William James

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

Thursday, July 28, 2011

On LDS Women Using Sexually-Oriented Media

The comment was made:

"The only time porn is brought up is in the Priesthood session. I’m positive a lot of girls grow up not even realizing that some of what they’re engaging in is wrong because it’s never brought to the attention of women, particularly when they’re young girls and teenagers. The YW manuals never once mention any such problems; the only chastity lessons they get are how to keep boys at arm’s length. Why is no one addressing this issue? Why do women have to wait until they’re already addicted before anyone will help them not be addicted? Why is it that when women see their bishops they’re often treated as freaks of nature because “that’s a man problem, not a woman problem”? Why isn’t the church educating bishops and stake presidents about the possibilities of this being a large problem for women as well and how to help them like they help the males in their congregations?

I agree with you that the church addresses this problem largely among the priesthood members. And, to their credit, it is a problem that affects more men than women. However, I also agree with you that it is not addressed among the sisters of our church. Here are some reasons that I believe might contribute to this:
•It’s impossible for the Church to address every problem that arises for its members. I believe that they do their best to follow major trends and try to address these as they come up. There are so many different problems that surround the area of sexuality, I’m sure it’s difficult to address.
•A major trend that has been a very real issue for the women of the Church of late is the rising frequency of clinical depression. I have noticed that the talks directed towards the sisters focus more on self-acceptance, not running faster than we have strength, self-esteem, etc. I’m sure that although the leaders recognize that there are inappropriate behaviors that women are engaging in, they would rather not add one more thing to the “guilt tank” LDS women are already dealing with.
•I agree with you that in our culture in general (not just LDS) we tend to think of men as being more sexual than women. This is actually not the case at all. Our sexual templates (what turns us on) and drives may differ, but all human beings are sexual. I also agree that because of these perceptions, we tend to be surprised or excessively judgemental when we hear that a woman could be a sex addict or enjoys looking at pornography. Even women who have a higher libido than their husbands can be left feeling “weird” or inadequate. This is an area we need to become more comfortable addressing.

It’s important to remember that pornographic use does not automatically translate into pornographic addiction. Those who struggle with sex or pornographic addiction have a high likelihood of sexual trauma in their past. Remembering this can help us as members be more empathetic and understanding when these issues come up.

It is also important to be aware that some women who look at pornography do so because they feel pressured to so by their spouses as a way to liven up their sexual lives or legitimately enjoy seeing their spouses excited by the pornography. Therefore for these people, the use of pornography has more to do with the spouse than with their own desires. My findings have been that although this can create a sense of false intimacy at first, it is exactly that: false intimacy. And it then becomes a harder task to go back and recreate the true intimacy that couples want in their sexual relationships.

It is paramount for us as members to become educated about our sexual & cultural surroundings, relevant statistics, and negative trends so that we are better able to educate our children and react appropriately to friends and other members within our stakes and wards. We cannot always rely on the Church to do all of this for us.

MM readers:

What is your take on this question? Should the church be addressing pornography use and women?

Do you agree with me that pornography use between couples results in false intimacy or not?

If a couple want to engage in watching pornography together should this be considered as part of their sexual repertoire and only their business – in other words, not needing a confession to a priesthood authority?

How would you respond if you knew of a woman who was a pornography and/or sex addict? Would that surprise you?

If you are a woman, what perceptions do you have or have you felt regarding this issue?

I realize that this could be a sensitive topic with varying opinions, so please keep it civil."

To which I responded:

I feel so terrible to hear all these women feel guilty about their so-called porn addictions. I think they would feel much better about themselves if they would realize that they are normal and and that porn is usually just an extension of our god-given tendency to enjoy sexual fantasies. Unless your porn use is causing objective problems (i.e., you cannot function responsibly in daily life), then I do not believe it can or should be considered an "addiction" and you should just embrace it as part of you. For that matter, you should consider the huge benefit it could be to your current or future husband that you are tolerant about it and could enhance your sexual relationship with him by virtue of your interest in it. Consider for a moment the millions of LDS men who are feeling guilty about it because they assume their wives are not OK with it. Caveat: there are some forms of porn which truly are harmful, like child pornography, porn which glorifies non-consensual sexual encounters, and the like. But as for porn which depicts consensual sex between adults, and is produced in humane and consensual ways, let us shed this ridiculous guilt. I say to you women porn users, and particularly LDS women porn users, "YOU GO, GIRLS!" Feel good about yourself and relax. Embrace your sexuality and stop the self-loathing! Also, watch the following testimonial video:


