Saturday, April 01, 2006

176th Annual LDS General Conference Saturday Morning

Today the Church celebrates its 176th annual General Conference. It is held in the conference center, located in downtown Salt Lake City. There are at least two blogs which will have open threads on conference where you can go and discuss within the Bloggernacle community the conference talks, share ideas, comments, questions, and the like. See here and here. If I locate more I will add them.

9:00 a.m. Conference begins at the conference center in Salt Lake City. The Choir provides music for this session. James E. Faust, second counselor conducts this session of conference. He looks good, as does Pesident Hinckely--though President Hinckley looks older than he has in the past. I'm sure his surgery has taken a great deal out of him--but it's good to see him make the session.

9:03 a.m. The Choir opens with Dearest Children God Is Near You. Nice color contrast between the sisters and brethren in the Choir, black and white. Blogger is very slow this morning, and live blogging is likely to be more difficult as a result.

9:06 a.m. Opening Prayer

9:07 a.m. Choir Did You Think To Pray. I like this hymn. Something too often I don't think to do before leaving the house, or beginning a day a work, or performing any task worth doing well, Church related or not. When your soul was full of sorrow, Balm of Gilead did you borrow? Umm. Prayer changing the night to day. I've always marveled at those organists.

9:14 a.m. Robert D. Hales, Quorum of the Twelve Apostles--expresses gratitude for the Prophet and his Book of Mormon challenge. Lehi, another prophet also chose to follow the lord, despite discord amongst his own sons, Laman, and Lemuel, who misused their free agency rebel.
Lehi blessed all his children before his death. To Jacob, he taught about the Plan of Salvation and Free Agency. Prior to this earth life we learned about good and evil. We were given free agency to see if we would follow God's plan.

Satan sought to destroy man's agency, which cost him and one third of heaven used their agency to reject God's plan. They had their freedom of choice, but couldn't choose the consequences.

On earth we have opposition in all things. It brings about God's eternal purposes. Man must act for himself. Adam and Eve first to experience temptation, and to exercise their free agency. Adam fell than men might be. Men are that they might have joy. Only by yielding to temptation will we lose that joy, which is Satan’s desire.

The adversary has no joy, unless we sin. He must have incredible joy given the state of this world.

Satan cannot make us do anything. We alone have the power to chose. The adversary must depart if we tell him to depart. He can only affect us if we allow him to do so. We do not have to yield to his enticements.

We have the Holy Ghost for a reason. It will keep us holding onto the "Iron Rod." All of us make mistakes. This is why Lehi taught Jacob and all of us about the Plan of Salvation. Because of the fall we can act for our selves, rather than be acted upon. In today's world we need to act to avoid evil, in order to avoid being acted upon.

When the promptings come, it won't be with a voice of thunder. It will be a thought to our minds, or a feeling in our hearts. If we ignore them, then the spirit's light fades, and we walk in spiritual darkness at noon-day. We become bound by the chains of sin.

Debt binds us. Breaking the law binds us with temporal prison. Spiritual prison is similar. Daily we must exercise choice wisely. We must exercise agency wisely.

Addiction and destructive behaviors make it almost impossible for light to penetrate. How do we escape these addictions? We reclaim agency by acting in faith.

1. Choose to accept God loves us and we are his children.

2. Choose to put everything on the altar before God. Use our agency to do His will. Never give up.

3. Choose to pray and read the scriptures to enhance the Spirit. When we feel the Spirit we are being cleansed.

4. Choose to obey and keep the commandments. Partake of the Sacrament.

5. Choose to attend the Temple.

6. Choose to believe in Christ's Atonement. He has power to remember our sins no more.

7. Choose to reject shame for the past and sins repented of. Satan desires that we be miserable.

We should use our agency to lift and strengthen others. We and others can lose our agency through the unwise use of our agency and poor choices.

Agency was manifest in Heaven before this life. It allow us to be tested and tried. It allows us to express our inward spiritual desires in outward Christlike lifestyles. Agency allows us to live in joy in the present. Agency determines who we are, and what we will be.

Agency leads us to act, seek and find, knock, and receive. Christ is the source of all light. His light will grow within us as we use our agency correctly.

9:31 a.m. Bishop H. David Burton. Relates story of Prophet Joseph Smith. Millions last year responded with generous contributions to the less fortunate. Bishop Burton relates stories of various relief efforts by Church membership worldwide, with videos and stories. What a great missionary tool while at the same time helping our fellow brothers and sisters in a time of need.

