Saturday, January 22, 2011

Attack of the killer porns!

In the Mormon church, pornography is really a big deal. I suppose that's partly understandable, because there's something a little incongruous about really religious people getting their jollies that way. But when I say it's a really big deal to Mormons, I mean it's a really, really big deal.

As in, Mormons sometimes get divorced over it. No, seriously. They actually get divorced over porn.

From Feminist Mormon Housewives:
Over the Christmas holidays I was a guest at a dinner party. All the other guests were active LDS, and I think all of them had at least one college degree. ...One of the men had recently been called as bishop in his ward....* Then somebody asked him what his biggest surprise had been in his new calling.... He said that he had been surprised to find out how many men have a problem with pornography — he estimated about 40% of the active men in his ward were at least casual porn users.

At this point, I noticed that all the men present grew uncomfortably quiet and all the women began speaking very animatedly. It was a bit awkward to realize that if his judgement was correct, probably about half the men in the room were grievous sinners. The women were incredulous and filled with righteous indignation. As their denunciations of lechers grew more and more vituperous, I heard some things which I found hard to believe. I thought I had heard somebody say that porn use was automatic grounds for divorce, as far as she was concerned, so I interrupted and asked for clarification: "On a scale of one to ten, with adultery being 10, where does porn use fit?" There was some momentary confusion, then I was corrected. It turns out that porn use is a 10 on the badness scale, and adultery falls in someplace shy of that. Every woman in the room affirmed this.
Lack perspective much?

It's tempting to just dismiss those women as crazy religious nuts and leave it at that, but that's too simple. There's something else going on there.

I've noticed that there is often a characteristic and sometimes quite comical naiveté regarding male sexuality among very religious women (not just Mormons). I think this was my favorite bit out of all the comments:
...I know of many relationships that are irreparably harmed by this habit. So I’m teaching my sons to avoid it in any form.
Yes, I'm sure that will work really well. Because what boy would look at porn after his mom told him not to?

Of course, very religious men often do no better with female sexuality, as the original poster demonstrates:
...the fact that porn use among LDS is almost exclusively done by males...
Yeah. Uh huh.

But there's a problem beyond simple naiveté about sexuality. In our society, porn is almost ubiquitous. People are going to see porn, or near-porn, often, and if they see it often, they're going to use it at least once in awhile.

Oh, there will be some exceptions. There are people with low sex drives and/or an unusual amount of self-discipline. But some regular, ordinary, good people (probably a lot more than 40 percent of them) are going to indulge in porn at least now and then.

And the church has no idea what to do about it. It tries to take an all or nothing approach. Porn is Evil and a Big Deal. Look at it once and you're a big sinner; look at it a few times and you're not only a big sinner, you're a "porn addict." It's no wonder those women mentioned in the FMH post have such bizarre ideas. They're just taking what they've learned at church and running with it.

That all may have worked back in the day, when porn required a little effort to obtain, but it doesn't work anymore. There's too much porn out there. And the church is failing to equip its members with the ability to deal realistically with it.

What the church needs to do is dial things back a couple notches. It doesn't need to accept porn. It can still teach that porn distracts people from their higher natures or whatever, and it can still teach about practical problems such as the way porn can be used to avoid real intimacy between a couple or how sleazy and exploitative the industry is.

In other words, the church can still teach that porn is Not Cool. But it also needs to accept that it's Not A Big Deal. It needs to move from Evil and a Big Deal to Not Cool but Not A Big Deal. Ending the shame and fear Mormons associate with porn now would probably eliminate about 90 percent of their porn problems right there.

*A "ward" is a congregation; a "bishop" is the lay leader in charge of it.

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  1. I agree with you, it's the absolute proscription that pathologizes the whole thing. Maybe you don't think porn is good for relationships (which isn't a very rational belief, at least if you're saying all relationships all the time), but on a scale of harm and badness, it's really more like eating too many sweets than breaking a marriage vow. Grounds for divorce? Ludicrous. Obviously these LDS neuroses about porn and sexuality in general are causing perfectly sane people to develop an absolute phobia.

    My husband is chiming in next to me saying that if they would just take the same tack about alcohol that it would help a great deal as well. Thoughts?

  2. I remember reading many years ago that Mormons who drink have a high rate of alcoholism. Apparently it is difficult (though certainly not impossible) for people to go from lifelong non-drinking to drinking in moderation.

    Just like porn maybe. Except with porn (or near-porn) so common, it's like Mormons all live in breweries and bars now. They're constantly tempted, but they've never learned how to drink in moderation.

  3. I like your suggestion, but the church takes an "all or nothing" approach to EVERYTHING. Alcohol, Coffee (guh, demonizing coffee is so...annoying), masturbation, church attendance. They never do anything in a realistic, moderate way.

  4. With apologies to J. Golden Kimball, the women believe that "I'd rather commit adultery than watch porn."

    "Hell, who wouldn't?"

  5. That's quite the fMh thread. Too weird for words (on the member/naiveté side of the equation) but on the institutional side of things, I think I agree with comment #22 over at fMh, that 'p0rn addiction' makes for a very useful epidemic.

  6. Ann-Michelle,
    I agree that's their tendency, but I think they actually have moderated some teachings over time in response to public/member opinion.

    Nice one.

    Yeah, it has aspects of a "moral panic." I'd thought it lacked the hostility/"Folk Devils" dimension needed for a true moral panic, but if the women at that party are genuinely typical, maybe Mormon porn consumers are becoming Folk Devils in the church.


What do you think?