It’s quiet here, so let’s go back to controversy and write about some kind of weird subject like the pornification of images (moving or not) of human beings made in the Divine Image… (generally called ‘porn’ by most people) And let’s give it a long title full of complicated words so I won’t attract too many Beavis and Butthead-type of readers…
Yeah, it’s been a while since I wrote a post about things related to sex and love and so (the last and only one since July or so being my little effort to raise some awareness of asexuals as the most ignored sexual minority) so why not….
So where to start? A while ago I read this article called 3 lies that kept me trapped by porn from a guest-blogger on Micah Murray’s redemption pictures. To clarify where I stand on these things I must probably start here with saying that, while it’s an understatement to say that I’m not a fan of porn at all, I’m generally not a big fan of most Christian anti-porn propaganda either… so I didn’t expect that much from the article, since most articles with a title like that are just more of the ‘every man’s battle’ stuff, an affirmation that it’s more or less expected for a man to be addicted to porn on one hand and a lot of guilt-creation that partly misses the point on important details on the other hand. I tend to not find that especially healthy. But, to my big surprise, this article turned out to be a completely different cup of tea that needs to be shared more. (if you still get my mixed metaphors here) .
The post was written David E. Martin, who has a Christian website for people who do have problems with porn called ‘My chains are gone’. His website and ministry have an approach to the problem of porn and its solution that is worth looking at, so I recommend you all to not just read his guestpost on redemption pictures but also his site if the subject is of any interest to you. I might not agree with every line they write, but overall they have a lot of interesting things to say that I hadn’t heard before. It’s quite quite different from the standard stuff most Christian repeat all the time, as the 3 lies in the title already show:
1. The unclothed human body is primarily sexual in nature. Therefore, to see another body unclothed is a sexual event.
2. The automatic and natural response to the sight of an unclothed body is sexual arousal. Therefore, the best strategy against lust is to limit the opportunity to view the unclothed body.
3. To be drawn to the sight of nudity (beyond your spouse’s) is a perversion. Therefore, we must make every effort to eradicate this “perversion” from our hearts.
He exposes these ideas as lies that hinder those trapped in an addiction pornography in breaking with those habits. Maybe a bit counter-intuitive but I do agree with him, and I would say that the de-pornification of the human body might be the most important thing in learning to look at human beings as made in Gods image and loving our fellow human who happens to be of the sex we’re sexually attracted to. His approach is connected to ideas I have been alluding to in some of my blogposts (See for example posts with titles as On sexy poorn models and human dignity; meditating on sexy models; on nudity in game of thrones and some American bloke again…; Some thoughts on the myth that ‘men are visual’; On similar misandry in Christian fundamentalism and comsumer capitalism) But it’s not at all something I’ve seen discussed that much by most of my co-religionists even though some of them like to talk about porn a lot…
It’s an easy subject to start discussions of sin and holiness and whatever, but I often feel like important things are missed. Although I naturally completely agree with Jesus who says in the sermon on the mount that looking lustfully at a woman is to commit adultery in your head, there are some points in the standard blablah that I don’t find very helpful.
Some of these things have to do with what David writes about on his site. the standard approach is not helping in what I earlier called the depornification of the human body, and moreover ‘Looking lustfully’ is not synonymous with looking at a nude. Also we do easily forget that porn as we know it in our current culture is not a universal thing but in the current incarnation something unique in world history and very specific to our culture. The way bodies are depicted in our porn would not be very sexy to a lot of people from other times and cultures….
Well it actually isn’t even to me. And I’m a 21st century Western male…
So let’s get to some more points that are often overlooked:
1.) Assuming porn addiction is just how men are wired: Normalizing problems of a certain part of the Western population in a very peculiar time and culture as ‘this is how men are wired. Get used to it.’ is not the way to go. Men are not wired into being addicted to what is called ‘porn’ in our time and culture and in the very myopic way a certain subculture frames our human sexuality in a very narrow and unhealthy way. Porn addiction means that persons (male or female) are conditioned to like it and neuroplastically deformed into it.
2.) Missing the core of the problem gives us some pretty bad solutions: The problem is not in the first place what we see, but it is what is in our hearts when we see it. Porn is very often in the eye of the beholder. If we really learn to love watching porn is impossible, since seeing someone as a human being is incompatible with pornificating them. The deepest problem is not what we see, but how we watch it and why we’re watching it.
3.) Furthering dehumanization is part of what we should eliminate: Pornification is always a dehumanization of the depicted humans into mere sex objects. If we want to get beyond it we should not follow that line of thinking but reject it. Accepting that women are nothing but sexy temptation and then avoid them is equally dehumanising. The ‘rape culture victim-blaming’ stuff that when a man has sinful thoughts when he sees a woman it’s her fault is only perpetuating the deeper sin of dehumanization, and actually not solving even a molecule of the problem.
