Porn is Not Private: Why Viewing Pornography Perpetuates Injustice

Porn is not harming anyone else, right? As long as I keep it to myself, nobody gets hurt. It is just between me and … myself.

Right?

That is what we might think at first. As it turns out, pornography is incredibly harmful, to ourselves and others. It poisons our relationships, normalizes sexual violence, and contributes to the oppression and rape of human trafficking victims around the world. Millions of girls are enticed out of poverty, sold by their families, or abducted outright in the human trafficking industry, and porn is no innocent bystander. Porn distorts our understanding of sexuality and our perception of other human beings, warps our expectations for sex, and drags us into its addicting pull, while we remain convinced that “nobody will know” and “nobody gets hurt.” The lies, pain, loneliness, and oppression of porn must be brought out into the open. Porn is not a private vice. It is a global injustice.

Porn reduces human beings to sexual objects who meet the pleasure demands of others. And since the demand curve is largely male-dominated, porn casts women in the role of serving the sexual demands of men who visit the right websites and participate in the market.

It runs much deeper, however. Porn teaches us that sex can be separated from intimacy, that sex is all about you, that committed relationships are disposable obstacles to our craving for on-demand pleasure, that you don’t need a real person to get sex, that the actors on the other side of the screen are not real people. But these ideas are not private. They shape not only our own values but also those of society at large. The toxic ideas of pornography are the dominant sexual education of our culture, and it is changing the world.

Porn Harms Individuals

First and foremost, porn damages the individual who watches it. Porn’s lie that sex is intended only to serve one’s own immediate desires is grounded in a severe brand of selfishness that our culture relentlessly promotes. Society tells us that love is about getting what I want, and that it is my business and nobody else’s. You are the king of your own sexuality, it whispers. Do what you want. This self-centered attitude is deeply destructive and, as a Christian, I believe it is wholly antithetical to God’s definition of love and Christ’s demonstration of love on the cross. First of all, our bodies are not our own; they were bought at a price and belong to God as temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 6:19-20, NIV). And we know what love is, not from the sum total of our preferences and desires, but from this: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us (1 Jn 3:16). This kind of love is not self-oriented in any way; it is selfless and sacrificial. God’s design for sexuality and marriage flows out of the very same principle. Paul instructed the Ephesians, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Eph 5:23). The kind of unconditional, sacrificial love that God calls us to is radical yet beautiful. It is the same love through which Christ selflessly gave himself up as a ransom for many. This is what healthy sexuality looks like.

Porn enslaves us to our desires. Porn pollutes our minds, as the repeated conjuring of sexual images floods our brains with dopamine and creates new neural “reward” pathways that mimic the effects of other addictive substances like cocaine. Porn also wreaks havoc on our hearts, ripping them away from God’s perfect design for sexuality and enslaving us to our own sexual desires and cravings. As philosopher James K. A. Smith argues, humans are not primarily thinking beings, as has long been assumed, but are fundamentally desiring beings.[1] Thus a society is defined not by the philosophies it embraces but by what it loves. If we are to live our lives as truly human and love the way Christ loved, our desires must be free, our hearts untainted, and our hands washed clean.

Porn Harms Others

It might be no surprise that porn influences its consumers, but its impact does not stop there. In light of both our selfishness and enslaving sexual desires, the object of our desires ceases to be an image-bearer of God and becomes exactly that: an object. By buying into the worldview of porn, by believing its lies and absorbing its ideas, we feed into a whole host of societal problems that harm our fellow image-bearers of God. Flashy advertisements plaster images of scantily-clad, photoshopped women for the sole purpose of drawing more glances and sustained viewings of a product. Magazine covers and picture-perfect celebrities teach teenage girls that physical appearance is of ultimate importance; that some bodies are better than others; that some people are worth more than others. Pornography trains our minds and hearts to believe the same lie: a person is a sexual object, not a human being. This ideology has no place in a healthy society, and it is an injustice that our selfish desires result in such a cheapening of human dignity.

You are on Tinder: Will you swipe left, or swipe right? Our generation’s hookup culture is frighteningly quick to objectify and dismiss people without affording them the full dignity of a human being. The hookup culture tells us that sex can be separated from the emotional intimacy of a relationship. Sound familiar? Musician John Mayer, when asked about his relationship with porn, commented in a 2010 interview with Playboy: “Rather than meet somebody new, I would rather go home and replay the amazing experiences I’ve already had.”[2] Assuredly, Mayer is not the only one for whom sex can be separated from the context of a human being, never mind a loving relationship. This kind of mentality has permeated our culture.

The same goes for the sexual assault epidemic on college campuses. In Harvard’s recent sexual assault survey, 31% of surveyed senior women reported they had experienced some sort of “nonconsensual sexual contact” during their undergraduate years. Rapists and sexual assault perpetrators have been trained over time to see women as objects, not human beings. In the moment of assault, all they care about is getting their sexual pleasure, with no regard for the other person’s consent or human dignity. Furthermore, porn is filled with an abundance of sexual violence that only adds to this prevalent “rape culture.” A recent study reported that 88% of scenes in popular porn films contained physical violence, almost always against women who either responded neutrally or with pleasure.[3] And not surprisingly, the more violent the porn, the more likely the viewer is to support or act out in violence.[4] Not only is porn encouraging violence in the bedroom, but it also teaches women to stay silent about the pain it causes them. The porn mentality is truly toxic.

