The black hole, part 3: Have we heard the last word on pornography?

Prior to the advent of the internet, free pornography was relatively difficult to come by. You had to know someone who could provide access or hope for the proverbial nudie mag in a ditch. But the world wide web brought with it both cheap and relatively anonymous mass access to pornography and headaches for the church. It turns out it was only easy to avoid the temptation of pornography when it was hard to find.

I asked friend of the blog, Ziff, to run a quick and dirty analysis of the mentions of “pornography” in General Conference. He cautions that this is not entirely accurate, because it didn’t catch euphemisms like “filth.” But I still think the data is interesting.
There are a couple of early jumps in the late 70s and early 80s, but the real growth of mentions of “pornography” starts in the mid-nineties and climbs to a peak in the mid-aughts. The period from 2004 to 2006 is peak “pornography,” with the number of mentions those three years far exceeding all trackable years before and since. Not coincidentally, it was in 2005 that the church released its Addiction Recovery Program manual, which has been the basis for the church’s battle with pornography ever since.

The ARP manual is based on the 12 steps, a program first conceived by a group of alcoholics who were facing death and destitution during the Great Depression. It teaches management of one’s alcoholism, treating it as a disease with physical effects, rather than a compulsion that can be overcome merely by an application of will. And, as a part of the process, alcoholics are encouraged to rely on a higher power, which can be understood as God or as the combined goodwill of the AA group you are attending or both, really. But the key thing about a program like Alcoholics Anonymous, or its cousin Narcotics Anonymous, is that if the participants don’t quit their addiction, they will die.

You’ll note, though, that the ARP manual came out in the midst of an epidemic of a different nature. It appears to have been the church’s primary attempt to counter the spread and effects of pornography consumption. And since the era of peak pornography, the mentions in General Conference have diminished. It almost appears like the Brethren feel that the 12-step approach is a strong enough foundation to support its campaign against pornography. But that may very well be a mistake.

And, recent studies seem to show that treating pornography as an addiction is very likely counter-productive. There are several reasons for this. First of all, there is nothing to indicate that the availability of pornography increases the likelihood of becoming addicted to it. In other words, access to pornography does not, in and of itself, make people want to consume it more. Rather, the biggest factor in whether or not someone starts to compulsively consume pornography is religiosity; If you are religious, consuming pornography might make you feel guilty and isolated, which negative feelings one then turns to pornography to alleviate. Rinse and repeat.

Noone likes the cone of shame.

You can’t turn to your family or your bishop for help, because you are effectively admitting to having the sin next to murder in your heart. There are real-world consequences for that. So you are driven into a shame spiral that results in you consuming more and more pornography in order to cope. This can become a compulsive behavior, which can destroy relationships, cost jobs, and generally make you miserable. What it can’t do is kill you, which is why this isn’t an addiction. Which is also why it shouldn’t be treated as one.

As Rebekah Crawford recently reminded us, the language we use can affect how we understand ourselves. There does not appear to be a good reason to use the language of addiction to describe compulsive pornography consumption. There is a difference between a drug or alcohol addiction and the compulsive checking of the phone or of gambling. I’m not denying (or interested in denying) the negative effects of the latter, but there are physical changes in the body that the former undergo that put it in a separate category. And we already have the language to accomplish that difference by labeling physical chemical dependency addiction and other compulsive behaviors compulsive behaviors.

Of course, the language and metaphor of addiction can be helpful for people suffering from other compulsive behaviors, but I attended meetings mostly in Utah County, where the porn addiction was thick on the ground. I sometimes felt like my fellow 12-steppers were using the language of addiction as a justification of their behavior or, more frequently, that they were treating this system as something it wasn’t. One thing about being around a table with alcoholics and drug addicts, they know that everyone relapses and, when someone does, it can get bad (life-threateningly bad). Relapse was something that the Utah County porn addict either believed they would never do (naively, I’d say) or that they had done so much that attending meetings wasn’t so much about working the steps as about simply mitigating guilt. The 12-steps exist to help folks manage a disease that will kill them eventually, but the dudes around the table in Utah County were just looking for a means to keep their ego afloat. What they need is counseling with a responsible counselor. Taking the language of addiction away is a means to get folks heading in the right direction.

Don’t misunderstand me; the time I’ve spent in 12-step meetings has done more to help me understand repentance and grace that all the time I’ve spent in priesthood meetings combined. It’s just the addiction model doesn’t help people compulsively consuming pornography. It pathologizes a perfectly normal, healthy desire for sex and sexual release. There is nothing wrong about those emotions unless you’ve been taught that they are the gateway drug to a half-life of misery. It makes you think any consumption of pornography is pathological; the reality is that, on average, “porn addicts” don’t consume more porn than non-addicts, they just feel guiltier about it. It leads you to believe that your desires are so shameful that they can only really be shared with fellow degenerates; cutting you off from necessary interactions with your loved ones. There is very little upside to this approach that couldn’t be alternatively gained from seeing a good counselor and having a patient, understanding bishop.

So, while it appears that the Brethren may have adopted the 12 steps as their primary means of helping congregants overcome their compulsive consumption of pornography, it may well be that they could better help the members by trying a different approach. The 12 steps, though positive, shouldn’t be the final word. Rather, it may well be that the Brethren could better help the members by trying a different approach. Perhaps a new approach would be truly sex-positive. To encourage discussion of human desires, physical libido, emotional intimacy, couples’ communication, and consent. That sunlight and conversation, rather than shame and compulsive silence, is the best disinfectant. There are a multitude of Mormon therapists, including sex therapists, who could shed light on healthier models of discussion; lets listen to them.

Comments

  1. John, this is really good. I am, as you know, less persuaded than you are that the science so clearly distinguishes between those things you call “addictions” and those things you call “compulsive behaviors” (in part because, as best as I can tell, the majority of the clinical definitions of the former term make descriptive use of the latter term). But your larger point–that the language of “addiction” introduces a particular kind of mental framing to those suffering from this compulsion insofar as how they address it, and that the 12-step mentality is of limited use in addressing this particular compulsion–both makes sense to me and comports with my experience. I wasn’t in Provo (far from it) during the years I attended a 12-step program, but your sharp snark–“dudes around the table…looking for a means to keep their ego afloat”–is, in my observation, devastatingly accurate. (At one point, under one set of youth leaders, we had 12-year-old kids showing up–gone was the idea of seeking support in crafting new, less damaging behaviors, and in its place was a lot of immature grandstanding. I had to find myself a different, non-church program soon after that.)

  2. Russell,
    First of all, 12-year-olds? That just seems like pastoral neglect to me.
    Second, my snark is probably too harsh. We all need some ego to function and if 12-step is the only way you can maintain yours, more power to you. But you should probably get a counselor, too (or instead).

  3. OtherTiberius says:

    “Rather, the biggest factor in whether or not someone starts to compulsively consume pornography is religiosity; If you are religious, consuming pornography might make you feel guilty and isolated, which negative feelings one then turns to pornography to alleviate. Rinse and repeat.”

    This statement is a misinterpretation of the Grubbs et al. literature that I assume you’re pulling this from. They argue that the negative feelings lead one to identifying it was a problem/habit/addiction given the same level of consumption, not necessarily that it leads to more consumption. There’s some speculation on the macro-level that religiosity may lead to higher use, but the micro-level data suggests that religiousness is negatively related.

