Pornography is big business. In 1984, pornography was an $8 to $10 billion a year industrusty. In 2006, revenues from pornographic materials were $13 billion in the United States, but the next year, due to the amount of free pornography online, revenues fell to $10 billion. According to best estimates, nearly 45,000 pornographic websites exist, and somewhere around 75% of those sites offer pornography for free.
63% of 18-30-year-old men view pornographic materials several times a week; 38% of 31-49-yer-old men view pornography several times a week; and 25% of 50-68 year-old men view pornographic materials several times a week. The following percentages of women say they view pornography at least several times a week: 18-30-year-olds, 21%; 31-49-year-olds, 5%; 50-68-year-olds, 0%. 93% of boys and 62% of girls were exposed to pornography before the age of 18.
We need to think about the ramifications of pornography.
Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart said that he could not define pornography, but he knew it when he saw it (Hendrickson, 680).
“Pornography” comes from two Greek terms. Porné means prostitute or that which refers to a prostitute (MacMillan, 2002 Shelly, 50). Graphé refers to writing (Ibid.). Therefore, pornography, in its original meaning, referred to a depiction of a prostitute.
“Pornography” refers to a depiction in writing, in pictures, or in some other medium, of material intended for sexual arousal (Cline, 115; Martin, 259; VanDeVeer, 991-92). Intent is central in this definition. It would rule out pictures in medical textbooks and other such material.
Soft-core pornography would refer to pictures in Playboy and movies involving nudity (Olen and Barry, 116). Hard-core pornography would involve actors actually having sex before the cameras (Ibid.). Obscenity is a legal term which refers to materials which are nonwholesome and that “contradict societal norms” (Hendrickson, 680).
Arguments in Favor of Pornography
The most commonly stated argument in favor of pornography is the First Amendment; our government does not have the right to deny access to pornography. Just because something is legal doesn’t mean it’s moral. Mike Martin wrote, “A right to use something does not automatically imply it is all right to use it” (257). Adultery is legal, but it is far from ethical.
Another argument in favor of pornography is that porn provides pleasure (Olen and Barry, 121). This may be true, but we dare not make pleasure the standard by which we live. Paul said, “She who is self-indulgent is dead even while she lives” (1 Timothy 5:6). Many immoral things provide pleasure, e.g., I may find pleasure from taking cocaine, but the government says that cocaine is illegal.
Some say that pornography is morally neutral (Ibid.). Those who make this argument say that pornography does nothing but depict human sexuality. There is nothing inherently immoral about sex; therefore, depictions of sex are not immoral. This view overlooks the biblical view of sex. Sex was created to be in the boundaries of marriage; anything that deviates from this is sin (Genesis 2:24-25; Hebrews 13:4). In pornography, we see a public display of sex. The actors, pornographic materials are seldom married. And even if they were, couples do not need public spectators in their sex lives.
Arguments Against Pornography
Pornography can lead to very problematic behavior. This is a much disputed claim, and it would be unfair to say every psychologist and sociologist agree here. In 1970, the Commission on Obscenity and Pornography found, “There is not statistical correlation between sex crimes and exposure to erotic materials.” It concluded, “The commission cannot conclude that exposure to erotic materials is a factor in the causation of sex crime or sex delinquency (The Report of the Commission on Obscenity and Pornography, 31: quoted in Olen and Barry, 118).
Many who deny pornography leads to problematic behavior use Denmark as their case-in-point. Denmark legalized pornography in 1 67 and in the succeeding years sex crimes (according to one author) “decreased appreciably” (Olen and Barry, 118). However, Denmark also took many sex crimes off the books. Therefore, it is not surprising that the sex crime rate dropped (Kantzer, 19). Assault rape has increased by 300 percent; venereal disease by 200 percent for those over 20, 250 percent for those between the ages of 16 and 20, and 400 percent for those 15 and under; divorce rates doubled in six years; and illegitimate pregnancies were up 50 percent (Ibid.). Studies have shown that countries where regulations on porn have been laxed, rape has increased dramatically—in Australia, the United States, New Zealand, and England (Tanner, 3).
By far, the most damaging type of porn is violent porn (Donnerstein and Linz, 56). Ted Bundy, the infamous serial killer, said, “This is something I think I want to emphasize as the most damaging kinds of pornography. Again, I’m talking from personal experience. The most damaging kinds of pornography are those that involve violence and sexual violence. Because the welding of those two forces, as I know only too well, bring about behavior that is just too terrible to describe” (Quoted in Zettersten, 23). Arthur Bishop, executed for murdering and sodomizing five young boys, said that pornography played a role in those murders (Reynolds, 13A). Rapists in prison are 15 times more likely as non-offenders to have been exposed to hard-core porn when they were between the ages of six and ten (McManus, 8).
