(Reminder: Next week is the final part of this series. In that part I intend to reply to the comments and questions left in the comments section or sent to me through other means. If you've been itching to say something, please do.)
If you fear, fear not. If you fear not, fear.
---J. Reuben Clark
In this episode, we need to redefine our terms, specifically pornography.
I'm now defining it as something that persistently and continuously displays explicitly sexual actions for the purpose of arousing sexual feelings. I hope that after our previous discussions, we can agree that sex itself is not evil.
So now the question becomes is it possible that art existing solely to appeal to the prurient interest could also be moral? As genitals can be used for holiness or sin, so genitalious art?
My gut reaction is an emphatic NO!, pornography (as just defined) is EVIL!, but as I consider why I feel this way, I have to recognize these:
- 1. Most pornographic art depicts unholy sex -- barroom encounters, threesomes, adultery, handymen.
2. Most pornography is sold to people whose intentions are far from holy by people whose intentions are far from holy.
3. Most pornography is designed to take people out of themselves and into a world where sex with just about anything is the natural and necessary way. It's all about compulsion and a lack of control over self.
4. Most pornography utterly fails to recognize the greatness of human souls. Instead, people are reduced to meat-rubbing machines: the characters, the producers, the consumers.
5. Most pornography is utterly fails to present sexuality as having consequences.
Let's go through those five terribles again:
- 1. Pornography (as defined) could depict holy, virtuous sex within a marriage.
2. Pornography (as defined) could exist without the need of evil people. In fact, if created as in #1, it might even make such people uncomfortable.
3. Pornography (as defined) could still allow for sexual responsibility and keep the consumer within the bounds of his or her real world.
4. Pornography (as defined) could recognize the greatness of the human soul. Sex is a gift of God to such souls. Let's not forget that Adam knew Eve, and it was good.
5. Pornography (as defined) could allow for the existence of consequence, whether it focused on said consequences or not.
Before I take a stab at these questions, I want to quote that Jorgensen guy who starred in Part II: "I suggest that any [immoral] 'pornographic event' may involve three elements: a [immoral] porn author, a [immoral] porn text, and a [immoral] porn reader. In fact, it seems to me that the [immoral] porn event seldom requires all three, though it always requires one: just a [immoral] porn reader." In other words, even if we do find room for a moral pornography, it could still be used to evil effect. (Which will beg the question, should one even attempt a moral pornography [if possible]; but one thing at a time, people. One thing at a time.)
So, from now on, pornography is just about sex, without moral judgment. If we want to talk about immoral pornographies, we can refer to them as obscenity, that we may have a distinction.
I view pornography as a sex act. A sex act between brains (that often leads to sex acts of the body). In my understanding of doctrine, sex acts, to be moral, are to be confined to married couples, two people, shared between them. Ergo, a moral pornography would be confined to a married couple, two people, and shared between them.
- Scene: the bedroom
Cast: man and wife
Action: taking turns writing an explicit tale about themselves in a notebook as they lounge on the bed (or reading one they had previously written)
Nonresult: anyone else ever reading that notebook
So I'm going to say yes: a moral pornography is possible. If written by a married couple about themselves and never passing outside their possession, then yes: definitely moral. The sex act or pornography is being kept within the bounds set by God Almighty and is no less legal than any other two-person sexual activity a couple might choose to pursue.
Well that was easy.
So let's make it more difficult and enter a gray area: are there other pornographies that could be moral?
As mentioned above, most pornography is fantasy-based. Consequence-free sex with impossibly lovely people who are impossibly capable of . . . who knows. Crazy sex stuff, no doubt.
If such pornography were shared between a couple, the result, I suspect, would likely not result in their brains sharing a sexual experience, even if their bodies did. More likely would be their brains floating off to sex with the impossible person. This I would call adultery and decidedly unholy.
You'll remember that in my example above, the couple was writing pornography with themselves as the characters. What if they wrote about some other couple's "holy sex"? The rest of my scenario remains the same, but now, instead of Dick and Tracy writing about Dick and Tracy, they're writing about the made-up Jim and Dandy. Jim and Dandy are also married and have a righteous sexual relationship. They're not real. Are we still within the bounds of a moral pornography?
I'm not going to say from here on out whether a scenario is representative of a moral pornography or not. I will describe a circumstance and you can decide for yourself.
Dick and Tracy buy a book of pornography about a married couple. The story has been personalized (like those kids' books), so although someone else wrote the story, it is about Dick and Tracy, and they read and enjoy together titillating stories about themselves: the beach sex they never had, et cetera.
