The Erotic in LDS Lit
Part VIII: Theric replies to your questions and comments (c)


I intended this to be the final week, but some things came up in conference that deserve mention. If the talks are up early enough, the final part will appear next Wednesday as regularly scheduled.


If you fear, fear not. If you fear not, fear.
---J. Reuben Clark

Adam: You know, this is really interesting to me because I have the same problem with adolescent ultra-prudery that you describe. And yet, the first time I tried to seriously write after being married, I felt that I could not express the truth I felt about certain characters without writing about their sexual relationship.

It was only one sentence and it was not explicit in any way, but it was openly about sex, and it seemed right when nothing else did.
    I don't have a lot to say in reply to this; I mostly count it as an amen to my basic argument that sex is a part of life and art is about life. To quote Levi Peterson again, "Ultimately [literature] should reflect all life. Nothing that people feel, nothing that they do, should be denied a place in literature."

    That's the way I feel.

Adam: I've only seen one film ever, for example, in which I found a sex scene neither offensive nor unnecessary. . . .

I should point out that I have seen films with suggestive content that I found acceptable and even enlightening in context . . . but . . . only one with an actual sex scene that I thought added to the beauty of the film.
    I've been trying to think of movies in which I can say the same, but nothing comes immediately to mind. Alas, but I haven't been watching many movies the last few years, and specific instances are lacking.

    That said, I do yet have a feeling of understanding the holiness of appropriate sexuality between good people as experienced through film. I wish I could be more specific.

    Can I use this as an excuse to watch more movies?

Adam: I also want to say that after reading your series thus far I took some time to read your The Widower. It so elegantly evoked my feelings for my own good wife that I was nearly brought to tears. Thank you for using your gifts for good instead of evil.
    Everytime I read this, it warms my heart. Thanks again for the compliment, Adam.

Schmett: Perhaps you married folks can help me out here, but I cannot reconcile within myself the dramatic dichotomy in the Church regarding "adult" things. I mean, sex seems a really tense subject because, unlike most thou-shalt-nots, even though it'd get me excommunicated right now, the days will come when I won't be fully living my faith without it. But it seems ridiculous to me that it should be such a frightening and taboo subject because Temple covenants are the exact same way! I mean, I remember growing up, Mom and Dad would go to the temple fairly regularly, and even though I had no idea what they did there and that I couldn't go do the things they were doing, I understood that one day I would be able to, and I eagerly looked forward to getting my endowment all of my growing-up years. How is it, then, that sex is so horrifying?
    I'm going to pretend the word "horrifying" was something less, um, horrific, but otherwise I think this deserves more reflection on our part.

    Although I agree with Foxy and RC that the way the church teaches about sex is mostly okay, there can be no doubt that there is a difference in looking forward to sex and looking forward to ordinances.

    But really, the differences are stark. Sex is available half-drunk under the bleachers, for instance. Sex is widely present. Sex is on billboards and in your spam. When was the last time you had an equivalent illicit offer for ordinances? I'm going to guess the answer is pretty close to never.

    And that's the difference. It takes more vigilance and effort to stay sexually inexperienced, mentally or physically. Avoiding unholy thoughts about the temple is much easier.

    There ain't no templtosterone to fight against. So feeling of weakness and failure are less likely to come as regards ordinances. Ergo, sex is more likely to be looked upon with frustration and self-loathing.

    But it doesn't have to be so.

    And I think in most cases, openness (of an appropriate sort) between parents and child will help.

Eugene: . . . especially for teenage boys, everything arouses sexual feelings.

    To swing this more in the direction it was originally intended, what about stuff I keep around my house? Are there some books I should keep locked up in my bedroom? And where do I start?

    All I can say is thank goodness Sears discontinued their catalogue.

    Now if only there wasn't that sexy just-baptized chick in the Book of Mormon --- remember her? And forget pictures, what about the train of thoughts that can lead from the harlot Isabel? And what if a kid cracks the Bible?

