LDS Mormon Depression in Marriage

 
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Mormon Depression in Marriage


depression"Can you see then the moral schizophrenia that comes from pretending we are one, sharing the physical symbols and physical intimacy of our union, but then fleeing, retreating, severing all such other aspects--and symbols--of what was meant to be a total obligation, only to unite again furtively some other night?"
- Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, BYU Devotional on sexual intimacy, January 12, 1988 at the BYU Marriot Center

Sexual Repression and Depression in Mormon Marriages

mormon sex depressionTo understand the connection between sexual repression in LDS marriages and depression, it is important to understand the difference between sex and sexuality.

Sex and sexuality are often thought of as the same thing, but they are very different.

Obviously, sex is the act itself. Sexuality however, is the sexual aspect of life outside of the act of sex. Married people need both to varying degrees, and no amount of one will satisfy one's need for the other. The kicker is that while we can service our own need for sex (to a degree), sexuality must be shared with someone in order for that need to be met.

If the need for sex is not met, we are naturally programmed to make it an ever-increasing priority until we find a way to meet that need. Whether it's masturbation or sex, the need can be met rather easily.

Sexuality is another matter entirely. Our need for sexuality cannot be satisfied by one's self; it can only be met by sharing sexuality with a partner. Of course not all of these activities are for everyone, but a few examples of sexuality in a healthy couple:

  • Taking a shower or bath together
  • A make-out session
  • Flirting with one another
  • Sexual touching and being sexually touched, when it's not part of having sex
  • Giving each other massages while naked together
  • Watching and enjoying a movie together with erotic themes or imagery
  • Talking about sex
  • Wearing clothing intended to sexually excite the spouse
  • Even non-sexual (but loving) affection is often an expression of a couple's sexuality

The need for sexuality is significant, often confused with the need for sex, and often greater than the need for sex. But in a typical Mormon marriage, there is far less sexuality than the already insufficient sex.

What's more, the couple's sexuality will be based on the strictest partner's concept of what the Lord expects them not to be doing. Unfortunately, many of the things a healthy couple would do to meet the need for sexuality are explicitly off-limits.

As one LDS woman explained:

temple marriageHow to Destroy a Temple-Married Woman's Sex Life

FIRST: Tell her she must wear unattractive long underwear "at all times" thus avoid being naked with her husband.

SECOND: Tell her that masturbation is wrong which eliminates a great deal of foreplay opportunities and affectionate non-penetration options.

THIRD: Tell her that she may not use "lewd language" during intimate relation with her husband. No talking dirty, ever.

FORTH: Insist that oral sex is forbidden in marriage because it is "an unnatural, unholy act."

FIFTH: Tell her that stimulation from any erotic written or visual imagery is forbidden.

SIXTH: Remind her that she will be interviewed regularly, and separately, by local church authorities and asked if she has comitted sexual sin. She or her husband are also obligated to inform on the other at any time in between officially-scheduled worthiness interviews for disobedience.

SEVENTH: Warn her that the Lord Himself is always watching her and her spouse in the bedroom. Thus, they risk offending The Spirit and losing eternal blessings just by doing something privately intimate with each other.

EIGHTH: If there's any wrongdoing discovered, there may be social humiliations that range from not being allowed to participate in family weddings to excommunication (at which time she must describe her sexual transgressions in detail to an all-male church council).

Other than that -- ENJOY!

For the things that aren't constantly repeated as off-limits, the church continually stresses that its members must remain "clean and pure", which sets the stage that we should all strive to not even think about sex. It's a belief many members learn in their youth which they carry into marriage.

To complete the suppression of one's sexuality, the church requires that each member's naked body be covered with something declared "holy" and "sacred" at all times. The garments serve to constantly remind the wearer and the partner of what is expected, and their profoundly unsexual appearance helps eliminate the sexuality that would otherwise naturally occur when in various stages of undress.

In LDS marriages when even one partner subscribes to these beliefs, there is an almost complete suppression of sexuality.The results are devastating, because we don't deal with sexual suppression in the same way we deal with the simple need for sex.

Our subconscious desperately seeks to fill this need for sexuality, and there are a number of ways it can attempt to do this. When the positive and constructive attempts fail, or if the frustration grows too great, the subconscious resorts to strategies that will tear down the relationship so that a new one will be possible. It fosters resentment and discontent with the partner, so that one can justify leaving or cheating. It encourages feelings of sexuality that don't involve the partner. Sometimes it creates or greatly amplifies aggression and violent tendencies. It causes people to become oversensitive, jealous, abusive, and pick fights. Some will seek drugs (legal or illegal) to dull the pain or distract the mind.

