When Art Imitates Pornography

I wish a blog series like this wasn’t necessary. I wish the sexualization and objectification of human beings hadn’t become so pervasive that they often go unnoticed and unchallenged—even in the church. Unfortunately, many of us have become inoculated to it. Where we once might have blushed we now fail to even bat an eye. In the words of author Shellie R. Warren,

With music videos like “Anaconda” and television shows like Dating Naked around for our perusing “pleasure”, a lot of us don’t even have to download porn. It’s all over pop culture. And so, since we’re used to seeing a lot of what used to be only reserved for HBO’s Real Sex, we don’t even catch that a lot of what’s on television is pornographic.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, I believe this is an area where our hearts have grown numb. We’ve become callous to various forms of porn in our entertainment. As I have argued in the past, one “acceptable” version of porn is sex scenes (and many forms of nudity) in major motion pictures.

Is it really fair to label such cinematic choices as pornography? E. Stephen Burnett says yes:

This is a point beyond contention: naked people who act out sexual scenarios in public media in order to get money is porn. So the argument is not truly about whether it is porn; the only real argument is how we respond to it.

Some might say pornography should be more narrowly defined: that it is an explicit display of sexuality with the purposeful intent of stimulating sexual arousal. Because the intention of most films is to stimulate aesthetic or emotional feelings, there is a legitimate difference between what the porn industry produces and what Hollywood produces. So the argument goes.

In all fairness, there is a lot of truth in that argument. However, I’ve already shown how the differences between Hollywood sex scenes and porn are cause for greater concern, not less. The differences actually serve to damn mainstream sex scenes, not excuse them.

To build on what I’ve already said, this blog series is designed to expose just how much the two are actually alike (with equally damning results). As I see it, there are seven similarities. This series will detail the similarities over the course of seven separate blog posts.

Now that this series has been completed, let me give an updated overview of each article. Here are the similarities between porn (which I am assuming Christians can agree is inherently unacceptable) and sex scenes in movies (which Christians are, at the very least, willing to tolerate, if not outright defend).

Sexual acts are sexual acts, whether your hormones are involved or not. Trying to separate “sexual acts for the camera” into a class all by itself is no better than trying to say what you do with your eyes isn’t adultery because you haven’t actually touched anything. You might as well try arguing that all sex acts up until the point of actual intercourse are not inherently sexual.

2. They can involve sexual arousal for actors (mostly/especially men)

It’s true that not every Hollywood actor experiences arousal during a sex scene (although the same can be said for actors in porn as well). Still, we can’t pretend that all responsible adults can just magically turn off their sex drives when they get partially or fully naked with a costar and perform sexual acts with them.

A real or simulated sex act portrayed onscreen is a violation of both art and morality. It is both an aesthetic canker that pushes audiences out of the story and a perversion of a private act. Sex gone public is sex gone wrong. It soils genuine art with pornographic material.

Biblically speaking, sex was not designed to be a spectator sport. In contrast, Hollywood sex scenes and porn films invite us to do something we were never designed to do: watch people sexually act out. For entertainment, no less.

The scenarios conveyed in porn are often outlandish and entirely outside the realm of reality. So are many mainstream sex scenes. The picture of sex often painted for us in movies is fantastic—not in the “man, that’s great” sense, but in the “man, what alternate universe are they living in?” sense.

Sex scenes in movies are not a practice in celebrating marital fidelity and covenant love. Rather, what is celebrated is, first and foremost, fornication. Adultery and infidelity aren’t off limits, either. Cinematic portrayals of the sex act present us with a myriad of divinely prohibited ways in which people receive fleeting sexual satisfaction. In the process, it largely ignores the one and only place in which we can receive truly genuine sexual fulfillment: the marriage bed.

7. They dehumanize and objectify actors (mostly/especially women)

I’ve argued this already in countless other places, but it bears repeating. With sex scenes, actors are treated like characters in a book: figments of imagination without souls or wills—something completely at the mercy of a demanding audience (i.e., us).

So, those are my arguments. Those are the seven similarities between porn’s use of sex and the film industry’s use of sex scenes. If you see any glaring (or not so glaring) holes in my propositions at the outset, please let me know. This is a conversation that needs to take place in the church—not so one side can come out victorious, but so we in the body of Christ can be united in our pursuit of holiness as we fight this fight of faith side by side.

Next entry in this blog series: If the Sex is “Fake,” Is it Still Sexual?