Thursday, January 15, 2015

Porn Shaming

In today's age of technology and social media, it has become astonishingly easy to not only make a cause known, but also to connect with those who share your opinion. Gone are the days of even creating your own arguments. Speaking for or against something in today's world is now as simple as hitting the "share" or "like" button. All we have to do is hold an opinion somewhere deep within ourselves, and then as we stumble upon a gem on our newsfeed, we need only hit a button  to wave the banner of our thought camp for all of our friends to see. And this whole time, we feel as if we're standing for something - as if we're making a difference. But sometimes I wonder if the difference that these social media messages are creating, especially regarding pornography, is the opposite of what we intended.

Research has shown that the average age of exposure to pornography is 11, and that almost every teenager will be exposed to pornography by the time they graduate high school. Studies have also shown that because of the lack of development in the pre-fontal cortex of the brain prior to age 21, adolescents are far more susceptible to move from habit, to compulsion, to addiction. Behavioral addiction researcher Mark Butler has stated that at their core, "all addictions are [just] maladaptive coping strategies," and that the average addict goes through 7 different treatment programs before one sticks. This is because when it comes down to it, alcoholism isn't about alcohol, eating compulsion isn't about food, and sexual addiction isn't about sex. All addictions are about escaping reality - whether it's to feel happier, more powerful, numb to pain, or just to escape life and be someone else for a while.

Taking all of this into consideration, we realize that what we're really looking at are individuals who are viewing pornography in an effort to hide or escape from deep and difficult emotions that have plagued them their entire lives. They are individuals that are hiding, and desperately reaching out for a helping hand; people like you and me who struggle with depression, anxiety, a history of abuse, and bullying. The difference is that their coping mechanism is not only less socially acceptable than a pan of brownies or Netflix marathon, but it has ensnared them and left many feeling hopeless. And that's the worst part, the entrapment. Those who use pornography to escape from real life, and have found themselves caught in the chains of addiction emerge to real life to find that it's worse and more painful than when they left it for their fantasy world, causing them to retreat even further. It's a psychological cycle that is near impossible to escape without professional help.

Anti-pornography campaign from Pornography Harms
Addiction is just that - addiction. Addicts can't "just stop," and are often teenagers and young adults who have, by no fault of their own, become caught in the trap of addiction. But that's not the message sent by today's anti-pornography campaigns. Instead these children, and emerging adults who may be yearning to escape from their addiction are bombarded with messages that correlate their struggle with extreme outcomes such as sexual violence, divorce, and erectile dysfunction. And what we fail to remember is that most of these individuals aren't sexual predators. They're just people like us, caught in a tangled web that they want to get out of. I fear that what we're creating is a culture of fear and shame, so that when one of these young individuals wants to reach out they feel as if they can't because they will be met with rejection, and judgement. To me, it appears to be a perfect storm for shaming our youth into hiding, especially those who are growing up with a strong value system against pornography.

I understand that some of these campaigns offer some amazing assistance programs for struggling individuals, but I rarely see those kinds of posts shared on my Newsfeed. We need a more open dialogue about addiction in general, and a better understanding of how it works, so that we can have true compassion when a loved one shares with us their struggles. We need to present a message of hope to those who are fighting this and extend open arms, and offer loving conversations. While I personally believe that pornography can become addictive, and has the potential to be destructive to relationships, I believe even more strongly that if we continue to create a culture of fear surrounding sexual addiction instead of love, openness and hope, we will have a more difficult time winning this battle. 

Friday, June 13, 2014

Breaking the Silence: The LGBT, Mormon Feminist Issue

This morning my heart is full. Full of sadness and sorrow, heartbreak, compassion, and love. When I was 18 I chose to join the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I chose it because I knew it was true. I had seen the guiding hand and loving concern of a Father in heaven reaching out to me and asking me to come to him. As I came to him I felt the cleansing and purifying power of the Atonement of his son Jesus Christ. I felt strength, power, and wholeness as I began to live my life striving everyday to be more like him. As I fought and struggled to find my footing in this new and unusual world of Mormonism I fell over and over again. Each time my Savior was there to wipe my tears, comfort me, and - when I was ready - carry me back to the path. Over time I began to learn to navigate the ins and outs of the culture, and I grew in the strength of the doctrines.

