In progressive discourse, the person (generally either gay or female) who challenges conservative religious sexual strictures is seen as a courageous trailblazer. However, as liberal Mormonism generally tracks the norms and values of progressivism generally, it too inherits the ambivalence of mainstream progressivism towards pornography.
This is all anecdotal on my end, but it does seem that many progressive Latter-day Saints (hereafter “ProgMos” for easier reference), particularly the female ones, who bristle at a single woman being told by the Church to keep a lid on their sexual desires, or the gay returned missionary being told to be celibate, are simultaneously okay with the Church enforcing its lines when it comes to male gaze-y pornography among men. There is still a certain charm to the stalwart priest who’s never looked at pornography among the feminist left, as if they want to eat the cake of the sexual revolution and have it too.
The point of this post is not to defend pornography (or the Church’s position for that matter, I’ve done plenty of that elsewhere). Rather I’m questioning the ability to pick and choose the aspects of the sexual revolution that conflict with Church teachings in any overarching, systematic, and non-contradictory way that doesn’t come off as an ad hoc attempt to justify one’s visceral “ick” reaction to somebody else’s sexual preferences or choices, because the fact of the matter is that for some people who score high on sociosexuality, the Latter-day Saint expectations of not lusting after others (and acting on it) can be extremely uncomfortable and, dare I say, unnatural.
I am fine saying this, since the natural man is the enemy to God, but for people who speak in the language of living one’s truth or embracing their authentic sexual identity, then logically it needs to extend to the 19 year old who wants to watch male gaze-y porn, and to do otherwise smacks of special pleading. Of course, there are the Dan Savages of this world who, to their credit, are completely consistent in their sexual liberationism, but in my admittedly anecdotal experience most ProgMos don’t fit into that camp; instead they try to synthesize the conservative and liberal, with all the trappings of orthodox, mainstream Latter-day Saint life that resolve around sexual exclusivity, but with exceptions.
Once again this is a Latter-day Saint specific refraction of the progressive narrative in the US as a whole. If you relied on media depictions, all gay males want to live in a suburban, white-picket fence setting with 2.1 children in some kind of gay leave-it-to-beaver existence. (While many conservatives roll their eyes at microaggression trainings, one I received while working for the government made the insightful point that we generally don’t ask our heterosexual coworkers about their marital plans, so we shouldn’t do the same for our gay colleagues).
The confirmed gay male bachelor isn’t really a thing in our media or public consciousness; the gay 20-year old who plays video games, follows their favorite sport teams, and is not interested in dating, is probably not coming soon to a sitcom near you, but to consistently affirm people’s sexuality includes validating his decisions as well as the stereotypical sitcom gay couple as well as the 35 year old heterosexual who is not interested in getting married in part because he gets most of what he wants sexually out of PornHub.
On a similar note, recently I saw a post about a Latter-day Saint mother, active in her ward, who “came out” as an OnlyFans adult content producer. For the sake of this argument, we’re taking her at her word that she’s doing what she does out of her own free will, and would prefer that work over lawyer work or whatever other corporate alternative is. (Yes, many if not most sex workers are most certainly pressured into that line of business, but not all of them, and for the purposes of this post we’re assuming the latter is the situation under discussion.)
The existence of Only Fans performers (and I’m sure their clients, but we all knew that was always a thing) worshiping among us interrogates certain progressive Latter-day Saint narratives surrounding sexual iconoclasts. Yes, that’s great that you share your hymnal with her in a sacrament meeting, involve her in your ward book clubs, and help her organize the Relief Society meals for new mothers, but I’m not going to make it that easy. Does God view paired, relational sexuality as “higher” than hers or her single clients’? I do as an orthodox Latter-day Saint, but I challenge the ability of people who have adopted the live-your-sexual-truth narrative to do so without being inconsistent, because sexual preference is so much more than the gender that we’re attracted to, but also includes facets such as the extent to which we connect the sexual to the romantic and the desire for sexual variety. People who would not dare to tell somebody who’s “born this way” in terms of a gender preference to work against their proclivities often have no problem doing so when the in-born proclivity in question is, say, against a lifelong paired sexual commitment or, for example, a stronger preference for a streamed 20-year old over a live 50-year old. In terms of raw numbers, I suspect the wages of sincerely embracing the “born this way” ethos is not so much long-term gay marriages in the suburbs as much as it is a not-insignificant portion of men opting out of marriage altogether, embracing the uncomplicated route of digital sexuality over the messiness of long-term commitment. Releasing sexuality from the strictures of religious mores opens up a bigger can of worms than many people realize.