The Porn Papers: counterpoint to Burning Religion thoughts on porn

XXX iconThe attached paper was sent to me by a friend. For reasons obvious, it is under a pseudonym. It provides a counterpoint to my critique of pornography as a dual enslavement (of both the “entertained” and the “entertainer”).

I will respond with a counterpoint to the counterpoint, but for now, here is a well documented paper by David Lee. I do have significant disagreements with the conclusions, and will deal with those later. Below is a link to the pdf of this rather long paper, and below the link is the entire article posted here in the blog.

Not Safe for Watching-David Lee

NSFW: Not Safe for Watching?
By David Lee
As a former congregant of Phil Wyman’s I must confess something: I have struggled with pornography for many years. This has caused me to keep dark secrets that I regret – secrets from my spouse and secrets from friends, family and brothers and sisters in Christ. And it has caused me a great deal of shame, heartache and self-disparagement. Most recently however, I have been struggling with the intersection of sexuality and faith in a completely new and possibly even restorative way – though undoubtedly unconventional.

Recently, Phil posted an excerpt from his book, “Burning Religion” about pornography,[i] so I asked Phil if he would be interested in helping me navigate this impossible space between religion and secular society. Join me as I ask some hard questions, make some interesting observations and challenge some assumptions surrounding the church, pornography and sexuality.

Methodology

I am a Wesleyan. Because of this, I will be processing this topic through that lens. Scripture is the Word of God. It is also “God Breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking and correcting and training in righteousness”[ii] As such, its’ meaning and impact on our lives is as alive and breathing as our savior. Despite this, the Bible was written between two and four thousand years ago to a (primarily) Jewish, Middle-Eastern audience. It is therefore safe to say that a great deal is lost on and misunderstood by modern, western audiences.[iii]

How then, can we make scripture come alive and apply it to our lives? In order to do this, John Wesley applied several extremely adept methodologies to understand and interpret truth and scripture and figure out how to apply it to our lives in significantly different, more modern cultural contexts. This methodology, is now termed the Wesleyan Quadrilateral and was observed, noted and summarized by Albert C. Outler in 1964 in a forward to a collection of Wesley’s works. This method teaches that, in order to determine moral truth, we need to look at and weigh equally the areas of tradition, reason and experience. All of this should then be based on the fourth quadrant of the quadrilateral: scripture, which is the foundation and basis for our faith and all that we do.

As we shall see, the reason this is important is because the technology (photography, printed media, Xerox equipment, and the internet) to even have porn did not exist at the time scripture was written. It is therefore difficult for the Bible to say that porn is bad and sinful (at least directly). To reach the conclusion that porn is bad or sinful, we must necessarily follow this method and apply each step of the method in order to reach this conclusion. I will therefore be discussing each point of the doctrine surrounding porn and challenging each of the merits and claims about it that are so widely accepted by the church using outler/wesley’s framework as a reference point for this discussion.

The mainstream view of porn (tradition)

The Church today views porn in an overwhelmingly negative light. For example, Dr. James Dobson’s site claims that porn destroys families[iv] and that porn causes violence against women.[v] Many claim that porn objectifies women,[vi] porn is violent and encourages violence,[vii] that is sets unrealistic expectations and that it is highly addictive.[viii] Generally, the Church loves to collect[ix] cautionary tales[x] and anecdotes[xi] of the perils of pornography and imply that you too could fall down the slippery slope of porn addiction[xii] with just one “innocent” look and wind up with a broken marriage. Because, as everyone knows, more than half of all divorce cases[xiii] are caused by porn and porn causes infidelity, adultery and prostitution.[xiv]

But do these claims really stand up to scrutiny? And do they have a clear Biblical Basis? (As an aside, protests against objectification of women by many of these sexist[xv] groups[xvi] who also teach complementarianism[xvii] seems duplicitous and disingenuous).

Behind closed doors

Despite this rhetoric about porn, a significant number of Christians consume the medium with 77% of Christian men reporting that they have viewed pornography on a monthly basis according to a study by the Barna institute,[xviii] identically mirroring the rates of porn consumption by the general public.[xix] In fact, more than half of pastors admitted to viewing and struggling with porn.[xx]

My Experience with Porn (Experience)

I too am one of those pastors who has struggled with porn. For many years, I lived an ongoing cycle of resolution to abstain from porn, temptation, failure and shame. Despite my struggle to do so, I could not overcome my humanity and my God-given sex-drive. It is (at least) nice to know I am not alone.

This struggle began, like many, in high school. My exposure to porn began in the days of dial-up and in a religious climate pervaded by “purity culture” values of abstinence. As a product of the “True Love Waits” purity pledge program, I was one of those rare unicorns who (barely) managed to keep my purity pledge. In spite of this, in an article titled Critiquing the Purity Culture by blogger Libby Anne, the author states something which really troubled me:[xxi] “Have you ever heard the phrase ‘don’t awaken love’? That’s a phrase used in the purity culture, and the idea is that you shouldn’t awaken sexual feelings or desires until you are at the point of marriage.  Killing your sexual impulses and thoughts the way I did, becoming essentially asexual, is the goal of the purity culture, and in that sense my story is a purity culture success story, not a cautionary tale.”

This is troubling because there are those of us who feel incapable of flipping off this switch. I would give a great deal just to be able to lull sexual desire back to sleep; my sleeping bear awoke long ago. As if in response to this concern, Libby continues in her post, “Many of my readers said they weren’t as good at stifling their sexual desires and thoughts as I was, and as a result rather than dealing with a complete dearth of sexual impulses they dealt with a great load of guilt as they matured. This really is just the other side of the coin – you either smother your sexuality or you suffer endless guilt. Why? Because you’re taught that any sexual thought, fantasy, or action before marriage, regardless how small, is sin. …The reality is that humans become sexually mature in their mid teens, [sic] long before the average age of marriage in the United States. ‘Not wakening love’ does not take this into account. In order to ‘not awaken love’ in a teenager going through puberty and achieving sexual maturity, that teen has to smother his or her developing sexuality. I’m not saying that sexual maturity means that someone must have sex, but rather that at sexual maturity your sexuality becomes a natural part of you as an individual. You can suppress it, you can feel guilty because of it, but that doesn’t change the biological reality.”

