As part of an article that I have been preparing on the law of chastity, I thought it would be good to first define it. However, as I began writing that portion of the article (the definition of the law of chastity), the article became quite long and I realized that this was a topic sufficient for its own post. So, I am splitting the article into two, this being the first part.
There have been two definitions given of the law of chastity in the temple of God.
The temple definition of the law of chastity—prior to April, 1990
“The law of chastity…is that the daughters of Eve and the sons of Adam shall have no sexual intercourse except with their husbands or wives to whom they are legally and lawfully wedded.” (Source: The Telestial World.)
“We are instructed to give unto you the law of chastity. This I will explain.
“To the sisters, it is that no one of you will have sexual intercourse except with your husband to whom you are legally and lawfully wedded. To the brethren it is that no one of you will have sexual intercourse except with your wife to whom you are legally and lawfully wedded.” (Source: The Terrestrial World.)
The temple definition of the law of chastity—April, 1990 Revision
The 1990 revision speaks of sexual “relations” rather than sexual “intercourse.”
The 1990 revision does not have women and men covenant separately to keep the law of chastity. Instead, women and men simultaneously covenant to have no sexual relations except with their “husband or wife” to whom they are legally and lawfully wedded. (Source: The Terrestrial World, Notes 1 and 2.)
Paraphrased law of chastity with pre- and post-April, 1990 revision comparisons
I will paraphrase the definition given previous to April, 1990, and state it as follows:
The law of chastity is that no woman will have sexual intercourse except with her husband to whom she is legally and lawfully wedded and that no man will have sexual intercourse except with his wife to whom he is legally and lawfully wedded.
And here is a paraphrase of the definition given in the April, 1990 revision:
The law of chastity is that no woman will have sexual relations except with her husband to whom she is legally and lawfully wedded and that no man will have sexual relations except with his wife to whom he is legally and lawfully wedded.
Would the real law of chastity please stand up?
According to the Merriam-Webster’s Online Dictionary, the term sexual intercourse has two shades of meaning:
1 : heterosexual intercourse involving penetration of the vagina by the penis : COITUS
2 : intercourse (as anal or oral intercourse) that does not involve penetration of the vagina by the penis
(Definition taken from this page.)
According to the same dictionary, the term sexual relations has the following, singular definition:
: SEXUAL INTERCOURSE
(Definition taken from this page.)
We see from these definitions that the terms sexual intercourse and sexual relations are synonymous.
More on the second shade of meaning
As stated above, the term sexual intercourse has two shades of meaning.
So that there is no misunderstanding over the second shade of meaning, which is defined as intercourse, here is the definition of the word intercourse:
3 : physical sexual contact between individuals that involves the genitalia of at least one person <anal intercouse> <oral intercourse>; especially : SEXUAL INTERCOURSE 1 <heterosexual intercourse>
(Definition taken from this page.)
And for those who aren’t sure just what is considered human genitalia,
“The Latin term genitalia, sometimes anglicized as genitals and genital area, is used to describe the externally visible sex organs, known as primary genitalia or external genitalia: in males the penis, in females the clitoris and vulva.”
(Taken from the Sex organ entry of Wikipedia.)
Church manuals give the same definition as the temple definition
For example, in the book Gospel Principles, in chapter 39, entitled, The Law of Chastity, under the section called What Is the Law of Chastity?, chastity is stated this way:
“We are to have sexual relations only with our spouse to whom we are legally married. No one, male or female, is to have sexual relations before marriage. After marriage, sexual relations are permitted only with our spouse.”
The Gospel Topics Gospel Library found on lds.org, an official web site of the Church, under the entry Chastity, states the following:
“Chastity means not having any sexual relations before marriage. It also means complete fidelity to husband or wife during marriage.”
Church manuals and leader’s teachings often go beyond the temple definition
To give an example, I refer back to the Gospel Principles book, same chapter, same section, and directly under the definition quoted above. Two paragraphs follow which state:
We have been taught that the law of chastity encompasses more than sexual intercourse. Elder Spencer W. Kimball warned young people of other sexual sins:
“Among the most common sexual sins our young people commit are necking and petting. Not only do these improper relations often lead to fornication, [unwed] pregnancy, and abortions—all ugly sins—but in and of themselves they are pernicious evils, and it is often difficult for youth to distinguish where one ends and another begins. They awaken lust and stir evil thoughts and sex desires. They are but parts of the whole family of related sins and indiscretions” (The Miracle of Forgiveness, p. 65).
This tendency to go beyond the temple definition and lump together anything and everything that can lead to breaking the law of chastity is fairly common in the church. These “related sins and indiscretions” are often categorically labeled immorality.
The sexual laws of the Bible
What the Bible says about proper sexual activity is not quite the same as the temple definition of the law of chastity. It is not my intention to address the biblical sexuality laws here. It would take too much time and require more than one post. Others, however, have addressed these issues, so I will refer the reader to one of them, the Controversial Truths section of the Righteous Warriors website, in which can be found biblical sexuality articles.
For the purposes of this post, I will be sticking to the temple definition of the law of chastity and to nothing else.
Where fornication and adultery fit in the law of chastity
For the sins of fornication and adultery, only the first definition of sexual intercourse applies. In other words, if a married woman has oral sex with some guy she’s not married to, she is breaking the law of chastity, but she isn’t committing the sin of adultery. If she has a lesbian affair, she is breaking the law of chastity, but she isn’t committing adultery. The sins of fornication and adultery require vaginal penetration by the penis. But, don’t take my word on this. Go ask your bishop to see the church handbook for yourself.
Now that we know what the law of chastity is, let’s talk about what it isn’t.
Masturbation does not break the law of chastity
To break the law of chastity, at least two people are required. Therefore, masturbation, which is sexual self-stimulation, does not break the law of chastity.
Kissing does not break the law of chastity
Kissing, even passionate kissing, as long as the genitalia are not involved, does not break the law of chastity.
Petting does not break the law of chastity
Petting and even heavy petting, like kissing, does not break the law of chastity, as long as the genitalia are not involved. Also, keep in mind that the breasts are not considered genitalia.
Viewing pornography does not break the law of chastity
For the reasons stated above, looking at pornography does not break the law of chastity. It is impossible to physically have sexual intercourse with just the eyes.
Committing adultery in one’s heart does not break the law of chastity
Jesus said “that whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.” (See Matthew 5: 28.) The Lord also said, “He that looketh upon a woman to lust after her hath denied the faith, and shall not have the Spirit, and if he repents not he shall be cast out.” (See D&C 42: 23.)
“Looking on a woman to lust after her” means that a man consciously wishes that he could cheat on his wife (if he is already married) and have sexual intercourse (1st shade of meaning of that term, which covers the sin of adultery) with another man’s wife.
Obviously, this is a sin that can rapidly lead to breaking the law of chastity, but in and of itself, this sin does not break the law of chastity.
Immodesty does not break the law of chastity
How you dress can affect how you feel about yourself and how others treat you, but it is outside of the jurisdiction of the law of chastity, therefore, dressing immodestly does not break the law of chastity.
Why knowing the definition of chastity is helpful
People often beat themselves up unnecessarily. A person is, of course, free to add as many personal rules as they want to the laws of the gospel, including the law of chastity, as did the Pharisees, but when it comes right down to it, chastity is what the Lord, in His holy temple, has defined it as being. Nothing more, nothing less.
So, the next time you are sitting in a temple recommend interview with your bishop or stake president, and you are asked if you live the law of chastity, you may want to keep these things in mind. Having the temple definition in your head may make answering the question a whole lot easier.
Previous Chastity article: Does legalized, same-sex “marriage” break the law of chastity?