There has been much talk of pornography over the last few years, but is it still an issue? The millions of dollars the pornography industry makes (US$57 billion/year) answers that question resoundingly. Is then pornography still an issue for Christians? Statistics suggest that around 50% of Christian men use pornography. So it’s just a man’s issue then? Not so. There are millions of women who will read pornography even if they won’t watch it. The rise in the 50 Shades of Grey phenomenon is unquestionable and statistics show that 20% of Christian women use pornography. Pornography is increasing in use as it so easily comes in to our homes. Especially when we think of the so-called soft-core pornography. These are the books, movies and TV shows that are far more socially acceptable and which cause a lot of disagreements among Christians.
Game of Thrones is HBO’s highest grossing series and plenty of people, plenty of Christian men and women, are attracted to the show. It is a masterful story with rich characters, intrigue, and adventure, yet it is also one of the TV shows that some consider pornographic because it is known for its explicit sex scenes. So how do we make a decision, is there anything wrong with watching these shows and reading these books?
The Bible gives us a lot of guidance on sexuality and marriage. Human sexuality and the beauty of marriage are gifts from God (James 1:17). We are sexual creations and marriage is the appropriate place to express our sexuality. There are godly purposes for sexuality in marriage including the procreation of children (Gen 1: 28; Mal 2:15), to ensure a faithful union (Gen 2:24-25; Mt 19:4-6, see also Ex 34:6; Eph 5; Mk 10:2-9), and for intimacy (Ps 45:11; Prov 5:18-19, Eccl 9:9; 1 Cor 7:1-6).
The distortion of God’s plan for human sexuality in the context of marriage has been evident. Sex outside of the union between a man and a woman dishonours marriage (Prov 5:1-23; 6:20-35; Lev 20:10-21; Dt 22:13-30). Jesus goes further than the Mosaic laws and declares that anyone who even looks at a woman lustfully commits adultery with her in his heart (Mt 5:27-30). The New Testament is clear that Christians are to flee from sexual immorality (Rom 13:13, 1 Cor 6:13, 18; 10:8, Eph 5:3, Col 3:5, 1 Thess 4:3). Pornography distorts the goodness and purposes of sexuality and marriage. Pornography doesn’t intend procreation, but rather is committed to exhibition, distortion and exploitation of sex. It doesn’t value faithful union but promotes lust, and often provides the basis for the sin of adultery by introducing a third party into the marriage (1 Cor 7:2-3). Intimate knowledge is undermined by pornography, which glorifies casual, recreational or commercial sexual encounters and publicises what should be kept within the marital relationship.
Should, therefore, Christian men and women avoid the shows and books that include explicit sex scenes?
It would be pleasing to some to have a list of what we can and cannot read and watch. However, Christians have freedom and do not live by a list of prescribed laws anymore (1 Cor 6:12). Yet, in Christ, believers are a new creation, re-created to reflect God’s glory and we are to resist the devil and the idol that is pornography and come to God in humility and repentance (James 4:7-10). There are many passages that exhort us to lives of holiness, transformed by the power of God’s grace (1 Thess 4:3-7; Rom 6:4; Phil 4:8; Tit 2:11-12). Reading and watching these types of shows and books makes it very difficult to remain pure. We live as redeemed children of God, yet since the world is still broken until Christ returns, many Christians will struggle to remain pure in this area (Rom 7:15ff; Heb 12; Jas 1).
Churches are realising more and more the damage that pornography does to the lives of men and offering programs and courses for change, allowing men to acknowledge their struggle and seek help. We need to improve at making the resources and accountability groups for men who struggle with pornography, available to women also. And, if one of the main ways many Christian men and women are exposed to pornography is through popular television shows, movies, music and books, then ministers and leaders in churches need to develop ways of accountability and strategies to help people combat this. The cultural tendency for mainstreaming pornography seems to be ever increasing and so this issue will require more and more attention as Christian leaders care for those entrusted to them.