So in a purity culture which extoled the virtue of chastity until marriage, what was a young man like myself facing this reality to do? My solution: pornography. While not compatible with the values of purity culture, it was the least of all evils. By indulging in the lesser sin I could grab ahold of the greater virtue. But this was not without its’ cost. I paid with shame and a guilty conscience.

In another post entitled The “Problem” of Lust, Libby Anne captures the situation I was facing perfectly.[xxii] In her post, she sympathizes with her brothers’ plight, stating, “They have been raised to believe that any time they think about sex they are committing the sin of fornication just as if they were actually having sex. The problem here is that my brothers are red blooded American males. How can they not think about sex? In fact, they are hard wired to think about sex! What an internal conflict they must face! My brothers likely cannot walk across the street or through a grocery store without seeing something, a neckline or a hip movement, that makes them think about sex, and when they do, they in all likelihood beat himself up for committing the sin of fornication. They must wonder why is so unable to stop himself from sinning in this way [sic]. They must wonder what is wrong with them.”

Recently, many in evangelical culture have been speaking out[xxiii] about guilt and sexual shame that has resulted from the purity movement started in the nineties in which youth were encouraged to abstain from sex and remain “pure” until marriage.[xxiv] What happens then when, despite this message, almost 90% of evangelical youth are engaging in pre-marital sex?[xxv] For those who manage to abstain until marriage, they can find that the message transmitted by purity culture is so incomplete and one-sided that it damages their sexual relationships by setting unrealistic expectations of sex (sex will better if you wait)[xxvi] and/or many feel that it left them completely unprepared for sex and lost in a sea of confusion and shame[xxvii] – to the point where some blame these issues for the demise of their marriages.[xxviii] For example, what happens when you remain “pure”, but after marriage, your wife isn’t there to tend to your every sexual whim and explore every sexual fantasy you may have? It is simply unfair to place that burden on one person. For the remaining majority who do not remain abstinent, they are steeped in shame at having become “impure” and polluted, or dirty according to purity culture.[xxix] A subpar person that will leave this individual undesirable to their partners.[xxx] Most importantly, how does pornography fit into and effect this equation?

Perhaps the most shocking example of the harm of purity cultural values is illustrated by Elizabeth Smart.[xxxi] This young woman was abducted at the age of 14, imprisoned and raped for nine months. Having also been a product of the purity movement, Mrs. Smart was unfortunate enough to be present for a boilerplate analogy used by the purity movement in which a given foodstuff is used and then offered to another individual. In her case, it was an already chewed stick of gum offered to an audience member who, of course did not want the already used stick of gum. And this stuck with this poor young girl, and upon being raped, her heartbreaking first thought was that she was now unwanted – that she was that used up piece of gum.[xxxii] That even if anyone found her, what was the point? She was now worthless and no one would want her.

After hearing some of these stories, I have been given to ponder if the way in which Evangelical culture approaches sexuality is even healthy or Biblical. Having two young daughters, it made me re-evaluate the message I want to send to them about their sexuality. Though I believe my parent’s generation meant well, I think my generation has a responsibility to do better now that we know better. This has also led me to reexamine how I view porn in my own life and has led to some very serious challenges in my marriage.

The long-term psychological effects of purity culture are just now beginning to be examined and there is currently little data regarding this, and what we do have so far is mostly anecdotal, but undeniably a problem. For example Amanda Barbee quotes Dr. Tina Schemer Sellers in her article Naked and Ashamed : Women and the Evangelical Purity Culture[xxxiii] stating “’One of the things I started noticing about ten years ago was that I was seeing more and more amounts of sexual shame, of religious sexual shame . . . horrendous amounts. The self-loathing that people were feeling and describing about themselves really paralleled the kind of self-loathing that you often see with somebody who’s experienced childhood sexual assault.’ Through her research, Sellers has found that students who experienced the purity movement culture firsthand were subject to a sexual shame that was psychologically devastating.” And the psychological effects of “impure thoughts” as it relates to pornography is virtually undiscussed.

What we do know[xxxiv] is that many Gay men and women who undergo conversion therapy face serious psychological damage.[xxxv] The message they hear is that their desires are sinful, their behavior deviant and their preferences abhorrent. While by no means as extreme as the plight of those who undergo conversion therapy, the message to men and women who consume porn is not much different. Among those gay men who undergo conversion therapy, their treatment leads to psychologically damaging levels of shame and guilt and in many cases depression[xxxvi] and suicide[xxxvii] as a direct result of their treatment.[xxxviii] If the message of conversion therapy is no different than the message about porn in purity culture, then it stands to reason that the outcomes among men who look at porn are not much different either.

Having experienced this shame myself, I have become convinced that this is not the way that God meant for it to be for any of us. Christ came to free us from the bondage of sin, not further enslave us to it.

 

The Ethics of Porn (Reason)

The first step then on our journey will be to ponder the ethics of porn and to challenge some of the common claims and tropes. For example, the first concern that many would have is that the idea that having a high sex drive is some sort of excuse for behavior is a terrible idea. They might point out that this is a foundational claim for rape culture. Instead, the onus should be on men to control themselves and their behavior.
On Rape Culture, Aggression and Violence

The first issue with this statement however that is it is prejudiced against porn. It implies that merely viewing pornography is equivalent to rape and that viewing it is harmful – a position that should be examined closely. Notwithstanding this, the point is salient and worth considering. One of the more humorous and cutting commentaries on rape and rape culture is a list of rape prevention tips. These “tips” turn the paradigm on its’ head by being directed towards men instead of women with such tongue-in-cheek advice as “Don’t put drugs in women’s drinks” and “If you pull over to help a woman whose car has broken down, remember not to rape her”. The point of these “tips” being that there is no excuse for rape or rape culture and that it is up to men to control their behavior. Many wonder why the logic would be different when it comes to porn. Why is the onus not on men to control themselves in this context also and avert their eyes and avoid porn?