    In the end, teach correct principles. They'll learn to govern themselves. Eventually.

Recession Cone: We don't talk a lot about sex during church for several very good reasons.

#1: The church sees sex as a very private and sacred expression of unity between married people. One of the ways we keep things sacred is not to discuss them excessively (e.g.: Heavenly Mother, Temple Rituals).

#2: The more one thinks about sex outside of marriage, the harder it is to maintain virtue. Sexual thoughts are arousing - there's a positive feedback loop here. There's little purpose in talking up how great sex is to a group of adolescents that aren't supposed to be having it. Mentions of sex at church that I remember from my pre-married phase were very appropriate: sex was placed in context as a gift from God, but we didn't dwell on how mind-blowingly wonderful it is. This seems like the right approach to me.

#3: The church has to respect diversity of opinion. Sex is a very delicate subject. It can easily divide a ward (e.g. "Is oral sex ok between married people?"). The church has to very carefully decide what issues to discuss, so as not to place stumbling-blocks in each other's way. It's best to leave some subjects implicit.
    #1: I don't disagree. Well said.

    #2: "Positive feedback loop" --- funny choice of words.

    But you're right: talking about sex (in any way) leads to thinking about sex, leads to feeling, um, sexy, I guess, et cetera. It builds on itself. Which is part of the reason chastity lessons can get uncomfortable --- especially to adolescents who haven't yet figured out things like what's-what and control thereof.

    On the other hand, ignoring things won't help. Balance. The every tricky thing called balance.

    #3: I find this the most compelling reason.

    I had a BYU professor --- single woman in her late forties --- and one day she went on a sudden rant about a bridal shower she had been to. Someone had given the bride some edible panties. ! The professor went on and on about how evil this was and how out of touch with prophetic guidelines and Church policy and how when she gets married she certainly won't allow that kind of debauchery into her sacredest of relationships. Et cetera.

    I think not talking about such things is just better for everyone.

    So yeah. Although I don't think it needs to be official policy (that would require talking about it), at the very least I think it is very very weird to host passion parties with the ladies at church.

Celia: In Elder Holland's talk/book Of Souls, Symbols, and Sacraments, he opens with "The topic of human intimacy is as sacred as any I know. In discussing it, the subject can quickly slide from the sacred into the merely sensational. It would be better not to address the topic at all than to damage it with casualness or carelessness."
    Which is why it took me so long to start this series after the initial request. I don't know how well I've succeeded at avoided sliding into the "merely sensational." I would appreciate feedback on this point.

Eugene: A rollercoaster has no socially redeeming value. And they've been known to kill people.
    This is probably the most interesting comparison to porn this series produced.

    And thought provoking.

    In no small measure because I love roller coasters.

Eugene: In any case, hypotheticals notwithstanding, without concrete reference points . . . the resulting discussions will turn into attempts to guess what's in somebody else's head when the word "porn" is mentioned.

And because no one should feel compelled to read, watch or do something for purposes of argument or to be "cool" or whatever, the discussion becomes abstracted to the point of pointlessness.
    Good point. Next time I do this, I'm giving everyone some pornographic homework.

Eugene: Unless we are to use explicitness itself as the final measure (which I reject, with caveats), then I think it would be better to define "meaningfulness" in terms of the moral intent of the artist.
    Perhaps. At least in terms of defining something as "pornography." But in terms of defining what makes a "pornographic experience" for the consumer, the artist's moral intent likely has very little bearing.

    From Part II: Jorgensen decides that in order for us to have a "pornographic event", we need "three elements: a porn author, a porn text, and a porn reader. In fact, it seems to me that the porn event seldom requires all three, though it always requires one: just a porn reader. Porn author and porn text make the event more likely but do not inevitably guarantee it."

    (Which reminds me --- I didn't listen to the whole thing, but on City Art's and Lectures last night, Slavoj Žižek spoke on what might be termed a polite pronography. Sort of.)

Eugene: The beauty of the human form is a moral good . . . . Perhaps that is the test I would apply: Can beauty be found there?
    Again, I like this thought a lot.

