A Lesson on Porn – My Way

Last Sunday, our RS lesson was on “Let Virtue Garnish Thy Thoughts.” i.e. pornography. In my ward, this seems to be a rather frequent lesson topic.

I appreciated the RS women’s comments and stories. My heart went out to the women whose families have been damaged by this. And I also appreciated the fact that some women emphasized that overcoming this problem usually requires more than meeting with the bishop and praying – it calls for professional help. But while part of me absolutely agreed with the thrust of the lesson – that pornography can be a heartbreaking and pernicious threat to marriage, part of me also yearned to discuss other facets of this issue.

Questions I might bring up in my dream RS, followed by my own thoughts:

1.) Is it the act itself – looking at porn – that is truly the problem/bad/evil, or is it the potential consequences of the looking at porn? Or both?I personally tend to focus on consequences… If a man looks at porn, gets addicted, and starts to treat his wife/other women badly, I think the problem is bad. If a male looks at porn rarely, is not addicted, and does not treat his wife/other women badly because of it, it doesn’t seem to me that the act of looking at porn is nearly as big a problem.Perhaps I’m interested in making a distinction between the act of looking at porn and some possible consequences because I’m the mother of a little boy. And I’m reasonably sure that sometime in the next 15 years he’ll look at porn. How could he not in this day and age? I just don’t want him feeling like he’s going to hell or that he’s committed an unpardonable sin if he looks at it once or twice. Truthfully, I’d just be thrilled if he was able to avoid making a habit of looking at it.



2. Is it beneficial to distinguish between porn and erotica? Could there ever be a place for erotica in marriage, with both couples consenting?

In my mind, I like to make this distinction. I think of porn as being primarily about degradation and exploitation. For me, it’s about having sex with underage girls and boys, rape scenes, chains, etc. But I think of erotica as taking place between two consenting adults and having more artistic merit.


I personally think it’s better to stay away from visual porn in almost* any situation. However, I do wonder if there’s a place for erotica in a marriage. If both partners are interested at looking at it and both are totally agreeable – that doesn’t seem to be as bad as the type of porn that gets talked about at church. 3. Are women’s romance novels the equivalent to males looking at porn images? Are they as serious a problem? Why or why not?I myself must admit that I partake in the occasional steamy romance novel. And, well, they just don’t seem to be nearly as destructive as the stories I hear about visual porn. Although Mike refers to them as soft porn, he really doesn’t care whether or not I read them. I don’t think they at all negatively affect our marriage. If anything, I think the effect might be positive, since I’m usually so grateful that I didn’t marry a brute like the ones in the novels.

The thing that actually makes me particularly uncomfortable with romance novels is the way they constantly reinforce a patriarchal structure. They generally start out with brilliant, headstrong, talented young women who in the end are tamed into traditional marriage by their big hyper-masculine husband. I feel uncomfortable supporting literature that promotes this ideology. And yet they can be so damn entertaining!

When pornography is discussed by church leaders, 95% of the time it’s referring to visual porn. I can’t help but wonder if they do not focus on romance novels much because they just don’t affect families as negatively.

*I say almost because I know lots of couples who have had infertility issues. And the first step for dealing with this is testing the man. We all know what that involves…

Caroline

Caroline is a PhD student in Women's Studies in Religion and mother of three.

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  1. Paul says:

    There’s more than one way to skin a cat… er, get the sample. My wife has a close friend who happens to be Catholic (very strong prohibitions against self-gratification). When she and her husband were having fertility problems and needed the requisite testing they made producing the required sample a team effort.

  2. MarySquare says:

    To answer your questions:
    1) Yes, I think looking at porn itself can be destructive. For one, a lot of pornography, and I’m not talking about topless women, or Victoria’s Secret catalogs, or even Playboys, I’m talking porn that shows people having sex — is extremely derogatory to women. Women are treated as objects to be pummeled, dominated, and humiliated. I know very few women who like doing the things that are done to women in porn. I just don’t think you should look at other people having sex; it’s wrong in my opinion. Watching another person degrade another person is wrong.

    2) I do think there is a difference between porn and erotica. But I don’t think the distinction can be made in a RS meeting. It needs to be made between the couple. People have different kinds of “turn ons” and different “no-ways” and the two people involved need to talk about what is stimulating for their sex life in a way that is appropriate for both of them (erotica) and other stuff that is degrading or makes the other person uncomfortable. But like I said, not really something you want to be hashing out in RS.

    3) Women’s romance novels get tricky. For me, porn use becomes a problem when it consumes the person, becomes all she thinks about, and plans her life around times when she can get another fix. If a woman is reading romance novels in that way, arranging her life around them, avoiding responsibilities and relationships to spend more time with them. That’s the problem.

  3. john f. says:

    that doesn’t seem to be as bad as the type of porn that gets talked about at church.

    What type of porn do you think it is that is being talked about at church?

    I think you must be referring to soft porn in this post, even with your reference to “erotica”; otherwise your post is baffling. I am assuming that you have never — accidentally or otherwise — seen any actual hardcore pornography, otherwise your comment about your son eventually seeing porn occasionally or two temple-endowed Latter-day Saints in a marriage enjoying it together do not make much sense. You are probably correct that your son eventually will not be able to avoid seeing some soft porn, whether it’s a calendar with topless women hanging at his friend’s house or the content of schoolmates’ video iPods. You are probably also right that seeing porn, whether soft or hard, does not really by itself relegate anyone to hell, so kudos for wanting to teach your son that.

