Saturday, July 26, 2008

Mormons: "If it's a sex scene, then it's gratuitous"

Or "I was kidding, yet I was serious..."

Remember way back when I wrote the following in the disclaimer for my atheist sex scene?

Second of all, why did I call this scene "gratuitous"? In a novel called Exmormon, it's naturally an in-joke about Mormonism. Mormons aren't supposed to watch R-rated movies because of all the sex (although the violence is less of a problem for them, as I discussed here), and I'd heard too many people say things like "It would have been a good movie if only they'd cut out that one scene". You don't even have to have watched the film to know what scene they're talking about: it's the sex scene. And, really, whether the scene was integral to the story is irrelevant -- for Mormons, every single story that has a sex scene would be improved by cutting all the sex scenes out.

I'll bet you thought I was just kidding, didn't you?

Well, following the links from some discussion of Angel Falling Softly, I found this gem:

My sister asked me once why I read so many mindless LDS fiction books. My answer to her was that I really hate reading a book, turning the page and being smacked in the face with gratuitus scenes. In LDS fiction, one does not have to worry about that, no matter how insipid the story may be.

Okay, maybe you didn't doubt me to begin with, but I still think it's funny... ;^)


Matt said...

And thus we see how the devil of neo-victorian literary criticism doth cheat them of the precious little pleasure that nature has given them; stealing their souls; carrying them off unto a lake of fiery stupid. Amen.

Togeika said...


I just heard C.L. interviewed on Air America Minnesota. My family joined the Mormons when I was 8. Previously, I was the one to get our family going to church, when in kindergarten, I saw a poster about bible school. I asked my father to take me and he did. We attended that church through my 2nd or 3rd grade and then joined the Mormons.

I was a precocious child. I remember being 5 or 6 and giving commentary on the old testament, which was the topic at that time in bible school.

I was spared a mission because my family was dirt poor. Married at the Ward church in Midland Michigan a week after graduating from H.S., to my H.S. sweetheart. Again, spared marriage in a Temple because we were poor. We were active in the church for a couple years. I took classes in anthropology, archeology and world religion, specifically to answer the deep rooted doubts I had about the book of Mormon.

I thought I was an atheist for a while, but then I found Zen Buddhism (Buddha was a Humanist) and followed that route. Atheism seems like too much of its identity comes from opposing Theism. Buddhism is non-theistic, meaning, it is not based on theism, but is also not opposed to it. At the core of Buddhism is a rational approach.

I came to Minneapolis to study with Dainin Katagiri Roshi on Lake Calhoun. Studied with him for 7 years until his death (was studying to take priest vows), but decided that with Katagiri gone, the center would probably become more "churchy", to study pottery instead. Moved to Japan in 1999 and completed a 3 year apprenticeship. Set up a pottery in Mashiko, Japan and ran that for 5 years. But after 9 years in Japan, I have moved back to Minneapolis.

Okay, enough of an intro. I saw this topic on sexuality and it made me think of something and remembered what Elder once said in a priesthood meeting. There were only three of us and the guy I quote and the other person were college professors. I was a student. He said a single non-Mormon transplant to Salt Lake once said to him, "Mormon girls don't drink beer or coffee. But they screw like bunny rabbits."

I know the sexual repression was heavy, especially having grown up in the '60s. I would have been better off without it.

I am working on a book which is about Craft and Zen.

Eugene said...

But what produces such visceral reactions? I am truly bewildered. It's not like Mormons are ascetics. We chow down on empty calories with the rest of them. Simply because they taste good. (Meaning: for the endorphin rush.) The BYU Bookstore has a big chocolate bar right in the middle of the store. It's like walking through a haze of marijuana smoke. You reflexively start doing slobbering Homer Simpson imitations. They could replace it with a poster of the BYU cheerleaders--naked--and the physiological response (for guys, at least) would be about the same.

Togeika said...


Sexual response is hardwired into us. Refined sugar is a learned taste. I was addicted to sugar, but I have been off sugar since March. At a friends anagama wood firing, earlier this summer, I partook of some heavy duty butter pecan icecream. It literally sent my head spinning. I got sick and could only eat part of what I was served.

I like chocolate, but especially in my college years, there is no comparison between the effects of women and a chocolate bar.

Togeika said...

I forgot to have responses forwarded to my email so I am setting it to do so with this short comment.

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey Matt!!!

lol, working on some new scriptures? ;^)

Hey Lee Love!!!

