It would be an understatement to say that sex education is a controversial subject. Frankly, though, as a parent of six inquisitive children, I am relieved that this subject is under such severe scrutiny today because it forces parents to face the issue—will we teach our children the gospel view of their sexual natures, or will we let the world teach them its own distorted view?
We live in a carnal, telestial world. Television portrays in vivid color all the enticements of materialistic and sensual life-styles. Books and magazines skillfully portray dress, behavior, and beliefs that assault the standards Latter-day Saint parents have set for their homes. Children return from school or play and use shocking words, and parents’ shoulders sag a little lower. Then, to add to their burden, they read an article extolling the virtues of some well-known family that gives the impression that problems and troubles do not occur in good Latter-day Saint homes.
At this point, many of us, under the pressure of trying to be committed Latter-day Saint parents, feel growing desperation. To attempt to live and teach celestial standards in a telestial environment results in unique challenges, but it also contains part of the answer to the problem. If parents decide first that they are true Latter-day Saints, the problem of what and how to teach is almost solved.
This decision is crucial. We need to be like President Joseph F. Smith who, as a teenager, answered the question, “Are you a Mormon?” to a threatening group of anti-Mormon ruffians by stoutly affirming, “Yes siree, dyed in the wool, true blue through and through.”
Having made the initial decision, the next logical question is, “How do I teach my children correct sexuality?” First, we need to firmly reject the worldly concept of “sex education.” It is too limiting and misleading. The gospel opens up the eternal sacred nature of man and woman or masculinity and femininity. Revealed truth teaches that masculinity and femininity include all that we are or should be. We are spiritual, intellectual, physical, emotional, and social. One of the parts of our total soul is the procreative gift and responsibility, granted us by a loving Father in heaven. Thus, to answer the question, “What do I teach my children?” we need to learn how men and women should behave from the prophets, the scriptures, and from our own personal prayerful questions and answers.
But what, we might ask, constitutes the elements of teaching our children the truth about the procreation part of eternal masculinity and femininity? Quite simply, my professional experience says that each child must know correct, objective facts about the structure and function of the human body, both sexes. This information is readily and safely found in any up-to-date, quality encyclopedia. Armed with correct facts and terms, children and parents do not need to indulge in crude slang or foolish false notions.
Having the biological facts, all that remains is for parents to then present models of mature spiritual, intellectual, physical, emotional, and social behavior. By this simple system of living and growing up in a stable Latter-day Saint home, our children learn how to be men or women in Zion, which are very unique roles in this sadly confused world.
Any parent knows that setting a mature example is sometimes difficult, not because we do not know what is right but rather because we are weak and have our own immaturities, temptations, and trials. Fine. Our goal is perfection and that takes a while. So let’s relax and just do our best with confidence and optimism! And very importantly, we need to let our children see their parents showing appropriate affection for each other. When they in turn marry, the process of adjusting to their spouses in intimate relationships will develop quite naturally. It is a lie perpetrated by people who lack the truth that physical adjustment between spouses requires extensive and detailed instruction. To be sure, the fundamental facts must be known, but beyond that the matter should be private and mutually worked out.
In opposition to this rather simple, basic model, one of Satan’s more successful lies has been to discourage many into believing that human sexuality is synonymous with sensuality and that the corruption of our society (and our children) is inevitable no matter what parents do. This is a blatant falsehood. One of the most impressive truths of human behavior is how powerfully the child’s formative years influence him or her throughout life. Furthermore, the Lord has promised to protect our free agency; unless we choose otherwise, Satan is impotent.
It is, in my experience, exactly as Alma counseled: “But if ye keep the commandments of God, and do with these things which are sacred according to that which the Lord doth command you, (for you must appeal unto the Lord for all things whatsoever ye must do with them) behold, no power of earth or hell can take them from you, for God is powerful to the fulfilling of all his words.” (Alma 37:16.)
So, in setting examples of masculine and feminine behavior, parents actually have the advantage, even though at times the opposite seems the case. For purposes of parental planning, performing, accounting, and evaluating, it helps to break the problem down into parts.
Parents have an unparalleled opportunity to teach their children spirituality through countless means—family prayer, blessings upon all meals, special prayers at appropriate times, bearing testimonies at home as well as in fast meeting, and general gospel discussions. Reverent and appropriate reference to Deity enhances children’s appreciation of sacred things.
If parents live spiritually their children will know it, and where the Spirit of the Lord is or where the Holy Ghost is, there can be no carnal, sensual, or devilish behavior.
Under the banner of liberation and openness, ordinary conversational speech of many people has become crude, obscene, and blasphemous. Movies portray total nudity and explicit sexual behavior. Such language and behavior also appear in magazines sold at the neighborhood grocery store and sent through the mail. Fornication and adultery are frequently alluded to on television.
