Sexuality and Mormonism

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Sexuality has a prominent role within the theology of Mormonism, including that of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church). The church teaches that gender is defined in the premortal existence, and that part of the purpose of mortal life is for men and women to be sealed together, forming bonds that allow them to progress eternally together in the afterlife. It also teaches that sexual relations within the framework of opposite-sex marriage is healthy, necessary, and ordained of God. In contrast with some orthodox Christian movements, sexuality in Mormon theology is neither a product of original sin nor a "necessary evil". LDS Church doctrine bars sexual behavior outside of heterosexual marriage, and sexual transgressions are considered second only to murder in seriousness.[1][2][3][4][5][6]


Main article: Law of chastity

The LDS Church teaches its members to obey what it calls the law of chastity, which is a code of morality and modesty. Under this code, all members are taught to be "morally clean in their thoughts, words, and actions" and to abstain from pornography.[7] Violations of this code include "adultery, being without natural affection, lustfulness, infidelity, incontinence,[8] filthy communications, impurity, inordinate affection, fornication. They included all sexual relations outside marriage—petting, sex perversion, and preoccupation with sex in one’s thoughts and talking."[9]

Though celestial marriage is the only form of marriage recognized as a sacrament, the church permits sex within government-recognized marital unions, the notable exceptions being same-sex marriage, common law marriage, civil unions (in jurisdictions where marriage is available), and polygamy. The church is sensitive about its historical relationship with polygamy, and entry into a polygamous marriage, even where legal, will result in mandatory consideration of church discipline and possible excommunication.[10] Today, the church's teachings allow married couples to decide what is appropriate sexual behavior between themselves.[11] The law of chastity has also been interpreted to include various standards of modesty,[12] which have varied according to cultural norms of the time. Serious offenses of the law of chastity may result in church discipline, including the possibility of excommunication.[13]

LGBT members of the church are expected to keep the law of chastity.[14] The church characterizes its church discipline policy as neutral regarding sexual orientation.[15] If gay or lesbian members desire to enter into a heterosexual marriage, they are advised that they should first learn to deal with their homosexual feelings; otherwise, they must remain celibate.[16] Gay or lesbian sex, in any form, whether the participants are married or not, is grounds for church discipline.[13] Participation in "repeated homosexual activities (by adults)" results in the First Presidency making a permanent special annotation to a person's membership record.[17] In most cases, gay or lesbian sex bars a person, permanently, from serving as a church missionary.[18]


On various occasions church leaders have taught that members should not masturbate as part of obedience to the law of chastity.[19][20][21] The 1990 edition of the church's youth guidelines pamphlet states that the "Lord specifically forbids ... masturbation"[22] with the later two editions alluding to it with statements forbidding anything that "arouses" any sexual feelings or emotions in one's "own body".[23][24] Apostle and later church president Spencer Kimball warned of the "possible damages" and "dangers"[25] of this "common indescretion"[26] on various occasions calling it a "reprehensible sin"[27][28] that grows "with every exercise".[29][30] He wrote several paragraphs mentioning it in the Miracle of Forgiveness stating that ancient and modern prophets "condemn masturbation" and that it shows "slavery to the flesh".[31] He further stated that before receiving temple endowments or serving an LDS mission that this "weakness" and "habit" should be abandoned.[26]

In the April 1975 general conference meeting for men church seventy Vaughn Featherstone stated that the "urge" to masturbate "does not have to be satisfied" and that we should not "have a problem with masturbation".[32] In a 1990 address he also told LDS church therapists that masturbation was "serious" and against church standards and that it would cause the Holy Ghost to withdraw from someone. He further stated that as a mission president almost 80% of his missionaries did not masturbate for the 1.5 to 2 years they were under his direction.[33]

The first recorded mention of masturbation by a general church leader was in 1952 by apostle J. Reuben Clark who stated that those who teach that "self-pollution" (a now obsolete euphemism for masturbation)[34] is non-sinful are as bad as "the teachers who prostitute the sex urge".[35] Seventy Tad Callister used a similar phrase stating in a 2013 speech at BYU-I that God "condemns self-abuse".[36]

