Beliefs Culture Jana Riess: Flunking Sainthood Opinion

Possible long-term sexual consequences of Mormon modesty: A guest post by Mette Ivie H …

Mette Ivie Harrison
Mette Ivie Harrison

Mette Ivie Harrison

A guest post by Mette Ivie Harrison

As a teen in the Mormon church in the 1980s, I frequently heard how important it was for me to be modest so that I didn’t tempt my male counterparts to think unchaste thoughts. Even as a forty-five-year-old adult woman, I have been told that wearing competitive triathlon clothing as I run through my neighborhood is leading to young men in the ward having uncontrollable sexual thoughts.

This leads me to wonder: What it is we Mormons are doing if we imagine that young men are so very fragile that the sight of a teenage or middle-aged woman’s legs, arms, or even abdomen cause temptations beyond endurance?

And what message are we sending to women of all ages about what their bodies are for?

Elizabeth Smart said last year that she’d been taught growing up that she would be regarded as a piece of chewed gum if she ever had sex before marriage. Telling young women like her that no one will want them if they have been “sullied” sexually leads to many problems, particularly for those who are sexually abused due to no choice of their own.

And even when abuse is not involved, are young women responsible for keeping dating relationships sexually pure and for leading young men to the temple?

I have heard people argue that such talks are well-meant attempts to “scare” teens into avoiding sex until marriage. But if the only purpose of all our talks on modesty and sexuality is to make sure that men and women come to a marriage without any sexual experience, is anyone looking beyond that to how well we as Mormons do at creating a functioning marriage that includes healthy sexuality for both parties?

The message we send to young women that their bodies are objects to be ogled (or not) by young men (and older men) may create difficulty in transitioning to the marriage bed, where they need to be more than objects and more than “pure” good girls.

The cultural expectation that Mormon women do not have sexual feelings pervades even casual conversation. Asking about other women’s experiences sexually, within marriage, even as an attempt to gain knowledge and to share information, is culturally taboo. For women to think about such things is not part of their “nature” and therefore does not fit within the otherwise healthy relationship in Relief Society between women who share other knowledge about everything from cooking skills to child rearing and book recommendations.

Even if adult Mormon women do not realize that they are suppressing sexual thoughts constantly, even if they do not consciously believe that sex is wrong, the subtle message we send in every church meeting is that women are “angels” and that every bishop or other church leader has his wife to thank for inspiring his greater spirituality.

Because, of course, men are basely physical and women are made of less earthly stuff.

Or are they? Whenever I have challenged men who argue that Mormon women are obliged to make extra efforts at modesty because they as men are more “naturally” sexual and are “wired” to respond to visual images of the female body (see here or here), I think of how men and women were seen two hundred years ago as diametrically opposed—but in a completely different way than now.

For Kant, the philosopher of the Enlightenment, the masculine “man of Reason” was practically bodiless, and was at its highest point a mind consumed by thought. And Darwin used his newly minted theory of evolution to argue that the female of our species had no reason to develop a brain, as she was a wholly physical being, and her only purpose was reproduction.

Thus, for Darwin, women were only interested in sex, and only men were capable of rising above the physical and becoming scientists, physicians, inventors, and so on.

Of course, it is obvious now that this was merely an attempt to excuse the suppression of women in society. But it is instructive in showing how “science” is often used to prove cultural assumptions.

From General Conference talks lately, it seems that pornography is a terrible problem for men in the church. But how much of that problem is related to our cultural assumptions about male and female sexuality? Has anyone done a study to see how many Mormon men who are addicted to pornography are married to angelic women who have no sexual desire?

Could it be that our insistence on talking about male desire and female purity is leading to problems for married couples who do not know how to negotiate an equal sexual interaction?

We need to stop talking about sexuality as something that belongs only to men or is only a problem for men, and start talking about it in healthy ways.

And this begins with our discussion of modesty for young men and young women.


Mette Ivie Harrison is a nationally ranked triathlete and Mormon mother of 5, including one missionary in Texas. She wrote two guest posts here last month about leaving Mormonism . . . and finding her way back. She is the author of six YA fantasies, including The Princess and the Hound and The Rose Throne. She also has published a memoir of her experiences in loss and triathlon called Ironmom and has an adult mystery coming out with Soho Press in December called The Bishop’s Wife. You can find her at or on twitter (@metteharrison), facebook (Mette Harrison or Mette Ivie Harrison), and tumblr.

Mette Ivie Harrison is a nationally ranked triathlete and Mormon mother of 5, including one missionary in Texas. She is the author of six YA fantasies, including The Princess and the Hound and The Rose Throne. She also has published a memoir of her experiences in loss and triathlon called Ironmom and has an adult mystery coming out with Soho Press in December called The Bishop’s Wife. You can find her at or on twitter (@metteharrison), facebook (Mette Harrison or Mette Ivie Harrison), and tumblr ( – See more at:
Mette Ivie Harrison is a nationally ranked triathlete and Mormon mother of 5, including one missionary in Texas. She is the author of six YA fantasies, including The Princess and the Hound and The Rose Throne. She also has published a memoir of her experiences in loss and triathlon called Ironmom and has an adult mystery coming out with Soho Press in December called The Bishop’s Wife. You can find her at or on twitter (@metteharrison), facebook (Mette Harrison or Mette Ivie Harrison), and tumblr ( – See more at:

About the author

Jana Riess

Senior columnist Jana Riess is the author of many books, including "The Prayer Wheel" (Random House/Convergent, 2018) and "The Next Mormons: How Millennials Are Changing the LDS Church" (Oxford University Press, 2019). She has a PhD in American religious history from Columbia University.