We need to lift those downtrodden and oppressed, regardless of church membership, or religious affiliation. This demonstrates the "pure love Christ." That which we give, will again be meted out to us. On behalf of the Twelve and First Presidency expresses "Thanks" which in a way is almost trite. Nonetheless--gratitude to all is expressed humbly in Christ's name.

9:46 a.m. Choir sings Now Let Us Rejoice--it's the Seventh Inning Stretch Folks--or at least the conference equivalent. Nice shot of Moroni on top of the Temple outside. Interesting how one can experience the "spirit" and power of this hymn as sung by the choir, literally 1000 miles away. I cannot explain it. Come home indeed. The conference center looks very full. I suspect they still use the ticket system to get in.

9:50 a.m. Sister Julie B.Beck, First Counselor Young Women's Presidency. This is the beginning of the blessing about to be poured out on my people--referencing the restoration of keys back in the Kirtland Temple. Priesthood interwoven into who we are--men and women alike. We are given equal partnership and blessings. The priesthood restoration provides blessings to all men and women alike. We are all equally blessed by priesthood ordinances:

1. Blessing name of children

2. Baptism same for boys and girls.

3. Gift of Holy Ghost given same gift to all baptized members, male and female.

4. Priesthood blessings available to all.

5. Patriarchal blessings also available to all.

6. Temple worship and endowment is for all who want to qualify for these blessings.

7. Temple marriage covenants are shared equally by the man and the wife. Each are blessed to be exhalted at some future time.

All faithful members equally blessed through blessings of priesthood restoration. Some gifts are given to certain individuals; but given from the same God.

God is no respecter of persons. We all have the gospel, same baptism, same gift of Holy Ghost, same opportunity to utilize Priesthood blessings. We are equal partners through Priesthood woven in, through, and around our lives.

Sister Beck clearly sought to stress the equality of men and women in the Church, in certain areas. Watch for the hue and cry of some in the 'nacle about how we are unequal. It has already started to some degree, and will likely be a lively discussion in the not to distant future.

10:01 a.m. Choir sings For the Beauty of the Earth

10:05 a.m. Elder Henry D. Eyring, Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Ancient apostles, for example, Paul, have seen our times. They have seen the latter-day wickedness of our times. There is hope, though, in a place of safety from the storms ahead.

It is upon the Rock of Christ that we must build our foundation. When the hail and storms beat upon us, they will have no effect be cause of the Rock of Christ. It has never been more important than now to build on this rock.

King Benjamin saw us and our descendants. He was a holy man, and knew how to build of the rock of Christ. His final discourse is full of his insights. Because we are free to chose between right and wrong, we face hazards.

He described the consequences of our choices, depending on how we choose. We may drink damnation to our soul, and everlasting punishment, unless we repent. The demands of justice will awaken us to our guilt, and cause us to shrink from God. He spoke plainly and clearly.

We can and must become as a little child. Most though want to be strong, and less childish. To be like a child, is to be like Christ. Our nature must be changed to be come strong so that we are safe in times of moral peril.

The natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam. King Benjamin taught this. We must become like a child, meek, full of love, submissive to all that God seeks to inflict upon us.

Elder Eyring related a story of prayer of submitting his will to God's. Only when a submissive heart seeks, will the Spirit manifest itself unto that heart. We much change our hearts to be more submissive to Christ and His will.

There is no other way given or name given other than Christ. We must have faith in Christ. We must know Christ. Yet, how can we know Him if we have not served Him? We will come to love those we serve. To be called to serve is a call to change our very natures.

To remit our sins we must feed the hungry, clothe the naked, help those who need our help. We must avoid contention. We must take heed and pray always. Through sin the Spirit can be lost. We are responsible for ourselves. The Holy Ghost can lead us to truth and away from sin.

10:23 a.m. Choir sings Consider the Lilies

10:28 a.m. Elder Faust resumes conducting. President Monson will conclude this session. The Choir will sing High On A Mountain Top

10:29 a.m. President Monson, First Counselor First Presidency. Satan has created traps for the unsuspecting. He attempts to entice and ensnare us. Once grasped, it is difficult to escape. We must recognize his traps and avoid them.

