Sex, Reproductive Technology, and Mormon Doctrine

This is not a post about whether birth control should be permitted, or about stem-cell research, test-tube babies or even about the ethics of in-vitro fertilization. Rather, this post is about what these technologies do to and for Mormon doctrines about sex and reproduction.

One of the results of modern reproductive technology is to completely separate sex and reproduction. They are no longer necessarily related. This must leave an impact on the way that we theologize about both. Sex without reproduction and reproduction without heterosexual intercourse have become realities. The thing that we must reconsider is the close connection between them that Mormon theological reflection has often taken for granted.

The first major institution that we must reconsider is nothing less than the heterosexual reproductive marriage. This institution is the foundation of LDS afterlife theology and is seen as the primal unit of creation. Often, the post-mortem continuation of reproductive sexual relations has been a celebrated tenent of Mormonism. However, reproductive technologies seriously challenge the assumptions of “natural” reproduction. Can we imagine a kind of reproduction in our future lives that is in fact not connected to sexual intercourse? If this kind of “technology” exists in this world, then why not the next? How do we rethink reproductive gender roles, eternal child birth, and heterosexual partnerships once technology (and possibly the nature of resurrected bodies) displaces a necessary father/mother binary?

The second case for reevaluation is the relationship between sex and marriage. In our larger cultural envirnoment, the connection between sex and marriage has virtually disappeared precisely because the sex/reproduction nexus has been dissolved. Does an LDS theology of sex adequately account for sex without reproduction? On what basis is sex prohibited if the production of children outside of wedlock is no longer an issue? Given that the history of heterosexual marriage is deeply intertwined with the regulation of reproductive sex, how does the institution of marriage change when its very logic has been rearranged?

The technologies also offer potential benefits for LDS theology. Through them, we can think about reproduction in our next life without having to biologize the production of spirit children. Additionally, sex without reproduction becomes a powerful symbol of union between husband and wife. However, for the most part I don’t think that these new technologies have been adequately addressed theologically.

5 Replies to “Sex, Reproductive Technology, and Mormon Doctrine”

  1. I see these options as responsibilities within the doctrine of agency. Although technology has opened up options for those who are infertile, it hasn’t changed the laws that govern creation of life. The majority of couples still create children in the old fashioned way. Besides, how creation will happen in the next life matters a lot less than how we treat the power of creation in this life, regardless of how couples might have children. Our theology cares about our attitudes toward this power, toward our covenantal responsibility to bring children into the world, and toward the laws that govern these relationships. I really don’t see the need to “reevaluate” — only to be that much more vigilant to be sure that our choices are consistent with God’s will and laws.The first divine purpose has to do with the sacred power of creation. The body contains the seeds of creation, which allow us to have children and begin an eternal family. In mortality this power is given for a limited period of time. If we are faithful and abide by the commandments pertaining to its use, that power of creation is restored in the Resurrection. The scriptures indicate that “a fulness of joy” comes when the body and spirit are inseparably connected (D&C 93:33). However, a “fulness of joy” requires more than the Resurrection. In the Doctrine and Covenants we are taught that those who enter into “the new and everlasting covenant of marriage” and are faithful enter into the highest degree of the celestial kingdom and there receive a “fulness” of glory and “a continuation of the seeds forever” (D&C 131:2; 132:19). It is the eternal marriage relationship and the power to create life that produce happiness in mortality and a “fulness of joy” in the life to come. Elder Merrill J. BatemanSecondly, our religion also leaves room for the bonding characteristic of marital sex. That is not to trump the reproductive purposes, however, which has happened in the culture at large and led to promiscuity, casual attitudes about sex, and a lack of understanding about the sacred nature of marital sex. For Latter-day Saints, the institution of marriage shouldn’t change fundamentally regardless of what is happening in society around us. We believe in sex both for reproduction and for marital bonding. The challenge we face, as I said before, is to be sure that if we use technology available, that we do so within the boundaries that God has set for us, and remembering the commandments He has given.

  2. p.s. Sex is prohibited outside of marriage not only because of the reproductive component, but also for the very reason that it was designed to bring a husband and wife together — to strengthen that foundation-of-society-and-of-God’s-plan institution! Sex was given for Adam and Eve to multiply and replenish and also for them to “cleave” to each other.

  3. MandM I think you’ve hit on the key question—Is sex for procreation or is it for intimacy? But I’m not sure what your answer is. Are you saying that procreation is more important than intimacy or that they are on the same level? If you had to choose one, which would it be?Making procreation the sole reason for sex explains some of the more conservative positions on birth control, abortion, and homosexual marriage; but it also ignores the emotional and spiritual reality that we live in. On the other hand, we can’t really divorce sex from procreation either, given our understanding of scriptures and biology.Is it even fair to ask which is more important?

  4. It doesn’t make sense to ask which is more important. They both are. The reason God insists on chastity is for both reasons — to protect the law of procreation and to protect the marriage relationship (as well as to protect the individuals in their lives – spiritually, physically, emotionally and mentally).My point was that any removal of the procreation aspect of sex via technology will not change the necessity for chastity.

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