READER ALERT: This is a tough topic and one that I feel strongly about both as a man (and father and husband) and as a clinician. I have devoted many hours researching pornography addiction, both in literature review and through actual clinical studies.
I have done my very best to keep the treatment here at a PG+ level. But there are links to outside articles that exceed the directness or vocabulary I choose to use here. Please proceed with care.
This comes at a good time, and I’m grateful for it. Pornography has never in human history been as prevalent, available, or as destructive as it is today. One prominent website recently reported that it streamed 4.4 billion hours of pornographic content in 2015 alone. That’s 500,000 years’ worth of content.
One constant theme of the new anti-pornography movement is that, unlike earlier objections, pornography is wrong because of what it does rather than because of what it is. In other words, generations-old arguments against it were made by feminists because it was degrading to women and by religious conservatives because it was immoral. But today, young men are objecting to pornography on what they deem to be purely practical grounds: it destroys their ability to function normally.
As Naomi Wolf put it, “A whole generation of men are less able to connect erotically to women—and ultimately less libidinous.” Or, as one young man put it less eloquently online, “I just want to enjoy sex again and feel the desire for another person.”
But, as they all insist, this new movement has “nothing to do with morals.” This is a cause to protect normal human function, not to follow a moral code.
Again from Naomi Wolf:
The reason to turn off the porn might become, to thoughtful people, not a moral one but, in a way, a physical- and emotional-health one; you might want to rethink your constant access to porn in the same way that, if you want to be an athlete, you rethink your smoking. The evidence is in: Greater supply of the stimulant equals diminished capacity.
But wait: What a bizarre thing to think!
Does anyone really believe that morals exist in a vacuum? Isn’t it obvious that they are in place to promote human happiness, function, and longevity? (Not to mention eternal progression!) Can it really be a surprise that morality would have a direct effect on intimacy in all its emotional and physical aspects?
It had not occurred to me until reading these testimonials that much of the public perception of morality is couched in this odd context where moral codes are just the illogical limitations imposed by some arthritic old patriarch living in a cave who has no regard for everyday human practicality. In this view, moral restrictions are just the cloudy dreams of the ignorant, rigid, or proud. They are clung to out of some spurious mix of superstition and disdain. But not because they do any good.
Of course any entry-level college course on philosophy (or any independent review, for that matter), does easily demonstrate that moral codes vary across cultures and through generations of time. Plus it’s easy to see that they are frequently—perhaps universally—contaminated with social and cultural prejudices. But does that alone disprove their worth? Does that somehow demonstrate their irrelevance to our lives?
After devoting a lifetime to the study of world history, Will Durant did not think so. He wrote:
Our heroic rejection of the customs and morals of our tribe, upon our adolescent discovery of their relativity, betrays the immaturity of our minds; given another decade and we begin to understand that there may be more wisdom in the moral code of the group—the formulated experience of generations of the race—than can be explained in a college course. Sooner or later the disturbing realization comes to us that even that which we cannot understand may be true. The institutions, conventions, customs and laws that make up the complex structure of a society are the work of a hundred centuries and a billion minds; and one mind must not expect to comprehend them in one lifetime, much less in twenty years.
More specifically, LDS Church President Gordon Hinckley quoted Will Durant and his wife, Ariel, as writing, “A youth boiling with hormones will wonder why he should not give full freedom to his sexual desires; and if he is unchecked by customs, morals, or laws, he may ruin his life before he matures sufficiently to understand that sex is a river of fire that must be banked and cooled by a hundred restraints if it is not to consume in chaos both the individual and the group.”
And this is what we’ve seen. The popularization and availability of pornography have transformed the normal sexual relationships of our current generation. Naomi Wolf lamented, “I am 40, and mine is the last female generation to experience that sense of sexual confidence and security in what we had to offer.”
The evidence is in. Spouses and partners of pornography addicts have been heavily researched. One thorough treatment in 2002 found consistent trends of its effects. They reported a decrease in happiness, confidence, comfort, and intimacy.
Distrust and dismay were consistent. Subjects reported, “I have been excluded, isolated, barred from intimacy with him. I have lost someone whom I thought was my best friend and most intimate companion in life. He now has a whole secret life from which I am completely excluded and about which he continually lies to me.”
Confidence was hampered, which decreased intimacy: “I am no longer sexually attractive or desirable to him. He’s more attracted to the women depicted in his movies, magazines, and websites than he is to me, and I feel completely unable to compete with these women.”
This leads to transference where actual intimacy has become just a replication or substitute of the pornography. Here, partners of the addicted reported: “I am no longer a sexual person or partner to him, but a sexual object. He is not really with me, not really making love to me when we have intercourse. He seems to be thinking about something or someone else—likely those porn women—or he is just inserting me to play a role in some novel sexual scenario that he saw somewhere. He is just using me as a warm body.”
And finally, intimacy is lost all together. Recent professional studies have found rates of erectile dysfunction as high as one third among men aged 18-40 years old. In 1992, the incidence rate was just 5%.
Young men are losing their ability to engage in actual sexual intercourse because they have rewired their brains to respond only to pornography. A new term has been coined and is gaining acceptance: “porn-induced erectile dysfunction.”
It is perhaps the single greatest doctrinal contribution of Mormonism that it claims all things are arranged in just the way the must be, not due to any random whim of a creator. The universe, and we in it, are eternal and uncreated. Matter may be organized from disorder, life may be planted, individuals may develop. But all of this occurs within natural and inherent constraints. Our Heavenly Parents saw that they were more advanced and happier than us, so they provided a means for us to progress to be more like them.
Thus morality, like electrons or gravity, are inherent and self-evident.
It is therefore no surprise to find that a disregard for morality will have disastrous personal and societal effects. When a young man says his newfound refusal to watch porn “has nothing to do with morals,” he’s just not understanding what morals are.
If you or someone you know suffers from pornography addiction, help is available. Please don’t wait.
Recovery program guide: https://addictionrecovery.lds.org/bc/content/arp/content/manuals/ARPGuide_English_36764.pdf?lang=eng