Porn is a global, estimated $97 billion industry, with about $12 billion of that coming from the U.S.”1 The consumption of pornography (porn) in the United States has climbed sharply with the proliferation of the internet and smartphones. More than 77 percent of Americans view pornography at least once a month.2 At least 30 percent of all internet traffic is to pornographic websites.3 What about in the church?4
“Sixty-four percent of self-identified Christian men and 15 percent of self-identified Christian women view pornography at least once a month (compared to 65 percent of non-Christian men and 30 percent of non-Christian women).
“Thirty-three percent of clergy say they have visited a sexually explicit Web site. Of those who have visited sexually explicit websites, 53 percent say they have visited the sites a few times in the past year, and 18 percent said they visited explicit Web sites between ‘a couple times a month’ and ‘more than once a week.’
“Twenty-one percent of youth pastors and 14 percent of pastors admit they currently struggle with pornography.”5
This is of grave concern because pornography is the very antithesis of Christian conduct. Pornography promises to deliver pleasure, but it disseminates pain. In porn, women are disrespected, coerced, and physically and verbally abused, and that reality is shaping how society thinks and acts.
While not all porn portrays physical or verbal violence, even nonviolent porn has been shown to have effects. Much research has confirmed that those who consume even nonviolent porn are more likely to support statements that agree with or even promote abuse and sexual aggression toward women and girls.6 The most likely explanation is that most porn depicts men as powerful and in charge and women as submissive and obedient. This attitude sets the stage for unequal power dynamics in couple relationships, resulting in slow-but-sure acceptance of verbal and physical aggression against women.
Of greater concern is that porn consumption affects not only men’s attitudes toward women but also their actions. In a large study conducted in 2016, the researchers concluded that, “on the average, individuals who consume pornography more frequently are more likely to hold attitudes conducive [favorable] to sexual aggression and engage in actual acts of sexual aggression.”7 Porn consumers are more likely to use verbal pressure, drugs, and alcohol to coerce women into sex, and exposure to porn increases having violent fantasies and actually committing violent assaults.8
The dangerous intersection
The National Center on Sexual Exploitation highlights three ways domestic violence intersects with pornography:9
1.Pornography sets expectations of violence and abuse. In a deranged way, pornography acts as a form of sexual education, teaching children, young men, and adult males the lesson that female sexual partners should enjoy physical acts such as hitting, gagging, slapping, or non-consensual sex. We have been approached by women and are often asked questions during couples’ retreats about certain forms of sex that they were not accustomed to before and that their husbands are now asking for and, at times, requiring. One woman told us of how her husband demands sex every day, and when she rejects his advances, he, basically, rapes her. Not surprisingly, research conducted in 2011 is clear that even mainstream pornography use by frequent viewers is associated with greater intent to commit rape.10
2. Very often, abusers use pornographic videos or nude pictures they have taken themselves of their victims in order to either coerce or punish victims in abusive relationships by threatening to share—or actually sharing—them online. While the term “revenge pornography” is not often connected to domestic violence or abusive relationships, these phenomena often overlap. Fortunately, at least 40 states and the District of Columbia have passed laws against nonconsensual sharing of videos or nude pictures.11
3. Pornography use by domestic abusers can increase the odds of sexual assault. Janet Hinson Shope conducted a study of 271 battered women, in which 30 percent stated their abusers reportedly used pornography.12 Shope concluded that “the majority of women (58%) whose abusers used pornography acknowledged that the pornography had affected their abuse.” Research found a link between pornography use and marital rape, which is a form of domestic abuse. According to their findings, men who use pornography and go to strip clubs were found to engage in higher rates of sexual abuse, stalking, and marital rape.13
It is a private matter
Most, if not all, porn consumers will tell you that watching porn is simply a private matter and that it does not hurt anyone. But research shows that porn makes many consumers more likely to support violence against women and believe that women secretly enjoy being raped, which leads many to be sexually aggressive in real life.14 One study found that “those with higher exposure to violent porn were six times more likely to have raped someone than did those who had low past exposure.”15
Mary Anne Layden, director of the Sexual Trauma and Psychopathology Program Center at the University of Pennsylvania, stated that “40 percent of abused women indicated that their partner used violent pornography.”16 She also cited research which found that men who view pornography tend to view their partners as less attractive. It affects negatively the way they see their own spouse because she will never be able to compare or compete with the countless, and apparently nearly perfect, women they see on the screen.
In a world of internet clouds, tablets, computers, and hand-held devices, the war against pornography will probably never be completely won. Among all these forces, the church plays a unique role in how women and the weak should be treated and in the proper role of sex within the context of marriage. Men in church may think, in common with other men, that viewing pornography is a private matter. The reality is that even occasional use of pornography affects how they view women—and most important their relationship with Christ.
