By / Aug 30

Pornography is unrealistic. It’s a statement many might view as common because it’s been said so frequently. But the raw data on pornography use in the United States reveals new ways that this is true. Each year, Pornhub, the world’s largest pornography site, puts out a report. This “Year in Review” includes details of which countries watch pornography the most (United States), which holiday sees the most drastic drop in visiting the site (New Year’s Eve), and which day is the most likely for people to log in (between 1-2 a.m. on Sunday morning). 

This past year, the data revealed that once again pornography is not meant to give us reality, but to feed us an illusion. The most searched for terms of 2021 in the U.S. included a form of Japanese pornographic anime known for its unrealistic depictions of body parts and the term “lesbian.” Think about that for a moment. Men are the most likely candidates to view pornography, and they have opted overwhelmingly for sexual acts that are impossible for them to ever actually participate in. 

What pornography reveals about people 

So, if it is not the real thing that people are after, what does this reveal? We do not desire real sex between two people, bringing with it all the vulnerability and responsibility that it entails, but a sea of sexual licentiousness, where individuals can seek their own pleasure through the use of another individual (real or imagined). If the pill gave us sex without pregnancy, then the widespread adoption of internet pornography has given us sexuality without people. 

In a culture awash in sexuality (but not true sex) as this, the novelty and strangeness of the act becomes more enticing than actual intercourse. This is similar to the conversation between two characters in Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World where one encourages his friend to go to the “Feelies” (a movie experience where viewers can “feel” the movie), with these words: “I hear the new one at the Alhambra is first-rate. There’s a love scene on a bearskin rug; they say it’s marvelous. Every hair of the bear reproduced. The most amazing tactual effects.” 

When describing a sexual scene, the most alluring part of it is that you can “feel” the bearskin rug, not that there is bare skin shown on the screen. In the same way, when sexuality is so freely available, it is the other stuff that draws our attention. No longer is it enough to see the “bland” pornography, we now must gravitate toward that which is impossible: cartoons where the laws of physics and biology don’t constrain; scenarios that could never involve us. The allure of the strange and novel is what is exciting, not the beauty of a sexual union between partners who know each other (and only each other) intimately in the bond of marriage between a man and a woman. 

Technology and the use of pornography

Technology is not entirely to blame. Pornography use existed long before smartphones and the internet. But it is impossible to dismiss the ways that technology is reshaping our minds and sense of the physical world. Ironically, this particular moment has the striking fact that sexual content is more available online, even as rates of teen sexual activity are declining. 

According to sociologist Jean Twenge, iGen (or Gen Z) is less likely to have engaged in physical sexual activity than their predecessors. However, before we celebrate, the teens and young adults are no less likely to have engaged in sexual activity, it is just mediated through digital devices: sending nude photos or engaging in illicit texting with significant others. If sex is only about the individual’s physical pleasure, then one can receive that with a smartphone and Snapchat, physical presence not required. 

This is the contradiction of our time: a culture so flooded in sexuality and committed to pleasure, yet so starved for true sex and physical intimacy. The destroying of the barriers around sexuality did not actually bring us together, but in fact drove us further apart. Whereas a healthy view of sex involves two people in the context of marriage vulnerable before one another, pornography mediated through a screen requires nothing of an individual. The focus is bent inward, only on the person and what he or she might desire.The other person ceases to be human, becoming only a tool for sexual gratification. 

In some instances, the person is only a means for my economic profit. In the early days of the COVID pandemic, when many people were laid off from their jobs and confined to their homes in lockdowns, some turned to the internet and camshows (online shows where viewers pay to watch individuals engage in sexual acts) as a means of closing the economic gap. One popular site reported over 60,000 new “producers” in the first two weeks of March. Another promised to let out-of-work McDonalds workers keep 90% of their profits (a profit margin not given to most other “performers”). 

The disastrous effects of pornography use

Whether for individual sexual fulfillment or economic exploitation, what is required is not a person but an object. A tool. An image on the screen. To use another person in this way mars their status as one who has been made in the image of God, but it also sears our own consciences. Only a deformed conscience can treat another individual as an object rather than a person. And the prolonged practice of doing so brings unimaginable relational and personal destruction because we focus only on our own gratification. And, scientifically, that repeated use has a damaging effect on our lives. 

Sociologist Samuel Perry, who has studied pornography use among conservative Christians, found that those who engage in repeated use were more likely to back away from their faith. The turn inward toward self-pleasure is not compatible with the command to self-denial (Mark 8:34). These Christians did not hold contradictory beliefs in their head—“I believe pornography use is bad” and “There is nothing wrong with my use of pornography”—but rather opted to downplay the former belief that sex outside of marriage is detrimental. This trajectory reveals one of the most troubling aspects of our culture. Not that we would only engage in illicit sexual behavior, but we can come to believe that it is good for us. 

As Christians, we must understand the reality of pornography and state clearly the dangers it poses, both to those who produce and consume it. We must condemn its predatory, exploitative, and criminal activity. And we must call the world back to a view of sexuality built on physical, committed, and mutual intimacy in the context of God-designed marriage rather than personal self-gratification. 

By / Aug 17

You walk into your 11-year-old son’s bedroom. His back is to you. Over his shoulder, you can see that on his phone he is watching a pornographic video clip that contains violence. How you react then may well have a significant impact on the rest of his life. Will you yell, ignore it, freak out? The best thing you can do as a parent is have a calm conversation with him about it, based on the facts of what pornography does to him, and to others. Are you ready for that conversation? If you are not sure you are ready for that conversation, then I have written a book with you in mind.

Why I wrote a book about pornography

Not long ago, the harmful nature of pornography struck me in the face and shocked my conscience. While researching ways to prevent sexual violence on college campuses, I was struck by how the pornography industry undermined my work without mercy. I wrote Protecting Your Children from Internet Pornography: Understanding the Science, Risks, and Ways to Protect Your Kids with the intent of shocking your conscience as well. Like all parents, I know you want what’s best for your kids. And in this day and age, it isn’t always easy to know what’s best. Even if you have strong opinions on what might be harmful to your children, protecting them can feel unrealistic or even impossible. But we must do our best to help our kids navigate a world where people seek to turn a profit by turning sex and sexual violence into a product and selling it to our kids. I’m here to help you understand the many ways that porn can hurt your kids and what you can do about it.

Porn is violent

In the past few decades, the violence that kids (and others) have been exposed to in pornography has grown from occurring in a small niche market, to being more common, to being in almost every scene1A. J. Bridges et al., “Aggression and Sexual Behavior in Best-selling Pornography Videos: A Content Analysis Update,” Violence against Women 16 (2010): 1065–85. and image.2J. Peter and P. M. Valkenburg, “Adolescents’ Use of Sexually Explicit Internet Material and Sexual Uncertainty: The Role of Involvement and Gender,” Communication Monographs 77 (2010): 357–75, https://doi.org/10.1080/03637751.2010.498791. Pornography scholar Megan Tyler notes that the early 1990s brought in a new level of violence into mainstream pornography. In the late 1990s, violence increased further. Most recently, acts so violent in pornography that they lead women to vomit are mainstream.3Meagan Tyler, “Now, That’s Pornography!,” in Everyday Pornography, ed. Karen Boyle (New York: Routledge, 2010). Scenes degrading women by showing men’s bodily fluids on their face are now commonplace on the internet.4S. Gorman, E. Monk-Turner, J. Fish, “Free Adult Internet Websites: How Prevalent Are Degrading Acts?,” Gender Issues 27, no. 3 (2010): 131–45. Though some pornographers, and those who support them, occasionally play down the violence in pornography, scholars who study pornography note that men in the industry celebrate the fact that their work is abusive.5Meagan Tyler, “Now, That’s Pornography!,” in Everyday Pornography, ed. Karen Boyle (New York: Routledge, 2010).

