Pornography is looking at images as erotic stimulants. It is the attempt to arouse a sex instinct where it was previously dulled, or excite it where it was strong already. It must always be evil because, for a human, it degrades his kind and is unworthy of human dignity. Flannery O’Connor said of pornography, “It leaves out the connection of sex with its hard purpose, and so far disconnects it from meaning in life as to simply make it an experience for its own sake.” It takes the humanity out of people by turning them into objects for gratification. When people become one thing among another, it is the disavowal of the human subject, the separation of body from spirit, the un-mingling of the integrative essentials of personhood. There’s nothing more dehumanizing than disinterested pleasure in perceiving an object’s form as if all that exists is the formal properties of matter.
God saw fit to make human beings with a sex drive. He also saw fit to make marriage between one man and one woman for one lifetime, the proper outlet for that sex drive. There are teleological reasons for this that have to do with God’s purpose in making the earth, namely, to fill it with his image bearers. There are also spiritual reasons for this that have to do with the image bearers themselves. Sex is tied to the responsibility of marriage and family. It requires entering a world of real encounters with real people, wherein comes love, attachment, and duty. Pornography is an act of sexual legerdemain where the person gets some of the pleasure of sexual excitement without the attendant accountability.
Pornography is a proclivity that partakes of perversion and peril. Its perversity encourages man to believe that his desire is superior to the law he otherwise says is good. It is perilous because it makes every other battle against lust more difficult by begetting blindness of spirit that adulterates volition. In the fight against lust, the most destructive public policy action in our nation’s history was the 1997 Supreme Court ruling Reno v. ACLU. The landmark decision to permit online pornography has given teenagers, women, and old men the most ubiquitous access to pornography in the history of the world. Pornography is now a regular part of regular people’s lives.
Christians who struggle with voyeurism wished they didn’t for the singularly sane reason that it makes their souls small. For those penitents who are daily struggling with the give and take of Romans 7:15-20, pornography is a sin of solitude and accidental temptations. Pornography is neither love nor art, neither permanent nor pure, neither sustaining nor nourishing. It is the impulse to destroy the person from the inside out. Just as murder is more than an action, so too does lust begin in the heart (Mt. 5:27f). Paul says that the “lusts of their hearts” lead to the “dishonoring of their bodies” (Rom. 1:24-27).
Lust begins in the heart, but it doesn’t end there. The outward peep reflects the state of the heart. Thus, Job was watchful over his eyes, “I have made a covenant with my eyes; how then could I gaze at a virgin” (Job 31:1)? Lust moves from the heart to the eyes, and finally into action (James 1:13-15), such that “eyes full of adultery” are “insatiable for sin” (2 Pt. 2:14). This is why mortification (Rom. 8:13) must take place on all three levels: action, eyes, and heart (1 Jn. 2:16). Otherwise, pornography makes for a morally threadbare soul.
Consider three facts about pornography.
First, pornography makes a sexually unfulfilled life
Pornography is an exercise in the law of diminishing returns because it leads to a sexually unfulfilled life.
First, it hampers people from developing a mature emotional connection with their spouse. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 6:18 that the sexually immoral person sins against their own body. Sexual sin is a unique sin. It is damaging and has consequences. The more sexual partners someone has before marriage the more difficult it is to have a lasting and happy marriage. Why is this? The more partners you have before marriage, the more difficult it is to bond sexually when you are married. During sexual intercourse, the body releases the hormone oxytocin. This creates a sense of bonding and the desire to attach to the other person. So, not only is sex physical and emotional, it is chemical. There is no casual sex. Fornication creates real bonds that disrupt marital intimacy. God has given sex an objective meaning of a defined covenantal bond. It is damaging to use sex in a way outside that covenant meaning. Likewise, pornography makes sexual intimacy with your spouse difficult for many reasons, one of which is that pornography reduces virility.
Second, it creates unattainable expectations which guarantee dissatisfaction. Not only does pornography pressure women to be someone and do something that doesn’t match reality, but it also feeds men’s selfish sexual demands by reinforcing the lie that women are a commodity. It was a nasty-minded man’s idea to brand pornography as women’s empowerment. No woman anywhere at any time has been empowered by pornography. Empowerment is a weak and wobbly word used to curry favor with those who instinctively recoil at the real meaning of pornography. It only makes sure that there shall never be any empowered women, only men empowered to look at women as objects. It’s a mechanism to give men exactly what Satan thinks they should have. Sordid men love looking at women’s empowerment. Empowerment, therefore, is an unmeaning word that makes the structural exploitation of women sound innocuous.
