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Pornography: A Biblical Reflection Part 1

The Bible says nothing specifically about pornography – certainly about the invasive internet pornography of our day. Our task, as with any Biblical reflection, is to hold what the Bible does say against the circumstances of today. So this blog starts with a brief description of the essence of internet pornography, and then proceeds in Part 2 to look at three Bible passages, two from the Old Testament and one story of Jesus. Clearly other passages could be chosen – I say nothing here about Paul’s letters for example. But I believe these three have something helpful to say.

Before going any further, it is important to emphasise that the Bible has nothing against sex. God created us male and female, and that is a good thing (Genesis 1:27). The issue is definitely not that pornography is a problem because it is about sex. The problem with pornography is the way it deals with sex, and that it deals with sex alone.

Internet pornography

Internet pornography is a serious issue in our society. It is very large – an industry of several billion dollars a year. [1] Hundreds of new pornographic pages are loaded onto the internet every day. Most men in developed countries have viewed it, and an increasing proportion of women. [2] Children learn about sex from the internet.

The internet has made pornography much more pervasive. By contrast to a book, magazine, or film at a cinema, it is very easy to access – a huge variety of pornography is available at the click of a finger. It is free. And, importantly, access is private: pornography is still widely regarded as shameful, but with the internet there is little chance that a user will be found out in the short run.

Pornography matters because of its impact on individuals. Impact on those who act in it: thousands of women each year are sucked – or trafficked – into the industry, used briefly, and then discarded. And impact on those who use it, in terms of broken relationships, trust undermined, and other aspects of life foregone. Clearly this is not true of everyone who uses pornography – but at the other end of the scale, there is a serious risk of addiction. Churchgoers and clergy are by no means excluded.

Pornography also matters because of its impact on society as a whole. It contains and promotes a set of cultural assumptions. Because pornography is still widely regarded as shameful, these assumptions go undiscussed and unchallenged. I assume there is research about the impact of this on society, but I have not seen it and so I cannot pronounce about how serious the impact is. But for Christians it is inevitably concerning, because the assumptions are fundamentally non-Christian, as I hope this blog will show.

The cultural assumptions of internet pornography

There is a wide range of pornography on the internet, so it is a big simplification to assert that there are characteristics across all of it. We are not really concerned here with videos which are simply sexy or erotic – though we have to note that our brains seem to be wired so that men who begin with “ soft porn” come to find that unsatisfying and move on to pornography proper.

Rather, a number of assumptions seem to be built into much internet pornography:

- power: one actor is dominant over the other.

- in particular, women are dominated.

- unfaithfulness: the whole principle of pornography is for men to imagine having sex with whoever is on the screen. As for marriage, husbands and wives are expected to “cheat” on each other – “Cheat” being a word that does carry a negative connotation, but a minor one and in the context of pornography, a frisson of excitement.

There is another aspect which is not built into the pornography itself, but is experienced by many users: shame. Particularly afterwards, and certainly for those who are addicted, users feel ashamed of what they have done. This may change, as pornography becomes so widespread that it becomes expected and acceptable. But it is definitely a feature today.

Go to Part 2 to see what the Bible has to say.

[1] Estimates of the size of pornography on the web are very unreliable: Web porn: just how much is there?

[2]A survey of American college students in 2007 found that almost half of the men surveyed looked at porn at least once a week, although only 3 percent of the women. The Atlantic, Oct 2008.

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