When you look at pornography, what you end up seeing is a long line of naked bodies. When you look at pornography for years, you end up seeing years and years’ worth of long lines of naked bodies.
I do a lot of work with guys who, in their past, looked at porn for years. They don’t look at porn anymore, but they have a very hard time controlling where their eyes go when real-life women approach them. While it seems natural that we should be able to control the physical movements of our eyes, the connection between exposure to pornography and how it conditions us should not be such a surprise. It is, in fact, one of the greatest tragedies caused by porn.
Porn teaches men that women are bodies. I’m using a broad definition of the word “porn” here. I’m referring to any seductive display of a woman’s naked body, whether that’s a pornographic video, a Playboy image, or a scene from Game of Thrones. I’d even throw in the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition, the gateway to porn for scores of men, as its seductive photos have created the same conditioned response: women are bodies.
We know this message isn’t true, and we’ve seen its tragic consequences in our culture, yet it continues every time a pornographic image is consumed.
A Hyperbolic Example
Let’s look at a hyperbolic example. A baby boy is born on an island separated from the human population. All he sees his entire life are videos and images of nude women either having sex, desiring sex, or posing seductively.
Then, at age 25, he is placed into the general human population. How is he going to view the women that he meets and interacts with every day?
That’s a scary thought, but it shouldn’t be surprising. He’s going to see women as two-dimensional sets of body parts whose only purpose for existing is his own sexual gratification. This has nothing to do with how a woman is dressed, for this will happen regardless of the style or fashion. Throughout his entire life his eyes have darted straight to her body parts, so that’s what they will continue to do, because he thinks that’s what a woman is.
I say some of this because I’m still shocked at how secular culture can embrace pornography in all its forms, yet somehow not see the connection between it and the sexual objectification and abuse of women in the real world.
But I also say it to set the table for the real men who are now caught in the trap they have built for themselves over years of being conditioned by porn. Most of us are at a point where we aren’t condemning the man who is looking at porn, or who has looked at it in his past, but are extending a hand of grace and help. But now this man’s physiological responses to women have been trained to see them as sexual objects and to subconsciously glance at their body parts as a now-instinctive act of consumption and gratification.
Can this conditioned response be stopped?
The good news is, it can be. But not without some intentionality and hard work. For most men it will take more than a sermon or a lecture to get their eyes to do what their mind and heart want.
The Problem With the Porn Mindset
The foundation of this rewiring process begins with our approach to how and why we are avoiding pornography in the first place. If you’ve been told to not look at pornography because it’s bad and sinful to do it, you might be able to cut out porn from your life, but your porn mindset is likely to remain. Porn did something to your mind, something that has to be undone. More than just training yourself to avoid pornography, you have to rewire your mind from the porn mindset.
The problem with the porn mindset is it doesn’t see all of a woman (or man), it only sees their body parts. We all know we are more than body parts. We all know our mothers, daughters, sisters, and wives are more than body parts. We know that we are all complex beings. We know that what makes relationships both rewarding and challenging is that we are complex beings. Every woman, just like every man, has strengths, weaknesses, stressors, anxieties, pain, joy, personality, values, and a long list of other attributes that separate humans from the animals.
Yet porn has trained men that women are just bodies. You can consume them and move on.
God’s design for sex doesn’t allow for this. His design for sex is that all of someone is embraced in a lifetime commitment. When you deal with all of someone, conflict is sure to come! But the bond of commitment is there to sustain it. All requires selflessness, which is the definition of love. Sex and body parts are only one ingredient inside of this recipe, not something that was designed to be indulged in on their own.
When tempted to lust, the only way to get beyond the body-part-mindset is to understand that behind every woman’s body is a full, whole, complex woman. She is a soul. There is a depth and sacredness to this that I can’t put into words.
If you’re married, you know what I’m saying is true because you see it every day in your own wife. There may have been a day when you first met that you only saw her physical attributes, but you now know she is a much more complex equation than that (praise God). The same is true for every woman on the planet.
Let the Rewiring Begin
Porn has taught you to see: BODY. You have to be rewired to see: WOMAN. And to apply what this means. You look into her eyes because that’s where she is. She is a she, not a that. She’s not an object to be consumed.
Body parts separated from the person are only things. God didn’t call you to consume people, taking life away from them, he called you to bring life to people. This is the foundational calling of all Christians.
We live on a planet full of human beings. Full, whole, complex human beings. Porn has taught us that women aren’t fully human and we’ve been conditioned into believing that lie whenever we consume them for our selfish gratification.
The path of rewiring means taking the truths of Scripture and letting them renew our minds (Romans 12:1-2) away from the lies porn has taught us.
- Every woman is created in God’s image (Genesis 1:27), full of his dignity, honor, and complexity.
- Every woman is fearfully and wonderfully made, knit together by God himself (Psalm 139:13-16).
- Every woman has a soul.
- Every woman is God’s.
Repeat these truths to yourself daily when you spend time praying and reading your Bible. Repeat them in prayer all throughout your day.
The next time your eyes want to go toward a woman’s body, remind yourself of the truth that she is a whole person and all that means. Look her in the eyes and see her that way.