Can Porn be used responsibly?

This term at a local trade school I have the honor of teaching college level speech and ethics. My ethics class, to be honest, can be a challenge at times. This is because I instruct from a philosophical perspective which means that I am limited to teaching from two categories: 1) reason and 2) experience.

Certainly my training at the seminary level had to do with the way of Jesus and how this provides the center of all ethical discourse. For instance, the title of the class that I both took and eventually was a “teaching assistant” for was called Discipleship and Ethics. The title implies that we take up our ethics from the rabbi, namely Jesus. By no means would I say that religion never comes up in my philosophy of ethics course. Everyone knows I’m a pastor and that each of us comes to the table with various religious perspectives. Yet, I cannot appeal to this as my foundation for argument.

This became increasingly clear in a discussion on sexuality and pornography. Several arguments can be made as to why pornography ought to be limited in a society. Sexual addiction, for instance, is one of these issues. The inherent degradation of women would be another issue, which feminists rightly point out is a reason that pornography should be limited. These are two of many pragmatic reasons for setting boundaries around porn, that complement a Jesus centered ethic without having to appeal directly to the Scriptures.

If we were to appeal to Jesus on this matter, he easily renders porn (which ought to be distinguished from merely nude anatomy: for instance, art) outside of a life in a faith community that places God’s character at the center. My view is that porn always removes God from the center replacing the Divine with lustful desires. Porn never glorifies God or embodies what St. Irenaeus proclaimed: “The glory of God is humanity fully alive.” Porn distorts God’s image-bearers, thus misrepresenting our perception of God’s glory.

For obvious reasons I wish that the previous paragraph could be part of my toolkit in class; but it is not. And clearly, the room was divided on the issue. No one outright said porn was always wrong, but some demonstrated varying degrees of comfort with accessibility to porn.

One student believed that porn actually could be a useful educational tool. His reasoning was that we ought not to make sex a “dirty” thing to our children, so we should expose them to it (responsibly) at a young age. From his perspective, responsible exposure when coupled with education leads to non-predatory, healthy, and safe expressions of sex as children grow up into their teens and early adulthood.

On one level, I agree. I hope to be the sort of parent that openly discusses sexuality with my children as something beautifully designed by God as an expression of marital love. Sex is not dirty. On this point I agree with my student.

The application of how to train up children with a view of sex as something “good” totally diverges on two different paths from this point. I asked him pointedly: “Would you be okay with watching porn with a 10 year old?”

His response: “For the purpose of teaching about sex as something normal and part of life, I would have no problem showing my son pornography.” He went on to say that in doing so that we also need to train them that what happens in porn is fantasy, just like science fiction films, so that we guide them to know the difference between that and reality. This approach, from his view, would lead to healthy and responsible sexual ethics. Obviously I disagreed.

I eventually, after much discussion on the topic brought us back to a conversation we had on sexual ethics. The foundational question, that we needed to go back to, was:“What is the proper context for sexual expression?”

I then broke it down into categories as follows:

Context for Sex

- Consent between two adults?

- Recreational activity?

————————————–

- Love?

- Marriage?

If we believe that the top two categories give us the basic context for sexual expression, then educating with porn might (almost) make sense in certain situations. As you watch two paid actors/actresses perform illicit actions, they are both consenting adults doing a recreational activity in order to make money. Porn does not auto-deconstruct an ethical system in which love and/or marriage only apply to context of sex in some circumstances. This of course, assumes that the sort of pornography being viewed is not a product of sex slavery, prostitution, and other non-consenting situations.

What changes the argument, then, is if we believe that sexual expression is supposed to be reserved for the context of love and/or marriage alone. As soon as we move in this direction (which for Christians is always covenantal) it becomes a logical impossibility to observe sex for educational purposes between two parties that do not love each other, or even better, that are not committed to one another in the bonds of marriage. Porn always deconstructs love.

Clearly, these categories invite honest reflection about one’s approach to parental guidance when it comes to sex. In parenting, we have to first determine our foundational understanding about the proper place of sex, in order to determine if porn could potentially be utilized responsibly for educational purposes. Perhaps this is why PG has always meant “parental guidance suggested.” Of course, sexual standards continue to stretch beyond the imaginations of previous generations, which is why we are having this discussion in the first place.

For those of us who seek to follow Christ, we remember that the context of healthy sexuality is always in the marriage bed. Jesus says that looking at a woman (the same could be true for a man) lustfully is grounds for adultery. This is because he appealed to an inward virtue ethic that allows our inner life to determine our outward actions. God invites us to allow the Holy Spirit to shape our character to make us look more like Jesus, free from the shackles of longing for someone other than a spouse. Porn never accomplishes this aim in any circumstance.

