R.’s First Talk

I’m the primary pianist, and so I’ve seen R. nearly every Sunday over the past few years. She’s a bright and polite young woman who comes to church regularly with her mother. She just turned 12, and graduated from primary into young women’s. And like a typical 12-year-old, R. is just starting to turn into a young woman. The boys aren’t, that I can tell, paying her any attention yet, which is probably a source of mixed frustration and relief. Meanwhile, she’s a month or so into YW, and valiantly trying to make that awkward social adjustment.

Last Sunday R. and her mother were giving talks in Sacrament meeting. Excellent, I thought — a good chance for her to start the public speaking that most LDS youth experience. She stepped up to the stand and announced that she had been asked to speak on . . . the law of chastity.

To her credit, R. valiantly plowed through a talk that was (thankfully) heavy on vague generalizations and platitudes and completely bereft of any detail or as-applied discussion. She didn’t seem too thrilled to be talking on the subject and I really can’t blame her. There she was, a new twelve-year-old just a few weeks out of full-time primary, standing up in front of the ward to explain that her body is a temple. (It was kind of jarring to see this young face that I had seen so regularly in primary, talking about her body at all.)

I suppose there’s a bright side. From a youth-speaker perspective, the worst is now behind her. Her next talk will probably be on some innocuous topic — faith or prayer or genealogy –and she’ll breeze right through it.

And perhaps the chastity talk will be effective. Maybe being forced to stand in front of the ward and recite platitudes about chastity (as her mother sat behind her!) will in some way sink in, make an impression, make her decide to live the principles. (Though I have my doubts about the effectiveness of such generalized counsel). Maybe some other person in the congregation benefited. (And even if not, perhaps the talk will be effective in an unexpected way. Perhaps poor R.’s social reputation is so shattered from having to talk about chastity that no boy will give her a second look for years to come! Who says bishops aren’t inspired?)

And then, a few minutes after it began, R.’s first talk was over. She quietly took her seat, and the meeting went on. I breathed a sigh of relief.

Welcome to the world of youth speakers, R. It will probably get better from here.

10 comments for “R.’s First Talk

  1. N Miller
    May 17, 2005 at 1:13 pm

    Good for R. Topics of that nature are hard for even adults to address at times. Like you said, she probably learned some important truths. I initially thought “how dare the bishop assign a twelve year old such a topic”, then I thought of all the disturbing information I hear about young teens, even twelve year olds, breaking laws of chastity. Perhaps it truly was inspired and she needed it as well as somebody in the congregation. To be taught from such a young person who is untainted (hopefully) from the world and its ways is probably a very potent lesson. Obviously, Kaimi, you remembered it enough to write about it.

  2. Mike
    May 17, 2005 at 3:08 pm

    I think it is not wise in the majority of cases to ask girls this age to speak on this topic. I think that discussions of this sort in Sacrament meeting are far less effective than in smaller groups; as in Young Womens, Sunday School or Seminary. Better yet around a camp fire or some other less threatening activity. I would not have allowed my daughter to speak in Sacrament meeting on the subject at that age and I would have discussed why with the Bishop, man to man in a private setting. My wife would also, but probably not go as easy on him as I would.

    I have noticed as a father that young girls this age go through at least two stages. First they are completely mortified at what is happening to them even when properly warned and they awkwardly hide their developing bodies as much as possible. Then something changes in their minds and they tend to want to flaunt what they have, perhaps when they discover the powder it seems to have over some boys and men. Modesty becomes an issue. Both are imature but normal responses. Speaking in church on this topic would not be good in either stage.

    This challenge creaps up on parents at an age earlier than they expect. Veneral disesases first start cropping up in 10 or 11 year olds, but are rare until about age 15-16. This is one reason why many school districts are pushing the sixth graders into middle school, drug and alcohol abuse is the other. Anonymous surveys indicate that somewhere around 50% of 15 year olds and 80% of 20 year olds are sexually experienced. Rates for Mormon youth are thought to be less but not by very much. It is difficult to get accurate information but those who know youth know these problems are astonishingly widespread. Parents and church leaders are about the last to find out in almost any individual case. Since the baseline risk is already high, I fail to see the wisdom in doing something as jolting and unpredictable as described above.