    But the subset of porn that you have identified in your post as being objectionable — sex with underaged girls, boys, rape scenes, chains, etc. — is really extraordinarily narrow, and much of that stuff is illegal and would land your son in jail if he were looking at it. The broader category of hardcore pornography is the toxic filth that is destroying families and lives. This material depicts the (actually holy) act of physical intimacy in every degrading way imaginable — but all between consenting adults. The harm and danger in this material seems to be that it normalizes unspeakable perversions performed by people on themselves and on other people — and even teaches people like your son sometime in the next decade (should he really get in to looking at it) that this stuff is what sex is about, including threesomes, group sex, swinger parties, all types of bodily perversions and other activities and/or attitudes that are directly contrary to the divine nature of every human being and of the human body.

    It is difficult to imagine that any of this material could be based on anything other than the sexual subjugation and degradation of women. The sexual objectification of women forms the very core meaning of pornography. Sexual exploitation and objectification of women reaches much further than the illegal types of pornography that you listed in your post. One could argue that every type of pornography is an exploitation and degrading objectification of women. (The age-old debate between art and pornography comes in here, because, undeniably, masterpieces of art that we are all aware of are based on depictions of the naked body, both male and female — but the pornography that is on the internet and all around us every day [even the so-called “soft porn”], and which your son will have to face growing up, has virtually nothing in common with Rodin or Michaelangelo or other such art; rather, it is entirely meant to stimulate and gratify sexually.) Looking at it causes men to look at women and their purpose in life differently. They become a means to and end and not and end in and of themselves that must be respected because of their own human dignity. It should be fought at every opportunity.

    Finally, another aspect of the harm of pornography that even a “consenting” temple-endowed married couple will be contributing to should they use it as “erotica” thinking that it is “art” is the damage done to the people in the pornography themselves. Trying to spice up a marriage by turning to pornography is the wrong way to go because the collateral damage is the “actors” themselves. Think about it — you are watching (and by watching/buying, encouraging) consenting adults commit some of the most grievous sins that exist: fornication and adultery. An extra layer on top of that is that the women depicted, although they might never admit it in real life (although some might be miserable enough to admit it), are actually victims, having perceived their economic condition or drug addictions (including alcohol) to drive them to do disgusting things (the men involved being 100% victimizers — for them the sex is real, not acting) that they would otherwise not want to do.

    The best course, in my view, is for the Church to continue to condemn the filth of pornography very loudly and clearly. I certainly don’t want any of my daughters stumbling into those paths, and I cringe to know that they might never meet a boy or young man whose mind has not been informed about what sex is and means (and therefore what they must do to comply and satisfy) by the perversions of a billion-dollar industry built on the misery and suffering of its main attractions and of the customers who find it more addicting than cocaine.

    I have thought a lot about this because I shudder to think of the world that my daughters have to face.

  4. cchrissyy says:

    “Think about it — you are watching (and by watching/buying, encouraging) consenting adults commit some of the most grievous sins that exist: fornication and adultery. An extra layer on top of that is that the women depicted, although they might never admit it in real life (although some might be miserable enough to admit it), are actually victims,”

    and I would add, you’re watching prostitution.
    admittedly, some porn is consenting ametuer couples putting up video of themself for free online, but most porn is made for profit, and everybody involved is being paid. the girls, specifically, are having sex for $. and no matter how awful or demeaning or injurious the scene is for them, they are told to act pleased, or grateful, or passive, or hurt, whatever is called for while they are being prostituted.

    Caroline, i too wonder if you’re vision of porn isn’t fully informed- it sounds so nice compared to what I’ve seen. It seems like you idealize it as “sexy” and “dirty”, but not as evil as it is…
    so
    I’d recommend this link

    http://www.oneangrygirl.net/prude.html

    Just a prude? Feminism, pornography, and men’s responsibility

    [Talk delivered to the Sexual Assault Network of Delaware annual conference, Woodside, DE, April 5, 2005.]

    (langauge, sex, etc. as they deconstruct some best-selling videos) I offer this because it makes sense to define popular porn as the “mainstream” and i think you’re envisioning the middle of the road to be way softer than it really is.

  5. Caroline says:

    Paul, very true. That is an option if the woman doesn’t have to work or something.

    Marysquare, good point about the way porn subjugates and degrades the women being depicted. I myself have never actually seen any hardcore porn – just playboy type stuff – so I’m not clear about all the things that happen in the hardcore porn.

    I agree with you about erotica within marriage – seems like something that individual couples can decide. And as for romance novels, I’d agree with you about its damaging qualities when it rises to the level of addiction.

    John,
    I suppose I’m trying to make a distinction between the kind of porn that is hardcore, violent, and that does degrade women, and the kind that depicts more of a gentle, romantic, artistic thing between two loving people. Like maybe NC-17 stuff. And you’re right – I’ve never seen hardcore porn or the softer, more romantic stuff which I would call erotica.

    Thanks for the info on hardcore porn. That does sound like totally nasty stuff I wouldn’t want anything to do with. But I am curious about the perversions you’re talking about. You probably don’t want to spell it out any clearer, but aside from the group sex, I’m assuming you’re talking about sex acts that go beyond the stuff that married couples generally do?

    I’m interested in the idea that porn/erotica is fundamentally about degrading and objectifying women. I’m inclined to agree with that, but I’m not sure I totally understand why. If men are being depicted too, are they also being degraded and objectified?

  6. Caroline says:

    cchryissy,
    Good point about prostitution. Thanks for the link. I will check it out.

  7. cchrissyy says:

    “I cringe to know that they might never meet a boy or young man whose mind has not been informed about what sex is and means (and therefore what they must do to comply and satisfy) by [the porn industry]”

    oh, me too! seriosuly, I know how exposure to those ideas and images really screwed up my own development. I emerged from my teens with awful distorted ideas about what men want, how to be “hot”, and what people normally do. Of course that led me right into exploitive relationships with young guys who’s been similarly informed about how they should act and what they could expect girls to do.
    and for the more innocent, I don’t mean “it led me to have sex”
    I mean, it informed how to act during dating and sex- what you wear, how to talk and be spoken to, how to touch and get touched, what you could ask the other person too do, does no mean no, and all of these being more dirty, more aggressive, more selfish.

    and though my husband and I have pulled out of those contaminated formative years, I know many men I encounter in everyday activity have not had to challenge the twisted ideas they learned, and continue to learn, form pornographic media.

    if you read the link above, and understand how widespread that sort of viewing is, then you realize feminism has a real problem here- a large chunk of men being trained to see women that way. ugh.

