Content warning: This blog post explicitly discusses the porn industry and sexual acts. No euphemisms are used.
For quite some time I’ve been observing discussions amongst the Rational Faiths permabloggers regarding the LDS Church’s approach to pornography. Usually the critique I’ve seen amongst online Mormons is something along the lines of:
“The Church talks about porn so much and brings so much shame to those men who have occasionally seen porn, that they are actually making the problem worse. For the Church, a one or two-time porn looker is the same as someone who is addicted to porn. Those are two different creatures.”
The discussions I’ve seen amongst the Rational Faiths permabloggers has been different. The conversation, generally led by two women, has been more along the lines of:
“Mormonism’s dissuasion of porn is male-centric – that is, it’s consumer-centric. Apart from the occasional mention of how the spouse of the porn consumer is affected, it focuses on how porn affects the consumer – usually men. Absent from the discussion is how porn affects the women who are in the porn industry.”
This latter critique was discussed in a June 2015 Rational Faiths blog post by permablogger, Jared:
“The real evil of porn is in the objectification and victimization of human beings, primarily women. Pornography is one of the principle drivers of human trafficking and slavery and pornographers are among the chief perpetrators of these crimes.” (click here to read Jared’s post)
Rational Faiths has also discussed, quite explicitly, sex trafficking. In the February 21, 2015 podcast episode, Jerilyn Hassel-Pool and Brian Dillman have a frank and painful discussion with Tim Ballard, founder of Operation Underground (click here to visit Operation Underground’s website.) Operation Underground is a foundation that rescues children from sex slavery. (Click here to listen to this important episode.)
This critique (of focusing on the porn consumer only) can easily be observed in the following quotes. These quotes came when I searched “pornography” on LDS.org. I limited my search to General Conference talks:
“Young people and adults, if you are caught in Satan’s trap of pornography, remember how merciful our beloved Savior is.” (Sister Linda Reeaves, Second Counselor in the General Relief Society Presidency, April 2014 General Conference)
“Here, brethren, I must tell you that our bishops and our professional counselors are seeing an increasing number of men involved with pornography, and many of those are active members.” (Elder Dallin H. Oaks, April 2005 General Conference)
“Now brethren, the time has come for any one of us who is so involved to pull himself out of the mire, to stand above this evil thing, to “look to God and live” (Alma 37:47). We do not have to view salacious magazines. We do not have to read books laden with smut.” (President Gordon B. Hinkley, October 2004 General Conference)
In that same address, President Hinkley did something rare, he did mention those involved in the production of pornography. Through my searches of General Conference talks, this is the only time (as far as I was able to see) when this has occurred:
“I recently read that pornography has become a $57 billion industry worldwide. Twelve billion of this is derived in the United States by evil and “conspiring men” (see D&C 89:4) who seek riches at the expense of the gullible. It is reported that it produces more revenue in the United States than the “combined revenues of all professional football, baseball and basketball franchises or the combined revenues of ABC, CBS, and NBC” (“Internet Pornography Statistics: 2003,” Internet, http://www.healthymind.com/5-port-stats.html).” – side note: the healthymind website can not be found as of October 19, 2015.
The question then arrises, “Why?” Why does the Church seem to only discuss pornography through the lens of the consumer? I have one plausible answer. Supply and demand.
The consumer (the Mormon man) is what gives the demand for the product (pornography). If there is no consumer, then there is no demand for the product and the product will be taken off the shelf.
But there is perhaps another reason. A more painful reason. But first the backstory.
Last month a nurse with whom I worked mentioned a disturbing documentary she had watched on Netflix. The documentary was produced by Rashida Jones, best know for her role as Nurse Ann Perkins in the sitcom, Parks and Rec (she also happens to be the daughter of musician Quincy Jones and actress Peggy Lipton). The documentary entitled, Hot Girls Wanted, is a Netflix original documentary (you can get it live-streamed) that was an Official Selection at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival. It follows the brief careers of four “amateur” porn stars, showing how easy it is for 18 to 20 year old young women to be drawn into the porn industry and how they are exploited.
Now let me tell you what the movie did to me.
