I was reading Proverbs chapter 5 this week, which is mostly about sexual immorality, and it occurred to me that since I started this blog in 2010 I have never written about pornography, despite the fact that it has been something that I personally have had to wrestle with.
While I am pleased to be able to say that porn hasn’t had a hold over me for many years now, I am embarrassed to have to admit that I fell for something so stupid and directly opposed to my faith. I think that embarrassment, despite the fact that it was in my past, is why I have avoided writing about it.
I feel I need to apologize for not talking about this sooner both because I want my reflections on this site to be an expression of my real wrestle with seeking to follow Jesus, and also because I am more and more convinced that Pornography is a cancer that is having a huge impact on the Christian church.
An article in the 2016 July/August edition of Christianity today quoted a Barna study that showed that 41 percent of Christian men aged 13-24 and 23 percent of Christian men over 25 said they frequently used porn. (the figures were 5 percent and 13 percent for Christian women in those age groups). While my experience as a Pastor indicates that these numbers may well be understated, they are numbers that are a real worry for the future of the church itself.
A recent study has found that watching pornography significantly increases the likelihood that you will abandon your faith. (2015 study by Samuel Perry published in The Sociology of Religion 76:4, pages 436-458 ). Did you get that? 2 out of 5 young Christian men, and 1 out of 5 men and women generally, are actively engaged in behaviour that predisposes them to leaving the church!
While 3 U.S. states have declared pornography a health crisis, we in the church have been slow to talk about the impact it is having on us. Porn has been around in different forms for hundreds of years, however online porn is having such a devastating effect because of its anonymity, accessibility and affordability according to this article.
Lets call a spade a spade. Porn does real damage and it really is wrong. Pornography is adultery, plan and simple. It might be adultery that you can get away with anonymously, affordably and accessibly, but it is still adultery.
Jesus couldn’t have been more blunt:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart
Porn is a big deal because, as adultery, it is profoundly damaging. What triggered my reflection on Porn and my own wrestle was Proverbs 5:3-6:
3 For the lips of the adulterous woman drip honey,
and her speech is smoother than oil;
4 but in the end she is bitter as gall,
sharp as a double-edged sword.
5 Her feet go down to death;
her steps lead straight to the grave.
6 She gives no thought to the way of life;
her paths wander aimlessly, but she does not know it.
I was particularly struck by verse 6 that says “she gives no thought to the way of life; her paths wander aimlessly but she doesn’t know it.” More and more research is showing that pornography leads people away from life, and in fact directly affects your ability to make choices.
The reason I felt like I needed to be as honest as I am in this reflection is that I am continually seeing firsthand how much damage porn is doing in our churches.
Somehow we are not saying clearly what both the bible and secular research is saying… There is no rationale that makes it ok. Porn damages people’s ability to live whole and free lives.
Solomon was not overstating his case when he said:
The evil deeds of the wicked ensnare them;
the cords of their sins hold them fast.
Back in 2013, GQ magazine published an article called 10 Reasons why you should quit watching porn. It is interesting that a mens magazine like GQ, which is certainly no the bastion of Christian values, would feature an article like this. In the article they cite evidence which demonstrates that:
- 420 million web pages are dedicated to porn
- The brain scans of porn addicts look exactly like those of drug addicts
- Porn decreases satisfaction with being faithful to one person
- One in five people who regularly watch porn admitted to feeling controlled by their own sexual desires.
- 64 percent of respondents report that their tastes in porn have become more extreme or deviant.
While GQ’s research was not all rigorous in its scientific method, more and more data is emerging. One study (Levine, Lillis, and Hayes (2012)) shows that frequency of watching pornography is significantly related to depression, stress, anxiety and poor social functioning.
In an article, entitled The New Narcotic in which he reviewed research on pornography, Morgan Bennet quoted a statement given before the U.S. Congress by Dr. Jeffrey Satinover, a psychiatrist, psychoanalyst, physicist, and former Fellow in Psychiatry at Yale, in which he stated:
With the advent of the computer, the delivery system for this addictive stimulus [internet pornography] has become nearly resistance-free. It is as though we have devised a form of heroin 100 times more powerful than before, usable in the privacy of one’s own home and injected directly to the brain through the eyes. It’s now available in unlimited supply via a self-replicating distribution network, glorified as art and protected by the Constitution.
Did you get that? Bennet goes on to demonstrate that:
Brain research confirms the critical fact that pornography is a drug delivery system that has a distinct and powerful effect upon the human brain and nervous system.
Pornography actually affects the wiring of your brain!
I am grateful that in the very next chapter after talking about adultery, Jesus says:
If you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. (Matthew 6:14)
The whole point of the Christian faith is that the past doesn’t have to determine the future. That is the great news for anyone reading this and feeling stuck in their porn viewing habits… Your mistakes don’t affect God’s love for you,.
If you do find yourself watching porn, however, you are going to need to admit to yourself, and to at least one or two other people, that you are stuck.
You are also going to need to make conscious choices to change the way you spend your time, stepping out of the cords that “hold you fast”.
Giving up any coping mechanism, or addiction is not easy, but I know you won’t regret it. In addition to not doing the ongoing damage to your soul and your brain that porn inflicts, GQ reports that 67 percent of people who gave up porn had an increase in energy levels and productivity.
You can have a whole life, or you can regularly watch porn. You can’t do both.