Collectively, we are the “temple of the Holy Spirit” where God dwells. Whereas the cults of the ancient world facilitated degrading sex-acts in temples devoted to pagan gods, the biblical God abides in a temple preparing to be a bride, unblemished before Christ upon the church’s immanent wedding day in the renewed creation (1 Cor. 6, Eph. 5, Rev. 21). When sexual expression is placed in the biblical context of marriage, we recognize that porn can never be used responsibly because it never points us towards the most beautiful of unions: heaven to earth and God to us.

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  • KarenZach

    Thoughtful analysis of an ever-increasing problem in this culture. There is an ever-increasing correlation between the rise in porn, particularly kiddie porn, and the rise is child sex abuse, but the people using porn don’t want to look at that. 

  • http://twitter.com/Ryan_LR Ryan Robinson

    I attend a more liberal seminary in Canada, and I was a little surprised by the openness to pornography in certain situations when we discussed it in my ethics class. We talked about it for educational purposes, such as your student brought up, or for those who seek to minister to those involved in pornography. We also talked about it for health purposes, such as if an older man had surgery and it took a lot to get him working again – porn could speed up the process so he could get back to his wife faster.  I’m not sure I entirely bought into either argument.

    We also discussed how a large portion of porn promotes violence against women, and almost all porn promotes unrealistic expectations of women (and of men to a lesser degree). One of the more interesting examples of that is pubic hair, and a classmate cited a study that found that men who watched porn were more likely to struggle with attraction to minors because they got used to no pubic hair. On the flip side, we discussed how a lot of the “actors” in porn do choose to do it, so can we really say they’re being degraded if that’s what they want? (I still say yes)

    • http://restorativetheology.blogspot.com/ Brian R. Gumm

      I would be careful to place too much weight on “individual choice” divorced from socioeconomic realities, including such particular traumas as sexual abuse in childhood or adolescence – which is incredibly high for workers in the industry.

      • http://twitter.com/Ryan_LR Ryan Robinson

        Exactly. That’s a big part of why I still think it is a problem even if they seemed to choose it.

  • Erin

    Hey Kurt,
    Perhaps have your student do a ‘hardcore’ study about the evolution of porn. As one who has been working against human trafficking for quite some time, and knows the intricate relationship between porn & the sex trade, we must recognize that porn is becoming increasingly violent. As an educational tool, we would have to accept that we would be showing our children “how to” perform many lewd sex acts, including faux rape, “cause pain to maintain”, etc. Studies in the UK and elsewhere are showing also that as children are exposed to porn at younger ages, boys especially begin to believe that their first girlfriends will likewise act as a porn pin-up would. When girls, who are taught to say a firm “NO!” when they aren’t ready for sex, but boys have been taught that girls will roll over at any time, the sexual energy often is translated in date violence or DV. As you say, if religion cannot be brought into your classroom, perhaps introducing your students to the new trends of porn and the impacts and correlations there are coming along with them.

  • http://twitter.com/dckenney David Kenney

    My parents exposed me to “educational” soft porn when I was a kid to do the same thing – teach – breed familiarity – make me comfortable. But it back fired. It started me on a path of full blown addiction. Paul says there should not even be a “hint” of sexual immorality in us – he says don’t even talk about it. Now at 44 I am still in recovery trying to remove this vicious and destructive behavior from my life.

  • http://www.facebook.com/annie.bullock Annie Vocature Bullock

    So I’ve heard this analogy: watching porn helps you learn about sex like watching Pirates of the Caribbean might help you learn how to sail a ship. Which is to say, it doesn’t. Porn is not a realistic depiction of healthy sexual activity between consenting adults.

    The issue of consent is also thorny. Although the women in porn may appear to consent–and let’s be honest that this is not always the case; there is certainly a place for rape in porn–we cannot know the circumstances and we do know that women who do porn often do so because they are trapped in some way–by addiction, coercion, or some other circumstance. It’s entirely possible that you’re watching a pantomime of desire by a woman who would rather be anywhere else.

    Choice is a complicated category and we cannot appeal to it easily in these situations.

  • http://middletree.blogspot.com James Williams

    You have a lot of insightful thoughts here, Kurt. This is a very strong piece.

    As an attempt to answer the question in the headline, there is a completely different point worth mentioning:  it’s becoming more and more clear that a large percentage, perhaps a majority, of participants (that is, actors in porn films, or models in posed pictures) are not willing participants. Either outright sex slaves or women who got lured in by a dependency on drugs.  The fact that viewing porn is likely enabling human trafficking is one more reason to avoid it.

