“The plaguing sin of this generation is sexual immorality.” Thus spoke President Ezra Taft Benson in his first general conference address as President of the Church. “In the category of sins,” he continued, “the Book of Mormon places unchastity next to murder.” (Ensign, May 1986, pp. 4–5.)
If we are to preserve our children from the plaguing sin of this generation, we must teach dearly and provide guidelines that will protect them. They must understand the sacred nature of procreation.
Some parents feel embarrassed to speak frankly to their children about sexual intimacy. However, the world is not embarrassed. Children who do not have the benefit of proper teaching about morality from their parents in the home will develop their attitudes about it from friends, books, television, and movies. These sources rarely teach correct principles about sexual morality; they espouse a permissiveness that our children will assume is correct unless we teach and show them otherwise. It is important, therefore, that we impress upon our children’s minds and hearts the beautiful and eternal nature of their sexuality.
President Spencer W. Kimball spoke out plainly: “The sexual drives which bind men and women together as one are good and necessary. They make it possible to leave one’s parents and cleave unto one another. But here, more than almost any other place, we must exercise self-control. These drives which are the fountainhead of human life are to be allowed expression only in the sanctity of marriage.” (Ensign, Nov. 1978, p. 102.)
In the atmosphere of a prayerful conversation between parents and children, these sacred truths can be taught. Parents generally find it more suitable to talk with just one child at a time, so the child can freely express questions and concerns.
Children become familiar with slang terms and notions about sexuality which make it seem dirty. One of the first things parents can do to put children and themselves at ease is to introduce from scripture the appropriate and accurate definitions of terms to be discussed.
For example, our Father in Heaven has commanded that sexual intimacy take place only between a lawfully married husband and wife. (See Ex. 20:14, 17; 1 Cor. 6:9; D&C 49:16–17.) Fornication is sexual intercourse between unmarried people; adultery is sexual intercourse between two people, at least one of whom is married to someone else. “The law of chastity requires total abstinence before marriage and full fidelity afterward. It is the same for men and women. It is the cornerstone of trust so necessary to the precious happiness of the marriage relationship and family solidarity.” (Spencer W. Kimball, Ensign, Nov. 1978, p. 105.)
In modern society, it is far too common a tragedy for young people to cultivate a strong sexual appetite even before they begin to date. One cause of this serious problem can be the sin of masturbation. Children should be taught, at around the first signs of puberty, what masturbation is and why it is wrong. Parents who avoid guiding their children in this matter do them a disservice.
Masturbation can be described as manipulating one’s own sexual organs to produce sexual excitement. Such practice “is not approved of the Lord nor of his church,” said President Kimball, “regardless of what may have been said by others. …
“Sometimes masturbation is the introduction to the more serious sins of exhibitionism and the gross sin of homosexuality. We would avoid mentioning these unholy terms and these reprehensible practices were it not for the fact that we have a responsibility to the youth of Zion that they be not deceived.” (Ensign, Nov. 1980, p. 97.)
We also need to teach our children plainly that homosexuality is a perversion of the Lord’s designated roles of men and women. Homosexuality is sexual relations between those of the same sex, whether men or women. When referring to homosexual women, the term lesbian is sometimes used.
“Be not deceived,” wrote the Apostle Paul, “neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind … shall inherit the kingdom of God.” (1 Cor. 6:9–10; see also Rom. 1:24–27.)
If one has tendencies or desires for relations with one’s own gender, he overcomes them the same as he would the urge toward other sexual sins.
Another perversion which has been known to occur even before dating begins is incest. Incest is defined as sexual activity between persons so closely related that they are forbidden by law to marry, such as between parent and child, brother and sister, uncle and niece, and so forth. One’s spirituality is severely damaged by such an ugly sin. So serious is this sin that offenders are excommunicated from the Church. The wounds inflicted by this sin, both on the victim and on the perpetrator, sometimes take a lifetime to heal.
If any of our children have stumbled into any of these sexual sins, it is our responsibility to help them extricate themselves. We may need to teach them the way to forgiveness and encourage them to counsel with the bishop.
If your child were to ask you why the sexual relationship is appropriate in marriage but not outside of marriage, what would you say? President Spencer W. Kimball proposed one way to explain the law of chastity:
“‘God himself implanted the physical magnetism between the sexes for two reasons: for the propagation of the human race, and for the expression of that kind of love between man and wife that makes for true oneness. His command to the first man and woman to be “one flesh” was as important as his command to “be fruitful and multiply.”