  8. Caroline says:

    And thanks, CChrissyy, for relating your experience with it. I generally think of porn having negative effects on boys, but I hadn’t thought about the way it can directly negatively affect girls.

  9. cchrissyy says:

    thanks Caroline… I’ll just go hyperventalite now because I’m nearly certain my little sister and some ward members read here.

    I’d point out that even if a girl could avoid all the exposure, that meeting a guy whose mind is poisoned with these expectations can be devastating.

    I know several LDS wives with very naive upbringings whose husbands had hidden porn use, and the ideas and expectations he got about what women should do, look like, or act like were HUGE trials for them which they understood as personal inadequacy until finally they realized there was no truth to those requests and expectations and that it was the porn talking, not the loving husband underneath.

  10. Caroline says:

    Cchrissyy,
    That was one thing that someone brought up in the RS lesson – how so often, when a husband starts using porn, he blames the wife for not being sexy, exciting enough for him. That’s totally awful.

  11. Caroline says:

    So I’m really learning about porn by people’s comments. I’m now thinking of some definitions that might be helpful:
    a) hardcore porn which is completely degrading and nasty and shows full explicit sex in all sorts of ways.
    b) soft porn – playboys, pictures of naked women
    c)erotica – NC-17 movies. (But maybe erotica goes beyond that?)

    Does that sound right?

  12. MarySquare says:

    Caroline to respond to one of your comments:
    “I suppose I’m trying to make a distinction between the kind of porn that is hardcore, violent, and that does degrade women, and the kind that depicts more of a gentle, romantic, artistic thing between two loving people.”

    Someone very near and dear to me is addicted to pornography use and says if more of the lovey dovey type of porn existed, his addiction would go through the roof. The truth is, there is very little lovey dovey romantic porn because for the most part, the creators and consumers of visual porn are men.

    And you asked john f. about degrading stuff that isn’t violent or illegal but still degrading — right now a current trend in porn is depicting anal sex and a thing called “facials.” I won’t go into details and if this is too much information, please edit it out. But I have never met any woman in real life that would want to receive said “facial.”

    And of course porn is degrading to men too — of course! Men are also being prostituted and portrayed as dominating men who need several women to please them and they have no personalities, no redeeming qualities, they just like to have sex. How is that sexy in any way?

  13. Anonymous says:

    I would add that it helps to consider that porn often is not the real problem, but rather a symptom of deeper issues. The real problems are usually unmet emotional needs, sometimes sexual needs, and sometimes a symptom of deeply held shame, sexual or otherwise. Pornography is a false solution to these problems, which is why it becomes habitual – the user feels the needs falsely met for a short time, but then the needs reappear.

    The vilification of pornography users that happens in the church only adds to the shame and actually heightens the problem. We need to take a step back and stop treating pornography users with such vile contempt and outrage.

    Often I hear council given to young women to never date anyone who says they’ve looked at pornography. And if they do find someone they think is worthy who claims to be over the problem, to not date them unless it’s been many years since their last lapse. I’ve heard people say 5 years. Never less than 2.

    This is destructive council for young men in the church. We are asking them to stop the symptom of the problem (pornography) without allowing them to pursue the one path that can fulfill these needs (true emotional intimacy through a relationship.) Even if someone manages to “stop” the pornography use, they haven’t solved the problem until those needs are met in righteous ways, but the attitude in the church heaps so much shame on our men that it become impossible to do that.

    Pornography use will go down among men in the church when we stop considering it so despicable and instead treat the underlying problems with compassion, patience, and hope. Pornography does not tear marriages apart. People tear marriages apart. I’m sorry for all the girls in the church who hope to marry the qualified young men who never saw a pornographic image. Because those men are scarce.

    Stop treating those affected by pornography as lepers and we’ll begin making progress.

  14. Dave says:

    Caroline, you deserve credit for posting on a controversial topic that is likely to garner criticism from all quarters. In the modern Church, porn is (by definition) Evil — and any attempt to actually discuss it rather than condemn it is going to get you in trouble.

    For example, your suggestion that in some scenarios there may be no bad consequences and that perhaps porn might therefore be less than Fully Evil won’t get anywhere when porn is, by definition, Evil. Consequences have nothing to do with it.

    Homosexuality was once treated this way in the Church. Now even LDS leaders take pains to distinguish orientation from conduct, and are trying to make gays feel more welcome in the Church as long as they don’t practice or advocate homosexual conduct.

    In fact, I think there’s more toleranace in the Church at the moment for gay men than there is for hetero men — whose evil male libido drives the porn industry. The gusto with which LDS leaders and LDS women (whether “feminist” or not) use the porn stick to beat men with suggests there’s more going on here than simple denunciation of sin.

  15. Caroline says:

    Anonymous, wow, thanks for your input. I had never heard that YW were advised to not date a man who had looked at porn anytime in the last 2 or 5 years. (Haven’t been in YW for 12 years.) That does seem harsh. And unrealistic, given that I would assume the majority of LDS YM have seen it at least a couple of times.

    I appreciate your point about how a porn addict needs emotional support and love to get over the problem. I’m sympathetic to a man in that situation. I would love for him to get that emotional support. But the cautious part of me would be anxious if my daughter were dating a man who was currently addicted to porn. Very anxious.

    I love your idea about treating the problem with compassion, love, and hope. Perhaps, like Dave says, the rhetoric will become more gentle and compassionate over time, like it has with the issue of homosexuality.