  • http://restorativetheology.blogspot.com/ Brian R. Gumm

    Have them read Getting Off: Pornography and the End of Masculinity by Robert Jensen, a radical secular feminist (yes, he’s a man and a feminist). As you can infer from the author’s perspective it’s totally “non-religious” but it lifts the veil off of individualistic and utilitarian arguments for porn. The degredation of typically socioeconomically poor women who get pulled into the industry, chewed up and spit out, and the escalating violence in contemporary porn are all pretty sobering arguments against it as having any possible social “good.”

  • http://twitter.com/well_acquainted Heidi Fischer

    I know this isn’t the point of your post, but I’m just going to put it out there that a lot of porn actually isn’t between two consenting adults. Oh sure you have your “movie star” level porn, but  that isn’t what most things out there is anyways.

     The same way a lot of “prostitutes” are sex slaves, the same goes for porn. So maybe people should think about how they feel about watching forced sex, because thats what a lot of people are doing. And while they are at it they should think about how they feel about watching child porn or at least supporting it. Because lets think about it – the same people who are OK with making slave porn, aren’t going to have any issues using children. The other thing is forced or not, it’s not as though most of these people have health benefits. So not to be too graphic but some of this hardcore sex isn’t going to do wonders for your body, then of course there are STI’s. 

  • http://patheos.com/blogs/thepangeablog/ Kurt Willems

    I just added a line referencing “forced porn”. Great comments on this point!

  • jduerrstein

    Reading Empire of Illusion by Chris Hedges exposed me to what the industry really is, and what is actually going on.
    Check out http://www.truthdig.com/arts_culture/page3/20091011_the_victims_of_pornography/for an excerpt from his chapter “Illusion of Love”.

    I can see this topic being difficult to discuss from a purely philosophical perspective (apart from Christian Ethics).  But I think that in reading the chapter gives a greater understanding of what the “actors” are going through when making porn.  This is why I could not ethically (apart from Christian Ethics) stand behind porn being “responsibly” used.

  • Nathan McC

    Porn as education? That’s kind of like saying we will watch Star Wars to learn astronomy.  As you mentioned in your post, it is fantasy, not reality.  A great book is Pornland by Gale Dines.  She is an outspoken critic of the effect that “porn sex” is having on both young men and young women.  It’s worth the read (though warning, it is explicit at times). Or you can just listen to her debate here. http://www.cbc.ca/q/blog/2010/10/15/is-porn-hijacking-our-sexuality/

  • http://therecyclingethic.blogspot.in/ Megan

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/18/porn-brain-shut-down_n_1435324.html

    http://www.yourbrainonporn.com/

    If the conversation is about logic and critical thinking, then most of the time, religion is irrelevant and should be avoided, if possible.

    • http://twitter.com/order42togo Paul Castillo

       Depends on what you mean by religion. If you are talking about Christianity such as Kurt’s faith and mine then there is not way to separate or avoid logic and critical thinking.
      As to where religion usually is avoiding logic and critical thinking. Then yes most of the time religion should be avoided.

      Critical thinking and logic should not be separated from faith. To me they are one and the same.

  • Jeanne S.

    Ridiculous to think an impressionable child would get any healthy view of sex from porno. Rather a distorted, unrealistic view. I shudder to think what young men who have “consumed” porno on a regular basis as they do now, can ever view a woman in a realistic way with regard to her body and a normal libido, let alone love being expressed between the couple instead of raw appetite and self gratification.

  • http://aredemptionofhope.blogspot.com Ally C

    Unpopular opinion:

    i think it depends on A) the type of porn and B) the motivations one has to use (view) said porn. Not all porn is violent, subjugates/degrades women (or men), or even an unrealistic portrayal of sexual relationships. One might use it to discover what they like or don’t like; sex therapists often suggest couples use porn for this reason. 

    i don’t say this to necessarily advocate the use of pornography; rather, to suggest that it isn’t necessarily immoral or evil. 

  • veiledlady

    I am pretty sure there exist amateur sex videos put out by married couples performing together – by your reasoning, these should be acceptable for viewing.

    In my own relationship, my feeling is that all sex is good as long as it only includes myself and my husband, and that porn which depicts other real people is therefore unacceptable.  However, I have no problem with erotic stories or drawings, since in that case one is erotically involved with an artwork rather than a specific other person besides the spouse.  Also, of course, there are no real people potentially being harmed in the production of it.

