For context, I recently wrote a dissertation about domestic abuse, male privilege and the degradation of women. Due to the undeniable links between pornography consumption and levels of violence against women, I considered the harmful nature of consuming women in the form of explicit material – reading or watching. In this article, when I refer to women I am doing so with an awareness that men are victims of porn as well, however, due to the nature of my dissertation, which focused primarily on violence against women, I only refer to women in this article.
From a Christian perspective, the viewing of pornography is inherently bad, as it is primarily about pursuing hedonism, and in this, uses people as a means to an end. It is juxtaposed to the entire biblical narrative where we see people cherished and loved by God, and as ends in themselves.
Pornography creates the allusion that we are not hurting anyone; we can tell ourselves that in the comfort and privacy of our own home or bedroom, we are the only ones involved, but this is not the case. Behind our computer screen are people, loved by God yet systematically exploited by other humans. Sure, some people may work in the porn industry out of choice but how many more end up in front of a camera non-consensually? Jesus spells it out for us in Matthew 25:27-28: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery in his heart.” People are being hurt even if there is geographical distance between us and them. We cannot live under the false narrative that consuming pornography is okay, as it involves consuming people. When people are consumed in such a way, we are suggesting that they are “its” rather than “thous”.
Some may protest, and argue that viewing pornography prevents sexual violence, however, the viewer of pornography is actually enabling and perpetrating violence against women in watching the explicit material. In defining pornography, Catherine McKinnon assumes that it is inherently derogatory towards women: “Pornography is the graphic sexually explicit subordination of women through pictures and/or words.” This suggests that not only the viewing of pornography, but the creation of it, and pornography itself are also acts of gender-based violence.
Despite the obvious pain that the porn industry inflicts upon women, and how it is the antithesis of what God meant for sex, pornography addiction is very much a problem within churches. Premier Christian News found that 42% of Christian men in the UK admit to having a pornography addiction. People can become addicted to pornography in the same way that they can become addicted to drugs; the brain has neuroplasticity; it can be re-wired as you increase in tolerance for the pornography you watch. Pornography depicts sexual scenes in which (usually) the man, is in total control of the situation and the woman. When a man with patriarchal beliefs watches pornography, it may affirm his views as it depicts male domination as the norm:
“Domestic abuse is about power and control, thus the man who wields power over his partner in an abusive manner, has his views consolidated when he watches pornography. What he views online reinforces his personal views.”
Pornography affirms objectification. If a man views a woman in pornography being treated as less than fully human, then he may internalise this view and treat his wife or partner accordingly, seeing her as an object, rather than a person. He may come to disregard her sexual desires in a bid to bring sexual gratification to himself.
“Objectification is a critical reason why an abuser tends to get worse over time…by depersonalising his partner, the abuser protects himself from the natural human emotions of guilt and empathy.”
Porn depicts images of women as objects who are beaten, raped and battered, and even seem to enjoy it. It creates highly unrealistic expectations of sex and relationships and emphasises the idea of women as submissive beings who are simply to be used for male pleasure. Porn encourages male privilege and even suggests that women want to be abused by showing them feeling pleasure by being hurt.
‘Fight the New Drug’ is an organisation which aims to help people see the damaging effects that porn can have on individuals, relationships and society as a whole. It highlights the link there is between addiction to pornography and violence towards women. It has found that “among the effects of the use of pornography are an increased negative attitude towards women, decreased empathy for victims of sexual violence and an increase in dominating and sexually imposing behaviour”. A study they carried out found that 88% of the scenes in pornography depict aggression or violence. This indicates the prevalence of aggression shown in pornography; it is so common that it becomes normalized. Sexual abuse and domestic abuse are fetishised in pornography. The site Pornhub features categories like “wife abuse”, “painal”, “domestic discipline”, “crying in pain” and “sleep assault” suggesting that seeing women in pain is commonly searched for. This implies that people’s brains associate violence with sexual arousal.
Pornography is a clear example of how women are devalued. In pornography, women are stripped of their humanity and made into objects for consumption. They are actively made less than human for the sexual gratification of others. Pornography presents women in such a way that says they are not made in the image of God.