William James

William James
We must get by on what truth we have today, and be willing to call it error tomorrow.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Why Greater Use Of Pornography In Utah?

The question was put: "I apologize in advance if this has already been discussed. In taking a class for my CEU’s the question was brought up as to why Utah residents are statistically the highest consumers of pornography. One comment that I admit caused a reaction in me was that the culture in Utah leads to people who are “repressed.” Apparently this somehow correlates to making pornography more attractive to people in this culture (LDS culture). Of course the next day I thought about a response. Maybe the rates are so high because the 300,000 or so citizens who are not part of the predominant culture are much higher consumers, skewing the results, because they need to escape because they are feeling isolated, bitter, ostracized etc etc. (I am being facetious) How might you answer the question posed above? How would you defend the 'Mormons are repressed' argument? As an active LDS I certainly don’t feel repressed. If anything I feel just the opposite. Maybe I am lying to myself? I am walking around repressed and I don’t even know it?"

To which I answered:
I am not in a position to comment on the empirical question of whether porn use per capita in Utah is greater than in other states. But I do have a few observations:

(1) Mormons tend to define pornography much more broadly than the general population does. Many Mormons call any imagery which induces an erection pornographic.

(2) Because the term "pornography" has a generally negative connotation, individuals tend to define it according to what they themselves consider unacceptable. A very conservative person, for example, might define a picture of a woman dressed in a mini-skirt as pornographic, whereas more liberal people may not even consider full frontal nudity or a scene of missionary-position marital sex to be pornographic. Before any statistic on pornography can be considered meaningful, therefore, a clear definition must be given.

(3) Attitudes about sexually-oriented media are largely colored by underlying values and assumptions. For example, an LDS wife's primary objections to her husband's viewing of sexually-oriented materials may be rooted in one or more of the following: (a) that he does not love her if his sexual thoughts are not exclusively about her; (b) that viewing sexually-oriented materials is inherently evil and will necessarily keep her husband out of the Celestial Kingdom, thereby preventing their eternal marriage; © that viewing sexually-oriented materials will inherently make her husband more likely to have an affair; (d) that viewing sexually-oriented materials is the equivalent of adultery and must be treated as such; (e) that every sexually-oriented image has been produced through abuse or coercion; (f) that viewing sexually-oriented materials necessarily causes a man to no longer feel physical attraction to his wife; (g) that viewing sexually-oriented materials will necessarily replace marital intercourse; (h) that viewing even heterosexual sexually-oriented materials leads to homosexuality; (i) that viewing sexually-oriented materials will cause her husband to look at women (including his wife) only as sex objects who have no other human worth; (j) that viewing sexually-oriented materials will lead her husband to engage in dangerous, oppressive, deviant, or unlawful sexual practices, such as rape, molestation, etc.; (k) that a man's use of sexually-oriented materials is itself abnormal and perverted; (l) that viewing sexually-oriented materials necessarily means that a man is unhappy in his sexual relationship with his wife. Not only are such views held by LDS women, but a fair number of LDS men at least profess to hold these views as well.

(4) From my life observations and what I have studied and read, I believe the above views in part (3) are erroneous. The overwhelming majority of men are readily able to distinguish between fantasy and reality. (There are, of course, exceptions in men who are mentally ill and are sex predators) That said, I do believe that the use of sexually-oriented materials can be a problem if: (a) it takes up so much time in a person's life that it becomes disruptive to ordinary responsibilities; (b) it forecloses the opportunity of a willing and able spouse to have sexual intercourse with the user of the sexually-oriented materials; © it involves an actual sexual relationship with a person outside of marriage (such as phone sex, a lap dance, etc.); (d) it involves the expenditure of money, resulting in not reasonably providing for one's family; (e) it involves the consumption of any materials produced through coercion, abuse, or oppression (such as child pornography, molestation, rape, imprisonment, human trafficking, extortion, etc.); (f) it attempts to glorify the oppression of either of the sexes or intends to send a message about one sex's superiority over the other; (g) it encourages real-life sexual behavior which is dangerous, irresponsible, oppressive, illegal, etc.; (h) it encourages the use of harmful drugs to enhance sexual experience. If I had more time, I could probably think of more ways that using sexually-oriented materials could be problematic.

