Thursday, October 02, 2008

Is Pornography Adultery?

I was recently blown away by an Atlantic Monthly article titled “Is Pornography Adultery?” The author actually takes a pretty wise view, but his chronicling of just how much pornography has infiltrated our civilization made my head spin. Here’s a sampling of a national sex columnist quoted in the article:

All men look at porn … The handful of men who claim they don’t look at porn are liars or castrates. Tearful discussions about your insecurities or your feminist principles will not stop a man from looking at porn. That’s why the best advice for straight women is this: GET OVER IT. If you don’t want to be with someone who looks at porn … get a woman, get a dog, or get a blind guy … While men shouldn’t rub their female partners’ noses in the fact that they look at porn—that’s just inconsiderate—telling women that the porn “problem” can be resolved through good communication, couples counseling, or a chat with your pastor is neither helpful nor realistic.

While gay marriage bugs me chiefly because I anticipate that Mormons will increasingly be persecuted for not accepting it, porn bugs me because so many people are rationalizing and justifying something that's clearly unholy and impure. I think viewing porn is a spiritually destructive thing to do; I think it literally rots spiritual brain cells and makes it more difficult to believe in God, religion, the church, etc. I have several friends who have left the Mormon church, and I suspect that porn played a big role in many cases. Around the same time that we found porn on my 13-year-old's iPod, he also told his mom that he doesn't believe in God—fortunately, I think he's made some positive progress since then, both in avoiding porn and in exercising some faith. I tried to explain to him that it's much harder to believe in God if you're doing something you know he doesn't approve of.

I’ve seen a fair bit of porn in my time, and I’m glad I’ve never developed an addiction to it. Growing up in Southern California, I regularly looked at Playboy and Penthouse in several of my friends’ homes. One guy’s dad even left out copies in the spare bedroom where my friend kept his comic-book collection, perhaps as part of his sex education. I remember the first time I looked at such a magazine, when I was probably only nine or ten—it gave me such a weird buzz of pleasure.

Even in sheltered Bountiful, Utah, porn made its way into our ultra-Mormon neighborhood. One kid across the street was given a boxful of sex magazines by his dirty old uncle, and we’d spend hours poring over them, forgetting all about the dog-eared pile of Mad magazines over in my bedroom. I’m glad the Internet didn’t exist when I was a teen, or I probably would’ve totally gotten into online porn and maybe developed a lifelong habit.

More recently, when my wife hauled me into the fertility clinic about six or seven years ago for a series of artificial inseminations, I availed myself of the sex magazines provided by the clinic to expedite the DNA extraction process. I admit that part of me was thinking, "Hey, wow, a legitimate opportunity to indulge myself in some porn. I can't pass this up!" I didn't hide it from my wife, and she didn't say much about it—this is the same woman who tolerated my subscription to Maxim for a few years. I even wrote a Sugar Beet satire piece about it, titled something like "Area Man Uses Penthouse to Help Build the Kingdom."

Of course, these magazines were arousing to look at for a few minutes, but pretty soon I would start feeling pretty sleazy and gross about it, and I haven’t looked at any since then. I’m sure that if I stumbled across the wrong thing on the Internet I could get myself in trouble, but so far I’ve been able to stay away from it.

Anyway, I don’t see how this flood of pornography can fail to seriously damage the overall morality and spiritual well-being of this civilization. During our years of prosperity and comfort and ease, so many people have been dulling their spiritual senses with pornography, and when things get difficult and chaotic—as I expect they will soon, if not within months or years then within decades—these irreligious people are probably going to turn into real animals. Humbly struggling to overcome a porn problem is one thing, but I don’t see how God can bless and protect and inspire people who are willfully, proudly, unrepentantly indulging in this precursor form of fornication and adultery.


Anonymous said...

Yeah, my first girlfriends were in my Playboys. My dad bought me my first one when I turned 13 (and several more over the next couple of years) and, ironically, I learned to enjoy the jokes, articles, essays and advertisements as much as the pictures. By the time I was 15 I "outgrew" them and moved on to real girls. Later, after I joined the Church and was preparing to go on a mission, a friend who grew up in a very restrictive LDS family was sent home from his because he had a porn addiction. Was I spared because I had such permissive parents, or just because that wasn't my particular "drink" of choice (like diet Coke-- damn you, Coca-Cola Company! Damn you all to hell!)

Seriously, I absolutely think porn is a manslayer and the enjoyment of such is adultery. But Chris, you have to admit today's porn is not the same as the bunnies of yore. Maybe it's just me, but they were a lot sweeter and natural back in the day. Nowadays (from what I've had the misfortune to encounter) it seems they try to slam and shock you with raw, dark abandon. No pretesne, no sweetness, just pure ugly gratification.

Hell, yeah, porn is a destroyer of souls.

Christopher Bigelow said...

David T.: Yeah, that's true about how much worse mainstream porn has gotten. Actually, Playboy is still pretty tame visually, but Penthouse is REALLY raunchy now, compared to what it was like back in the day. I don't remember ever really looking at Hustler or anything deeper than Penthouse...

I imagine print magazines are pretty desperate these days, what with Internet porn competition. I think Penthouse in particular has almost gone out of business. Maybe it's gotten too sleazy to be totally mainstream anymore.