The irony here is that research indicates that instead of being the cause of aggressive behaviors, pornography is correlated with lower rates of abuse and rape and therefore appears to actually be a means of managing these types of behaviors.[xxxix]

This may be difficult for women to understand, but testosterone can be an overwhelming force. One interesting source of insight in regard to this force of nature is transgendered males.[xl] Though I have been unable to locate it since, one thing that has stuck out in my mind was the story of a man who underwent gender reassignment surgery. He recounts that when he was a woman, he used to be a feminist who abhorred the objectification of women and the male tendency to “check out” or leer at women. Despite this, upon starting testosterone injections, he found himself being drawn to women and found himself unable to avoid thinking sexual thoughts about women or “checking them out” as they walked by.
And many others have reported similar experiences. After starting testosterone injections, one person asked “Does it only get worse from here?” while another responded “My sex drive felt really animalistic, so much so that masturbation/sex felt more like a biological need rather than something to do on a rainy day.” Another noted that “I went from having no sex drive ever to having the highest sex drive I could possibly imagine between 1-2 weeks on T. …I suspect I’ve burned nearly 2000 calories this week just having sex, and now I’m horny and hungry” Another person reported that taking testosterone was “like getting hit with a hammer”.[xli]

 

After taking Testosterone, yet another person said “Masturbation has been physical need + quick satisfaction for me for the most part.” One person said “I’m still trying to figure out how to manage this! …[I started]  being late for classes because I spent my whole morning getting off a billion times instead of getting ready for the day or not getting assignments finished because I got struck with sudden horniness about halfway through and had to quit. Yet another individual said “I just allot a solid 45 minutes before bed every night and sometimes an additional 20 minutes in the morning or afternoon to “deal with the problem” and another person said “It’s kind of a mechanical, physical need now…” after taking testosterone.[xlii]

And similar comments go on.[xliii] Of course, many of these people turn to porn. While it sounds so simple to just deny your sex drive and not look at porn, clearly many people who lived their entire lives as women don’t feel it is so simple as soon as they begin to walk a mile in a man’s shoes. It seems cruel then to expect Christian men to suffer in silence without any sort of outlet for their sexuality and then saddle them with extreme levels of guilt and shame when they unsurprisingly fail to live up to that expectation.
On Addiction

 While these comments made by these trans men above might seem like the comments of a sex or porn addict, the APA will not acknowledge porn as an addiction. Despite the recovery and Evangelical communities’ claims and studies that porn is highly addictive and reward mechanisms are similar to other addictions, the American Psychological Association refuses to add a category for sex addiction.[xliv] Instead they continue to emphasize substance dependence – rejecting the inclusion of sex addition in the 2013 update to their official diagnostic manual (last updated in 2000 and 1994.) The reasons for this are twofold. First, while studies show similarities to other addictions, one study concludes “Brain response [to pornography] was only related to the measure of sexual desire. In other words, hypersexuality does not appear to explain brain responses to sexual images any more than just having a high libido.”[xlv] – So while there are some similar characteristics, the similarities can be explained as normal and coincidental and researchers often remind us that many other mundane and non-addictive things share characteristics to addiction.[xlvi] Studies that suggest otherwise have serious methodological concerns and their comparisons are superficial.

The second reason that the APA refuses to define porn as addictive is that without the (methodologically sound) empirical data to support porn as harmful and addictive, this viewpoint is merely socially stigmatizing which could cause significant harm all on its’ own through guilting and shaming which can lead to depression and suicide. The APA also voices concern that that defining hypersexuality or porn use as an addiction would undermine the individuals’ responsibility for their own behavior. [xlvii]

There is, however something which can account for the perception that pornography is highly addictive and that many people are addicted to pornography. Research has shown that religious belief and moral disapproval of pornography use caused increased perception that individuals may be addicted to pornography.[xlviii] Perhaps this is because despite the moral disapproval, so many men who disapprove of pornography find themselves consuming pornography. And their guilt and shame at their consumption despite moral objections could lead them to only one conclusion – “I’m addicted to pornography”. Secular culture does not share this unwarranted stigma however, and makes no such conclusion – they are unburdened and unenslaved by the unwarranted stigma of porn made by religious culture.

 

On Trafficking and Working Conditions

 In order to strengthen negative associations with porn, some[xlix] have claimed[l] that in the porn industry, there is significant human trafficking. Despite this, there is no evidence to support this claim. Nearly 90% of pornography is produced in the United States, yet according to the United States Department of Labor[li], Columbia, Mexico, Paraguay, the Phillipines, Russia and Thailand are the only countries with underage or forced labor issues in the course of producing pornography. Comparatively, if you have had coffee, been in a brick building recently, worn a cotton shirt, worn jewelry or consumed anything with sugar in it you are more likely to have supported forced labor or child labor. Of the countries listed, only one – Russia – appears in the list of the top 10 birthplaces of porn stars (overwhelmingly led by the United States – more than half of all porn stars were born here) and only 1 out of every 100 porn stars was born in Russia.[lii] What is insidious about this claim that pornography has major issues with Human Trafficking is what can happen when false claims like this are made. This is not the first time that organizations which deal with Human Trafficking have misled and made false claims. If the film Kony 2012 has taught us anything, it is that making these false claims can gut good organizations dedicated to helping people. By making false statements, misleading people and oversimplifying the issues we detract from helping actual victims in need.[liii]

And contrary to popular belief, most porn stars are not drug-addicted abuse victims either.[liv] [lv] This is not to say that porn performers are not in need of some improvements in their industry. Porn stars have not historically had the benefit of a union like the Screen Actors Guild,[lvi] and do not receive royalties for their work. This appears to be changing however as of 2014 with the foundation of the Adult Performer Advocacy Committee[lvii] which was founded for just such a purpose. Furthermore, the porn industry is heavily regulated, making the transmission of STDs and performances by underage actresses relatively rare with only 12 cases of HIV in 16 years recorded (far lower than the national average) and rates of other curable STDs just less than double the national average.[lviii] Including AIDS, these STDs are not life threatening anymore and most STDs are completely curable with simple treatments. Comparatively, 14 people died while maintaining cell phone towers between January 1st, 2014 and December 31st 2015 and 14 people in 2013, making this profession more dangerous than being a porn star.[lix] And the Child Protection and Obscenity Enforcement Act of 1988 requires strict recordkeeping by porn producers which prevents the production of pornography using minors. All in all, this industry is well regulated and policed (notwithstanding a few areas needing improvement,) and is far safer than many other industries.

