Some of the words we use in our respective subcultures may seem innocent. They may appear to carry no power or allow for every situation.
When it comes to communication – especially in marriage – understanding the power of words is essential when attempting to understand each other, and what is or is not sexually acceptable to Lord in our lives.
Words have power to shape our perceptions, and by default, our lives.
The word ‘pornography’ is an excellent example of this. If we prejudice all sexuality by wrapping it all up in the word “pornography”, then the human aspiration to simplify or pigeonhole all concepts leads us to view all manifestations of sexuality as ‘bad’ – even in marriage. What’s worse, the definitions of pornography avoid – even deny – the existence of its sacred aspect.[i]
I believe there’s a better way to determine if something is worthy before the Lord when it comes to art, music, humor, movies, books, TV, human anatomy, human interaction, sexuality, and the gospel.
However, in our LDS culture the word pornography has been allowed to warp and blur everything we believe in – from our definitions of modesty to what are appropriate sexual practices in marriage – and it’s causing reason to stare.
When we’re speaking with each other in terms of the gospel, we can abandon the word pornography and use a better term.
Instead of using the word ‘pornography’ as the world uses it, we can substitute the terms ‘profane erotica’ and ‘sacred erotica’, and get a much clearer picture of what the Lord intended for us to know about the proper and right use of sexuality.
For more background on the general idea, feel free to refer to my previous article, “Mormons Take Pleasure in Sacred Erotica”. Here, I’d like to show you how words can change our perceptions.
For example, I was recently reading the Church’s booklet, “Let Virtue Garnish Thy Thoughts”, a booklet that discusses the law of chastity and how to best keep it – in terms of what entertainment we seek out. It’s a blessing to us as members that the Church puts out such information, and I’m not saying that the Church curriculum department made mistakes in putting this pamphlet out there.
What I want to show is how we might consider using different terms to help us to better communicate the difference between what is acceptable and what is not when it comes to how we view and handle human anatomy and sexuality, in or out of marriage.
In the pamphlet, “Let Virtue Garnish Thy Thoughts”, we find the following paragraph.
“Pornography can be devastating. Indulgence in it will deprive you of the companionship of the Holy Ghost. It will darken your mind. It will weaken and can eventually destroy marriage and family life. Those who indulge in it soon feel alienated, unworthy, and unacceptable to God, to themselves, and to others. They become self-centered and less able to enjoy healthy and righteous interactions with others. They waste valuable time and money, jeopardize their standing in the Church, and diminish their ability to serve others.”
This appears to be a very clear-cut statement on the surface. Instead, it raises additional difficult questions.
What exactly is pornography anyway?
Does pornography mean all sexuality?
Does that mean I should remove all sexual stimuli from my life? Is that even possible?
Does that mean we’re indulging in pornography if I and my spouse want to learn about sex?
How does this relate to the sexually intimate relationship between a husband and wife?
Does that mean that any kind of sexual act or images of the human anatomy that people take pictures of is pornography?
What about medical journals and training? If anyone finds themselves aroused by those images, should they not become a doctor? Are doctors sinning because they are intentionally exposing themselves to images of sexual anatomy?
What about art? Is that pornography? Who defines what art is and what is only “pornography”?
What if I’m turned on by things other people are not turned on by? Does it make that thing only pornography to me and not others? And vise versa?
What if my spouse/parents/bishop/other friends and relatives think pornography is one thing, and I think it’s something else? Am I wrong? Is my spouse or other loved ones right? Should I allow others to define what is “pornographic” for me?
If it carries such heavy consequences, I personally would want to know.
These very questions are questions I’m asked by other readers, who read such information in the Church or in the world, and can’t find clear answers to these questions. How would you answer these questions for someone? What if these questions could be answered by substituting one term for another?
