Four years ago, in addressing the Utah Coalition Against Pornography’s annual conference, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles spoke of the need to view the threat posed by pornography like “a public health crisis; like an infectious, fatal epidemic; like a moral plague on the body politic that is maiming the lives of our citizens.”
In offering the keynote address at that same conference on Sept. 12 — this time delivered remotely due to precautions for COVID-19 — Elder Holland said, “Well, I guess we’d better be careful what metaphors we use because we have been given such a plague.”
The UCAP’s annual conference, called the Rally for Hope and Healing, was held at the Burns Arena on the Dixie State University campus in Southern Utah. In his remarks, which were livestreamed to participants in St. George and elsewhere, Elder Holland outlined the “striking similarities between pornography and COVID-19” and offered hope and encouragement to the “foot soldiers in the war against pandemics, whether of the body or the mind.”
“As we conquer COVID-19 — and we will — may we be equally committed right now to conquering this other pandemic and free the world from the plague of pornography,” he declared.
In the first of his comparisons between COVID-19 and porn, Elder Holland explained that the coronavirus spreads through small, imperceptible droplets in the air. Those who are infected with the small particles — 1,000 times smaller than a grain of sand — may not initially recognize the danger and therefore “may or may not have taken appropriate precautions against this seemingly ubiquitous aggressor.”
“This sounds eerily like the infection of pornography,” Elder Holland said. “Exposure begins through small, simple, visual droplets about which even the victim may not fully appreciate the danger.” Sadly, “the little pornographic germs” are pervasive — television, movies, checkout counters, cell phones and iPads — so that exposure goes on and on.
While washing hands, using sanitizer, wearing a mask and observing social distancing can help protect against COVID-19, “pornography does not know how to be clean or to be masked or to keep any distance at all,” the Church leader said.
And while there is hope for the development of some form of inoculation to COVID-19, “I am not aware of a wonder drug coming to counter pornography, so we must conquer it another way,” he said.
Elder Holland then explained “more than you ever wanted to know about these two plagues.” Once in the body, COVID-19 forms spikes on its surface that contain three elements that help the virus access the ACE2 receptors of cells. After attaching, the virus deposits its genetic material inside the cell and quickly replicates itself until the cell bursts.
Like COVID-19’s “sticky” spikes, pornography has three elements that make it a particularly contagious disease. Quoting Dr. Al Cooper, Elder Holland explained that those three elements are accessibility, affordability and anonymity. Due to its widespread accessibility, porn’s onslaught is constant. “And because porn is available for free on a variety of internet-enabled devices, it is available to any viewer whenever and wherever he or she wants it — usually the darkest and most private hour and location possible, allowing it to be viewed anonymously in most cases.”
What of the impact of “these two plagues?” Elder Holland asked. COVID-19’s impact varies, though it is generally worse for those over 60. Some will never know they had it while others end up on a respirator, having their blood artificially oxygenated, or dying from the disease. “These victims can no longer rely on their own natural capabilities. Instead, they must live artificially to survive from day to day.”
In contrast, no one escapes pornography unscathed as some might with COVID-19, and it reverses its audience — attacking the young more viciously than the elderly. “Like COVID-19’s worst victims, pornography takes what is normal and natural and makes it artificial for everyone who uses it. Because it rewires the neural pathways in your brain, to leave it will require constant monitoring of your thoughts and feelings, not unlike the greatest monitoring of the lungs or blood of COVID-19 patients,” he said.
Both COVID-19 and pornography create a form of social distancing, he continued, where family and friends feel powerless. But where COVID-19’s isolation is compelled by public officials, porn’s isolation is voluntary, stemming from a fear of being found out. “Unfortunately, users think that when they use it in isolation that they can restrain the contagion like someone in quarantine does for COVID-19,” he said. “Yet this isolation only perpetuates the disease instead of isolating it.”
Pornography distorts the very nature of love, he said, which is as important to a fully functioning human as the cells that make up the body. Calling COVID-19 “a destructive, intracellular parasite,” Elder Holland explained that the virus hijacks a cell’s reproduction machinery and relentlessly replicates itself until the host cell bursts from the buildup of the viruses.
“Similarly,” he said, “when pornography hijacks our love and emotions unnaturally, we struggle to replicate them naturally.” He then quoted Dr. Gail Dines who said, “In porn[ography], sex is not about making love. The feelings and emotions we normally associate with such an act — connection, empathy, tenderness, caring, affection — are missing. In their place are those emotions we normally associate with hate — fear, disgust, anger, loathing and contempt.”
For those who give illicitly only part of that which cannot be followed with the gift of their whole heart, Elder Holland warned, “is its own form of emotional Russian roulette. If they persist in sharing part without the whole, in pursuing satisfaction devoid of loyalty and love, giving parts and pieces and inflamed fragments only, they run the terrible risk of such spiritual, psychic damage that they may undermine both their physical intimacy and their wholehearted devotion to those who love them most — in reality, not virtually.”
Recognizing that many in the audience have “deeply personal hopes,” Elder Holland said, “Because God does work in this world, we can hope — we should hope — even when facing the most insurmountable odds. … We all need to believe that what we desire in righteousness can someday, someway, somehow yet be ours.”
With COVID-19, there is hope for a vaccine. “As we have learned with flu and other vaccines, they are not always perfect. Similarly, efforts to protect yourself, your spouse, child, family member, or other associate from pornography may be successful by degrees.”
Elder Holland recognized that those who struggle will need help. “For the kind of painful loneliness that some suffer here today, the best help always comes from heaven.”
Look forward with faith and courage, he said. “Do not replicate the longing look of Lot’s wife back to Sodom and Gomorrah. That leads to salty, bitter experiences. It does not matter whether you are looking back for grief, pain, desire, or some other reason. Learn from the past, but don’t wallow in it,” he said.
Many years ago, a young heart surgeon — Dr. Russell M. Nelson — operated on two siblings, but, despite his best efforts, he lost them both. Although he was ready to quit, his wife Dantzel explained that if he quit, someone would have to learn what he already learned, which would take a long time and result in the loss of additional lives in the process.
“Part of life is coming up against obstacles such as pornography and pandemics and conquering them, destructive as they are,” Elder Holland said. “Some problems are of our own making, and others simply happen to us. We face what we must face, and we persevere. It means squaring our shoulders and stiffening our back and staying with a virtuous effort.”
Use pains, temptations and traumas, Elder Holland told listeners. “Harness them as a moving force to be better, to become better. Allow God-given gifts to come out in you. When you are a creator, you focus more on the positive and less on the things that are destroying or hurting you. Let your pain lead you to your Heavenly Father who loves you.”
Elder Holland said he is not oblivious to the fact that this is a “wrenching, terribly harrowing problem.” Many have been trying to help themselves or others battle this demon for years.
“In some sense, we are all distant spectators to one another,” he said. “Not one of us has suffered what the other has suffered. However, I believe there is One who has. Each person will have to counsel and pray and work through that with Him. We cannot live without hope. Every one of you needs to have hope. Christ Jesus gives us that hope because in some incredible way, He has in effect been where you have been and felt what you have felt.”
The Lord will always bless those who want to improve, who accept the need for commandments and try to keep them, who cherish Christlike virtues and strive to the best of their ability to acquire them. “If you stumble in that pursuit, so does everyone; the Savior is there to help you keep going,” Elder Holland said. “If you fall, summon His strength. Get back up. Call out like one did, ‘O Jesus, … have mercy on me’ (Alma 36:18).”
Christ will help individuals repent, repair, fix whatever needs to be fixed and keep going. “Soon enough you will have the success you seek,” he said.