A Path to Freedom

Getting to the Root of Pornography's False Promises

Being the youngest child in my family, it became a habit to resign responsibility to those who seemed to consistently take it: my parents, older brothers. They were the centers and sources of security, the mature. They would make sure everything was okay in the end. I left home for college in 2016 and suddenly realized my own dependence and immaturity cultivated in childhood, but managed to adjust as every incoming freshman does. But still something seemed to be missing. I was looking outward, looking back home, desiring the familiar, fearing the new. As a junior in college I picked up Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life, which in a nutshell is all about taking incremental responsibility to make real progress and meaning in life. It was an interesting read, with some wonderful commentary on the psychological dynamics of Genesis 3. I read a great deal on spiritual formation, psychology, and ethics during my time at Wheaton College, but through it all in my desire to make sense of my experience and the human experience at large, an on and off struggle with lust and pornography punctuated my life.

Struggling with something harmful is one thing but failing to understand the underlying conditions of a problem is much worse. It makes for conditions of despair and confusion. Recognizing my long-standing tendency in choosing passive isolation instead of initiative service, however, and “doing my own thing,” cast a transformative light on my relationship with this destructive material.

The average child encounters pornography at a remarkably young age, and it seems like the statistics are grimmer each year. I first encountered it age 15, somewhat on accident, after believing that somehow I would personally be immune to its horrors. I would never look at that stuff, I thought. Through years of seeking freedom, healing, and accountability, there was something internal which still preferred this bodiless fantasy to flesh and blood relationships, and it drove my intellect to the ground trying to figure out why. It became increasingly clear that both men and women in my acquaintance were also plagued by the allure of pornography, and realizing its widespread use in the church and out of it, I knew this was a complex issue for the many despite its taboo nature.

What has recently started to alter my understanding of this epidemic of pornography is situating it in a larger context that glorifies ease, pleasure, and comfort over discipline, service, and responsibility. In short, we live and breathe in a culture that revolves around the short-term desires of the self, and the worst of it is, we’re told that this is the key to ultimate satisfaction. Although I didn’t consciously acknowledge it, for most of my life I have not really considered myself as a person who is totally responsible for the life I lead. I have expected others to fill in the gaps of my own passivity.

Pornography is essentially a terrible way to shortcut intimacy without the irritation of vulnerability and the messiness of human connection. John Steinbeck wrote of this tendency in his masterpiece East of Eden: “Indeed, most of [our] vices are attempted shortcuts to love.” It is the false and evil mockery of what God intended to be a challenging but beautiful relationship. It is exploiting a human being for selfish, short term pleasure. This is the opposite mindset of the servant heart of Jesus, who emptied himself to benefit us (Phil. 2:8). That entails a massive responsibility on our part, but not an impossible one. For once we see how much we are genuinely loved by God and those close to us, we have the security and the power to love and serve joyfully in return. The solution to pornography addiction, then, cannot be a crucifixion of sexual desires. The solution lies in pursuing pornography’s opposite, which is service and charity, virtues that were ultimately expressed on the cross. That, after all, is what marriage and sexuality are all about in the kingdom economy: self-giving for the spiritual growth of the other. And whether single or married, we can practice that now.

Peter Biles is the author of Hillbilly Hymn and Keep and Other Stories. He graduated from Wheaton College in Illinois in 2019 and holds a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from Seattle Pacific University. He has also written stories and essays for a variety of publications, including Plough, Dappled Things, The Gospel Coalition, Salvo, and Breaking Ground.

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