Conversations about the religious and spiritual life on the other side of fundamentalism
178 & 179: The Truths About Marital Intimacy: A Critique of Wendy Nelson’s Sex Talk: Helfer-Parker and de Azevedo-Hanks

178 & 179: The Truths About Marital Intimacy: A Critique of Wendy Nelson’s Sex Talk: Helfer-Parker and de Azevedo-Hanks

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Natasha Helfer-Parker and Julie de Azevedo-Hanks about Wendy Watson Nelson’s speech at the January 2017 Worldwide Devotional for Young Adults.

Nelson’s address garnered some criticism for the unhealthy, purity-centred and confusing expectations that she constructed around sex.  She argued that Four Truths (below) should govern and inform marital sex.   Helfer-Parker and de Azevedo-Hanks provide a frank critique of this advice.

WARNING:  There is explicit content and language in this episode.  


Part One
Part Two


  1. Heidi

    I’ve never laughed so hard listening to a Mormon podcast. Thank you. It was delightful and entertaining and simultaneously loaded with helpful information. What a group of intelligent and articulate women! I love how you were able to broaden the scope of intimacy as opposed to the narrowing version we listened to Sunday. Natasha- I love love love your vulnerability and could not agree with you more that when I have allowed myself to truly let go and be in the moment there is nothing more spiritual! Thank you all for this amazing podcast! Sending my friends this direction to also partake of this breath of fresh air.

      1. Ashley A

        I have to admit that it was a bit much for me. Love, love, LOVE these kinds of podcasts (and miss you over at Mormon Mental Health, Natasha) but I could have done without the intimate details. I do understand what you are trying to do, though, which is to tell people that normal sex is not sinful in a marriage, so I appreciate that a lot.

  2. Jayna powers

    WOW I JUST LOVE YOU LADIES. SO GROUNDED AND REAL. You would flip if I even began to tell you if my 37 years of temple marriage so called sex. I am divorced 4 years, out of the church and living more happy and sexually fulfilled than ever before. Happy with a great kind living man 20 years younger!!♡

  3. Jean Bodie

    OK, I finally listened. It was interesting to hear you discuss sex with such ‘abandon’ because you know if is not a dirty thing; it’s so much a part of our human nature – even as children Natasha. I heard you mention something about children but didn’t catch it.
    I have no idea ‘how’ I ever learned to orgasm, but from my earliest times of ‘exploration’ I just could. I always had problems going to sleep as a child and I think the orgasms helped me to self soothe.
    I was not a Mormon but I believed in god and was a member of the Church of England. I do not remember ever getting any kind of lecture or advice about my sexuality from our vicar. I was confirmed at the age of 12 and at the interview nothing was mentioned about chastity or sin of any kind.

    I married a member of the CofE and I felt no guilt about any of our sexual activities. I’m not saying I liked everything we tried, but it was fun a lot of the time and guilt free. I was divorced 10 years later and by this time a Mormon trying to find a spouse in the meat market of the special interest group, where one man, old enough to be my father was pushing his penis into me as we danced.

    Because I had been sexually active prior to my first marriage, I felt a little unclean by Mormon standards because they were everywhere. Conference talks, sacrament meeting even witnessed a brother whose son had got his girlfriend pregnant standing up in testimony meeting telling us they only did some heavy petting. “We didn’t go all the way” they cried and his sage advice to the congregation “Brothers and Sisters, you don’t have to go all the way.”
    I wanted to talk about my Savior not sexual sins.

    I left the church – another long story so I couldn’t quite dig what you all were saying. HOWEVER, now with no belief in Jesus or an old man/god living up in the sky, I understand the wonderful oneness of two people when they turn on their hearts, with all their love and gratitude for their partner – that is spiritual. Sex to me, is not a gift from a loving creator, it is something that humans do to express that oneness.

    I no longer have threesomes with the HG.

  4. Garden Girl

    Thanks ladies. I loved this episode. I laughed and I learned and I could relate to a lot of what was said. However I was a little troubled by the talk of lust mentioned and I was wondering if someone could speak more about that. As a wife of a recovering sex addict this is something I struggle with. Our sex life has grown by leaps and bounds since my husband has had some solid recovery. There is love, there is vulnerability and a real passion and connection that I always dreamed of. However, there is still a lingering fear that I have about being used for a fix. I want to be loved and I want to be needed physically but the feeling of lust is triggering to me and reeks of selfishness. Can you describe how lust can be healthy in a sexual relationship?Do you have any advice for someone in my situation?