But any type of porn can influence behavior. Many anecdotal reports could be given. One person told the Attorney General’s Commission on Pornography, “My father had an easel that he put by the bed. Held pin a picture on the easel and like a teacher he would tell me this is what you’re going to learn today. He would then act out the picture on me.” Many studies have shown that pornography causes “destructive attitudes toward sexuality and family life” (Minnery, “Porn: The Human Tragedy,” 19).
Victor Cline from the University of Utah, showed the psychological effects of pornography:
Addiction. Porn could be compared to drugs where one goes back and back for more.
Escalation. The milder porn does not satisfy, so one goes to more and more serious types of pornography.
Desensitization. What once shocked a person no longer shocks him.
Acting out. People re-enact what they have seen in the porn.
Sex clinics use porn to condition people out of problematic sexual behavior (Cline, 14). If pornography can condition people out of problematic sexual behavior, why can’t it condition them into problematic sexual behavior? Pornography is indeed very powerful!
Studies have shown that individuals who view pornography:
Attach greater value to casual sex (i.e., sex without emotional attachment).
Show a greater acceptable of premarital sex and adultery.
Show a greater tendency to trivialize rape.
Suffer from loneliness.
Have less satisfaction from sex and relationships.
Have more intercourse partners and a younger age for their first sexual encounter.
What Does the Bible Say?
Jesus clearly condemned lust (Matthew 5:27-28). Anything that would cause us to lust is sinful; no normal person can look at porn and not lust.
Paul told Timothy to shun youthful passions (2 Timothy 2:22).
Timothy was to regard “younger women [as] sisters, in all purity” (1 Timothy 5:2).
Solomon had some good advice. In a context condemning adultery, he says, “Can a man carry fire in his bosom and his clothes not be burned? Or can one walk upon hot coals and his feet not be scorched?” (Proverbs 6:27-28).
“Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Philippians 4:8).
If you struggle with pornography, don’t despair, for there is much help available. Internet filters can keep pornography off your computer. I personally like Covenant Eyes, which we use in our home. Covenant Eyes not only filters pornography, but also sends someone whom you select—a very good friend, in my case— a monthly accountability report.
You can also see a Christian counselor. You can also see a counselor—some of whom might be Christians—who specializes in “problematic sexual behavior.” You can use this directory to search for therapists trained to help you overcome pornography.
If pornography has become an addiction, there are 12-step fellowships which help people overcome sex-related addiction. Sex Addicts Anonymous has a wealth of resources, including information on meetings either online or in person.
Yes, pornography is a serious plague in our modern culture, and yes, it’s sin before God. But, don’t be afraid to seek help. If you struggle with pornography, please seek help today.
Becker, Lawrence C. ed. Encyclopedia of Ethics. New York: Garland Publishers: Inc., 1992. S.v. “Pornography” by Donald VanDeVeer.
Carnes, Patrick J. Don’t Call It Love. New York: Bantam Books, 1991.
Cline, Victor. “Psychologist Cites Porn’s Effects on Children, Men.” NFD Journal (November/December 1985): 13-15.
Donnerstein, Edward I., and Daniel Linz. “The Question of Pornography.” Psychology Today, December 1986, 56-59.
Kantzer, Kenneth S. “The Power of Pornography.” Christianity Today, 7 February 1986, 18-20.
MacKinnon, Barbara. Ethics: Theory and Contemporary Issues. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing Co., 1995.
Martin, Mike W. Everyday Morality. 2nd ed. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing Co., 1995.
McManus, Michael J. “A Biblical Perspective on the Final Report of the Attorney General’s Commission on Pornography.” NFD Journal (February 1987).
Minnery, Tom. “Pornography: The Human Tragedy.” Christianity Today, 7 March 1986, 17-21.
Olen, Jeffrey, and Vincent Barry. Applying Ethics 4th ed. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing Co., 1992.
Reynolds, Barbara. “We’ve Got to Get Rid of Hard-Core Porn.” USA Today, 3 February 1989.
Roth, John K. ed., Ready Reference Ethics. Pasadena: Salem Press, Inc., 1994. S.v. “Pornography,” by Mary A. Hendrickson.
Tanner, Paul A. “When Foundations Fall: Putting a Stop to Pornography.” NFD Journal (November/December 1985): 34.