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Porn vs. Nudity vs. Lack-of-clothing

Rusty - October 15, 2004

It appears that pornography is rapidly ascending to the top of the list of problems within the Church. I fully expect them to add it to the list of questions for obtaining a temple recommend, followed by countless hours in Sunday School and on the blogs discussing what exactly “pornography” really is.

Not one to back out of an unpetitioned discussion, the following are my thoughts on the topic.

First of all, it’s impossible to have this discussion without Christ’s words from the Sermon on the Mount: “Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery. But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart” Lust is the key ingredient here. Let’s be clear, lust is not an action, it’s a feeling. Yes, it leads to action, but Christ is specifying the feeling as the sin (and presumably the action if it follows). That’s a pretty good litmus test I’d say. If you feel lust inside of you, it’s a sin. If you don’t, it’s not.

I offer three distinctions: Pornography: nudity with the intent to arouse (Playboy, porn sites, porn movies, etc.). Nudity: lack-of-clothing with the intent to display beauty, non-beauty, or nature (Manet, Rodin, fine art photography, etc.). Lack-of-clothing: no clothing with no intent except utilitarian purposes (breast feeding, showering, sex, etc.). My belief is that the first is never beneficial. The second sometimes can be beneficial, other times detrimental and many times neither. The last is almost always beneficial and rarely detrimental, but usually not for reasons of lust. (I know these are generalities and that there are many gray areas such as porn with clothing, or nakedness for sex is to arouse, etc., but stick with me.)

There are justifications and condemnations of all three by members of the Church. I am in both camps.

I’m an artist by birth, a designer by trade. Nudity is as much a part of art and it’s history as being offended is to a Mormon. You CAN’T study art/design without encountering it in one/any of it’s forms. Figure drawing in basic art classes (not at BYU of course, but EVERYWHERE else in the world). There isn’t a chapter in art history without images of nudity. I am constantly reviewing photographer’s portfolios that contain nudes. Almost every design annual contains at least a few images of nudity. Being in a creative field (fine art, design, photography, theater, film, even literature) one will always have contact with these things.

I am reminded of a certain controversy at BYU a few years ago in which the school had originally scheduled to have an exhibit of Rodin sculptures. It turned out to be quite a heated debate of art vs. porn. Naturally, I fell on the side of art. Sadly, BYU caved to the lustful students (that didn’t have to go see the exhibition if they didn’t want).

One justification for viewing nudity is that, “I’m married, it’s nothing I haven’t seen before.” I initially giggle at the silliness of that statement because it’s exactly something I haven’t seen before, being not my wife. I wonder if that is why so many married men in the Church are addicted to seeing these things they haven’t seen before.

In Europe, the attitude toward nudity is a little more lax than it is here. Topless beaches are the norm and ads with breasts are not uncommon. In my first sacrament meeting in Guatemala (on my mission) I saw more boobs than I ever had before (open breastfeeding), and it continued for two years. I think an interesting way to see it: The United States = Pornography, Europe = Nudity, Guatemala = Lack-of-clothing.

Lust is almost always the result of porn. Lust is often the result of nudity. Lust is rarely the result of lack-of-clothes. Viewer’s lust may transcend all three categories. Nothing beneficial can be gained from porn. Much inspiration and joy can be gained from nudity (think Michaelangelo, Rodin). Naturally almost everything that results from lack-of-clothes is beneficial.

We need to be honest with ourselves regarding nudity. What is the intent of the creator? When do our feeling truly cross the line from admiration to lust? From utilitarian to lust? Am I justified in condemning one person for watching a movie with nakedness in it because I personally have issues with that? Can we truly condemn Europeans as sinners because they have breasts on commercials that would arouse us? Should I ask the photographers to remove their pictures of naked women before they send me their portfolios?

The problem is what we do when we begin to lust. So if you feel lust inside of you when you see a Rodin sculpture, by all means, don’t view it. But please don’t assume everyone has the same feelings.

1 Comment »

  1. Your final paragraph is where it’s at. The Lord said when we look upon a women to lust…looking at a women without clothes is not the point, if no lust is involved. Looking at a women with clothes on and having thoughts of lust can and does happen and that’s the problem.

    Judging others who view nudes or nudity based on how you would view it is obviously a mistake.

    You’re right Russ, good post, good point.
    Don | Email | Homepage | 10.15.04 – 2:06 am | #

    Wow Russ, this was an excelent post thank you for your insight.
    Bryce | Email | Homepage | 10.15.04 – 5:15 am | #

    Rusty, as someone who feels okay using the “I’m married — I’ve seen it before” justification for viewing what you’ve called “nudity”, I just wanted to say that I think you downplay it more than it deserves. Semantically, you’re right that I haven’t seen that exact naked body before. But I have seen a naked body, so its mere image doesn’t arouse the lust you talk about. So while in practice I may not spell out the entire argument every time I use it, I think it holds up: since I’ve seen it all with my wife, my mind doesn’t lust after the sight of naked bodies the way it might have before I was married. Hence no lust, and therefore no sin, all as a direct result of my seeing my wife naked. It may not work that way for others, and that’s fine. But that’s how it does for me.

