October 4, 2007

computers, sex, and denial in the living room

The following writing comes from a friend of mine, Sister Secret. She'd like to remain anonymous yet would like to open up dialogue about the subject of internet porn and how we react to it as Mormons. Any thoughts are appreciated and she will be reading and responding as she sees fit.

computers, sex, and denial in the living room

One Christmas season, we were visiting my in-laws. Newly married, I was enjoying getting to know my husband's family. One night, we were gathered in the living room playing a game. I got up to get a snack, passing by the computer in the family room on the way to the kitchen. My father-in-law was at the computer. I glanced at the computer screen--okay, I'm nosy--and saw that he was at a website that contained several links to calendar girls. You know, naked ones.

I kept walking by, and thought that I must have been mistaken. I only caught a quick glance and wasn't sure what I saw. There's no way my devout Mormon father-in-law would be checking out...No.

I grabbed my snack and went back into the living room. A little while later, I walked by again to get a drink. My father-in-law was still at the same website. And I could tell now that it was definitely what I thought it was. Yep. Porn. Back in the living room with the rest of the family, my brain started working hard on denial. Surely he was only on that site by mistake. He's not of a computer savvy generation and just followed a link he shouldn't have and accidentally found himself here. Right?

Out of morbid desire to know for sure--or perhaps, a certain lack of boundaries about other people's business that Mormonism bred in me--I walked by the computer again. This time, I saw he was printing something out. A picture. I only saw a couple inches worth as I quickly walked behind him, but I could tell it was a whole lot of flesh color. I was shocked and appalled. Curiosity just got the best of him, and, I mean, he's only human, right? This is exactly what the Brethren warned against, isn't it? You get one glimpse, and suddenly you're sucked in and your marriage and life are ruined. How could he be so stupid? I walked back through on the way back from the kitchen, almost as a "I know what you're doing" statement and saw he had folded up the picture and tucked it into his shirt pocket.

I returned to the living room, angry and confused. I tried to play the game with everyone, but I was distracted. My father-in-law disappeared into his bedroom, and came out a while later, hair disheveled and a goofy grin on his face. No way. He did not just--oh, my gosh--how could he? What do I do? Granted, he probably hasn't done it with his wife in years, but, jeez. This in pornography, the bane of modern existence. I sneaked away to the computer and checked the history. His sins were confirmed: there were several jpgs, all of them named female names. I didn't click on any of them myself. Too dangerous. Besides, I didn't want to see any naked women. Gross.

It all made sense now. The computer viruses, the raunchy pop-ups on the screen when you least suspect it. He's been downloading things, all sorts of cookies and junk infecting the computer. Everyone had been wondering what the heck was wrong with the computer, why there were so many porn ads popping up. I had been too innocent to suspect any of the teenage boys, or even that someone in the house was viewing porn sites. I just figured those evil-doers who make the sites are also good at finding ways to infect random computers. You know, like the Brethren said, it catches you unawares.

I was angry. I couldn't remember the last time I'd been that angry. I had to do something. Something. But what? Confront him? Ugh, too embarrassing. I hardly know him. Tell my husband? What good would that do? Make him mad, too? That would just be gossip, and the fewer people who know about his sin, the better. Tell my mother-in-law? Yeah, that's probably good. She should know. She should know that their marriage is about to be ruined by some insidious pictures from the internet. But how do I tell her? That's just so awkward.

I seethed and thought the rest of the evening, but didn't say anything. Then it hit me. Whose business was this, more than anyone else's? The bishop! Yes, I could tell the bishop. But how? I'd heard of people slipping notes to bishops to let them know about other's sins. I could do that, write a note that my father-in-law has something to confess. Yeah, that'll work.

The next day was Sunday, and we all packed in the car to head to church, like always. I was so mad at my father-in-law I couldn't stand to be near him, or even look at him. He happened to sit next to me in the pew. I tensed up and scooted further away from him, trying not to make it obvious. I sat there thinking about my plan to tell the bishop, wondering how to word it. But I wasn't sure, still, if that's what I should do. I thought and thought, just as angry and confused as ever. Finally, I prayed, "What should I do?"

And then it hit me. I should do nothing. At the time, this came to me as, "That's between my father-in-law and the Lord." I felt the Spirit was telling me Heavenly Father would take care of it. I felt relieved, a burden gone from my shoulders. The Lord knew, and would deal with it in His own way.

I never told. I kept my little secret, and smugly noticed that next time there was a temple wedding, he didn't attend. His wife gave some excuse about forgetting to get his temple recommend renewed. I figured that his bishop had found out somehow.