    1. Lorena

      Garden girl I am with you. I like that Natasha made the caveat that basically this advice is for normal healthy people. Or something like it. I think when addiction or unhealthy sexual compulsions are present most advice/rules go out the window. I don’t know if my spouse and I will have a completely healthy sexual relationship because of his past compulsive behaviors. Oh well. We find many other ways to connect and love.

  5. Andy Anderson

    Loved the podcast! Thanks to the three of you for your reckless abandon! I loved your perspectives, and agree with you whole-heartedly. I believe that the only thing that shouldn’t happen between a married couple is something that isn’t mutually agreed upon.

    Unfortunately many will hear Ms. Nelsen’s talk and find yet another reason why they will never measure up–an unattainable ideal, forever just out of reach.

    Fortunately, I don’t give a shit what she says.

  6. Mormon Stories fan

    Best episode ever!! Hour two should be labeled as a comedy special. I was trying to explain to my husband why I was laughing so loud. If the three of you had a weekly show, I’d never skip it.

  7. Yes Please

    fantastic! admittedly, I am not a sex therapist but I had the exact same thoughts, that the messages of this talk were largely bad information, leading to disappointment, marital dysfunction and shame related problems and most of all, WAY more questions than answers. I came away from Sis Nelson’s talk angry that so many LDS folks are being led by the nose into confusion by this nonsense instead of educated on pleasure and consent and healthy communication as couples. I wish I’d had these realizations and podcasts like this 15 years ago when I got married instead of years of therapy needing to undo Mormon Sex Garbage. Thanks you three women. This was wonderful.

  8. Danna

    Great job! Keep up the good work. I’m on track to get my Master’s in Clinical Mental Health Counseling and I’m thinking about adding on a certification as a sex therapist. Anything to help turn the boat towards healthier attitudes about our sacred gift of sexuality. Well done ladies!!

  9. Brook Gardner

    As a man listening to the podcast with my wife, I forwarded it to every person I could think of for 10 days now as well as my daughters. The sex shaming with masterbation alone and some leaders calling it self abuse, and others as julie said saying there is nothing wrong with it, in the church is so bad it is killing some with suicide. when we are told we are to live with exactness and yet bishops and stake presidents can’t agree on whether to discipline or not and if so how much? what is wrong with us??? All I can say is MAN sucks at playing GOD. If its wrong… be exact and say thus saith the lord…if its not a sin don’t pretend it is. I pity the singles in the church who beat themselves up no pun intended… because they have urges that need filling… and worse yet all the sexless marriages that feel shamed if the rub one out because the spouse is selfish or controling… then you have some bishops that ask questions they are told not to ask? where is the exactness????

  10. Monkeyking

    We need more of the sex talks in the church. I was lucky to have an mother that was a sex education teacher when I was a teenager, so that I have better knowledge than most and am comfortable discussing sex. Since I have been married I have thought a lot about this topic specifically how the Church discusses intimacy and sexuality. The church or the members generally equivocate intimacy and sexuality. To me they are distinct and separate things. By equivocating them it often causes problems for couples. Ideally sexuality can used as a form of intimacy but you can be intimate with someone without being sexual with them and you can also be sexual with some one without ever being intimate with them.

    Intimacy is what happens when you make yourself vulnerable and the other person respects that vulnerability and the parties grow together emotionally. I think of it as making yourself naked, not just physically but emotionally and intellectually also. Certainly exposing your naked body makes you subject to ridicule that can be very painful. However, if your partner makes you comfortable and makes you feel good about your body that can be very a intimate bonding experience. Talking about anything that is important to your self, such that, you could be hurt if the other party were to mock or belittle you share. It can be a discussion of thing that you feel strongly about, such as: beliefs, failures, aspirations or fantasies.

    Sexuality is how people relate to each other physically. Sexual actions may or may not disclose a deeply held part of oneself. If one party is simply doing their duty or does not express their own feelings and desires there is not intimacy. If you are open and honest about your passions, desires and even fantasies you do make yourself vulnerable and if the other party is respectful and also open it can be a vary intimate experience. That is not to say that you must indulge all of your desires and fantasies but it is the sharing of them that is important.

