Dismantling the Myth: “You Can Look, But You Just Can’t Touch”

Years ago I worked with a guy who was very open about the fact that he looked at pornography.

He was married and had a few kids, but he brought porn magazines to work and made no attempt to hide them—except from the boss—who he knew would frown on porn use at work and probably fire him.

My co-worker’s motto was: “You can look. You just can’t touch.”

“You Can Look, But You Can’t Touch.”

I was in my late 20s and I had certainly heard that saying before. In fact, I was secretly living by that same motto even though I was a Christian and I knew I shouldn’t be looking at all.

I kept up a front, telling my co-worker and others that “You can look, you just can’t touch” was not true—because that is what a Christian man is supposed to say—but the hidden reality of my life was something else.

I had bought into the lie that looking wasn’t such a big deal. But if “just looking” were truly innocent, my life would never have fallen apart the way it did.

I never acted out sexually with another person, but over the course of 12 years, I watched loads of porn. And it did real damage.

The pain of betrayal that my wife felt when she learned about my addictive pattern was real. My compulsive behavior of watching porn affected my performance at work and it made me more and more isolated from real people as I chose the fantasy of porn over actual relationships.

“Just looking” is much more than just looking.

I should have known this based on Matthew 5:27-28. In that passage, Jesus says that the man who “looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”

The truth was, until I got serious about dealing with my addictive pattern, I had always thought Jesus was expecting too much of people—at least of me—and He didn’t understand that not looking at women lustfully was simply impossible.

Jesus knew that looking actually changes you. It conditions you to think of people as nothing more than sexual objects, which damages your ability to simply relate to other people as, well, people.

Watch a lot of pornography, and before long the only way you are able to look at women is lustfully.

Pornography also teaches you to sexualize all of your experiences. A trip to the grocery story, or to the bank, or to any number of non-sexual places becomes infused with eroticism. After all, that’s what happens in porn movies.

Your Brain on Porn

Even Science Shows the Negative Effect of “You Can Look, but You Can’t Touch”

“Just looking” is much more than just looking.

In his book The Brain That Changes Itself, Norman Doidge writes:

The current porn epidemic gives a graphic demonstration that sexual tastes can be acquired. Pornography, delivered by highspeed Internet connections, satisfies every one of the prerequisites for neuroplastic change.

Pornography seems, at first glance, to be a purely instinctual matter: sexually explicit pictures trigger instinctual responses, which are the product of millions of years of evolution. But if that were true, pornography would be unchanging.

Doidge goes on to say that he made an interesting discovery as a result of talking to his male patients who viewed pornography.

They reported increasing difficulty in being turned on by their actual sexual partners, spouses or girlfriends, though they still considered them objectively attractive.

When I asked if this phenomenon had any relationship to viewing pornography, they answered that it initially helped them get more excited during sex but over time had the opposite effect. Now, instead of using their senses to enjoy being in bed, in the present, with their partners, lovemaking increasingly required them to fantasize that they were part of a porn script.

In short, scientific evidence reveals that “just looking” has a serious effect on those who view pornography. There is now anecdotal evidence that some men suffer from erectile dysfunction as a result of looking at too much porn, and Doidge says he has seen that in some of his patients.

The same thing happens if your form of pornography is lusting after women as you are out and about. Neuroplastic change is occurring, as is a re-shaping of the desires of your heart.

The Apostle Paul understood this concept. Although not speaking directly about pornography and its effect on our brains, Paul issues a broad call in Romans 12:2 when he writes: “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”

The renewing of our minds that Paul calls for corresponds to the forming of new neural pathways that Doidge describes in his book.

Furthermore, what we worship molds our hearts. Hours spent looking at porn, or lusting after real women in our lives is worship. What we give our hearts to, over time, becomes the only thing we really want.

Jesus told us to love the Lord our God with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength (Mark 12:30), and that underscores a core teaching in scripture: when we worship—whatever it is we worship—we do it with every part of ourselves.

“Just looking” is much more than “just looking.”