    Dave, thanks for making that comparison between homosexuality and porn. Very intriguing.

  16. john f. says:

    Caroline, it is not controversial to say that pornography is equal opportunity evil, sullying both men and women. However, my understanding is that regular pornography (as opposed to gay pornography) does not really objectify men or men’s bodies as sex objects. The focus is the women, their bodies, and the horrible sex acts that the men involved are able to get them to do to each other and to the men involved. Another layer is that for the men involved, the sex is real, not acting.

    I might add that it seems very dangerous to speculate about benign use of pornography having not seen what is actually “mainstream” as “regular” pornography or “erotica” now to know what it really is that you think might be fine for temple-endowed LDS couples to engage in as long as both “are cool with it”.

  17. john f. says:

    True wisdom here is coming from cchrissy. I hope that she is able to spread that message to as many people as humanly possible. It is inconceivable that boys and men who are raised on pornography can treat a girl or woman with respect or have any kind of realistic idea of what intimacy and sex are about, or what is or is not appropriate, even in marriage.

  18. john f. says:

    We need to take a step back and stop treating pornography users with such vile contempt and outrage.

    Wrong. The Church should never cease in teaching its people to live righteously. Pornography is the opposite of that. Outrage in the context of combating pornography is entirely called for. However, the Church should continue to help those who have subjected themselves to this addiction to escape its grasps through continued emphasis on the healing power of the Atonement, and on evil nature of pornography.

  19. Deborah says:

    Per Anonymous and Dave: I worry that we talk about it in such a heavy-handed way to our boys at church. Just like I don’t want my girls sitting through a “gross wilted rose” lesson on chastity, and don’t want my boys vilified for having been turned on by a dirty video. Important discussions? Yes. But I think I’d prefer for my husband and I to cover that territory when we get to that point . . . I’ve just heard too many bad lessons about all aspects of chastity, pornography, and sexuality. I’ll have no problem being out of town on those Sundays . . .

  20. john f. says:

    Dave, your comment is curious.

    When sexual sin is no longer sin, then pornography will be okay. Until that happens, it is very difficult to imagine how or why the Church would step back from calling it evil.

    On the other hand, despite the fear I have for my daughters’ future, I agree with Anon’s when she/he implied that instructing young women not to spend time with young men who have looked at pornography within the last 2 to 5 years (I hadn’t heard that policy either) is not a productive approach. However, Anon, your solutions for getting young men to stop looking at pornography are unrealistic; for one thing, they are too esoteric to build a practical program around. Also, young men and men need to realize that they themselves need to take responsibility for not looking at pornography and cannot blame their weakness in returning to it for the sexual gratification that it brings them on unquantifiable emotional or sexual needs that are supposedly going unsatisfied.

    Finally, studies have shown that pornography actually alters the brain in serious ways. It causes real damage and is not something to play with. Consenting married couples looking to spice up their marriage should not take crack; similarly, they should not use pornography.

  21. Caroline says:

    John F, I appreciate your input. I don’t, however, think it’s at all wrong to *speculate* on benign use of erotica. I think it’s an interesting moral question that moral temple endowed people might come to different conclusions on.

    Marysquare, thanks for the added info. That does sound pretty bad. Yikes.

    Deborah, I’m with you. I’ll try to be out of town on those days as well.

  22. Anonymous says:

    Caroline, I appreciate your willingness to tackle this painful topic. I would, however, like to suggest that you do a lot more research on it; your piece seems to me to be remarkably naive.

    I can’t get behind your “consequences” idea; to me, one of the first and major problems of porn is that it promptly teaches, in a very powerful way, that people (especially women, of course) are to be used as objects for gratification. Porn is isolating, not connecting. It teaches selfishness and that inflicting pain is pleasure. The image of sex it gives boys is distorted and damaging, and difficult to remove.

    And I don’t think much of soft-porn romance novels either. 🙂

  23. Caroline says:

    Oh anonymous, I totally admit that I’m naive on this subject. And I’m learning so much because I posted on it! No regrets here.

    I’d like to explore my consequences idea further. Perhaps this is all about how we let porn affect us. If we let it teach us unhealthy, damaging things then that’s bad. If we see it and it doesn’t arouse us, doesn’t teach us bad things, well, then, that one or two times of just looking at it doesn’t seem that bad. To me.

    I think it’s interesting to put the moral responsibility on the viewer and how it affects him/her rather than focus on the evilness of the object itself.

  24. cchrissyy says:

    i do very much agree with anon about not demonizing the good men who are wrapped up in porn. I spoke before about mainstream men, partaking of porn because society accepts that, and how it warps their views of women.

    among LDS men, there is no acceptance for any level of porn use, so he’s already shamed and self-hating enough, no matter what level of severity he is problem is at he knows it’s wrong and he doesn’t need your criticism. the best thing you can do is support his healing whatever pain he was medicating int he first place and help him realize he IS redeemable and still worthy of love and christ’s atonement.

  25. Starfoxy says:

    Pornography is one place in which my prudishness and feminisim nicely coincide.

    I have absolutely no tolerance for porn whatsoever. And I will say that I think the policy decried by anonymous (to not date a man who has watched porn in the past 2 years) is actually some really good advice. I will also even come out and condemn teasteful erotica. I think that Heavenly Father knew what he was talking about when he said that sex is for married couples only.

    My reason why are these- when sex and sexual thoughts are stictly confined within a loving relationship between equals then the only meanings any sex act has are the interwoven desires for pleasure of self and pleasure of your spouse. (For example, I’m happy, he’s happy, I’m happy because he’s happy, he’s because I’m happy etc.) In this sort of relationship any sex acts that are inherently degrading are byond consideration. Neither spouse could take pleasure in the degradation of their partner. Acts that are only contextually degrading are fine because the only context those acts exist in for this couple is the confines of their loving relationship.