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/thepangeablog/ Kurt Willems

      That is not fair to what I wrote. Visually graphic depictions of sex, even by people who are married, when viewed by others can only lead to lust… Which I reminded readers that Jesus equates with adultery. This is wrong and I go out of my way to say such.
      KURT WILLEMS
      http://KurtWillems.com
      http://twitter.com/kurtwillems
      http://facebook.com/kurtwillems

      • veiledlady

         I am sorry, I did not mean to be unfair. I had just never heard that sort of argument before.  I do agree with your article.

        • http://patheos.com/blogs/thepangeablog/ Kurt Willems

          No offense taken :-) have a great night!

    • http://www.facebook.com/timothy.dedeaux.9 Timothy Dedeaux

      I have to disagree with the issue of erotic stories, to a point.

      True, there are a lot of books that include sexual scenes without being pornography, just like many Hollywood movies contain sexual material, again without being pornography. Many books can blur the line, though, including incredibly explicit scenes as part of a strong narrative (Jean Auel’s novels come to mind – they’re well-researched and well-written, but very explicit.)
      However, from the perspective of encouraging lustful thoughts not connected with one’s spouse, they all have a danger.
      Sure, no actual humans were harmed in the making of Fifty Shades of Gray or the later Anita Blake books (talk about a bait-and-switch: there were six books of urban fantasy noir, and then a rapid shift to a thin plot wrapped around sex scenes), but dwelling on sexual fantasies about fictional people is only marginally better than dwelling on sexual fantasies about real people.
      Of course, where do you draw the line? Do I turn away from Titian or Rosetti? Well, no. But artistic nudity is hardly the same as graphic portrayals of actual sexual acts, even written ones.

      I don’t know. I don’t want to sound like I’m preaching or condemning anybody. I do, however, think that the spiritual danger of written erotica is often overlooked, possibly because it so often flies under the radar.

  • http://www.dennismccaskill.com Dennis McCaskill

    Dear God what a messed up piece this is. I was introduced to porn as a young teenager and it near ruined my life (I got completely addiction and has suicidal thoughts because of the addiction). There is no way it should be used as an educational, most young men have no idea on how to control themselves, it would be totally self defeating. I wrote this piece based on my experience with porn. 
    http://dennismccaskill.com/Articles/General/The-devil-s-new-weapon-against-christianity.html

  • Rebecca

    It seems to me like a major point of your post is not so much about the issue of porn itself but the issue of how we talk about the ethics of these types of subjects when a faith perspective is removed from the conversation. You have highlighted well the problem with divorcing faith from philosophy and ethics: we have no grounds on which to pronounce something “wrong”. We can only talk in general terms of how we “feel” about things, or whether or not it could be “helpful” in some vague sense to someone, but we must skirt around the moral question all together when there’s no standard by which we can judge what is right. I do not envy you trying to have such conversations. It does not surprise me, however, that people could come to the conclusion that porn could be okay in certain situations when the conversation is framed this way. Without a common frame of reference for a shared sexual ethic, this kind of thinking results.

  • Brian

    Just something to think about… most people who want to argue for the use of porn and even those who are arguing against it are basing their case on the question, “What is wrong with it.”  I think the Bible encourages us to ask the question, “What is right with it?”  “If anything is good, lovely… etc… let your mind dwell on these things.”  Can anyone really argue that there is anything good, lovely, honorable, in porn?  And having said this… I know that  most are into it because of a need for love or to self-medicate the pain of not feeling loved/lovely.  S0… to all those struggling with addiction to it, or justifying the use of it, promoting it, or partaking in it.. you are missing out on God’s best for your life.  You are free to do it, God will love you in the midst of it, but because He loves you/us/me… we don’t have to do it and we are equally free not to have to be a part of it.  

    • Paul Clutterbuck

      Amen, bro!! I learned years ago that self-medicating in this way was self-defeating, and decided to take the most radical measures against it. I’ve found since then that one finds much greater closeness to both God and others when this junk is totally “out of sight, out of mind.” I now work for a leading NGO in the child protection sector, and will be getting Twelve Step programmes started for men who offend against women and children (not only sex, but also alcohol, drugs, domestic violence etc). 

      John 12:24 says, “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it abides alone: but if it dies, it will bear much fruit.” My message to sex offenders and other violent men is, “For Christ’s sake, unplug your dongle. You’ll be glad you did.”

  • Leeofsal

    I believe that early exposure to pornography, particularly by a 10-year, is equivalent to molestation. They are too young to responsibly handle such graphic visualization, and now likely struggle in class to see their female friends any other way but erotic. Nature gives us enough “training” in this area, and at age-appropriate time, talking about sex in a good way is healthy, but introducing porn to a child, or young adult, is unleashing a self-destructing, delusional view of reality that most of us men wish was not the case for us.

