Pornography, Purity Talks,

“The Bible is clear that sexuality is not just good, but also sacred.”    

Read part 1 here.

When I was in high school, I had an experience common to many young Christians: the “purity talk” at youth group. This is the time set aside to explain the danger of sexual immorality to kids who are starting to make adult decisions. Some of the talks involve stern warnings from youth leaders, others involve heartfelt testimonies about the importance of sexual purity, and still others involve some kind of object illustration (think unwrapped gifts, tape that has lost its stickiness, or chocolate that’s been dropped in some dirt). All of them involve awkwardness.

These were very well-intentioned ideas, and I know some purity talks are nuanced and effective. Mine, however, was not. What I heard was essentially, “sexual desire is dirty....until you're married.” Then I went to high school and heard the opposite: “sexual desire is normal...and you should express it every chance you get.” Neither made sense to me. I knew the Bible said I shouldn’t use pornography or have sex outside of marriage. And I knew sex was more important than my classmates made it out to be. But, besides the warnings about unwrapped gifts, I never really understood why.

Wrong Views of Sex
I didn’t know it at the time, but I was dealing with the two most common views of sexuality, neither of which come from the Bible. One common view, usually thought of as more traditional and religious, is the “sexuality is dirty” view. The idea here is that sex is an expression of physical desires that just aren’t spiritual enough to be godly. So the whole system is a kind of necessary evil, and should always take a back seat to more “spiritual” pursuits. To be human is to fight the body in favor of the soul.

The other view, usually thought of as more progressive and secular, is the “sexuality is an appetite” view. The line of thinking goes like this: “People have made sex out to be more than it is. It’s really just an appetite: we need food, we need water, we need sex. Sure, sex can become problematic, but just like food can: you don’t want to abuse sex the same way you don’t want to overeat.” In this view, sex is just one more need to satisfy as you go through life. So hooking up with someone is like having too much dessert—it’s not great for you, but everyone succumbs once in a while. Using pornography is just letting off some steam, satisfying your appetite so you can continue on with normal life.

What’s unique is that both views of sex share a common view of people: our desires can’t really change. The traditional view tells us that we can’t change what we want, so we have to resist it. The secular view tells us that we can’t change what we want, so we have to give in to it. In both views, we can’t escape our desires. We just have to cope with them.

The Bible’s View of Sex
The Bible tells us that sex is neither dirty nor an appetite to be enjoyed, and that our desires don’t own us. In fact, the Bible has a much higher view of sex and sexuality than either the traditional or secular approach—and it has much more hope for change. The Bible tells us clearly that sex is good and that our desires are malleable.

First, the Bible is clear that sexuality is good. And not just good, sacred. It is woven into the fabric of what it means to be human. From the creation story (“God saw everything that he had made,” including Adam and Eve, naked and unashamed, “and behold, it was very good”) to the Song of Solomon and Paul’s connection between becoming one flesh and Christ’s relationship to the church, sexuality is upheld as positive throughout the Bible. Scripture is so clear on the topic of sexuality because, like anything powerful and sacred, we must be careful how we handle it. We can miss out on the goodness, and easily hurt ourselves.

When you see sex the way the Bible does—powerful, sacred, beautiful, unifying, a whole-life covenantal act—then you will think of sexuality as fundamentally good, not as fundamentally bad (“sex is dirty”) nor as simply an enjoyable sensation (“sex is an appetite”).

The Bible is equally clear that our desires—even our sexual desires—are malleable. That is, when we come to God everything in us can be renewed. Scripture says that God’s grace in your life allows you to be “transformed by the renewal of your mind.” The idea is not that rigorous discipline would change your actions, but that your very desires are being conformed to the will of God—that which is “good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2). This means that the way you think about sex, your desires for sexual expression, your desires to use pornography, your “sex drive”—anything and everything about what you want and find compelling is up for grabs when God is introduced into your life.

Fighting Pornography the Wrong Way
How does thinking rightly about sexuality help you in the fight against pornography? Many of the tools we use to fight pornography are really based on the two wrong views of sex above. With the traditional view, you might try to feel as dirty as possible about what you did with the hope that you won’t do it again. With the secular view, you might try to “starve" your appetite with the hope that enough resolve will make the hunger less intense. But both approaches fight the wrong way: they have no category for the sacredness of sex, and they don't ever deal with the powerful desires of your heart that need to be transformed.

Fighting the right way involves cultivating a positive view of sex on God’s terms and looking for true heart change. We’ll explore that in our next post.