Earthly Parents is the pen name of the author of And It Was Very Good: A Latter-day Saint’s Guide to Lovemaking. He agreed to share some of the book’s background here.
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On the top of my parent’s bookshelf, far above the white-spined World Book Encyclopedias I read as a child, sat a thick, black book. That book wasn’t the World Book Encyclopedia. That book was called Everything You Wanted to Know About Sex but Were Afraid to Ask.
I don’t remember how old I was, but certainly before puberty, I put down the World Book WXYZ and climbed to the top of the bookshelf. What I read in that other book was a new subject for me. It was a weird subject. The book was interesting, informative, and sometimes confusing. Why did they keep misspelling “organism” as “orgasm”? That book and others I read at the public library served me well. When puberty came, it was no surprise. When I married my first and only girlfriend, I had done my homework. Literally. Without going into intimate details, I was ready to ace the test.
Along the way, when I was at BYU, I ran into classmates who had obvious gaps in their sex education. These Deseret Towers members of the “virgin lips club” also had what I thought were pretty odd ideas about what was OK sexually in marriage—things that I understood from reading would practically guarantee their wives would never orgasm. That did not seem right to me.
My wife and I now have seven children. For several years, I looked on behalf of my children for a book to read as they approached marriage that would teach them about sex technique. The “birds and the bees” wasn’t enough. I wanted them to have the same advantages that I had been given inadvertently by my own parents. I wanted my children to have the best information from the best books. I thought they would benefit from more than the basics. There are some things we only get from having someone teach us. It’s not hard-wired into people to know that intercourse rarely leads to female orgasm, as an example. Heck, some married adults (I’ve met some) believe female orgasm to be a myth. Ignorance can lead to heartache. Spencer W. Kimball has been quoted as saying the most common reason for temple divorce was sexual issues. I wanted my children to have sex really laid out for them. I wanted them to have the best possible chance at a happy sex life in their own marriages. To my mind, the best chance was a detailed, factual sex instruction manual. True, there is a lot more information around these days (hello Wikipedia), but misinformation is everywhere, too. Also, nearly all sex manuals I found in print or online included photos or illustrations indistinguishable from porn. Most manuals had sections on threesomes or homosexuality that I found incompatible with church teachings. There are Christian sex manuals out there, but I found them to be namby-pamby with some nonsense thrown in. No thanks. Nothing was right.
So I decided I would bite the bullet and write a short sex instruction pamphlet for my kids. It would be embarrassing for them and for me, but I’d rather face embarrassment than leave them to ignorance. I took a deep breath, sat down at my laptop, and wrote the first sentence.
And then I put it away for seven years.
Last summer, I watched the Mr. Rogers movie And Won’t You Be My Neighbor. In the opening of the movie, Fred Rogers is shown in a home movie sitting at his piano. He talks about how it’s easy to move from some keys like the key of C major to other keys like F major. Some transitions are easy. Other transitions are hard. Moving from C major to F# major, he said, takes a lot of tricky steps. It’s a hard transition. Fred Rogers then said he felt it was his calling to help children through difficult transitions.
I don’t know how many people watched the Mr. Rogers movie and thought “I should really write that sex manual.” I did.
I have never published a book. I have a ton of science articles under my belt, though, and I know how to research a subject and write it up. I dug in. I found my old sex manuals were, in fact, often wrong. Sex science had come a long way. I read a raft of modern, evidence-based sex manuals, looked up scientific papers when I needed to fill a knowledge gap, and listened to hundreds of hours of podcasts. These podcasts included those from Natasha Helfer Parker (“the Mormon Therapist”) and Jennifer Finlayson-Fife (“the Mormon Sex Therapist”). What I heard and then read about the Latter-day Saint experience in the bedroom was shocking to me. I put out a survey on the Eternal Marriage Ben Facebook page and heard more of what had horrified me.
Latter-day Saints were having a terrible time in the bedroom—at least some of them were. This was especially true on the wedding night and the early years of marriage. I don’t think I can give you the weight of the pain without a FEW of the many examples from the survey:
I knew almost nothing about foreplay. I wish I knew more about sex so it could have been something fun, happy and amazing instead.
—Latter-day Saint wife, married at 23
I knew penetration may be difficult, but I didn’t understand how difficult, nor was I prepared to see blood. I didn’t realize how much lube would have helped.
—Latter-day Saint husband, married at 23
We had no lubricant and literally couldn’t penetrate because of it.
—Latter-day Saint wife, married at 18
The wedding night was scary and painful because I didn’t know how great it could be.
