– A Review of And They Were Not Ashamed: Strengthening Marriage through Sexual Fulfillment
Marital intimacy is a sensitive topic. It is a topic that deserves careful thought and spiritual understanding, especially in a world where we are inundated with careless exploitation and worldly babblings regarding sexuality. Is there no thoughtful higher ground of sensitivity, maturity, and positive reflection that we might seek amidst the swamps of sensual mumbo-jumbo that parade as wisdom on the topic of sexual intimacy?
Perhaps there is a glimmer of hope. Or, to put it more cheerfully, a bright sunrise on the horizon, at least for Latter-day Saints and other like-minded citizens who are seeking a more reverent, wise, and positive approach to the topic of intimacy. The publication of And They Were Not Ashamed: Strengthening Marriage through Sexual Fulfillment, by author Laura Brotherson, represents a significant step forward in the right direction. Let me reflect on this topic and the contributions of this book as I have read it.
Intimacy Problems as a Marital Danger Zone
Latter-day Saint marriage therapist and author, Carlfred B. Broderick, once wrote an article for This People magazine that he entitled “Marital Danger Zones.” He pointed out, rather brilliantly I think, that couples who fall into continuing patterns of competition or emotional alienation in their relationships fail to achieve what couples vitally need-shared victories. He wrote, “All couples need shared victories. The competition needs to be between the couple and the outside world, not between team members” (Carlfred B. Broderick, My Parents Married on a Dare, Deseret Book, 1996, p. 76). I would suggest that the achievement of true and genuine intimacy as a couple represents a shared victory; a vital shared victory. Why?
Because we live in a world that is increasingly designed to drive us apart, especially as husbands and wives. Remember, always remember, that President Boyd K. Packer has given us this seeric warning:
“The ultimate purpose of the adversary, who has great wrath, because he knoweth that he hath but a short time’ (Revelation 12:12), is to disrupt, to disturb, and to destroy the home and the family.” (Boyd K. Packer, The Shield of Faith, Bookcraft, 1998, p. 3)
To disrupt the love between husband and wife. To disturb the unity and intimacy that should characterize a loving marriage. To destroy the home and family, grounded in a caring marriage, that establishes the possibility of eternal life. We need shared victories as husbands and wives when the world would drive us apart and pit us against each other in emotional frustration, verbal hostility, or behavioral apathy. We need shared victories.
I believe profoundly that God has given us as couples the capacity for shared victories to face the challenges of life together on a regular basis. He has given us the capacity to love with our hearts, our minds, and our bodies. He has made it possible for us to feel the delight of emotional connection and understanding as we talk and truly understand each other. He has made it possible for us to experience the joy of spiritual oneness as we kneel in prayer and hold hands. He has made it possible for us to enjoy the warmth and love of shared physical intimacy as husband and wife.
When we abandon the hope of genuine and shared intimacy in any of these areas, we open ourselves up to the discouragement and despair that the adversary constantly wishes to sow in our hearts and minds. We enter a marital danger zone.
Years ago I lived near the Oregon coast while I was attending graduate school. I used to travel to a location not far above Newport, Oregon, a beautiful coastal spot where a grassy park looked out over the billowing sea that crashed upon towering rocks. It was a beautiful spot that seemed high enough above the raging sea below to be protected. And yet, there were several signs that marked the areas of potential danger that could result in tragedy if one strayed too close to the rocks. I sat one afternoon upon a bench and noticed that it was dedicated to the memory of a man who had stood out too far upon those rocks only one year previously and been swept to his death by the raging waves of the ocean. He had strayed too far. He had not noticed he was in a danger zone.
I learned a great lesson from that experience. And, ever since, I have been on the watch for marital danger zones. Many exist. But in my experience, perhaps the most sinister and sad of all marital danger zones that may come into a couple’s life is the experience of difficulties with marital intimacy. Here I speak broadly, of all aspects of intimacy-emotional, physical, and spiritual. Each relates to the other. Each is deserving of a book-length treatment. However, let me discuss more specifically the aspect of physical intimacy in marriage.
No topic is more deserving of reverence and sensitivity than physical intimacy in marriage. Such reverence, however, does not mean that we never speak of sexual intimacy or abide in ignorance as to its true nature and purposes. Sexual intimacy is a gift of God to the married couple. To treat it with ignorance or disrespect by failing to understand and appreciate its power for good in marriage is to leave the gift sitting unwrapped, never used, or poorly appreciated because it has never been understood. And, without understanding its proper and God-intended place in marriage, we are in danger of letting its power become a negative and frustrating influence in the marriage relationship.