Now read the same paragraph, where I substitute the term ‘pornography’ for the term ‘profane erotica’:
“Profane erotica can be devastating. Indulgence in it will deprive you of the companionship of the Holy Ghost. It will darken your mind. It will weaken and can eventually destroy marriage and family life. Those who indulge in it soon feel alienated, unworthy, and unacceptable to God, to themselves, and to others. They become self-centered and less able to enjoy healthy and righteous interactions with others. They waste valuable time and money, jeopardize their standing in the Church, and diminish their ability to serve others.”
Were you able to see how one substitution can change everything? It still works, and what’s more, when we understand what the difference is between how to handle things that are sacred and what actions profane the sacred - it starts to make some of the answers to these questions more clear.
What is profane erotica anyway?
Profane erotica is any sexual words (spoken, sung or written), images (art, TV, movies, etc.) created or shared in a context that defiles what should be treated as sacred and holy. It is often created for the purpose of stimulating our minds to sexual thoughts outside of our marital relationship, which is meant to lead us to physically break the law of chastity, whether married or single.
Does profane erotica include all sexuality?
No. All charitably shared and wholesome sexual expression within marriage is sacred. President Spencer W. Kimball reinforced this idea when he said “In the context of lawful marriage, the intimacy of sexual relations is right and divinely approved. There is nothing unholy or degrading about sexuality in itself, for by that means men and women join in the process of creation and in an expression of love.” (President Kimball Speaks Out, 2)
When the human body (including reproductive organs) is viewed and handled in an ethical and reverent way, it is also in keeping with treating it sacred. This spirit of the law is what makes allowance for bathing a child or changing their diaper. It also makes allowance for someone studying, teaching and practicing gynecology, human sexuality, and other professional practices that involve edifying and healing the human body, mind and relationships.
Does it mean I should remove all sexual stimuli from my life (assuming I’m married)?
No. Removing all sexual stimuli is impossible. We should remove all stimuli that come to us in a profane context, and only express sexuality in a sacred way, whether married or single. The Church has provided a helpful list of questions we can ask ourselves to determine if what we are exposed to in our work, hobbies or daily lives is profane and/or affecting our spirituality and well-being, and the health of our marital relationship. It can be found at this link: (https://www.lds.org/topics/pornography/audiences/individuals/do-i-have-a-pornography-problem?lang=eng )
Does that mean we’re indulging in profane erotica if I and my spouse want to learn about sex?
No. Profane erotica is not an accurate source for learning about sexuality anyway.
Susan M. Johnson a professor of psychology at the University of Ottawa and Director of the Ottawa Couple and Family Institute said
"Pornography is an instruction kit for being an absolutely appalling lover!"[ii]
Pictures or videos of live people having sex can be misleading on several different levels, and are profaning the act itself. Some videos that proclaim to be “sexual education” are instead gateway profane erotica.
With our current technology, there is no sexual practice or technique that cannot be respectfully demonstrated by way of drawing, mannequin, or computer generated image, instead of using live models. Married couples should seek out sources for sexual education that treat sexuality and the human body in an ethical and respectful manner, and that follow the guidelines for the scientific method.
Does that mean that any kind of sexual act that people take pictures of is profane erotica?
Taking sexual pictures and sharing them with others is profaning our own or someone else’s sexuality – making it common and ordinary instead of holy and sacred.
Sister Susan W. Tanner (a former Young Women’s General President) said:
“Satan… tries to do everything he can to get us to abuse or misuse this precious gift. He has filled the world with lies and deceptions about the body. He tempts many to defile this great gift of the body through unchastity, immodesty, self-indulgence, and addictions. He seduces some to despise their bodies; others he tempts to worship their bodies.
