Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Church and Pornography

I've been doing a lot of thinking about the topic of pornography lately, especially as general and local church authorities have made repeated references to it, which in turn suggests that it is a bigger problem in the church than the membership at large can guess. I've wondered how I can address my feelings on this topic without appearing to defend pornography and those who indulge in it; therefore, let me say first that I do indeed believe that pornography, in all its forms, is evil and a thing to be avoided by persons who aspire to live the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

However, I've concluded that a man's use of pornography, and the "self abuse" that almost necessarily results therefrom, can be (and probably most often is) a greater sign of a defect in the fabric holding his marriage together than a defect in his character per se -- the latter being the message that usually comes across in church discourses on the subject. This is a crucial distinction, because once one accepts that the true weakness is in the marital bond, not in the man, it becomes clear that responsibility for the use of pornography extends beyond a man's capacity for self-mastery.

To illustrate the point, let me cite two general authorities from two different eras of church history. The first is Heber C. Kimball, who was an apostle and a member of the First Presidency serving under Brigham Young in the mid-19th Century. To give context to this statement, remember that it was made during a time when the Church was (a) practicing plural marriage, and (b) having to defend the practice against a litany of attacks from both outside and inside the Church. Quoth Elder Kimball:

I have noticed that a man who has but one wife, and is inclined to that doctrine, soon begins to wither and dry up, while a man who goes into plurality looks fresh, young and sprightly. Why is this? Because God loves that man, and because he honors his word. Some of you may not believe this, but I not only believe it but I also know it. For a man to be confined to one woman is small business. ... I do not know what we should do if we had only one wife apiece. (Deseret News, April 22, 1857.*)
* I can't vouch for the primary source of the citation, as the quote comes from an independent website, but it jibes with similar sentiments published at around the same time.

I don't know how much to read into Elder Kimball's remarks -- I'm certainly no big proponent of polygamy -- although it is clear that church leaders of the time considered monogamy to be both an unnatural social construct
and the source of impulses leading to adultery, prostitution, and the spread of disease (cf. Journal of Discourses, particularly Volumes 4 and 13). One thing that Elder Kimball does appear to be saying, however, is that having regular physical relations with his wife (or wives) is good for a man's constitution.

The second quote is from Elder Boyd K. Packer, the current president of the Quorum of the Twelve:

It was necessary that this power of [procreation] have at least two dimensions. One, it must be strong, and two, it must be more or less constant. This power must be strong. Except for the compelling persuasion of these feelings, men would be reluctant to accept the responsibility of sustaining a home and a family. This power must be constant, too, for it becomes a binding tie in family life. (Young Women Manual 2, lesson titled "The Sacred Power of Procreation.")
Elder Packer seems to be saying that without regular expression of these "strong" and "more or less constant" feelings, men perforce have almost no inclination toward marriage. Let's put it in plain words: absent sex on a regular basis, men find marriage less appealing and, in general, feel less strongly bound to their wives and more attracted to other women. Considering Elder Kimball's words with Elder Packer's, one is led to the conclusion that it is not only possible for a married man to be sex-starved, but for that state to be healthy neither for him individually nor for the marriage in general. Why should it be any great surprise, then, for a man, even a Melchizedek priesthood holder, who feels thus starved, to say to himself, "Heck, I didn't get married to be celibate!" and to seek another outlet (one that, for the most part, falls short of divorce and remarriage to some equally sex-starved, perhaps younger woman)?

Again, I don't say this to defend pornography or those who use it (especially those who truly do become obsessed with it or addicted to it, and/or who allow it to distort or pervert their view of -- and particularly their actions toward -- the opposite sex). But it would be nice if someone in a position of authority in the church stated the obvious: (1) that a lack of marital intimacy (whether relative or complete) is a large, and perhaps the largest, contributing factor in setting married men on the pornography path; and (2) that there is a simple fix in many, if not most cases. However, that would suggest that wives bear some responsibility for their husbands' actions -- never mind the sheer inconvenience of the obvious remedy -- and that appears to be too much to expect in the church these days. (Unlike in Elder Kimball's day, Mormon men are now generally presumed to be wrong, and Mormon women right, about virtually everything touching on marriage, including the extent and quality of the sexual component thereof.) I always find it extremely ironic when I read some woman's sad story about how she "lost" her husband to a porn addiction, and she says, "If I'd only known what his needs were...." Well, did she bother to ask? And would it really have made a difference had she known?

[Update 12/15/10: I've been reminded recently that pornography almost necessarily entails exploitation, which of course is another reason to condemn it in the strongest terms.  I also read today about a young man who became a porn "actor" and within months had contracted the HIV virus (after first becoming infected with chlamydia, gonorrhea, and herpes).  I find it grotesque that "progressives" are so quick to condemn behaviors such as smoking or eating fat-laden fast food, citing the health-care costs associated therewith, yet they say not one word about promiscuity and other risky sexual behaviors that naturally spread disease and therefore also create massive health-care costs.  Emerson said that "[a] foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds," but the Left has elevated logical inconsistency to an ideological art form.]