(5) In the Mormon arena, there is no recognized benefit to our sexuality other than the assumed joy we will all have by attaining the ideal marriage. Most youth, at least the males, imagine the ideal LDS marriage to be one in which sex is always available from an attractive, loving, and interested partner. Although church authorities have recognized that sex will not always be available even in a good LDS marriage, the general assumption is that unavailability will be the exception and not the rule. The myth also seems to be perpetuated that as long as two people love each other, the sexual attraction will also remain the way it did during courtship, and there will therefore be no need to resort to anything other than marital intercourse to attain sexual satisfaction. The reality for most couples seems to be very far from the ideal. I imagine there are a great many people, men and women alike, who have woken up to this harshness only after they have committed themselves to what was supposed to be an eternal marriage. Let's face it: LDS people during courtship generally have hardly a clue about their future spouse's character flaws and undesirable traits. This knowledge is usually only gained during marriage. For many men, there is a private crisis which goes on (often subconsciously) when they are forced to re-assess the meaning of their sexuality- they need to reconcile their intense sex drive with their dashed sexual expectations they had when they married. Being unwilling to pressure their spouses for a more fulfilling sexual relationship, they turn to self-help to fill the void. The fact that sexual practices within a marriage are generally a hush-hush topic in church doesn't help either. Women and men who have grown up feeling guilty and insecure about their own sexuality are less likely to take risks and try new things with their spouses, for fear of shame or rejection. This in turn (even independent of any pornography or extramarital sexual fulfillment) puts a damper on the marital relationship and can contribute to boredom in the bedroom. Temple garments are also not what I would classify as a turn-on. The injunction that women dress modestly can also put an unintended damper on a husband's sexual interest.

(6) "Sexual Repression" is not always overt. It happens very subtly in ways that we as LDS often don't even realize. Rhetoric and sermons, particularly during youth, can have a powerful effect in forming sexual attitudes which can be very difficult to change in adulthood. If we as youth are taught to be afraid of our sexual feelings because we have been taught that having any sexual pleasure outside of marital intercourse will bring us destruction, this creates guilt and shame about the very fiber of our human existence. The LDS Church's unrealistic view of sexuality makes LDS men much more likely to lead double lives: One life in which they enjoy social acceptance and religious comradery by pretending in public to have perfect sexual control and satisfaction with the Church's very limited list of acceptable sexual outlets, and a second secret life in which they may finally express what they really feel without social constraints- a world in which guilt and discord are temporarily overcome by freedom and excitement. Of course, one of the ironies of this is that, having this second private life can contribute to the guilt privately felt in the public life. It does seem that the increasing guilt can drive a cycle in which the sexually-oriented material has even greater allure than it otherwise would. To the extent such is the case, it could very well be that the sex-repressive environment in the Church contributes to a greater per-capita use of sexually-oriented materials. Some suggest changes to the Church's methodology and rhetoric in order to eliminate use of "pornography." But in my opinion, you cannot eliminate use of pornography by simply not making an issue out of it. Instead, we should rethink the entire question of whether it is necessary in the first place to eliminate use of sexually-oriented media. We should re-examine the assumptions which have heretofore been relied upon by puritan-influenced leaders and prophets, and really ask ourselves, for example: "What harm does it inherently cause? Are there any benefits? Are there reasonable restrictions or measures that would suffice, short of a blanket prohibition, which would accomplish the goal of preventing oppression and not contributing to unhappy marriages?" In my own opinion, a great deal could be done to mitigate or eliminate marital discord flowing from use of sexually-oriented materials through education and dialogue. In particular, it is critical that the erroneous notions in part (3) above be dispelled so that women do not misinterpret use of sexually-oriented materials or have unnecessary worries. In my own opinion, the use of sexually-oriented materials in many marriages actually lessens the likelihood of an affair in real life, by providing a safe outlet which might not otherwise exist.

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