A self-described “Gen-X Mormon” who grew up in Utah, 45-year-old Jake is intimately familiar with the experience of inserting his penis into a vagina before remaining perfectly still for the next “10 to 15 seconds.” Known as “soaking,” the sexual act that many generations of marinating Mormons have come to know and love has become TikTok’s latest fixation.
Outside of TikTok, where Mormon soaking videos have surpassed 10 million views, the internet is saturated with memes, jokes and videos trying to get a handle on the whole concept. Some hope it’s “fake moral panic like rainbow parties and sex bracelets,” and wonder whether soaking is “how Mary had a virgin birth.” Others beg for forgiveness after they “accidentally did a thrust while soaking.”
Jake explains that the rise of soaking has a lot to do with the “purity culture around Mormonism,” and the “mental gymnastics and rationalizations its members do to convince themselves they didn’t have sex.”
That is to say, rigid rules enforcing chastity, if not a total denouncement of anything even remotely sexual, are part of the Mormon Church’s foundational set of values. While this is true of many religious institutions, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ stance on sex is uniquely specific. According to “For the Strength of Youth,” a church pamphlet for Mormon children, acts forbidden outside of wedlock include “passionate kissing, [lying] on top of another person or [touching] the private, sacred parts of another person’s body, with or without clothing.” The church also goes so far as to forbid doing “anything else that arouses sexual feelings,” which is why young Mormon women and girls are often required to dress and act modestly so as to not “impact the minds and passions of men” or “prompt improper thoughts.”
Extremely conservative rules around sex and purity are known to lead to ingrained misogyny and at times even widespread sexual violence, but they’ve also given rise to a “paranoid psychosexual environment at places like [Brigham Young University],” according to Ann, a former Mormon.
To that end, when a bunch of “young, fit and horny people go off to the same college, but are still expected not to have sex, that raises a lot of issues,” says Jake. Born from all that fury and brimstone, then, is a litany of “sexual deeds for mutual satisfaction” that skirt around a very technical reading of the church’s “Law of Chastity” commandment, which is simply “that only in marriage between a man and a woman are we to have sexual relations.”
And if one assumes that “sexual relations” is technically defined as “the insertion and thrusting of the penis into the vagina for sexual pleasure,” then they’ve got some wiggle room. Per the community of ex-Mormons on Reddit, the most-practiced Mormon sexual loopholes include “hardcore dry humping,” along with other adages like “keep it moral, stick to oral,” “the poophole loophole” and “floating,” which can best be described by its more-visual moniker, “hotdogging.”
When it comes to soaking, however, many ex-Mormons in the subreddit view it as a classic college urban legend. That is, similar to the perennial university rumor of jizz-clogged drains in the freshman dorms, soaking is mostly discussed in terms of knowing a friend’s roommate’s cousin who did it in college.
But just because soaking is fueled by the rumor mill doesn’t mean it’s never been done. “In high school, I had a boyfriend who was insistent on soaking — even though we didn’t know it had a name,” Marie, a 27-year-old ex-Mormon in Utah, tells me. “He would just stick it in and not move, just chilling there for a hot minute with his dick inside me — no thrusting or anything because then it’d be sex. We’d just lay there in an embrace, maybe make out some, but for the most part that was it. Then he’d pull it out, and we’d give each other oral until we both came.”
To be sure, lying still while soaking is a near-impossible task. “In my experience, the ‘soaking’ hardly meets the proper definition of ‘soak,’ as it only lasts about 10 seconds,” Jake says. “It either gets too difficult to hold back [i.e., ejaculate], or the urge to go from pretending to have sex to actually having sex becomes impossible so you need to move onto something else.”
Ultimately, though, the approach and technique matters less than the fact that soaking allows young Mormons to inch one step close to sex without all the poisonous negativity the church bakes into it. “Women are told in not-so-subtle terms that a lot of their ‘worth’ comes from being a virgin,” Jake explains. “I’ve recently re-entered the dating pool and have dated two women who, when it came to P-in-the-V, suggested soaking for a little bit so they could maintain deniability of actually having sex.”
So as nonsensical as it may seem to those of us who grew up outside of the Mormon church, soaking can provide a much-needed escape to those within it. “We’re used to working around the technicalities of the rules,” Jake concludes. “We aren’t allowed coffee or tea, for example, but Red Bull is allowed. Soaking is to sex what Red Bull is to coffee — pretty much the same thing.”