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Pornography: What’s the Problem?

Monday, 4 June 2012  | Denise Cooper-Clarke

“Pornographers have a better biblical anthropology than most Christians”. This was one of the startling claims made at a recent seminar organised by CBE Melbourne and the Training and Discipleship Centre of St. Hilary’s Kew (now the Peter Corney Centre). Another was that $97 billion are spent on pornography each year. And this is not just a problem for those outside the church. Those who work with Christian ministers say perhaps as many as 50% have a problem with use of pornography. In fact there are reasons why Christians may be more rather than less likely to become addicted to porn than non-believers. What follows is a summary of the panel discussion at the seminar, involving Graham Cann, Erica Hamence, Mike Kirkpatrick  and Gordon Preece.

What is pornography?
Pornography consists of images that sexually stimulate the viewer. Although there is a continuum from “soft” porn in magazines to hard core material which often includes violence and sometimes abuse of children, what the material has in common is that it takes the viewer “out of reality”. It is distinguished from erotica in that it is dehumanising, objectifying and completely removed from a context of mutual relationship. 

How widespread is the use of pornography?
It is difficult to gauge this, since it is now available anonymously through the internet. One speaker said, “How widespread is its use? How widespread is use of the internet?” 

Why do people use pornography?
There are many reasons:  curiosity, relationship breakdown, pressures on working couples that mean they have infrequent sex, and loneliness. Another  may be the inability of men to handle relationships with women as equals, given the changed roles of women in society, so that they can‘t relate mutually to women and seek situations where they are in control. But possibly the major factor is the sheer availability, indeed unavoidability of pornography on the internet. Many report stumbling upon images accidentally, and then gradually becoming addicted. And the further one gets into pornography, the less satisfying it becomes, so that more extreme images are required to get the same level of excitement.  

What is wrong with pornography?
Pornography dehumanises people.  The men that one panellist works with are immature, and their immaturity is compounded by the escape from emotional reality in to pornography- because they don’t know how to handle their emotions or relationships with real women. It’s an avoidance of reality, like alcoholism or drug addiction. Another panellist said that pornography is so dehumanising it treats people (primarily women) as if they’re dead-  like bodies on slab in the morgue, they are objects not subjects and there is no sense of relationship with them.  Pornography undermines every healthy view of sexuality and  of the way men should understand women, who are treated not as people but only as beasts and sexual organs.  

The use of pornography also puts enormous stress on and damages marriages. A woman whose  husband prefers to stay up  late watching porn to going to bed with her sees this as like adultery: her husband looks to something on the internet rather than to her for sexual fulfilment.  Pornography also damages young people in their crucial developmental years, by undermining the understanding they should be developing of equality of men and women, respect, honour and the beauty of sexuality within a committed marriage relationship. This lack of respect and honour for the opposite sex can be seen in the language teenagers use. The effect on young women is an erosion of trust in  young men. They are well aware that the guys on ther bible study group may well go home and view degrading images of women. This leads to a fearfulness of marriage and sexual relationship: how will pornography have shaped the expectations of their future husbands? What standard of sexual behaviour has been set? 

Does the Bible have anything to say about pornography?
Jesus has lust in mind when he teaches about  getting rid of the eye or the hand that causes one to sin : radical surgery is required. In the context of this teaching, it is striking that Jesus speaks of the one who looks at a woman and wants to possess her 9as one translation has). This highlights the commodification of women ( in this case, but it could also apply to men) intrinsic to pornography. Also important  are the passages  which warn against causing “little ones” to stumble.  Children may be the objects of as well as the targets of the pornography industry. 

Are there particular reasons why Christians might get caught up in pornography?
In the context of waiting til marriage before sexual relations are permitted, pornography can seem like a safer, less transgressive way for young people to get sexual experience. Involvement usually begins in the teenage years when people are confused about their sexuality. Those growing up in a Christian family may find the standards imposed very inhibitive and look for ways to rebel. Internet porn provides the thrill of danger with minimal risk of being “found out”. The church as a whole still is reluctant to talk openly and explicitly about sexuality.

Is there anything we can do about it?
The gospel is the most powerful resource we have because it is the power of God for salvation, which includes the transformation of lives. The deeper issue behind use of pornography use is the lack that we feel this side of the new creation, a lack that only can be met in Jesus. Pornographers have a better biblical anthropology than some Christians, because they understand it’s about how we shape desire.  Fire casts out fire, so we need  to nurture a stronger desire than that for porn- the desire for God.

We need intentional strategies to confront this issues, based on the injunction to “bear one another’s burdens”. One on one discipleship for young people, and a mentor relationship for Christian leaders are the keys to open discussion and accountability.  In addition, a group process is a powerful way for confrontation, accountability and healing can take place.

What resources are recommended?

Collective Shout: http://collectiveshout.org

Safe Families – Keeping Children Safe On-line: http://www.safefamilies.org

Candeo: http://candeohealthysexuality.com

Mike Kirkpatrick runs twelve step recovery groups for those addicted to pornography through the counselling centre of Cross Culture: http://www.crossculture.net.au/main

Elephant Room: A fortnightly group for Christian men: contact simon@elephantroom.info


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