The Pleasures of Board and Bed, or Gluttony and Concupiscence

June 5, 2004 | 22 comments

I found an article on aging in a waiting room magazine. Some scientists, it turns out, put mice and other creatures on tight rations, for ineffable scientific reasons, only to discover that the mice et al. lived longer and healthier. The side effects were small stature and, here the article sounded a grim note, diminished sex drive. No one knows how whether Man gets similar health benefits—studies are underway!—but a few souls have put themselves on the straitened dietary regimen in advance of the science. The writer talked to them about their efforts. They took him through their schedule. Lemon tea here, a little salmon here, plain yogurt, nothing after lunch, and so on. They admitted it was hard. Well OK, but what about your sex lives, the reporter asked? Great, great, never been better. You bet. Sometime later I thought to wonder why sacrificing the pleasures of food for longer life is reasonable, even admirable, but sacrificing frequent sex is unthinkable.

Narrowly understood, food serves as fuel for our bodies. Narrowly understood, sex serves for procreation. Yet even strict Catholics will permit sex that seeks the pleasure while trying to avoid the procreation. They call it natural family planning. (We ourselves either say that couples must find out for themselves the rule on whether couples can try to avoid procreation or else that there is no general rule). True, sex isn’t merely pleasure and procreation. Sex is union, in some way bearing the same relationship to the marriage covenant that the sacrament bears to baptism. But eating is also more than sustenance and physical pleasure. Eating is conviviality, I think, and a way of consummating a relationship with the earth and all the lower creations. I fail to see why else it would give us pleasure. If the similarity holds, then perhaps even in marriage sex is an appetite that should not be overindulged. Perhaps wiser heads than mine will answer.

I’ve been thinking about the commentary on the last gay marriage post and reduced my thoughts to a final comment. As Nate O. would say, boy, we’re a sexually obsessed bunch.

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22 Responses to The Pleasures of Board and Bed, or Gluttony and Concupiscence

  1. Julie in Austin on June 5, 2004 at 2:49 pm

    Some interesting issues here.

    (1) I’m Italian, and the place that food plays in the family culture makes _My Big Fat Greek Wedding_ look like a Fast Sunday morning. Food (quality and role) in Mormon culture is generally abysmal. (Anyone read _Saints Well Seasoned_? A nice little book.) We do just about nothing with the wonderful ‘banquet’ or ‘wedding dinner’ imagery.

    (2) You write, “perhaps even in marriage sex is an appetite that should not be overindulged.” An informal survey of my contemporaries would reveal that the opposite is the problem. Somehow those dating dreams of, well, you know, get lost in a haze of little kids, lack of energy, etc., etc.

    (3) I’m sure you have heard people tout that study (help me out on the details) that showed that (high priests? in CA?) lived on average 7 years longer than their non-active LDS counterparts. This is always bandied about that ‘evidence’ in favor of the Gospel in general or the Word of Wisdom or something. I always wonder: if the goal of earth life is to get back to the presence of God, wouldn’t an additional seven years of life be something of a failure? Maybe not, but I always wonder why longevity is touted.

  2. Kaimi on June 5, 2004 at 3:14 pm

    If you go to the Chastity, Sex and Marriage category and look at the authors, you’ll see:

    Adam-Adam-Adam-Julie-Adam-Gordon-Adam-Kaimi-Nate-Adam-Adam-Gordon-Greg A.-Gordon-Kaimi-Linda-Kaimi-Kaimi-Kaimi-Kaimi-Matt-Matt-Kaimi-Gordon-Kaimi-Adam-Matt-Matt-Kaimi-Russell-Kaimi

    So it looks like you, me, Gordon and Matt are the sex-obsessed ones; everyone else is pretty normal. :)

  3. Jack on June 5, 2004 at 3:22 pm

    Any virtue may be overindulged. I once gave up playing basketball three times a week because I could no longer shrug off the guilt for not using my time in the morning for more “virtuous” pursuits. So I started going to temple three times a week instead. The result was rapid weight gain and begrudged temple attendance.

  4. ronin on June 5, 2004 at 3:36 pm

    what about us single guys who havent been able to find a Worthy Sister yet to go to the Temple with, eh?

  5. Adam Greenwood on June 5, 2004 at 4:34 pm

    Whenever Julie S. wishes to show us the real quality and role of food (quality I agree with some, role not so much) I will gladly try to learn by tasting, and preferably sooner rather than later. Oh dear, I slavering.

    Jack is probably right that sexual overindulgence, if there is such a thing, is not a common temptation for marriages among the Saints. I suppose I was asking a more abstract question about whether we see a difference between varieties of physical appetite (one could add, say, drink and tobacco to the list and try to explain the different treatment of them). Julie adds the interesting question whether prolonged life is really a saintly goal.

