Ways to NOT Teach about Chastity

by Caroline

I imagine most of us have experienced them -those chastity lessons that make us guffaw. Maybe it’s the object lesson that’s just a little too phallic. Maybe it’s the lesson that leaves no room for the atonement. Or maybe it’s hyperbolic statements about the diseases you get from premarital sex. Here are my top 8 ways to NOT teach about chastity.

Object lessons to avoid:

Guns: Bringing a real revolver to the meeting as a way to teach that premarital sex is like playing Russian Roulette.

Banana banging. Bring a beautiful banana to class. Let the class admire it. Start whacking it on the table so it becomes all nasty and black and mushy. Teach the class that our virtue is like the banana. (This object lesson is just way too phallic.)

Wood block: Showing the perfectly nice piece of wood. Driving nails into it to symbolize sexual sin. Taking the nails out to symbolize the atonement. But commenting that even though the nails are removed through the atonement, you still are damaged goods to some extent because of the ugly holes. (Once again too phallic. And does not show a good understanding of the atonement).

The licked cupcake: Bringing just enough cupcakes for every class member. Taking one of those cupcakes and licking the frosting completely off. Then passing the tray around so that the last person is stuck with the licked cupcake, which of course he/she won’t eat.

Chewed stick of gum. We all know this one. Major atonement problems here.

The rose ceremony: Passing around the beautiful white rose. Encouraging class members to touch it. By the end it will look wilted and sad. Alternatively, show the rose and then whack it against the table until the head falls off, then tell the class that’s what they are – headless roses – if they have premarital sex.

Rhetorical Strategies to avoid:

Discussing in great detail the types of diseases a person could get from unprotected sex. Mentioning the phrase ‘disgusting pustules’ over and over again when talking about genital herpes. (This actually occurred in a sacrament meeting talk I experienced.)

Talking about how it is better for a young person to die than fornicate. (I remember this statement from our R.S. manual a couple of years ago. Was it the Joseph F. Smith manual…?)

Please contribute your own experiences with memorable chastity lessons. I’d love to hear about the good as well as the bad.

Caroline has a PhD in religion and studies Mormon women.


  1. Whoa….I well remember the licked cupcake and the chewing gum, but I’m reeling at the revolver and the repeated “disgusting pustules.” I never felt like I did a particularly great job teaching YW about chastity, but I guess I can take some comfort that I never used any of these approaches!

  2. i’m glad two of the examples from my own experience (the gun and the banana) made it in there. so incredibly awesome in their absurdity. and their phallicness. i really wanted to laugh when the teacher brought out the banana. the question ‘are we going to learn how to put on a condom?’ was the first thing that crossed my mind. i’d just treat such methods as fertile fodder for satire if i didn’t know how harmful they were, too.

    the banana lesson got even better. because the teacher’s method for trying to incorporate the atonement was to talk about turning the mushed up banana into a banana cake and how delicious it was. i wasn’t sure whether the message was ‘you can never be the same again if you sin sexually, but you get the consolation prize’ or ‘you should sin! banana cake is so much better than bananas.’

    i’ll add another one:

    citing the scripture in alma which people use to support the notion that sexual sin is second only to murder in terms of severity. a bigger crock of bullshit i’ve never heard. and while i didn’t use that particular word, i said as much the last time it was cited during an RS lesson on chastity.

    here’s another source to avoid:

    the miracle of forgiveness

    i started reading it once. it was a nightmare. what a truly horrible book to ask those who have committed a sexual sin–or even worse, those who have been victims of sexual violence–to read.

  3. I am laughing my head off. I don’t know how I could have missed out on these alleged object lessons as a young woman, but I think someone needs to make a film (satire) featuring some of these. Title options are endless (don’t smash your banana! don’t lick the cupcake!).

    I’m not sure that disgusting pustules are an appropriate topic for church, but I do wish more people understood the serious problem sexually transmitted infections truly are, and how really ubiquitous some of them are. Herpes infects millions of people in the US and is not curable, condoms do not prevent it’s spread. Same with HPV. A majority of adults have been infected. I’m always impressed with peoples’ perception of their risk for contracting these versus their actual risk (very high for the majority of people). I’ve had so many patients be absolutely shocked to be diagnosed with a sexually transmitted infection, when it was quite likely to happen all along.

  4. I agree with amelia re The Miracle of Forgiveness, especially for young women. To be honest though, the russian roulette analogy makes a lot of sense to me.

