26 March 2007

Sexuality at BYU

This was originally going to be the subject of my first BCC post. I chickened out, for obvious reasons. It was somewhat inspired by Courtney's post on sex education.

BYU students are naive about sex. Having grown up in a culture where sexuality is never discussed, they've essentially become asexual creatures. Anything sexual has become dirty, to the point where some students make the decision not to kiss until they're married in order to avoid the risk of tainting their love with any impure desires and to avoid any sort of temptation. My writing teacher, after lecturing on the persuasive techniques of a rather explicit article on abortion, once had a student approach her wanting to discuss some sexual problems in her new marriage. The student felt there was no way she could turn to her parents because they would think she was sinful to even talk about it. Clearly, BYU students need some help being well-adjusted in their sexual attitudes.

BYU students are obsessed with sex. Having grown up in a culture where sexuality is never disucssed, they've essentially become overly sexual creatures. Students crave physical intimacy--see the fascination with NCMO a few years ago--because no one has taught them how to deal with it appropriately. It's a long standing joke how quickly a couple can go from a first date to marriage at BYU, something some people attribute to sexual desire overwhelming common sense. I mean, it's a popular enough opinion to have its own (rather long) section on the Wikipedia BYU entry's talk page. Clearly, BYU students need some help being well-adjusted in their sexual attitudes.

Wait, what? Can two such opposite views be held about (apparently) the same group of people? And how can two such disaparate results both be seen as originating from Mormon culture's way of dealing with sexuality?

Now, granted, my experience with this topic is . . . limited, if you know what I mean. But I believe that these two different stereotypes say more about the people who fit them than the system that created them. If both of these types came through the Church, then I'd say personal choice has a lot more influence on your attitudes than does a particular method of sex education. From my observations, the vast majority of BYU students are actually pretty well-adjusted about their sexuality. They see that it's an important part of marriage relationship, that it's nothing to be ashamed of, but also that they should be careful not to worship it. The two groups described above are no more an accurate representation of the Church than the uber-liberal or uber-conservative Mormons are. It's an unfair and unjustified stereotype.

Yeah, this definitely wasn't solidly argued enough to hold up to a BCC audience. Woah, three posts today. I better take a rest and not over-exert myself.


Ronan said...

This would have been fun at BCC, Liz!

Connor said...

I see a similarity with the Catholist priest scandals over recent years. When one must abstain and suppress any sexual desire, it bottles up and explodes. For some that might entail sexual abuse, while for others with strict morals it might manifest itself in NCMO (or worse, as is common).

Parents largely are at fault, in my opinion, for raising their children in an environment where such things are taboo. It's much like gun ownership in my mind: you talk about them in the open with your children, and early on remove any curiosity that would lead to dangerous experimentation. Frank discussion with children about "the birds and the bees" and open dialogue as they sexually mature is crucial.

grettir said...

> When one must abstain and suppress
> any sexual desire, it bottles up and
> explodes.

So, every matronly spinster in my ward is a bomb, just waiting to go off? Every long-term single parent teeters on the brink of debauchery?

> For some that might entail sexual
> abuse, while for others with strict
> morals it might manifest itself in
> NCMO (or worse, as is common).

While for billions of others who abstain and suppress every day, it manifests itself in getting out of bed in the morning, going to work at a job that they don't find particularly fulfilling (but at least it pays the bills), doing their best to raise their kids, and generally getting on with their lives.

> Parents largely are at fault...

Aren't they always?

> It's much like gun ownership...

I'll have to use that one in my next "frank discussion" with my kids.

"Girls, sex is like gun ownership:

"a. You really shouldn't engage in the practice until you have the proper paperwork.

"b. Those who engage in the practice will often justify their actions by asserting that 'everyone else is doing it.'

"c. Those who engage in the practice will often encourage others to do so by stating that it is their god-given right.

"d. Support for the practice, or control thereof, is pretty much divided along party lines."

MistaBen said...

These two extreme stereotypes will never die, will they?