    Why youth make these poor choices is hard to divine in any case. The entire contemporary culture is dripping in sex. Some have claimed that even us Mormons are one of the most sex obsessed religions because we obsess over NOT having sex all the time. One 13 year old girl in my ward stopped attending her teenage sunday school class and started attending the adult class because she couldn’t stomach another lesson on chastity, according to her mother. Having youth speak on the subject further aggravates this obsession. Other complex rationalizations and irrational or emotional thinking (feels good) also is a big part of it.

    What social science has shown to work in preventing irresponsible sexual behavior is two things. First the behavior of the parents. If parents were immoral while young their youth are going to want to try it. (So don’t tell them!) And worse if parents are out shacking up, tip-toeing around, etc., their youth are going to find out eventually and monkey this activity. Sometimes a rare youth can look at the starkly deplorable behavior of a parent and see the mess they have made of their life and learn from it, but more often they will go the other way. They need good examples.

    Second is a clear firm rational (not emotional) message from parents to youth that they do not approve of this behavior.Youth need to understand that sex is not inherently bad, but should be confined to marriage because of the enormous emotional, physical, social and spiritual consequences. This is best done in the home during one of those rare teaching moments when youth are most receptive to it. (They are listening all the time). Simple explanations of the adverse natural consequences of immorality are needed. Lecturing is a bad idea generally, defined as when the youth thinks it is a lecture. Save your lectures for the internet. Stories can be helpful, if interesting and funny to youth.

    Another suggestion is to keep youth occupied in other worthy pursuits. Keep them too busy doing other things that they genuinely enjoy, so they have no time or energy left for a boyfriend. But do not underestimate the energy they have, it can be astonishing.

    Studies have tried to identify risk factors. Percieved physical attractiveness, social class, race, level of sexual knowledge, religion, strictness of parents, etc., have all been looked at. The risk factor that seems most important is the self respect that the youth has, whether they view themselves as a capable and worthwhile individual with a bright future ahead of them. This takes several years of careful nurturing to develop and is easily destroyed.

    For girls the way their father treats them is crucial to their self esteem sexually. Most young girls will not “give it up” to a boy who does not treat them at least as good as they percieve their fathers do. If an adult man can’t compete with the hopeless twerps and geeks (if you don’t believe me try going camping with the boy scouts) that most guys are at that age in treating a daughter decently, he is one sorry father. Anything we do as a church that enhances or interfers with the respectful relationship fathers have with their daughters is going to have a strong impact for better or worse. The mythic concept of the wild Bishop’s daughter is based on the reality that an absent father is devastating to the self- respect of a daughter regardless of the worthiness of the reason for being gone. I notice that in the case above of R., her mother brings her to church; where is the father? If church is a wedge between them, this is not good.

    Public speaking on this topic in a way that creates quite a bit of emotional discomfort is likely to have powerful and unpredictable consequences down the road. It will feed into the complex irrational thinking mode, in a youth already dealing with quite a bit. Lucky for us, youth are resilient and will not generally crumble after a single difficult experience. But life is hard enough without us going out of our way to make it more difficult.

  3. Ann
    May 17, 2005 at 8:22 pm

    When my daughter was about 14, she was asked to give a talk on chastity as described in the “For the Strength of Youth” pamphlet. When she got to the part about sexual behavior, she read it right out of the pamphlet. You could have heard a pin drop. But gosh, what could anyone say? She was just quoting…

    It didn’t take, by the way.

  4. Miranda PJ
    May 18, 2005 at 12:36 am

    My non-Mormon friend in New York is getting married next week. We’ve known each other since our late teen years. Now that she’s in her mid-30s, she’s older than most women getting married for the first time. But she’s a beautiful woman–a size 4, if that (oh the toll that children take). Since we first became close, we’ve been at each other’s side and have kept few secrets. When she was 17, she had an abortion. Over the past 15 years, she’s had dozens of sexual partners. She’s not easy. This is just the way things are. She is a personal trainer and lives the kind of life glamorized by Sex in the City. She’s a living example of someone who has taken control of her sexuality. Honestly, there have been times when I’ve envied her. But only when I’m not talking to her or spending time with her. We’re still close, and I love her like a sister. But when I’m with her, I can see the impact that it has had on her, and it breaks my heart. She doesn’t see it or know it, and I can’t describe it in words, but it’s there. Has anybody else seen this kind of thing? Can someone help me describe it?

