[NOTE: After initially posting this, I soon removed it because I was made aware that it was unnecessarily divisive. This was not my intent. However, I am putting it back up, unaltered, in the interest of debate. Additionally, one commenter pointed out that it was unfair to delete the post after people had commented, something I hadn’t considered when I took the post down. “For the record,” therefore, if for no other reason, I am reposting this.]
It seems to me that far more dangerous to the lives and well-being of Latter-day Saint women, and women generally, than patriarchy or priesthood, is the plague of pornography. What am I missing here?
Pornography has a central role in actualizing this system of subordination in the contemporary West, beginning with the conditions of its production. Women in pornography are bound, battered, tortured, harassed, raped, and sometimes killed; or, in the glossy men’s entertainment magazines, “merely” humiliated, molested, objectified, and used. In all pornography, women are prostituted. This is done because it means sexual pleasure to pornography’s consumers and profits to its providers, largely organized crime. But to those who are exploited, it means being bound, battered, tortured, harassed, raped, and sometimes killed, or merely humiliated, molested, objectified, and used. It is done because someone who has more power than they do, someone who matters, someone with rights, a full human being and a full citizen, gets pleasure from seeing it, or doing it, or seeing it as a form of doing it. In order to produce what the consumer wants to see, it must first be done to someone, usually a woman, a woman with few real choices. Because he wants to see it done, it is done to her. (Catharine A. MacKinnon, “Pornography as Defamation and Discrimination, 71 B.U.L. Rev. 793, (1991).)
Catharine MacKinnon, vocal feminist and ally of Andrea Dworkin, and prolific critic of pornography, wrote this long before the internet brought millions of pages of content depicting the most defiling acts of sexual deviancy into our homes for free and anonymous access. Jonathan Greene brought my attention to the shocking Financial Times article of March 31, 2006 (link here but registration required) that states what we all know: the ease of access and anonymity of the internet are causing large percentages of men in our societies (the Financial Times article was discussing the UK) to view instantly available hard-core pornography regularly. Many of them become addicted. This problem exists in the United States as well.
In recent congressional hearings, experts have testified about the dangers of pornography. The purpose of these hearings is to consider greater regulation of this multi-billion dollar trade in misery, filth, and addiction. In these hearings, Dr. Mary Anne Layden, co-director of the Sexual Trauma and Psychopathology Program at the Center for Cognitive Therapy of the University of Pennsylvania, has testified that
Pornography, by its very nature, is an equal opportunity toxin. It damages the viewer, the performer, and the spouses and the children of the viewers and the performers. It is toxic mis-education about sex and relationships. It is more toxic the more you consume, the â€œharderâ€? the variety you consume and the younger and more vulnerable the consumer. . . .
An example of Pornography Distortion would include beliefs such as â€œSex is not about intimacy, procreation or marriage. Sex is about predatory self-gratification, casual recreation, body parts, violence, feces, strangers, children, animals and using women as entertainment.â€? All of these are messages regularly sent by pornography. . . .
Both Pornography Distortion and Permission-Giving Beliefs increase the problem of mis-education about sexuality and relationships. For example, the myth that women are sexually aroused by engaging in behaviors that are actually sexually pleasuring to men is a particularly narcissistic invention of the pornography industry. This is sexual mis-education. . . .
Those who use pornography have also been shown to be more likely to engage in illegal behavior as well. Research indicates and my clinical experience supports that those who use pronography are more likely to go to prostitutes, engage in domestic violence, stranger rape, date rape, and incest. These beahviors should not be suprising since pornographic videos contaning all of these themes are readily available and the permssion-giving beliefs of these pornographic videos reinforced by the orgasm say that all these behaviors are normal, acceptable, common and donâ€™t hurt anyone. (The Science Behind Pornography Addiction: Hearing Before the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science & Transportation, 109th Cong. (2004) (testimony of Dr. Mary Anne Layden).)
The Financial Times article points out that an increasingly large percentage of boys (mentioning ages 12 – 17) are regularly looking at hard-core pornography online at home. The article attempts objectivity by pointing out that noone knows what societal effect a generation of boys raised on hard-core pornography will have. But we all know what effect it will have: these boys don’t stand a chance of having a normal, non-perverted sexual relationship once they are married. The effect is that these boys will look at women, not with respect, dignity, and equality, but rather as pieces of meat, sex toys to be fantasized about when looking at them, to be consumed and cast-aside after perverted and degrading one-night-stands.
An expert testified in the congressional hearings as to the effect of pornography on the brain of viewers, arguably all the more compounded when exposed to brains of children which are still developing:
Thanks to the latest advances in neuroscience, we now know that pornographic visual images imprint and alter the brain, triggering an instant, involuntary, but lasting, biochemical memory trail . . . .
Pornographic images also cause secretion of the bodyâ€™s â€œfight or flightâ€? sex hormones. This triggers excitatory transmitters and produces non-rational, involuntary reactions; intense arousal states that overlap sexual lust–now with fear, shame, and/or hostility and violence. Media erotic fantasies become deeply imbedded, commonly coarsening, confusing, motivating and addicting many of those exposed. (See â€œthe Violence Pyramidâ€? at http://www.vbii.org/violence.html) Pornography triggers myriad kinds of internal, natural drugs that mimic the â€œhighâ€? from a street drug. Addiction to pornography is addiction to what I dub erototoxins — mind-altering drugs produced by the viewerâ€™s own brain. . . .
