General Conference Reflections

By October 4, 2009

Two brief notes on Elder Scott’s Saturday morning talk. I was grateful for his denunciation of pornography. Viewing pornography has profound personal theological implications, as Elder Scott notes. It “degrades the mind and heart,” which directly influences our ability to feel the Spirit.

However, he did not adequately complete the central theological argument, which I think would be an even better preventive than the one he gave. In describing why we should not look at pornographic materials, Elder Scott only hinted at the true reason behind this injunction. The reason involves the influence of the Spirit, certainly, and also the devil’s perfidy in convincing us that private indulgence is not harmful to anyone else.

More accurately, however, the reason involves types of looking and the ideologies behind them.  Two of Elder Scott’s phrases serve as the hint: “it is one of the most damning influences on earth” and “manifestation of unbridled selfishness.” Pornographic looking requires objectification of the person being viewed and self-gratification of the viewer. Christianity conversely promotes subjectification of people viewed and selflessness on the part of the viewer. These forms of looking are not simply matters of sight; they are matters of orientation and action. Christianity requires believers to turn to Christ at all times, looking to his sacrifice to answer their deepest loneliness and need for love. Christianity is about a change of heart that directly influences the self (Elder Uchtdorf’s talk was a little more satisfying on this point, although I did not feel that his discussion of love included enough about Christ). Until we frame this particular argument in a Christo-centric way, any reason for not looking at pornography is not going to be good enough. It does not convince or convict, as true conversion does. Where do we look, if not at pornography? We look at and turn toward Christ. We must do this always or we haven’t got a fighting chance in anything we do.

Perhaps all of this goes without saying, but I do think Elder Scott’s argument could have been better in the sense of being more convincing and even more true.

My second point. Elder Scott noted the sad emotional effects of pornography on men and women. But for women, these sad emotional effects came at the hands of their husbands: “How can a man, particularly a priesthood bearer, not think of the emotional and spiritual damage caused to women, especially his wife, by such abhorrent activity,” he said. I am sure his argument was not meant to be exclusive. A few minutes later he cautioned parents and leaders to guard youths against early addiction.

But his address was still lopsided in favor of men and exclusionary of the sexual struggles of women. This suggests to me that the sexual dichotomy in official Mormon discourse is still slightly oversimplified, with the conclusion that men lust after women and thereby destroy the lives of those around them and that women have no sexual desires unless they are seducing men. Pornography is not limited to male consumption or to being used as a tool to satisfy male sexual desires. Women are no less susceptible to this phenomenon than men are, even if it is less prevalent among women. Women are not yet perceived as sexual agents in Mormon discourse, and neither men nor women are fully humanized in terms of the complex set of sexual issues each deal with. I would appreciate a good discourse, updated to fit our times, treating this topic at some point. A few thoughts.

Article filed under Miscellaneous


  1. Good points. It makes me think of the arbinger institute and Terry Warner

    Comment by matt w. — October 4, 2009 @ 9:25 pm

  2. Liz, thank you for the thoughts. I like how all of us, the apostles included, can take from our backgrounds and respective trainings and shed light on a given topic and the way those topics are talked about. Just one reason I’m glad you’re here at the JI.

    Comment by Jared T — October 4, 2009 @ 10:07 pm

  3. Elizabeth, I am in complete agreement! I especially like your thoughts about how if we make our orientation Christ-centric, we’d be less prone to these issues–I hadn’t really thought about things in quite that way before.

    FWIW, I’ve done a decent amount of reading and writing on this topic (I presented at Sunstone on how we discuss pornography and modesty in the church, and how I think our models are incomplete), so send me a line if you want to chat sometime.

    Comment by Seraphine — October 5, 2009 @ 11:50 am

  4. Thanks, matt w. Jared, I’m happy to be part of JI, too. Seraphine, yes, please. I will definitely take you up on your offer. 🙂

    Comment by Elizabeth — October 5, 2009 @ 8:23 pm

  5. Yeah, our discourse on female sexuality pretty much amounts to “close your eyes, dear, and think of Utah.”


    Comment by Kristine — October 5, 2009 @ 8:36 pm

  6. Good thoughts, Liz. Thanks.

    Comment by Christopher — October 7, 2009 @ 7:42 am

  7. Liz — Facing the realities of sexual addictions is a hard process, and the Church leadership are making good progress in that process. They’re just not at the destination yet. There is a strong consensus that SA is a problem (although it’s usually only mentioned in the context of porn — there are lots of sexual things that can be part of an addiction besides porn), and the Church is willing to have an Addiction Recovery Program using almost the original 12 Steps and to have Pornography Addiction Support Groups within the ARP for men.