Immorality is constantly before us. Many believe what was once evil is no acceptable. They are mistake. Chastity and virtue are precious above all things. 1 Corinthians 10:13--God will not suffer you to be tempted above that which you are able to bear.

Pornography is also another snare. His lie is that viewing pornography hurts on one. It is acceptable and normal. Some publishers and printers prostitute their presses with pornography. The most readily available source today for pornography is the Internet. It is enticing and habit forming. It is foul sleaze that make its exploiters wealthy--per President Hinckley. Long gone are the restraints of yesteryear. Avoid any semblance of pornography.

Drugs and Alcohol are another snare. They cloud thinking, remove inhibitions. They are purposely placed in the pathway of vulnerable youth. Paul taught that we are the Temple of God and that His Spirit dwells within us. We need to keep our physical temples clean and pure.

Excessive Debt another snare. We live in a time of borrowing that is too easy. Home equity loans very popular. But, this is a second mortgage. If we live beyond our means, the day of recononing will come. Many enter into long term debt, and then changes occur. Jobs are lost, health may be lost. Debt payments can't be made. We need to live within our means. We will be happier than if we are consistently worrying about paying our debts. We should release ourselves from bondage.

Beware of the detours, traps, and snares, which beckon us to grasp them. Pause to pray. Listen to the still small voice.

Yet, there will be those who will not listen. They will grasp the snares until they cannot let go. The clamor for prominence and prestige, the quest for wealth is not worth the price.

Surrounded by challenged of modern living we look heavenward for direction.

10:50 a.m. Choir closes singing High On A Mountain Top

I enjoyed this sessions. Talks were timely, even if we've heard them or some of the concepts before. I continu to maintain that once we start living more fully that which the the Prophets teach, then we'll likely hear more new material.

At least two other blogs have mentioned a well written ariticle in the London Financial Times dealing with pornography. As that is a timely spiritual and now secular topic, I will reprint the entire article below, with a link to the original source. Sometimes papers pull articles offline after a period of time--hence my reason for reprinting it in its entirety. The original link is here.

The story below:

Not tonight darling, I’m onlineBy Adrian TurpinPublished: March 31 2006 15:19 Last updated: March 31 2006 15:19

On a winter afternoon in Trafalgar Square, Michael (”Please don’t use my second name”) is trying to explain how the internet has changed his life and the lives of thousands like him.

“How many men are there here?” he asks, standing on the steps of St Martin in the Fields church. He surveys the tableau of anonymous office workers muffled against the cold. “Say there are 100, 200, 500...? How many will go home tonight and, with or without the knowledge of their partners, look at porn on the internet? You’d be surprised. Timothy Leary said about Sixties drug culture, ‘tune in and drop out’. The modern equivalent is ‘log on and get off’.”
He draws a line in the air between Nelson’s Column and the National Gallery. “You might think they don’t look the sort. Well, I don’t look the sort - but I’ve spent whole weekends with the curtains drawn, sitting in the dark apart from the blue light of the screen. It seems so creepy when it’s put like that.” He laughs and shrugs. “But everybody’s at it. Aren’t they?”

The question is all the more unsettling for being rhetorical. Can it be true that a great swathe of the UK population is spending its spare moments surfing for naked flesh and, if so, what effect might that have on the nation’s collective psyche? What does it say about our emotional lives? You don’t have to look far to find evidence that Michael’s “everyone’s at it” contains more than a kernel of truth.

Dr Marios Pierides is a consultant psychiatrist with the Capio Nightingale hospitals in London, who specialises in treating patients with addictions. “The man who tells you he hasn’t looked at pornography on the web is the man who tells you he hasn’t masturbated,” he says.

According to the internet filter company N2H2, its database of pages identified as pornography grew from 14 million in 1998 to 260 million in 2003, a 1,800 per cent increase. Type “XXX” into Google - a rough and ready reckoner of the number of adult sites - and you will get millions of results, while in January this year, The Washington Post reported that the online porn business was worth $2.5bn a year, compared with just $1.1bn for music downloads.

“One of my colleagues calls internet porn the crack cocaine of the internet,” Pierides says. “It would not be unreasonable to call it an epidemic. In the past 12 months, I’ve seen an explosion in the number of people referred to me with issues about it. It has tripled. This is causing real problems.

