Is Pornography Morally Acceptable at Seminary?

No, this title is not clickbait. It is a question our seminaries, churches, and homes are confronting daily. Read on.

State of Affairs

A recent Gallup poll reported that 43 percent of Americans now think pornography is morally acceptable.[1] This is up from 36 percent last year and up from 30 percent in 2011. These results agree with another study reporting that 67 percent of young men and 49 percent of young women say viewing porn is an acceptable way to express one’s sexuality.[2] The rising trajectory of pornography’s moral acceptance is not comforting. The same Gallup poll reports that the percentage of nonmarried individuals who find pornography morally acceptable rose 15 points to 50 percent, and that 67 percent of men aged 18 to 49 this year say pornography is morally acceptable, a 14-point increase from last year.

These disturbing trends should not be a surprise if one takes a cursory review of the pornography industry that generates $13 billion in the United States and $97 billion globally each year. This staggering amount of money demonstrates merely the tip of the pornography iceberg as 9 out of 10 Internet pornography users only access free material, whether it be samples of pay material, illegally copied versions of pay material, or amateur material.[3] Here are selected statistics on the pornography industry (be prepared to lament and pull the plug on your devices):

  • 12 million hours a day are spent viewing pornography globally on Pornhub, the world’s leading free porn site.[4] The site professes over 100 billion video views annually, and they stream more than 75 GB of data per second.[5]
  • Since 2015, there have been 8 billion Internet searches for pornography.[6]
  • 6 out of 10 girls and 9 out of 10 boys are exposed to pornography before the age of 18.[7]
  • 68 percent of young adult men and 18 percent of women use porn at least once every week.[8]
  • An estimated 87 percent of college-age men—and around 30 percent of women—double click for sex either weekly or every day.[9]

State of the Church

Well, that’s the broken world, but surely these statistics do not hold for the church? I’m afraid they do.

  • 64 percent of Christian men and 15 percent of Christian women say they watch pornography at least once a month.[10]
  • 51 percent of pastors say Internet pornography is a possible temptation.[11] Another report posits that 57 percent of pastors and 64 percent of youth pastors admit they have struggled with pornography, either currently or in the past.[12]
  • I have taught in higher education for over 26 years and I can attest that pornography is a component of the majority of student discipline cases that are nonacademic in nature – yes, even in our beloved seminaries.

Normalization and Acceptance

Pornography is becoming the norm rather than the exception in today’s enlightened world. Can you recall the last “clean” movie you have watched that has not sexualized women? I cannot even walk my children through the local mall without having them avoid pornographic window displays in store windows. Extreme content is now expected; soft porn has disappeared.[13] Physical aggression is reported in 88.2 percent of leading pornography scenes and verbal aggression in 48.7 percent with 94.4 percent of the aggression directed towards women and girls.[14] It should not surprise us then that the Fifty Shades movie series grossed over $1.3 billion globally, making it one of the highest-grossing R-rated franchises of all-time.

These statistics are a mere portend of things to come as pornography is finding new outlets and enjoying the complete downfall of any sexual boundaries. For instance, earlier this year Esquire reported the disturbing trend that incest is the fastest growing trend in pornography.[15] In addition, child pornography is a $3 billion industry in the United States. Moreover, Barna reports that sexting is fast becoming “porn 2.0”:

… A pornography that is no longer distant and delivered. But, instead, is personal and created … Porn 2.0 is user-created—often shared with a known person; a friend or significant other or a potential romantic interest. You know what I’m talking about: sexting, snapchatting nude pictures, posting provocative Instagram photos … Perhaps this was inevitable. We probably should have seen it coming. From YouTube to Tumblr to Instagram, the Internet has offered users a chance to create and distribute their own content. To share the details of their lives with friends and with strangers. Of course, the demand for more and more intimate details would increase, even as the barriers to exposing oneself lessened.[16]

There is a social appeal to sexting as this permits casual sex without marital commitment. One 17-year old girl states, “There’s a positive side to sexting. You can’t get pregnant from it, and you can’t transmit STDs. It’s a kind of safe sex.”[17] This disconnection from a real relationship is not what God intended in Genesis 2:24.

God’s Plan vs. Pornography

The triple-A engine of pornography[18] – accessibility, affordability, anonymity – is having a detrimental effect in society and our churches. It is self-destructive to the user and those around the user – children, spouse, church members, etc. One can access pornography 24-7 anywhere there is a WiFi signal, can view unlimited free pornography content or with a current phone make your own video, and can view pornography in perceived secrecy. Many reports are now demonstrating a link between pornography and porn-induced erectile dysfunction, testosterone deficiency, male aggression towards teenage girls, and a host of other effects.[19] These but pale in comparison to the most detrimental effect of pornography, namely its defamation of the image of God and of His sacred design for sex.

Women are made in the image of God and are worthy of great honor (Gen 1:27, 1 Pet 3:7). Pornography devalues and dehumanizes women. Women are viewed as a commodity rather than as a creation of God, something to be conquered rather than cherished. One porn addict states, “Today real naked women are just bad porn.”[20] One’s biblical partner has been replaced by pixels on a screen. This is an abysmal perversion of God’s image and His design of fidelity in marriage.

To be sure, pornography is an abomination of God’s ideal for sex as well. It brings someone else into the marriage bed, an obvious violation of Hebrews 13:4. God meant there to be pleasure and joy in marital sexuality. Pornographic fantasy treats sex as a commodity and views men and women as consumers, not lovers in a covenant marriage. The sexual counterfeit morality of pornography is a means of taking rather than a means of giving as God intended. Pornography creates temporal digital voyeurs rather than a life-long, intimate relationship between a man and a woman. In addition, pornography belittles and normalizes sexual violence and cruelty. The rise of sexual violence portrayed in contemporary video games attests to this. God designed sex in a marital covenant to be an expression of affection, not one of aggression.

Urgent Request

I am the father of four – one daughter and three sons – and I continue to be prayerfully concerned about the world they and their future spouses are entering. The church cannot look like the world on this issue any longer. We must be salt and light in a decaying and dark world rampant with brokenness caused by the empty promises of pornography. God’s Word has both the answer for breaking the selfish and superficial shackles of pornography and the answers for what is best and good for us.

[3] Ibid.
[4] Belinda Luscombe, Porn and the threat to virility, Time, April 11, 2016, pp. 40-47.
[11] Ibid.
[14] AJ Bridges et al., Aggression and sexual behavior in best-selling pornography videos: A content analysis update, Violence Against Women 16:2010, 1065-1085.
[17] Luke Gilkerson, Your Brain on Porn, Covenant Eyes.
[18] Al Cooper, Cybersex: The Dark Side of the Force (London: Brunner-Routledge, 2000).
[19]Luscombe, Porn and the threat to virility, Time, April 11, 2016, pp. 40-47.
[20] Luke Gilkerson, Your Brain on Porn, Covenant Eyes.