One of the most important things about pornography that we need to understand as parents is the way that it objectifies the people in porn, particularly the women. At some point in your life, you have probably heard the phrase “pornography objectifies women.” Essentially what this means is that pornography turns a human being into an object to be acted upon, without agency, and without humanity. Objectification in pornography isn’t just a philosophical statement; it is fact supported by strong evidence. Research has shown that the more pornography men use, the more they see women as objects, not as people.6R. C. Seabrook, L. M. Ward, and S. Giaccardi, “Less than Human? Media Use, Objectification of Women, and Men’s Acceptance of Sexual Aggression,” Psychology of Violence 9, no. 5 (2019): 536–45, http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/vio0000198. And given the content of pornography, it is no wonder that men see women in it as objects. 

A 2020 study of internet video clips found that 45% of scenes in online pornography include at least one act of physical aggression. Spanking, gagging, slapping, hair pulling, and choking are the five most common forms of physical aggression.7Niki Fritz et al., “A Descriptive Analysis of the Types, Targets, and Relative Frequency of Aggression in Mainstream Pornography,” Archives of Sexual Behavior 49 (2020): https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-020-01773-0. Furthermore, in pornography with aggression, women are the target in 97% of the scenes, and the response that they have been told to have during the aggression, while they were being filmed, is almost always either neutral or positive. Men were the perpetrators of aggression against women in 76% of scenes.8Ibid. Thus, pornography teaches viewers that women like to be hit during intimate activity, sending the message that men’s violence against women is acceptable. This is a message that we obviously don’t want being sent to, or believed by, our children.

Why do you need to know about pornography if you don’t already? For too long, people have thought of pornography use as a private issue that wasn’t anyone else’s business. In fact, pornography is harmful to those who make it and to those who use it, and in turn, harmful to sexual partners or victims who may be hurt by the mistaken point of view that women like to be objects of violence. 

Practical suggestions

If you were to find your 11-year-old son looking at pornography, my advice as a father and as someone who has studied pornography for many years is to build on the relationship you have built with your son and have a calm conversation with him about it. Discuss how it is natural for him to be drawn to these images, but these pictures are harmful to his development as a person. The following questions can be a helpful guide in such conversations with your children.

Children who are 8–12 years old 

  1. If someone showed you a picture of people who didn’t have their clothes on, what do you think you would do?
  2. Do you think it is okay to watch videos where people have no clothes on?
  3. If you are over at a friend’s house and they told you they wanted to show you something cool but that you can’t tell your parents, what would you say?

Children who are 13–17 years old 

  1. When your friends hand you their iPhones or iPads, what kinds of things do they show you?
  2. In the past, what have you done when a friend of yours handed you a smartphone and it had pictures of people who didn’t have clothes on? 
  3. How did looking at the pictures make you feel inside?
  4. Were any of the images you’ve seen in pornography violent?
  5. What do you think the makers of pornography want you to think when they show violent content in their video clips?
  6. If you based your views on what sex should be like on the pornography you have seen, what do you think the consequences of that decision would be?

The sad reality is that in our day and age many of our children will most likely be exposed to pornography at some point in time. But the good news is that we can do things today that will equip them to flee that temptation. The power of God’s Word—filled with the truth that God made us in his image and bestowed value upon us, calls us to respect and care for those around us, and has a plan and design for our sexuality—is stronger than the schemes of the enemy. We can pray and trust that the Lord will use our efforts to help our children see pornography for tje evil that it is and see God’s way as best.

***

The following is an adapted version of Chapter 1 from the book “Protecting Your Children from Internet Pornography: Understanding the Science, Risks, and Ways to Protect Your Kids” by John D. Foubert, Ph.D. (Northfield). 

  • 1
    A. J. Bridges et al., “Aggression and Sexual Behavior in Best-selling Pornography Videos: A Content Analysis Update,” Violence against Women 16 (2010): 1065–85.
  • 2
    J. Peter and P. M. Valkenburg, “Adolescents’ Use of Sexually Explicit Internet Material and Sexual Uncertainty: The Role of Involvement and Gender,” Communication Monographs 77 (2010): 357–75, https://doi.org/10.1080/03637751.2010.498791.
  • 3
    Meagan Tyler, “Now, That’s Pornography!,” in Everyday Pornography, ed. Karen Boyle (New York: Routledge, 2010).
  • 4
    S. Gorman, E. Monk-Turner, J. Fish, “Free Adult Internet Websites: How Prevalent Are Degrading Acts?,” Gender Issues 27, no. 3 (2010): 131–45.
  • 5
    Meagan Tyler, “Now, That’s Pornography!,” in Everyday Pornography, ed. Karen Boyle (New York: Routledge, 2010).
  • 6
    R. C. Seabrook, L. M. Ward, and S. Giaccardi, “Less than Human? Media Use, Objectification of Women, and Men’s Acceptance of Sexual Aggression,” Psychology of Violence 9, no. 5 (2019): 536–45, http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/vio0000198.
  • 7
    Niki Fritz et al., “A Descriptive Analysis of the Types, Targets, and Relative Frequency of Aggression in Mainstream Pornography,” Archives of Sexual Behavior 49 (2020): https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-020-01773-0.
  • 8
    Ibid.
By / Aug 12

The dehumanizing effects of pornography affect those on both sides of the screen. Not only is the viewer dehumanizing themselves by separating the goodness of sexual intercourse from its proper context within marriage as God designed, but there is also a victim who is portrayed and treated as nothing but a simple object of desire. Far too often, the victim is a child who is being abused for the pleasure of the viewer—and it’s made possible because some companies put profit ahead of the vulnerable. 

That’s the situation in a recent court case involving an abused child and two large multinational corporations. A federal judge has denied a request by the financial services corporation Visa to dismiss a lawsuit by a woman who accuses the payment processor of knowingly facilitating the distribution of child pornography. Visa is accused of continuing to provide payment processing services to MindGeek even after the company has been exposed for profiting from child pornography. MindGeek owns some of the most visited pornography websites in North America and Europe.

What happened? 

The basis of the lawsuit is a child pornography incident from 2014. According to court documents, at that time a 13-year-old girl was pressured by her then-boyfriend to make a sexully explicit video. Without the girl’s knowledge, the boyfriend then uploaded the video to the pornography website Pornhub, which is owned by MindGeek. Mindgeek took that video—which included the girl’s age in the title—and posted it other pornography websites, where it was viewed 400,000 times.

The teen girl contacted MindGeek and told the company the video was child pornography. The company waited several weeks before removing the video, and by the time they did it had been downloaded and reuploaded numerous times. One of the reuploads had 2.7 million views. During this time, and for years afterward, the girl received messages from strangers containing links to the videos. 

When the girl asked that subsequent reposted videos be removed, she was allegedly told by MindGeek that she needed “to provide photographic proof that she was the child depicted in the video before removing [the videos].” Throughout this timeperiod, MindGeek earned advertisement revenue from the reuploads and posted the reuploads to its other pornographic websites. 

