In choosing entertainment for our families, we cannot be guided by the world’s definition of pornography. Latter-day Saints are to live by a higher standard.

Our seventeen-year-old son wanted to attend a movie that some of his friends had already seen. We read the newspaper review which commented on the “sex, profanity, violence, and vulgarity,” portrayed in the movie.

“So what if it is?” he said. “It can’t be any worse than what I see and hear every day at school.”

“That may be true,” I answered, “but that doesn’t mean you should see the movie.” I then said that according to the newspaper review, the movie was pornographic.

“It’s not pornography, Dad,” he argued. “The newspaper says it’s a teenage comedy, and I’m a teenager.”

“Yes,” I said. “But you’re not just any teenager. You hold God’s priesthood. Please don’t go.”

He didn’t go.

What Is Pornography?

As parents, we have found it helpful to explain pornography to our children in simple gospel terms. We like to start with a dictionary definition that says something is pornographic if it is “offensive to chastity or to modesty.” This definition is helpful because the principles of modesty and chastity are easily understood by children.

Latter-day Saints have a clear standard of modesty. It is defined by the temple garment. The garment covers nakedness that should not be exposed in public. Keeping our bodies appropriately covered is modesty. Wearing insufficient or tight, revealing clothing is immodesty. Even when participating in swimming and athletic activities, our dress and grooming should be modest, in good taste, and appropriate to the activity. Disrespectful talk about the body or its functions is also a form of immodesty.

Chastity has to do with the sacredness of the power of procreation. This is an especially sacred power, to be used only within the bonds of marriage.

The Lord has referred to the human body as a temple. (See D&C 93:35.) A temple is a holy place, a place where the Spirit of the Lord may dwell. Like a temple, the body is sacred; and its most sacred power—procreation—may be likened to the celestial room in the temple. The temple walls and veil provide many layers of protection for this sacred place, to keep it holy. In a similar way, the power of procreation should also be protected by many layers—layers of modesty.

When we use the power of procreation only within the bonds of marriage, and when we think and speak of it with reverence, we are keeping the law of chastity.

What Can Parents and Leaders Do?

1. Reevaluate what comes into our homes and neighborhoods.

Latter-day Saint leaders have spoken clearly about the evils and dangers of pornography and have suggested ways to combat it. We must begin with ourselves and our own families.

Another of our sons recently asked to see a movie that was being reviewed as the fourth—and supposedly the best—version of a particular story. My wife and I had seen one of the earlier versions and had given our children permission to see it also. Based on this new movie’s review, we might have given our son permission to see it.

However, we noticed in a longer review these warnings: “Unfortunately, the sex angle is dealt with here … in a way that is less than tasteful, and one scene in particular may be enough to steer young ones in another direction, …”

This review concluded with the warning that “parents should be advised that this isn’t particularly a film for young children.”

Translated into biblical standards, this was a pornographic movie.

And movies aren’t the only problem. Books, magazines, and song lyrics can be equally as offensive to decency. The opinion of a newspaper or magazine critic may be helpful, but we must remember that most professionals do not apply biblical standards in their reviews.

How unfortunate it is to hear more and more frequently the following endorsement, even from Latter-day Saints: “It’s a great movie [or book]—except for a couple of bad parts. But I’m sure you’ll really like it!”

Speaking to the Saints in general conference, Elder Wm. Grant Bangerter of the First Quorum of the Seventy stated that it is “fiction that the display of such things as adultery, pornography, nudity, and licentiousness should be kept [only] from the young people. … To set an age limit is pure hypocrisy” (General Conference, April 1984).

If material contains matter that is offensive to modesty or chastity, it is pornographic and should be avoided. It’s that simple.

A Church, English-language pamphlet, How Can I Help in the Fight Against Pornography? suggests the following steps to avoid exposure to pornography:

“Set personal and family standards that focus on human dignity and wholesome living.”

“Have open family discussions with children of suitable age about pornography and its dangers.”

“Emphasize the sacred nature of the human body and the joy of proper sexual relationships.”

“Avoid places where pornography is believed to exist.”

“Control and monitor television viewing.”

“Select movies and other entertainment based on reliable reviews.”

“Read good books, … and read them to your children.”

“Be aware of unsuitable music and lyrics. Discuss their impact on young people and others.”

2. Let our voices be heard.

If a business sells or rents pornographic material, talk to those who have authority to make changes. Quiet conversations and carefully written letters to business owners and managers can have positive effects. If these efforts are not successful, join with neighborhood, school, or community groups to encourage businesses to remove offensive material from their shelves.

Letters to newspaper editors, radio and television stations, advertisers, and legislators may also be effective.

It is appropriate for Church members to join with nonmembers in group action against pornography.

3. Expect opposition.

No matter which course of action we choose, we can often measure our effectiveness by the amount of opposition we encounter. One cannot promote righteousness without provoking criticism. Elder Bangerter has warned that “since so much of the world accepts these actions [the display of such things as adultery, pornography, nudity, and licentiousness], if we resist them or speak out against them, we will be scoffed at. We will be called prudish, … and self-righteous, as if we had become the sinners. We will be accused of being evil-minded in our failure to appreciate the ‘beauty and naturalness’ of the human body” (General Conference, April 1984).

Someday the Saints will succeed in establishing a society that is clean and pure—a Zion to which the Savior may come. Pornography, among other impure things, will have been purged from that society. In the meantime, everything we do or say in support of modesty and chastity contributes toward the eventual establishment of such a Zion. Even when we do not see immediate results, we need to make sure we’re on the Lord’s side of this issue.

[photo] Photography by Welden Andersen

R. Gary Shapiro is a member of the Pleasant Grove Eleventh Ward, Pleasant Grove Utah Timpanogos Stake.