Pornography has been named one of the leading public health issues of our time for promoting violence against women, damaging interpersonal relationships, and being a primary source of sex education for our youth.

In the age of the #MeToo movement and seemingly endless stories of sexual misconduct, it can seem impossible to develop healthy relationships. Through advertising, social media and even local news, we are inundated with examples of how not to treat each other, and addressing issues, such as pornography use, can seem overwhelming and awkward. As people of faith, though, it’s our responsibility to teach and live another way.

When it comes to pornography, the voice of the church is especially needed. With porn sites getting more visits a month than Netflix, Amazon, and Twitter combined, and 88% of top selling pornography containing depictions of physical violence, pornography has become a prominent issue in our culture. However, pornography is not just affecting those outside of the church. According to a recent study by the Barna Group, 93% of pastors think pornography is a bigger problem than it used to be, and more than half of youth pastors have had at least one teen approach them for help concerning pornography. Additionally, 57% of pastors and 64% of youth pastors admit to struggling with pornography themselves either currently or in the past. In order to confront the growing problem of pornography, the church needs to be educated on the issue, equipped to minister to those harmed by pornography, and committed to preventing further harm.

Why is pornography so harmful?

Pornography has been named one of the leading public health issues of our time for promoting violence against women, damaging interpersonal relationships, and being a primary source of sex education for our youth. Pornography promotes violence against women. Unlike pornography in past decades, the majority of pornography available today contains violent depictions of abuse mostly against women. These acts include name-calling, spitting, slapping, biting, gang rape, and other extremely brutal acts. Consuming these images obviously impacts the viewer. Those who consume pornography are more likely to believe women enjoy rape and are more likely both to think sexual aggression is acceptable and to engage in sexual aggression.

Additionally, pornography consumption damages interpersonal relationships. Those who reported pornography consumption also had more sexual partners, had more positive attitudes regarding extramarital sex, tried to get their partners to reenact pornographic scenes, rated their partners as less attractive, and were less satisfied with their partners sexual performance. In addition to affecting the consumer, married women report pornography use by their partners to be highly distressing and damaging to sexual and other intimacy in their relationship.

Pornography consumption also fuels sex trafficking and exploitation by increasing the likelihood of selling and buying sex and increasing consumers seeking to reenact scenes from pornography with a prostituted person.

With internet available on phones and devices, young people have greater access to pornographic material than ever before. According to Culture Reframed, the average age boys first view pornography is 11, and from 2008 to 2011, exposure to porn among boys under the age of 13 jumped from 14% to 49%. Much of this exposure to pornography is accidental. According to a Kaiser Foundation study, “well over two-thirds of 15-17-year-old adolescents have seen porn websites when they did not intend to access them, with 45% being ‘very’ or ‘somewhat’ upset by it.” Children are being exposed to pornography, whether accidentally or purposefully, and have no way to process what they’ve seen with a trusted adult because adults often are uncomfortable addressing the topic.

What can I do about it?

Talk about it, talk about it, talk about it! Pornography is often a taboo subject; however, in order both to minister to those struggling with an addiction to pornography and teach our children Biblical values regarding sexuality, we must address it. Every day we are bombarded by messages that sexual harm is normal and even sexy. Instilling Biblical values in your congregation and children means taking a proactive stance, acknowledging the discomfort you may feel and talking about pornography and healthy relationships anyway.

The best way to do this with your children is to talk about healthy relationships early and often, building a foundation of trust where you become the go-to person on all aspects of relationships and sexuality. When you’ve talked with your kids about their bodies, their boundaries and what to do if they feel uncomfortable or unsafe in any situation, it’s less awkward addressing pornography. Then, when you do bring it up, acknowledge that it might be uncomfortable and that you both may feel embarrassed discussing it. Inform them that pornography is not a realistic depiction of relationships and is harmful to relationships in many ways (including but not limited to those listed above). Additionally, remind them that everyone is not watching porn, and talk with them about what makes a healthy relationship, helping them build positive relationship skills.

It’s also important to remember that because of the widespread use of pornography, when you discuss it with your children or congregation, it’s very likely that someone is struggling with an addiction to pornography or has already been exposed to it. Because of this, it’s imperative that we address the topic with grace and remain calm. No one is helped by being shamed or condemned but rather through love and support, following Jesus’ example. Discussing difficult topics with your children and congregation gives people the freedom to ask their questions and concerns or admit their need for help in a safe, supportive environment. It also equips them to find their identity in Christ and navigate living as a Christian in a culture that tells them their worth isn’t determined by their sex appeal or sexual conquests. Expose the lie. We were created for much more than that.

For more information on this topic or others surrounding fostering healthy sexuality and preventing sexual assault, please contact Sarah Goode, Community Education Coordinator at Sexual Trauma Services of the Midlands, at [email protected]

Sarah Goode

Community Education Coordinator at Sexual Trauma Services of the Midlands