On October 2, 1976, Elder Boyd K. Packer of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles addressed the men and young men of the Church in the the priesthood session of general conference. That talk, titled “To Young Men Only” would gain a permanence in the church, being printed and distributed to young men in leaflet form for years to come. The topic was chastity, with a specific call to abstain from the sins of masturbation and homosexuality.
This address has come under criticism from members and non-members, and surely the language used is different than what we would hear from the pulpit in the present day. My aim, however, is not to disagree with the content of the talk but to call into question the prevalent attitude reflected in the very title- that issues of a sexual nature are of a concern for men, and for men only.
Pornography has been a hot topic for the past several years, as it should be. Pornography is as evil as it is ensnaring. It plays on the most sensitive human vulnerabilities and pollutes one’s self-control, self-worth, and self-confidence. It dissolves familial trust and can cause the building blocks of a marriage to tumble. Also, the treatment of women in the porn industry is positively deplorable. (Can you imagine showing up to a regular day of work to be told how and with whom you are going to have sex with?)
They say that men are more responsive to images than women, and I am willing to accept that as generally true. I am also willing to accept the idea that men are generally more sexually driven then women. What I am not willing to accept though, in fact, what I know to not be true, is that women are sexless beings, so filled to the brim with virtue that sexual temptation only comes when it is to feel the love of a man, and never because women are themselves sexual. Sexual feelings and temptations are normal for people in general, and shouldn’t they be? If choosing chastity is one of the greatest signs of spiritual strength and self-mastery, then wouldn’t we all need to find ourselves at a place where that choice is not an easy one?
Why then, do we teach young men about pornography so differently than we teach young women? Young men are frequently spoken to about pornography. Most, if not all, of church-produced media on the issue choose males as the people with the struggle, and females who are influenced only indirectly, through the sins of their husbands and fathers. Young men are typically given, along with the warning against sin, the affirmation that sexuality is in their nature, and that it is normal and acceptable to feel tempted. On the other hand, young women (youth and YSA groups alike) sit in lessons that teach us how to deal with our boyfriend’s use of porn, not our own. (I fully support the former, as a woman who is not addicted to porn but has dated porn users, but I am sure there have been girls in those classes who could have greatly benefited from a discussion on the latter.) There has never been a general Relief Society or Young Women’s general talk on pornography, and sex is typically danced around very generally, with the seeming assumption that our goodness makes us immune to such things.
Some personal examples of how I’ve witnessed this attitude in other Latter-day Saints:
- When I posted a request over social media to talk to women for whom this is an issue, a male friend replied that women didn’t struggle with porn, unless it was because of their husband’s or boyfriends struggle.
- Once, at the inference that only boys wanted to look at porn, I piped up with, “or girls, they can struggle too.” A young teenage girl in the room looked at me, bewildered and said, “girls can get addicted to porn?!”
- I had a roommate in college who didn’t even know that women were ABLE to masturbate.
So imagine then, if you are a young woman who struggles with a pornography addiction (any kind of sinful sexual habit, really). Here are two accounts of young women in the church who have struggled.
The first time I saw pornography I was in 7th grade, so 12 or 13 when a male friend I was chatting with online showed it to me. The transition from this first incident to it becoming a major issue in my life is kind of a blur, but once I saw it, it was like I “had” to see it again. I had never felt those feelings or excitement in my body/brain before, and I liked the way it felt. It was captivating, in a completely overpowering way.I thought I was the only one [the only woman with a porn habit]. I felt very alone, and honestly like I was a freak, I mean, I had my first orgasm before I had my first kiss.
I think church members could be a little bit more understanding, and remember that sin is not gender specific.
I think people in general are pretty uncomfortable talking about porn. Any time there is a lesson on chastity, it’s like, “let’s just mention this porn thing because we should.” I guess it’s just that people are uncomfortable, and I’m not about to raise my hand and share my personal experience on the topic.
I think people in general are more open to the idea that women struggle with this issue. But maybe not that it’s anyone they know.