    But yes, I agree with the rest, as long as “sex-positive” isn’t a euphemism for de-emphasizing the law of chastity issues here.

  4. This feels/sounds/tastes good, and important. However, I am struck by the fact that my deep dive into addiction, compulsive behavior, 12-step programs, and the like was more than 20 years ago. (Mostly not about pornography==that was before peak pornography talk as shown in the graph.) While I casually follow the literature, and a little more the practice from the therapy/counselor/psychology/psychiatry point of view, it is clear that whatever I thought I knew 20 years ago is out-of-date and unreliable.

    For all that caution, it does seem like shifting from an addiction model to a compulsive behavior model would be good. And moving from an absolutist and negative model of sex (anything related to sex is bad, until . . . in marriage) to a relational model (consensual sex in a committed relationship is a positive good, but there are ways things go wrong), would be helpful. But difficult to get to, no less because we like putting sin in neat boxes with clear corners and edges, and when we open the door to compulsive behaviors and relationship failures there’s a whole lot of skeletons in those closets.

  5. Brother Sky says:

    “Which is also why it shouldn’t be treated like one”. Hallelujah! Finally, someone said it. This is a pet peeve of mine, so I’ll try to keep this brief and snark-free.

    The whole anti-porn thing is part and parcel, IMHO, of the church’s astonishingly unhealthy attitude towards sex and sexuality generally. You’re telling young, hormonally overflowing young people to not even THINK about sex and you’re denying them any outlet at all (except for marriage) to explore, think about, work through, discover their sexuality in healthy ways. Of course Utah County is going to have a huge porn problem; it’s where that rhetoric is the most prevalent and intense. The most cynical part of me feels like so much of this rhetoric is used just to convince randy young people to hurry up and get married, but I just think all of this rhetoric of denial and strait-jacketing involving sex and sexuality creates more guilt, more porn use and more sexual dysfunction, as the OP suggests. There’s evidence that the number of LDS couples, esp. in Utah, are more and more going to sex therapists to help them communicate with each other about sex since they don’t have much practice doing so.

    And about the “addiction recovery” aspect of things, unless every single one of the these 12-step addiction counselors in the church is a licensed, practicing therapist, it’s incredibly disingenuous and harmful to have folks who don’t have a licensed, clinical background in this stuff to just present themselves as church-called “counselors” to help people who may or may not have a problem in the first place. And I’m not sure how good an idea it is for people struggling with this stuff to go to an LDS representative rather than a well-qualified secular therapist.

    My solution (and yes, I know it’s a pipe dream): Abolish the abstinence part of the law of chastity (or at least present it as one option, not THE option), de-stigmatize (don’t use the rhetoric of shame) natural biological urges and curiosity about them, and help our young adults understand how to safely and ethically explore and understand their sexuality and allow them to do so. That may sound radical/inappropriate to many on this blog, but I’d be willing to bet real money that such things would lead to improved self-esteem, less shame and healthier marriages. Or, alternatively, get completely out of the business of policing the sexuality of others. My .02.

  6. I think the church is making strides here. Elder Oaks’ article in the Ensign a few years back is very helpful:

    https://www.lds.org/ensign/2015/10/recovering-from-the-trap-of-pornography?lang=Eng

    While one might still quibble with some of the language used, the counsel to not treat every exposure as full-blown addiction and that treating it as such is harmful, seems to be wise and certainly a step in the right direction.

  7. Brother Sky,

    …unless every single one of the these 12-step addiction counselors in the church is a licensed, practicing therapist, it’s incredibly disingenuous and harmful…

    Obviously it would be the ideal to have that level of training, and I won’t for a second deny the harm which can potentially arise from the potential mental mis-match between a poorly led 12-step, group-support model and the specific problem of a pornography addiction (or “compulsion,” as John prefers). But I’m not willing to throw the 12-step baby entirely out with the bad bathwater; if nothing else, the 12-step model, even when guided clumsily by someone with minimal (or no!) training, creates an environment where struggles, failures, and successes in controlling a behavior which is genuinely disliked are shared, and that all on its own can provide real relief. Maybe not healing, maybe not peace of mind, maybe not lasting success, but simple relief is nothing to sneeze at.

    The common thread among all compulsions/addictions, I think, is simply this: there is a thing that one part of your brain and body have learned, through experience, is pleasurable to do–over-eating, gaming all night, masturbating, cheating on your spouse, taking cocaine, getting drunk, etc.–and even when the rest of your brain and body choose not to do that pleasurable thing, you end up following through with the preferred actions of the one part anyway. It’s an imbalance, in other words, an imbalance as old as Paul, in Romans 7:19: “I do not understand my own actions, for I do not do what I want, but instead I do the very thing I hate.” Obviously one way to address that is to question the rest of your brain and body for hating something that perhaps really isn’t all that hateful, which I take to be the major thrust of John’s excellent post, and the idea which lays behind his comment that since viewing pornography (or obsessively checking your phone when you should be talking to your wife, or fanatically spending the mortgage money on online poker), unlike chemical dependencies, “can’t kill you,” maybe we ought to recognize that the hate attached to this behavior shouldn’t be treated as a dire. must-control-of-you’re-lost-forever behavior. I don’t disagree with any of that; I think it’s a great and important point. I just don’t think it necessarily undermines everything that the 12-step approach can offer: a sense of not being alone, a sense that changing behavior cannot be done solo, a sense of humility. That was extremely important to me, even before I decided I needed to find an approach separate from what the church provided, and I’d hate to see all such programs disappear entirely, especially for poorer Mormons way out in the mission field.

  8. I know that young men (12-18) are sent to our stake’s ARP. I thought that was pretty common. Was I wrong?

  9. A Turtle Named Mack says:

    Not sure how common that is, AM. But it’s wrong.

  10. I believe the instruction was for youth to NOT attend ARP.

  11. There is a movement to introduce “porn literacy” classes directed at high school and college students, in which the conventions and elements of pornography are discussed along with questions like “what is real?” and “what does this movie [or whatever] make us believe about sex”? I don’t think they watched actual porn together, but I think they talked about it. (Maybe watching was homework.)

    The idea is to hold classes with male and female participants together, which facilitates male participants to gain an understanding of a female’s feelings about consent and various sex acts while also helping women to understand the ways that pornography might be shaping the appetites of potential sexual partners. (The realistic portrayal of the female’s needs, etc., is usually not part of pornography.) The key was that the classes enabled all participants to learn the ways that porn might distort their beliefs and expectations in the context of relationships.

    It seems like THAT’S the way to combat the harmful effects of porn — education — rather than the shame approach, which drives it so far underground that users may never discover what’s true about human sexuality. (And they are even less likely to discover it if the compulsive behavior becomes so entrenched that it interferes with the user’s ability to have sexual relationships with a real, human woman. Interestingly enough, sexual dysfunction that comes from pornography use is completely refractory to drugs like viagra, which work fine for the typical age-related sexual dysfunction. That’s because porn-related sexual dysfunction is in the brain, not the sex organs.)

