Have you ever come across pornography on the internet when you weren’t looking for it?
You’re not alone. Even 70+% of teenagers encounter porn online by accident. The internet’s anonymity and accessibility has led to a flood of pornographic production and consumption in our society. In 2001, it’s estimated that there were 70,000 porn websites; by 2005, there were 4.2 million. More pornographic videos are streamed online than the combined traffic of Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime. Given pornography’s wide reach, we MUST talk about it more frequently and examine it more critically.
The point of this article is to discuss some Christian thoughts on porn—and to go deeper than “we think it’s bad.” Jump ahead if you want to get straight to the Christian part. But if you don’t know much about the porn industry, keep reading, because it’s worth understanding porn’s reach and impact first. We’ll briefly look at the industry from three perspectives: people who make porn, people who consume porn, and porn’s wider societal effects.
Actors & Producers
In a celebrity-praising culture such as ours, the adult entertainment industry is sometimes seen as a route to mainstream acting, and the glamorous lifestyle that appears to come with it. However, most adult entertainment industry actors achieve neither a long-term career (most work in the industry for only 6-18 months), much fame, or long-term wealth. In fact, a UCLA study found that 1 in 4 adult industry workers have been exposed to an STI and that many more were exploited in other ways by industry producers or directors. Listen to some of their stories:
As these stories demonstrate, even a ‘successful’ career in pornography is often deeply distorted and damaging. Another famous porn star has said that she would never let her children enter the adult industry. And most tragically, not everyone in a porn film is there because they have freely chosen to be. Consider the words of Linda, one of America’s first ‘porn stars,’ who was not only coerced into making pornography but also then forced to promote the industry that she had been forced into:
“That hurt me a great deal too. To have to be interviewed and say that it [doing porn] was ‘wonderful’, ‘it was the greatest thing, everybody should see it.’ I didn’t feel that way at all. I was just like a robot. I was told what to say and I said it because if I didn’t I was beaten brutally.” –Linda “Lovelace” Boreman
There is growing consensus that the increase in porn consumption is tied with the growing problem of sex trafficking and forced sexual exploitation. That reality should cause us all to reconsider what exactly porn is and what it is doing to us.
Psychologists have only recently begun to study the consequences of habitual online porn consumption. While the findings are still emerging, some things are clear:
- Online pornography is addictive for many users. Psychologists have shown that porn addicts’ brains show similar patterns to those of people with drug addictions.
- Habitual porn consumption is associated with decreased relationship satisfaction, insecurity, and lower overall sexual satisfaction.
- When someone who is married starts accessing porn, the chances of that couple getting a divorce doubles.
- There are signs that the widespread use of online pornography is leading to higher rates of sexual dysfunction among young men.
Far from being harmless, watching porn hurts individuals and relationships.
The health community is growing increasingly concerned about the wider effects of pornography. One of the reasons for this is that the average age of first exposure to online pornography is 11-12, so for many young people, porn is the first introduction to sex. Remember, 12 is just the average, so just imagine an 8-year-old coming across hardcore porn by accident. One of the many problems with this is that the most popular and most viewed porn films are verbally and physically violent towards women—and a recent study linked porn consumption with significant increases in sexual aggression. Even for those who do not become more aggressive, pornography is ‘acting’ and as such is terrible education about what sex between two consenting and trusting adults is really like.
Finally, the casual observer can’t help but note the ‘pornification’ of our culture: from twerking to barely clothed advertisements for hamburgers, sexualized advertising is everywhere now. This sends a terrible message—‘your physical presentation determines your value’—to young people.
Some Christian Thoughts
These realities, apart from any religious convictions, should make us all concerned about pornography, and more critical of the impact it is having on everyone involved—from producers to consumers, and especially on teenagers and children.
What can Christianity add to this conversation? Pornography is a gruesomely twisted cousin of sex, so let’s start there.
“And God saw that it was good.”
Despite what you may have heard, the Christian Scriptures are incredibly positive about the deep beauty and mystery of human sexuality. The first command given to Adam and Eve was to “be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 1:28), that is, to make children through the pro-creative act of sex. The first time Adam sees Eve, he essentially cries, “At last!” and launches into poetry, praising the beauty of his wife.
If that were not clear enough, there is an entire book of the Bible that celebrates the joys and challenges of sexual love between husband and wife (Song of Songs). The passages of this book are playful, evocative, and celebratory about men and women’s bodies and the beauty of marital love. In the New Testament, Paul teaches that a husband and wife are to give their bodies to one another in mutual enjoyment and delight (1 Corinthian 7:3-4). For Christians, sex is an incredibly good and powerful thing.
Porn is not love.
The trouble is that, like all good and powerful things, sex is exploited and abused. If you read Song of Songs, you see that the pursuit of sex within marriage is a lively, risk-filled endeavor between two people. Traditionally there is a long road to arrive at that point: dating, holding hands, staying up all night talking, and a first kiss are all steps along the delicate and gradual path of developing a relationship with someone else. Ultimately, a healthy, life-giving relationship is based upon love—sacrificing your own needs, wants, and desires for the sake of the other person.
Porn is the exact opposite of all of this. Instead of being uniting, it is isolating. Instead of being gradual, it is fast. Instead of being based around sacrificing for another person, pornography is nothing more than self-gratifying self-pleasure. Porn is not connection, it is consumption. When it comes to true love, porn is the ultimate lie. True, good, and healthy sex doesn’t come in front of a screen but rather through sacrificing yourself for another person’s benefit and pleasure.
The Image of God
Christians believe that all people are made in the “image of God” (Genesis 1:27). This means that all people are to be treated with the highest standard of respect, love, and dignity. If we turn to porn, we are reducing people to just sexual objects to be consumed—a set of features to gawk at rather than a whole person who is someone’s son or daughter, brother or sister, neighbor or friend.
Many Christian organizations work to bring that message especially to those inside the pornography industry. One group, XXX Church, goes to porn conventions and passes out “Jesus loves porn stars” t-shirts, because the truth is, Jesus does! As individuals and a society, we should too. We should refuse to exploit and objectify people for our own pleasure. Instead, we should pursue the beauty and challenge of real love in our real lives.
If you want to make a difference:
- Do not buy in to pornography simply because ‘everyone is doing it.’ Consider its deeper effects on producers, consumers, and our society.
- If you are a parent, talk with your kids about pornography before they accidentally encounter it online—because one day they will. Discuss pornography with your teenagers, letting them know it is not a realistic portrayal of what sex is.
- If you struggle with pornography, seek help—there are many organizations dedicated to helping individuals or couples break their pornography habit.
- If you are in the pornographic industry, know there are Christians and others who will care about you and will work with you to help you exit the industry.