“It hurts now. Every time I see a porno I think, ‘that’s someone’s girlfriend or that’s someone’s daughter.’”

That’s a quote from a documentary made about the amateur pornography industry and the girls it exploits. A man, the boyfriend of one of the actresses, said it to his girlfriend when trying to convince her to leave the industry. The documentary is not in any way religious. It is, however, clearly taking a strong moral stance: that the pornography industry is sexist, abusive, exploitive, and dangerous.

The documentary was primarily aimed at discouraging young women from seeking employment in the industry, exposing the traps and false promises therein. The problem is, supply and demand are linked. As long as there is a demand—as long as people continue to consume the product—women will treat the industry as a viable path to finding meaning and acceptance. An increasing number of secular sources have been taking this very stance and calling for people—men, in particular—to stop watching pornography altogether. These are not “conservative” sources, by any means; they are mainstream. 

For instance, Ran Gavrieli gave a TEDx talk entitled Why I Stopped Watching Porn, and it was not at all a call for sexual repression or prudence. In fact, it was advocating the very opposite outcome: sexual intimacy and enjoyment. He argues that pornography portrays women as sexual objects, not partners—as subordinate, not equal. Pornography is never about mutual, sacrificial love expressed through physical intimacy. It’s about one person’s pleasure and one person’s role in providing it. That’s not sex, Gavrieli argues, that’s consumerism. It’s “filmed prostitution,” he claims. From pornography’s perspective, as it were, whatever is “sexual” is whatever men find arousing. It’s not only consumerism, it’s misogynistic consumerism. 

More recently, TIME magazine ran a cover story titled Porn and the Threat to Virility, in which the author, Belinda Luscomb, tells of men whose constant exposure to pornography has both emotionally and chemically desensitized them to real sex. Not only are more men suffering from porn-induced erectile dysfunction (PIED), but an increasing number of women find themselves under the pressure and expectations that their partners’ pornography habits bring. She writes, “Teen girls increasingly report that guys are expecting them to behave like porn starlets.”  Pornography, then, hinders true sexual intimacy on multiple levels: not only does it create unrealistic expectations for sexual encounters—expectations that are almost exclusively projected from men to women—but it also turns sex into a product that apparently can be tailored to meet the demands of the individual, rather than an experience meant to bring unity to the couple. Other secular sources exist covering the dangers of pornography, such as Gary Wilson’s site: yourbrainonporn.com, where he documents the physiological and psychological dangers of a pornography habit. Several articles on the site note that pornography habits chemically condition the brain to prefer artificial sex on a screen to real sexual intimacy.

What we are witnessing in all of these sources is society’s realization that we cannot at the same time champion sexual liberation and sexual license and then be alarmed at the consequences. Either we need sexual ethics, or we don’t. And what’s clear is, even our over-sexualized culture is saying, “yes, we do need them.” But, what kind of sexual ethics, then? What should drive our view of sexuality and shape our sexual behavior? It cannot simply be a list of a few things that are “off limits,” because that’s too subjective. Which things belong on that list? Who decides what is and isn’t? Is the list fluid along with the whims of society? To be sure, eventually, that which is now “off limits” will one day become normal, as even a cursory glance at societal trends will show. This is, of course, not to say practical steps for those addicted or concrete actions against the industry should be avoided. But short-term “dos and don’ts” will not suffice. What is truly needed, though, is a paradigm shift—a shift in how we, as a society, view sexuality.

What is increasingly obvious is that society views sexuality as a tool. Sex is treated as something to be used, either to give or to receive pleasure, whether that’s physical or otherwise (e.g., financial gain, social acceptance, personal value, etc.). This mindset is reinforced via every media we’re exposed to. For example, while it’s not explicitly pornography, there are plenty of young women being paid to sell a male-oriented product in revealing clothing and seductive manner, not because it communicates anything about the product itself, but because it will drive a lot of traffic from men. The women’s bodies—their sexuality—is simply a means to an end: profit. And it’s these milder, subtler expressions of this view of sexuality that eventually lead to the more explicit, more overt manifestations in pornography. Teach men that women are objects by using them in advertising, and it’s no wonder that the trend continues and grows into the use of more extreme avenues. Teach men that sexuality is something meant to be satiated or consumed independent of meaningful, vulnerable relationships, and the end result is an entire multi-billion dollar industry predicated on that very notion.

But the idea that sex is not meant to be something consumed or the idea that physical intimacy is only healthy when coupled with intimacy of the whole self are not novel concepts. This increased awareness of and fight against the pornography industry from society only reaffirms what we’ve been told about sex from the beginning. The opening chapters of the Bible, in Genesis, outline the framework for mankind’s purpose in the world and give a picture of a perfect creation with a perfect family placed to enjoy that creation. The first command given to mankind is to “be fruitful and multiply,” meaning that sex is not only allowed, but commanded as part of a healthy relationship! But the true nature of the man and woman relationship and the sexuality therein is revealed in the next chapter. Genesis 2:18 says, “Then the LORD God said, ‘It is not good that man should be alone.’” The need for companionship and partnership is woven into our very being. Everyone feels the sting of loneliness at some point; the question is: what is meant to fill it? The answer we see in Genesis is that companionship is found when a relationship is had with a whole person, not just someone’s body. When God brings man and woman together, this is what the man says:

“This at last is bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called Woman,
because she was taken out of Man.” (Gen. 2:23)

Same substance, same personhood—equal in nature and value. This is the type of companionship that we are created for, and this is where sexuality finds its true fulfillment. Pornography does not tell the viewer that the people are “same flesh and bone;” no, oftentimes, the man is superior and dominant and the woman is there for his pleasure. The same is true in sexual advertising and sexual self-promotion: the woman is an object for consumption and thus does not have inherent dignity and value; her worth is in her ability to sell a product or even herself to a consumer.

