The personal reading habits of Latter-day Saints are of interest to me, for two reasons. First, because I am a voracious reader and so like to know what others are reading. Second, because reading can be such a beneficial activity and it provides hints as to what people are valuing and thinking.
The value of reading and studying is apparent from the very clear fact that, as Latter-day Saints, we are constantly admonished to read and study the scriptures. We are encouraged to draw wisdom and knowledge from the scriptures to enrich our understanding and shape our attitudes and behaviors. But what do we read in addition to the scriptures? And what do we read and think about when it relates to marriage? Or do we read or think about it all?
To conduct a small and unscientific survey of what Latter-day Saints seem to be reading, specifically on marriage, I logged on to the Deseret Book web site and looked up books on this topic. Books on marriage were listed under “Self-Help for Marriage” and were listed in order of the current most popular books on that subject. Currently, Wendy Watson’s excellent book, “Rock Solid Relationships: Strengthening Personal Relationships with Wisdom from the Scriptures,” was listed in the top spot as Number 1. The thing I like about this book is that it does what I’m suggesting here, it helps draw Latter-day Saints into the scriptures to gain wisdom and insight into strengthening their relationships. It encourages you to read, to ponder, to study from the scriptures. Great start here on what’s being read out there, Latter-day Saints.
The list continued on, but what caught my attention was certain books in certain categories in the list of books at the top of the list. In the field of marriage and family life, it is common to target topics to certain key points in family life, such as managing finances or dealing with divorce. This is apparent in the books on the list. Three of the top 15 books listed were specifically targeted at newlyweds, although probably all of them were relevant to newer couples. What was the other BIG topic?
There is this sense that we, as Latter-day Saints, do not think much about sexual intimacy and certainly do not talk about it. We do, however, seem to read about it. Four of the top ten books listed as currently the “most popular” books on marriage at the Deseret Book web site were very specifically on sexual intimacy in marriage. Six of the top eighteen are in this category if you keep going down the list.
I point this out to suggest a point, which is that while we often are careful (and with good reason) in how we talk about sexual intimacy and marriage as Latter-day Saints, we are also not unaware that it is an important topic as related to marriage. At least, we seem to be becoming more aware of its importance. The question is why is this awareness occurring?
Awareness of the Importance of Intimacy in Marriage
I can, at this point, give no scientific basis for why, essentially, four of the top ten books on marriage for Latter-day Saints on the “most popular” list at the Deseret Book web site are specifically on sexual intimacy in marriage. I can only offer opinions that have some basis in experience and common sense and science. Let me offer a couple of possibilities.
First, we live in a world that is saturated with attention to the topic of sexuality in ways that are often inappropriate and unhealthy. The endless procession of television programs, movies, and magazine articles that focus only on illicit sex or sexual adventures or other titillating topics is stifling. The sad outcome of this deluge of worldly material is that there seems to be almost no room for a healthy, positive approach to sexual intimacy that is not suspicious. Latter-day Saints are turned off and tired out because of fighting the constant war of keeping their minds and spirits free of inappropriate material. Thus, when something does appear that addresses this subject in a more sensitive and appropriate way, specifically for Latter-day Saints, I suspect that they are anxious to seek an alternative and positive perspective.
Second, the Lord has promised that in the latter days the windows of heaven will be opened so that a stream of light and truth will flood the world on many topics. We live in a day when marriage and family life is challenged as never before. Latter-day Saints are thus hungry for information and understanding that gives them light and truth, rather than darkness and distortion, when it comes to the topic of sexual intimacy and marriage.
Finally, the reality is that Latter-day Saints are not immune from the termites that burrow into the walls of marriage and seek to destroy the home. They too suffer from the challenges that may trouble married life, ranging from financial disagreements to communication concerns. And, while often unspoken, one of the most deadly termites in marriage is that of problems with sexual intimacy. Latter-day Saints who acknowledge this, I suspect, are willing to seek out information on this topic in hopes that their marriage relationships might be improved and blessed.
Those are a few of the reasons that I suspect Latter-day Saints seem to be reading on the topic of sexual intimacy in marriage.
The Books They’re Buying
What are they reading? Just so you know and you can go to Deseret Book or another source and find out for yourself what to read, here are the current titles listed in order of their ranking:
#6 – Between Husband and Wife: Gospel Perspectives on Marital Intimacy – by Stephen E. Lamb and Douglas E. Brinley
This particular book was really the first to treat this topic in a book-length fashion for an LDS audience in an in-depth way. Already a “classic,” if you will, and very useful.
