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Siren Song: Overcoming Pornography Temptations

Last Updated: April 10, 2015

Luke Gilkerson
Luke Gilkerson

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

In Greek mythology they are called the Sirens, mythical seductresses of seafaring lore. These creatures of great beauty sit in the flowery meadow on small, rocky islands in the Mediterranean, somewhere off the coast of Italy. The Sirens are divine beings with the wings of birds and voices that can enchant any sailor. Ancient sources describe their “siren song”—a beautiful music that compulsively lures sailors toward the island, only to have their ships capsize on the rocks.


This is, perhaps, one of the best analogies I can give to describe the lure of pornography. We don’t intend to crash the ship of our lives on the rocky shore, but the siren song calls to us. For many men (and women), once pornography sinks its hooks into us, we forever feel the draw of it. It is like a compulsion.

How did ancient seafarers sail by the Sirens without being overcome by their songs? Two ancient myths give us a glimpse.

Odysseus: Bind Me to the Mast

Homer’s Odyssey tells of the adventures of Odysseus, one of the champions of the Trojan War. In the Odyssey he is counseled by the goddess Circe to beware of the Sirens. She warns him, “[The Sirens] sit in a green field and warble him to death with the sweetness of their song. There is a great heap of dead men’s bones lying all around, with the flesh still rotting off them.” At her insistence Odysseus plugs the ears of his fellow sailors with wax. And because he wants the pleasure of hearing the Sirens, he commands his men to bind him half-way up mast of the ship, standing upright. He tells them further, “If I beg and pray you to set me free, then bind me more tightly still.

As Odysseus’ ship sails within an earshot of the islands, suddenly the wind falls into a dead calm. The Sirens see Odysseus coming and begin with their singing. “Come here,” they sing, “and listen to our two voices. No one ever sailed past us without staying to hear the enchanting sweetness of our song.” They promise Odysseus divine foreknowledge of all that the gods and men will ever do. Odysseus is overcome by the song and demands that he be set free. His men bind him with stronger ropes until they are out of the Sirens’ range.

Orpheus: A More Beautiful Song

Apollonius of Rhodes also writes about the Sirens in Argonautica, his tale of Jason and the Argonauts’ voyage. Jason is warned about the Sirens from the centaur Chiron, and sure enough the sailors encounter them. As a fresh breeze wafts the ship they see the island. The Sirens watchful eye spots Jason’s ship and they send forth from their lips “a lily-like voice.” The sailors are overcome with desire and are ready to cast their ropes from the boat to the shore.

Suddenly one of the heroes, Orpheus, a man legendary for his gift of song, pulls out his stringed lyre and “rung forth the hasty snatch of a rippling melody so that their ears might be filled with the sound of his twanging; and the lyre overcame the maidens’ voice.

Odysseus vs. Orpheus

Why all this talk of mythical creatures and musicians? Why dip into these ancient tales? I do this because they have a way of capturing the imagination. G.K. Chesterton said fairy tales are more than true, not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.

What can overcome the siren song of pornography? On one hand we might be more like Odysseus. We want to enjoy the temptation. We like the pull, yet we know the danger of the rocky cliffs. So we place obstacles in our path, ways to keep us from jumping overboard. We install filters on our computers. We put personal boundaries in place. These boundaries save us from making poor choices, but they are nothing more than external measures that keep us from falling over the edge.

Then there are men like Jason who are wise to bring Orpheus along. They know the only thing that breaks the spell of sin is an even greater spell. They don’t look for stronger ropes. They bring along a more enchanting song.

I believe the Bible has both Odysseus- and Orpheus-mentalities, but more of the latter. In one sense Odysseus is commendable. He knows the danger of the siren song, so he makes diligent precautions to avoid making a deadly decision. We all need men like Odysseus’ shipmates, men who are willing to see through our mental fog caused by temptation, men who bind us fast and keep us from sinful choices, men who are willing to sit up with us at the midnight hour if we feel the draw of lust.

But the Bible promises God will not only change our outward behavior, but He will change our desires. We are promised that though we are not now delivered from the presence of our fleshly desires, we can be delivered from their power. How? Not just by keeping temptation at bay (which is commendable), but by keeping in step with the cravings, the desires, of God’s Spirit (Galatians 5:16).

CS Lewis writes,

“The New Testament has lots to say about self-denial, but not about self-denial as an end in itself. We are told to deny ourselves and to take up our crosses in order that we may follow Christ; and nearly every description of what we shall ultimately find if we do so contains an appeal to desire. . . . Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.

“Do you think I am trying to weave a spell? Perhaps I am; but remember your fairy tales. Spells are used for breaking enchantments as well as for inducing them. And you and I have need of the strongest spell that can be found to wake us from the evil enchantment of worldliness . . .”

Are you more like Odysseus or Orpheus? Both avoided shipwreck, but Odysseus did so kicking and screaming. He desired a taste of the siren song because he didn’t have an Orpheus on board.

