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Defeat Lust & Pornography 12 minute read

Is watching porn a sin?

Last Updated: April 9, 2024

Question: Is porn a sin?

Answer: Yep.

Answered. Done. Case closed. Shortest blog post ever.

Except chances are good that it’s not a good enough answer for you. Maybe you’ve heard conflicting answers from people you trust and need help understanding the truth. Maybe you think it’s not hurting anyone, so it can’t actually be a sin. Or maybe you recognize that it’s a sin but don’t understand why it’s such a big deal.

Let’s take a closer look at it: what we mean when we say porn is a sin, what it does to us and those around us, and why it matters to God.

This brings us back to our original question. Is porn a sin? Yes, but let’s make sure we understand what that means!

Is porn a sin in the Bible?

To answer this, we need to understand what pornography is, especially in biblical terms. Porn is famously difficult to define, and at first glance, the Bible doesn’t give us much guidance. It seems like a new phenomenon and unrelated to biblical teaching about sexual purity.

But, if we look more closely at the word pornography, we find it’s a compound of two Greek words that are very common in the Bible:

porneia – any kind of fornication, sexual immorality, or impurity. For example, 1 Corinthians 6:18 says, “Flee from sexual immorality (porneia).”

graphé – writing, a document. In the Bible, this means the Scriptures. But it was commonly used in other contexts as well.

So, the word “pornography” originally mean sexually impure or immoral writing that was meant to arouse the reader. With the inventions of photography and film, image-based pornography quickly became popular, and that became the dominant meaning of the word going into the 20th century.

See related: What the Bible Says About Pornography Without Even Saying the Word.

What do we mean by sin, anyway?

“Sin” is an odd word. For most people, defining sin is like that famous definition of pornography by Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart: “I know it when I see it.” But we need the Bible for an objective standard of what sin is. What does God define as bad? What does God define as good?

The clearest examples are in the Old Testament, especially in Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. Jewish tradition counts a total of 613 laws (about a third “positive”—good things to do—and two-thirds “negative”—bad things to avoid). But, that’s an overwhelming list, and many of those laws aren’t even applicable today, such as the laws about temple sacrifice.

Getting to the Root of the Law

More important than the laws themselves were the goals of the laws, which Jesus sums up in Matthew 22:37-40 as loving God with all your heart and loving your neighbor as yourself. Literally, every one of those 613 laws was about one or the other.

So then, sin is about a failure to love God and those around us. This is not a nuanced definition, of course. For example, there are right and wrong ways to love God and each other. God ultimately gets to define all of those. We won’t get into that here, but it’s worth noting that when we ignore what God defines as the best and most loving way to do something, it has repercussions for us not just spiritually, but relationally and physically as well.

See related: Will You Go to Hell for Watching Porn?

Watching porn is a sin because it fails to love God and others properly.

But how is it a sin? How does watching pornography fail to show love?

6 Ways Watching Porn Is a Sin

1. It’s sin against God.

God has called us into a holy and perfect communion with Himself. The most basic way to love God is to obey him (John 14:15), and adultery is called out in the Ten Commandments as a sin (Exodus 20:14).

Okay, but porn is just looking at other people, right? It’s not actual adultery, is it?

Take what Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount: “But I say to you that anyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28). What is porn if not looking at someone on the screen with lust?

See related: 3 Biblical Strategies for Fighting Lust

2. It’s sin against your body.

Paul says in 1 Corinthians 6:18-20, “Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body.  Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.”

This isn’t just a metaphorical point. Neuroscience has proven that porn hurts the viewer’s own brain. Porn hijacks the brain’s natural reward system to release dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin, norepinephrine, and other chemicals that God designed for sexual pleasure. The instant access and infinite variety of today’s pornography make it a highly addictive supranormal stimulus.

See related: Brain Chemicals and Porn: How Porn Affects Your Brain

For some men, this physical damage even becomes visible. The NoFap group on Reddit, for example, is dedicated to helping men quit porn because they found they literally couldn’t get an erection without watching porn.