#7 – And They Were Not Ashamed: Strengthening Marriage through Sexual Fulfillment – by Laura M. Brotherson
One of the most recent books on the scene for an LDS audience, this independently published book has soared up the charts and done very well. Its unique aspects include insights for women, the in-depth treatment of sexual intimacy and other aspects of intimacy, and teaching children about intimacy. Excellent book. For those who wonder, the author is married to a cousin of mine.
#8 – Purity and Passion: Spiritual Truths about Intimacy That Will Strengthen Your Marriage – by Wendy L. Watson
Dr. Watson has brought spiritual insight to this topic and a fresh perspective for many couples.
Many couples enjoy the spiritual tone of her book.
#9 – Becoming One: Intimacy in Marriage – by Julie G. Grover, Robert F. Stahmann, and Wayne R. Young
Another newcomer to the LDS marriage book marketplace, this book has also risen up the charts quickly and been well received. Written by a trio of solid authors, it offers a sensible and positive treatment of sexual intimacy that is very helpful.
#11 – Sensible Sex – by Lindsay R. Curtis
Among the books listed here, this is the oldest and was written by an LDS doctor some years ago. Its treatment of the topic is somewhat more clinical, but also useful and insightful.
#18 – Sacred Intimacy – by Brenton G. Yorgason and Margaret Yorgason
This book also came to the LDS market some years ago, but retains its usefulness. It offers a lighter, less in-depth approach to the topic of intimacy, but is a good starting point for many couples who plan to marry or others who wish to begin a conversation on this subject.
Is there a need to read such information? Two quotations from the prophets of our LDS faith are most compelling, to me, on the need for Latter-day Saints to be thoughtful, sensitive, and informed on this topic as it relates to marriage.
President Spencer W. Kimball stated: “Divorces often occur over sex … If you study the divorces, as we have had to do in these past years, you will find there are [many] reasons. Generally sex is the first. They did not get along sexually. They may not say that in the court. They may not even tell that to their attorneys, but that is the reason.” (Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, 1982, p. 329; emphasis added).
President Hugh B. Brown stated: “The sex instinct is not something which we need to fear or be ashamed of. It is God-given and has a high and holy purpose … We want our young people to know that sex is not an unmentionable human misfortune, and certainly it should not be regarded as a sordid but necessary part of marriage. There is no excuse for approaching this most intimate relationship in life without true knowledge of its meaning and its high purpose.” (You and Your Marriage, Bookcraft, 1960, pp. 73, 76; emphasis added)
The warning here seems clear. We are often warned to beware of sexual sin or promiscuity, and rightly so. But another warning related to sexual intimacy also emerges here from the voice of the prophets. It is that unaddressed difficulties regarding sexual intimacy in marriage can be a pathway toward misery, pain, or divorce, and that ignorance of its true meaning and purpose is a recipe for such pain and difficulty.
What if you simply did not discuss this topic in your family, or your parents avoided it, or you and your spouse do not really discuss it? What if you have come believe that because we do not preach about it over the pulpit on Sunday that we do not mention it at all? What if you don’t know how to approach the issue? President Brown’s comment that “there is no excuse” for ignorance on sexual intimacy in marriage, and that it is not “unmentionable,” suggests the need for attention to this topic by couples or spouses in an appropriate way.
Sexual Intimacy Difficulties – The Hidden Wedge in Marriage
There is a story that has been told at times by various church leaders concerning a wedge that was left in the crook of a young tree by a man who had been out in his yard. The tree grew over time and the wedge was left there, unattended, until the tree had begun to grow over it. Eventually the wedge was enveloped by the growing tree until its existence was seemingly forgotten. Then the day came that a storm blew and the tree split, shattered by the wedge hidden in its heart and unacknowledged as a danger. Sexual intimacy difficulties in marriage can act as such a hidden wedge.
What I’d like to mention here is not the “wedge” part of the analogy, but the “hidden” part of the analogy. I have been thinking much on the topic of hidden difficulties in marriage. Too much. I’ll probably have to write a book about it because the topic has occupied so much of my attention in recent months. But let me make a couple of suggestions.
The arithmetic of marital difficulty is not always easy to trace. Usually, more than one spouse has contributed to difficulties that may be felt by one or the other in a relationship. But I am increasingly aware that at the root of observable problems, such as emotional distance between a husband and wife, often lie the unobservable problems. The hidden problems. The hidden wedges.
