We Have A Pornography Problem

“We have to take our blinders off. We have to see pornography for what it is: devastating, painful, and sinful.”    

If you are reading this, you have a pornography problem. You might be a woman who has found yourself looking at pornography after mounting feelings of frustration and loneliness. Or you might be that woman’s close friend who has never seen a pornographic image. You might be a committed Christian college student who has secretly been looking at pornography every week for years. Or you might be that college student’s classmate who has never found porn enticing. You might be a Christian man with graying hair who has served the church for years, and never told anyone about the things on your computer screen. Or you might be that man’s wife.

Pornography is so widespread and so easily accessible that we all have a pornography problem. Whether you feel trapped by daily viewing or you have never sought out an explicit image, it colors and shapes your life and your relationships. Even if you’ve never seen anything more explicit than a billboard or a basic cable sitcom (which is usually more explicit than we realize), we all have a problem with pornography.

The level of devastation caused by pornography is only matched by how much we want to normalize it. Prime time television shows us adult men who watch pornography as a normal part of their lives—one that their friends, both male and female, expect and condone. 67% of young men and 49% of young women say that “viewing pornography is an acceptable expression of one’s sexuality.” [1] And that’s just the people who were willing to admit it. Even Christians, who read a Bible that is full of admonitions to flee from sexual immorality, tend to treat pornography as a “normal problem” to have, something that “everyone struggles with.”

But no matter how much we normalize it, the devastation doesn’t stop. An article from the gospel coalition compiles several studies on the neurological and social effects that are tied to pornography use. While there is more to us than our brains, experts concur that viewing pornography can create an addiction response that negatively affects other areas of life. Sociologists and therapists find this extremely damaging: pornography encourages men to objectify women and women to view themselves as objects Even if you’ve never viewed pornography, the “porn-ification” of media and our culture in general has affected you more deeply than you probably realize. [2] Real world intimacy is severely stunted. And we haven’t even touched on the interwoven relationship between pornography, sex trafficking, and sexual abuse. [3] Nor have we explored how deeply offensive it is to God to use others for our self-gratification.

We have a problem. It’s not “normal.” And it impacts all of us.

The real devastation doesn’t quite come across in the statistics. It comes across in stories. People I’ve sat with who don't need to be convinced that pornography is bad because they’ve experienced the devastation. Single men who have tied sexuality to pornography for their entire adult life, and don’t know how to have a real relationship with a real woman. Married men who thought marriage would fix their habit, but who have watched themselves betray their spouse over and over again. Their wives who feel unwanted, unloved, a distant second to an image on a screen. Women who are ashamed that they struggle with something they have been told is a “guy problem.” All of them feel the devastation personally and intensely. Sometimes they cry. Sometimes they’re numb. Almost all of them think of their situation like cement: it was wet once, but now it’s dry. This is just how things are. It’s never going away.

God disagrees.

This is the first in a series of posts on pornography. How should we think about it? How should we deal with it? What practical steps can we take? How can we do more than cover over the problem with Christian clichés and a few extra doses of willpower? We’ll do more than rehash overused purity illustrations. We’ll look into the ways God can reshape our minds, our hearts, and our actions to produce radical change in this area of our lives.

But before we touch on any of that, we need to make one thing clear: change is a reality. God specializes in breaking up cement and reforming it into something new. In Ephesians 3, Paul prays to our God “who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us...” Paul makes sure we understand that God does not operate within our constraints. His power is large enough to transform hearts, reshape desires, and undo self-destructive habits. His power is not just out there, it’s “at work within us.” If you are a Christian, God’s power is at work in you and around you. There is hope for change.

There is much more to say. But for today, it’s enough to learn that we have to take our blinders off. We have to see pornography for what it is: devastating, painful, and sinful. And we have to see God for who he is: gracious, loving, forgiving, and powerful enough to free the most enslaved heart. When we do, we’ll realize that our problems are worse than we ever thought, but God’s grace is better than we ever hoped. And that’s the start of a new kind of life—one far more abundant than all that we ask or think.

[1] You can find these statistics and many more at Covenant Eyes 2015 annual report on pornography use.

[2] See a long report commissioned by the Witherspoon Commission on the “Social Costs of Pornography.”

[3] For a short survey of the connection between pornography and sex trafficking, see here. See also “Pornography and Violence: A New Look At Research”. An often unexplored problem is the abuse and violence that is involved in the making of pornography, a more complicated issue.