When we think of Mormon sexuality (if we think about Mormon sexuality), we typically think of it as either a party in the shadows or Really Awkward Party in the shadows: stifled, frustrated Mormons who either 1) become even more uncomfortable in sexual situation or 2) find their destiny as overly-sexual beings.This presupposes, of course, that Mormons only express their sexuality in blatantly sexual situations. In fact, Mormons’ strict commitment to abstinence has prompted them to find other avenues for the expression of their sexual identities. Indeed, as Mormonism has expanded across the globe, American Mormons (particularly those in the Mormon Corridor) have found new ways of expressing their sexual identity while continuing to uphold the sexual standards of modern Mormonism.
Yes, we’re going there.
Kathryn Daynes’ survey treatment of Mormon polygamy, More Wives Than One: Transformation of the Mormon Marriage System, 1840-1910 is the best of its kind. Don’t let the relative brevity deceive you; this book has something for everyone. Rich anecdotes, a solid argument, and groundbreaking quantitative data pepper the book’s lively prose. Most importantly, she provides verifiable, hang-your-hat-on-it answers on the actual prevalence of polygamy in the Utah territory. Perhaps you have even heard a quote or two from early Mormon leaders blasting monogamy and imploring the Saints to embrace polygamy now; “it’s how things work in the hereafter, so get used to it.” Yet Mormon polygamy was an inconsistently-applied system of doctrinal principles, at best. There were success stories, broken hearts, and awkward divorces (which were ridiculously easy to get in territorial Utah–perhaps it’s no surprise that Mormons also settled Las Vegas). If you are going to read one book on Mormon polygamy, Daynes’ book will give you everything you need to understand the most distinctive feature of Mormon life in the 19th-century.