May 15, 2008

Pictures of Pornograpy: an interview with an LDS bishop

This is part I of my interview with BR, who is a longstanding, active member of the Mormon church. He was the bishop of a BYU singles' ward for three years.

NSG: When you were bishop of the singles ward, did you have a lot of people coming to you with concerns about pornography?

BR: I would guess from my experience that about 98% of LDS people have some brush with pornography.

NSG: whether that be a chance encounter, or an active perusal…

BR: Yes. I think most people have had a time when they have viewed pornography and even sought it out. When I was bishop there was one time when I was counseling 25% of the ward about pornography or other sexual issues. I even counseled some women… though I would say with the women it was more like 10%.

NSG: do you think that might be because they would be less willing to talk about it, or do you really think less women have a problem?

BR: Well in my experience, women are a lot more reluctant to talk about it. I feel like I was able to be a bishop that lots of people felt comfortable talking to about these problems, and I pretty much had to prompt the women to talk to me about the pornography.

NSG: These people who came to you to talk about pornography; why did they come? Was it just out of the blue, they wanted to talk about it, or was it more in preparation for marriages and missions?

BR: There was a lot related to getting married. I had about ten cases where I had to counsel the couple about a pornography problem in order to get them worthy to be married in the temple.

NSG: Were there any cases where it didn’t work out, where the couple broke it off because of pornography?

BR: Yes. But most of them were able to work through it. I tried to counsel with the women especially, about why men struggle so much with pornography. I have found that it is very hard for a woman especially to understand why a man has such a hard time with it. I talk to them about how a man works in that way… how any attractive woman that walks by can become an issue. And it seems that men have a hard time understanding why a woman’s heart can break over an issue like this. A lot of the women save themselves for marriage and that relationship that should only come after marriage, and they feel betrayed when they find out that their partner or fiancée has gotten into pornography.

NSG: What would you say is the general reaction of a couple when someone confesses to pornography problems?
BR: A man will feel very guilty, unworthy of the woman. He will wonder if he can be trusted or if he should even expect the woman to trust him. And typically a woman will react with sadness and anger, and wondering if she can ever trust him. Her perfect image of him as prince charming is suddenly different; the knight in shining armor is looking a little tarnished. The thing is, that happens after marriage anyway. I have to counsel couples to really think about how much they love each other, and if they do love each other to make it work, to work with each other and try to overcome this.

NSG: So you would say in most cases, you think it is important for them to think about trying anyway.

BR: Yes. At least not react right away, give the matter some thought and some prayer, and decide what you want to do.

NSG: What about a case where there is a real problem, something that could be classified as an addiction, maybe. For instance, someone who spends hundreds of dollars a month on porn, someone who buys magazines and movies and spends hours a day looking at it? Would that be something that might cause you to advise differently?

BR: It really depends. Are they wanting to overcome it? Do they want to get better? Are they committed to being free of it? Those are the real issues. And sometimes a pornography problem is beyond what I can address as a bishop and I refer them to a professional who can help them overcome it. But yes, I think there are some cases where it is better not to get married because it will just cause further problems. And you have your own progression to think about; if you marry someone who is in it so deep that his progression is going to be stunted or keep you from progressing, you have to think about that too.

NSG: What sorts of pornography are most common? In addition to internet porn, do people ever come to you with things like movies, magazines, literature?

BR: All of that.

NSG: Do you find that women tend to look at pictures or gravitate more to literature?

BR: It does seem like women have more involvement with what we call “soft porn”, things like romance novels. I have found also that a higher percentage of the women who came to me tended to look at same-sex porn, meaning they view the same porn men would want to view.

NSG: Really? That is very interesting.

BR: There were some men who had the same issue… viewing pornography of the same sex. More men came to me about porn in general, and a smaller percentage of those men looked at pornography in what you could say was a homosexual way. Less women came to me, but a higher percentage of those women were looking at their own sex. I think with women, they keep those drives so much inside that they are not willing to try to talk about and understand them, and so they cover it up by romance novels and things like that. It is a lot harder for women… they did not want to talk to me much, I had to ask them questions to lead them to telling me they were struggling. I found a very good therapist to refer them to who did a lot of work with the women, with abuse issues and such.

NSG: Could I have that referral?