All of these responses are unintentional, but are part of our programming to get us out of a relationship that doesn't meet our needs. Often these emotions are felt concurrently with a deep love, devotion, and commitment to one's spouse. These conflicting emotions can be debilitating, and both partners can be simultaneously feeling exactly the same things.

Long-term suppression of sexuality eventually interferes virtually every aspect of life. Decreased motivation, inability to concentrate, decreased success in job/life, broken marriages and dysfunctional families, abuse, parents who are not attentive enough to their children's needs (because their own are not met), suicide, and more. Take a closer look at these problems and you'll find someone who's suffering from a severe depression they can't explain.

For an example of how this might play out, consider a not-so-rare scenario of a somewhat undersexed husband who loves his wife, but also looks at pornography against his wife's wishes. He is probably attracted to the fantasy of sexuality that is offered by the porn, rather than lusting after the women or actually wanting sex with them. He may actually be trying desperately to fight the conscious or unconscious urge to find a new mate, attempting to use pornography to keep that urge from becoming irresistible. The wife, who has also suppressed her own sexuality, will usually interpret this in some personally demeaning way that justifies a deep feeling of being wronged by her husband. She might see her husband's behavior as tantamount to cheating, that she's "not enough", that she "can't compete with those perfect bodies". She will probably naturally settle into a pattern of punishing her husband by further reducing sex or sexuality. This forces him to hide his behavior from his wife, further relying on porn or some other activity to satisfy his needs, ultimately disassociating his wife even further from his sexuality.

The behavior of both the husband and wife is probably caused by inadequate sexuality in their relationship, but each is unknowingly engaging in behavior that leads to a further decline in their marriage. Both will see themselves as entirely justified in their actions, and could explain to you how unfairly they are being treated by the other.

Also, when the sexuality side is suppressed and undeveloped, over time the sex side loses a certain amount of appeal along with its ability to provide adequate physical satisfaction.

Of course, this isn't the dynamic in every situation, but these factors are especially prevalent in Mormon marriages, and are probably at the root of many problems that, at the surface, appear unrelated.

The fix to this problem is not simple. Getting the church out of the bedroom is a healthy start. The couple needs to create their own healthy intimacy and sensual space in their relationship. From there, they should recognize that both have unmet sexual needs apart from sex, and that those needs are just as important as any other (or even more so). Both need to learn to embrace and take joy in their own and their partner's sexuality. In many cases, true happiness can be achieved no other way.

There is no quick fix because we are talking about changing life long patterns and religious dogma. The longer the life and marriage, the more engrained these patterns. Change requires new thinking and acting, consistently and long enough to change our neural structure. We are talking months at least, and for most of the big changes, years of effort.

This is hard enough for one person. For two to do it together and stay in the same ball park is more difficult. Not impossible, but more difficult. If they are both on similar pages, mutual support can help. If not, the situation is really tough.

The people with whom we most closely associate have a huge impact on how much we can change. If we want to change in a particular direction, the best way to do so is to surround ourselves with people who are what we would like to become. This is the case from physical condition to work ethic to intellectual orientation to you-name-it. It works when we don't want it to as well. The best predictor of changing religious or political belief is a move from a close social group that is dominated by a particular mind set to another group with a different one.

Meditation can also aid sensuality. Still the chattering mind to find out what you feel. Couples can try tantric sex - a combination of meditation and sex. For example, if the objective of an intimate encounter is to feel instead of moving inexorably toward orgasm, the nature of the experience becomes more sensual while still being sexual. This is an entire new universe. This is not to suggest this as "the" sexual way. Rather, it is another color on the sensual palate.

As we become more present - more aware of our bodies and how they interact with the world - it is hard not to become more aware of and sensitive too our intimate partners. Ironically, in some cases the undistracted mind recoils in horror as the enormity of our errors comes into focus. This is good, since we can then make more conscious choices as to how we will live the rest of our lives. However, for the most part the stilled mind discovers surprising new depths in taste, smell, physical sensation of all kinds. This helps us to become more sensual and sexual, as well as enriching life in countless other ways.

Next: Sex in Marriage after Mormonism




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