Brain scientists tell us that â€œin 3/10 of a second a visual image passes from the eye through the brain, and whether or not one wants to, the brain is structurally changed and memories are created â€“ we literally â€˜grow new brainâ€™ with each visual experience.â€? . . .
This scientifically documented neurochemical imprinting affects children and teens especially deeply; their still-developing brains process emotions differently, with significantly less rationality and cognition than the adult brain.
Children and others who cannot read will still instantly decode, feel and experience images. Largely right-hemisphere visual and non-speech stimuli enter long-term memory, conscious and unconscious. Any highly excitatory stimuli (whether sexually explicit sex education or X-Rated films) say neurologists, â€œwhich lasts half a second within five to ten minutes has produced a structural change that is in some ways as profound as the structural changes one sees in [brain] damage…[and] can…leave a trace that will last for years.â€? (The Science Behind Pornography Addiction: Hearing Before the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science & Transportation, 109th Cong. (2004) (testimony of Dr. Judith Reisman).)
Despite knowing these things about pornography, lawyers and spokepeople for the “adult entertainment” industry smugly and shamelessly celebrate our “freedom” to wallow in such filth, pretending that it is normal and/or natural, and that it does not have any negative externalities. In decrying proposed laws meant to limit the reach of pornography, one such adult industry lawyer enthusiastically observes that
There is an increasing normalization of pornography in America. Witness the proliferation of adult stores in rural Midwest communities and the success in 2004 of books such as adult video star Jenna Jameson’s “How to Make Love Like a Porn Star: A Cautionary Tale.” The San Francisco Chronicle reported in 2004 that sex is now a multibillion-dollar industry nationwide. Adult video business alone generates $ 11 billion a year, by some estimates. And it’s not just for the kinky or perverse. Almost everyone, it seems, has watched an adult movie. And as the film critic for another newspaper reported in November of 2004, turn on the television, go to the movies, peruse the book racks, and one thing is bound to get your attention: Sex, explicit sex, is everywhere. (Clay Calvert, “The First Amendment, the Media and the Culture Wars: Eight Important Lessons From 2004 About Speech, Censorship, Science and Public Policy,” 41 Cal. W. L. Rev. 325, 341-42 (2005) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted).)
What, indeed, will be the effect of a generation of boys raised on hard-core pornography, viewing it regularly in the home, sometimes (often) in the view of their parents? One does not need to be a brain scientist to hazard a guess.
Jesus has given us the dire prophesy that, in the last days, “because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold” (Matt. 24:12). Although it is always difficult to match a prophecy with the fulfillment of the prophecy, it is not much of a stretch to see fulfillment of this prophecy in the widespread use of pornography, which changes attitudes towards women and sex, and erases love from the equation, causing the love of many to wax cold in their pursuit of the selfish gratification offered by the illusion and “sexual mis-education” of pornography.
For good reason our prophet and the Apostles of Jesus Christ continually decry pornography and warn us against it. President Monson again noted its dangers a few days ago in this recent conference. In 2004, President Hinckley raised a voice of warning about its evils in the Priesthood Session: “I might go on, but you, too, know enough of the seriousness of the problem. Suffice it to say that all who are involved become victims. Children are exploited, and their lives are severely damaged. The minds of youth become warped with false concepts” (“A Tragic Evil Among Us,” April 2004, Priesthood Session).
Should not our prophet and the Apostles of Jesus Christ focus their attention and energy on deterring this real danger that threatens the Church and our whole society, perhaps even western civilization as a whole? One thing we know to be true: although the Lord demands personal righteousness of individuals, he does not shy from punishing society as a whole for its deviancy. God’s punishment in this matter will be the natural consequence of a generation of men bred on hard-core pornography and the way they view women and the world.
 Some critics of MacKinnon’s analysis of pornography argue that the legal prohibition of pornography reinforces sexist stereotypes about men as “irresponsible beasts, with ‘natural physiological responses’ which can be triggered by sexually explicit images of women, and for which the men cannot be held accountable”, and sexist stereotypes about women including that they are incapable of consent and that “good’ women do not seek and enjoy sex.” Nan D. Hunter & Sylvia A. Law, Brief Amici Curiae of Feminist Anti-Censorship Taskforce, et al, in American Booksellers Association v. Hudnut, 21 U. Mich. J.L. Ref. 69, 127, 129 (Fall 1987-Winter 1988); see also Mary C. Dunlap, Sexual Speech and the State: Putting Pornography in its Place, 17 Golden Gate U.L. Rev. 359 (1987) (arguing society needs more, not less, sexually explicit expression, in order to address the problems of child and adult sexual abuse, AIDS and other sexually- transmitted diseases, and to improve all forms of consensual, intimate relationships). Others have argued that MacKinnon’s theory of pornography, by assuming that first, men are free subjects who use pornography to construct and impose their views of sexuality on women; and second, women are involuntary actors who lack subjectivity, is a “constant reaffirmation” of male power and “an unending rewriting of the myth of male subjectivity,” which makes an affirmative feminist program “problematic, to say the least.” Jeanne L. Schroeder, The Taming of the Shrew: The Liberal Attempt to Tame Feminist Radical Theory, 5 Yale J.L. & Feminism, 123, 179-80 (1992). Supporters of MacKinnon’s regulatory approach to pornography argue that it is consistent with, rather than opposed to, the First Amendment. See, e.g., Cass Sunstein, Pornography and the First Amendment, 1986 Duke L.J. 589 (arguing pornography is “low value” speech not entitled to First Amendment protection). (Katharine T. Bartlett, “Gender Law,” 1 Duke J. Gender L. & Pol’y 1, note 36.)