Are Christians afraid to talk about pornography? This pertinent question involves numerous important factors we need to consider, including how Christians have historically engaged the issues of sex and pornography. It is within this narrative we gain key perspectives into why believers approach these issues with reticence and trepidation.
A History of Shame
There are certain Christian teachings on sexuality that have led to the proliferation of shame within the broader church community. Dr. Tina Sellers addressed one of these popular doctrines in her article The Naked Truth About the Purity Movement:
The “Christian” Purity Movement is a focus on virginity prior to marriage. It is a focus on “purity” and a focus on not doing sexual behaviors and not having sexual thoughts prior to marriage. It promises if you do this that you will have a blissful marriage with an ecstatic sex life – at least this is what kids who grow up in this movement believe. The opposite is believed as well … if you screw up in any way … your marriage and sex life, if you have one, will be doomed. In truth however, it does nothing to build the skills, attitudes or values needed to understand your core call as God’s beloved or the core call on your life to love as Christ.¹
In essence, the message of the purity movement is overly simplistic and emotionally damaging, leading to the development of fear, shame and trauma in the lives of many Christians who fail to meet the required moral expectations.²
Secondarily, there are major consequences that follow from this approach to sexuality, including isolation and the loss of safety. It becomes safer to remain silent and alone rather than risk the pain of being looked at differently or down upon by fellow Christians because you are no longer sexually pure.
As a Marriage & Family Therapist, I can tell you there is rarely anything as painful for human beings as the loss of safety. When we feel loved and accepted, we experience safety and can open up to others in profound ways. However, when we feel rejected and unloved, we panic and engage fight or flight tendencies. Add to this the feeling of shame, and you have a perfect recipe for self-protection and anxiety.
As a church body, we must make sure that teachings about sexuality are accepting of people wherever they are in life, and avoid creating unhealthy conditions of sexuality based on notions of success or failure. Maintaining this type of humility involves being willing to acknowledge our own imperfections, and remember our acceptance and righteousness before God has nothing to do with whether we’ve had sex before marriage or have allowed pornography into our lives (Romans 3:21-26).
It is inescapable, large numbers of Christians view pornography, and the latest statistics bear this out:
- 57% of pastors and 64% of youth pastors admit they’ve struggled with porn at various points in time.³
- 64% of Christian men and 15% of Christian women say they watch porn at least once a month.⁴
These figures are disturbing, but not surprising. They highlight our human imperfections, reminding us that we as Christians are just as liable as anyone else to use a substance like pornography.
Therefore, we shouldn’t be taken back or afraid when a pastor, parent, or any other believer struggles with viewing sexual content that is literally at our fingertips. Rather, it is central that we remain compassionate, thoughtful and willing to engage in needed conversations with them so that together we can move forward in honoring the Lord.
Because of the prevalence of porn, it is likely that either you or the Christians you know have viewed it at some point in time. That being said, the Christian community can help dispel notions of fear and create environments where healing conversations about pornography can occur by:
- Normalizing its prevalence in society.
- Facilitating healthy, non-shaming, conversations on the topic for men, women and children.
- Openly addressing the issue in our homes, churches and in our broader community.
The more Christians are open about pornography and the more effective we can be in helping one another be successful in remaining free of it in the days ahead.
I will never forget attending a church life group and starting a casual conversation with a close friend. We started discussing what we’d been up to and I happened to mention I was writing an article on how being vulnerable, and letting trusted others know about one’s porn use was an important part of overcoming it.
Little did I know, this same friend would reach out a couple of weeks later to disclose he was struggling with porn, and experiencing great emotional turmoil personally and maritally. Doing so was clearly difficult for him, but he was willing to take the risk of being open. We talked things through and checked in over time, and as a result of his courage he and his marriage are in a much better place. What neither of us knew, however, was that I would later need to reach out to him when I struggled with pornography as well.
As a result of these experiences, there is a bond of trust and safety between us that would never have developed had either one of us not been willing to have those needed conversations. Furthermore, we were willing to face our imperfections, extended love and grace, and help each other reach needing points of healing.
Healing in Forgiveness and Grace
Scripture clearly urges us to live holy and righteous lives (1 Peter 1:13-16), and helps us understand that when we sin sexually we sin against our own bodies (1 Corinthians 6:18-19). However, it also demonstrates we will always be in need of His forgiveness and grace, and the loving support of other Christians:
‘Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest your also be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone things himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But let each one examine his own work, and then he will have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another. For each one shall bear his own load.’ – Galatians 6:1-5, NKJV
The message is clear:
- Trespasses will occur, and our responsibility as Christians is to gently love, support, guide and extend grace to anyone who finds themselves overtaken by porn, premarital sex, or any other imperfection.
- There is no room for looking down upon another person for any such imperfection. Only grace will do.
‘When Jesus had raised Himself up and saw no one but the woman, He said to her, “Woman, where are those accusers of yours? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said to her, “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.” – John 8:10-11, NKJV
Finally Speaking Out
Today, greater numbers of Christians are breaking away from taboos around human sexuality and pornography, and are facing them directly in conversations, in research and in spreading a message of hope to the world around us. Their work is helping to:
- Normalize our human and cultural experiences with sexuality.
- Provide a greater understanding of the prevalence and neurological effects of pornography.
- Help us reclaim a biblical view of sexuality that welcomes and validates our desire for love and sexual intimacy.
- Create communities where Christians can walk together in finding freedom from the bonds pornography.
These positive messages are being sent from a wide array of sources including pastors, counselors, professors, research studies, authors of books and blog posts, etc. The momentum is in our favor, and by the grace of God we will continue to bring change by helping our individuals, families, churches and communities learn to value every human life.
I look forward to the day when human sexuality is treated with the greatest of respect, and may we always be ready to play a role in accomplishing that end.
HEART SET TO FLIGHT
Daunting world of fear and abounding plight;
Wrenching hearts in luminous day and cool dark of night;
Impervious, daunting, you’ve endlessly seemed;
My heart has found hope in what I have believed;
No longer a slave, no, never to be;
The shackles of pain removed, heart set to flight, I am free.
– Eric Joseph Gomez
1. Sellers, T. (2013). The Naked Truth About The Christian Purity Movement.
2. Sellers, T. (2015). How The Purity Movement Causes Symptoms of Sexual Abuse.
3. Kinnaman, D. (2016). The Porn Phenomenon. Barna Research.
4. Covenant Eyes. Porn Statistics. Retrieved October 2016.