Wednesday, July 11, 2007

The "P" Word

Warning: This post may contain images that are considered offensive to some. Please do not read if you are under the age of 18.
Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof.
Romans 6:12

I was thinking about my last post; and, I decided that no blog post on masturbation is complete without a follow-on post on pornography. Clearly the two go hand in hand [pun intended].

It's no secret that pornography is big business.

"Sex sells. As the number one income generator on the Internet today, pornography is a ripe business that will continue to grow along with the advancement of technology. With a reported annual growth rate of 40% since 1997, and the status of being the most queried subject on search engines, pornography is a thriving industry and one of the only successful e-businesses."
article titled "The Porn Business" on

Also, much has been written about the evils of pornography by LDS church leaders

"One of the most accessible sources of pornography today is the Internet, where one can turn on a computer and instantly have at his fingertips countless sites featuring pornography. Avoid any semblance of pornography."
Thomas S. Monson, April 2006 General Conference

Make no mistake - pornography is a big problem in the LDS church and in our society. It is probably the topic that gets mentioned most often during our general conferences. It is a problem for men of all ages, ethnicity, religious background, and sexual orientation. But, it seems to be an especially big problem in the gay Mormon community. Most (if not all) of us, at least of the male persuasion, have done battle with the pornography monster - some battles are ongoing.

But, what exactly is pornography? A pamphlet created by the LDS church states

Pornography is any material depicting or describing the human body or sexual conduct in a way that arouses sexual feelings.

It goes on to say

Some materials that are not explicitly pornographic can still fill your life with darkness and deprive you of spiritual strength. Television programs, pictures, movies, songs, and books often treat unchastity and infidelity as common, appealing, and humorous. Avoid anything that drives the Holy Ghost from your life.

I don't necessarily disagree with these statements; but, the problem I have is that there are many things - innocuous things - that can arouse feelings within me depending on the situation I'm in and my frame of mind. It could be a good looking guy walking down the street in shorts and a muscle shirt; it could be a cute waiter in a restaurant; it could be the men's underwear ad in the Penny's sales flyer. If I truly need to avoid anything and everything that has the potential of arousing feelings within me; then, my only hope would be to check myself into a convent with a bunch of ugly nuns and avoid all media (internet, TV, newspaper, magazines, ... everything).

So, short of all of us checking ourselves into convents and removing ourselves from society, what can be done about this insidious problem? How can we define pornography in a way that we can realistically overcome?

For example, here is a picture that's been floating around the internet for a while (a naked Harry Potter). Is it pornographic? Some might say 'yes', some might say 'no'.

Where is the line between provocative and nasty? Where is the line between art and porn?

There are some images that, I'm sure, we can all agree are clearly pornographic, such as an image of two men engaging in sodomy. But, what if it is an image of a naked male? What if the model is posed in such a way that genitalia are not shown? What if the model is fully clothed but is posing in a very suggestive manner?

Much has been written about how pornography is degrading to women. But, what about gay pornography? If there are no women involved, is it still degrading? Or is it just as wrong to degrade men as it is women?

According to the gospel of Abelard, we each need to come up with our own definition of what constitutes pornography for us and define our own limits. And, we need to define our limits so that they are reasonable and achievable. We can, and should, listen to what others have to say; but, ultimately, the final definition rests on our own shoulders. Once we define those limits, then we can start to work on making sure we don't cross those boundaries. Some might even suggest we stay as far away as possible to reduce temptation. But, if we set our limits too high such that they are unachievable then we are only setting ourselves up for failure. We also need to be open to the idea that our boundaries can change over time.

But, these are just my opinions. What do others have to say on this topic?

As I've said before, we are a virtual island of misfit toys, only Santa isn't coming to rescue us. So, we need to look out for one another. Is there anything we can do to help those in our little community that may be battling the pornography monster at this very moment? How can we tame this beast?


-L- said...

Question: why are people afraid of saying masturbation and pornography? Honestly curious.

Abelard Enigma said...

masturbation - pornography
masturbation - pornography
masturbation - pornography

There - are you happy now? :)

Seriously, that's a fair question.

I think it's cultural. Those just aren't words that are used in polite company. The same with words for genitalia. So, we come up with euphemisms so that everyone knows what we are talking about without actually having to say the words.

You, being in the medical profession, are in a subculture where use of those words is more acceptable. The rest of us are in our own subcultures and have our own cultural norms.

Kengo Biddles said...

It's because we're all a bunch of sexually repressed social 4 year olds.

How's that?

Abelard Enigma said...

It's because we're all a bunch of sexually repressed social 4 year olds

Well, yeah, that too

-L- said...

Actually, I guess you're right that the medical thing plays in there. I do get away with saying stuff that seems to make other people blush.

But that reminds me that not all doctors really fit that description. Some of the residents I work with use such terms as "down there" [while pointing] and "hoo hoo" to discuss anatomy. I'm not kidding.

iwonder said...

Well, for me, I've found that as I've become more comfortable with myself and more open about being gay, the drive to view pornography has lessened dramatically.

I think that part of the issue was that I was not only hiding the pornography, but also the fact that I was gay, suicidal, depressed, etc.

