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Sexual Epidemic

The only way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it.—Oscar Wilde

I accept that idea with some skepticism. It contains a grain of truth, especially when we create the taboo that tempts us. We all know the power of the forbidden fruit. Tell any one of us that we can’t do something, and suddenly it tempts us.

In The Natural History of Alcoholism, Dr. George E. Vaillant found that cultures which forbid children from drinking and condone adult drunkenness (e.g. Ireland) have much higher incidence of alcoholism than cultures which allow children to occasionally sample alcohol and which look down upon adult drunkenness (e.g. Italy). Further, children from families who forbid drinking at the dinner table but the adults drink elsewhere are seven times more likely to become alcoholics than children who grew up with adults drinking at the dinner table and drunkenness was forbidden.

(I wonder about the incidence of alcoholism among those who completely forbid alcohol.)

What I take away from that study is that in cultures where drinking will take place, it is critical that adults model moderation and make alcohol an ordinary part of life. Making alcohol a rite of passage or a secret pleasure for adults only makes alcoholism more likely.

I want to make a connection to our culture’s attitudes toward sex. I don’t have a study to cite. I have only my own experience of growing up in a culture that treats nudity and sexuality as secret rites of passage and of later rejecting those notions. We display these attitudes everywhere: we label erotic materials as “adult”, you can’t see a woman’s bare breast in a movie until you are 17, and we allow ourselves to be distracted from two wars by a few seconds of Janet Jackson’s nipple because we’re worried that children might have see it. We seem to believe that children would be asexual if not exposed to adult sexuality.

The church of my youth took this further. The LDS church taught me that I shouldn’t allow myself to express my sexuality in any meaningful way until I was a married adult. They made even sexual thoughts taboo. No wonder then that members of that culture have dysfunctional relationships with sexuality. Abuse of pornography runs rampant within the church.

I commend the LDS church leadership for addressing this issue, yet their strategy saddens me:

On the other hand, however—and extremely alarming—are the reports of the number of individuals who are utilizing the Internet for evil and degrading purposes, the viewing of pornography being the most prevalent of these purposes. My brothers and sisters, involvement in such will literally destroy the spirit. Be strong. Be clean. Avoid such degrading and destructive types of content at all costs—wherever they may be! I sound this warning to everyone, everywhere.…

My beloved friends, under no circumstances allow yourselves to become trapped in the viewing of pornography, one of the most effective of Satan’s enticements. And if you have allowed yourself to become involved in this behavior, cease now. Seek the help you need to overcome and to change the direction of your life. Take the steps necessary to get back on the strait and narrow, and then stay there. (Thomas Monson, April 2009 General Conference)

They think it best to heap on more fear and guilt for being a sexual being before you are married. The LDS—and American—fascination with sex results from a perverse set of mixed messages. I fell prey to that fascination as a child and only recently escaped. I appreciate that many of us believe we should protect children from their sexuality while (married) adults can properly enjoy sexuality away from their fragile eyes. But I see an analogy to the cultures that have high levels of alcoholism.

I recently rejected that culture and its mixed messages too. I learned to be titillated by sexual material—a healthy human response—and yet to avoid being swept away by guilt or fear. In truth, sexuality has lost some of its naughty savor as it became an ordinary part of my life enjoyed in moderation.

I suggest that we change our messages about sex to the next generation. Rather than sending them the message that seeing adult nudity is too dangerous for children, we should make nudity perfectly ordinary. I don’t foresee becoming a nudist, but viewing fine art nudes—along with other fine arts—could become an ordinary, nourishing part of childhood. We can divorce nudity from sexuality.

Likewise, we could give balanced information about sexuality and its consequences instead of short, uncomfortable, shamed discussions or over-the-top portrayals of sex in the movies. What our children need is real information.

