Because the brethren won't…

by Jana

Recently I received the following comment in our weekly RS e-newsletter following a summary of a pornography lesson:

“On that note, I want to pass along a plea from the Bishop to any who might be worried about pornography’s influence on their own family: “Tell the sisters that if pornography is a problem in their home, to come and see me—because the brethren won’t.”

I found this quotation from the Bishop troubling because he’s encouraging women to ‘narc’ on their husbands. Because addictive behavior (including porn addiction) stems from shame and the perpetual cycle of seeking shameful behavior when one is feeling insecure, it seems to me that the Bishop’s advice might actually exacerbate a husband’s porn problem. What do you think?


Jana is university administrator and History professor. Her soloblog is

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  1. Matthew Chapman says:

    Pornography is an often addictive behaviour which destroys (a) spiritual sensitivity (b) priesthood power (c) respect for womanhood and (d) your marriage.

    Priesthood holders who seek out pornographic material need help from someone, and your bishop has been given the resources.

    Do not minimize this problem. Yes, the world teaches, “all men view pornography”.

    All men- real men- don’t.

  2. LucySophia says:

    I have four grown daughters.Three of them divorced,two were temple marriages, returned missionaries, etc. ALL beause of porn use by the husbands. Pornography is a HUGE problem in the LDS world. I don’t believe my daughters “ratted” on their husbands as much as asking for some kind of counsel as to the problem. In one case, the Bishop was very conflicted because said husband was on the HC, 2nd case bishop was very kind to daughter and baby, 3rd case my daughter had left the church and went to military authorities as there were other issues too.

    Bottom line – porn destroys marriages. I think this bishop may have simply been trying to be pro-active by asking the sisters to begin a dailogue if this is an issue in their marriages.

  3. Aunt Jane says:

    Huh? The term “narc” makes it sound as though a wife would be turning her husband in for punishment, when presumably she is really seeking help.

    I have been dealing with mental illness in a family member. When C is well, she is very cooperative in her therapy. When she is losing her grip, she denies she has a problem, resists treatment, and the last thing she will do is actively seek help. Since I can’t treat her myself, my responsibility — for C’s own good — is to seek help for her. That isn’t “narking” — that is seeking help for someone I love who is not capable (in part because of the shame, which, in part, is why I am using a pseudonym here) of seeking the help she needs and would, if she were in her right mind, welcome.

    I’m not putting porn use in exactly the same category as mental illness. But it has the similarities that its users can’t or won’t seek help on their own, help that they could very well appreciate if they were in their right spirit, and which a loving partner has the duty to seek when she can’t deal with it herself. A bishop is one such source of help.

    That isn’t “narking.” That’s no different from calling 911 in other circumstances.

  4. Caroline says:

    I think I’m more bothered by the huge generality “the brethren won’t.” I’m sure there are lots of men who go in to discuss this of their own volition – and I think that’s how it should be. For a person to change his behavior, I think he has to want to change and take steps of his own free will to do so. Having a bishop call him in after talking to the wife has the potential, I would think, to make him withdraw more, feel resentful, resist, and be angry at his wife. Maybe not all men would react like that, but I think some would.

    As for the issue of the woman telling the bishop, I personally would feel uncomfortable talking about something that personal without my husband’s consent to a religious leader, but I can imagine a situation where the wife is so desperate that she needs to talk to someone, and I suppose the bish might be in a position to offer her info about support groups, etc.

  5. Jana says:

    Your comment shows some of the problem I’m alluding to with the shame cycle. Say you have a son who’s been told all his life that “real men” don’t view porn. Then, maybe even innocently, he sees some porn. All of a sudden he’s no longer a ‘real man’ and shame enters the picture. Maybe he will feel worthless and will think as long as he is not a ‘real man’ he may as well indulge some more. Then the cycle spins.

    I think it’s far healthier to acknowledge that many people view porn, and that all people who have looked at porn are not addicts.

    As a feminist I’m not sure how to take your statement about “real men” anyways, because I have difficulty with such rigidly gendered expectations. Perhaps you could alter that statement to say something like “men who are seeking respectful partnerships with their wives will not let porn dominate their sexual behaviors and expectations” or something like that?? Sure it’s not as catchy, but it speaks more truth, IMO, than an aphorism about ‘real manhood’ does.

  6. amelia says:

    like caroline i’m more concerned about the sweeping generalization that the men who view porn won’t seek counsel themselves. we so very often sell men short in the church, claiming they’re less spiritual than women or that they need the priesthood to be the equals of women. i take issue with that teaching as much as i take issue with the “real men” don’t watch porn line matthew uses (jana has already nicely stated what’s problematic with that statement).

    as for a woman going to the bishop with her husband’s porn problem– i don’t think this should be a first step, or even necessarily an early step, in the process of trying to deal with this problem. i think it’s a violation of spousal trust for one spouse to go to an ecclesiastical leader to discuss the other spouse’s problem without first making concerted efforts to work on that problem together. but i do think there is good reason for a spouse to discuss the other spouse’s problem with the bishop at some point in the process–for her/his own spiritual health; because her/his spouse doesn’t recognize that seeking spiritual counsel can help; because the bishop could refer them to outside help; etc.

    i do think that a spouse going to the bishop alone or without discussing it with her/his spouse first could exacerbate the shame cycle you talk about, jana. if porn is actually an addiction (and mormons are definitely committed to that idea), then openness and admission of a problem are necessary steps to healing. no matter how much a spouse talks to the bishop about her/his spouse’s problem, that healing won’t happen without honesty and a joint effort.

  7. JM says:

    This bishop’s comment could be interpreted in various ways. One women could view it as a directive from the bishop to “narc” on her husband, and does so because it is easier than having a conversation about it with her husband.

