Nicholas Black, Education and Resources Director at WRF Organizational Member Harvest USA, Discusses "Pornography and Injustice: The Social Impact of Sexual Sin"
Michael kept insisting that his viewing pornography wasn’t hurting anybody. “I’m divorced, and what else am I going to do with my sex drive? This isn’t hurting me; it’s actually helping me.”
This was a conversation I had with a friend a few years ago. Not long afterward he remarried, but the years of porn usage poisoned his marriage, and it failed. The messages and attitudes of porn distorted his view of sex and relationships. But Michael’s porn usage didn’t just impact himself and his marriage. He failed to realize that his porn usage hurt far more people than he was willing to see or admit.
When people think of pornography and those who view it, there are usually one or two responses. Either, “Look, it’s a personal, private activity; it’s not harmful,” or, “That’s terrible. Looking at that stuff messes up people’s lives.”
Both of these responses are inaccurate. The first ignores the mounting evidence that pornography is, in fact, harmful to the viewer. Those who engage in it absorb an insidious message about sex, relationships, and life that can lead to serious emotional, relational, behavioral and spiritual consequences. That’s what happened to my friend.
The second response ignores the fact that viewing pornography impacts more than the individual —it hurts and victimizes scores of people, seen and unseen.
The reality is that the making and viewing of pornography has deep, worldwide social effects. In our Fall, 2013, newsletter, “The Normalization of Porn in the Church: What the Church Needs to do Now,” we highlighted the fact that pornography usage by Christians is much bigger than just a matter of personal piety.
There are broad cultural implications to the porn epidemic that go far beyond individual sexual integrity. . . The bottom line is that our (the church’s) silence on this issue is perpetuating injustice. Like those who use illegal drugs and who, by their usage, are linked to the violence and social discord found in countries where the drugs are grown and produced, so engaging in porn equally contributes to global injustice. . . We need to speak up and connect the dots, letting people see the human brokenness that is behind the glossy images and videos.
Many people have an erroneous view of ministries like HARVEST USA. They think such ministries are only about helping individuals break out of sexually addictive behaviors that are impairing their own lives. But that is only partially correct. Helping sexual strugglers break free from crippling sexual sin as a result of pornography or other out-of-control sexual behaviors has far-reaching implications beyond the impact it has on them alone. What starts out as a journey of personal transformation brings healing to others: their spouse, family, friends, church, work and far beyond. When even one person is no longer enslaved to deeply rooted patterns of sexual brokenness, the impact is substantial, something that we again:
Dealing with this issue (pornography) forthrightly means we can help save marriages and keep children from experiencing the socially debilitating effects of divorce. Sounding the alarm and giving practical help will protect children from the scars of broken sexuality that result from early sexualization. The positive effects of dealing with these issues will have even broader societal implications. People living within God’s design will not be supporting the porn industry, whose performers, both paid and amateur, are being exploited for someone’s economic gain. A large number of porn performers come from tragically broken backgrounds, and it is not surprising that a great number of them experienced early sexualization, abuse, rape, and incest, as well as continue to be abused on multiple levels while performing.[i] Human trafficking, the deepest scourge of all, is embedded in this porn/broken sexuality epidemic.
