In today’s culture pornography is like the proverbial elephant in the room. Churches would often rather not talk about it, and secular culture has gone from prudish but hushed condemnation to resigned acceptance. These days secular culture accepts it as a normal part of sexuality (though this applies more to males than females).
Several weeks ago in our church young adults group we’d briefly touched on the topic. What’s actually wrong with pornography, beside the fact that it exploits women?
Most Christians can quickly recite the biblical grounds against it: it’s committing adultery exactly as Jesus describes it in Matthew 25:28; it degrades women who are created in the image of God; it is a sexual sin committed not only against the God who inhabits our temple-bodies but also our wives (1 Corinthians 7); it is an act of infidelity against Jesus our future bridegroom.
Now while these grounds alone are reason enough to tell us what’s wrong with pornography, there are also practical ills to look at. And I would argue that an appreciation of these practical side-effects, together with the biblical commands, give us a better understanding of our condition. In my experience focusing merely on the sacrality of the biblical commands allows the side effects to catch you off guard. Here are five that I have discovered that will be especially relevant to Christian singles such as myself:
1. Porn retards our ability to deal with people, especially women. It’s a slow lesson that we learn but it grips firmly in our minds: women matter for how they look and how they can please you, and very little else. Men find themselves unable to relate to women; not just in terms of lusting and ogling (and judging people by appearances), but also in terms of forming meaningful relationships. I would argue porn also contributes to the Peter Pan syndrome, men refusing to grow up. How many men refuse to enter committed relationships leading to marriage because they are satisfied with digital sex, and/or because they have no idea how to deal with a flesh-and-blood female, how to befriend, know and woo a real woman?
2. Porn trains us to have unrealistic expectations of sex, both in terms of its desirability and also its pre-eminence in our thinking and desires. In our pornified culture sex enjoys a premium, it’s simply everywhere you look, everywhere you read. The danger is that it could not only lead to a disappointing sex life with your spouse (porn turns sex into a display as well as a fundamentally domineering and selfish act, neither of which are conducive to a healthy, God-pleasing sex life); moreover it gives sex an unmerited first-place position in our thinking. Pornography promises so much goodness in the idea of sex that not only do we stumble in our devotion to God, we miss out on so many other good things in life.
3. Porn magnifies sexual sin in the mind, often to the neglect of other sins. This is something I read in T Chester’s Captured by a Better Vision, and is something that really caught me off guard. When we struggle with pornography it often becomes a major or even defining sin in our lives. It is good to acknowledge it as a sin that we need Jesus to defeat, but it can act as a smokescreen to other sins and issues in our lives. Self-righteousness, cold-heartedness and legalism – these are only some of the sins that I’ve identified in myself not too long ago, while pornography is a longstanding sin I’ve acknowledged in myself.
4. Porn teaches us we can have what we want without ‘earning’ it. Now I am not saying that sex is a commodity, but the fact is that a man does have to woo a girl, earn her trust and that of her parents through sacrificial love, commit to her and marry her, and only then can they both consummate that love through sex. And any married couple will agree that even in marriage, sex is not a given! The goodness of a happy marriage, which sex celebrates, has to be fought for. When porn promises a taste of that intimacy without the requisite effort and commitment, and we as singles or married people take it up on that promise, we are in fact stealing intimacy (or at least a sham version of it).
5. Porn is a form of escapism, and teaches unrealistic expectations of the world: a demand for instantaneous gratification; an inability to devote yourself to one thing; an inability to cope with a rejection of what you want. Porn teaches us to be very, very selfish people. I’ve only recently noticed this, but our generation of men take no’s very poorly. And in part I think it is a side effect of our pornified culture. True, consumer culture teaches us that we should have what we want, but so does porn, and especially when it comes to sex and relationships. Men including myself simple cannot cope with not having what we want. And often neither can we live out single-minded devotion, either to people or projects or causes. Porn, I would argue, teaches and fuels that: a digital girl will never say no, and there are a thousand different kinds of her to choose from.
The last point from the list stings the most. Pornography demands no devotion, fidelity, commitment or love from men. It promises to almost empower men, to allow them to pick whatever woman they choose, like some decadent tyrant. And yet in a twisted way it effects the exact opposite. It in fact unmans the men who use it; it trains its users to be fundamentally incompatible with the real world. We cannot deal with the very real demands of our world, and, let’s face it, how often do men use pornography as a form of comfort in the face of trouble or pressure? We end up as selfish, unreliable man-children.
But in closing pornography is not the target here. It is merely a tool that Satan uses to bring out the worst in us. Out of our own hearts comes the problem. So the issue is definitely a spiritual one; but hopefully by identifying the practical side-effects to pornography we will better know to call on Jesus to rule over this diseased area of our lives, and be better-armed to resist temptation.