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Open Letter: Upcoming Youth Lessons on Chastity

By: Ardis E. Parshall - August 02, 2013

A Keepa reader who is a Young Woman leader in her ward shared with me this letter she has sent to youth leaders in her ward. She has given permission to share it with you.

-oooOooo-

Dear youth leaders and teachers,

Here is a thought I would have shared at the last teacher meeting if we’d been in town. I do hope that none of what I say offends anyone since it is a sensitive topic.

As I look over the youth lessons for August and think about the needs of our Young Women, I am sad to think that in a good faith effort to save the young men and women of the church from the consequences of sin, teachers all over the church may be preparing object lessons that deny the power of the atonement and wound some of the most vulnerable members of our congregations.

August’s lesson called “Why is chastity important?” encourages participants to “think of and share other analogies that teach the importance of chastity.” It does not take much imagination to foresee that teachers may be preparing object lessons involving licked cupcakes and chewed gum to teach the principle of chastity or sexual purity.

Young women may be more likely to get these lessons than the young men. I heard them as a youth, and within the past year in our ward, a fifth-Sunday teacher training lesson explained how to use one of these object lessons, resulting in a sister in the ward, a convert, leaving the lesson in visible distress.

Here are why these lessons can be problematic.

1) They teach victims of rape and sexual abuse — male or female — that they are damaged beyond repair. You can see comments about this from kidnapping survivor Elizabeth Smart.

As one church member wrote, the chastity in which the Lord delights (see Jacob 2) is not merely virginity, and cannot be taken away by another person, especially not by violence or abuse.1

As you prepare to teach the lessons, do note that the Church is now careful to distinguish between virtue (behavior showing high moral standards) and chastity (sexual purity). As another church member commented, virtue is more broad and encompassing than sexual purity alone. Virtue includes chastity but virtue does not equal chastity, and more importantly virtue does not equal virginity.2 Married men and women can be chaste and virtuous.

2) These object lessons equate women with food, comparing them to something to be consumed. That’s rather creepy.

3) For those that have made mistakes in their lives, either minor or major, and that’s all of us, these object lessons teach us that we are beyond the power of the atonement. See Isaiah 1:18 and many other scriptures for what the Lord has to say about that.

Our young men and women are growing up in a complicated culture and need to be armed with the power of the truth and an understanding of the beautiful and healing message of the gospel, and not be burdened with damaging cultural messages. There are many better ways to teach the proper role of human sexuality and the power of the atonement than through vague euphemism and flawed object lessons.

I do appreciate all the work all of you do on behalf of my children and the other children of the ward…

Many thanks!

[Signed]

  1. This is from Kristine at By Common Consent. []
  2. This is from a comment from Dovie at the discussion mentioned in the previous footnote. []


32 Comments »

  1. This is a very powerful letter, which I hope the writer’s associates will take to heart. I have learned over the years that all teachers have a responsibility to prepare lessons with all of the class members in mind. A lot of times, we just grab a quote or use an object lesson that will offend someone in our class. There are many of these classmates who are hurting for some reason. Of course, we can’t always know (and probably we usually don’t know) what things might cause someone pain. (Someone with depression, childless couples, single men and women, discord in the home, or a victim of physical or mental abuse are situations that come to mind.)

    Comment by Maurine — August 2, 2013 @ 10:35 pm

  2. Wonderful! Hope it goes well for you (and all the rest of us).

    Comment by David Y. — August 3, 2013 @ 10:44 pm

  3. Thanks for posting this Ardis

    Comment by andrew h — August 6, 2013 @ 12:50 am

  4. Excellent.

    Comment by Aaron B — August 6, 2013 @ 12:52 am

  5. Props to those who are standing up against things like those chastity object lessons when it may not be so easy to do so.

