When Pornography Invades “Normal” Entertainment

In this blog series, I’ve been assuming the detrimental nature of porn. The similarities between the sex acts in mainstream entertainment and the sex acts in porn are dangerous only if porn itself is dangerous. So, in order to reach the largest possible audience I can, I want to end this series by briefly putting aside religious considerations and looking at how science-based research alone can help us see porn as a serious “public health issue.” According to Fight the New Drug, porn’s damaging effects can be felt in three spheres.

First, porn use damages our minds. Porn use is addictive. Just like alcohol, drugs, nicotine, and the like, sexually charged media triggers a release of dopamine into the brain. Over time, this chemical response trains our brain to seek more and more enjoyment from whatever caused it. That being the case, porn physically changes our brain. It actually rewires—and damages—our brain so that we need more and more stimuli in order to receive the same amount of pleasure from viewing it.

Second, porn use damages romance. It trains us to view everyone around us as merely sexual objects, hindering our ability to develop healthy relationships. Because porn glorifies sexual infidelity, aggression, and abuse, we end up hurting our spouses, who desire relationships built on faithfulness, sensitivity, and love. Ironically enough, porn also leads to less sex: “Even being exposed to porn just once can make people feel less in love with their significant other,” thus leading to a decreased sexual desire for (and pursuit of) them. To put it another way, porn kills love, since it promotes unrealistic expectations for lovemaking.

Third, porn use damages our society. It creates distrusts between spouses, and emotional distance between parents and children. Speaking of children, porn use among teens and adolescents severely warps their views on sex—sometimes permanently. And even when exposed to nonviolent porn (which is much less common than one might expect), viewers become more verbally and/or physically aggressive, as well as more tolerant of certain forms of societal violence—including rape. To quote therapist John Woods, pornography addiction “is no longer just a private problem. It is a public health problem.”

This problem doesn’t stop with what we typically call pornography. As Dr. Norman Doidge says in his book The Brain That Changes Itself, “[S]oftcore is now what hardcore was a few decades ago …. [It shows] up on mainstream media all day long, in the pornification of everything, including television, rock videos, soap operas, advertisements, and so on.”

Think about it for a minute: what was once considered hard core porn was demoted to soft core porn, and what was once soft core porn is now socially acceptable. Everything is affected—not just R and NC-17 movies. We readily accept the pornification of our entertainment, not because we’re morally superior to past generations but because we’ve grown morally numb. We’re like the frog in the proverbial pot of water: because the temperature is rising so slowly, we are blissfully unaware of the danger we’re in.

And that’s why I’ve written this blog series. As we have seen, there are at least seven similarities between bona fide porn and mainstream sex scenes:
    1.  They both involve sexual acts
    2. They both involve sexual arousal for actors (mostly/especially men)
    3. They both are obscene
    4. They both encourage voyeurism
    5. They both promote unrealistic views of sex
    6. They both encourage sexual lust
    7. They both dehumanize and objectify actors (mostly/especially women)
We shouldn’t dismiss these similarities any more than a shipwrecked seaman should dismiss his only box of supplies floating out to sea. Sure, there are differences between porn and Hollywood sex scenes, but isn’t that something of a moot point? If anything, it only proves to further condemn our acceptance of an overtly sexualized entertainment culture.

In closing, let me appeal once again to a narrower demographic: those who profess membership in the body of Christ. Are we sure that our embrace of sexually explicit entertainment is not a sign of compromise or idolatry? Why are we so prone to defend our movie watching habits with the excuse that what ultimately matters is a film’s message—that the end actually does justify the means? Do we really want to pretend that the pornification of our amusements is morally neutral? Why are our entertainment choices nearly indistinguishable from those who don’t identify as believers in Christ?

To put it more positively, we have a promising alternative to the seven porn-like characteristics of cheap sex offered by the world:
  1. God has provided us a context (i.e., marriage) in which sexual acts are not only allowed but also encouraged. When sought through His provision, sex is far from dirty; rather, it is glorious and beautiful.
  2. Through holy matrimony, the arousal and fulfillment of sexual desires is a sweet gift of grace. Marriage allows us to enjoy great pleasure unaccompanied by the sorrows that follow in lust’s footsteps.
  3. The privacy of the marriage bed provides protection from the contamination of satisfaction found in the obscene.
  4. The personal, first-hand enjoyment of sex far outweighs the fleeting second-hand pleasures found in voyeurism.
  5. The saving and sanctifying power of the gospel allows us to view sex realistically: it is both great and tarnished by sin. Like any other pursuit of pleasure, it is sometimes euphoric and sometimes…normal. We can view sex as a gift from God and avoid the fallacy of treating it like a god; it will never answer our souls’ longing for meaning or purpose.
  6. The beauty of God’s holiness lures us away from the mud pies we once enjoyed in the slums, drawing us into the banquet hall of unending grace. At God’s right hand are great pleasures—not the faulty or fleeting kind, but the kind that go on forever.
  7. God’s grace enables us to view others, not as tools for our own enjoyment, but as men and women made in the image of God. The gospel frees us to love others sacrificially and to experience how it is better to give than to receive—yes, even in the marriage bed.
I implore you to consider that the modern church’s tolerance—and outright support—of sexually explicit entertainment may not be a sign of a healthy engagement with the world. It might actually be a sign that we are captivated by inferior artistic and hedonistic pleasures. It might be a sign that the world is doing a better job at being leaven and darkness than we are at being salt and light.

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