Pornography: Pleasurable Pastime or Toxic Threat?
The so-called "adult entertainment industry" has gone mainstream. In supermarket tabloids and on freeway billboards, messages and pictures that were once labeled pornographic are now available for all to see. No longer relegated to "peep shows" in the seedy parts of town, pornography has not only gone high-tech, but has also become highly available!
If you think this is an exaggeration, just look around you. Each year, the "swimsuit" edition of Sports Illustrated features images more graphic and titillating than the controversial photographs of Marilyn Monroe that 50 years ago were relegated to the back rooms of greasy garages. Prime-time network television is filled with sexual innuendo and provocative themes. Fornication is treated as normal, and is practically a given in shows pitched at teens and young adults. Cable fare and movies push limits much farther, with nudity and sexually explicit themes commonplace.
This does not even begin to address what is available via the Internet, where the most graphic and hardcore pictures imaginable are readily accessible for anyone who cares to look. Internet pornography is "big business." One survey determined, after the "dot-com crash" several years ago, that a majority of the surviving profit-making Internet businesses were directly or indirectly related to pornography. Countless millions every day look to the Internet for pornography.
"Well, what's the big deal?" you may ask. "Aren't there many things much more harmful than a few sexually explicit pictures? At worst, isn't it a 'victimless crime'?"
In the United States, the debate over pornography is often framed in terms of "freedom of speech." Draping themselves with the flag and the Constitution, pornographers such as Larry Flynt (publisher of Hustler magazine) have defended their rights in front of the U.S. Supreme Court—and have won!
After all, who defines what is pornographic or obscene? U.S. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, ruling on the 1964 Jacobellis v. Ohio case, made the famous comment that, while he could not define obscenity, "I know it when I see it." Is there an objective standard of decency, or does it exist only in the eye of the beholder?
From the "soft porn" pictures adorning the covers of supermarket-shelf "romance novels," to the sad-eyed teenagers staffing the brothels of Bangkok, Thailand, the faces of "adult entertainment" are many and varied. The glitz and the glamour of the "girlie shows" in Las Vegas cannot obscure the real-life pain and suffering of many who staff the sex industry.
What about the prime consumers of pornography—millions of adult men? How are they and their families affected by the pull of pornography? Make no mistake about it, pornography attracts the married as well as the unmarried, and has become an addiction for people in every category and walk of life. The anonymity made possible by the Internet has emboldened many to dabble with porn, who otherwise would have been too embarrassed to seek it out in the bright light of day.
Pornography's effect is widespread and insidious. For each addict who has begun to act out the degrading images with which he has filled his mind, there are many others who are simply ensnared in the guilt and shame that comes with their addiction. Excitement over the "forbidden fruit" is followed by bouts of self-loathing and depression, which they assuage by once again pursuing the excitement of the "forbidden fruit." Millions have been caught in this cycle, unable to escape. Is there any hope for them?
According to Laurie Hall, author of An Affair of the Mind, pornography is a $13 billion (annual) industry. This puts it ahead of Coca-Cola! In fact, in the realm of profitable entertainment, the so-called "adult entertainment industry" brings its purveyors profits larger than the National Football League, National Basketball Association and Major League Baseball combined.
How widespread is pornography? A New York Times report found: "There were 11,000 porn video titles last year  versus 400 movie releases from Hollywood… [as well as] 70,000 pornographic web sites" ("Naked Capitalists," May 20, 2001). Pornographic movies are marketed over the Internet and through video stores. Industry records suggest that almost one-third of all video rentals on the east and west coasts of the U.S. are sex films.
But it is not only the independent entrepreneurs who make big money from porn. Some of America's most well-known companies are quietly sharing in its profits. "Companies like General Motors, AOL Time Warner and Marriott earn revenue by piping adult movies into Americans' homes and hotel rooms, but you won't see anything about it in their company reports. And you won't hear them talking about the production companies that actually make the films—or the performers the producers hire, men and women as young as 18, for sex that is often unprotected. 'We have an industry that is making billions of dollars a year, is spreading to cable television and to the Internet, and yet their employees are considered to be throwaway people,' said former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop" (ABC News, January 28, 2004).
The ABC News report went on to emphasize that it is hard to estimate how much money these mainstream companies make off porn, because they do not publicize it in their portfolios. "Their financial statements do not mention profits from adult movies. However, one industry analyst estimated that the combination of cable and satellite outlets makes about $1 billion a year from the adult movie market." As author and counselor Gene McConnell expressed it, "Pornography makes a profit from the ruined lives of young women and entraps men who will spend lots of time and money succumbing to their product" (ibid.).