    Logan | Email | Homepage | 10.15.04 – 8:43 am | #


    Also, when you say “I wonder if that is why so many married men in the Church are addicted to seeing these things they haven’t seen before”, you say it as though you’re arguing against viewing nudity, yet people being addicted to nudity isn’t the issue, I thought. Isn’t the issue being addicted to porn?

    I don’t mean to get too defensive, but I will say you haven’t persuaded me of the silliness of that way thinking. It seems like you’re arguing against a justification that I use, but you’re furthering your argument with an irrelevant point.

    Not to be too negative, though, I really agree with your point about the sin being as perceived by the viewer, not necessarily in the objective substance of the work, image, etc.
    Logan | Email | Homepage | 10.15.04 – 8:44 am | #

    You are exactly right. I agree with you completely. I was unclear in my wording. What I found silly was the wording of the sentence because it is opposite its meaning (as I stated), but I didn’t mean to suggest that you had those feelings of lust. Quite the contrary. My whole point is that different people feel different things when they see that stuff, and I confidently believe that you don’t feel that lust when you see nudity. When I said, “I wonder…” I sincerely wonder if it’s the seeing something that they aren’t used to seeing that is what’s addicting. I truly don’t know. Trust me, I’m in your camp.
    Rusty | Email | Homepage | 10.15.04 – 9:48 am | #

    Oh, okay, I’m with you now. I suppose that like anything, what may be an acceptable line of thinking in my case could be used as self-(or others-)deceiving justification. And since at some times the idea of “I’ve seen it before” justifies seeing nudity, and since porn is also nudity (even though it’s much more), some people might be trying to squeeze more out of that justification than is warranted.
    Logan | Email | Homepage | 10.15.04 – 11:12 am | #


    You said “people being addicted to nudity isn’t the issue, I thought. Isn’t the issue being addicted to porn.”

    You’re right that is the issue, but how does one become addicted to nudity if they aren’t also addicted to porn. Seeing nudity and not being aroused is one thing, but being “addicted” to nudity is certainly another.

    Rusty, and you are both right on the mark, I just don’t think you can be addicted to nudity without being addicted to porn…maybe I’m wrong?
    Don | Email | Homepage | 10.15.04 – 1:32 pm | #


    Is a _depiction_ of an unclothed-ness (to use your categories) an instance of nudity, or lack of clothing?

    For instance, there has been some controversy over the depiction of breast feeding in the Grapes of Wrath. See http://www.ananova.com/news/ stor…uirkies.unlucky .
    Kaimi | Email | Homepage | 10.15.04 – 1:53 pm | #

    As everyone else (so far), I very much agree with Rusty’s analysis. It is of interesting note that, as a student at a church-owned university, I see that they tell us ALL the time not to look at porn (EVERY stake priesthood meeting, some devotionals, EQ, etc. and then some) but they never really do anything to ehl us define what exactly pornography is and what justifications to look out for. Just “stop looking at porn!”

    I think two things are of greatest consideration, both of which you said I just want to emphasize again. One, what feelings do we get when we see nudity (or even scantily cald figures)? Two, what is the creator’s intent with their image(s)? Even if we have no lustful feelings when we see something, we should try to avoid encouraging images that are created for the purpose of lust.
    Bret | Email | Homepage | 10.15.04 – 1:58 pm | #

    That goes for a lot of non-porn nudity as well. Not all or even most, but their are creations out there that are meant to make one lust that can also be considered “art” or even some of these European commercials. Does that make sense?
    Also, I agree with the statement Don made right above this one.
    Bret | Email | Homepage | 10.15.04 – 1:58 pm | #

    Ah the little shocks of being an U.S.-born missionary in Guatemala. The beans for breakfast, the corn coffee and the woman-who-pulls-out-her-breast-to-nurse-her-baby- during-a-discussion.

    Fortunately out of all of these, the most difficult to deal with was to drink something called (gasp) “coffee”. After all, I don’t really dislike like beans (regardless of what hour of the day it is) and women do need to nurse their babies. Like you said, it’s not porn at all. It’s just a person who is suddenly partially unclothed.

    Very nice analysis. It was really fun and interesting to read this post.
    danithew | Email | Homepage | 10.15.04 – 2:10 pm | #

    Good question. I’m not sure. I would think that it still falls into the third category. But those mentioned in the article would be a case of the lustful feelings transcending into the third category. We constantly condemn those who create the stuff, but isn’t it our fault if we feel lust when looking at a woman breastfeeding?