In either case, he entices the world to regard the body merely as an object. In the face of so many satanic falsehoods about the body, I want to raise my voice today in support of the sanctity of the body. I testify that the body is a gift to be treated with gratitude and respect…
A short while ago as I visited one of the great tourist-filled cities of the world, I felt an overwhelming sadness that so many people in the world had fallen prey to Satan’s deception that our bodies are merely objects to be flaunted and displayed openly… In For the Strength of Youth it says: “Your body is God’s sacred creation. Respect it as a gift from God, and do not defile it in any way.”[iii]
What about within marriage? A husband taking an erotic picture of his wife (or vise versa) that he does not share is not profane – it is sacred, as long as there is no coercion involved, one or the other spouse does not find the activity lewd, and it is either destroyed or kept sacred between the husband and wife.
Allowing others to see those images would then be violating that sacred trust, and would defile the sacredness of your spouse’s body.[iv]
What about sex or nudity in art? Is that profane erotica?
Sexuality or nudity in art is a powerful thing and can easily be used for profane purposes. The subconscious sexual brain cannot tell the difference between what is real or imagined.[v] It will invoke a sexual response either way. If we look at the naked body (or representation thereof) of a person we are not married to for the purpose of becoming aroused, that is profaning something sacred. Even if we are not expressly aroused by viewing such art, it can still subconsciously affect us.
Again, Dr. David Glenn in his book “Beginner to Advanced NLP”, teaches how powerful our subconscious mind is and how it has the power to override our conscious mind. Our subconscious will move us to do that which we associate with pleasure. He explains that putting up images of those things that we want or desire where we can see them regularly has a powerful affect on our subconscious to eventually cause us to act on them when the opportunity arises – because we associate that thing with pleasure.
To illustrate, President Spencer W. Kimball gives these examples in his book “The Miracle of Forgiveness”:
“…In a community in the North, I visited a man occasionally who had above the desk in his printing establishment a huge picture of a nude woman.He laughed at the idea of its being destructive to his morals. But one day years later he came to me with a stained soul – he had committed adultery. His house had fallen in on him.Certainly the thoughts provoked by the things always before his eyes must have had a deteriorating effect on him. There may have been other factors, but surely this one played its part.We would all be well advised to avoid the motivation to the evil thought. If persistently resisted it will ‘get the message’ and stay away.When I was in business in Arizona, the calendar salesman came each year and we always bought calendars and gave them to customers as advertising. The first year the salesman spread out on the desk large, colored pictures of scantily clad girls, glamorous but shocking.
We pushed them all aside and chose scenes, landscapes, and elevating pictures. In all the years following, that salesman never brought me…another suggestive picture.”[vi]
I recognize that there is great skill that goes into drawing or sculpting the human form, but determining the difference between what is protecting the sacred or profaning it comes with asking “What was the artist’s intent?”
As President Kimball’s remarks could suggest, the salacious depiction of the human form is only produced when mankind is willing to pay for it. When we stop paying for it, it goes away. The profane erotica industry is so prevalent because it is a billion dollar industry.
There is also a difference between drawing an anatomically correct human form for the purpose to educate, and a drawing or sculpture of the human form skillfully portrayed in a seductive or salacious manner.
Here the phrase “A picture is worth a thousand words,” was never more true. The question we can then ask ourselves is “Is this image profaning the sacred? Is it leading my mind to respectful thoughts, or immoral thoughts?”
What if I’m turned on by people or things other people are not turned on by? Does it make that person or thing profane erotica to me?
Every person is different, and affected by different things. Regardless, we have a responsibility to respect the sacredness of sex and turn away when our feelings go where they should not. If our spouse arouses us sexually, those feelings are sacred, and there are appropriate places for the expression of those feelings within marriage. [vii]
When asked for her definition of pornography, LDS sex therapist Laura M. Brotherson and author of “And They Are Not Ashamed” said to me recently:
“…you might define pornography as anything that's a counterfeit or substitute for sexual intimacy/connection/stimulation within the intimate relationship of a couple. That stimulation which is "received from their spouse" is never considered pornography in my mind.”[viii]
What about books or stories where there’s no pictures? Can that still count as profane erotica?