    Once you watch, read about, or discuss any sex act that act becomes imbued with meaning- and just about every single stinking time the take away message is that women are lessened by having taken part. The most common way to think about sex in our society is as a game where if sex happens the man won and the woman lost- in other words this mindset defines sex as inherently degrading to women. Men and woman who have sex together under this mindset are poisoning their relationships and themselves. Some people can still have happy relationships despite this- they are the exception to the rule. Pornography, more blantantly than pop cultute, teaches men and women that the more degraded and absed the woman is the sexier she is and the more disgust and contempt a man feels for his partner the more he will enjoy himself. I could never encourage a woman to date or marry a man who so recently was taught that her suffering will be his pleasure. Turning such a man away is an exercise of self preservation, not an excuse to demonize and shame him.

    Welcoming other people’s definitions of sex and what it means into a marriage is a risk I simply cannot take, and cannot encourage others to take. I keep out what I can, and try to overcome what I can’t avoid.

    I’ll agree that we shouldn’t demonize men and women who are caught up in it.

  26. Paul says:

    I’d like to compare the use of pornography to the use of alcohol and gambling. All three activities are capable of producing negative consequences for a small subset of the population but are rather inocuous diversions for the vast majority of the population. However, the negative behaviors exhibited by those who become addicted to those activities are so great that a general prohibition by God and the Church is more than justified. But I think to a certain extent LDS have elevated pornography to a gravity level it doesn’t deserve. I’ve yet to hear of the porn addict that spent the family rent on his addiction or failed to come home for three days while feeding his addiction. So why the obsession with pornography? Can someone please explain?

  27. Zillah says:

    The problem with simply viewing hard core pornography once or twice is not necessarily because it will immediately transform a person into a sex-crazed, women-subjugating addict, but rather, I believe, because even just one viewing immediately drives the Spirit away and sears the mind with some pretty horrific images. In other words: one or two accidental viewings are a problem not because a sin has been committed, but because of the effect on the individual.

    I’m pretty ambivalent about erotica. I’ve come across some rather beautiful erotic images online, which I felt glorified the human body, so I suppose that I would say that the viewing of such images, which are the opposite of exploitative, are up to the couple. However, I know that my husband, mainly due to the constant repetition that the male gender is naturally sex-obsessed and has to strive consistently to avoid sin, would feel uncontrollably and unbearably guilty about viewing such images (he does have some issues with OCD and guilt…). I must say, though, that “erotica” is not an NC-17 movie, which, more often than not, is just plain pornography.

    I feel that many Mormons, when they think of “pornography”, picture something akin to Playboy. As objectifying as that publication is, it doesn’t come close to what is viewed on a regular basis by millions upon millions of people at the same time. I’ve lived in Europe and have been exposed to soft core porn on a regular basis, but I was completely unprepared for the filth of hard core pornography. These videos and pictures do nothing except to reduce both the men and especially the women to nothing more than objects–men are usually pared down to nothing but their genitalia, and women are nothing more than bodies to be used and humiliated for the pleasure of men. And, based on questions that are asked on a number of sex ed sites that I’ve been to, a terrifyingly high number of young men–and even young women–believe that sex should be just like hard core porn, that those practices are normal (they often don’t even go as far as questioning whether they are “right” as opposed to “wrong”), and that if they don’t occur, there’s something wrong.

    Pornography is not liberating for men or women; it traps everyone, whether because they actively view pornography, or because they live in a society where it is so prevalent and accepted and has such an influence on behavior and relationships.

  28. Kristine N says:

    Something like 99% of all men look at porn at some point in their lives. Somehow, significantly less than 99% of all males have abusive, explotitative, or otherwise bad relationships with their significant other in spite of their use of porn. I don’t buy the argument that looking at porn is always bad for all men.

    I do think there are attitudes that some men bring to porn that make them susceptible to addiction or to assimilating the ideas present in porn as “the way things should be.” However, acceptance of porn as an ideal is probably more a reflection of deeply-held beliefs rather than an inevitable outcome of looking.

    If we want to combat the inappropriate ideas men get about women, supposedly from porn, we should give them appropriate ideas, not just say “this isn’t it.” Sexuality is a huge part of being human, but is not a topic we readily discuss in church, except to say “not outside marriage.” While I think this is probably what the church should limit itself to, parents need to fill in the gap with depictions of appropriate sexuality, most significantly within their own marriage.

  29. Anonymous says:

    Ah, sorry for the confusion about the “2 year” advice – that’s not official church policy or practice, just something I’ve heard most mormons say in these types of discussions, including various priesthood meetings, etc…

    I’m not trying to say pornography is good, or that those who use it aren’t negatively affected. I’m saying the root problem is beyond pornography, and that one of the reasons it seems to affect us so much is because of the shame and despair we heap on men who deal with it.

    I have spoken at great length with many of my non-LDS friends about this… They all talk about how when the internet became a haven for porn, they looked around, saw all sorts of stuff, and then grew tired of it. None of them care for it. They laugh at it. It holds no allure for them. They have good relationships with their girlfriends. And yet my Mormon friends who deal with this problem walk around with heavy hearts and huge burdens, they have trouble building any relationship with mormon girls, feeling unworthy and unable to move forward with their lives.

    So why were my non-LDS friends able to just let Pornography go as they grew up, and yet my staunch Mormon friends continue to be dragged into this pit of despair where they feel their failures are insurmountable… it’s almost as if the church teaches that the atonement can work for porn users, but beware, because even though they’re clean, they’re still vile creatures who might lapse back into old habits at any moment and they’re so broken that even though they’re “clean”, they’ll never be worthy of a loving LDS relationship again.

    So yes, I think the way we deal with the problem is part of the reason why so many are affected by it so deeply. Without the stigma the organization throws at it, making it such a heavy weight, it sure would be easier to shed.