Third, it damages the brain. Paul Loverde summarizes the problem, “Chronic viewing of pornographic material impacts one’s brain chemistry in a manner that can ‘hook’ a person and lead to a quest for increasingly lurid forms of pornography. Over time, more and more is needed to produce the same effect. The brains of habitual users of pornography are strikingly similar to those of alcoholics, and the part of the brain involved in moral and ethical decision-making is weakened by viewing pornography. Once brain chemistry is remapped, it becomes very difficult for one to ‘reset’ to a sense of normality in the future. Any man can tell you that these images are often very hard to forget.”
Second, pornography is not inevitable
The demonic character of pornography corrupts the righteous character of the one who gives in. Porn appeals, as evil always does, to the inevitable. Temptation is presented as if it were a matter of fate. It is the essence of sin to darken the prospects of faithfulness. The Tempter whispers, “You’ve buckled before. What makes you think this time will be any different?”
Before collapsing under pressure, consider this. If someone put a gun to the head of a loved one and said, “If you look at pornography this week I’ll pull the trigger,” you would not look at pornography. The love of Christ would control you (2 Cor. 5:14). You would take care to avoid the shadows of isolation. You’d tame curiosity by removing even the slightest suggestions. You’d put a filter on your phone and ask a pastor to help you with website accountability. You’d admit that “your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Pt. 5:8). Rather than walking into Satan’s arms, you’d seek to destroy him first.
Faithful Christians who stand adamantly opposed to the politics of the left willingly invite the morality of the left into their home, into their pocket, and onto their screens. But Christians don’t have to surrender themselves to the dark and evil machinery of destiny. Christian faith is accepting that the power of the Holy Spirit is more than theoretical. The Spirit directs your heart to love (2 Thess. 3:5; 1 Tim. 1:5). He gives eyes to see that the promises of porn are external and irrational. They are the fantasies of evil spirits, a diabolical joke the Spirit crushes under his feet (Rom. 16:20). The strength of destiny belongs to God, not Satan. Moral courage belongs to the sons of God, not slaves.
Third, pornography is overcome by love
Porn-addicted souls grow weary. Righteous intentions break under the undisciplined squads of desire. The pattern of addiction sets in such that permanent victory over the perplexity of deteriorating existence seems out of reach. Failure. Shame. Confession. Grace. Repeat.
First Thessalonians 4:5 says the passion of lust is combatted by knowing God. Love is the only catalyst for change and to know God is to know love (1 Cor. 8:3; 1 Jn. 4:7-12). God is the cause and telos of change. God’s love elevates weary sinners from the carnal to the transcendent. It’s in the nature of love to extend horizontally and vertically. No one is saved alone. Only love can draw a person out of themselves to Himself. God’s love is the agent of transformation (Rom. 8:37). So, the first step in overcoming temptation is to become a lover. This begins with an apprenticeship in love, namely, cultivating love for the dead, love for family, and love for tradition. The more love one has the fewer avenues of temptation are open for business.
It’s time for a shifted meaning, a new beginning grounded only in love. The problem is that God’s love is incomprehensible. It requires divine strength to envisage it (Eph. 3:14-19). That’s because His love exists in both time and eternity. Christ’s incarnation brings eternal love into time and space to disrupt the decaying cycles of sin. This love is the meaning of the universe. Only eternal love can prevent the influence of lustful suggestion upon the soul.
Sex is about either love or lust, and pornography is only the latter. Adultery in the heart is always hate and never love. Romans 5:20 says “where sin abounded, grace abounded much more.” Do porn-addicted Christians live a lifestyle where sin abounds? Yes. But that means they must be living in a time when grace abounds much more. Because of the gospel, abounding grace conquers and overcomes evil, ruining the ruts of sin.
Christians are in revolt against the pornography industry and the pornography industry is in revolt against Christians. Christians have a quarrel with the slavery of pornography and pornographists have a quarrel with the freedom of Christians. To be free is to be a slave to Christ (Rom. 6:16-19). This requires appreciating the primary things. When love is not central, people lose all sense of proportion about the world. Slavery to sin is when someone prefers listless pleasure over a miracle. The Spirit is needed to shine a light on the dark and rejuvenate the oldest of truths. Rather than hugging the chains of slavery, God’s children drink deeply from the fountains of life. This is how they are made ready for the new world.
If you’d like information about TRC’s pornography help group contact David Francis at firstname.lastname@example.org.
 Nancy Pearcey, Love the Body: Answering Hard Questions about Love and Sexuality (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2018), 127.