This blog is no longer being updated. About this blog.

Deviant Mormon Sexuality

Meridian recently ran an article on modesty in the fashion industry by J. Scott Askew, owner of KneeShorts Clothing Company. Two aspects of the article interest me. The first concerns the following passage.

Later that same week, a couple of teenage girls were at the gym. One was dressed in loose-fitting sweat pants and a baggy t-shirt — quite modest compared to the popular “spandex and skin” look. But printed on her t-shirt were a woman’s silhouette and the brand name “Hustler.” I was shocked that a young girl would wear that shirt. What was she thinking?

Does she know that Hustler magazine graphically displays deviant sexual behavior? Does she know that its founder Larry Flynt is the most notorious pornographer in U.S. history? Did it occur to her that she was a walking billboard for sleaze and aggressive sexual behavior? Did she realize her shirt invites assumptions about her sexual attitudes? Do her parents know she owns that shirt?

Does she know that Larry Flynt defended every American’s free speech before the Supreme Court? Let’s be fair in acknowledging the good as well as the bad. But I digress.

The young woman in question probably knows some of all that Askew mentions, and that—I would venture to guess—is exactly why she chose to wear that shirt. She probably wanted to send some of the sexual messages that the author received. Whether that level of sexuality is healthy for a woman of her undisclosed age is another question.

Askew’s writing is riddled with pejorative words which lack commonly accepted definitions. One person’s pornography is not another’s. A woman showing her calves in public is pornographic in Muslim Saudi Arabia, but not in Mormon Utah where that is perfectly acceptable. So “deviant”, “pornography”, and “sleaze” betray only the author’s attitudes, not an absolute standard from which the author can safely cast stones at the attitudes of others. The author might defend his attitudes as derived from God’s own, but as a recent Jesus and Mo comic noted, a person can’t say that their own ideas are the same as God’s without proclaiming that they infallibly know the mind of God. I can’t take that idea seriously.

I grant that Askew is writing to a Mormon audience and might expect that their attitudes are generally aligned with his own. However, the reason that he wrote this article is precisely because his own attitudes aren’t largely represented in his target audience. He wrote the article to convince this audience to stop purchasing what he considers immodest clothing. He wouldn’t need to persuade his Mormon audience if they all shared his views on modesty. (If I were a smart ass, I would point out that his sexuality is actually the one that deviates from the norm—but I’m not, so I won’t.)

This brings me to the next interesting aspect of the article.

LDS consumers also can use their economic power to support the fledgling modest apparel industry. Modest clothing companies, mostly based in Utah, have sprung up over the past ten years in response to immodest trends. These companies have as core principles modesty both in product and marketing.

Askew uses most of the article to subtly guilt his readers into patronizing clothing companies like his own and to accuse the fashion industry of being a threat to the health of our youth. The author clearly has a vested interest in people choosing to buy clothing that he sells. Meridian Magazine runs advertising, but journalistic integrity requires that advertising is clearly separated from editorial content. I give kudos to Meridian for disclosing in the sidebar that the author is the owner of a related company. I disagree with their decision to run an article at all that amounts to an advertisement for the author’s company in the guise of religion.

This isn’t the only example of the entanglement of business and Mormonism. For a long time, I’ve wondered at the entanglement of the LDS church and a profit-making company like Deseret Book. It is reasonable for a church to be able to publish its own views when other publishing houses are unwilling to do so, and yet taking advantage of a customer’s religious views to make profit may lead to abuses such as those demonstrated in Askew’s article.

In the end, which is better: to take advantage of customer’s appetite for erotic materials to sell clothing, or to take advantage of their guilt and sense of religious duty to sell knee shorts?

Tags: , , , , , , ,


  1. Matt said,

    April 19, 2008 @ 3:14 pm

    Heh, yeah. Good one, Jonathan, you smart-ass.

    Starting with your last question, I know which one makes for a more beautiful and exhilerating world. I’ll go with that one.

    And ending with this: I’ve never been comfortable with the marriage of religion and business … and this seems to have been one of the primary forces behind the Reformation; kind of a Sherman Act for religion. But Mormonism does this marriage with so much more subtlety than Catholicism did. First you have the most basic concept of tithing as “fire insurance” and then as a kind of club dues. Then all the business interests of the church and its people … and especially the whole MLM economy. It makes the LDS clothing business (other than the temple garment monopoly) look very innocent. Almost sweet and naive.

    But you point is well taken. And yes, that sexuality with relies on hiding behind god’s view of appropriate sexuality is both deviant and profound … but mostly just unduly complicated. Sex can be so much more and free. Just takes a little creativity.

    I’ll take the world’s version.

  2. chandelle said,

    April 22, 2008 @ 9:25 am

    huh. very interesting. what caught my eye in the article was the mention of “deviant” sexual behavior in hustler. granted, it’s been a while since i’ve seen it, but my dad had hustler around throughout my childhood, and though i’m not fan of the objectification & commodification of the body, i can’t say i saw much in there that was “deviant.” naked women displaying their bodies for sexual pleasure is deviant? when i hear “deviant” i think animals, children, maybe some of the more intense BDSM stuff…not so much plainly naked women in “money shot” positions. i’m actually very conservative when it comes to porn – i absolutely detest the stuff, though i support the right to free speech – but i really don’t understand the label of “deviant” on pictures of naked women who aren’t doing much of anything. maybe i’m just crazy, or maybe hustler is really different than it was 10 years ago.