I always had the assumption that women who enter into porn come from broken families and, perhaps, had been molested when they were younger and drugs were always involved. That may be true for some. But one of the young women came from a loving two-parent home. She was the varsity high school cheerleader captain. She had been admitted into a university. But she wanted to get out of her home town and saw porn as her ticket out of Texas and to Miami, Florida. You see, California now requires its porn actors to wear condoms. Apparently consumers of porn don’t want to see that. So, because Florida doesn’t have the same restriction, much of the porn industry has moved to Florida and that’s what brought this one young Texan to Miami.
Some feminist critiques of pornography have seen it as degrading, but there is also a different feminist critique. That is, if it’s the woman’s choice to do pornography, and because it is her choice and her body, she should be allowed to make that decision.
This is the argument that many of the young women made at the beginning of the documentary. It was their body, their choice. They were making good money. Because of that money, they had choices and opportunities that other women of their same age did not have. But, there is a very dark side to this story.
Some of these young women would be sent to a shoot and expected to perform a sex act such as fellatio. But upon arrival were told that they were being paid to do something much more demeaning (their words), such as forced oral sex. Something I’ve never heard of. I will be explicit here. Forced oral sex is fellatio to the point where the woman vomits.
Several times I had to turn my head during the documentary. Several times I found my mouth just gaping open in shock. The head turning and the shock wasn’t from the edited footage, but from what the women were saying.
You could see their self worth being slowly whittled away. Sex was now a job. They realized that they were seen as objects. The justifications they once gave, no longer seemed to justify. The money didn’t justify. The freedom didn’t justify.
Most of these girls’ careers only last around three months and then they are tossed to the side or they leave.
The girl from Texas told her mother what she was doing and eventually told her father.
I cried again.
When I thought about the young woman from Texas and saw how much her father and mother adored her, I felt helpless. This could be one of my daughters. I have no control.
After I finished the documentary, I sent my brother, Paul, a text message, and sent another message to a Rational Faiths permablogger. We chatted about the documentary. At some point during these two conversations, I stopped responding.
I no longer wanted to think about it – it was too painful. I just sat there and wept. This movie transformed me. I understood.
Why doesn’t the LDS Church discuss pornography from the point of how it affects the women who are involved?
I was born in 1973. Up until the age of thirteen, I lived in East San Jose, California. Those of you who didn’t grow up in a large city during the late 70’s might have a hard time wrapping your heads around this. You know when you are checking out at the grocery store, and right there is the magazine rack full of Cosmo or Good Houskeeping? Well, at our local Alpha Beta grocery store, those racks had Play Boy. Hustler, Penthouse, and other porn mags could be purchased at your grocery store at check out. The dads of my friends who lived across the street had their stash of porn. We knew where it was. So at age 6, I would take a peek. I knew I wasn’t supposed to, but I didn’t understand why.
My dad found out. Can you guess what he did? I’ll first tell you what he didn’t do. He didn’t scold me. My father had many faults. In many ways, he was not a good father, but he did this one better than most. He said, “Mike, what if that was your sister in those magazines?” I understood. The problem was how it affected the women involved with pornography. It took the focus away from me and placed it on the women. It was a good step, but not far enough. For I was still seeing the women’s value as being tied to their relationship to someone else, instead of them being valued as a stand-alone person. That is, their value is not as someone’s daughter, or girlfriend, or wife. Their value is that they are people.*
It’s one thing to discuss a married man or a teenage boy, in a dark room in front of a computer screen masturbating, and how that can effect them.
It’s quite another, more difficult, explicit, disgusting, painful discussion when we speak of the many women who are involved in the porn industry. It’s a different discussion when we have to talk about women being exploited by men. It’s another discussion to realize how women’s agency is taken away. It’s a different discussion when we talk about women performing fellatio to the point of vomiting and then having their faces shoved into it. It’s a different discussion when these are real people and not objects.
But we are Mormons. God has called us to do difficult things. Lets change the discussion.
Oremus pro invincem
(let us pray for one another)
* The last few sentences of this paragraph were later edits. They were done on November 23, 2015 at 1:55 pm PST. It was my astute sister in law, Angela Perkins Barker, who pointed out the deficit in my thinking. Sure, it was good that my father turned my focus to how porn affected the women involved, but I was still seeing their value as being tied up in their relationships to men.