Singleness and Longing: Why Porn Is Not the Cure

Valentine’s Day is still a few weeks away, but the seasonal items—the balloons, the teddy bears, the crummy candy in heart-shaped cardboard boxes—are already going up in the stores. Pretty strange, considering that as I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to the realization that the only people over the age of 25 who actually care about the holiday (besides greeting card producers) are singles. While many married couples only pay the holiday lip-service with an exchange of fairly small gifts, to singles it’s another spray of lemon juice in the paper cut of their ongoing loneliness: hence alternate names for the holiday, like Singles Awareness Day or Day Before Cheap Candy Day (a holiday we can all celebrate).

Singleness and longing - why porn isn't the cure

And so, a day meant to celebrate one of God’s gifts to humanity—romantic love—becomes an exercise in bitterness, and singles are left to retreat, to deal with their own overwhelming feelings of longing and the pain of exclusion.

Granted, many singles try not to feel this way. They—or their well-intentioned friends—try to remind themselves that they don’t need a relationship to be fulfilled. This is absolutely true. A person’s self worth is defined by their position in Christ, not whether or not they have a “plus-one.” But it also downplays the reality for most people: the desire for marriage and companionship is a God-ordained desire.

Longing, you see, is universal. As Genesis 2 illustrates, creation was incomplete until God created Eve to accompany Adam, a story which culminates in Genesis 2:24’s proclamation, “Therefore a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and the two become one flesh.” Elizabeth de Smaele, in her talk Holy Longing, points out that even our sexuality is Imago Dei, made in the image of a God who is relational and calls us into relationship. Marriage was created by God for humankind as a reflection of that longing, so of course, singles long for marriage. In Eden, mankind was whole. With sin came separation from our Creator and each other.

A Slippery Slope

Unfortunately, unless we recognize God as the fulfiller of our desires, we become obsessed with trying to fill the emptiness with other things. A photography student once explained, “We are forced to dance to the whip of our internal emptiness, be it spiritual, physical, mental, or sexual, and sometimes it makes us do strange or irrational things.”

For many this longing is transformed into lust and obsession. It often has its origins in innocent thoughts: “What would it be like to date that guy?” “She’s cute! I wonder if she’s seeing anyone.” But if you continue to feed those thoughts, they can rapidly degrade into sinful lust. Put it this way: if you started to be attracted to a nice, single Christian person, what would you do? Pray about her and seek opportunities to get to know her, regardless of any romantic outcome? Let your mind linger on what it would be like to share a home with him? Search for porn starring gals who look like her?

This is compounded when you realize that many singles find themselves locked in a cycle of “look, don’t touch.” Sometimes other singles disqualify themselves. One of my friends ranted that online, the theoretically-eligible bachelors in her area were named “Starfader,” “Smoochielips,” and “Roadblock.” Others may find themselves surrounded by people who, for one reason or another, are off-limits: “the one” is already in a relationship, or doesn’t share the same values, or rejects you when you ask her out (a man’s curse), or never thinks to ask you out in the first place (a woman’s curse).

When all you have are thoughts, it doesn’t take much to bump those thoughts from the pure to the sinful, for the normal desire for a relationship to become a fantasy for self fulfillment.

The Gray Havens, in their song “Sirens,” sing about the slippery slope this way:

One taste of the sound
Of the Sirens in the water
And I’m thinking I should get out
The sharpest sword and suit of armor
So I can be ready to strike
But I pause one more time
One last taste of the sound
Then I’ll cut these Sirens down.
But as they sang, I forgot
They were death, so I brought
Them my heart to be filled
And I followed them.

No trace could I find
Of any joy the Sirens promised
They had found a way with a lie
To turn what’s good and should be wanted
Into what’s highest above
All desires and love
‘Til my heart would obey
Whatever it wants, whatever it takes
To feel alive and set free
Only bound to the sea
Where the Sirens are leading me on…

In short? Once Satan has a foothold, he is going to do what he can to get you to continue taking steps toward sin.