 

On Unrealistic Expectations

 Another claim is that pornography sets unrealistic expectations of women. For example, many claim that porn distorts standards of beauty. Despite this, if we were to average the features and attributes of all porn stars, a female porn star would be defy a lot of these stereotypes. Research indicates that an average porn star would be a 5”5’ brunette with B-cup sized breasts. This means that she would be average height, with average hair color and below average-sized breasts (the national average is a DD).[lx] This hypothetical porn star would also weigh below average at 117 pounds. While this might seem like one area in which we might set unrealistic beauty standards, the average porn star has a Body Mass Index of 19.5[lxi] [lxii] which is in the lower half of the healthy range recommended by doctors. If this causes women to aspire to meet this beauty standard, this hardly seems unhealthy considering America’s obesity epidemic[lxiii] and the fact this is considered a healthy weight probably explains the reason for this this as an average preference – most beauty traits are attractive because they indicate the health and therefore virility of a potential mate as well as their capacity for motherhood. All in all, what porn idealizes is much more average and mundane than most realize.

While it would be difficult to claim that pornography does not influence people’s perception and expectations of sex at all, it remains to be proven that the influence of these expectations are bad. In fact, 25% of men and women who use porn say it has helped them experiment more in bed and one fifth say it has made them more comfortable voicing their sexual desires.[lxiv] Furthermore, it is not as if sexuality as it is discussed by purity culture is particularly realistic. The stigmatization of porn despite its’ widespread usage is one example of this. Another is the implication that marriage is some magical terminus after which you will always feel sexually fulfilled and your spouse will be ready to meet your sexual desires at all times and explore every fantasy you might have.

And some people have suggested that we use the medium of porn to combat any unrealistic expectations that might exist. In a TED talk in Jersey City, Olivia Tarplin gives many examples of production studios that do just that and states, “People have been looking to porn to find out about sexuality and their bodies for a long time. We learn a lot about sex from porn – good or bad; whether we like it or not. So why don’t we think of porn as educational? Well, [one reason is that] the media has always liked to sensationalize the problems of porn. … Porn is now more accessible than ever before. It’s often easier to access porn than comprehensive sex-ed, so it’s no surprise that porn has always acted as a form of sex education. …Imagine if you could have learned about sex from …porn as well as from a really comprehensive and sex-positive education. You might have had a really different blueprint for sex than you may have gotten. We can’t fight the fact that pornography has become one of the main ways we learn about sex, so why not harness it and use it as a tool to show really healthy, varied interesting examples of human sexuality? While we are at it, let’s revamp sex education to be comprehensive, sex-positive and talk about the issues of porn that the media wants to talk about now, but isn’t putting into those education classes. That way, people not only watch porn, but will understand porn as well as porn in the larger context of their sex lives and society as a whole. So by depicting authentic, non-scripted, diverse and authentic representations of sexuality, …porn can sexually educate and revolutionize the public to have more healthy sexual relationships.” [lxv]

 

On Objectification of women and Feminism

perhaps the most common criticism of all is that porn objectifies women. This is said as if the reason that this objectification is bad is self-evident. Despite this, we objectify both men and women all the time – from our gardeners to athletes and actors to all manner of service workers like cashiers, bank tellers and fast food workers. We frequently interact with them not on the basis of who they are, but what they can do for us: Entertain us, serve us or perform for us. And most of us are OK with this arrangement. Just as porn stars utilize their bodies to profit, so do the rest of us. The difference is simply the activity we engage in in order to profit from our bodies. In short, we are applying a different ethic because of the type of service rendered and this means that we are simply stigmatizing this activity because it is sexual in nature, and nothing more.

Perhaps one of the most common and widely used definitions of objectification is offered by Martha Nussbaum. Obviously, at its’ core “objectification” simply means treating someone as an object instead of a person. But Nussbaum defines the characteristics of objectification this way:[lxvi]

  1. instrumentality: the treatment of a person as a tool for the objectifier’s purposes;
  2. denial of autonomy: the treatment of a person as lacking in autonomy and self-determination;
  3. inertness: the treatment of a person as lacking in agency, and perhaps also in activity;
  4. fungibility: the treatment of a person as interchangeable with other objects;
  5. violability: the treatment of a person as lacking in boundary-integrity;
  6. ownership: the treatment of a person as something that is owned by another (can be bought or sold);
  7. denial of subjectivity: the treatment of a person as something whose experiences and feelings (if any) need not be taken into account.

Yet, most employers violate every one of these. The average employer treats an employee as an instrument or tool for outputting their product or rendering their service for profit. The employee lacks inertness or autonomy and may not do whatever he or she desires, but only what they employer instructs him or her to do. If an employee refuses to do so, they are fungible and will be fired and replaced with another who is willing to do what they are told. Employers will often require employees to work overtime or face being let go which may violate boundaries. While an employee is on the clock, the employer owns them – they have purchased their time and the use of their body for the purposes of producing their product or rendering their service, and many employers do not care how the employee feels about all of the above because they are a dime-a-dozen with other workers ready to take their place.

And most other definitions of objectification can be framed similarly. I would suggest then, that it is not objectification itself which is bad, but objectification so severe that it dehumanizes a person and falls below a minimum standard of human decency. One measure of this is when an individual is given preferential treatment which treats one human being as less than another human being – that is, when the golden rule is not followed and an employee’s rights and feelings are not valued as equally as the employers. Another measure of this is when women do not receive rights and privileges equal to men, such as the right to vote or equal compensation for equal work or equal representation in leadership. To say that pornography is automatically dehumanizing because it depicts sex is stigmatization pure and simple and betrays that the stigmatizer views this medium as bad simply because it involves sex – it reveals the stigamatizer’s view of sex as bad and taboo; not sex-positive and it treats porn stars as if they are beneath the rest of humanity.

