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?