I had a conversation with a member of a stake presidency that I served with one evening and he inquired what I thought about the well-being of young Latter-day Saint couples in general. As we exchanged thoughts and concerns, he shared his view that perhaps one of the greatest areas of challenge for such couples was in the area of intimacy difficulties. He had observed one couple who struggled with their ignorance and inhibitions to such a degree that it made it difficult for them to be sexually intimate with each other at all in any meaningful way after they married.
In another conversation, I visited with a friend who confided that thoughts of divorce had come to him repeatedly because of the emotional distance he felt between him and his wife when they were intimate with each other. Although they were physically intimate, she showed little warmth and love in those moments and expressed almost no emotional connection, leaving him with a feeling of barrenness.
I received an e-mail message from a Latter-day Saint sister who anguished because her once-faithful husband had become entrapped in the enticements of Internet pornography. This led him to chat rooms and eventually to illicit discussions and infidelity.
His understanding of proper intimacy in marriage had become distorted and sinful.
I talked with a relative who was trying to understand a friend’s decision to abandon any sexual intimacy at all with her husband. Having had several children, her friend had ceased marital relations and insisted that her husband, though somewhat unhappy, was a good Latter-day Saint man who would never be unfaithful and would just simply have to accept her decision. I informed her that this was what some family professionals call “the unworkable contract”-the insistence by one spouse that the other be celibate and faithful and that they themselves would do nothing to meet the sexual needs or desires of their spouse. I mentioned it was unworkable because it usually doesn’t work.
I wish these were isolated instances. I wish these were particularly unfortunate and exceptional cases. They are not. They are quite common. They represent an enormous danger zone for the couples who have entered such territory.
Dimensions of Intimacy
I went to the dictionary to examine the word “intimacy” and see if it held any useful insights. There was nothing much except this small entry: “intimacy”-“pertaining to the inmost nature of being; essential; intrinsic.” And this made me wonder. What is the “inmost nature” or “essential” characteristic of marriage as it is truly meant to be? What does God intend for it to be? For surely if we believe in marriage, we ought to think about God’s desires for us in marriage.
There are nuggets of inspiration throughout the scriptures describing what marriage between a husband and wife should be. I appreciate such phrases as:
“Thou shalt love thy wife [or spouse] with all thy heart” – Doctrine and Covenants 42:22. “Thou shalt” – this is a commandment.
“[Thou] shalt cleave unto her [or him] and none else” – Doctrine and Covenants 42:22. To “cleave” is to powerfully unite, to stick fast, to adhere and be faithful to one’s spouse.
“Marriage is ordained of God unto man. . . . and they twain shall be one flesh, and all this that the earth might answer the end of its creation” – Doctrine and Covenants 49:15-16. Two are to become united in their hearts, bodies, and minds as one in their purposes and love for each other and the Lord.
To love someone with all one’s heart speaks of emotional intimacy. To cleave to someone in righteous commitment speaks of spiritual intimacy. To become one flesh in love and caring speaks of physical intimacy. These dimensions of intimacy are not felt constantly in marriage. Marriage is a school of love, emotion, effort, communication, and commitment that helps us to develop these dimensions of intimacy as part of our mortal education in God’s eternal curriculum. They develop over time. But we cannot expect to abandon a portion of the curriculum and still easily pass the final examination when the Lord asks us about the quality of the most important relationship that we choose in mortality and hopefully for eternity.
President Hugh B. Brown penned some significant words of wisdom on the topic of sexual intimacy in marriage that deserve recognition:
“In our system of education of youth in family, school, and church, we often neglect one phase of growing up, one essential discipline. We, of course, have high school and college courses on physical hygiene, biology, genetics, etc., but the spiritual and religious significance of the sex aspects of their development should be impressed upon the youth.
“Many marriages have been wrecked on the dangerous rocks of ignorant and debased sex behavior, both before and after marriage. Gross ignorance on the part of newlyweds [or any married couple, I might add] on the subject of the proper place and functioning of sex results in much unhappiness and many broken homes.
“Thousands of young people come to the marriage altar almost illiterate insofar as this basic and fundamental function is concerned. 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. . . .
“One of the cornerstones of happy married life, so often disregarded by parents as they train their children for future wedlock, is the necessity for harmonious sexual relations between the parties thereto. Each couple should, with reverence, intelligence, and consideration, build solidly and skillfully on this stone in the foundation of the temple of the home. . . .
“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. . . .
“This most intimate relationship between man and woman, authorized by God within the covenant of marriage, is not merely physical or biological. It involves the whole personality, affects the complex nature of men and women. This relationship, within the sanctity of the marriage covenant, with its concomitant obligations, makes man and woman one in interests, aims, aspirations, and responsibilities. If they are true to their covenants to each other, to their children, and to God, their whole beings are merged, they become one mentally and spiritually, and the family they establish is an eternal unit.” (Hugh B. Brown, You and Your Marriage, Bookcraft, 1960, pp. 73-81)
This selection of thoughts contains some of the wisest and most straightforward advice you might read from a leader of the Church about this sensitive subject. There is much more than I have included. But it makes clear that for husbands and wives, both men and women, there is a tremendous obligation to act with sensitivity, intelligence, self-control, and love in this arena of the marriage relationship.