  12. Brother Sky says:

    Russell Arben Fox: Point taken. I truly do see the benefits of the 12-step way and didn’t mean to suggest that it offers nothing. It does, in fact, offer a substantial amount, even, as you say, “simple relief,” which can feel like a massive victory. I think my personal experience with well-meaning but inept folks in the position of counseling others colored my initial comment. And I think the distinction between compulsion and addiction is quite helpful. I agree, too, about the unhelpful ratcheting up of things. Regarding your list of compulsive behaviors, I think I’d agree with most sex therapists rather than the church in saying that there’s nothing harmful about masturbation, the one thing in your list that I’d view as not only harmless but healthy up to a point, but I agree esp. with your point about the mission field and the lack of access to any type of counseling that may be able to help. Thanks for your thoughtful response.

  13. Moral incongruence is certainly a major driver of individuals’ problematizing their use of pornography. But that places the focus entirely on the pornography consumer. There are externalities to pornography, even if the individual consumer feels no moral guilt at all. Just ask the spouse or significant other of a maybe-addicted-maybe-compulsive pornography consumer.

  14. Kevin Barney says:

    I don’t claim to be knowledgeable about this subject, but I have long felt that the language of addiction we use in the pornography context was misplaced, so I appreciated that aspect of the OP.

  15. This would be the latest approach, which is different that the approach you had described:

    “In earlier times and circumstances, our counsel about pornography focused principally on helping individuals to avoid initial exposure or to recover from addiction. While those efforts are still important, past experience and current circumstances have shown the need for counsel addressed to levels of pornography use between the polar extremes of avoidance and addiction. It is helpful to focus on four different levels of involvement with pornography: (1) inadvertent exposure, (2) occasional use, (3) intensive use, and (4) compulsive use (addiction).”

    https://www.lds.org/ensign/2015/10/recovering-from-the-trap-of-pornography?lang=eng

  16. Porn addiction definitely can kill you. It can lead to adultery or fornication and disease. Or getting shot by a jealous spouse. Or, if you doesn’t lead you there, you could get killed (or kill someone else) after being sleep-deprived from staying up all night looking at it. And it definitely causes changes in your body. Look at the studies being done in brain plasticity. And look at the chemical reactions taking place, which eventually make you impotent.

  17. @MormonPostcards: pornography can have terrible effects on relationships and externalities on family members — there is absolutely no question about that. Especially when it’s so compulsive and so secret that you completely emotional withdraw and start looking at it on work computers and get fired, etc. In already floundering relationships, pornography also can be, and is, used as a weapon.

    But in conversations on the topic, it seems like –most– people who say (or are told by the Church) that they have a pornography “addiction” are much closer to “once a month I find myself peeking at Victoria’s Secret ads on the Internet” than “every evening I shut myself away from society and consume as many 50 Shades of Gray style explicit videos as possible.” I think those are categorical differences, and require vastly different responses.

    For the closer to Victoria’s Secret spectrum … it has anecdotally seemed to me that cultivating safe and strong relationship skills with emphasis on open communications about sex, about relationships, about emotional intimacy, and about external stressors, often leads to dramatic improvements. Porn is the emotional outlet to release stress and avoid true intimacy, so learning better problem-solving methods plus how develop true intimacy makes porn use diminish. Treat the underlying emotional struggles, not the “porn” as a beast unto itself.

  18. Treat the underlying emotional struggles, not the “porn” as a beast unto itself.

    Well, do both, I think. The idea that pornography consumption is an enormity that arises all at once in a totalizing way in someone’s life because they accidentally watched American Pie once, and is completely separate from issues of stress release or intimacy-seeking is, I agree, a horrible and even harmful way of looking at it. But if incorporating into the church’s formally promulgated thinking about the issue the “Victoria’s Secret” side of the spectrum means no more acknowledging of the addictive/compulsive potential of porn itself, then I would issue a strong dissent. It absolutely is a beast. It’s a bad thing. But no, not all bad things, or exposure to bad things, should be responded to with a full-court clinical press.

  19. Here’s a good reminder: The law of chastity reminds the sons and daughters of Adam and Eve that they should only have sexual relations with their spouse to whom they are legally and lawfully wedded. It’s specifically referring to shared sexual relationships. IMHO there are sexual behaviors that don’t approximate a breach of the law (ahem….masturbation). Let’s face it – viewing porn (or looking at a naked body) is an additional curiosity which facilitates such self-pleasuring. A means to an end as it were. Or should I say a means to a happy ending…
    Our Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints approach to teaching/understanding/managing sexuality is fear based – hence the guilt/shame around our perfectly natural God-given curiosities. In my lifetime it began with the ‘Little Factory’ talk and moved on to Spencer Kimball’s grave warnings that made me understand that it would truly be a miracle if anyone ever forgave me for my depravity. We missed out on the opportunity to co-opt Steve Irwin’s famous phrase for a slightly edgier Mormonad campaign – “Don’t Muck With It!”
    I know it’s beating a dead horse, but we could make some instant headway by instructing our Bishops and other leaders that they should not talk with our kids about their sexuality. It is the job of a parent to teach those things in the home. Please don’t argue that some parents don’t teach it so the church and Bishops need to step in – my kid needs to learn long division as well and I don’t see the bishop volunteering to come over on Tuesday night at 7. If the Bishop needs to do a worthiness interview, what’s wrong with, “Do you live the law of chastity?” If the answer is, “no” or, “I don’t know” then the follow up; “I recommend that you talk with your parents about this”. I once had a Bishop tell me that if I couldn’t keep my hands away from my netherregions then he might have to proceed with a formal church discipline. I WAS 14!!!! Needless to say my compulsions continued until such time that I found myself before my Bishop and his counselors in a formal church discipline proceeding. It was my choices that brought me there, but I promise there was a boatload of nuance that could have given additional context to the place I was in.
    I could go on all day – my point is that if we want our kids to want to do things like go to the temple – and enjoy it, or continue in church activity, then we have to show them that God’s capacity to forgive FAR outweighs our capacity to sin. That means MERCY folks. And GRACE. And LOVE. And ACCEPTANCE. Not shame and 12 step programs and months without taking the sacrament.

  20. My former husband died on the bathroom floor after fighting prescription opiate addiction for nine years. He was part of the early wave of fatalities that is now sweeping the country.

    Our family, and my children have paid the ultimate price.

    I have attended NARC-Anon, AL-Anon, AA, and the church’s ARP. 12-step programs can be very helpful to addicts struggling to stay alive. There is a reason they say One Day at a Time. Sometimes, a day is too long, and it’s One Hour at a Time. When you are trying to stay off heroin, or fentanyl, or Oxy, it’s that serious and that desperate. A relapse is a matter of life and death. Literally.

    At the church’s ARP meetings, without fail, the porn “addicts” controlled the room and the conversations. The rooms were saturated with people who had what I viewed (and science backs me up) as compulsive behaviors. What happens (at every one I EVER went to) is that the porn people insist on their right to be there, and they take up nearly all the time and space, while the addict who just wants to live until tomorrow shrinks back into the corner.

