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Pornography, Personhood, and Abundant Life

Posted by Ardee Coolidge on Apr 12, 2016 1:31:52 PM


“I’ve wasted years of my life looking for a computer or mobile phone to provide something it is not capable of providing.” – Male porn user quoted by Time Magazine

Though the publication of pornographic material dates back to before the Roman Empire, never before has it been so widely used and readily available. Whether it’s photos of scantily clad women, men, and children, or videos of a more sexually violent nature, explicit material is only a click or a swipe away. While Christians have campaigned against pornography and called for tougher legal restrictions for years, they are now joined by a growing number of young men and women who have found their lives damaged and relationships destroyed by porn. As one reads their stories, it becomes evident that pornography usage enslaves, dehumanizes, and robs the user of everything it promises to deliver.

Time Magazine’s recent cover story Porn and the Threat to Virility interviewed young men who represent a growing movement against porn. These men are 18-30 years old, represent every race and demographic, and all grew up as part of a porn-saturated generation. Many of the men interviewed confessed that they believed that porn would have no negative effect on their sexual lives. Some even thought it to be a way to become more virile. Men shared how they spent countless hours watching ever more explicit and even violent sexual videos on the Internet and discovered that, when offered the chance to have sex in person, they were unable to perform.

A young man interviewed said that porn was the only interaction that enabled his body to respond sexually. This young man is not alone. In 1992, according to the National Institutes of Health, only about 5% of men age 40 were found to have erectile dysfunction. Today, that number is 26%. Many of the men interviewed in the article believe that this has been caused by pornography. This theoretical link has helped to create a controversial new acronym: PIED (Porn Induced Erectile Dysfunction). For these young men, pornography usage has proved to be a habit difficult to break and ironically, one that has cost them the very thing it promised to provide: greater sexual pleasure.

Not only does porn inhibit its users from experiencing pleasure with another person, it also trains men to disregard their partner's needs. A research article published in Sexual Addiction and Compulsivity: The Journal of Treatment and Prevention found that "adolescents who are intentionally exposed to violent sexually explicit material were six times more likely to be sexually aggressive than those who were not exposed." Other studies have found that as much as 90% of pornographic videos depict women in demeaning ways or as recipients of violent sexual aggression. A porn sharing website reports that users have viewed more than 4 billion hours of explicit videos since they launched. That is more than 456,000 years of non-stop viewing.

Young women also find themselves struggling to cope with the effects of growing up in Generation XXX. In an opinion piece published by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Melinda Reist cites multiple surveys of pornography usage on the continent and its effects on young women. She writes “I meet girls who describe being groped in the school yard, girls routinely sexually harassed at school or on the school bus on the way home.” For many of the girls she has spoken with, hardly a day passes without being pressured to share explicit photos with a young man. A US study found that 66% of teens and young adults have received sexually explicit images and 41% have sent them.

It can be tempting for Christians to believe pornography addiction is only found outside the church, rather than in our own congregations and families. Josh McDowell and the Barna Group have recently released a lengthy study of porn usage and the church. The Porn Phenomenon found that 14% of pastors and 21% of youth pastors say they struggle with pornography addiction. More than half of the youth pastors surveyed said they have had at least one teen come to them for help with porn addiction in the last year. Nothing indicates that the church is somehow immune from porn addiction, rather Barna’s study reminds the church of the need for renewed attention to this sensitive topic.

Porn addicts are in our churches, our families, and our homes. It is not enough to recognize this reality; we must do something about it. We cannot say we affirm the value inherent in personhood and then sit down for a few hours of online porn. This is our sin as well as the world's, and we must own it.

Society has championed the lie that sex and pornography are harmless forms of self-expression. It told an entire generation of young men and women that sex does not need the intimacy of marriage, that erotic pleasure does not need to be encumbered by having sex, and that pornography is liberating. Indeed, every time cultural icons champion a nude tweet as an act of empowerment, they encourage this deception. Young men are taught that women are objects of sexual gratification and enjoy debasing, dehumanizing acts. “No” does not mean “no” in pornography. Young women are left feeling used and unfulfilled. Both lose out on the intimacy and love that sex was meant to contain and convey.

Reading through their stories, I was struck by the reoccurring search for personhood by those who frequently used porn. One young woman put it this way, “I’ll be hooking up with some guy who’s really hot… all of a sudden my mind shifts and I’m not a real person: it’s like, This is me performing. This is me acting … And I don’t even know who it is I’m playing, who that ‘she’ actually is. It’s some fantasy girl, I guess, maybe the girl from porn.” A young man said, “I just want to enjoy sex again and feel the desire for another person.” Pornography does not elevate the persons it displays; likewise it cannot elevate its viewers.

We have to recognize that pornography is not harmless; it leads to the dehumanizing of life at every stage of development. A young man who has been taught to objectify women is less likely to care about her - and about the baby - created through his quest for pleasure. A young woman taught that her body is her source of value is less likely to protect the life that shares her body. In order to successfully promote life and abundant life, we must address our cultural addiction to porn. 

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