Ultimately, this means that porn is a failure to love God, others, and yourself. While some call porn an expression of self-love, you are using your sexuality in a way other than what God intended, and whether you realize it or not, you are damaging your body and your mind.

3. It’s sin against the Church.

The viewer is joining church with a prostitute (mentally, if not physically). As Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 6:15, “Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Should I, therefore, take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never!”

Every video you watch, every sext you send—you bring them with you every time you walk through the doors of your church or sit down for a Bible study. They lurk as a barrier between you and corporate worship. The sense of guilt or shame may even be holding you back from serving to your fullest ability.

See related: 5 Big Questions About Christians and Porn

4. It’s sin against your spouse.

We hinted at this in the “sin against your body” section. Porn warps your brain chemistry and even changes the way you think. That warping is negatively impacting your relationship with your spouse, whether or not you’re married yet.

1 Corinthians 7:4 makes it clear that your body belongs to your spouse; moreover, this verse is clearly in the context of sexuality. But, ongoing, habitual porn consumption is spending your sexuality on somebody who is not your spouse, and that in and of itself is unloving to your spouse.

See related: Porn in Marriage

All of this is still true even if you’re not married. If you are single and using porn, you’re carrying expectations you’ve built up through your porn use to your future wife or husband—expectations of what your sex life will be and expectations of finding personal satisfaction and fulfillment without a thought toward his or her needs. It’s even possible that porn is hindering your ability to find a partner.

5. It’s sin against other relationships.

This builds off our previous point. Because porn is warping how you think, your porn use is screwing up your relationships with people of the opposite gender in general. Guys, do you focus on women’s cleavage and ignore women who don’t meet pornographic standards of beauty? Ladies, do you ignore guys who don’t look like they’d be good lovers or focus on your physical qualities to attract male attention?

The truth is, porn makes us look at everyone differently. One study showed that men who watched porn three hours a week showed a 46% drop in support for women’s rights compared to those who did not watch porn at all. Among women, it dropped 30%.1

Porn use makes us see each other as something less than fellow children of God. It makes us elevate the status of men and lower the status of women when, in reality, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).

See related: 6 Ways Watching Porn Affects Relationships

6. It’s sin against porn stars and exploited women and children.

Even if you only watch amateur porn and never spend a dime on it, porn is a feeder system for sex trafficking. More viewers leads to a need for more variety, meaning more porn stars, who are often drugged and abused for your viewing pleasure.

On top of that, many porn websites do not regulate or enforce consent for all participants. In other words, it’s all too easy for anyone to post anything and make a profit off it. A teen boy could upload the nudes his girlfriend sent him, for example. Or someone could film himself sexually assaulting a drunk young woman and upload it. These photos and videos, which are uploaded and shared dozens or even hundreds of times, ruin the victims’ lives.2 Instead of loving them as victims, you may be gleaning a few moments of personal pleasure from the worst moment of their lives.

Even if the performers are voluntary, they may be selling their bodies from an extremely low sense of self-worth, possibly stemming from childhood abuse. Drugs are passed around freely to numb the pain (read the story of an ex-porn star to see what it’s really like).

See related: 3 Reasons Anime Porn Is Bad for You

Hope for the Sinner Who Watches Porn

By now you should see why porn is such a serious sin and why something that may feel like a harmless personal activity earns the wages of sin, which is death (Romans 6:23).

Our pure and incorruptible God cannot tolerate the presence of impurity or corruption. This is why there were so many laws about ceremonial cleanliness and atoning sacrifices in the Old Testament laws. All of us fall short of God’s glory (Romans 3:23).

But God loves us even when we fail to love him or our neighbors. That’s why he took on the form of man—Jesus—and lived the pure, sinless life that we never could. God himself became the sacrificial lamb and took on the penalty for our sins. Through our ongoing sanctification, he is removing the power of sin over our lives (and chances are, porn feels like it is in control), and one day, he will remove us from the very presence of sin.

Breaking the Sinful Power of Porn

Let me reiterate this fact: Faith in Jesus ultimately will free us from what Jen Wilkin calls sin’s penalty, power, and presence, but this work will not be complete until we pass from this life into the next.3

Too often, a weak theology teaches us that this is all instantaneous. It’s not, especially with ongoing addictive sins like pornography. Sure, every once in a while there’s miraculous healing, where a person becomes saved and never turns to their addiction again, but these are called miracles precisely because they’re not normal.

