The Missionary Position | News | Salt Lake City | Salt Lake City Weekly

The Missionary Position 

An LDS guide joins the fray of sexy religious books.

Pin It
Favorite

It’s an odd feeling, walking along the Brigham Young University campus to converse with a professor about sex.

Past the doors of the Joseph Smith Building, past a glass-encased shrine to the founding prophet of Mormondom, and up three stories by elevator, Douglas E. Brinley, Ph.D., puts the finishing touches on the hasty clean-up of his office. Despite the fact that his scholarly quarters look immaculately kept, he issues a small apology.

“Tomorrow’s the last day of summer school, so after that it’s time to clean up,” says the professor of church history and doctrine.

The office is filled with books on opposing walls. A large family portrait looms above his desk, and a cowboy hat hangs on the wall near the door. Despite moving from his south Texas home to Logan, Utah, at an early age, a slight Lone Star accent still sticks in his voice.

“I wouldn’t want this article to come out and say Mormons are so prudish anyway, why would this be of interest to them?” he says, putting a few last items into place. “But you do have to ask the question, ‘Why’s this sucker taken off so well?’ After all, I’ve written five other books that say the same thing doctrinally. Well, I think there are two reasons it’s done so well. One is that there are a lot of books deemed sex manuals that people with some sophistication want to avoid. Two: On the other hand, many guides are so general they aren’t really helpful.”

And in the Mormon world it’s a fine line between sexual information and sexual titillation. But the LDS book-buying public has spoken, and Between Husband & Wife: Gospel Perspectives on Marital Intimacy, has been blessed with an almost runaway success. Brinley, who co-authored the book with Salt Lake City gynecologist Stephen E. Lamb, takes the accomplishment modestly. If the sales of a humble Mormon sex book are compared with the publishing phenomenon known as Harry Potter, maybe he should. But, like sex, publishing success isn’t something Brinley likes to discuss without a proper bedside manner.

For a subject as seemingly arcane as Mormon sex, there’s no arguing with the book’s sales. Amazon.com lists the book as its No. 3 best seller for the Salt Lake City area. Not even Covenant Communications, the largest independent LDS publishing house, anticipated that the book’s first printing of 6,000 copies would sell out within weeks of its March release and prompt thousands of backorders. For two weeks there was a black-out period when no one could find a copy. Now the company simply ships as many copies as it can down from Canada, where it’s printed. It topped Deseret Books’ best-seller list in July, when it nudged aside Gordon B. Hinckley’s book, Standing for Something. At $17.95 for 180 pages, the book is hardly cheap. Then again, for those in need of “sacred counsel” about a most private subject, such advice could be priceless.

Audio versions of the book on cassette and CD are already available. And even as Brinley speaks in his office, Covenant Communications editor Tyler Moulton waits outside the door to discuss a few spin-off ideas. Primary among them: a book detailing ways to discuss sex with your children from an LDS angle. It was Moulton who first presented the idea of a sex guide to the company committee. “There was a strong positive reaction, but there was also a cautious reaction as well,” Moulton says. “I feel it’s a good, strong book based on content, and apparently sales demonstrate that.”

The book went national with an Associate Press story late July. Hearty snickers, no doubt, followed. Even Mormons got a kick out of it. Dean Thompson, a retired high school teacher in Roy and past Sunday school president at his ward, made the guide part of a small comedy routine at the latest Sunstone Symposium this summer. He admits he hasn’t read the book, but that didn’t stop him from inventing his own proposed chapters, such as “Celestial Foreplay,” “Sex After 60,” “Sex After Relief Society,” and “Five Things You Don’t Have To Tell Your Bishop.”

Outside church circles, the laughs are over the amazement that Mormons, renowned for iron-clad strictures against earthly pleasures, would pull down the sheets on such a topic. Are we really talking about the same religious culture that banned the best-known sculptures of Rodin and suspended a female student for sharing the same quarters with the opposite sex? Yes, we are.

Brinley keeps his arms folded and his left foot propped on the edge of the office door as he speaks. “Mormons believe in frequent, creative, healthy sex,” he says. “A couple can shower together? Jacuzzi together? Sure, that’s normal.”