—Latter-day Saint wife, married at 22
I thought something was wrong with me.
—Latter-day Saint husband, married at 21
I wish I had known manual stimulation was important for women to enjoy sex…critical for a woman to orgasm. It took more than a year.
—Latter-day Saint husband, married at 22
I wish I knew more about my clitoris and its role in sex. I had Sex ed growing up (don’t remember having the talk with my parents), and I didn’t know about my clitoris or even where it was before getting married. All I ever heard of was the “G spot.”
—Latter-day Saint wife, married at 24
We could have avoided so many issues.
—Latter-day Saint husband, married at 22
I wish I had known it could be enjoyable for women and that I could orgasm. I always heard women in the church complain about having sex with their husbands and saying it only feels good for the guy. I grew up only hearing negative things about sex, and I was absolutely terrified of it.
—Latter-day Saint wife, married at 22
I wish I would have known about lube and foreplay. I wish I would have known about orgasms, and I wish I would have known my own anatomy better.
—Latter-day Saint wife, married at 22
I had no idea females were capable of having pleasure. I had no idea that it was OK. I just knew how babies were made.
—Latter-day Saint wife, married at 20
I mean, any sex education would have been helpful. Specifically, I wish we had both known more about the process of having penetrative sex for the first time. I tried to be gentle and slow, and I only went as far and as fast as she told me to go, but it was still bloody and painful for her, and I felt like a monster. Even just knowing about how to use lube would have been helpful. Also, I wish we both had known more about female orgasm, foreplay, and how to please each other separately—that sex isn’t just penis-in-vagina.
—Latter-day Saint husband, married at 23
I wish I had known pretty much everything since neither of us knew anything.
—Latter-day Saint husband, married at 21
From this and from listening to sex counselors who treat Latter-day Saints, I have come to the realization that we run the following risks in our culture from what we do or do not teach our children about sex:
- The wedding night can be a disaster. The woman isn’t ready for intercourse, bleeds, and is in pain; tears are shed
- Some feel a loss of virtue once married—their self-worth is tied up being “untouched,” and when they are finally sexual, they feel they have lost their identity
- Some men have no idea about what it takes to pleasure their wives—no idea about foreplay, the clitoris, or lubrication
- Some women sometimes don’t know about their own anatomies let alone what touches will be pleasurable for them
- Most men have developed a sexuality before marriage that is full of shame and secrecy that can lead into compulsive sexual behavior and dual lives
- Some women may not feel OK with their own sexual feelings and repress them, which robs the marriage of their sexual desire
- Neither men nor women may understand or know how to negotiate sexual differences—spouses expect to be “as one” without communication or compromise
- Women can go years or decades without ever experiencing an orgasm
Yeah, that was NOT going to happen to my kids. Not if I could help it.
In my reading I also learned that there was no reason to expect the Church to start teaching this stuff. In Handbook 2, Administering in the Church, it’s very clear: “Parents have primary responsibility for the sex education of their children.” We are instructed to each sex “honestly and plainly” and “frankly but reverently.” This, I could do. Thank you Mr. Rogers for giving me courage.
One note: Some parents worry that explicit sex education will lead to loss of control and sexual sin. That’s a myth. The evidence shows the opposite. Time and again, comprehensive sex instruction leads children to delay first intercourse. This is even true in religious communities (there is a paper showing this effect in a strict Jewish community, for example). I don’t know 100% what is going on, but I suspect that the unknown makes teens curious and more easily exploited by those with more experience. Detailed sex instruction helps children and young adults understand their sexuality and harness it not be controlled by it.
Also, I made sure the illustrations in the book would not trigger men. You’ll probably laugh when you see my work-arounds.
I got feedback from experts in the field, including especially Romel Mackelprang and Natasha Helfer Parker. They helped me to see the book through the eyes of working sex therapists who treat Latter-day Saints.
Earlier this month, I published And It Was Very Good. If you want a hard copy for yourself or as a gift, it’s on Amazon. What I wrote for my children I’ve made public for everyone. E-mail me at [email protected], and I will send you a free, shareable PDF of the whole book. The book is FRANK but respectful. The reader will get the how-to details based on facts.
I leave you with my testimony that I prayed and sought the guidance of the Spirit as I wrote this book. Some parts—some specific words—were not what I would have written or did write the first time. I can testify to you that as I wrote the book I felt myself become a better husband and person. I’ve changed for the better in the writing. My authority and insight over sexual instruction ends at my family as it may for all members of the Church. I have no authority to get answers for you. I’m just a parent. You will have to read and decide on your own and seek guidance from the Spirit to see what is good and right for you. I know for myself it is very good.