    Comment by Michelle Glauser — August 6, 2013 @ 7:41 am

  6. The analogy I used when teaching this concept was food coloring and bleach in water. Effective and fun.

    Comment by SilverRain — August 6, 2013 @ 8:08 am

  7. A timely reminder, thanks to the author and to Ardis for sharing it.

    Comment by Aaron R. — August 6, 2013 @ 8:46 am

  8. Great stuff. Thank you for posting it, Ardis.

    Comment by Brad Kramer — August 6, 2013 @ 10:09 am

  9. Rather than worry about what my kids might be taught, i’m just going to have them read this letter and we can talk about it together. Thanks!

    Comment by Blue — August 6, 2013 @ 11:01 am

  10. Hear, hear.

    Comment by Cynthia L. — August 6, 2013 @ 12:29 pm

  11. Wow. People in the Church need to stop saying that the “licked cupcake” analogy teaches that victims of rape or sexual abuse are beyond repair, because that analogy says none of those things. The analogy is put in place so that young people don’t CHOOSE to become the licked cupcake by violating the Law of Chastity willingly. Anyone who is raped or sexually abused does not fall under the “licked cupcake” analogy; anyone who teaches otherwise is a fool and does not understand Church doctrine nor policy.

    Comment by Clark Herlin — August 6, 2013 @ 12:41 pm

  12. Clark Herlin:

    Your comment violates so many of Keepa’s guidelines that you will not be allowed to comment further. I’m allowing this comment to appear publicly as an indication of the level of misunderstanding that exists out there, and the liberties which utter strangers — you have never participated at Keepa before — will take in passing judgment on people who have actually thought about and considered the issues, and then written about them in thoughtful, helpful, inoffensive terms.

    You are not a young girl who has been made to feel eternally worthless because you have been “licked” against your will. You are not a young girl who has been made to feel eternally worthless because this filthy analogy ignores the Atonement and its power to restore what has been lost, by whatever means it was lost. You are not a young girl who has been made to feel eternally worthless because you are viewed as an object for someone else’s pleasure, to be discarded as garbage when you have been misused and are no longer wanted.

    What you are is ignorant. Among your many other ignorances is this one: The Church does not teach (has not “put in place”) the licked cupcake analogy. That has been done by insensitive, unthinking teachers who do not understand their calling but who lazily ape what they have seen others do. This “open letter” cautions against recycling harmful, thoughtless, UNOFFICIAL, un-Christlike analogies like the one you ignorantly endorse and wrongly attribute to the Church.

    Go away.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — August 6, 2013 @ 1:24 pm

  13. Ardis:

    If ever a comment was knocked out of the ballpark, it was your last comment. A home run (unofficially, of course).

    Comment by Brian D. — August 6, 2013 @ 1:39 pm

  14. Might I add that he MAY be one of the men, such as many of the single men of the church, who believe that divorcées are “licked cupcakes” and want none of that….I’ve actually heard men say that in my hearing, in various iterations.

    Comment by SilverRain — August 6, 2013 @ 1:43 pm

  15. Ardis, I have been in awe of, and impressed by your power with the written word on so many occasions I have now lost count. However, your reply to that comment surpasses all.

    Comment by Anne (UK) — August 6, 2013 @ 1:50 pm

  16. Best response ever Ardis

    Comment by andrew h — August 6, 2013 @ 2:01 pm

  17. Thank you, Ardis. Well done.

    Comment by Jami — August 6, 2013 @ 2:07 pm

  18. Thank you, Ardis.

    Clark, I will kindly suggest reading what Jesus said to a woman living in sin (see John 4) and what he said to a woman taken in adultery (see John 8) and consider how his responses differ from the message of these faulty analogies.

    I understand that there may be those who have taught these analogies due to understanding them at their most basic level — the warning level — and that is one reason I noted at the beginning of the letter that I hoped I didn’t offend anyone.

    Thank you to the others for your kind responses before comment 11. The ward youth leaders sent similar notes in reply, one mentioning that she remembered these lessons from her youth but had never thought through the implications.

    During Sunday School the bishop checked with me about the sister who was distressed by the lesson and also tactfully checked that I did not need any support in the same regard; I replied that it was not an issue; that the letter was in behalf of our young women, who come from a variety of backgrounds and will have a variety of life experiences and need to understand the gospel and be able to build a relationship with their Heavenly Father unclouded by teachings like this.

