My first child, a son, will be born this May. It’s pretty much impossible for me to believe that I will be a parent, but ready or not here I come. While trying to conceptualize this huge change in my life, I read this article written by a father as his son moves out of the house. Now, my perspective is a lot different. My son will, hopefully, not have to deal with these issues for a long time, (though it seems impossible to delay it for long anymore). Yet the article got me thinking about what this list would look like between a Latter-day Saint father and son. I may not yet have the perspective of a wise father, but I still have the useful perspective of a young man. So here is my advice to my as of yet unborn son on women and sex that I hope he won’t have to read for a very long time. (The rest of you are welcome to enjoy it in the meantime).
There were very few sister missionaries in my upstate New York mission. I was moving to one of the areas where women were serving and asked another Elder for some advice on how to deal with sister missionaries. “You treat them like missionaries. Don’t treat them like Elders. Treat them like missionaries.” This simple advice applies to every interaction with women. Don’t treat them like men; treat them like people. Get to know them, become their friends, ask their advice, give them respect.
As Latter-day Saints we are blessed with the powerful scripture in 2 Nephi 26:33 where Nephi teaches, “All are alike unto God.” Develop this God-like perspective of equality toward women. This does not mean men and women are the same. Men and women have different strengths, desires, and passions. This is why you can’t automatically treat women like you treat your male friends and assume they will find it respectful.
However, just like you don’t match every male stereotype, the women you meet don’t meet every female stereotype. To develop the best relationships learn to see things from the point of view of women. Christ was a perfect example of this. He understood the way culture and faith impacted the women in his life, and used this as a starting point to develop an individualized relationship. This is why making friendships where you get to know women as individuals is so important.
Never Use Women
Well, never use anyone. Sometimes you will see someone who can help you fill one of your needs or desires. You will say or do what you need to to get that person to do what you want. Doing this gives no respect to the other individual. Women are at a greater risk for being used because for a long time in our society men have been in charge. Women are in danger of being used in many ways. Strip clubs and pornography use women for their sexuality. They hope that men will believe their sexual feelings are more important than the personhood of that woman. They’re not.
Also beware of the reasons you develop relationships with women. If your end goal is exclusively sexual, you are preparing yourself to use women. Relationships are complex and dynamic. The greatest blessings come from learning from another’s point of view, and understanding their hopes and fears. This is intimacy just like sex is. And all must be part of a relationship to avoid using a woman.
Men can use women for other reasons too. Some use women as a status symbol. Never marry a women because you think having a wife can improve your career, or give you more influence, or get you church callings you like better. Never ask a women out because of how you think others will react. Still, others use women to make their lives easier.
If you only see a woman for how she can improve your life, whether it is cooking meals, paying your way through school, or providing income, you are using her. Find someone you can work with together in pursuing both of your dreams. God revealed to a prophet that men and women are equal. Take it as a commandment that you treat them this way. Treat woman as multi-dimensional, complex, human beings, because they are.
Never Place Women on a Pedestal
Women are not fictional fantasies come to life, they’re like you. You will hear people say that women are uniquely special. This is a pernicious lie because it harms those it intends to praise. When we say women are different, whether good or bad, we put a barrier between us and them. Learning to develop intimacy requires removing those barriers. Women struggle, hope, pray and repent. As Latter-day Saints we believe one day you will need to create a union with a woman. You will need to “become one.” Don’t try to marry your better half, marry a complementary half, marry an equal half, marry a real live breathing person who you can help and who can help you.
Nourish your sexual feelings
Marriage is a powerful opportunity for men and women to come together. Sexual feelings help keep us focused on the importance of this goal. Do not try to kill your sexual feelings. Think of these feelings as a tree. (Excuse me for the sexual metaphor. I know these metaphors are so often abused, especially when it comes to sex. But if tree metaphors are good enough for Alma, they’re good enough for me.)
If we pour weed killer on the roots, they may go away for a time. But sexual feelings cannot and should not be destroyed. They will come back. If we try to kill them, they will come back weak and twisted, nothing like the beautiful tree they can become. Instead nourish your sexual feelings. Begin wholesome friendships with women based on shared values and interests.
As your sexual feelings grow, prune them. When you see a beautiful woman that stirs these feelings, this is God given. Direct these feelings to get to know her, and develop sincere and honest relationships. Do not lust after her from afar. Direct these feelings into friendships, dating, and later marriage. Your sexual feelings are a preparation for marriage, and that’s where they are meant to come to fruition. Remember, what you do with these sexual feelings is your responsibility. Never ever use these feelings as an excuse to objectivize, lust after, harass, or assault a woman.
Set Marriage as Your Goal
If you care for and nourish these sexual feelings throughout your life, they will one day grow into something beautiful. This beautiful relationship will include sex, but is not only sex. The sexual feelings help focus us on these eternal goals, but should not be viewed as the ends in and of themselves. As Latter-day Saints, we believe God has commanded all his children to get married. Keep this commandment. Marriage can be difficult, and the world is full of counterfeit options. Do not fall for them. Your sexual feelings will be very strong, and you may try to get rid of them through pornography, friends with benefits, or one night stands. Not only do these approaches require you to treat women as ways to appease your sex drive, they do not work. They will make your sexual feelings grow and twist in ugly and perverse ways. Ignoring marriage now seems popular in order to get more money or to avoid responsibility. Remember the purpose of life is to learn, grow, and become more like your Heavenly Father. The commitment, sacrifice, and unity that marriage brings are Godly attributes. This is why marriage is so important in God’s plan. This is why you absolutely must get to know women as the dynamic and complex individuals they are, instead of one-dimensional stereotypes. Set a goal to develop relationships that may one day become marriage so that you can reap the many beautiful benefits sexual desire and having a woman in your life can bring.
Son, some of this may seem silly. There will be many times in your life that sex seems to be the only important thing. There are many who will call you bad for having these powerful feelings. Those people are wrong. Find someone who will respect the sexual feelings God has given you. Growing up it will often seem as though the ideas of women and sex are the same. You have to resist this. The relationships you can develop with women are so much stronger, complex, and unique than that. Good luck, and may God bless you.