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Is it Harmful to Use Terms Like ‘Food Porn’ or ‘Addict’ to Describe Good Things?

Is it Harmful to Use Terms Like ‘Food Porn’ or ‘Addict’ to Describe Good Things?

The acceptance of pornography in American culture has been growing every decade since 1970 and has led to its normalizing and attempts at legalization. With changes to the medium and increasing access to pornography, the opposition is just beginning to increase as well as direct connections between sex trafficking, sex slavery, and abuse are being made by researchers and law enforcement. Studies repeatedly demonstrate that people learn from and emulate what they see, both for positive traits like love and affection, as well as negative situations like violence and objectivity in sexual relationships. 

Research on pornography from 2005 suggested that “Pornography is so seamlessly integrated into popular culture that embarrassment or surreptitiousness is no longer part of the equation” (Pornified, p. 4). With the introduction of the iPhone in 2007, normalization and addiction to pornography spiked with “porn sites online… receiv[ing] more visitors each month than Netflix, Amazon, and Twitter combined. In 2015, the cellphone pornography business was estimated to have reached $2.8 billion” (Aiken, Cyber Effect, 2016, p. 81). The National Center on Sexual Exploitation suggests that “64% of people 13-24 actively seek out pornography weekly or more often” and that “like the tobacco industry, the pornography industry is creating a public health crisis” by teaching that “women enjoy sexual violence,” “consumption of pornography [is] associated with increases in verbal and physical aggression, among males and females alike,” and “pornography is linked to increased female sexual victimization.” 

Celebrities like Terry Crews, Orlando Bloom, Emma Thompson, Chris Rock, Russell Brand, Hugh Grant, and others are speaking out against the dangers and addictions of pornography. Similar to the shift regarding the acceptance of the harmfulness of tobacco, pornography is being recognized as requiring a surgeon general’s warning due to its negative impact on relationships, health, and general wellbeing. While the harm of pornography gains growing awareness, like the warnings on cigarettes, acknowledgment of harm and future damage does not seem to influence present behavior for many people. “Yeah, I know, but…” seems to be the common rationality across our addictions and bad habits. So while pornography and addiction are bad and destructive elements of our culture, we still glorify their presence as a form of rationalization. 

"#starbucksaddict" is trending on TikTok and Twitter. Wikipedia defines food porn (or foodporn) as “a glamourized visual presentation of cooking or eating in advertisements, infomercials, blogs, cooking shows, and other visual media… often tak[ing] the form of food photography with styling that presents food provocatively, in a similar way to glamour photography or pornographic photography.” The application of the noun “porn” to describe a desired, attractive, or stimulating image or concept has permeated the younger generations vocabulary and social media presence, incorporating the language of pornography and sex to interests, hobbies, or desires, including language like “I’m a hoe for…,” anything from books and traveling, to favorite foods and brands. If we are finally recognizing the negative impact of pornography and addiction on society and individuals, should we be using terms like “food porn,” “addict,” or “hoe” to describe neutral or good things? What is the impact of this verbal neutralizing?

Cognitive Dissonance and Seeking Normalcy

Social normalization occurs when ideas that were once outside the social norms or acceptance of society become regular and embedded into our daily functioning. With the invention of the smartphone and the ubiquity of the iPhone, pornography has achieved normalization. However, as society begins to identify the increasingly negative impacts of porn on people, cognitive dissonance occurs in which we recognize pornography as bad but seek to disconnect our experience of lust and desire from sex and redeem it through attachment to food, travel, books, etc. A traditional argument for pornography is that it is a personal choice that doesn’t harm anyone else, but this position is invalidated as our society is identifying the concrete and pervasive harm from pornography. 

When we use terms like “porn,” “addict,” or “hoe” to describe our behaviors and desires, the line between good and bad, right and wrong, becomes blurred and assumes that the pursuit of pleasure, satiation of desire, and the resolution of lust are individual rights requiring expression and fulfillment. Lust is no longer sin, it is a normal experience, whether it is directed toward another person or toward the image of a delicious food or beautiful vacation destination. I become identified by and defined through my desires. 