Since then, I've changed my mind about the church, and have reinterpreted the Spirit's little message to be my then-devout way of realizing a simple truth: It was none of my business.

Now, the Brethren's fearful advice seems overblown. There are plenty of far more important things the supposed leaders of the True Church of God on Earth could be preaching about than men's solo sex lives.

--Sister Secret


montchan (MJ Bliss) said...

naked calendar girls are porn???? That's news to me.

Bishop Rick said...

I hear that internet porn can be very uplifting.

Cele said...

I think the things that got to me on this whole post was that
1) it was a family night, but he didn't participate...well not with the family
2) that he wasn't worried about anyone finding out or seeing
3) and oooh, ugh, that's just more information tban I would want to know about my in laws.

I can tell you my husband and I would have definately had a discussion about it. We discuss everything. Really. EVERYTHING

uplifting... ha ha ha

Sideon said...

A time and place for everything, but surfing for porn in a non-private setting??? The guy sounded desperate (and clueless). Jeebus.

On the other hand (no pun intended), I think that erotica and visuals can be a healthy outlet if a partner in a relationship is not quite fulfilled in their physical relationship. The fantasies/turn ons can be a powerful stimulant to both parties, depending on the trust level and communication between the two parties. Is someone so insecure that they're threatened by their partner's arousal with... *gasp* someone else?

I may have joked about the glories of porn and I admit I've used the word casually, but seriously: I think "porn" is a loaded word, and until the guilt and shame aspects are removed from the equation, I'd prefer to call adult, nude, explicit visuals of consenting adults... as visual erotica. And I gladly celebrate visual erotica.

The soapbox is now ready for the next participant.

Bishop Rick said...

Here is an example of showing boobs for a good cause...breast cancer awareness.


This was a recent link from a blog that I read occasionally. Apparently this was started a few years ago by a blogger with an idea of showing boobs and taking donations.

Most of the boobs are covered by bras, hands, paint, etc. but there is a pay-per-boob section for donors.

Their goal this year is raise $10,000 so get over their and donate...either cash or pics.

FYI: The blogger that displays this link on her site is a pic donator.

hm-uk said...

Firstly, I hate to ask whether this author is for real, but is this author for real? I'm almost tempted to think this is satirical. If not, apologies for my skepticism. It's just that it's been ages since I was surrounded by people who believe pornography to be the taint of modern life. Especially since some of the earliest preserved images on walls, on papyrus, in mosaics, etc. have been 'pornographic' in nature.

SML, I don't know that the average reader on your blog thinks that the actual viewing of porn is a bad thing, perhaps, like Sid mentions it was just the timing was inappropriate. Maybe the FIL found the downloading even more 'uplifting' by knowing there was a possibility of getting caught - sort of like having sex al fresco...

I suppose paragraphs four and five, which were indicative of the author's assumptions about her in-laws' sex life or lack thereof, and also what constitutes healthy and 'normal' sexuality were the MOST unsettling for me. The idea that the nude female is "Gross", also smacks a bit of self-loathing and misplaced homophobia. Finally, and it may have just been a misjudged use of words but one of the last paragraphs, which reads:

"I never told. I kept my little secret, and SMUGLY noticed that next time there was a temple wedding, he didn't attend. His wife gave some excuse about forgetting to get his temple recommend renewed. I figured that his bishop had found out somehow...", is a GREAT reason for never, ever, ever, ever belonging to a group that sets each other up to be judged for being human.

ja said...

Too.....much....to say.......! LoL

Kidding. I have to comment because, well I have to. What Cele said and what Sid said.


When we hold people to a certain standard and they dash those standards, it can be disheartening. But that isn't their fault, it's yours. The FIL showed lack of restraint and common sense, but that was about all. In doing nothing, SS acted with maturity. There is no way to control a person's behavior; that's their job. It's yours to love and accept them for who they are.

Already Gone said...

I wonder why people spend so much time pointing fingers at others when they should be concentrating on cleaning out their own closets!

KingM said...

All I can say is thank goodness she kept her mouth shut.

I can see being shocked by this incident from her naive perspective, but to be angry? To take it personally? Why?

montchan (MJ Bliss) said...

Sid and HM-UK hit it right on. What is porn for a Mormon female, most likely isn't even considered porn in other Western societies.

Sheesh, I knew some tbms for whom playing with a milk bottle and a cucumber would be hard core XXX.

And I remembered a church talk once in germany by an army mormon wife, who actually thought it was so valiant of her not to let her kids go on a school trip to a museum, because there were pictures of naked women on the walls. That the pictures were painted by Renaissance masters didn't matter to her. The women were naked. Naked = evil.

