Young Women Lesson: How Can I Resist Pornography?

This lesson is meant to correlate with June 2021 Come Follow Me about pornography, though it can likely be adapted to other lessons.

It can be tempting to cast pornography as a “male” problem within the Church. I have certainly sat through many lessons which presupposed that the only discussion would involve helping male family members repent.  This lesson is directed to young women.  Young women can struggle with viewing pornography, and may feel even more ashamed that they’re tempted by something they’re supposedly “immune” to.  Girls can struggle with compulsive masturbation.  So as you frame this lesson, keep in mind that any of the girls in your class may already be dealing with an addiction and accompanying feelings of shame. If possible with available technology, a good way to introduce the topic would be to show “Pornography Addiction: Is There Hope?” This short video features a young woman discussing her struggle to overcome a pornography addiction. There is a link on the original lesson plan and can also be found here.

In my experience both as a Young Woman and as a leader, participation with this kind of lesson is likely to be a problem. This may not be true for all groups in which case hooray for you! But I am proceeding from the assumption that this lesson might need a bit more herding, prompting, and leader talk than others. I suggest creating a box/hat/other opaque receptacle and providing young women with index cards and pens, inviting them to take a few minutes to write down questions they may have relating to this topic. Assure them that you have also written down possible questions that are already in the hat and no one will know who asked what. Do everything possible to ensure the privacy of class members. Use these questions to direct the conversation. It may be that none of your class members will write anything, but since they won’t know which questions are yours they may be more engaged wondering if their peers were willing to ask.

Some possible questions you might write out in advance might be:

  • Can you really be “addicted” to pornography? It isn’t a drug. Is that just an excuse not to quit?
  • I didn’t mean to see it, but I couldn’t look away. Now I can’t stop thinking about it and I feel awful. What is wrong with me?
  • If sex is part of God’s plan, then what is so different about watching it? You’re not participating.
  • On TV people talk about watching porn like it isn’t a big deal, and couples even watch together. So why do we make such a fuss?
  • Sharing pictures isn’t the same thing as sex, and it doesn’t risk pregnancy. Isn’t this a safe alternative to share with your boyfriend when you’re in love?
  • I’ve tried stopping looking at pornography but I can’t seem to. What do I do? I feel like God must be so upset at me.
  • Why are we talking about this? Isn’t this a guy problem?
  • I don’t struggle with pornography but my brother / friend / classmate / boyfriend might. What can I do to help?

I’m not going to outline possible approaches to all of these questions, and you may come up with others that you think are particularly relevant to your class. I have not presented these in any particular order, and doing them all would likely be impossible in one class session. But here are some possible approaches. Don’t worry about not getting through all the questions. Assure the girls that any questions you don’t cover today can be revisited the following week (you can look through the hat later to see if any unanswered questions from the girls remain).

Can you really be “addicted” to something if it isn’t a substance? Isn’t that just an excuse?

“I didn’t mean to see it, but I couldn’t look away.  Now I can’t stop thinking about it and I feel awful.  What is wrong with me?

True doctrine: Sex feelings are given by God because God wants us to be happy and have joy and pleasure in marriage and reproduction. 2 Nephi 2:25 – Adam fell that men might be, men are that they might have joy.

A possible answer: Happy chemicals like dopamine and oxytocin function in our brains in many healthy ways and are a crucial part of healthy sexuality.   Have you ever watched a romantic movie and felt all bubbly afterward? Or had your crush smile at you and you were happy the rest of the day? (Invite them to share on these pretty tame topics). Those are feelings God gave you, and they are good to feel. But with pornography, the rush may be much more powerful than watching a kiss in a Disney movie. The release of those chemicals can generate a euphoria, a thrill that quite naturally you want to experience again. However, over time your brain will need more and more stimulation to achieve the same result.  What fairly minor exposure might thrill the first ten times will deliver less by the fifteenth or twentieth, and you’ll seek something a bit more daring.

When something happens to you by accident, are you to blame? Invite them to share examples they’re comfortable with (likely non-sexual). If you accidentally see pornography and you feel your mind or body respond, don’t feel guilty.  Your body is designed to respond to sexual stimulation, by divine design. An accident and an initial chemical response is not a sin.  The problem is in seeking out and trying to repeat that experience, escalating over time.

