Long-term indulgence in pornography has a deadening effect on the soul. We know generally that sin numbs us to spiritual realities. 1 Thessalonians 5:19 warns us not to “quench the Holy Spirit,” meaning it is possible for us to mute our experience of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Likewise, Hebrews 3 warns us not to harden our hearts when we hear the Spirit speaking (v. 12-15). A repeated refusal to heed the conviction of the Spirit, to continue to indulge in our sin, has massive implications for our faith. Continued indulgence in pornography can diminish our spiritual appetite.
God’s Word is specific about the sinfulness of lust. It is not to be “named among” believers (Eph. 5:3); it is not fitting of followers of Jesus. It is adultery in the heart (Matt. 5:28). It is contrasted with the work of the Spirit and called “works of the flesh” (Gal. 5:19). We are urged to put sexual immorality to death in our lives (Col. 3:5). Sexual sin is a particularly pointed type of sin which God condemns. In fact the Bible notes that sexual sin has a unique impact on our own person. So, 1 Corinthians 6 notes that while “every other sin a person commits is outside the body…the sexually immoral person sins against his own body” (v. 18). Similarly, Proverbs 6:32 tells us that a man who commit adultery “destroys himself.” This is particularly true at the spiritual level, where long-term indulgence in pornography can deaden our experience of God.
Two sociologists have done some rather fascinating research on this very front. Samuel Perry and Samuel Hayward were interested in the impact of pornography on religious faith. Many professionals have researched and demonstrated the impact of pornography on an individual’s psychology, and on gender dynamics, but there was no research on how pornography impacted an individual’s relationship to religion. Perry and Hayward decided to explore this concept. Their important 2017 research gives some empirical evidence that long-term use of pornography can alter the religious values of consumers. Pornography actually has a “secularizing effect” on young Americans, they found. In particular, they note:
Fixed-effects regression models show that more frequent pornography viewing diminishes religious service attendance, importance of religious faith, prayer frequency, and perceived closeness to God, while increasing religious doubts. (“Seeing Is (Not) Believing: How Viewing Pornography Shapes the Religious Lives of Young Americans.”)
Their research supplements what Scripture already teaches us about the nature of sin. It also substantiates what experience reveals.
As a counselor I have seen many men and women whose once vibrant faith becomes diminished over time because pornography squelches their experience of the Holy Spirit. They no longer have an appetite for the Word of God. They grow cold towards corporate worship and prayer. They may even avoid general spiritual conversations all together. Pornography alters the way we think and the things we value. It changes us at such a deep level that it can actually lead to a loss of religious sensitivity. This is because at its deepest roots pornography is a different type of worship.
Carl Trueman notes the contrast between porn and Christian values in his most recent book. Speaking from a philosophical perspective he writes:
The philosophical claim I am making here is that the normalization of pornography in mainstream culture is deeply connected to the mainstream culture’s rejection of any kind of sacred order. Pornography carries with it a philosophy of sex and of what means to be human that is inimical to traditional religious perspectives, in the West’s case primarily Christianity. It is therefore both symptomatic and constitutive of the decreased, desacralized world that emerges in modern times…The triumph of pornography is both evidence of the death of God and one means by which he is killed. (The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self, 297)
Trueman’s point is that the culture’s rejection of a sacred order is at the root of pornography’s triumph (The “death of God” language is intended to describe culture’s rejection of God, not a literal death). The indulgence, then, in sexual sin will increasingly lead us further from Christian values. It will lead us further until we simply align ourselves with different values all together. It fundamentally alters our worship.
What does this mean for those who indulge in pornography? Does it meant they are lost? Does it meant that they can never be rescued? Does it mean there is no hope? No. It means that they need to revisit both the gospel and the Scriptures as a whole. Change will require more than just putting up barriers to porn (though it will not require less than this). It means that they will need to have their values and desires realigned with God’s. They will need to restructure more than just their internet habits, they will need to restructure their whole thinking about what matters, what satisfies, and what is beautiful.
Pornography will destroy our spiritual appetites. Psalm 135 teaches us that we become like what we worship. Those who make idols become like them, the text tells us (v. 18). If we align our values with those of pornography then we will deaden our desire for the things of the Lord. But, God can change our appetites if we look to Him and seek Him.