Recycling and Porn

Dr. James Emery White

A recent survey asked a straightforward question: which is worse, to watch porn or to fail to recycle? The results are in: “Half of teenagers and nearly three-quarters of young adults come across pornography at least monthly, and both groups on average consider viewing pornographic images less immoral than failing to recycle.”

This is one of those “stunning but not surprising” findings that reflect the current mindset of our culture. And it’s a very important mindset to understand.

For quite some time, the dominant ethic has been, “As long as it makes you happy, and doesn’t hurt anyone, it’s okay.” The idea is that personal choice, in light of the pursuit of happiness, and the autonomy that comes with it, reigns supreme. Its only check is when it might infringe on another person’s personal choice and autonomy. The argument seems to be that porn is a personal choice for sexual gratification and, therefore, doesn’t hurt anyone. 

Of course, asking people whether porn is bad at this point is a bit like asking whether to shut the door after the cow has left the barn. We live in a world where the choice to embrace porn has, quite simply, been made. Seventy percent of all 18 to 34-year-olds are regular viewers. The average age to begin viewing? Eleven. It’s so ubiquitous it’s been called the “wallpaper” of our lives. In 2014, one porn site alone had more than 15.35 billion visits. No, that was not a typo. That’s “billion” with a “b.” To put that into perspective, at the end of 2015, the entire population of the world was just over 7 billion.

And suffice it to be said, it does enormous harm. Not simply with its ties to such things as human trafficking, but also to the person who partakes. In her book Pornified, Pamela Paul argues that it is far from an innocuous choice; it has changed our marriages and families as well as our children’s understanding of sex and sexuality. 

Her portraits are disturbing:

Rob, who insists that his girlfriend look and behave, in bed and out, like a porn star; Charlie, who spends hours cruising porn sites and setting up meetings with women and couples he befriends in chat rooms, while telling his wife that he’s just working late on the computer; Jonah, a fan of violent hardcore porn, who introduces tamer porn to his fiancée in an effort to revive their troubled sex life; Abby, who discovers her husband’s hidden box of CDs of child porn images downloaded from the internet; preteen girls who start their own pornography websites; teenage boys, mimicking porn, who videotape themselves having sex with an apparently unconscious girl.

Yet the prevailing ethic of our day is that anything that would critique or limit someone’s choice for personal pleasure, and the autonomy that comes with it, is bad. Anything that would enable or affirm someone’s choice for personal pleasure, and the autonomy that comes with it, is good.

And we find our sense of morality not by actually being moral, but through pseudo-virtues like recycling, which, while commendable, belong in the same meritorious camp as “clicktivism.”

It seems we need to learn how to separate more than just our trash.

James Emery White



David Roach, “Study: monthly porn exposure the norm for teens,” Baptist Press, January 20, 2016, read online.

Holly Finn, “Online Pornography’s Effects, and a New Way to Fight Them,” The Wall Street Journal, May 3, 2013, read online.

Niamh Horan, “Porn now the wallpaper of our lives,”, October 18, 2015, read online.

Pamela Paul, Pornified.

About the Author

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, The Rise of the Nones: Understanding and Reaching the Religiously Unaffiliated, is available on Amazon. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, visit, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. You can also find out more about the 2016 Church and Culture Conference. Follow Dr. White on twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.