For many years, I found it difficult to refer couples easily to existing resources on marital intimacy as they prepared for marriage or sought greater knowledge on this topic. The standard suggestion I made was for them to read a well-known book, The Act of Marriage: The Beauty of Sexual Love, by Christian pastors Tim and Beverly LaHaye. It was wholesome and moral, frank and clear, and practical in its approach to this topic. It was one of the few resources I found available that I could recommend easily to a Latter-day Saint.
Luckily, I can now add And They Were Not Ashamed: Strengthening Marriage through Sexual Fulfillment to that list, and place it at or near the top. It is written specifically to a Latter-day Saint audience, though it is easily appropriate for a broader public audience also, and with a similar combination of morality and reverence, clarity and frankness, and abundant practicality and common sense.
Highlights of And They Were Not Ashamed
And They Were Not Ashamed: Strengthening Marriage through Sexual Fulfillment is not the first book in this topic area for Latter-day Saints. Perhaps the most well-known book in this area to date has been Between Husband and Wife by BYU professor Doug Brinley and Stephen Lamb, an LDS physician. A number of other books have addressed this topic also. I have read them all and found them useful in different contexts. Laura Brotherson’s contribution in her new book is significant, and moves much beyond what has been offered previously in this topic area for Latter-day Saints. I should mention, by the way, that Laura Brotherson is the wife of my first cousin, if anyone wonders about the similarity in our last names. I had no role in the production of this book and its contents other than to provide encouragement and occasional feedback when requested on some minor points. I am, however, thrilled to provide a review of the book and what I believe it offers for Latter-day Saint couples and other members.
Since the book only started entering bookstores in late May and early June, it is just beginning to make its appearance on a more widespread basis. The easiest way to locate a copy, I have found, is to go to the book’s promotional website at www.strengtheningmarriage.com. There is a listing of bookstores where it is available, with more being added, and also links to where it might be ordered over the Internet. I simply ordered it from amazon.com and had two copies reach me within a couple weeks of placing my order. That was about two months ago, and since then I have watched its progress with some interest.
I happened to attend the annual Smart Marriages conference in Dallas, Texas a few weeks ago, a large conference on marriage and relationship education, and there met quite a few fellow Latter-day Saints. One man I met had come clear from Scotland to attend. After meeting each other he asked if I was related to the author of the book, And They Were Not Ashamed, and this led to a conversation about the book itself. He and his wife had very much enjoyed the book, but what surprised me was his admission that they were buying and stockpiling nine more copies so that they could give one to each of their nine children as they prepared for marriage. That seemed like quite an endorsement to me. I wondered if his situation was unique until I talked to my sister, who mentioned that her husband’s mother had bought the book at the BYU bookstore during Women’s Conference and then proceeded to buy another seven copies for all her daughters and daughters-in-law. At this point, I figured that I ought to seriously review the book and see what it had to offer.
If you want to be serious about marriage and strengthening your marriage, your own or for others, then this is a serious book. Be prepared for a read. The complete book is about 375 pages long, although I must admit it reads easily and is well-written, interesting, and highly informative. In essence, although the book title focuses on sexual intimacy in marriage, it is a much broader treatment of intimacy as a whole in marriage. Eight chapters focus specifically on different aspects of strengthening sexual intimacy in marriage, five chapters focus on strengthening marriage as a whole, and three chapters focus on parenting children by teaching them about intimacy. Three books in one, the author says.
I enjoyed the whole book but thought that I would highlight what I see as particular contributions compared to other books available in this market. It is the unique aspects of this book that make it so appealing.
(1) A comprehensive and in-depth exploration of multiple aspects of intimacy in marriage, including physical, emotional, and spiritual intimacy, as well as teaching children about intimacy. One thing I like about this book is that it does not focus solely on one aspect of intimacy, but links all these aspects of intimacy into a whole. The chapters on emotional and spiritual intimacy are insightful and highly practical. This holistic approach is very positive.