    For a while, I did a speaking circuit, talking about ARP, NA, and Rx Addiction. The same dynamic happened at every speaking event.- as soon as I mentioned addiction, I could rely on it — the first or second question was going to be about porn. And then I had to explain why I didn’t view it that way, why science didn’t view it that way, and then address every predictable follow-up question that I knew like a script. I had to assure them that I understood that porn could cause harm, damage lives, ruin marriages (I do know this, and a counselor is the proper treatment) but the time I had to devote to this almost never deviated. If I tried to move on, yet another hand would go up with another “But what about…” regarding porn. This interaction often left very little time or room for addressing actual addiction and was incredibly dangerous for the people present who I knew were just trying to hold on for One Hour at a Time.

    ***At the VERY LEAST, the church needs to separate out the ARP meetings into porn use, and those with life-threatening addictions. People fighting to stay alive have often used every last resource they have to get to an ARP meeting, and if they feel invisible there, the chances of them making it through another day shrink exponentially.***

    We can do better.

  21. Jack Hughes says:

    Thanks for this, John. I too believe that the addiction model can do more harm than good when applied to pornography. The so-called LDS porn epidemic is largely a problem that we created for ourselves.

    Hopefully, the projected decline in LDS porn awareness will result in fewer ham-fisted attempts to fix the problem. Such as when the (overwhelmingly Mormon) Utah state legislature passed a resolution a few years ago that declared pornography to be a public health crisis. They chose to focus on an imaginary crisis while ignoring very real public health crises that still affect the state (suicide, opioids, prescription drug abuse, pollution, etc.).

  22. Tracy, your story is so so so so valuable here. Thank you. And if any commentator hasn’t read her book on the tragedy of opiate addiction, you should. https://www.amazon.com/dp/B071J4YW5D/ref=dp-kindle-redirect?_encoding=UTF8&btkr=1

  23. +1 to Tracy M. I don’t have her direct experience, but from my one and two step remove every word rings true.

  24. Jack Hughes says:

    It should be noted that there is an entire subsection of books at Deseret Book dedicated to dealing with pornography, and as far as I can tell from reading book jacket summaries, they all have similar pseudoscientific positions and embrace the addiction model. With a cottage industry built around the LDS porn epidemic (especially with the harmful shame-based approach of the Sons of Helaman Program), it may not go away as quickly as we would like.

  25. Eric Russell says:

    John, thanks for posting! I disagree with almost everything you said and have thousands of words worth of a response for you, but I don’t want to hijack your thread, so I’ll drop it.

    I’ll just say this: though I am not familiar with the study he is discussing in the article you linked to, I know that David Ley is a known sex addiction denier who is more activist than psychologist. His work has been debunked by professionals in the sex addiction industry.

    I would estimate that the sex addiction deniers makes up less than 2% of the psychotherapy community, but they’re a very vocal 2%, so you see a lot of it out there. Just keep in mind there are other perspectives, backed by the majority, with strong scientific support.

  26. Eric, I’m sure you didn’t intentionally write “industry” instead of “field”, but that was an unfortunate choice of words given the overall direction of your comment.

    Thanks for the post, John, it supports the vast majority of the reading I’ve done on this subject as I’ve watched people close to me experience significant emotional distress and negative outcomes connected to their (or their family members’) pornography use.

  27. Thanks for sharing that valuable dose of reality, Tracy.

  28. Every time a subject like this comes up, somebody trumpets how unless the church has licensed clinicians running everything, it should stay the heck out. Let me point out that the opioid epidemic was actually started by licensed clinicians — all of whom had some measure of pain management training.

    While I admit psychology has become a real science, it’s had some spectacular failures in the past, and I suspect it’ll have an interesting future as well. People are starting to grant therapists the same authority previous generations gave clergy, and the results will be at least as mixed.

    Obviously 12-step programs for porn shouldn’t be combined with those for alcohol or drugs, and they may not be appropriate for kids, but I’m skeptical you can replace the function they serve with visits to a therapist.

  29. I think that part of the issue is the scripture where Jesus equates looking at a woman and lusting after her is the same as committing adultery. I think that this makes men so fearful of their own feelings when looking at the other half of the population, that it builds up a lot of pent up pressure, which then snaps. Is it possible to look at a woman, appreciate her beauty and not lust after her? From what I get from church, the answer is no.
    We’ll talk about in church about how with one drink of alcohol someone became an acholic, therefore we should always avoid all alcohol. But that’s something which is just not true for the vast majority of the population of good people who live around us. Most of those functioning adults, who contribute positively to society, drink a little bit and are fine. But we’ll never talk about that in church.
    There are people who are legitimately addicted to porn, and it’s bad. On the other hand though, I highly doubt that the majority of people who are looking at porn at any point in time are addicted to it. They’re just consuming it, and then they’ll move on. The problem is that we don’t have much of a framework for dealing with someone transgressing the law, and not considering it a full blown addiction.
    I know it sounds like I’m trying to justify committing a little sin – I don’t want it come off like that – but I think the issue is misidentifying the tool to the problem. You don’t use the sledge hammer to nail the tiny nail in the wall that’s going to be hanging pictures. But it seems like the sledge hammer is the only tool the church is using for this issue.

  30. I wonder if part of the issue is that, because of decades of embracing a works-based, progressive self-improvement attitude towards repentance, combined with our near-total rejection of original sin, we don’t have the language to really express our helplessness in the face of temptation.

    People with a compulsion can, of course, modify their behavior through force of will, but when it comes to porn, we take Jesus’ words that lusting is, in effect, adultery very seriously, which gets to the fact that sin is not just about bad behavior, it’s about fallen human nature that manifests itself through bad behavior. And because only grace, not force of will, can change human nature, we end up with men who look at porn that feel keenly their failure to change their human nature through their efforts to change their behavior, and their helplessness. I wonder if part of the attraction of labeling porn use as an addiction is that co-opting the language of addiction gives these men permission to admit their helplessness and inability to change their nature. And to the extent that it does that, I think it can serve a useful purpose because once you stop trying to exercise faith in your own efforts to change your behavior, you can start exercising faith in Christ and calling upon his grace. (Note that I’m not saying we ought to abandon our efforts to obey the commandments, but as Paul explains, we don’t put our faith in them, knowing that they will abandon us. Instead, we consecrate those efforts to Jesus and trust in his grace for salvation.)

    But co-opting the language of addiction is highly problematic for the reasons Tracy explains above. Sin may be like addiction in spiritually important ways, but it is not addiction, and co-opting the language and the spaces of real addiction can trivialize real addiction. It can also, if not understood properly, lead someone to believe that they aren’t really responsible for their sins because it’s not their choice; it’s the addiction’s fault.

    IMO, the ideal solution must include a much more robust understanding and teaching of the fall and of grace, otherwise those of us that are scrupulous (which, given our recent focus on porn, disproportionately includes those of us with a weakness for porn), will be drawn to the language of addiction to express the helplessness that they feel in the face of temptation.

  31. pornography is often sex trafficked women and children, and it’s impossible to know the difference. at it’s best, it objectifies and uses women, which is not okay. Mentioning these things at least in token would be an important part of any discussion of pornography. There are MANY non religious reasons to try to avoid it. I have a friend that was sex trafficked for 20 years, and her stories of being forced by sex traffickers to perform for pornography are sad and enlightening. She says many of the other girls were also sex trafficked, and there is no way to tell the difference. While trying to be sex positive is important, pornography is not sex positive.