And feminists are not unacquainted with this issue. In fact, it is a large part of the history of the feminist movement.[lxvii] Within feminism there are two divergent factions – sex positive feminists and anti-pornography feminists.[lxviii] The sex positive feminist movement came as a response to lesbian feminism, while anti-pornography feminists largely grew out of lesbian feminism.[lxix]

Sex-positive feminism is very concerned with all of what I have detailed above: working conditions, objectification of women, rape culture and aggression towards women. They are highly engaged and invested in this topic and are constantly dialoging and responding to the anti-pornography feminist movement. In fact, Olivia Tarplin’s TED talk (quoted earlier) is titled “Feminist Porn: shifting our sexual culture.” In her talk, she states, “The objectification of women is tied into turning them into sexual objects to be looked at and played with rather than sexual subjects who participate. So feminists wanted to make porn that didn’t portray women in this way that’s really problematic, limited, and frankly, really boring.” In this TED talk, Tarplin gives numerous examples of studios[lxx] which endeavor to produce porn directed by women in which women are the subject of instead of an object. The Feminist Porn Awards give accolades for porn which achieves these goals and requires that nominated films challenge tropes, have women central to the production, conception and direction of the porn, depict real female pleasure, orgasms and agency for the performers involved and have a diversity of race, gender and orientations. Tarplin also observes that a fair number of women want to watch porn. As much as 40-50%[lxxi] [lxxii] of women admit to watching porn regularly and 1/4th of all porn traffic appears to be originated by women.[lxxiii] This is one of the growth segments in the pornography industry and pornographers seek to market more directly towards women because of this untapped potential.[lxxiv] Feminist porn is also often branded as “fair trade” porn and described as “ethically produced” – all with the goal of directly challenging the typical criticisms of pornography.

The irony here is that if we are really concerned about the working conditions of porn stars, as long as we continue to let porn be taboo, no one is going to fight to improve the rights and working conditions of porn stars or be sympathetic to their plight. By feigning concern for the well-being of those involved in the industry, purity culture furthers their agenda of bringing the porn industry down and thereby actually makes things worse for the actual working conditions of porn stars in the process.
In addition, by making women out to be innocent, naive creatures who don’t fully understand the consequences of their choice to participate in pornography, we degrade them. By making these women out to be victims, we victimize them and deny them the basic dignity of assuming that they know themselves, are confident, comfortable and proud of their choice to star in porn.

And rarely, if ever are concerns for the working or psychological conditions of male porn stars raised. This betrays that this ethic is inconsistently applied. Men are not seen as victims, but instead the victimizers. Despite this, women in straight porn make more than twice as much as men on average[lxxv] – evidence that in porn, women are the valued subject of the cinematography. Men on the other hand are seen as easily replaceable and their faces often do not even appear on camera.[lxxvi] Men in porn are merely a prop or object to bring pleasure to the subject of the film.

In fact, by most traditional measures feminists use to evaluate equality, pornography does extremely well when compared to other industries. For example, when compared to Hollywood, there are many more female producers and directors of pornography.[lxxvii] Women are more likely to be power players and leaders in the industry, win more awards and generally have brighter career prospects when compared against other industries.
And as it turns out, research seems to agree that pornography has little influence on mens’ attitudes towards women.[lxxviii] Despite claims that porn causes men to have negative views of women, the data does not seem to back this up.

On Harm in Relationships

 Another staple argument in the assault against pornography is that it ruins relationships and marriages. While this certainly can be true, it simply does not have to be. Research indicates that pornography use is not bad for relationships. In fact, it can be good for relationships.[lxxix] That same research indicates however that lying about pornography use to your partner can, in fact cause harm to a relationship.

Furthermore, many critics will attempt to link pornography as a driver of divorce as there is a correlation between the two. This however is spurious at best. In fact, divorce may instead drive porn use. Consider for a moment that during the course of a divorce, one partner may refuse intercourse in order to punish their spouse. What then is the shunned partner to do? It would not be unreasonable to think that this partner would turn to pornography in order to provide an outlet for their sexual desires. Despite similar tenuous correlations, people who watch porn are also less likely to cheat on their spouse.[lxxx]

Ultimately, however relationships are complicated and people are not statistics. While there may be no factual basis for the negative impacts of porn, this may not matter to your partner. Feelings towards something need not be driven by statistics and could be driven by shame, stigma or religious belief. That alone is enough to cause the dissolution of a relationship or marriage. As such an individual has a responsibility to be open and communicate with their partner and work through the question of whether porn use is OK for them. On the other side of the coin, a partner who may be uncomfortable with pornography also has an equal responsibility to listen to their partner and consider how porn as taboo may make their partner feel and any psychological damage may cause. Simply put, there is no easy answer as to whether porn should be a part of a relationship.

 

Porn in the Bible (Scripture)

 Having looked at the ethos of porn, this brings us to the most important part of the quadrilateral upon which all other areas should be based. As discussed earlier, porn simply didn’t exist in antiquity. While some people think that paintings in bath houses in Rome may have been a type of proto-porn, it is more likely that these served as advertisements for nearby prostitutional services or even as a type of locker number to help bath house patrons remember where they left their clothes.[lxxxi] Regardless, if these depictions were pornographic, scripture never saw fit to address them directly. Instead, theological gymnasts who seek to find prohibitions against porn typically use two means of proof-texting to construct a “Biblical” argument against porn.

The first way is using the Greek work πόρνος (pornos). This word is typically translated as either “sexual immorality” or “fornicate”. In terms of the second translation – “fornicate” – more modern translations no longer use this word because its’ usage has narrowed in modern English vernacular. Where once it meant anything which was sexually immoral, “fornicate” now tends to only mean adultery. The link typically cited here is that the English origin for the word “pornography” is πόρνος (pornos).[lxxxii] This is a tenuous association however. Often word roots can have meanings very different from their origins. While roots can help you get a sense of the word, it would be quite a leap to equate modern meanings with their original meanings on this basis, and doing so is considered poor scholarship. For example, plasma (like the plasma found in your blood) comes from the Greek root πλάσμα (plasma), but in the original usage this word was typically used to refer to pottery and it meant “something molded, formed or fashioned”.[lxxxiii] This brings us back the original problem: porn didn’t exist in antiquity. Therefore, authors simply could not have intended πόρνος (pornos) to refer to pornography. It merely connotes that pornography is sexual in nature and should not represent an inherent Biblical judgement on the medium.