4. We should also never forget the formative danger in porn: We seem to ignore as a culture how porn shapes and deforms our view of the human body. It creates a new and perverted reality, in which sex is not that healthy at all and in which humans are less human than how God created them to be. It is a fake ideal world that fills peoples head but that no living person will ever live up to. We might think that porn is just showing us how sex is and how sexy people look, but it’s actually completely fake on one hand, and transforming human sexuality to its own image and likeness on the other hand.
Yes, one of the exact dangers of porn is how it is making up it’s own very depraved standard of sexiness that isn’t real at all and then it tries to conform the real world to it. Which is especially dangerous for young people who don’t have their view of sexuality fully formed, like teenagers in puberty. Peoples brains are actually altered by watch porn by the way. This brain-altering already happens with adults watching porn, but it’s extremely dangerous with young people whose view of porn isn’t even formed yet like I said.
5. Porn is not just ‘showing sex’ but lying: The things depicted in our modern porn are not default human sexuality at all, let alone human sexuality as God meant it. It’s a very peculiar way of framing sex, a language that seems universal to many people.It’s actually a very artificial and unnatural mutation of human sex, not just a way of visually describing how humans have sex. The bodies are fake, the angles are very artificial and unrealistic. Our modern ‘porn’ goes way beyond nudity in what it gives to stimulate our sexuality so a very big and abusive industry can make a lot of money.
Yup, the end goal of most porn is probably money for some shady types somewhere.
6. Watching modern porn is learned behaviour:
Looking at the beauty and sexiness of the sex one is attracted to is very natural, but modern porn goes a lot further than this and is much more niche… Consuming modern porn is learned behavior, like drinking wine or listening jazz.
It’s something I didn’t learn though. Except for simple nude pictures most porn when I accidentally see it doesn’t work for me, probably because it’s too far away from my own sexual experience (and lack thereof in my younger years). Most times when I do see real ‘porn’ beyond playboy-level I’m actually repulsed, not aroused.
(Clarification: I do like female nude art a lot btw, maybe too much. But one of the things I like most about female nudes is some untouchable sacred innocence which is so real that any ‘wrong’ thought is misplaced. Which is completely incompatible with porn and probably impossible to describe to people who don’t know what I mean. Think about Ransom and the green woman of Venus… It is because I love female nudity so much that I hate porn.)
I do think not getting it and being repulsed by what goes for porn nowadays is not a very abnormal reaction for a uninitiated person actually. Look at this description from a (female) guest-blogger at irrestistible Fish (and read the post too later after you’ve finished mine and see also her part II) about her surprise when she started to watch porn:
Porn was not exactly what I had expected.
I knew it would be graphic, but this, this was beyond graphic.
This was not like the sex scenes in a movie.
This sex wasn’t just sex.
Porn sex was different.
The bodies were ‘perfect’, the positions, acrobatic.
No one had a single hair follicle visible anywhere on their perfect bodies. And visible their bodies were. Microscopically so.
Everything was up close and zoomed in. Nothing left to the imagination.
There was no kissing, no intimacy, no love, just animalistic, self-gratifying acts of sex.
Only reading this paragraph makes me feel dirty and uninterested… Call me a romantic but I don’t even want to be able to fantasize sex without kissing, let alone intimacy or love.
What would even be the fun of that? Yuck….
This way of picturing the human body and sexuality is blasphemy against the Imago dei itself. Blasphemy against love.
(I’m actually very lucky to have formed my view of how female bodies are not from porn but from biology books, more regular nude scenes, and more classical nude art or nude photography, and that the default for a female body in my head is mostly just my wife, not a forced ideal that doesn’t exist. )
So what is the most important thing here? I would say that what we should never forget is that porn is in the eye of the beholder. It’s not what comes in through our eyes that makes us unclean, but our own heart and how we process those things. Sexually perverted people will look at every woman with lust and predatory thoughts, no matter how they are dressed. Being a woman is enough to be subject to pornification for some.
But one of the most important commandments for Christians is to love our fellow humans as ourselves, which very certainly does not include dehumanising them as sex objects. Even the label ‘humanist’ to me would imply a higher standard than dehumanising other people in to sex object. And not unimportantly here is that it doesn’t matter that much if we consume them with our eyes as porn or turn our eyes away… The second one might keep us from certain sins like the ‘looking lustfully’, it still makes us regard the person in question as less than human.
How can we ever learn to love fellow humans that we cannot look at because they are only sex objects for us? This approach will never make us love more even if it can help us by means of mere sin management. But in the end we need to learn to love the other. This is why I do think that for example Dan Brennans work on cross-gender friendship is very important (check out his groundbreaking book ‘sacred unions, sacred passions‘ on the subject) Pornification of the human body is completely incompatible with love and loving the other as ourselves., and we need to let go of it…
But this might requite a letting go of cultural conditioning and might need some help from the Holy Spirit…
So what do you think?