The sex industry has been around for a long, long time. The Bible first mentions prostitution directly in Genesis 38, where we read of Judah propositioning a young woman he thought was a prostitute (though she was actually his daughter-in-law, Tamar). Although prostitution was considered a punishable crime in the laws God gave through Moses, subsequent scriptural accounts demonstrate that prostitution continued to thrive throughout much of Israel's history. Cult prostitution was also a key part of Canaanite religious practices, and the priests of the fertility cults made a tidy profit from the temple prostitutes.
In our modern age, entrepreneurs have quickly adapted to new technologies in order to satisfy old lusts. Photography and movie-making sowed the seeds of the modern pornography business. In 1954, Hugh Hefner's Playboy magazine first hit the newsstands, and mass-marketed pornography began its emergence from the shadows into the mainstream. Hefner's marketing strategy—placing a slick, glossy magazine on the same newsstands as respectable periodicals—worked well. As the years went by, Playboy's success spawned imitators and competitors, many of which tried to "push the envelope" further and further—to distinguish themselves and to gain a competitive advantage in an increasingly crowded marketplace. As mass-market video became commonplace in the 1980s, pornography expanded from the newsstand to the video shelf. Most recently, with the growth of the Internet, demand for pornography has skyrocketed as consumers need no longer even leave their homes to find it!
After World War I came the "Roaring Twenties" and the "flapper era." Styles and images once associated with prostitution began to be glamorized and copied by otherwise respectable young women. Movie stars had a tremendous effect on the thinking of young people enamored with the idea of being "modern." The decadence of the twenties—which affected Europe even more than America—was interrupted by the Great Depression of the 1930s and the coming of World War II, but postwar prosperity set the stage for continued moral decline. Since then, wars and recessions have come and gone, but moral decline has become institutionalized, and shows no sign of abating.
Today, few would consider the "rock and roll" groups of the 1950s anything other than tame by today's standards. Yet performers such as Elvis Presley—nicknamed "Elvis the Pelvis" for his sexually suggestive gyrations—were considered too "raunchy" for television for many years, and network censors insisted that for Presley's first appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show, he be shown only from the waist up!
By the late 1960s, as disillusionment with the Vietnam War grew, so too grew a youth culture characterized by protest and alienation. Drug use, rock music, and "free love" became rallying cries for many of the "best and brightest" of Western youth. These alienated youth, however, were rebelling in an environment of great material prosperity, which cynical and greedy marketers were quick to exploit. The "free love" lifestyle became part of a marketing package sold back to searching youth at a tidy profit. Increasingly, art and music had to be more and more rude, crude and vulgar to distinguish itself and gain more profits for the sellers. As a result, more and more overt sexuality came to be paraded to younger and younger audiences.
At first the main audience was teenagers, but marketers soon found it desirable to reach "tweens"—youngsters aged 10 to 12—who are at an age when they are keen to emulate their "idols." Nowadays, it is common to see junior high school girls—and some even younger—sporting fashions that in earlier decades would only have been worn by professional prostitutes. Millions of young girls have been seduced into cultivating an image that is sexual and sleazy. In this environment, we should not be surprised that promiscuity has risen among younger and younger children.
A prominent British newspaper, The Guardian, recently ran an article describing the exploitation of girls as young as seven or eight by advertisers who seek to make money by enticing them into the world of adult sexuality. "The plastic bag that wraps around Bliss, a magazine for teenage girls this month says it all. 'FREE INSIDE! Makeup palette,' it screams. Across the bottom of the bag it teases with a 'Lush mascara offer' 'Generous lip gloss offer', as well as a 5 voucher for 'spray tan'… Bliss, Sugar, Cosmo girl, Elle girl, the list goes on… The power of such marketing is highlighted today by a survey that most seven- to ten-year olds are using makeup… Two years ago the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams, criticized consumerism for its 'corruption and premature sexualisation of children'. Paris Fashion Week has provoked outcries for parading nine- and ten-year-old girls on a catwalk wearing plunging necklines and high hemlines." (The Guardian, September 8, 2004).
A culture that denigrates the values of chastity and modesty finds itself with an ever-shifting definition of pornography. What would have created a public outcry and perhaps resulted in jail time in 1950 now scarcely raises an eyebrow. What would have been considered plainly pornographic a few decades ago is now treated as mainstream entertainment, and what was once thought to be totally beyond the pale is now routinely discussed and gradually edging toward acceptance.
