“But it’s not natural . . .”

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If your Facebook News Feed was anything like mine during the second week of July, you probably saw a lot of posts about Teen Vogue’s article on anal sex. Most of it probably in opposition to the article. There were even progressive voices criticizing it.

But this post isn’t about anal sex. Well, not really.

Last week, I was discussing the article after a Facebook friend posted a popular video of a woman criticizing the article. In this discussion, someone labelled anal sex as unnatural, using phrases like “against how the body is constructed” and “the anal (sic) is not made for that purpose”.

And it’s that idea of nature that I want to discuss.

This is a common tactic of members of the LDS church, specifically when it comes to sexual issues.

For example, a 1974 article published in The Ensign refers to gay and lesbian relationships as being unnatural. President Kimball called homosexuality “unnatural”.  The current administrative handbook of the church counts “homosexual and lesbian relations” as “unnatural”. The current family home evening manual quotes President Kimball in labelling anything outside of heterosexual relationships as “unnatural”. The Marriage and Family Relations manual goes so far as saying even simple affection “toward persons of the same gender” is unnatural.

On the topic of marriage equality, in background material sent to all bishops and branch presidents of the church in 2015, the current First Presidency quoted the handbook when they claimed that “homosexual behavior (sic) . . . is contrary to the purposes of human sexuality”. In original wording in that backgrounder, the First Presidency also stated that “mothers and fathers matter, and they are not interchangeable.” In an Ensign article published earlier this year, Elder Lawrence called “same-sex marriage . . . counterfeit”, adding as justification that they do not “bring . . . posterity”. In an October 1999 general conference talk, President Hinckley, in discussing “so-called gays and lesbians”, implied that a “so-called same-sex marriage situation” makes light of the purpose of marriage: “the rearing of families.”

That’s probably enough for the examples, but the point is that the church likes to use the idea of nature as a way to oppose sexuality that they don’t like. Which is weird when you think of it.

Putting off the natural man

Take a look at this Ensign article about the “natural man”. Or this conference talk on the “natural man”. Or this Sunday School manual. Or this Institute manual. Or this Seminary manual. Or this New Era article.

You get the point.

For a church that so commonly talks about putting off what is human nature, it seems anachronistic to defend what is (according to them) human nature when it comes to sexuality.

What is actually natural?

Christianity (and arguably other religions) has created this narrative that marriage is, by nature, between a man and a woman. This narrative is perpetuated through stories such as Noah’s ark, in which Noah brought male and female animals to mirror human relationships and form couples to produce offspring.

But this isn’t reflected in actual nature, at least not exclusively. For example, in his book Biological Exuberance: Animal Homosexuality and Natural Diversity, biologist Bruce Bagemihl identified around 500 species that scientists had documented engaging in same-sex behaviours, including sexual activity, courtship, affection, pair bonding, and parenting.

Seven years later, The Natural History Museum at the University of Oslo opened an exhibition dedicated to homosexuality in the natural world, and they indicated that the number of species had now tripled to 1,500.

Clearly, homosexual activity is not unnatural.

So where does all this lead us? Well, at best, the idea that we should oppose something that is unnatural is hypocritical, at best. How can we defend what is natural while also opposing what is natural?

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