To say that the solution is for church leaders to give equal treatment to men and women in inciting guilt about sexuality, I could not disagree more strenuously. Let's stop making EITHER of them feel guilty about it.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Once Again On Modesty

I commented:

Modesty as a means of curtailing or eliminating male sexual fantasies about pretty females is futile, in my view. I believe that this goal is the primary motivator behind the Church's emphasis on modesty. There are, however, other bases for principles of modesty which in my view are rational, worthwhile, and described below, but which do not justify the application of modesty as presently taught in the Church.

Any normal, post-pubescent, pre-male-menapausal, healthy male will naturally have his brain flash erotic thoughts in his mind, consciously or subconsciously, when he sees an attractive woman. Granted, the fantasy is often more pleasurable or intense when the woman is dressed or made up in a way as to highlight her physical beauty (this is NOT just about clothes or showing skin- it includes things like hairdo, makeup, etc.). But cultural experimentation in extreme forms of modesty (women being forced to wear burkas comes to mind) have not at all yielded the desired results in reduced illicit sex. In fact, it seems they have made things worse- turning the view of a woman's body into a kind of forbidden fruit seems to increase the likelihood of non-consensual sexual encounters, i.e., rape, which tends to be more prevalent in cultures with stricter cultural/religious standards of modesty. Compulsory modesty (whether enforced via cultural norms or religious dogma) also tends to have a disproportionately negative effect on women's liberty and self expression. If it is for the protection of the woman, then why not let the woman choose what level of "protection" she desires.

We must re-evaluate modesty by first tossing out the notion that sexual fantasizing about someone you're not married to is sinful or wrong in and of itself. Why toss it out? For one thing, "illicit" sexual fantasies are extremely common, even among people who in real life have the discipline to refrain from having a real-life sexual encounter. (I happen to fit in that camp, so I can vouch for this on personal experience.) From this, we should learn that people have an often underestimated ability to separate fantasy from reality. Secondly, we must recognize the historical origins of American and LDS standards of modesty, which are largely derived from Puritanism- a religious philosophy which tends to shun physical pleasure as a bad thing in and of itself. I do not believe that a loving God would create our bodies and brains with a physiology so programmed for sexual pleasure, and particularly sexual arousal triggered by even non-sexual ordinary encounters with the opposite sex, while condemning us for having sexual fantasies and relieving the tension from those fantasies through masturbation. If you want to go ahead and believe that a loving god would so condemn us, go ahead, but I cannot in good conscience find that such a position is in the slightest bit reasonable.

Once we have ditched the idea that modesty must be practiced for the sake of eliminating sexual fantasizing, we can begin to have a rational dialogue about what are the right principles to consider in formulating a doctrine or standard on appropriate modesty. Here is, in my view, a non-exhaustive list of reasonable justifications for modesty in certain situations:

1. To temporarily avoid distractions (i.e., it would probably not be too workable for everyone to show up to sacrament meeting naked- I for one would likely have some difficulty concentrating on the ritual);

2. To temporarily set a mood or focus on something less sexual (this is very similar to #1, and would include things like dressing professionally for a professional type of job, or military service);

3. To send an unspoken message regarding a woman's lack of interest in attracting men's sexual interest;

4. To reduce the likelihood that some wacko (who is unable to separate fantasy from reality and unable to reasonably control himself) will be so attracted to a woman that he can't help himself and sexually assaults her. Note: this circumstance tends to be rather rare in a more sexually-liberal society, because the would-be-assailants generally have other outlets to relieve themselves- i.e., masturbation, pornography, voluntary prostitution, etc., and also because the sight of flesh is not so unusual as to provoke an uncontrolable response;

5. To maintain some barrier to sexual relations in order to preserve the uniqueness and special-ness of sexual relations.

6. To resist social pressures for young girls to become sexually-oriented before they are ready.

These, however, are not the only things to bear in mind when determining modesty standards. We must also consider: (1) that pleasure is in and of itself a worthwhile pursuit, and that while it must necessarily be constrained by bounds of reasonableness, we should not count it as nothing in the equation; (2) women should have the right to decide what amount of modesty is right for themselves; (3) too much emphasis on modesty, particularly when it is based upon Puritanical notions about sex and pleasure, can be highly damaging to self-esteem, and can send an improper message about bodies being evil or shameful.