The purveyors of porn declare that the issue is "freedom," and cry "censorship" at the suggestion that sexually explicit material be regulated. Organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union, working to promote "freedom of expression," have had the effect of undermining local community standards of moral integrity. Ironically, these efforts in the name of "freedom" have allowed countless millions to be enslaved by pornography.
Ultimately, Christians recognize that it is the truth that makes us free (John 8:32) and sin that enslaves (Romans 6:16). Pornography is based upon lies, from start to finish, and produces the very opposite of the fulfillment and happiness it promises. It is a continuation of Satan's old lie, first told in the Garden of Eden, that what God forbids is really what is best.
When God reached the end of creation week, He beheld all that He had made and pronounced it "very good" (Genesis 1:31). This included human sexuality. God created Adam and Eve as complementary beings so that they might join together in marriage, and reproduce children in their own image. The marriage relationship between one man and one woman was intended to be the basis of the human family—and of society as a whole. The natural sexual attraction between male and female was designed to promote the intimacy of marriage.
However, human sexuality is a very strong urge and has great potential for both good and evil. If properly guarded and channeled, it plays a vital role in producing the warmth and intimacy of a happy home. When misused and abused, it degrades and destroys lives and civilizations.
Pornography lies about sexuality and degrades human beings made in the image of God. In the world of pornography, women are portrayed as mere toys to be played with—"pets," "bunnies" or "playmates." In this way, they are degraded as less than human. Men are pictured as having "animal drives," over which they supposedly have no more control than a dog or a tomcat pursuing a female in heat. Sex is portrayed as a sport in which men are expected to "score."
Pornography presents sex as an end in and of itself. Sex becomes a substitute for intimacy. Pornography exploits genuine desires for intimacy, seducing young women into trading sexual favors for physical or emotional sustenance they have otherwise been unable to find. Yet this trade leaves them unfulfilled, and the day comes when they awaken to find themselves used and abused rather than fulfilled and cherished. Sometimes there are other tragic consequences—unwed motherhood or abortion—but the pornography industry never talks about this. It presents the false promise that sex is something to which you are entitled anywhere, anytime and with anyone—and that no bad consequences will flow from such behavior.
In Scripture, God inspired vital instructions about human sexuality that are just as relevant today as when they were first written. "Can a man take fire to his bosom, and his clothes not be burned?" Solomon asked anciently (Proverbs 6:27). God's commandments are to serve as a lamp and His law as a light, "To keep you from the evil woman, from the flattering tongue of a seductress. Do not lust after her beauty in your heart, nor let her allure you with her eyelids. For by means of a harlot a man is reduced to a crust of bread, and an adulteress will prey upon his precious life" (vv. 24–26).
If you have become ensnared in the pernicious net cast by the purveyors of pornography, you must first and foremost recognize that it is not a pleasurable pastime with no ill consequences. It creates a toxic mental, spiritual and emotional environment where real love, loyalty, and intimacy cannot survive, much less flourish.
Unlike an addiction to drugs or alcohol, which becomes visible to family and friends, a pornography addiction is usually a private matter known to no one but the addict himself. So, rather than wait for someone else to discover your problem, it is vitally important that if you want to break out of the addictive cycle of pornography, you face your problem and seek help. Find a trusted counselor to whom you can admit the nature of your problem. Go to God for repentance and deliverance, and seek help to change. Fill your life and your mind with what is of real value. Fill the loneliness and emptiness with giving of yourself to help and serve others. Recognize pornography, and the world it glamorizes, for the sleazy illusion that it really is. This will help you start replacing the old sick attitudes with attitudes that are new and healthful.
God is the author of human sexuality which, when used as He intended, is a wonderful boon and benefit. Because of its great value, a loving Creator gave us laws to protect it. Do not be duped! Recognize the false and degraded message of pornography for the lie that it is! Men who do this will distance themselves from the kind of entertainment that fosters this approach to life. Young women who value chastity and modesty will seek to project that image through their grooming and dress, regardless of the styles promoted by highly sexualized popular entertainers. Parents who recognize the importance of biblical morality will not only insist that their children conform to godly standards in entertainment and dress, they will seek to teach them the "why" behind it.
As you put godly principles into practice in your life, you can have the blessings that God intends—including the proper and joyous expression of human sexuality. Sex within a godly marriage is a wonderful blessing, but it is a blessing denied to the dissolute and reserved for those who are faithful and loyal. Get the help you need, and seek God. Put these principles into practice in your life, and you can experience fulfillment far more than those involved in pornography can ever hope to understand.