  5. the analogy may work. because when you choose to have sex, you do take your chances with getting pregnant or an STI. but i dislike the use of a gun in the chapel (it was in the chapel; during a fireside for YSA) for any purpose. and i dislike the possibility for equating either of those consequences (pregnancy OR STI) with death.

    and it’s not so great in terms of the atonement either. there’s no coming back from the death of russian roulette. sexual sin is another matter.

  6. I don’t ever remember having any object lessons on chastity. The only sort of memorable thing that comes to mind is the fact that I had a BYU bishop who constantly used the phrase “levi loving” and I was always somewhat mystified about what that meant, exactly. Plus it made me giggle.

  7. Oh, the mortification. I actually did the cupcake lesson in seminary (have mercy, it was nearly 20 years ago). Even as I was presenting it, though, it felt weird. I had thought it was such a good idea. I never realized it was more likely to create more judgment than to prevent sexual experimentation. I mean, I think it makes people judge others more, rather than trusting the power of the atonement. It gets to be such a big deal that your future spouse has never had sex (I almost said, “has never been licked,” but that was just too much) that people reject wonderful potential friends/spouses because of something they did as a stupid 16 year old. Or worse, something that was done to them.

    But I do have to agree with all of the examples. I hope to teach my kids through honesty, love and logic that it’s better to abstain until there has been a public social commitment (i.e., marriage). I hope they will agree, but I also hope I won’t consider them damaged goods if they choose a different path.

  8. We had two chastity talks in my ward a few weeks ago and it was extremely awkward. Somebody had asked the stake clerk and his wife to talk about chastity for the entire length of our sacrament meeting. (This is when I rolled my eyes at my husband and took a book out of my purse.)

    The stake clerk was all right but his wife droned on and on about all the cleavage she sees around our town and the evils of dressing our toddlers in sleeveless shirts. Ugh.

    I left the meeting scratching my head. For once, I’d like to hear a chastity talk that doesn’t demonize sex or tell our young women that they are pornography or have anything to do with a licked cupcake.

    Thankfully, most of the chastity talks I had as a teen were pretty mild. No bananas. No chewed-up gum. And definitely no cupcakes.

  9. My seminary chastity lesson was a little different.
    I’m not exactly sure what the point was (it’s been 12 years), but the objects were
    chocolate and hair.
    Her point, and I could be misremembering here, was that both chocolate and beautiful long hair are really wonderful things: separately. On their own, or in their own time, they are great.
    But, together (and this is where she shows us this plate of melted chocolate mixed with a pile hair) they are not good.
    Anyway, she probably cleaned out her hairbrush one day and thought, “What could I use this for in seminary?”
    Seriously disturbing.

  10. I’ve seen most of these presentations. What I wish I’d known at say, 16 or 20 or 25, was that at 40, I would be thinking about it a whole lot less than I thought I would be.
    See this pint of Ben and Jerry’s Cherry Garcia? It tastes fantastic. But, you get used to it.
    Satan wants you to think sex is a million times better than this, and that it’s a billion times more important/vital/possibly life-threatening to go without. The reality of sex is that most women would just as soon have a half-pint of the B/J.
    I’m not saying I’d always prefer ice cream; but just that sometimes I might, if given a choice. I guess my point I’d try to make is that sex is seen as way more important than it really is to most women.

  11. My sisters went to a fireside at BYU where the speaker tried to persuade those in attendance that French kissing was disgusting by passing around a cow tongue. He told them that having a human tongue in your mouth is exactly like having a dead cow’s tongue in your mouth.

    Thanks for this post, it completely made my night!

  12. Wow, I haven’t heard of most of these, but they are pretty funny. Was the gun one in a ward in Texas? All I remember from my experience that creeped me out was my friend’s mom (our seminary teacher) telling us repeatedly how wonderful and amazing sex was when you waited and on and on. My friend’s mom. Then I’d see my friend and think, hey, your mom is way into sex.

  13. Satan wants you to think sex is a million times better than this, and that it’s a billion times more important/vital/possibly life-threatening to go without. The reality of sex is that most women would just as soon have a half-pint of the B/J.

    And most men would just as soon have a BJ than a half-pint of B/J. Sorry…couldn’t resist. Seriously, Elizabeth-W, some people would eat ice cream every day and never get tired of it. Same with sex. Just because you feel that way doesn’t mean that “most women” do. Satan doesn’t want you to think sex is great, your DNA does. And maybe God does.

  14. Wow. This post is just awesome. And the comments get even better. Banana bread – yikes!

    One book to add to the bullshit list: Bruce R. McConkie’s _Mormon Doctrine_. Under the _Chastity_ entry, we find the apparently approving statement that

    “Many is the faithful Latter-day Saint parent who has sent a son or daughter on a mission or otherwise out into the world with the direction, I would rather have you come back in a pine box with your virtue than return alive without it.”