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  • I wonder that the situation is a lot about “the learning curve” that we humans have. Consider 100 years ago we did not teach LDS young women any more about modesty than most other Americans because most of the young women and women were modest.
    In the 60’s a revolution took place with American youth. High school girls wore “nothing blouses” and very short skirts and dresses. Suddenly, LDS young women had to differentiate themselves in yet another way from the rest of American society.
    It seems that it takes decades to get it right on how we teach to adjust to new situations.
    I really like the idea of LDS women, “yelling” if you will, at curriculum writers and speakers, concepts like, “every time you tell young women to cover up, you better be teaching young men they are responsible for the thoughts that they dwell on. You better be teaching them how to put off the “natural man” and why it is their responsibility to do so, no matter what a female wears or does not wear. And there is no such thing as an uncontrollable thought.
    If young men and men were perfect, we would coo and give attention to only those young women and women who dress appropriately and ignore them when they are hanging out of their clothing. The women in the wards would change how they dress in a month.
    Also, my dear wife and I, tried hard to teach our four daughters that sex is good and wonderful, but wait. It is glue that keeps marriages together but not so for those dating. It is good – wait for it. It will be even better for you, if you wait for it. My youngest is 30, I should ask if that helped.
    Yes! Young men and all men – take personal responsibility. Learn how to bounce your eyes off (instantly) that revealing outfit and bounce (instantly) away from the carnal thought. Young women and women respect yourself, dress in a way that you would be comfortable accidentally meeting anyone, the Bishop, Elder Uchtdorf, the Savior.
    Sister Harrison, keep complaining about how things are taught. I hope you write the curriculum department regularly.

  • If you’re an active LDS member then you sustain your priesthood leaders and their council. Plain and simple. There is a reason LDS members outshine, live longer, live healthier and are generally more successful, it’s because we have the health and morality codes provided by God to lead and guide us in these wicked times.

    The church has a winning formula, why mess with it?

  • “In olden days a glimpse of stocking/Was thought of as something shocking/Now heaven knows/Anything goes.”–Cole Porter song written in 1934. Anyone who thinks issues with modesty began in the 60’s doesn’t really know their cultural history. Modesty has been an issue since time began, and only one aspect has stayed the same–according to the adults, it’s always getting worse.

    I think Mette Harrison makes a number of great points. Teaching modesty to young women should never be about not tempting males. It should only be about respecting yourself. Telling young women to dress in a way that would make them comfortable in front of Elder Uchtdorf is teaching them modesty through shame. Teach them to dress in a way that makes them comfortable looking in the mirror!

    And I personally believe that if any young woman or young man accidentally met the Savior, what anyone was wearing wouldn’t be an issue. The Christ I know from the scriptures wasn’t about what people were wearing. Maybe we should be more like Him and less like the Pharisees when it comes to matters like how we dress…

  • I see nothing wrong with being modest. Nor do I see women as being of unearthly stuff (but they are amazing) or men of being base. Nor do I see the issue of Mormon women denying their sexuality, the wife is very sexy. My wife has a divine center spiritually, and she is also very good looking and desirable in my eyes. The article seems overwrought.

  • Although you have a point that sex in marriage is a good thing and helps support a healthy marriage, but that is hardly something that needs to be taught in Sunday School. You can find many articles on that support that Mormons consider a healthy sexual relationship between married couples to be one of many important parts of a happy marriage. Your premise that somehow Mormons are anti sex in marriage would be false.

    Regarding modest dress, if you were to research serious articles about woman’s clothing for professional woman, you will find an emphasis on modesty. It is not to prevent men from going crazy, as erroneously simplify us men, but modestly brings dignity and respect to the woman that dresses modestly. Good men find this attractive. Good women want to attract good men.

    Your opinion that we should start with modesty to solve your imagined Mormon sexual frustration is ridiculous. For this point to have value, you would have to find that women that were taught to be immodest are more likely to have a successful marriage. That is not true, actually the opposite is true so your argument is backward.

    I think your only point in writing was to draw some kind on controversy to draw attention, but all you did was look ignorant of obvious truths.

  • While I agree with many of Mette’s conclusions, especially that modesty and virtue are not always well taught in the Church, I believe modesty in a personal issue. it is an issue of personal respect and respect for others. Why does a woman wear a short skirt or low cut blouse? Why does a male go out in public without a shirt on? Why do most women who are TV reporters wear dresses or skirts that go well up the thigh when they sit down? Freedom? Individual expression? I believe they are trying to make a sexual statement. In doing so, they demean themselves and reduce themselves to being a sex object.

    Modesty indicates self respect and confidence to the point that one (man or woman) does not have to show off the body to indicate self-worth to others. Modesty is dignity. To throw out the baby with the bath water, however, and say because modest and virtue haven’t been taught perfectly that we should stop doing it (Is that the implication here?) is not wise. I read some other article like this post, but have heard no plausible alternative given.

    As for anyone who might complain that Matte shouldn’t train in her tri-athelete outfit or swim in public a swimming suit because they might view her as immodest, get a grip.

  • You know Kevin, I think to study this is fine, but on the contrary, I’d like to see a good study on the effects of the first sex for a 12-16 year old being on someone’s floor, in the backseat of a car or at a party with a number of people looking on. I’ve been a school counselor and these experiences are much more traumatic and damaging than married couples trying to find their way the first time. Every study I’ve seen, in and out of the Church, has indicated that couples who wait until marriage for sexual intimacy are happier and lead much more sexually fulfilling lives than those who are promiscuous. Would there be exceptions on both sides of the equation? Of course, but I firmly believe that marital intimacy wins out almost all the time even if there is some fumbling around at first. Fumbling can be fun too!

  • If we are active we sustain our priesthood leaders. Yes. But this does not mean follow them blindly, like when the Stake President uses ward lists to get members to support Socialist Senator Harry Reid in Nevada or violate the election laws and the Church’s 501c3 status by having Harry Reid give Firesides at Ward houses in an election year. I certainly didn’t support the three bishops I had while they were committing adultery while bishops especially the one who had 10 beautiful children and a wonderful wife that was my friend (since then she has remarried).

    President Smith warned us about wicked Church leaders. So did President J. R. Clark calling them wolves in sheep’s clothing. Should we sustain those wolves in sheep’s clothing?

    As a people Mormons have repeatedly rejected the words of the prophets by accepting Social Security benefits that President Grant in General Conference said were in direct opposition to the teachings of Christ. Mormons also embrace government schools in direct opposition to the peachiness go the prophets. They constitute to refuse to eschew socialism even though the First Presidency officially stated that members that do not are not true to the faith.

    Mormons are like Israel of old when they demanded a king. today they take Socialism over liberty.

  • I teach my daughters to be modest simply because I want them to know that they have more to offer the world than their bodies. It’s about self-worth, self-respect, and knowing what’s truly important about themselves.

    I’m not sure who’s teaching you that the only reason to be modest is to keep all the men around you in check, but that’s false doctrine. As a man (or a woman) learns to truly love those around them, they stop lusting (lust is an act of hatred – using another person) and start thinking of the people around them as sons and daughters of God. That’s their responsibility, not yours.

