Pornography has become the topic of many general conference talks and meetings within the church. It has become such a big problem that the Addictions recovery program within the church has a separate and specific course for those who have become addicted to pornography. This is a serious issue within the church and the stats show that Utah has the highest rate of pornography consumption in the U.S. and I believe North America. This only serves to reinforce and highlight that this is not a small issue.
I recently attended a Fireside meeting put on by my ward (congregation) leadership in the church to talk about this issue. It was geared towards the youth in the church as it is not a matter of if but when they are exposed to pornography. I originally was not going to go but opted to attend. I have honestly felt that the methods the church uses to help those affected and those that use it don’t work, both in teaching about it and helping you overcome it. Given my own personal experience with pornography I can attest to this first hand. I have used church programs and have seen how they deal with the issue. While I will admit my position is colored by the fact that I feel it did not work for me, what I have learned has changed my perspective completely and I personally find that there are more effective ways to deal with the issue.
My bishop talked about how he defines porn. My bishop defined porn as anything that is nudity in any fashion, or immodest clothing, or any manner of dress that may illicit sexual thoughts in someone else. This is paraphrased of course. What he stated to be honest I find to be problematic in that it is too broad of a definition that effectively makes everything porn. Even a woman in a full burka can have the effect of eliciting sexual thoughts in men. (looking at rape stats in those cultures where woman wear burkas give some credence to that thought, even if we can’t conclusively prove the correlation).
I felt I had to speak on this and point out why I felt that he was wrong in his assessment. I raised my hand and asked, how many in here have ever been swimming and wore a swimming suit? If you have then based on the criteria for porn that has been mentioned by the bishop, every one of you have been porn at some point. A swimming suit by its very natures is form-fitting, revealing and not modest if we are to use For the Strength of Youth as a guide. (keeping in mind that there were youth and their parents in the room, this was effectively calling their own children porn for wearing a swim suit in the example provided). I said that I felt that it set a dangerous precedent to call anything like that porn. We cannot effectively combat this evil and dangerous problem if we are to define virtually any image, or picture of someone clothed or unclothed as porn on the basis of it might arouse sexual feelings. To do so would make it virtually impossible to dress modestly at all. It seemed that many in the room at least understood what I was saying, even if they did not agree with my assessment.
Later after the meeting I did opt to challenge my bishop on the merits of nudity being evil and akin to porn. I proceeded to pull right from the scriptures numerous examples of worship of God where nudity was involved. David singing and dancing in the streets of Jerusalem naked, later being scolded by his wife Michel who was struck barren after being rebuked by David because he was glorifying God. Saul ripping off his clothes and prophesying naked with the people remarking “is Saul also among the prophets”. Christ being worshiped in the nude when he was riding in to Jerusalem and the people “threw their garments in the way.” Isaiah prophesying and wandering naked for 3 years. All of which actions were done naked and in the act of praising God. I asked him “do you consider all of these examples to be in violation of God’s gospel and law?” “Were these people being immodest?” The answer I received from him is that “we have modern revelation”. I told him that he is right but that none of the revelation has ever condemned the seeing or being naked by ourselves or with others, of the same or opposite genders. I told him I have tried to find anything that would support that claim and have found nothing. Modesty standards are important but attitudes about nudity are cultural not doctrinal. Our church standards of modesty are largely derived from western christian cultural ideals, with no supporting scriptural evidence. This does not mean it is not of God only that it is not supported in the scriptures themselves. My bishop is unconvinced, however unable to counter the argument and show me why I am wrong.
So much of the discussion, as it has in the past, has revolved around what to do when you encounter porn. (lets face it, by the definition given it would be impossible to avoid). This is a very re-active approach and does nothing to psychologically prepare our minds to not even respond to it. This is no easy task. Our minds are wired for sex and our culture, both religious and secular, does a great job of making sure that wiring is at the forefront of our minds. Pornography has been proven to literally re-wire or change the brain leading to addiction. It has been shown and proven that there are natural inborn genetic pre-dispositions to some addictions. One study (http://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/arh312/111-118.pdf) on the genetics of drug addiction has shown this to be true at least in part.
“For both alcohol dependence and drug dependence, considerable evidence suggests that genetic factors influence the risk of these disorders, with heritability estimates of 50 percent and higher. Moreover, twin studies and studies of electrophysiological characteristics indicate that the risk of developing AOD dependence, as well as other disinhibitory disorders (e.g.,antisocial behavior), is determined at least in part by shared genetic factors. ”
Addiction has a lot to do with how our brains and minds are programmed and wired genetically and otherwise. Knowing this we also know that we need to avoid those things which are potentially addictive. Here in lies the heart of the problem.
