Mormons Watching Porn: Opposing Studies and Realities

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Man sitting in front of a computer

The thing that I find fascinating about statistics is that you can pretty much find one to back up anything you say—no matter how true it is (or not). Case in point is a 2009 study that found that Utah has the highest rate of online pornography subscriptions. This is big news because Utah has a high concentration of Mormons (a bit over 60%)—which is a nickname for members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—and they are taught to eschew pornography in all forms.

For years now this study has been cited and interpreted—often used to show how the Church’s strict moral code is backfiring. But a new study found the exact opposite of the 2009 data: Populations with a high concentration of members of The Church of Jesus Christ actually have abnormally low rates of pornography use.

Porn button on the computer

Is Porn a Problem?

While much can be said of the discrepancies between the two studies, the bottom line is that the strict code of sexual conduct (known as the law of chastity) taught in The Church of Jesus Christ really is reflected in the behavior of its members.

Much of the world would ask what the big deal is with pornography, it’s just human nature, but members of The Church of Jesus Christ know better. It is a big deal.

Pornography is destructive and damaging spiritually, and can lead to other equally bad choices. The late President Gordon B. Hinckley, until his death, the president of The Church of Jesus Christ, warned:

“Stay away from pornography as you would avoid a serious disease. It is as destructive. It can become habitual, and those who indulge in it get so they cannot leave it alone. It is addictive.”

The Church of Jesus Christ is committed to helping those who are already addicted as well as teaching people how to stay away. Accurate studies—especially those based on actual industry data—are important so that we know where our resources are needed most. But it’s important for all of us to understand the pitfalls of pornography and how to avoid them.

Aside from the prophetic council given by prophets and apostles on the dangers of pornography, new research and testimonies are starting to flood the internet about these same dangers. The organization Fight the New Drug is dedicated to shedding light on the problems pornography is causing in society.

two-people-arguing

A Tale of Two Studies

The 2009 study on Mormons and pornography has been used for five years to prove that pornography is a huge problem among the Mormon population. Statistics can be used to back up almost any claim, but without the full story, the numbers can be misleading.

For example, my husband cites studies that say too much salt is bad for you. I’m sure it can be, but too much salt is also relative. I have low blood pressure, and so salt is my friend. For someone with high blood pressure, it would most likely be a different story.

Even in the 2009 pornography study, the numbers told conflicting stories. While the paper found that Utah had the highest rate of online pornography subscriptions, Idaho (whose population is 25% Latter-day Saints) had the lowest rate of pornography subscriptions per 1,000 broadband users in the United States. This fact was often overlooked.

Probably the most glaring obstacle to the study’s reliability was that it came from an unnamed vendor—so no one could check the facts, nor could they check whether the sample was representative of the U.S. population.

These are important points to consider when using a piece of information to analyze the sexual culture (online or otherwise) of a religious group. The second study is more accurate—and can be more accurately interpreted. There are real numbers and facts to back up the claims.

The new numbers were released by Pornhub.com, the nation’s third largest porn retailer, and reflect page views per capita by state. Utah’s page views per capita in 2013 ranked 40th in the United States. Idaho and Wyoming, the other states with large Mormon populations, are even lower on the list—49th and 46th, respectively. One blogger went even further to interpret these facts. He wrote:

I went to the trouble of gathering the most recent demographic data I could find for each state, so I could perform a controlled regression. I included variables for GDP per capita, internet penetration per capita, male/female ratio, age distribution, race and each state’s marriage rate.… In this analysis, Utah’s deviation from the views predicted by demographics was 45th in the United States, while Wyoming was 46th and Idaho came 50th.

In other words, when controlling for other variables, there is an even stronger suggestion than before that Mormon populations do not have abnormally high rates of porn use (at least as represented by Pornhub). We might even suggest that their rates of use are especially low.

… When controlling for the variables already mentioned, that a 10 percentage point increase in a state’s LDS population is associated with an approximate 16% decrease in the amount of porn consumption.

The two studies on pornography consumption are telling very different tales—and now we can see why. But as interesting as the two studies are, pornography is still a problem in the world today.

Pornography is a Billion-Dollar Problem

The world would have us believe that watching pornography isn’t a big deal—it’s something that everyone does. But again, the numbers tell a different story:

The National Coalition for the Protection of Children and Families, an Ohio-based nonprofit organization working to promote Christian values, says an estimated 47% of families in the United States report that pornography is a problem in their home.

Enough is Enough, a Virginia-based nonprofit that aims to make the Internet safer for children and families, estimates that worldwide, the porn industry brings in $97 billion—with $13 billion of that spent in the United States. In the United States, the pornography industry rakes in more money than ABC, NBC and CBS combined.