  3. Jonathan Blake said,

    April 22, 2008 @ 10:54 am


    I keep wishing that the LDS church would open up its books so that contributors could see what they’re getting for their money, but like you, I imagine there’s a lot of things that at least appear unsavory. There’s a reason that they don’t open their books. Neither do the ultra-rich purveyors of the prosperity gospel.

    There has been an interesting discussion about the effect of sexual repression at de-conversion.


    Agreed. I was actually going to mention that. I don’t think Hustler has any more deviant than heterosexual or lesbian sex, not that I’m an expert on Hustler. :)

  4. Jonathan Blake said,

    April 22, 2008 @ 11:38 am


    I want to add that I’m not exactly pro-porn either. Much of what’s out there does objectify and perpetuate unhealthy attitudes. I don’t think all of it does, however. I recently heard someone say that porn stars “obviously” enjoy their jobs. I think it’s more likely that they enjoy the money. The intersection of sex and money is probably about as unhealthy as religion and money.

  5. Matt said,

    April 22, 2008 @ 9:06 pm

    Yeah, I remember being told specifically that the lack of reporting was for the sole purpose of enhancing the faith aspect. What you don’t know is none of your business, essentially.

    I think the reference to “childhood morality” in the discussion you linked to was particularly interesting. And it’s true, the church doesn’t encourage morality in adults, it encourages child-like adults. This is supposedly a greater virtue this child-like world-view. What it is actually is a fine recipe for blind obedience. The side-effects seem to also include extremely conservative and even fearful sexuality. Not to mention the whole concept of Jesus as the third person in your bed.

    Ah, hold ‘me by the balls and you have them or life. The Scientologists have nothing on Mormonism.

  6. Matt said,

    April 22, 2008 @ 9:15 pm

    PS. I can also weigh-in on Hustler. I agree, it’s not deviant at all. Very mainstream. Just extremely explicit that’s all. And you’re totally right about Citizen Flynt who has been a great promoter of free speech but also a doberman for taking down those self-righteous politicians that get elected on “family values” but turn out to be Spitzer clones. Love him for that aspect.

  7. Stephen Merino said,

    April 25, 2008 @ 12:57 pm

    I went to the Meridian website and read the whole thing. Interesting. Toward the end it becomes a pretty blatant self-promotion for his business and similar ones. I have to agree with you there.

    Your last sentence is rather provocative and there’s probably not a simple answer. Of course, it depends on who you ask and what you value. I’ve seen the infamous A & F Christmas catalog. It’s not nearly as bad as he makes it sound in the article. There are no sex acts depicted, and there are no genitalia shown if I remember right. But it is pretty racy, and it struck me as pretty dumb because they were pretty blatantly using sex to sell clothes.

    So your question is essentially, is it any better for Mormons to use modesty, prudery, and sexual guilt to sell clothes? Maybe not.

    I thought his description of the girls at the gym was interesting. Notice that he emphasized how her clothes were loose and baggy, and therefore modest. He implies that to dress otherwise while exercising or engaging in sports is immodest. From this and from other things he says, I suspect that his views of modesty are pretty extreme, even for Mormons. After all, at BYU cheerleaders, dancers, and female athletes aren’t wearing loose, baggy, non-spandex clothing.

    I have to agree with you that it’s all about perspective. People wear “immodest” clothes when they exercise because they are more comfortable and more amenable to exercise. They wear things that the wouldn’t wear to church or to work. Context matters, and he doesn’t really get that, either.

    It also bugged me how he focused on girls’ modesty, as evidenced by that story about the girls at the gym. It’s always about how girls need to be more modest, for guys like this.

  8. Jonathan Blake said,

    April 25, 2008 @ 1:28 pm


    Thanks for backing me up on Hustler. I suppose I could have researched it easily enough for myself by simply going to the website, but I didn’t think about it. Chalk it up to my purity and innocence. ;)


    I hadn’t noticed the bias in directing modesty only at girls. It really plays into the stereotype of sexually repressed Mormon male who puts the blame for their barely controlled urges on the women around them and Satan who advises them on what to wear. (I’m OK throwing that stereotype around because I was once one of those guys.)

    Along with what you’re saying about context, culture is extremely relevant to what is considered appropriate attire, of course. Kirikou and the Sorceress with its openly topless but non-sexual women helps me appreciate that. Perhaps this is too much information, but the first time I watched the movie, my eyes were unconsciously drawn to the cartoon breasts. It’s like I couldn’t help but stare. It’s not like I’d never seen a National Geographic, but I couldn’t keep my eyes away for long.

    But that is a cultural effect. It’s something that I have learned since birth. Topless women aren’t immodest in other cultures, and I doubt men in those cultures go around staring at breasts all day. It’s got to get boring some time. :)

  9. Matt said,

    April 25, 2008 @ 1:51 pm

    Yeah, boring. And maybe that’s what it comes down to. Modesty is contextual and often sexist, as Stephen points out, and it’s also cultural as you point out. So it’s clearly something of a subjective issue and when part of that subjectivity includes a conviction that god shares your view, then you have a case where making a little money off of it is purely incidental and maybe even righteous ’cause after all, it’s not subjective it’s at least partially objective. God says “be modest” therefore “buy my product” as opposed to “this particular culture has glorified breasts and buns as sexual bits” therefore “buy my product”.

    This concept of doing business on god’s behalf is is the main difference I see between making money by exploiting human sexuality and exploiting religious beliefs.

RSS feed for comments on this post