Sexual Naivete – pros and cons?

John DehlinMormon 19 Comments

The following question is one I recently received on my blog that I have not answered yet.  Who wants to help me out?  What advice would you give?

I’m a pretty naive Mormon girl, raised in a super conservative environment. I have a boyfriend and I’m just discovering kissing, but since I know next to nothing about sex and physicality, I don’t really know if I’ve done anything wrong. For instance, I just found out what dry humping is and I’m worried I’ve done it, but I still don’t know what it is and what it means. Can you help me?

Challenges I see:

1.  I’m not sure what her age is (although I’m assuming she is at least 16, more than likely college aged).

2. Wanting to balance the following: encouraging normal sexual development, not engendering unnecessary shame, offering correct sexual education and teaching the benefits of chastity.

I’ve heard LDS opinions that range from not kissing until across the alter to people should have sex before marriage to check compatibility.

What is appropriate sexual exploration before marriage?  How do you define our infamous “petting” word?  Would you want your child to marry someone they had never kissed or felt passion for?  Felt lust for?  How do you draw these lines?  Assuming you are married, what did you learn from your own courting experiences?  Did you feel like you went too far or not far enough?  If this was your daughter writing me, what would you want me to tell her or not to tell her?

Natasha Helfer Parker is a Licensed Clinical Marriage and Family Therapist and a member of the Church with 13 years of experience working with LDS members. Here she shares with us representative cases from her practice and insights she has gained from her work as a therapist.  She blogs at

Comments 19

  1. My husband and I met in high school and ran head on to many of these issues. Eventually, we came up with several rules that worked for us to keep us “safe”:
    1. No kissing anywhere below the chin.
    2. No touching anything that would be covered by a bathing suit/bikini. (This is to avoid my mental definition of “petting”)
    3. No removal of clothing.
    4. Lying down was OK only if we were beside each other and facing the same direction.
    5. Whenever I felt a surge of hormones while we were kissing, I would pull back lest I feel encouraged to break the other rules. Similarly, if my husband-to-be started unconsciously thrusting, I would try to hold his hips still. (Don’t take this as “ZOMG all the pressure is on the girl to keep you temple worthy!!!1!1” My husband may have had some unspoken rules like this too that I don’t know about.)

    Maybe these are prudish to some, or not strict enough to others, but they worked for us. We definitely got to experience passion before marriage, but not so much that we couldn’t go to the temple.

  2. My personal “OK” line as a teen was clothed and sitting. In my mind, as long as I was clothed and sitting, it couldn’t be too bad…right? Lying down seemed to invite escalation, but I had to fend off more than one suitor trying to get at my well-endowed self. Staying modest up there helped to keep things above board.

    I do have a friend who first kissed over the alter. She got married at the average age, but didn’t start dating until after her mission. Since guys she dated always wanted to be “the first” it became a thing, so she just decided it might as well be her husband. Together they decided to keep it for the alter, and since she’d gone so long, it might as well be the big thing it had turned into.

  3. I am a fan of the book “The Act of Marriage” by Tim and Beverly LaHaye. It explores sexual practice, intimacy, chastity, and its relationship to marriage and a Christian context. Not LDS, perspective, but useful. Great for non-married but seeking people, and it might be good for married people having sexual dysfunction/issues as well (I’m not sure, though; it’s been awhile since I read it).

    My other advice:
    I would hope she can talk with a number of women with a variety of opinions on the subject, understanding that they are all opinions and experiences rather then rules and regulations. I would hope that she doesn’t try and “figure it all out” on her own. That way heartbreak and hard knocks lie. they can help her draw her own lines and work out the “whys” of the lines, better than leaving it to the heat of the moment.
    Reaching out to a therapist is a great start, and should be followed up by a trusted community of women (in her circumstance). She should also go to FMH blog and join the community there: lots of varied opinions from women with comfortable anonymity.

    I think having no information besides an unspoken shame or having no community are the worst ways to grow into one’s sexuality.
    In My Opinion.

  4. #1 would be the church’s universal advice on the matter.

    However when I was bishop and ran into these situations, especially talking to YW, I generally avoid the direct language in #1, asked the YW president to say that, and found it better to talk about the feelings of guilt as an indicator that you are going too far. That part is more about the light of Christ and that is what tells us that we are going to far and need to take a few steps back.

    It let the girls start to ‘feel’ what was right and wrong without a old dude like me going into details, and more importantly it helped to let them make their own decisions about chastity, as obviously #1 did.

  5. I had various friends though junior high and high school, but starting in my sophomore year I had four really close friends. We did everything together. All five of us went on missions and all five were married in the temple. We all dated extensively and all at a minimum kissed all of the girls we were dating. Until our engagements to our wives all of us dated several girls at once. Given the fact we were so close we shared various experiences about the girls we were dating – a kiss and tell if you will.