In other words, don’t let anyone tell you that you should just be able to pray your porn use away. Prayer is important, of course, but it addresses the spiritual side of what is both a spiritual and physical problem. Unfortunately, there’s no “nicotine patch” or other miracle drug to help you stop watching porn. Retraining your body and your brain simply takes time.

But that doesn’t mean we have to white-knuckle our way through recovery. Remember our definition of sin from the very beginning? Sin is a failure to love God and those around us.

See related: Bible Verses and Principles About Overcoming Temptation

A Love That Transforms

Interestingly, practicing and receiving this love is part of our cure. I don’t mean sexual love. In fact, early in recovery, many counselors advise a period of abstinence for couples—for the porn user to detox, and for the spouse to deal with their own betrayal trauma.

See related: How to Quit Porn: 6 Essential Steps

Rather, the power of porn is broken as we allow select brothers and sisters in Christ into the mess caused by our sin and let God’s love work through them in your life. Using tools like our accountability reports, these allies can see where you’ve stumbled, call you out lovingly, and help bear your burdens when you feel weak (Galatians 6:2). They will help you identify the habits and specific triggers that lead you to porn. The “tough love” of discipline they give you will help to “strengthen your tired hands and weakened knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be dislocated but healed instead” (Hebrews 12:12-13).

Ultimately, these loving friendships should not merely be about quitting porn, although that is, of course, important. Although these accountable relationships may feel like one-way streets while you’re in active recovery from porn use, they should ultimately be gateways so that you can grow in mutual love.

To bring this all together, pornography use is a sin because it is an unloving act towards God, yourself, and others. It has caused many people pain.

But God loved us so much that he died for that sin. The love of Jesus demonstrated through others can heal and restore you, physically and spiritually, from this sin. And, while all of this may be painful right now, as Andrew Peterson sings, one day “we’ll look back on these tears as old tales.”4


1 Dolf Zillmann and Jennings Bryant, “Shifting preferences in pornography consumption,” Communication Research, 13 (1986), available at https://doi.org/10.1177/009365086013004003.
2 Adam Westbrook and Lindsey Van Dyke, “Why Do We Let Corporations Profit from Rape Videos?” New York Times, accessed at https://www.nytimes.com/2021/04/16/opinion/sunday/companies-online-rape-videos.html, August 16, 2021.
3 Jen Wilkin, “How Salvation Brings Freedom,” The Gospel Coalition, March 10, 2015. https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/how-salvation-brings-freedom/
4 Andrew Peterson, “After the Last Tear Falls,” accessed August 16, 2021 at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YTbUhEHOaWs.

  1. The article is interesting and I am glad that as many people and companies as possible pay attention to the problems with pornography. I am now divorcing my husband because he has big problems with it. And he denies it. It is impossible to convince him, even after our children have found his “collection”! It’s not normal at all. Then your article https://www.covenanteyes.com/2021/08/16/is-watching-porn-a-sin/ helped me a lot. And I don’t want to live with my husband anymore, if only he understood that he has a problem, but no. And first of all I have to take care of children, by the way this episode will be a good reason for divorce, I looked for information about this https://midivorcepapers.com/

    • Precious

      Hi Rose, if you are still together, I want you to understand that divorce is not the only way out. You two can be separated bit not divorced.

      Divorce comes with its own wound that won’t go away easily and God hates divorce.

      Pray for him while the separation and if he is accountable to a pastor, you both should schedule a meeting with the pastor.

      Ensure your children don’t follow his steps. Better way is to expose them to this article and others in the covenant eyes website.

  2. Lynn Evans

    Excellent! Thanks for your detailed answer. Satan has told so many of us that Porn is ”No big deal”. That is A BIG LIE from the father of all lies.

  3. Edify Siambelele

    So lovely and wonderful…thank you so much, for the love of God that you have shared. I really appreciate, God bless you.

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