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A recent Time magazine features a cover story on a new initiative against internet pornography. These anti-porn activists aren't the caricatured pursed-lip moralists; they are young men who say porn has compromised their ability to function sexually in real life.
I've seen a similar situation show up many times with couples seated in front of me for pastoral counseling. Typically a young married couple seeks help because they've stopped (or in some cases never started) having sex. The husband is the one who cannot maintain interest in sex. When I ask the right questions, I find that he's been immersed in porn since adolescence. It's not that he can't get the mechanics of sex to work. It's that he finds intimacy with a real-life woman to be, in the word that emerges repeatedly, "awkward." Many of these men can only have sex with their wives by replaying scenes from pornography in their heads as they do so.
Why does it seem that porn ultimately kills sexual intimacy? There are, to be sure, many psychological explanations. Porn desensitizes one to sexual stimuli, feeds the quest for endless novelty, and creates expectations that do not, and cannot, meet up with the real dynamics of personal relationship.
But to understand the power of pornography, we must ask why Jesus warned us that lust is wrong. It is not because God is embarrassed about sex (see "Solomon, Song of"), but because God designed human sexuality not to isolate but to connect. Sexuality is intended to bond a wife and a husband and, where conditions are met, to result in new lives, thus connecting generations. Porn disrupts this connection, turning what is meant for intimacy and incarnational love into masturbatory aloneness. Porn promises the psychic thrill and biological release meant for communion in the context of freedom from connection with another, but it cannot deliver.
When pornography enters into a marriage, the result is shame. By "shame," I do not mean the feeling of being ashamed (although that may be part of it). I mean that one is, at the most intimate level, hiding. There's something within us that knows that sexuality is meant for something other than the manipulation of body parts.
Pornography kills sexuality because porn isn't just about sex and because sex isn't just about sex.
In the ancient city of Corinth, warning was given about prostitutes in the pagan temples of the city. The prostitutes were paid for sexual activity, disconnected from covenant. They were part of a cultic system that ascribed almost mystical powers to the orgasm. How is that any different from the porn industry of today? The Apostle Paul warned that the one who joins himself to a prostitute participates in an intangible spiritual reality, by joining Christ to the prostitute, by becoming one with her (1 Cor. 6:15–19). Since the body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, sexual immorality is not just "naughtiness." It is an act of temple desecration, of bringing unholy worship into a holy place (1 Cor. 6:19).
Pornography is not just immorality; it's occultism. That's why it has such a strong pull. It's not just a matter of biology (although that's important). If there are, as the Bible teaches, unseen criminal spirits alive in the cosmos, then temptation is about more than being in the wrong place at the wrong time. The professing Christian, no matter how insignificant he or she may feel, is a target of interest. Sexual immorality seems to present itself randomly when, in fact, as with the young man of Proverbs, it is part of a carefully orchestrated hunting expedition (Prov. 7:6–23).
The shame that results within one's conscience in the aftermath of a pornographic episode—not to mention a lifetime of such—cannot help but break intimacy in the one-flesh union of marriage. From the beginning of the human story, shame before God leads to shame with one another (Gen. 3:7–12). Nakedness (intimacy), designed to feel natural, now feels painful and exposing—or, to put it the way many men have put it, "awkward."
Healing can only start with being honest about what porn is—and what it does. •
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