  32. I think we have problems when we try to define what are “real” addictions and what are not. Should we all meet together, no matter what our addiction or compulsion? If it’s that or not meeting with anyone at all, then absolutely. There should also be better moderation so that one is not cowed into silence by another. The bar “if it won’t kill you, it’s not big enough” is a horrible thing to set. Lives are still being destroyed, even if the effects are not noticeably physical.

    We talk about wanting to welcome everyone to our Church meetings; why should addiction recovery meetings be any different?

    Sure, there is disagreement about weather porn qualifies as something undesirable, as well as disagreement over it being a problem at all. But for those in the grip of it, this is not academic. We need a safe place to share our burdens, successes, and failures, which is what arp is supposed to provide. If these spaces are not safe for all, then they should be adjusted to make them so, if possible. I’ve been to arp meetings where there were a half dozen there for porn (&tc), and one for drugs. Of course most of the discussion involved the porn use, but it was also all there was available in the area.

    I’m very against anyone who decides that the answer to porn addiction/compulsion is “no big deal” and happens just because of religious guilt. I’ve seen too many jobs, families, and even lives taken by suicide because of it. The conflation of how much/little the addiction exists is done on every side.

  33. I remember the first time I was in bed with my husband and he left me choosing to be on the internet rather than by my side. It hurts. Eventually pornography came between us.
    I have a friend whose daughter just returned home from her mission. Her Bishop said,”Good luck in finding a man who is not looking at pornography; they all are.” It ruins relationships marriages, and lives.
    My question is, how do we as parents protect and teach our children so this does not damage their lives? So far the discussion is all about having the problem. How do we successfully avoid it so no 12 step, no therapy, no counseling is ever needed?

  34. “How do we successfully avoid it so no 12 step, no therapy, no counseling is ever needed?”

    We won’t ever accomplish a 100% success rate, so avoidance is never going to be a full solution and we always will need to provide some measure of recovery assistance for those four whom it becomes a compulsion.

    But here are my thoughts on a few things we can do to make it so porn use is less often a compulsion that seems to require counseling or therapy or arp, and more often a sin that kids can repent of like any other rather than needing that extra support to break a habit.

    (1) Teach kids that it’s totally normal to get aroused by it and that doesn’t make you an addict.

    (2) Stop teaching them that if they look at it once they’ll be hooked for life and practically unable to change, because that becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

    (3) Teach them WHY it’s bad: exploitation, objectification, fetishization of unreality; instead of just repeating that it’s bad.

    (4) Teach them the doctrines of the fall and of redemption from the fall by grace through faith as taught in the book of mormon.

  35. Everything JKC has said, both comments.

  36. Dispatch from southwest Salt Lake County – just returned from stake youth standards night where the keynote (adult) speaker spoke of the hope of freedom from addictions, including porn use. And then 30 dozen donuts were of course offered as refreshments.

  37. OtherTiberius says:

    Kebtemb: I think most secular guys would disagree with you that porn is not sex positive. Yes there are secular reasons to not look at porn, but I don’t get the sense that they are terribly effective for people who have a strong appetite for the stuff (plus there are whole books written on how to make sure that your porn is “ethical,” the actors are paid well, they aren’t coerced, etc.). For them, a very concrete God complete with clearly drawn good and evil lines regarding sexuality is required; abstract secular feminist philosophies usually don’t cut it as secular approaches usually trend towards personal liberties in general. I’m speculating based on personal anecdote at this point, but secular anti-porn rhetoric divorced from religious rhetoric is usually used after the fact by people that naturally find the stuff revolting anyway.

  38. Frank, I don’t think anyone is saying we should bar the doors of the arp meetings, but we also don’t have to tell every man who looked at porn that he’s an addict and needs to go to arp.

  39. Let alone 14 year old kids. My goodness

  40. Everyone is welcome in sacrament meeting because the purpose of sacrament meeting is to bring the entire community together as one for worship and renewal of covenants. Not everyone is welcome in RS, EQ, age-determined Sunday school class, ward council meetings, etc, because those all have a different purpose. The purpose of 12-step meetings is absolutely NOT to bring the entire community together as one – it’s to allow people who share a common experience to help and support each other. Why in the world would you expect everyone to be welcome there? (I don’t know if non-addicts are welcome in 12 step meetings as a general rule, but I do know that there are some groups that are definely closed.)

    Given Tracy’s heartbreaking comment, it seems like throwing the porn “addicts” out of general ARP meetings, at the very least into their own separate meeting, is the bare minimum that has to be done to support those who truly need that program. And given the shapely shocking reports on this thread that bishops are instructing teenagers to attend, I would think that some really clear guidance is needed there because that is utterly inappropriate. But hey, that works likely sound like the church is bowing to the Protect The Children pressure, so that won’t happen…

  41. In our stake, FWIW, the ARP meetings are definitely not “visitor’s welcome.” Anyone can attend, as a participant, AFAIK, but they’re supposed to be the only thing scheduled in the building at the time, to protect the anonymity of the participants. The sacrament meeting comparison just doesn’t work.

  42. The sacrament meeting analogy fails on multiple fronts, some of which have been addressed.

    Another reason the church’s ARP is problematic is because they jettison the “anonymous” that is rigorously enforced in traditional NA, AA, Al-Anon, etc… It’s absolutely inviolable that if you recognize someone at a meeting you never, ever speak of it to them, never call them by their surname, and you never talk about it with anyone. At a church ARP, you will be sitting with people you know from your ward, the neighboring ward, and the leaders will very likely be a couple you know. The couple in charge most likely has little experience with addiction—or if they have any, it’s only one of them, but for some reason it’s always a couple called. And as others have pointed out, there are often minors present. Nothing about this is supportive of an addict, or of confidentiality–despite what are presented as good intentions.

  43. I’m a great fan of BCC and I normally shrug off the criticisms (“all you liberals” ; “not enough scripture” ). But this OP and comment thread have made me swear off Church sponsored ARP. Despite the fact that our local ARP leader (couple) is a good friend whom I would trust with my life, when or next time I need a 12-step program, I’m going elsewhere.

  44. I had intended my comment to mean “everyone who needs to attend an arp meeting should be welcome”, not children, visitors, parents, spouses, or “interested parties”. The meetings should be open to anyone who needs it. If size is an issue, then yes, it should be separated by addiction, but not beforehand. Teenagers, if a group is needed, should have their own gender segregated group.

    If there is a problem with people “taking over meetings”, it should be addressed in that meeting, not by unilaterally throwing out people who are there seeking help. We should not be throwing people out, declaring that what they are struggling with isn’t big enough. What would they have to do, show documentation on how they’ve lost a job because of their “compulsion”?

    Never taken into account in these discussions is availability. Sometimes, you don’t live in a community that has enough addicts to make up a meeting. Trying to segregate by addiction would mean a difference between people meeting and feeling uncomfortable with people who they don’t think belong there and not meeting at all.

    And at what arp meeting was “anonymity” jettisoned? Every one I’ve been to (in a number of different places) has stressed this at the start of every meeting. If you see someone you know in another community setting (church, school, politics, work, etc.) you -don’t- talk about it outside the meeting.

    If you need help, attend what meeting you can. If there is more than one available, attend where you feel comfortable. It is not a replacement for counselling, but it’s certainly better than nothing at all.