The lawsuit notes that the young girl’s “life spiraled out of control” because of the​​ videos. She made several suicide attempts and ended up moving in with a friend. At her friend’s house, an older man introduced the minor to heroin. The older man then funded her heroin addiction, encouraged her to create sexually explicit videos, and encouraged her to sell the videos of child pornogrpaphy on Craigslist. 

Some of these new videos were uploaded to Pornhub and were still available on the website as recently as June 2020. MindGeek uploaded these videos to its other pornographic websites and earned ad revenue from the videos. The lawsuit claims that, “While MindGeek profited from the child porn featuring Plaintiff, Plaintiff was intermittently homeless or living in her car, addicted to heroin, depressed and suicidal, and without the support of her family.”

Along with Pornhub, MindGeek operates numerous free and paid pornographic websites. The company makes money from its free sites through advertising its paid sites and products on the free sites, by selling ad space on the free sites for the services or products of third parties, and by harvesting and selling the data of persons who use the free sites. As the lawsuit points out, “To reach their intended audience, advertisers can build campaigns around keywords like ‘13yearoldteen’ and ‘not18’; indeed, they can even target ads to people searching the term ‘child rape’ in Japanese.”

MindGeek also takes the user-uploaded content and posts them to other sites the company owns. The company is alleged to be keeping all the videos, including the ones that have been deleted. If true, this would mean that the servers owned and controlled by MindGeek would contain a large volume of child pornography that could be reuploaded or sold. 

Visa was included in the lawsuit on the basis of a claim the company was complicit in MindGeek’s actions because Visa payment cards were used to pay for advertising on MindGeek sites. Visa had been frequently criticized by anti-trafficking activists for turning a blind eye to sites that included forced pornography. It was until a New York Times expose of child pornography in 2020 titled “The Children of Pornhub” that Visa stopped taking payments for that site. Visa took temporary action by suspending MindGeek but later restored services for MindGeek’s paid premium sites and for advertising on all its sites.

Because of the court’s recent actions, Visa has placed MindGeek on suspension, which means Visa cards will not be able to be used to purchase advertising on any sites including Pornhub or other MindGeek affiliated sites. Mastercard has also said it’s directing financial institutions to suspend acceptance of its products at MindGeek’s advertising arm following the court ruling.

How we can respond 

While it took a lawsuit to bring about change, Visa and Mastercard are finally doing the right thing in severing ties with this pornographer. We should pray that we’ll see more of this in ​​future, since porn companies are hindered in their exploitative efforts when they are denied access to financial services. 

But while such moves cut into the supply side of the pornography equation, we should not forget that its the demand for such content—even among Christian men and women—that makes such abuse of children possible. 

Our hope and prayer is that what is hidden will come to light in the fullness of time, and that the dangers and abuses of the pornography industry will be revealed for all to see. And as the church, we must be ready to proclaim the forgiveness found in the light of Jesus Christ while working to welcome, defend, and care for the vulnerable among us. 

By / Feb 28

We’ve encountered a ton of parents who are reactive to a problem rather than proactive. The typical parental approach to the topic of sexuality is to avoid the subject as much as possible, drop one big “talk” sometime in their kids’ tween years, and then avoid it again for as long as possible.

One problem with this approach is that it’s too slow. Parents will be caught off guard if they wait. From an early age, kids encounter sexual content — by stumbling into illicit material online, by participating in sex education at school, through conversing with friends, and by watching suggestive or explicit content in music videos, television, and movies. The world will disciple your kids in the way of sex if and when you don’t. Do you want that? We certainly don’t for our kids.

What does a proactive approach look like?

Start from an early age

A proactive approach starts from an early age. Sexual discipleship entails teaching a biblical theology of sexuality as early as is developmentally appropriate. Your kids need to know what God thinks before the world gets to them. Disciple them often and early, so that these conversations will be natural and normal by the time they hit the tween years.

Use every opportunity afforded to you in daily life to teach your children the ways of the Lord. Consider Moses’s words in Deuteronomy 6:

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your chil- dren, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. (vv. 4–9)

Good parenting thrives in the ordinary, everyday teaching moments of conversation. Scripture emphasizes not only the content (“love the Lord your God with all your heart”) covered by these conversations but also the context (“when you lie down, and when you rise”) where these conversations happen.

Establish that no topic — even sex — is off-limits

Establish in your home that no topic, including sex, is off-limits. It’s an awkward topic but a necessary one. Conversations about sexuality are a vital part of discipling your kids — to teach them the ways of the Lord in all things. Have honest conversations with your kids so they don’t figure these things out on their own.

One family told us, “From experience we have noticed that sometimes our children feel guilty and don’t know how to tell us they are struggling. Simply asking them, point blank, ‘How are you doing with what you are looking at on your phone and computer?’ opens up a safe place for them to talk. Even if they don’t say anything at that moment, it causes them to think about where they are in regard to purity. And sometimes hours later they will come to us and share their struggle.”

Celebrate biblical sexuality

Teach your kids about the riches of God’s gift of sexuality. Juli Slattery writes, “Biblical sexual discipleship paints a complete picture of sexuality as not simply something to avoid but a great gift to be treasured, celebrated, and reclaimed.” Parents should model and uphold a biblical view of sex, not a prudish stereotype in which sex is treated as dirty and disordered.

Be careful not to spend all your time just preaching at your kids about the dangers of sexual immorality. Teach them that sex outside marriage is wrong, but don’t stop there. Author and pastor Sam Allberry observes that we can turn God into a cosmic killjoy by implying that he randomly restricts and cuts off ways for humans to be happy. Children grow up thinking that he practices a sort of divine arbitrariness in which he pronounces some things good and some things not good. Sam Allberry writes, 

Every time God gives us a prohibition, he’s protecting something good. So we need to teach the positives behind the negatives, and show that God’s Word isn’t in fact arbitrary but instead points toward what is best and most life-giving for us. Whenever God says no to something, he is saying a much bigger yes to something else. Unless we thrill people with the biblical vision for marriage and human sexuality—especially how they point beyond themselves to God’s love shown to us in Christ—we won’t be providing the full spiritual resources needed to fight deep and besetting sinful desires.

We must teach our kids about a holy and sovereign God who loves us through Christ. Sex is a part of God’s kindness to us. We shouldn’t reduce sexuality to a list of don’ts but instead hold it out as a beautiful part of what God intends for those who love him.

Editor’s Note: Selected excerpts taken from Rescue Plan: Charting a Course to Restore Prisoners of Pornography, ISBN 9781629953830, by Jonathan Holmes and Deepak Reju, pages 195-198.

Used with permission from P & R publishing Co., P O Box 817, Phillipsburg, N.J. 08865  www.prpbooks.com

By / Nov 9

How should I respond if my child sees pornography? This is an important question I am asked often as a counselor. For the purpose of this article, however, I want to ask the question in a slightly different way that I feel is more helpful, or at least more accurate, to many parents’ experiences.

“How should I respond when my child sees pornography?”

Instead of if, let’s say when. It’s a slight change but most likely the reason you are reading this article. Reframing the question this way helps you as a parent be prepared for what will likely be your reality as you raise your children in this digital age.

Whether it is an accidental glimpse of an image, a classmate sharing something on their phone, or a curious search on their own phone, laptop, or tablet, your child will likely see porn. Pornography is readily available, and sadly, statistics tell us that the average age of the first exposure to porn is just 11 years old. In most cases, this happens in the child’s own home. As a parent, your response when this happens is very important. In light of that, allow me to offer one more reframe. 