“I’ve had many wives complaining about it and simply going along with it, and the number of people in offices is startling. It’s now not at all uncommon for me to be consulted by high-flying professionals who fear their addiction will lead to them losing their jobs.”

The psychiatrist’s views find accord in the US. According to Mark Schwartz, the clinical director of the Masters and Johnson Clinic in St Louis, “Pornography is having a dramatic effect on relationships at many different levels and in many different ways - and nobody outside the sexual behaviour field and the psychiatric community is talking about it.”

Statistics about internet usage are often sketchy and raise as many questions as they answer. Still, the dots are there to be joined. In 2001, the internet tracking company Netvalue made headlines when it reported that more than a quarter of Britons who had access to the net from home had looked at adult websites over the course of a month. Of those, students (23 per cent), manual workers (15 per cent) and professionals (almost 13 per cent) were the most frequent visitors.

Now consider the near exponential increase in internet access in the past decade. The Office for National Statistics recorded that just 9 per cent of UK households were online in 1998; by 2004 that figure had risen to 52 per cent. The amount of time spent online seems to be expanding too. Last month, Google claimed that the average Briton now spends more time trawling the web (164 minutes a day) than watching television (148 minutes). It seems fair to assume that not all this time was spent innocently shopping on eBay or doing homework.

Given such growth, talk of pornography flooding into Britain’s homes as never before is neither hyperbolic nor judgmental; it’s a statement of fact. The internet has released a genie from the bottle. Once pornography had to be actively sought; now it is accessible and affordable for the majority of the population, anonymity guaranteed at the click of a mouse. The consequences are staggering. In 2004, the American internet tracking service ComScore revealed that more than 70 per cent of men aged 18-34 visit a pornographic site in a typical month. “It’s a high number,” one of the company’s analysts told The New York Times, “but it won’t shock anyone who’s worked in the industry.”

Michael is not shocked either. But nor is he entirely comfortable with his own situation. “When I talk to you about this for the first time, I feel queasy. It’s not quite a moral queasiness. I’m not talking about the ethics of pornography or the exploitation of women. Whatever I ought to feel about that, that’s the easiest bit for me to rationalise.

“It’s not sexual guilt. It’s more a sense of waste and puzzlement. What am I lacking in my life and my marriage that I need this? You are meant to get to know yourself as you get older. I’m 32 and sometimes I think I’m getting more confused, lost in cyberspace. But the most baffling thing is that I can say all this to you, but when I go home tonight I’ll probably boot up my machine and start all over again.”

I had found Michael through a friend of a friend, and e-mailed him a couple of weeks before our London meeting. I told him I was writing about how the internet had affected people’s relationships - more specifically about how the online revolution had brought the guilty secrets of pornography into men’s erotic lives. His first response was: “Why me?” His life was so ordinary. “Exactly,” I replied. “That’s the point.”

Michael was right about not seeming “the sort”. At first, we exchanged e-mails. For someone who spent so much time on line, he seemed awkward, cool to the point of terseness. It took a while before he told me his background: a happy childhood; two degrees - a bachelor’s from a red brick university and an Oxbridge PhD; a relatively high-flying job in academia that he liked rather than loved.

The really personal stuff was left until we met face to face - a face that seemed the antithesis of the pasty-faced onanist: shaven head, broad smile, good-looking in a slightly ruddy way with a self-deflating sense of humour.

Had he ever had problems establishing relationships with women? “I wasn’t Casanova,” he deadpanned. “Eight or ten relationships, flings, whatever, since I left university.” He met his wife five years ago, marrying in 2003. They have no children. “It’s a comfortable relationship,” he said. “But I would never tell her about the porn. It’s something I’d dabbled in occasionally for a long time. When I lived in London I would occasionally get magazines from a news stand outside Victoria station, always at night. But it was only really when I got the internet that I got serious.”

In the days before broadband, downloading pictures was painfully slow. He instead turned to MSN’s chat rooms, which have since closed down after the internet service provider became nervous about their ability to police paedophile activities. “I can’t remember the first time. But I can still remember the feeling. There was a sort of tingle of expectation - adrenaline - perhaps as the modem started to whine. I once read that some people get turned on just by hearing that sound. I can believe it.

“I’d be seeing a girlfriend but I’d choose to spend time getting aroused online rather than with her. It wasn’t always the case. Sometimes I’d go for weeks without logging on. But I’d always relapse in little bursts. A couple of hours a night for a week, if I got a chance.” By the time he was married the sessions sometimes lasted until three or four o’clock in the morning, after his wife had gone to bed. “Was it a sign that something was wrong with my relationship or that something was wrong with me?”