    Another women whose husband has a pornography problem and whose husband will not seek help may hear in this comment some hope, and think that the bishop can offer some assistance even if her husband is unwilling to speak directly with the bishop. And, speaking of shame, she may also feel that the bishop’s comment removes some of the shame that she might otherwise feel in talking to the bishop about her husband’s struggle. (Not that she should feel shame . . . .)

    I don’t know this bishop, but he sounds genuinely concerned. If I were a bishop, I don’t know how I would handle this circumstance, taking into account all of the concerns expressed by previous commenters.

  8. cchrissyy says:

    The generalization that the men won’t come in bothers me as well, but I don’t think it’s narcing and I don’t think that the shame cycle idea is such a strong liklihood of damage that it would outweigh the benefit of love and support which the bishop is offering to both partners.

    So no, it doesn’t offend me or strike me wrong. On the other hand, a man brought in for “help” before he’s ready to accept it is unlikely to be helped. But the woman sure can be better off from support in the meantime, even without ever bringing the man in. The only people I’ve seen come out of addiction, porn or otherwise, did it by hitting their own bottom, becoming desperate for change, and humbling themselves to get help and working the steps of recovery. So yeah, I am cynical that a meeting with a bishop would somehow bring a man to change. All I know is a good bishop can help the wife feel better and deal better, so that’s good.

  9. Douglas Hunter says:

    Some men can and do seek the help of religious leaders or therapists on their own but it must be a minority right? Who knows?

    I think its strictly a matter of the individuals involved that will determine if a wife speaking to a Bishop can have a meaningful impact.

    I’m stating the obvious, but wives should consult a Bishop or therapist to discuss her own emotional and spiritual reaction to her husband’s porn use. That seems in line with quote in the OP “Tell the sisters that if pornography is a problem in their home, to come and see me-” Yes, this could amount to “narcing” but it could just be offering women an outlet to discuss a difficult issue that is effecting their relationships.

    Oh if only we could have frank discussions of sexuality in the church.

  10. amelia says:

    Yes, this could amount to “narcing” but it could just be offering women an outlet to discuss a difficult issue that is effecting their relationships.

    i would agree with that if the problematic comment “because the brethren won’t” weren’t there. that comment turns the whole statement into something that’s about reforming the brethren rather than supporting the sisters.

    and i just can’t get away from the idea that anyone whose sin is outed to the bishop, no matter how good the intentions, has had their agency violated.

    i don’t know. this particular statement just smacks of “let’s get this problem fixed and if the men won’t do what needs to be done to fix it themselves then you women do what it takes to get them in here to fix it.”

    as i said before, i recognize that one spouse seeking spiritual support because she/he has been hurt by the other spouse’s behavior has positive benefits. but i remain unconvinced that this particular statement is focused on that as much as it is on “fixing” things. and i’m unconvinced that such “fixing” can happen without it originating with the person who needs “fixed.”

  11. ama says:

    I don’t see anything wrong with going to a Bishop to ask for help. In fact, Jesus commands us in the scriptures to not allow others to partake of the sacrament unworthily. I think this is along those lines and the Bishop is not out of line to ask for this request.

  12. anonymous says:

    In my case, my husband did go to the bishop on his own.

    Finding out I had a husband with a problem was extremely isolating. Particularly because he was so committed to getting over it, I didn’t want to betray him by discussing it with anyone. It would have been devastating for him. To this day only that bishop and his counselor (who I saw only once) know about it. I think I’d have healed much faster had I been given more opportunities to talk.

    Therefore, I couldn’t blame any woman for going to her bishop, even before her husband is ready to change.

  13. Le Ginge says:

    Shouldn’t perhaps a wife talk to her husband
    first, showing compassion and understanding and
    then go to see the Bishop together? Working
    together would surely help overcome the problem
    I also think it’s naive to think only men get
    addicted to it, I know lots of women, even
    though they are non members, who are into porn
    and erotic literature.

  14. H.K. Bialik says:

    I don’t like the bit about “thre brethren won’t”. It’s like an insult targetted at all the men in the ward! I appreciate the invitation to tell the Bishop when the husband is viewing pornography. If my husband were, I’d tell him to go to the Bishop himself or I would. I don’t appreciate how many church members feel the need to consistently put men down.

  15. greengirl says:

    What disturbs me most about this comment is that we are in a sense giving men a pass… we are essentially saying that the baseness of some men’s habits are natural. Now, you may argue that the entire Church’s stand against polygamy is doing exactly opposite that, but not with this comment. This is a pass for men to not accept the responsiblity and to continue to hide it. Come on, Men. Don’t make excuses. If this is a problem, you’ll have to face it eventually, so instead of making comments like “…because the brethren won’t” you certainly won’t face it and you’re diffusing your responsiblity and ACCOUNTABILITY. It’ll only get worse if others become involved… If Pornography is a problem in your home, it is essential for the husband and wife to come to terms before ANY other Church member gets involved. Women, surely, help your husbands, love them, encourage them to do right. Men, surely, help you wives, love them ,encourage them to do right. I would not encourage a woman to approach her bishop without her husband’s knowledge or vice-versa. Your relationship with your husband/wife is much more sacred than your relationship with your bishop. Never betray his/her trust by “going behind their back” to talk to your bishop.

  16. Annie says:

    I cannot believe that someone who would call herself a feminist would defend men’s rights to “privacy” from their church leaders and pass off pornography as common and somewhat “normal.”

    Pornography IS common. That doesn’t make it any less wretched. It is vile filth that ruins lives and tears apart families. God bless the good bishops who help people out of its clutches. God bless the good bishop who helped me understand my own worth and the power of the atonement to forgive and also to comfort when a man in my life was involved in the sin of pornography.

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