While pornography is bad and causes harm, those caught in sex slavery, trafficking, and abuse seem distant from us. Our culture has taught us to express outright over distant issues as a means of demonstrating virtue while isolating us from local or relevant concerns in which we can have an impact and make a change. The barrage of horrific world events beyond our capacity to understand and resolve numbs us to a necessity for action in our personal lives and communities. We become jaded and cynical, speaking out against evils like pornography but continuing to engage in its products as we rationalize our inability to make a difference. By separating the lust and desire elements of pornography from its objectification of sex, society seeks to normalize the expression of our desires, numbing us through repeated exposure and usage to the meaning and value of words.

Words Have Meaning and Project Values

Use breeds normalcy and distorts the intended meaning and the objectivity of words. Fat, sick, wicked, and now porn, addict, and hoe shifted from carrying negative connotations to now express normalized and positive experiences or desires. Words and ideas trend in culture due demonstrated through popular use or frequency in search terms. As words gain popular usage, definitions of those words may change as the new application of the word replaces its previous meaning and value. While the nursery rhyme may proclaim, “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me,” the intention and meaning of words demonstrate our heart and values, impacting one’s self-worth and relationships.

David’s prayer in Psalm 19 reflects the role our words have in expressing our hearts and values. “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer” (Psalm 19:14). Jesus said that we will be held accountable for the words that we speak (Matt. 12:36) because the expression of our words reveals the condition of our hearts (Luke 6:45).

Applying the descriptor “porn” to a picture of our lunch or “addict” to our desire for caffeine sensationalizes our desires and establishes lust, sensuality, and objectification as natural, normal, and appropriate. Pornography presents sex and everything related to it as an individual and self-serving act, designed to meet one’s personal needs and desires. As McLaughlin (2019) expressed in Confronting Christianity, “Sex is to be valued, treasured, and enjoyed. But sex is not an ultimate good” (p. 149). Sin distorts our desires and our attractions, redirecting our compass of worship from God to self. Normalizing our experience and expression of lust and desire is unhealthy and inappropriate, even when targeted toward possibly neutral objects like food or travel. Our behavior and our words demonstrate our values and our hearts, so when our behaviors and words normalize unchecked lust and sensuality, the direction of our hearts is wrong. 

Fostering Alignment through Transformation

In His conclusion to the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus states how the “gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life” (Matt. 7:14), noting how you can recognize His followers by their fruit (Matt. 7:16). The food in the picture tagged #Foodporn is not the problem, it is the normalization of lust expressed in the concept of porn. As Jesus explained to the disciples, “Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth passes into the stomach and is expelled? But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person. But to eat with unwashed hands does not defile anyone” (Matt. 14:17-20). We require transformation by the Spirit, transforming our hearts of stone to hearts of flesh (Ezra 36:26) that are receptive to the life God brings (Jer. 31:33).

The expression of our natural heart is wickedness, selfishness, and sin (Jer. 17:9; Gal. 5:19-21). The demonstration of the Spirit living within us is that we will walk by the Spirit and exhibit His fruit in our lives, including goodness and self-control (Gal. 22-23, 25). While the use of terms like “food porn” or “hoe” to describe our desires may seem harmless, their use normalizes lust and objectification of things toward selfish gain and numbs us to the damage and destruction of pornography to the purpose of God in intimacy and image of God in His image-bearers. Should we be using terms like “Food Porn” and “Addict” to describe good things? No, we should not, because it normalizes dangerous and damaging concepts like pornography and addiction and twists the purpose of God’s provisions from being good to becoming ultimate in our lives – whether food, caffeine, travel, or sex.

As the world exists in the paradox and dissonance of rejection and normalization of concepts like porn, Christians must remember that we represent Christ as ambassadors of a different kingdom (2 Cor. 5:20), not conformed to this world, but transformed, so that we can correctly identify what is actually and truly good, acceptable, and perfect (Rom. 12:2).

Photo credit: ©GettyImages/ Alexander Spatari

Seth L. Scott, PhD, NCC, LPC-S is an associate professor of clinical mental health counseling at Columbia International University in Columbia, South Carolina and provides clinical counseling and supervision in the community through his counseling practice, Sunrise Counseling. Seth, his wife, Jen, and their two middle school children enjoy outdoor activities, reading together as a family, board games, and meeting people through Jen’s pottery business at galleries and festivals.

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