When your child sees pornography, instead of considering the situation a crisis, see it is an opportunity to shepherd your child. It may be an opportunity you wish you could avoid and never had, but, like many moments in parenting, this situation can lead you to deeper dependence on the Lord for wisdom, discernment, and grace. Though you may experience many emotions — saddened that your child has been preyed upon by such a wicked industry, scared of how this experience may affect your child, and angry that this is your new reality — I urge you to prayerfully see the chance you have to turn for good what the world means for evil. As a parent, you can use this as a teaching opportunity, a gospel opportunity, and an opportunity for change

A teaching opportunity

When you find your son or daughter has viewed or was shown pornography, you have an opportunity to teach and guide them biblically about sexuality. Teach them about the sinfulness of our hearts and minds and the need to submit desires to God’s good plan (James 1:14; Psalm 25:4-5). 

It’s an opportunity for you to teach your child about their own sexuality and God’s good design for sex. Talking to kids about anything related to sex can be uncomfortable. Often, parents feel unsure of what to say or how much to explain. Sometimes they worry about sharing too much. Other times, they wonder if their kids know more than they realize. 

The best way to talk to your kids about sex is to talk early and often. Avoid making the conversation a one-time event. Instead, let these talks be short, intentional, and as often or regular as needed. One-time, event-like talks tend to create an environment where sex is talked about once and never again. 

Help them to understand that sex is God’s design, and having an interest or curiosity about the subject doesn’t mean they are bad. It means they are human. Avoid conversations that communicate that sexual interest is bad. Instead guide them in understanding that sex has a God-designed, proper place. Teach them God’s plan for sex within marriage between a husband and a wife; these two things always go together (Hebrews 13:4), and that God sets wise and loving parameters around sex for our good and the good of others.

Instruct them in what it means to honor God with their desires and their bodies — and what it means to honor others’ bodies (1 Cor. 6:20). Teach your child what are appropriate and inappropriate pictures; this includes pictures they see of others or have taken of themselves. It is an opportunity to teach them about the incredible value people have as image-bearers and how we should never use other people — or pictures of them — in ways that do not honor them or the God who made them (Gen. 1:27; Psa. 139:4; Rom. 12:10). 

A gospel opportunity

This is also a gospel opportunity. The hope and forgiveness of Christ meets us in our sin, and you have an amazing occasion to bring this gospel to your child when you find out they have viewed pornography. The fact that porn even exists shows just how far our hearts have strayed from the Lord and reminds us of how much we all need Jesus. 

Communicate to them that pornography is a sin, and like other sins, it points directly to our need for Jesus. Viewing pornography is not an unforgiveable sin, but it reveals a need for cleansing, and we are all offered that freely in Jesus. 

Whether your child saw pornography willingly or accidentally, it is an opportunity for you to remind them of the forgiveness we have in Jesus. People who make or engage in porn can have their sins totally forgiven. And children who curiously explored pornography can also find abundant grace from God when they confess and repent. Remind them of the promise of 1 John 1:9 that says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” The kindness of God is available for all who turn to him.

An opportunity for change

Finally, when your child sees porn, it is also an opportunity for change. As Christian parents, we pray the first and most significant change is spiritual. If your child has not trusted Christ, then a new heart born of his Spirit is their first need. And, if your child is a believer, this is an opportunity for them to draw near to Jesus in places in their lives that may have been kept hidden until now. It opens the door to a new and deeper commitment to repentance and following God in their life. If your child’s relationship with the Lord has been indifferent or superficial, pray for heart change to come about as a result of the discovery or confession of pornography. The Lord uses discoveries like this to draw people out of darkness and into his marvelous, healing light (Psa. 32:3-5; 1 Pet. 2:9). 

Christian parents long for God to use situations like this to bring deep internal transformation in the heart of their child. While heart change is the most important goal, finding out your child has viewed porn is also an opportunity to make needed external change. 

Consider this as an opportunity to begin evaluating or implementing family parameters around screen use. Is your home internet service secured with protection and filtering against pornographic content? Consider installing software to help secure your network and devices (Some examples include Covenant Eyes or Circle.). 

Other needed changes may be where your child uses their Wi-Fi-enabled devices and how much time they are allowed to spend on them. Educate yourself on what are healthy limits, and start implementing them. There are websites and agencies designed to help parents navigate this. The Federal Communications Commission and other government agencies have valuable resources to help parents keep kids safe and guide them in setting reasonable limits. 

You can also pick up a copy of two small books I have written for parents on the topics of sex and screens. Raising Teens in a Hyper-Sexualized World helps parents of elementary, preteens, and teens have conversations about the messages of sex that bombard kids today. Raising Kids in a Screen-Saturated World provides helpful tips for bringing wise and managable balance to screen use.  

But finally, when you find yourself asking the questions, “What should I do when my child sees porn,” remember: it is an opportunity for you to lean more desperately on the Lord as you parent. Trust in the Lord with all your heart, even when your heart is discouraged, afraid, or confused. Don’t lean on your own understanding, but prayerfully seek him for guidance, and he will direct your path (Prov. 3:5-6). 

God can redeem even the most heartbreaking situations and use them for good. Look to him, and prayerfully depend on him as you use this situation as a teaching opportunity, a gospel opportunity, and an opportunity for change.

By / Sep 21

In last few weeks, there have been a number of developments concerning the availability of pornography on social media. OnlyFans, a social media service that caters to those in the sex industry and profits off the promotion of pornographic material, initially announced that it would bar sexually explicit videos beginning in October. This caused a massive conversation about the morality of pornography in the digital public square. Bloomberg reported that the service has attracted over 130 million users and experienced rapid growth during the COVID-19 pandemic, similar to the boom that Pornhub saw during the initial lockdowns in 2020. News of this move was received by many as a blow to the pornography industry — including to those who earn a living off on the platform selling access to their pornographic material.

OnlyFans originally stated that this decision was due to a strategic shift in focus to a broader platform for various artists and creators, as well as pressures from investors and payment processors who saw financing or facilitating pornography as a potential liability and deleterious to their own public image. However, OnlyFans cancelled their plans to ban sexually explicit content just a week later because of the massive public outcry, especially on social media. The company announced on Twitter that it “stands for inclusion and we will continue to provide a home for all creators.” 

This entire episode brought to light an ongoing debate in digital governance and public policy over the ubiquity of pornography online and how society should go about navigating questions of vice, free speech, and public morality.

Recognizing the moral component

Reflecting on the OnlyFans decision to reverse their proposed ban on sexually explicit material, Felix Salmon at Axios writes that many technology companies are beginning to act like a fourth branch of government given their immense power and control over our public discourse. He argues that many of these content policies end up going much further than the law actually requires in terms of the availability and distribution of pornography online. The argument goes that if the government doesn’t ban it, neither should these companies.

He highlights how these bans on explicit content, such as porn, are often driven by moralistic underpinnings based on the fact that pornography is legal, yet is “shunned by most of the business establishment.” He goes on to contend that these decisions — often based on the fact that payment processors and banks tend to shy away from financing pornography websites, especially due to the illegality of some material and the rise of sex trafficking — are contributing to a lack of U.S. alternatives to the current mainstream pornography sites, which are often based in other countries including the London-based OnlyFans. 