Amazed? Not so fast. Like tax law and sweepstakes prizes, Mormon sex has a lot of qualifying clauses. The biggy, as in most all world religions, is marriage. No wedding, no bedding. But you already knew that.

The real news about Between Husband & Wife is that, when compared to the rest of the religious publishing world, it’s really no news at all. It is the first Mormon book to tackle the pleasures of the flesh, sure. However, evangelical Protestants, Roman Catholics and a rabbi stepped up to the plate long before Brinley and Lamb. The granddaddy of them all, The Act of Marriage by Tim and Beverly LaHaye, first arrived in 1976, only four years after Alex Comfort’s famous erogenous tome, The Joy of Sex. At nearly 400 pages long, it makes no apologies for leading married couples toward ecstasy’s paths. “I am convinced that God never intended any Christian couple to spend a lifetime in the sexual wilderness of orgasmic malfunction,” writes Tim LaHaye.

For Catholics, there’s Sex and the Marriage Covenant: A Basis for Morality by John F. Kippley, or In Pursuit of Love: Catholic Morality and Human Sexuality by Vincent J. Genovesi. Perhaps the raciest of all is A Celebration of Sex, penned by Dallas Theological Seminary graduate and licensed psychologist Dr. Douglas Rosenau. Along with a heartfelt forward by Promise Keepers founder Bill McCartney, illustrations of a couple in flagrante delicto are tucked into many unflinching chapters. The prospect of an orgasm for some Christian wives is more than mere possibility; it’s a promise.

The genre reaches its apex in Rabbi Shmuley Boteach’s Kosher Sex. Its arguments are robust, several passages are uproariously funny, and it’s written with a bracing sense of charm that’s almost irresistible. Fearlessly, and without sounding the least bit righteous, the rabbi explains why the missionary position is superior to others, why masturbation has no place in marriage, and why condoms are not kosher. Most compelling of all, though, is Boteach’s tone of sincere concern throughout. He truly believes only a proper attitude toward relationships produces great sex. And when relationships and sex work in harmony, the effect can save not only marriages, but all of humanity—or at least married couples—from a future of heartbreak and alienation.

“The real reason I write about sex is that it is holy. It is as religious a subject as a discussion on belief in God,” writes the rabbi. Potent stuff, it is.

These are books with a mission. Be warned, then, secular Godless masses. This is a movement to reclaim what is, or was once, holy in the eyes of God. The message is clear: Sex doesn’t have to be sinful to be fun. John Topliss, vice president of marketing for the evangelical Protestant publishing company Zondervan, notes that The Act of Marriage has sold more than 2.5 million copies. He rejects the stereotype of Christians as cold fish who’d rather sing hymns than set the bed afire.

“I think that’s a superficial view,” said Topliss, speaking from Grand Rapids, Mich. “We believe that God created our bodies, and what God created is good. Sex is something that a wife and husband hold in common.”

The religious world of the West hasn’t always been so cozy with carnal knowledge. It could be argued that sexual attitudes grow increasingly more Puritanical from the Old Testament to the New. For the Hebrews of the Old Testament, sex was never frowned on. Without it, the nomadic tribe of desert dwellers would have died out; polygamy wasn’t out of the question, either. King Solomon, who kept 700 wives and 300 concubines, is traced to the Bible’s most erotic book, The Song of Songs: “Thy lips, O my spouse, drop as the honeycomb: honey and milk are under thy tongue; and the smell of thy garments is like the smell of Lebanon.” (4:11)

Then with the arrival of Jesus, erotic longing, or at least lust, suddenly seemed off limits. Not only did he warn of lustful acts, he warned against lustful thoughts. If Jesus was married, none of the gospels thought it important enough to mention. With Paul taking center stage after Jesus’ death, the portals of pleasure seemed at last closed. “It is good for a man not to touch a woman,” he stated. “The flesh lusteth against the spirit and the spirit against the flesh.”

