I became a subscriber to Sports Illustrated as a Freshman in high school. Being an athlete who played baseball and football, articles about professional sports naturally piqued my interest. But one issue that came every February never passed through my hands: The annual swimsuit edition.
Mom made sure it moved swiftly from mail box to trash can. It was a few years before I even knew the swimsuit edition existed, but I never raised a protest. Mom told me simply: “You’re not going to look at that—its porn.” Of course, it wasn’t technically porn, but then again, what real difference would parsing-out a precise definition make? “No, mom, it’s not porn, she’s still partially covered by sand.”
As a Christian, I knew viewing pornography was wrong, and avoided it. And unlike scores of men in the millennial generation I was spared its devastating effects. Thanks mom, for recognizing what has been far more destructive than any of us realized even 15 years ago.
Fast forward a decade-and-a-half to February 10th 2018. The New York Times published an op-ed by Ross Douthat: Let’s Ban Porn. Clearly, porn is a problem national in scope. Two years ago Time Magazine published an article following first generation of women and (mostly) men who had nearly total access to pornography via the internet from childhood. Now in their twenties, men whose viewership began as early as 12 are sexually impotent. Unable to be aroused by their flesh-and-blood partners, the only psycho-somatic trigger is, literally, the web browser. Scientists now understand porn’s detrimental effects on the brain, as empirical tests reveal that a kind of cerebral rewiring happens to porn addicts.
When the website “pornhub” boasts of a staggering 60 million viewers a day, it should come as no surprise that porn addiction led Utah governor Gary Herbert to deem it a “public health crisis” in April 2016. On the heels of governor Herbert’s pronouncement, The Atlantic published an article, linking porn’s addictive nature to a breakdown of marriage and family relationships. Porn has also adversely affected the church. The Gospel Coalition blog site, for example, has 533 articles under the keyword “porn,” with titles such as Severing the Shackles of Porn, I was a Pastor Hooked on Porn and Women Use Porn Too
As many have pointed out, the accessibility and anonymity of the web has taken away the social stigma associated with acquiring sexually-explicit material. A person can access porn at virtually any time in total privacy. Modern pornography in its predominantly digital form, and with its mass viewership, stems from a toxic confluence of several societal currents. First, since the 1960’s, a radical individualistic understanding of sex has remained a dominant perspective. Thus, “my body, my choice” is equally applied to men who feel no obligation to pursue a woman, commit to a relationship (namely, marriage), to refrain from sex if a partner is unwilling or unable to gratify desires, much less, consider the antiquated notion that sex brings forth children. And when sex is reduced to mere titillating sensation, anything will do. As trends show, the sex is becoming less frequent, pleasurable and enjoyable, particularly for women.
Second, an increasingly digitized, web-driven culture blurs the lines between the virtual and the real. Porn offers a cheap and expedient counterfeit to sex in its traditional expression. Porn conveys acts that are exaggerated, embellished, and digitally altered. It gives the illusory thrill of vicarious participation. Porn deceives viewers by suggesting they have intimate access to the bodies of strangers whom they will likely never meet, much less copulate. Perhaps most disturbing, porn leads many to imitate–or expect their partners to imitate–sexual acts that are essentially fictitious. It should come as no surprise that porn destroys mind, body, and even soul. Pornography lies. And lies will inevitably destroy those who tell and those who believe them.
The story of how we got here warrants more space than one blog post permits, but the two factors mentioned: radically individualistic views of sex and an excessively digitized culture are crucial contributors to the present porn epidemic.
This is certainly a bleak picture, but the gospel of Jesus Christ always leads us away from despair to hope. Sexual sin is prominent throughout the Bible; from patriarchal narratives in Genesis to the apocalyptic visions of Revelation, the Bible is brutally honest about it. In fact, we see redemption despite egregious sexual offenses. Compare Judah of Genesis 38 with the tribal leader of chapters 48 and 49. Jesus himself accepts worship from a prostitute and publicly pronounces that “her sins, which are many, are forgiven.” (Luke 7:47) For those addicted to porn, the blood of Christ can cleanse, purify, and heal.
The Bible also teaches that sexuality is a good gift given by God. For this reason, the church is sufficiently equipped to provide a theological perspective on sex that is desperately needed today. In another post I hope to examine some proposals from scripture and church history that offer a holistic view of sexuality that extends beyond the pragmatic.