Claim #5c: Victoria’s Secret and Dancing with the Stars

Rollo points out that one Mormon Stories podcast which mentioned a wife concerned about her husband’s reading of Victoria’s Secret lingerie catalogues was also concerned about him watching Dancing With The Stars. I had not appreciated that these were the same client. I am sorry that I did not, because this fact considerably strengthens my argument. It does not, as Rollo thinks, weaken it at all–on the contrary.

Rollo claims, like the Mormon Stories podcast, that Dancing With The Stars is clearly not pornographic. This betrays the fundamental misunderstanding, however: patients with sexual compulsions (some researchers or clinicians term this “sexual addiction”) may respond to a huge variety of stimuli and situations in a dysfunctional way. For Rollo and me, Dancing With The Stars may be harmless entertainment. But, for a patient with a sexual compulsive disorder, even the most benign things can be twisted into the service of their dysfunction.

For example, a self-described recovering sex addict and psychotherapist describes his own experience with what he calls “The Blonde in the Beemer”:

Some years ago, before I had broken the stranglehold of sex addiction, I was driving north on California Highway 101 toward Salinas, which is south of San Francisco….Then I saw the blonde in the Beemer. At that time, a significant percentage of my day was spent fantasizing, spinning elaborate sexual scenarios. When I saw the beautiful blonde hair, my fantasy spinner began to go full tilt. The blonde was doing 70 in a 55 mile-an-hour zone….I started fixating on that long blonde hair and that car. Wow! It was a shiny, new, red, top-of-the-line BMW. She must be beautiful and have money. By now, my sexual-compulsion fantasy spinner was also doing 70 miles per hour. Wow! My lucky day. I get to speed through the valley and finally realize my long-standing fantasy of a beautiful woman driver wanting to hook up with me. My mind was spinning. “Man, it would be nice to have somebody like that. She’s probably not just beautiful, but maybe even fashion-model beautiful….

Before she started the turn, I gunned the engine and pulled up alongside her. I glanced to my right, expecting to finally see the face of the object of my, by now, almost hour-long fantasy. But all I saw was the oily-looking, acne-scarred face of an unattractive middle-aged man who happened to have long blonde hair.

Seeing that blond-haired man in the BMW was like having the heavyweight champion of the world punch me in the solar plexus. I felt dizzy and almost as if I had to puke. This event was a major wake-up call for me. I had not only spent an hour on this crazy fantasy, but I had put my life in danger and possibly jeopardized the lives of other drivers, only to realize I had been following one butt-ugly guy. In fact, my eyes were finally opened to the fact that I wasted a good deal of my life on wishing, wondering, and fantasizing.[1]

Now, are ugly blond men with acne in Beemers “pornography”? Surely not, by any objective definition. But, that completely misses the point—for the above patient, his hour-long obsession and pursuit of the blonde was a dangerous (for himself and others) manifestation of sexual compulsion. And, if his wife was aware of that behavior, she would be perfectly correct to be alarmed and want him to seek help.

The same author describes another situation in which the mere sound of a woman’s high heels served as the springboard for his compulsion to again rear its head:

About ten years ago, I was walking up the stairway to my second-floor counseling office when I heard a distinctive sound from the floor below. It sounded like high heels. I felt a strange, internal sensation as I continued up the steps….Although such feelings were not particularly unusual, this moment on the stairs was quite powerful….In an instant, or what I like to call “quicker than clock time,” I was transformed back into the sense of being the powerless sex addict that ruined most of my early life. Now, once again, I could fall back into helplessness over the intense desire to act out sexually. What really troubled me about this feeling was that I was having it right in my own counseling office, where I talked to other sex addicts every day.[2]

Is the mere sound of high heels “pornographic”? No. But, that kind of definition is irrelevant. If the woman’s husband is using Dancing With The Stars as a trigger for his sexual compulsion, one can easily see why she would term it “pornographic.” And, she is more right than Mormon Stories’ expert who rejects the label. The LDS understanding is more expansive than Mormon Stories’, but is a better guide to how an LDS wife would use the term:

Pornography depicts or describes the human body or sexual conduct in a way that arouses sexual feelings.  It may be found in written material (including romance novels), photographs, movies, electronic images, video games, Internet chat rooms, erotic telephone conversations, music, or any other medium.  It is a tool of the adversary….Some materials that are not explicitly pornographic can still fill your life with darkness and deprive you of spiritual strength.  Television programs, pictures, movies, songs, and books often treat unchastity and infidelity as common, appealing, and humorous.  Avoid anything that drives the Holy Ghost from your life.[3]

Remember, Mormon Stories’ podcast is attempting to legitimize the use of erotica in the marital relationship, to get rid of the “Mormon bias” about such things. There are two possibilities about this woman’s complaint about her husband:

First option

The first option is that the woman is correct that her husband exhibits unhealthy, sexually compulsive behavior with lingerie catalogues and D-list stars on TV in skimpy costumes and suggestive dance moves. Yet, her concerns are minimized, her insights are marginalized, and she is made an object of ridicule and fun for the more sophisticated, enlightened audience who can shake their heads at such a silly, repressed Mormon woman who needs to get with the times.