  15. What is with this theme of death as a preferable option to say, repentance or acceptance?

    My favorite, was the one where the bishop had a group of YM/YW over to the house and had a yummy looking chocolate cake which he served with his hands by reaching in and grabbing a lump to place on their plates.

  16. Well, my daughters had one I hadn’t heard of before: The YW teacher told of a BYU bishop she had who advised them that sex was God-given to be used at a designated time and situation. That it was enjoyable and good within the bonds of marriage. And that because it was enjoyable there would be a strong temptation. So they should have a backup strategy always on hand in case of temptation. He advised all BYU students in his ward to keep an unopened box of Oreos in their cupboards or cars. When temptation struck, they were to break open the Oreos. It would be a distraction and give them something else to do to defuse the situation. This became quite an inside joke for the students.

    After the lesson, the YW teacher handed out little individual bags of Oreos–it just happened to be Fast Sunday and the girls had to wait to eat them until they went home and ended their fast. The label on the Oreo bag said something like “They’ll taste better if you wait!”

  17. I’m feeling a bit ripped off now that I never got any cupcakes or Oreos. Not even a banana, which I purposely let turn black and mushy because that’s when I think they’re best. As for the gun, I grew up in Canada, so it might have been a problem to have the cops show up to a YW lesson on chastity. Has anyone REALLY ever witnessed a gun in a Sunday church lesson?

    That pine box statement is in my Old Testament Institute manual. If I remember correctly, I think it was that particular statement, among a couple others, that made me lose interest in reading what otherwise would have been a fascinating manual.

  18. There may be value in getting away from the “saving yourself” and “damaged goods” ideas. These ideas focus a little too much on what a future spouse wants or desearves. Why can’t we focus on the individual and what would be good for them in their own development? Why can’t we talk about the emotional repercussions to the individual of having sex before they are ready to have a long term stable relationship with someone? I think there is a lot of value in focusing on the emotional aspects of decisions rather than the “preserving your virtue idea.” The preserving your virtue idea leads to too many problems when you think of people who have made mistakes or been sexually assalted.

  19. amen, beatrice. there are a few people i was seriously tempted to slap because of their belief that, because they waited to have sex, they deserved a virgin and would settle for nothing less. so many of the ways we talk about chastity completely undercut the atonement. which i think has a lot to do with the “sexual sin is second only to murder” misconception that gets taught at church so often.

    hawkgrrl: the gun object lesson was in virginia.

    the faithful dissident: i witnessed the gun. it was in a sunday evening YSA fireside in the chapel.

    a couple others i remembered:

    holding up a ziplock bag full of water and explaining that the water was our virtue; then poking the bag and the water all comes out accompanied by the explanation that once we lose our virtue we can’t get it back in the bag. in a RS lesson. also in virginia.

    then there was the glass of water, into which drops of several colors of food dye were dropped. they were left to simply swirl on their own for a moment because they were pretty; then stirred up with the commentary that they were ugly when all swirled together, even if they looked pretty at first; then a drop of bleach or something to make the water clear again to represent the atonement.

    in concept its one of the better object lessons. the problem was that i was more enticed by the dyes swirling through the water than the clear water. and the color when they all combined wasn’t actually ugly. and once the bleach was added, who would want to drink it?

  20. Sexual promiscuity is trivialized big time. The problem is that not everyone loses their virginity by choice and a victim of sexual abuse can easily be made to feel like damaged goods, unless a very clear and explicit distinction is made, which isn’t always the case. And even when it is, some people will still regard the victim as damaged goods, even though they know that it shouldn’t be so. I remember a sister in my ward being very troubled by the fact that her son was dating a girl in the ward that had been sexually abused by her father. They broke up and I suppose the mom was relieved.

  21. I wrote about two others (fictionalized, but based on real object lessons): Sexual Purity.

    The “licked glazed donut” is obviously just a variant of the “licked cupcake,” yet you get some interesting opposite-of-phallic additional imagery…

  22. Although this has been said before I was thinking of some other groups that the idea that once someone is no longer a virgin they are completly sexually undesirable would affect in a negative way. Here is my list so far.
    1-Victims of Sexual Abuse
    2-Divorced Individuals
    3-Widowed Individuals
    4-People who have repented of sexual sins.

    This is probably a completely different topic, but I always had a hard time reconciling the idea that you are “saving” yourself for just one person who was also “saving” themself for you with polyomy practices in the past.