Considering about half of each BYU graduating class is married, In reality, I wouldn't be too surprised if the average BYU student were more comfortable with their sexuality than the average college student.

I say that for a couple of reasons, both supported only anecdotally:

1) BYU students are much less likely to engage in pre-marital sex. I believe that tends to a sort of sexual peace of conscience: "I'm patiently waiting to develop my sexual side, and I'm pure."

2) By far the most sexually-active BYU students are the married ones, and very few (if any) are engaging in sex outside of their marriages. Again, I think that this behavior typically leads to a sexual confidence that is not readily felt by those who use one partner after another, nor by those who've broken up with sexual partners.

Anonymous said...

Liz, I usually enjoy your discussions and your propensity towards the cerebral. But this discussion is way to simplified, way too narrow, and not at all fair to BYU students. If you really think these generalizations are true, then you don't get out of the WC enough.

Yes, many BYU students have post-marital adjusting issues. They are not the majority. Very few choose not to kiss until marriage, but those who do are sure fun for the rest of us to laugh at with incredulity. In short, the bad/overly prude cases get way more publicity.

I think you were wise to go with the sealed plates discussion instead, which was quite good.

Liz Muir said...

Anonymous: Clearly you haven't read the post carefully. My point is that both those stereotypes are way oversimplified and I don't believe in them. I find it odd that they continue to persist. In short, I totally agree with you. Try reading the post next time. :D

Courtney said...

Liz, I agree! Great post, and I agree with Ronan that it would have been cool at BCC. While I think these two stereotypes often are true of BYU students, there are still stereotypes: too extreme and not true of all BYU students. But I still think something needs to be done to completely eradicate this specific stereotype. (The stereotypes had to come from somewhere!) Hmmm, I have no original thoughts on the subject right now, but good presentation of the two stereotypes and the problem.

kuri said...

"It's much like gun ownership..."

Sex doesn't cause pregnancy, people do?

Cathryn said...

Hooray! I thought that "discussion" had the potential to keep growing...haha.

Anyway, great insights as always, Liz. Here's my two cents, I guess: obviously the two stereotypes are extremes...maybe things fit onto a bell curve, in a sense. A very small portion of the population probably exists at either end of the spectrum, but most people fall somewhere in between (a large majority of which seem to be healthy, well-adjusted individuals, like everyone else is saying).

Here's something else that was rolling around in my head, though--I think, to a certain degree, people can be kind of both ways (both naive about and infatuated with sex). I'm sorry, this might be kind of offensive (my roommates and I sure think it's funny)--but it kind of reminds me of our theory of why guys really like breasts, curvy butts, and long hair: they don't have them (ergo they don't "understand" them, I guess).

Does that make any sense? Probably not...

Steve M. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Steve M. said...

Great post.

I agree with you that neither of the stereotypes you present are representative of BYU students or Mormons in general.

That having been said, I believe that each of the stereotypes is founded in reality, to a degree. That is to say, people who insist on their accuracy aren't totally out of their minds.

And the views aren't necessarily polar opposites either. In fact, one may be a manifestation of the other. There's a saying that goes, "repression breeds obsession," which isn't entirely untrue. Sexual repression and unhealthy attitudes about sex--frequent outgrowths of inadequate sex education--create and fuel sexual obsessions and compulsive sexual behaviors (such as compulsive porn viewing).

So I don't think it's contradictory or surprising to assert that semblances of the two stereotypes you describe do exist in the Mormon community, particularly at BYU.

Mormon sexual health (or lack thereof) may not be as much of a problem as some make it out to be, but I'm not sure I agree that "the vast majority of BYU students are actually pretty well-adjusted about their sexuality." I've found sexuality to be a topic that evokes a lot of uneasiness in the BYU community. Even those who are sexually active (i.e., married students) aren't necessarily well-adjusted.

But once again, thanks for your thoughts. I just discovered your blog (after reading your recent BCC posts), and I'm enjoying it.