    Out of the five of us, three of us are still happily married. The remaining two have divorced – one is a total playboy and the other is just no longer married. The two that are now divorced went the furthest before marriage – one engaged in Oral Sex with this girlfriend who he married and the other had sexual intercourse before marriage. The three of us that are still married did nothing more than kissing and some mild petting. This is my observation and experience on the subject.

    My advice, stay morally clean before marriage and your marriage will have a better chance of sucess.

  6. Sounds like this particular young lady has a very limited understanding of sexual anatomy in general. That’s something that I think would lend itself to trouble. It’s also probably hard to help with much else without that.

  7. I agree with #6. My main concern is not what she’s done but her ignorance of what is right and wrong. It’s time that we stop telling teens that “petting” is wrong… what the heck does that even mean? We need to get down to the nitty gritty about the specifics of sex and the dangers because the line is very blurry right now. I knew as a teen that oral sex was wrong but really had no idea what that even meant. When it comes to sex, ignorance ain’t bliss.

  8. Perhaps a story from a guy who grew up outside the LDS Church and community (and American double-standard morality mostly, too)?

    My wife and I both had “experience” before coming to Church as young adults. When we started going together, we talked about what we should and shouldn’t do, and we decided kissing was okay, as long as either of us didn’t feel like we were getting too hot under the collar (or somewhere else, for that matter). We decided that it’s nothing to feel guilty about wanting to go all the way with each other; especially by the time we were engaged, we pretty much figured that to be a good thing! But we were not to act on that desire.

    And inasmuch as honest communication is one of the foundational requirements of a healthy sexual relationship between a married couple, the earlier you start speaking honestly about what you think and feel in that area, the better. And please remember: Any old thing can turn into a perversion, if we spend all our time and energy on that one thing! So if you find yourself talking about nothing else, you’re going to be in trouble.

    By the time it’s time to get undressed in front of your new spouse, you should be totally exorcised from all feelings that you each have between your legs a “dirty” area, and whatever’s done with them is dirty!

    When I talk about the sacredness of the mature married sexual experience, I mean all the lusting and grunting that goes into it! (That’s just because someone in the erotica thread indicated that sacredness somehow takes away from the passion/enjoyment.) That sacredness is the antithesis to the “dirtiness” idea, in my mind.

    When we think about sacred, we tend to think about partaking of the emblems of the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, or some other solemn occasion. Remember when David had the Ark of the Covenant brought into Jerusalem? He danced in the lead of the procession; the Bible says “he danced before the LORD” — we are told that David’s wife Milcah didn’t like it, but then perhaps she was jealous that her husband could be so spontaneously happy. If Samuel had condemned it, I would view it differently, but now I think this was still the David, who was a man after the Lord’s own heart, not the adulterer and murderer he became later.

    Which would only take me one step further in thinking of relationships. Remember that David was not predetermined by anything to start lusting after Bathsheba. None of us is predetermined to do anything at all; I am a fierce defendant of libertarian free will in that although we can not always influence our circumstances, we can always decide within the limits set upon us by those circumstances how to act, even how to feel in the long run!

    Going by guilt feelings, however, excuse me Carlos, is no way to go. Most Mormon teenagers are guilt-tripped so much on sex that for many getting over the shame and guilt of having seen their spouse naked and desired him/her is a lifetime project.

    Here I am, thanking my stars that I am such a mother nature’s son that I’m not intimidated by intimacy. Actually, thanking my Heavenly and earthly Fathers, who both have affirmed my belief in my being a sacred, good thing, not something to mortify, but something to cherish and take best possible care of. And my earthly father did it totally without understanding what he was doing; his big hangup was Faith, of which he didn’t dare admit having any at all until he was almost 80.

  9. My thoughts
    A healthy dose of attraction is vital, however beyond that there is no reason to, let’s say “explore” the physical attractions, even though it may feel good.

    Here are some excerpts from For The Strength of Youth

    When you obey God’s commandment to be sexually
    pure, you prepare yourself to make and keep sacred
    covenants in the temple.

    You protect yourself from the
    emotional damage that always comes from sharing
    physical intimacies with someone outside of marriage.

    Do not have any sexual relations before marriage,
    and be completely faithful to your spouse after marriage.
    Satan may tempt you to rationalize that sexual intimacy
    before marriage is acceptable when two people are in love.
    That is not true.

    In God’s sight, sexual sins are extremely
    serious because they defile the power God has given us to
    create life.

    Before marriage, do not do anything to arouse the
    powerful emotions that must be expressed only in

    Do not participate in passionate kissing, lie
    on top of another person, or touch the private, sacred
    parts of another person’s body, with or without clothing.
    Do not allow anyone to do that with you. Do not arouse
    those emotions in your own body.

