So in October we had a fifth-Sunday combined RS/PH lesson, and the bishop talked to us about pornography. Or rather, about the problem of pornography. (I don’t want to make our fifth-Sunday lessons sound more exciting than they are.) It was depressing to me. Depressing mostly because my son just turned ten, and it really hit home to me that what’s left of his innocence is destined to be taken from him very quickly, and there’s nothing I can do to stop that. We live in a pornified culture. You know, sex is everywhere, everything’s about sex, blah blah, sex sex sex, blah blah. A local frozen yogurt shop used to have this billboard featuring a very attractive set of female breasts clad in a tight sweater, and the slogan was “We’ll fill any cup size.” And, you know, that’s not hardcore or anything, but it’s just…come on. Et tu, yogurt? This is the world we live in. So, yeah, I came home and told my husband (who works in Primary and doesn’t get to attend the combined fifth-Sunday lessons) that he had to have another birds-and-bees-ish talk with the ten-year-old. Then I shook the oogies off, and my work was done.
Last week in Relief Society, the teacher was chagrined to say that the lesson she had to give was on Elder Holland’s conference address from April, “Place No More for the Enemy of My Soul,” which was about, essentially, pornography. This second lesson did not depress me. Rather, I was just somewhat bored—because, no offense to the teacher, who did a fine job, but we had just been over this material a scant four weeks earlier.
Right now, I know, 100 percent of the men reading this are overcome with laughter so bitter they are probably choking on it: “This broad is complaining about two porn lessons in four weeks? We have to listen to this crap ALL THE FREAKING TIME.” Yes, it’s very sad and I feel for you men who are tired of being told not to look at That Vile Filth (TVF) week after week, year after year, but since this is my post, can we get back to me and my feelings? Thanks.
I don’t have a problem with having lessons about the dangers of That Vile Filth. I don’t have a problem having two lessons in four weeks. But because I had already gotten the message before and because there wasn’t any of the sadly-common male-bashing that often crops up in all-female discussions of pornography, I found that my mind did tend to wander. At least one side of my brain wandered, and this is where it went:
It is understandable that these lessons tend to focus on male use of pornography because it is a fact that pornography use is much more common among men than women. (More women use porn these days than used to in days of old, but everybody’s using more porn these days because it’s so readily available.) However, what is/should be the purpose of a lesson given to females that focuses on male use of pornography? Is it to teach us compassion for men who have this problem? Because I am totally in favor of that. Is it to teach women whose husbands may have this problem that they are not to blame for their husbands’ use of porn, and to let them know that there is help available for both the afflicted husband and the affected wife? I’m on board with that, too. So that’s all good. But I also wonder this: Is it a problem that we almost always frame our lessons on pornography and lust as temptations that men and youth suffer, and almost never as real temptations faced by adult women?
No doubt, I have led a sheltered life. But I can’t recall ever observing a lesson or a talk in church that took women’s sexual desire seriously. There are lots of lessons about the cruelty of tempting men with our bare shoulders and decolletage (as well there should be, you hussies) and lots of lessons about the need to instill the value of chastity in our youth, and then there are lessons about how destructive it is when men use porn. Is lust ever a problem for grown women? Grown married women? Is there ever a reason to talk to a room of grown, married women about the sin of lust and how Satan tempts us in that direction? Or is it all about helping the men and the kids? (As usual—hmph!)
Now I’m going to take a moment to be serious. (You can tell that I’m being serious by the way I just said I was going to be serious. Here it comes.) I know what a pernicious evil pornography is. It exploits women, degrades human sexuality and destroys lives. I, like most of you, know families who have been adversely affected by it personally; in some cases marriages are destroyed and both spouses and children suffer. I know how incredibly easy it is to be exposed to it and how incredibly difficult it is to stop using it. This is why I freak out when I think about my sons ever having to deal with this problem. I worry much less about my daughters becoming habitual porn users. At the same time, however, I worry a lot more about my daughters developing a healthy attitude toward sexuality and the ability to express their sexuality in marriage. Probably because I’m a girl, I’m more conscious of girl issues. And as important as it is to understand both the dangers of porn and the need to protect our families from it, I think that we are neglecting to address important issues regarding female sexuality.
I’ll be honest with you all. It’s been hard for me to write this post because most of what I have to say is based on anecdotal evidence, and I know there are people out there who have studied studies and science and crap and who can tell me, “Well, actually, blah blah blah,” and so I think, “Who am I to talk about this subject?” But then I take a page out of Marianne Williamson’s book and think, “Who am I not to?” (You can tell I’m losing my serious edge by the way I just referenced Marianne Williamson. But bear with me.) The thing is, I know scads of women who were raised in the church, raised to believe in being chaste–which is good!–but also inadvertently taught that any sexual expression before marriage would make them damaged goods: they would be like chewed gum, a rose whose petals have been bruised and browned by too much fondling, a second-hand thing that no quality man would want. The only time we acknowledge female sexuality is when women are young and unmarried and in danger of being deflowered. We tell them unmarried sex will make them dirty (obligatory footnote about forgiveness and the Atonement notwithstanding). We also teach them (implicitly or inadvertently) that all sex-related problems will cease to exist once they are married because married sex is beautiful and godly and yippee for (temple) marriage. The reality is that sex-related problems start when you start having sex. Certainly there are many women who enter marriage and immediately (or very soon) start enjoying this Most Sacred Expression Of Love. But there are other women who have difficulty switching from sex-will-make-me-dirty mode to sex-is-beautiful-and-godly mode.