“If sex between a man and a woman is ordained of God, then why is watching male/female sex so bad?”

True doctrine: Sex is good. God designed sex to be a mutual act between committed loving people. Lust is a word that is used in scripture to describe sex without commitment, love, or mutual care. Doctrine and Covenants 63:16 – “And verily I say unto you, as I have said before, he that looketh on a woman to lust after her, or if any shall commit adultery in their hearts, they shall not have the Spirit, but shall deny the faith and shall fear.”

One approach to this question would be to create two columns on the board to illustrate the differences between a committed consensual loving relationship and pornographic representation of sex. If the girls are slow to participate, offer information about pornography (as suggested below) and then invite discussion about how God’s vision is different.

How is pornography not like healthy sexuality?

Pornography is a one way street.  You receive and you never give.  If you get bored you just click away. How is marriage different?

  • Pornography doesn’t focus on communication. How is marriage different? Communication is a key part of sex and love.  With pornography there’s no communication of discomfort, preference or emotion. There’s no laughter at awkward moments or speaking loving nicknames.

  • Pornography tends to privilege male pleasure and stimulation.  The female actors may act like they are enjoying it, but that too is for male satisfaction.  This perpetuates and enforces a message that sex is about men enjoying themselves, not about mutual pleasure. How are good relationships different from this? (You don’t have to make their responses specifically about sex. Do you want your friends to listen to you and care how you feel? Do you care how your friends feel?)

  • What are your favorite moments in romantic movies or books? Pornography doesn’t depict any kind of relationship between the people.  It doesn’t depict any of the lead-up to sex – meeting, falling in love, making commitments.  Or the short term – romance, communication, foreplay.  It’s just penetration and orgasm. While romantic movies aren’t realistic, many do at least mimic God’s intent – that sex should be tied to love, commitment, communication and friendship.

Sex workers are human beings with lives. Why might they might be participating in pornography? Some people freely choose a career in the sex trade.  Many, however, would choose another life if they could.  Drugs, abuse, trafficking, poverty … many factors contribute to acting in pornography potentially not being a fully consensual activity.  God designed sex to be about genuine enjoyment, freely chosen.  The actors are actors – they may be virtual strangers to one another. God did not design sex to be a choreographed act between strangers, neither of whom are participating primarily for personal enjoyment.

What strategies can your family use to help keep everyone safe from technology pitfalls? (families may already have rules)

True Doctrine: God does not expect us to fight our battles alone.  We are placed in families so we can support one another.  We have church organizations and auxiliaries to support one another. We have the support of the Savior. “Families are a divine part of God’s plan. They are the fundamental building block of strong societies. Families are where we can feel love and learn how to love others. Life is tough, and we need people we can lean on. Home is a safe haven where we can get advice, support, hugs, and, when necessary, chocolate chip cookies.” (https://www.comeuntochrist.org/beliefs/family/importance-of-families)

Note: Many girls may have difficult family relationships.  It may be important to emphasize other ties that can offer support, such as the YW organization, social workers, foster parents, school counsellors or others depending on the situation of your class members.

Invite girls to talk in small groups or create a brainstorm list on the chalk board describing various ways of protecting ourselves and our loved ones. Examples might include no closed doors; parents get access at all times to scroll through phones; phones and devices charge in parents’ bedroom and can’t be accessed after bedtime; no solo devices until a certain age; filters and other protections.

“Sharing pictures isn’t the same thing as sex, and it doesn’t risk procreation, so isn’t it an okay alternative if you are in love with the person?”

True doctrine: God created your body and you are beautiful and wonderful.  Sharing your naked body will be a good thing when you are married to someone who loves and respects you. “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.” (Genesis 1:27) “And he answered and said unto them, Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female, And said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh?” (Matthew 19: 4-5)

Why might a young woman, including class members and people at your school, find themselves creating and/or sharing erotic content? This may sound like an absurd question to some, but sexting, creating and sending pornographic images etc. is not uncommon.  It is likely that even if none of the girls in your class are engaging in this, they know someone at school who has. Explain that sending unclothed or sexually explicit/suggestive photographs or messages constitutes creating pornography. (Side note: When I was in Young Women we would hear that young women could become walking pornography to the men around us by wearing tight clothing or having a female body in public. Basically. So I want to make really clear here that I am distinguishing between intentionally creating and sharing erotic content, and simply having a curvy body and wearing clothes. Human beings are not porn. They have the capacity to create pornography if they choose.)