    In cultures where dating or courting is acceptable,
    always treat your date with respect, never as an object to
    be used for your lustful desires. Stay in areas of safety
    where you can easily control your physical feelings.
    Do not participate in talk or activities that arouse sexual

    I like these statements because they provide the why people should stay sexually pure, and then they give some general and then specific guidelines. The church isn’t going to give you specifics such as response #1 did, but I think it’s a good idea to come up with your own, it fosters communication about a tricky subject which is healthy for a budding relationship, and it allows you to set boundaries which you can both police each other on.

    You don’t want to play the “I’ll go as far as he/she wants to/will let me go” game – because all too often both people are playing that game and then go further than either one really wanted to. This happens too often in LDS courtship. With the morality thing, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with setting up artificial boundaries which may be seen as Pharisaical in other contexts.

    I know couples who were never alone together inside a room or house, everything inside was in public places (restaurants, churches, museums, etc) , and all their private conversations were alone but outside (park, hiking, walking, etc). It kept them safe, and they never regretted it.

    You’ll never meet an LDS couple who wished they had gone further prior to getting married.

  10. #6 said, “Going by guilt feelings, however, excuse me Carlos, is no way to go. Most Mormon teenagers are guilt-tripped so much on sex that for many getting over the shame and guilt of having seen their spouse naked and desired him/her is a lifetime project.”

    I really agree with this. Thank goodness it didn’t take me a lifetime but it took a few years to overcome the guilt and shame of having sexual feelings and knowing how to act on them in a “righteous” way. How can we change things so that teenagers are taught more about the beauty and loveliness of sex and sexual feelings and less about guilt and shame.

    I dated my husband all through highschool and it was difficult to keep things undercontrol. Rules are good. (Our rules were always changing mind you so……LOL) We also had a nicely calligraphied list of goals that we both wanted, taped to the wall beside each of our beds to remind us of what we were shooting for. Temple Marriage was high on the list so our focus was there. I really believe we had our own army of angels watching out for us. We also had a great bishop that we were in contact with helping us keep our heads about us. My husband served a mission and we married in the temple so I think having goals, and direction is really helpful.

    Is “petting” an LDS term? I know for my husband and I we had two types of petting. Light and Heavy. Light was over the clothes and Heavy was under. We defined things as a couple so that we could talk about it better. We learned these terms from EFY in a class called Satan’s Slippery Slide. Climbing up the ladder was interdigitation (holding hands) first kiss and at the top of the slide was lots of kissing then down the slide (which of course happens very quickly) was french kissing, light petting, heavy petting, and then at the bottom sexual intercourse. If I taught this I would change the title because this isn’t Satan’s Slippery Slide when you get married. It’s what is beautiful and lovely. Making that shift was difficult for me so I would want to help the youth understand the difference. I would also add the terms dry humping, oral sex, anal sex and masturbating each other. A lot of youth I know rationalize these things as being okay because they aren’t actual sexual intercourse. A new thing with the youth around here is “docking”. I personally don’t know how this is physically possible but it involves “docking” the penis in the vagina and hanging out there for awhile without any movement. They seem to think this is okay too.

    Because youth seem to have a strong desire to experiment with their sexual feelings I also feel it is very important to teach them about safe sex and the use of condoms etc. As you can see from the “docking” fad, youth will try all sorts of things and they need to understand the physical consequences as well as the spiritual ones.

    In this day of the internet we parents and adults no longer have the luxury of being vague about sexuality. We must be blunt and forward with our discussions with youth.

  11. @ #5, Will:

    I know a guy who did everything you said one should do. He was chaste, dated appropriately, married a girl in the temple… and now they’ve been married two years. She cries whenever they do have sex, which is almost never. She thinks it’s shameful and dirty. He feels abandoned and alone and frustrated trying to imagine the rest of his life this way. Their marriage is on the rocks at best… if not completely over by now.

    I think you’re take on this is rather simplistic and not at all realistic.

    Sorry, I’m not trying to be rude or start a fight. I just really disagree with what you said.

  12. I agree strongly with Heather.

    I have always been a very open person sexually, I’ve never been particular sexually niave and this has been a blessing in my marriage. Because I’ve always been comfortable with my body and my sexuality, it was an easier transition to being open with my husband. This has translated into us being very comfortable with each other, and able to ask questions.