In contrast, the Savior teaches us that “those evil things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart; and they defile the man.” (Matt. 15:18.) True Latter-day Saints seek that which is “virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy.” (A of F 1:13)
No amount of preaching or punishment will do a fraction of the good that results when children learn that unclean speech, objectionable entertainment, and vile literature are not acceptable to their parents. An equally impressive lesson is learned when parents are actively engaged in civic opposition to anything sordid.
Where there is a powerful and consistent parental example, our homes will be characterized by solid literature, wholesome entertainment, clean speech, and, in general, mental exercise of the highest type.
An alarming trend that I see in my professional work is a tendency to treat the body as if it were a type of machine for gratifying pleasures, particularly sexual pleasures. The world tends to separate the mind from the body, as if tight trousers for men, extreme hair styles, unisex or immodest, revealing clothing, etc., are totally physical and have little or nothing to do with the functions of the whole moral-spiritual person. But after enough blatant exposure, the crude and vulgar become ordinary. As Latter-day Saints we have been taught that our bodies are temples of the Spirit.
I remember one sister who, as a young and very attractive teenager, had forsaken the role of a Latter-day Saint and substituted the role of worldly entertainer. Her clothing, speech, and use of her body changed accordingly. Twenty years later, awash with drugs and mentally unstable, she sought a “cure” for those afflictions from a professional therapist. Her only “cure,” though, was to relearn that her body was a gift of God and her talents were to be used to bless and sanctify, not to cheapen and demean. As she had grown older, she was no longer able to hide from the fact that body and spirit are intertwined for a purpose. All her skillful make-up, all her expensive clothing, and all her acquired mannerisms could not hide the truth.
Another girl, a 17-year-old, took the opposite course. When high school began again in the fall, she was excited because she loved school. Naturally she wanted to look nice. She wore a dress, new shoes, and put her hair up. At the end of the day, she brokenheartedly reported to her parents the cruel taunts of her female classmates who ridiculed her for being a sissy. They were wearing pants and tennis shoes and had unkempt hair.
Her parents wisely chose to comfort her for the choice she had made and to support her in it. They had taught her that God himself created man and woman and separated the sexes and that there was nothing wrong with emphasizing the differences when it was appropriately done. She stayed with her standards and began to influence others. Here again, for parents, the power of their personal example is all important. Appropriate and modest parental dress and behavior are the best ways to counteract for our children the world’s demeaning emphasis on the body.
To members of the Church the family is the essence of social and emotional life. A particularly pernicious concept of recent years is the world’s teaching that the family is obsolete. Some say that a man and woman may live together with no legal or moral commitment to each other and that even if they marry there is no obligation to bear children. If they choose to have children, the philosophy goes, they must strictly curtail the size of their family. Obviously this philosophy attacks the most basic reason for being a man or woman. Working mothers and absent fathers further erode the social and emotional strength of the family.
In addition to these obstacles of our time, there are intense pressures on the Latter-day Saint family in particular. A common dilemma is that of the father who is active in Church and so heavily involved in his employment that his children do not see what he does with his life. If his Church calling takes him out of the ward, his service is not visible to his children. Often his employment cannot be shared with them. In addition, he is frequently weary at the end of the work day. The only solution is to become reacquainted with the children through a sufficient array of activities, such as family home evening, frequent playing and working together, and so forth. There is no other way. There is no easy road to celestial family love and relationships.
Children learn how to love in a stable, healthy family. Parents need to know that lack of proper affection in the home can result in unnatural behavior in their children such as homosexuality or inability to be an effective parent when the time comes.
One disturbed young man expressed deep anguish in his wish that his father had in some way shown affection—an arm around him, a wrestle—just something physical and affectionate. Another young man, age 24, recalled with pain that his mother forbade him as a youngster to bathe, dress, or even hold his baby sister because she felt such contact was immoral. Now, the father of two daughters, he is having trouble showing his affection for them.
Outside the Church, sexual behavior may occur openly and casually. The gospel, in contrast, teaches the principle and shows the model of many healthy, normal relationships where the affection shown is deep, tender, and physical, but certainly not sexual. Elder George A. Smith told of a special moment between him and the Prophet Joseph: “At the close of the conversation, Joseph wrapped his arms around me and squeezed me to his bosom and said, ‘George A., I love you as I do my own life.’ I felt so affected, I could hardly speak, but replied, ‘I hope, Brother Joseph, that my whole life and actions will ever prove my feelings, and the depth of my affection toward you.’” (History of the Church 5:391.)
Natural affection among family and friends is the greatest way to counteract the single-mindedly sensual view the world has of love. Home and church are the places to learn by practice and reassurance how to demonstrate love, to learn the appropriate limits of its expression, and to gain an understanding of the nature of man and of woman.
As parents, we must reject the worldly idea that “sex education” is a matter of physiological information and wholeheartedly return to the sense and spirit of Genesis 1:27:
“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.” [Gen. 1:27]
In this brief, but all-encompassing, scripture lies the wholeness of true masculinity and femininity.