  45. Bro. Jones says:

    Frank Pellet: “What would they have to do, show documentation on how they’ve lost a job because of their “compulsion”?”

    Well not necessarily, but there’s a difference between “Bishop, I would like to change my behavior and I need help because I am unable to control myself” and “Brother/sister, you have confessed of a single/limited instance of pornography viewing, so I declare you an addict and insist that you attend ARP meetings.” By that same standard, it’s like asking someone to attend the meetings after a single instance of alcohol consumption; I haven’t heard of that happening, but I have heard of instant declarations of “porn addiction.”

  46. I don’t know this for certain, but I strongly suspect that the development of the ARP grew out of an organic, members-led movement in the 90’s to instill LDS doctrine into the 12-step programs they were attending. Specifically, a member named Colleen C. Bernhard (now Harrison) self-published “He Did Deliver Me From Bondage- Using the Book of Mormon and the Principles of Jesus Christ as They Correlate with the Twelve-Step Program to Overcome Compulsive/Addictive Behavior and Other Problems”. Her book underwent several revisions throughout the 90’s; I am in possession of the sixth edition, published 1997. I think this is relevant to point out, because so often the changes generated in the church come from the ground up. I can’t say for certain that this is what occurred, but it seemly likely to me. Colleen’s disease was compulsive eating/food addiction, and her books are extremely focused on the atonement, repentance, and grace. They are inspiring because her testimony and lived experience are all through them. In contrast, I find the current ARP manual rather sterile. John, I completely agree with you that I’ve learned more about these subjects in 12-step meetings (and through wrestling with my own disease) than through sitting in church.

  47. Also, I’m picking up a sentiment in this thread that an addiction is only an addiction if it is life-threatening and/or illegal. An addiction need not lead to “jails, institutions, and death” to mean the addict has completely lost control.

    Setting porn aside for a moment, can we talk about addiction in general with a bit more nuance? Does someone have to die in order to have truly been an addict? Does the “drug of choice” have to have the potential to be lethal? Many LDS have serious food addictions and compulsions, for example. They constantly do what they hate, what they pray to God they wouldn’t. There are many, many things people do to deal with intolerable feelings. Please don’t try to minimize other people’s suffering because you think it’s not as bad as what you’ve suffered or because the substance of choice isn’t as immediately deadly. Yes, addiction and compulsion are separate, but they overlap.

    The Buddha said we are all addicts. We’re addicted to approval, to being right, to our stupid phones. Richard G. Scott also said “Sin is addictive”. I’m far more inclined to trust these points of view, so I can try to take inventory daily.

  48. “Have we heard the last word on pornography?” The graph shows what typically happens in General Conference. Our leaders see a need and emphasize a certain principle over and over again. They warn and forewarn. After a certain period of time they seem to move on to another weakness they see in the Saints. I have seen this concerning Family Home Evening, caring for the poor and needy, modesty, temple attendance, Sabbath Day Observance, paying tithing, pornography and many other themes. “Those who have ears let them hear”…then they move on.

  49. Morthodox, I think perhaps your comment was gently directed at me, since I am the one taking a harder line on compulsion vs. addiction. Your point is generally true, and my quibble is that those differences are why we have NA (narcotics), AA (alcohol), OA (overeaters), SA (sexual), Al-Anon (families of addicts). Certainly just because something isn’t immediately deadly doesnt mean it’s not harmful– I’ve actually repeatedly said that, and continue to affirm that other issues are problematic and cause damage and harm to lives, marriages, and families.

    To the situation at large, I will continue to state emphatically is that they are degrees, and a person bleeding out from a gunshot wound (heroin addiction, opiates, etc) is in greater immediate danger than a person with a bad cut. Both are in need of, and deserve care– but one of them has more immediate needs than the other. So when an ARP meeting fills up with porn “addicts” (who we have shown can be seriously hurting, but who also might be dealing with normal sexual issues and shame, or even be a teenager who viewed porn once) and there is an Oxy addict who is desperately trying to survive the day without a relapse that will literally mean dying on the bathroom floor at 3 am, guess who gets heard at the ARP meeting? That’s what I am trying to say.

    If the church wishes to be effective, they need to address this on a more nuanced level. Not all ARP are created equal, and not all addictive/compulsive behaviors pose the same immediate danger to life and self. Pain is real, and all humans deserve compassion and support. My focus, however, will continue to be the addict who used every last ounce of their reserve to get there– and making sure they don’t bleed out in the back of the room while those with cuts and scrapes stand at the front of the line.

  50. Morthodox, Around the same time, Martha and John Beck published a book on treating homosexuality as a set of compulsive behaviors*, and LDS Social Services adopted that perspective. It’s always interesting to see how these non-point-source ideas make their way into LDS discourse.

    (*NB–obviously, this is a really bad idea. I am offering it as a data point, not as justification.)

  51. I enthusiastically support the 4 items JKC points out to help overcome pornography use.

    When the Mormon culture’s penchant for perfectionism collides with an individual’s core desires for sexual expression (and easy/free access to a virtually unlimited supply), self control will often fall short. The sexual shaming in the church uniquely contributes to isolation and contributes to the downward spiral of compulsive behaviors.

    Removing the stigma from masturbation, porn, or even violations of modesty will do two things: 1) we will likely have more church-going people engaging in those behaviors since it is now less costly socially for them to do so, and 2) we will likely have far fewer of them who develop a compulsion around such behaviors because they experience less shame. I don’t see 1) as bad because these are hedges around the law of chastity, not violations of the law itself; and I see 2) as good because it reduces the depth of harm in individuals. It is possible to be both sex positive and honor the law of chastity.

  52. Adele told the story of the bishop wishing a returning sister missionary good luck in finding a husband who isn’t looking at porn. I find this story sad in a number of ways, though probably for different reasons than Adele.

    First, I find the bishop’s cynicism conveyed in the comment itself quite sad–though porn consumption may be higher than he thinks is acceptable, there are many men who avoid it well into adulthood.

    Second, his binary perspective using pornography as the litmus test for a good husband is also sad–not only does it offer no hope of change/repentance for people who have viewed porn but it also overstates one’s ability to steer clear of porn forever (since many people develop porn habits AFTER their marital intimacy develops roadblocks).

    And third, I find it sad (though not surprising) that the church is so slow in adopting a more nuanced view towards pornography. If, by this bishop’s telling, most all young priesthood holders are engaging in it, then we should be in a crisis mode as we are confronted with an inadequate supply of worthy priesthood holders. Yet, it appears the church’s response to this crisis is simply to reinforce its positions from the 70’s and 80’s–double down on “self abuse” and the modesty rhetoric, condemn anything that has a whiff of sex outside marriage. Basically, treat adult men as teenagers who need to be controlled rather than as free agents who are trying to navigate a world with integrity. On the other hand, recognizing their agency means that we should emphasize ethics and values–and letting them decide how that plays out in their choices–rather than binary rules.

