Today’s post is about sex. Don’t read it if you’re squeamish or don’t like TMI.
I recently started following Dr. Jen Gunter on Facebook. Dr. Gunter is a Canadian OB-GYN who advocates for women. She is the author of The Vagina Bible, which I haven’t yet read. She also provides abortions and fights for women’s reproductive freedom. It’s no secret that I’m a big believer in letting women make their own choices regarding pregnancy, childbirth, birth control, and everything else that comes with being female. Although I have never been pregnant myself, and therefore, have never had an abortion, I strongly believe that women should have access to them. The reason they have them is no one else’s business but theirs. Dr. Gunter cheers for causes I believe in, so I follow her.
Last night, Dr. Gunter shared this blog post. She writes that she was inspired to Google “premarital exams” after reading a viral Reddit post from a woman who claimed her ex fiance’s father wanted to check her hymen before they got married. I saw that post myself and was shocked by it, although after thinking about it for a few minutes, I realized that even in 2019, this kind of shit is still going on. I’m not sure what belief system the Reddit poster’s ex fiance’s family follows, but I do know there are legalistic religions out there where this kind of thing is “normal”. Thank God the Reddit poster called off the wedding. I’m sure her would be father-in-law’s demand to examine her genitalia was just the tip of the iceberg of what she would have been expected to tolerate if they had gone through with the wedding.
When Dr. Gunter Googled “premarital exams”, she found an article put out by the University of Utah’s department of OB-GYN about “premarital exams”, as well as an ad. Dr. Gunter was obviously shocked to read about this offering in Utah. She clearly hasn’t had much exposure to Mormonism. Good on her for that. Dr. Gunter also noticed that there is no similar “premarital exam” offered for men by the University of Utah’s urology department.
I was one of the first people to comment on Dr. Gunter’s Facebook post. I am not LDS myself, but thanks to Bill’s ex wife’s insistence on converting to Mormonism and raising his daughters in the religion, I have become very familiar with the culture. The “premarital exam” may not be a terrible thing on the surface. Basically, it’s a gyno appointment for young women who are about to get married. LDS women typically marry young and a lot of them are virgins on their wedding days. So they go see the doctor to talk about sexual stuff that, apparently, they never learned in high school, college, or at home… or from personal experience. They might also come home with “dilators”, which, in blunt terms, are instruments that are intended to help the woman get herself ready for penetration.
Dr. Gunter was clearly horrified by this exam, and she offered quite a rant about it. I don’t blame her for being horrified. She seemed especially upset about the dilators and antibiotics on hand in case of a urinary tract infection. But then she goes on about how women marry women, and that having severe pain during sex might actually be because of the man being a “lazy lover”. I suppose I should have also mentioned that a lot of LDS men who are getting married for the first time are virgins, too. In fact, Mormons are discouraged from masturbating. While I’m sure that’s a rule that is frequently broken, those who follow it probably don’t know much about what pleases them sexually. They might not even know what an orgasm is and how it’s supposed to feel.
As I’m writing this post today, I’m thinking about two young LDS people on their wedding night. They’ve waited all this time to have sex for the first time. They’ve recently taken out their “endowments”, which means they’re probably wearing underwear that is definitely not sexy… and they’ve been taught these underwear are “sacred” and have to be handled in a special way.
But when it comes to having sex, neither of them knows what the hell they’re doing. They’ve spent their whole lives having to talk about their “non-existent” sexual habits with their bishops. Sex is dirty and sinful, unless it’s intended to make babies, which you are only supposed to do after you’ve married, and the wedding must be between one man and one woman. Plenty of gay and lesbian Mormons have gotten married to straight people because that was what was expected of them. So, imagine too that you’re not even attracted to the person you’ve married. That person is “temple worthy”, though, and can take you to the “Celestial Kingdom” and bring new spirits to the Earth who are waiting for families that they’ve chosen (seriously, these are LDS beliefs).
Now we turn them loose to have sex for the first time… can we say disaster? Hopefully, they are attracted to each other and married for the right reasons. But, as I have discovered in about twenty years of unofficial study, plenty of them aren’t and haven’t. And their first time having sex just plain sucks.