Every second, 28,258 viewers are watching porn and 372 Internet users are doing online searches for adult terms. Every 39 minutes, a new pornographic video is made in the United States.

This is a big problem. President Thomas S. Monson, president of The Church of Jesus Christ, said:

Pornography, the carrier, is big business. It is evil. It is contagious. It is addicting. It is estimated that in recent years Americans alone spent $8–10 billion per year on hard-core pornography—a fortune siphoned away from noble use and diverted to a devilish purpose!

Child covering eyes

A Victimless Crime?

Apathy toward watching pornography stems mostly from a widespread public attitude that it is a victimless crime and that police resources are better used in other areas. Many state and local ordinances are ineffective, sentences are light, and the huge financial rewards far outweigh the risks.

One study points out that pornography may have a direct relationship to sex crimes. In the study, 87 percent of convicted molesters of girls and 77 percent of convicted molesters of boys admit to the use of pornography, most often in commission of their crimes.

President Monson compared pornography to the small bark beetle—a harmless-looking insect that took down whole forests of 100-year-old majestic elms with its fatal Dutch elm disease. He said:

The constant, consuming march of the pornography beetle blights neighborhoods just as it contaminates human lives. It has just about destroyed some areas. It moves relentlessly closer to your city, your neighborhood, and your family. Pornography is now more available than ever. At the click of a button, evil can be viewed in our homes on televisions and computer screens, in our hotels and movie theaters, or even in our places of employment, where access to the Internet is often provided.

Why Don’t Mormons Have Sex Before Marriage?

The discussion on the evils of pornography must begin with the law of chastity. Elder David A. Bednar, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles (with the First Presidency, the governing body of The Church of Jesus Christ), taught:

“The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has a single, undeviating standard of sexual morality: intimate relations are proper only between a man and a woman in the marriage relationship prescribed in God’s plan. Such relations are not merely a curiosity to be explored, an appetite to be satisfied, or a type of recreation or entertainment to be pursued selfishly. They are not a conquest to be achieved or simply an act to be performed.

“Rather, they are in mortality one of the ultimate expressions of our divine nature and potential and a way of strengthening emotional and spiritual bonds between husband and wife. We are agents blessed with moral agency and are defined by our divine heritage as children of God—and not by sexual behaviors, contemporary attitudes, or secular philosophies.”

Parent holds an infant in their hands

The Body, The Soul

Encompassed in the law of chastity is not “looking upon a woman to lust after her,” because the person who does this “hath committed adultery with her already in his own heart” (Matthew 5:28). Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, an Apostle of Jesus Christ, explained:

“The body is an essential part of the soul. This distinctive and very important Latter-day Saint doctrine underscores why sexual sin is so serious. We declare that one who uses the God-given body of another without divine sanction abuses the very soul of that individual, abuses the central purpose and processes of life, ‘the very key’ to life, as President Boyd K. Packer once called it.

“In exploiting the body of another—which means exploiting his or her soul—one desecrates the Atonement of Christ, which saved that soul and which makes possible the gift of eternal life. And when one mocks the Son of Righteousness, one steps into a realm of heat hotter and holier than the noonday sun. You cannot do so and not be burned.”

 Elder Holland said:

Human intimacy is reserved for a married couple because it is the ultimate symbol of total union, a totality and a union ordained and defined by God. … But such a total union, such an unyielding commitment between a man and a woman, can only come with the proximity and permanence afforded in a marriage covenant, with solemn promises and the pledge of all they possess—their very hearts and minds, all their days and all their dreams.

Boys and girls running

Children: A Gift from God

The law of chastity is also important because it governs the use of our God-given powers of procreation, which is the ability to create life. Elder Bednar explained:

The means by which mortal life is created is divinely appointed. … Marriage between a man and a woman is the authorized channel through which premortal spirits enter mortality. Complete sexual abstinence before marriage and total fidelity within marriage protect the sanctity of this sacred channel.

The power of procreation is spiritually significant. Misuse of this power subverts the purposes of the Father’s plan and of our mortal existence. Our Heavenly Father and His Beloved Son are creators and have entrusted each of us with a portion of Their creative power.

Specific guidelines for the proper use of the ability to create life are vital elements in the Father’s plan. How we feel about and use that supernal power will determine in large measure our happiness in mortality and our destiny in eternity.

The ability to create life is a gift from our Heavenly Father, who is the Father of our spirits. As the Father of our spirits, He has the right to dictate how we use this gift—because our use (or misuse) of it can impact another one of His spirit children. Human intimacy also bonds a husband and wife together.

Human intimacy outside of marriage is a fraudulent use of this power. So rather than being an outlet for fun and pleasure, sexual relations have a beautiful and divine purpose in our Heavenly Father’s plan. This is the reason that we must hold them sacred.