“‘The Bible makes plain that evil, when related to sex, means not the use of something inherently corrupt but the misuse of something pure and good. It teaches clearly that sex can be a wonderful servant but a terrible master: that it can be a creative force more powerful than any other in the fostering of a love, companionship, happiness or can be the most destructive of all of life’s forces.’” (Spencer W. Kimball quoting Billy Graham, Ensign, May 1974, pp. 7–8; see also “Sex Is Sacred,” 1972–73 Relief Society Courses of Study, pp. 202–3.)
Being morally clean implies physical restraint and self-control. Our children need to see that control of these feelings is not a negative thing any more than controlling certain motions of leg or hand muscles in athletics is negative.
Children will more readily live the Lord’s standard if they can see the reasons for it and the value of living it. As we teach our children to be chaste, we need to make sure they understand the correct reason for being chaste.
One reason we live the law of chastity is to show that we love God and are obedient to his law. Avoiding unwed pregnancy and the diseases that are sometimes transmitted by sexual contact are other good reasons for being chaste, but even more important are the great blessings of self-respect, a clear conscience, the companionship of the Holy Ghost, self-control, being trusted, and being worthy of a mission and temple marriage. Each of these blessings is worthy of a parent-child discussion.
Once we have explained what chastity is and why being unchaste takes us away from God, we may bear testimony of our own conviction of its sacredness. We may want to describe the peace and confidence that fidelity brings to our marriage relationship and, on the contrary, what infidelity does to destroy homes and families.
This can lead to a discussion of the influences on us, both good and bad. As parents, we are our children’s best and strongest example of moral purity and its consequences. Our example, in fact, is imperative when teaching our children moral purity. We must be the best examples of chastity our children will ever see.
Our children can more easily recognize the distinction between right and wrong when we are consistent models of right behavior in all matters. If we bend a rule, our children will perceive the rule as unimportant. When we are teaching teenagers, it is very important to remember to both keep the commandments and help them see how we are keeping the commandments as we talk with them about our own choices.
We should remember, too, that a righteous example is most effective when parent and child have a warm and loving relationship.
The Church discourages dating until at least the age of sixteen. Among other reasons, dating in the early teens distorts social realities, limiting friendships and circles of acquaintances that are so valuable when selecting a partner for eternity. Then, too, young teenagers often have not yet had time to develop the maturity they need to control the new emotions they are feeling and to resist peer pressure to be unchaste.
When young people begin to date, the temptations increase profoundly. Hollywood would have us believe that even young romances, once so innocent and awkward, must be consummated with a kiss. And the kind of kisses that we often see in movies are intended to arouse sexual feelings.
“Kissing has been prostituted and has been degenerated to develop lust instead of affection, honor, and admiration,” said President Kimball. “To kiss in casual dating is asking for trouble.
“What is miscalled the soul kiss is an abomination and stirs passion that results in the eventual loss of virtue. Even if timely courtship justifies a kiss, it should be a clean, decent, sexless one. … If the soul kiss with its passion were eliminated from dating, there would be an immediate upswing in chastity and honor, with fewer illegitimate babies, fewer unwed mothers, fewer forced marriages, and fewer unhappy souls. With the absence of the soul kiss, necking would be greatly reduced. Its younger sister, petting, would be totally eliminated. Both are abominations of their own right and kind.” (In Conference Report, Sydney Australia Area Conference, 29 Feb. 1976, p. 55.)
Unless forearmed, it is difficult for youth to distinguish where indiscretions will lead. The first “movie” kiss becomes “making out,” and the “making out” becomes fornication before they fully realize the power of sexual feelings. These forces are powerful; they were meant to be. But they were meant for mature couples in the sanctity of marriage.
We must clearly explain to our children that passionate kissing and “making out” should be left until after marriage. Too many young couples falsely believe that because they are dating or engaged they can relax these constraints. Yet it is during this emotion-filled time that the greatest care should be taken to build and preserve a virtuous relationship.
“When the unmarried yield to the lust that induces intimacies and indulgence, they have permitted the body to dominate and have placed the spirit in chains. It is unthinkable that anyone could call this love.” (Spencer W. Kimball, “Love vs. Lust,” in 1965 Speeches of the Year, Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University, 1966, p. 9.)