    Pornography addiction is about trying to escape and numb out negative feelings, and it becomes a drug addiction (adrenaline, testosterone, etc.) and neurosurgeons and others have recently discovered that it actually physically damages more parts of the brain than cocaine or meth do. The damage is visible and measurable on MRI scans. Luckily the damage is reversible, but it takes 2 years of sobriety to heal. There are a lot of misconceptions about pornography addiction and how it is to be overcome. I have worked with pornography addicts now for about 12 years and there’s a lot of educating that needs to happen both within the church and without. The church has 12-step recovery programs and there are also non-denominational 12-step groups for it. They work, and they turn addicts into followers of Christ who surrender their will to His will at every opportunity. I am a witness of the healing power of the atonement in this context within myself and within hundreds of others who have found the way out. You must come out of isolation to heal. You can’t follow satan’s commandment of “run, hide” and expect to be free.

    Even though the main reason to dress modestly is to present to the world what’s truly special and of worth about you, an unfortunate side effect of dressing immodestly is that, these days, you will simply attract pornography addicts – people who will lust after you instead of loving you for who you are – as those you will date and eventually marry. You aren’t responsible for their actions or or keeping them in check, but you might miss out on finding that special guy who will love you for who you really are and for how amazingly special you are because you’ll be too busy sifting through the chaff to find the wheat.

  • On sustaining Church leaders: Joseph Smith On Extreme Obedience!

    “We have heard men who hold the Priesthood remark that they would do anything they were told to do by those who preside over them, even if they knew it was wrong.
    “But such obedience as this is worse than folly to us; it is slavery in the extreme. The man who would thus willingly degrade himself, should not claim a rank among intelligent beings, until he turns from his folly. A man of God would despise the idea.
    “Others, in the extreme exercise of their Almighty authority have taught that such obedience was necessary, and that no matter what the Saints were told to do by their Presidents, they should do it without questions. When Elders of Israel will so far indulge in these extreme notions of obedience as to teach them to the people, it is generally because they have it in their heart to do wrong themselves.”
    Joseph Smith, Jr. Millenial Star, Vol. 14, No. 38, Pages 593-595

    What is in your heart?

  • My wife was told by her Bishop, before we were married when she was 17 and dating me, to stop wearing sweaters that were 100% in compliance with Church standards. He told her that because she had large breasts that it made it difficult for the young men and that she should wear baggy clothes (she was gorgeous and still still is). Not long after that he was excommunicated (while bishop) because he was cheating on his wife.

    Before I was married I was dating a beautiful BYU co-ed. She would not ever consider wearing a bikini because they were immodest. I went to pick her up at the BYU pool to go and play Racquetball. She had on a Church/BYU approved swim suit. There was NOTHING I could not see. It was no less revealing than if she had on only body paint.

    And have you watched BYU Girl’s Volleyball? Televised worldwide by BYUtv. Is there anyone that will tell me those uniforms are modest?

    I seriously doubt that the problem is the young men being tempted. I have had three Bishops and one Stake President exed for adultery.

    My brother had an entire branch presidency exed for immorality but that was with the young men during priesthood interviews. Maybe the boys needed to dress more modestly so the Branch President was not tempted? Those basketball shorts and boys’ swimsuits with no tops at all… you know it must have been the boys’ fault…

    I NEVER let my children be alone with a Bishop or Stake President. NEVER. I wouldn’t want them to be tempted. My Grandchildren will never go in alone for interviews either. When they tried to get my daughter-in-law alone with a missionary so she could have her pre-baptism interview I went with her and the missionary had to get special permission. But he got it.

  • From what I’ve read/heard, modesty is more important for women than men because men’s attraction to women is based more on physical appearance – not that women feel less attraction, just that the standards of judgment are a bit different.

    As for standards of modesty, that’s enough covering to be attractive without being arousing. It’s culture-specific, of course, and the current LDS Church standards of modesty would have been decidedly immodest 150 years ago, but for an international church that grew out of the US that is naturally going to be on the conservative side.

  • It seems that the point you’re making is that even though it’s fully the perpetrator’s fault that they perpetrate, it’s still smart to avoid being around perpetrators and to avoid being in dangerous situations. I think that goes right along with my comment. I explained that while it’s 100% the perpetrator’s responsibility to love their neighbor, it’s also wise to avoid situations that are more likely to produce bad results. You did sarcastically mention that it was the boy victims’ fault for tempting leaders to abuse them and I’m not sure why you said that as part of your response to me. Perhaps you could explain more clearly if there was something specifically in my comment that you’re disagreeing with in that part.

  • Sex is normal, natural, if-there-is-a-God-then-God-prescribed. Mormonism is sexually repressive to a fault. Promiscuity is foolish and thoughtless, but sex before lifetime commitment is smart and perfectly moral. Suggestions to the contrary are human-inspired control mechanisms and nothing more. We should educate children and youth that sexual urges are healthy and worthy of exploration. We should teach them that trust between partners is key. However that is acquired is healthy and good. False trust, based on fear, is not true trust and is as equally irresponsible as promiscuity. Insisting that a single and desperately selected sexual partner is the foundation for trust is flawed. People make mistakes. Young people especially. Mormonism does not promote sexual health and happiness in any way, not for women or men, because it insists that exploration and discovery is immoral. This is flawed and hurts us all.

  • @Tammy – “Mormonism does not promote sexual health and happiness in any way, not for women or men, because it insists that exploration and discovery is immoral. This is flawed and hurts us all.”…And this is your impartial, unbiased view with traceable references from a study conducted recently?…Be careful with wild assertions like this – as a matter of fact, the opposite is true.

  • Inappropriate exploration and discovery is not the same as any exploration and discovery. I believe we can all agree there are appropriate times, places and ways to explore one’s sexuality. Opinions on the matter vary. In terms of sex before a lifetime commitment, why commit when you don’t have to? One might consider sex something as easily bartered as chores in a relationship, or one might see sex as something that is special and bonding, bringing a man and woman together for something with deeper meaning. One supposes that if sex is a rather cheap and tawdry thing, that stopping its exchange is repressive-in essence who cares? However if one values the idea of sex being something special, then the question of commitment becomes a reflection of value that both parties have to share. Hardly repressive.