What are your traveling companions like?

1. Some of us have none. We sail alone and so we crash into the rocky crags time and time again. We have no one to help us in the midst of temptation. We have no true friends who are willing to help us fight sin.

2. Some of us are aboard Odysseus’ ship. We have faithful companions who are willing to help put up barriers in our life to keep us from the “really bad stuff.” We have friends we can call when the temptation is the greatest.

3. Then some of us, perhaps very few of us, have traveling companions like Orpheus, friends who are able to remind us of greater pleasures, a more enchanting song. They are able to point us to Christ as our supreme pleasure and His promises as our supreme confidence. They know how to play the strings of our heart in such a way that we become godward again. They remind us of God’s promises which produce an anticipation of greater delight. They help us to see sin as the enemy of real pleasure, not the source of it, and then help us draw our thoughts to God’s “river of delights” (Psalm 36:8).

. . . .

God, help us to become more like Orpheus. Help us taste the honey-sweetness of your Word (Psalm 119:103). Make your decrees the theme of our song wherever we sojourn (Psalm 119:54). Open the eyes of our heart that we might see wonderful truths in your Word (Psalm 119:18). Morning by morning awaken us to hear your voice, then give us a tongue able to enchant weary sinners with your Greater Beauty (Isaiah 50:4).

Photo credit: 35678443@N04
  • Comments on: Siren Song: Overcoming Pornography Temptations
    1. This is an excellent illustration. Thanks for sharing.

    2. Rob in Piney

      Thanks so much, Luke. There are reasons Jesus taught in parables akin to fairy tales. I feel that I, too, am battling temptations much more like Odysseus than Orpheus.

      The common thing that spares both epic heroes is accountability. We must have traveling companions AND we must not hesitate to call on them when we are tempted. And we must take the initiative to be accountable to ourselves. This is the chink in the armor of Odysseus’s method of resistance – he was depending ONLY on his shipmates. Orpheus employed a defense that did not depend on others, but he was the ONLY accountability partner for all of the Argonauts. As believers we have the advantage of God’s Word and the power of the Holy Spirit within us. We have the additional accountability partner of our renewed minds, transformed by the Holy Spirit, no longer conformed to the ways of the world.

      The Sirens of myth appealed to the ancient travelers’ quest to better themselves, promising knowledge and wisdom in the words to their beautiful songs. Today’s pornography holds out the implicit promise of sexual knowledge and prowess to unsuspecting viewers. The end results of becoming ensnared by either is death – literal loss of life in the mythological world and the loss of God’s intended blessing of true and pure desire as illustrated in The Song of Solomon in the modern world.

      Odysseus and Orpheus both depended on earthly defenses to the temptions of the Sirens’ Songs. In addition to the earthly internet filters, accountability partners and sponsors, we can depend on the transforming power contained in God’s Holy Word as we progress along our journeys of sanctification.

      • @Rob – Too true. Thanks for your thoughts. I also think it is important to remember that God’s Word, God’s Spirit, and God’s people are not isolated means of grace. These work in concert. God’s people speaking, teaching, and sharing God’s Word. God’s Spirit sealing His word in our hearts. God’s Word communicating the Spirit’s thoughts. God’s Spirit filling God’s people. All three together are the biblical pattern of growth and change.

    3. DrLizW

      This is what I like about Covenant Eyes. While you provide a great tool to be used like the ropes aboard Odysseus’ ship, you know it’s just a tool and true freedom requires that we see greater pleasure in God and Christ than in sin! Thank you!

      • @DrLizW – You’ve just summarized the heart of this blog. Thank you for your encouragement.

    4. harry

      i thank god for the one that posted this is is so much help to me in my struggle with this may god bless all that read & accept this

    5. Luke, You continue to draw fantastic insights & parallels with temptation in relation to pornography. You are right – Covenant Eyes is a tool, one of the roadblocks we need to set up to keep us from falling prey to the siren song of porn.

      The sirens remind me of Proverbs 5 (a good chapter to read daily for anyone struggling) where the lips of the loose woman drip honey, but in the end she is bitter as wormwood & sharp as a two edged devouring sword!

      • @Brian – Thanks for the encouragement!

    6. Alistair

      Hi everyone, I really support covenant eyes and everything they do, as a member it’s changed my life. I think it’s worth mentioning tho that the ‘siren’ in pornography is in fact the massive billion dollar sex industry, where rich and greedy producers exploit women (in the images) and exploit men (by playing on their weaknesses, getting them addicted and tricking them out of money). Sex is a loving act and the ultimate (physical) unity for a couple, this industry has tried to commodify that most special of experiences by making it violent, by debasing women and in so doing debasing men. I really admire everyone here for turning their back on it.

    7. Jon

      Thank you for your insightful writing, brother! Keep fighting the good fight. There are more out there benefiting from your work than you even realize.

    8. Neil

      Great article, encouraging and strengthening for weak knees. Thank you!

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