(2) A particular focus on the perspective and needs of women related to intimacy in marriage, with an invitation to men to learn and understand also. Being a man, I frankly had never thought about the fact that most books for a Latter-day Saint audience that deal with intimacy have been written with a male perspective and an approach that makes sense to them. The nice thing about this book is that it does not denigrate or lecture men. It simply invites them to see things from a broader perspective, and to understand much about this topic from how it may be experienced by women. This was very eye-opening, and I think will be to both men and women. She notes, “In God’s great and eternal wisdom, these two puzzle pieces, man and woman, are to come together, drawing from each other what is needed to create individual wholeness and marital oneness” (p. 84). I like this sense of dialogue that is created for men and women as husbands and wives to enter into conversation with each other, and that is one of the strengths of the book. There are many “built-in” devices for reflection, conversation, and application that husbands and wives can use to discuss and enhance their relationship in multiple areas. It opens the door to conversation and understanding.
(3) A foundation of scriptural and prophetic understanding regarding the nature and purposes of sexual intimacy within the marital relationship. One of the best contributions of this book is a whole chapter reviewing the scriptural and prophetic teachings about sexual intimacy in marriage, its role and function, and its meaning for us as Latter-day Saints. Get out your scriptures and actually let this guide a week or two of your study. Frankly, I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of Latter-day Saints I know who have ever made any kind of meaningful effort to understand this topic from a scriptural perspective and the teachings of the Brethren. There are many insights to be had. I greatly enjoyed this open door into the greater wisdom of the scriptures on this topic.
(4) A careful but comprehensive, open and practical exploration of how to understand, talk about, and strengthen sexual intimacy in marriage. The in-depth and practical exploration of sexual intimacy for a Latter-day Saint audience that is available in this book simply has not been done before. The range of information is significant. How to understand and overcome negative inhibitions that limit sexual intimacy. The pattern of sexual response in men and women and how it may differ in significant ways.
Dealing with differences between a low desire and a high desire spouse. Practical approaches to communicating about sexual intimacy in marriage. Ideas for thinking about what is and is not appropriate regarding marital intimacy. Specific exercises tailored for Latter-day Saints who have struggled with sexual intimacy. I could keep going. The depth and practicality of the information is a very positive effort.
(5) A chapter describing the specific differences that men and women may encounter and need to understand as they approach sexual intimacy. I mention this chapter separately because it is, to me, a very helpful eye-opener for couples. The author has searched the literature and put together a very extensive overview of key ways in which men and women may differ regarding sexual intimacy and how they can understand each other and use this understanding to strengthen their intimacy. For many husbands and wives, this level of understanding has eluded them for years. To have it available in one spot is a valuable contribution.
(6) An in-depth exploration of all aspects of intimacy, barriers to intimacy, and practical approaches to developing greater marital intimacy. For many couples, it is not merely physical intimacy that raises difficulties but the way in which this affects their emotional and spiritual intimacy. Physical intimacy is placed in the larger context of emotional and spiritual intimacy, and these aspects of intimacy are dealt with carefully and thoughtfully. These chapters that look at strengthening the multiple dimensions of intimacy in marriage bring balance and wisdom to the book.
(7) A thoughtful and practical exploration of teaching children about intimacy as parents and dealing with how to prepare, what to teach, when to teach, and how to teach. A number of individuals I’ve visited with who have read this book suggest that the final three chapters alone are worth the price of the whole book. They are excited to have a gospel-based, practical approach to teaching children about sexual intimacy and its role and purpose in our lives. They are very nicely done.
Those are the areas I’ve picked out as particular highlights in the book, though with a little reading I’m sure that I could pick seven or eight more. There are many other nice features in the book, such as practical application tips at the end of each chapter, appendices with resources on specific topics of interest (seeking professional help, etc.), and other things. It is a book that should be at the top of your list if you are interested in strengthening marriage.
As I have thought about the importance of healthy intimacy in marriage, I have often wished to have a resource that I could give to Latter-day Saint couples preparing for marriage, struggling in marriage, or simply seeking to improve in marriage. And They Were Not Ashamed: Strengthening Marriage through Sexual Fulfillment is such a resource. It is a bold book. Someone once asked me if I would ever write a book on intimacy in marriage for Latter-day Saints and I told them, “No, I’m chicken-that’s too hard a topic.”
We need to be willing to learn about sexual intimacy from a healthy, Latter-day Saint perspective as we enter into marriage and seek to strengthen it. We need to be willing to rescue our marriages from the danger zones when we drift into intimacy difficulties. We need to avoid the possibilities of marital dissatisfaction that occur when we let intimacy become a distraction and not a priority. We need to teach our children about what it means to prepare themselves for healthy and caring intimacy within the bonds of marriage. We need to understand marital intimacy and be not ashamed.
(For further information on And They Were Not Ashamed: Strengthening Marriage through Sexual Fulfillment, by author Laura Brotherson, go to the book’s web site at http:www.strengtheningmarriage.com. There you can find a list of bookstores that currently stock the book, upcoming events, or on-line ordering information. Good luck!)