Rollo himself falls for this, hook, line, and sinker: “Smith probably left this nugget out of his essay because even he realized DWTS is not porn and that the LDS woman in the story was probably a bit off her rocker.”

The woman is “a bit off her rocker”—we needn’t take her concerns seriously. But, contrary to Rollo’s claim, had I noticed that this referred to the same patient, I would have drawn extensive attention to it, as I do above.

But we cannot blame Rollo for his mistake, because it is precisely this mistake which Mormon Stories promotes–if this option is correct.

Second option

The second option is that Rollo and Mormon Stories are correct: this woman’s concerns are overblown and she is gravely mistaken, sexually uptight, etc.

This could be true. But, if it is true, its inclusion still serves the speaker’s purposes admirably in disguising the real issue. This is the worst type of abuse of anecdotal evidence—one takes an exception, and treats it as the rule. Such women do exist, but the weight of their mistaken worries are overwhelmed by a tsunami of pain and grief in spouses (almost all women) who suffer enormously because of their partner’s compulsive sexual behavior. (To say nothing of how women are degraded and mistreated in the porn industry itself. The audience’s discussion afterward even included talk about where to find ‘ethical’ porn–something, one guesses, like an organically certified free-range poultry that one can eat without guilt.)

If #2 is the case, then Mormon Stories’ podcast is tacitly treating this woman and her overblown worries as the norm, as “the problem” that needs to be resolved. Anyone who protests the suggestion that porn and erotica ought to be used can then be made into the equivalent of the silly, “off her rocker” woman who thinks Dancing With The Stars and Victoria’s Secret are triple-X material. It allows that point of view to be ridiculed and dismissed (as Rollo does) on the strength of a single, non-representative anecdote.

But we cannot blame Rollo for his mistake, because it is precisely this mistake which Mormon Stories promotes–if this option is correct.

Concluding Thoughts

The literature, by contrast, is increasingly showing the degree to which women and their relationships suffer from pornography.[4]

And, finally, even if we concede that some erotica may be harmless for some couples, how confident can we be that we can identify the couple and properly titrate the dose? How can we control for the fact that novelty is required in such matters, and that the response to such stimuli will wane with time: requiring that we either up the dose or the frequency of use to get the same effect? Is there not at least the chance that we may here start one partner down a path that will ultimately be harmful?

Given the growing neurochemical and neurodevelopmental evidence that different individuals are at different risk for such problems, can we be so sure we know before it is too late? Mormon Stories’ advice risks violating the first commandment of therapeutic practice: Primum, non nocere: First of all (or above all) do no harm.

At the very least, considerably more “informed consent” ought to be provided to clients about the potential risks of this therapy that is offered so casually and breezily.

So, I apologize to Rollo for missing this connection, and am grateful to have it pointed out. It increases my conviction that this podcast is unreliable and takes a too-cavalier attitude toward a serious problem. At the very least, couples who receive such advice ought to be assessed directly to determine whether this is wise advice (if it ever is):

Those who claim pornography is harmless entertainment, benign sexual expression, or a marital aid, have clearly never sat in a therapist’s office with individuals, couples, or families who are reeling from the devastating effects of this material.[5]

[1] George N. Collins with Andrew Adleman, Breaking the Cycle: Free Yourself from Sex Addiction, Porn Obsession, and Shame (New Harbinger Publications, Inc., 2010), 78–79, 81.

[2] George N. Collins with Andrew Adleman, Breaking the Cycle: Free Yourself from Sex Addiction, Porn Obsession, and Shame (New Harbinger Publications, Inc., 2010), 116.

[3] Let Virtue Garnish Thy Thoughts (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Intellectual Reserve, Inc., 2006), 1, 4.

[4] For example, R. M. Bergner and A. J. Bridges, “The Significance of Heavy Pornography Involvement for Romantic Partners: Research and Clinical Implications,” Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy 28 (2002):193–206; Dolf Zillman and Jennings Bryant, “Effects of Prolonged Consumption of Pornography on Family Values,” Journal of Family Issues 9/4 (1988): 518–44.

[5] J. C. Manning, “The Impact of Pornography on Women: Social Science Findings and Clinical Observations,” in The Social Costs of Pornography: A Collection of Papers (Princeton, N.J.: Witherspoon Institute, 2010); cited in Mary Anne Layden and Mary Eberstadt, The Social Costs of Pornography: A Statement of Findings and Recommendations (The Witherspoon Institute, 2010), footnote 7.