Pornography and the Integrity of Marriage, Part One
- Wednesday, June 08, 2005
The intersection of pornography and marriage is one of the most problematic issues among many couples today -- including Christian couples. The pervasive plague of pornography represents one of the greatest moral challenges faced by the Christian church in the postmodern age. With eroticism woven into the very heart of the culture, celebrated in its entertainment, and advertised as a commodity, it is virtually impossible to escape the pervasive influence of pornography in our culture and in our lives.
At the same time, the problem of human sinfulness is fundamentally unchanged from the time of the Fall until the present. There is no theological basis for assuming that human beings are more lustful, more defenseless before sexual temptation, or more susceptible to the corruption of sexual desire than was the case in any previous generation.
Two distinctions mark the present age from previous eras. First, pornography has been so mainstreamed through advertising, commercial images, entertainment, and everyday life, that what would have been illegal just a few decades ago is now taken as common dress, common entertainment, and unremarkable sensuality. Second, explicit eroticism--complete with pornographic images, narrative, and symbolism -- is now celebrated as a cultural good in some sectors of the society. Pornography, now reported to be the seventh-largest business in America, claims its own icons and public figures. Hugh Hefner, founder of Playboy, is considered by many Americans to be a model of entrepreneurial success, sexual pleasure, and a liberated lifestyle. The use of Hugh Hefner as a spokesman by a family-based hamburger chain in California indicates something of how pornography itself has been mainstreamed in the culture.
Growing out of those two developments is a third reality -- namely, that increased exposure to erotic stimulation creates the need for ever-increased stimulation in order to demand notice, arouse sexual interest, and retain attention. In an odd twist, hyper-exposure to pornography leads to a lower net return on investment -- which is to say that the more pornography one sees the more explicit the images must be in order to excite interest. As the postmodernist would explain, in order to "transgress," pornographers must continue to press the envelope.
One further qualification must be added to this picture. Pornography is mainly, though not exclusively, a male phenomenon. That is to say, the users and consumers of pornography are overwhelmingly male -- boys and men. In the name of women's liberation, some pornography directed towards a female market has emerged in recent years. Nevertheless, this is decidedly a "niche" market in the larger pornographic economy. The fact remains that many men pay a great deal of money and spend a great deal of time looking at and looking for pornographic images in order to arouse themselves sexually.
Why is pornography such a big business? The answer to that question lies in two fundamental realities. First, the most fundamental answer to the question must be rooted in a biblical understanding of human beings as sinners. We must take into full account the fact that sin has corrupted every good thing in creation, and the effects of sin extend to every dimension of life. The sex drive, which should point toward covenant fidelity in marriage and all the goods associated with that most basic institution, has instead been corrupted to devastating effects. Rather than directed toward fidelity, covenantal commitment, procreation, and the wonder of a one-flesh relationship, the sex drive has been degraded into a passion that robs God of His glory, celebrating the sensual at the expense of the spiritual, and setting what God had intended for good on a path that leads to destruction in the name of personal fulfillment.
The most important answer we can give to pornography's rise in popularity is rooted in the Christian doctrine of sin. As sinners, we corrupt what God has perfectly designed for the good of His creatures and we have turned sex into a carnival of orgiastic pleasures. Not only have we severed sex from marriage, but as a society, we now look at marriage as an imposition, chastity as an embarrassment, and sexual restraint as a psychological hang-up. The doctrine of sin explains why we have exchanged the glory of God for Sigmund Freud's concept of polymorphous perversity.
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