    I normally take a laissez-faire approach to people’s sexual habits. I have a lot of problems with the approach of the church towards women. I often do not like the way that the law of chastity is presented. But I believe that teaching the law of chastity to boys and girls at home and at church is absolutely essential. If I didn’t have the church and its teachings, I’d probably end up horrifying my daughter by telling her that men will want to use her like a sperm urinal. Maybe it’s just wishful thinking, but I believe that if someone had required my friend to explain the importance of chastity to her jewish congregation when she was 12, she may not have been having an abortion before she finished high school. And I know for sure that an abortion is less comfortable than a talk on chastity.

    Women in their late teens and early 20s can use their sexuality to be attractive. Once a women gets to her mid-30s, using sexuality in this way ceases to be attractive. It becomes disgusting. Virtue is attractive at 20, 30, 40, 50, and on. This is also about teaching our girls, even indoctrinating them, to be beautiful in a way that is not degrading.

  5. Floyd the Wonderdog
    May 18, 2005 at 11:39 am

    When I was bishop, I decided that it was my responsibility to teach the youth about chastity. It went quite well. The youth are now grown. One of the young ladies who received that talk is now married with a child of her own. She recently told my wife that when she was nervous about her honeymoon, she remembered me saying that sex between a husband and wife was good and helped draw them closer together. She said that her mother had left her with the impression that sex was always dirty. But thanks to an inspired bishop, she and her husband have a good marital relationship.

    One sister took offense. Her daughter was teaching the Laurels. She felt that by my teaching the lesson, that I was implying that I did not feel that her daughter was worthy to teach the subject. But then again, her daughter didn’t have to listen to the youth when they came in for confession. I wanted to make sure that there was nothing left out and no questions as to where the boundaries are. Anyway, my garments are clean.

  6. alamojag
    May 18, 2005 at 2:37 pm

    Miranda, I have seen what you are describing about your friend. The best way I can describe it is that people who’ve lived that kind of life (a “healthy” sex life) seem to be unusually old, sad, and tired, regardless of their age. The “loss of innocence” is more than any loss of virginity, there is a certain cleanness or freshness (like a spring morning after a rain) that is missing. A phrase you see often is a “weary worldliness.” It is usually quite subtle, but you can feel it.

    I, too, am sad when I see a woman use her sexuality as her only source of attractiveness. What will she be left with when the looks are gone? Intelligence, humor, confidence and generousity last forever. That’s what we need to teach youth to cultivate in themselves, and to look for in each other. Attractiveness is just a bonus on top of it.

    My two cents.

  7. jayneedoe
    May 19, 2005 at 5:45 am

    Miranda, #4 wrote: “But when I’m with her, I can see the impact that it has had on her, and it breaks my heart. She doesn’t see it or know it, and I can’t describe it in words, but it’s there. Has anybody else seen this kind of thing? Can someone help me describe it?”

    If “she doesn’t see it or know it,” what does it matter if “it’s there”?

    Your speculations are, IMO, inappropriate, especially on a public board. You could be spot on. Or, she may well be just fine with “this kind of thing.” But you are not a mind reader and unless she has specifically told you she feels some sort of lessening in her life, you may have created an image of her that is simply incorrect, and perhaps even offensive.

    Miranda continued: “Women in their late teens and early 20s can use their sexuality to be attractive. Once a women gets to her mid-30s, using sexuality in this way ceases to be attractive. It becomes disgusting.”

    I had to read this three times to ensure you actually wrote this because it is such a ridiculous and offensive comment.

    A woman is “attractive” regardless of age, experience, beliefs, sexuality, etc. I’ve known many women through the years, with a myriad of life experiences. I’ve vehemently disagreed with some, and have broken off contact with others for personal reasons. Some have been my lifeline. Many have broken hearts, lives, and spirits. Others soar on, loving their experiences, their impurities, and their audaciousness. Their diversity is immense and poignant. And no, most of them are not Mormons, but a few of them are, and I love them dearly–especially my 71-year-old mother who is a widow and has every right to use her sexuality to attract a man if she so wishes.