  6. Jack on June 5, 2004 at 6:26 pm

    Adam: I think it was Julie who suggested that there isn’t a problem with sexual overindulgence in LDS marraiges. I agree, generally (though [grin] I would ask if the first year of marraige is included in the informal survey)

    The question for me is, when does a physical appetite (or seeking to satisfy it) become destructive rather than edifying. The trees in the Garden of Eden were both pleasing to the eye and good for food. It seems that our very design positions us for fullfillment of both needs and wants.

  7. Jack on June 5, 2004 at 6:42 pm

    Ronin: Don’t give up! you’ll appreciate the–uh–er–”union” (as Adam put it[and I agree]) that much more for the waiting.

  8. Ronin on June 5, 2004 at 8:58 pm

    Brother Jack – thanks for the encouragement!!! :) :) Though, I must say, pickings are rather slim in Ann Arbor!!!! Wish me luck, will ya?

  9. JL on June 6, 2004 at 4:35 am

    What do you mean by ‘worthy sister’? What makes one worthy of consideration for future matrimonial ‘unions’? Surely there are more women in Ann Arbor wards than there are men.

    (Just a single sister wondering what it takes to get ‘found’ and be considered ‘worthy’)

  10. Ronin on June 6, 2004 at 2:28 pm

    JL- unless one is in the University YSA Ward, there are more single men here than there are single sisters. By “worthy” I meant folks who hold a current Temple Recommend. I did not mean to imply “worthy” meant anything else beyond that.
    Sorry if i came off as implying otherwise.

  11. Julie in Austin on June 6, 2004 at 4:12 pm


    Interesting definition. It seems that in a group of single LDS men and women, the men would be far more likely to hold current temple recs., being more likely to be RMs, than the women. Any woman who hasn’t served a mission might be totally worthy, with no recommend. Perhaps you could broaden your definition to temple-worthy women.

  12. JL on June 6, 2004 at 6:38 pm

    Ronin, Wow, I’ve honestly never heard of there being more single men than women in a ward. Maybe I should move to Michigan.

  13. spencer on June 7, 2004 at 1:56 am

    I’m getting married in a month and a half and to tell you the truth I’ve been thinking about this issue a lot. I have so many questions about what is ok and what is not. I’ve found it helpful reading a book about intamacy in marriage. Putting the gospel spin on things has really helped me to understand everything as well as not be totally preoccupied with my wedding night.

  14. wendy on June 7, 2004 at 2:07 am

    spencer — there’s not a book out there that knows what is “ok” and not “ok” in marriage. loosen up, play it by ear and have fun — that’s my advice. sex isn’t a sacrament, and God presumably has better things to do than watch the two of you go at it, so don’t be shy!

  15. spencer on June 7, 2004 at 3:33 am

    Thanks Wendy.

  16. Gary Cooper on June 7, 2004 at 10:36 am

    Julie in Austin,

    One reason longevity is touted is the desire to see one’s grandchildren, great-grandchildren, etc. I know this is a major motivator for me.

  17. Steve Evans on June 7, 2004 at 11:30 am

    Wendy, you perv.

    In MY house, sex IS a sacrament.

  18. D. Fletcher on June 7, 2004 at 11:40 am

    So, Steve, are we to believe that you and Sumer sing a hymn before…indulging?

  19. Gary Cooper on June 7, 2004 at 12:15 pm

    And now that I’ve responded to Julie’s question on longevity, let me wade into some of the other issues this post raises (thanks to Adam for being able to create an interesting post on marriage of the *heterosexual* kind–:)).

    Spencer, I was thirty three years old when I married my lovely companion, which is a little longer of a wait than most members I know. Yes, it was definitely worth the wait :)). Here’s some advice:

    1. Resolve right away, in prayer with Heavenly Father, that you are going to always place your wife’s needs and desires first and foremost on this subject (you should do that anyway on all subjects). A simple dedication to *serve* your wife, rather than serve yourself, goes a long way towards preventing and/or solving any problems.

    2. You need to tell your fiancee, or write it in a little love note for her to read a day or two before your wedding, about your resolution in #1 above. Such a conversation or letter does *not* need to go into great detail (after all, you’re not married yet, so please don’t quote to her from The Song of Solomon). Just let her know that, with regard to the sexual relationship in your marriage, you want her to know that you will always strive to place her needs first, because she will be your Eternal Friend (or whatever other expression you two use for each other). If you think you’re nervous, imagine how she feels. Letting her know that she really is number 1 in everthing, especially in the conjugal relationship, will help a great deal.

