daughter was having her annual checkup last summer, the doctor asked her if her mother had explained “the facts of life” to her. She rolled her eyes and said, “More than I’d like!”
Intimacy does bring up an interesting dynamic with LDS women. Of course it is something we engage in (we aren’t known for our large families for nothing), but it is also something we consider sacred and private. If we need help on genealogy or organizing, we ask our friends or take a class or read books or look it up on the internet. But how do we get help and insight into marital relations without betraying the trust and confidence of our spouse and without making something personal and sacred seem casual and common? How do we find answers about intimacy without venturing into inappropriate venues?
President Spencer W. Kimball stated, “If you study the divorces, as we have had to do in these past years, you will find there are reasons. Generally, sex is the first; they did not get along sexually. They may not say that in court. They may not even tell that to their attorneys, but that is the reason.”
I won’t pretend to be loaded with the answers you seek here, for a couple of reasons. (1) I’m not yet menopausal. In fact, I just found out I am pregnant again. (You may consider that my official announcement.) (2) I have never experienced what could be even remotely described as “libidinal disinterest.” As you can guess, that doesn’t mean I am not incredibly opinionated about the matter. It just means that my ideas may not be worth the bandwidth they require to download. But considering President Kimball’s statement, it is a topic worth addressing.
Who knows what “LDS sexuality” looks like? That’s kind of like asking how LDS bathrooming appears to onlookers! And really why should it matter? What sexuality looks like for couple #1, simply won’t be positive, comfortable, exciting, bonding, and wonderful for couple #2. These relationships are so personal partly because they are so uniquely defined by the two people involved.
The chastity and virtue that the gospel teaches are such freeing principles in this respect. If we follow the counsel to avoid any premarital intimacies, if we avoid pornography and vulgarity of any kind, then we are open to being able to learn and love and create with our spouse, without any preconceived notions or unrealistic expectations about what marital intimacy is “supposed” to be and without any unfair or unrealistic comparisons. Within the bounds of gospel teachings, it can be whatever the two of us decide it is.
From my limited perspective, this seems to be a “problem” that crosses all ages. Of those women with whom I’ve had such personal discussions, by far the majority (from brand-spankin’-newlywed to retirees) fall into the “I’d rather be knitting” category. They accommodate, but don’t much enjoy, physical intimacy with their spouses. OK. I take that back. They like hand holding and hair stroking and having “sweet nothings” whispered in their ears. They like the 1940′s movie version of being “made love” to. But they don’t particularly care for “the act.”
In my mind it is this distaste or ambivalence that seems to be the real problem not the man’s supposed “over-interest” in things sexual. (And, indeed, don’t we tend to define “over-interest” as interest that is really merely greater than our own? Is the demonization fair? Is it markedly different from calling someone less interested “frigid”?)
God did not intend for marital intimacy to be something we want to avoid, but rather something that brings us closer as a couple, that makes us “one,” not just physically, but emotionally as well. If intimacy is not bringing us closer, we should ask ourselves why.
Perhaps, as you suggest, this may just be biology. One person is always in overdrive while the other can’t get out of first gear. Neither, in my opinion, is inherently good or bad and neither should be labeled as such. It is an issue of compatibility. But if your interest level and that of your husband truly vary widely, can you not come to some mutually agreeable, mutually satisfying solution?
Years ago I attended a stake Relief Society conference. One of the workshops was about keeping the “romance” alive in marriage. This class was really a gently-phrased class on marital intimacy. The teacher, who served a mission in Japan, told the group that she lit a special Japanese candle that made the shadow of a butterfly on the wall to indicate to her husband that she was “in the mood for love.” Other class members followed, alternately explaining their particular personal mating call and making pithy comments like, “What if you’re never in the mood?” or “Why would you ever want to let your husband know even if you were?”
I left the class completely disillusioned. Had I been doing it wrong by not sprinkling rose petals on the sheets? Should I have a particular scent of incense tucked away to indicate my increasing desire? (Could I afford that much incense?) Was I completely unromantic by simply saying, “Hey, baby ?”
When I got home, I immediately went to my husband and asked if he would prefer the more subtle, nonverbal approach. He said, “No!!! You are just what every man dreams of.”
So, that may be an exaggeration. But to him it was true. And that is key, that our approach is what is most effective (for want of a better word) within our relationship. And that I would have been willing to change my approach if he would have liked it better.
Before I seem to be completely neglecting the flip side, let me say that more women would be more interested if their husbands were more willing to do the same. That is, find out what would please their wives and be willing to do it even if it isn’t something they thought of. On both parts, that “finding out” can only effectively occur if we are willing to openly communicate about it. And, let’s be clear, by “communicate” I mean talk, frankly and clearly, not sending heart-shaped smoke signals over the house!
Lastly, I have never really considered the highs and lows of sexual interest to be much of an issue. That may be because my husband and I are generally very compatible in this area, but I think there is more to it. If either of us were ill or injured or particularly concerned or distracted over an issue, the other would be respectful and understanding and not press physical intimacy at a time when the other didn’t feel able to give it. There would be no pouting or trying to make the other feel guilty. There is no keeping score. To the contrary, we would try to help the other feel better.
On quite the other hand, if one of us were interested and the other were merely indifferent, I cannot think of a time when either of us withheld from the other. But please understand the mindset involved. This is not done out of pity. It is not done out of duty or some notion of marital rights. It is not done as some form of self-sacrifice. It is done out of love. Whether or not you are feeling a particular physiological need at a given moment, how can you not enjoy the pleasure of the person you love more than anyone on earth?
Fortunately, there are now a few resources available that come from an LDS perspective. I’ll gather some sources and post them below.
I believe that any mutually loving, respectful couple can improve their intimacy.
Hi Deb. We talked a little bit about your question off-line. I’ll repeat, here, that I think we’re all going to be kind of surprised to learn, on the other side of the veil, that an experience we thought was extremely physical actually was rapturously spiritual. I think people who are pure, as Alison explains, sometimes feel an overwhelming spiritual impulse that manifests as arousal when they first fall in love, if they have not short-circuited this response by “looking for love in all the wrong places,” so to speak. The couples I know well enough to share this sort of discussion will often say this sublime, transcendent thing is at least as powerful now that they are creaky old grandparents as it ever was when they first experienced it together. Invariably, at least in my experience, this is predicated upon extramarital chastity in all its forms. Maybe there are secular psychologists who would shout me down immediately for such a backward, backwoods view. I’d rather read your thesis. I’ll bring the mustard.
Maybe it’s enough to know that this is one of the most clearly delineated privileges of the highest degree of celestial glory. You don’t have to watch much TV to appreciate how rare purity is likely to be by the time of the final judgment. I hope I don’t sound like a grumpy old prune when I gloat that it’s not going to hurt my feelings too much when some of the laugh-track-laden, predictable, perverted drivel that passes for prime-time comedy goes on the chopping block at that big review in the sky.
I hope you will find this enigma a “fine romance,” a “many splendored thing,” and most of all, another true-love story to the tune of “Love and marriage, love and marriagego together like a horse and carriage. That’s the main thing, brother. Ya can’t have one without the other.”
Sounds like the ultimate exploration in meaningful communication. Wouldn’t the desperately amorous BYU engaged couples envy you, if they knew what you were studying so avidly behind closed doors?! Read all the legitimate science and doctrine; but don’t forget to have fun!!! Adults have endless responsibilities; but they also get to have adult activities. Gotta love that, if you love each other. Enjoy.