7 minute read

Porn: A Four-Letter Word?

Last Updated: April 17, 2015

Luke Gilkerson

Luke Gilkerson has a BA in Philosophy and Religious Studies and an MA in Religion. He is the author of Coming Clean: Overcoming Lust Through Biblical Accountability and The Talk: 7 Lessons to Introduce Your Child to Biblical Sexuality. Luke and his wife Trisha blog at IntoxicatedOnLife.com

Of course porn is literally a four-letter word. But the expression “four-letter word” has been used in the last century to refer to words that are vulgar, obscene, and sexually explicit. For many years “porn” has been a four-letter word in certain Christian circles. It was simply too taboo to discuss or even mention.

As the church we’re not doing anyone any favors by keeping a culturally pervasive topic such as pornography hush-hush, especially when this affects our sexuality. God has spoken frankly about sexuality, therefore we should as well. God has given men and women incredible sexual appetites. God has given us marriage, by which we may explore the garden of sexual delight in the context of lifelong covenantal commitment. Marital sex is a great blessing, not to mention a lot of fun.

This is the reason why the church must not view the subject of pornography as taboo. It is not only wise to understand and celebrate God’s gift of sexuality, but also to understand the times in which we live so that God’s people know what they ought to do (1 Chronicles 12:32).

. . . .

Understanding the Times

It has always seemed self-evident that pornography is nothing more than a form of ‘expression.’ . . . Pornography is mere ‘expression’ only in the trivial sense that a fall from the Empire State building is a mere stumble—since it’s hitting the ground that’s fatal.”
(Dr. Jeffrey Satinover)

We live in transitional times. We have been shifting from a print-based culture to an image based-culture. It is a shift from the printed word to the digital image, from the printing press to the computer. We live in a culture saturated with images. This shift is one that affects everything: from how we do politics and advertise, to how we educate and worship.

In a print-based culture, readers process information in a text at their own pace; in an image-based electronic media culture readers must digest billions of bite-sized images—billions of pictures painting a thousand words at break-neck speeds. We now live in a world where every little boy is being (mis)diagnosed with an attention deficit disorder, and educators find it extremely difficult to get students to engage in any sort of analysis.

Moreover, our image-based culture is also a consumer culture. Just look at what the TV did for capitalism in America. Professor Gail Dines says it quite aptly,

“The MTV-like world of media spews out images at such a pace that all we can do is react. . . . Our students are also the consumer identity generation. In a world where Coke is the real thing and Visa is everywhere you want to be, nothing is real and nobody lives in a community anchored in material space. Instead of being citizens, we are now consumers.”

This is the world in which pornography thrives.

Pornography has been woven into the fabric of American capitalism since Playboy hit newsstands in December 1953. The expression “sex sells” doesn’t even begin to describe the adult industry today. By 1974, only 20 years after the advent of Playboy, the pornography industry generated $4 billion annually. Today it generates $12-billion.

Pornography is no longer a marginal industry, but it is a cash crop for Fortune 500 companies. Before 2003, DirecTV, which was owned by General Motors, sold more pornographic films than Hustler founder Larry Flynt. The new owner of DirecTV is Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, which also owns second largest satellite provider, EchoStar Communications Corporation. EchoStar makes more money selling hard-core porn than all of Playboy’s holdings combined. Time Warner shares part ownership of the nation’s largest pay-per-view distributor, inDemand, which is a major distributor of porn. Time Warner also owns networks such as HBO and WB, which feature their own pro-porn documentaries and reality shows. Comcast, the nation’s largest cable company, makes millions on pornography and is now in negotiations with Playboy to develop Video on Demand.

Follow the history of technology, and the history of pornography is not far behind. Whether it is the camera, the VCR, or the Internet, every sophisticated instrument of communication invented is rapidly adapted to serve pornographic ends. Playboy’s website has been around since 1994, making it one of the first magazines to go digital. Internet porn, the fasting growing segment of the adult market today, brings in about $3 billion per year. The adult industry, driven by the objective to create a culture of porn consumerism, pioneered technologies such as streaming audio and video, flash, the pop-up window, high speed Internet connections, and security improvements for ala cart pay services. And the pornographic content continues to grow rapidly. In 2004 there were 1.6 million pornographic websites, amounting to 420 million pages of porn, 17 times more online porn than in 2000.

Will this industry ever reach a saturation level? For pornographers this is a fear, so one objective of the industry is to create “addicts,” people who will become regular and engrossed consumers. When you turn to articles in Adult Video News you don’t find a whole lot of articles about sex or porn, but you do find article after article on technology and marketing.

Unfortunately, as the industry has leveraged technology to get pornography more affordable, accessible and anonymous for the consumer, a culture of porn consumers and addicts is emerging. Sociologist Jill Manning contends that on-line sexual activity is “a hidden public health hazard exploding, in part because very few are recognizing it as such or taking it seriously.”

How does pornography become addictive? Cocaine is used to trick the brain into releasing dopamine into our system; watching pornography does the same thing. Dopamine is a hormone we are meant to release in the midst of natural sexual and romantic encounters, but pornography overexposes the brain to erotic stimuli and exhausts the body’s natural responses. Neuroscientists can also see the release of oxytocin when a viewer sees pornography. This is the same hormone that is released when a mother first holds her baby or lovers first hold hands. Oxytocin is a bonding hormone. The problem is the brain can’t distinguish between a pornographic image and a real sexual encounter. As a result a person begins to bond to the image and the pornographic experience as they become increasingly dependent on their dopamine fix. Dr. Judith Reisman reports, “Pornography triggers a myriad of endogenous, internal, natural drugs that mimic the ‘high’ from a street drug. Addiction to pornography is addiction to what I dub erototoxins—mind altering drugs produced by the viewer’s own brain.”