Other mentions include a 1966 address to BYU in which apostle Delbert Stapley told students to avoid "perversions" like masturbation.[37] In a 1970 missionary guide a section was included called "Steps to Overcome Masturbation" reportedly written by apostle Mark Peterson although the church has not responded to one author's requests to authenticate the text.[38] The guide recommended exercise, keeping a Book of Mormon held in hand at night, limiting time in the bathroom, and praying for help to overcome masturbation.[39][40] Since 1985 the church has provided a manual for parents to use in discussing sexuality with their children. The manual includes statements that "prophets have condemned [masturbation] as a sin" and "perversion of the body's passions" that causes one to "become carnal".[41]

Apostle Bruce McConkie spoke strongly against masturbation in his 1958 Mormon Doctrine saying it was "condemned by divine edict" and among the "chief means" the devil uses "leading souls to hell".[42] He also stated when psychiatrists tell their patients experiencing a serious "guilt complex" from masturbation that it is "not an evil" this keeps the patient from complying with the law of chastity and becoming clean, which would lead to "mental and spiritual peace" that helps one overcome mental disorders.[43] In October 1983 an LDS psychiatrist Cantril Nielsen paid a death malpractice settlement to Eugene Eliason for prescribing that his patient 16-year-old Kip Eliason abstain from masturbation as directed by his bishop. This allegedely contributed to the patient's shame-induced suicide on 2 March 1982 over his inability to stop masturbating as recorded in his journal.[44][45][46][47]

One of the lengthiest public discussions of masturbation by an apostle was Boyd Packer's October 1976 general conference address "To Young Men Only" in which he uses a "little factory" euphemism to discuss male reproductive organs and warns young men not to tamper with the factory lest it speed up and become a guilt- and depression-inducing habit that is not easy to resist. He gives vigorous exercise as a method to help control thoughts and break the habit of masturbation since it is a "transgression" that is "not pleasing to the Lord".[21][48] The talk was printed as a pamphlet and widely distributed by the church from 1980 to 2016.[49]

There has been some sociological research on masturbation and Mormonism. For instance, in one study of thousands of students spanning 1950 to 1972, BYU sociology professor Wilford Smith found that 64% of active Mormon females and 57% of active Mormon males did not believe that masturbation was immoral. Additionally, 78% of church-going Mormon men and 27% of active Mormon women reported having masturbated with 50% of Mormon males and 11% of active Mormon females reporting current masturbation.[50][51] In another study in 1995, 43% of the 103 active, married, church-attending Mormon women interviewed reported current masturbation.[52]

A study of thousands of university students by BYU sociology professor Wilford E. Smith spanning 1950-1972 found these statistics for male (blue) and female (pink) Mormon subjects who reported consistent LDS church attendance.

Kissing and Erotic Touching[edit]

Church leaders have stated that outside of marriage "passionate kisses", defined as "more intense and last[ing] longer than a brief kiss",[53] and "prolonged kisses that involve the tongue and excite the passions" are "off limits".[54] For example church president Spencer Kimball, called the "soul kiss" an "abomination" that leads to necking, petting, and "illegitimate babies". He further stated that even when dating for a time a kiss should be a "clean, decent, sexless one like the kiss between a mother and son".[55][56] He also stated that kissing during casual dating is "asking for trouble" and that kisses should not be "handed out like pretzels".[57][58] Apostle Richard Scott advised that physical expressions of romantic feelings between unmarried individuals should be kept to "those that are comfortable in the presence of your parents".[59]

Church leaders have also condemned erotic touching outside of heterosexual marriage using terms like "necking" for general erotic stroking and "petting"[60] for "fondling a member of the opposite sex in areas that are private, personal, and sacred"[61] whether under or over clothing. Petting has been called "sinful"[62] and "an abomination before God".[63][64][65] Despite the policies on extramarital sex and making out, a 2007 survey of over 1,000 BYU students showed that 4% of single women and 3% of single men had participated in oral sex or intercourse while dating. Additionally, 54% of men and 46% of women BYU students reported "making out and intense kissing" while dating.[66]

Oral Sex[edit]

