The problem of p0rn

October 5, 2004 | 40 comments

President Hinkley was pretty sober at the Priesthood session when he spoke about p0rn. He read a hard letter from an afflicted wife. He grieved the 57 billion dollars spent on p0rn worldwide (57 billion dollars gone down the devil’s rat-hole). He mourned for the women who love the men who get addicted. He mourned the lost blessings of those men. P0rn, he said, says amen to the priesthood of its beholders.

He grieved for the Internet. He showed real pain that such a useful instrument promised fair to become little more than a p0rn patch. Without irony or any special emphasis he referred several times to going online for p0rn as “sexual relations with the internet.” All the soullessness of the sin is in that phrase.

I thought of that phrase again while reading Macbeth on the commute home. Lady Macbeth dismisses her husband’s weak remorse for his murder of Duncan. She says, “The sleeping and the dead are but as pictures.” In too many places these days, women, young men, and children are but as pictures too.


40 Responses to The problem of p0rn

  1. Jack on October 5, 2004 at 1:43 am

    I’ve said this before on another thread so I hope I’m not overstating my case.

    I think that the problem of p0rn (or anything like unto it) is appendaged to the abomination of desolation. It is interesting that Daniel speaks of that abomination as some thing that is set up after the daily sacrifice is taken away and the strength of the sanctuary is polluted. It is a ravishing of the Temple which has a direct corollary to the body. Generally speaking, the sacred is defiled by allowing the profane to come in contact with it. Therefore, what we have in the way of p0rn is an open invitation for all the world to see an abuse of that which is most sacred.

    Truely it is a wicked and an adulterous generation that seeks for a sign. They who do not regard sexual relations as sacred will brazenly require a sign or parting of the curtain, that they may view for themselves the upper world on there own profane terms.

  2. Justin Halverson on October 5, 2004 at 2:25 am

    I don’t mean in any way to make light of the seriousness and dangers of p0rn, and what I’m about to say is in no way intended to be a criticism of the woman who wrote the letter that President Hinckley read.

    But what struck me most powerfully about the letter wasn’t the dangers of p0rn. It was that this woman felt compelled to endure 35 YEARS of pretty clear abuse–which she seemingly only classified as such in hindsight once she had the p0rn to blame for it–because there was no “cardinal” sin to justify divorce.

    I wonder if p0rn is the *symptom*–and not simply the cause–of a culture that would (and certainly does) reinforce (even tacitly) such abuse.

  3. Sara Greenwood on October 5, 2004 at 2:50 am

    I think it’s just as likely, Justin H., that the causal arrow goes the other way.

  4. David King Landrith on October 5, 2004 at 9:22 am

    What about gay p0rn?

  5. Davis Bell on October 5, 2004 at 11:43 am

    I’m just wondering if that’s the first time the phrase “porn queen” has been used in General Conference. I rather think so.

  6. Nathan on October 5, 2004 at 1:22 pm

    My ears perked up at that phrase, as well as Elder Oaks’ use of the term “porno video” — the contraction is somehow different from the full, clinical, latinate “pornography.” Pres. Hinckley said he was speaking directly, and I think this is a good thing; as all of us know who were raised in an era in which we were advised against “heavy petting” (and thought, “What the yippee-ki-yay is that?”), there are times when the circumlocutions we use can distance us from the power of a message.

  7. Matt Jacobsen on October 5, 2004 at 2:21 pm

    We recently had a joint RS/Priesthood session on the same topic and the same stats were quoted that President Hinckley used. I then latet followed up with an EQ lesson and tried to track down the source of the stats. I easily found the stats at various locations, but they were exclusively hosted by sellers of Internet filtering software — not exactly the most unbiased of sources. I don’t doubt the vast amount of money spent on adult entertainment, but I was hoping to find a more neutral source of numbers. In particular they have a bunch of stats about % of use by various groups and ages of exposure for children, but there is little mention of the methodology.

    Regardless, the brunt of our lessons was to focus on protecting our families from negative sources on the Internet — both through technical and spiritual means. Even though children are frequently held up as the victims of pornography, I think President Hinckley was right on in addressing the men of the church about this problem. Would others agree that it would be useful for more women to be technically savvy enough to examine the history and cache of the browsers on their computer? It seems that the fathers frequently take up this role, but who polices the police? As a woman, would you even want to find out in that way? How would/should you handle it?