Nice to meet you!!! If you've been Mormon, I'd like to add you to the Outer Blogness blogroll. Please tell me which of your blogs would be the best one to include on the list. I'd be curious to hear more about your book, and probably Wayne (another ex-Mormon Zen Buddhist) would be interested as well.

Hey Eugene!!!

True, it is a little strange, isn't it? I joked about the chocolate haze in the BYU Bookstore here.

Togeika said...

Thanks for the welcome! I am heading back to Japan for the month of August. I have been busy doing a McKnight Residency at Northern Clay Center and have been neglecting my blogs.

I will start back, maybe concentrating on my blog related to my book when I get back from Japan, so that might be the best one for folks here. Here is the link:

Anonymous said...

I've heard the same line all my life from evangelical Christians. To be honest, I probably said it a few times too. :(

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey Lee Love!!!

Okay, I've added your blog.

Hey Chaplain!!!

Well, sometimes the sex scene really is gratuitous. What I think is funny is that it doesn't even seem to cross their minds that a scene including sex could possibly be integral to the plot or to the character development or pacing, etc.

Stephen said...

I'm not a fan of "fan service" sex scenes. For a while they infested SF, even Charles De Lint wrote one into a novel.

On the other hand, if I hadn't heard about the "controversy" by getting an e-mail from Zarahemla Books, and then getting a second one this morning, I wouldn't have realized that I had missed the sex scenes the first time I read the book (I kind of just edited them out while reading, kind of like forgetting about the panty shots that seem to define Anime).

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey Stephen!!!

Yeah, I'm surprised that book generated such a controversy considering how mild it was. I liked your review, BTW. :D

Anonymous said...

How sad that mormons have been conditioned to think that sex is gratuitous if it appears anywhere but in the bedroom or the bishop's office.


Anonymous said...

"He said a single non-Mormon transplant to Salt Lake once said to him, "Mormon girls don't drink beer or coffee. But they screw like bunny rabbits.""

Every study I've seen says that Mormons are the most likely out of any of the religions studied to delay sexual activity until after marriage.

Also, I don't understand the "I was so poor I couldn't get a temple marriage." Makes no sense.

Togeika said...

On Mon, Jul 28, 2008 at 12:31 PM, Jeremy Jensen wrote:

>Every study I've seen says that Mormons are the most likely out of any of
>the religions studied to delay sexual activity until after marriage.

Can you point to the studies? My graduate education is in marriage counseling and sexuality.

If it is related to the reports of the people in the studies and not by third party evidence, it may be that Mormons are more shameful about their sexuality than other groups. The ability to fudge factual data goes back to their belief unsupportable history in their scripture.

> Also, I don't understand the "I was so poor I couldn't get a temple
> marriage." Makes no sense.

Unless you were "dirt poor", it would be hard to understand. ;^)

I baptized my wife some months before we were married. Married a week after H.S. graduation and started college 2 weeks later and got two jobs, one a week and the other 2 weeks after that. There was no way we could afford a trip from Michigan to a Temple.

I was already ambivalent about the church since H.S. I was especially disturbed by their stance, at the time, on African-Americans and the priesthood. I wanted to avoid Temples and Missions at any plausible excuse.

Here is something else you might find interesting: One of my mother's relief society home teachers had an affair with my father and that caused my folks to separate and eventually divorce. My mother had to go to Japan to get permission from her older brother.

Ahh! repressed sexuality and the Mormons.

Kate Woodbury said...

I'm not sure I understand the difference between being upset about all those repressed Mormons and being upset about gratuitous sex scenes. Both are demands that people respond in one particular way to sex; too, the accusation of repression is such a de rigueur statement when it comes to sex, my usual reaction is, well, who is it this week? (Pull a name out of the hat.)

I'm afraid that repressed or not--and despite being a good Mormon girl and now a good older Mormon woman, I don't actually consider I am--I consider repression, to a degree, one of the roles of society. The unrestrained man or woman is not the most trustworthy and helpful member of a functioning society. I saw too many truly messed up (but completely unrepressed) teenage girls when I worked at a counseling clinic in Washington to buy that argument for very long. And I'm Camille Paglia feminist enough to believe patriarchal societies, with all their repression, are preferable environments for women than anarchies.