He also mentions some of the controversial moves by eBay and Tumblr. Each company implemented strict policies against pornography. These policies seem to fly in the face of the celebrated progress of the sexual revolution toward the mainstreaming of expressive individualism, LGBTQ+ rights, and the ridding of what are seen as outdated views of marriage and sexuality from our public conscience.

The inescapability of legislating morality

While there is much more to be said about these types of decisions, including the wisdom of banning pornography and objectionable content online, there is irony in how those in our secular age think about issues of governing and morality. Some will celebrate the technology industry making moral judgments in certain arenas, including the celebration of LGBTQ inclusion or the ever-expanding definition of hate speech that tends to describe historic Christian teaching on sexuality as unacceptable for public debate. Yet, these same groups will chastise the industry for making other policies on moral grounds, including decisions to limit or ban pornography on social media platforms. Concerning the latter, they argue that these technology companies — and the business industry itself — need to shed these outdated and moralistic attitudes since we shouldn’t be legislating or designing content policies on moral grounds. 

It is increasingly common in our society to think that we shouldn’t legislate morality, but this misses out on the fact that all laws and even digital governance policies are making inherently moral statements about what is to be promoted or celebrated in our society. They each put forth a version of the good life, which is a central facet of ethics and morality. While pornography is currently legal in the eyes of the state and an extremely lucrative business, companies that disallow pornography may be acknowledging, without even knowing it, how dehumanizing this industry is for all involved and how it tears down society. Either by giving into the public pressures to keep this material off their platforms or recognizing the ways in which being associated with this material will reflect on their brands, decisions to preclude this material from their platforms are ultimately serving a higher good in our society. 

In the digital age where technology companies hold such immense power over our public discourse, each of their content moderation policies are casting a vision for the good for our society, and it is incumbent on all of us to be involved in these debates. These companies have every right to ban or suppress pornography on their platforms, which, should be noted, is not an easy decision in light of the financial incentives and public pressure. But our society is better off because decisions like these protect the vulnerable and innocent among us and uphold public virtue and the centrality of the family.

The OnlyFans situation and continued debate over moralistic attitudes in our public discourse is yet another reminder of the moral incongruence of expressive individualism and how much of our modern public ethic based in the pursuit of vice is simply untenable. When you build public morality off of carnal desire rather than transcendent principles, you will be left with a system that is not only unable to stand under its own weight but also one that will not produce the type of virtue desired for society. While there may be legitimate debate within the Christian community over the wisdom of government bans, private companies choosing to exclude pornographic content from their platforms is a clear win for public morality and the common good.

Learn more about ERLC’s work in the digital public square and sign up to receive articles like this at ERLC.com/digital

By / Sep 2

We live in a pornified culture. From popular television shows to music, and even billboards along the highway, pornographic images and language are pervasive. As it becomes more normal and increasingly ubiquitous, we may wonder: is there any hope for unseating pornography from its cultural position of power and influence?

Ray Ortlund, with his signature optimism, answers with an emphatic, yes! In his new book, The Death of Porn: Men of Integrity Building a World of Nobility, Ortlund pens a letter to young men charging them to do just that — to take up the noble cause of dismantling the pornography industry by the power of the Spirit and with the grace of Jesus. The Death of Porn is unique from start to finish. I suspect it will be a spark that ignites a movement lasting for generations. Ortlund recently talked with us about this and more. Read more below.

Your latest book, The Death of Porn: Men of Integrity Building a World of Nobility, as the title suggests, tackles the topic of porn. What compelled you to write this book?

I wrote this book because so many of the magnificent young men I know are held back by this one thing: porn. I long to see this generation of men set free, men rediscovering their dignity and purpose, men perceiving women with the same God-given dignity and glorious purpose. And if enough men dare to believe in their true greatness, we will be at a turning point — the death of porn, the birth of revival.

It’s a unique book in that it’s written as a series of letters from you, “an older man” (your words), to your reader, presumably a younger man. What inspired you to take this approach?

I was inspired by a letter from way back in 1791. John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement, wrote a letter to a young politician named William Wilberforce. It was the last letter Wesley wrote before he died. He called Wilberforce and his friends to give their lives to bringing down the slave trade in the British Empire. And they did. It took a lot of courage and many years. But they succeeded. And now it’s time for the young men of this generation to fight for the freedom of everyone being exploited by the predatory porn industry.

The Death of Porn is a book that seeks to help liberate men and women from the chains of pornography, and it does that primarily by pointing to Jesus, our union with him, and the call he places on our lives. Why is remembering Jesus, and remembering who he’s made us to be, a more effective antidote against the pull of pornography as opposed to the “white-knuckling” approach that we often encounter? 

No one is helped by being pressured, cornered, or shamed. The only way we really grow is the opposite — by being dignified, included, and lifted up. I believe that with all my heart. After all, the Bible says, “By grace you have been saved” (Eph. 2:7). So let’s move all our chips over onto the square of God’s grace, and let’s find out what only he can do for us — and through us — in this desperate generation!

The tone of the book is overtly optimistic. Considering the cultural behemoth that is the pornography industry, why should Christians share this optimism? Can we really bring about the death of porn?

Short answer: Yes! If the risen Jesus has all authority in heaven and on earth, then we have no right not to be wildly optimistic. I only hope that my book is optimistic enough, given what Jesus can do.

Longer answer: Our risen King loves to inspire social justice. For example, the Second Great Awakening in the early 1800s launched schools, hospitals, libraries, orphanages, and labor unions. It awakened Christians who addressed prison reform and poverty and slum housing. They could have shrugged their shoulders and said, “Nothing ever changes in this world. Why even try?” But what cowardice that would be! What a betrayal of Christ himself! The fact is, those brave Christians did make their world a better place. 

Now, in our time, our risen Lord is calling us to be his new resistance movement in a world of injustice, saying a loud no to the porn industry — stigmatizing it, marginalizing it, diminishing it — and saying a loud yes to the worth of every man and every woman. Let’s give our lives to the liberation of this generation, not because we can foresee our chances of success, but because we can see the worthiness of the cause. And we know that Jesus loves to flip impossibilities into actualities!

You talk a lot in the book about nobility. How would you define the term nobility, and what does nobility look like in practice?

Our God-given nobility is a major theme in the Bible. For example, “But he who is noble plans noble things, and on noble things he stands” (Isa. 32:8). There is nothing second-rate in Jesus! All he is for us, all he brings to us, is noble, uplifting, worth reaching for.

Here is what the biblical word noble means: a heart that’s all-in. Not a perfect heart, but a generous heart that cares for others, including every victim of porn.

In practice, it looks like a Christian man reaching out to one other man — any man who wants his freedom back. And that Christian guy nobly shares his heart, his honesty, his vulnerability with that friend. And together those two men begin a journey into a new impact they’ve never dreamed could be theirs. It starts small, but it makes a big difference, because the risen Jesus is right there with those two men. 

To that point, one of the practices that you advocate for in the latter half of the book is the act of confession. You say, “We don’t overcome our sins by heroic willpower. We confess them to death” (89). How does the act of confession diminish the power of sin and the shame that it brings?

Dietrich Bonhoeffer nailed it: “The more isolated a person is, the more destructive will be the power of sin over him.” We never do well, when we cover up our sins, hidden in the secrecy that shame demands. 

But when we dare, by faith in Christ crucified, to confess our sins to a faithful brother, we are no longer alone. We step out of the shadows of denial and start walking in the light together (1 John 1:7). We can finally turn to God in prayer and find healing (James 5:16). Any man who lives in ongoing confession will never be alone again. It is so freeing!