  8. Kingsley on October 5, 2004 at 2:23 pm

    Davis, you might be interested to know that the term “porn king” was used once in General Conference in 1869, when Brigham Young, peeved at Orson Pratt for hogging the Men’s Room mirror right before opening prayer, made an off-color wisecrack to the Saints, something like, “If any of you brethren feel nature calling, be warned–Brother Pratt has locked himself in the john again. …”

  9. Steve Evans on October 5, 2004 at 2:28 pm

    You’re misquoting. It was the “Crapper.”

    The term “john” would not be in use for many years, of course. But can you imagine the lines for the women’s restrooms under polygamy??

  10. Jonathan Stapley on October 5, 2004 at 4:21 pm

    There are a couple of ideas that I wanted to throw out there (I must confess in advance that I’m drawn conceptually to Camille Paglia). 1) A friend who was a doctoral candidate in Marriage and Family Therapy stated that she thought that Mormon society was not only vulnerable to, but conducive of porn addiction. 2) Another friend from the same department elucidated that one of the biggest attractions of porn was that, in most cases, the actresses are portrayed as willing recipients of the sexual acts (e.g., they look directly into the camera with reinforcing verbal cues). 3) A Stake President once told me that he thought that the majority within his Elder’s quorums had porn issues.

    I have no evidence for any of the aforementioned statements and I do not intend to delve deeper into them. I am a huge proponent of the whole sex as edification thing. At the same time there is a very real tension between the carnal/pagan self and the spiritual self. The whole issue is complicated by issues of masculinity/femininity and self esteem/self knowledge on both sides of any relationship.

    You can imagine what a spouse might say to a partner’s confession of having a drink of beer. The reaction to a confession of porn/masturbation is a very different conflict. I’ll go out on a limb here and state that this disparity compounds the fear of the sinner and adds to the justification for remaining “filthy still�.

    I just read the preceding sentences. They are pretty much incoherent. Sorry, but I have to run.

  11. John H on October 5, 2004 at 4:31 pm

    I’m less interested in the concept of p0rn as an addiction, since (despite what we say in the Church) the addictive properties of p0rnography are still disputed among psychiatrists. Even some LDS psychiatrists have admitted that p0rn may not be the addictive crack-like substance we portray it as.

    Rather, the dangers seem to come from what p0rn can do to relationships. In a Mormon relationship, the very existence of it or the very fact that one has viewed it can be a death knell to a marriage. But outside of our culture, where p0rn may be more acceptable, I would imagine it creates problems and dilemmas. It portrays women as ever-ready for sex – desperate for it even. It portrays them as primarily interested in sex as an act, not as a way to bond emotionally. It portrays women as only interested in pleasuring men and in fulfilling men’s ideas of what sex should be. In more extreme cases, it portrays women as enjoying unnatural (and lets face it, downright impossible) sex acts, or even violent sexual behavior.

    Even the most benign p0rn, such as Playboy, which might only show women in glamor poses, still sends negative messages about what men value in women. And how is a 45 year old woman, after three children, supposed to feel about the fact that her husband enjoys 22 year olds portrayed so perfectly even they’ve been airbrushed?

    Although it’s shown as a glamorous, sexy industry, many women in p0rn are abused and controlled with drug addictions. My understanding is it’s rare to meet a woman who’s left the industry, who’s older, who looks back on it with fondness; they typically are ashamed or saddened by their decisions.

    So although I personally am a bit hesitant to join in with the non-stop referral to p0rn as an addiction, there’s plenty to be concerned about.

  12. Adam Greenwood on October 5, 2004 at 6:31 pm

    Nice to have you onboard, John H.

    Matt Jacobsen:
    I wonder about the stats myself. I notice that President Hinkley was pretty careful to introduce them by saying “I have been told that . . .”

    Note to all:

    John H., I, and others aren’t writing ‘p0rn’ because we can’t speel very wel. Some internet filters block sites that have the word p0rn on it, because, you know, sites that talk about pornography tend to be about one thing and sites that talk about p0rn tend to be about another.

  13. gst on October 5, 2004 at 7:26 pm

    Adam, I understand the desire to make your commute productive and all, but maybe you should concentrate on keeping your eyes on the road.