True, there is a strain of Victorianism within Mormon society, but whether those criticizing Angel's sexual content (who I disagree with and respond to on Eugene's blog) are Victorians, I have no idea. (Victorianism is also usually painted in clich├ęd terms.) It seems to me that sex is as variable within Mormonism as it is anywhere—if a culture doesn't talk about something, that really doesn't mean much, and if part of the culture overreacts, well, my Master's program was filled with overreacting people, and none of them were Mormons (except me). Insisting on certain responses in certain situations is par for the course within any social/institutional structure--conservative, liberal, religious, or not. Evolutionarily speaking, insisting on specific responses and holding certain expectations may actually provide a necessary social role. Granted, I had a hard time remembering that when people in my Master's program insisted on extolling the concept of the perfect matriarchal society.

Rebecca said...

I think you have to have your priorities pretty skewed to think that reading something insipid is more spiritually and intellectually beneficial than a book with a sex scene.

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey Tom!!!

lol ;^)

Hey Lee and Jeremy!!!

Here's my (totally non-scientific, evidence-free) impression: I think that Mormon girls have less sex than non-religious girls, but more sex than you might expect (given how chaste they claim to be). Thus the origin of the various proverbs about Mormon girls being easy.

Hey Kate!!!

Good points. BTW, I didn't say I was upset by Mormon repression, and I've never said that having as much sex as possible is always good. If you read my novel Exmormon, you'll see that I portray sexuality as neither always good nor always bad, but rather as a serious subject that should be considered carefully.

As far as this post is concerned, as usual I tease out of fondness for the Mormon community. I realized this one was a little borderline as I was writing it -- and I try not to make a nuisance of myself in the Mormon lit community -- but I just thought this assumption that a sex scene must inherently be "gratuitous" was just too funny not to mention it, especially because it echos the joke I put in my own novel. In my book's case, the way sexuality mixes with religion is a major theme, so the three sex scenes are central to the story.

I hope my LDS friends will be willing to see this post in the light-hearted spirit in which is was intended. Remember: I wouldn't be reading and commenting on your blog if I didn't think it was interesting! (On that note, I've read some of your posts on Twilight and find them quite amusing and insightful.)

As far as Eugene's book is concerned, I think more of the complaints were about the theology than about the sex. I only commented on the sex part, though, because I thought it was funnier. ;^)

Hey Rebecca!!!

Good point!! Especially since if the scene really is "gratuitous", then -- as Stephen pointed out -- it's not hard to see it coming and skip it.

Kate Woodbury said...

Hi, C.L.! I should have clarified: I took your post as lighthearted :) I guess my post was more of a general grumble. (If you ever want to put yourself through reading my thoughts about my master's program, I grumble constantly about people associating groups with certain behaviors; in retrospect, I'm not sure what I expected my fellow students to say.)

I do think the business of splitting gratuitous scenes from non-gratuitous scenes can get oddly technical. I wonder sometimes if referring to the sex scene just makes it easier to respond. When our bookclub leader decided we wouldn't read The Notebook because of the, rather innocuous but detailed, love scene, I think she used the love scene as an excuse. She prefers non-fiction (we read The Year of Living Biblically last--very funny, self-deprecating book); pinpointing the sex scene in The Notebook was just a useful way of avoiding a paper thin plot with cut-out characters.

Not that that applies to Eugene! (Or romances in general !)

Sandra said...

To clarify- I did not say that reading an insipid novel was more spiritually satisfying. That was not my objection at all.
Whether it invaded a "spiritual panic room" or not is also not the issue. None of you here know me personally but yet you feel that you can make judgements on my prudishness, victorianism, sexual feelings etc. and it is open season because I don't see eye to eye with you on this book. However, why am I not allowed the same measure of opinion on a book I have read?
And by the way, I am not a prude and I do not believe that all sex scenes are gratuitous. But then if you knew me then you would have known that.
I had a lot more issues with the book than the sex scenes but yet everyone seems to ignore them and go after the sex. Why is that? Because you are men? Because that is what you are programed to see? Because that is the only issue you can find to flog me with?
How sad.

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey Kate!!!

Re: I do think the business of splitting gratuitous scenes from non-gratuitous scenes can get oddly technical.

Very true, and it's complicated by the fact that sometimes there are clear, objective factors to separate integral from gratuitous, and in other cases it may be in the eye of the beholder...

Hey Sandra!!!

Thanks for stopping by with your response. As I said in my first comment to Kate (above), I was hoping this post wouldn't be taken as mean -- it wasn't meant that way -- but I realized when I was writing this post that it was a little borderline, and there was potential for offense. So I'm sorry if this joke goes a little too far.

And you're right that I don't know you. But there's a way to remedy that, even if we've gotten started on the wrong foot. ;^)