    Then during the third hour our Young Women president taught all the girls a beautiful lesson on chastity with input from some of the girls about the complexities they face. This subject can be taught properly in a gospel setting, and I hope that this is the rule in the church rather than the exception.

    Comment by YW advisor — August 6, 2013 @ 2:17 pm

  19. You are also not a young girl (or boy for that matter) who has been made to feel worthless, guilty, shameful and hopeless because you may have “willingly” made choices you later wish you hadn’t. The atonement applies equally to ALL of the experiences we have in life.

    Comment by anonymous this time — August 6, 2013 @ 2:22 pm

  20. SilverRain:

    I suppose I am a liked cupcake, if the term applies to those with previous marriages. Do I dare tell my wife that she got a licked cupcake?!?!?

    Seriously, though, I find the licked cupcake analogy to be demeaning, regardless of it’s application.

    Comment by Brian D. — August 6, 2013 @ 3:14 pm

  21. Lol@Brian. I already determined that if anyone dared say that to my face, I would respond by pointing out that I would rather eat a licked cupcake than a poisoned one, so they had nothing to worry about.

    Comment by SilverRain — August 6, 2013 @ 3:33 pm

  22. Brian D, you tempt me to rustle up an object lesson featuring a ‘liked’ cupcake, which is a desirable thing.
    Also, thank you Ardis for giving this the sensitive (and sensible) treatment it needs.

    Comment by MDearest — August 6, 2013 @ 3:36 pm

  23. The “Come, Follow Me” curriculum initiated this year is in many ways a teacher development course, especially the Sunday School portion. For each month’s topic is, the lesson outlines for Sunday School are not focused on the topic itself, but on how to learn the topic and how to teach it. For August some of them are titled “Why is it important to learn about my family history?”, “How can I teach others how to do family history work?”, “How can I explain the importance of marriage and family to others?” (All the lesson outline titles are questions.)

    Having students come up with analogies they can use to explain gospel concepts, and analyzing with them what’s effective or not in what they come up with, is the kind of thing that Sunday School teachers are doing much more of this year, or should be.

    We are very lucky in my ward to have teaching the 16- and 17-year-olds a middle-aged mother who is working on a masters to become a high school history teacher. Whenever I visit her class, she has another learning activity she is teaching the youth to make part of their teaching.

    Comment by John Mansfield — August 7, 2013 @ 8:50 am

  24. Thank you ‘anonymous this time’. There are many more youth who regret poor decisions than those who are ‘victims’. Cupcakes don’t help them. All is not lost. God still loves them and is more interested in where they go than where they have been.

    Comment by Mike Howell — August 9, 2013 @ 8:14 am

  25. Thank you for posting this letter. I have had a problem with the licked cupcake/chewed gum analogies for a long time. (I have to admit I don’t have a problem with the “liked cupcake” analogy though). The problem I have with this is that it conveys the wrong message that if one slips up then that person is permently damaged. It denies the atonement. What a horrible message to send to the youth! I am considering sharing the letter with my youth teachers. Thanks again to you and the YW leader who allowed you to post it.

    Comment by Steve C. — August 10, 2013 @ 9:42 am

  26. Beautiful letter and amazing response, Ardis. I’d like to add one thought to this as well. My now ex-husband is among the many LDS men I know who are terrified of “chewing gum” and “licking the cupcake”. As a result, his views on what our sexual relationship was *allowed* to be was very, very restrictive.

    Forget the analogies and object lessons, let’s teach what chastity and virtue really are about rather than assume anything. My high school’s most successful football coach started every season by introducing the team to a football, how to hold it, etc.. I think that’s an example that would serve the church well both doctrinally and culturally. We say things all the time, terms and phrases, without really defining them. No assumptions, let’s get the basics right.