BR: Sure.

NSG: Did you find that, when you were counseling dating couples on this issue, that women or men would ever overreact to one of those “fleeting glance” type instances and decide not to go through an engagement, for instance?

BR: Yes.

NSG: What do you think of that?

BR: I think you should really stop and think about it. Think about yourself and how much you love someone. Try to learn about it and understand it rather than being afraid of it.

NSG: Give it a chance rather than just dismissing the idea of staying together.

BR: Right.

NSG: Did the couples you counseled work it out?

BR: For the most part, yes. There were three that broke up over it. There are a few that I am sure are still dealing with the issue in their marriage.

NSG: So really if you decide to stay together you should think of it as a recovery process and something that isn’t always possible to stop cold turkey… to try to be compassionate and work on it together.

BR: Yes. It seemed to me that the best successes came when the partner stepped up and took an active role in the recovery process. Talked about it. Did some monitoring. Called them sometimes and asked how they were doing. Asked them frankly if they had looked at it since they last spoke. As a bishop men usually wouldn’t react as well when I asked those kinds of things as they did when their girlfriends or fiancées did.

NSG: What can couples do to help each other avoid pornography and other inappropriate sexual acts while dating?

BR: I think some women are so innocent, and sometimes sheltered, that they just don’t know what affect they can have. Men just go… they react to things that some women don’t realize. A woman can help by not allowing a lot of caressing and long kissing sections, and no inappropriate touching… it’s hands off. A man should be wise and know where the boundary is and be responsible. Those long make-out sessions lead to so much pain and trouble… just stay out of it and keep it well within what is appropriate. And couples need to talk about it. They don’t have to do it a whole lot, and they should treat it as sacred, but they have to talk about sexuality, and about their own desires and expectations and as they prepare for marriage, they just need to talk about it. It’s important.


Putz said...


Jon said...

A fantastic interview, and great insights from your former bishop. Thank you both!


Janell said...

This was very interesting to read. Thanks for sharing it :)

the nice one said...

thanks NSF!! it's definatly a process!

Anonymous said...

I wonder about the wisdom of continuing a dating relationship with someone with a known, potentially serious problem. Even if they are working on it and wanting to change. You probably would think a long, long time about seriously dating a recovering alcoholic, or a philanderer, a gambler, or anyone with a habit that might affect your ability to be a stable couple/potential family. Maybe porn is so prevalent that it's hard to find someone who has never had the problem??? But if it's a continuing/present time issue, maybe it's better to opt out. He/she can come back and woo you later when the problem is under control.

NoSurfGirl said...

That is insightful, anonymous. I think that the hard thing to nail down is, what is a "problem" that would make you want to reconsider? Looking at it once or twice? Messing up and looking whilst someone has been dating you? Or something more along the lines of an addiction?

These are hard questions, and ones that I think people do not talk about... but they should.

Skywalker said...


I agree with you about 90%. As NFG pointed out, the real question is when the person you love (or are seriously interested in) shows signs of weakness with sexual matters, how will you react? With a shallow investment in someone, I'd be inclined to retreat too. It is, in fact, suggested by many Church leaders. But I feel that retreating is usually a fearful (and thus selfish) reaction. If you must retreat, do it for the right (charitable) reasons.

What if, to use your examples, I found my girlfriend had visited Wendover, NV, with friends and played the slots for a few hours. She could claim this was a one-time event. Would I reject her as a gambler and bad influence on our future family?

What if that were her family's tradition, once a year?

What if she played with face cards?

What if she were born and raised in Las Vegas and liked to visit The Strip?

Where should I charitably draw lines between acceptance, tolerance, disassociation, and condemnation?

I actually felt this fear of imperfections when I first became interested in NSG and then learned that she was divorced. Initially, I didn't care why she was divorced. I just didn't want that added risk of marital problems later. So I denied my interest and tried to move on.

Obviously, I didn't run away though. The Spirit eventually helped me overcome my fear, understand the real risks, and we addressed them together. Our marriage is much stronger because of that experience.

I feel that many, many Latter-day Saints feel justified in rejecting marriage candidates because of possible problems, without objectively viewing the true scope of the problems and weighting the real risks (as opposed to perceived and often over-blown risks). That is what this series of guest posts may help us do; understand better.

The LDS social pressure for a "perfect" marriage will often preclude working through any issues while dating. When, in reality, that is one of the best preparations for a successful marriage, in my opinion.

Sexual issues are no exception.

This guest post from BR indicates how prevalent sexual issues are with young folks today, but several of NSG's future guest posts will share personal experiences that put this in perspective. I get to see them before they are posted and they have all been enlightening to me and my sheltered mind.

Anonymous said...

I agree, skywalker, that to retreat from a person with a problem just because there IS a problem is not reasonable. We all have problems.

What I question is continuing to date in the face of an ongoing, serious problem.

I would see it as a deal breaker (maybe) if a person tried to conceal the issue from a potential mate (not out of embarrassment, but out of a desire to appear to be something they aren't) or... If the problem has been addressed over a long period of time, but it persists....or...If it's a problem that could sink a family (not the once a year gambler but the one who gambles away paychecks)

I think that the dater would need to examine his/her thought processes if they choose to continue in the face of that sort of serious problem. Women notoriously think "when we get married, it will be different" or "I love him and I can help him" or "he loves me, he needs me, I'm the one who can make a difference." And men tend to rescue.

If a problem is habituated and persistent, it is likely it will continue to persist. Not that people can't repent and be made whole and clean. But the issue will very likely always be an issue, either in the foreground or the background. Alcoholics and their families always have to deal with alcolholism, gamblers with gambling, etc. It is always there.

If a man or woman was considering marrying someone with an ongoing pornography problem, IMO, they would need to be willing to live with the problem. When you marry someone, you marry them as they are, not as you wish they would be.

I'm probably not being clear, but I guess my point is that if it's a REAL problem, why would someone (rationally) want to go forward?

NoSurfGirl said...

I think it really is up to each person, and has very much to do with what you mentioned... what they personally can live with or not. One of the things BR stated that I think was pretty relevant to this discussion is that you need to consider your own progression... if the person is going to make it harder for you to become what you want to be, then it might be better to look somewhere else.

One of the common themes, though, that has run through a lot of these interviews and posts, has been... if they want to change, give them a chance.

If they don't, then, well, maybe you're right. I know I couldn't live with a spouse who had a porn problem and no intention to work on it.

the nice one said...

during my first engagement to my now x-husband i found out that he had cheated on me. not a major sin never the less he had lied and betrayed me. never the less we "worked through it" and decided to get married. there are probaly several reasons why i decided to stay regardless of the mistake. It wasn't something i wanted to give up on. i loved him.
however to look at the situation now i can't help but think this was just a forshadowing of things to come. now i am a firm believer that people can change.
but to quote a former bishop of mine. "People need to have thier eyes wide open when dating(engaged), and half shut when they are married."
meaning if the problems are there don't brush over it,
address it,
fix it.
if they won't do that i think it would be difficult to make a marriage work.

NoSurfGirl said...


I'm sorry about what you went through. We're both happy now, though... it's so much easier to look back than be in the middle of it.

I guess if I were stating my own personal opinion about all this, it would be... yes, if you've just started dating someone, are not "in love" yet and all that, then it would be silly to continue a relationship that would require so much work up front. But if you have a lot of time and emotion invested... I don't know that I would immediately break it off without considering the situation.

Anonymous said...

I agree that this is a choice (to stay or go in the face of serious problems) that has to be based on circumstances that are known only to the individuals involved.

However, that said, I would think that even if you're "in love" and have a lot of time and emotion invested, a serious problem is a serious problem. Maybe if you're never going to have kids... you could go forward because of that investment.

There's the scripture about being unequally yoked, which refers to marrying an unbeliever (not quite the same as marrying someone who is a believer but has addictions or other serious problems, but...close).

The image of the oxen in the yoke is quite evocative...if one ox is much taller than the other, or one much stronger than the other, they can't move forward or pull together effectively in the yoke (marriage). To go into that situation knowing that it will be a struggle, and you may never be equally yoked, is the right of the individuals involved. But to bring kids to that....(I think) is unfair.

NoSurfGirl said...

That's true anon. (sorry, jumping in here again... anyone else want to respond to this, too?)

Serious problem is a serious problem. The thing is, we all have serious problems at some time in our lives. Whether it be pornography, depression, tragedy, an eating disorder, a bad spending habit and thousands of dollars of debt...

yes it would be wrong to just go ahead and get married, without addressing the problem. But to decide to break off a relationship with someone because they are struggling with something... well. let's just say, I would not have my wonderful husband right now if he had been scared of marrying a divorced, single parent. His own parents, in fact advised him to carefully think it over.

Everyone deserves a chance to get better. Especially someone that you personally have a lot invested in. That doesn't mean you should stay with them, but I think it might mean that it should be given prayerful consideration, at least, before breaking things off entirely. Or perhaps stepping back and letting someone recover, with the idea that you could get back together when they are whole again.

Anonymous said...

This was an insightful interview, but I was bothered by the (once again) claim that women are naive about how they might "trigger" a man. I understand where he was going, but once again, this can be interpreted in some really damaging ways--it implies that a man is weak and it is a woman's fault when something goes awry. I just shudder when I think about that particular line of thought.

Men AND women struggle with this issue, and as a woman who has stuggled with this particular addiction, I can tell you that the number is more than 10% of women. I am absolutely sure of it. But when the only person we can confess to is an older man, there is just no way it is going to come out as often. There isn't an answer to this issue, but I think part of the reason it is so hard is that women feel like they are not "supposed" to have this problem. It makes women feel unnatural, different from everyone else. It all ties back to this "men are more sexual creatures than women" idea that we know is false.

I am not really sure where I am going with this; I just know that it is so much more complicated than what this Bishop said here. Giving him the benefit of the doubt, I am going to assume that is because we have limited time and space in this forum.

(For the record: this is an addiciton I have stuggled with on and off for about 15 years, but I am now in recovery and have confessed what needs to be confessed and done what needs to be done to be happy and worthy)

NoSurfGirl said...


absolutely, absolutely.

Part of it was I couldn't address every issue in just this interview... I kind of meant it as an encapsulated view of the experience of an LDS bishop dealing with porn in his ward. I don't necessarily agree with everything he has said, but I think it is interesting and relevant to know what he thinks of it. For instance, I don't necessarily think a partner should monitor an addicted girlfriend/boyfriend/ spouse too much.

I think the bishop was referring to the fact that men's sexual reactions happen quickly, whereas women can physiologically take a little longer to "warm up" to sexual arousal. I know this isn't true in every case, but it seems to be true in a lot of cases.

And yes, I had that thought too, about women and pornography addictions, as I interviewed him... it is obvious to me that women would be far less likely to talk to a male bishop authority figure than a man would. :)

Best of luck to you.

Skywalker said...

NSG and I recognized that BR's "simplified" view of women might get some dander up.

I just want to clarify that BR was the kindest, gentlest and approachable bishop I have ever known—and I've known over 30. I served as his Executive Secretary and knew that most of the ward trusted him, more than usual.

I agree that women cannot be blamed for "causing men to sin". BR never meant that. He always stressed that a man is ultimately responsible for what goes on in his head, no if's, and's, or's, or but's.

BR tried very hard to teach all the men that they are visually triggered and they must learn to avoid unnecessary triggering events and to handle such events properly.

For most men, women are the prime visual trigger. Whether it's shape, movement, or color—true or perceived, real or simulated—it makes little difference. All men, saints and sinners, are designed to react to visual stimulations to a degree that might shock most women. There is no blame to be assigned here, as this is by design, to be used "within the bounds the Lord has set".

I don't see this heightened response as an indication of sexual superiority either. The same argument could be used for a women's longer state of arousal.

BR tried very hard to help women realize the extent of their influence on men around them. He also worked just as hard to help men learn control and respect for this "design feature". He tried to prepare both for a fulfilling intimacy within the bounds of marriage.

His tactics were quite different from most bishops, who focused on do's and dont's, sins and penalties. He accepted weakness while expecting healing and improvement.

Thanks for posting, everyone! Oh, may I suggest that all posters choose a name, for ease of conversation. You don't need to provide a URL, so everything is still anonymous.

wondering wife said...