Now, in all of these examples, I am not claiming that porn is the direct cause of any or all of these social phenomena. I hope only to highlight that the harmful ideas embedded within these social structures are the same lies told by pornography, and that this is an injustice. If we have the social conscience to denounce the lies of sexual objectification or normalizing violence, we cannot let pornography get away with the same ideas.

Porn Harms the World

Ideas have consequences, and sometimes even global ones. The idea, fueled by porn, that women are sex objects for men is deeply embedded in the sex trafficking industry. Take, for example, Suhana (pseudonym), a young thirteen-year- old girl in Calcutta, India, who was forced into sex slavery and regularly given away to tens of customers a day.[5] She recalls, “I was treated like some kind of thing, an object.” This went on for months, as Suhana was forced to prostitute herself while those in power over her reaped the profits. In many countries, Suhana’s story of oppression and injustice is common. Suhana was rescued by people from International Justice Mission, an organization that works to free girls like Suhana from sexual violence and trafficking around the globe, but there are over 27 million human slaves around the globe, 20.9 million of whom are forced into some form of sexual slavery.[6] Women and girls comprise 98% of the slaves trapped in the $150 billion global industry, many of whom, like Suhana, are forced to have sex with 30, 40, or 50 male customers a day. In the red-light districts of large cities like Mumbai or Calcutta, tens of thousands of prostitutes wait in the street for roaming males to choose them. For many girls, there is no way out.

The unbelievable abuse and exploitation taking place in the world of sex trafficking has only been augmented by the porn industry. The Polaris Project, a nonprofit dedicated to the abolition of human slavery, reports that “The internet has been identified as the number one platform that pimps, traffickers and johns currently use for buying and selling women and children for sex in the United States. Victims trafficked through pimp-controlled sex trafficking … chat rooms, pornography, and brothels disguised as massage businesses are commonly marketed on websites such as Backpage.com, Eros.com, and others.”[7] In places like the United States, pimps do not even have to put their girls on the streets for sale — they get plenty of business online through advertising websites, webcams, and porn. Pornography is one of the most powerful ways through which pimps work on the internet, and the sex industry and the sex trafficking industry are closely linked.

As long as I keep it to myself, nobody gets hurt. Right?

Even within the porn industry, behind the façade of the glamorous visuals and smiling actors, there exists a reality of violence, drug-abuse, and human trafficking. Films are highly edited. Producers can crop out the off-screen pain and abuse that would otherwise make the films less desirable. Women are often beaten until they comply with a director’s orders and commonly resort to using drugs to curb the pain and find relief. The anti-porn organization Fight the New Drug reports, “Part of the lie porn producers want customers to buy into is that porn is legitimate entertainment made by glamorous people who are doing it because it is what they want; it is OK for the user to enjoy it because the people they are watching seem to be enjoying it. What they do not say is that some of those people look like they are having a good time because behind the scenes they have a gun pointed at their head. And if they stop smiling, it will go off.”[8] By participating in an industry that regularly exploits and abuses women and aids the diffusion of sex trafficking, a porn viewer becomes part of the problem. Every day there are 68 million searches for pornography in the United States, a staggering 25% of all internet searches. Anyone who wants to fight the injustice of sex trafficking and exploitation of women must work to deflate the demand.

Referring to the slave trade in the British Empire, William Wilberforce, a leader in the abolition of the slave trade, remarked, “You may choose to look the other way, but you can never say again that you did not know.” With regards to porn, our hands are not clean; we are all now responsible. This is not an issue limited to the Christian church or even religion in general; it is a human problem. The deception that pornography does not affect anyone but the viewer is dangerous and must be confronted.

The worldview of porn promotes a myriad of harmful behaviors that wreak havoc on our spiritual and psychological selves, all the while whispering the lie that the whole experience is private. Here is the truth: porn is not private. It warps our sexual expectations, inflates our selfish desires, and normalizes the objectification of other human beings. Pornography fuels our hyper-sexualized society, isolates sex from a committed relationship, and offers a powerful platform for the sex trafficking industry to exploit women around the globe. But how do we fight back? We must choose to not watch pornography. We should resist our culture’s tendency to normalize porn, since there is nothing normal about its consequences. And finally, we need to spread the word. When an injustice like porn is this harmful, we cannot choose to ignore it. We cannot choose to look the other way.

 

1 Smith, James K. A. Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation. Baker Academic, 2009. Print.

2 Mayer, John. “Playboy Interview: John Mayer.” Interview. Playboy. 01 Dec. 2012. Web. 19 Oct. 2015.

3 Bridges, A. J., Wosnitzer, R., Scharrer, E., Chyng, S., and Liberman, R. (2010). Aggression and Sexual Behavior in Best Selling Pornography Videos: A Content Analysis Update. Violence Against Women 16, 10: 1065–1085.

4 Hald, G. M., Malamuth, N. M., and Yuen, C. (2010). Pornography and Attitudes Supporting Violence Against Women: Revisiting the Relationship in Nonexperimental Studies. Aggression and Behavior 36, 1: 14–20

5 Ray of Hope. International Justice Mission. International Justice Mission, 9 Aug. 2011. Web. 19 Oct. 2015.

6 International Labour Organization, ILO global estimate of forced labour: results and methodology (2012) P. 13.

7 “Internet Based.” Polaris: Combat- ing Human Trafficking and Modern-day Slavery. Polaris, n.d. Web. 20 Oct. 2015.

8 “Porn’s Dirty Little Secret.” Fight the New Drug. Fight the New Drug. Web. 20 Oct. 2015.

 

 

Brandon Wright 18 is a Chemistry concentrator in Adams House and is Webmaster for the Ichthus.

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