    This is about where recovery was for alcoholism fifty years or so ago — AA was for alcoholic men, and Al-Anon was for their wives. There will be a bit of pedestal-lowering that’s going to have to happen to admit that good upstanding Mormon women could struggle with porn, lust and other addictive and compulsive sexual behaviors and issues. It takes some major paradigm shifting to see women who desire sex outside the bounds of propriety as anything but sluts.

    Elder Scott has been amazing at consistently giving a message of hope to those who struggle for many years now. I have grown to love him deeply because of this. I think his words can be used well with minor adjustment to apply to female strugglers as well. It’s what women in AA had to do for a long time before the Big Book noticed them.

    BTW, for people who struggle with this issue, Latter-day Sexual Recovery has a blog and support forums for people who struggle with a variety of addictive and compulsive sexual behaviors and issues, both men and women, and their spouses and parents. If you felt an urge to add that to your blog roll, that would be nice too — other blogs have voiced a willingness to do so, but none have that I’m aware of, so you could be the first in the bloggernacle to do so.

    Comment by Tim B — October 8, 2009 @ 8:15 pm

  8. Thank you for your thoughtful comment, Tim B, and for the link. What a valuable resource!

    Comment by Elizabeth — October 10, 2009 @ 11:58 am

  9. If you felt an urge to add that to your blog roll, that would be nice too ? other blogs have voiced a willingness to do so, but none have that I?m aware of, so you could be the first in the bloggernacle to do so.

    Keepa — first!

    I was on elists with Rex Goode for years and trust that anything he is heavily involved in will be done with regard both for adherence to the gospel as best as he understands it, and with sensitivity and good taste.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — October 10, 2009 @ 12:22 pm

  10. I guess first place is taken, and thank you so much Ardis for this. I think second place is available, though.

    And thanks for your kind words. This is clearly a very important issue for me.

    Comment by Tim B — October 11, 2009 @ 1:40 am

  11. I always like to see my name being mentioned with such kindness. Thanks, Ardis. Good to see you.

    Elizabeth, your post reminded of me of something that has been on my mind a lot.

    As a male survivor of childhood sexual abuse that was connected with pornography use by the abuser I think I have an insight that might have a parallel related to your reflections on women who deal with pornography abuse.

    It was very difficult for me, especially a man of my generation, to admit to having been abused as a child. Even now, there is a lot of shame attached to it. I believe that the number of men who are survivors of child abuse is much greater than what has been reported. Even now, a lot of people have the attitude that boys don’t get abused. It’s something that happens to girls.

    I wonder if the same kind of biases exist for women who abuse pornography. The ratio of women strugglers to men strugglers at LDSR has always been low. I’d guess over the years that one in fifty are women. I think that the real life numbers are far greater because of the notion that pornography addiction is a male problem and that women who deal with it are less likely, even in an anonymous forum, to admit to it.

    Where I live, the Church is the second-largest denomination, but still a minority. We have a couple of pornography addiction groups for men and none for women that I know of. I think that if everyone who needed one came forward, there’d be many more for men than there are and some for women too.

    Comment by Rex — October 15, 2009 @ 10:40 pm

  12. Great topic Liz. Reminds me of Laura Mulvey’s groundbreaking work titled “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema”, reflecting on the “male gaze”, “scopophilia”, and the myriad ways of looking at a woman. It is interesting how we do continue traditional gender roles from the pulpit…woman is sexually passive,perhaps even “victimized,” and male is the sexual agressor. Mulvey’s article should definitely be read! Here is a link for an online version!

    Comment by Brittany — November 1, 2009 @ 10:56 pm

  13. Thank you, Brittany! Thank you for the article recommendation, too. I am actually doing some more work with this, and it came at a very timely moment!

    Comment by Elizabeth — November 2, 2009 @ 1:10 pm


Recent Comments

Courtney JP on Review: Stone, William Bickerton:: “Thanks for the detailed and informative review. It is great to see the growing research and publications into other Mormon traditions. I look forward to…”

J Stuart on Review: Stone, William Bickerton:: “Thanks, Chris, for the review. Very interested to get to the book!”

David G. on Review: Stone, William Bickerton:: “Thanks for the review, Chris! I have yet to read the book, but I heard Daniel respond to an Author Meets Critics panel at JWHA…”

J Stuart on Janiece Johnson on the: “Thanks, Robin. I love how Janiece mixes reception history and lived religion methodologies.”

David G. on Janiece Johnson on the: “Thanks for the overview, Robin. Agreed, it's a great article that lays out important questions and possibilities.”

Daniel Stone on Janiece Johnson on the: “Awesome review Robin and great points. This article looks fascinating!”