- Written by Jeffrey R. Holland
This responsibility to speak to you never gets any easier for me. I think it gets more difficult as the years go by. I grow a little older, the world and its litany of problems get a little more complex, and your hopes and dreams become evermore important to me the longer I am at BYU. Indeed, your growth and happiness and development in the life you are now living and in the life you will be living in the days and decades ahead are the central and most compelling motivation in my daily professional life. I care very much about you now and forever. Everything I know to do at BYU is being done with an eye toward who and what you are, and who and what you can become. The future of this world's history will be quite fully in your hands very soon—at least your portion of it will be—and an education at an institution sponsored and guided by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the greatest academic advantage I can imagine in preparation for such a serious and significant responsibility.
But that future, at least any qualitative aspect of it, must be vigorously fought for. It won't "just happen" to your advantage. Someone said once that the future is waiting to be seized, and if we do not grasp it firmly, then other hands, more determined and bloody than our own, will wrench it from us and follow a different course.
It is with an eye to that future—your future—and an awareness of this immense sense of responsibility I feel for you, that I approach this annual midyear devotional message. I always need the help and sustaining Spirit of the Lord to succeed at such times, but I especially feel the need for that spiritual help today.
My topic is that of human intimacy, a topic as sacred as any I know and more sacred than anything I have ever addressed from this podium. If I am not careful and you are not supportive, this subject can slide quickly from the sacred into the merely sensational, and I would be devastated if that happened. It would be better not to address the topic at all than to damage it with casualness or carelessness. Indeed, it is against such casualness and carelessness that I wish to speak. So I ask for your faith and your prayers and your respect.
You may feel this is a topic you hear addressed too frequently at this time in your life, but given the world in which we live, you may not be hearing it enough. All of the prophets, past and present, have spoken on it, and President Benson himself addressed this very subject in his annual message to this student body last fall.
I am thrilled that most of you are doing wonderfully well in the matter of personal purity. There isn't as worthy and faithful a group of university students anywhere else on the face of the earth. You are an inspiration to me. I acknowledge your devotion to the gospel and applaud it. Like Jacob of old, I would prefer for the sake of the innocent not to need to discuss such topics. But a few of you are not doing so well, and much of the world around us is not doing well at all.
The national press recently noted,
In America 3,000 adolescents become pregnant each day. A million a year. Four out of five are unmarried. More than half get abortions. "Babies having babies." [Babies] killing [babies]. ["What's Gone Wrong with Teen Sex," People, 13 April 1987, p. 111]
That same national poll indicated nearly 60 percent of high school students in "mainstream" America had lost their virginity, and 80 percent of college students had. The Wall Street Journal (hardly in a class with the National Enquirer) recently wrote,
AIDS [appears to be reaching] plague [like] proportions. Even now it is claiming innocent victims: newborn babies and recipients of blood transfusions. It is only a matter of time before it becomes widespread among heterosexuals.…
AIDS should remind us that ours is a hostile world.… The more we pass ourselves around, the larger the likelihood of our picking something up.…
Whether on clinical or moral grounds, it seems clear that promiscuity has its price. [Wall Street Journal, 21 May 1987, p. 28]
Of course, more widespread in our society than the indulgence of personal sexual activity are the printed and photographed descriptions of those who do. Of that lustful environment a contemporary observer says,
We live in an age in which voyeurism is no longer the side line of the solitary deviate, but rather a national pastime, fully institutionalized and [circularized] in the mass media. [William F. May, quoted by Henry Fairlie, The Seven Deadly Sins Today (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1978), p. 178]
In fact, the rise of civilization seems, ironically enough, to have made actual or fantasized promiscuity a greater, not a lesser, problem. Edward Gibbon, the distinguished British historian of the eighteenth century who wrote one of the most intimidating works of history in our language (The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire), said simply,
Although the progress of civilisation has undoubtedly contributed to assuage the fiercer passions of human nature, it seems to have been less favourable to the virtue of chastity.… The refinements of life [seem to] corrupt, [even as] they polish the [relationship] of the sexes. [Edward Gibbon, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, vol. 40 of Great Books of the Western World, 1952, p. 92]
I do not wish us to spend this hour documenting social problems nor wringing our hands over the dangers that such outside influences may hold for us. As serious as such contemporary realities are, I wish to discuss this topic in quite a different way, discuss it specifically for Latter-day Saints—primarily young, unmarried Latter-day Saints, even those attending Brigham Young University. So I conspicuously set aside the horrors of AIDS and national statistics on illegitimate pregnancies and speak rather to a gospel-based view of personal purity.