These days, Michael spends little time in chat rooms and more downloading pornographic pictures and videos from websites (he says that he prefers websites that show more natural, less silicone-enhanced women). His wife’s absence on business trips gives him time and opportunity to seek them out.

Has his online life changed the way Michael relates to her? “I don’t know. I really don’t know. I know I love her, although our sex life seems to have tapered off as I watch more. On a bad day, I feel it’s gnawing away at some human part of me.”

Jane Haynes knows all about the vagaries of human behaviour. For almost 20 years, she has practised as a relational psychotherapist, having trained as a Jungian psychoanalyst. Her consulting room at the Group Analytic Practice in London is discreetly tucked away in a mansion block near Marylebone Road. A box of tissues on the arm of the sofa suggests the hidden dramas that take place here, but Haynes radiates a soothing calm.

Never judgmental, she expresses wry wonder at the tangles in which people find themselves over sex. She used to be an actor. Now she often comes out of sessions with the words of A Midsummer Night’s Dream ringing in her head: “Lord, what fools [we] mortals be!”
She stresses that she speaks as a clinician rather than an academic, and she tells it as it is rather than as it ought to be: “In the last few years, the issue has come up more and more among the women I see professionally. I’m generally talking about women aged 30 to 40 who are outraged to find out that their husband is looking at some website or other. I hear it so often I sort of want to smile.

“In my work, I find it’s men who are bored by straight sex and women who say, ‘Why on earth, when I’ve only been married for a year, does my husband want me to take another woman to bed with us?’ So for me the big question is: what is the easy availability of porn doing to people’s minds and expectations?”

She is reluctant to take an ideological stance, pro- or anti-porn: “In my line of work I try to get people to understand that there are differences between men and women. And it may be that that, in the sexual arena, those differences are very profound.

“I have mainly found pornography to be a male problem. Unlike men, for example, very few women have problems that they’re more turned on by porn than by their partner. But then I don’t think men are naturally monogamous. So perhaps for them pornography is an attempt to come to terms with that without rocking the boat of their relationship. Domesticity is an enemy of the erotic life. I should also say there’s an important distinction to be made between porn used alone and pornography used together as a couple: sometimes consensual porn can actually enhance a relationship because it is shared and not split off into a private world.”

To some men, Haynes argues, clicking on porn is simply a way to pass the time. “It’s a hobby. Once they’d idly play solitaire; now they idly click on a porn site.” Others, though, succumb to addiction: “It isn’t just lonely, perverse men this happens to. It doesn’t just hit because men haven’t got a relationship. A man can be interacting well with his partner, but at the same time he’s addicted to these sites. That can be very distressing for him. Most addictions are to do with internal emptiness, wanting to fill up dead space, and addiction is always destructive.”

One problem is defining where normal behaviour ends and addiction begins - especially when so many people seem to be indulging. One much-quoted American survey labelled someone who looked at internet porn for more than 11 hours a week as a compulsive user. Using a similar benchmark, a study in 2000 by psychologists concluded that 200,000 people in the US were internet sex addicts.

Testifying to a US Senate committee in 1999, Dr Mary Anne Layden, co-director of the University of Pennsylvania’s sexual trauma and psychopathology programme, said that “even non sex-addicts will show brain reactions on PET [Positron Emission Tomography] scans while viewing pornography similar to cocaine addicts looking at images of cocaine.” The implication is that the human brain is hardwired to crave porn. Given the opportunity, we may all have the potential to become addicts.

I phone Michael. Does he think he’s addicted? “I haven’t bankrupted myself with subscriptions to porn sites. I’m still in a relatively stable relationship. And I’m not seeing a therapist, although I’ve thought about it,” he says. “But, yes, I know there’s an element of compulsion there.”
I tell him about how Pierides’ colleague described pornography as the crack cocaine of the internet. “I don’t feel like a crack addict, more like a binge drinker,” he replies, speaking low so that his wife can’t hear him in the other room.

“I know it’s not doing me good or making me happy at some level and I’d be embarrassed to let anyone know how much time I was spending online looking at porn. It’s like when the doctor asks how many units you’re drinking and you halve it.”