In the early 1980s the church explicitly banned oral sex even for married couples[67][68] as it was considered an "unnatural, impure, or unholy practice" which reflects verbiage for sexual misconduct in the Church Handbook of Instructions.[69] In a 5 January 1982 First Presidency letter to bishops and other local leaders it was explicitly stated that members who participated in any oral sex were barred from the temple unless they "repented and discontinued" this practice. A followup letter on 15 October 1982 stated that the First Presidency had received numerous complaints of church leaders inappropriately "delving into private, sensitive matters" and directed leaders to never inquire with "explicit questions" about "intimate matters involving marital relations". The oral sex ban, however, was neither removed, modified, or clarified as the only additional directive to leaders was that "if the member has enough anxiety about the propriety of the conduct to ask about it, the best course would be to discontinue it." Subsequent discussion of marital sex warned against behaviors that the church considered unnatural, impure, and unholy including Spencer Condie's warning that when couples "participate in unholy practices" during their physical intimacy it can become a "disruptive force" in their marriage.[70] When discussing physical intimacy a 2003 church manual on marriage quotes church president Spencer Kimball who stated that the idea that "behind the bedroom doors anything goes" is not true nor condoned by the Lord and "if it is unnatural, you just don't do it."[71] Previous to this more public ban, in a private letter dated 17 May 1973, church President Harold Lee called "oral lovemaking" a "degrading" "perversion" that was "abhorrent in the sight of the Lord".[72]


LDS church leaders have repeatedly condemned the use of sexually arousing literature[73] and visual material for decades.[74][75] They have often compared pornography to a plague or epidemic[76][77][78][79][80][81][82] that is "overpoweringly addictive"[83] and can become a habit "almost impossible to break"[84] which metaphorically "blast[s] a crater" in the brain.[85] The church hosts meetings and has a website[86] to assist members who wish to curb their consumption of pornographic material.[87][88] Church leaders have also stated that women who dress immodestly become pornography to men around them.[89]

Sociological research into pornography and LDS individuals has included one BYU study that showed of 192 male BYU students ages 18-27, 100% of the sample considered viewing pornography "unacceptable". However, 35% reported having used pornography in the past 12 months, with 9.2% of the entire sample reporting viewing pornography at least once in the last month.[90] No data was collected on female students. A nationwide study of paid porn subscriptions showed that the predominantly LDS state of Utah had the highest subscription rate of any state.[91][92] The state's LDS governor Gary Herbert officially declared pornography to be a public health crisis in Utah in 2016.[93]

Birth Control and Abortion[edit]

A condom used as an artificial barrier method of birth control

In the past the use of family planning birth control methods including artificial contraception was explicitly condemned by LDS church leaders. Beginning in July 1916 apostles were quoted stating that birth control was a "pernicious doctrine" and that "limiting the number of children in a family ... is sinful".[94][95] The first time that any approval of a non-abstinence fertility control method was publicly expressed occurred in a 1942 Improvement Era article in which Apostle John Widtsoe mentioned the rhythm method as an acceptable means of spacing children.[96] In 1969 the first and only First Presidency statement on birth control was released reemphasizing that it was "contrary to the teachings of the Church artificially to curtail or prevent the birth of children", though, for the first time there was a clarification that men should be considerate to "conserve" the "health and strength" of their wives when planning families since they carry the "greater responsibility" for bearing and rearing children.[97] As recently as 2003 a church manual was published containing a quote from the late church president Spencer Kimball stating that the church does not "condone nor approve of" measures of contraception which greatly "limit the family".[98] The current church stance is that "decisions about birth control and the consequences of those decisions rest solely with each married couple" and that they should consider "the physical and mental health of the mother and father and their capacity to provide the basic necessities of life for their children" when planning a family.[99] The church also "strongly discourages" surgical sterilization like vasectomies and tubal ligation and only allows it for serious medical conditions after discussing it with a bishop.[100] The LDS Church opposes elective abortion "for personal or social convenience"[101] but states that abortion could be an acceptable option in cases of rape, incest, danger to the health or life of the mother, or where the fetus has been diagnosed with "severe defects that will not allow the baby to survive beyond birth."[101]


A couple following their marriage in the Manti Utah Temple

From the 1830s, marriage has been a central and distinctive component of Mormon theology. Mormon teachings on marriage begins with the belief that, if performed by a person who has the requisite priesthood authority, a marriage may continue in the afterlife. Such a marriage is called a "celestial marriage"[102] or a "temple marriage",[103] and is a particular instance of a "sealing" which binds people together in the afterlife. Celestial marriage is considered to be a requirement for entry into the highest "degree" of the celestial kingdom (the highest degree of heaven in Latter Day Saint theology), and is thought to allow the participants to continue to have spirit children in the afterlife and become gods. According to Mormon belief, the continuance of a celestial marriage in the afterlife is contingent upon the couple remaining righteous. In rare cases, a couple's exaltation may be "made sure" through the ritual of the second anointing.