As the book’s subtitle suggests, you are not just calling your reader to a life of personal purity, though that’s certainly included. You are trying to convince your reader that “we can make a world of difference.” You say, “Jesus is calling you to build a new world of nobility, to the furthest extent of your influence, for the rest of your life” (103). Can you talk about that?

Porn is a justice issue. Yes, our personal character is on the line. But even more, our social conscience is at stake. Jesus is not saving isolated individuals here and there. He is creating a new community of beauty in this world of brutality. We, in our life together, are his liberating counterculture, and his “holy city” will last forever (Rev. 21-22). He is calling every man in this generation to join with him in building his new world right here, right now.

Relatedly, in the final chapter you offer practical ideas on how to build this world of nobility. As a father of three boys, one of them really hit home for me. You tell the reader to “educate the rising generation in our history and our stories of nobility,” and then you say something striking: “if you don’t fill their imaginations with greatness, porn will fill their mind with ugliness. Our kids long for nobility. God has planted it deep within them. Teach them how to be at their best” (107)! For fathers and mothers and mentors helping raise children in our day, how important is this? Where’s a good place to start?

We grownups can and must invest in our children for their long-term future. How? For starters, let’s read to our children. Every evening after dinner, rather than watch TV or look at our phones, let’s cuddle on the sofa and read good books to our kids. Let’s read aloud the great stories of the Bible — even acting them out together! Wouldn’t that be fun? And let’s read to them The Chronicles of Narnia, the legendary tales of chivalrous knights, the heroic stories of valiant soldiers and sacrificial mothers and courageous reformers and brave explorers. Okay, there’s a time for silly books. But let’s make sure our kids fall in love with the inspiring stories! They’re going to need all the inspiration they can get, when they face the future as adults.

Undoubtedly, there may be some reading this interview who find themselves in the throes of pornography addiction, experiencing shame and wondering if they can put this addiction to death in their own life, much less the society at large. What would you say to that person? How would you encourage them to move forward?

Yes, some readers are thinking that very thing right now. I’m glad to say this: You are not alone. You are not beneath God’s grace. You are not such a spectacular sinner that you can defeat the risen Savior. But there is one hard step you must take. You must call a faithful friend right now and say, “Can we get together? I’m not doing well, and I need help.” And the two of you get together this week. And you pour your heart out. And with your faithful friend, you begin a new pattern of weekly get-togethers for honesty, prayer, and healing (James 5:16). Yes, it can be embarrassing. But your outpouring of confession and sorrow is where the Lord himself will visit you with his powerful grace. Your new beginning is just a phone call away. It’s how you can start a new life — in transparency, honesty, openness. Jesus himself awaits you. So, make the call?

Your book’s dedication page is one of the most beautiful and hopeful I have ever read. When you think about your grandchildren’s generation, knowing the culture they’ll encounter as they grow up, what are your hopes for them?

I hope, most of all, that my grandchildren will feel deep within how good God is, how glorious he created them to be, how bitterly distasteful all sin is, how life-giving Jesus is, how powerful Christian community is, and how they can advance the cause of Christ in their generation. What will matter far more than what they own is what they believe. If my grandchildren, and yours, will believe the gospel in its totality, they will not just cope; they will flourish. And the world they hand down to their children will be a better place, for the glory of God.

By / Mar 26

On Tuesday, Utah Gov. Spencer Cox signed House Bill 72, which calls for all smartphones and tablets sold in the state after 2022 to have active adult content filters. 

The legislation was broadly panned by civil libertarian groups and lauded by anti-pornography organizations. The National Center on Sexual Exploitation (NCOSE) commended the Utah legislature for passing this bill which they say will aid parents in protecting their children from unwanted exposure to pornography. 

“There are countless heartbreaking stories of the harm caused by children’s unhindered access to Internet devices—including the individual and familial trauma of pornography exposure and addiction and adult predators targeting and grooming kids online,” said Dawn Hawkins, senior vice president and executive director of the NCOSE.

What does the new law do?

The new law requires a tablet or a smartphone sold in the state and manufactured on or after Jan. 1, 2022, to, when activated in the state, automatically enable a filter capable of blocking material that is “harmful to minors.” Under the Utah State Code, harmful to minors means that quality of any description or representation, in whatsoever form, of nudity, sexual conduct, sexual excitement, or sadomasochistic abuse when it: taken as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest in sex of minors; is patently offensive to prevailing standards in the adult community as a whole with respect to what is suitable material for minors; and taken as a whole, does not have serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value for minors. 

The device must also notify the user when content is filtered and enable adults to deactivate the filter for the device or for specific content. 

Additionally, the legislation provides a process for the attorney general or a member of the public to bring a civil action against a manufacturer that manufactures a device on or after Jan. 1, 2022, if the device does not contain an enabled filter or if a minor accessed material that is harmful to minors on the device. The penalty allows for a civil penalty of up to $10 for each violation, and that a portion of any civil penalty recovered be provided to the Crime Victims Reparations Fund. 

The rule doesn’t take effect until five other states pass equivalent laws. If that requirement is not met before 2031, the law will not take effect.

Which states might follow Utah’s lead in passing similar laws?

In 2016, Utah became the first state to officially declare pornography a “public health crisis.” Since then, 15 other states have followed Utah’s lead in making a similar declaration in at least one legislative chamber. Those states are Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, Florida, Idaho, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, Montana, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Tennessee, and Virginia. If only one of three of those states pass similar legislation in the next decade, Utah’s law will go into effect. 

Isn’t the law too burdensome on tech manufacturers?

As the NCOSE points out, virtually all devices already have such filters, but they are turned to OFF when sold. “This bill simply requires the filters to be turned ON when activated in Utah,” says NCOSE. “Adults are not prohibited from accessing such material and are given a PIN to remove the filter for their own use if they choose to do so. Children will not receive PINs to deactivate the filters.”

“This ensures that the devices are effective for protecting minors while being unrestrictive on adults,” says Hawkins. “While these filters are already available on most devices now, on an Apple device, for example, it takes 20+ complicated steps to turn them on, leaving most parents helpless to protect their kids online.” 

The law also makes it clear that it would not apply to smartphone and tablet manufacturers that make a “good faith effort” to provide a “generally accepted and commercially reasonable method of filtration in accordance with this part and industry standards.”

See also:

By / Mar 24

[Note: In light of the subject matter of this post, I feel obligated to warn that the content and language is intended for a mature audience. My goal is not to offend, but only to edify, encourage, and proclaim the sometimes-all-too-frank biblical truth. Though I acknowledge the ever-growing porn addiction among women, I will be speaking as a man to other men simply because the problem of porn runs all the more rampant among men.]

The problem of porn has been crippling churches for years. I’m not here to pick up my stones and throw them. In the vein of what Jesus said to the Pharisees, I couldn’t begin to lob the first one. This article is for myself, my best friends, the pastors in my life, my mentors, and you, because what we’re seeing in the porn industry is unprecedented. I am writing in hopes the Spirit might prick the heart of a calloused generation and extend grace to the wounded and weary sinner. I am writing so that broken men might see the reasons why their habits will break others. I am writing because the problem of porn has led so many men astray from the assurance of God’s love.

