Friday, June 03, 2011

Why Does Deseret Book Sell Addictive Emotional Porn?

Despite denials from some quadrants, the problems caused by pornography addiction are clear and well documented. It damages one’s ability to properly engage in normal human associations, especially intimate relationships. People become objects that are valued mainly for their appeal to carnal desires. Pornography’s effect on brain chemistry is similar to taking addictive drugs. Its use is frequently accompanied by an artificial high-low (mania-depression) cycle.

Visual porn is broadly recognized. Its appeal to and effect on males has been known and exploited for millennia. But what about emotional porn? What about porn that appeals to females? This KSL article notes that romance novels can become more than a casual escape for women. They can be as addictive for women as visual porn is for men.

Romance novels include “entrancing but distorted messages” about human relationships. The article says that “there are similarities between what happens to a man when he views pornography and what happens to a woman when she reads a romance novel.” The article says:
“Men are very visual, and viewing pornography produces a euphoric drug in the body. This drug is the reason pornography becomes addictive. When the natural high wears off, a man will crash and feel depressed (as happens with any drug) and crave another hit.

“Women are more stimulated by romance than sex, so when they read romantic stories (and they don’t have to be explicit to work) they can experience the same addicting chemical release as men do.”
It has long been known that visual porn causes men to become dissatisfied with their real relationships because no actual relationship can live up to the false fantasy world in which they immerse themselves. No real partner lives and breathes to satisfy one’s lusts without demanding much. Rarely does a real partner look as visually enticing as do surgically and graphically enhanced porn models.

Emotional porn works in a similar fashion for women. The article says, “Women may find their standard for intimacy begins to change over time because [they] may not be able to get as satisfied with their partners as they can reading a book.” Taking another euphoric hit from a book beats the humdrum reality of everyday relationship building.

This issue raises a question in my head. Every couple of months we get a catalog from Deseret Book in the mail. Deseret Book is owned by Deseret Management Corp., which in turn is fully owned by the LDS Church. Each issue of the catalog is filled with numerous romance novel offerings. Perhaps it’s my own perception, but it seems to me that these offerings have proliferated like crazy over the past couple of decades.

The romance novels sold at Deseret Book usually feature some kind of LDS or religious perspective that is absent in mainstream romance novels. But the fact of the matter is that these religious-ized novels follow the same basic tried and true romance fiction recipe that can’t help but distort human relationships. It’s what this genre of literature is designed to do—it’s prime directive, as it were. People wouldn't read it if it merely portrayed reality.

As the KSL article states, a romance novel doesn’t have to be explicit or erotic to be harmful. So I have to ask why Deseret Book carries so many of these books—emotional porn with a religious theme. DB would never sell visual porn even religious messages mixed in. So why does DB sell emotional porn?

I assumed that religiously themed romance novels must make up a huge percentage of DB’s profit, given the amount of catalog space continually devoted to such books. But when I last visited DB’s home page, no romance novels were among the chain’s top ten best sellers. In fact, no fiction works were among that group. The fiction page had five romance novels among its top ten list with four of them being the top four, but there is no accounting for how much these books generate in sales or profit.

I have to admit that I am somewhat romance story impaired. Maybe that’s natural for guys. Back in the days before the LDS historical novel genre exploded, I mentioned to a neighbor that I had enjoyed reading one of the few such works available at that time. She enthusiastically insisted that I read a LDS historical novel she owned of which I had never heard.

It didn’t take me long to realize that the book was only loosely historical. It was the bizarre story of a fictional pioneer girl that married a temporarily reformed jerk to spite her true love pure Mormon boy after he left her to march off with the Mormon Battalion upon assignment from church leaders. The jerk later dumps the girl and she ends up marrying her true love when he returns from his service. Frankly, I wanted to vomit.

Perhaps this book is a poor sampling of the romance genre, since it was written by a guy. However, my neighbor, who was quite a romance aficionado vouched for the book’s quality. So I can only assume that it is somewhat representative of the LDS romance ‘literature’ that is out there.

I am certain that many readily defend the reading of romance novels. It’s just a brief escape. Only a few abusers are addicts. It’s not harming anyone. I can quit anytime I want. And as far as LDS romance novels, they always have a good moral basis. That makes them worth reading, doesn’t it? Sure, and mood altering drugs are always healthy as long as you have a doctor’s prescription. (sarcasm)

The reality is that pornography takes a toll on its users, regardless of whether the content is erotic visual material, blood and gore movies and video games, or emotionally engaging but distorted fiction. What seems like a harmless diversion can quickly snare us in a cycle of addiction and can ruin our ability to function properly in life's most important real relationships.

It is wise to avoid all addictive substances and behaviors. It might be good for church owned retailers to refrain from selling addictive substances, including emotionally addictive fiction. After all, we as a society don’t have much regard for pushers, even if demand for their wares is high.

