The 1982 First Presidency Letter
The First Presidency, in January of 1982, sent a letter to all “Stake, Mission, and District Presidents; Bishops; and Branch Presidents”. In it, they emphasized that:
Married persons should understand that if in their marital relations they are guilty of unnatural, impure, or unholy practices, they should not enter the temple unless and until they repent and discontinue any such practices…The First Presidency has interpreted oral sex as constituting an unnatural, impure, or unholy practice.
After receiving a number of letters informing them that “some local leaders [had] been delving into private, sensitive matters” The First Presidency, in October of 1982, informed leaders that they “should never inquire into personal, intimate matters involving marital relations between a man and his wife.”
Still, the status of oral sex as “unnatural, impure, or unholy” (UIU) was not modified or clarified in the October 1982 letter, and it has, to my knowledge, never been rescinded, modified, or clarified in any way since the January 1982 letter.
Temple Covenants and the Church Handbook
The specific “unnatural, impure, or unholy” verbiage used in the January 1982 First Presidency letter seems to have been meant to invoke temple covenants.
Members raise their hand in the temple and covenant to avoid every “unholy and impure practice”:
Instruct them to give unto Adam and his posterity … a charge to avoid all lightmindedness, loud laughter, evil speaking of the Lord’s anointed, the taking of the name of God in vain, and every other unholy and impure practice; and cause these to be received by covenant.
In addition, Church Handbook 2 section 21.4.5, using exactly the same three adjectives as the January 1982 letter, states that anything “unholy, unnatural, or impure” is sinful and that a person may be subject to formal Church discipline for such a practice:
…Adultery, fornication, homosexual or lesbian relations, and every other unholy, unnatural, or impure practice are sinful. Members who violate the Lord’s law of chastity or who influence others to do so are subject to Church discipline.
The verbiage in the January 1982 letter, the Endowment Ceremony, and the Official Church Handbook matches exactly (only the temple ceremony does not use the word “unnatural”).
The current status of oral sex: ambiguous
The October 1982 letter clearly instructs leaders not to ask members detailed questions about their sex life during a temple recommend interview; however, any clarification of the status of oral sex as “unnatural, impure, or unholy” was not forthcoming. In fact, the verbiage of the October 1982 letter to leaders and later temple recommend handbooks can be used to support an intpretation that leadership only meant to walk back the questioning and not necessarily disapprobation of oral sex.
The October 1982 letter instructs:
You should never deviate from or go beyond the specific questions contained in the temple recommend book. If in the course of such interviews a member asks questions about the propriety of specific conduct, you should not pursue the matter but should merely suggest that if the member has enough anxiety about the propriety of the conduct to ask about it, the best course would be to discontinue it. (emphasis added)
The 1999 Limited Use Temple Recommend book was recently leaked. This Temple Recommend handbook used similar verbiage as the October 1982 letter and continued to counsel leaders to advise against continuing any sexual practice a whose propriety a member asked specifically about) and hence implicit disapprobation of oral sex.
The verbiage used in these documents makes the current status unclear. On the one hand, at least for nearly two decades since 1982 (and perhaps for much longer depending on how long the 1999 Temple Recommend book was used) the First Presidency or official Handbooks counseled leaders to advise against sexual conduct whose propriety was in question (which is easy to interpret as oral sex or similar practices, especially given the 1982 letters).
On the other hand, the fact that only the “propriety” of sexual acts was meant to be questioned and leaders were simply to “suggest” a discontinuance of the actions imply de-escalation of UIU status. Would an act that is unquestionably “unnatural, impure, or unholy and” and against temple covenant be treated with words like “suggest” and “propriety”, words usually reserved for matters of opinion and not sin or commandment?
In 2016, during an adult session of stake conference, a Stake Presidency north of Houston read parts of the January 1982 letter over the pulpit and then taught, based on the letter, that anyone having oral sex was not worthy to receive a temple recommend.1
My brother relayed to me that after the Stake Presidency was corrected,2 they spent the next several months pulling out all the adults from Sunday School class and reading to them the October 1982 letter.
Such events seem unfortunate but not necessarily suprising given the ambigious status of oral sex and the manner in which the topic has been de-emphasized but not necessarily clarified. Members continue to report that local Church leadership perpetuate the teaching that oral sex is a sin.3
- Ask a Mormon Sex Therapist - Jennifer Finlayson-Fife (podcasts)
- Oral Sex (i4m.com)
LDS Sex therapist survey
I asked (via email) practicing sex therapists in Utah who see many LDS clients:
As a (LDS?) sex therapist, what do you counsel your clients regarding oral sex?
On the one hand, you have the January 1982 First Presidency letter which has never been rescinded or modified. OTOH, you have Shere Hite’s research which suggests that 70% of women do not orgasm from PIV sex alone but that orgasm is (typically) easily achieved through direct clitoral stimulation.
[Sex Therapist #1]
Thanks for reaching out with some questions. When it comes to working with clients around what they feel is or is not ok with certain sexual behaviors, we look at is it safe, sane and consensual? On a broad level I would say that is the thinking we operate under (safe, sane and consensual). And obviously work with the individual and the couple to have the difficult conversations and work through the discomfort that arises for a lot of couples as they navigate their sexual relationships.
I think that sexuality is very complex, has a lot of layers, and hopefully continues to evolve over time and age. Growing up in conservative religions, as my LDS clients do, I think they hear and internalize a lot of messages of fear around sexuality and around having sex. It can be tempting for clients to avoid the discomfort and difficulty of wrestling with all of this and instead substitute somebody else’s opinion as their own. Listening to their church leaders about what is ok and what is not ok, what is good and what is bad. I see this hurt the sexual relationship for a lot of the clients I work with and find that as they step into the discomfort and wrestle with their issues around sex, they are able to own their own sexuality and have more meaningful and satisfying sexual relationships.
[Sex Therapist #2 - an active Latter-day Saint sex therapist in a private communication]
I can’t speak for the LDS Church but I believe that the letter in 1982 was never meant to go out to the congregations. On top of that, I have heard from a well respected professor at BYU that the Church actually wrote a follow up letter rescinding that original 1982 letter. In my opinion the LDS Church is very good at letting the members know what is and is not okay concerning sexuality. If they did not want the members to act sexually in a particular way/regard or had preference for sexual expression, I believe that they would be very open about that. Their stance on pornography or premarital sex is a great example of this.
The education I have received has taught that the LDS Church wants the couple to determine what is sexually okay within the boundaries of their sexual relationship along with the direction of God. If the couple feels uneasy or unsure of a particular practice, they are counseled to talk to their bishop.
Note: After receiving this communication, I sent this therapist links to the documents they referenced and my above analysis but received no reply back.
Originally posted at:
With a follow up post:
My brother was also in this same stake and reported events to me independent of the reddit comment cited. ↩
I was not privileged to know how the Stake Presidency was corrected. Were they taught that the Church no longer views oral sex as “unnatural, impure, or unholy” or were they merely instructed that they should not be sharing those instructions over the pulpit? ↩
“MrShorty” writes on July 3, 2020, “I still hear of bishops, stake presidents, and parents who are privately telling couples that oral sex is a sin in marriage. One by one, those who perpetuate the idea get corrected but, because there isn’t an explicit statement to refute Pres. Kimball’s opinion, it keeps coming up.” ↩