Sexually explicit books, with or without pictures, can fall under the umbrella of profane erotica.[ix]
If our spouse writes or tells a sexual story that involves our relationship, that story is sacred, as long as it is not shared with outside individuals or parties. Writing stories that are written for the intent to sexually arouse other people we’re not married to is defiling the sacred.
What if my spouse/parents/bishop/other friends and relatives think profane erotica is one thing, and I think it’s something else? Am I wrong? Is my spouse wrong? Are my friends and other loved ones wrong?
What terms are we using? What terms are our family and friends using? Where is the firm guideline but in the terms the Lord originally gave us?
I believe profane erotica is what the prophets and apostles are truly referring to when they call something “pornography” and not sacred erotica. They never meant for us to demonize all sexual experiences – just those that emerge outside the bounds the Lord has set for mankind.[x]
What if, for more clarity, we add the term ‘sacred erotica’ to the same paragraph referenced earlier?
“Sacred erotica can be devastating. Indulgence in it will deprive you of the companionship of the Holy Ghost. It will darken your mind. It will weaken and can eventually destroy marriage and family life. Those who indulge in it soon feel alienated, unworthy, and unacceptable to God, to themselves, and to others. They become self-centered and less able to enjoy healthy and righteous interactions with others. They waste valuable time and money, jeopardize their standing in the Church, and diminish their ability to serve others.”
Can you sense how wrong this feels?
Some have told me that there is no such thing as sacred erotica, but I ask you – how can something become profane if it is not first holy? The adversary does not create – he only twists and destroys that which is first good – that which was created by God. What did God create?
He created Adam and Eve. He created marriage. He created our reproductive organs. He created the nerve endings and mechanisms that stir sexual arousal and enable orgasm and sexual release. This is what becomes profaned when the adversary gets his hands on it. When he entices and influences mankind to glorify and worship sexual release and orgasm over worshiping the Lord and following His counsel, people lose the eternal perspective of marriage.[xi]
If we want to keep ourselves firmly on the Lord’s side while still appropriately expressing our sexuality, I highly recommend separating out the ‘sacred’ from the ‘profane’. The world will try lump them all together with their terms, and the Adversary will have his day with those who do not follow the Lord’s guidelines. By eliminating the term “pornography” and instead acknowledging what is sacred and how it becomes profaned, we can set a better example for our brothers and sisters in the world, and not be fooled by words that only confuse, mislead, frustrate, and lead to rationalization.
[i] LDS Marriage Bed, Mormons Take Pleasure In Sacred Erotica http://ldsmarriagebed.blogspot.com/2013/09/mormons-take-pleasure-in-sacred-erotica.html
[ii] Johnson, Susan M, The Practice of Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy, Routledge; 2 edition (August 30, 2004)
[iii] Tanner, Susan W. “The Sanctity of the Body.” Ensign October 2005
[iv] There is a spirit of the law inherent in this, however. Should your spouse be in a circumstance where they cannot be moved, and have an infection on their sacred body parts, taking a picture to show their doctor would not be profane. This is true providing you and the doctor view and discusses the body in an ethical and reverent manner. Turning around and then showing this same picture to your family, friends and neighbors could be construed as a profane use of that picture. Context makes the difference.
[v] Dr. David Glenn, Beginner To Advanced NLP Hypnotherapy Psychology
[vi] Kimball, Spencer W., The Miracle of Forgiveness, p.114-115
[vii] Kimball, Spencer W. The Miracle of Forgiveness, p. 226-227; also see Christenson, Joe J., The Savior is Counting on You, October 1996 General Conference
[viii]Personal interview, May 2014
[ix] Sam Zaragoza, My Porn is Okay, Your Porn is Not Okay – Avoiding The Double Standard, http://ldsmarriagebed.blogspot.com/2010/09/my-porn-is-okay-your-porn-is-not-okay.html
[x] Eternal Marriage Student Manual, Intimacy, p. 139-146 and p.264-267
[xi] Eternal Marriage Student Manual, 2003, Intellectual Reserve, Inc., p. 264