Now that I am no longer hiding, now that my friends, family and random acquaintances know that I'm gay, I don't really have that strong of a desire anymore. Now that I've accepted that I am indeed gay, well, I don't obsess about everything so much (at least not about being gay), and I just live my life as a (semi-)normal man.

playasinmar said...

"Some of the residents I work with use such terms as 'down there' [while pointing] and 'hoo hoo' to discuss anatomy."

Be honest, how much more of Scrubs is 100% real?

GeckoMan said...

"the drive to view pornography has lessened dramatically"

Since becoming involved with this blogging world, opening myself up to a community of like-minded souls, I'm experiencing what iwonder is talking about. Not only is surfing through the blogs and comments inspiring new understanding, its just a lot more interesting than pornography. Maybe I'm just going through a honeymoon phase and the old draw will return, but I don't think so. Previously, I found myself migrating to sites when I was bored and had no outlet; now I have lots of grand ideas to keep me occupied, as well as stronger rationale to do so.

Thanks, Abe, for getting out there on the edge with cogent topics, and then having the honesty, humor and values to put it in a meaningful perspective. And I appreciate all the comments which enlarge the ideas and bring to forefront the lessons of other's experiences and analysis.

"God bless us, everyone."

J G-W said...

Since the words "pornography" and "masturbation" don't bug me in the least... I'll take a crack at answering Abelard's original question!

For me, the line I draw has to do with what I've come to call "guarding my heart." I do not want to participate in or view anything that encourages adulterous fantasies. I want my erotic interests to be focused on my partner and no one else.

I believe it is important to differentiate between our basic reactions and where we go with those reactions. A guy in shorts and a muscle shirt will momentarily arouse you and get your heart pumping. And that is, I think, a purely biological reaction to stimuli, no different from banging your thumb with a hammer and feeling pain, or smelling a delicious roast and having your mouth start to water. But if you stare at said guy in shorts and muscle shirt and start fantasizing about what you'd like to do with him, etc., etc., that's taking it to a place we shouldn't go.

For me, "guarding my heart" in such a situation means A) not shaming myself because I felt a natural reaction, and B) not staring and letting my mind start to go certain places.

For me, by definition then, guarding my heart also means never going out of my way to find situations that provoke those reactions unnaturally. Stay away from those web sites, those magazines, those TV shows or movies... When I read the gay papers, I know to skip the last few pages with those special ads. What provokes one person in a certain way may not affect someone else in the same way, so "what" we classify as pornographic might vary.

For me, that classic judicial definition of pornography is best: "I can't tell you what it is, but I know it when I see it." I can tell it by what effect it has on me.

Elbow said...

It's a very interesting post. I feel that porn is such an addictive behaivor because of what's behind it. I think that porn is driven by a deep need to be connected to intimacy. Images only hold meanings that we allow them to take on. Without the drive for connection, porn seems to be void. I think it's a very fascinating topic.

Mr. Fob said...

Four thoughts:

1. I agree with Elbow. In my experience, porn is more about a need for intimacy than a need for sex. If you're trying to stop looking at porn, work on building intimate relationships with both men and women.

2. Also in my experience, and I'm afraid to generalize too much here because people are individuals with individual experiences, the problem with porn is that it reinforces my natural proclivity to see men as solely sexual objects.

3. I honestly think the way to overcome an addiction to porn is to recognize that yes, it's bad, but it's not that big a deal. The fact that porn is made out to be this huge sin that destroys families and causes everything from tooth decay to world hunger is what makes it so addictive--it feeds this cycle of guilt, low self-esteem, and escape. It also contributes to the need to make it a big secret, which also makes it more addictive.

4. I get paid to look at porn.

Mr. Fob said...

Actually, that's a lie. My cataloging thing is an unpaid internship, one for which I'm paying tuition for the credits. So that five minutes of porn cost me about two thousand dollars. But there is the potential for future jobs wherein I'll get paid to look at porn.

J G-W said...

I agree with Mr. Fob, I think it is dysfunctional to overload people with shame about looking at porn. If there is such a thing as "porn addiction," it probably does have to do with trying to fill some very important gap that actually deserves to be filled.

I've actually even heard people offer testimonials about how porn, at a certain point in their lives, actually helped them to cope in a positive way with negative feelings about being gay. I believe this is possible.

I personally have found that it strengthens my relationship with my partner not to use porn or look at it. By avoiding porn, I find more joy in living, breathing, real life relationships with real people.

J said...

First, I think that this is a great post, Abelard. I agree with a lot of what has been said, but some I do not. I have to disagree that porn may have some positive effects and that "destigmatizing" it will help people overcome it. It's the same arguement we hear with drugs--if we make them legal then we'll eliminate many of the problems associated with them. I don't buy that arguement either. I do think that helping those of us feel loved and find ways to address the root of our drive to view porn is helpful, but I think that is very different than making porn itself out to be "no big deal." I think it's great when one can get to the point where it is no big deal, I'm working toward that. I think everyone should try to make it now big deal in their life. But to across the board say that it in and of itsefl is not a big deal, instead of helping people get to the point where it isn't is, in my opinion, dangerous. Anyway, just my two cents. Thanks, Abelard.