Fighting the Battle Against Pornography

Pornography is an issue that’s been swept under the rug for years. But it’s 2012, and we’re running out of rugs. In a world where pornography is not only accepted but applauded, our brooms need to be used for clean combat rather than hidden anguish.

“We are being inundated with sexualized messages—even in the most benign places,” says Jill C. Manning, a licensed marriage and family therapist and author of What’s The Big Deal About Pornography? “If we are not actively protecting ourselves and loved ones from these toxic messages, we risk leaving ourselves vulnerable to attack.”

And what a brutal attack it is. Men, women, children, spouses, family members—no one is safe from the damaging effects of pornography.

What’s more, it’s not enough to simply abstain from it. Latter-day Saints need to fight the clean fight and actively rid their homes of this mess of an addiction.

“The days of simply putting the computer in an open area of the house are long gone,” says Geoff Steurer, a licensed marriage and family therapist in St. George, Utah. “We are so past that simplified form of prevention, thanks to our world of in-your-face media. We have to be more active than we’ve ever been before. Because if we don’t, we’re going to lose this battle.”

The Big Deal
We’ve all heard it before—those subtle (and not-so-subtle) exchanges on movies and television that paint pornography in a jovial light. We’re talking the “boys will be boys” mantras, the “it’s not harming anyone” claims, or the “it saved our marriage” declarations.

But the truth is, pornography is neither harmless nor helpful.

“Pornography use is not simply a habit,” says Manning. “It is a mood altering, belief changing, relationship damaging, addiction forming, socially harmful, spiritually deadening, and life crippling practice through which one practices the ways of the adversary.”

And the statistics are equally alarming. In 2006, worldwide pornography revenue was more than $97 billion ($13 billion of which came from the U.S.).

According to Enough is Enough, every second, $3,075.64 is spent on pornography; 28,258 Internet viewers look at it; and 372 users type “adult” terms into search engines.

Every 39 minutes, a new pornographic video is made in the U.S.

And perhaps most alarming, it’s been reported that 79 percent of young people’s unwanted exposure to pornography occurs in the home.

It was stats like these that propelled Pamela Atkinson, president of the Utah Coalition Against Pornography, into battle.

“The more I learned about pornography, the more I knew I had to fight against it,” Atkinson says. “It’s spreading at such a rapid rate, and not just with individuals but with entire families. I just shudder when I hear people say it’s harmless.”

Church apostles and prophets are equally concerned with how pornography is affecting us. Just take a look at their official statement on pornography, which can be found on

It is as harmful to the spirit as tobacco, alcohol and drugs are to the body. Using pornographic material in any way is a violation of a commandment of God: ‘Thou shalt not . . . commit adultery . . . nor do anything like unto it’ (D&C 59:6). Pornography is tragically addictive. Like other addictions, it leads people to experiment and to seek more powerful stimulations. Those who experiment with it and allow themselves to remain caught in its trap will find that it will destroy them, degrading their minds, hearts and spirits. It will rob them of self-respect and of their sense of the beauties of life. It will tear them down and lead them to evil thoughts and possibly evil actions. It will cause terrible damage to their family relationships.

And “evil” is no exaggeration.

“I’ve met with people whose lives have been altered by pornography to the point of destruction,” Atkinson says. “Many people are surprised to know pornography consumption can be the leading cause of sexual violence, assault, and even sex trafficking. In fact, a high percentage of sexual predators started with what they call soft-core pornography. There are no limits to its devastation.”

Keep reading on the next page to find out who is being affected, and its effects.

The Who
Pornography has historically been considered a man’s issue, but times are changing.

In addition to men, more women are partaking in it, children are being exposed at earlier ages, and marriages and families are suffering because of it.

“People think pornography is something people somewhere else do,” Atkinson says. “But it could be a family member, a neighbor, or someone at church—it’s everywhere, and we can’t ignore it anymore.”

Here’s a breakdown of the groups affected by pornography, along with the startling damages it can bring.

Men are still the number-one consumer of pornography, and it’s a trend that has only continued to climb.

“Pornography shuts men down emotionally,” Steurer says. “And it’s not an issue of being sex crazed—which I think is often misunderstood. This is an addiction that covers up other emotions, and it can lead men to view women in a different way, affect the way they feel about themselves, and cause them to become moody and distant.”

Additionally, it can lead to an obsession with fantasy and distaste for reality.

“Oftentimes, they become less interested in their own lives and less interested in having sex with their spouses,” Steurer says. “In some cases, it leads men to take more risks that may lead to affairs or even criminal activity. They can become completely, totally different people.”

The growing trend of women and pornography is a startling one, perhaps because it’s so seldom discussed. A big part of that is the explosion—and anonymity—of the Internet.