Why might a young woman create pornographic content? Answers might include:

  • Perhaps she is in love with her boyfriend and they feel it is an acceptable alternative to more contact-based sex (when you’re in love sexual desire is a normal part of that!)
  • Perhaps she feels pressured by her boyfriend since she is unwilling to have sex (we want to please the people we love!)
  • Perhaps her peers are doing it (we all want to belong!)
  • Perhaps she wants validation on social media or other platforms (we all want to feel loved and admired!)

Note that I added validation after each of those reasons. I’m not intending to encourage naked selfies, but the impulses behind sending them are completely understandable and normal. The goal here is not to “other” girls who may be participating as if they are stupid and vain, but to emphasize what is good and natural while redirecting the expression into safer channels.

What are the dangers of creating or performing in pornography of the kind we’ve outlined (not what are the dangers to professional porn actors. What is the danger to a high school junior who sends a nude photo to her boyfriend?) Answers might include:

  • An image is forever.  Perhaps you will marry the boy and your love is a forever love, and neither of you will ever willingly share this personal item. But that picture is still in the cloud somewhere and is just a hacker away from being public. Scarlett Johansson, for example, sent naked pictures to her husband only to have them show up later in tabloids due to hackers.
  • Perhaps your love won’t stand the test of time.  Revenge porn is real – when an angry ex wants to hurt a young woman by putting personal sexual images on the internet. Or more simply, your angry boyfriend may just send the pictures to his friends and brand you a slut.
  • Perhaps your boyfriend is a doofus. He’s proud of how sexy his girlfriend is and sends the picture to his best friend. Who is also a doofus, and sends it to three more people. Or maybe he just lends his phone to a friend to make a call and things go from there.
  • An image that you think is ephemeral (for instance, snapchat or other apps that supposedly are erased) is in fact not.  Screen grabs and other technologies allow people to keep and share an image far beyond the range that you wanted. Teens can be quite naive about this. Others are savvier than their leaders. What apps exist that might be forums for this kind of issue? (the girls may well know far more than you do.  Consider assigning a young woman in advance to research and explain about apps that claim to offer confidentiality and privacy, but cannot guarantee it).
  • Members of the class are legally minors, and are thus creating and trafficking in child pornography. If a girl is over eighteen and her boyfriend is not, or vice versa, the penalties can be even more severe. Creating and transmitting pornographic images of minors is a crime.  You can be prosecuted for sending them, you can be prosecuted for keeping them.  If someone sends you a picture and you delete it because you didn’t want it, in general this is not prosecutable – you can’t stop people from sending you a text you don’t expect. Laws vary by country and jurisdiction within countries. You might consider assigning a young woman to research this in your area, or make it a class project if you suspect it may be a serious concern.

 

I’m addicted to pornography.  I can’t seem to stop, and I feel like God doesn’t love me anymore, and I’ll never be able to make temple covenants.  

True Doctrine: No matter what you do, God loves you and wants to hear from you. You can be forgiven and be healed.  There is always a way.

1 Corinthians 10:13 “There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to [everyone]: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.”

Doctrine and Covenants 58:42 “Behold [she] who has repented of [her] sins, the same is forgiven, and I, the Lord, remember them no more.

The lesson prompt was “How can I resist pornography” which is functionally different from “How can I quit pornography.” However, there may be young women in your class aching to know the answer to the latter question. One good resource to study together as a class is the pamphlet “Let Virtue Garnish Thy Thoughts” which is also available online here. Emphasize that it would be very unusual for a teenager to be able to overcome addiction all by herself – few adults manage it with years more of experience. Some possible discussion questions to explore as you study the pamphlet might be:

  • What false ideas contribute to discouragement in the repentance process? (God doesn’t like me, I can’t change, God wouldn’t want to hear my prayers, I’ve messed up too often to be forgiven etc.)
  • What rationalizations might someone use to justify pornography use?
  • What spiritual tools do we have to help strengthen us as we try to change?
  • What does forgiveness feel like to you?
  • Who in your life can you confide in who might help you?
  • What triggers a desire for pornography? What can you change in your schedule and life to disrupt that pattern?