St. Augustine, the most influential theologian after Paul, put a cap on carnality that stuck to Christianity throughout the Middle Ages, and even up to today’s Roman Catholic Church. Total abstinence was easier to maintain than perfect moderation. “Sins of impurity are done if the affection of the soul from which carnal pleasures are derived is uncontrolled,” he wrote. In other words, sex was a bed of quicksand best left alone.

Meanwhile, the Jewish world disbanded polygamy once and for all in 1000 A.D. While biblical narrative seemed to support it, rabbis determined that biblical law did not. One Adam and only one Eve meant God’s intentions were decidedly monogamous. The sacred status of sex, though, remained constant. In fact, for Jews the Bible clearly states that the act of coitus is synonymous with knowledge: “And Adam came to know his wife Eve.”

The Protestant Reformation, which allowed clergy to marry, raised the status of sex in Christendom. Then, with Mormon church founder Joseph Smith trumpeting the arrival of “the restored church,” sexual behavior reverted all the way back to the polygamous ways of Old Testament patriarchs. But there was a seeming paradox. Smith married at least 28 and as many as 48 women, but his revelations rejected The Song of Songs, calling it uninspired scripture. So much for God’s endorsement of the erotic.

Fast forward to modern Mormondom, and it isn’t until the 1980s that church leaders tell their flock, through the church-published Ensign magazine, that sex between husband and wife exists not just for procreation and bonding, but for pleasure as well. “So to have a book like this in the year 2000 means that we’ve come a long way,” said Marybeth Raynes, an LDS counseling professional who’s authored several papers dealing with Mormon sexuality.

Between Husband & Wife is remarkable both for what it talks about, and what it doesn’t talk about. Distilling the essence of its contents isn’t easy, but among its most interesting, practical points are these: Because Mormon marriages are eternal, so too is sex; it’s Satan who blurs the line between sex and love; your spouse is the only expert who matters; never take cues from the media when it comes to expectations about sex; use of lingerie is a decision for couples to make together; women might want to swallow a pain-reliever on their honeymoon night; foreplay is defined, as are the three stages of human sexual response; and young women are assured that pelvic exams and tampons cannot sully their virtue. The book repeatedly favors “intimacy” and “marital intimacy” in place of the simple term “sex.” Kegel’s exercises are briefly skimmed. There is not one illustration, graph or diagram of the human anatomy.

Along the way, readers are treated to a whole host of quotes from general authorities and the church’s First Presidency. But, of course, they never talk about sex directly. Rather, their advice reiterates the sacrament of marriage. The most vivid words come from Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, who seems to say that God enters the bedroom during this most holy act: “It is … symbolic of a union between mortals and Deity, between otherwise ordinary and fallible humans uniting for a rare and special moment with God himself and all the powers by which he gives life in this wide universe of ours.”

Either God is something of a voyeur or, more likely, sex is a God-like act. Endorsements don’t come stronger than that.

If there’s one theme that predominates, it’s the power of “marital intimacy” to invigorate and rejuvenate a marriage. Sex is good because it keeps a marriage strong. And unless you’re terribly shocked by the pedestrian description of a turgid male member, the prose is rendered with all the restraint of a pad-locked chastity belt. Only occasionally does it cut loose with a simile or metaphor: “A woman is much like a fine violin that needs tuning before it can bring forth its greatest melodies.”

Even Brinley admits the book’s message is easy to grasp. What he and Lamb did was simply find the right package: counsel from the brethren, old-fashioned common sense, a handful of directions and tips your parents might have blushed to mention, plus up-to-date medical knowledge. One of the book’s most intriguing features is a long list of prescription drugs that might put an interruptus to coitus. These include Prozac, Xanax, Phenobarbital, Zoloft, high blood-pressure medications, and the heartburn medication Pepcid.

Without a few catalysts, Brinley might never have written the book. The first was President Spencer W. Kimball’s pronouncement that, yes, sex in marriage mattered greatly. In fact, the way the ’80s-era prophet saw it, sexual compatibility was a prime mover in the burgeoning divorce rate. “They may not say that in court. They may not even tell that to their attorneys, but that is the reason,” Kimball proclaimed.

