The Little Big Problems in the Mormon Anti-Porn Video

I am a Mormon and am against porn. I commend the effort behind a video released by the LDS church that provides support and instruction on how to react if one accidentally views pornography.

The video–which was released in September, but which I hadn’t seen until now–is aimed at older children and young teens and encourages open communication and is free of shame for accidental viewing. The video distinguishes that a body’s natural urges and reactions are normal and are not sinful or shameful. These are great things that I fully support. It is difficult to impossible to overcome a problem such as porn addiction if at the onset the viewer is met with shame.

However, there are two instances in the video that I must nitpick because they send incredibly toxic messages. It is one o’clock in the morning and I am in recovery from surgery so really should be sleeping, but my mind keeps going back to those two moments in the video and I won’t sleep until I decry them.

First, when defining pornography, the video describes it as, “bad pictures of people with little or no clothing on.” This video stars children, so perhaps the intent was to avoid making them uncomfortable by including a more well-rounded and accurate description, but this definition is horrendous.

What does “bad” even mean? It’s too ambiguous to be helpful. And “people with little or no clothing” is a perfect definition of pornography if your intent is instill a Puritan-esque abhorrence of all nudity and to teach that the human body is sinful and shameful. But… I suspect that is not the message we want to send to our children, right?

Nudity isn’t inherently sexual.

There are cultures in the world where little to no clothing is worn. Images of these people are not pornography.

Underwear is a fact of every day life for most people. Advertisements for such items are not necessarily pornography.

Women breast feed. Not pornography.

Beautiful art and photography often include nudity. Not pornography.

I don’t deny that normalized porn exists in the world. The ladies at Beauty Redefined have done wonderful research on normalized porn as it exists in our culture. But to equate all nudity to pornography sets the stage for sexualization to occur where there is none, and paves the way for objectification of the body.

The definition also fails to include video, which is an important inclusion if you are attempting to prepare kids for what to do if they accidentally encounter porn.

The second moment that bothers me (and this one makes me grit my teeth quiver with buried rage) is when the video starts to list three steps of what to do if you see pornography. The first step is to Call It What It Is, telling you to say, “That’s pornography, that’s immodest.”

Ahem… Immodesty is NOT pornography! I am tempted to copy and paste my previous sentence a hundred times just to drive the point home. Modesty standards and pornography have no business being in the same conversation. Modesty and pornography have about as much business being together as organic chemistry and literary theory: they belong to completely different worlds. They are not the same, they are two separate conversations, and equating them is unbelievably toxic.

Modesty is relative. As a lifelong Mormon I know there are plenty of people in the church who think we have a monopoly on what constitutes modesty, but we really don’t. What is considered modest varies from culture to culture and holding other people to your own standards of modesty only creates judgement and shame.

Modesty is not a matter of inches and styles. True modesty is in your attitude and your behavior. One can be covered from head to toe and not be modest, while another can be scantily clad and as humble as can be.

What happens when we equate modesty to pornography is, for example, a guy sees a girl dressed how he considers to be immodest. He finds her attractive, perhaps he feels aroused. He feels ashamed, like he did something wrong (though he shouldn’t, these things are normal and natural). He remembers learning that immodesty is akin to pornography and blames her for how he feels and turns her into a sexualized object.

Girls and women–no matter how they are dressed–are not pornography. 

You may not be able to control who you are attracted to, but objectifying someone is a choice you make. When you equate modesty to pornography, you choose to place blame and shame on someone else for what you think and do.

This is a big deal. It is one of the most damaging and toxic messages taught in Young Women and seminary classes all over. I for one had a major struggle overcoming body shame because I was convinced that my curvy body was a “problem” for guys and it was my fault. And that’s just bollocks. No one should have to feel they are responsible or to blame for someone else’s thoughts, feelings, or acts. That is the kind of thinking that leads to rape culture and victim-blaming.

In short, pornography is pictures or video of a sexual nature designed to stimulate sexual arousal. Expanding the definition to include nudity in general and immodesty is dangerous, inaccurate, and can cause long-term harm.

Here is the video:

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