Possible Action plans depending on class needs:

  • Delete provocative photos from all apps and cloud
  • Discuss plans with parents to make the home a safe place from pornography
  • Pray to the Lord for help and for forgiveness
  • Write in your journal about the lesson and what feelings or impressions you had

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13 Responses

  1. Heather says:

    Thank you for this really thoughtful approach. This is a great lesson.

  2. Spunky says:

    This is a brilliant lesson, I am going to use it with my daughters. THANK YOU!!!

  3. M says:

    This is a really great lesson. I’d maybe add a bit about written porn. I know I read some really explicit stuff in romance novels in my youth. Written porn doesn’t exploit human actors, but it can also set unrealistic expectations and escalate consumption in a similar way.

  4. Ziff says:

    Wow, Em, this is so great! I love how matter-of-fact your suggested discussion points are, and how you normalize sexual interest. Your approach does a great job of pushing back on the Church rhetoric norm that assumes that boys want sex and girls don’t.

  5. EmilyCC says:

    I am using this with my sons and daughter. You have tackled so many (dare I say–all) of the problematic rhetoric around pornography in the Church. I particularly appreciate how you focus on YW as potential consumers of porn. I remember talking to a MSW who was doing her thesis on how hard it is for young women in the Church to get help for porn addictions because the first step outlined in the Church is to tell her bishop. Talk about walking into a landmine of shame and embarrassment, even if you have the kindest, most sensitive bishop.

  6. Em says:

    Thanks friends. We can probably all agree that this lesson is impossible to do in a way that will make everyone happy. Feelings are pretty strong across the spectrum on this issue. But hopefully at least some of these suggestions work for people preparing lessons.

  7. Caroline says:

    This is so great, Emily. Thank you! What a thoughtful approach to tackling an incredibly hard subject.

  8. Jennifer says:

    For a few years now I have felt very uncomfortable with the Church and its members delving into topics that are not about the gospel of Jesus Christ. I’m 53 years old and I can look back at all the messages given by well intentioned leaders and teachers (especially Q12). Dallin Oaks is the one who taught everyone that some men might look at a girl as pornogrphy is she doesn’t dress his version of appropriateness. His words were regurgitated with authority to my daughter in YW. I didn’t learn this until years later and was appalled. So while I applaud your efforts to teach this topic with thoughtfulness, I don’t think it’s your or any member’s job to teach it to any child. Most members aren’t licensed professionals and there are tons of harmful opinions out there. When these opinions are delivered by leaders during a lesson or talk it adds authority to them that children aren’t always able discern as opinion.

    • Em says:

      I appreciate this perspective. I won’t be teaching this lesson because my calling is to write the program for Sacrament Meeting. I wrote this as an aide to people who are going to be expected to teach it. While I generally agree with you that addressing non-Christ related topics is deeply problematic, I do not have any control over the Church curriculum. When I served as an advisor to the Laurels in my ward, I did not have control over which lessons we needed to cover. So while I agree with your larger critique, the reality is that thousands of women all over the world are going to find themselves expected to teach about this topic. My goal with this lesson plan was to try to provide a more sex-positive approach to an often problematic lesson.

  9. EmilyB says:

    Sex should not be discussed between adults and children unless the adult is a parent or licensed medical/counseling professional. Any unlicensed uncredentialed adult who discusses sex with an underage child is grooming them and committing abuse. Sex should never be discussed in church. That’s how a Mormon leader groomed me for sexual abuse, is via chastity discussions. Absolutely not, no never. Tell your kids to talk to you or a doctor or therapist but never other adults about sex and that if any adult tries to talk sex with them that is abuse.

    • Em says:

      I think this comment has value and hopefully someone reading this lesson plan may consider alternatives in their own yw program. My goal is to encourage a more progressive approach given that the manual and yw program currently requires leaders to teach this lesson. I don’t think that writing a lesson plan blog post that says “don’t teach this lesson “ is likely to have much impact nor will it encourage teachers seeking help to return to this space.

  10. Em says:

    I wanted to add a suggested resource for a teacher. The podcast “Listen, Learn and Love” hosted by Richard Ostler had an episode 345 with Dr. Cameron Staley. Dr. Staley is active LDS and also has important research insights about the topic of pornography and the question of whether it is appropriate to think of it in terms of an addiction (he says not). It is very informative and may be useful as you prepare to teach a topic that may be well outside your own field of expertise.

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