Porn Use: It's About More Than Personal Sin

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This post was originally published on Do Justice.

“You, Lord, see the trouble of the afflicted; you consider their grief and take it in hand.” (Psalm 10:14)   

Comedians, TV shows, and movies refer to online pornography casually as a normal part of everyday life. As porn educator and researcher Gail Dines says, “Porn is accessible, anonymous, and affordable.” And so most men in North American churches, as well as an increasing number of women and youth, are regular or occasional porn users.  

In response, churches typically approach the issue of porn by addressing men’s battles with sexual sin. But porn is not just a problem for the person consuming it and for their relationships. A porn scene is filmed violence against a real woman who will likely be in the porn industry no more than 6 months because of the great damage done to her body. When a man uses porn, he participates in paying a woman for sex. Pornography is part of a global injustice and abuse of women and children and is not simply an issue of a man’s personal struggles with temptation.   

On the other hand, in my pastoral experience at REED Vancouver, men who begin fighting against human trafficking when they discover its relationship to porn find themselves able to get free of porn use. Focusing on advocating for women, many men have told me they were freed from the guilty rationalization, self-absorption, and shame of being a Christian who also uses porn.

Now is the time for the Church to confront the fact that a mostly-male audience is using anonymous marginalized women for pleasure, and to accept instead God's invitation to be people who practice both justice and mercy. We must begin to acknowledge and respond to the horrific spiritual, physical, and psychological effects on girls and women as men are trained by porn to objectify and violently debase them.

Let me explain.

What is porn?

  • Pornography is filmed prostitution. The things done to a woman in pornography are done to real, suffering women.  
  • Porn is sexualized violence. 90% of porn scenes include physical and verbal abuse including slapping, punching, vulgar and racist name-calling, and even torture.
  • Online porn is full of racist stereotypes and slurs. Men can choose from menus to order the kind of woman they want based on her ethnicity, body type, and purported interests and physical abilities. 
  • Pornography is a multi-billion dollar industry which fuels other industries. Only the arms industry makes more money legally than the porn industry. PornHub gets more hits than Netflix.  

How does porn affect God’s image-bearers?

Here are just some of the impacts we hear about at REED:

  • The women filmed: Because of the violence in porn and the no-condom industry standard, the women filmed routinely contract sexually transmitted diseases and experience tearing and destruction of various body parts. Their reputations and futures are jeopardized because images of their faces and bodies are permanently publicly available.
  • Boys and men: Online pornography has become sex education for boys. Since on-screen women appear to enjoy the violent domination in porn, this shapes what boys think sex is. 30% of 15-70 year old men now experience erectile dysfunction, because they have become dependent on porn for arousal.  
  • Girls and women: Because women in porn usually appear to willingly consent to the abuse they endure, or are raped on-screen, boys and men often come to expect the same from their partners. Thus girls and women feel pressure to agree. The increased practice of sexting also increases the incidence of such images being published online, and therefore, becoming permanently accessible.

There is a close relationship between pornography and human trafficking. Pimps often make pornography of the people that they prostitute. These images can then be used to coerce and threaten the prostituted person. And, of course, non-prostituted girls and women are increasingly asked by their boyfriends and husbands to perform acts seen in porn.

Pervasive porn use also fosters and nurtures rape culture. Surrounded by pornographic images and the hidden use of porn by the vast majority of men, it’s no surprise that male Dalhousie University dental students created a Facebook group to discuss desire for sexual violence against fellow female students; that on-campus rape is prevalent; and that sadomasochistic practices are popularized through movies such as 50 Shades of Grey. There is a climate of sexual violence toward women and an inability to have real-time physical-space intimacy and connection.

God sees the sexually exploited and God cares. While porn portrays the violent domination of women for men's sexual pleasure, the Bible introduces a God who stands against violence. God invites us to pray with the psalmist, “But you, God, see the trouble of the afflicted; you consider their grief and take it in hand. The victims commit themselves to you; you are the helper of the fatherless. Call [the wicked] to account for their wickedness that would not otherwise be found out. You, Lord, hear the desire of the afflicted, you encourage them, and you listen to their cry.” (Psalm 10)

In addition to praying for justice for marginalized girls and women trafficked in your city, country, and around the world, I urge you and your church to:  

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I would agree that pornography is a "global injustice," as this article suggests.  On the other hand, it is a bit rich for OSJ (which operates Do Justice) to be taking this position.

Let me explain.

Not long ago, and still now but to a lesser extent, there was a great differential in the US political world as to the subject of pornography.  Political liberals (Democrats) considered it a civil liberty, conservatives (Republicans, sans Libertarians) a plague on society that both state and federal governments should restrict by law for the sake of the "common good" as well as for the sake of the good of individuals.

I know because my personal history includes working for and with (Christian) public interest legal groups as to this very issue.

By 2017, the legal battle against pornography has been largely lost by the political conservatives that fought it.  Again, I know because I was there as it happened.  Liberals have won on this issue (on the issue of abortion too, and those issue were legally and politically intertwined).

In the meantime, while this battle was going on, the CRCNA decided to get politically active, and in so doing, to largely align with the "political side" that had regarded pornography as a civil right, not to be regulated by government, and against the political/legal side that fought against pornography.

So here we are.  Complaining that pornography is a "global injustice" (I would add the well worn descriptor, "structural injustice"), but only after the battles are over and the war is lost.

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