William James

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

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The Twilight phenomenon and Church Standards

The question was put: "[Concerning] the Twilight series and its impact on some interesting and controversial behaviors. I'll admit, I read one book in the series and saw the first movie. I thought it was a new twist to the high school romance genre. My 40 something LDS wife read the whole series and thought it was OK, but thought there were much better books and series out there. I am quite positive that Stephanie Meyers did not intend for her books to spawn some of the most degrading television shows about vampires depicting nudity and sexual themes (basically prime time porn with a vampire twist ala True Blood). However, that isn't quite disturbing as some of the antics I have read about women in the theaters at the release of the next installment of the series. Basically we are talking about the male stars who are playing 17 year olds, though one of the actors may be older than 17. I have read facebook accounts of 40-50 something women getting 'glittered' and going to midnight showings and screaming like tweenies at the sight of the male characters. Sadly, this includes LDS women in their 40's and 50's. These older women are 'lusting' (I am hoping for a better word) over 17 year old boys on screen. I don't see these LDS women as following the spirit of Church Standards. Maybe I am a prude, but if I saw my Elder's Quorum President or Bishopic member hooting and hollering at some teen flick with 17 year old girls I would be questioning their worthiness."

To which I responded:
A few points are in order:

1) As I have expressed many times on this board, I do not believe that sexual fantasizing is generally sinful in and of itself. I interpret Jesus' words from the Sermon on the Mount to mean that people who form an actual intent to commit adultery are not guiltless merely by virtue of their inability to follow through. In the case of sexual fantasies about pre-pubescent minors, any adults who are so inclined should try to avoid such thoughts altogether. In this particular case that you have cited, it sounds like there are married LDS women who are having sexual fantasies about sexually-mature adults who are portraying post-pubescent teenagers. I see no problem with it, so long as these women are not formulating any intentions of going out and having an affair with these actors.

2) What concerns me a great deal more, than the fact that married LDS women are having sexual fantasies about males to whom they are not married, is the hypocrisy and lack of honesty/fairness/consistency. It seems there are a great deal of LDS women who would virtually crucify their husbands at having sexual fantasies about other women, when those same women tend to ignore, downplay, and/or hide their own sexual fantasies about other men. I think that this double standard can largely be explained by some of the peculiarities of our LDS culture and the natural differences between the sexualities of the two genders. First, men are much more drawn to visual stimulation and raw sexual attraction based on appearance. Women tend to be much more drawn to emotional connections and the high that comes from feeling desired and put on a pedestal. Men also have erections which provide a virtually instant, powerful, and recognizable indicator of sexual arousal. Women also experience arousal, but studies I have read tend to indicate that women's arousal often happens subconsciously and less perceptibly than men's. Thus, while women certainly experience lust and sexual fantasies, they do not tend to happen as often, and they have more subtle characteristics than men's. Because our church culture frowns heavily upon thoughts and behaviors which are more overtly sexual, men tend to get a disproportionate share of the condemnation associated with sexual fantasies. (of course, I personally believe there should be no condemnation of sexual fantasies unless they fall into a few narrow categories) In the case of Twilight, it is my impression based upon what I have heard from women that what draws them in to a large extent is the virtually perfect and infinite love and infatuation that the main vampire character has for his teenage female love. Women are seduced by this completely unrealistic portrait of romantic love, and wish their husbands were like that. In my view, this is no different, morally, than a husband who views sexually explicit media, fantasizing about women with unrealistically beautiful bodies, and who concludes that his wife should also look like that. Just as women generally do not possess the ability to maintain the figure and looks of a supermodel, so also men do not possess the ability to force themselves to feel unrealistically infatuated and obsessed with their wives (nor do women possess that ability concerning their husbands). We can control how we treat our wives, but manufacturing a set of emotions for the sake of eliminating guilt or satisfying the romantic ideal perpetuated in LDS culture is not realistically achievable.

3) Many conclude, wrongly, that having a successful and loving marriage requires the elimination of all extramarital sexual fantasies. But such an endeavor may be unattainable and may cause more problems than it solves. The better solution, in my opinion, is for people to separate fantasy from reality and accept their spouses with their imperfections. This means that men should accept that their wives will not always look like supermodels, and men and women should accept that neither can maintain obsession or infatuation with the other indefinitely. Mutual respect and dignity are the realistic principles we can strive for. For me personally, as flattering as it would be for my wife to constantly praise me and shower me with compliments and physical affection, and ache for me every minute, I do not believe that is something I can reasonably demand. What matters a great deal more are: (a) that she show respect for my human dignity and autonomy (including my freedom of conscience); (b) that she not nag; (c) that she show appreciation for my talents, efforts to please her, and my efforts to provide a comfortable living for our family; (d) that she make reasonable efforts to take care of her body and health; (e) that she be a loving mother; and (f) that she show a reasonable amount of physical affection. Certainly there are other important things to me, but the ones I just mentioned are the big ones. And I feel those are the same kinds of things I feel she should be allowed to expect from me.

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