    Mormons talk about pornography as if it’s nearly as bad as murder. It’s not even in the same ballpark.

  30. John says:

    I wonder what we would be comfortable looking at if Jesus were in the room with us?

    That may be a simplistic answer to a more complex situation, but sometimes we try to drive too close to the edge of the cliff, rather than stay safely to the middle of the straight and narrow path.

    Would Jesus enter the room if we were reading porn? Sure he would. He dined and mingled with sinners. But how long would he stay there if we ignored him?

  31. Bored in Vernal says:

    This has been a very valuable conversation–thanks to Caroline for bringing it up.

    Perhaps I won’t be able fully understand the dangers of porn because I have never encountered it. In my mind I pictured porn as being very graphic images of the male and female genitalia. And I have a problem with this being called “vile” and “disgusting.”

    Because of the dangers of addiction and the associated behaviors which have been discussed on this thread, I will trust in the counsel that has been given by Church leaders. However, I will give some credence to Caroline’s postulation that it is the behavior associated with pornography that is objectionable, and not just the viewing of the naked human body. This would include the money-making industry, the physical hurting of another, and the promotion of damaging relationships.

    I think we can easily make a distinction between sinful pornography and nude art or erotica by observing these behaviors. I have never seen the degradation of another human being take place inside of a museum where nude art was displayed, for example.

    (Though I see no moral compunction against erotica in a marital relationship, I see no redeeming value that it might have in strengthening marital relationships or overcoming problems that exist. Problems with marital intimacy usually have a deeper cause than that which erotica can address.)

  32. Caroline says:

    John, I don’t know if that standard works so well. I wouldn’t want Jesus in the room if I were making out with my husband, let alone having perfectly normal sex with him.

    Starfoxy,paul, Kristine, anony, I’m loving all your comments, but am getting to exhausted to reply to each one. Thanks for contributing!

  33. Caroline says:

    BOV,
    I appreciate your input. Your comments about the behavior associated with porn being the problem have sparked this thought in me:

    Perhaps I’m uncomfortable with an object being so flatly called ‘evil.’ Is it possible for an inanimate object to be evil? I’m inclined to say that no, an object can’t be evil – it’s what people do with the object that is evil.

    E.g. guns. I don’t like them. I dislike violence. But I don’t want to say that they are evil. People simply misuse them. Same with drugs and alcohol.

    Anyway,does that distinction resonate with anyone?

  34. Eve says:

    John said,

    “I wonder what we would be comfortable looking at if Jesus were in the room with us?”

    Although I’m highly in favor of striving to conduct ourselves worthy of the Spirit at all times, I think this familiar line ultimately doesn’t work when it comes to sexuality. Sex is private. I wouldn’t feel comfortable engaging in sex with my husband while Jesus or anyone else is in the room, but that doesn’t mean that such sex is wrong–merely that it’s private.

    I’m with Starfoxy–porn is where my feminism and my prudishness most happily coexist–but I think in this case the old line about imagining Jesus watching us all the time runs the risk of confounding the personal (and sacred) with the immoral. We’ve already got enough of that confusion going on in the way too many of us teach and learn about sex (sex is dirty, save it for the one you love, and other old familiar contradictions).

  35. Starfoxy says:

    Caroline- I see the distinction but I don’t think I agree with how you’ve framed it. You seem to be saying ‘a gun is to murder as porn is to a destroyed marriage.’ Instead I would say ‘a gun is to murder as sex is to porn.’ The gun and the sex are the arguably neutral tools, and murder and porn are the ways those tools can be misused.

    I don’t think porn can be a neutral tool because the people who create it fill it with meaning.

  36. Anonymous says:

    I don’t know if this is an appropriate link to post, but some of you may find it interesting. Some time ago, a woman working at a video store posted her journal online. It contains rather a lot on the subject of porn and the customers, and mentions some topics and video titles. True Porn Clerk Stories It may be a good way to realize just what some porn involves, without illustrations or huge amounts of language.

  37. John says:

    Eve,

    The original post asked about porn, not sex. Except maybe in the second question. So maybe the question should be WWJD?

  38. fMhLisa says:

    I only skimmed all the comments, because I’ve gotta run, but i wanted to add that (one of the many) big problems I personally have with casual or occasional porn use that it may not really have major life consequences for the viewer, is that this use have very real effects on the viewees. Porn actors both male and female are a pitiful group of young people. they’ve been victimized their whole lives, and the sum of average-people’s casual or occasional use of porn supports the continued devastation of their lives.

  39. Anonymous says:

    I think it is really dangerous to assume you can control how porn will affect you. For many men the influences of porn on the brain cause a physical addiction. They can’t control how it influences them, although they can rationalize it. That’s what happened to my husband, and the only way he has been able to be free is to be really honest with himself– not a little here and there, not only soft core, not only stuff by couples– none of it. There is good reason for the advice given by the Church to totally avoid it.

  40. Melanie says:

    Caroline, Eve–
    You’ve said, and I agree, that you wouldn’t be comfortable having sex with Jesus (or anyone else) in the room. But doesn’t porn put the viewer in the position of that third-party audience? It seems pretty clear to me that sex is inappropriate viewing for anyone other than the couple actually involved. If we don’t want anyone watching us have sex, why would it ever be OK for us to watch erotica and/or porn?

  41. Eve says:

    Melanie, Oh, I would wholeheartedly agree that that’s precisely the position porn does put the viewer in. I don’t have any interest in defending porn, which I object to on both religious and feminist grounds. My only point, a fairly minor one, was simply that a desire for privacy in certain aspects of one’s life does not necessarily mean that those aspects of life are shameful or immoral. Immoral acts are often committed in secret, but secrecy does not necessarily indicate immorality. (We temple-worshiping Mormons ought to understand this intuitively….)

  42. Mark IV says:

    An interesting discussion Caroline. I just have a couple of points to add.