But soon I began to realize disconnects. The rose colored glasses of my conversion began to come off, and I saw reality. I saw hypocrisy, fear, betrayal, and even hate. I started to see the difference between the culture and the doctrine and I had to choose to lay my faith in Christ.

Eventually situations such as Proposition 8 arose, and I saw the divide of my friends. People that I had always loved spoke out in anger and hatred against me for the things that "my church" had done. I was hurt. I was torn. How could I stand and defend the doctrines that I had come to know were true and simultaneously come to the rescue of those that I loved so strongly? I did nothing.

Here I am nearly 6 years later still having not made a stand.

And the truth is that I know where I stand, I simply don't know how to express it. So this is my attempt. My attempt to say all of the feelings that are in my heart without sufficient words, context, power, tone and medium. Forgive me if I say something amiss, or if something is left un-clarified. I pray that those of you who know me will remember the great desire of my heart to embrace and protect others from suffering. Those of you who don't know me, please know I only wish to comfort and heal.

I believe that there is only one who can provide a satisfactory explanation for all parties, and it is on His side that I stand. The Lord Jesus Christ alone can explain the doctrines of His Gospel. They are not for me to change. With that said, the very doctrines that deem the priesthood to be held by every worthy male, and marriage to be between a man and a woman have commanded us to love. It is not suggested, we are not asked to merely tolerate or "play nice." We are commanded to love. Obedience to commandments is an agentive act. We choose love, or we choose anger, fear and hatred. Opening our hearts in compassion and acceptance is a choice and if we stand idly by we are just as guilty in our sin of omission. Remember that Christ suffered for all. Not so that we can be fearful and divided, but to unify us through his infinite and perfect love.

Yes, I believe differently than the majority - I support marriage between a man and a woman, and I believe that God himself has asked men to hold his priesthood. Yes, there are doctrines of the LDS Church that I do not understand. But when I chose to be baptized into this Gospel ten years ago it served as a witness of my belief in a living prophet upon this Earth, and as I emerged from the water I covenanted with my Creator to sustain him as such. And in that same covenant I promised to bear the burdens of my Earthly brothers and sisters, mourn with them, and comfort them in their times of need.

To those of you who have been wounded by proclaimed Christians, I wish to apologize. For those of you that I may have hurt in my silence, or otherwise, I ask your forgiveness. We can have differences of belief and practice and be unified in our love and respect. To my gay, lesbian, bi-sexual and feminist friends: my arms and heart are open to you. I pray for your pains, and your burdens to be healed and lifted. I pray that my heart and mind can be even more open and compassionate toward you. Please know that I am not the only one, and we openly proclaim that you are always welcome; you are His, and therefore ours.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Please Exit the Ride to Your Left

Well hey! How's it going? Long time no see....I missed you! I feel like I've been on the Matterhorn and lived to tell the tale. Now, I know you have questions. It's why you're here. The good news is that I have answers, so let's just get those out of the way.

1. Aren't you in Washington?

Actually, I'm not. I went, I really did. I have speeding tickets from Montana, Oregon and Idaho to prove it. But try as I might the Lord had other plans, so here I am back in Utah. I'm living in Provo which is.....fine. Unfortunately my position at Highland Chiropractic had already been filled so I've acquired a job down here at Carrabba's Italian Whatever and am currently awaiting the start of summer semester at BYU. Which leads us directly into question 2....

2. So no Hawaii!?

Nope, no Hawaii. And in all honesty, the details of how I know and why are all wrapped up into hours of conversations with God. Suffice it to say I'm where I'm supposed to be and I am grateful for a Father in Heaven who loves me and not only gives me what I need, but sometimes also what I want. 

3. Are you dating a boy?

Yes. Yes I am. And I like him. He's 21 (bringing me to a status of Cougar2), majoring in Criminal Justice at UVU, makes me laugh, has a beard and loves the Lord. If you would like further details you're more than welcome to take me to lunch. 

So now that we're all caught up, let me tell you what I've learned over the last month and a half:

God Loves Me.

I say it all the time with meaning and belief, but this time I felt it. I felt something akin to what Abraham must have felt as he was asked to climb to the top of Mount Moriah to sacrifice his only son; emotions similar to those he felt as he told Issac what God had commanded and watched as he willingly laid himself upon the altar, followed by the conflict of pure faith and pain within his heart as he raised his knife to slay his only son. 