My wife (who was my editor) asked that we use a pen name. We share a lot about sexuality that is universal but can’t help but be personal. Some things are private between a husband and wife. Our anonymity helps us preserve that.
Thanks for the many requests for the free PDF (wow, T&S). I’ll keep sending them. It’s the exact same material as the paperback.
Since writing this up, the book is now also on B&N for $10 less than Amazon. https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/books/1130474432?ean=9781987034929 if you really prefer a physical copy.
Probably a good clarification: My older children are YSA, and I wrote it with them as the audience. It might be a bit much for someone younger than dating age.
Years ago I attended a city council meeting when a bicycle helmet ordinance was on the agenda. One member of the public who took his turn at the microphone was an emergency room neurologist who described the tragedies he saw on a daily basis. But exposure to so many tragedies was the nature of his job, and not really representative of anything. People without brain injuries don’t walk into the emergency room and ask to spend some minutes with the neurologist on call. Couples who figured things out on their own with one another don’t make appointments with therapists or give attention to dysfunction surveys.
This v Wendy Watson Nelson’s “exquisite care taken that activities do not offend the Spirit” cold shower. “Exquisite”? How will young LDS couples understand this? Damaging overkill but what’s new.
Read the book. Seems like a great choice for a young LDS couple preparing for marriage. Covers the basics in a sensitive way with nothing extraneous or graphic or weird. Kudos to EP for putting this together.
I find it important in my own life to remember that learning new things always makes us feel awkward or uncomfortable. Think about learning to ride a bike or to get the new TV programmed. It might be easy for me to mistakenly think the Spirit is warning me when I’m just new to a task or activity and it just needs some time. This goes doubly for new sexual acts, which are always a bit awkward at first. I’m not personally put off by Sister Nelson’s suggestion to have the Spirit involved in the bedroom, but I also recognize my own ability to judge the Spirit is not perfect. I assume others have the same experience.
I don’t go into this in the book except to suggest that new sexual acts might need a few tries to get past the awkward, learning phase.
EP, really?! We often use “Spirit” to mean a variety of things. I doubt Sister Nelson meant to suggest a threesome with your spouse and the Spirit. But she has said a number of things many consider ill-considered.
I can only give my own reaction to Sister Nelson’s talk. I focused on the message that sex in marriage is very good. That sex positive message is really an important one. I’m glad she gave it. I do like to focus on the good in what people say, so I’m probably not going to engage in criticism, here, except of my own shortcomings.
In response to “Really?”: I was not one who thought Sister Nelson’s comment suggested a spiritual threesome. My apologies for giving that impression.
In have a comment locked for using a selfv censored word used in the book.
But I’ll just say this– this book should not be promoted without the authors name attached. I’m not entirely sure this isn’t Latter-day Saint sexual concern trolling mingled with grooming.
Seriously it suggests as an aside that it could be fun and couples enjoy and should at least talk about e-jack u l8te on face of the wife.
No name attached to this pamphlet and it’s suspect.
Yes, my post it anonymous, but I’m not publishing these claims as advice for Latter-day saints. And especially not representing it as wedding night advice for my kids.
There is some entirely benign and practical advice mixed in with some other motivation here.
That’s a very sensible reason for my publishing with my name. I can understand your concern, and we can’t be too careful. My wife and I have known Jonathan Green for more than two decades. So while I’m not at liberty to publish under my own name, I can be verified by others who do have their names out there.
If there is something sinister in the writing, it’s not conscious on my part.
This is also going to be true of anyone reading the book: If you do share it with your own children at the age it would be appropriate for them, tell them what you think is bunk or off base. I tried my level best to be thoughtful, to research, to get advice from experts, and to check with the Spirit. Despite all that, I probably didn’t get everything right. I don’t have any reason to believe I have authority outside my own family. If it’s not right for your family, of course don’t share the book with them. If part is right and part is wrong for your family, have a discussion. You have authority and the right to have inspiration for your own family. I do not.
Indeed, I’ve met EP in person and can confirm that he is who he claims to be: a parent writing to his children and for the benefit of anyone else who finds the book useful.
I am updating the book to remove a passage that wasn’t worth the ick factor. Thanks for calling it out. I’m convinced. Deleted. Print versions should update in a week. I’ll send out a revised version to the hundreds of you who requested the PDF. The last thing I want is for there to be one paragraph that turns people away from the whole book.
Few thought questions that prudent people should ask themselves in the age of the internets:
What would you think if record was released documenting Joseph Smith advising others in the various “acts” (trying to avoid censure filter) described in the book in graphic detail and specificity? What if he couched this sexual advise in scriptural terms or introductions?
