Call It Intimacy

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I am suspicious of individuals and institutions who refer to a whole range of sexual activities with the bland, modest, careful euphemism, "intimacy."

Mormons in particular do this. For Sunstone this past year Laura L. Bush and I planned to do a presentation on Mormon sex manuals, and the first thing you notice about them is that pretty much none of them (not a one that we found) mention sex explicitly in the title; instead, they have titles like Sacred Intimacy or Becoming One: Intimacy in Marriage or Purity and Passion: Spiritual Truths about Intimacy That Will Strengthen Your Marriage.

If you don't believe me, go to Deseret Books (a publisher of LDS books) and search Intimacy. Then go to Amazon.com and search books on Intimacy. You'll see how differently the words are used: at Deseret Books, "intimacy" is shorthand referring almost entirely to sexual intimacy; on Amazon, the titles that come up cover a range of topics, and if the focus is sexual intimacy, that's usually made clear in the title. In fact, after doing just some basic research, I've learned that in the non-Mormon world, there are FOUR types of intimacy: intellectual, experiential, emotional and sexual.

Anyway, at first this project aroused in me the restrained but palpable anticipation a bevy of 15-year-old Mormon mall goths would feel pawing with feigned nonchalance through a new shipment of Evanescence t-shirts at Hot Topic. Laura and I both thought it would be a good follow-up to the presentation we did about Mormon women's sexual training, but then Laura sent me one of the books she found in the BYU bookstore. I sat down, flipped through it, read some of the saccharin prose and doctrinaire pronouncements and thought, "Omigod, to write this paper, I will actually have to READ this book and many more like it," and that excited me as much as the prospect of wearing an Evanescence t-shirt myself.

Emotional intimacy can and often should be a part of sexual activity; sexual activity can complement and increase emotional intimacy. But they can also exist separately, and no doubt there are times when they should--for instance, siblings can be very emotionally intimate, but I admit I believe there is good reason for our society's taboo against incest. And I will also admit to engaging in certain mild forms of sexual behavior (i.e., making out) with someone with whom I was not particularly emotionally intimate, and still feeling the experience was pleasurable and worth my time. So when someone or some institution consistently conflates the two, it suggests to me that they Have Issues They Don't Want to Deal With.

Mormons have to change "acceptable sex" into the blanket term "intimacy" because they work so hard to make sex in general dirty and disgusting--and they do a pretty good job in the Bible dictionary and topical guide that accompanies my Mormon scripture. There's no entry on "sex" or "sexuality" in the Bible dictionary. In the topical guide, the only entry found in the S's where "sex" would appear is "sexual immorality," which includes the invitation to "see also Adultery; Excommunication; Fornication; Homosexuality; Lust; Whoredom."

Which is quite a list.

So I looked up Lust; all the scriptures listed for Lust were resolutely negative; the same goes for all the references provided under the heading "sensuality," which was cross-listed with Lust.

So then I looked up Love, and found this invitation: "see also Affection; Benevolence; Brotherhood and Sisterhood; Charity; Family, Love within; Fellowshipping; Friendship; God, Love of; Grace; Kindness; Marriage, Continuing Courtship in; Neighbor."

That "Marriage, Continuing Courtship in" looked as promising as an gold-plated engagement ring with a diamond the size of a dust speck; indeed, when I turned to it, I found references that included Ephesians 5:22: "Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord." Whoo! That's a turn-on.

All in all, the basic message the Church communicates about sex is this: "Sex is Filthy and Disgusting; Save it for Someone You Love." So you save it for someone you love, marry them, and then you call it "Intimacy," which somehow makes everything "healthy" and OK.

For anyone who wants more on this topic, check out the comments John and I posted on Venus Pandemos.

1 Comment

I'm sending Jana a link on this one. Hopefully she'll respond. I'm pretty sure she's read and critiqued both of these books. She shared bits and we had some good laughs, though I remember a feeling of incredulity. For example, Wendy Watson, the author of the Purity and Passion, encourages replacing terms like "making love" and "foreplay" with "co-creating love" and "prelude." The irony is that in the Remy household, our word swappage goes the other way. We fuck. There is absolutely no co-creating going on.

Also, it's hard not to giggle in church now when they announce the prelude music. Thanks, Dr. Watson!

In all fairness to Paul, I'm glad to see Biblical endorsement for BDSM. Hopefully Christianity has progressed some since Paul's day and there's room for the wife to be on top.

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This page contains a single entry by Holly published on September 30, 2005 12:16 AM.

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