    Even the “crack whore” is a beautiful woman, simply because she is a woman. I often find women with these experiences far more “attractive” than the Relief Society president whose superiority is a given in her mind. The fragility and suffering, and often resulting compassion of many of these women is incredibly beautiful.

    Even the ones who never come around are beautiful souls. Many of them never had a chance.

    It’s your caricature I find disgusting.


    P.S. No, I do not believe every RS President has a superiority complex, but I’ve known a few who do. And yes, they are “attractive” to me as well, as they are simply trying to be the best human being they can.

  8. jayneedoe
    May 19, 2005 at 6:13 am

    Alamojog wrote: “The best way I can describe it is that people who’ve lived that kind of life (a “healthy” sex life) seem to be unusually old, sad, and tired, regardless of their age. The “loss of innocence” is more than any loss of virginity, there is a certain cleanness or freshness (like a spring morning after a rain) that is missing. A phrase you see often is a “weary worldliness.” It is usually quite subtle, but you can feel it.”

    I am simply stunned at the lack of perspective as well as the ignorant clichés you’ve perpetuated here.

    When I was a member, I saw many, many women at CHURCH who looked exactly like you described above, especially the “weary worldliness.” While I’m sure there were exceptions, it is highly likely most of them did not “lose their innocence” in a sexual relationship prior to their marriages.

    If this is true, why did they look so haggard, wilted and defeated?

    I literally saw two of them have breakdowns: one was my Primary teacher and another was a woman bearing her testimony of the demons on her roof and her stark terror.

    It is utterly ridiculous to perpetuate the stereotype that a loss of virginity outside of marriage automatically leads to the caricature you portrayed above. I’m sure there are times when it does, and I know there are times when it doesn’t. But it is NOT automatic.

    Within the framework of Mormonism, I understand the emphasis on the law of chastity and how important it is to you. Therefore you would be correct that among those women, the ones who are Mormons have broken that law. That’s a different issue altogether with which I have no problem.

    It’s your assumptions based on how they look and why they look that way that are appalling to me, and quite offensive. There are hundreds of reason why a person could look “world weary” that have nothing to do with sex.

    Please think before you write such belittling, demeaning and insulting comments about people who behave in ways of which you do not approve. Chances are, you’re going to be wrong, because your pre-conceived notions preclude you from looking at these women through the frame of perspective.


  9. jayneedoe
    May 19, 2005 at 6:16 am

    alomojag wrote: “. What will she be left with when the looks are gone? Intelligence, humor, confidence and generousity last forever”

    Perhaps she’ll be left with intelligent, humor, confidence and generosity.

    Perhaps this generosity will also include not judging the characters of people of whom they know nothing about.


  10. Miranda PJ
    May 19, 2005 at 10:08 am

    jayneedoe, I’m sorry that I’ve offended you. You’ve misunderstood what I meant about a woman using her sexuality to be attractive, and you have assumed that virtue signifies virginity.

    I have seen the sad “world weariness” of the mormon mother and the crack whore alike. Coitus, be it defined in terms of Aristotle’s embryology or mainstream cultural feminism, too often aggrandizes the man and demeans the woman. Tragically, this is even true within the bounds of marriage. As women, we can be happy that it is less acceptable than ever to use the female body to signify reproductive technology. But it has unfortunately remained acceptable and prevalent to behave as though our bodies and ourselves are defined in terms of our history of sexual practice, our current sexual practice, and our potential sexual practice. Women who leverage their sexuality to the exclusion of their intelligence, humor, confidence, and generosity define themselves in relation to sexual practice, and they will find themselves trapped in the downward spiral brought on by a daily diet of phallic worship. This is the tragedy of porn stars who are embarrassingly past their prime or the aging Mae West. Those who are not entirely forgotten will remain as mere novelties.

    Please don’t think that I’m trying to say that a woman should not use her sexuality. And I don’t mean to give the impression that I’m reticent about using mine. But I am not a sexual object engaged in the tired mating rituals that began with kidnap and rape. I am also intelligent, humorous, confident, and generous. All of these are characteristics that I take to be components of virtue.

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