    And in the end, we are judged for ourselves and our own intents. Back to what's in my house, we have a nice book of Waterhouse whose work by any standard is beautiful, but which can, for the viewer, easily slip into sexual territory fairly labeled pornographic.

    So. Do I hide this book from my children? Do I hide it from them while they are between the ages of ten and twenty-one? Do I burn it on City Hall steps? Do I send it to school with them to show their friends?

    I sometimes envy people who will close the doors on these questions by labeling 80% of the world evil.

    But they're kidding themselves if they think that rejecting God-given beauties makes them holy.

Chosha: . . . it doesn't sound like porn. It sounds like arthouse.
    Now there's a slippery slope! Is this about moral intent again? It it about artist exceptionality (which all us artists want to believe in because it makes us better than everyone else)? Is Shortbus not porn because it's indie? Is Larry Clark free of moral requirements because he's shown at Cannes?

    The whole argument may only be semantics, but it makes me very, very nervous.

Chosha: I'll concede that the depiction of exploitation doesn't always equal porn (which wasn't really my original point, but I can see how it reads that way). Even so, there's definitely a line I don't think any filmmaker should cross in what they show on film, and calling it 'art' doesn't automatically render it okay. When the sex/nudity becomes gratuitious or too explicit, I think they've crossed the line into porn.

Where exactly that line should be drawn? Well now we're back to definitions...
    I know, I know. Stupid definitions.

    I think it's heartening that, no matter how much we quibble, as a whole we all seem to be on the same page. (This is an invitation for the disagreers to come out in force.)

Celia: The church teaches us that we ought to be modest in dress, action, and word so we don't deliberately arouse others (besides our spouse of course).
    I think this is good advice to us all. Deliberately arousing others must surely be a sin. Incidentally arousing others is likely innocent.

    But what about when we take an action which, although we don't intend it to arouse others, we know plain well will arouse them anyway? Are we off the hook then?

Celia: The second thing I get from that broad definition of porn is that it doesn't have to be naked women in magazines or in a film to be considered pornography.

People can be aroused by less. Now, I'm not saying that every time a person is aroused by something they see, read, or hear it is pornographic and necessary to repent. However, I believe that no matter the subject matter, if you continually dwell on and go back to something
for the sake of arousal (even if it's a magazine with people modeling lingerie or a book like Between Husband and Wife), it is pornography and should be avoided.
    In the end, I think the primary responsibility for pornography falls upon the end user. Sure, people making billions on others' addictions are responsible, but we are all responsible for ourselves. And if we want the hollyjollies, we can find them anywhere.

    Those Disney Princesses are pretty hot.

Celia: I forgot to say that outside the traditional exploitative and blatant porn, there are some things that could be pornographic to some and not to others. We each have to really look at our hearts, thoughts, actions, and feelings and take responsibility for them.
    So let it be written.

In a go, go, go world that sometimes seems to be an endless treadmill of deadlines and bill paying, we can often forget that we're fundamentally sensual beings.
    This line comes from SF Weekly's latest Best of San Francisco issue. It's in the blurb for the City's best striptease lessons and the line stuck with me. When I happened across it again week's later and said "So that's where I read that," I knew it had a lot of truth.

    Much like how the revelation that we are social creatures recreated my understanding of myself, I think it is also healthy to recognize we are sensual creatures. We are also spiritual creatures, yes, but to forget that our soul is flesh and spirit both is a mistake.

    Speaking of sociality, last Sunday President Eyring taught us that joy is not something we find as individuals. We need each other. Sometimes on a macro level (eg, Church); sometimes on a micro level (eg, the bedroom).

    We are complex and holy creatures, children of God who loves us.

    Let us enjoy our blessings wisely.


  1. I'm going to link your comments about my comments on film,the other comments on film, Disney Princesses and teenage boys by saying that this is one reason I don't like my four daughters to be immersed in Disney.