In the last few years, although pornography is becoming more endemic (or “normalized”) in society, we are finally hearing reports that show a connection between the production and usage of pornography and the explosion of commercial sex enterprises, like prostitution and sex trafficking. Covenant Eyes, a ministry offering accountability software for computers and mobile devices, has a few excellent articles on its website that show the link between pornography and sex trafficking. One article, "The Connections Between Pornography and Sex Trafficking, refers to a report that states, “Pornography is the primary gateway to the purchase of humans for commercial sex.” refers to a report that states, “Pornography is the primary gateway to the purchase of humans for commercial sex.”[ii] In a compelling Newsweek article that describes how pornography usage increases men’s aggression and fuels the demand for commercial sex enterprises, the author writes:
Many experts believe the digital age has spawned an enormous increase in sexual exploitation; today anyone with access to the Internet can easily make a “date” through online postings, escort agencies, and other suppliers who cater to virtually any sexual predilection. The burgeoning demand has led to a dizzying proliferation of services so commonplace that many men don’t see erotic massages, strip clubs, or lap dances as forms of prostitution.[iii]
Regardless of the studies, research, and individual stories, the connection between pornography and sexual exploitation is just common sense, biblically speaking. Lust and pornography are mutually destructive partners. Pornography ignites sexual lust, but rather than being satisfied by its partner, lust demands more and more. No wonder Jesus spoke metaphorically of the need to take extreme measures to combat sexual lust (Matthew 5:27-30). Once lust gains a foothold in the mind and heart, it becomes an enslaving idol that destroys not just the lustful person, but equally harms the victims it uses to satisfy its desires. That’s because sexual lust is more than just sexual desire and its temporary fulfillment. Lust is the strong desire to possess something or someone that is not yours to have. Lust isn’t satisfied until it owns or controls what it wants. Lust refuses to look at the object of lust as anything other than a “thing” for its own pleasure. Pornography takes that basic aspect of lust (“I want!” “I need!” “I must have!”) and spins a destructive message through its images, one that dehumanizes, objectifies and enslaves. It does so in three primary ways:
1. Porn disconnects sex from relationships—its subjects (usually women) become merely objects for sexual pleasure and/or a commodity for sale.
2. Porn disconnects sex from love and respect—this especially has been shown to lead to aggression and violence toward women (many point to a “rape culture” on college campuses that some say is the result of resulting from the widespread usage of pornography among male students).
3. Porn is about sex without human dignity—today, perversity knows no bounds when it comes to pornography.
While an extreme example, Ariel Castro, who imprisoned and sexually abused three women in his house in Cleveland for more than a decade, said this at his sentencing: “I believe I’m addicted to porn. . . to the point where I am impulsive, and I just don’t realize that what I am doing is wrong.” As James Conley mentioned in his analysis on how pornography is reshaping the mind of American men, he says this:
Ariel Castro’s addiction is no excuse for his actions, but it points to a deep and sobering reality: Free, anonymous, and ubiquitous access to pornography is quietly transforming American men and American culture.” [iv]
Nowhere do we see more of the destructive and dehumanizing effects that pornography spawns than in prostitution and sex trafficking. The image of the happy hooker (Julia Robert’s Pretty Woman) is a Hollywood lie. The vast majority enter prostitution (and other commercial sex enterprises, like strip clubs, erotic massage, escort services, the production of porn movies, etc.) because of complex social, emotional, and economic reasons. Divorce, abandonment, abuse, drugs, mental illness and poverty have long been the broken social fabric that propels women into such activities. And sex trafficking is even more damaging, where through the use of manipulation or force a person (frequently a minor) is trafficked for sex, oftentimes kidnapped and transported for such acts far from their home environment.
It is imperative that Christians look below the surface of sexual sin. So many porn actresses and actors, prostitutes, and others who work in the sex industry, are there because of other major brokenness issues in their lives. It is inaccurate, unhelpful and judgmental to merely condemn those in it apart from seeing and understanding the numerous factors that contribute to it. On the Shared Hope International website, a Christian organization working to help victims of sex trafficking and eradicate the demand for it), a young girl named Robin tells her story about her descent into prostitution, a story that is not uncommon:
I became alcoholic after my first drink at 14-years-old. Gradually through my adolescence, I began experimenting with other substances and they became more important to me than school. After miserably failing almost two years of college, I dropped out. I had just turned 21 before I met the man who sold me a dream. The dream turned into a nightmare and the nightmare lasted six years. In those six years I was prostituted up and down the I-5 corridor from Seattle to San Francisco, Los Angeles, Phoenix, Las Vegas, and Honolulu, Hawaii. . . I was 21 years old when my pimp walked into my life and because I was an “adult,” I always carried the guilt and shame for “choosing” this lifestyle. . . Telling my story and backing it up with the truths, rather than misconceptions about prostitution, allowed me to heal.[v]
Pornography fuels the demand for such sexual services. Far from quenching lust and reducing sexual exploitation (as many proponents of pornography contend), it radically distorts sexuality and relationships. Pornography feeds the mindset that contributes to abuse, exploitation, oppression and victimization.
