The Christian Porn Conversation

Last week I wrote “Porn is not a thing”.  It was a piece exploring the idea of a “spectrum of pornographies” as apposed to seeing porn as one entity.  Today I want to consider the messages we see across that spectrum.

 

Recently Hannah Mudge posted a fascinating article about a man who spent 5 years filming hardcore pornographic material.  He isn’t “anti” pornographic material and says he doesn’t regret his decision to work in the industry, yet his experiences of filming heterosexual content was on every level different than when filming pornographic content of gay men.  He describes the environment with women in these terms “it almost seemed like an entire gender was being denigrated, like that was the whole point—where very young women were choked and slapped and written-on with lipstick, simply for the crime, it seemed, of being a woman.”  Whereas in shooting gay content he said, “The sadness and the degradation I had come to associate with my job, with videotaped sex for money, was suddenly absent.”

 

Though this man is part of the very culture he critiques, he raises the greatest issue we face from pornographic material; the degradation, objectification and utter decimation of women.  There are other issues, but fundamentally the many and varied ways the spectrum of pornographies destroys men’s (and boys’) views of women (and girls’) is the greatest issue.  It is also rarely articulated in the Christian “porn” conversation.

 

The Christian conversation on “porn” has (in the main) these aspects:

  1. Purity: viewing defiles the person looking.
  2. Addiction: people get addicted to viewing and so it becomes treated as a medical disorder.
  3. The redemption narrative: (mostly) men sharing their stories of moving from sin (watching “porn”) to redemption (no longer watching “porn”)
  4. Neuroscience/Intimacy: After Dr William Struthers (neuroscientific theologian) wrote a book covering the ways viewing pornographic content affects the brain and communicated the solution as greater intimacy, this is regularly talked about and he is the go to person Christians usually quote or invite to talk about “porn”.

 

Though all of the above can be part of the issue, I would suggest of greater significance are the following layers underpinning the spectrum of pornographies:

  1. A gendered analysis: this is about men consuming women.  Man as subject, woman as object.
  2. Industry: people make vast sums of money from selling pornographic material.  Viewers are groomed into harder and harder core porn, in order to bring financial benefit to (mainly) white men.
  3. Power: as we’ve seen in the latest power plays of The Sun around Page 3, pornographic material is more about power than it is about any sort of meaningful sexual experience.
  4. The broken lives: the (mostly) women who are groomed, used, abused and discarded by the industry.

 

Not only does the Christian “porn” narrative mostly lack articulation of these issues, some elements of Christian culture reinforce attitudes within the spectrum of pornographies.  Talk of manly men, who are aggressive and testosterone driven creatures feeds into the messages of men as animals.  The feminisation of the church conversation perpetuates the view that women are the problem.  Modesty culture at root states “men objectify” so women must cover up, the irony of modesty culture and the pornography industry essentially both treating women as sexual objects should not be ignored.  Even responses to the use of pornographic material is problematic.  Talk of “fighting porn” and the war imagery that it often conjures up does not stand apart from and in abhorrence of the violence across the spectrum of pornographies.  Rather it becomes violent language to respond to sexual violence.

 

Then there is the lack of women’s voices within the Christian conversation about the spectrum of pornographies.  Women feature usually as wives or daughters of the men using pornographic material.  “What would your wife think?”  “How is this affecting your marriage?”  “Would you want your daughter to be a porn star?”

 

Women are included mainly only within their relationship to the men using pornographic material.  Just as pornographic material reduces women to ornaments with holes, so this approach reduces women.  Not as far, but still solely as men’s attachments.  Why do women have to be thought of as having a personal relationship to a man in order to have value.  As this edited image powerfully challenges, why can’t women simply be “someone”?

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The other way women are included is: “women use porn too you know?”   This isn’t inaccurate, women do use pornographic material.  However, rarely are women spokespeople on this issue, or the ones shaping the conversation.

 

We need to change the conversation, broaden it, increase the number and diversity of voices.  We need a conversation which fully acknowledges the industry and the money being made, that sees the connection between selfish capitalism and the increase in the commodification of human beings.  We need to recognise the power imbalance and gendered dynamic across the spectrum of pornographies; being willing to look at our own community and the attitudes to gender and power that reduce women and create a deep imbalance of power between men and women.    Until then, we will never delve beyond the surface of this issue.

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9 thoughts on “The Christian Porn Conversation

  1. Great article!. Thanks for writing it. I definitely sense a shift in how we talk about it. In my work with xxxchurch we’re seeing a shift from using war imagery to one which is more about getting to the issues behind porn. We’ve been going to shows for over a decade now and it is a slow process but this is how we reach those in the industry.