  53. Re: “the story of the bishop wishing a returning sister missionary good luck in finding a husband who isn’t looking at porn.”
    While we’re trading anecdotes and inferences — for a time, a former counselor in our stake presidency insisted on taking over ward priesthood meetings to talk about porn. He also insisted that, when he had been a bishop in another stake years earlier, he had learned of a study* conducted by the Church that showed that 75% of all active high priests had a serious problem with pornography. He carried on in this vein in several successive priesthood meetings — to the point that some of us wondered whether he had a problem with porn or used talking about it as vicarious porn. This then set some wondering flippantly (or not) about the extent to which some bishops who can’t resist prying into individuals’ behaviors regarding sex may be using such interviews as verbal porn.
    I do not doubt that there is a real porn use problem. I also do not doubt that some persons’ problems are encouraged or even created by intense and repeated focus on them as problems.
    The OP and Tracy M’s and JKC’s comments are most persuasive to me as one who thankfully hasn’t dealt with addiction problems in any role. (But now I’m wondering what I’m “addicted” to — maybe to certain blogs. :) )

    *Of course, if there ever was such a study, I expect it would have such sample selection and self-selection and self-reporting problems, that it could show no such thing. There was also significant reason to seriously doubt whether that counselor could have correctly understood the conclusions of any such study.

  54. For the commenter who complained about porn addicts being in the same ARP meeting as general addicts, in Utah they actually meet separately – in different places and different nights. In other places I guess they may meet together due to numbers.

  55. An Old Bish says:

    I thought church policy was to have the ARP porn folks meet separately from the other folks, and that is exactly what is happening in our southern California stake.

  56. Old Bish, if that’s true, its a new policy since I was a part of the ARP, and it’s a very good move. I hope its being implemented everywhere.

  57. Billy Possum says:

    John C.’s first paragraph has gotten little attention, but I think it’s significant. Pornography’s “newness” – the ease with which one can access it now as against the pre-internet world – is one of its most distinguishing features. In (maybe just) that way, it’s much like opiate addiction: millennia of history, but new again in the last decade (or two). Other addictio-compulsions – like alcohol – really haven’t changed that much in terms of their availability over time. I wonder whether that might explain the flash-in-the-pan nature of the uses of the term in Conference: maybe the Church has realized that it’s not a temporary onslaught, but a new normal, that must be dealt with in new ways.

    And interestingly, etymology gets the addictio-compulsion dilemma exactly backwards: a drive (pello, pellere) is stronger than a call (dico, dicere).

  58. Not all, but most of the comments are males. I wonder how many wives and mothers could care less if their husbands and sons look at a little pornography and feel it normal? How many woman find it irrelevant and are in favor of removing the stigma of such behavior?

  59. Adele,

    I don’t think my experience is necessarily representative at all of how most women would feel about this, but for what it’s worth…

    I am the daughter of a toxically compulsive pornography user who ruined his marriage by choosing it as his preferred form of sexuality over marital intimacy with my mother. It was a source of much disgust and shame to me as a young person and has cast a shadow over his relationships with all of his kids. I swore if I ever married it would be to someone who did not have this problem.

    Then I met my husband, a gentle, compassionate, and extremely spiritually sensitive man who confided early on that he had struggled with this compulsion for years and told me about how the habit, combined with his innate sense of scrupulosity and pathological honesty with bishops, had led to him spending years—years!!—abstaining from the sacrament and ultimately was a huge factor in his decision not to serve a mission. He felt he would never be worthy. When we met he was completely inactive in the church.

    As part of our temple marriage preparation the bishop mandated that he attended ARP and I went to along to support him and attend the support group for the women, which ran concurrently with the men’s meeting in the next room. It was the saddest thing I had ever seen, all around. Both the women who were crying, like my mother, over the years of rejection that they had felt at the hands of husbands who preferred their computers to their wives, and the women who were sad because their husband watched R-rated movies. All the pain was certainly real. I wonder how much of it was necessary.

    My husband and I at this point have what I think of as a don’t ask/don’t tell policy. He knows how I feel about pornography. I object to it for many reasons—the church position is just one of those and probably not even the most important one. I know that he is not proud of the years he spent compulsively using it, but I also know that compulsion will always rear its head in times of stress. I think it would be unrealistic of me to expect he will never seek it out again ever. I certainly can’t easily promise to turn my back forever on my own unworthy habits. But I don’t feel like I am my my mother—even a little bit. I totally trust his good intentions. And interestingly, I feel like that matters in this case. Perhaps this gets to that dinction between this and other addictions/compulsions. It wouldn’t matter how good I knew his intentions were if a slip-up could end up in his death.

    It breaks my heart now to think of the young man that my husband was, so mired in his own guilt and the cycle of compulsive use that dominated most of his teenage and young adult years. I would never want him to feel those feelings of helplessness and hopelessness again.

  60. I have a friend who cyclically participated, would quit, and then re-join the porn industry—from 18-21 years old—quite a name in the industry then, apparently. For all the women and men who talk about participating in porn as empowering, there are hundreds like my friend, driven multiple times to the point of suicide, coerced into things they absolutely didn’t want to do, with a lifetime of PTSD—and many of those lives are short. My friend started in the industry because it was either that or eviction; the job as a teller at the bank wasn’t enough to pay the bills and support a sick parent.

    I tend to think of the men and women who view porn as immature and thoughtless. We all are to one degree or another. The reason pornography is so toxic is not the harm (probably negligible in most cases) it does to the consumer,* but the lives of the people like my friend it destroys. My friend is lucky to be alive—porn does and can kill—but it doesn’t kill the so-called addicts. It kills people like my friend. With shocking frequency. Viewing it=complicity.

    *While I’m more concerned with the performers, the pain pornography causes to spouses and loved ones is also very real. Just because I think I would shrug at a romantic partner who enjoyed porn, doesn’t mean I shouldn’t be empathetic to the women (and some men) who see their partner’s use of porn as a painful rejection—an emphatic “You are not enough.” In a society that tells women in particular that they are only valuable insofar as they are able to please men, their husbands over and above all others, the pain can be very acute.

  61. OtherTiberius says:

    Adele-

    Sure they exist, but virtually all the surveys about porn use and attitudes towards porn use show that it’s much more of a man thing than a woman thing. Even many secular women don’t fancy it (e.g.: the female PM of Iceland who almost getting porn banned in her country). Of course I’m sure the gendered numbers would change if people stopped making the silly distinction between literary “erotica” and porn, but another topic for another day…

  62. OtherTiberius says:

    almost *got* porn banned.

  63. definitely anon for this says:

    (OtherTiberius, I started writing this comment before you posted! Jinx!)

    Here’s another angle. I’m female, and I participate in a (female-dominated) corner of the internet that writes material that is not always but often explicit (the explicit material is even referred to as “porn,” usually a bit tongue-in-cheek because it’s not visual pornography, but not wholly tongue-in-cheek), and this explicit material is usually meant at least partially to stimulate a sexual response. I used to stay far away from the explicit material, but now I do read some of it, and even have been known to write a bit of it. (Some of this material is clearly meant solely for stimulating a sexual response; I don’t read that stuff. I usually read the material that does other things as well, like has a plot.)

    I think that this is a form of pornography, albeit one that is much less harmful in a societal sense; since it’s all made up, there are no actors nor industry to contend with. It’s a little different from visual pornography, I think. I would feel wildly uncomfortable and guilty looking at the body of an actual real-life person who wasn’t my husband in order to lust after him, but in written “pornography” there’s an extra layer of abstraction.