Much of what frustrates me is that the church and our culture as a whole, is that we avoid the root causes of pornography consumption like the plague. It is not comfortable to speak of and to bring such things to the front of the conversation would shatter all of our pre-conceived notions. We would be forced to question everything we have been taught about modesty, sexuality, the human body and be confronted with ideas that go against everything we have come to believe. So instead we continue to perpetuate the same ideas that have caused the problem to begin with. These ideas are that the human body is something that must be hid from view. To expose it is to create lustful, evil and sex filled lives contrary to the ideals and standards of the gospel. We have so effectively sexualized the human body that we cannot think for a moment that it is even possible to view a human body without there being some kind of sexual connotation to its form. We cannot conceive of a situation within our social constructs that the human body could possibly be non-sexual in any presentation to the public or even private view. Our children are trained to see nothing but sex when they see the human body.
The problems with pornography within our culture and the church especially, is that we have failed to effectively train our youth and ourselves to see the human body as something that is not sexual outside of our marriage beds. We have taught and told ourselves and our children that they must cover up so that their inborn sex drives do not become aroused and un-controlled. We have taught them that they must never see anyone other than themselves naked as this promotes sex. We have taught them that virtually every image they see of people wearing something that is not “modest” or that shows someone who is fully naked is an image of sex. We keep beating this into their heads virtually from birth and then wonder why they respond in the ways that they do. This psychological training, virtually from birth, is the single biggest contributor to pornography. We tell them on the one hand that they must control their thoughts and actions, while on the other hand we tell them that virtually everything relating to the opposite sex is sexual in its presentation if it is not covered up to a certain pre-determined standard. If that is all you are told and taught, how can you possibly expect anyone to think of something other than sex when they see it? These two ideas are diametrically opposed and contradict each other. “Don’t think about sex, but if you see this, it is about sex and you will think that way so don’t look at it.”
It has been observed and mentioned at this meeting that curiosity is one of the biggest factors that have contributed to pornography addiction, just stop and think about that for a moment. People have gotten into pornography because of curiosity. If this is one of the biggest reasons for engaging in porn in the first place then that should be a red-flag that we are seriously dropping the ball on fulfilling that curiosity in our children in the first place. We need to start asking, what are they curious about? What are the search terms used to get the info they are looking for? Is this a curiosity about sex or what the human body looks like for both sexes? Perhaps it is all of the above. I can’t help but wonder how many kids get involved in porn while searching for educational content on our bodies that we refused to be a source for in the first place because we cover up and hide our naked forms and “protect” them from seeing others naked for fear of causing harm and damage to them.
How can we solve this problem by continuing to literally cover it up when it is completely Un-necessary to do so? Our bodies are a natural creation of our God and yet, we treat them as if they are something to be ashamed of and embarrassed by and as sexually provocative. This constant taboo of hiding our nudity from others, speaking of it in ways that are evil, demanding certain standards of dress then linking that with sexual thoughts of others has led to what is call the forbidden fruit effect. Pysch Central explains the forbidden fruit effect like this
“forbidden fruit hypothesis,” based upon previous research that has demonstrated that people find things more desirable when they are off-limits or forbidden. There’s something in human nature that wants what it can’t have. (Or perhaps we can have it, but with serious consequences.)”
God knew this when he created Adam and Eve. The existence of mankind is owed to this effect. Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit and as a consequence fell that man might be. The fruit had to be forbidden in order for them to be tempted to eat it in the first place.
As it has been established that the act of forbidding something will have the psychological effect of driving us to want that very thing, we can conclude then that forbidding the seeing of the nude human form will drive us to seek that out. This curiosity must be satisfied and often it is satisfied in un-healthy, addictive and destructive ways. The solution then to this problem is not to ban the nude human form in image, or person but rather to accept it as normal and of no consequence. Encourage and promote modesty in dress, but also don’t make a big deal out of nudity in and of itself. Accept it for what it is and don’t draw attention to it. Don’t treat it as inherently sexual in nature and allow our children to learn and grown when they are exposed to nudity in a non-sexual manner. We also need to stop fearing exposure to non-sexual nudity among our children. We do this by not hiding from them when getting dressed or getting out of the shower. We don’t behave or act any differently when naked than we do when clothed. Help them understand that your body is really no different from theirs. We may have different parts, and our parts that are the same may look different, but it is what it is and it is nothing to fear. Don’t draw attention to ourselves, but don’t hide ourselves either. We need to help them understand that nudity is not sex. Children can benefit immensely from exposure to non-sexual nudity in that this will go a long way to helping see the parts of others bodies as just that, body parts. By helping kids see this, they can dis-connect this idea that nudity = sex and also fulfill their natural curiosity about our bodies and how they look in a healthy way. We only need equate sex with sex. A mother will have her child suck on her breasts for food but then cover it up and hide it when they are older because this is somehow immodest and wrong to exposure such things to them. The logic just does not make any sense.
The epidemic that is pornography will never be overcome until we can recognize as a religion, culture, and society that our bodies are not just about sex. Our bodies are not something to be hidden away in shame. Our bodies are creations of God and should be looked at with the view of all, being sons and daughters of God. This is the heart of the issue, until we can change our cultural taboos and inhibitions surrounding nudity and sex we will never be rid of pornography, because we will continue to hide, cover and simply re-act instead of being pro-active in satisfying the natural curiosity in our children. When kids see a naked body we need to say “OK, so now you know what a naked body of a man/woman/girl/boy looks like, What would you like to know about it?”
