The Taboo of Happy Valley

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For over 16 years I’ve lived in or near Provo, with a few brief stints to various other parts of the country. If my time here has taught me anything, it’s that people don’t talk about sex. So I’ll just go ahead and zealously over-use the word and its derivatives, if just to remove any initial “shock” for some of the readers.

Trying to talk about sex with a group of friends, or at the family dinner table has somehow become the definition of awkward silence. It seems we’re supposed ignore an entire aspect of our humanity, despite chastity and sexual purity being lessons many of us grow up with. Just using those words seems to evoke the orthodoxy of the region. Yet, how often do we actually talk about sex?  How many of us really understand our own sexuality?  If we don’t, how are we to understand another persons, or even teach our children about theirs?

A disturbing idea has been to hide sexuality, or color it as something shameful. A few years ago a group of citizens tried forcing local Victoria’s Secrets to stop displaying their advertisements on their store-front. The Deseret News even quoted an 18-year old boy, who expressed his discomfort at walking past the store and having to shield his eyes. As if it’s disgraceful to see a woman in lingerie, or acknowledge ones sexual response.

Recently, a few of my closest friends have (or soon will) get married. On separate occasions, we’ve discussed their sexual experience’s (pretty much none), and how they felt about their first time. They expressed difficulty in coming to terms with “it being OK” once they’re married. Of course they wanted to have sex, but due to, in my words, years of sexual repression, the concept seemed so foreign. So wrong. They were taught, and thought, many aspects of a healthy sexual relationship were bad.

Leaving religion out of this discussion would be nice. Frankly though, in this valley that is impossible. Abstinence regarding sex is fine. My beliefs share what is taught by the LDS Church, but not necessarily by the people. The disturbing aspect is the lack of understanding about the differences between abstinence, virtue, sexual repression and ones sexual identity. One can choose not to participate in physical relationships, while maintaining an inner respect for sex and sexuality. That does not require abstinence from talking, debating, discussing, and even (yes) learning about it.

At another site, it is contested that sexuality and the accompanying feelings only go so far as we allow them. That article might focus on men, but the principles are the same for everyone.  There is little reason we should feel shame, remorse, or regret for having feelings or even thoughts of a sexual nature. How we respond to and act upon them is what matters.

I heard an anecdote from a local ecclesiastic leader. He shared an experience he had when a woman came to him in tears. As she shared her story, his heart sank. Preparing words of comfort and advice, he was shocked to hear the end of her story. She’d had sexual thoughts about her boyfriend. He asked what happened next. Her response, “Nothing.” The man was dumbfounded.

A person who grows up sheltered from human sexuality will have difficulty developing healthy and balanced habits, responses, and ideas.  They’re also likely to have fewer resources to cope with their own, and others’ sexuality. Elizabeth Smart spoke out against this very topic, while an extreme case, it may surprise some how prevalent cases of sexual abuse are, especially in Utah.

There seems to be an endemic of sorts in our state. One where our community is walking around with blinders on, believing there’s no way to live morally without them.  Are we not able to converse about or express our sexuality with dignity and understanding?  What reason do we have to close off such an integral part of our being?

8 thoughts on “The Taboo of Happy Valley

  1. Jaime Lopez

    The Victoria’s Secret fiasco was not just because it was Victoria’s Secret… it was the fact that the store was right next door to the Disney store. While I agree that it should be taught at home more openly before it is taught to them by the media, the store was a bit more open than it should be nextdoor to a children’s store. I wonder about the location even now right next to Santa at University Mall unless they keep the giant wall ad under check.

  2. dlee shields

    I was dumbfounded that the end of the article was, well, the end. Seems like it would be a nice intro to an interesting commentary, I was just ready to get to the meat of it. Too bad.

  3. Jared Hassler

    I agree with Jaime. I think it should be taught in the home first. The circumstances and timing of every family is different but this discussion should start there, not on a Victoria Secret advertisement. But Jon has a point, sex should not be looked at as a bad thing, I think you have a great point there. But our kids need to know that there is a certain time for it, it is not something to abuse.

    However I personally don’t want my kids listening to the details of someone’s intimate life at the dinner table. That’s just nasty.

  4. Jon Schwarzmann

    I tried to keep it short. I’ve got plenty to talk about on the subject, but it’s much better to start the conversation, rather than preach about it. Back and forth communication, even if it’s in disagreement, is far better than the long, drawn out monologue espousing a single ideology. At least, IMO.