“The Internet is the great equalizer on many things, but sadly, it’s also the great equalizer with the pornography industry,” Manning says. “Instead of being a boys club, you have women who can now access this material in private online—women who wouldn’t have dared show their face in an adult video store 15 years ago.”

Part of the desire, Steurer believes, comes from the pressure women receive about their appearance.

“Women are being told at every turn that their power and influence comes from their bodies,” he says. “Back in the day, publications like Good Housekeeping and Ladies Home Journal were touting a message for women to rise up and be better homemakers and have better character. And now the message is not about serving your family, but about how hot you can be and how to satisfy your man. Women are being groomed to think of themselves as only sexual beings.”

And as a result, that grooming can spark curiosity and lead women to engage in online pornography sites, graphic romance novels, and the ever-growing trend of sexting.

“More women send nudity across their cell phones than men do,” Steurer says. “They think it’s what men want, and then they get hooked. Too often, their self worth comes from being accepted by men in this way, which only furthers their immersion into the pornography world.”

A number of research studies show kids being exposed to their first pornographic image at an average age of 11.

That’s Primary age, folks.

“Thanks to the media, kids are being taught at younger ages that pornography is an acceptable form of expression,” Steurer says. “And in homes where these issues are not discussed, they’re too young to realize what’s happening to them. They don’t understand the gravity of these messages, which are both subliminal and overt.”

Jan Garbett, president of Women For Decency, an organization that links women together in the fight against offensive content, wholeheartedly concurs.

“When we leave our kids to fend for themselves in sexual matters, it isn’t fair,” she says. “It’s like giving your sixth grader the keys to the Ferrari and saying, ‘Want to go to the beach? Great! We’ll meet you there.’ They are on this super highway in this incredible machine, but they don’t know how to drive it.”

Spouses and Family Members
Pornography can affect the marital unit on two levels. The first is a matter of one partner secretly engaging in pornographic material.

“It can literally feel as though your spouse has had an affair,” Steurer says. “As Latter-day Saints, we live in a world where we value monogamy, fidelity, and commitment, and when a spouse turns to someone else—even if it’s not a real, live person—the betrayal feels the same and the insecurities arise: ‘What’s wrong with me? Why am I not enough?’”

The second effect happens to couples who view pornography openly.

“Speaking as a researcher, there is no data that shows pornography is helpful to marriages—and that holds true for couples who consume it openly and mutually,” Manning says. “Actually, what we see is the opposite. There is a body of data growing that fully supports what our prophets and apostles have been telling us, and it’s that pornography undermines fidelity, trust, and intimacy in marriage.”

Regardless of how it’s viewed, the effects on marriages (and consequently families) are monumental. Below, Manning lists 10 such effects:
· Decreased sensitivity toward women
· Less progressive views of gender roles
· Increased risk of becoming aggressive, violent, and abusive
· Three times more likely to commit adultery and four times more likely to hire a prostitute
· Acquire an instrumental view of sexuality
· Increased risk of sexual dysfunction and dissatisfaction
· Decreased trust in partner
· Decreased desire to marry and have children
· Increased risk of separation, divorce, and job loss
· Diminished spirituality and respect of sacred aspects of life

Keep reading on the next page for prevention tips and resources for healing.

With the world not taking the pornography problem seriously (or in many cases, even acknowledging it as a problem), it is imperative that LDS families take matters into their own homes.

“We need to be empowered to teach our children and families about this toxic topic,” Garbett says. “We all need to become more educated on prevention rather than merely worrying about it after the fact.”

Here are seven ways to maximize prevention in your home.

1. Look at your media access points.
“You have to look at all the media access in your home—Internet, mobile devices, television, magazines, books, etc.,” Manning says. “Examine those access points carefully and do what you can to filter or stop it.”

And while having the computer in an open area isn’t enough, it is still a crucial component.

“A child should never have a computer in his or her bedroom,” Atkinson says. “It opens them up to all kinds of dangers.”

2. Look at your spiritual/emotional access.
“Having internal filters is far more effective than running any sort of program on your computer,” Manning says. “Be honest with what makes your family vulnerable and what temptations you struggle with—and then cater your family media guidelines to those vulnerabilities.”

3. Establish a formal family media pledge.
“It’s important to not just think about guidelines for your family—write them down, print it out, and have each member of your family sign it,” Manning says. “Make an FHE out of it!” 

4. Practice what you pledge.
“Example is one of the most powerful tools we have for our kids,” Manning says. “And if it means our own media intake is more wholesome because of it? All the better.”

5. Have open and honest discussions with your kids about sexual matters.
“We need to teach our kids about healthy sexuality, and it starts with our infants and toddlers,” Manning says. “A lot of parents are reluctant to talk to their kids because the subject matter makes them uncomfortable. But we live in a world where we don’t have a choice. If they don’t hear it from us, they’re going to hear it skewed and distorted from somewhere else.”