I think porn is like any other drug—and the way it affects brain and body hormonal chemistry IS just like a drug. About 15% of people who try it will become seriously addicted beyond their willpower, but the rest will be able to walk away from it, if they so choose. I believe that 15% figure holds roughly true for several drugs, including heroin. (Growing up, I always thought everyone who tried heroin was automatically addicted their first time, but you come to realize that health classes tend to exaggerate the worst-case scenarios...)

If I were to get into porn, I imagine I would probably get more into amateur porn from real life. One of the things I didn't like about what little commercial porn I've absorbed was the fakeness and artificiality of it all, from the bodies to the scenarios. But I imagine amateur porn would have more of the ring of authenticity to it—not that I'll ever find out!

C. L. Hanson said...

Re: I think it literally rots spiritual brain cells and makes it more difficult to believe in God, religion, the church, etc.

I hate to be one of those people who's a stickler on the word "literally," but this is kind of an intriguing image, and I'm kind of curious as to whether you really mean it. Do you think people literally have "spiritual brain cells"? And what would it mean for them to literally rot? Would they have spiritual bacteria colonies and spiritual mold growing on them?

So you think porn leads to atheism? Well, it's clearly not very efficient at it. It would appear that for American males occasional porn use is somewhere around 90%, whereas atheism is at less than 10%. I would say that reading Dawkins works better. However your theory would explain why there are so many more male atheists than female...

Anonymous said...

Whether or not it leads to atheism, it certainly leads to estrangement, which, IMHO, is worse than atheism due to that whole sense of loss thing.

C. L. Hanson said...

estrangement? From the church?

Maybe, but it doesn't seem like that was quite the argument Chris was making.

Christopher Bigelow said...

C.L. Hanson: All right, all right, you got me on "literally." I should have said "figuratively." I too am often bothered when people misuse "literally," and then I go and do it.

However, I'm not with you on your leap to atheism. That's not really what I was talking about. To me, atheism is the conscious, considered decision to consider God merely a human myth. It's a form of active belief, only in this case belief in the "fact" that there's no God.

What I'm talking about is that I think viewing pornography dulls one's spirituality so that's it's much harder to actively believe in God enough to actually exercise faith. I suppose I did report that my 13-year-old said he didn't believe in God, but most of my friends who have left Mormonism still say it's possible there's a higher power, only they're not the slightest bit interested in trying to understand or draw nearer to it.

So I wouldn't go so far as to say that viewing porn generally causes atheism, just that it makes actively believing in God much harder. Maybe what it—and other sins and vices—leads to more is agnosticism, in the sense of "not committed to believing in either the existence or the nonexistence of God." I mean, if someone is willfully excusing or justifying himself in sin, how could he comfortably live with himself being any closer to God than functional agnosticism?

C. L. Hanson said...

Re: I should have said "figuratively."

Ah, that's too bad. There I was thinking that you believed the spirit to be identical to the body in structure (down to the brain cells), but made of spirit material (something kind of like matter or energy, but not exactly either one). That would be interesting, and would be more or less compatible with some things in the D&C.

Anyway, one reason I was curious about it was your following remark: "I have several friends who have left the Mormon church, and I suspect that porn played a big role in many cases." I found this kind of interesting since -- I imagine you haven't read the manuscript I sent you -- but if you had, perversely, it kind of aligns with your theory, so I almost wondered if perhaps you'd read it. Just look at the exchanges between the exmo-atheist guy and the guy who's converting to Mormonism. ;^)

p.s. I've made some major improvements since the version I sent you, so if you're actually curious to read it, I can send you the new version.

Christopher Bigelow said...

C.L. Hanson: Hmm, yeah, maybe I was semi-thinking along those lines. It's certainly an interesting idea. I wonder if we can actually damage our spirit matter through earthly sins. If so, I assume the atonement would repair that, if we let it.

On your ms., are you talking about Ex-Mo? I did read almost all of that, but then a strange thing happened. My wife had felt rather uncomfortable about my Kindred Spirits novel, and she felt quite insecure with the idea that "another woman" was able to enjoy it and relate with it while she wasn't. One night she blew up at me because I was reading your ms. instead of interacting with her, so I agreed to just throw it away without finishing it.

This was all very out of character for my wife, although I can see where she was coming from. This is not a jealous woman we're talking about; for instance, she doesn't get alarmed if I go out to lunch with a female coworker (which doesn't happen very often). So you were unwittingly involved in perhaps the biggest crisis of my ten-year marriage; admittedly, it's a marriage that has undergone very little crisis.

C. L. Hanson said...

Re: On your ms., are you talking about Ex-Mo?

No, I was talking about the second one, Foreign Stars. Though, really, the connection between sex and leaving the church is even more explicit in Exmormon.

Re: So you were unwittingly involved in perhaps the biggest crisis of my ten-year marriage;

Wow, sorry about that. I can kind of understand, though -- writing a novel is at once personal and passionate. If it helps, you can tell your wife that there's really no way I would ever consider having an affair with you (no offense).

Anonymous said...

As someone who DID develop an addiction to porn, I can say first hand how devastating it is. I'm so thankful to God for lifting me out of that life.

Thanks for this post. You might also like this one from the ministry of Covenant Eyes: