I have been waiting to finish my series with this talk. I find it a stunning, honest treatise on just why pornography can interfere with real relationships, particularly where women are concerned. Read, and enjoy. And thank you, Margaret, for getting the electronic copy.
Real Life, Real Women
Stake General Priesthood Meeting
BYU 16th Stake
February 11, 2001
President Van C. Gessel
Brethren, I appreciate you being here tonight. You have heard powerful testimonies about the restoration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ through latter-day prophets. My personal preference would have been to address the same topic, but the Lord has had another direction He has been trying to coax me toward over the past few weeks. But I cannot begin without sharing with you my personal, and powerfully internalized, testimony that two exalted beings—the Father of us all and His Beloved Son—did appear to Joseph Smith and selected him as the first prophet of our dispensation, and that the Book of Mormon was translated for the express purpose of being a second hemispheric testimony of Christ's universal mission to all the children of God to bring us salvation and everlasting joy. I have a profound personal witness that Gordon B. Hinckley is today the Lord's megaphone to a spiritually-deafened world, and that the closer we can conform our lives to the teachings of our prophet, the greater will be our happiness and the clearer our sense of direction in our daily activities.
And now, a preface to the topic the Lord wants you to hear through me. During His mortal ministry, the Savior, viewing our day and its many challenges and opportunities, declared, with what must have been a sorrowful shaking of His head and a sympathetic sigh that in our day "even the very elect will be deceived." Like King Benjamin, "I cannot tell you all the things whereby ye may commit sin; for there are divers ways and means, even so many that I cannot number them. But this much I can tell you, that if ye do not watch yourselves, and your thoughts, and your words, and your deeds, and observe the commandments of God, and continue in the faith of what ye have heard...even unto the end of your lives, ye must perish. And now, O man, remember, and perish not." (Mosiah 4:29-30) How many new "ways and means" to commit sin have been added to the adversary's repertoire just in the last fifty years?
As some of you will have detected, I feel a keen responsibility to try to expose some of Satan's techniques so that you can steel yourselves against them. Here again, I cannot be exhaustive in my listing of his pernicious plots to destroy us, but two specific approaches come to mind. Consider, for instance, the numerous ways in which the temper tries subtly to persuade us that there are limits on the efficacy of the Atonement of his arch-rival. Using a logic by which we are far too easily seduced, Lucifer not only leads us into temptation and then transmits to our minds ways to rationalize our sins, but he also is there to meet us immediately after we have transgressed to comfort and assure us and lull us away into carnal security by persuading us that what we have done is not so bad, that we can enjoy life now and repent later, that everybody is doing it, that we really can't or shouldn't control our selfish cravings, that God will beat us with a few stripes, and so on and so on ad nauseam. But then he turns truly nasty, using the quasi-scientific philosophies of men to delude us into thinking that we were "born that way," that what we have done is who we really are, and that we just aren't celestial material, no matter how hard we try. Or that repentance either works very quickly and painlessly—like arsenic—or that we can never refrain from sin long enough to merit forgiveness. In essence, he insists that we can never change, that we are doomed to repeat the mistakes engendered in our genes or inflamed by our weaknesses. Worst of all, perhaps, he has convinced far too many in our day that our sins have conclusively separated us from God and that there is no road back.
What nonsense! What vicious falsehoods! What a cruel abuse of us when we are in an imperfect, weakened state of mind and spirit! Reject such lies, brethren; if you start to be persuaded by them, Satan will ultimately succeed in having you place limits, restrictions, and malevolent misinterpretations upon the Atonement of the Savior, and before long your faith in the power of Christ to lift and heal and redeem you will be so debilitated that you will fall even further prey to temptation and despair.
Along with his attempts to dilute our comprehension and acceptance of the Atonement, the evil one does an absolutely splendid job of distorting our sense of who we are. Over the past couple of centuries, he has slowly moved us from an image of ourselves as children of our Heavenly Father to an intellectual conviction that we are merely slightly advanced animals, that our status is determined solely by biology and cultural determinism, and that we are so much lower than the angels that maybe they aren't really there, and even if they are, we'll never be able to join them on their level. Secularization has steered our society away from the highway of our God to the dead-end alleys of materialism and pleasure-seeking. I personally attribute much of the decline in our civilization today to the fact that so many of us—including members of the Church, unfortunately—have been swayed by Satan's agenda, whereby he tries to get us to think less of ourselves, less of our bodies, less of our divine origins, far less of our eternal destiny, and considerably less of others. Freedom has replaced responsibility, individuality has overtaken the value of community, the concept of "victimless crimes" has negated the need for sin and guilt, the "right to choose" has displaced the duty to replenish, and the "greatest generation" has been succeeded by the "me generation." It's ironic, isn't it--the more we focus on "me," the less we really think of "me," because "me" only means immediate gratification of "my" desires, attainment of "my" goals, and choosing what is best for "me" alone. We claim that technology has enabled us to shrink the world, to connect humankind together as never before--and how do we do that? By locking ourselves in a solitary room, turning on an inanimate object, and traveling to wherever the sensual surf washes us on shore.
But enough of my old-fashioned, outmoded philosophical ramblings. And on to my point, if I can remember what it is. Of all the things that concern me about our day and our society, I think I am most troubled by the way in which Satan has put sacred things up for sale, a phenomenon only superficially manifest a few months back when some fool put a signed temple recommend up for sale on e-Bay. Peter in his second epistle wrote: "...there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction. And many shall follow their pernicious ways; by reason of whom the way of truth shall be evil spoken of. And through covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you..." (2 Peter 2:1-3)
"With feigned words make merchandise of you." Our bodies and our spirits, our very souls, were purchased by the blood of Christ and His triumphant resurrection and exaltation—we belong, in every part of our being, to the Master. But the false teachers of our day, in their damnable heresies, have sought to cancel out the Lord's proof of purchase. And because of their lust for our dollars, with lies and deceits they put us up for sale, body and soul. They are selling stolen goods as surely as that temple recommend put up for online barter belongs to the Lord and not to its brain-dead holder. The world has no claim on us—except as we allow it—and no right to put our bodies or our minds on the auction block.
Much has been said of late about the evils of pornography. In case that word gives you a sense of déjà vu, I will reassure you that I'm not going to repeat my ward conference talk and give you a list of movies and music to avoid. I have already given you that counsel; I hope you have taken it. This evening I want to try to expose the inherent spiritual and temporal lies that lurk beneath the surface of the pornography industry, an industry bound and determined to "make merchandise of you." And I hope to demonstrate for you what the long-term poisonous effects can be for you if you do not "watch yourselves, and your thoughts, and your words, and your deeds, and observe the commandments of God, and continue in the faith of what ye have heard...even unto the end of your lives."
I apologize, brethren, for using the approach I am about to use, but I can think of no way other than specific plainness to say what I feel must be said. My goal is to make clear to you how a life of erotic fantasy can hamper your every attempt to find happiness in your life now and, to a much greater degree, in the future. I want to try to contrast the foolish fantasy women of the sensual realm with women of the real world, the kind of women in your ward, the women you associate with every day, the kind of woman you will eventually marry. We will call the women of the fantasy world "Playpets." And let me emphasize, brethren, that it makes no difference where you encounter a Playpet—in magazines, on TV, in movies, on the Internet, or simply in your own mental fantasies. She is designed to destroy you and your happiness, no matter the form in which she appears.
What is so alluring about a Playpet? First and most obvious is her unclothed physical body, for sale in every conceivable size and shape, tailor-made to suit the buyer's personal preferences. The wonderful thing about this particular sales transaction is that if October's Playpet doesn't fully satisfy your lusts, there is always November. And December. And several thousands more on the Internet and video. In other words, the satanic salesman allows you to pick and choose whatever body type appeals most to you. And you can trade her in for a new model whenever and as often as you wish. Like she were your own private flesh-and-blood Barbie Doll, you can dress and undress her according to your every whim. You are in charge. You are her Master. You control her fate, her wardrobe, her poses. She submits to your every idea, every fantasy, every beat of your hedonistic heart. She never gets pregnant, never gets tired, never throws up, never catches a cold—even when she's undressed—never leaves town or goes to school or work on church or anywhere. She never ages or gets wrinkles. She is, because she cannot exist, perfect in the worldly sense. But she is made of plastic and silicone, and she can never be yours forever, because she cannot be perfected in a spiritual sense.
For the here and now, however, she is always available. Your Playpet never gets headaches, never has periods, never would rather just sit and talk, never needs to take the time to attend to her own needs and obligations. Her only role in life is to convince you that you can have her whenever you want her. She will not complain, she will not pretend to have any feelings or desires of her own; she will cater to you on demand. Best of all, perhaps, she never has a single thought. She will never disagree with you, never want you to listen to her opinions, has no rights or feelings. She only has one purpose in life, and that is to be under your control.
Do you begin to see why and how women have, through most of our mortal history, been repressed and downtrodden and treated as objects? And why, though we have in our modern enlightenment given them equal legal and political rights, we continue to repress them in our fatal fantasies because of the lustful lies peddled to us by both Hollywood and by Hell?
A real woman—the kind of woman you will eventually marry—has been taught to dress modestly. Already she is a disappointment to the man who expects his women to dress like streetcorner saleswomen. The real woman will come to you in marriage with only one bodily type, which you cannot trade in for one you'd like better. Her physical body, which she and the Lord regard as a sacred, temple-like edifice, is real and mortal and therefore subject to the processes of change and aging. It is highly unlikely that she will, at age 45, look just like she did at 23. Does that mean she will be less attractive to you later in life? Only if you haven't abandoned your fantasies of living happily ever after with a supermodel.
You neither own nor have rightful dominion over the real woman you marry. She is her own person, as important to her Father in Heaven as are you. She is, with all her imperfections, a goddess in embryo. She gets headaches. She has periods, and if she's lucky enough to have them stop, it means she's pregnant. When that happens, her body will change in shape and in function—dramatically at times. I can pretty much guarantee you that at full term she won't look much like a Playpet.
A real woman gets tired, and occasionally even grumpy. She gets sick, which may not always be the most effective turn-on for you. In some cases, she will need surgery, and she may have to stay in the hospital for days on end and will likely emerge with a scarred body. Is that the point at which she should be traded in for a woman fresh off the pages of this month's Sports Illustrated?
The real woman with whom you will eventually live has thoughts and feelings of her own; she has her agency; she is, in most cases these days, very well-educated and bright and thoughtful and more often than not gives us men a run for our intellectual money. Her will belongs to her. She may actually have the temerity to disagree with you from time to time. If you're a fool, you'll tell her to get in line and follow the priesthood. I tried that once, many years ago—it's one of the dumbest things I ever did.
Your future wife cannot, and must not, ever be required to cater to your passions unwillingly. The amazing, challenging, and joyous thing about marital intimacy is that it performs all of its uplifting functions only when it is utterly mutual. It can only degrade when it is one-sided, selfish, and not consensual. Let me caution you very plainly: if you have trained your physical body to expect sexual release on a frequent basis, you have set in motion a process that will very likely have a serious negative impact on your future marriage. No real woman ever can or ever should be expected to be available to you 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. And she will sense the disappointment in your eyes and realize that she is not meeting your so-called "needs." She will be hurt, and a real woman in emotional pain is not likely to feel like initiating romance herself. Days and months and even years of mutual frustration and inadequacy may follow.
Because she is so much unlike the Playpet, the real woman of the Church, imperfect though she is, has within her the potential to become perfect. If you will assist her by accepting and loving and caring for her amidst all her imperfections.
Now to the heart of the matter, brethren. Do you really believe that you can, in the days of your singlehood, fill your mind and soul and body with illusory images of Playpets and a carnal sense of domination and then be fully prepared to live with and care for and nurture a real woman to whom you are sealed? Do you suppose that the habits of selfishness and supremacy which you have developed through repeated exposure to lifeless media images will somehow not spill over into your marriage and hamper your ability to love your wife with all your heart, might, mind, and strength—forever? Please don't allow rationalization or self-deception to stand in the way of answering those questions truthfully.
You are currently in the process of patterning your life, of setting up consistent habits and attitudes and practices to manage your thoughts and time that will stay with you throughout your life. When we talk about the addictive nature of media-bred or mind-fed fantasizing about sexual matters, we are not simply talking about the enticing lure of the material. We are talking about the ways in which such thoughts and deeds create potentially permanent attitudes and habits and feelings toward sexuality and toward real women. Let me be very direct, brethren: no matter how you might imagine this working in the future, marriage is not a cure for addiction to pornography. Neither is marriage a remedy for obsessive thoughts or physiological patterns established earlier in life. We are striving to teach you correct principles so that you will be able to govern yourself—in all things. Most especially those things that can either make you supremely happy or atrociously miserable.
If you allow yourself to get caught up in the net of carnal fantasy, I can all but promise that there will be heartache in your future. I know of too many marriages that have broken up because of the husband's unreal expectations for his wife's looks and performance, for which he compensated by turning—or, far more often—returning to pornographic addiction. Even if he doesn't slide in that direction, the emotional wounds he has inflicted on his wife are deep and painful. At the conference on the impact of pornography held earlier this week at BYU, Dr. Wendy Ulrich pointed out how involvement with fantasy images of sexuality can damage and destroy intimate relationships. A man who lives in his fantasies cannot simultaneously establish residence in reality. How would a wife feel, offering the best of herself to her husband, to find that he prefers the naked chicks on late-night HBO? Do you think she might feel truly desired, appreciated, and attractive? Or would feelings of inferiority—inferiority to an illusion, I might note—and inadequacy and pain and resentment pour from her? Would she feel more or less like a sex object herself? Dr. Ulrich claimed that pornographic addiction produces feelings of intensity rather than intimacy, of control rather than of safety, and of obsession rather than trust. Clinging to your fantasies will make it impossible to cling to your spouse; it will always be a wall that stands between the two of you and prevents oneness of body and of spirit.
The Church News reported last week a research study which found that "people exposed to repeated presentations of hardcore, non-violent adult pornography over just a six-week period develop callousness toward women, trivialize rape, develop distorted perceptions about sexuality, develop an appetite for more deviant, bizarre or violent types of pornography, are no longer satisfied with sex in their marriage, devalue the importance of marriage and view non-monogamous relationships as normal and natural behavior." (February 3, 2001) Did you hear anything there that runs contrary to the “Proclamation on the Family”? Or to what you want in your future? The irony, brethren, is that the kinds of feelings and attitudes developed when we keep our minds focused on carnal gratification can only lead to unhappiness, frustration, contention, and ultimately separation from what you most want in your life.
I beseech you, brethren: do not procrastinate the day of your repentance; for that same spirit which does possess your bodies at the time you go into marriage, that same spirit will have power to possess your body in the eternal world and make your relationship with your wife perpetually miserable. "I would that ye should repent and forsake your sins, and go no more after the lusts of your eyes, but cross yourself in all these things; for except ye do this ye can in no wise inherit the kingdom of God [along with your wife]. Oh, remember, and take it upon you, and cross yourselves in these things." (Alma 39:9) "All men that are in a state of nature, or I would say, in a carnal state, are in the gall of bitterness and in the bonds of iniquity; they are without God in the world, and they have gone contrary to the nature of God; therefore, they are in a state contrary to the nature of happiness." (Alma 41:11)
Brethren, we are all mortal men. We are all subject to temptations. Salacious thoughts will from time to time enter all our minds unbidden. But we have a choice about what we do with them. Elder Neal A. Maxwell reminds us of the example of the Savior: “Jesus noticed the tremendous temptations that came to Him, but He did not process and reprocess them. Instead, He rejected them promptly. If we entertain temptations, soon they begin entertaining us!” (May 1987 Ensign)
I am not here tonight trying to adopt a holier-than-thou attitude. I confess before you that the struggles to control thoughts and to live in a real marriage are ongoing. There are days when I could apply Hamlet's self-evaluation to myself: “I am myself indifferent honest: but yet I could accuse me of such things, that it were better my mother had not borne me..." But I likewise testify to you that the struggles are very much worth the effort. They are, I would maintain, the only way to retain happiness and peace of conscience and self-respect and to fully enjoy the many great satisfactions of married life. I adore my wife, and my love and respect for her and my determination to help her attain her anointing to become a queen have helped me endure the many trials of health that we have shared together and the seemingly endless string of temptations that have paraded before me.
My final message, therefore, is to all of us: there is a simple solution if you are still battling the seductions of a fantasy world that is twisting and distorting your ability to fully embrace and love a real-life woman, and I can say it in four words: Stop. Get Help. Change. It is far easier to say those four words than to live them, but I promise you, brethren, that it is the only process that will prepare you for a celestializable marriage. If you are involved in anything in your life—whether in your thoughts, your words, or your deeds—that is draining from you the resolve and the ability to live with an imperfect but real woman in a sealed covenant of devotion and mutual joy, stop now. Go to your bishop, to a counselor, or both. Addictions are not easily broken, but true happiness is not easily attained. Repent and change your attitudes and your activities and your interactions that may be cementing false patterns in place in your soul, and I assure you that you will be forever grateful that you did.
I leave you tonight with a quotation from Elder L. Aldin Porter, senior president of the Quorums of the Seventy, delivered at last week's CES fireside; he said: "The message through the ages from the prophets has been to stay clean, to stay pure, and they promise you will reap unlimited happiness. Much of what is seen today on network television, videos and in movies is degrading to women and desecrates the sacredness of the powers of creation. I wish I had sufficient words or capacity in the English language to impress upon you the necessity of cleanliness of thought and action in order to build a strong foundation of righteousness in anticipation of a happy and fulfilling life." (Church News, February 10, 2001, p. 4) I add my personal testimony to that of Elder Porter. I want each one of you to be happy in every possible way, and I know from personal experience, from my past mistakes and trials and from many, many instances of direct personal revelation, that the only possible way to achieve and retain happiness in and after this mortal life is by preparing yourselves in all respects for a worthy temple marriage, and by patterning your life right now in proper channels by focusing all your thoughts and attitudes and actions on the sanctity of womanhood and the divine role of marriage in guiding you to exaltation. I bear you my solemn witness that as you endeavor to formulate within the depths of your soul a vision of celestial womanhood that respects all women as daughters of God and treats them like the queens and priestesses they are destined to become, your personal burdens will be lightened, and your heart and mind will be ready for all the blessings that the Lord has to give you. I bear testimony of that, accompanied by an unshakeable promise that the Savior can and will guide you along the specific path that will lead you from the great and spacious and totally unachievable fantasies of the telestial prison house in which we live and prepare you for the joyous reality of preparing yourself for eternal life with a beautiful, loving, supportive companion whom you can cherish freely and forever.
Labels: feminism, Mormon culture, Pictures of Pornography and the LDS People