Based upon the foregoing principles, I personally do not consider it a problem if teenage girls, whether LDS or not, are wearing short shorts at a non-Sunday church activity, or wearing tops which show shoulders, a belly, or a low neckline. Let's just accept from the outset that we men are going to get turned on, like it or not (for that matter, with or without modesty), but let's have a little faith in our own self-discipline. If girls are concerned about the occasional wacko who might assault them, they can dress differently, and more importantly, make sure to associate with people they trust and stay out of dangerous situations. Frankly, I doubt we can reasonably blame the occasional sexual assault on manner of dress. For my own part, I tend to think that thongs should only be worn by women who are at least 18 years old. And I also deplore the idea of pre-pubescent girls wearing clothing with language like, "booty call," and things of that nature. That is disgusting. But in the post-pubescent world, we have to carefully balance the need to reasonably protect a girl until she is mature enough to do so herself, and the likewise important need to avoid stifling sexuality and inducing self-hate.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

On Gender Egalitarianism, The Economics Of Sex, And The Law Of Chastity

The comment was made:

"A fundamental principle of sexual economics is that “sexual activity by females has exchange value, whereas male sexuality does not,” Mr. Baumeister and Ms. Vohs wrote in their 2004 paper. Thus, women have the power to influence sexual norms were they to use it, Mr. Regnerus said. “When women collude to restrict men’s sexual access to women, all women tend to benefit,” he said, noting that “if women were more in charge of how their romantic relationships transpired … we would be seeing greater male investment in relationships, more impressive wooing efforts, fewer hookups, fewer premarital sexual partners … shorter cohabitations, more marrying … and more marrying at a slightly earlier age. In other words, the price of sex would be higher. It would cost men more to access it." However, he said, “none of these things are occurring today. Not one. The price of sex is pretty low.”

Economy of sex: It’s cheap these days. Men tend to rule marriage market.'

Thoughts? A good way to reason about "free milk and a cow"?"

To which I responded:

It is a fascinating topic to consider chastity in the context of sexual economics. In general, with some exceptions, we can reasonably assume that a healthy young man will almost always be up for sex if it is offered to him by a reasonably attractive woman (this does not mean that his level of enjoyment is always the same, or that he would pursue it if he perceives that the female is not interested). Women, by contrast, seem to have far less of a biological need for sex, on average. Because non-consensual sexual encounters are forbidden (and rightly so), this naturally puts women in a position of power over men- if they choose to exploit it, but only to the extent that there are obstacles to a man's comparable alternative outlets (such as masturbation, affairs, etc.). Some people assume that it is a good thing for men in a marriage to be at the complete mercy of their wives for the satisfaction of men's biological needs, because such an arrangement would theoretically force men to be so courting and fantastic to their wives in order to induce/seduce the wives into giving the husbands sex. As a committed gender egalitarian, I believe that such a notion is degrading to human dignity and to men. Just as I believe that wives are not to be treated as objects only good for sex and housework, I likewise believe that men should not be dehumanized to beg for sex. As for my own part, sex which is not freely given, or which arises from duty, compulsion, or guilt, is somewhat sad and pathetic. I would like to live in a world where both husbands and wives treat one another with respect and dignity, and where they let their mutual love and attraction for one another be their natural motivation for sex. Perhaps it is inevitable that there will be times where one spouse is not especially in the mood, and gives in to satisfy the other in the spirit of loving accommodation, and I suppose it is better to have some compromises than to demand the absolutely spontaneous "fireworks" sex every time. But to the extent that there are naturally occurring circumstances which justify one or both spouses in not engaging in sex with each other (examples could include illness, travel, children, particularly busy schedules, professional stress, biologically-based lack of desire, etc.), there must be an available solution to avoid the misery of longing and unsatisfied physiological and psychological urges for sex (people who have experienced this, particularly males, ought to understand the magnitude of frustration I am talking about). This is one reason why I believe masturbation and some forms of sexually-oriented media are perfectly morally justified. In general, so long as they do not result in the rejection of a spouse's sexual advances, or a refusal to make reasonable efforts to satisfy one's spouse sexually, they are an acceptable outlet which can accomplish several worthy goals, among which are: (1) reducing sexual frustration; (2) reducing resentment and anger towards a sexually unavailable/uninterested spouse; (3) leveling the playing field in the dynamic of sexual economics, so that sex is much less likely to be used as a tool of manipulation towards the more physiologically desperate spouse; (4) reducing the likelihood that physiological compulsion will influence a premature or irrational decision to get married in the first place to someone who is a poor marriage choice; (5) reduce the guilt felt by a spouse who is justifiedly not in the mood to satisfy the other spouse's sexual needs; (6) reduce the likelihood that one spouse will succumb to the temptation to have an affair; (7) reduce the likelihood that a husband will, out of frustration, force sex upon his wife either via physical constraint or psychological manipulation (i.e., guilt trips, etc.). Oddly, there exists a prevailing puritannical view in the LDS Church today that masturbation and all sexually-oriented media must be condemned, as they inherently destroy marital intimacy; the aformentioned marital benefits of these practices are completely ignored, overshadowed instead by the underlying unspoken and even subconscious assumption that sexual pleasure is automatically "suspect" because it is deemed to be "of the flesh" rather than spiritual, and that the only way to get over the guilt is by reminding ourselves that God commands sex within a marriage. This phenomenon has also been termed, "erotophobia," or fear of sex. As for the claim that masturbation and all sexually-oriented media inherently destroy marital intimacy, this does not seem to necessarily be true. The fact, that millions of men (and probably hundreds of thousands of LDS men) seem to have relatively happy marriages though they continue to conceal their masturbation and use of sexually-oriented media from their wives, suggests that the bigger culprit is NOT the masturbation and sexually-oriented media, but rather puritannically-backed anger felt by wives upon discovery, because they have been conditioned to imagine that their husbands are sinful or of low moral character or do not love them if they engage in these practices.

