Why pornography is so harmful for children

And what we can do to protect them

January 2, 2020

What I’m about to tell you is disturbing and painful. However, my goal isn’t to upset you, or really even to shock you. Rather, I want to use my experience to equip you so that you can better protect the children in your life.

When I was about 10 years old, my dad began saving pornography to my computer desktop. We were a homeschooling family, and I often used that computer to write book reports, or publish my own little magazine which I distributed to church friends. Sometimes I’d catch my dad watching me sit down at the desk, and I’d wonder what I’d see when I logged in. The milder images were of teenage girls dressed as children; the worst involved rape and other horrifying images. I was terrified. I began to have recurring nightmares.

This went on for several years. Sometimes, I was certain my dad was behind it. Other times, I felt ashamed for thinking he’d do such a thing. Eventually, I grew desperate. I contacted our local FOX News station and asked them to investigate how porn was being planted on my desktop. A concerned reporter showed up at our house and interviewed 16-year-old me for the evening news. He warned our community about predators online. Sadly, no one noticed the predator in my home.

A few statistics

Pornography can be insidious and is always destructive. It is an ever-growing monster of an industry. Here are just a few startling statistics: 

A few consequences of viewing pornography

The consequences of viewing pornography, even unintentionally, were multi-layered for me. Below I will break it down, so you can understand why and how porn is dangerous to children, and why and how abusers use it to exploit children. It is my hope that knowing this information will make you a better protector, a wiser leader, and better at spotting red flags and understanding danger.

Porn made me feel ashamed.

At first, I was fascinated by some of the tamer images. Like all young girls, I wanted to be attractive, and I thought these photos depicted some kind of ideal. My parents hadn’t yet told me about sex, so it was a topic I was very curious about. I researched human biology and reproduction using my trusty set of World Book Encyclopedias. No one else was educating me. I needed to educate myself, I figured.

In addition to being strange and intriguing, porn was also embarrassing and shameful. For a long time, I didn’t tell anyone. I didn’t want anyone to think I’d downloaded the photos myself. In fact, when I did eventually tell my mom, that’s exactly what my dad claimed I’d done. In this way, my abuser taught me how to keep dangerous secrets. He trained me not to report abuse by giving me smaller abusive secrets to practice with. I became used to staying quiet.

Porn made abuse seem normal.

The more graphic and violent the pornography became, the less shocked I felt by abuse. Soon, my concept of what was normal became skewed and blurry. My standards for how I should be treated plummeted. I became acclimated to the idea that I was prey, and men were predators; that women are objects, and men are collectors. Sex and love became dangerously disjointed in my mind. I understood sex as a mere biological urge, and love was something only God felt for me. I began viewing myself the way I knew men viewed those girls in the photos—a commodity valued only for sexual pleasure. 

Porn altered how I viewed men.

Somehow, despite the way my dad treated me, I knew in the back of my mind that not all men were dangerous. Not all men were evil. Not all men looked at porn. However, I believed that if I wanted a man to love me—even in a pastoral or paternal way—I needed to be sexually attractive to him. I’d noticed that my dad was nicer to me when I wore makeup, and crueler when I was sick or frumpy. I began taking responsibility for how my dad behaved. My guilt for his lust became a crushing load.

I began to wonder if, somehow, I was causing my dad to be perverse. I feared that if I went to my pastor or a friend’s dad for help, something about me would corrupt him, and he’d turn dangerous like my dad. I didn’t want to be responsible for another child’s dad becoming evil, so I stayed away from them. Other kids deserved safe fathers, and I didn’t want to mess them up.

Porn can stay in your head forever.

While you may be able to throw porn away and stop buying it, it’s very hard to get those images out of your head. They’re burned in your memory like a brand. For many, those images pop up during moments of intimacy, inserting anxiety or guilt into what should be a healthy marital relationship. Whether porn was looked at intentionally for the purpose of lust, or coercively as a form of abuse, memories linger or may spring to mind at random. Even now, nearly 20 years later, I can still see their faces, crying. Sometimes I’ll be washing dishes or playing with my kids, and an image pops randomly into my head. It’s like being haunted by other people’s evil.

