There’s at least one remaining issue for some Latter-day Saints with the new “For the Strength of Youth” guidelines: mixed messages on sex.
Many teens and adults in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are celebrating the new values-based direction on dating, friendship, sexuality, eternal relationships and more spelled out in the 2022 pamphlet.
Some argue, though, that the new approach still seems to be sending conflicting signals on sex and sexuality.
The original set of standards was published amid the countercultural ‘60s, when many of that generation’s young people were expressing their independence from so-called traditional clothing, hairstyle and behavioral norms — including some at church-owned Brigham Young University.
Through the years, the pamphlet, widely distributed by church leaders, provided a checklist of some do’s and lots of don’ts — facial hair and masturbation for men (don’t), two earrings, two piece swimsuits and bare shoulders for women (don’t), tattoos or premarital " passionate kissing” for either (don’t). It also described what music, language, films and friends to avoid.
The new guidelines focus instead on general principles and encourage young Latter-day Saints to make their own choices about their behavior that match their understanding of those values.
“It’s a much more positive and encouraging message,” “Elisa” writes on the Wheat & Tares blog, “than ‘don’t screw up, or it’ll ruin your life.’”
Even so, the pamphlet continues to warn against the dangers of pornography, which it defines as “a representation, in pictures or words, that is designed to arouse sexual feelings.”
That definition is “imprecise and confusing,” Elisa adds. “An attractive person in a perfectly appropriate photo or film, or chaste but romantic song lyrics, or any other number of things could ‘arouse sexual feelings.’”
Such a wide approach could cause “more harm than good,” she warns, “particularly in people who struggle with scrupulosity and shame around sexual feelings.”
Elisa wonders “how we can say that we must avoid sexual feelings at all costs…while at the same time saying that sexual feelings are sacred and God-given.”
As long as the church continues to tell members “to suppress their sexual feelings,” she speculates, “the problems of sexual shame in the church are not going anywhere.”
Then there’s the church’s stance that having same-sex attractions is not a sin but acting on them is.
“The pamphlet is contradictory when it says that sex is an important part of God’s plan, but then restricts it for a certain group of people,” 16-year-old Utahn Auden Smith says. “Knowing people in this circumstance, it is so hard for them to feel as though they belong in the church. This pamphlet validates their feelings, but feelings are meant to be acted upon.”
LGBTQ issues aside, Auden is excited about the pamphlet’s new tack.
“I love the questions section of the pamphlet because it doesn’t make you feel bad for having complicated questions,” she says, “but instead makes you feel seen.”
It emphasizes that “choices should be partly based on your relationship with your Heavenly Parents,” she says. That provides “a scaffolding that you can build your testimony around.”
Read the full story on the new “For the Strength of Youth” pamphlet.