  11. boycem

    Ladies that was a great podcast! The four truths thing really puts me off. Number 1 especially sounds like an advertisement. Just another list of things to check off.
    I really appreciate the things said in the podcast. At the beginning of my marriage, I always felt ashamed after having sex. Over the years I finally am enjoying it. It took me so long because of the things I took to heart growing up LDS. I really liked what Julie said at the end that all she wants from her church is them to show her how to come unto Christ. I also liked Natasha outlook of the worldly list of sex combined with the spiritual list of sex. I have stopped attending the LDS church and feel so much better about myself and who I am as well as my sexuality. This is a conversation that needs to happen more often.
    The most important sexual advice a leader gave me was when my husband and I were engaged, he encouraged my husband and I to have conversations about sex including our expectations, the frequency and what we wanted before we tied the knot.

  12. Naturegirl

    I realize I am late coming to this but it opens up some very real Pandoras box of questions for me. There is nothing that I did not love about this. It hits home on every point. However now in find myselfmissing three daughters, nearly all teenagers and wonder how to offset their church education and programming that they get almost daily? There is enough anger still in me that I worry I will go too far. Suggestions? I laughed, I cried. Thank you! You made so much sense of so much of my struggles.

  13. Jason Palmer

    Threesome with the spirit doesn’t have to be creepy: “I remember when I moved in you and the holy dove she was moving too and every single breath that we drew was Hallelujah. Hallelujah.” – Leonard Cohen

  14. John

    I agree with a lot of your points, having come to similar conclusions myself about the problems with baggage-laden word choice in Wendy Nelson’s talk. But you took that ambiguity and assumed that her intended meaning was as sex-negative as possible, something laughable and worthy of scorn, then spent the rest of your podcast scorning and mocking and laughing at and parodying her and her talk when you yourselves admitted that her intended meaning wasn’t clearly stated. You set up a straw woman and knocked her down very prettily. Bravo!
    Why couldn’t you have assumed that she meant generally the same things you did? You were very justified in saying she bit off more than she could chew in trying to address this topic in less than an hour with an audience who haven’t even had sex yet. And you could have left it at that. I’d be perfectly happy with the podcast if you had gone on in your proposals for how she could have expressed herself more clearly, if you had just done so civilly. But instead you had precisely the tone of a clique of snotty high school girls gossiping about someone behind her back and making her “an offender for a word” (Isaiah 29:21). You made a token effort to find things to praise in her talk at the start, but you just wanted to eat her alive for the rest of it.
    Wendy Nelson’s talk might not have been as clear or helpful as it could have been, but the rude, dismissive kind of discourse I heard in this podcast is not helpful or healthy either.

    1. I’m “Curious”. Understand this is a blow out about “Wendy Watson Nelson’s speech at the January 2017 Worldwide Devotional for Young Adults”. I see a lot of dysfunctional, hurt and confusion here. I look at her list of books and it is impressive. Seems to me this is mixed heavy on anti-Mormon types and confused attempts at happiness with sex as the sole (not soul) basis. Just a few thoughts. Have a nice day.

    2. Chuckling

      Amen! This is an important topic that should be in our conversations. And I like these women and their openness. But you’re right, they created conflict without justification. I think Sister Nelson’s 10-minute talk was helpful, not hurtful to the YSAs. This hour-long re-framing of the message, to somehow make the talk into some Victorian, old-school, hang-up-causing message, was inaccurate. The swing Sister Nelson referenced was a symbol of the pleasure God intended for us to have in our marital intimacy.

  15. The sex whistler

    I loved the podcast episodes. I’ve shared them with several friends. So many very important points. The church’s ambiguous rules create more problems than they address. I finally figured out what Wendy Nelson was referring to when she mentioned “the toot of the flute.” It’s a reference to Whistle by Flo Rida! I can just imagine Elder Nelson singing to Sister Nelson:
    Go girl you can twerk it
    Let me see you whistle while you work it
    I’mma lay it back, don’t stop it
    ‘Cause I love it how you drop it, drop it, drop it on me
    Now, shawty let that whistle blow-oh, oh oh
    Yeah, baby let that whistle blow-oh oh!

  16. Reagan Barbosa

    Wendy Watson Nelson came to my city to do a women’s conference and I almost walked out of it. She was just so naive and Molly Mormon in her thinking, and for ladies who live in NYC, not many of us fit into that category. The whole time I was just thinking, “This woman probably does not know how to relate to any of the women in this room.” Have been completely turned off to her ever since.

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