    My non-LDS (Christian) husband knows I do this and thinks it’s just great; it’s definitely improved our sex life quite a bit. (I was a sheltered, naive sort of person and had a fair amount of trouble with getting comfortable with sex when we first got married.)

    So, I don’t know. Is it a sin? In the eyes of the Church, I’m pretty sure it is. In my eyes, I don’t think so, given that my husband is pretty enthusiastic about it. (If he was uncomfortable with it, of course that would be a different issue.) Do I need to go to a 12-step meeting? I would say not. Do I feel shame about it? No. Would I, if I were a good Mormon girl? Yup. (See also: stayed far away for many years; also, the part about having trouble getting comfortable with married sex. These things were definitely related. It was actually getting a little more comfortable with married sex that let me relax about consuming this material, which has let me get even more comfortable…) I feel like I live a bit of a double life… my online and family life, where no one thinks any of this is a big deal, and the LDS world, where this would be a Very Big Deal.

  64. I had an irreligious roommate flunk out of non-BYU college due to a bona fide pornography addiction. He’d skip class to watch pornography and eventually stopped going to class altogether. No shame cycle, no religious baggage. Certainly conflated with other mental health issues, but no different in manifestation than friends who’ve struggled through alcohol or drug addiction.

    Addiction is presumably rarer than our General Conference rhetoric seems to imply but it’s not a fantasy or some byproduct of twisted religious thinking. There’s a subset of folks who partake of pornography who are bound to become addicted, regardless of their moral perspective. We fail them when we deny the reality of their experience.

  65. OtherTiberius already noted the misinterpretation of the Grubbs study, which concluded that “religiosity and moral disapproval of pornography use were robust predictors of PERCEIVED addiction to Internet pornography while being UNRELATED to ACTUAL LEVELS of use among pornography consumers.” Although it’s interesting that religiosity doesn’t much reduce porn use, it also doesn’t increase it. Also, shame levels were found to be are “comparable” in both religious and non-religious porn addicts.
    https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/women-who-stray/201606/porn-vs-religion

    “There is nothing to indicate that the availability of pornography increases the likelihood of becoming addicted to it.” In fact, porn consumption has verifiably risen* since its more widespread availability. It’s hard to find old data on porn addiction (which says something of itself), but unless there’s no correlation between consumption and addiction…
    https://psmag.com/environment/surprise-we-all-love-porn

    I admit to a knee-jerk reaction against the concept of porn. I see it as inherently disrespectful of women. Let’s say we lived in a world where all porn —
    (1) was produced ethically (adequate pay and conditions, 100% uncoerced consent),
    (2) didn’t sexualize aggression against women, and
    (3) was never exposed to minors (if bishops asking about LoC compliance is harmful to teens, then certainly porn is, and certainly teen boys expecting reenactments from teen girls is)

    –it would still strike me as the epitome of patriarchal entitlement. I suppose if you are paying for it, you’re at least “buying her dinner first,” but whether the milk is free or cheap, it’s going to hurt the market for cows. I’ve been disappointed at the unwillingness of progressives to see porn as a feminist issue.

  66. Disappointed says:

    Laurel, I’m a little surprised at your last sentence, but then I may not qualify as a “progressive”. Some of those I have seen self-identify as progressives clearly do see heterosexual porn as a feminist issue. I’m left wondering who you’re talking about — perhaps since I just don’t keep up entirely with the “progressive” and “feminist” worlds. Do you think male gay porn is a feminist issue? Or is there some reason to ignore its existence in a general discussion of pornography?

  67. Disappointed, I’m glad that there are other progressives who see it as a feminist issue. I’m basing my perception on the few liberal forums I’ve been in where the subject has come up (like, two). Feminist arguments against porn were met with overwhelming disagreement

    I thought the awkwardness of “adult-on-adult heteronormative or lesbian porn” was reason enough to ignore 4% of (legally viewed) porn in a comment about feminism and the other 96% of (legally viewed) porn.

  68. Porn viewer here (before you judge I join millions and millions of other human beings, and I am quite confident that most of the males on here have viewed porn at least once in the last year). A couple of points:

    1) There is no comparison between drug addiction and the so-called porn “addiction.” Porn consumption can be done for the price of an internet connection and it does not get you high. I can drive just fine while turned on. Not so much while under the influence of different drugs. Also, I can’t OD on porn.

    2) Victoria’s Secret isn’t porn.

    3) I gave up feeling ashamed about viewing porn years ago and feel just fine. In fact, much better than when I used to feel shame.

    4) Lots of people view porn regularly and it doesn’t ruin their marriages. A spouse’s overreaction to porn can partly be to blame as well.

    5) I don’t really see what damage porn is doing for the most part (yes, I understand that there are extreme cases of human exploitation, but for the most part the porn stars (at least the most popular ones) seem pretty in control of their career decisions). At worst, highly frequent consumption may decrease male sex drives for the real thing and cause some erectile dysfunction. Also, consumption could get out of hand and be viewed in inappropriate public places or at work. It may interfere with productivity. But I rarely hear stories of people fired over porn consumption. It seems like people really have to stretch to show how porn is ruining someone’s life. Their stories are nothing compared to drug users’ stories.

  69. In response to the tension that pornography presents between feminism and liberalism, I agree that these are conflicting ethical values. The feminist ethic seeks to preserve the dignity of women and prevent them from exploitation in pornography, whereas the liberal ethic would say that as long as all participants are not coerced they are free to choose whether and how to engage in their own sexuality (whether as a producer or consumer of porn).

    Though both of these ethics are espoused by those that tend to vote for democrats, when they clash in the pornography issue there is no unanimous winner. And–to Laurel’s disappointment–it appears that the liberal ethic (favored by men?) trumps the feminist ethic in the name of sex positivity.

    Interestingly, these are different moral perspectives than are typically brought to bear on pornography when discussing it at church. Here, the topic is heavily presented through the lens of purity / impurity (almost entirely focused on the consumer, with little mention of the producer). A less prominent ethic also used in church is that of loyalty (to one’s marriage/temple commitments, family). Though these purity and loyalty ethics line up with a feminist ethic in this instance, I don’t think I’ve ever heard the feminist argument against pornography in church (yes, on LDS-based blogs and podcasts, but not in church).

    Yet, I don’t believe that this has to be a societal judgment that we make together–whether as Americans, church members, or Democrats/Republicans. Referring back to an earlier comment I made, I feel if we had a stronger emphasis on values and were less focused on rules we can allow for individual discretion in how this ethical conflict is navigated. Some will weight feminism or purity or loyalty more heavily and may choose to abstain entirely, while others will conclude liberalism is more persuasive and allow individuals to decide how to consume pornography that is consistent with their morality.

  70. And to “definitely anon for this”…my interest is piqued, what and where are you writing?

  71. I suspect much of the hyperbolic language in LDS dialogue surrouding porn is virtue signaling. I also see a dialing back of the rhetoric because the data is showing that the promoted remedies to porn use often do make things worse. I think a healthier approach would be to treat the consumption of porn as bad, but not the end of the world and something that is a lifetime endeavor to overcome. An analogous sin might be periodically losing one’s temper. Bad, happens to most people from time to time, can be gradually improved upon with humility, training, and time. Change the message to “we all fail in this area. Let us help each other overcome.”

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