I have a friend who is a financial fraud investigator. One day we were discussing his work, and he told me that few people set out to commit financial fraud. He mentioned that, instead, they often begin to commit financial fraud because they are seeking to cover up or hide another problem in their lives. He called it the “hidden problem” or the “unshareable problem.” They are seeking to mask a problem that for some reason drains them of money, such as a gambling addiction, a drug habit, an illicit affair, or some other vice. He then mentioned that you cannot help them to resolve the financial difficulties they create without unmasking and then dealing with the “unshareable problem.”
This point is similar to the idea of the hidden wedge. Couples may have hidden wedges between them that others do not know about. They may have “unshareable” problems that they do not deal with or discuss, not even with each other. An individual spouse may have an “unshareable” problem in his or her life, a hidden wedge, that if revealed the spouse fears will destroy the marriage relationship.
There is a problem with hidden wedges, as the story with the wedge in the tree illustrates. They can destroy. In particular, this is true in marriage because it is the adversary who takes advantage of hidden wedges. The adversary of all that is good and wholesome in marriage and family life, Lucifer, seeks to drive couples apart and use their weaknesses to bring them misery and unhappiness and pain. He preys upon problems that exist in the darkness. Why is this so? It is so because the devil’s works are works of darkness.
He feeds in the dark. He counsels in the dark. He perpetuates lies, mistrust, deceit, shame, and avoidance of the light. This is true with hidden wedges.
If you, as a spouse or a couple, become aware of such hidden wedges in your own or another person’s life or marriage, there is a path toward healing. That path may not always be an easy path to walk. It requires honest acknowledgment of difficulties and at times of mistakes or sins. It may require confession or counsel with priesthood leaders. It may involve forgiveness and patience and charity. Hidden wedges are not all the same. Some require different approaches than others to unmask and then heal. But Jesus Christ came to heal us, in our lives and relationships, and to bring light into places in our lives where there is darkness.
The scriptures teach us many interesting and powerful lessons about Christ, who is the light of the world, and how those who have some darkness in their lives react to His outreach. Doctrine and Covenants 45:7 reminds us that Christ is “a light that shineth in darkness.” Later in this section of scripture we are taught of the latter days and that in our time “the love of men [and women] shall wax cold, and iniquity shall abound” (see verse 27). That scriptural declaration about love waxing cold chills my blood. For it is love, love in a genuine and true sense, that bonds men and women in marriage and for eternity if they abide by their covenants. It is love, at least, that binds their hearts to one another and their minds to their covenants. Love of God and love of one another. It is interesting to note that when love waxes cold, then iniquity shall abound. Hidden wedges that drain us of love and affection and charity can become a breeding ground for iniquity.
Doctrine and Covenants 45:28-29 continues:
“And when the times of the Gentiles is come in, a light shall break forth among them that sit in darkness, and it shall be the fullness of my gospel;
“But they receive it not; for they perceive not the light, and they turn their hearts from me because of the precepts of men.”
Although this refers to the coming forth of the gospel of Christ upon the earth, it also offers a profound insight into the experience of those who “sit in darkness.” What happens when light comes or is offered to them? Too often they “receive it not.” If we have lived with hidden wedges in marriage, especially pertaining to sexual challenges of one kind or another, often we do not receive the invitation of light to change our knowledge or improve our behavior. Why? Because we “perceive not the light” and its power for us to change and grow, if needed, at times, because we have become darkened in our minds by the precepts of men. And, as it pertains to sexuality, often the precepts of men have become darkened by the precepts of the adversary. This is why we need light, gospel light, on this topic and its promise that perhaps hearts can be touched to come out of the darkness.
Shining a Light into the Darkness
When intimacy goes wrong in marriage or family life, the resulting challenges can be troublesome and painful. In this article, I do not propose a list of solutions for the various challenges that might arise for a spouse or a couple. That is one reason I listed all of those helpful books earlier in the article. But in the coming months and years, at the urging of Meridian editors, we will try to shine some light on some of these issues – and others.