In the US, the debate about porn’s effect has been energised by the publication of Pamela Paul’s book, Pornified: How Pornography is Transforming Our Lives, Our Relationships and Our Families. Paul, a contributor to Time magazine and The New York Review of Books, describes herself as a liberal who had never really given pornography much thought before she came to write about it. “I set out to do a book that wasn’t politicised because I felt that people’s perceptions of the subject were set in stone.”

Her conclusions, however, echo many of the concerns of old-school feminists and the Bible-bashing right. “In America at least, a veil of political correctness has fallen over the subject. People think it’s either harmless entertainment or that it’s empowering or good for a relationship.”

What gives Paul’s polemic weight is the number of interviews she has done with users and those around them. “My starting point was that we knew about the supply but very little about the demand,” she says. If she thought that porn fans would be another species, she was soon disabused. One of the author’s first finds was Jonah, a religious school teacher who enjoyed looking at images of genital torture.

“I found him on the internet absolutely anonymously,” she says. “But it turned out that he used to work with me. He would have been the last person who I’d have thought would have been into that kind of thing.”

The words of Pornified’s female interviewees make uncomfortable reading. There is Ashley, whose boyfriend is quite open in his use of pornography but finds it hard to maintain an erection. Every man she has dated fixates on porn: “Their view of sex is really skewed. It’s gotten dirtier, raunchier. They want you to do a lot of degrading things.”

Bridget, a 38-year-old accountant from Kentucky, feels rejected by her partner: “When I found out he was looking at all this porn I just felt thrown away.”

Variations on this story recur repeatedly in Paul’s book - and are echoed on hundreds of websites about the subject. Typical are such women as marriedlove, who logged on to the “Husbands and internet porn” discussion board at www.aphroditewomenshealth in February. “I’m often struck in these (increasingly common!) debates over porn, how often female frigidity is referred to as cause for frequency of male porn use,” she writes.

“I’d be happy to engage in some form of sexual play or another with my partner multiple times per day, but he still looks at porn alllllll the time. Maybe I’m unique in this, but I don’t think so.”
In Pornified, however, it’s the testimony of the men that is most striking. “Overall one of the surprising things was the extent to which men would talk to me,” Paul said. Kevin, a 32-year-old photographer from Colorado, describes how, having broken up with his fiancee, he began to go online looking for porn almost daily: “I would want more and more. It wasn’t enough to see bare breasts, it had to be bottoms, then it had to be couple, anal and group sex, multiple men and multiple women, bisexual.”

“More than anything else it was making me jaded,” Kevin tells Paul. “I wasn’t finding pleasure in the little things, with women or with life in general. Things that used to be erotic bored me.”
Harrison, a graphic designer, finds his appetite for porn interfering with his libido: “I’ve gotten used to a certain heightened level of stimulation, and when compared with porn, real sex just isn’t that exciting.” (Jane Haynes knows this pattern only too well: “I see it time and again clinically. Porn doesn’t enhance libido, it tends to drain it, which is what drives thinking men to despair.”)

Pornified is subtle enough not to depict the world in black and white. There are men, couples and occasionally even solo women who profess to love porn, use it, and believe they have no problem controlling any demons it might unleash. But the overwhelming tone of the book is of male melancholy, best summed up by Kevin. “I don’t know if porn was an addiction for me,” he tells Paul, after deciding to stop looking at adult material online. “I don’t think so. But it was certainly a depressant.”

For Paul, the problem with porn is as much about self-harm as it is about objectifying women. “It’s like before [Eric Schlosser’s book] Fast Food Nation or [Morgan Spurlock’s film] Super Size Me people didn’t know junk food was bad. They just thought it tasted good. They didn’t know about the odd chemicals and cooking processes that go into a chicken nugget.” The difference is that where McDonald’s or Burger King can only be found on the high street, the majority of homes now offer the means to view internet porn.

For Michael, however, ease of access is only part of the problem. “It’s easy to think of the internet as just another medium,” he says, “a high-tech version of dirty magazines or films. I think that’s fundamentally wrong.

“To me, the most disturbing thing about the internet is that it has the perfect structure to promote dissatisfaction. You click on an image, it’s not quite right. So you click on another, then another. It’s completely open-ended. If you just keep looking there’ll be that image that’s just right. But the more you look, the less you get turned on by the stuff you did before. So, you have to search harder.”