    While we can agree that pornography is overall a very bad thing and the world would be a better place without it, I think we need to realize that some ways of resisting it are better than others. I was a little surprised to find out that hotels in Provo that offer pornos on pay per view actually sell more of them than the average hotel does elsewhere. Porn is by nature boring – there are only so many ways to depict the procreative act and the various body parts associated with it. I think we need to consider the possibility that our frequent and fervent denunciations make the forbidden fruit more attractive.

    I have no doubts whatsoever that porn has ruined some lives and some marriages. But the simple fact of the matter is that probably a third to one half of the men under the age of 50 who sit in the pews at sacrament meeting in your ward are fighting with porn to some degree. They’re not out raping teenagers or committing group orgies. In fact, there is plenty of evidence to indicate that sex crimes decline as the availability of porn increases. The vast majority of men involved in porn are good guys who have a problem, and the guilt they experience is debilitating and counter-productive.

  43. Recovering Addict says:

    I’m addicted to pornography.

    For me, pornography itself is an addiction, but it’s also a symptom of a defective set of beliefs about God and myself. Under these beliefs there is no solution. One has a relapse, finally breaks out of it (after an hour or a month), and experiences guilt and shame beyond what is needful. This drives a period of sobriety that must ultimately fail, simply because its foundation is pathetically weak.

    Breaking out of the cycle, for me, can only be done knowing Truths about God and myself. He loves me, and mourns when I suffer. I cannot manage my life by myself. I can only succeed by letting Him drive.

    In other words, for me and every other addict (to porn, alcohol, drugs, spending, you name it) I’ve ever met, the only hope lies in learning things that ‘normal’ people take for granted. Our minds are not like yours, and they need to be changed. I thank my Father that He sent a Physician who can heal my mind and desires to do so. (I personally suspect this is related to what someone mentioned about changes in the brains of addicts, as also taught by Dr. Dean Belnap on MeridianMagazine.com several years ago.)

    The Church (through LDS Family Services) recently put out a manual for its Addiction Recovery Program, based on the 12-step program of Alcoholics Anonymous. The steps help the recovering addict to allow the Lord to come in and rewire his or her brain. It’s marvelous.

    Now knowing my perspective, I hope you’ll forgive this frank statement: naive doesn’t begin to describe the person who believes he or she can derive sexual stimulation from images of others’ bodies or acts, even accompanied with a spouse, and get away without a scratch.

    Why? It’s because this behavior is SELFISH. It’s the exact opposite of “Thy will be done.”

    It’s fire, baby. Don’t get burned, even a little, because this fire will consume you. Yes, you.

  44. Caroline says:

    MarK IV, great points. I agree with you.

    recovering addict, thanks for sharing your story. It sounds like it’s been a rough road for you. I don’t think I’m comfortable going as far as you do, since I’ve known people who have looked at it once or twice and have not suffered ill effects. For me, the problem becomes scary – not if it’s a one time thing – but if it’s habitual.

  45. recovering addict says:

    Thanks Caroline.

    I guess the trick, then, is to know whether one is going to be snagged by porn upon first view.

    One could naturally perform an experiment to find out, but I propose that the risks of said experiment outweigh any potential benefits.

  46. Anonymous says:

    Comparing porn with alcohol and other addictions is somewhat misleading in important ways.

    A person can drink a beer and never drink one again. It leaves the body after a fairly short period of time, even in addicts.

    Use heroin and the body recovers fairly soon.

    In both these instances a person has to repeat the act over and over for it to affect the body.

    Porn is totally unlike that. You see a movie or photo and that picture is with you for the rest of your life. 30 years later while making love to your spouse the image may pop up in your mind. On your death bed it may come to your mind. In the temple the image may appear in your mind. Taking the sacremant it may appear in your mind.

    A person doesn’t even have to be an addict for this to happen and they don’t even have to have deliberately sought out the images.

    Sex is sacred. Porn denigrates it to satan’s use. How can this be good in any way? Or even neutral?

    This thread mentions more than once that the posters are separating so called soft porn for hard core porn. There is no difference. All are tools used to make sex less than sacred.

    Porn demeans both men and women. It is a one size hurts all evil.

    It is wrong to attempt to justify just a little sin. If it is a sin a person is having trouble avoiding then to that person it is a huge sin.

    Erotica. My gosh people. Sex isn’t about using tools. It is about loving your spouse. I admit to totally failing to understand any merit to this being anything other than a euphamism for porn.

    And last but not least. Hate the sin but love the sinner. No one deserves to ostracised. Every single one of us has problems with sin. Just because one seems to be more ‘acceptable’ doesn’t make it acceptable.

  47. cchrissyy says:

    Caroline, you may like this naomi wolf article about the effects of porn-saturated upbringing
    http://nymag.com/nymetro/news/trends/n_9437/

    and there is recent discussion about the negatives of consensual/ametuer porn and erotic/soft-core porn over at the obvious folder at the “I blame the patriarchy” forum.

  48. Anonymous says:

    The origin of women who prostitute themselves either literally or through pictures is the thing that helped me reconsider my feelings on porn. I used to think it was somewhat healthy and normal to be curious and I was and it was but now I’m older now and feel that the origins of this behavior are sad and tortured paths of dysfunctional thinking and oversexualized societies. A whole different meaning to something else entirely. I’m really unsure of your difference between porn and erotica? Can you explain that please.

  49. Matt Thurston says:

    I’m sure I’ll get hammered for this, but many of the comments here are McCarthyesque in their (lack of) subtlety. Let’s just take for granted that pornography may be addictive, can ruin relationships, sometimes objectifies women, is sometimes produced by ethically or morally challenged people/corporations, and sometimes attracts men and women “performers” who could be emotionally or psychologically unstable. But each of those problems are simply *not* universal. I say this not to condone pornography, but to bring the question back into perspective.