  14. ed on October 5, 2004 at 7:51 pm

    This Forbes piece from 3 years ago discusses the size of the industry. Bottom line: “[Pornography] is an industry where they exaggerate the size of everything.”

    (The industry is still pretty big, though.)

  15. biopop on October 5, 2004 at 7:57 pm

    John H.:

    Pornography is addictive. I’ve been trying to stop for the last five years and it’s not easy man. It is really, truly, honestly addictive and I think everyone needs to have a good grasp on how dangerous and enslaving it really is. I think the Prophet and the Lord deserve your trust more than Dr. Phil does, quite frankly. President Hinckley may have been cautious introducing the numbers, but he and other Apostles have stated repeatedly and assuredly the addictive nature of pRon. I’ll add my testimony to theirs — I’ve been trying really ever since a couple weeks after I started to quit, and right now I’m at the longest I’ve been over that course (almost two months without).

    And on a related note, people put way too much stock into psychoanalysis and similar fields. That stuff is totally overrated and a lot of is contradicts LDS ideals.

    Just so you all know. ^__^

  16. Adam Greenwood on October 5, 2004 at 8:06 pm

    I guess it depends on what it means to be ‘addictive.’ All witting sin seems to have its parallels to addiction. Its behavior one doesn’t like but feel somehow helpless to resist (At least, this has been my experience with witting sin). I suppose the real question is whether p0rn actually induces chemical releases in the brain or not. I’ve heard it does, but I’ve heard a lot of things.

    God be with you, Brother Biopop.

  17. Ron J. on October 5, 2004 at 8:14 pm

    Perhaps porn is used more as a cop-out when confronted with greater sins, i.e “I committed adultery because of porn” rather than the person taking responsibility of their actions. This may be why the bretheren say that it is so addictive- the times they see people discuss porn is in a church court situation where people are trying to justify their actions.

  18. Adam Greenwood on October 5, 2004 at 11:34 pm

    Maybe. But p0rn is the excuse they have at hand. If adulterers frequently tried to tie their adulteries to their golf game, no doubt the Brethren would admonish us off the greens. And quite right too. But adulters don’t, because they haven’t experienced any link.

  19. dan w on October 6, 2004 at 1:08 am

    pOrn isn’t addictive in the technical sense that it doesn’t involve physical withdrawal. I’m sure that those who are trying to quit pOrn feel enormously drawn back to it, and feel like they have little control over it, but that is not the same thing as having physical withdrawal. If you’re on crack or booze for long periods of time, then suddenly go without, your body will have serious, physical, withdrawals, even leading to death. The same result will not occur by going without pOrn.
    Also, I wonder about the “addiction” metaphor, which leads us to think of it as a medical problem, rather than a spiritual one. I think that may lead us down the wrong avenue about how to treat it.

  20. Elizabeth on October 6, 2004 at 2:57 am

    Actually, I would disagree with the idea that p0rn isn’t physically addictive. The hormone rush involved in “sexual relations with images” can be quite addictive. The user feels the need to indulge to keep said hormone levels high, and goes through withdrawal feelings when it is taken away. You’re correct in that one would not likely die as a result of the withdrawal symptoms, but they would be very real and differ in degree from person to person based on the severity of addiction. It would seem to me that it is addictive both in body and spirit.

  21. David King Landrith on October 6, 2004 at 8:16 am

    Am I the only one who is baffled by the use of the word “addiction” to describe any habitual behavior whatever? (There’s probably a biological element to all habitual behavior.)

    I remember a day when addiction was reserved for behaviors that resulted in a temporary biological breakdown when discontinued; e.g., heroin is addictive because heroin withdrawal ensues when the user ceases taking it.

    It is not soft-pedaling to say that smoking, by comparison, is habit forming – however much discomfort is caused when someone quits. The presence of a biological basis for this habit does not make it an addiction.

    For my part, I do not believe that when one ceases to look at p0rn, it causes a biological breakdown.

    I do, however, believe that it is habit forming, and it’s entirely understandable that it is a particularly persistent habit. Let’s be perfectly clear: “looking at p0rn” is a euphemism for “m@sturbating with p0rn.” Also, (as previously mentioned) it is done in private and it is typically the case that nobody knows it’s going on; i.e., there’s no accountability to others for this behavior.