The second way that people typically try to construct an argument against pornography from scripture by appealing to prohibitions on lust, but these are usually out of context. The Hebrew and Greek words that we translate as “lust” or more appropriately (and more often) “desire” are תִתְאַוֶּ֜ה (avah),[lxxxiv] חָמַד (chamad),[lxxxv] עָגַב(agab)[lxxxvi]and ἐπιθυμία (epithumia).[lxxxvii] Rarely do these words refer to sexuality, however. For example, תִתְאַוֶּ֜ה (avah) most often refers to hunger and a desire for meat or food. Similarly, חָמַד (chamad) most often refers to a desire or greed for money. In the Old Testament at least, there is not a single instance that either of these words for desire are used to refer to sexuality in a prohibitive manner where they not also connected to divorce. It seems then, from the perspective of the Old Testament, the prohibition on lust is not a blanket prohibition, but a prohibition on lust which leads to divorce. While porn certainly can lead to divorce, it doesn’t have to and whether or not it does is a decision between every couple.

The New Testament seems to have the opposite problem: Where the Old Testament is extremely specific and narrow about prohibitions on desire, the New Testament is extremely vague and broad about its’ prohibitions. Furthermore, interpretations of lustful prohibitions are typically out of context.

For example, In Galatians 6:16-17, it states “But I say, live by the Spirit and you will not carry out the desires of the flesh.  For the flesh has desires that are opposed to the Spirit, and the Spirit has desires that are opposed to the flesh, for these are in opposition to each other, so that you cannot do what you want.” While it might seem straightforward that “desires of the flesh” means carnal or sexual desires, this interpretation would be out of context, and at a minimum too narrow of an understanding of “desires of the flesh”. The author of Galatians continues in verses 18-21 and provides a list of examples of desires of the flesh: “But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity, depravity, idolatry, sorcery, hostilities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish rivalries, dissensions, factions, envying, murder, drunkenness, carousing, and similar things. I am warning you, as I had warned you before: Those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God!”

In 1 Corinthians 7:2, the author of Corinthians gives this guidance regarding marriage: “But because of immoralities, each man should have relations with his own wife and each woman with her own husband.” He continues in verse 6-9 “I say this as a concession, not as a command.  I wish that everyone was as I am. But each has his own gift from God, one this way, another that.  To the unmarried and widows I say that it is best for them to remain as I am.  But if they do not have self-control, let them get married. For it is better to marry than to burn with sexual desire.” Most often, it is taught that the author of Corinthians gives us this instruction because singleness allows us to focus on ministry like Paul does when sexual desire does not detract from that ministry. Marriage in the Pauline view is given as a concession to overcome one’s sex drive, but it is undoubtedly not completely effective and sometime adultery still occurs. What if we have been too quick to dismiss porn in applying it in this way – not as an instruction or as an endorsement, but as a concession to allow individuals to remain single or to prevent adultery? Is it possible that if Paul were writing today in a modern cultural context with the benefit of modern technology that he could have recommended porn as a means to allow people to focus on ministry and prevent people from burning with sexual desire and help them maintain self-control?

In a fashion similar to the instruction in Galatians, Timothy is instructed to flee youthful passions in 2 Timothy 2:22: “But keep away from youthful passions, and pursue righteousness, faithfulness, love, and peace, in company with others who call on the Lord from a pure heart.” But again, these youthful passions do not appear to be a prohibition on finding a woman sexually attractive, and this interpretation would be out of context. The Epistle continues in verses 23-24, “But reject foolish and ignorant controversies, because you know they breed infighting.  And the Lord’s slave must not engage in heated disputes but be kind toward all, an apt teacher, patient, correcting opponents with gentleness. Perhaps God will grant them repentance and then knowledge of the truth and they will come to their senses and escape the devil’s trap where they are held captive to do his will.” So rather than being about becoming sexually aroused or noticing an attractive woman, this is instructing Timothy not to needlessly get involved in idle juvenile drama.

These two passages in Galatians and 2 Timothy help us to define what “desires of the flesh” means where it is used other places. It seems that this is referencing a theology in which our earthly temptations (any and all of them) struggle against and pull us away from the divine spirit. These usages make it clear that this is not explicitly sexual, but refers to a wide variety of desires and instead of reading these meanings into other scriptures,[lxxxviii] we need to understand them in their appropriate context and meaning.

Probably the most deployed verse on the topic of lust is Matthew 5:28 which states “But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to desire her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” This excerpt from the Sermon on the Mount is another prime example of proof-texting however, and forgets the verses immediately surrounding this statement. The preceding verse sets the stage for the discussion stating “You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’” Followed by, “But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to desire her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Jesus then goes on to make it clear that he is using hyperbole[lxxxix] to make his point[xc] by following this statement with “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away! It is better to lose one of your members than to have your whole body thrown into hell.” Much like the Old Testament, this passage is concerned with divorce, not lust. Its’ hyperbolic nature is designed to be taken with a grain of salt, while making the point that we should go above and beyond to avoid anything which causes divorce. For any individual, this might be porn depending on how their partner feels about the issue, but on the whole porn actually increases fidelity, and does not decrease it (as was discussed earlier.)

Despite these attempts to paint the Bible as prohibiting lust, readers love to overlook the fact that the Bible includes in the Canon Song of Solomon which is very clearly erotic literature. And some of the descriptions in this book are downright pornographic in nature. For example, In Song of Solomon 1:13, the lover talks about putting her beloved’s “myrrh pouch” between her breasts: “My beloved is like a fragrant pouch of myrrh spending the night between my breasts. While some try to avoid the sexual nature of this book with some very outlandish allegorical interpretations, (eg, that the breasts represent the Old and New Teastaments),[xci] the fact remains that these descriptions appear to be extremely explicit sexual acts.

As another example, in Chapter 7, verses 7-8 the beloved expresses his desire to jump his lover’s bones and, it seems, is feeling extremely handsey: “Your stature is like that of the palm, and your breasts like clusters of fruit. I said, “I will climb the palm tree; I will take hold of its fruit.