  23. So are there any ways to responsibly teach sex to young people using objects? Or is sex one topic that does not yield itself to object lessons and analogies and parables? I work with the youth, and we haven’t had many of these talks yet because all our young men are only now turning 13-14 and are kind of nerdy and awkward.

  24. I had to give a chastity lesson some years ago in RS, where I passed out matches, and we talked about what fire can do (burn, destroy, cleanse, etc.). I was trying to get the idea of context across, that fire can be good, bad, or neutral depending on the situation, and that we have a choice in how we use it and control (or not) it.

    I made sure to point out that sexual abuse is never the responsibility of the victim, and that a victim deserves compassion and healing. We had a good discussion about resources for abuse victims, which pleased me since I live in a small-town, very conservative ward.

  25. I don’t mean to split hairs, but I feel uncomfortable placing victims of sexual abuse in the “non-virgin” category. I understand that technically the victim is no longer a virgin, but it just seems misplaced. That said, I agree that it’s important in Young Women’s lessons to clarify that sexual abuse has nothing to do with having sex/making love. Sexual abuse is an act of violence.

  26. While stupid object lessons definitely need to be eliminated, There is an aspect of teaching about sex that we really need to focus on:

    “The Lord will forgive and forget completely, but the world will never forget.”

    Ideally individuals will end up not caring what our past was like, but in reality that is hardly ever the case.

    Inside and outside the church, our sexual history is something everyone we get serious with has to deal with.

    In a perfect world, that wouldn’t matter. But this world isn’t perfect, and we need to teach kids that they can definitely be forgiven – by God and anyone else. But they will always have to live with the results of their actions. One of the bigger implications these days is being denied the opportunity to serve a mission.

    In a world where about 60% (in my current observations) of current young adults think ‘repentance’ consists only of confessing your sins then happily moving onward without any remorse, your history is something that others will most assuredly consider.

    (My comments are based on discussions I have had with young people in my ward.) Most of them do not really care what someone’s history is as long as they have dealt with it properly. Many times, it has not been, and in this case an unrepentant person with a wild past is plopped into the damaged goods pile by their peers.

    I’m not so sure that I can find fault in that (at least in the aspect of trying to find a mate).

  27. I suppose what I am getting at is that it pains me the sexual abuse comes up in a law of chastity lesson, in the first place. It’s sad to me that we have to make the point/distinction that a girl is chaste even if she is raped. Makes me think we are really messed up because we have to clarify that.

  28. I haven’t been commenting, but I just wanted to chime in and say how much I’ve enjoyed all your comments. Thanks!

  29. The only reasonable one that I have ever heard is writing on a white board with a “normal” marker: you can get the mark off, but it is a lot of work. (You have to rub and rub.) But eventually it does come off. I think that’s a fairly good object lesson, if you absolutely have to have one.

  30. Some wise person when I was a teenager did the nail in the board lesson, required the work of taking the nails out, and then replaced the board with a new board to represent real forgiveness. Brilliant.

  31. Last night, our speaker at youth conference brought a bear trap and let a young man put a little wooden man in the trap over and over again until it finally caught him. The Speaker then made the point that he got away and had a good time several times, but eventually got into trouble from it. Then he asked if the young man knew how to spring the trap. He did not. So he asked if anyone did. A man rasied his hand. It was the boys bishop. Speaker ends with (I don’t need to explain this analogy, do I?) It was about all selfish sin, and not just sex though…

  32. Of the ones mentioned, I think the fire and the marker on the white board are my favorite object lessons. The fire one is useful because it does emphasize that it’s a powerful force that is great in the right circumstances. And the marker one is good because it gives a more accurate representation of the atonement. I’m not sure about the bear trap one though. That doesn’t seem to me to be the best analogy. Is the inference that you only regret your actions if something bad comes from it, like pregnancy or stds?

  33. Did anyone else do the chastity fireside growing up? It was a whole program that focused on chastity, with songs, roles, and spoken parts. One of the songs was titled, “Warm me, don’t burn me.” The metaphor was basically that intimacy is like fire I guess. It was actually pretty good except for that Warm me, don’t burn me song.

  34. I performed that musical fireside “A Time To Love” not once, but twice (it was 4 or 5 years apart). My favorite part as an adult is the “want ad” for a mother. It lists all the responsibilities, time, financial, etc. But the line that sticks with me is “no time off for weekends or holidays. In fact, you can’t quit!”
    The line replays in my head when my kids are driving me nuts!