"For instance, I don't necessarily think a partner should monitor an addicted girlfriend/boyfriend/ spouse too much. "

I am curious to know more about what you and others think about this. My husband and I are currently working this through at the moment--I would say he has had a consistent involvement in "soft" images throughout our 15 year marriage. I have come to be much less threatened by it than I was initially, but am still bothered-- more of a "how will this affect how he sees me long term" worry. The last time this came up a couple of years ago, I thought we had reached a new level of honesty and openness, and I felt proud of myself for being more supportive. Things seemed to go better and I decided that this new trusting and compassionate approach "worked" to "solve" the problem. About 2 weeks ago I found out that he was still viewing and hiding it--and really, the hiding is as disturbing to me as anything. (Why doesn't he feel safe? What else is being hidden, etc.)

So right now I am trying to work this through. How active should I be in enforcing accountability? What is a non-shaming way to do that? What is the role of a spouse in trying to support a change? When is silence enabling and when is it allowing space?

Maybe I should add that I think he would like to change this behavior, as much because he knows it bothers me than anything else.

wondering wife said...

And I also ought to say how grateful I am for your posts about this subject. There are just not a lot of people out there who have as measured of a tone--obviously in Mormon culture this is difficult to discuss. I can't really relate to the "it's not a big deal" approach or to the "it will destroy your marriage" approach. So thanks and I look forward to the rest of the series.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting a bishop's take on the problem. I'll add my story.

My DH used porn before I met him. He told me about it while dating, and for various reasons I wanted to continue the relationship with him. He confessed to his singles' ward bishop.

His report of the bishop's response concerned me. He said the bishop said (so this is all 3rd hand) that lots of men in the ward used porn, but most of them were able to quit when they started having real relationships. The bishop was more interested in hearing about me than talking to my fiance about porn. He asked my fiance to not take the sacrament for a couple weeks, and meet with him again. That's it.

So I knew up-front that my DH would probably start using porn again after our wedding. DH never turned to God to help him quit, and it didn't sound like the bishop talked much about the spiritual longterm effort it would take to quit a habit like porn.

Again, I didn't hear the bishop firsthand. It's possible he did say a lot more that my DH just didn't process.

I was disappointed, but not too surprised, when I found porn on his computer about a year and a half after the wedding. He doesn't want to talk about it, although I tried to be supportive and non-shaming. I'd love to help him overcome this problem. I've dealt with my own addictive behavior and other issues. I'm far from perfect.

I got the book "Clean Hands, Pure Heart" by Philip A. Harrison that describes the 12-Step program as applied to porn. I just can't picture my DH making that sort of sustained spiritual effort to overcome his problem. He wouldn't even read the book.

I had to realize the Church's rhetoric is way too extreme. What I mean is that porn really is evil, but not everyone who does porn is evil. If you believe the stories the GAs tell, I may as well file for divorce now. But my DH respects me and treats me well, both in and out of the bedroom. He is genuinely a good man and I love him. Porn is bad, but I'm hoping it won't end our marriage.

I want him to deal with this at some point, because it has stunted him spiritually. I can see the spiritual effects on him more easily than he can. He doesn't think his lack of personal spirituality is a big deal, but I do wish he would pray with me. I could use the spiritual support.

Anyway, at this point, I'm not trying to force the issue. I don't know when I need to insist he talk to me, but the time just doesn't feel right at this point. I too wonder about the questions Wondering Wife brought up - about the spouse's role in supporting change. I hope I'm spiritually sensitive enough to get inspiration on that topic, because there sure isn't any other source for advice out there.

Thanks for having this discussion. I'll be checking in.


Anonymous said...

anon asked this question:

I'm probably not being clear, but I guess my point is that if it's a REAL problem, why would someone (rationally) want to go forward?

I had a lot of factors go into my decision to marry someone I knew had a porn problem. This is just one factor.

I wanted to get married, and I was already in my 30s. To listen to the Brethren talk, almost everyone uses porn. I didn't think I'd be able to find a single man my age who didn't use porn. Staying single sounded a lot worse than marrying a man who used porn. So far, I was right. I would much rather be married to my DH, even with his porn problem, than be single.


Wondering wife said...