    Comment by Sinclair — August 12, 2013 @ 2:58 am

  27. I find the whole broken cupcake analogy horrific; in fact, the last time someone did this in sunday school I told the teacher I thought the example was “satanic” because I could not imagine a more diabolical thing to teach a victim of sexual abuse.

    I’m male, was sexually abused by a nanny when I was 7 years old, and consider the cupcake analogy an attack on Christ’s atonement.

    “Young women may be more likely to get these lessons than the young men.”

    That may be so, I could not say; I just know that they hurt me when I was young, and I don’t want my sons, nieces, or nephews to hear such blasphemous cruelty.

    Comment by Christian — August 12, 2013 @ 8:54 am

  28. Thank you to Ardis for pointing out that the “cupcake analogy” is *not* an official church teaching. And thank you Anonymous and Sinclair for gently pointing out that this teaching hurts boys and men as well as girls and women.

    Comment by Christian — August 13, 2013 @ 12:24 pm

  29. Thank you for sharing this!

    Just the other day, I came across a John Bytheway book in our church library that used food analogies to the same ends! Bytheway shared an anecdote about a woman who “gave out her kisses like pretzels” and was later embarrassed because she had kissed more people than her spouse.

    Not only did I find myself raising my eyebrows at the pretzel metaphor, but I also just really hated the anecdote. One of the problems with the cultural LDS view on sexual purity is that it makes it very hard for people to feel like they can “fully repent” from having committed sexual sin. Also, the interpretation of what constitutes sexual sin is so broad, some feel guilty for having shared a passionate kiss, others from having caught a glimpse of a romantic movie scene.

    The BoM says sexual sin is the second greatest sin (the first being murder); doctrine like that, set beside the consumed food analogy makes it seem like you’re losing something you can never get back. That is just flat out wrong, and damaging.

    Comment by Victoria — May 14, 2014 @ 3:08 pm

  30. Lessons on morality always remind me of my own experience. I had been married about 2 years when I attended a Young Women’s Standard night as a leader. As I listened to the presentation, the thought crossed my mind, “Why this is about sex!” I had attended six straight years as a teenager without ever understanding that the talks about chewed gum and pawed over flowers had anything to do with sexual purity. I hope the days of ridiculous examples is over. Not only can they hurt people; some of us did not ever make the connection to their underlying meaning.

    Comment by Ardeth — June 26, 2014 @ 10:17 pm

  31. Mike Howell: I agree with most of your comment, but just wanted to correct one bit of info for the record. There are just as many victims – not “victims,” victims – as there are those who have made mistakes they regret. Approximately 28% of young people age 14-17 report having been sexually victimized at some point in their lives (victimsofcrime.org), and that’s the just ones who report it. Many never do. That’s about the same number as those who report being voluntarily (or semi-voluntarily, but that’s another conversation) sexually active in the same age group.

    But as you point out, the Lord’s more interested in where we’re going. If “I the Lord remember them no more” is true, then licked cupcakes and chewed gum are not only kinda gross and cruel, but also doctrinally inaccurate.

    Comment by Helen — August 29, 2014 @ 11:13 pm

  32. Helen, thank you for pointing out that there are many of us who are victims, and I can always tell when someone is adding quotes in their minds. They usually want to think that we are as rare as unicorns, either because they don’t think that anyone is really a victim because rape does not exist, or because they are sure that they don’t know anyone who could possibly be a victim.

    I am part of a network of volunteer peer mentors, available to talk to victims survivors. This was a tough summer. For every ward that had great direction in teaching the gospel, there were wards that chose to double down on the licked cupcakes and giving YW their own copy of the Not Even Once book, and then asked them to think of those things they can never take back.

    I talked to YW, YM, as well as leaders who were traumatized by lessons taught by other leaders. I only had two people that I had to convince that they needed a safety plan. One of my fellow volunteers had a much harder summer, and we had 3 confirmed suicides in the group of us that handle people who request to talk to someone who is LDS.

    These discussions, when handled wrong can be very traumatic. Letters like these are vital so that bad lessons are not taught in the first place.

    Comment by Juliathepoet — September 3, 2014 @ 6:39 am

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