Monday, June 1, 2009

She Said: Giving the P+()rn Talk to the Young Men

Last night the Aaronic priesthood youth were asked to attend a fireside at our ward building. Due to some confusion as to whether it was supposed to be a family or a priesthood-only activity (and my general reluctance to change back in to my dress clothes), Dr. B. took our 14-year-old son to the fireside. I can only thank my lucky stars that I was not in attendance.

Apparently the activity WAS directed toward families, but with an emphasis on the YM. In fact, two of the boys who were not there at the appointed time received phone calls from the Bishop telling them to come down, he was waiting for them, and that the meeting would not start without them. Since I was not there, I will let Dr. B. elaborate on what was said, but I heard enough when they returned home to be extremely concerned about what is being taught to our youth in the name of morality.

The one sound bite which really got my goat, and toward which I would like to direct this blog post was that the audience was told that "anything which causes someone to become aroused is P+()rn." When I heard that this was being said, I sat my husband and my son down as calmly as was then possible and explained my disagreement with this statement. I said that a young man can very easily become aroused. He can become aroused by looking at anything from a girl's big toe to, I don't know, a fence post. He should not feel ashamed of this very natural response.

It is perhaps not fair for me to criticize this particular activity, since I was not there to judge the tenor of the event. But I have attended many such meetings in the Church and I am displeased with the outcome of our interpretation of chastity. Doctrinally, I think that the Mormon Church has a healthy outlook on $exual intimacy within marriage. The Church Handbook of Instructions states:
"...$exual relations within marriage are divinely approved not only for the purpose of procreation, but also as a means of expressing love and strengthening emotional and spiritual bonds between husband and wife." ("Church Policies," section 18 of the Church Handbook of Instructions, Book 1: Stake Presidencies and Bishoprics [1998], 156).

Another good explanation of the doctrine comes from a talk by Jeffrey R. Holland called Of Souls, Symbols, and Sacraments. This talk explains that:
...such a total, virtually unbreakable union, such an unyielding commitment between a man and a woman, can only come with the proximity and permanence afforded in a marriage covenant, with the union of all that they possess--their very hearts and minds, all their days and all their dreams. They work together, they cry together, they enjoy Brahms and Beethoven and breakfast together, they sacrifice and save and live together for all the abundance that such a totally intimate life provides such a couple. And the external symbol of that union, the physical manifestation of what is a far deeper spiritual and metaphysical bonding, is the physical blending that is part of--indeed, a most beautiful and gratifying expression of--that larger, more complete union of eternal purpose and promise.

Elder Holland's talk gives sobering but important reasons why the Church stresses the importance of reserving $exual intimacy for marriage. But for some reason, the filtered-down version of chastity that our youth is getting is repressive and restrictive. Bishop and youth leaders: I DO NOT want my son, (or any of my daughters) being taught that the physical expression of love is bad. I don't want them feeling guilty about the natural functions of their bodies. I don't want them to shy away from the nudity in classical art. I don't want $ex to be something they are afraid of. I think great care needs to be taken, in explaining that there can be dangers in p+()rnography or indiscriminate $ex, that these messages are not given inadvertently.

I'm not saying that our youth don't need education, morals, laws, or commandments. But for every caution about p+()rn, for every restraint placed on our exhuberant youth, I would like to see some joyous affirmation of the life-giving powers we hold within our bodies. We are in dire need of some celebration of our hormone-driven physical beings. Let's marvel at the beauty of the human form. Let's acknowledge the excitement and the wonder of arousal.

UPDATE: It has been pointed out to me that the exact statement that was made in the above-referenced fireside was:
"Pornography is any material depicting or describing the human body or sexual conduct in a way that arouses sexual feelings."
This statement comes from the Gospel Topics manual and is available on the website under Pornography. I understand that our local leaders were using approved materials from the Church in preparing their fireside. However, I do not believe that the change in wording affects any of the points I made in this post.


  1. I love this. Nicely articulated.

  2. In the army and at school, you could always tell the guys who came from the most uptight households. They would obsess about porn.

    Boys who are raised by parents who are open about bodies are unlikely to ever make a big deal about pornography.

  3. Explaining sexuality in terms of the marital bond is certainly romantic but, unfortunately, it is probably wrong on empirical grounds.

    Sex is such a serious business that the mistakes that come from denial are often the very worst.

    Children are more likely to behave responsibly and healthily with respect to sex if parents, teachers, and ecclesiastical leaders impart realistic lessons.