Porn damages your relationship skills.

I’m extraordinarily blessed that the porn I saw didn’t damage my relationship with my husband. My fear of men faded because he was so kind and patient. I was honest with him about it. But until I told him what I’d seen, I felt waves of insecurity and embarrassment around him. I feared not living up to some imaginary standard. I feared being abandoned when our marriage grew routine or I grew old and worn out. I had survived over two decades of domestic violence and child abuse. As a 23-year-old newlywed, I was diagnosed with PTSD, and we worked through my trauma together.

Some men I’ve talked to shared that porn inhibits their ability to relate with women; to communicate, to socialize, to read emotions, and to love them well. What often began as curiosity, ultimately distorts the perception of their sexual identity and of others. For women, porn often inhibits their sex lives with their husbands. Their concept of sexuality has become entangled with evils like malice, selfishness, perversion, and violence. It’s hard to relax, to trust, and to rest in the knowledge that their husbands love them. It’s hard to understand sex as an expression of love. 

A few ways to protect our children

It’s clear that pornography is incredibly harmful. We should be doing everything we can to protect our children from its dangerous influence. Here are a few ways we can educate them and seek to turn their hearts from pornography’s snare.  

Teach your kids about sex before someone else does. 

Educating your child in a timely and age-appropriate manner will reduce the likelihood that they’ll Google terms out of curiosity. Make it clear to them that if they have any questions or concerns, they can come to you, and you won’t be upset. 

Be upfront and honest about porn. 

Tell your kids that photos or videos of sex or nudity are wrong and teach them what God’s Word says about their bodies. Verses like Matthew 5:28 show us that pornography is sinful. Reassure your children that if anyone ever shows them something bad, or they see porn by accident, they should tell you about it, and they won’t get in trouble.

Be aware that many children encounter porn at the home of a friend or neighbor. 

Always be aware of who your child is with, and be careful about letting them visit people you don’t know very well. Impress upon them that if a friend’s parent or sibling ever says or does something that makes them feel uncomfortable, they should tell you.

May the Lord give us the resolve to protect our children, fight against this evil, and bring the good news of the gospel to the victims of our sexualized culture.

Monitor your kids’ online activity and texts. 

Know what websites they visit, who they’re talking to, and what their passwords are. Be aware of the images they’re taking of themselves and sharing.

Recognize that abusers sometimes use porn to groom victims. 

If you encounter a child who seems to know too much about sex or pornography, or a teenager who seems unusually knowledgeable or active, steps should be taken to ensure they are not in contact with a sexual predator. As one counselor noted, “High sexual awareness by a minor is an indicator of sexual exposure. When a child has an awareness he or she ought not have, it is likely it came from an adult in their life.” Contacting the child’s school administration, church leadership team, or Child Protective Services (CPS) are a few options for seeking the child’s safety. 

Alerting CPS or other authorities does not mean you are “pressing charges.” Instead, as the same counselor mentioned above pointed out, it’s like “getting an expert second opinion” as you respond necessarily to a red flag in order to make sure the child is cared for and protected. For more information, visit ChurchCares.com to go through the video training. Lesson 7 will explain more about the role of CPS.  

Sadly, I’ve encountered the attitude that porn is “no big deal” or “not hurting anyone,” even in Christian circles. As sinners, we often try to justify what we know to be wrong. Furthermore, the things our eyes see directly influence how we think and behave.That’s why it’s vital for the Church to communicate clearly regarding lust and pornography. When those created in the image of God are degraded, objectified, and used, and when we pervert God’s good design for our sexuality, we sin against God and create havoc in countless lives. May the Lord give us the resolve to protect our children, fight against this evil, and bring the good news of the gospel to the victims of our sexualized culture.

Jennifer Michelle Greenberg

Jennifer Michelle Greenberg lives in Texas with her husband and three daughters. She’s the author of the forthcoming book Not Forsaken: A Story of Life After Abuse (The Good Book Company), which is available for pre-order at Amazon and TheGoodBook.com. You can read more of her work and hear her music … Read More

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24