I have told very few people about this struggle. I’ve thought about telling friends, but I have been in conversations with friends (girlfriends) and heard comments like “I just don’t understand how someone can be addicted to porn, it’s just so nasty, I just don’t get it.”
My bishop was the first person I ever told. It took several years before I confessed because I had felt too ashamed. I had held a calling in my ward, been to the temple, and had been taking the sacrament, and I was extremely fearful of what would happen if I confessed. And at that time, there wasn’t much talk of women having issues with porn.
Telling your male bishop that you have this struggle with pornography, you kind of think, “how is this man going to understand where I’m coming from?” or “he is going to think I am some sort of sex heathen since I have this problem that ‘only men’ struggle with…that women aren’t supposed to have this problem.” But none of my bishops have acted that way- they have all been extremely sympathetic in their understanding of how addictive it can be.
When I decided to confess it was because I saw it as an opportunity to see if the atonement was real and if it could really work in my life, like I had heard people testify of for my entire life. I took a leap of faith and found that the Atonement does work and can enable you to change. It still requires my best effort, and just because I might slip up, it doesn’t mean the atonement doesn’t work.
To other women who are struggling my advice is that there is no need to try and overcome this on your own. There is nothing weak about seeking help. Seek help immediately, do not procrastinate. If you procrastinate, more than likely you will become engulfed in pornography, which is what Satan wants. Don’t lose sight that you are His precious daughter and that you are of great worth.
I was with some friends and we followed a pop up when I was 12 or 13. It would come and go it wasn’t like I would watch everyday.I like to pretend like I had some sort f control but I totally would isolate myself and volunteer to stay home alone so I could watch porn. It is the most addictive thing in the world in my opinion. I didn’t think it was a big deal until it escalated things. It lead to a desire for promiscuity and the breaking of the law of chastity further
I would hear about it in church all the time, but I would just brush it off and justify it, making it seem like it was the same thing as how some members choose not to drink caffeine and some do. I blocked It out for the most part, to be completely honest. Someone at church brings up porn and my ears just shut off.
I was still in my teens when my mom caught me. She was totally shocked, disappointed and confrontational.
I’ve only told 2 friends and my bishop. Bringing it up and talking to my bishop was horrendous…. Like not only was it embarrassing but it wasn’t exactly something I ever even thought women struggled with! I thought I was a weirdo for watching porn. I feel like there is such a heavy burden on a woman’s virtue and not so much a man’s… that the attitude is definitely kind of like “oh you’re a whore stop watching that” and then when it’s boys “boys will be boys”. People should realize that porn isn’t just a boy or mans issue that it effects women… and don’t alienate people that share.
I first talked to my bishop just last year, when I decided that I really wanted to be temple worthy. That meeting consisted of a lot of cry and feeling like the most useless human being ever. I felt this way because I wasn’t the cookie cutter I didn’t fit the mold and I didn’t ever think to apply the atonement But my bishop was amazing. He helped me utilize the atonement and I regained a lot of my self-worth. I have been porn-free for several months now.
There are (at least) three negative consequences that come when we do not acknowledge that women have issues with porn:
- The women who do struggle feel especially embarrassed and overwhelmed, often feeling like they are some kind of a freak.
- This feeling of embarrassment keeps them from seeking out the help they need, perpetuating the cycle
- Because they tend not to be vocal, people are generally less aware that it is an issue, and resources are not provided for women in the same way they are provided for men.
- Women, especially young women, even those who are not trapped in any kind of sinful sexual habit, associate sexual urges with feelings of guilt, since we do not validate sexual temptation in young women.
It is kind of a cycle- women are not open about their situations because they think they are the only one. And they think they are the only one because nobody else is being open. I am not suggesting that anybody should advertise their addiction over Twitter, but nobody should feel so ashamed of a sin that they are not willing to be open with those who are absolutely closest to them, and certainly not with their priesthood leaders.
I’ve heard talk lately about how “pornography is even a problem for women these days.” While this is a step in the right direction, it is still problematic for two reasons. The first is that women have been struggling with porn for years. The only difference is that now people are talking about it. But it is not a new temptation. The second is the implication that pornography has become so evil and so widespread that even the previously-immune gender is now taking part in it. As I said earlier, I am willing to concede that women are less sexually driven than men, but is not as if we have a stone fortress built around our cerebral reward system.