  • This is a worthwhile post, although I’m sick to death of the modesty conversation. Two thoughts that have not yet been covered here in the comments.

    1) “The cultural expectation that Mormon women do not have sexual feelings pervades even casual conversation. Asking about other women’s experiences sexually, within marriage, even as an attempt to gain knowledge and to share information, is culturally taboo.” This is been true in some wards I’ve lived in and flat out false in others, where women discussed frequency, technique and rate of orgasm. If you haven’t experienced this variety of conversation, it makes me doubt the other conclusions you jump to about women’s sexuality in our culture.

    2) I am livid that we do not discuss pornography, but we constantly harp on porn addiction. Not everyone who watches porn is addicted. These are two separate things. We are doing a disservice to everyone by “scaring” people with the idea that watching porn will mean you get addicted. It reminds me of the first generation of anti-drug commercials, one of which showed a teenager who took LSD for the very first time, climbed up onto the school roof and jumped off to her death. Teaching this way means that when people experience drugs (or porn) once and realize that no, they’re not going to die or even become addicted, it means the “authorities” were lying to them. It’s dangerous and we should be much more clear about the spiritual damage that watching porn can do without this absurd threat that you’ll become addicted and unable to function in normal society. Please.

  • “…sex before a lifetime commitment is smart and perfectly moral…” I don’t think so. Where does it stop? You think you have a lifetime commitment, surprise, it falls apart, then you go out and have sex with someone else. That’s a recipe for loss of self respect, emotional devastation and a number of tragic circumstances we see in our sex crazed society. “False trust, based on fear…” How is waiting for marriage to have sexual intimacies false trust or fear? When my wife and I were engaged (we waited) there was mutual trust and no fear. We knew how to control ourselves and we did not avoid intercourse before marriage because of fear. We certainly weren’t prudes’t, we simply respected each other. Plenty of exploration can take place after marriage. Mormonism does promote sexual health and happiness, within the bounds of marriage. If you think that is flawed and repressive, where those large Mormon families come from?

    Research constantly shows that monogamous couples are consistently happier and more satisfied with their sex lives than those who are promiscuous (which I applaud you for not advocating directly). Studies also have shown that Mormon women are happier than the average. Does this happen because of flawed teachings and sexual repressiveness?

    I’m not trying to condemn you, nor be disrespectful to you. I just happen to strongly disagree with your statement.

  • MagpieLovely,
    I agree with your first statement, but not your second. Certainly some people use alcohol and other addictive drugs without becoming addicted, but having seen the disastrous results of porn addiction in a number of families, I would do anything to avoid it. I do not drink for religious reasons, but also because of the fact alcohol is a very destructive force in our society (e.g. half of traffic fatalities are alcohol related costing 15,000 lives a year) I don’t want to get started or support the industry in any way. The human body is beautiful and there is much excellent artwork that celebrates it appropriately. Porn is not art and should be avoided like the plague.

  • Absolutely, waiting for marriage is best. I remember one study that looked at why people that engaged in premarital sex had higher divorce rates. It found that what caused the increase wasn’t premarital sex per se, but sex with someone other than the future spouse – that someone that had a single sex partner had the same lower rates of divorce whether that sex was premarital or not, while someone with multiple sex partners before marriage had a higher rate of divorce. And if you’re going to commit to a single person for the rest of your life, then WAIT until that commitment is made.

  • Not specific to LDS but grand power in general.

    Perhaps longevity due to good food, no worries about money and a constant support system of underlings endorsing every thought or action without question.

  • I think it is a cultural thing that can depend on the person and the culture.

    I think dressing modestly can help resist temptation. But on the other hand if you’re used to revealing clothing or even nudity; it can be no temptation if you’re used to it.

    I married an LDS woman, and she made a big problem of the sacred undergarments. I didn’t mind her extra undergarments, until she made a big issue of it. She told me she wore the extra garments as part of her religion for modesty, and at first I had no problem with it.

    The problems started when she got sick. I have a physical disability, so I’m limited in what I can do. One of the ways that I helped out, was to do laundry. She had requested that the laundry be done in four separate loads (whites, darks, colors and towels). I wasn’t able to carry a full laundry basket so I sorted the laundry on the floor into four separate loads. One day she stayed home from work, and she watched me sort laundry as she was laying in bed. She lost it and started screaming at me when I set her undergarments on the floor as I was sorting the laundry. She said her undergarments were never allowed to touch the floor. I apologized to her and said I met no disrespect to her, her undergarments or her religion and that I was unaware that her undergarments were not allowed to touch the floor. From then on I put other whites on the floor before her undergarments, but she still seemed resentful and hateful from then on every time I did laundry, which was several times a week.

    I don’t mind dressing modestly if it is safe and practical. If I’m working, swimming or if it’s hot I’m not likely to wear extra layers. I’m not very happy about extra layers, because it means more laundry and more time getting dressed and undressed. More laundry means more expenses and more labor. 16 loads of laundry on an average week, is quite a chore and expense.

  • Agreed. You bring up some good points, but overall, there were far too many generalizations, and you seem to think the only reason for dressing modestly, as seen by the church, is to help young men control their thoughts. The way you dress, along with many other things, gives clues about who you are, and where your priorities lie, which applies to both women AND men. Dressing immodestly may or may not prompt inappropriate thoughts in others, but it just begs for unfair judgment from others. A very good, classy woman could be practically perfect in every way, but choose to dress immodestly, and she’ll be seen as someone who does not take the gospel seriously, and who sees adherence to standards as less than important. You could say that’s not the young women’s problem, and that everyone else is in the wrong for judging her in that case, but when making choices like who to marry, judgments simply must be made. Besides, modesty, compared to other more demanding commitments God has commanded us to make, is a pretty insignificant matter. If we can’t handle the command to dress modestly without throwing a fit, and targeting our leaders in controversial blogs, how can we ever be ready to live the law of consecration, or to love God with all our heart, and our neighbors as ourselves?

  • I have never heard that one shouldn’t let garments touch the floor. Mine do every day and I don’t think that’s wrong – my attitude about the covenants they remind me of is far more important to me. And I wear shirts and pants a few times before washing them so maybe that could help your laundry throughput decrease. 🙂

  • Doug,
    None of us is perfect, but your wife’s yelling at you for garments on the floor was inappropriate. She should have told you why it was important for you to keep them off the floor. I am an old, obese man. My garments touch the floor every time I remove them and I believe as a religious item deserving of respect that they shouldn’t, but I also do not believe that we should strain at the gnat’s eyebrow. I hope your wife will be more patient as I strive to work on the same problem she does.