Manning and Steurer both highly recommend “A Parent’s Guide,” which is an official LDS Church booklet (and free download on to teach your kids about intimacy.

“It’s actually old—written in 1985—and it’s one of the best out there without question,” Steurer says. “It’s so interesting, because so often the Church gets accused of being a little prudish when it comes to these areas. But it’s documents like these that give us the perfect foundation and language to teach our families. It’s so much easier to explain pornography to our kids—and why to avoid it—if they have a healthy foundation from a young age.”

6. Teach your teens about the serious penalties of engaging in pornography.
“Children need to be alerted to the potentially tragic consequences of their actions,” Atkinson says. “When they engage in activities like sexting, which is so popular with kids today, they are opening themselves up to potential issues with the law. They need to know that if there is a question in their mind, the content shouldn’t be sent.”

7. Have a plan.
Discuss a game plan with your children of what to do if they come across pornographic material. Ideally, they would turn it off, come to you, and discuss what they saw and how they felt.

“We have all kinds of drills at school—fire drills, earthquake drills—but we really need to have spiritual drills where we know what to do when we’re confronted with damaging content,” Manning says.

“We need to leverage our relationships with our kids,” Garbett adds. “We need to teach them in a way they will listen. We can’t frighten, offend them, or overreact. We need to calmly tell them how glad we are they came to us, and then talk about the problem and how to avoid it in the future.”

Help Wanted
If pornography has already plagued your family, the battle isn’t lost. Here are five steps to getting the help you need.

Come out of hiding.
“Tell somebody your story, which is one of the hardest things to do,” Steurer says. “Tell someone you trust—a spouse, a counselor, a bishop. You can’t [overcome] it in isolation.”

Seek professional help.
“Most people need a combination of counseling, group support, and ecclesiastical assistance,” Steurer says. “People who utilize all of these areas will have infinitely more success, and people who tippy-toe around the problem will continue to struggle. You can’t do this halfway.”

Learn about healthy sexuality.
“Understand the clear and distinct difference between pornography and healthy sexuality—way too many people aren’t clear on that,” Manning says. “If we are going to be responsible sexual beings, it behooves us to express our sexuality in ways that do no harm. We have not been put on this planet and blessed with the power of procreation to have it do harm.”

Challenge your brain.
“Part of getting help is learning how to discipline your mind,” Manning says. “Take up a hobby, find a new passion in your life, enroll in a class, challenge yourself.”

Find spiritual healing.
“Pornography is deadening to one’s spirit. There is nothing godly or of virtue to be found,” Manning says. “When we become addicted to anything, we become a slave to it, which takes us away from our divine center. That spiritual focus is crucial to healing.”

And in the unfortunate cases where our kids struggle with pornography, embrace them, help them, and guide them— without judgment.

“Parents have to create a safe environment to talk about the problem,” Steurer says. “Let your child know that he or she is not bad or evil. Teach them that what they are feeling is normal—pornography simply hijacked it. They got a false start, and now you’re concerned with protecting them and getting them help.”

Get Your Hopes Up
Pornography is a dark and heavy subject—there’s no getting around it. But we can’t be defeated by the filth.

In fact, Manning sees a clean sweep, even if it is years away.

“I compare it to what we’ve seen in the tobacco and cigarette industry. There was a tipping point with a large body of research that started to shift the culture tide,” Manning says. “A similar thing will happen with pornography. There will be a body of medical evidence that will show the harmful effects pornography has on the brain and on relationships—and our culture tide will start to shift. We are a long way from that, but the research gives me hope.”

Steurer is equally optimistic.

“Don’t be afraid of this,” he says. “People that confront pornography and get help become better people through the challenge. Stop running from the problem. Stop living in hiding. There is hope.”

And in the meantime? Fight, fight, fight.

“I was at a women’s conference where general Relief Society president Julie Beck made a rallying cry and told us women that we need to fight against the pornography infiltrating our society. It stirred my soul and made me want to say, ‘Hey, Julie, I’m there!’” Garbett says. “I don’t have all the time in the world, but I have a minute. We have to be courageous. We have to fear God more than man. We’re on the battle lines, and I’m ready to fight.”

And nothing irritates Satan more than a good, clean fight.

“When we feel apprehensive or hesitant to discuss these kinds of topics, we need to remind ourselves that the adversary would love nothing more than for it to be shoved under the rug,” Manning says. “But we can’t let that happen. There is too much to live for and too much to hope for.”

You can also learn more about the Church's Addiction Recovery Programs by clicking here.

This article was originally published in the March/April 2012 issue of LDS Living. Click here to learn more.

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