My topic has been pornography in the narrow sense- porn you look at. However, other kinds of pornography can be as addictive while seeming to be more innocent. The sole purpose of romance novels is to be sexually exciting (if you don’t believe me, read up on some of their ghastly story lines). Even the magazines placed at eye-level in the grocery stores contain graphic and detailed descriptions of sexual acts. We should also be careful with how we use our social media- especially SnapChat, which I like to call “Satan’s App of Teenage Sin”. It can be awfully tempting to send and receive exciting fleeting images that can’t be saved. (And we all know that they actually can be saved).
The difference between visual porn and these other types is that visual porn always involves other people committing sin (the people you are watching). Also, visual porn often ventures into the extreme and even depraved, ruining a person’s healthy sexual expectations. Still, anything that is filmed, photographed, drawn, or written that is intended to be sexually erotic or arousing, and even some things that are not intended to be so, can be addictive. We need to broaden our perspective on what counts as pornography, be wary of it in all of it’s forms, and teach our young people to do the same. There are many young women who have no interest in visual pornography, but would have a very hard time putting down a book that encourages sexual fantasy.
I have had a lot of male friends confide in me the details of their pornography habits, usually calling it an addiction. Many of these men have been returned missionaries, active in the church, and absolutely respectful in their actions towards the women in their lives. As difficult as the struggle is for them, I always knew it would be harder for a girl. I’m not trying to play a game of one-upping, and I am not saying that it is at all easy to be a man with a porn addiction, but I am asserting that our cultural attitudes toward it complicates a woman’s position in ways that it would not complicate a man’s position.
So what is the solution? Well, for once, I have some ideas. Here are some ways we can de-gender the concept of porn addiction:
- Don’t make generalizations about porn users. (ex. they’re perverts, they’re all horny little boys)
- Don’t assume that you know whether or not a person struggles with it.
- In lessons on chastity, acknowledge that nobody is immune. Do not imply that a woman being addicted to porn would be the exception to an otherwise male issue.
- Teach young women and as well as young men that sexual feelings are normal and healthy in both genders.
- Never dismiss sexual sin in males as being expected or excusable.
- Be open to using females in hypothetical examples or discussions. (ex. “One day Susie was on the internet when she saw a pornographic pop-up. What should Susie do next?)
Here are some ways we can minimize the effect porn has on our lives:
- Educate our children about their bodies, about sex, and about pornography as early as they are able to understand.
- Generally be honest with ourselves in regards to our vulnerabilities, and set up defenses accordingly.
- Trust our priesthood leaders and be willing to talk to them.
- Strive to be honest with our families.
- Be understanding of those we love who do struggle.
- Educate ourselves.
If you are a young woman, or a young man, or anybody who is struggling with an addiction to pornography in any form, please know that there is hope! You do not have to overcome this on your own- Christ can help you, because, through his atonement, he has overcome it already. Your porn habit has already been defeated…the only thing you need to do is attach yourself to Christ so that you can taste of that victory. I know that this is as hard to do as it is easy to say, but I know it’s true.
And for the rest of us, let’s just try to be a little bit more sensitive with our language and with our assumptions. We can’t know for sure who is and who is not struggling, but we can make sure that those around us know that we will love them and support them regardless of their sins. And please, the next time porn comes up, don’t point to the boys automatically, as there may be a shameful and lonely girl in your midst.
(*Overly-spelled UT names used in place of actual names.)
Overcoming Pornography (official LDS website)
Combating Pornography (official LDS website)
Fight the New Drug (lots of great educational resources)
By The Light of Grace (the blog of an LDS woman struggling with pornography)
Beggar’s Daughter (the blog of a Christian woman who is a former porn addict)
Dirty Girl Ministries (Christian ministry, specifically for women with porn and other sexual addiction issues)
r/pornfree (Very supportive, anonymous, non-religious community for those trying to quit porn)