Dr. Jennifer Finlayson-Fife, a LDS licensed psychotherapist with a Ph.D in Counseling Psychology, recently posted an adaptation from her presentation at a Singles Conference in New York City in May 2015. Dr. Finlayson-Fife wrote her dissertation on LDS women and sexuality. Below is an excerpt of her post:
Let me begin by saying that I would like to help single members of our faith community forge a strong relationship to themselves (inclusive of their God-given sexuality), solid relationships with others, as well as a strong relationship to the highest principles in our faith. In other words, as Christians, I hope for all of us (marrieds and singles alike) to approach our sexuality in line with our moral commitments and ideals, in a way that fosters a strong sense of self and capacity for intimacy with others. To love self, to love other and to love God. This is the point of all of the commandments, remember.
To some it may seem that our sexuality undermines our attempts to be good, particularly if you are single, but I believe that in asserting choices in the sexual realm in line with our integrity, with what we really believe is right specific to our particular situation, is the avenue for being at peace and whole. And I will talk to you today about what I think this requires of us as a church community and as individuals within it (whether single or friends of singles).
In thinking about this topic, and talking with single friends and clients, let me first lay out some of the problems or hurdles that I believe singles and church leaders face around the topic of singledom and sex:
Church-leadership and members are facing a relatively new challenge, or at least a more punctuated challenge relative to our history. While single adults have always been a part of our faith community, the demographic of the church is changing with individuals remaining single longer.
In 1960, the median age of marriage for American men was 22.8, and American women 20. 3. In 2010, the median age of marriage for American men and women is a full 6 years older: 28.7 for men, and 26.5 for women.
Additionally, a larger percentage of Americans are not getting married at all (or divorcing).
Mormon scholars estimate that, in the United States, up to a third of adult membership in the church is single. Like other Americans, Mormons are marrying later or remaining single altogether, and the population of 30 – 40 year old singles is on the rise. In a 2012 article on the increase in Singles Wards in the church, the Huffington Post called it “a crisis of singles”.
Additionally, a couple of generations ago, the larger society valued marriage and sexual restraint resembling LDS values. This, of course, is no longer the case. And whether or not we like it, and for better or for worse, we are immersed in and shaped by a much more sexually focused society, which places high value on sexual fulfillment as a part of living life well. This creates an entirely different context in which to understand and address the experience of single LDS adults. The labeling of 30+ singles in the 1970s as “special interest” would be even more offensive to our sensibilities now than it may have been then.
It also makes it much more difficult for faithful individuals to sort out how to be whole and happy in a context of sexual chastity and singleness. It may also be difficult to tolerate that fellow church-goers may not respect them as full adults in a way that the larger culture does.
Single clients and friends have talked to me about at least three challenging realities that they experience in the church:
First, condescension and misunderstanding from church-leaders and other married folks, given their lower status unmarried state.
Second, the experience and reality of stunted adult development (or social and sexual immaturity) both within themselves and when interacting with other LDS singles.
Third, the denial of and anxiety about single adult sexuality, and by extension the lack of relevant guidance around the navigation of their sexual selves.
Given these realities, it is perhaps not surprising that we are encountering difficulty in retaining our single adults in the church. Single adults that are needed and wanted, single adults that add to our strength as a collective.
So let me say more about these three challenging realities that Single Adults experience: And I’m drawing on my experience as a therapist working with LDS singles as well as written responses I collected from about 20 mid-singles when asked about their experiences and concerns around the subject of singledom and sexuality.