Let’s begin with some statistics on porn. At the time of writing, Covenant Eyes reports that over 90% of teens and young adults are “either encouraging, accepting, or neutral” when they talk about porn with their friends. Of adults 25 and older, only 55% have a moral concern with the use of pornography. Even more dire are the numbers inside the church: Covenant Eyes also reports that one in five youth pastors and one in seven senior pastors use porn on a regular basis. Sixty-four percent of Christian men watch porn monthly, while 15% of Christian women do the same. 

There’s no sugar-coating it—these numbers are unnerving. What we are facing is no longer just a struggle with holiness; we are in the midst of a cultural crisis. We are in the middle of an age where secularism and church culture are often indistinguishable. Sin is seeping into our congregations, and it poses a future-shattering question that we need to address before it’s too late: “What does an entire generation of fathers and pastors raised on porn look like?”

The Church needs to face this new reality head on. Humankind has contended with the sins of adultery and lust ever since the Fall, but Paul never had to urge Timothy to stay off of PornHub or give up his smartphone. We’ve never had this kind of access before. And it is precisely because this is such a new problem that we cannot fail to consider what the long-term effects may be. I want to share three with you.

1. The sterilization of the faculties of love and imagination

C.S. Lewis lived 33 years before the internet, and he still foresaw the effects of the porn culture. In a 1956 letter written to Keith Masson, Lewis discusses the “harem of imaginary brides” in the mind of the man who seeks to selfishly satisfy his lust.1This letter is found in volume 3 of The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis. This harem “is always accessible, always subservient, calls for no sacrifices or adjustments, and can be endowed with erotic and psychological attractions which no real woman can rival.” Today, this harem has become digital. 

The man who habitually looks to porn for his affirmation, satisfaction, or fulfillment commits severe offenses against God and violates the imago Dei. In his pleasure-seeking, man takes his portion of love and wastes it on his own selfishness. 

According to James 4:4, taking heed to the passions that are at war within us turns us into a spiritually “adulterous people.” Pornography not only ruins a man’s ability to love well; it beckons toward the formation of an adulterous heart. Like an artist with clay, over time porn has the capability of repurposing the very form of our love.

Romans 1:28–31 talks about the man who sees his vain self-pleasure as preferable to God. Paul says that these people have a “debased mind.” We ruin the mind with our sinful pursuits. Like a drug, pornography rewires the mind, turning it into a machine seeking pleasure no matter the cost.2For more on this, see Norman Doidge’s The Brain That Changes Itself: Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science, especially pp. 102–104. See also Steven Pace, “Acquiring Tastes through Online Activity: Neuroplasticity and the Flow Experiences of Web Users,” M/C Journal, 17(1).

In order to fight porn, we must understand and believe the fundamental doctrine of the imago Dei, because regular porn consumption reorients the male posture toward a diminished view of women’s dignity. In consuming pornography, we take one of God’s creations and sinfully abuse it. Matt Chandler reminds us of this in a sermon on the image of God:

“Pornography is the degradation of the performers as not having souls, as not having any real value, and it is consuming their emptiness and despair for our own pleasure. It is deplorable and wicked. No little girl dreams of that growing up. If we had any idea of the horrific backgrounds we were dealing with, there’s no way we would watch and be aroused. We would be heartbroken. We’d be devastated at the molestation, at the rape, at the horrific abuse so many have endured. This is an imago Dei issue.”3From “A Beautiful Design (Part 2) – In His Image,” available here: https://youtu.be/2NOjzdPkefw

These girls are often slaves by vocation, underpaid and forced into their circumstances.4See Catharine A. MacKinnon, Pornography as Trafficking, 26 Michigan Journal of International Law, 993 (2005). The effects the industry has on women reaches as far as PTSD.5Corita R. Grudzen, Ryan, G., Margold, W., Torres, J., & Gelberg, L., “Pathways to health risk exposure in adult film performers.” Journal of Urban Health: Bulletin of the New York Academy of Medicine, 86:1 (2009), 67–78. It endangers them. If you want to protect women, look inward: rid yourself of your porn addiction, no matter what it may take. Confess to your spouse, your pastor, or your brother. Put safeguards in place to aid you in moments of weakness or temptation. Reinforce the walls of your heart that are about to cave in on themselves. For the honor of God’s creation, for the celebration of the justice he so ferociously seeks, and for the sake of the vulnerable, we should be fighting vigilantly against the problem of porn.

2. The capitulation to hyper-sexualism

Pornography chips away at the conscience. There are a whole host of tangential sins related to porn use—something I have referred to in private conversations and counsel as a breed of “hyper-sexualism.”

University of Texas professor Mark Regnerus analyzed the results of the Relationships in America survey in this article titled, “Tracking Christian Sexual Morality in a Same-Sex Future.” From this survey, we can track a trajectory for the Church as it decides how to handle the problem of porn, and it doesn’t look pretty. The survey compares trends in sexuality, comparing varying views on same-sex marriage (SSM). 

When it comes to pornography, there is a significant difference between Christians who oppose SSM and Christians who support SSM — a whopping 28.8% increase in support for pornography among Christians who affirm SSM. Additionally, an increase in affirmation of porn correlates with a decrease in faithful marriage. Churchgoing Christians who oppose SSM are 2.3 times more likely to stay together when married with kids than those who affirm SSM. And they are almost 11 times less likely to take part in what the survey calls “marital infidelity.” In other words, one’s approval of porn use tells a story about one’s larger moral system; this has major implications when it comes to marriage and one’s sexual behavior. 

Personally, I have often found that among people with persistent sexual sins of all kinds (porn use, marital infidelity, homosexuality, masturbatory habits, regular sex outside of the marriage covenant, etc.), the root of their sin is not merely an attraction to a certain person or the thrill of a specific pleasure; rather, it’s a commitment to hyper-sexualism—a desire for sexual pleasure that trumps other concerns or moral commitments. 

Regular porn consumption is a dangerous game, and it cultivates a dangerous heart.

3. The cheapening of grace

More than anything else, the problem of porn cheapens the grace of God. Dietrich Bonhoeffer calls cheap grace the “justification of sin without the justification of the sinner.” By the biblical definition, this “cheap grace” cannot exist. God’s grace is costly: It required the death of a perfect man—a man whose submission to the will of his Father was greater than the sorrows of his human nature; a man who didn’t deserve anything but the greatest glorification for his perfect righteousness. God’s grace is expensive, and using it to excuse the sins you commit while surfing porn websites is wicked.

When we abuse the grace of God, we not only mock the work of Jesus on the cross but hinder our communion with him as well. To abuse God’s grace is to misunderstand it. If I have a misconstrued view of grace, I can’t rightly be joined to the Church, or grasp the significance of my baptism, or appreciate the conscience-checking boundary of the communion table. 

It’s impossible for us to understand what God wants from us if we misconstrue what Christ did for us. If we are truly Christians, we can’t cheapen the grace of God. To do so is contrary to both the character of his disciples and the purpose for the grace he gave to us. Grace does more than save us from hell; grace is a means of God’s everlasting arms reaching out to embrace us, rescuing us from our captivity to sin, and reminding us to find our identity in him.

Grace exists for the porn addict. Grace exists for sinful men. And grace alone can save us. But it is absolutely costly. We should refuse to mock it. Christian men must combat the problem of porn until its spark can no longer light the kindle of our sinful hearts.

The redeeming hope of the cross

God didn’t leave us to fight this battle on our own. He sent his Son for our sake. The Creator of the universe cares about the problem of porn. Sinning against God — whether contemplating murder or lustfully clicking our way to a porn site — is an act of what R.C. Sproul calls “cosmic treason.” Even still, he gives us grace for even our most shameful, despicable sins. The redeeming hope of the cross is that we can’t sin our way out of God’s love. There is forgiveness in the man Jesus Christ—and his forgiveness sets us free.