    For me the tough one was the boiled plantains.
    Rusty | Email | Homepage | 10.15.04 – 3:29 pm | #

    Don, I can see your confusion. Let me try to clarify:

    While Rusty didn’t explicitly say this, I’m kind of working on the assumption that one thing that indicates whether something is porn or not is if you’re addicted to it. Because of the somewhat subjective nature of these definitions, I think it might be possible for one image to be “nudity” to one person and “porn” to another. I think it could even change from being one to the other for the same person. Therefore, once you become addicted to it, by (my) definition it automatically becomes “porn”, which means that I consider the state of being addicted to nudity logically inconsistent, which in turn is why it’s not the issue. Does that make any sense?

    I agree that if someone were addicted to what I call nudity, it would indeed be a problem. And when I said it’s not the issue I just meant that the argument seemed to switch between points. But for the record I follow Rusty now and am on board.
    Logan | Email | Homepage | 10.15.04 – 3:37 pm | #

    Boiled plantains were unusual but I got used to them. You just have to decide you like your “bananas” boiled and hot, steeped in sweet water.

    Tamales were a little bump for me too but then I grew to love them.

    Seeing the breast of a nursing woman never caused me to feel that I needed to sing a hymn. It was just kind of weird that it was so automatic and matter-of-fact an action in front of mature males. But that’s what cultural differences are all about, I guess.
    danithew | Email | Homepage | 10.15.04 – 5:02 pm | #

    I think your categories work well, and I like your argument.

    I must correct you on the BYU Rodin exhibit matter, though. I got it from a high-up internal source that student caterwauling was not the cause of the cancellation (though there was plenty of caterwauling, I’m sure). The show was a travelling exhibit, which required that the items be displayed complete with the explanatory placards that some non-BYU curator had written up. It was these placards that caused the problem: they contained offensive and explicit language, including one that asserted that a nude Balsac with his hands near his groin was “masturbating.” The managers of the exhibit would not allow BYU to omit the placards, and thus the decision was made to pull the whole thing.
    Rosalynde Welch | Email | Homepage | 10.15.04 – 11:02 pm | #

    I have to admit–I wouldn’t have wanted my eight or nine year old to read that material (especially given its questionable accuracy), although I would have no problem with the nude sculptures themselves. Once again, it’s BYU’s abysmal public relations that deserve the flogging.
    Rosalynde Welch | Email | Homepage | 10.15.04 – 11:02 pm | #

    So, is this like the Seinfeld episode, “good naked” vs. “bad naked”?


    I do have an anecdote. I was the keyboard player for the Young Ambassadors, back in the day (the 70s). We went on tour to Romania and Bulgaria, and spent a day at the beach on the Black Sea.

    We had to drive to the beach, park in a lot a little ways away, and walk up a little berm, to get to the beach. In other words, the actual beach was hidden from the parking lot. The happy, innocent Young Ambassors in their 40s style bathing suits, all reached the top of the berm at the same time, and there was an audible shreak (probably in harmony) — it was a mostly nude beach, men women and children.

    We had to drive some distance to find a non-nude beach — a much worse beach.

    It was pretty funny. Makes a good story.
    D. Fletcher | Email | Homepage | 10.19.04 – 12:44 pm | #

    I really have no problem with a nude beach, or public nudity in general. I’m not at all shocked to see strangers naked (I’ve seen plenty of movies).

    But I wouldn’t want to be there with… my mother.
    D. Fletcher | Email | Homepage | 10.19.04 – 12:45 pm | #

    Lol, yeah, the mother would always be considered “bad naked”.

    Please no remarks at this point.
    Rusty | Email | Homepage | 10.19.04 – 1:08 pm | #

    The one thing I don’t get about all of this, is what is defined as being naked in the first place. The ONE thing that men and women have in common is the nipple, and it’s the only thing that has to be covered on the upper half to prevent “nudity”. Swim suits should be reverse — that they cover the rest of the breast, and have a hole for the nipple.

    Men don’t have large masses hanging from there chest, but that is what is ok to show. Something is wrong with this.
    Aaron | Email | Homepage | 10.19.04 – 11:45 pm | #

    Insightful post, Russ. I like your three categories and especially the emphasis on the issue of lust as the sin in any/all of the three.

    As Latter-day Saints we are taught the sacred nature of the body. (From what I understand, most other Christian religions see the body and flesh as evil.) So one way I’ve tried to evaluate the depiction of nudity in books, paintings, movies, etc. is to consider how the body is being portrayed — if I feel the depiction is uplifting and respectful, it’s probably okay. If the depiction seems degrading in any way, we probably shouldn’t be viewing it. (Incidentally, this goes for checking violence and vulgarity as well as nudity.)
    Amy | Email | Homepage | 10.21.04 – 12:05 pm | #

    I have been reading the blogs for a few weeks now, but have never commented. I don’t have much to add to the discussion, but I wanted to agree with so many others who have already expressed their appreciation for the thoughtfullness of this post. I am also fairly involved in the “artistic world” and have often had to face the dilema of pornagraphy vs. art. I highly agree with Rusty and am grateful that he could put my similar thoughts into a well thought out post.
    Lauren | Email | Homepage | 10.23.04 – 8:22 pm | #



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