You don’t have to be a moralist to see a downside in millions of men regularly seeking oblivion in an activity that is doomed to disappoint them and which (if Paul’s interviewees are typical) frequently depresses them.

However you judge it, the scale of this flight into fantasy is strange. To some it may look like both symptom and symbol of a wider malaise, marking a collective failure to connect with one other and engage with reality. Has an addictive, acquisitive society lost sight of what makes it happy beyond the next serotonin-inducing surfing session?

Pornified’s most memorable quote pursues a similar train of thought. “The metaphor of a man masturbating at his computer is the Willy Loman of our decade,” says Mark Schwartz of the Masters and Johnson Clinic, referring to the spiritually rudderless protagonist of Arthur Miller’s play, Death of a Salesman. “In a sociologist’s terms, it’s anomie - the completely lonely, isolated man having sex with an airbrushed woman on a computer screen. It’s truly pathetic, even tragic.”

What might this mean for children and adolescents learning about sex? Pamela Paul quotes the feminist writer Naomi Wolf: “Young men and women are indeed being taught what sex is, how it looks, what its etiquette and expectations are, by pornographic training - and this is having a huge effect on how they interact.”

Certainly, familiarity with adult material appears to be starting earlier. “It’s not uncommon for children to be talking about internet pornography in the playground,” says Dr Pierides. A 2003 study for the London School of Economics (LSE), “UK Children Go Online”, found that 75 per cent of nine- to 19-year-olds have accessed the internet from home. Of these, 57 per cent say they have seen pornography online, 36 per cent have accidentally found themselves on a sexually explicit website, and 25 per cent have received a pornographic e-mail.

But the effect of such exposure is almost impossible to quantify. “There just isn’t the data,” says Sonia Livingstone, who co-authored the LSE report. “The ethical problems of conducting research involving children are so great it’s hard to identify the areas for concern.”

Unflappable as ever, Jane Haynes counsels against a moral panic. “To some degree, where there is more openness about sex, boys are probably less driven in wanting to explore it. My 14-year-old grandson has seen a lot of porn on the internet and he is completely dismissive of it.
“You could say, though, that we are undergoing a huge experiment. This is the first generation who are flicking on pornographic websites in front of their parents - when it comes to 18-year-olds, you’ll find that a lot in professional families. I think it will take years to know what the implications are of young people having absolutely easy access to this material.”

If the genie of instantly accessible porn can’t be recorked, what can be done about it? For Haynes, used to picking up the pieces, that question is about as useful as asking what to do about the weather. “You can stop people watching pornography in offices,” she says. “You can stop people watching it in schools. But it’s there and it’s only there because there’s such a huge demand for it.”

Marios Pierides - dealing with the sharp end of addiction - prescribes psychotherapy and sometimes drugs. “Interestingly, a number of studies show that some antidepressants can have an effect on the problem,” he says.

Pamela Paul advocates what she terms “censure not censor”. The tub-thumping conclusion to her book is a call to arms against liberal relativism. “Pornography,” she declares, “is a moving target and it’s time we catch up with it. For years, the pornography industry and the pornified culture have told women to shut up or turn a blind eye. They have accused anti-pornography activists, or even those who have dared question their profit equation, of being anti-sex and anti-freedom... Those who are quiet must now speak out.”

For Michael, at least, the process of speaking seems to have been therapeutic. A couple of weeks after our meeting in Trafalgar Square, an e-mail from him arrives. “Cold turkey”, reads the header. With his wife trying for a baby, he’s been thinking about his online pursuits and it seems like a good time to stop.

For the immediate future, he intends to keep his study door open and avoid working at home while she is out of town. The credit card subscriptions have been cancelled and the history of the internet sites visited erased from his computer for the last time, or so he hopes. “One down, several million to go,” Michael drily concludes. “Failing that, same time, same place next year?”


Blogger Mary A said...

Great summary, Guy! I enjoyed all the talks and got a lot out of them.

It seems like the admonitions and warnings are increasing, but not in a way that is negative. The speakers talk a lot about ways to overcome the trials and temptations we face.

Saturday, April 01, 2006 12:07:00 PM  
Blogger Guy Murray said...

Thanks Mary for stopping by. Yes, the talks were quite good. There was a great deal to learn from what we heard!

Saturday, April 01, 2006 1:00:00 PM  

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