  5. Lauren

    I completely agree that there seems to be a very high level of ignorance, shame, embarrassment and avoidance surrounding sex in this area!

    I am continually amazed at the stories I hear from newlyweds (and not-so newlyweds) when they come in to my office seeking guidance in their marital relationship. I’ve heard of couples using grape jelly instead of KY and a man running and hiding in the bathroom their wedding night believing he had married a man when he saw his wife’s pubic hair etc. I really believe there needs to be more education in the home and then the ability of people to talk about sex in a respectful and educated manner. People need to be able to ask questions and learn from good sources without feeling ashamed, embarrassed or dumb.

    My issue with the VS ad was not necessarily that it ignited sexual responses, but that it was further objectifying women and taking advantage of the natural sexual response in a public arena. I would say that Abercrombie is guilty of doing this same thing as they objectify men in their ads. Our brains and bodies are naturally going to be aroused and excited when we see an attractive person- clothed or not, but more so when they’re not clothed, of course. This a very good and natural reaction for us as humans to have, but my belief as an LDS woman is that the sexual response is really to be fully acted upon in a monogamous marriage. It’s one thing to wear lingerie for my husband, but it would have other implications if I were to post a picture of me in the same clothing on a public billboard.

    I think that the natural sexual response is being abused in society in general. The increase of objectifying men and women by an increase in pornography use and other sexually explicit material are related to further physical, social, psychological and emotional difficulties in most cases. For instance, much research is showing that men who regularly view pornography tend to have delayed ejaculation (some premature, but most delayed). The argument in this case is that these men are being exposed so frequently to sexually explicit material that they need more and more intense stimuli to produce orgasm and ejaculation compared to the soft stimuli they were first exposed to. This is why pornography is often treated as an addiction in the counseling world; the brain responds in a similar manner as a person building tolerance to a drug. However, since pornography/masturbation takes advantage of such a naturally occurring response cycle, it often has much a greater impact on women’s and men’s ability to connect and nourish a healthy, mutual sexual relationship. So, to me, the VS ad is “soft porn” and another indicator that society continues to objectify the human body and create many counterfeits to what is a healthy sexual relationship.

    I’ve noticed that many in this area tend to think in extremes when it comes to sex- talk about it in a crude/sarcastic way or just don’t mention it at all. But I believe that we can be grateful for, appreciative of and nourishing of our sexual response in a way that is still congruent with gospel teachings. Within the LDS Doctrine, the only statements I’ve found talk about how sex is to be a mutually respectful experience and that it is divinely appointed. I think it’d be great to have more dignified discussion about sex around the valley and hope that more people will start to ask questions and get answers from good sources.

  6. Jon Schwarzmann

    I walk past that ad and their two store fronts all the time with my daughter, she’s only three-and-a-half. She loves the stuffed dog that’s usually sitting in the front of VS Pink.

    As was pointed out in the ‘By Common Consent’ piece I linked to, how the body is viewed is ultimately up to us. No one controls how we interpret images, events, or sounds, except ourselves. There is nothing inherently inappropriate about the human body. The fact is, the extreme-puritan view present in the area is a learned paradigm. To say other wise is denial and self-deceit.

    On a daily basis we make the choice on how our world view is molded. It’s far better to focus our energies on inward change, than spend our days attempting to bend or break others.

  7. Jon Schwarzmann

    I agree with the fact there’s the typical polarizing issue here, as in all others. The response I have to pornography, and why Utah seems to be so high in usage, is due to the repression and lack of discussion. Of course I’m not saying every detail should be expressed, or we flaunt our sexuality, or discuss our last sexual experience in every detail at the dinner table. But there is plenty of evidence showing greater sexual danger for the less educated. In other parts of the world, were I to write a piece of this same nature, it would be to reign in the over-sexualization.

    Another thing, which I didn’t address on purpose, is the objectification. It is my sincere belief, as shared in another comment, is that behavior (objectifying, or over-sexualizing) is learned. Sure, some people will have a predisposition to it due to biological reasons, but I reject the idea that the majority of us are incapable of seeing an ad and continue on unscathed. That idea is the pinnacle of excuses for bad behavior. Society, religion, government, etc, can be stumbling blocks, but central to any religious of philosophical teaching, power ultimately comes from within. Many detractors of over-all self-health are only so because we’re told so often that they are, that we start believing it.

  8. Jeffrey Humpherys

    What a cruel irony that so many, who seek in earnest to be virtuous and close to God, miss out on one of His greatest gifts.

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