What I learned was that at this moment, when Abraham raises his knife, he is not building his faith in God. At this point Abraham's faith has already become knowledge or God would've never required something so dramatic. He realizes that the only knowledge that is sure is that that is founded in God. All Abraham needed to know was that God was not only real, but his father. And with that knowledge we witness a complete surrender of Abraham's will, accompanied with his dependence on God's omniscience. Abraham doesn't know the outcome of this situation, he doesn't know how he's going to walk back down the mountain and explain to Sarah that he has sacrificed the son that they waited a century for - the only child they'll ever have - or perhaps how to even continue life knowing that he killed his own son. But what Abraham did know was that God loved him and no matter what happened everything would not only be ok, but would be for his benefit. God wasn't testing Abraham's faith, he was making him like Himself.

To be god-like is to be selfless, fearless and willing. And to get to that point we must know that God has all knowledge, and it is through these experiences of sacrifice and trial that we come to understand not just that he knows best, but that he simply knows. As we come to the end of these hardships we emerge from the darkness to see that we have become a bit more like him; we see things a little more clearly from his perspective, and ultimately become more accepting of his will. 

So yes, it's been a roller coaster. The last month and an half has been nothing short of a Molotov Cocktail of emotion, but I wouldn't trade it for anything.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Best Worst Pep Talk Ever

Seriously, this is how I feel. But despite the significant lack of social life and huge influx of all-nighters, I still managed to pick up some dating insight along the way. Therefore, I give you: The best worst pep talk ever.

About 2 weeks ago I called one of my friends for a favor and next thing I know I'm getting a dating pep talk - which is exactly what we all need the week before finals...? I'm not gonna lie, the delivery was terrible, but I was magically able to navigate my way through it and glean some truths. It's honestly been very influential over the past few weeks, and I'm exceptionally grateful for the person who gave it to me. Below you will find excerpts of the talk, immediately followed by my interpretation of each principle. These are direct quotes from an actual phone conversation.

1. "Next thing you know you're realizing another one of God's children doesn't love you" 

Translation: Dating is naturally going to come with rejection. However, rejection is better than never knowing because it is the only way to move forward. Sitting around in fear that someone might not share your feelings is just making you more discouraged, so get up, face your fears and get rejected so you can move on and find the person who will love you.

2. "Put all your eggs in one basket, and the next day you're watching 'em float down the river"

Translation: Options are a good thing. Putting too much stock in one situation is basically the express lane to disappointment. Obviously this is not an excuse to play the field, and options should be limited to your emotional capacity - the deeper the commitment, the more "eggs" in the basket. Flirting is the process of collecting baskets. If they stick around, try adding an egg. The process of placing an (note the singularity of the article here) egg in a basket can be likened to dating, and as the commitment to one person grows, slowly remove eggs from other baskets to put into that basket. Otherwise, keep your eggs to yourself until you've moved into the dating phase.

3. "If you breed a thousand rabbits expecting to sell them as food, you'll just end up alone with a lot of rabbits" 

Translation: If you spend your time idealizing a person and the potential for your future happiness, you may end up either a.) psyching yourself out so much that you never even act, or b.) becoming sorely disappointed when the person doesn't live up to your expectations. Therefore, moving quickly towards actual dates gives you the knowledge you need to decide if this relationship is something you want to continue to pursue.

4. "You'll just be sitting on the sidelines watching people who are no braver than you, happily in relationships" 

Translation: Happy relationships don't happen to the pretty/skinny/funny/successful people, they happen to people who are willing to push themselves out of their comfort zones. Love comes from risk. Sometimes it ends in failure - in some of our cases it seems to always end in failure - but if we keep pushing ourselves just a little more each day, in everything that we do, success is inevitable.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Love and Shoes

Yesterday, one of my friends expressed his confusion about why none of his ex's wanted to marry him, a thought which I think most of us have had. Unfortunately, there are a million reasons: timing, agency, preference, compatibility, fear, the list goes on. But what came to my mind was that selecting a spouse is a whole lot like selecting shoes.

I love shoes, but I don't just walk into DSW, grab whatever looks good, and take it home. Shoe shopping takes time, patience, precision and feeling. When I enter a store, I'm not only looking for something that looks good, but something that fits, and has the right price tag. Most importantly, the shoe needs to bring out some element of my personality; I need to love it. There are plenty of shoes that I think are cute, but just aren't me.

