I'll just start this off with an assertion, and then I'll attempt to explain what I mean.
I think that we place way too much emphasis on sexual sin and make it seem like a much worse transgression than it actually is.
In Alma 39:5 we read that "these things [sexual sins] are an abomination in the sight of the Lord; yea, most abominable above all sins save it be the shedding of innocent blood or denying the Holy Ghost".
This I don't deny. In terms of individual sins, chastity violations are indeed among the worst. I'll quote Spencer W. Kimball from The Miracle of Forgiveness
"All those who have slipped into the disgraceful and most reprehensible habit of transgressing through petting should immediately change their lives, their habits, and their thought patters, repent sorely in "sackcloth and ashes", and by confession get so far as possible
a clearance from the Lord and the leaders of his Church so that a measure
of peace may accompany them through their lives." - p. 67
Before I move along any further, I don't want to rip on this book, as I think it is terrific. I don't want to downplay the seriousness of the sin, but I do want to explain why I think that we don't do the job that we should.
I think the worst of our teachings on this matter concerns the level to which repentance is possible. I know of none within the Church that teach that you cannot repent for these sins. At least, none that teach this explicitly. I think when we talk about lost purity, lost virtue, lost chastity, and lost dreams, we inadvertently communicate the idea that sexual sin is, if not unrepentable, certainly unforgettable. In The Miracle of Forgiveness
, Kimball explicitly discusses a couple that he spoke with that actually thought that because of their sexual transgression, they would be excluded from the celestial kingdom forever, no matter what. To his credit, the couple left his office with a much happier notion of truth. But the language used above is very similar to what we hear too frequently: "as far as possible" and "a measure".
People will say and teach things such as "you can never get your virginity back". That's true. But it's a lie. The value of virginity is not in being a virgin (or nobody would be able to have sex), but in being chaste (keeping the law of chastity). Repentance and the Atonement would offer no solace if remaining free from sin were not a major step toward being rid of the guilt and hardships that sin brings.
Another area where I think we mess up is in the realm of the seriousness of the sin itself as compared to other things. I mention earlier that, on an individual basis, sexual sin is worse than nearly anything you can do. But is having sex with a consenting, nonmarried adult (presuming that you are one yourself) worse than hating someone for a long period of time? Is it worse than not helping those that need you for no reason other than selfishness? Is it worse than placing the things of the world above the things of God as a lifelong habit? None of these, as an individual thought, feeling, or action stack up to sexual sin. But as a pattern, I think they're much worse.
Consider this: what do you think of when you think of a "good person"? Do you think of sexual purity? Or do you think of a person that cares about others and honestly tries to make others happy? Sexual purity is the mark of a "good girl" or a "good boy". Sexual purity is one of the marks of a "good person", and not the most important one, in my book.
I believe that the feelings that are engendered by teachings such as these are feelings of hopelessness, not efficacy. I know someone that has had some issues with chastity and has seen those issues lead to other things, such as drinking (occasionally), nonclinical craziness (sometimes), and a feeling that she can't ever be good enough, no matter how hard she tries (always). I can't help but think that the teaching that chastity is the be-all, end-all of righteousness doesn't help her to change. I also don't think that it helps those of us that are keeping that law to change other things. If the sins that are most stressed in church are the Word of Wisdom, chastity, and, say, failure to tithe, I'm the greatest guy ever! But what about charity? What about other things that might inpinge upon my righteousness?
Whether sexual sin is representative of who we are depends
on who we are. It's a mistake and a blip if we're good people that work hard for our brothers and sisters. It's a pattern if we only care about ourselves.
The most important thing to realize is that the Atonement's power is not incomplete, given our willing participation in it. Certain sins may be serious, but setting up one standard as the gold standard leads to, in my view, almost as many broken hearts as the sin itself. A blog here on Blogger (which I will not link to based on my suspicion that the fellow in question might not want me to) discusses his struggles with pornography and masturbation in some detail (he's never explicit about the latter, but it's quite clear). He's obviously sincere, at least from what's written on the blog. He's obviously broken up about what's going on. The problem is that he's too broken up. His sorrow is not godly sorrow, but a paralytic sorrow that can't ever let him go unless he lets himself go. And that's for a marginal sexual sin, something that might be serious, but isn't even close to that which is described in the scriptures. Nobody
but him is hurt by this, and he's just shattered over it, and has been for better than a year's worth of blogging. I know that much of this is self-imposed, but I wish we could do a little better as a Church and as individuals to help with this sort of thing. As an individual, I don't know what to do. I don't really do anything to help the girl that I mentioned above, mostly for fear that she'll attach herself to me and partially because I'm too hedonistic to do anything for anyone else unless I have to. But I do know that if I ever teach a lesson on chastity, it'll be a lot different than the usual fare.