. . . .

Understanding the Effects

Because tweens and teens are the ones growing up in this digital society, we shouldn’t be surprised that they are the ones at most risk. Research shows that the largest group of viewers of Internet porn is children between ages 12 and 17. In 2001, a study by social psychologists at the London School of Economics showed that 9 out of 10 children, ages 11 to 16, had viewed pornography on the Internet. We live in a world where peer-to-peer file sharing is becoming a very common way to access pornography. One study estimates that 35% of all P2P downloads are related to pornographic material. We also live in a world where pre-teen and teenage boys and girls start their own pornographic websites and create their own porn films for online viewing. Are we reaping what we have sown?

Pornography is a powerful form of sexual education. As one advocate of the ACLU said, “Pornography tells me . . . that none of my thoughts are bad, that anything goes.” This is the sexual ethic taught in pornography: an erotic hedonism at the expense of others. According to The Journal of Adolescent Health, prolonged exposure to pornography leads to the following attitudes about sexuality: (1) an exaggerated perception of sexual activity in society, (2) a diminished trust between intimate couples, (3) the belief that promiscuity is the natural state, (4) the belief that abstinence and sexual inactivity are unhealthy, (5) a cynicism about love or the need for affection between sexual partners, (6) the belief that marriage is sexually confining and (7) a lack of attraction to family and child-raising.

These effects are not observed only in teens but also in married adults. More people line up outside marriage therapists’ offices every year because of problems related to Internet porn. At a 2003 meeting of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, two-thirds of the 350 divorce lawyers who attended said the Internet played a significant role in the divorces in the past year, with excessive interest in online porn contributing to more than half of such cases. Pornography had an almost non-existent role in divorce just seven or eight years before.

Why is this? Because pornography drives the viewer inward—towards self-stimulation instead of building intimacy with a partner. Gary R. Brooks, Ph.D. calls this a symptom of the “centerfold syndrome.” Pornography turns men into virtual voyeurs: they develop a fascination with gazing at women instead of interacting with them. Moreover pornography feeds a man’s tendency to objectify women, to rate them by the size, shape, and harmony of their body parts. What happens for a man when real women do not measure up to women of the porn stars—a post-modern realm of airbrushed pixels?

. . . .

Understanding What to Do

In the end, pornography isn’t evil simply because it reveals too much sex, but because it doesn’t reveal enough about it. One cannot package true sexuality into a movie or picture. Pornography is hyper sexualized media ripped from any relational context.

As Christians our goal is not to withdraw from our culture, but to engage it by engaging the people within it. This means a number of things:

1. Uphold the ethic of “not even a hint” of sexual immorality in our midst (Ephesians 5:3). Christians are as affected by the pornographized culture as anyone is. In 1994, a survey showed 91% of men raised in Christian homes were exposed to pornography while growing up (compared to 98% of those not raised in a Christian home). In August 2006, a survey reported 50% of all Christian men and 20% of all Christian women are emotionally dependent on pornography.

As the church is constantly bringing the sexually broken into its fold, we need to constantly be offering real discipleship and accountability that teaches and reteaches a Biblical worldview of sex, intimacy, marriage, dating, and love. We must continually call people away from the altars of sexual idolatry and towards a fascination with the beauty of Jesus Christ. We need to be a hospital for the sexually abused and counselors for the sexually addicted, all the while celebrating the gift of pure sexuality as God intended it.

2. Boldly give the gospel to the addicts. Addicted people who know they are addicted may be among some of the most spiritually ripe people in the world. They understand what it is to worship something and have it control you. They understand what it is to be utterly lost and helpless. They are the drunkards and prostitutes of our day, the very people Jesus would dine with and call into the kingdom of God. They are people who understand the meaning of the word “repent.”

3. Tell your story of sexual transformation. The casualties of the adult industry have a story to share with the world. There are extreme cases among us: ex-porn stars, ex-strippers, and sex addicts of all types. The world needs to hear about the transforming power of the Holy Spirit in these people. Even the less spectacular stories of change are moving and powerful. The church today is full of living witnesses to the futility of pornography and the liberation of the gospel.

4. Don’t make “porn” a four-letter word. We cannot be afraid to speak about the sexual issues in our culture. When we talk about these matters we walk the delicate balance of “exposing” the unfruitful deeds of darkness around us without dragging the minds of our listeners through the gutter (Ephesians 5:11-12). The Christian community must be a place where people are encouraged to speak openly about the real life matters that affect them. When it comes to speaking about sexual matters, Dr. Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, says it best,

“Christians have no right to be embarrassed when it comes to talking about sex and sexuality. An unhealthy reticence or embarrassment in dealing with these issues is a form of disrespect to God’s creation. Whatever God made is good, and every good thing God made has an intended purpose that ultimately reveals His own glory. When conservative Christians respond to sex with ambivalence or embarrassment, we slander the goodness of God and hide God’s glory which is intended to be revealed in the right use of creation’s gifts.”

  • Comments on: Porn: A Four-Letter Word?
    1. Robert on

      Great job – great understanding of problem. We need more and more peple to speak out against the devastating effects of pornography, to speak up for Biblical morality, and most of all the need to share the gospel with those addicted to pornography.

      Reply

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