    3. I don’t know how helpful “intimacy in marriage” manuals may be, but please make sure you have at least a basic understanding of female anatomy. I found my mother’s old nursing school medical texts were very helpful. The dry, surgical prose of such texts were never a danger of corrupting me, and just knowing how all the parts are supposed to work, etc. was helpful. (My wife tells me that several sisters she knows from Church have told here they had trouble with their husbands on their wedding nights because their men had almost no understanding of the female anatomy at all, and no understanding of how female response is supposed to operate, etc.)

    4. After you’re married, communicate, communicate, communicate. Let her know that you want her to always feel comfortable being able to discuss anything with you, whether it be problems, suggestions, etc., and that you want to be able to talk to her, also. Discuss with her what ways she would most feel comfortable with as far as *how* to communicate, and then make sure you to do, in fact, communicate in the way she has told you she prefers. It may be that your wife would be more at ease with expressing things in a note, and then talking afterwards, as opposed to just coming right out and saying something.

    5. Before you get married, talk to your physician. There’s no reason to be bashful about such a conversation, especially if you have never had any sexual experience. As men get older, various health issues can affect their conjugal relationship with their wives (such as diabetes, high blood pressure, etc.), and it won’t hurt a bit to talk to him and get some advice. Don’t be surprised if he gives you some samples of viagra or cialis, etc., as the manufacturers of these prescriptions give huge numbers of these to doctors. Go ahead and accept the samples—if you don’t have any trouble on your wedding night you can always throw them away.

    Ronin—I understand your predicament, it’s one of the reasons I was thirty-three when I married, and had to travel over 6000 miles to a different culture to find my soulmate. We have a growing phenomenon in the Church that I never thought I’d live to see—increasing numbers of single, worthy, available men who are not marrying, not by choice, but by circumstance. I had to meet my wife through a marriage agency because, at 33 years of age, I was well established in my career, a faithful member of the Church, making good money—and totally without prospects. I had had plenty of serious relationships, but the LDS girls I dated kept dropping me (often to go on to marry non-members, inactive members, etc.). This is a uniquely American phenomenon, the spectacle of “nice” LDS girls rejecting decent LDS men, but falling head over heels for men they should not be dating and marrying, in some strange desire to “save” them. I digress here, but my wife (who is Peruvian) would be the first to suggest to you that there are *plenty* of nice LDS girls in Latin America, so please don’t limit your horizons to Ann Arbor!

    Now to address the main point of Adam’s post, is it possible for the conjugal relationship in marriage to “run amok”—to become “overindulged”? Well, sure, I’ve heard of such, even in LDS homes. I once had an LDS army buddy tell me that he and his wife once tried to watch a “p*rn” video as a way to “spruce” up their love life (guess who’s idea THAT was—yeah, it was his). I think that’s way beyond the pale (and in fact he says his wife and he felt so terible after doing that). Likewise, when couples start doing things that are physically harmful or dangerous, involve breaking the commandments (like watching “p*rn” or lusting after other people, etc.), then something is clearly wrong. Interestingly, though, such problems are far more likely to occur in irreligious couples, studies have shown. In fact, most of the studies I’ve seen have consistently shown that the one group of people who are most satisfied with their sexual relationship are married devout Christians. How about that!

  20. danithew on June 7, 2004 at 2:39 pm

    I saw a minor debate/joking round about sex being a sacrament and I wonder if that has anything to do with how often some couples “partake”? (grin) I guess it’s ok as long as you are focused on the at-one-ment.

    Spencer, it’s a good idea to be sensitive to your wife’s needs and feelings. Some husbands are not. My sister had a couple of friends who were coming over to her place to visit a lot in the weeks after their marriages. They were basically hiding out from their husbands because their husbands were completely enthusiastic and enthralled with the experience of sex but these new wives were in *pain*! My sister was kind of chuckling about this but at the same time it was sad that these wives were afraid to be in the house when the husband first came home.

    Be kind, make sure your wife is having fun (put her first) and you’ll have fun too.

  21. Adam Greenwood on June 7, 2004 at 9:02 pm

    Wendy’s advice is good, but there’s no doubt that for the Lds sex IS a sacrament. We’re just pretty casual about our sacraments is all.

  22. Steve Evans on June 7, 2004 at 9:45 pm

    OK, this can spawn SOOOOO many jokes, so let me get first crack.

    “there’s no doubt that for the Lds sex IS a sacrament” — Is that why it’s done once a week?

    “there’s no doubt that for the Lds sex IS a sacrament” — Is that why, if I don’t get it exactly right, I have to start completely over?

    “there’s no doubt that for the Lds sex IS a sacrament” — Is that why my wife keeps looking at her watch?

    That’s all for now…


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