John Owen wrote, “Be killing sin or it will be killing you,” and he couldn’t have been more right. The problem of porn will not go away on its own. We have to fight it. We have to put on the whole armor of God. We have to mortify our sin. 

This article was originally published on April 6, 2015.

  • 1
    This letter is found in volume 3 of The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis.
  • 2
    For more on this, see Norman Doidge’s The Brain That Changes Itself: Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science, especially pp. 102–104. See also Steven Pace, “Acquiring Tastes through Online Activity: Neuroplasticity and the Flow Experiences of Web Users,” M/C Journal, 17(1).
  • 3
    From “A Beautiful Design (Part 2) – In His Image,” available here: https://youtu.be/2NOjzdPkefw
  • 4
    See Catharine A. MacKinnon, Pornography as Trafficking, 26 Michigan Journal of International Law, 993 (2005).
  • 5
    Corita R. Grudzen, Ryan, G., Margold, W., Torres, J., & Gelberg, L., “Pathways to health risk exposure in adult film performers.” Journal of Urban Health: Bulletin of the New York Academy of Medicine, 86:1 (2009), 67–78.
By / Dec 28

This year, more than any in recent memory, has seemed like one steady stream of bad news. We’ve been pummeled, day after day, by a year that refuses to relent long enough to let us come up for one measly gulp of air. Along with the arrival of the COVID-19 vaccine, there was another burst of good news that hit the wires recently. 

On Dec. 4, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof helped expose how Pornhub, one of the world’s largest pornography websites, hosted countless user-generated videos of sexual assault, rape, and other criminal acts. In response to this reporting, major credit card companies including Discover, Visa, and Mastercard announced they were cutting ties with Pornhub and would no longer provide credit card processing for the site because of the illegal content. This move prompted Pornhub to remove “unverified uploads,” a move that effectively flags and eliminates upward of two-thirds of its content which amounted to the removal of over 10 million pornographic videos from the site’s library. In the fight against sexual assult, rape, abuse, and other criminal acts, this is a positive development and one that significantly cuts down on the amount of pornographic content online.

And yet, it seems there remains an endless amount of work yet to be done in the fight against pornography. For Christians, how are we to respond to this encouraging development and, moreover, how are we to engage in the broader battle against the scourge of pornography?

Awareness

There is a lot that can be done to stymie the advance of pornography and its increasing cultural ubiquity, and it all begins with awareness. And, while awareness in no way means apprising oneself of actual pornographic content, it does require educating yourself on its widespread use (even among Christians) and the detriment that pornography imposes on its actors, its users, its users’ relationships, and entire societies—morally, psychologically, and physically. 

Practically speaking, this looks like developing a relative fluency around the prevalence of pornography and its use (resources like Finally Free by Heath Lambert and this article by Justin Holcomb are good places to start) and, prayerfully, acquiring a sensitivity to it through these exposures. Though pornography is often spun as a liberty to be enjoyed by the masses, it is a menacing and ruinous captor, enslaving its users in nearly every conceivable way, down to the neurological level. So, before we jump into this monumental fight, we must first know what we’re up against and, just as important, for whom we’re fighting. 

Engagement

Becoming more aware of pornography’s scope and influence inevitably keys you in on the reality that it isn’t merely a habit or an act in which one chooses to participate. It is, rather, a sort of worldview with its own attending “metaphysical and ethical implications” that projects its own “specific vision of the world” and of other persons, as Carl Trueman argues in his new book, The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self

For this reason and others, building on the momentum that seems to have accrued in this most recent fight against illegal content on Pornhub will require doing battle not just in view of reforming the habits of our collective society—and our churches—but by piercing what Charles Taylor calls our culture’s social imaginary. In other words, it is a battle not just of will but of worldview. So, as you consider planting your feet on the field of battle against pornography, these are the three primary categories where you can engage. 

1. Broad engagement: To fight the fight against pornography in the broad sense is the least costly measure to take. In fact, it will cost you almost nothing. In a lot of ways, this broad level of engagement is somewhat synonymous with simply making yourself and others aware of the epidemic affect of pornography. More than anything, it is an effort to join your voice with the chorus of others who are decrying the normativity of this debasing worldview that prizes sexuality as its sacred indicative. 

It is here, winsomely and patiently, where the church can begin to pierce our pornified culture’s social imaginary with a new narrative. And though it may involve advocating for more stringent legislative action and supporting investigations and reporting like Kristof’s, it’s not yet likely to chafe against your relationships or against your own carnal impulses at this level. Broad engagement is needed, and yields broad impact, but the church must go further. We must intentionally narrow our scope of engagement.

2. Focused engagement: The level of narrow engagement introduces us to some of the real consequences of our own involvement in this fight. Here, in our immediate spheres of influence, we have conversations with spouses, children, parents, extended family members, friends, and those we’re discipling. It’s also where vulnerabilities are spilled. 

If the statistic that more than 28,000 users are watching pornography every second is accurate—not  excluding church members (64% of Christian men and 15% of Christian women say they watch porn at least once a month)—then we have an unseemly amount of brothers and sisters being held captive to the woes of our culture’s pornographic worldview. Our focus here involves aspirations toward personal victories among those closest to us, either preemptively (ideally) or in waging war against an ongoing struggle. Focused engagement is the willingness to fight, tooth and nail, for the heart of a brother or sister.

3. Personal engagement: Finally, our scope of engagement should ultimately narrow to the extent that the crosshairs of our battle weapons rest squarely upon ourselves. Pornography use is plaguing church pews across America and the developed world, and to assume immunity for oneself is either the height of naivete or willful negligence. Personal engagement, then, is a call—a scriptural command—to engage in a battle for your soul and to disengage from the world of pornography in all its forms. 

This means that we abstain from sexual immorality  (1 Thess. 4:3), even in our internet browsing, streaming subscriptions, and other comparable activities. It also means that our discipleship should not neglect to address the issue of pornography directly, even if we don’t deem it a threat. Personal engagement on this matter is a Spirit-driven fight to resist, even “to the point of shedding blood” (Heb. 12:4), the pornographic pull so endemic in our day.

We are God’s set-apart people, called by the Spirit to engage in a to-the-death duel against our flesh and its deeds (Rom. 8:13-14). Scripture is clear: there is only one left standing once the dust from this fight settles. Either we align ourselves with the Spirit and live or we yield to the carnal whims of the flesh and perish. The stakes could not be higher, for our souls and for the dignity of those entrenched in the pornography industry. We would do well to act like it.

Fight the good fight

By all credible estimates, the pornography industry is a multibillion dollar operation, a figure that doesn’t even account for the forms and content not considered explicit enough to “earn” a pornographic rating. We live in a sexualized culture becoming more pornified by the day. But developments like we’ve witnessed in the case against Pornhub provide strategic jolts of hope that should spur us on to continue the good fight against this Goliath-like foe. The call for Christians, then, is to join this cosmic, spiritual battle, loading our metaphoric sling with stones and flinging them until the pornographic giant is finally felled. And, because we know that a life lived according to the flesh is an enslaved life leading to death, this battle is nothing less than a mission to set captives free, to introduce God’s image-bearers to life—abundant life. The stakes are high, but “the battle is the Lord’s” (1 Sam. 17:47).