Billions upon billions of people watch pornography. One of the largest adult-content websites in the world boasted 33.5 billion visits in 2018. From their year-end records, they state so much pornographic content has been uploaded on their site that, “If you were to start watching 2018’s videos after the Wright brother’s first flight in 1903, you would still be watching them today 115 years later!”
That is so much porn. Consequently, it almost sounds redundant to say that we’re captivated by sex. But just as interesting, and seemingly redundant, is that we’re attracted to the nudity of others. I am, and so are you. Is the reason for this captivation only biological? Or is there more to it?
Personally, I started watching porn before I could even biologically respond to it. I was captured by the beauty of the naked body before I could even engage sexually.
Allow me to nerd out for a moment: The desire for porn isn’t the same as the desire for sex, though nudity is present in both.
Data shows us porn isn’t simply a substitute for sex. It actually replaces it. Porn consumes our libido (sex drive), so that after a time you’ll be more stimulated by pornography than sex—hence, erectile dysfunction during sex as a common side effect of pornographic use. By watching porn, we think we’re only acting out our desire for sex, but really, we’re destroying that desire and conditioning ourselves for something less.
At the bottom of it all, every one of us is attracted to beauty, and we move toward the things we find beautiful, regardless of reason, and, in my case, regardless of biology. That’s as true for the drug addict as it is for the porn addict, the engineer, the social-justice warrior, professional chef, or athlete. Beauty is the reason we pursue the things we do.
In certain cases, biology may be one of the engines that drive bus, but beauty is always the vehicle, compelling us toward our passions and longings.
For the truly nerdy, this is known as aestheticism: the study of how beauty shapes our humanity.
All of this info begs the question, where am I going with this?
Porn Sites Panic!
In August of 2017, a remarkable solar eclipse took place. It moved through the expanse of the United States, and everywhere it went, porn viewership astronomically decreased. To put this in perspective, during a major cultural event like the Super Bowl or World Series, porn viewership will dip around 3%. But during this solar eclipse, porn viewership fell anywhere from 26% in South Carolina to 54% in Wyoming. Not just that, porn-viewership fell by similar percentages in the surrounding states of the eclipse, as people not in the eclipse’s path drove hundreds of miles to catch a glimpse of this celestial phenomenon.
People from all over America were captivated by something more beautiful than artificial intimacy, as the cosmos realigned before their very eyes. Or, to put it another way, people were more drawn by the beauty of the heavenly expanse than they were to pixelized nudity.
Porn viewership dropped as millions went outside to stare into the sky. Consequently, porn distributors panicked as their viewership plummeted, revenue hit the rocks, marketing sank, and new gross revenue charts had to be created for investors.
Why did this happen? Because we’re drawn to beauty. And in the beauty of the stars, for a short while, the lie of our intimacy was exposed as far less than real beauty.
Longing for Beauty
There is an untranslatable exclamation at the beginning of Genesis 2:23. When Adam sees Eve for the first time, something awakens in his soul. He is seeing a form of beauty which, until that moment, had never existed. The exclamation is a cry of satisfaction and completion, which is why some translators attempt to render the exclamation as, “at long last!” Someone began to exist like Adam, but unique, and he is drawn to the beauty of this being, as his soul can’t help but cry out.
The reason you and I watch porn is that we’re chasing the echo of Adam’s exclamation. We are designed for beauty. And, as we already noted, nudity is beautiful. But the greater the gift, the greater the idol.
Our love for the body is being warped into us abusing it.
The irony—that the more we give ourselves to porn, the less we’re able to physically give ourselves to someone physical—is a glaring sign that we’re abusing not just beauty, but ourselves.
It’s right and good to be drawn to beauty. But our sense of what is beautiful is just as fallen as any other part of us. We’re still eating from the forbidden fruit, as we pursue appetites we ought not.
Which begs the question: What are you consuming? If your appetite for beauty is busted, then adjust your diet by feasting on healthy and life-giving forms of beauty.
If we aren’t consuming healthy beauty—by learning to see God, yourself, the world, and people rightly—then we will be drawn to the artificial beauty of self-intimacy.
The Naked King
The counter image to pornography is that of the most dignified man to ever have existed, dying naked, beaten, and shamed on a cross for you. That kind of beauty humbles the heart and reshapes our imaginations unlike any other image.
We need to take intentional time to stare at the naked and beaten King, the one who gave up His flesh to save us from ours. Look upon the Naked King, who breaks the curse of Adam’s naked shame. The beauty of the cross shames my flesh, even as it redeems my spirit. I see pain on His face, but also so much compassion and so much gentleness. The beauty of that man, dying on that tree, compels my flesh to die, just as it invites me to live.
All of the beauty around us is a gift from that dead-yet-risen King. We all need the beauty that heals and reshapes—the good and perfect gifts which Heaven died to give us.
You’re made for beauty, and that’s good and right. But there is a beauty that will kill you, one that is a corpse behind the mirage of satisfaction. There’s no resurrection in its embrace—just death.
Look upon the Naked King, the one who loves you and gave Himself for you, and live into the beautiful gifts He has given you (Ephesians 5:2).
There are things in your life that are remarkably beautiful, whether that be your family, friends, or the nature around you. Pursue them. Beauty is spread as a meal all around us. Take two hours every week to go look at only the beauty of nature. Take time to see people by serving them—in a food shelter, as a mentor for to those less fortunate, or simply reading at a nursing home to those who are truly lonely.
The where is less important than the what. The where is everywhere, the what requires intentionality, and it’s that intentionality that God’s Spirit uses to re-form us into the beautiful image of His dead-yet-resurrected Son.
Intentionally pursue a different kind of beauty, and then you will start reflecting a different kind of beauty.
Shane O’Neill serves as the Editorial Director for Proven Men Ministries. He is passionate about people, community, Scripture, and writing. Shane loves how Jesus speaks into the cultures of the world and he seeks to find and know Jesus in the everyday.