  • I remember when I was in early morning seminary before going to high school, one of the girls in the class asked Brother Eitel why God gave boys such strong sexual urges. The fact that she asked the question suggests that at least in her opinion sexual desire in girls isn’t as strong. I agree that women do not. Females do seem to exhibit better control of themselves in this area. My observation is that sex for a woman is more a power thing than anything else. But I digress. After thinking about it for a minute, Brother Eitel answered the female student by suggesting that if boys and men did not have that desire, they probably would not be inclined to have anything to do with women and none of us would be here. I have often asked myself what really is to be gained by being involved with a woman. In practical terms, there is nothing a man can do that a woman can’t and vice versa. The amount of aggravation one has to endure for occasional sexual pleasure hardly seems worth it. But again, I digress.
    The 89th section of the D&C says that the Word of Wisdom is designed for the weakest among the members of the church… those who are or can be called saints. The same thing applies here. To answer the rhetorical question posed by the writer as to whether men are so fragile that a mere glimpse of the female figure is enough to cause them problems… yes it is. God gives men weakness that they may be humble. I acknowledge that it is a weakness I wish I did not have. It cost me my membership in the church which has since been restored after much grief and repentance. I find myself wishing my sisters would be more considerate of men’s weaknesses but I acknowledge that most really don’t care. As long as they get sufficient admiration for their appearance in order for them to feel good about themselves they are happy… just as the writer is… to make a mock of the General Authorities when they preach against pornography and immodesty.

    Just a rhetorical question on my part… does the author of the original post find my attitude as much lacking in charity as I found hers?

  • For an alternative (non-LDS) view on modesty, read Wendy Shalit’s “A Return to Modesty.” It’s not a Mormon issue.

    This comment is shockingly misinformed:
    “Has anyone done a study to see how many Mormon men who are addicted to pornography are married to angelic women who have no sexual desire?”

    Does Ms Harrison believe that men become addicted to porn because their wives are prudish?

    For a mom of 5 including a missionary (assuming the missionary is male), Ms Harrison seems not to know much about male sexuality or is in serious denial.

    One is free to wear whatever one wants, but it is unreasonable to expect others not to react in ways that one may not like.

  • Having spent the past 7 years with Mrs. Gui facilitating support groups for women with husbands in porn and drug addiction, I must say that you should inform yourself on the issue. Addiction is a probable result from the use of both, and a little fear may prevent later tragedy..

  • Lew Craig–

    I agree. Reread the very last sentence of my comment. However, teaching that any contact with porn means your family will be devastated is false and stymies conversations about the subject. We need to talk about porn realistically and not with simple, alarmist threats.

    I have a close friend who is a family therapist in Utah. I asked him specifically about this question and he spoke generally in sharing that only 1-2% of the people he counseled about pornography were “addicted,” defined as when their desire to view porn caused interference with their participation in other daily activities. The other 98-99% of people had seen pornography but were not “addicted.”

    When I teach my sons about porn, we talk about where they might run into it, what to do if they accidentally see it or if friends try to share it with them, and places to avoid online. We talk about the damage it does to their souls and the degrading industry that creates these kinds of products. We DO NOT tell them that if they see porn they will be addicted and not be able to function in our church, in a family, or in society. That is not useful nor true.

  • PS: I have four sons and no daughters. If we had girls, we’d teach them exactly the same thing because guess what? Women like to watch porn too and need to be taught to choose to avoid it.

  • While serving my mission to Europe, one day at church one of the elders wrote me a note which said, “Sister, please button another button up on your blouse.” I was livid. I showed the note to my companion and told her I was going to unbutton a button or two to show him he did NOT have control over me, nor was I responsible for his thoughts or problems with how I was dressed, which, by the way, was VERY modest. Much to my chagrin, she agreed with him. Which made me even more livid. Needless to say, I did not button anything up for him. And, I gave him a wide berth for the remainder of our time together in the same district. And, this was several decades ago.

    I agree completely with this post. Wonderfully written. Thank you.

  • Your family therapist friend is simply wrong. It’s possible that he/she might like viewing pornography and is therefore trying to minimize the problem in general. I can’t think of any other logical reason for someone to distort the facts so disturbingly. Do some research on the topic – there are some very powerful studies and statistics out there that will help you see the truth. Having personally seen hundreds of lives destroyed by it, I don’t tolerate misinformation about it that minimizes the power and danger of it. And yes, I think we should talk more openly about it. This isn’t being alarmist, it’s just the truth.

  • P.S. I thought of another reason other than him viewing pornography himself that he would reply to you with such a warped statistic. He could just be only counseling with a small subset of people who truly are addicted. In that case, he’s fine, just somehow only dealing with a small subset. My experiences and the things I’ve heard from counselors, neurosurgeons, church leaders, and recovering addicts are the exact opposite of your counselor friend’s experience.

  • I have learned over the years that the majority of a person’s sex drive is created through lusting after people. If you stop doing that (which I and many others I know have done), the “drive” all but goes away and then it can become a choice again instead of a compulsion. We are taught from an early age the satanic counterfeit of lusting instead of loving. And we now are seeing the fruits of that. This isn’t God who gave us lust, it’s satan. As I said I another comment, lust (satan’s counterfeit for love-based intimacy) is an act of hatred – using someone for your own gratification. Love is being concerned with and willing to sacrifice for the eternal welfare of someone else. The confusion of lust and love cause a lot of pain, compulsion, and people trying to earn each other’s acceptance through physical appearance.

  • My family therapist may be wrong, but that has been his experience in his counseling practice, regardless of his personal pornography habits.

    I’m curious what kind of situation you find yourself in where you have personally seen hundreds of lives destroyed by it? Are you a bishop and your entire ward is struggling with pornography? Otherwise in what scenario would you be personally acquainted with this kind of sensitive, personal information. If you know so many people with this specific problem, perhaps your experience is biased and not a normal sample.

