Please welcome author Angela Fested to the blog! Angela’s written an intriguing young adult novel every teen can relate to—even though one of her protagonists is a devout Mormon. Angela’s questions at the end of her post really got me thinking. I could see Sister Joseph in my catechism class doing the whole banana thing for sure! Thanks for joining us here today, Angela.
Sex and Religion
My husband thought about leaving me earlier this year. Of course, he didn’t actually do it, but the fact that he considered it was shocking at the time. Shocking because we both valued commitment. Shocking because we had twelve years of marriage behind us, four kids, two cars, and a house.
Shocking because it was supposed to last forever.
At least, that’s what they tell you in the Mormon temple after you’re officially sealed. I remember standing next to my husband in my white beaded dress, gazing into a mirror that faced another mirror on the opposite wall. Our reflection went on without end. Him and I, holding hands into the eternities, our fates intertwined for as far as I could see.
So when I backed out of my commitment to the Mormon Church earlier this year, my husband took it personally. I was never supposed to change. The dream was never supposed to change. But the plan we’d agreed to when we married over a decade earlier to raise our children in the faith, send them to early morning seminary, encourage them to go on missions, and trust the fifteen leaders of the church with our most important decisions—from what we could eat, drink, and wear to how we should spend our time—had ceased to look reasonable after I stopped believing in The Church.
The last part of that paragraph makes the “stopped believing” part sound casual and painless. I can assure you it was not. Because Mormonism is more than a religion, it’s a culture. One where it’s acceptable for Bishops to ask single members if they struggle with masturbation, where teenagers spend sleepovers debating if French kissing is okay, and where sexual sin is ranked just below murder.
Years before my crisis of faith I sat in a room full of girls and watched as my Sunday school teacher, Sister Black, held up two beautiful bananas. She put one down on the table, and then she peeled the remaining one.
“This is delicious,” she said after taking a bite. “Does anyone want to try it?” She held out the banana so the peel hung limp over her knuckles, seeds exposed, teeth marks turned to mush around the edges.
Right on cue we shook our heads no.
“I won’t tell anyone,” she told us. “Nobody has to know. It won’t hurt anyone if you sample it. Besides, I’ve tested this one for you. Who’d want to take a risk and eat the unopened one?”
Every hand in the class shot up.
Sister Black had made her point. She tried to close the banana and pretend it wasn’t partly eaten, but the sides kept falling open and all of us knew that it was useless. No one would desire this banana again. Not when they could have a fresh one. Without our sexual purity, no one would ever want us!
Growing up Mormon, this didn’t bother me. It was just the way things were. In my single days I had nightmares about losing my virginity. Boys scared me. Helplessness scared me. Losing control scared the heck out of me, but I thought this was normal. In fact, the thought of a stronger person taking away my worth, my purity, my spirituality against my will seemed a fate worse than death at the time.
Again, I thought this was normal.
So I decided to write a novel that would depict this kind of sexual climate. Put the hero in a place where his chastity is everything. Give him those natural urges. Give him reasons to fight against the world at large, pair him with a heroine who challenges his way of life, and watch him struggle to accept himself.
There are times when I miss the certainty Mormonism afforded me. Acceptance is a journey and nothing is certain now. Nothing is perfect. Life does not have easy answers. But I’m grateful for my choices, grateful to make my own decisions, and grateful to finally own my sexuality.
Tell me, dear reader, do you have faith in forever? Do your spiritual beliefs intersect with your sexuality, or do you keep them separate?