I am a member of my state’s child abuse prevention task force. We meet quarterly and attend to issues of concern regarding the well-being of children. The members of this group include social workers, child advocates, attorneys, psychologists, judges, and others. Victims. In the most recent meeting we held, we reviewed recent cases related to child sexual abuse. At the end of such a day, I come home shrouded in feelings of discouragement and darkness. These are issues that are hidden from the light of day, until when they are revealed and then the works of darkness and their destructiveness are made clear. I can speak from personal experience when I say that, often, to shine a light into the darkness is painful and difficult or brings fear and uncertainty.
I wish to briefly point out some of the ways in which sexual intimacy in marriage can become shrouded in difficulty, and also acknowledge that there are ways to healing for those who are willing to bring these issues out of the darkness.
1 – Ignorance of Sexual Intimacy
Too often, couples experience difficulties in this sensitive area of married life simply because they are ignorant of sexual functioning and responsiveness. They may have grown up not discussing the topic and carry this pattern over into a marriage relationship. Ignorance is not bliss in this aspect of marriage.
2 – Inhibition in Sexual Expression
A number of factors can contribute to making a person feel uncomfortable with themselves or a spouse in the area of sexual expression. This type of inhibition can become a stumbling block and requires patience, encouragement, and frankly, some courage at times. Spouses should be sensitive to each other’s feelings but also open about the need for growth if this is a concern.
3 – Emotional Alienation as a Couple
Sexual intimacy is a complex interaction that involves not only physical affection and care, but emotional connection and sensitivity. Couples who have, for various reasons, become emotionally alienated from each other often suffer from a lack of sustained intimacy. The coals of love may burn low in a spouse’s heart and intimacy becomes cold.
4 – Emotional or Mental Difficulties for a Spouse
The dynamics of sexual intimacy can be dramatically affected when an individual spouse struggles with emotional or mental difficulties. Depression, anxiety, and other real emotional or mental challenges can lower desire, inhibit mood, and frustrate the expression of love between spouses. This requires attentiveness and patience on the part of both spouses and personal adjustments as needed for a couple’s particular situation.
5 – Physical Challenges for a Spouse
Sexual intimacy involves a physical dimension, and so physical challenges can certainly affect this aspect of a couple’s life. Such challenges can be wide-ranging and include infertility, impotence, or other aspects of sexual functioning. These are not issues that deserve embarrassment or shame.
A spouse who suffers from any such physical challenge is most blessed when a companion spouse is supportive, understanding, and willing to explore options for treatment, if available to a spouse or couple.
6 – Pornography or Sexual Addiction
An addiction to pornography or sexual experience can wreak havoc with a couple’s sexual intimacy. The proliferation of pornography has created a mass wave of difficulties for many couples due to one spouse’s addiction or demands. Again, this in particular is a problem that hides in the darkness. There are answers for those who struggle, and there can be hope for those who question love of a spouse because of such a struggle.
7 – Abuse
Abuse of different kinds can exist in family life. Physical abuse, emotional neglect, verbal harassment, and even sexual maltreatment are too common. Spouses may mistreat one another in different ways that involve sexual intimacy and are abusive. For example, a husband may demand things from his wife that are vulgar or pornographic – this is a form of abuse. A wife may withhold her love from a spouse and subject him to coldness or utter loneliness – this can be a form of abuse. This, too, is one of the hidden wedges.
A Sign of Hope
Is there hope when couples have experienced or are experiencing difficulties with sexual intimacy? I have interviewed many couples in my work. What astounds me is the capacity for healing that the Lord has made available to us through the gospel of Christ and the care of those who are willing to work and love and forgive.
I see the books listed earlier as signs of hope for couples who may struggle with this aspect of marriage. I see them as signs of hope for couples who are beginning the marital journey and need to learn gospel-centered views of sexual intimacy. I see them as signs of hope for couples with several children who have let the candle of intimacy burn dim. I see them as signs of hope for couples who have faced addiction or adultery and wish to learn how they might heal this aspect of their lives together.
I thank the men and women, the faithful Latter-day Saint scholars and authors, who have approached this subject with sensitivity and wisdom and faith. It is not easy, I think, to address a subject of such significance and sensitivity. It is a subject that deserves God’s light and truth. It is a subject that couples must be careful not to let become a hidden wedge in the darkness to threaten their happiness or their lives together. Thanks to those who have provided light, from a gospel point of view, and taken steps to bring hope to those who need hope. I hope you will read what they have to say.
(You can share any comments or feedback with Sean Brotherson at br********@me**************.com“>br********@me**************.com – look forward to hearing from you! If you would like to know more about anything I have mentioned in this article, please feel free to contact me.)