Porn: Why Is It A Problem?

Frank Viola recently posted asking for feedback on pornography, stating that he has found it is becoming a lot more controversial than it used to be. As of the time writing this, every comment has been opposed to pornography but I do imagine there are many Christians who don’t see it as a problem or at least not inherently as a problem (i.e. it is usually associated with certain problems but it doesn’t have to include those things). I commented there but will expand here.

The Problems of Pornography

Unrealistic Expectations

Porn is not realistic. Nobody is going to debate that. No matter how much you try to remember that it is unrealistic while watching, your expectations will change. Here’s one disturbing example: because women in pornography rarely have pubic hair, a lot of men addicted to porn become attracted to children since they associate the lack of pubic hair with good sex. You may still have very good sex but it won’t be what you expected largely because it is also a…

Breaking of the “One Flesh” Relationship

From the theological/biblical perspective, the Bible in a few places presents sex/marriage (they are interchangeable) as the creation of “one flesh.” Neurology actually backs up this ancient Jewish/Christian belief. Photographic memory is a myth but the closest we ever come is during orgasm because of the amazing ways that our brains respond. When we orgasm, we actually build a bond at a neurological level. Neurological bonds can be changed but it isn’t easy especially because of the…

Addictive Properties

Sex addiction is real. Some try to argue that it isn’t, but I have studied it at the neurological level and it is no different in nature than cocaine addiction, alcoholism, cigarette addiction, or any other number of addictive behaviours. In fact, it is actually stronger than those other addictive behaviours. Of course not all who watch porn become addicted just as drinking doesn’t make you an alcoholic but because of the powerful bond I mentioned above, it is one of the most addictive behaviours available to us. If it was a fairly harmless addiction like coffee this wouldn’t be a huge issue but when you pair the amount of damage that is done with the addiction to doing it regularly, the problems get worse and worse.

Inherent Objectification/Sex Trafficking

And our culture loves to make it easily available. All the time. Billboards, commercials, clothing styles, media. As Christians, our primary ethical duty is to treat every human being as infinitely loved by God (i.e. our duty is to infinitely love everybody). I am curious how many people watching porn could genuinely think they are thinking of the person they are viewing as being infinitely loved and valuable to God. I’m betting zero could. Unlike having sex with someone you love, there is no personal connection with those on screen. There is no personhood or worth at all. They are simply tools for pleasure and will be discarded with when done.

At its all-too-common worst, this feeds into sex trafficking. Many of those women that we may try to argue chose the trade willingly have actually been trafficked into it and will never get free as long as we continue to pay their slave-owners to view them. There are more slaves in the world today than at any other point in history and most of them are women being used for sex. Most viewing pornography don’t want to contribute to this, of course, but they often are directly and at the very least are indirectly as they continue to make it the most profitable industry in the world.

The Best Counter-Arguments

Female Empowerment

I occasionally have heard this in common conversation but never in more serious discussion of those who have actually looked into it. In short, there is little argument that pornography is empowering to women. Yes, some choose to do it of their own free will. Yes, sometimes it pays them very well (when in the industry, not in the slave trade). But just because they chose it doesn’t mean that it is good for women any more than it is good for men.

Scenario: Sexual Rehabilitation

Here’s one scenario that was presented in my Social Ethics class when we talked about this: what if an older man (or it could work with women, too) had some kind of surgery and needed rehabilitation to get everything in working order again? The reason for doing so would be so that he could have sex with his wife again. I didn’t and still don’t buy this argument personally: if his wife isn’t able to sufficiently turn him on at first, setting him up with unrealistic expectations before trying to go back to his wife probably won’t help. It’s rare that I agree with Mark Driscoll but I love one thing that he says regularly: your spouse should be your standard of beauty.

Scenario: Education to Fight the System

This is the strongest argument and the only one I could actually buy into in principle. What if you needed to watch porn in order to help those who are trapped within the system? There are some great ministries who do this and they deserve a lot of credit for what they do. It’s a challenge not to end up enforcing the same things, like sex trafficking, that you’re trying to stop but it is possible so I leave open the possibility for those who have the necessary support to do it. I’ve occasionally thought about it since and that is the only scenario I can come up with where watching pornography has the potential to do more good than harm.

Have I missed anything on either side of this question?

Ryan Robinson

It is easiest to identify Ryan as both theologian and tech guy. By day, Ryan is a Technical Consultant work with PeaceWorks Technology Solutions. There, he works on websites, CRMs, and SharePoint implementations. Along with blogging here, Ryan is a founding member of the MennoNerds blogging network and a contributor to the book A Living Alternative.