I know what you mean about the spiritual effects--the way you described it as stunting. My husband too is wonderful and very kind. And he goes to church, but--I don't know--there is a kind of holding back. I can't remember who gave the talk a couple of years ago, but I do remember the part where whoever the GA was discussed the spiritual effects and thinking that it was the only part I could relate to. I have a had spiritual experiences that led me to find out uncover this, and I am not one who has mystical or dramatic spiritual experiences. So I do believe in the spiritual side of this. Not sure he does.

So, if you don't mind me asking--how are you handling it now for yourself? Do you bring it up with your husband at all? Does Clean Hands, Pure Heart have any insights? Do you feel like you are biding time or do you feel like there are less direct things you do that facilitate change?

Part of what I struggle with is my lack of control--I want there to be something I can do that will "fix" this. In the end it is up to him. Sometimes I wonder if I got more upset if it would make him want to change--but that doesn't feel right. You are right that only inspiration can provide the answers for our own circumstances, but hearing other's experiences helps too.

NoSurfGirl said...

I do not know how much I can add to what you two are saying... probably nothing, except I agree with everything you're saying :)

I think they have to want help, before you can provide any. And about the whole, "spouse/girlfriend shouldn't monitor," thing...

mostly it's because then, that's what your whole relationship becomes about, I think. Or it would have in my case. I did an interview with a therapist who helps a lot of couples with these issues, and one of the things she elaborated on was how a wife can become "codependent" on an addict... feel like she is responsible for him doing "better" or "worse" with his addiction... becuase she wants to feel she has some measure of control over her own situation. or something like that. I will be putting up that interview not this, but next thursday, I think. :)

Thanks for writing in, you guys. I think you're more likely to find help with what you're struggling with by doing just what you're doing... exchanging ideas.

Also, if you were open to therapy, I think the wife can use it just as much as the husbands in these situations. even if your husband isn't ready to address the problem, a therapist can help you know how to deal with your side of it, and understand his addiction/habit/pasttime whatever it is. :)

Anonymous said...

nosurfgirl - Yeah, I don't want to monitor his computer use for exactly the reasons you state.

WonWife - I'm handling it now by bridging over it. I did confront him a couple months ago pretty directly. It did nothing but make us both uncomfortable. He didn't talk about it, and he didn't change anything. I felt worse than I had before I brought it up.

As cheesy as it sounds, I'm trying to focus on his good qualities. He has lots. I've heard a couple friends vent about their husbands recently, and that's helped. There are other problems I truly am glad I don't have.

The Clean Hands book talks about support from others, but says there isn't much anyone can do unless the addict himself wants to change. That's true. I don't think we'll make any progress until my DH decides he wants God more than he wants porn. And I just don't see those desires in my husband.

I don't know. Our marriage is only four years old. I'd probably deal with it differently if we'd been married 15 years. I don't know what to tell you.

I don't really have the urge to "fix" him. Like I said, I dealt with my own addictive behavior before I ever met him. I wouldn't have taken any help from anyone until I was good and ready. No one could have fixed me, and I would have gotten upset and avoided them if they'd tried. I'm trying to treat him the same way I wanted to be treated - which is to say I wanted people to ignore what I was doing, let me deal with it, and just love me anyway. Frustrating for others, I know. Sometimes intervention is warranted.

I had a tipping point. I got to a point where I realized that if I continued my favorite behavior, it was going to negatively affect my ability to function in relationships and the workplace. I had to either quit entirely, or it was going to take over my whole life. I actually had a terribly frightening and vivid dream where I was presented with either one or the other option. In my dream, I made the wrong choice. I can't describe how terrible I felt when I woke up. I've never had such a real dream. After that dream, I chose to quit.

I hope that eventually my DH gets to a tipping point like that, where he realizes he's either got to quit entirely, or ruin his life. I hope and pray he'll choose to quit entirely. But while he can still use porn and be a good person, husband and father, he doesn't see any reason to quit.

Have you read any books on addictions in general? One I found helpful was "Breaking the Cycle of Compulsive Behavior" by Martha Beck. She made up the examples, but I recognized her description of why people get addicted in myself. You ought to pick it up if you haven't read anything else on why people continue in addictions even though they hate what they're doing.


LDS Art Show said...

I always like your posts, keep up the great work!

Anonymous said...

is porn the only winner during credit crunch?


Anonymous said...

Any idea how credit crunch affected porn?

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