  • Also, my objection to classifying ALL pornography as PORN ADDICTION is that doing so gives this problem too much power, rather than minimizing it. The rhetoric about porn has become so alarmist and frightening that our sons think that they can not possibly overcome what basically amounts to looking at dirty pictures. The atonement of Jesus Christ is far more powerful and transformative than the habit of watching porn. Telling our children that they do not hold the power to overcome and be bigger than pornography is minimizing Christ’s power to cleanse and make new.

  • I would rather over do anti-pornography with 100 than to under do it with 1. The bottom line is that we are just people trying to do what is best. Someone has an idea which may or may not work well with one group then passes it on to another. Sometimes we look for easy “solutions” and take the first idea we’ve heard that comes to mind or invent our own. As leaders, teachers and parents none of us are perfect. We shouldn’t be condemned for trying. Nor should we condemn Matte for bringing the issue up. I don’t know her, but do know some members of her family well. They are all great people. Matte’s post here has made me think. While I don’t agree with all of her conclusions, I think she has some reasonable concerns that should make the rest of us ponder what we say and do. Hopefully, if she has the courage to read the comments here (I don’t know that I would!), she will have more to ponder too.

  • I have no problem with this article overall and tend to agree with most of the points the author makes. But then there’s this sentence: “Has anyone done a study to see how many Mormon men who are addicted to pornography are married to angelic women who have no sexual desire?”

    Is this suggesting that the wife of a male porn addict may be partly responsible for her husband’s addiction because of her own sexual behavior? This is beyond offensive. Many of us wives of porn addicts have learned through both experience and therapy that our sexual behavior (whether healthy or not) and our husbands’ addiction are two separate things. Please don’t try to guilt women into thinking their (sexual and other) behavior can fix their husband’s addiction. This is sick and misinformed. My husband is responsible for managing his addiction. Not me. This is the same BS rhetoric that leads some to place the burden of men’s thoughts on girls and the way they dress, which is exactly what the article was trying to denounce.

  • Women also have strong sexual desires, which they may or may not talk about much. If one is determined to emphasize modesty of dress, I hope boys, too, are told in no uncertain terms to dress carefully to avoid triggering desire in others?

  • Depends on how much physical appearance is a trigger for women. From what I’ve read and heard, it is but not to the extent it is for men.

  • @ rcronk

    If I didn’t change my clothes almost every day or more often, many people would have uncontrollable urges. Uncontrollable urges to get away from the smell. 😉

  • @ Lew Craig

    I thought I was showing respect, by doing the laundry. I asked the LDS bishops, LDS missionaries and other LDS teachers if it was wrong to place the undergarments on the floor while sorting them, and none of them had any objections. So I think it was something that my wife got in her head on her own.

  • You make a good point. We shouldn’t follow blindly. However, I don’t think we are talking about following just one or two bishops. Of course, members should be living and studying so that they can detect wrong counsel or behavior as in your examples from local leaders. But I think we are talking about following the consistently repeated counsel of the First Presidency and the Apostles – especially when it is repeated by multiple prophets and apostles and when it is in harmony with the canonized scripture and is given out in official outlets such as Conference Reports or lesson manuals and such.

    As for sustaining errant local leaders. Unless they are asking us to break a commandment or do something illegal, then, perhaps we should continue to sustain them as long as they are acting in their official capacity. The Lord will remove them in his due time if they are sufficiently out of the way. Of course, if one has personal and solid knowledge of serious wrongdoing then it can be reported to a higher authority.

  • “couples who wait until marriage for sexual intimacy are happier and lead much more sexually fulfilling lives than those who are promiscuous.”

    Are these the only choices on offer? Chastity until marriage or indiscriminate casual sex? Why not just call it virgins vs whores, the only two choices most women are given and are judged by.

    Instead of the shame-based and sexist messages embedded in most abstinence-until-marriage programs, why not consider comprehensive sex education? By giving young people age-appropriate, scientifically accurate information, as well as ongoing conversations about healthy relationships, the importance of pleasure and the meaning of consent and sexual assault, they will be equipped to make responsible and informed choices for themselves.

    Let’s also keep in mind that not everyone wants to (or can) get married, and even if they do, they might wait until their 30s or 40s to do it. How many religious couples get married just so they can have sex?

  • Therese,
    Of course those aren’t the only options. This is a comment section, not a debate for sex ed curriculum. Virgins vs. whores is you label, certainly not one I would use. Talk about sexist messages! I know a number of people who are sexually indiscriminate. I would not call them whores as you did, I call them friends.

    I would like an example of shame and sexism in abstinence education. I’m not talking about something way out there, but reasonable, well thought out abstinence education.

    IF I was teaching comprehensive sex education, I would start out with the FACT that so-called “safe sex” is a myth. It doesn’t work (e.g. condom failure rate is 16%-not much safety there). One reason I believe so strongly in abstinence is that it works! Nothing else does.

    But we are off the subject…

  • I’m sorry it wasn’t clear that I used the term ‘virgins vs whores’ as a an age-old concept full of negative meaning, judging and categorizing women based on their sexual choices.

    As to your other questions, the only reasonable and well-though-out abstinence education is taught as part of comprehensive sex ed as one option for safer sex.

    However, the abstinence-until-marriage programs that are taught all over the country (and heavily funded by 1.5 billion taxpayer dollars and counting) teach things like girls who have sex before marriage are akin to chewed up pieces of gum (see the author’s reference to Elizabeth Smart). In fact, the author’s entire column deals with the sexist messages inherent in these kinds of programs.

    Waiting to have sex until marriage is a fine option for some, but that decision shouldn’t be made because someone tells you you’re you’re dirty and worthless if you don’t wait.

  • Hmmm . . . so high school girls select revealing gowns for prom so they will turn on their boyfriends to have sex with them. But encouraging other girls the same age to dress in order to NOT send the message that they are sexually available is supposed to be evil suppression? A young man should not have to look away from a girl in order to avoid seeing her in her underwear. And the same goes for young men.

    Wearing clothing that does not emphasize sexual display is important for young women to be taken seriously as the intellectual equals of men.

    A first experience of sexual intercourse is always going to be awkward. Better to be mutually awkward with someone you trust and love enough to pledge your lives to each other rather than someone who is going to run out the next day and make fun of you with their friends. Given the Mormon birth rate, I have a hard time believing that modesty and self-restraint before marriage is keeping married Mormons from having sex.

