A Theology of Sex: The Porn Problem

I have a growing fear that nearly all sex and sexuality are dominated by pornography. Whether in or outside of marriage I suspect that all sex and sexuality are viewed through the lens of pornography. Young men and increasingly young women operate from within that framework, and our culture at large has adopted the pornographic worldview. In short we live in a Pornopoly!

Porn has cornered the market on sexuality and sexual expression in our world today. This monopoly has affected everything from sex-education in schools, to clothing styles for pre-teens, to the expectations of married men and women in their bedrooms. The porn problem is not contained to adolescent boys and their computers in mom and dad’s basement. It has spread, like a rapacious plague, across our culture and even into the church. The porn problem is more than internet obscenity, it is a control of nearly all sexual expression and dialogue in our culture.

For example, the average single man watches porn for 40 minutes, three times a week. That’s 2 hours a week, and roughly 104 hours per year. The average male views porn for the first time at age 11, which means by the time he is 30 he will have watched almost 2,000 hours of pornography. For the average man in a relationship it is only slightly different. A married man, or man in a steady dating relationship will watch porn 1.7 days a week for roughly 20 minutes. The change is only minimal after relationships start. But perhaps more alarming is the fact that 90% of men watch pornography and at the rate at which it is consumed it must be deeply affecting how men relate to women in general, and even to spouses. William Struthers talks about how this prolonged exposure to porn affects relationships. He writes:

Because of these cognitive structures and the ability to store sexual images that are associated with sexual arousal and gratification, the minds of many men become hidden, personalized adult film studios. Any women they have seen and anyone else they can imagine are their performers. As porn and fantasy take control of the mind, it becomes a dream theater that is transposed over the waking world. Every woman they come into contact with is objectified, undressed and evaluated as a willing (or unwilling) mental sexual partner. She is rated on her imagined sexual proficiency and then either stored for later use or discarded as worthless. This mental consumption of a person is a violation of the image of God in each of us.

The frequent use of porn shapes the way a man views and relates to all women, not just those on his computer screen.

It affects the marital relationship too. Increasingly, women are admitting that their husbands are asking them to do things in the bedroom that they do not feel comfortable doing. Things that they have seen in pornography. Men admit it too! They admit that they want their wives to look like and act like porn stars for their own enjoyment. Some men even find their marital sexual life boring after prolonged use of pornography. In other words porn has now come to dominate not simply the single man’s sexual fantasies, by the married man’s sexual realities.

In 2011 The Journal of Sexual Medicine revealed that there was a dramatic increase in the practice of anal sex among men and women. The stats were big news. Slate Magazine summarized the findings as follows:

In 1992, 16 percent of women aged 18-24 said they’d tried anal sex. Now 20 percent of women aged 18-19 say they’ve done it, and by ages 20-24, the number is 40 percent. In 1992, the highest percentage of women in any age group who admitted to anal sex was 33. In 2002, it was 35. Now it’s 46.

Why the sudden increase in interest? The last time a survey of this magnitude was conducted the Internet was still in its infancy. The rise in interest is surely related to the rise in Internet pornography. Whatever your personal thoughts are on anal sex we can at least say its prevalence today is likely corresponding to the use of pornography.

Porn also dominates the way we talk about sexuality. The flood of plastic surgerys, skimpy clothing designs, and female-empowerment pole dancing routines are a result of the so-called pornification of our culture. Sexuality has been combined with spirituality to become a new religion all its own, and the industry that has fueled this metamorphosis in contemporary culture is the porn industry. A 57 billion dollar industry!

The porn problem is a major problem. It’s one that requires an answer greater than web-site blockers on our computers, and lectures. We must begin by exposing the lie of pornography and giving our culture a more full picture of Biblical sexuality. As Paige Patterson once wrote:

Voices raised against this Epicurean madness are dismissed by postmodern society as “prudish” or “puritan” or “legalistic.” Indeed, Christians have sometimes failed to address sexual issues in a thoughtful and helpful fashion, giving instead the impression that Christian living is an endless series of prohibitions aimed at preventing any enjoyment in life.

To adequately address the porn problem we must acknowledge the Pornopoly and seek to respond in a more full Biblical picture of sex and sexuality. That is, of course, what I am attempting here in my own meager fashion. But we need more church and theological work on this front. Now is the time to act!

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