Our young women’s (and young men’s) teachers are asked to choose what lesson they will offer on any given week, from a list of possible topics for a given month, centered around a single, broader topic. With August’s unit on marriage and family, there falls a spectrum of lessons from rather benign to rather fraught. I chose one of the fraught, “Why is Chastity Important?” in an attempt to be more mindful about what it would mean to offer a thoughtful lesson on the subject. I am sure I will not do so perfectly, but that is where we can help each other.
Throughout it all, I would try to talk to the girls in a real way. I would try to help them know that the classroom setting that we shared was a safe space, an honest space, and a gentle space, where they could ask genuine questions and receive genuine answers, without judgement.
I would try to remember myself at that age, and how for much of it, I didn’t know what “necking” meant, or “petting,” or “masturbation.”Then I would also try to remember myself at a later age, when I did know what those things meant, in part because of personal experiences. I would try to remember how frustrating it was to repeatedly be spoken of as an object of sexual desire, but never as a person who might possess her own sexual desires (purely because I am a she and not a he). Above all, I would try to emphasize the message of the Atonement, and that Christ’s love can cover a multitude of sins–including ones that are, for better or for worse, sometimes scripturally paired with murder (Alma 39:1-13).
I would likely start by trying to find out where the girls already are: What do they know about chastity? What do they want to know?
And then I would choose a few (or all) of these additional concepts, depending on the time:
- The law of chastity deals with life.
- The law of chastity deals with faithfulness.
- The law of chastity is a kind principle.
- Breaking the law of chastity tends to hurt.
- There is a kind of guilt that is good, and there is a kind of guilt that is bad.
- If we have been sexually abused, it is not our fault.
- Living the law of chastity helps prepare us for the blessings of the temple.
1) At its highest level, the law of chastity deals with life. This is important because life is at the heart of the Plan of Salvation.
Thus, when I read the verses already alluded to, that emphasize the gravity of breaking the law of chastity by setting it next to murder, I see the shared connection to life as the biggest point: God does not want us to take the possibilities for life’s entrance or exit lightly.
While our Heavenly Parents want children to be born, They want them to be born in the best possible circumstances (The Family Proclamation). Some of these circumstances includes a home with two parents who are committed to one another through a binding covenant, who desire the baby, and can provide for his or her physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual wellbeing.
2) The law of chastity deals with faithfulness–to God, oneself, and one’s spouse or potential spouse. As such it can bring an increase of trust, and an increase of closeness.
3) The Law of Chastity is a kind principle from a loving God.
In short, obedience to it brings blessings that are worth having. In a marriage relationship it brings great trust and intimacy, as well as increased feelings of the best safety and the best peace.
This is where I might add that bodies are wonderful things, and we are meant to feel the desires that we feel, and that this is as true for women as it is for men: sexual desire is normal, and healthful. It means that we are human and that our hearts can love and feel.
4) Those natural, good desires are also powerful. (Elder Jeffrey R. Holland repeatedly likens them unto fire.) If we embrace them before we are a) ready and b) bound with someone else in the strongest (marriage) way that we know, we will almost certainly get hurt.
I include this warning voice not to frighten the young women, but to inform. I know the pain and anguish that can come when this law is broken more personally and deeply than I would like to. I have witnessed a baby born before a marriage covenant, where the child was warmly welcomed, but the mother was immensely grieved when the father remained unwilling to commit.
I have witnessed another father leave his wife and two small children for a woman who was not his legally or lawfully anything, simply because he thought it would make him happier. Instead, his life has deteriorated in every measurable way. His wife has faced this un-ideal situation with grace and courage, but occasionally (and very understandably) finds herself mourning all that she has lost.
I have seen myself. I have broken measures of this law, and it has hurt me. I am fairly certain I would tell the Young Women this, if I were teaching in person. The main reason would be because I have, and it did, and because I want those who either have, or are presently struggling, to know that they are not alone.
Without mentioning the details of my transgressions I would tell them the vulnerability, fear, and sorrow that came into my life for a long time, and how instead of feeling more whole, I only felt more empty. And then I would tell them something else: there is hope and healing.
5) There is a kind of guilt that is good, and there is a kind of guilt that is bad. The first leads us to look at things in our life that are bringing us joy, and the things in our life that our not. It can help us embrace the joyful ones, and let go of all others. The second keeps us feeling low. It is the guilt that tells us that we can’t change, that God can’t forgive us, and that no one will love us. It is the same guilt that tells us we are a licked cupcake or chewed up piece of gum instead of a $20 bill that retains its worth. It is hogwash, pure and simple, and is not from God.
We know this because God tells us over and over in the scriptures that as often as we repent They will receive us (Mosiah 26:30), and, crucially, that Christ’s grace is sufficient (2 Corinthians 12:9). Christ suffered the many things that he suffered precisely so he would be able to understand us and know how to help us (Alma 7:11-13). Let us let him.
6) If we have been sexually abused, it is not our fault. Not even a little bit. It can never, ever take away our “chastity and virtue,” which makes Moroni 9:9 one of the parts of the Book of Mormon that is in error through the fault of man, but not of God. Moroni was right, however, in asserting chastity to be “dear and precious.” His fault lies in suggesting that violent men could rob it from innocent women by force (which he did in an attempt to demonstrate exactly how wicked those men had become).
Rape or other acts of sexual abuse are never warranted: Revealed shoulders, clavicles, and knees are not sufficient reasons. Neither is partaking of substances sagely counseled against in the Word of Wisdom.
7) Lastly, the law of chastity prepares us to receive the blessings of the temple.
It does this in part by helping us be worthy to enter the temple. I would briefly discuss all of the reasons why women are able to receive their endowment: marriage, mission, and because the individual is spiritually ready. It is important to remember that not every young woman will be married. The second purpose may be particularly relevant to today’s young women, as more and more are choosing to serve full-time missions. Some of the Laurels might only be a year away.
And now this is where we can help one another:
What else would you include?
What questions might you ask the girls?
And, if any of you have had particularly good experiences teaching this subject to youth (or non-youth), what went well?