In the 1800s, the practice of celestial marriage included plural marriage, a form of polygamy. According to a consensus of historians, the practice of plural marriage was taught by Joseph Smith, the founder of the Latter Day Saint movement, and after Smith's death was formally acknowledged in 1852 by Brigham Young, leader of the LDS Church. The practice became famous during the 19th century when it was opposed and outlawed by the United States federal government, resulting in an intense legal conflict, which culminated in LDS Church president Wilford Woodruff issuing the 1890 Manifesto, which officially discontinued the creation of new plural marriages in church temples.[104] Nevertheless, unofficial plural marriages continued within the LDS Church after 1890 for some years, often in Mexico. In 1904, the church issued a Second Manifesto, which discontinued the official practice worldwide and established excommunication as a possible penalty for violators. These manifestos did not automatically divorce existing plural unions, however, and some couples in the LDS Church continued to live together as plural families well into the 20th century, with the final polygamous marriage in the LDS Church ending in 1954 when one of Edward Eyring's two wives died.

The LDS Church now embraces monogamy and the nuclear family. Members who are found entering into or solemnizing polygamous marriages or associating with polygamous groups are now subject to church discipline and possible excommunication.[10] Beginning in the late-20th century, the LDS Church began supporting political and legal measures to limit legal marriage to a union of one man and one woman.

The LDS Church does, however, continue to recognize some theological aspects of its polygamy doctrine. Although both men and women may enter a celestial marriage with only one partner at a time, a man may be sealed to more than one woman. If his first wife dies, he may enter another celestial marriage, and be sealed to both his living wife and deceased wife or wives. A woman, however, may only be sealed to one man during her lifetime.[105] This leaves room to believe that all these marriages will be valid in the eternities and the husband and all his sealed wives will live together in the afterlife as a polygamous family. In the 1950s, one influential church leader wrote that plural marriage would "obviously" be reinstituted after the Second Coming of Jesus.[106]

While not accorded the theological significance of a celestial marriage, the LDS Church does recognize civil marriages or marriages performed within other religious traditions. In the 1870s, a prominent Mormon writer wrote that Mormons considered such a marriage to be "no marriage at all."[107] Today, however, non-celestial marriages are respected and recognized as valid by the church, but such marriages must be legal according to the government where the marriage is performed, and must not be a same-sex marriage, polygamous marriage, common law marriage, or other type of non-ceremonial marriages in non–common law countries. Moreover, such marriages are thought to last only for the mortal life, and not into the next. In countries where the church's celestial marriages are not recognized by the government, the church requires that it be preceded by a civil marriage.[108]

In the United States, the LDS Church has expressed support for a constitutional ban on same-sex and polygamous marriage and has stated that it "favors measures that define marriage as the union of a man and a woman and that do not confer legal status on any other sexual relationship."[109] The church's position is that government recognition of such rights will "undermine the divinely created institution of the family".[109]

Sexual orientation[edit]

Male homosexuality symbol
Female homosexuality symbol

The church recognizes and officially welcomes gays and lesbians as members[110] under condition that they attempt to live the church's moral code. The church teaches that homosexual feelings, as distinct from behavior, may sometimes seem to be inborn,[111] and that although these feelings are sometimes unwanted, they can and should be controlled.[16] The church's law of chastity forbids homosexual sex in all contexts. Consistently breaking the law of chastity may result in excommunication. Nevertheless, Latter-day Saints who identify themselves as gay or lesbian may remain in good standing in the church, without ramification, if they abstain from homosexual relations.[14][16]

In addition to opposing gay and lesbian sex, the LDS Church also opposes and campaigns against the extension of marital rights to gay and lesbian families that would, in its opinion, undermine the tradition of heterosexual monogamous marriage.[109] Since the 1990s, the issue of same-sex marriage has been one of the church’s foremost political concerns.

