Define pornography in order to overcome addiction.
For Latter-day Saints, pornography addiction is very confusing. I think the general (although not universal) consensus is that pornography is evil and destructive. Right there, however, we run into a bump in the road because very few Mormons can clearly articulate what exactly is so destructive about pornography– other than the good ol’ Sunday School answer, “It makes it so you can’t feel the Spirit.” By contrast, recovering sex addicts who also happen to be Mormons don’t have that same problem describing the destruction that pornography has caused in their lives. They can talk enthusiastically for hours about how miserable things were when they were in their addiction, and how great things are now that they’ve found real recovery. They never want to go back. I certainly don’t.
So what’s with this problem articulating the destructive nature of pornography? One hurdle is that even getting a clear definition of pornography is like trying to hit a moving target. Everyone has a different idea of what constitutes pornography. In America today, we all talk about pornography, but we’re all talking about different things. In the confusion, a lot of Latter-day Saints have come to accept a very restricted notion of pornography promulgated by Hollywood. In fact, if it hasn’t already, Hollywood should give itself an award for the masterful role it has taken in rewriting America’s understanding of the word pornography.
This is what appears to be Hollywood’s definition of pornography: The visual depiction of a woman’s full bare breasts or a woman’s or a man’s genitals while the woman or man is engaged in a sex act. A caveat would be that if the pornographic image has “artistic merit” it is exempted from the pornography definition. Any nudity or sex that does not fall within this definition is, according to Hollywood, not pornography and, therefore, should not be controversial to anyone other than ultra-religious prudes.
The dictionary businesses out there are doing us no favors either. If you look up “pornography” on Dictionary.com, you get two very divergent definitions. The first is “obscene writings, drawings, photographs, or the like, especially those having little or no artistic merit.” The second, found on the same page, is “writings, pictures, films, etc, designed to stimulate sexual excitement.” Talk about confusing and unhelpful!
The first definition includes a consideration of whether the work is obscene. Obscenity is work that is “offensive to morality or decency; indecent; depraved” or “causing uncontrolled sexual desire” or “abominable; disgusting; repulsive” (Dictionary.com: obscene). Despite the fact that the observers of the work, not the producers, make this determination of obscenity, Hollywood surely doesn’t mind this definition of pornography too much. The notions of morality and decency have been rendered thoroughly relative and therefore practically meaningless. If no one can agree on what morality and decency actually are, no one can say that those concepts have been offended. “Indecent” and “depraved” are also pretty vague these days.
If we accept what Dictionary.com tells us, a work is also obscene if it causes “uncontrolled sexual desire.” This appears to suggest then that if the sexual desire produced is not completely uncontrolled, the work is not obscene and therefore not pornographic. Also, “abominable,” “disgusting,” and “repulsive” are very strong words. Hollywood has done a stellar job of feeding us sexually stimulating fare that doesn’t quite rise to the level of abominable, disgusting or repulsive. They would argue that most of their product is actually quite tastefully done. Again, this allows them to say, “Hey, this is neither obscene nor pornographic. It is art!”
That second definition of pornography requires us to consider the producers’ design (or intent). Thus, “film producers” in the giant warehouses-turned-studios in the San Fernando Valley who concoct a significant portion of the world’s hard-core porn are clearly making pornography: they want their product to be considered pornographic and even say so. They intend for their product to stimulate sexual excitement. Hollywood, on the other hand, seems to think that if you show nudity or sexuality but somehow imbue it with a storyline or some other arguably artistic element, it is immediately no longer pornography because the producer’s intent was to create art–not pornography.
These definitions of pornography are not very useful to sex and porn addicts–or to Latter-day Saints who are trying to fill the gaping breach on the front lines in our battle with Satan for the souls of so many of God’s children. Either they allow the pornographers themselves to define their pornography, or they set the bar so high that very little of what is actually triggering and troubling to sex and pornography addicts can ever be actually classified as “pornography.”
I’ll give you my own definition of pornography here. With it, however, comes a proviso. I am a sex and pornography addict in recovery. I am not a politician, nor a member of law enforcement, nor do I speak for any church, religion, faith or creed. I am not attempting to enforce my views on anyone else. I do, however, invoke the right to participate in the public forum on the issues of pornography, sexuality and addiction. I believe that I and the other recovering sex and pornography addicts of Sexaholics Anonymous and the other 12 Step recovery groups (whether LDS or not) have found something valuable, wonderful and desirable in our sobriety and recovery. We want to share what we have found with others in the hope of helping other addicts who are still suffering in silence.