What if president Nelson was recorded giving that advice found in the book to his daughters? You’d no doubt wonder quite a lot. And yet with no name attached we are asked to swallow it, spit it out, or use a napkin; to borrow more phrases from the pamphlet.
Ok next, what would an anonymous person(s) do to influence what they perceive as sexually repressed or frigid later day saint women to embrace or normalize various sexual acts that said women find distasteful? Wouldn’t this be what they’d do? Why should we perceive that as less grooming than if Joseph did it?
The anonymity poisons the well. No matter how many vouch for the authors. We (well not me, but generally lds progressives) are too quick to assume the worst of Joseph’s libido, without apparently questioning their own sexual motives and impulses or those they know online (or in person).
Again, anonymity surrounds this in shadows. I’m not suggesting the person(s) behind this are bad guys, but sexual feeling and desires bring out all kinds of issues that literally poison generations. No names attached tips the scales in the case of that public advice.
Questions and/or doubts are good right? Hopefully not only good when opposed to traditional church teachings.
QE, I think questions and doubts are explicitly invited. Please, just state your criticism directly. What do you see as suspect in the book? How do you see it in conflict with traditional church teachings? Those are important questions, but right now you’re just making allusions. Presumably you have a copy of the book by now, so what are the offending pages? The author has already been willing to make changes based on feedback here.
From what you said, you have several concerns. Some of these concerns involve the book and some do not. I’m going to list them so we can discuss. Please let me know if I’ve misunderstood. I’ll answer each as I understand them.
– You find “LDS progressives” to be problematic [I can’t help you, there. I don’t identify with a particular group other than the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.]
– You are troubled by others’ attacks on the character of Jospeh Smith [I am, too. I’ve made no such attacks in the book or anywhere else.]
– Your own beliefs about what is appropriate in married sex are different from mine. [Agreed.]
– You alluded to grooming behavior, which I read to be your suggestion that I am seeking to prepare readers to be sexually assaulted by me. [Gross. Call the FBI if you are concerned. I’ve comminicated privately about the book with about 900 LDS marriage counselors under my real name as well as with editors from By Common Consent, Mormon Sex Info, Ask the Mormon Sex Therapist, and LDS Living. I’m not difficult to find for anyone trying.]
– You want to know my name. [No. My wife asked me to keep our names private. Also, I find your actions to be odd and received a creepy email shortly after what I assume was your first post under a different name.]
– You find sex acts in marriage described in the book to be in conflict with wha you believe to be “traditional church teachings.” [I only looked to CURRENT church teachings about sex as hard and fast rules as codified in Handbook 2. Nothing whatsoever in the book is in conflict.]
– You find the book to be inappropriately graphic. [We have been instructed to teach our children “frankly” about sex. I took my responsibility pretty darn seriously. Reasonable people can disagree on what “frank” means. I see no prohibition in scripture or the current church teachings to be giving children medically accurate, non-ambiguous information about married sex. Nothing tells me to be vague. Quite the opposite.]
I’d like to address your concerns in a way that makes you comfortable. I’m not sure that’s likely given your point of view as I understand it.
Not seen the book yet but as a LDS who is also a marriage therapist I welcome tactful and appropriate conversation about sex and sexuality, having seen too many marriages destroyed by sex negative messages received throughout life. Really hope your book gets out there to the congregation and helps our young people use sex to strengthen and seal their marriages. From what i have seen it seems to be lovely, thoughtful work.
EP- Thanks for the post and the time and effort involved in putting together the book. I admire your ability to state your position clearly and politely. Don’t let the bullies who think differently force you into making changes you wouldn’t want to make yourself independently
“One note: Some parents worry that explicit sex education will lead to loss of control and sexual sin. That’s a myth. The evidence shows the opposite. Time and again, comprehensive sex instruction leads children to delay first intercourse. This is even true in religious communities (there is a paper showing this effect in a strict Jewish community, for example). I don’t know 100% what is going on, but I suspect that the unknown makes teens curious and more easily exploited by those with more experience. Detailed sex instruction helps children and young adults understand their sexuality and harness it not be controlled by it.”
I wish someone would tell this to the Utah legislature.
A good friend of mine described his wedding night; his new wife looked at his body and exclaimed, “What is THAT? You are going to do WHAT with it?”
As for me, I had studied Ann Hooper’s books as had my wife-to-be and so we looked forward to marriage and did not experience celibacy AFTER marriage as some of my friends and acquaintances experienced.