I actually started this post a couple of weeks ago, but never got around to finishing it. Three things prompted its completion today: finishing a book titled, The Memory Keeper's Daughter, watching the movie Up and a complete lack of desire to clean out the detritus left over after vacation.
My Segullah post was not the only one on LDS sexuality during the month of November. In fact, the first such post received something like 75 comments. My own post was geared as much toward approaching children about this sensitive subject as it was about spousal relationships--a topic not quite as "hot" as sex drive, which is what the first post was about. From the many and varied comments on the posts, some of them surprisingly blunt, as well as the variety of personal e-mails I received, I perceive that I wasn't far off the mark when I implied that in matters of intimacy, LDS women aren't always sure about where they stand and whom to talk to about their difficulties. I think the relatively anonymous nature of blogging makes it easy to open up about things that you might not ever talk about otherwise. Such anonymity allowing us to be open can be both good and bad, but that is another topic.
As I've thought about all I've read in the last couple of months on this subject, I felt like I wanted to draw a few conclusions here about things that have been meaningful to me. Perhaps they will be meaningful to you also. If not, feel free to add your own insights.
The overwhelming theme in the topic responses is that communication is the key to any successful relationship. This is true whether we are talking about husbands and wives or parents and children. It seems that initmacy is nearly impossible for women to enjoy without honesty. I was the most intrigued by the sister who wrote in about her husband finally coming clean about his pornography addiction. Before this happened to her, she would have assumed that nothing would be more damaging to her sex drive than to have this knowledge. However, once her husband admitted to this terrible thing, a huge barrier was removed between them and she found him absolutely attractive in his "naked" honesty. I thought this was fascinating; I also think that with enough work this sister could end up having a very successful marriage, and such open-ness in their relationship will hopefully make it more difficult for her husband to be secretive in the future.
The same applies to our children. Respondents who believed they had the most positive relationship with their own children or parents all said they same thing--they feel like they can talk about anything together. That is very powerful. If my sons believe they can come to me with their problems from skinned knees to hurt feelings to the facts of life to dating relationships then I will have a lot of influence about how they perceive the world. Notice I didn't say "control." Ultimately, only my children will control the decisions they make. Again, another topic worth exploring.
A second conclusion I realized in teaching our children about matters of human intimacy is that it is better to have this discussion late than never. One sister said bluntly that if you had never talked with your children about anything to do with their bodies, and then you try to sit your twelve year old down and explain to her why she is menstruating, it is going to be terribly awkward. Yet, it still should be done. I have to admit that even after I'd been through AP Biology, I would have still appreciated my mom making the effort to help me understand a little bit more about how boys ticked and how she felt about my dad.
This better-late-than-never mantra should apply to spouses also. It is so easy to fall into a routine with those we love the best. Marriages fail for a lot of reasons, but one of those reasons is that they grow stale with routine and low expectations. When Plantboy and I were engaged, we went to see his bishop for a routine "check-up." I only remember one part of the interview. This bishop, a very traditional older brother, said that in forty years of marriage he'd hardly ever seen his wife without her make-up. That she made a point of getting out of bed before he did each morning and at least putting on lipstick before he saw her. My 24 year-old feminist self rebelled against this idea: that his poor wife wouldn't dare appear before him without her best face on! What kind of ogre was he? Now I see this offhand statement for what the bishop probably intended: that his wife loved him so much that she always wanted to look her best for him. Even after 40 years of marriage, his attraction to her was something she valued and cultivated.
I still don't put on make-up before I get out of bed. (Neither should Sister Bishop. I can just see her pink lipstick sneaking out of her natural lips and creeping up the lines around her mouth, but I digress . . . .) But when I get dressed up to go out somewhere, even if I am not going to be with Plantboy, it is his reaction that means the very most to me. And I've learned to never miss a chance to flirt or tease or give a kiss goodbye. I hope I don't forget this lesson, even when I've been married four decades.
As for whether YOU should put on make-up before your husband sees you in the morning, well, that leads into my third conclusion: each relationship is unique. During the comment phase, particularly of the first sexuality post, a lot of people were giving specific ideas about what made an intimate relationship successful. A couple of good sisters went so far as to discuss the merits of vibrators before the moderator cut them off. I'm not sure that any of the really specific advice, particularly in such a large forum, is helpful or appropriate. There is a Woody Allen movie (Annie Hall, I think?) in which he and Diane Keaton (his love interest) are going to therapy as part of the story line. Each character is shown separately with their respective therapist. Each therapist asks the same question, "How is your sex life?" The woman's response is, "Oh! All the time, at least two or three times a week!" The man's? "Hardly ever! Three, maybe four times a week!"
