Why Standards Night Is Substandard:
Teaching Sexuality to the Young Women

By Kathryn Soper

Kathryn SoperA recent media spotlight on the topic of female sexuality* revealed that the model of sexuality currently used in popular science and culture is consistently accurate for men but not for women. Reportedly this straightforward model, which presumes attraction to only one gender that emerges early in life and doesn't change over time, cannot account for the wide variety and complexity in women's reported sexual experience -- an inadequacy I'll be researching and writing about over the coming year. Here let me address a related inadequacy apparent in the model of emerging sexuality we typically use in the youth programs of the Church. Although well-intentioned, our default model is biased toward male experience and fails to address the multi-faceted needs of all our youth, especially our young women.

Our standards nights and chastity lessons usually focus on the dangers of strong sexual desire. Predictably, we exhort young men to bridle their libidos, which we describe as wild beasts that must be restrained until domestication in marriage, and we caution young women to avoid arousing and indulging the young men -- tempting the beast out of its cage, so to speak.

It's a troubling model for a number of reasons, but I'll address just one:  by focusing on physiological motivators for teenage sex, we completely overlook significant psychological motivators. This oversight shortchanges all youth, and exacerbates the risk of young women's needs flying under the standards night radar completely. After dismissing libido as a serious issue for them (which may be a mistake in and of itself), we turn their attention to assisting their male peers without even considering other compelling reasons for sexual behavior. In our outreach we miss the mark by emphasizing virtue, modesty, and chastity without considering what might motivate a young woman to eschew the same.

While the issue of runaway lust dominates our cultural discourse on morality for youth, LDS leaders have taught a more nuanced perspective on motivations for sexual behavior. In an address about the law of chastity, President Ezra Taft Benson said:

I recognize that most people fall into sexual sin in a misguided attempt to fulfill basic human needs. We all have a need to feel loved and worthwhile. We all seek to have joy and happiness in our lives. Knowing this, Satan often lures people into immorality by playing on their basic needs. He promises pleasure, happiness, and fulfillment.

Admirably this quote goes beneath the surface behavior we're quick to demonize and acknowledges that sexual transgression doesn't necessarily stem from overwhelming sexual desire. While this may hold true for any person, it surely holds true for young women whose sexuality is barely awakened. To put it simply, thirteen-, fourteen-, and fifteen-year-old girls don't have sex because they desperately want sex. They have sex because they desperately want something else. President Benson points out several psychological necessities we mistakenly seek through illicit sex -- love, joy, fulfillment -- and I'd like to point out another, one with particular implications for young women. Since all my material is anecdotal, I'll share my thoughts in the form of a personal essay.