And I doubt that FIL was looking at real porn.

Sister Mary Lisa said...

Listen, Freddy. You are entitled to think what you want about women and how you can use them, but a comment like yours deserves to be deleted.

I hope you don't have any women working with you there at Idaho Tech. Wowsa.

Anonymous said...

Okay, sorry it took me so long to get back here to comment.

First off, I guess I need to clarify: this post was intended to capture my very innocent, naive, Mormon, judgmental feelings and reactions I had when I was TBM and this incident occurred. In my examining of my formal self to figure out who I am now, this old memory came to the surface and I wanted to evaluate it. So that's why it seems perhaps satirical, judgmental, etc, etc. At this point of writing, I am judging MYSELF about my idiotic reactions to my FIL's business. Perhaps I should have made that more clear. Since I wrote this with exmo hindsight, it probably came off a little over-the-top (ie, phrases like "the taint of modern life").

As per montchan, sideon, and others who question the definition of porn, I'm with you there. What my FIL was viewing, I would now probably call visual erotica, to take Sideon's words. And I don't have a problem with it, either. Meh, as long as it's consenting adults. And yes, Mormons have a much too broad definition of porn--hence my Mormon reaction to pictures of nude women.

cele & sideon- Yeah, I can't figure out why he was checking this stuff out when the entire family was just in the next room. Perhaps he was really new at this and hadn't figured out the whole privacy thing. And cele- Yes, it's too much information.

hm-uk- Those same judgmental paragraphs are most upsetting for me, too. I am disgusted at my old self for ever thinking it was my business to tell a bishop, or judge him for not attending a temple ceremony. I carefully chose the word "smugly." Obviously, my views of this have changed dramatically. As for calling the female body "gross," I think that captures well my innocence and feminine self-loathing Mormonism formed in me. Since then, I've adjusted greatly, and appreciate the beauty and power of the female body. Thank goodness.

ja- Thanks. The only thing I'm happy about my reaction to that incident was that I didn't tell. Now, I couldn't care less what my FIL does in his free time.

already gone- Amen.

kingm- Why did I react with anger? I honestly don't know. Perhaps something like what ja said: I was holding my FIL to a certain standard and he dashed that. And like she said, it was my fault.

Thanks for reading, all, and for the discussion. When I originally wrote this post, I started to go into the issues of porn, but I realized it was just a whole 'nother post. I'm glad they came up in the comments.

-Sister Secret

DPC said...

Sister Secret

Your initial reaction of disgust was not a product of your Mormon upbringing. It’s a normal human reaction to certain stimuli. A lot of people feel disgust when faced with pornographic violence or sexuality.

sister secret said...

dpc- I can understand a reaction of disgust to violent sexuality/porn. What I saw was not that, but simply naked women posing. Visual erotica, as mentioned before. My overblown reaction to visual erotica was, I think, partly a product of my Mormon upbringing. It wouldn't be exclusive to Mormon upbringings, of course--any conservation upbringing might do.

sister secret said...

Uh, that should be "conservative" upbringing in the last comment.

Wayne said...

Great Story!

It does not surprise me. Two of my TBM brothers-in-law have dealt with this. For one the internet viewing was the least of his indiscretions.

How would this story be different if you had not been LDS. You may have thought that your FIL had a problem anyway.

How would you have reacted if you were at a family party and you FIL was nursing a bottle of Jack Daniels in the garage?

It is possible that he is addicted ,
addiction is a problem regardless of ones religion.

An Enlightened Fairy said...

I can understand Secret Sister's reaction and it probably would have been my own when I was LDS. Who the hell wants to know, let alone see, what their in-laws do in private?
My nevermo in-laws are very open and sexual. My mother in law makes cracks about handcuffing FIL and crap like that. I personally don't care to hear about it.
I know someone mentioned that Mormons have a different view of what "porn" is. I have to agree. My mother called a store recently to complain about the pictures in their catalog. She told the woman on the phone that the models clothing looked like something a streetwalker would wear. What was the problem exactly? My mother thought the girls showed too much cleavage. She refuses to shop at that store now. She honestly believes their ads are pornographic.
Everyone has their own perception of what is or is not acceptable. It not only stems from our upbringing, but ignorance and fear.

Sister Secret said...

wayne- Thanks. Good question, how I would have reacted had I not been LDS. Hmm. Considering is was simply pin-up girls he was viewing, I probably would have a similar reaction to what I have now to his continued online-viewing:

I'd rather not know about my FIL's sexual life. But, whatever. Too bad he thinks it's sin to be a normal human being.