I remember reading Deborah Laake’s controversial book, Secret Ceremonies, in which she describes her horribly awkward wedding night to her first husband, Monty, a man she didn’t love. She describes washing out the lambskin condoms her father-in-law gave her as a wedding present. Here’s a screenshot from a 1993 review of Laake’s book that appeared in The New York Times.
Deborah Laake, sadly, died by her own hand in 2000. She had breast cancer, but she also had issues with mental illness. I read her book twice. The first time was when it first came out in the early 90s. Then, years later, I read it again with Bill. He confirmed it wasn’t full of lies, as a Mormon couple I had known in the 90s claimed it was (and they hadn’t even read the book themselves). However, I do remember the book was mostly about sex and how weird it was in Mormonism.
On my old blog, I once wrote about a Mormon bishop who was defending his right to question an eight year old child about his “sexual habits”. When I was eight years old, I didn’t have a clue about sex beyond the most basic facts. And yet in this church, children are expected to divulge their “sins” regarding “self abuse”… also known as masturbation. Imagine you’ve spent your whole youth being taught that sexual stimulation is sick and wrong, and self pleasure is “dirty” and improper. And then you are expected to perform sexually on your wedding night. Sure, both parties are going to be nervous. And remember, there’s no liquor on hand to settle one’s nerves… Ugh. Sounds like a nightmare.
I have never made it a secret that I was myself a virgin on my wedding day. It had little to do with religion, though. I never dated much before I met Bill and never met anyone I wanted to have sex with who also wanted to have sex with me. I likely would have had no issues having sex if I’d had a boyfriend other than Bill, who was LDS when we were dating. He had only been with his ex wife and wanted to wait until after our wedding to have sex the first time. As it turned out, we waited until two weeks after the wedding, because just like Ginny in Sixteen Candles, I got my period on my wedding day. Fortunately Aunt Flow waited until after we said “I do” to make her appearance. It was just icing on the cake on a day that was fraught with mishaps. Consider that my husband’s dad, who was also his best man, locked his knees and almost fainted right before we said our vows. Yeah… it was best to just wait. Fortunately, our marriage has been much better than our wedding day was. That’s the way it ought to be.
Anyway, because I’ve been hanging around ex Mormons ever since Bill and I started dating, I’ve gotten to know a lot about the church, even though I have never been a member. I’ve made some exMo friends, read lots of books, and now that Bill’s younger daughter is speaking to him again, have had some direct knowledge in what the church’s teachings on sex can lead to. Actually, in younger daughter’s case, I’m grateful that she waited until she was in her 20s to get married and have babies. But she’s not finished with college, despite being very bright and capable. Her husband recently found a job, but they’ve just spent several very stressful weeks after the birth of their baby girl in July, trying to nail down housing and employment and health insurance… I’m glad she’s at least mature and mostly sensible, but her children are both under two years old. I really hope she gets some contraception and waits a bit before having the next one… or just stops with the two she has.
I sense Dr. Gunter is a curious type. I hope she’ll do more exploration of how religion can really fuck up a person’ sex life and mental health. I was actually pleasantly surprised to see that the people responding to Dr. Gunter also mentioned that this whole “premarital exam” shit is all about the LDS religion and its demands that women be wives and mothers. It’s not that I don’t think it’s a good idea that young women find a gyno that they like and with whom they feel comfortable. I wish I had done that myself. But my first gyno exam horror story, which I’ve already written before, is another rant for another day.
I just think that young women should be empowered to make their own choices about sex, having babies, getting married, and all of that other stuff. And really, the virginal LDS men probably would benefit from counseling about sex before they get married too, if they are going to encourage women to do it. And yeah… the LDS church needs to catch up with us in the 21st century. The premarital exam should not be called a premarital exam, and it should not be done simply because someone is getting married to a man and about to have sex for the first time. The exam should be about health, promoting well-being, and responsible caregiving. You know, like any other physician’s visit should be, for men AND women.