  4. Marveling about arousal from church leaders seems to be a stretch for everyone (not sure I'd really want to sit through that fireside either), but I wish they would hire you for these firesides :). And Dr. B makes an interesting point about self-fulfilling prophecy. I wonder too how many YM worry they are doing something wrong or are "addicted" when they naturally and innocently become aroused at normal teenage boy stuff.

  5. Thanks, Bored in Vernal. I agree with you that such admonitions are often counterproductive.

    One of the boys that I grew up with at Church has become the preeminent bondage movie producer in Germany.

    He links his interest in bondage to the pressures of growing up in a part member family, which meant that he became responsible for his mother's salvation. He felt that he always needed to be a perfect example to his gentile ... Read Morefather.

    His brother, however, has complained about the return in a coffin admonition. LDS leaders really should not invoke their authority about matters for which they are not qualified.

  6. I wish they would hire you for these firesides...Oh, good--a new career!

  7. "Explaining sexuality in terms of the marital bond is certainly romantic but, unfortunately, it is probably wrong on empirical grounds."

    I'm not quite sure if I'm understanding what you're suggesting here, but actually, if you look into adult attachment theory (which has plenty of empirical grounding, and is rooted in evolution) sexual behavior is most certainly explainable and based on a secure bond.

  8. Amen. It's not a sin to have hormones...they are God given. And I agree with you that focusing on the amazing gift of procreation helps us realize that sexual relations are a good thing as long as they are between a man and woman who are married. I know there is a need to talk about p+()rn though, having a teenage son myself. But teaching our kids that sexual feelings are naughty is just not right.

  9. Too much of the focus on the law of chastity is on not having sex till marriage. And that point of view ignores the other 90% of the law, the beautiful celestial side of chastity. For chastity is so much more than not having sex. In fact, it's more about having sex, at the right time.

    If it were my son, I'd rather start with porn being something which causes arousal, and then build the definition from there. Porn is more than just pictures of naked people.

  10. I'm not sure how to go about it teaching kids or teens, but my personal standard involves considering my intent AND the intent (as far as I can tell) of the producer. That is pretty reliable.

  11. Adam, that's a great way of looking at it. I think that would be much more reliable than trying to figure out which piece crosses the line--exactly how much is revealed, whether it is arousing, etc. My intent, and that of the producer. Very helpful, thank you.

  12. The church's definition fails to recognize the role of intent in pornography. For example,
    includes the intent of the material's creator. An anatomy text wasn't created with the intention of arousing sexual feelings, but I've gotta think that somebody -- maybe many different somebodys -- has become aroused looking at them. Should I blame anatomy illustrators for my arousal?

    Of course it isn't a simple thing, and we share in the responsibility. If I write a steamy love scene in my story, I may intend to arouse... or I may be using it to illustrate an important relationship or pattern of interaction. If my story's love scene is not only steamy, but explicit, I am almost certainly intending to arouse. But if you read it with an expectation of becoming aroused, your arousal isn't my fault exclusively. Teaching a black&white view of sexuality and other moral questions isn't a healthy thing. It misses the nuance that comes with real life.

  13. "Teaching a black&white view of sexuality and other moral questions isn't a healthy thing. It misses the nuance that comes with real life."

    I agree, but at the same time we must consider the stage of development that kids and young teens are on. Often they are not able to consider or understand nuance, and need more black and white directions.

  14. We are so blessed to be led by a prophet and be members of this church. Are we really so small minded as to be making them offenders for a word? What is their intent but to save our young men?

    I am the ex-wife of a man who was secretly heavily involved in porn. The consequences to every member of the family are so huge, that to my mind they could be saying more, especially concerning what will happen to your family if you choose to do this.

    I also think that labeling a naked person "art" is wrong. No matter how much of a work of "art" the human body is, the "Artist" does not want his work shown to just any audience. Remember, we are stewards. We are not our own. We did not create ourselves. And we were bought for a price. We are priceless.

    We need to be careful not to set ourselves up as public judges of our leaders. If we disagree, it would be helpful to the building up of the kingdom of God on the earth for us to do so in private, one on one, perhaps while fasting.

  15. Janz, I am sorry for your situation. I don't know what else to say.

    Intent is great, but are you saying we should never disagree? That idea is downright scary to me. I don't think that is what God would want. Also, if the disagreement leads to learning, mutual understanding, or etc. I don't see how it would NOT lead to the building up of the Kingdom. Unless one thinks that we need to bury all differing opinions in order to progress, which makes me ill.

    Also, I may have missed it, but where did someone say a naked person was art?