True, not everyone goes from viewing pornography to buying sex. But we must see the deeper connections that viewing pornography facilitates. Participating in the “business” of just looking at pornography keeps the industry going. Whether the pornography is free, paid, professional or amateur, people are being used. As prostitution was once erroneously called “a victimless crime,” pornography is equally not a victimless activity. Somewhere along the line, somewhere in the complex web of sexual distortions that pornography weaves among its viewers, the dignity of men and women made in the image of God is increasingly defaced. Viewing it, engaging in it, contributes to the entire “system” of broken sexuality throughout the world. Those looking at porn are “served” through the oppression of many.
While it is beyond the scale of this article to lay out everything that ought to be done, here are a few steps you and your church can take to do justice.
One: Acknowledge that the problem exists
Two: Begin to take action on injustice issues
The evangelical church can no longer be silent on social issues like the commercialization of sex and sex trafficking. Scripture repeatedly talks about God as a God of justice and mercy, and that his people should reflect to the world what God is passionate about. Isaiah 1:16-17 is only one of countless passages that direct us as God’s people to actively do justice and bring restoration to the broken.
Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean;
remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes;
cease to do evil,
learn to do good;
bring justice to the fatherless,
plead the widow's cause.
Consider having a church committee or team that explores and teaches on justice and mercy issues. Ask God to develop in you and your church a heart of mercy to those who have been abused, mistreated, and manipulated into sexual sin. The scope of the problem is enormous, but don’t get overwhelmed. Start small; start locally. Look for local resources to get involved in rescuing those who are abused and trapped. VAST (The Valley Against Sex Trafficking) is an excellent local resource in the Philadelphia region.
Three: Start talking to youth—especially to boys and young men
Of all the demographics in the church, none is more critical to reach than our youth—but especially boys and young men. Why? Because our youth are almost universally immersed in looking at porn today, and they are being frightfully impacted by it. New research is showing how porn usage is shaping the minds and hearts of young men, “rewiring” as it were their brains toward aggressive and dysfunctional sexual behavior and addiction. We need to reach this generation of boys and young men in particular in order to stop the demand for sexual trafficking that is growing around the world.
But don’t forget young women, as well! They, too, are buying into the lies of the world when it comes to sexuality. The youth in our churches today know little about God’s design for sex, and are increasingly abandoning the Bible’s teaching on sexuality morality. And the major reason for that is the church’s failure to talk openly and give a compelling reason for following God in this area of life.
Four: Learn how to help by focusing on the heart
Finally, it’s not enough to simply talk about the dangers and the personal/social implications of pornography and sexual brokenness. There are reasons for why men and women get hopelessly ensnared in sexual sin, as both offenders and victims. All of our biblical teaching on sexuality must aim for the heart, where sinful behavior starts (Matthew 15:18-20). Helping a sexual struggler means learning the unique contours of his or her heart. When we see the broken idols that we live for, the idols that promise life but deliver destruction, and when we see them in the light of God’s mercy toward us in Christ, then deep repentance and transformation begins to take shape— moving outward from the individual to family, church, neighborhood, and even to the far reaches of society itself.
[i] For a insightful perspective on the reality of porn performers, go to Shelly Lubben’s website: https://www.shellylubben.com. Shelly is an ex-porn performer who has a ministry to reach out to porn performers with the gospel and talks about the harmful nature of pornography.
[ii] Anna Stutler, “The Connections Between Pornography and Sex Trafficking.” http://www.covenanteyes.com/2011/09/07/the-connections-between-pornography-and-sex-trafficking/, September 7, 2011.CovenantEyes website has a number of excellent articles on pornography and sex trafficking. Go to: covenanteyes.com and type in “sex trafficking” in the search box.
[iii] Leslie Bennetts, “The Growing Demand for Prostitution,” Newsweek, September 1, 2011, http://www.newsweek.com/growing-demand-prostitution-68493.
[v] “Survivor Story: Robin’s Journey to Redemption and Restoration,” March 7, 2013, http://sharedhope.org/2013/03/07/survivor-story-robin/.
This article was originally published in the Spring, 2014, issue of Harvest News, one of the ministries of Harvest USA, an organizational member of the World Reformed Fellowship, and it is posted here by permission. For more materials and resources on issues related to sex and sexuality and to sign-up for the Harvest USA, bi-annual magazine from which this article was taken, visit the website at www.harvestusa.org.