  22. dan w. on October 6, 2004 at 11:52 am

    I don’t think you can compare the hormone rush of looking at pOrn with physical withdrawal resulting from foreign chemicals that you have ingested into your body. The fact that nobody dies from pOrn withdrawal seems to be good evidence for that.
    I agree that pOrn makes for a nasty habit, but certainly not an addiction, which requires physical withdrawal.

  23. Aurochs and Angels on October 7, 2004 at 2:12 am

    Porn’s Grey Empire
    Over yonder at Times and Seasons—across the Tiber and high on the mountaintop of Deseret—Adam Greenwood laments the Sauronic empire that pørnography lords over the internet and over the hearts of men. Some of the comments draw a connection between

  24. Larry on October 7, 2004 at 5:54 am

    Dan W.
    The problem with porn, as opposed to a drug addiction, is that it doesn;t require a physical substance to satisfy the craving. The mind can play horrific tricks.

  25. Todd F on October 8, 2004 at 2:53 am

    About two years ago, the NY Times Magazine had an article about the pornography industry. It contains a number of facts that Pres. Hinckley repeated, including that the industry takes in more money than all the major sports combined and (if I recall correctly) all of Hollywood combined (note–not both combined). It also points out that with those kinds of numbers, the average household in the US has contributed monetarily to this industry via some purchase or another.

    Also, the use of the word “p0rn” is hackerspeak (hax0r) for pornography with a sort of tongue-in-cheek/wink-wink type of nod. As such, it would not be how I would choose to spell the word on a forum such as this.

    Lastly, pornography drives technology on the internet. While there were some technical precursurs to these technologies, it was the online porn industry that introduced the commercially viable use of things such as live chat, live and streaming video feeds, even the idea of online shopping……there are some exceptions, of course, just not very many.

  26. Jim Richins on October 8, 2004 at 11:01 am

    Todd, you are so 31337.

    There can be no doubt that pornography induces a physical addiction, although perhaps not to the degree as cocaine or tobacco. The problem with sexual addiction is that the physical substance is natural. You can’t wean a person off of testosterone, dopamine, or norepinephrine (sp?).

    The characteristics of this addiction probably suggest a better comparision to food than to drugs. Most eating-disorders are either anorexic or bulimic but food can be addictive as well. Such a food addiction being characterized by a compulsion to turn to food to help improve an emotional state. So-called “comfort foods” like chocolate or ice cream are often used, despite the fact that this behavior is undeniably a factor with obesity and increased morbidity.

    So, both food and sex are not addictions to foreign substances, but are necessary behaviors that have been warped and perverted into something unhealthy.

    Ultimately, “addiction” describes a very high-level behavior that is the result of many lower-level factors, including psychological and biological factors. Addictive behavior consists of a compulsion to perform some behavior, even though the consequences are unwanted.

  27. Stephen Hardy on October 14, 2004 at 12:40 pm

    OK, so I feel like an idiot. What is p0rn spelled with the zero?

  28. Jim F on October 14, 2004 at 4:16 pm

    Stephen Hardy: A spelling that will, hopefully, evade p0rn bots looking for sites where they can leave messages.

  29. uffo on October 15, 2004 at 3:58 am

    On the statistics that Pres. Hinckley quoted, the reference below is included in the on-line transcript of his talk from preisthood session.

    “Internet Pornography Statistics: 2003,” Internet,

  30. ken on October 18, 2004 at 12:39 pm

    P0rn is not addictive, unless you want to call having sex with your mate addictive. It is an emotional rush, but so is watching or playing sports, a movie or reading a book. All these events are not addictive they are enjoyable.
    Can one be addicted to god things? you could say we are addicted to reading the scriptures, going to church etc.
    I do remember the famous indeciency trial in utah county a few years back. Provo had a higher amount of p0rn consumed than a similar sized city in the us. Mormons are set up to have problems with p0rn. Just as you say the what is it-heavy petting (not to mention not heavy-petting), mormons are set up to fall hard. Just as sex is not talked about and mormons are more likely to not use protection if they have teen sex. If you ignore what p0rn is, while telling boys to not look at it, what do you expect.