Similarly, in Song of Solomon 2:6, the author states, “His left hand caresses my head, and his right hand stimulates me.” I think we all know which part of the lover’s body is being “stimulated”.[xcii] And in 4:16, the lover beseeches her beloved to eat the fruits of her lady-garden, stating, “Awake, O north wind; come, O south wind! Blow on my garden so that its fragrant spices may send out their sweet smell. May my beloved come into his garden and eat its delightful fruit!” In fact, the word “breasts” appears an average of once per chapter in Song of Solomon. And these are just the euphemisms that translate well (Across, time, culture and language).[xciii]

 

While many might balk at this book being characterized as erotic literature, this is not because the writing is significantly different than similar writings, but because these individuals do not have a healthy relationship with sexual topics. Their view of the sexual and the erotic is that it is something which is inherently dirty, taboo and stigmatic. Therefore, they believe that this cannot possibly be erotic, for that would be ungodly. But in fact, it is the stigmatization and shame which is ungodly, not the expression and indulgence is the erotic and sexual, as these Bible passages make clear. Furthermore, erotic literature is considered pornography by many researchers[xciv] [xcv] and the function of erotic literature is no different from pornography: to sexually arouse and stimulate and to enhance a sexual encounter (which may be a solo or partnered endeavor). Simply put, this writing is as close as one could come in antiquity to a devotional bought at the Christian book store which includes a series of sex tapes between a husband and wife in modern times. Song of Solomon is basically porn. While many would seek to limit this perception by saying that it was letters between a man and a wife, Rule 34 (“if it exists there is porn of it on the internet”)[xcvi] indicates that we can find porn which is only between a man and his wife if we want to abide by these narrow requirements (though why we are often OK with this in mainstream movies, but not porn is beyond me).
Conclusion

At the end of the day, Porn is probably neither bad, nor good. But instead it is something which can be used for an individual’s benefit or to a person’s detriment; for good or for evil. My personal experience is that the stigma and guilt I have experienced is not what God intended for mankind. If sexual addictions are real, then this means God designed all men and women to be addicts by causing our bodies to produce testosterone. Either this, or God never intended sexuality to be this way in the first place and we need to stop with the shaming and taboo. We should not treat our brothers and sisters in Christ who look at porn like Libby Anne’s brothers were treated and “gaslight” them into wondering what is wrong with them if they even notice a the opposite sex. Jesus came to free us from sin, not provide additional rules with which to indict us. Do we really think God intended us to choose between smothering our sexuality or guilt at failing to do so when we inevitably respond to the way God created us?
It is difficult for tradition to speak to porn because it has on only existed for the past 17 or so decades, which in the history of the church is not a very long time at all. While the modern take is that it is harmful, this may not be based in actual scientific fact, but instead in stigma and a moral/religious ax to grind and nothing more. Scripture may, in fact, include pornography. To boot, scriptural “prohibitions” of lust are taken out of context.

In fact, most of the research condemning porn out there now is tenuous. For example, there is a narrative that porn is causing an epidemic of erectile dysfunction among young men.[xcvii] Despite this widespread narrative, no one is able to even tell us the prevalence of this issue or condition. While there has been one study correlating porn usage with erectile dysfunction,[xcviii] there has also been one refuting it. Yet, the hypothesized mechanism of pornography overstimulation for the cause of this unmeasured E.D. “problem” is accepted as fact in the media without any research to support it.[xcix] In fact, one team of researchers found that less than 0.69 % of over 40,000 porn related studies submitted to them were even up to proper academic standards, indicating just how prevalent junk science, confirmation bias and stigma are when it comes to the issue of pornography.
This begs the question, “is there room for sex-positive Christianity? A Christianity which cares not about what we are doing in our bedrooms, but instead what we are doing for others?” Until we can be free from sexual stigma, I doubt we can truly be free from the bondage of sin. If you need any further proof of the culture of taboo, guilt and shame, look no further than fact that I am writing under a pen name.[c] I suspect that by even beginning a conversation like this I will be accused of trying to “legitimize my sin” and will be accused of being twisted and sexually depraved. If being able to begin to ask these questions or broach these topics and ask questions and make challenges openly and honestly without judgement isn’t evidence of stigma and shaming, I’m not sure what else could be.

[i] The Dual Enslavement of Pornography

[ii] 2 Timothy 3:16

[iii] Honor and Shame: Core Values in of the Biblical World by Dr. Richard Rohrbaugh

[iv] Pornography’s 3 big lies by JT Waresak

[v] Pornography’s link to Sexual Violence

[vi] Pornography Lies by Gene McConnel and Keith Campbell

[vii] The Dual Enslavement of PornographBy Phil Wyman

[viii] 5 ways porn ruins relationships by Zach Douglas – RELEVANT magazine

[ix] AntiPornography.org

[x] What Porn Does to Relationships by John Buckingham – RELEVANT magazine

[xi][xi] Porn Almost Ruined my Marriage by Brandon D. Smith – RELEVANT magazine

[xii] Stages of Porn Addiction by Gene McConnel and Keith Cambell – Focus on the Family

[xiii] Erosive Influence of Porn Upon Husbands by Paul Coughlin – Focus on the Family

[xiv] Covenant Eyes – Porn Stats

[xv] A Complementarian View of Justice by Kate Wallace Nunneley

[xvi] Response to a Complementarian View of Women by Bob Edwards

[xvii] Wikipedia – Complementarianism

[xviii] 2014 Pornography Survey of Christian Men

[xix] 77 percent of Americans view porn once a month

[xx] Pastors and Porn: The Struggle is Real – CBN News

[xxi] Critiquing the Purity Culture

[xxii] The “Problem” of Lust by Libby Anne

[xxiii] “Give me Sex Jesus” a documentary by Matt Barber

[xxiv] 4 Ways Christians Damage Sex by Jonathan Acuff – RELEVANT magazine

[xxv] The Secret Sexual Revolution by Tyler Charles – RELEVANT magazine

[xxvi] The Naked Truth About the Christian Purity Movement – Dr. Tina Schermer Sellers

[xxvii] No Shame Movement

[xxviii] My Virginity Mistake by Jessica Ciencin Heinriquez – Salon

[xxix] Why Some Evangelicals Are Trying to Stop Obsessing Over Pre-Marital Sex by Abigale Rine – The Atlantic

