*disclaimer: this lesson is geared toward religious youth taught from a conservative framework, people who have likely grown up with the chastity expectations upon which this lesson is based. Thus this post may not be universally applicable to non-religiously conservative audiences.
*update* This lesson has grown and changed since August 2016, after giving it to young women and then young men, I merged both versions of the lesson and have delivered the combined lesson below to coed groups with fun success. I wish I’d heard this lesson when *I* was the teenager. Feel free to use it to teach your own. ~ac
I am one of those crazy people who love to talk about potentially uncomfortable topics with a big group of strangers. The Law of Chastity is definitely one of those. I’m sure in this audience we have a wide variety of perspectives – some of you may be young enough you still think boys or girls are kinda gross, and some of you may have decided boys/girls are the total opposite of gross. Some of you are married old parents who can’t remember when it was actually exciting to kiss someone. Some of you may have had intimate experiences that leave you feeling like it’s too late for the law of chastity to apply to you anymore. To that, I say that balderdash. I work as a therapist with teenagers, and most of them have been sexually active and most of my teens have had mild or severe sexual abuse in their lives, and what we’re going to talk about tonight is the very same sort of discussion I have with them.
The blessings that come from the law of chastity apply to everyone. Listen up and I promise you’ll find something for you.
Why do we tell little kids to stay on the sidewalk?
We drill that into them – over and over and over – to protect them. They know we want to protect them. They know it’s good for them. Clearly, our continued emphasis about staying on the sidewalk lets our children know how very important it is. They could repeat “Stay on the sidewalk” in their sleep. BUT, when asked WHY they need to stay on the sidewalk, they might pause a moment longer and say… “So cars won’t hit me.” Yes. Why? “Uh… so I won’t get hurt?” Yes. Why? “Uh… so I won’t die?” Yes. Why? I imagine our young kids would stop being able to explain – and even understanding – somewhere around the hospital or death as the biggest thing they have to be afraid of. They know the basic idea about why it’s important to stay on the sidewalk… but they lack the big, complete, frightening picture about what all the stitches, broken bones, hidden head injury or cracked skulls, brain damage, blood, or possibly life-altering injuries that could happen if they were to get hit by a car… or a truck… or a cement truck. They don’t know that cars can come out of nowhere when you’re busy following a butterfly. They don’t grasp that drivers can’t see little people who are smaller than garbage cans and shorter than cars. SO, we tell them to “just stay on the sidewalk,” hoping our message carries all the fear and risk possible. We don’t go into all the nitty gritty risks every time we send them out to ride bikes. We just say, “Stay on the sidewalk!”
The same thing happens with the law of chastity. We’re told to follow and obey, and promised it will bless us, without going into all of the reasons how and why it’s good for us beyond obedience and expectation. So we know we’re supposed to follow the law… but why does that law even exist?
In my day and age, our chastity lesson would probably be a leader up here, listing all the good, obedient, divine reasons that keeping ourselves pure was important. It would be a little awkward for everybody and we would get the mixed message that physical intimacy was bad, yet good somehow, but overall it’s bad so stay away. I think most chastity lessons today mostly consist of the chastity versions of “Stay on the sidewalk, just trust me, stay on the sidewalk, God will bless you, it’s hard but it makes your life better, stay on the sidewalk.” Which is true. But that explanation is not the whole picture.
“Our Heavenly Father has given us the law of chastity for our protection. Obedience to this law is essential to personal peace and strength of character, and to happiness in the home. As you keep yourself sexually pure, you will avoid the spiritual and emotional damage that always come from sharing physical intimacies with someone outside of marriage. You will be sensitive to the Holy Ghost’s guidance, strength, comfort, and protection.” (True to the Faith, (2004), 29, my emphasis.)
Today I want to help you guys understand some of the bigger picture behind WHY it’s so important to “Stay on the sidewalk,” or follow the law of chastity. Reasons that explain WHY it’s “for your protection” and “essential to personal peace”, and what sort of “emotional damage” you are avoiding by living chastely. Our Heavenly Father loves us and is basically telling us to “stay on the sidewalk” with the law of chastity, because we don’t always grasp all the scary things that can happen and mess up our happiness.
My biggest fear as a teen was having to go talk to a bishop or feeling like I would be damaged if I messed up. (Which, btw, neither of those things are true.) I definitely did not understand the things I’d like to talk about with you today. My hope is that after today, when you hear about the law of chastity, you understand WHY it’s important to you personally.
Before we get into reasons for the law of Chastity, I want to normalize a very important thing: Human Biology.