Man yells at his laptop computer

Why is Pornography So Bad?

Viewed within the lens of the law of chastity, pornography is an abuse and a misuse of the procreative powers. It is most destructive because it turns those of the opposite sex into objects of desire rather than the human beings that they are. And this is just the beginning. Elder Dallin H. Oaks, an Apostle of Jesus Christ, taught:

“Pornography impairs one’s ability to enjoy a normal emotional, romantic, and spiritual relationship with a person of the opposite sex. It erodes the moral barriers that stand against inappropriate, abnormal, or illegal behavior. As conscience is desensitized, patrons of pornography are led to act out what they have witnessed, regardless of its effects on their life and the lives of others.

“Pornography is also addictive. It impairs decision-making capacities and it “hooks” its users, drawing them back obsessively for more and more. A man who had been addicted to pornography and to hard drugs wrote me this comparison: ‘In my eyes cocaine doesn’t hold a candle to this. I have done both. … Quitting even the hardest drugs was nothing compared to [trying to quit pornography].'”

Courtesy of LDS.org

Our Temple Bodies

The scriptures teach that the body is a temple—meaning that it is sacred and must not be defiled (See 1 Corinthians 3:16). Pornography defiles the body by turning it into an object of sexual desire and is destructive to marital relationships. Men who objectify the latest porn queen also objectify their wives—and compare them to the latest porn queen, which is degrading and hurtful. Elder Richard G. Scott, an Apostle of Jesus Christ, said:

The onslaught of pornography in all of its vicious, corroding, destructive forms has caused great grief, suffering, heartache, and destroyed marriages. It is one of the most damning influences on earth. . . .

The tragic pattern is so familiar. It begins with curiosity that is fueled by its stimulation and is justified by the false premise that when done privately, it does no harm to anyone else.

For those lulled by this lie, the experimentation goes deeper, with more powerful stimulations, until the trap closes and a terribly immoral, addictive habit exercises its vicious control.

Father ignores daughter

Pornography Stems from Selfishness

Participation in pornography in any of its lurid forms is a manifestation of unbridled selfishness. How can a man not think of the emotional and spiritual damage caused to women, especially his wife, by such abhorrent activity?

But, as Elder Jeffrey R. Holland points out:

Immoral activity is not just a man’s problem, and husbands aren’t the only ones offending. The compromise available at the click of a mouse—including what can happen in a chat room’s virtual encounter—is no respecter of persons, male or female, young or old, married or single. And just to make sure that temptation is ever more accessible, the adversary is busy extending his coverage, as they say in the industry, to cell phones, video games, and MP3 players.

The root of the problem, as Elder Holland points out, is lust. He said:

Someone said once that true love must include the idea of permanence. True love endures. But lust changes as quickly as it can turn a pornographic page or glance at yet another potential object for gratification walking by, male or female.

True love we are absolutely giddy about—as I am about Sister Holland; we shout it from the housetops. But lust is characterized by shame and stealth and is almost pathologically clandestine—the later and darker the hour the better, with a double-bolted door just in case.

Love makes us instinctively reach out to God and other people. Lust, on the other hand, is anything but godly and celebrates self-indulgence. Love comes with open hands and open heart; lust comes with only an open appetite. These are just some of the reasons that prostituting the true meaning of love—either with imagination or another person—is so destructive.

lock on computer

Protecting Ourselves and Our Families

This is the reason that pornography is so vile and destructive. But the good news is there are steps we can take to protect our families—but it takes work and effort on our part.

As parents, we need to be diligent in screening the media to which our children are exposed. And this may not make us popular in the parenting category.

The other day my oldest son was upset because he felt like he was out of the popular culture loop at school. In two separate conversations, without talking to each other first, my husband and I both told him that he wasn’t missing much. We talked to him about how there is so much filth and sleaze mixed in the “positive messages” in the media that it’s just not worth it to go to movies without doing some real research.

Our children have limited access to TV, games and computers. And when they do, it’s with parental supervision. My husband and I have equal access to each other’s computers, cell phones and social media accounts.

We have friends who no longer have separate social media accounts but combined theirs together into a his-and-hers account. Husbands and wives must get together to put protections in place for themselves and for their children to protect against the tangled web of electronic addictions—which include pornography. It’s not an innocent, victimless pastime but a debilitating and degrading force that, like the beetles and the elms, will destroy us if we aren’t careful.

 

Lisa Montague is a staff writer for the More Good Foundation. She graduated from Brigham Young University. And is currently raising four great kids with her husband in the mountains of Idaho. She loves spending time with her family, writing, skiing, and making quilts.