Yesterday I read a statistic that astounded me. In 2016 porn viewers watched 4.6 billion hours of pornography on one website alone. Americans accounted for forty percent of this. This was stunning to me, but it should not have been. It makes perfect sense given the dominant values of our culture – individualism, consumerism, and materialism. If an individual should be free to do whatever gives him pleasure, and if customers should be able to get whatever they are willing to pay for, and if sex is nothing more than a physical act, then what could possibly reflect the times better than rampant porn use?
Christians are not immune to this problem – as any preacher or elder who has counseled couples in marriages nearly wrecked by porn use can testify. And given the easy access to pornography through the internet, this problem is only going to get worse. Although this is an awkward subject to address, it is crucial for those who follow Jesus to be aware of this issue, and to have clear convictions about what is wrong with it.
Pornography dehumanizes women. While I recognize that women also view pornography, most of the users are men, and most of them are heterosexual. So it is women who are most commonly objectified by pornography. And when women are reduced to the status of a product to be purchased, whether physically in prostitution or digitally in porn, then women are no different than any other good or service a consumer may choose. In the value system of pornography, then, a woman is really not qualitatively any different than the smartphone or TV used to watch her.
God’s vision of women is much different:
“So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27).
Women are not objects to be exploited, but reflections of the image of God, on equal footing in dignity as men. Scripture also bears witness to the ugly reality of what happens when men have a distorted view of women and exploit them for sexual pleasure (see 2 Samuel 13:7-15 for instance). By dehumanizing women, pornography ultimately defaces the very image of God.
Pornography desensitizes the user. Men who use porn on a regular basis actually experience a re-wiring of the brain that makes them less responsive to women in real life. Just as the stereotypical “computer nerd” is often unable to relate to people, the porn user becomes unresponsive to actual women. This leads to serious sexual dysfunction in marriage – but that’s not all. By redirecting the brain’s “reward center” to porn, the user becomes addicted, and as an addict, requires “heavier doses” to get the sense of reward. This leads to more extreme forms of porn, such as child pornography and violent pornography.
Contrast this with the vision of marriage traced out by Scripture. As “heirs together of the grace of life” (1 Peter 3:7, KJV), husbands and wives are partners in marriage. And as such, each is sensitive to and seeks to please the needs of the other (1 Corinthians 7:33-34). And the reward of this sort of relationship is the mutual sense of belonging. “I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine” (Song of Solomon 6:3). Sin hardens the conscience, and pornography deadens the heart, robbing it of the joy that can be found in self-giving love.
Pornography depersonalizes sex. One of the greatest myths of our culture is that sex is just another bodily function. Since it is allegedly just a biological act, there is really no right or wrong way to experience it. So if a person decides they want to express themselves sexually through the enjoyment of pornography, so be it. Pornography rests on the assumption that sex can be enjoyed without an actual relationship with someone else. All that counts is the physical experience of the individual.
And yet in our more honest moments we confess that there is more to reality than physical sensations. This is evident in the feeling a woman gets when a man makes her “feel like the only woman in the world.” Or when – because of a woman – a man summons strength, courage, and responsibility that he never knew he possessed. These realities speak to our very nature as embodied souls, as creatures with physical needs and desires that are intricately bound up with spiritual, intellectual, and emotional needs and desires. It is what the Bible is driving at when it says that the sexual union of a husband and wife means that the two “shall become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24). God intended sex to be a profoundly interpersonal experience, so that along with the reproductive purpose of sex there is also a unitive purpose to sex. Pornography is an affront to this divine design.
How should Christians respond to this degrading plague? Certainly we should take advantage of the many excellent filtering and monitoring options available to restrict access to pornography. Additionally, parents should be very wary of giving children access to the internet through smartphones, tablets, and computers without serious supervision. But most of all, we need to see how beautiful marriage can be as God intends, and let that beauty compel us to cherish and protect it.
How beautiful and pleasant you are,
O loved one, with all your delights! (Song of Solomon 7:6).