    I'm not personally turned on by Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella, but I don't want my girls thinking they're the perfect role models. Part of this is because of the sexual preoccupation of boys at a certain stage: I don't want my girls dressing in a way to deliberately or otherwise entice anyone else. It's hard (but not impossible) to think of a Disney Princess who is frequently shown well dressed. I'm trying to train them young to recognized immodesty and avoid it.

    As far as film in general goes, I personally have a hard time with nudity of any kind. The sex scene I mentioned approving of wasn't a nudity scene - the nakedness was implied. Neither was any of the "enlightening" suggestive matter.

    I have a problem with nudity because in film, you're looking at real people. Whatever artistic merit there may or may not be, to me it seems that nudity and some kinds of immodest dress in a film are personally violating to the actor/actress in question.

    I suppose the same would be true of any art form in which private areas of a real person were depicted, including literature. That's one of my standards, anyway.

    I also wanted to point out that the suggestive content mentioned above was not for the purposes of titillation. It was metaphorically used to represent an internal struggle of a certain character. I know this is all very vague. I don't want to drown anyone in details.

  2. .

    I knew what you meant and hope I didn't take it too out of context.

    Before I settled on "Disney Princesses" I was going to mention Ariel, but then I realized that completely failed to make my point.

    I agree wholeheartedly about dressing modestly, but I'm trying to learn to balance those feelings with the recognition that we are all, in the end, still responsible for where our own thoughts trend. When I was a kid I swore I would make my daughters dress like nuns. I'm tempering that opinion. But never too far, I trust.

  3. Oh, I didn't think you had taken me out of context at all. I just wanted to add another two cents.

  4. When I gave that Elder Holland quote, I was not necessarily thinking of this series of posts, honestly. I don't think this series is bordering on sensationalism (unlike that one mormon sex blog you linked). I do think that there has been a lot of hair splitting in trying to decide if there is such a thing as moral pornography, though.

    As for the question you posed about intentionally dressing to arouse vs. not intentionally dressing to arouse but knowing you probably will...it's a tough one for me.

    I guess it's a matter of trying to keep our dress tasteful and (spirit of the law) garment approved. While I always am letter of the law, I've honestly struggled with the spirit if the law. I lean toward low cut and quite fitted tops. Can't stand high necked things. But honestly, after reading some of these posts and comments, I think I ought to be more thoughtful of what message I'm putting out there.

  5. "it doesn't sound like porn. It sounds like arthouse."

    Yeah it can be a slippery little slope, but it totally made sense in my head. :) As they are basically two terms I use and that have a very specific meaning for me, I thought I'd explain. Sex in arthouse to me has a purpose to either further the plot or develop a character, and I might have already said this as it's sounding familiar as I type it, but in porn the sex IS the plot and the character development.

    Having said that, there is a lot of arthouse I haven't watched because it is too sexually explicit (thank you screenit.com for giving me enough specific details about movies (organised by topic) to be able to choose what movies to watch...much more useful than subjective, preachy reviews). Even so, it is not until "the sex/nudity becomes gratuitous or too explicit, [that] I think they've crossed the line into porn". If that hasn't happened, even though I might find the movie inappropriate, I still wouldn't describe it as porn. And to answer your question, though I've seen less than five minutes of Shortbus, yes, I think it crosses that line.

  6. Disney is totally hot and not just for boys. When I was about 14, I was hooked on Beauty and the Beast. The prince who used to be the beast was fine!

    Thanks for an amusing post. I'm having a lousy day, but you managed to bring a smile to my face. Especially as I tried to imagine having a passion party with the sisters of my branch -- most of whom are 60 years old and over. Ugh. :)

    As for that sexy just-baptized chick in the Book of Mormon, make sure you rip out the pictures of Nephi if you have daughters. He's pretty buff. :)

    What about Solomon's Song from the Bible?

  7. .

    I think that might be the #1 reason we stick with the somewhat opaque King James version. Not much chance of seeing a hand job as a hand job in the KJV.