If sex were rational, or if it were truly designed as the precious capstone to a relationship of emotional intimacy and commitment solemnized by covenant, then this scenario, or most of it, would be easily obtainable by simple obedience to the right instructions and a bit of patience. But it isn't, and so it isn't. Marriage and family life seethe under the surface with fearsome feelings and forces that are free to play people like puppets. Meanwhile, Mormons keep on acting as if that ideal were the norm, propping up an image that can probably only be integrally achieved by less than a tithe of us. For the rest, it's the same game of keeping up appearances, papering over cracks and clinging to the hope that One Day It Will All Work Out.
LDS sex therapists try to broaden the template. They mean well, even if their scriptural exegesis is sloppy (why should that be a surprise?). But saying “God wants you to enjoy sex in marriage, so be a good girl and go get it on!” adds yet another commandment to keep, one more item on the fabled checklist.
I believe in respect as the foundation to every right human relationship. This leads to difficult questions about marriage: is not the allowance for sex the main thing that sets marriage apart from all other relationships? Some might say it's the only thing. Friends and siblings can share emotional intimacy and close bonds all through their lives. People can manage a household together without any sexual relationship. Business partners of the opposite sex might get advice to be careful around each other, but the act of managing the business together won't get them in trouble from the Church. Marriage can include child care, household management and emotional intimacy, but within the Law of Chastity what really sets it apart from other relationships is the allowance for sexual relations and the expectation of procreation.
If a bachelor/spinster pair of brother and sister ought not to presume to pervert God's plan by raising children together, then the Church ought to condemn the bad example in Anne of Green Gables (you can imagine how that would go over!).
I say again: if sex were simply like a forklift that you had to get a license to operate, and then only used it when you saw that there were pallets that needed to be moved, then this wouldn't make such problems in building marriages into mature relationships of mutual respect and emotional intimacy. But I dare say for most people sex is not like a forklift, not like a jet airliner that you fly with proper credentials in the authorized paths. It is the proverbial itch, it is right there in the body, and it calls to the brain like an addiction, even if you haven't indulged it.
It is a problem.
A popular anecdote has a new bride telling her mother “I'm at the end of my troubles” and her mother responding “Yes, but which end?” Well, it's true, and the biggest trouble (besides children) is sex. And telling young people that sex is a beautiful gift that God gave you to save for your marriage will not solve the problem any better than the old hushed shame messages that sex is bad.
Under the Law of Chastity, the marriage bed is your only chance: a man is expected to govern his behavior, but even so his wife unavoidably, undeniably holds the key to the only authorized outlet for his urges (unless, along with the more progressively-minded, you think he – and she – have the right to go and fap). Her consent or refusal carry tremendous weight: all his self-governing in public, all his self-denial, all the chances he ever could have had with any other woman and gave up. How terrible for a Mormon wife to contemplate: that my sweet husband could harbor such base feelings, that he should have any lingering feelings about sex with anyone else but me!
But this is sex we're talking about! There should be no surprise in uncovering even the most bizarre or depraved fantasies in the mind of your Temple-married companion. Sex is bewildering, chaotic and amoral. Even in the most dedicated and respectful husband those refused opportunities exact their toll somewhere in the unconscious. He risks much whenever he approaches his wife with that look in his eye: will he be strong enough to resist the effects of humiliation this time? Next time? Let's be clear: right now I'm not talking about a husband forcing his wife. I'm referring to the well-known, well-attested pain and resentment that are made the sharper for a man with some sensitivity, by his shame for having such boorish feelings. Who to blame for this brew of emotions: his wife, womankind, God? Himself?
How should we blame ourselves for our feelings? These feelings may be seen as sinful, fought and denied as sinful, but they are not Satanic perversions of the purity of God-given sex. They are natural products of human sexuality, which does not of itself induct us to respect our fellow beings.
I would go so far as to propose this: as long as husbands and wives hear from the pulpit that God gave men sexual urges to motivate them to marry, the wives will feel obligated to attend to their husband's needs in order to keep them happy or simply to keep them. At least the leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints have taught against husbands making boorish demands (though there is little means for enforcement or even investigation), and have given no justification for men to cheat. The Church is not as misogynistic as fundamentalist protestantism. But as long as this doctrine persists of the sex urge as God's plan for luring men into family life, the inescapable corrolary must always be that the husband has the right to expect this incentive as his due. And that means an obligation to the wife. They may moderate that by setting boundaries as to how often, when and where, they may assert their rights to refuse when they really don't feel like it, but underneath will lurk that sense of obligation and their husbands' entitlement. Whether you call it a socially-constructed need or entitlement or whatever else makes little practical difference.
Duty and obedience teach a woman that her man's demands to satisfy him are appropriate. It is modern, enlightened self-respect and self-love that teach a woman that sexual and other demands are inappropriate, even if she ceases to regard her vagina as the most sacred part of her body. Self-love awakens her to know that – contrary to the laws in the Good Old Days – her body is not her husband's property. Nor is he the vicar in managing God's claims on her body. God's claim on our bodies as the dust of the earth (Mosiah 2:25) and Christ's purchase of a soul have to be kept between an individual and God alone, which makes it practically indistinguishable from each individual's absolute right to ownership of her or his own body. After all, we are taught that each spirit is a child of God with divine potential and will be reunited with the body in the resurrection. If a person recognizes any ownership over her or his body other than his or her own Self, then sexual, social and political oppression are inevitable.
I believe that an insistence of the Self as the sole owner of one's body is compatible with a notion of ownership by God – indeed, is synonymous with it – if we are willing to stand by our belief in our divine nature and potential.