Help is available for those that are already addicted. But a key ingredient to healing is a firm personal desire to overcome the addiction. This presupposes recognizing that one has a problem that needs to be corrected. Many that enjoy their addictions aren’t at this stage yet.

For those not addicted to any of these things, why start in the first place?


JBT said...

I have read somewhere that being "sanctimonius" and "holier than thou" can be quite addictive and habit forming as well. Some folks might want to be careful, lest they do those things to the point where they need glasses.

James said...

Interesting comment. I have not really considered the idea, but it is not like Deseret Book to really read what they put on their shelves anyway. They sold Twilight simply because it was making a lot of money, not because they thought about the implications of a Mormon bookstore using tithing money to distribute vampire porn.

Roger said...

Let me just say James, you have no clue what you are talking about.

Are you kidding that Deseret Book doesn't read what they put on their shelves? They are possibly the most highly scrutinized book store on the planet.

And as for the comment about tithing money going to Deseret Book, sorry again, they are operated just like KSL Television and Radio, completely external with not a dime of tithing funds used. The only profits obtained are returned to the church to further it's purposes.

Be smart, not speculative!

Kent Larsen said...

Possibly the real problem here isn't Deseret Book, but the sources for the KSL article. Dr. Juli Slattery's connection to Focus on the Family (which isn't exactly known for letting the facts get in the way of its agenda) has to make her suspect, at least. And the other author cited, Shaunti Feldhahn, doesn't inspire me much, for that matter.

What bothers me most here is that there are so many different types and styles of romance novels, I wonder if the entire genre can be written off so easily.

OTOH, I don't read nor am I very impressed with romance novels in general (there are exceptions). Nor do I like the emphasis on emotion in them or in parts of our society. I'm particularly annoyed with those in the Church who seem to confuse feeling emotion with feeling the spirit.

So, I can see where the KSL article is going, am slightly sympathetic (but I think it goes to far), but the qualifications of those pushing the idea turn me off.

Scott Hinrichs said...

It's always good to check the agendas of those promoting any idea. I find it interesting that KSL and Deseret Book are both owned by the LDS Church, yet they seem to differ on this point.

Roseanne's Spot said...

Pornography is vile and abhorrent and should have no place in our homes or families. Most adult contemporary romances are, indeed, pornography. Good literature lifts the spirit and brings you closer to God. An LDS romance novel can be a teaching tool designed to lead girls to eternal marriages. By no stretch of the imagination can LDS romance novels be considered to be pornographic. If we would compare visual images, a modern romance would be from Hustler and an LDS romance would be a newspaper clipping of girls in their Sunday best. There is no comparison.

Scott Hinrichs said...

Rosanne: I very much appreciate your perspective. However, the research suggests that it does not necessarily matter whether a romance novel is raunchy or is intended by its author and publisher to be lovely, praiseworthy, and of good report.

The act of emotionally escaping into fantasy relationships that seem so much more fulfilling than one's own mundane circumstances is enough to trigger the kind of chemical release that is associated with addiction.

Even clean and well intentioned romantic novels can have the effect of distorting a reader's comprehension of intimate human relationships in a way that sets her up for constant disappointment and dissatisfaction with life's realities.

This is not so much different than what happens to men with visual porn addiction. They can never find real people that look and act in the ways that they imagine the women in the photos do. Their distorted expectations damage their ability to engage in normal human interactions.

It may very well be true that most LDS romances are meant to be somewhat benign compared to the broader romance genre. But their main goal is the same: to offer an emotional escape. Saying these books 'are not so bad' seems to me to be rather faint praise.

Sophie said...

This is sad, and kind of funny. While some romance novels do have the effect of pornography on women (obsession, inability to form intimate emotional relationships, addiction) most do not. I was quite the reader of clean romances novels in my teens--Pride and Prejudice, Wuthering Heights, A Tale of Two Cities (What? Dickens? A romance novelist? Yes my friend, every book encompasses romantic love), Les Miserables, the list continues. And I also really loved a good romantic movie--which definitely has to also qualify as porn by you standards, no? I mean, heaven forbid that the brethren ever quote My Fair Lady or the Music Man, because these love stories dismiss reality and set false expectations. Porn! All of them! Don't even get me started on Disney. While I don't consume as much romance as I used to, I can always tell which ones are quality, because the love between the characters reminds me of the love between my husband and me. It's a very familiar feeling, and not one of longing for something more, but of appreciating what I have. I'm pretty sure visual porn never makes a man feel that way, and I think maybe you should consume a few more romance novels before you make sweeping accusations about a topic of which your only information is a KSL article and your neighbor's ridiculous book suggestion. Look to the brethren, a few of them have enjoyed a good romance novel in their time, and even quoted it from the pulpit.

Shawn and Mary said...

Nothing more to add other than to support all that Sophie said. It's important to see and share the reality of the situation for what it is rather than make up some ridiculous accusations and misinformed judgments.