  • http://twitter.com/RachealDHelmick Racheal D Helmick

    I wonder if said student who thought porn could be used as an educational tool considered the ethical repercussions of supporting an unethical industry.    Buying a video or viewing some thing online is not an isolated action.  But I think this point was sort of already addressed in the comments below.
    Plus, there are also the studies that have shown porn affects brain chemistry, etc. 
    AND…porn can not communicate the emotional, mental, and spiritual attachments that are formed by having sex.  Those attachments have far reaching affects that transcend all other forms of expression. 
    Even from a nonChristian world view, porn is a loosing argument. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/ray.sanchez.10420 Ray Sanchez

    Reading this article is very interesting. I as a very young man was exposed to pornography, and the images  you see burn in the mind for ever! I guess that’s what they mean by be careful what you see. I also found that it changed the dynamics of my relationship with women. I never knew as a adolescent the right or wrong of sex. I know if you are exposed to “porn” by your family, you might think it’s OK.  It was not till i got saved that i started down the right path of sex. I know the emotional roller coaster was hard to bare, there is lots of anger, and just unrealistic expectations. I believe God plan for “sex” is beautiful, but as humans we have always been able to ruin a great thing that God has given us.       

  • http://twitter.com/Ryan_LR Ryan Robinson

    On the topic of whether porn could be a good source of education for kids/teenagers learning about sex, I don’t buy it because it is so unrealistic. I could see pointing them to other movies with sex scenes, but not full-out porn. One movie I can think of which I actually really appreciated was Young People F***ing; it gave a pretty realistic look at sex and the complicated issues involved through the (fictional) stories of 3 or 4 different couples.

  • Been There

    I love the entire article.  I agree 100% from a Christian perspective and from a logical perspective.  If a man is turning to other women to reach his sexual satisfaction, it is stealing intimacy from his wife, and thus constitutes a sexual affair.  (The repercussions of such are obvious.  How valuable is she?  Clearly she does not satisfy her own husband.  How is she supposed to feel?)  

    The idea of objectifying sex and women is also degrading, not only to the man and his wife, but to society and women as a whole.  We are not objects.  

    Men do NOT learn good technique from porn.  I once heard that “Watching porn for sexual education is like watching Syfy to learn about Advanced Physics.”  Nope.  lol  

    And, go ahead and say that it’s “two consenting adults”, but when I was younger, I considered making films.  Why?  I had been raped several times, I was in an abusive marriage, and my (then) husband was addicted to pornography.  He’d married me for my bust in the same way that he’d browse “Busty Babes” on red tube.  The reason I considered it is because I had NO OTHER VALUE.  Saying that, after finding healing, my heart goes out to the actresses.  What a terrible life.  

    And lastly, porn, like any evil, has the possibility to grow darker, beyond BDSM.  I once conversed with a woman who caught her husband with child porn.  In trying to understand it, I realized that child porn is the final straw before molestation.  He may not have touched a little girl, yet…but he just paid someone to rape her for him.  

    Legal porn holds true to the same concept.  He may not have stepped out on his wife, but he just paid someone else to do it for him.  And yes…he got pleasure from it.  That’s not okay.

    I stand against porn on all fronts, and my (current) husband stands with me.  It is degrading, and we won’t allow it in our lives.

  • Guest

    I thank you for your thoughts on this issue. For me it is about removing God as the center of your life. As someone who is still recovering from the discovery of a family members porn addiction, I can speak ti the pain and betrayal I felt as a woman and a minister. The act of watching porn is disrespectful to women and to God. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/BuckeyePastor Bill Pavuk

    I can’t help but wonder if this student who said he plans to watch porn with his 10-year old son has children?   His statement sounds to me like the words of someone that does not yet have children.  Before I had kids, I was very bold (and foolish) in considering what I would and wouldn’t do as a parent.   It is very often a very different thing when you’re dealing with the flesh and blood reality.   

    • Paule

       Of course he does not have children.  But I do not place the blame for this statement all upon him.  He is the result of “critical thinking”.  Critical thinking+sinful humanity=all types of divergent thinking.  Bravo.

  • http://arleenspenceley.blogspot.com/ Arleen Spenceley

    Preach! Great post.

  • Hadyn

    Agree with the article, disagree that porn can be used as educational. Porn is made for a specific purpose, to arouse, not to educate. Therefore it will/can never educate us about sex. If we want to be educated we need to look at more documentary styled media, i.e. the type that has the _purpose_ to educate.


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