If pornography becomes epidemic despite all our efforts, we must conclude that what we’re doing doesn’t work. We need to set aside our ideologies and ask ourselves what helps our children to grow up healthy and happy. Perhaps it is time to become more comfortable with sexuality, teaching our children through our examples how to enjoy it responsibly.

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What do Mormons like more than Jello desserts?

We have further evidence that it is the red states (if you’ll forgive me for being so 2004) who are the biggest subscribers to porn. Utah tops the chart. As I’ve long said, being ashamed of sex really whets the appetite. :)

I’m being a little flippant here, but this statistic points to the sad truth that many of us live with unnecessary shame. Being ashamed of something that can be so beautiful and healthy as sex doesn’t help anyone.

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Mormons on Masturbation

With all the discussion of masturbation and porn going on around Mormon related blogs, I thought I would share this gem from a comment on reddit:

I went to the doctor for a checkup the other day. He took one look at me and said “You have to quit masturbating”. I asked “why?”, he said “so I can do the checkup”.

Masturbation and pornography are almost guaranteed to generate lots of debate on the bloggernacle. It doesn’t help when yours truly blathers on. :)

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Songs of Innocence and Experience

A recent Penny Arcade comic asked a question that comes to me once in a while.

Pictures of naked women used to be somewhat hard to come by. When I was a kid, we would occasionally find an adult magazine which would be quickly passed among the neighborhood kids. The magazine became a deliciously forbidden sacrament for a spontaneous cabal of children learning what it was to be sexually aroused. The shame of our society inflamed our desire in a heady cocktail of sex, guilt, and danger. We would each partake, constantly vigilant to prevent the infidel grownups from desecrating our secret explorations.

Twice in my young life we found treasure troves of nudity: once we found our neighbor’s huge porn stash in his backyard; another time I rescued a trash bag full of 1970s era Playboy magazines from imminent disposal. Through all the guilt of our naughty behavior, we cherished those magazines. We hid them carefully where no grownup was likely to ever go: in the disused, unkempt corners of our neighborhood only the children paid attention to. Every once in a while, we would furtively visit our caches with glances over our shoulders to enjoy the urgency of desire. We were careful because we knew it might be years before we found another opportunity like these.

At other times, we would turn our explorations on each other. Thick bushes provided a place to play “I’ll show you mine if you show me yours”. I first saw a naked, in-the-flesh girl (who wasn’t a member of my family) in those bushes. A vacant house provided a chance to play strip tag. The rules were simple: if the person who is “it” touched a piece of your clothing, you had to take it off. I saw my first naked, in-the-flesh, postpubescent girl in that vacant house.

All of this before I was ten years old, knew what “horny” meant, or had discovered masturbation.

The point is that I remember these incidents vividly and fondly because they were 1) forbidden and 2) rare.

Not so anymore. You have to work hard to avoid seeing five vaginae before lunch. I mean people are giving the stuff away for free. I wonder whether the relative ease of getting porn is better or worse.

Would I have preferred a childhood where it was easy to see naked women?

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Years ago while driving to work, I saw something that made me want to cry.

All over town in Las Vegas, there are little metal boxes along the sidewalks. In other cities, these would dispense your run-of-the-mill newspapers. In Las Vegas, many of them dispense advertisements for adult entertainment. Naked women with stars or hearts covering strategic portions of their anatomy sell their wares. It is Sin City after all. We wear our vices on our sleeves for all the world to see.

While waiting at a red light that morning, I glanced over at a mother walking down the sidewalk holding her daughter’s hand. The girl was probably only four years old. When they came to some of those notorious boxes, the little girl’s eyes went wide as she stared at something that I couldn’t see. She kept her eyes glued to that something as they walked past. I had a pretty good idea what she saw.

I had a newborn daughter of my own. It struck me that my little girl would probably see those same things as she got older. It broke my heart to realize what that little girl was learning and what my daughter had ahead of her.

When I saw the following video from Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty (the same people who brought us evolution), I immediately remembered that little girl on the sidewalk.

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