Dick and Tracy buy a book that is endlessly explicit as it explores a fictional LDS couple's sex life. The fictional couple never does anything inappropriate for an LDS couple to do, but the book was written by a third party and it is that third party's imagination that is arousing the brains of Dick and Tracy.
Dick and Tracy buy a book with short fictional tales of explicit sexuality between married couples for the express purpose of making it easier for them (Dick and Tracy) to have more frequent sex with each other.
Dick and Tracy read more traditional pornography for the purpose of providing them with sexual scenarios to enact.
Okay, that's enough.
I will argue that my original example of a moral pornography is moral. Couples can do whatever they want in the bedroom, so long as it stays between them. My other examples I'm less certain of because they do involve other people, namely the creator of the text their reading and the fictional characters they're reading about. This does not mean I am rejecting the morality of such uses, but I'm skeptical and uncertain.
I've spent a lot of time arguing for sexual inclusion in literature, even LDS literature. But reading something for the sole purpose of sexual arousal is no longer what Levi Peterson called healthy: ". . . treating the broad range of experience . . . in viewing clearly the full spectrum of human act and emotion . . . [including sex]." Pornography necessarily avoids the full spectrum--it's focus is sex. And even if it's an honest and true depiction of holy sex, it's still totally focused on that one aspect of life. But then--no one suggests a book totally focused on charity or kindness or growing your investment portfolio is necessarily evil or "pornographic" (or obscene). And I'm not sure a text focused entirely on sex is necessarily bad either. The books I mentioned in Part IV are a completely focused on sex as any fictional work, but I heartily recommended them.
Elder Dallin H. Oaks is worried about "promotional literature of illicit sexual relations." I want to be clear that when I hypothesize about a moral pornography, I am explicitly rejected that kind of pornography. I think it is evil and dangerous and should be diligently avoided.
In the same talk, Elder Oaks quoted Jacob's speech on sexual morality:
- In the second chapter of the book that bears his name, Jacob condemns men for their “whoredoms” (Jacob 2:23, 28). He told them they had “broken the hearts of [their] tender wives, and lost the confidence of [their] children, because of [their] bad examples before them” (Jacob 2:35).
What were these grossly wicked “whoredoms”? No doubt some men were already guilty of evil acts. But the main focus of Jacob’s great sermon was not with evil acts completed, but with evil acts contemplated.
Jacob began his sermon by telling the men that “as yet, [they had] been obedient unto the word of the Lord” (Jacob 2:4). However, he then told them he knew their thoughts, that they were “beginning to labor in sin, which sin appeareth very abominable … unto God” (Jacob 2:5). “I must testify unto you concerning the wickedness of your hearts” (Jacob 2:6), he added. Jacob was speaking as Jesus spoke when He said, “Whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart” (Matt. 5:28; see also 3 Ne. 12:28; D&C 59:6; D&C 63:16).
Which brings us to the third of my original questions: If a moral pornography is theoretically possible, would it then be okay to attempt it?
In terms of our Definitely Moral scenario, knock yourself out. Just make sure you don't leave it at the bus stop.
In terms of our other Possibly Moral scenarios, I don't know. Would it be moral for me to write a graphically sexual tale (of a married couple who treat each other with love and respect, of course) marketed specifically for married couples and no one else? I know such a tale could be turned to immorality by some. I know some unrighteous men may use it to manipulate their wives (and vice versa). But if my intentions were pure...?
Remember the idea that sex, like temple ceremonies, is not secret but sacred? Would it be appropriate for a writer to add his sexual knowledge (no matter how holily obtained) to the bedroom of another? If a writer wrote a short story that would only be appropriate to read while in a Celestial Room, would that be okay? I'm not going to write it!
I don't have a final answer to this question. I will say that a moral pornography seems to be theoretically possible. I will also say that pursuit thereof might be unsafe.
But see, this is a reason I love being Mormon. As Joseph Smith said, "I teach them correct principles and they govern themselves."
Among these correct principles is this:
- Sex is an important part of human existence.
Sex is for the use and pleasure of married couples.
Otherwise, I'm leaving you with a song I dearly love and which is entirely about holy sex: this virtuous married love I've been talking about from the beginning. "Cradle of Love" (written by Paul Kelly and sung by Kelly Willis) is a beautiful example of what can be done when we include the erotic as we sculpt a literature of life.