In 2008, the church participated in a campaign in support of California Proposition 8, which proposed limiting the definition of marriage to a union of one man and one woman. This mobilized many of its members to donate time and money towards the initiative. The political organization, the official proponents of Proposition 8, estimate that about half the donations they received came from Mormon sources, and that "eighty to ninety percent" of the early volunteers going door-to-door were members of the LDS Church.[112] The church was criticized for its involvement by non-members and by some of its members, and in 2010, general authority Marlin K. Jensen personally apologized to church members in California for the church's role.[113]


Gender symbols. The red is the female Venus symbol. The blue represents the male Mars symbol.

Expressions and identities for sexuality and gender are "separate, but related" aspects of a person[114] and stem from similar biological origins.[115] In relation to transgender and other gender diverse individuals church spokesman Eric Hawkins stated in March 2016 that LDS bishops recognize that "each case is different" and "difficult and sensitive" and that they recognize the "emotional pain" many gender minorities feel. He also reaffirmed the church's views that "gender is part of our eternal God-given identity and purpose" and stated that the Church does not baptize "those who are planning trans-sexual operations" and that undergoing a "trans-sexual operation" may imperil the membership of a church member.[116][117]

The church has acknowledged differences between gender identity and sexual orientation stating that they have "unfinished business in teaching on [transgender situations]".[118][119] The official website on homosexuality states that "same-sex attraction and gender dysphoria are very different ... those who experience gender dysphoria may or may not also experience same-sex attraction, and the majority of those who experience same-sex attraction do not desire to change their gender. From a psychological and ministerial perspective, the two are different."[120]

Previous teachings on gender have included An official statement made in 1995 by the LDS Church's First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles states that "gender is an essential characteristic of individual pre-mortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose".[121]

The LDS Church has no official policy on the status of intersex persons. Transgender persons are accepted in the church and may be baptized, but may not receive the priesthood or enter the temple if they are considering or have undergone elective sex reassignment surgery.[122]

Within the church, there have also been a number of unofficial statements regarding gender. For example, "Strengthening Our Families: An In-Depth Look at the Proclamation on the Family"[123] (a book compiled by the School of Family Life at the church-owned Brigham Young University) states, "Although we do not fully understand the eternal nature of gender, we should acknowledge its meaning and purpose, and humbly seek to understand and appreciate the nature of divine gender distinctions in God's plan for His children."[124] The book also states:

God created us male and female. This is not a mistake or a variety of genetic or hormonal chance. What we call gender is an essential characteristic of our existence prior to our birth. Gender is part of our eternal identity and essential to our eternal progression. Although we may not know all the reasons why this is so, we do know some of the reasons why gender is essential to our eternal progression. To achieve our exaltation, an eternal marriage between a man and a woman is necessary .... The sexual union between a married man and woman is, among other things, the means God has ordained to bring His spirit children into mortality, which is an essential step in the plan of salvation.[125]

In a contribution to a work on the church's 1995 official statement, Robert L. Millet writes that "[o]ver the last four decades, we have observed widespread consideration of ideas and worldviews that are destructive of individuals and families." He then discusses instances such as when men have been instructed to be stoic, or stern, to hide their emotions. He continues:

In general we could say that men and women, in and out of the Church, have been taunted and titillated with views concerning man, woman, priesthood, and family that are at odds with the revealed word and thus with "things as they really are, and ... as they really will be" (Jacob 4:13) .... No person who revolts against the divinely established role and calling he or she was given before the foundations of this earth were laid can be happy or find real fulfillment, not here or in eternity.[126]

Apostle David A. Bednar stated: "[Gender] in large measure defines who we are, why we are here upon the earth, and what we are to do and become. For divine purposes, male and female spirits are different, distinctive, and complementary. … The unique combination of spiritual, physical, mental, and emotional capacities of both males and females were needed to implement the plan of happiness".[127]

Apostle M. Russell Ballard taught, "The premortal and mortal natures of men and women were specified by God Himself. … [Sometimes women] ask: 'Is a woman's value dependent exclusively upon her role as a wife and mother?' The answer is simple and obvious: No. … Every righteous man and woman has a significant role to play in the onward march of the kingdom of God."[128]

See also[edit]


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