Breaking up is hard to do
Jeremiah, known as the weeping prophet, declared, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jer. 17:9, ESV). Only 9 percent of church goers and 7 percent of pastors can identify a program at their church to help those struggling with pornography.17 So, what are we to do?
1. Start the journey to freedom immediately. Break the addiction—yes, addiction—to pornography—the sooner, the better. Breaking up is hard to do, but it is the only way. We created a resource to help you get started. You can view it and share it for free. Visit the newfreedomtolove.org website where you will find testimonials, sermons and seminars, and other links and resources that can help you get started on the journey toward freedom from porn addiction. For additional help and resources, you can also visit the gatewaytowholeness.com website. In some cases, you may have to seek professional counseling help.
2. Guard your mind—it’s a heart matter. Jesus made it clear that it is a matter of the heart when He said, “Good people do good things because of the good in their hearts. Bad people do bad things because of the evil in their hearts. Your words [and actions] show what is in your heart” (Luke 6:45, CEV). Solomon knew that fact well when he wrote, “Carefully guard your thoughts because they are the source of true life” (Prov. 4:23, CEV).
Instead of feeding your mind with images that distort God’s gift of sex and demean His daughters, accept God’s invitation, “Give me your heart, my son, and let your eyes delight in my ways” (Prov. 23:26, NASB). Take these encouraging words and claim them for yourself: “The only defense against evil is the indwelling of Christ in the heart through faith in His righteousness. Unless we become vitally connected with God, we can never resist the unhallowed effects of self-love, self-indulgence, and temptation to sin. We may leave off many bad habits, for the time we may part company with Satan; but without a vital connection with God, through the surrender of ourselves to Him moment by moment, we shall be overcome.”18
3. Recruit others to help you. The battle for freedom from pornography is not one we can fight alone. Solomon explained it this way: “Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed” (Eccl. 4:9, NLT). Now, more than ever, you need the help of others. Begin with your spouse or those closest to you and ask them to help you by being your accountability partners. Loneliness often drives a person to fill that void with porn.
While porn and intimate partner violence are dangerous kissing cousins, you do not have to be the instrument and your spouse and others the hapless victims. It is in your power to make the decision and take the steps necessary, beginning today, to end both of these toxic, poisonous devices of the devil before they destroy others, and you.
1 Mike Genung, “The Road to Grace,” https://www.roadtograce.net /current-porn-statistics/
2 Tim Rymel, “Does Pornography Lead to Sexual Assault?” HuffPost, August 26, 2016, https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/does-pornography-lead-to-sexual-assault_us_57c0876ae4b0b01630de8c93.
3 R. Douglas Fields, “The Explosive Mix of Sex and Violence,” Psychology Today, January 26, 2016, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-new-brain/201601/the-explosive-mix-sex-and-violence.
4 A version of this article was first published in the September 2019 issue of Adventist Review.
5 Mike Genung, “The Road to Grace,” https://www.roadtograce.net /current-porn-statistics/
7 Paul J. Wright, Robert Tokunaga, and Ashley Kraus, “A Meta-Analysis of Pornography Consumption and Actual Acts of Sexual Aggression in General Population Studies,” Journal of Communication 66, no. 1 (February 2016): 183–205.
8 “Porn Can Lead to Violence.”
9 Haley Halverson with Emily Hale, “Three Ways Domestic Violence Is Connected to Pornography,” End Sexual Exploitation, October 1, 2018, https://endsexualexploitation.org/articles/three-ways -domestic-violence-is-connected-to-pornography/.
10 John D. Foubert, Matthew W. Brosi, and R. Sean Bannon, “Pornogra-phy Viewing Among Fraternity Men: Effects on Bystander Interven-tion, Rape Myth Acceptance and Behavioral Intent to Commit Sexual Assault,” Sexual Addiction & Compulsivity 18, no. 4 (2011): 212–231.
12 Janet Hinson Shope, “When Words Are Not Enough: The Search for the Effect of Pornography on Abused Women,” Violence Against Women 10, no. 1 (2004): 56–72.
13 Catherine A. Simmons, Peter Lehmann, and Shannon Collier-Tension, “Linking Male Use of the Sex Industry to Controlling Behaviors in Vi-olent Relationships: An Exploratory Analysis,” Violence Against Women 14, no. 4 (2008): 406–417.
14 “Porn Can Lead to Violence.”
15 “Porn Can Lead to Violence.”
16 Jay Everson, “To Confront Domestic Violence, We Must Confront Pornography,” Washington Times, February 12, 2015, https://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2015/feb/12/op-ed-to-confront -domestic-violence-we-must-confro/.
17 Mike Genung, “The Road to Grace.” https://www.roadtograce.net /current-porn-statistics/
18 Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1940), 324.