Hm . . . .
Communication problem indeed. I sometimes find myself thinking, "What is normal?" But perhaps a better question is, "What is normal and comfortable FOR US." Such a question can only be answered if you hold a conversation with your loved one, holding nothing back, and set reasonable expectations on your partner. There was another sister who wrote in that, at first, for a woman who is a virgin, hardly anything will seem comfortable and that to hold yourself to THAT standard is to deny a lot of pleasure and happiness. While her point is valid and interesting, I still maintain that sex should be something enjoyed by both partners. Something that crosses the comfort line one day, may not the next. Again, you have to speak up.
And yet, you might be in a marriage and have a personality where you feel more comfortable just not talking about it at all. As hard as that is for me to imagine, again, your relationship is uniquely yours and you know better what it needed than anyone. This is especially true when we expand this individuality to your children. Just as your marriage is unlike anybody else's, so is your precise relationship with each child. Books and advice are helpful, but ultimately you have to decide the best time, age and circumstances to approach your children about intimacy. I think listening to the Spirit is a big thing here.
It was Mike (the lone male willing to show his face on the subject, though Plantboy and I talked over nearly every comment together) who really got me thinking about my last conclusion on the subject. Discussions about sexuality need to be approached with values at the forefront, but also facts. While necessary between spouses (one sister indicated how valuable a book on female anatomy had been), such fact-based discussion is perhaps even more important with our children. From the young man who feels intense guilt over uncontrolled dream-fantasies after being told in a fireside that even sinful thoughts make you evil to the young woman who innocently sits on her boyfriend's lap while wearing a mini-skirt, a basic understanding of the biology involved is as necessary as a standards talk.
The problem, too often, is just that as we perceive a person's spiritual nature as completely different from and even opposed to their sensual nature, we also look at science and religion as dichotomies. This is a mistake. ALL learning can be for our good, particularly if we strive to understand just how important it is to our Heavenly Father that we have a body AND a spirit. Striving to defeat the natural man is not about learning to hate your physical body. It is about learning that there is a time and a place for certain behaviors, that self-mastery is the key to being filled with the pure love of Christ. A young man with self-control and integrity is still going to have wet dreams regularly. A young woman who dresses modestly still has to be careful about what she says to a young man or how she kisses him for BOTH their sakes. A husband who has a hard time helping his wife at home will find an uninterested lover. A wife, on the other hand, will nearly ALWAYS find an interested lover, so it is important that she not lead her man on too far without intentions to act on her teasing.
Being human is both complicated and wonderful. Perhaps the key with any struggle is to recognize that our Father created us the way we are for a reason. The spirit and the flesh.
As for why my entertainment selections of the last week prompted this post, The Memory Keeper's Daughter was one of the most depressing novels I've read this year. I didn't really like or identify with any of the characters, and I especially disliked the author's portrayal of marriage. In fact, my favorite character, was the Memory Keeper himself who gave his daughter away in a moment of supreme need to control the outcome of a difficult situation. I'm not sure if this says something disastrous about me, or is a tribute to just how unlikeable the characters in this story are. The movie Up, though I cried for nearly the entire length of the film, is probably one of the sweetest movies I've ever seen. It showed me that you can't just keep sitting around and waiting for life to happen. You have to seize the big opportunities when you get them sure, but you also have realize before it is too late that the real adventure is in living quiet, everyday moments with the ones you love best. Memories of a life are built as powerfully in simple things as in grand adventure. Ellie's message from the grave to her crotchety husband is that she didn't regret a thing. I don't want to regret a thing.
I'm thankful for my life, and for the love that Plantboy and I have worked so hard to cultivate. We have lived for some time now in relative ease and comfort, temporarily immune from the deep and difficult trials so many seem to be faced with right now. I hope that this season of joy hasn't made me complacent to my many blessings, or calloused toward those with greater struggles. As the holiday season moves into full swing this year, I pray that I will put off some of the frivolity in exchange for more meaningful thoughts and friendships. That I will decorate less and serve more. That I will fill my scrapbook with more memories and fewer unfulfilled promises.