This “unthinkable” kind of love leads to problems with even more unthinkable solutions. For many, the answer to unwanted pregnancies resulting from indiscriminate sex is abortion. This is one of the most revolting and sinful practices of our time. Educating our children at an early age about the Lord’s values will enable them to avoid great and lasting pain for themselves and for those with whom they associate.
The Lord has made very clear to us what he expects in areas of moral behavior. “But there are false teachers everywhere, using speech and pornographic literature, magazines, radio, TV, street talk—spreading damnable heresies which break down moral standards, and this to gratify the lust of the flesh.
“Lucifer in his diabolical scheming deceives the unwary and uses every tool at his command. …
“And the Savior said that the very elect would be deceived by Lucifer if it were possible. He will use his logic to confuse and his rationalizations to destroy. He will shade meanings, open doors an inch at a time, and lead from purest white through all the shades of gray to the darkest black.” (Ensign, Nov. 1980, p. 94.)
The Savior taught that moral impurity begins with our thoughts and feelings, which are often influenced by what we see and hear. (See Matt. 5:27–28.) We can make our children aware of this by helping them understand that improper thoughts must not be allowed to remain in their minds. Furthermore, they should not do anything that causes such thoughts—reading the wrong kind of books and magazines, watching explicit movies and television shows, or engaging in conversations which vulgarize the divine gift of procreation.
Children can be taught to control their thoughts. They can learn that when they find themselves fantasizing, they have the power to stop their train of thought, walk out of the movie, change the channel, close the book, or end the date. They need to know that the sooner they discover improper thoughts and feelings and resist them, the greater their chances of avoiding disaster.
The best way to resist temptation is to avoid it. Prevention is far, far better than repentance. “Pornographic and erotic stories and pictures,” President Kimball told BYU students, “are worse than polluted food. Shun them. The body has power to rid itself of sickening food. That person who entertains filthy stories or pornographic pictures and literature records them in his marvelous human computer, the brain, which can’t forget this filth. Once recorded, it will always remain there, subject to recall—filthy images.” (“Be Ye Therefore Perfect,” BYU Speeches of the Year 1974, p. 241.)
One of the great temptations facing youth today is immodesty—in dress, speech, and behavior. Young people today hear sexual conduct joked about in the locker room and on the street. They see and hear it in advertising, movies, television, and magazines. It seems to be the fashion that language contain vulgarity, clothing be revealing, and behavior be lewd. Those who follow this fashion are attempting to show their own liberation from the standards of the Lord and from the standards of good taste and decency.
President Kimball warned that lewd talk and jokes are the first steps to dirtying the mind and soul. He also cautioned against “body-revealing” dress. (See The Miracle of Forgiveness, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1969, p. 226.) Immodesty and indecency lead to greater impurities and contaminate the environment around those who practice them.
Elder L. Tom Perry tells of the protecting influence that his father’s prayers had on him as a youth: “We were dressed in our home each morning, not only with hats and raincoats and boots to protect us from physical storm, but even more carefully our parents dressed us each day in the armor of God. As we would kneel in family prayer and listen to our father, a bearer of the priesthood, pour out his soul to the Lord for the protection of this family against the fiery darts of the wicked one, one more layer was added to our shield of faith. While our shield was being made strong, theirs was always available, for they were available and we knew it.” (Ensign, May 1974, p. 98.)
The importance of open communication and trust between parents and youth is paramount in this as in no other aspect of maturation. As opportunities for discussion of this subject occur, or as they are created, suggestions such as the following can be especially helpful if given in a spirit of love and encouragement.
Become involved in worthwhile activities, like music, sports, drama, and hobbies that develop talents.
Avoid late hours.
Think pure thoughts.
Avoid kissing and “making out.”
Do not enter a house alone with a member of the opposite sex.
Do not park in a car with just the two of you.
Double date when possible.
Stay away from pornographic literature.
Avoid sexually stimulating movies, no matter what they are rated.
Do not spend time where people drink alcohol.
Children need to understand that living the Lord’s moral standard brings pronounced blessings from the Lord. It also brings self-respect, peace of mind, and happiness. The Lord has promised confidence in his presence to those who let virtue garnish their thoughts (see D&C 121:45), and on those who purify themselves he will bestow the Holy Ghost to guide and strengthen them (see D&C 76:116).
Our challenge as parents is to lead our children away from temptation and to dress them in the armor of God.