  • Therese,
    We actually agree more than we disagree. The “chewed up piece of gum” metaphor leaves out the fact that people can change. That’s something we leave out of teaching abstinence a lot. In a ward I was in some years ago, there was a woman who had been an active prostitute. Her life had been sad, but she was able to change and became a stalwart. As you know, that road is not easy, but worthwhile.

    I also agree that some one shouldn’t wait until marriage because they will be dirty and worthless if they don’t. I don’t believe in worthless people. They should wait because it is the most functional life style and they are significant enough as individuals to have every advantage in life and give the same gift to their children.

    I disagree that every abstinence only program uses shaming and scare tactics. When my daughters were young, I told them to abstain, but if they didn’t to uses a condom as a better than nothing option.

  • As a non-member living in Utah I saw this issue from a different perspective. I was consistently hit on by married mormon men, mostly because I ooze sexuality which is very attractive to middle aged married men in the mormom religion. When rejected by me because, I may like sex but I have no desire for the adulterating kind, these men turned to me for “sex talk” if you will. In the end it always boiled down to the programming from earlier years for women and men alike. I enjoy articles such as this one due to the fact that it’s this type of dialogue that inspires change and clearly fuels open discussion. An odd point though is that I was married for a bit while in Utah and my now ex husband had a porn problem that he brought into the marriage. We were not LDS; however, he was raised LDS. I put out like a fire house 🙂 but that was no competition for a veteran porn addict, it was more like a bonus. That experience made me wonder what the young men in that religion were taught that inspired entire generations of porn addicts? Whether or not I liked having sex had Nothing to do with it, porn was only one of his bad habits.

  • We’re taught by Christ to be a light to the world–to be an example (Matt. 5:16 comes to mind). I think one of the reasons we’re taught this is a very important one–it’s because we can influence others’ behavior–we can contribute to them making the choice to do good simply by being good examples. We can even take some credit for the good others do if we were the right good examples to them that motivated them to choose to do good in the first place (especially if they wouldn’t have done the good but for our subtle motivation from our good examples to them).

    The opposite, I believe, is also true. We can influence others’ behavior and contribute to them choosing immorality. We should take some blame for their wrong actions when we do this. Certainly, we’re not fully responsible for their bad choices, but we should take as much blame for their bad choices as we do when we take credit for the good choices we helped others make–like when we do missionary work and get praised for “converting” a soul when, really, it was the Spirit who did the vast majority of the actual converting.

    The author in this article, I feel, hinted at downplaying one of the reasons we should be modest–to not tempt others. I agree that it shouldn’t be the only reason we emphasize for the importance of modesty, but it’s very nice to help others not be as tempted by something they are driven to do either by the Celestial motivations to have a family or by the natural man influences to be unchaste.

    Either way, helping prevent temptation and avoiding being the source of temptation for others is a good principle I’ll always support. I believe it’s a principle of righteousness Christ would teach us as well.

  • Absolutely right, we’ll be held accountable for how our behavior impacts others even when the behavior in question isn’t inherently sinful, as Paul noted.

    1 Corinthians 8:

    4 So then, about eating food sacrificed to idols: We know that “An idol is nothing at all in the world” and that “There is no God but one.” 5 For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”), 6 yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live.

    7 But not everyone possesses this knowledge. Some people are still so accustomed to idols that when they eat sacrificial food they think of it as having been sacrificed to a god, and since their conscience is weak, it is defiled. 8 But food does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do.

    9 Be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak. 10 For if someone with a weak conscience sees you, with all your knowledge, eating in an idol’s temple, won’t that person be emboldened to eat what is sacrificed to idols? 11 So this weak brother or sister, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge. 12 When you sin against them in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. 13 Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother or sister to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause them to fall.


    I am so happy to hear that someone else shares my opinion. I went to EFY in Vegas were there are a few nude statues. I saw a boy freak out over the concept of naked bodies. I find this shameful. The human body is a beautiful and amazing thing. It should be treated with respect which is what the church is trying to communicate with modesty.

    That boy, although hopefully has sexual urges, may be timid with his future wife making her uncomfortable in her body leading to body image issues and other intimate issues. This will lead to so many other issues, problems that I myself have faced my whole life by being told to cover up my body including self-esteem issues, body image problems, eating disorders, and sexual trust with my husband.

    A body is beautiful and clothing, exposing or not, should only compliment that body and make that person feel comfortable in their skin. It should be functional for the activity and for the body type. If people are accusing someone of wearing a sports top while running and saying that it is scandalous and that it is making their sons think impure thoughts then they need to teach their children, and themselves, self control.

    A naked body is how we were sent to earth. It is how Adam and Eve where in their ignorance. Clothing is a thing we use now to survive this world, cover things that we wish only our special someone to see, or maintain a certain amount of dignity. Teaching our children that a naked body is evil will only create physical problems in the future and possibly intimacy issues with their significant other when the time comes.

    As a Health and Wellness Coach I firmly believe that most of our issues with obesity, depression, and overall wellness can be overcome if we can only accept the skin we are in and only seek to better the beautiful bodies that God has given us.

    Love the skin you are in and all that comes with it.

  • There are fine lines here. I believe in modesty for myself and others. Like almost everything, modesty can be over done and under done. Because each of us is different these things are best handled individually and the rest of us should be patient with how others deal with it.

    The human body itself is not evil and is one of God’s ultimate creations. I do believe it is best to keep it covered, but when doing so results in shaming, it has gone too far. However, as is so common in our society today, when men or women flaunt their bodies for attention, power, money or sexual purposes, the equation changes. I am sorry for your difficulties.

  • Parents need to teach their chikdren the TRUE purpose of modesty for both boys as girls (which is one day the will go to the Temple and make more covenants and promises that they don’t understood right now)
    And church leaders should not be held responsible for the youths sex ed. Parents need to buck up and do their job, that means explain why marriage is important, and the results of having sex outside of marriage.

    If you truly want to blame someone because you dont have a good sex life, blame your parents, because clearly they didnt do their job.

  • Are you also suggesting that women in the 1800s weren’t raped? That being covered up was sufficient to protect themselves from the impure thoughts and keep them safe? How about nuns who are covered head to toe? How about women in burka? They are also raped when a rapist decides to rape. It has nothing to do with temptation. A woman is no more impure than a man if she kisses him without being married to him (this was a rule in the past, yes?). She is no more impure if she dates him without a chaperone (this was a rule in the past). She is no more impure. If we want to use Christ as the example, he stated simply that the sin is thinking of the act just as much as acting on the act. He also said that the one who becomes angry at another is committing the greater sin than the man who may be sinning according to the first man’s standards (such as working on Sunday). Either accept that the old testament should be thrown away and work with the new testament (omitting anything written by Paul – he never actually walked with Christ and has no value), or stop claiming to be Christian.