True gender egalitarianism demands that we cannot have it both ways. We cannot, on the one hand, tell men that egalitarianism demands that they refrain from any compulsion towards their wives to get sex, and on the other hand, forbid men from taking care of their own needs when those needs are not met by their wives. Of course, some people will resolve the problem by throwing out egalitarianism and rolling time back to the good old 1950s, where men could force sex on their wives whether they wanted it or not, and society did not frown upon the practice. Puritans, if that is your position, I think you are horribly wrong, but at least you are taking a view which is on its face internally consistent. At least this corrupt view takes natural male sex drive into account. But TBMs, if you want to claim that men have to lick their wives feet and make themselves subservient to their wives just to get sex in the "correlation-committee-approved" fashion, and that husbands have no right to otherwise take care of their own sexual needs, then at least don't pretend to hold that men and women have equal dignity before God, or that the Church has an egalitarian view of the sexes!

I believe that true principles of gender egalitarianism, if preached with more vigor, would do more to improve and increase the number of stable committed relationships in our society, and would improve the mutual happiness and satisfaction of both husbands and wives.

Sorry for the rant, everyone. My greatest desire is not to complain, but rather for the Church to wake up and realize how inconsistent its doctrines on so-called chastity are with the human nature God gave us. Viewing church history through the objective lens of empirical human nature ought to make it plain to see how powerful the male sex drive is. Instead of coming to grips with this fact, all kinds of excuses and apologetic arguments have been invented to reconcile empirical facts with puritannical doctrines on sexuality. Spiritually coerced polygyny, for example, instead of being taken as proof that even the most spiritual of men like Joseph Smith could be influenced by their sex drives, instead gets used as evidence for Joseph's devotion to God by having plural wives even though he loved Emma so much, because "God commanded it." If Joseph were alive today, there is little doubt in my mind that he would be excommunicated from the LDS Church and branded an apostate. Point of clarification: I still have faith that he was a prophet, but believe that he erred in many respects and was just as human as the rest of us. Many apologists (and even TBMs) even have a similar view. But what bothers me is that many of these same people continue to insist that Thomas S. Monson's official teachings are automatically immune from criticism or legitimate disagreement because he is a prophet. If we take the reasonable step of admitting that Joseph erred in his teachings and revelations, then then I do not see any reason why we must assume that Thomas S. Monson's teachings are error-free.