  31. ken on October 18, 2004 at 12:40 pm

    I meant good things, not god things in the last post

  32. Kaimi on October 18, 2004 at 12:44 pm


    Also, it avoids the problem of google-searchers who come to the site looking for p0rn. As I recall, one of the bloggernacle sites ( A Soft Answer? Baron? I don’t recall which) made a post titled “p0rn and free agency.” Within weeks, he was getting all sorts of referrals from search engines because people were looking for the keywords “free p0rn.” Those are the kinds of readers who probably don’t want to come here, and who we don’t really want coming here.

  33. J. Stapley on November 19, 2004 at 4:21 pm

    This was the most recent pr0n thread, I think; so I thought I would post this link to a news piece on the Senate Commerce Committee:

    Internet pornography is the new crack cocaine, leading to addiction, misogyny, pedophilia, boob jobs and erectile dysfunction, according to clinicians and researchers testifying before a Senate committee Thursday.

    Full Article

  34. Adam Greenwood on November 19, 2004 at 5:39 pm


  35. Blake on November 19, 2004 at 5:58 pm

    Re: 30: actually, porn is highly addictive and the reason the internet is called the new cocaine. Studies (do you want citations to relevant studies?) show that when males view pornography their brains are drenched in norepinepherin (a naturally produced brain chemical that has properties much like cocaine). Porn is addictive precisely because there is a rush of pleasure. Read stories of those who spend hours and hours each day simply looking at porn on-line. There are pscyh counselor who specialize in treating this addiciton. Yeah, the stuff is poison. Moreover, studies also show that both long and short-term memory are blocked by the chemicals induced by looking at porn. Moreover, the phenomenon of escalating the stimulus so that harder and harder stuff is needed to get the same high indicates that it may well lead to more than just looking.

  36. David King Landrith on November 19, 2004 at 10:28 pm

    It is true that (a) euphemisms that compare something to crack, and (b) a biological basis for a habit. But neither of these are sufficient condition to call something addictive. First, euphemisms aren’t that meaningful. Second, it’s doubtful that there are any habits that lack a biological basis.

  37. David King Landrith on November 19, 2004 at 10:30 pm

    Oops. Last minute editing rendered that post unclear. Please allow me to restate:

    It is true that (a) euphemisms do compare the internet to crack, and (b) a biological basis for the habit of looking at p0rn and m@sturbating in private. But neither of these are sufficient condition to call something addictive. First, euphemisms aren’t that meaningful. Second, it’s doubtful that there are any habits that lack a biological basis.

  38. Adam Greenwood on February 8, 2005 at 1:06 pm

    What’s left of addiction, then?

  39. annegb on February 8, 2005 at 1:36 pm

    I didn’t notice any women commenting on this topic. I do not have a strong visceral reaction to that word, and I feel guilty about that. I don’t know why I don’t.

    When I was young, and lived in a different world, my husband subscribed to a magazine of that ilk, and I would browse through it, unoffended by the humor and intrigued by the perfections of the bodies, but not affected beyond mild curiousity. There were some pretty good articles in it, one written by Jack Anderson which persuaded me to vote (now I think I was very smart) for McGovern, not Nixon. Jack was right about old Nixon.

    But a few years back, I picked up one of those somewhere, and opened it, and shut it quickly, in shock. I mean, in shock. I thought “did that book get worse, or am I more spiritual?” I really think I’m more spiritual, although perhaps, probably it’s evolved in its obscenity.

    I do believe this type of thing is addicting to a person who is weak in that area. It’s absolutely not comparable to sex with your mate in any way, and leads one to objectify one’s mate (I usually don’t talk so high brow), in a really ugly way. My second husband was this type of person and what a creep he was to live with, he gave the appearance of righteousness, but underneath, very ugly person.

    You know, this may sound simple-minded to you guys, but for me, when the prophet speaks, the debate is over, even if I disagreed before. If he says he’s worried, and at the same time, can see the potential for good on the internet, I’m going to take note. Just this morning, my spam filter blocked out an e-mail with the title : “for men who like boys.” And I know that wasn’t meant for my husband, he can’t even turn the computer on. What is this world coming to?

  40. Adam Greenwood on February 8, 2005 at 1:40 pm

    Hold on to that disgust, Annegb. I feel the same way. I like to think iIt makes usa little more like God, who can’t look on sin with the least degree of allowance.


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