In honor of the upcoming religion-themed Diabolique Charity Fetish Ball, Sexploratorium is launching a brand new column that we hope to publish monthly called Religious Sex where we explore the releationship between sexuality and religious/spiritual practice. If you or somebody you know would like to be interviewed or who would like to contribute any (positive) essay on a topic relating sex and spirituality, email us.
This month, we interviewd Dr. Melissa Jones.
Sexologist Melissa Jones was born and raised in Provo, Utah and now lives in San Antonio, Texas with her husband and three children. She is a clinical sexologist and sexuality educator with a special affinity for working on issues pertaining to faith and sexuality. We met Melissa at the Momentum Conference on sexuality and feminism, where we arranged an interview for the Sexploratorium Blog.
How did religion and religious teachings influence your childhood? I was raised, and still am, Mormon, (also known as The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints). My upbringing was based on a socially conservative understanding of the Bible and the basic tenets of this Christian religion. Apart from the general Christian doctrines of my religion, I was impacted by the social framework of my culture, which, like many conservative Christian societies, rarely discusses sex and its expression, and then only in negative terms.
What was the first religious message you received about sex? How did that impact your life at the time? I first recall being taught that sex was a sin, that once engaged in, we are a wilted flower that no one will want. My understanding was that the damage was a result of sex in general, not a specific expression—that any sexual expression was wrong and that all expressions were equally wrong. Packaging all sex as evil sets the stage for a necessary future unraveling of that conundrum.
What is your current system of religious/spiritual beliefs? How does that influence or how is that influenced by your sexual outlook/attitudes? My current religious beliefs are still those of my religion, but they are based more firmly on the core doctrines rather than a cultural interpretation. At its center, my religion holds that God is our creator, that His son Jesus Christ set the example and atoned for us that we might find joy in this life and in the life hereafter, and that inspired prophets continue to teach us this message. As we move out from these central doctrines, the application and outgrowth of these teachings varies according to situation and understanding. I have come to understand and believe that sex within a marriage is a central component to God’s design for our happiness and that a lack of its full expression is contrary to his plan. I believe that “sex is natural – sex is good, not everybody does it, but everybody should (at the right time and in the right place).”
How have you reconciled your faith with your sexual expression? With your career as a sexologist? I have come to understand that my faith does not stand in opposition to sexual expression and that much of the gulf that divides the two is actually a mirage. There is no real conflict between sexuality and my religious faith. The appearance of conflict within the church is primarily culturally rather than doctrinally derived.
Do you have general advice for others struggling to find spiritual balance with their sexual identity/ practices? Most of the struggle is in your own heart and mind, not with God. Reconcile things with yourself first.
Is there anything else you would like to add? As a clinical sexologist, I work with individuals and couples to help them address sexuality issues and work toward overcoming them. My goal is to do all I can to strengthen and reinforce the marriage bond. Much of what Latter-day Saints learn about appropriate sexuality originates both from church teachings and tradition. Church teachings come from official publications and from the experience and impressions of local leaders.
As an LDS sexologist, experience has shown that the understanding and teaching about sexuality among Latter-day Saints varies widely. Such a disparity may result from a lack of communication and from a variance of traditions and interpretations among members. I am happy to meet with couples or their bishop to answer any questions about my practice.
Dr. Melissa Jones can be contacted through her website, http://www.mjsexologist.com