We tell both men and women that they have to repress their sexual thoughts and feelings prior to marriage (because indulging them can lead to premarital sex, which is bad). And I’m sure there must be men out there who develop complexes as a result; I just haven’t heard of any. (Please refer to my note above about living a sheltered life.) Everything that I’ve heard from men themselves and from women who are married to men indicates (to me) that a majority of men get married and think, “Woo-hoo! Free at last!” whereas a lot of (not all, but a lot of) women think, “Wait…really?” Maybe it’s because men are better at compartmentalizing than women are. (And before you start with the angry letters, let me say that this doesn’t mean they’re better at math than we are, so just lighten up.) But this is the kind of stuff women think about. Our sexual thoughts and feelings that were wicked before are now suddenly beautiful? So this is the godly sex we’ve heard so much about? Funny, we don’t feel very spiritual…or necessarily sexy, for that matter. It’s a problem, as many unfortunate couples know.
My co-blogger Natalie wrote a great post a couple years ago about the Twilight series and talked about the books as a form of pornography for women. The first comment (by the illustrious Julie M. Smith) referred to repressed Mormon housewives saying that their husbands liked that they were reading these books because, apparently, the books awakened them sexually in a way that benefited their husbands (since, you know, they’re there and vampires aren’t real, anyway). In my Relief Society’s lesson last Sunday, the teacher did mention that whereas men tend to respond to visual stimulation, women respond more to the written word, a la romance novels. (This was, however, no more than a footnote. The focus of the lesson was visual pornography–you know, the kind men like.) Certainly romance novels can get sexually explicit–and certainly there are even more explicit forms of literary pornography (using “literary” in its most liberal sense)–but Twilight, which is all about the thrill of the chaste, hardly qualifies to be in the same category. As spot-on as Natalie’s observations were (and I did think her post was brilliant), there are limits to the use of the word “pornography.” If anything that sparks a woman’s erotic imagination and gives her unrealistic expectations about sex and relationships is pornographic, that would render just about every romantic comedy suspect. Let’s not even start with those filthy Jane Austen novels. (But if Pride and Prejudice is pornography, who is more pornographic, Colin Firth or that dude in the Keira Knightley version? I’m just curious.) And the fact is, most men like it when their wives are revved-up sexually—so long as they’re the beneficiaries of that arousal–so maybe they’re not that interested in how their women got that way except insofar as they can replicate the cause so that the effect happens more often. Wives, generally, are not so indifferent about their husbands getting turned on by outside sources.
You may be wondering where I’m going with this. Well, join the club. I don’t know if I’m going anywhere. I just wonder about stuff, because I’m a wonderer. And so the post just rambles on and on, but I’ll try to wrap it up with a few questions, since that’s all I’ve got.
Is women’s lust simply not a big enough problem to warrant a lesson (or even part of a lesson) in Relief Society? Is it that we’re all too sexually repressed to admit that women (including maybe us) sometimes have lust? Or is women’s lust tacitly excused insofar as it benefits men sexually? And I’m not talking “benefits men sexually” in some sinister way, but only in the good “hey, honey, now that we’ve watched this Ben Affleck movie, would you care to strengthen the marital bond?” kind of way. (Um…just so we’re clear, “Ben Affleck” appears as a totally random example of someone who might do it for some women. I mean, he’s an actor, right? I think he was People’s Sexiest Man Alive once, so, you know, it’s not outside the realm of possibility.) As long as the woman’s not pretending her husband is Ben Affleck (or, you know, whoever), that’s not, like, wrong or anything. Right?
We hear all the time that men’s infidelity often/usually/almost always starts with pornography. What does women’s infidelity start with, and why don’t we hear more about it? Is it that women aren’t unfaithful as often as men are, or that (again) we’re too repressed to talk about it? Pornography can cause men to withdraw from their families (for a number of reasons). When women withdraw emotionally from their husbands, they tend to withdraw physically as well. (Or, if they don’t withdraw physically, they can become resentful of their husband’s sexual demands, which is also a problem.) How does that start, how common a problem is it, and what can be done about it? Is there any point in a Relief Society lesson on that?
Or is it that I’m just so bored at church that I would welcome a lesson chastising me for something other than poor self-esteem?