As Christians, many of us know this intellectually; we’ve heard the injunctions against physical impurity all of our lives, but for those of us who are perpetually single, we feel like we’re being denied. Porn, then, becomes a stop-gap for a relationship, an attempt to find our places as sexual beings, to meet our longings.

In Delivered, Jessica Harris explains that, after accidentally stumbling onto porn, she kept returning to porn and erotic fiction to experience love and acceptance. At first, she says, it was repulsive; but on the other hand, the porn stars were doing what the cheerleaders at her school did in the back seats of cars; despite her Christian upbringing, she quickly equated sex with happiness.

Stephanie, who was caught up in pornography and erotic literature since childhood, took things one step farther. She said in Dirty Girls Come Clean:

I yearned to experience what I saw. I didn’t just crave the visual, I craved the physical. I was in my late twenties, still single, and angry at God because he hadn’t provided a husband to fulfill my desires. I decided it was time to start satisfying my cravings. And I became willing to do whatever it took to get it.

Eventually, still feeling depressed after two years of a double-life, Stephanie realized something: she realized she was still depressed, and, more importantly, she realized that even though she didn’t feel forgiven, Christ had something better for her.

A New Hope

So then, if porn isn’t the solution for singles, what is? There are two, and both are critical.

First, singles (and, indeed, everyone) need to refocus and find their hope not in other people, but in Christ. Partially, this means embracing those longings for oneness as a picture of the longing for Heaven. Tim Keller explains, “Through the Spirit we have a foretaste of the future, and the taste of our future love, and the taste of our future grace, and the taste of that future, now, radically frees us in this world from the things of this world.”

Lore Ferguson, writing for Christianity Today, explores the pain of longing as a benefit, saying,

“Those who have wrestled deep with their prolonged chastity have experienced something of earth’s groans in wait for her Creator. A friend recently confessed struggles of waiting sexually for her upcoming wedding day. I was able to tell her the hunger pangs of longing she feels for her fiancé are akin to the hunger pangs we feel when we’re fasting. Those pangs teach us we’re waiting for a better feast. For the one fasting, the feast isn’t the break-fast, and for the virgin, the feast isn’t the wedding night. The feast is the marriage supper of the Lamb and an eternity spent with him.”

For those looking for more day-to-day hope, God has listed a number of other promises in the Bible:

  • Our faith will be tested, but this testing will produce endurance, which produces character, which produces hope (James 1:3).
  • He who began a good work us will be faithful to complete it (Philippians 1:6).
  • Nothing we do and nothing that is done to us can separate us from God’s amazing love (Romans 8:35-39).
  • Everything, whether pleasant or painful, works together for the good of those who love God (Romans 8:28). That especially includes our love life (or lack thereof).
  • God will not allow us to be tempted beyond our abilities, but He will always provide a way to escape it (1 Corinthians 10:13).

In practical terms, what does this mean for singles? It means that, as followers of Christ, we are followers of a faithful God, one who will never leave us nor forsake us (Deuteronomy 31:8). We may not know what next week will look like, whether we’ll finally meet “the one” or whether we’ll stay single forever, but we do know this: God is faithful, and our future is secure. And while that doesn’t give us license to sin (Romans 6:1-14), it does mean we do not have to worry about our future (Matthew 6:25-34). Like the feminists say, singles don’t need a romantic relationship for fulfillment—at least, not when we have Christ on our side.

There’s one other key component to coping with longings: finding community. This isn’t a secret code word for finding a mate, but rather, finding lasting friendships. There are innumerable benefits, but a core one for singles is finding mutual encouragement among other singles. In Did I Kiss Marriage Goodbye?, Carolyn McCulley explains,

I’m training myself that whenever I feel alone in a crowd, I should look around for someone else who may be feeling the same way–so that I may be used by God to extend grace and kindness instead of being consumed by my own feelings.

A single’s use of pornography—and the longings that lead to it—are often caused by an inward focus, a desire for personal fulfillment. By entering specifically into community, whether through a small group at church or a one-on-one strong friendship and accountability relationship (or ideally both), we are slowly drawn outward, away from our own sinful, selfish nature and into a fellowship that leads to growth and belonging.