  35. We should all read Freud (LMAO!) ;op

    I remember my mom (OMFreak!, she was the stake youth YW prez a few times! i hated that) using the chewing gum method. I always felt guilty about sex&boys even when at that time, i hadn’t even kissed anyone yet.

    I don’t think I ever wanted to repeat that object lesson for the YW I worked with in Boston. Instead, sex talk was something we did all the time with the YW: questions, excitements, relationships, penuses, vaginas, kissing–u name it, nothing was taboo.

    I think our church (as a whole, not directed at LDS individuals who have a clue) still treats sex Medieval/Med Evil — these object lessons a part of the outdated, misunderstood, unread, and unreflected complexity of sex and chastity.

    I’ve always hated how the Atonement was used (in church settings) as a way to hit virile teens over the head with. Couldn’t we have just talked about it, like, all the time? Sex was, like, ALWAYS on my mind (still is). And i think sex should be taught to kids as soon as their born–or maybe while their still inside mommy? sounds weird, but that’s how i feel.

    As a growing youth, I was always yelled at about chastity with no room for discussion (from my side especially) as to how fun sex is. I had to learn that later with marriage, and I never, ever wanted our YW to be ignorant of great conversations about sex. To me, it is best that youth know sex (in conversation) as well as they know how their own hobbies. I think this is when chastity becomes a normal thing, not a scared thing to try to keep.

    I think it’s good to find a way to discuss sex with their parents, too (I tried the moms first).

  36. Don’t forget about the salt and pepper one…once the “pure” salt was soiled by the pepper and mixed around it was near impossible to ever have pure salt again.

    And thanks to Janna for pointing out how utterly disturbing it is that we even need to make the point that victims of sexual abuse are still chaste.

  37. I had the licked cupcake lesson when I was a teenager (I am 40 now). But I am hypoglycemic and can’t eat sweets anyway so the point was lost on me.

  38. Several years ago I had to teach the chastity lesson. I wasn’t a RS teacher, but the presidency had asked 4 different people and no one would do it. So of course they asked me as I have a reputation for being outspoken (big mouth? no filter? ready, fire, aim?). I was determined that is would not be a lesson who’s thesis was: “Sex is dirty and gross; save it for the one you love.” My approach was how do we teach about the beauty and pleasure of sexuality while emphasizing waiting for the right time and place. I asked a friend who is very open about sex to be sure to make comments. So she raises her hand and prefaces her comment by saying, “Well, my husband is inSATiable…” I don’t remember the rest of what she said because I was staring at all the jaws on the floor. But it really loosened things up. One woman admitted that she had had a shotgun wedding and it had forever mingled sexual pleasure with guilt for her. Other women shared stories and insights that promote a healthy attitude about the body and sex. The crowning moment came during the closing prayer when the sister blessed us all to have “wonderful and satisfying sexual relations to those with whom we are legally and lawfully wed.” I always wanted to take a poll and find out how many husbands had “relations” that night. There have been many various and assorted lessons that I’ve taught over the years, but the Chastity one will always be my top banana.

  39. I feel it’s object lessons like these and the negative vibes sent out about sex that cause a majority of sexual dysfunction in Mormon marriages. We tell the girls (more so than the boys) that sex is “bad” through these examples. How is it we can say that sex is bad, but after a short ceremony, it’s fine. We need to educate the YW that sex is not bad. We need to stress that sex has a special place with the person you love and are married to. I hate the ideas of judgment of the sinner these object lessons project. While we don’t want the girls to engage in premarital sex, we don’t want them to think their lives are over if they stumble.

  40. Check out the awesome chastity speakers Jason and Crystalina Evert. Now they know how to give an AMAZING talk! Seriously, they’ve changed so many lives. They’re blunt, real, non-judgmental, and really know how to talk to young people. They’re talk is called “Romance Without Regret.” You can even listen to it online.

  41. An object lesson that went well was to have a beautifully decorated cake. It looked so good. And there were these miniature brownie bites. We were told we could have the brownie bites now, or if we waited until the end of the lesson, we could have the cake. Some things are just better waiting for.

  42. As a counselor in private practice and working for LDS Family Services, I would like to add that teaching the virtue of chastity is wonderful especially when done without the shame of being sexual. I am saddened often by the couple (particularly the YW) who I meet with that still carry a guilt complex about wanting to be sexual and it tends to return to fear based preaching as youth. No one taught them to embrace look forward to and be excited about the sexuality that is in marriage. It is the “big nasty” and other moronic indiums.

    When teaching this wonderful subject, help them learn that it is a wonderful thing that is held in anticipation, not like a drug to be feared until the day the reins are loosed.

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