    I also love that picture you posted and this is something that I have thought about too. What if they weren’t my sister, should I not care about them then? They are a person, before anything else.

    I would encourage you to check out my friend Seth’s blog and book which is coming out soon. I believe it is going to turn the tables on a lot of the unhelpful ways we talk about porn, within and outside the church.

    pornpilgrim.com/

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  2. Mark Hewerdine says:

    Thanks for this excellent post.
    When I read it, it reminded me of something I came across on the site of Christian charity. I’m sure from what I came across that they do good work. But they also seem to endorse another problematic line on porn and marriage: the line that the wife must be at least partially responsible for her husband consuming porn. The ‘iI guess I should havr loved him better’ argument. I quote (from a ‘true story’):

    “…on advice (well, instruction) from church we started marriage counselling. It was tough. I very soon realised that I was partly responsible. My husband used pornography when he felt stressed, rejected (ouch) and unloved by me (bigger ouch). It became apparent during our counselling sessions that my focus had been so taken up by our son and our lives had changed so much that at times he felt all these things and I didn’t make enough time for him and our relationship.”

    I’ve heard the argument before and I find it really concerning :-/

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    • Hi Mark,
      Do you not think that arguing over where the exact distinction lies is somewhat counter-productive? Paul seems to advise marrying if you are unable to exercise self-control; with the implicit admission that more people are going to end up fornicating if they don’t make the practical arrangements that best suit their desires.
      No where does he say, or mean, that it is OK, justifiable, not sinful, fine etc. to fornicate if you burn with passion – just that you can put practical steps in place to avoid this. I would agree with you re. the being “partly responsible” – but if within this revelation and subsequent opened channel of communication, the couple come to realise that yes – the husband was finding his desires regularly and repeatedly unmet, and that this is one (of many) ways they can go about repairing their relationship, I don’t see that it’s for us to impose our ideological ideas of apportioned blame etc. on them? Ultimately I’m not sure “who’s to blame” ever gets us very far.

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      • For a man to find a private space, access pornographic material and then masturbate requires him to make many choices. To say that it’s ever his wife’s responsibility that he do that is frankly bizarre. Surely the Gospel is one of free will and self-responsibility. One of the steps to change is “owning my choices” which includes not blaming anyone else for them. To have a counsellor suggesting otherwise is deeply concerning.

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      • Yes, I agreed with Mark on that point.

        But imagine a situation in which a woman who has committed adultery is repentant, and returns to her husband and takes part in marital counselling to try and rebuild the relationship. Would it be that out of turn for the counsellor to explore areas in which the woman felt neglected, ignored, taken for granted etc? Is the entire onus on the fact that she made decision after decision to pursue an extra-marital relationship?

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  3. Pam Smith says:

    I have heard this rationale offered as a reason for a Christian woman leaving an abusive marriage – by my mother as a matter of fact, about a couple at her church – ‘Well he hit her because he was frustrated she wouldn’t give him sex’. When I asked why a woman would want to ‘give sex’ to an abusive man there wasn’t much of an answer. Apparently the fault always lies with the woman for not being or doing what the man wants. Personally I think the elephant in the room in all conversations about female ‘submission’ in churches is that the language used echoes that used in a certain kind of role play. When I hear that the woman should be ‘obedient’ or ‘submissive’ I hear ‘the woman should agree to be abused because that is the natural order of things’. I can’t see where this is taught in the bible and I can’t see how it is workable theologically.

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  4. Anon says:

    Tom: I think your point about the need to explore the causes of marital difficulty in counselling is valid. My problem is this though: you are drawing the parallel with adultery, and you’re casting ‘use’ only in terms of the felt need the man seeks to meet.

    To my mind, this does the very thing which MrsGLW explores in this and her next post: it speaks about porn in terms of a man’s sexual desire and felt needs and doesn’t engage with porn as it really is. What I mean is: porn as exploitative and abusive activity whose production damages the women who are abused and objectified in the course of its production.

    I’m not saying that the difficulties within a marriage are not an important subject for counselling. I AM saying we need to take the porn conversation past this and address the effects on women of its production and ‘use’ by men.

    Perhaps we need to be more blunt: when a man ‘uses porn’ because he feels he’s not getting enough sex, how about he says: “Darling, I didn’t find you were making yourself available enough for me to have sex with you. So I decided to sit in my office and find video clips of women being demeaned and coerced into being subject to aggressive sex acts by men who cared nothing for their physical or emotional wellbeing. I decided to watch them exploit women for their own pleasure, knowing a man was sitting behind the camera barking orders at them (before selling the whole package to a corporate exec to help him boost his bank balance.) But understand: I only did it because you weren’t around enough for me to have sex.”
    Sorry to be blunt, but that’s the reality…

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