    I’d like to contrast this to far too many of my friends. They were all in the sex is bad, bad, bad mindset, and then suddenly had to flip a switch onto sex is good. It doesn’t work, especially for females. I think males have it a bit easier to just flip like that. Because these girls never took the time to figure out their bodies (gasp, some didn’t even know what a clitoris is, where it is, or what it’s function is), they aren’t able to help their equally niave husbands out. This results in many of them not enjoying sex. It’s a lot harder for a girl to derive pleasure from sex, and if she doesn’t know what she enjoys or needs, how can she guide her husband? Over time these girls have come to hate and resent sex, or anything related to it, because they never receive any pleasure. This leads to the nasty little cycle, where she hates sex and says no, he feels upset because as a physical male sex is very important to him, she resents his desire for sex even more since she views it as selfish, he is upset that she thinks he’s selfish, he thinks he is trying to love her, she resents him, he resents her. And that is how a marriage can crumble, not to mention an affair ensue. I’ve seen this far too many times, as yes one marriage has already wound up in a divorce, and a big factor being that they haven’t had sex for 7 years (married for over 17) and she says she never experienced an orgasm even when they did have sex. She also had feelings of guild associated with sex, so they only had sex when she wanted to try for a child. My poor sister in law (18) never even got the birds and bees talk, she knew nothing about the male anatomy or how sex worked. She thought you could get pregnant swimming with boys, and that you didn’t need to remove your clothes. All because her mother believed it was inappropriate to talk about those sort of things.

    The extreme sexual rigidity and niavete that is so common in the church just doesn’t work. My advice to this girl, would be to kiss, enjoy it, but keep hands and eyes away from areas that her underwear covers. I’d also encourage her to use a mirror and learn about her own body. Explore and know it well. This isn’t just good sex advice, but good health advice. A lot of cancer that is caught early on, the patient just noticed that something was different from what was normal in their body. If the girl is older and of marriageable age, then I would recommend her finding a good book or two about sex in marriage, there are several good ones out there, quite a few from an LDS standpoint, and read them over.

  13. Religious perspectives aside, this young lady is on the right track by at least acknowledging her own naivete. The wrong thing for her to do is to cure this through experience. She ought to focus on growing an maturing a little (particularly if she is in high school), and then she can explore her sexual relationships later when she is better prepared to make wiser choices. I actually tend to agree with the Church’s position on sexuality, particularly with the youth, as it pertains to the lifestyle aspects. When the religious elements are introduced I tend to shutter, as per the whole connotation to me of sacredness – or making sex a partnership between a couple and God, but boundaries and limits make perfect sense. Sexual activity among teens can be the defining point in life – if they are not emotionally and personally, professionally/financially prepared, stay away. In my experience that applies to 100% of all teenagers, and particularly large subset of twenty-somethings.

  14. Will #5

    To say that premarital sex and problems in marriage coincide is an oversimplification. I’m the product of one of these encounters. My mom and dad got married shortly after. At the time they were both 29 and because of circumstances they may not have gotten married had not my mom got pregnant with me. They had a good marriage until my dad died at the young age of 46.

    While this may not be typical, I’ve become thankful for this lapse in self control. They were good parents and I’ve been blessed because of this.

    Now I’m going to flip sides. For those who think that premarital sex is good to help determine if your are compatible or not, think again. Give marriage a couple years, throw in a kid or two or three, and add into the marriage the stress of careers, money, church callings, etc and I think the premarital sex will have little to do with finding out if you are compatible and capable of enduring the stresses of marriage. Many good sex desires before and early in marriage die as stress of life continues.

  15. Before marriage, falling into lustful situations can be hazardous, in many ways.  For this young woman, I’d ask if she’d prayed aobut it.  The biggest indicator is how you felt about it afterward – if you feel like you had dome something wrong, then talk to your Bishop or other advisor about it.  A good rule of thumb is to avoid touching any part that is covered by normal, non-temple, underwear.  Over the clothes, under the clothes, with hips, hands, or whatever, the best rule is to keep those feelings in check until marriage.  And then in marriage, tempered with selflessness toward your spouse.

    For my own children, I’m hoping they can get some experience being close to someone and learn how to be selfless in a relationship before they even think about marriage, much less sex.  Having sex before marriage (even the night before) is wrong because even if you have made that commitment in your heart that you will always be with this person, sex is the most precious gift you can give, and the Lord has some pretty strict rules about waiting until marriage.  On the secular side, no matter how sure you are, the relationship can end the next day, for no forseeable reason, and then you will have given yourself away unwisely.

    For me, it has been interesting having explored a number of the more seedy parts of the world in the past and now being married to a sexually “naive” woman.  I’m continually surprised at the occasional sexual joke I catch on TV that my wife misses completely.  I have no problem explaining to her things if she asks, but as the years go on we’re both feeling like she’s better off not knowing.

  16. How do you say that NOTHING but perhaps some kissing is allowed before the wedding but afterwards it is, including “the obvious” ? It is like going 0% to 100% in one great leap. My wife and I had some serious discussions about that and were equally baffled at the logic behind it.

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