I attended a meeting recently where a general authority (from the first quorum of the seventy) likened pornography to AIDS. He said something to the effect of, ‘The addiction to pornography is everywhere, infiltrating our society. In my mind it’s worse than the epidemic of AIDS.’ While this certainly isn’t a direct quote, and he probably meant something like, “Porn is a serious problem that corrodes our spirituality”, the metaphor still made me uncomfortable. I realize that he is obviously not equating pornography with AIDS, but it got me thinking about how such language can impact the way we perceive pornography addictions, the way we perceive those addicted to porn, and the way those that are addicted to pornography perceive themselves.
We are a highly metaphorical society. By “metaphor” I roughly mean, to experience one thing in the terms of another. Most general conference talks are structured along the lines of metaphors. A preliminary story is given (say someone’s car breaking down in the middle of a long voyage), and then the terms of this experience become the means of understanding something else (trials experienced on the “journey” of life). The use of metaphors are also emphasized in “likening the scriptures unto ourselves” (to mis-quote Nephi) and in retelling and reenacting the pioneer travels.
Much more could be said about metaphors, but as far as this post is concerned, I’m interested in rethinking the metaphors we use in dealing with pornography addictions. We have come along way from resorting to divorce when an addiction occurs. And now it seems that the predominate metaphor (at least from what I’ve heard) is drug addiction. I have a problem with this metaphor. The problem stems not because there are not important parallels between the two, but I think likening pornography addictions to heroin addictions (for instance) imports a lot of harmful baggage. To be more specific, drugs and sex (I’m assuming here that porn addictions are rooted in sex drives—and addictions) differ in some important respects: We would claim that drugs are always morally inappropriate. Certain sexual acts, however, are appropriate in certain circumstances. We would never speak of a “drug life” with the positive connotations we could employ with a “sex life”. Smoking (and other drugs) is always physiologically bad for the body (except perhaps for certain psychosomatic benefits). But a healthy sex life is a part of a broader notion of “health”. We would rarely say that “heroin is a beautiful thing”, but would certainly claim that “sex can be a beautiful thing.”
So the question arises, what is a better metaphor for pornography addiction? The first thought that comes to mind is a food addiction. I should probably say here that I know little about the specifics of “addiction” let alone food addiction (perhaps someone could correct me where I’m wrong), but I think the metaphor better for several reasons: Certain kinds of food in certain amounts are “healthy” for our body, similar to the way that sex in certain amounts are healthy. Food can be both a wonderful and uplifting experience; and sex can be as well. Too much food, or the wrong kinds of food, can harm us; similarly, too much sex, or sexual perversions can harm us. Of course this doesn’t capture the moral differences between a food addiction and a porn addiction (nor the differences in the way other parties, such as the spouse, are impacted by the addiction), but I think the reason we’ve chosen the current drug metaphors are not because they are more accurate, but because of the moral repulsion we have to pornography—porn is “dirty and evil” like drugs are “dirty and evil”.