  • Perhaps no sex before marriage has contributed to the divorce rate? Everyone hears how wonderful sex is, especially when people wait. But then they find out that it isn’t so wonderful after all. They realize that they just ‘had’ to get married so that they could start having legal sex and having babies because that is what they have been taught a righteous person does. It has been indoctrinated since they were infants to think like this. Then they discover that they married the wrong person, that the sex sucks, that they are miserable, etc.

  • Don’t forget that Brigham Young ran brothels, bars, and married over 50 women. He couldn’t keep his penis in his pants. How is that for impure thoughts and control?

  • If that is the case, why have women changed their style of dress to include pantyhome, high heels, expensive dresses, wear makeup and jewelry? All of these things were considered immodest in Brigham Young’s day. Either you believe that God is an unchanging god or you don’t. God’s standards don’t change. So, either the women go back to looking like FLDS women or they aren’t dressing modestly.

  • You really should have non mormon people comment on a blog like this. …..ridiculous opinions in the comments

  • This is an interesting article. Suffice it to say I can agree and disagree. There is certainly a needed standard for modesty but also the need to teach our girls that sex within marriage is not something to be ashamed of. The author correctly points out that men are responsible for their own choices yet seems to backhandedly (surely this was not the intent) implies that women ARE responsible for men turning to pornography if they as women aren’t embracing their sexuality. Hmmm…..

  • A few things I find interesting as a man that grew up in the LDS religion. The first is that women are seen as being holier than men. Women can get to heaven with nothing more than the grace of Christ, but men MUST have the priesthood to become equal to women and help run the Church to be worthy of them. So yes, men are raised to think of women as a scared object.

    I was also raised to believe that women hated sex. I was taught (directly and indirectly) that women have sex with men to show their love for them and to bring babies into the world. Only men has sex for fun. In fact, women that enjoyed sex were more “man like.” Now, this is not doctrine nor is it a part of the real religion and may have been regional. But it makes me wonder how sad the lives of those wives were.

    The problem with all of this is that God isn’t really clear on sexuality, so people make stuff up. In the scriptures, it is clear that man-on-man action is a sin. But, woman-on-woman is not. We ca quote modern Church leaders, but God has been silent on the topic. We know sex out of wedlock is wrong, unless we pay for it, and even then it is okay if the woman isn’t married. If she is, it’s a sin, is she isn’t the man should give the father money and take her as his wife.

    So why then are we so weird about sex today? It’s not the scriptures. They are all about sex. It’s the culture. We are trying to keep and protect a Victorian era outlook that is not only outdated, but was a modern idea that’s reject by scriptures. It hurts, hurts our kids and hurts society. Like most things, we need revelation from the God the Church has rejected by refusing to seek guidance from Him.

  • Please provide your proof that LDS members as you state “outshine, live longer, live healthier and are generally more successful. This is clearly not true at all. You are obviously blinded by the fact that the church is more similar to a cult than a religion. They teach you that they are healthier, live longer and are more successful but there is no proof behind it. Good luck believing in something that is not based on evidence.

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  • I hope you’re aware that in Mormon Church, Chasity carries on into marriage. Its quite frigid and strict. Its not the typical Chasity that most churches believe and partake in.

  • Of course, we all know that the laws of chastity always applies. Take it from a guy’s perspective. What we’re doing is putting women on such a high pedestal that you’re almost worshipping them. It’s hard to be human under those circumstances. Men are scared to look below her shoulders. If I happen to see a curve and I get “caught looking,” suddenly I’m a pervert. Using the words “Beautiful” and “Body” in the same sentence is often enough to get you called into the Bishop’s office for correction. Our divine nature makes men very visual, but it’s almost never sexual. What this rigid culture does is foster false beliefs that can actually have a toxic effect on sexuality after marriage. Fortunately, I’ve been blessed with a wonderful wife, but other men are not so lucky. What we need to teach is that men and women are equally mortal and imperfect, but in different ways.

  • I believe the issue is somewhat overthought and over driven to an almost ad infinitum level of ridiculousness. This guy’s perspective is placing a woman on a pedestal, but not as some unreacheable marble figure. I just realize that she is a daughter of God and due such respect. Her beauty is not the only aspect considered, and it seems that someone who emphasizes “beauty and body” is shallow enough to deserve a visit to the bishop’s office, but for their shallowness towards these lovely women, not necessarily the crassness. Mormons are not so rigid as portrayed, and the portrayal of both men and women is itself shallow to the point of comedy. I do not see it as you do, we would have put ourselves, as Saints in the catagory of extinct long ago, were it as described.

  • It think it boils down to upbringing. I was raised in Romania never had a boyfriend and I am 27 years old. Was told as a child that I have to dress modestly. Mother quite controlling. Never have had any desire to date men. I also have autism. Very quiet as a child. That idea of what is acceptable in society depends on the environment. You will not go to work in a t shirt and skirt. That would not be appropriate. What i am baffled about is this. There was this incident where I went outside on a hot summer day in a t shirt which didn’t show any cleavage and a mini skirt which showed my figure where I was whistled at. The boys who did that I thought were quite immature. I mean come on I have thighs get over it. Why do men always have to make such a big deal out of it. Its not like I walking around naked. And please try not to say its because of how you men are wired. It is shifting the blame onto women.

  • “Is this suggesting that the wife of a male porn addict may be partly responsible for her husband’s addiction because of her own sexual behavior?”

    That isn’t how I interpreted the comment. I understood it as the author pointing out the erroneous belief some men cling to that their wives are “angelic creatures who have no sexual desire”–a belief that is alive and well and still taught in Mormon culture today, by the way–as a rationalization to turn to porn instead of healthy sexual expression with their partner. It’s another example of just how misinformed the teachings on modesty are and the problems created when an organization insists women are responsible for the thoughts and behavior of men.

  • “Women discussed frequency, technique and rate of orgasm…” This is not the norm. I truly wish it were because I think it’s much more healthy. My experience in LDS culture is the author’s conclusions are spot on.