“I thought, boy that’s true,” Brinley recalls. “I thought we just needed a little help because as a religion we’re very strongly abstinence-based. And it’s hard for people to make that transition, from not having sex to actually having sex.”

The other was a class exercise last year when Brinley asked his married students to write short, anonymous accounts about how well they felt their parents prepared them for the honeymoon night. Many of those narratives found their way into the book. What struck him was how many young people weighed their first sexual experiences against impressions nurtured by the media.

“These guys were pretty dang blunt about things,” Brinley remembers. “This isn’t an ivory-tower book. Here’s a guy talking about how he can’t make his wife climax. All these guys on TV can do it, why can’t he? I think that’s what everyone’s experience has been, even though they can’t say it.”

It’s better to take charge of the topic than let the faithful be misled by unwholesome, unrealistic impressions. So it was that a BYU professor and an LDS gynecologist gently rushed in where angels fear to tread. Between Husband & Wife was only 10 months in the making. “Nobody said, ‘Gosh, what are you writing that for? But then no one had read all of it.”

There was a little kidding from Brinley’s neighbors. “I’d be at the computer and they’d say, ‘Are you writing that sex book again?’”

Actually, it didn’t end up being a book about sex at all—at least not in terms of technique. Sensuously illustrated manuals of tantric

technique, exotic

positions and frank instructions about how to marinate in two-hour orgasms were strictly verboten.

“I think the best sex manual is your spouse,” Brinley offers. “You really need to listen to your spouse. You both learn, teach and get feedback. It doesn’t hurt to learn from other sources but, jeemeneze, some of the things people try to do—standing on their head or whatever—they’re trying to do stuff not even Adam and Eve did when they hit town.”

Certain practices are off-limits. The index reference for masturbation reads, “see sexual sin.” Then there’s a topic so sensitive it dare not speak its name, except to those curious enough to look it up in the index. In its original, pre-edited version, the book was supposed to deal with oral sex in an eight-page chapter called “Drawing the Line.” Instead, the finished version approaches the subject so vaguely—that is to say, without mentioning it at all—readers are left scratching their heads.

Several people have already brought this perplexing situation to Brinley’s attention. Except Brinley doesn’t think it all that perplexing, especially since the Lewinsky scandal brought oral sex kicking and screaming into the political arena. Of course, as far as sexual behavior defines social behavior, sex has always been political. So it is with the LDS church.

Brinley notes that the church’s First Presidency issued its one and only proclamation against oral sex in 1982 to bishops and stake presidents. Honesty is the best policy, Brinley first thought. So the proclamation was mentioned in the chapter. Then second thoughts squeezed it into a footnote. Finally everyone, especially the editors at Covenant, Brinley says, thought better of mentioning the proclamation and oral sex altogether. There was also a question about whether or not the church would allow its proclamation published.

“It was good sense prevailing over an attempt to be spectacular,” Brinley explains. “Discretion is the better part of valor.”

Discussion of oral sex requires a definition of oral sex, a duty Brinley was loath to navigate. Most Mormons already consider the practice impure anyway, because it’s practiced by gays, lesbians and prostitutes. Besides, Brinley’s confident that readers know what the chapter’s discussing by its tone alone. “When we talk about sexual acts that are unworthy and unnatural, people know what we’re talking about. We’re not talking about biting your wife’s ear,” he says. “[Oral sex] is something you just don’t talk about. It’s like getting a hole-in-one on Sunday. You’re not supposed to be on the golf course anyway, so how can you tell anyone?”

And that is where Between Husband & Wife and many other religiously inspired books part company. In The Act of Marriage, the LaHayes note that the Bible makes no mention one way or the other about cunnilingus or fellatio, so as long as both parties are comfortable with it, all’s well.

Rabbi Boteach agrees. “In oral sex the purpose is not to destroy seed,” he writes in Kosher Sex. “Rather, it is to try something new and pleasurable, something that will cause husband and wife to increase their dependency on each other, and lessen their dependency on strangers.”

