Tom Stringham’s recent post casting doubt on Utah’s ranking in pornography consumption has been making the rounds of the bloggernacle. It has been a relief for many to imagine that Utah’s LDS culture might not be contributing to pornography addiction, but instead helping people avoid and overcome it. Stringham’s post was careful to note that the research cited came from just one survey, and could not be considered conclusive. But it did illustrate some of the problems inherent in trying to analyze this complicated issue.
The biggest difficulty in trying to quantify the problem is that pornography takes on many forms, soft core to hard core, from books to prostitution to webcams. What constitutes pornography is not always agreed upon. Many in LDS culture consider immodest dress and commercial advertising to be part of the industry as well. How could any survey possibly account for all of these various types, let alone be able to analyze our behavior and attitudes towards them?
Google Trends Still Says Utah No. 1 in Soft-core Internet Searches
First of all, I think we should go back to the evidence that was first cited years ago for Utah’s prime pornography rates: Google Trends. On the Google Trends webpage, Utah still comes up as No. 1 on search after search of basic soft core pornographic keyword searches. Here, here, here, and here are a few examples. It’s kind of fun to type in the keywords in various combinations (hot, sexy, girl, teen, nude, naked, babes, bikini, lingerie) and try to find a permutation that DOESN’T have Utah on top. For the term “pornography” and “pornography addiction” Utah’s ranking absolutely dwarfs any other state, indicating an intense preoccupation with pornography as an addiction. However, when the keyword searches become more hard-core and specific, Utah drops down much lower in the ranking, for example here, here and here. (I’m not sure how Google arrives at their rankings, and whether the numbers would change if you tried to factor in for unique characteristics of Utah, like a higher number of younger people and children).
So according to Google, Utah is pretty clearly obsessed with soft-core pornography, but not so much with hard-core. This makes sense given what I understand of LDS culture. We are taught over and over that pornography is evil, and that even immodest clothing can constitute pornography. It’s no mystery that Mormons would be trapped in a cycle of soft-core porn consumption which focuses on immodesty and nudity, not sex acts. Because it is so strongly forbidden, immodesty becomes more powerful and enticing than it would be for a non-Mormon, whose exploration might move on quickly to more hardcore sex acts. Mormons would also be actively fighting their addictions rather than giving into them, meaning that they become desensitized less quickly than their Gentile peers.
This is a difficult question to answer. If Mormon culture heightens the appeal of soft-core porn by increasing it’s shamefulness, but at the same time reduces rates of hard-core porn consumption by keeping members mired in soft-core guilt, is that a good thing or a bad thing? Do cultures without shame and guilt attached move more quickly into hard-core addictions, and at what rates? Is the behavior of LDS addicts more compulsive an than those without the shame factor? I don’t have good answers for these questions.
The Virtues and Perils of Shame
Shame is pretty much universally decried these days, especially in the church, where you often hear “guilt says ‘what I did was a mistake,’ shame says ‘I am a mistake.'” Sister Linda S. Reeves recent address on pornography at General Conference was focused on trying to eliminate the shaming behaviors by family and friends of addicts.
These individuals may desire with all of their hearts to get out of this trap but often cannot overcome it on their own. How grateful we are when these loved ones choose to confide in us as parents or a Church leader. We would be wise not to react with shock, anger, or rejection, which may cause them to be silent again.
While I am against “shaming,” I think that shame in and of itself, is a natural state of being, and one that is not entirely without benefit. When Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, their eyes were opened, they saw their nakedness and were ashamed. For me this is the nature of shame: to cover the nakedness of the human body. It is unique to humans. There are no animals that exhibit this strange behavior.
Shame heightens eroticism, because what is forbidden on some kind of metaphysical plane, becomes more enticing. The metaphysical shame that Adam and Eve felt in the garden of Eden is what makes sex so particularly thrilling in the human species. I believe what is felt as “shame” is what is often described as “sacred,” by members of the church who see the sex act as divine. What they really mean by “sacred” is that sexuality and human nudity is imbued with an aspect of mysterious ambiguity which should be carefully guarded and protected. Milan Kundera said: “Without the art of ambiguity there is no real eroticism, and the stronger the ambiguity, the more powerful the excitement.” Elsewhere he wrote:
“When her lover touched her naked body, she always felt ashamed; their coming close to each other was always a surmounting of otherness, and the instant of embrace was intoxicating just because it was only an instant. Shame never dozed off, it exhilarated lovemaking, but at the same time, it kept a close eye on the body, fearing that it might let itself go entirely.”
LDS People Potentially Have Better Sex Because of Shame
We live in a society saturated with shamelessness. Nudity, casual sexual behavior and dirty jokes are everywhere. Sex is not special or shameful in the modern world. This pornographic inundation has actually made us less sexual and caused libido to drop in modern men. Naomi Wolf said: “The onslaught of porn is responsible for deadening male libido in relation to real women. In the end, porn doesn’t whet men’s appetites — it turns them off the real thing.”
By reintroducing shame into a shameless world, LDS culture makes the sexual world more erotic and appealing, and this is great news for exciting marriages and baby making. But it also gives Mormons a unique challenge, because we live in a sex saturated society. Non-Mormons may not feel constant arousal from the eroticism everywhere because they are not ashamed of it. But Mormons do, and this makes them more prone to soft-core pornographic addiction. However, I believe the extra vulnerability is worth the price.
- Is LDS culture helping or hindering the pornography addiction problem?
- Do you think that Mormons are more vulnerable to sex addiction because of LDS teachings on sexuality?
- Can a certain degree of shame be a good thing?