When all is said and done there is only one definition of Pornography. It is any material, or medium that is specifically designed to illicit sexual response as its sole and only purpose involving graphic and explicit nudity. This does not mean that other content cannot be sexual in nature, but only that it does not necessarily mean it is pornography. Nudity is not porn, immodesty is not porn, but as long as we continue to treat it in that manner our children will find and seek out porn to fulfill the curiosity that our taboos have left wanting.
The Scriptures speak of our bodies being temples.
19 Jesus answered and said unto them, Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.
1st Corinthians 6:19
19 What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own?
If this is a true doctrine as I believe it is, then why do we treat our bodies with such fear. We fear seeing the nude body and teach our children to do the same. We speak of our bodies to our children and preach it from the pulpit that they are bad to look upon. That seeing ones body will bring sin and evil thoughts.
Imagine if we treated our temples like we did our bodies. We would be constantly covering it up and blocking the temple from public view. We would never allow anyone to see it at open houses. We would tell our children to look away and don’t look at it if they caught a glimpse of it. We would teach them to feel bad if they saw anything more than the little bit the coverings blocked from view.
If we however treated our bodies like the temples they are we would not hide behind our clothes at the first sign that someone other than our spouses saw us. We would not teach others that to see us is bad, evil, wrong and creates sinful thoughts. We would not call seeing our bodies pornography or treat them like sex objects. We would instead tell our children that our bodies are beautiful creations of God. We would tell them that their bodies are beautiful creations of God. Like the temple we would not make others look at it but we would not hide it as well if it came into someone elses view rather than teaching them to feel guilty because they were seen naked or saw someone else naked. We would teach our children that what they see is beautiful and when they are married they can enjoy all that the temples of our bodies have to offer. We would not show them and reveal to them the blessing of the temple just as we would not show them sex (aka porn) as they must experience that for themselves when they are ready, worthy and in the right circumstances. Just as when they are worthy and ready they can received a temple recommend and enjoy all the blessing of the temple. The time will come that they will have the opportunity to enjoy the blessings and joys of sex. We would be proud and accepting of our bodies and not be ashamed that others have seen them and we would tell others that they too can enjoy all that their bodies have to offer when they have accepted the gospel and lived worthy of it.
We teach our children of the divine nature of the temple. We teach them to show respect to the sacredness of the place and speak of it with reverence. We do not hide from them what the temple looks like but speak highly of it and teach them to love and appreciate the temple long before they ever enter the temple. We show them pictures and take them to temple grounds. We show them what all the different temples look like and that each and every temple is different yet built for the same divine purposes. If our bodies are a temple as the scriptures tell us, then should we not treat them the same way. Teach our children to respect the divine and scared nature of our bodies. We should not cover it from their view simply because they saw our bodies, but teach them to respect it, and love it. Help them understand that everyone’s body is different and unique? Teach them to hold it sacred and not fear the sight of it but rather teach them to look forward to the day when they too can partake of all their body has to offer?
If we continue to ignore this fact, we do so at our own and our children’s peril. It is time to end the nudity taboo. Otherwise to continue in the same manner of obsessing over porn rather than teaching kids to view the body in a non-sexual way is insanity. This is the only way we can rid society of this evil. Our children can very easily be drawn in to porn if all they are taught is that all forms of nudity and immodesty is porn to begin with. Healthy curiosity will thrive and our children will be better off for it in the long run if we change the focus on our education to teaching that the human body, male and female is nothing to be ashamed of, it is natural and normal and should not be hidden from view. They will see others as children of God in their clothed, or naked forms and thoughts of sex will not even occur to them, or at the very least be much better controlled and reserved for times when that is proper. A wise man once said, mind not just what people say, but what they do for their actions will betray the lie. When it comes to combating pornography the actions we often take, even unconsciously often betray the lie that we do not want our children to see things as sexual. Our actions consistently re-enforce that all bodies are sexual and to see a naked body is evil and wrong. For the sake of our children lets work together to end this insanity.
I would like to leave you with this thought from The Biblical Naturist
“Oddly enough, when you realize that you actually do have permission before God to see a naked body, it rather loses its mystique and emotional power in your life. It literally becomes somewhat mundanely and simply “human.” That’s certainly what I experienced!
And another thing… now that I am no longer indulging in pornography, I see a lot less nudity than I did before! Becoming a naturist actually had a role in the death of my interest in porn. To me, that’s a tremendous blessing from God!”
I can personally attest to this kind of change in my life as I have explored this issue over the last 1-2 years of my life. Understanding that nudity is not porn and using that as a stepping stone to disconnect it from my mind. I can attest that this works. Porn no longer holds me as something I cannot control. We can help those who suffer from porn by adapting our methods in the way that I have described. We will be much more effective in curing porn addiction and preventing it if we use these principles as one more resource in our battle against this evil and destructive addiction.
And that is the Gospel according to Andrew