Testosterone is the hormone that has the biggest influence on sexual desire for both men and women. Testosterone starts showing up in the body during teen years, and guess what – men have much, much more testosterone in their bodies than women, though women have it too and it does influence their thoughts and desires also. But on average, men have sexual thoughts more and sexual desire is a much bigger presence in their daily existence because of their increased testosterone. Not for every guy, and I don’t say that to set out some expectation that this is what it means to “be a man,” but just to normalize what some of you may be experiencing, or soon to experience, and for girls to better understand what’s happening in themselves and their young men friends.
If you believe God created your body, then believe that He created it the way it is – hormones and all! He knows what you’re going through. It’s not a mistake that things are changing for you. It’s not very likely you can start as this innocent baby and 100% turn off the sexual part of yourself for teenage years and then with that “magical event” of your temple wedding, suddenly feel physically confident end emotionally healthy in a sexual relationship.
In this church so focused on sexual purity, having sexual thoughts and desires does not mean you’re sinning. But most of us adults don’t know how to talk about this potentially awkward topic in a non-shaming way, so I bet you mostly hear confusing messages, or the generic message to “follow the law of chastity” (like ‘stay on the sidewalk,’), or “just don’t think about sex,” “stay away,” without being told enough that your growth and development is a healthy thing – a great thing. It is part of God’s plan for bonding you to a person you love and creating a family.
But, like most other things in your life, you get to learn to control this desire.
I need a volunteer – come up here. “When you were little, did you ever bite anybody? (or hit anybody?) Do you do that anymore? Why not? How did you stop?”
You learned as a kid not to bite or hit when you’re angry. As you’ve grown older, you’ve also learned to do things that require self discipline, even when you didn’t really want to (homework – chores) – you know they’re good for you. It’s the same thing with the law of chastity – Following the standard about sexual intimacy is good for you in the long term, and today I’m going to help you understand more about WHY.
There are three main reasons that I see for why following the law of chastity protects us.
[pass out pineapple & say it’s ok to eat right now]
First: Cherish Simple Joys
Elder Eric B. Shumway said “The law of chastity, I testify, is a law of happiness. It is a law that protects the sacred powers of procreation and magnifies the lyrical joys of romantic intimacy in a way that God created, ordained, and blessed.”
I remember the first time I noticed Brad (my now husband, but pretend he’s not yet). I would sit in my office and watch out the window at 2:45 every afternoon as that gorgeous guy walked across the sidewalk in front of my building. That’s it. I would just watch, my stomach fluttering and cheeks burning from blushing. I looked forward to that time every day and I would stop whatever I was doing to enjoy my 60 seconds of excitement. After a little while watching him from a distance wasn’t quite so exciting, but then actually bumping into him on campus and saying hello created the same amount of excitement and sweetness.
Let me explain a concept that’s important to our understanding for a minute.
[draw a long line or post a visual of a long line]
This represents the broad spectrum of romantic interactions. We’re going to start all the way down here with “eye contact.” It’s so exciting at first. All the way at the other end of this continuum is “sex.” I’ll just draw a firework to represent that; minimizing your public discomfort (my daughter doesn’t even like me saying or spelling s-e-x, she says “Can you just say “sleeping together” or “mating” mom?”)
For now I have one thing to say about the sex end of the spectrum – somebody please read:
“Physical intimacy between husband and wife is beautiful and sacred. It is ordained of God for the creation of children and for the expression of love within marriage.” (True to the Faith, (2004), 29.).
This far end of the spectrum isn’t bad, it’s not something that’s so evil we’re preaching against it. Actually, it’s such a *great* thing we want to save and enjoy it at the proper time. A guy friend of mine jokes that he was always taught “Don’t make out, it’s bad,” and then he started kissing girls and he says “It was definitely NOT BAD – in fact it was pretty awesome.” It IS awesome – and it’s worth protecting.
Today we are going to symbolically experience a sweetness continuum to help us experience and understand on a deeper level what I’m talking about.
[tack up the next line]
This is going to represent a sweetness continuum. You’ve been eating pineapple – that fits about here on the spectrum (25%?ish) Even things like “sugar snap peas” are considered sweet, but you don’t really notice it because your mouths are already used to sugar enough you can’t taste it in peas. So today, we start with pineapple.
[pass out grapes to eat]
Grapes are a little sweeter than pineapple. Once you’ve had sweet grapes, how sweet does the pineapple taste? It’s a little more tart, and maybe not as tasty to you. Moving on in the spectrum makes the earlier stages not so sweet. Your taste buds get used to, and desensitized to, the sweetness you have regularly. It’s okay, it’s just what happens.
But in our physical continuum, lets look at what happens. Moving on from exciting new eye contact to talking to that person is moving along the spectrum and also exciting. I could not even look at Brad back in those days without going speechless and my cheeks flushing hot. And moving on – I remember the first time Brad even touched me – I stood in my front doorway telling him goodbye after our first date and he suavely swept me up in an unexpected hug and I could have died right on the spot. Best moment of my life to that point.
[hand out Hershey kisses to eat]
BUT – once you start moving on…
…it may not be the same to go back. How will your grapes, and how will your pineapple taste, after eating this? (Who will try it and see?)
Is this idea making sense? Who is brave enough to re-explain for us the point I’m making with these two continuums?
Elder Shumway in that earlier quote, mentioned that living chastely “magnifies the lyrical joys of romantic intimacy.” That’s fancy speaking; let me define what it means here. When you draw a line of where physical behavior should not go yet, it helps you thoroughly enjoy the innocent sweetness of those early stages. Heavenly Father, by giving us the law of chastity, is giving us a time and a place in our lives to enjoy the sweet, simple pleasures in life. Once you go beyond a safe “affection” zone, biology starts to kick in and you won’t be satisfied – your body wants more and more, and the simple & sweet things aren’t so sweet.
Now Brad hugs me every day and do you think I feel that same excitement every time? [No.] But I’m SO GLAD I have the memory of that earlier excitement to remember and swoon about. Small, simple, innocent pleasures help you build your fascination with the person you will spend the rest of your life with. After you are married and busy with schooling or work, children and running a household, plus after you have moved along on the physical spectrum, it will never be the sweet, tender, enjoyable experience that it is now. Living chastely is for our happiness because it helps us enjoy everything that romance has to offer, not just the big stuff.
Second: Building a Solid Foundation
Is choosing who you are going to spend the rest of your life with a gigantic decision? [Yes!] I am terrified for each and every one of you, and I’m that cynical person who gets wedding invitations in the mail and thinks ‘Ohhh, they are so brave! I hope they can make it.’ I know how important creating a great marriage and a great family is to each of you because you talk about it regularly in our lesson discussions. In other marriage lessons we have realized/decided that a marriage is really more like a best-friendship than a romance. You are building a lifelong friendship with a person you’re also attracted to.
Moving along with our food analogies –
[Display Food Guide Pyramid]
This represents the broad variety of healthy things that make up a solid diet and foundation. These lower levels could represent all the mundane, everyday things that help us learn and grow as individuals, and also later as a couple.
We hang out with guys & girls and date to get to know what qualities we like, and to learn what works well with us – for example whether we work better with someone who is pretty chill and helps us relax vs. someone who is always working and thus motivates us to be better. We need to figure out what annoys us and what inspires us. We start laying the foundation for who we think will be a good partner for us in this awesome life we’re going to create. It takes a lot of interactions in simple (sometimes boring) things like group activities, working side by side, or being around each other’s families, to see what someone’s everyday personality is really like.
[set out vegetables]
Who now, after eating these sweet things we’ve been tasting, would really like to eat some pea pods & asparagus?
Why not? [they don’t taste as good, they’re boring compared to the good things.]
[set out attractive piece of chocolate cake]
-or- Who now, seeing the most delicious dense, dark chocolate cake I know how to make, will be happy eating vegetables when this cake is always right there, almost available? Which one would you prefer?
But how will your body feel if you ate cake, cookies desserts, and sweets all the time? You might feel GREAT! for a day… but how long can that last?
I know – because when I was in college, one week I ate nothing but brownie batter. No joke. I had no mom there, nobody making me follow rules, and I was busy studying for finals, so I kept that brownie batter bowl in the fridge and ate it for days. And I fainted and had a seizure! My body couldn’t run on pure sugar – I tried.
How will a relationship feel if it’s way too physical? How lasting will it be when the physical isn’t exciting anymore? [turn that food guide pyramid upside down] Because yes, even in healthy strong marriages, the physical isn’t always exciting.
“When people care for one another enough to keep the law of chastity, their love, trust, and commitment increase, resulting in greater happiness and unity.” (True to the Faith, (2004), 29).
This quote highlights that following the law of chastity brings us more joy not just because we are loving God more than our own desires, but because God’s law actually paves the way for a couple to know each other, come to trust each other, grow in respect for each other and become unified on important things like this pyramid example shows us. That top part – snuggling, kissing, and all things physical are EASY. Attraction physically is not the same thing as attraction to the lasting parts of somebody’s personality. If you spend too much time in the “sweets” or “physical” category, [gesture to upside down pyramid] your foundation is poor.
