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Fighting Lust: The Myth of Gray Areas Online

Last Updated: February 20, 2014

Jessica Harris
Jessica Harris

Jessica Harris is the founder of Beggar’s Daughter, a ministry dedicated to walking with women who have an addiction to pornography. Telling her own story of porn addiction and struggle with lust, Jessica seeks to help other women find hope, healing, and grace. Jessica enjoys traveling and speaking on the topic of female lust addiction and how churches can minister to women who struggle. She resides just outside of Washington DC where she works as a teacher and serves on the Biblical counseling team in her church. She is the author of Love Done Right: Devos—A Journey From Lust into the Love of God.

flirting fighting lustIt’s easy for us to draw big bold lines around things we know are wrong. We know pornography is wrong, but we have a hard time drawing the line at what “technically” is pornography. It’s the same issue we went through several years ago with sex. Many people can say that yes, there is a boundary around intercourse outside of marriage, but they are less quick to draw boundaries around other activities.

For the most part, we define pornography as “pictures/videos of two people having sex.”  This numbs a person’s conscience to other exposure. It creates a technicality that allows us to excuse viewing what is not “technically” porn.

What about the erotica sites full of sexual stories? What about the adult joke Facebook pages full of crude references to sex? What about the “Christian” forums on marriage? We tend to call these gray areas, but there is nothing “gray” about them.

Our Definition of Porn is Too Narrow

A while back I came across a Christian group on Facebook. Their mission sounded innocent enough: just a group of married women getting together to answer questions about life, marriage, and love. I began to scroll through the content. The Q&A quickly began to resemble a porn chat room. It was erotica, hiding under the guise of discipleship. I had to close the window.

That is not a gray area. While it may not show up on an Internet report as anything to worry about, it is definite erotica. The adult jokes group on Facebook is not a gray area. These are definite black zones that we attempt to paint white over top with good, fun, or (heaven help us) Christian intentions.

Personally, I feel limiting pornography to just visual images is a mistake. There are too many cracks in that structure, too many holes in that theory. There is too much wiggle room for my brain to reason and rationalize wrong.

I define pornography as “anything that takes me into a bedroom where I do not belong.”  It helps fill in the holes that my sin nature would love squirm through. There are a lot of things that may never be considered pornographic, but are a major struggle for me.

True Gray Areas

That is what true gray areas are. They are more personal, customized by our own struggles and weaknesses. A gray area is something that is innocent (white) but that my own sin nature tends to misuse for gratification, hence making it gray. It may not be an issue for anyone else, but could lead to failure for me.

The Christian author’s website discussing marriage and, in turn, discussing sex, can be a gray area. I have recommended books to my readers that I would never read myself, because I can’t. Clothing websites could be a gray area. Certain gaming sites, with their scantily clad warrior-princesses and unsupervised chat rooms, could be a gray area. Videos on YouTube could be a gray area. Christian forums could be a gray area.

Honesty with Yourself and with Others

What is important is that you are honest about your own struggle—all of it. You struggle with porn, fine, but that is the end result. What are the paths that lead you there? What temptation begins to shake you?

Let’s say you install Covenant Eyes and just aren’t up for that awkward conversation from visiting a “for-real porn site.” You start to rationalize and think about what technically isn’t porn but is strong enough to work for you. That is the darker side of your gray area. That is your weakness. While it may seem benign, weird, or insignificant to anyone else, it is the beginning of your undoing. You have to be honest about that. So what if it is not a big deal to them; make it one for you.

Building High and Wide Boundaries

I always encourage people to build their boundaries by saying, “Build ‘em high, and build ‘em wide.” You are weak and broken, and attempting to allow God to heal that brokenness and strengthen that weakness. That comes through rest, not through constant assault. If you bust your leg, you don’t go out and try to walk on it. You give it time to heal.

When it comes to our battle against online impurity, we are a broken people in need of the healing of the grace of God. We are not doing ourselves any favors when we constantly flirt with our weaknesses. If we refuse to guard our gray areas, and only draw the line around what is “technically” porn, we will fall. The boundary is too close. It is far better to err on the side of caution than it is to do something that can compromise our integrity and the working of Christ in our lives.

Accountability for Behaviors and Motives

Accountability for gray areas has an added challenge. Sometimes venturing into a gray area is necessary. I may visit a Christian marriage website to scroll through the comments trying to glean some spicy details, or, I may visit to get content for my blog. Same site, very different intentions, and very different results.

But an Accountability Report does not show intention and results: it just shows traffic. If my Accountability Partner does not know that is a gray area, I could fall repeatedly to lust without anyone being the wiser.

That is why it is important to discuss your gray areas. It is also important to discuss the boundaries around them. Accountability is not meant to be an electric fence. It is not meant to be approached in judgment or even with the chastising attitude of a father whose daughter stayed out past curfew. Accountability is part of the restoring process and should be done in love and concern. We are acknowledging the areas where we still need healing and strength and asking brothers and sisters in Christ to pray for us in those areas and help us protect those areas. Accountability is a tool God uses to facilitate healing, growth, and restoration, not because our Accountability Partner is on the ball, but because our pride is in check.

If a gray area is ventured into, discuss the reason. Was there a purpose? What was the result? Did it cause them to struggle or was it benign? With time and healing comes strength, so in time you may find those gray areas getting lighter and lighter. Some may fade away altogether; others may remain weaknesses. Until then, build those boundaries, and build ‘em high, and build ‘em wide.

Picture credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/junkchest
  • Comments on: Fighting Lust: The Myth of Gray Areas Online
    1. Michael

      I love the “Build them high and build them wide” motto and will use that for myself and others. Great and relevant article because the gray areas are always the places that I start to go when I’m either heading for a relapse or trying to get enough of a fix to hold me over until the next round of temptations.

    2. Johnston Clark

      Great article. I am many years into my struggle with pornography and lust and the ways i am tempted now are much more akin to the grey areas that you speak of. I find so many resources dealing with the “serious addicts” but far fewer that deal with the more subtle and nuanced ways of falling into sin. Thanks for the insight!

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