Brinley notes that while Mormons have the greatest reverence for Jewish culture, he still could not take that position. “We would be one notch above that,” he says. Brinley also has a certain respect for the LaHayes’ book, which he’s read. But with its charts on the frequency of orgasm and cross-sections of the female anatomy, The Act of Marriage is too graphic for his taste.

Back at Zondervan in Grand Rapids, Topliss is puzzled that anyone would find the book base, especially when The Act of Marriage has been successful enough to spawn a sequel, The Act of Marriage After 40: Making Love for Life. “I can’t really think of why anyone would find it graphic. It’s not meant to be alluring or base, it’s meant to be helpful,” Topliss says in defense. “LaHaye has a real pastor’s heart, and he wrote it with his wife.”

Although she hasn’t read Between Husband & Wife, Marybeth Raynes is hardly surprised to hear it described as rudimentary.

“To expect that this book would be more than a basic primer would be naïve,” she says. “You essentially don’t know Mormon culture. Even though it may be more basic and have a wider range of quotes from church authorities, it’s probably more honest and open than anything heretofore.”

Having dealt directly or indirectly with the sexual lives of Mormons as a counselor, Raynes believes the only difference between the sexual attitudes of most Mormons and other religions is the way in which the church marks the behavior of its members. Sexually, we’re all God’s children. Differences emerge in the ways of discipline.

“If you listen to Catholics, Mormons and Baptists, they’re all really similar when it comes to sex,” Raynes says. “The difference with Mormons is that they’re more watchful and sanctions are more clearly applied. Behavior is more closely tracked, and sanctions are more visible, such as not being able to attend the temple or take sacrament. There’s a belief that if you do something wrong the Spirit withdraws.”

So maybe this newfound confidence to purchase a book about sex, read about sex, and talk about the importance of sex in marriage is part of the same confidence that the Spirit is here to stay.

For evangelical Christians like Topliss, the success of religious sex guides proves that, at the end of the day, people strive for something spiritual—especially in the realm of sex, an act that’s been turned into a commodity through advertising and pornography.

Brinley likens the act to a mini-vacation. Unfolding his arms for a minute, he becomes quietly animated, a little reverential even. “Intimacy—it’s something very special,” he says with earnest concentration. “Think about it with your wife. You’re both naked. It is not a time for sarcasm. You’re both appreciative of each other’s form—the male form, the female form. In that unity you get a synergy, something that’s more than just mating. It’s a unity of body and soul. Now think about it. Intimacy is a renewal. It’s almost like a mini-vacation. A time to remember each other. If you’re not renewing your marriage physically, you’re just like a couple of roommates!

“Intimacy makes you more willing to go through the mundane acts of life, and life can get pretty mundane.”

Pin It
Favorite

More by Ben Fulton

  • Right and Right

    After finally getting around to viewing Napoleon Dynamite at the local theater—yes, I am the spittin’ image of him, just as Music & TV Editor Bill Frost maintained during my brief absence—the only other event I’m looking forward...
    • Sep 6, 2007
  • Urban Art Guerrillas

    Borrowed Walls mix art forms in space and time. Won’t you lend them your mind?
    • Sep 6, 2007
  • Arts & Entertainment - Sad, Sad. Joy! Joy!

    ...
    • Sep 6, 2007
  • More »

Latest in News

  • Life Elevated

    While a repackaged hate-crimes bill stalled in the legislative session, a Blue Lives Matter bill sailed through.
    • Mar 22, 2017
  • Utah and Booze

    A complicated relationship.
    • Mar 22, 2017
  • Secret Agent

    In the aftermath of the Swallow acquittal, questions dog a state investigator.
    • Mar 15, 2017
  • More »

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

‚Äč

Readers also liked…

  • Utah Beer Festival 2015

    City Weekly's sixth annual fest proves Utah loves beer
    • Aug 12, 2015
  • Silent Survivors

    A women-only shelter might be insufficient to address needs of sex workers and the crime that often accompanies them.
    • Nov 30, 2016

© 2017 Salt Lake City Weekly

Website powered by Foundation