Because I’m going all in on these food analogies, let me share with you a profound part of my kid’s latest favorite, “The Bernstein Bears and Too Much Junk Food.” Brother & Sister asked their doctor “About sweets and goodies – what harm do they do?”
“Most of them,” answered the doctor, “aren’t very nourishing. Instead of helping build and strengthen our bodies, they just pile up as extra fat!… And even worse – they fill you up, so you’re not hungry for the food your body really needs.”
If Dr. Grizzly were here in this lesson, she would say “Most physical touch isn’t very nourishing. Instead of spending energy on building a lasting foundation for a relationship, physical intimacy fills up your senses, and then you’re not wanting to do the work you really need to build a good relationship.”
Just like we won’t be as interested in eating healthy things after indulging in sweets, we won’t want to do the mundane work of building a relationship when it’s so much easier to cuddle up and connect physically.
Keeping physical things in their proper place in your co-ed activities and dating helps you keep your focus where it’s healthy – on getting to know the personality and habits of others. It’s actually pretty easy to spend all your time just hanging out until you can start kissing again without really getting to know someone.
Third: Biological Bonding in the Brain
Do you think this chocolate cake is probably delicious?
How delicious will it be if you steal this piece of cake and sneak away to hide & eat it?
Even if it tastes good in your mouth, (because even stolen cake will be delicious for a moment), how long afterward will you be remembering its deliciousness? Or will the guilt about being secretive, and taking what wasn’t yet yours start to overshadow how great it tasted?
[pass out chocolate cake to eat during last section]
I would like you to enjoy a piece of my best cake while you listen to this last little section.
[Show/draw picture of brain with pleasure center highlighted]
Remember that Heavenly Father gave us the law of chastity for our protection and for our happiness. I want to talk about why that’s true at a biological level.
“Remaining sexually pure helps you to be confident and truly happy and improves your ability to make good decisions now and in the future.” (True to the Faith, Sexual Purity).
Let’s look at the biology behind why being chaste protects you, helps you be confident, and truly happy. It’s bigger than just obedience.
When you get to this point in the continuum [gesture to further down like touching, kissing] it starts to engage brain chemicals. It starts up a process we are biologically wired for – in a pure science-y terms, strong physical drives ensure the survival of our species. We are mammals and we share the same biology that mammals do, ensuring offspring. These are powerful desires that are great glue for a marriage relationship – truly, we need each other physically. But opening up that biology gets really messy in other relationships.
There is a bonding chemical called Oxytocin that is released in the brain for attachment & bonding. The highest dose you’ll ever see is when a mother has a new baby and her body floods with Oxytocin to help her bond with and become physically attached to her new child. But another major place we see oxytocin is in a sexual encounter. When a couple is sexual, the brain also releases oxytocin – it bonds couples together and creates a lasting tie. You can see that at a brain level, we really start to become “One” with our spouse, just like the scriptures say. I think it’s so awesome to see at a biological level what Heavenly Father has gifted our bodies with. But you can see why it’s worrisome to start introducing chemical bonding hormones in relationships that aren’t forever.
It’s especially problematic when your heart and body start bonding to someone you might not even know very well on a non-physical level, because you’ve spent your time kissing and cuddling and doing all the “easy” things, skipping right over the important foundations in our pyramid. My advice: don’t do in the dark of Friday night things you wouldn’t be comfortable doing at noon on a Tuesday. THat can be a way to measure how comfortable you are with your foundation with someone. Things in the dark are EASY.
Let me tell you another biological tidbit that explains why keeping physical things in check protects you and helps you make “good decisions.” Women’s bodies are typically more tied to their emotions than men’s bodies, and this is especially true in teenage years. You can see the heartache and heartbreak that happen if a girl and a guy are being physical for different reasons, and bonding starts to happen for one but maybe not the other . Can you imagine the heartbreak possible after you’ve been physically vulnerable with someone? It’s earth shattering enough to get broken up with, or when they don’t text or message back. The law of chastity saves us so much heartache. Waiting to be our most vulnerable until we are married spares us much risk of emotional damage, in addition to making sure our foundation is based on the right things.