The opening chapters of Genesis cover a lot of topics, but chapter two closes by focusing on this same issue of sexuality and committed relationships: Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed. (Gen. 2:24-25) What do we learn about the best scenario for human sexuality to flourish and fulfill?

1) Sexuality is designed for sustained monogamy — “Hold fast to his wife”  

If we are merely members of the animal kingdom, then sex becomes nothing more than a means to procreate and sustain the strongest genes in the species. But, as most would agree with, we’re not merely animals. Even most secularists, though inconsistently with their worldview, would say that humans have a unique dignity and purpose that transcends that of a squirrel or catfish. Sex, for humans, is more than a means of procreating. It’s also more than a means of pleasure. Even if someone were to use a strictly evolutionary argument, then the pleasure sex brings is present merely to encourage the procreation! But that isn’t the case for us, though. Sex is more than a means to pleasure and progeny. It’s an act that communicates trust and care, and it is designed to complement a faithful commitment to another person. Any claim that monogamy lessens the beauty and purpose of sex is based on the presupposition that sex is primarily an act of self-love and not of self-giving. 

2) Sexuality brings body and soul together — “One flesh”  

Our English word “flesh” does not do the meaning of the Hebrew justice. The idea being communicated here is that when two people, committed to one another, come together in sexual union, they come together in a union of their whole selves—body and soul. Sexual union is an expression of a holistic union that is emotional, spiritual, and physical. There is no such thing as “meaningless sex,” only sex which is assumed to be meaningless and then later discovered to be anything but. Physical intimacy not only complements emotional and spiritual intimacy, it produces it. 

3) Sexual intimacy belongs inside of marriage — “The man and his wife”  

Fewer and fewer people are pushing back on the dangers of a pornography addiction, but many will still push back on this. As unconventional as this idea is in many contexts, the logic of the biblical truth is solid. True sexual fulfillment and intimacy can only be experienced in marriage, because marriage is the only relationship wherein each person has fully, unconditionally, and permanently committed to one another. Marriage is the only human relationship where love and acceptance are found not on the basis of performance but on the basis of promise. This is because marriage, unlike any other relationship, is a covenant—a guarantee of self-sacrifice at all costs, forever. When sexuality is expressed outside of such a strong commitment, there is always the possibility that the other person will be looking for better opportunities and more fulfilling alternatives. Any relationship that isn’t marriage is, on some level, a consumer relationship; it’s seeking something for personal fulfillment and gain, and so it leads to constant evaluation of whether or not there’s “something better” out there. A covenantal relationship, though, says, “I’m in this for your good and your benefit no matter what. I’m totally free to be myself and you’re totally free to be yourself, and we don’t ever have to worry if one of us will leave for greener pastures, because our love is based on a promise, not performance.” When the fear and uncertainty of trying to “earn” someone’s favor is no longer a part of the equation, sexuality becomes freeing and fulfilling.

4) Sexual intimacy means holistic intimacy — “Were both naked and were not ashamed”  

This idea summarizes every point made above. The husband and wife’s physical nakedness was a picture of their true “nakedness.” What that means is nakedness is something that transcends the physical. It is only when two people are ready to be “naked” together in all aspects of life that physical nakedness can serve its most fulfilling purpose. Until a man and woman are ready to be emotionally, financially, socially, and spiritually intimate, they should not be sexually intimate. That is, until they are ready to “uncover” themselves in all aspects of life, it makes no sense that they would uncover themselves physically. This is why covenantal, monogamous marriage is the place where sexuality can best flourish and provide the most fulfillment! Sex is meant to be an opportunity to be completely vulnerable, free from fear of judgement and comparison. Isn’t that what we want in all aspects of a relationship? If we can’t be completely vulnerable with someone about our fears and doubts, our finances and personal history, our joys and desires, then why think we could be completely vulnerable with our bodies? Sexual intimacy reflects total intimacy. Physical nakedness is designed to coexist with total nakedness, so that we can be wholly accepted and loved.

The Bible is often accused of having a repressed and archaic view of sexuality. What’s becoming more obvious is that mainstream society is simply catching up to what we’ve been told is best from the beginning. No one scoffs at the idea of finding someone with whom he can be totally intimate and free. No one condemns the idea that trust, care, and emotional intimacy are desired counterparts to sexual unity. God did not design us for a life of sexual repression. He designed us for a life of sexual fulfillment and he also gave us a blueprint on how that fulfillment is best achieved and preserved. The studies, articles, lectures, and documentaries that are coming out are reiterating a truth given to humanity at our origin—at our genesis. 

While pornography and other forms of unhindered sexual expression pretend to offer sexual fulfillment, all they’re really doing is robbing us of it. Let’s not settle for the false promises of an industry built around exploiting young women and selling fantasies but instead accept the amazing gift of sex itself in its best and purest form.

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