I agree that addiction know no religion, but some religions define addiction much too broadly. Having a sexual reaction to pictures of attractive people is not an addiction. If one is stuck online for literally hours at a time to the point that it interferes with daily life, I'd say there's a problem. Otherwise, it's just a hobby.

enlightened fairy- lol about the catelogues. My family has similar reactions to such things; Victoria Secret catalogues are downright hardcore.

But if everyone has such different points of view about, how do we define porn from not porn? Sexualy arousal on the part of the viewer? 'Cause I get turned on from Rated-R sex. Does that make it porn? I don't think so.

Some people don't consider visual erotia porn, including depictions of people having sex. Others draw the line at penetration. Some draw the line at degrading and/or violent sexuality.

And does it matter to have a definite line? Should we try to define one? Or just leave it to personal discretion? But is it okay to leave it to personal disrection when people are getting physically or emotionally hurt in the creation of the media?

Melliferous Pants said...

Sister Secret's response takes me back to my former Mormo days. It's so silly to think now how much time was put into judging whether private activities were right or wrong. I know that some people have an automatic reaction to pornography but the church makes it SO much worse than it really is.

Sumwun said...

I think the porn line is a challenging one to define.
I agree with the secret sister's intimation that mormonism sometimes breeds an unhealthy interest in other people's business, or at least blurs the line of where you should mind yours.

The saddest part of the story is that this man had to print out the picture to take it to a more private place for alone/happy time.


Wayne said...

The man should get a laptop so he can view his girly pictures in privacy.

My FIL (non-mormon)does the same stuff when we visit but does it in a room away from the rest of the fam.

Thankfully we don't risk walking in on him. I know I would rather not be walked in on when engaged in this type of actitivity.

My Oxford English Dictionary's first definition of Pornography is " description of the life, activities of prostitutes". and actual sexual activities. So, by this definition nudes would not be considered pornographic.

Of course, we all know that the definition of pornography is entirely different in LDS circles.

Sister Secret said...

m pants- The church does make it worse. Same with smoking (making people think it's bad for their spiritual health in addition to their physical health), alcohol, not attending church, crises of faith, etc.

sumwun & wayne- Computer privacy is specifically discouraged in Mo'ism. Families are told to have the computer in a public place so this sort of thing can't happen. Perhaps the church wasn't thinking of printers.

wayne- That Oxford definition seems woefully inadequate. The _life_ of prostitutes? Prostitutes usually have lives like anyone--they sleep, the eat, they visit friends, they pay the rent, and they go to work. How is that description porn? And where are the men? The men they are presumably having sex with aren't part of the porn? Are all porn actors prostitutes?

Wayne said...

Good point Sister Secret.

I should add that, that definition is out of date, but is the earliest definition of the word.

I took it to mean sex acts rather than simply pictures. Prostitutes, when they are working, perform sex acts.

The most explicit stuff I have seen has men. The Kama Sutra depicts men as well.

I don't know that porn actors are prostitutes, but I do know, for example, that some of the models that French Impressionist painters hired were prostitutes.

sister secret said...

Yes, that definition is outdated, but very interesting. I just thought it was silly of the dictionary to have a definition that was so gender-biased. It could have said "prostitutes and their clients" or something. But I guess in England, they call the customers "patrons."

My question about porn actors should have been, "Does acting in a porn movie mean you are a prostitute? Is that prostitution?" I'm not looking for an answer, really, more of a pushing of the envelope. I think that could only be answered with a debate, with differing theories.

T. Wanker said...

Ah, I've been away too long if I'm missing posts like this one. The interesting comment that leapt out at me was the implication that some self-relief to a picture was off a betrayal magnitude to threaten the marriage.

The Mormon attitude (and its cousin, which Mormonism copied like 3rd Nephi - thePuritanical-Protestant-Uptight American attitude about sex) causes much more grief and idiocy than the naked bodies.

The problem with betrayal comes because the society makes a rather common occurence a mortal sin. The lack of any ability to even acknowledge these consistent human foibles leads to a lack of socialization on how to create appropriate boundaries and space for full individual sexual self-expression.

Oh, and never confuse the Still Small Voice of Mormonism with the Still Small Voice of Common Sense.

sister secret said...

I think you're right, Wanker. Sexual self-expression and exploration is blown (ahem) way out of proportion by conservative/religious parts of society. When I was a faithful Mormon, I thought of masturbation as only a tiny step below adultery.

What a joke.