There’s somewhere else all this brain chemical stuff is really important to understand. Provocative and arousing images appeal to the high level of desire hormones in your body – it’s NORMAL to feel a reaction, a quickening heartbeat, a curiosity about what seems so tantalizing. But when you act on those impulses, you are opening the door to even more impulses coming. It’s like opening a door in a dam to get a little taste of water – not very smart, and quickly becomes a much bigger deal than you anticipated.
Because this “bonding” stuff in the brain is a BIG DEAL – remember one way to look at it is the glue that helps cement a marriage together, and helps a couple truly NEED each other. Giving in to those impulses in the wrong way actually increases loneliness and dissatisfaction because those bonding chemicals are going toward something hollow – a fake picture, a fake video, a solitary experience. Over time, making a habit of experiencing these bonding chemicals in the wrong place can also mess with the ability to attach to the love of your life. Heavenly Father gave us these bonding powers to help us join together, and his law of chastity is in place to help us protect these awesome superpowers for the right time and person.
So, you’ve got these superpowers that you’re supposed to protect because it will help you be happy, confident, make good decisions, and build a strong relationship later.
“___(same volunteer from earlier)________, if you bit/hit someone today, is it the end of the world?
But should you keep biting somebody when you lose you head and get upset?
What would you do to fix it? [apologize, make a goal not to do it again, plan better for next time]
I think that heavenly Father loves us immensely and cares more about what we’re trying to become, and the goals in our heart and the direction we are heading now, than he cares about our slip-ups. He has this law of chastity in place because he wants us to be happy, not because he wants something to judge us harshly by.
If you feel stuck in a pattern you can’t get out of, or if you’re worried about this subject at all, talk to your parents, to a leader. to the bishop, come find me – we want to help you be healthy and happy. There are lot of adults in your life who love you and understand this bigger picture, and want you to have healthy relationships and a bright future. Let us help you.
You have heard a lot today, and I hope it has made sense. For those of you have experienced a lot of things on this physical continuum, that doesn’t mean it’s too late for you to enjoy the sweetness all over again and the happiness that comes from obeying this law. You could decide right now that you’d rather have a better chance at a healthy foundation for a long lasting relationship, and that you’d like to protect yourself from extra heartache. For any of you that have had sexual things happen whether beyond your choice and control, I want you to know that you’re not alone. I wish I could give you a hug, and let you talk to the many teenagers, and beautiful people of all ages who wear that badge of ‘survivor’ in their life.
To all of you, there is a bright, beautiful future full of sweetness ahead of you. It doesn’t matter what’s happened to you or what choices you have made, I testify that there is sweetness and brightness ahead if you want it. You can choose right now to let the law of chastity protect your future.
To summarize the reasons WHY the law of chastity is good for you personally, tonight we’ve talked about how
1) The law of chastity is for our happiness, not because it’s a test of obedience, but because it truly protects our emotions, our bodies, and our future relationships.
2) Keeping physical things contained lets you cherish the small things, and build a relationship foundation on things that really matter and are long-lasting.
3) Biologically, getting involved physically starts to open powerful doors that start bonding, which can get messy and very vulnerable, so that physical bonding is best left to the safety of a forever commitment.
So, I hope you have this new perspective, but what do you DO with it?
Really quick, let me summarize a whole ‘nother lesson topic: You have the agency to make choices for yourself and stick to them even when it’s hard. If you are committed to a future relationship with a strong foundation, and if you believe that God can keep you happier by staying chaste, then it’s a matter of deciding where your lines are to be drawn and how to keep them there. Just the same way you made a decision and changed behavior not to bite/hit people when you’re angry, you have the ability to make smart decisions about what you want to do with your body in your future.
For example, when I was 28 years old and newly single and dating again, I gave myself a midnight curfew. I didn’t have a mom around, I had my own condo and no roommates to check up on me, but I knew that for my own safekeeping, nothing good happened after midnight when I was tired and cuddly. So I stuck to it. And it blessed me.
Here’s what I want you to do to finish off today – [hand out stationary + envelopes]
1. Write down WHY you want to live the law of chastity. And I want you to write a reason besides “to be obedient.” Obedience is a fabulous reason, but there may come a day where it’s not enough motivation for you. Please think of something personal to you, perhaps that you’ve learned today.
2. Write down WHAT you need to do, or where you need to draw your lines, to have the kind of emotional and physical purity & safety. Because you need your own black & white rules to adhere to when the normal biological side of you is saying “this is awesome, keep going!”
I testify that we have a God who loves us, and wants us to be safe and happy, and He gave us this law for our happiness and protection. I don’t believe physical intimacy is for recreation, I believe that treating it with respect and living the law of chastity will bless our lives and keep us safe and happy.