[xxx] Naked and Ashamed: Women and Evangelical Purity Culture by Amanda Barbee

[xxxi] Elizabeth Smart and the Psychology of the Christian Purity Culture by Richard Beck

[xxxii] My Story by Elizabeth Smart – TEDx University of Nevada, 2014

[xxxiii] Naked and Ashamed: Women and Evangelical Purity Culture by Amanda Barbee

[xxxiv] What does the scholarly research say about whether conversion therapy can alter sexual orientation without causing harm? – Columbia Law School

[xxxv] Psychologists reject Gay ‘Therapy’ – The New York Times

[xxxvi] The Lies and Dangers of Efforts to Change Sexual Orientation or Gender Identity – The Human Rights Campaign

[xxxvii] The Trevor Poject Applauds Research on Conversion Therapy

[xxxviii] Shaming, Reparative Therapy and Suicide by Doug Bennett

[xxxix] Rape Prevention Tips by Leigh Hofheimer

[xl] Reddit – /r/ftm

[xli] Sex Drive on T – Reddit

[xlii] Dealing with increasing sex drive – Reddit

[xliii] Sex Drive on T – Reddit

[xliv] Why Isn’t Sex Addiction in the DSM-5?

[xlv] Sexual desire, not hypersexuality, is related to neurophysiological responses elicited by sexual images by Drs. Steele, Statley, Fong and Prause

[xlvi] Research Shows Cocaine and Heroin Are Less Addictive Than Oreos

[xlvii] Why Isn’t Sex Addiction in the DSM-5?

[xlviii] Transgression as Addiction: Religiosity and Moral Disapproval as Predictors of Perceived Addiction to Pornography by Grubbs, Exline, Paragament, Hook and Carlisle.

[xlix] Get the Facts About Sex Trafficking – She’s Somebody’s Daughter

[l] The Thin Line Between Trafficking and Pornography – Christianity Today

[li] List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor

[lii] Deep Inside: A Study of 10000 Porn Stars by Jon Millward

[liii] Overspending and Decline in Funding Force Invisible Children to Announce 2015 closure by Tom Murphy

[liv] 10 Things You Think You Know About Porn, Which Are Actually Incorrect by Bella Vendetta

[lv] Pornography Actresses: An Assessment of the Damaged Goods Hypothesis by Griffeth, Mitchell, Hard Abrams and Gu

[lvi] Jenna Jameson Calls for Porn Star Union After Actor’s Positive HIV Test by Lindsay Beyerstein

[lvii] Adult Performer Advocacy Committee

[lviii] STDs in the Porn Industry

[lix] US Tower Structure Related Fatalities

[lx] The Average Bra Size In America, Plus 4 Other Breast Size Facts You May Not Have Known by Stephanie Castillo

[lxi] Deep Inside: A Study of 10000 Porn Stars by Jon Millward

[lxii] Calculate your Body Mass Index

[lxiii] The Obesity Epidemic in the United States—Gender, Age, Socioeconomic, Racial/Ethnic, and Geographic Characteristics: A Systematic Review and Meta-Regression Analysis.

[lxiv] Is Porn Harmful – Men’s Health

[lxv] Feminist Porn: Shifting our Sexual Culture by Olivia Tarplin

[lxvi] Feminist Perspectives on Objectification – Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

[lxvii] Feminist Sex Wars – Wikipedia

[lxviii] Feminist views of Pornography – Wikipedia

[lxix] Lesbian Feminism – Wikipedia

[lxx] Make Love, Not Porn by Cindy Gallop

[lxxi] It’s not just men who watch porn! Over half of women regularly watch sexy movies by Katy Winter

[lxxii] One in 3 Women Regularly Watches Porn by Catherine Scott

[lxxiii] How Many Women Watch Porn? – New York Times

[lxxiv] How Internet Pornographers Market to Women vs. Men by Mark Kastleman

[lxxv] Female Adult Film Stars Above Men on Average Earnings

[lxxvi] I’m Fascinated by Female Pornstars – Thought Catalog

[lxxvii] Women In Porn: They Direct, Win Awards, Control Their Careers; More Progressive Than Hollywood?

[lxxviii] The Sunny Side of Smut by Melinda Wenner Moyer

[lxxix] Why Couples Who Confess to Watching Porn Are Happier and Have Better Relationships by Lizette Borreli

[lxxx] Survey finds married men who watch porn are LESS likely to cheat

[lxxxi] Erotic Art in Pompeii and Herculaneum – Wikipedia

[lxxxii] Pornos – Biblehub

[lxxxiii] Plasma – Biblehub

[lxxxiv] Avah – Biblehub

[lxxxv] Chamad – Biblehub

[lxxxvi] Agab – Biblehub

[lxxxvii] Epithumia – Biblehub

[lxxxviii] Ephesians 2:3; 1 Thessalonians 4:5; Titus 3:3; James 1:15; 1 John 2:16; 1 Peter 2:11; 2 Peter 1:4

[lxxxix] Did Jesus Teach People to Literally Pluck Their Eye Out and Cut Their Hand Off – Biblical Hermeneutics Stack Exchange

[xc] What are Good Contextual Clues That a Passage is Meant to be Read as Hyperbole? – Biblical Hermeneutics Stack Exchange

[xci] Are We to Consider Texts Such as Song of Songs 2:3 to be Euphemistically Sexual? – Biblical Hermeneutics Stack Exchange

[xcii] See NET notes for the New English Translation of the Bible

[xciii] Sexual Allusions and Symbols in the Song of Songs – New Life Community Church

[xciv] The Researchers Who Analyzed All the Porn on the Internet by Maria Szalavitz

[xcv] Why Porn Can Be Good For You (And Society) by Liz Langley

[xcvi] Rule 34 – Wikipedia

[xcvii] How to Become a Sex God by Gregor Schmidinger – TEDx Donauinsel

[xcviii] Brain Structure and Functional Connectivity Associated with Pornography Consumption by Simone Kühn and Jürgen Gallinat

[xcix] Viewing Sexual Stimuli Associated with Greater Sexual Responsiveness, Not Erectile Dysfunction by Nicole Prause and James Pfaus

[c] Astute readers who have read the linked footnotes will notice that “David Lee” is the most common first and last name for male pornstars.

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