In my experience, dating is exactly the same. Someone may be attractive, and their personality may fit with mine, but there are some prices that I'm just not willing to pay - things I'm not willing to sacrifice - to make the relationship work. On the other hand, everything could be perfect on paper, the look, the fit and the cost, but something's just not there, even if I want it to be. Therefore, I'm convinced marriage takes an act of God. It's honestly as baffling to me as the creation of the world - just as I don't understand how the world came into being, I cannot fathom the strings God has to pull to get two people fall in love with each other - at the same time.

So in the mean time, it's all about hope. Not hope in a person, or a situation; but hope in the Lord. Hope that He knows not only what's best for us, but when it's best. I can't tell you how many times I've almost bought a pair of shoes, and walked out because I knew they were too expensive, and then came back months later only to find them 80% off. And that, my friends, remains the hardest part of singlehood: to trust that one day, that perfect pair, wrapped up with everything in it's proper place will appear.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Don't be a lumper.

Lately the phrases "when you least expect it" and "when you're not looking for it" have been kicking around in my little Sarah brain where they've been met with sarcasm and reality checks. Which we all know leads to a blog...

First, I asked myself: "when was the last time I expected marriage?" I'm rounding the corner to 27 (which is not old b.t.w...), and I've been un-relationshipped for a little over 3 years now. I think at this point in my life I look cute and flirt with boys just for fun. Not that I'm never interested, but - in the least bitter, cynical way possible - I'm not sure I'm ever really expecting anything when I do it anymore. 

And second: are any of my single friends out there not looking for marriage? Didn't think so. That would be contradictory to both our hormones and the prophet.

These conclusions only lead me to the question: what point are these people trying to make?

I think it has something to do with purpose. The life of singlehood is like walking a tight-rope of time management. You can't just sit around waiting for prince charming to come sweep you off your feet - at some point you need to get off your little bum and make progression in your life. Purpose, direction and service are what make you feel whole. Lumping around in your house waiting for love to knock on your door is going to make you just as sad as it sounds. On the other hand, you can't be filling your life so full that there isn't time or space for someone in it. Those phrases we hear all the time are just small reminders for us to do something with ourselves and enjoy the journey. Being single in your mid-20's and early 30's is a great opportunity to learn about yourself and serve others. And it is in that process that we find happiness, whether marriage comes along or not. 

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Why I Believe

Today marks 8 years since the day I was baptized into the LDS Church. I keep feeling like I've added wrong because it can't possibly have been that long. Some days I feel like I'm still so behind in terms of the Gospel, and other days it feels like I've had it my whole life. There are times that I can't remember what it's like to live without it, and there are days that I remember all too vividly. Some of you have only known me as "Sarah the Mormon," and some of you have seen both sides, but I feel like whether you're LDS or not, the question always remains - Why do I believe?

I'm 26 and I don't drink, smoke, partake in any form of illicit drugs, or believe in premarital sex. Here in Utah it feels a little bit easier because there seem to be more people striving for the same things. But regardless of the fact that there are so many millions of us who all believe the same, if you asked every last Mormon on the planet why they believed what they did, you would get just as many different answers.

For me, the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the only constant in my life. Everything in our lives is conditional, inconsistent and temporal. It can all change within minutes. Even the stablest, most meaningful of relationships can crumble based on a person's choices. The Gospel, however, is Christ-centered. It is pure unaltered truth, and revolves around Him and His eternal teachings. Therefore, when life becomes convoluted and uncertain,  I have a sure foundation to hold on to.

I've heard plenty of arguments about weak individuals needing to believe in God, and their inability to believe in the power of the Human Spirit; but because I believe in God, I have reason to believe in the power of the Human Spirit. It gives me reason to push through hardship and pain. If I believe that an all-knowing all-powerful being knows the ins and outs of my weaknesses and still chooses to love me, then I have reason to be the person He sees in me. It also gives me a desire to do the same for others, and reach to bring Heaven a little bit closer each day.

I choose to live a life of faith, optimism, perspective and progression, all of which the doctrines of the LDS church encourage. None of these things make me perfect or without fault, but they bring me joy. I've experienced happiness, but with eternal perspective and the teachings of Christ, I have true joy.