    Is all pornography/erotica evil? Is all pornography/erotica derogatory to women? Such blanket, black-and-white assumptions makes me wonder about the negative consequences for human sexuality in general, and for healthy sexual communication and expression in relationships, (to say nothing of the negative consequences for people trapped in out-of-proportion guilt/shame spirals on one side, or poisonous blame/censure campaigns on the other, as a few people have already mentioned).

    People are sexual beings, and while selfish, depraved excess is to be avoided and condemned on the one hand, prudish, bottled up, iron fist control should be equally avoided on the other… somewhere in-between is healthy moderation, balance, perspective.

    Contrary to John F.’s point of view, I just don’t see sex as simply a “holy act of physical intimacy.” There is something wonderfully wild, untamed, reckless, and physically/emotionally/spiritually freeing not just in the sexual act itself, but in being a sexual being, in receiving and processing sexual cues from the environment around us. Is this by design to give us happiness and pleasure, or are they pitfalls and road blocks to test and torment us?

    I may be taking the discussion beyond the scope of Caroline’s post, but in a round about way, this seems to be what she is asking.

    For anyone interested, Cetti Cherniak has written a wonderful two-part article in the last two issues of Dialogue called “The Theology of Desire” that addresses some of these questions. Levi Peterson also once wrote an interesting essay entitled “In Defense of Mormon Erotica.”

  50. Caroline says:

    Matt, thanks for your thoughtful comments.

    Like you, I would love to see a bit more subtlety and nuance in LDS porn rhetoric. I fear the consequences of extreme rhetoric, for those who happen to look at porn once or twice.

    I need to check those Dialogue articles out. Thanks for the reference.

  51. business woman says:

    Caroline,

    Would you watch a couple making tasteful romantic love in person? If no (which I hope is the case) Then why is watching them in erotica any different?

    Is this couple even married? If you feel sex with your husband is special, and marriage actually means something, why would you buy/view/obtain material that promotes erotic sex between most likely two random strangers.

    Just something to think about.

  52. Caroline says:

    Business woman,
    I don’t know if the in person/not in person argument works for me. I, in person, hate to see a couple argue. But in a dramatic movie, I have no problem watching it.

    Regarding erotica, I have no firm conclusions about its general acceptability or lack thereof. But I do think that a case for it could be made, especially for couples who struggle sexually.

  53. just another hypocrite says:

    It’s funny to read all these comments about pornography, mostly from people who have never been exposed to it. As for me, I’m actually downloading some pornographic videos right now, through a peer-to-peer file-sharing network. Why? Well, because I like to see naked women.

    I’ve been fascinated by them my entire life, since boyhood. It’s part of my genetic code. Even as a very young boy, I fantasized about beautiful women– like Maria from Sesame Street. Then I moved on to catalogs from department stores, which showed women in underwear. I watched half-scrambled cable movies, stole magazines, etc., until I was old enough to buy my own pornography legitimately. And I don’t think my case is terribly exceptional. Almost all boys find girls very interesting, and by and large, I think they try to catch a glimpse wherever and whenever they can.

    What’s different about this age we live in is that there is SO MUCH pornography, and it is SO EASY to get, and it is SO HARD CORE. Pornography used to be scarce, difficult to obtain without getting caught and getting in trouble, and mostly pretty mild (comparatively). When I was a kid, you had to work to find it. Now, you almost have to work to avoid it.

    I don’t know how to fix this problem, frankly. (And, yes, I do think it’s a problem. Although I like it, I know it’s wrong for me to do what I do. Wish I was man enough to really stick with the repentance process. But I’m a cowardly, weak, lonely, pathetic loser. Bummer.)

    We’re getting married at older and older ages, and being exposed to sex at younger and younger ages. Thus, the dangerous time in which bad habits are often formed is stretching out in both directions. How do you fight that? Marry younger? (Easier said than done.) Protect kids from being exposed to sex? (Not in this country.)

    I don’t really know why I wrote all this. I don’t have anything to offer, as far as answers go. I just thought it was funny to see all you women who’ve never seen porn discussing it. (Some of the men, too, sound unbelievably ignorant.) You’ve never been exposed to erotica or soft porn, much less the real hard-core stuff, and yet here you are drawing distinctions and wondering what sorts might be acceptable for a good LDS couple. Hilarious.

    I would tell you all to check it out and get an education, but it’s mostly varying flavors of horrible, so I suppose I am glad you are all so poorly informed. Better for your discussions to stay in the realm of irrelevant philosophical abstraction. Or better yet, don’t wonder about what it is. Don’t discuss it. Don’t contemplate it. It’s toxic. Just stay the hell away from it. And good luck with your kids. You’re going to need it.

  54. No matter how you slice the pornography issue, it’s pretty ridiculous that almost every priesthood session is dedicated to porn.

    I don’t think porn ranks in the top 100 problems that face the Church, unless the problem is people making a mountain out of a molehill.

    And the fact that the LDS Church and its leaders are so obsessed with porn just drives the cycle of guilt that both men and women experience, only amplifying the issue and promoting addiction.

    The productive way to handle pornography issues is to encourage people to be anxiously engaged in a good cause and have a healthy sex life. According to medical experts, it is completely normal human behavior for males to masturbate sometimes (including sexually active married males). So everyone needs to just relax, come to terms with the realities of sexuality, and do their best to be good people. If a man or woman is TRULY addicted to pornography, (e.g. it interferes with the person’s ability to function in the home and as a member of society), then counseling is warranted.

    Obviously, there are a lot of bad things about porn. But with all the problems we have in this world, I think most Mormons are overreacting to this issue. I can’t tell you how many Mormon marriages I’ve seen destroyed by women ditching their “unworthy porn-addicted” husbands for watching porn once a month (define as porn addiction by many). Outside of Mormondom, most women would be thrilled to know that this is the worst thing their husbands ever did.

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