Speaking as a sex and pornography addict in recovery, pornography is for me “any communication to my brain by any method or medium that causes me to obsess, fantasize or act out on sexual lust.” Pornography is personal for me. The intent of its producers is irrelevant to me. What society dictates to be moral or decent makes no difference to me. The only thing that matters to me when I define pornography is how it makes me feel in my brain and my soul.
I have said repeatedly that addiction ebbs and flows like the ocean’s tide. Sometimes the compulsions are barely there, while at other times they are nearly overwhelming. As an addict, I am powerless over lust, which means that I have to be careful to steer clear of it. This I am willing to do because it allows me to stay sober, remain in recovery and be a happy and contributing participant in God’s plan. Steering clear of lust requires that I understand and recognize “my” pornography.
I realize that talking about “my” pornography may subject me to snickers and jeers from those who don’t see unbridled sexual behavior as a problem. I’m OK with that. My job is to keep myself sober. If I also happen to share my experience, strength and hope with another addict who is suffering and doing so helps him, that’s merely one more blessing of recovery for which I am grateful.
Besides the stuff that is clearly pornographic to everyone’s way of thinking, “my” pornography can also be a swimsuit ad in the newspaper or online; sexual banter on a morning radio talk show; the cut of a woman’s clothing or even her way of walking or talking; inferred sexual behavior in a movie or a television show; a depiction of sex or sexuality in a book–even if it’s a Pulitzer prize winner; a woman near me in line at the grocery store or on an elevator; or women at the beach.
When I was a kid, my grandpa’s collection of thirty years of National Geographic in the basement was “my” pornography. (I suspect that they were “his” pornography, too.) So were the underwear sections of the Sears and JC Penney’s catalogs. “Charlie’s Angels” and “Wonder Woman” were “my” porn as a pre-teen. They provided just the right amount of lust hits that my developing addiction demanded. Those seemingly harmless, above-the-neck makeouts with girls in high school gave me “my” pornography. All of it fed my compulsion for lust.
Apparently, those without a sex addiction are entirely unaffected by all the things I’ve just described. Good for them and God bless ‘em. That is not, however, the case for me. Until I got into recovery, much of the interaction with women in my life drew me toward fantasizing and obsessing about sex. Women everywhere were often “my” pornography. I objectified them and used them to feed my lust.
In a world where nearly everything about the human female can be “my” pornography, the Serenity Prayer has particular insight for me: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.” I cannot change the women around me, nor do I want to. They are not really my problem at all. My problem, like I said, is that I objectify and lust after them. I am the problem. It took a grant of wisdom from Heavenly Father for me to understand this.
So, now I can be careful about what hits my eyeballs. I rarely watch television and never when I’m alone. I don’t read entertainment (gossip) magazines or websites. I check movie reviews on PluggedIn.com to get straight talk about the sexual content and disqualify movies that contain nudity or sexuality, actual or inferred. I tend to read the classics rather than modern literature because the former are significantly more circumspect about sexuality and sexual themes. I limit my time on the internet and avoid using it as pointless entertainment (i.e., no surfing without purpose).
Because I am a lust addict, I am careful about my interaction with women. I avoid being overly friendly or engaging in flirty chitchat. I limit my physical contact with women. If I find myself objectifying and lusting after someone, I stop! and then I do what my first SA sponsor suggested: instead of praying selfishly for strength to overcome temptation (as I continue to objectify the woman), I now pray for the well-being of the object of my lust. I pray that she can be blessed with what she needs in life–and especially that she can be protected from the lust of me and any other men she encounters. I have found that I can’t objectify a woman that I pray for. I absolutely believe that Heavenly Father answers prayers. Praying for her helps me turn a self-centered lust event into a blessing for another of God’s children. And then it ends up being another blessing of my recovery.
Does all of this seem painfully inconvenient? I suppose to someone who is healthy, it is. I am a sex addict, however, and my addiction will kill me if I don’t stay sober. I mean that. While blood tests and insulin injections are probably inconvenient and painful for diabetics, they do what they need to do to stay alive. I do, too. I do what it takes to stay alive–and, thank God, it works.
These aren’t the only things I do to stay sober from my sex and pornography addiction. Take a look at the essay “Another Letter to the Wife Who Suffers in Silence” for insight into what a Latter-day Saint needs to do to overcome porn addiction. In the end, I cannot rely on the world, or Hollywood, or Blockbuster, or Netflix, and anyone else (above all, that includes Satan) to define pornography for me. As part of my recovery program I have to define and identify “my” pornography. Doing so has helped me find recovery and recovery is where I want to be.