After a break from writing about pornographies, I have more thoughts to share. The previous pieces are here:
It seems everywhere you look (both inside and outside the church) those who watch pornographies (mainly men) are being diagnosed with intimacy issues. It’s the Big Thing in addressing the fact that a lot of men and boys are watching highly degrading and sexually violent images and videos of women and girls (teenage girls are the most sought after videos and pictures online). While watching these images boys and men are most often masturbating, usually until they ejaculate. Apparently due to a lack of intimacy or something.
There various issues with the Intimacy Agenda (as I shall call it…).
- It can make the man’s viewing of exploitative and abusive images of women and girls (and the masturbation accompanied with it) into an issue that is external to him. If it is an intimacy issue, that relates to his relationships. Does that mean the responsibility for his choices falls onto his partner/wife/girlfriend/parents/friends? Or that he needs someone else to fix it for him?
- Lots of men and boys who are viewing sexually abusive images of women and girls are in positive and healthy relationships. The consuming of those images and masturbation that goes alongside that is not a by-product of a deficit. It happens in spite of fulfilling and healthy relationships. If we’re not careful, there’s the potential to raise issues in a relationship where they may not be issues.
- Where intimacy is related to the man’s use of images where women and girls are sexually violated, is solely focussing on it as the main issue helpful? As you will notice, in my language I insist on de-euphemising the language we use to describe the act often referred to as “watching porn”. When that happens, it’s very difficult to see intimacy as the biggest concern. Suddenly the focus shifts onto the nature of the content being viewed. As it must if we are to respond effectively.
Where somebody has a partner who is watching pornographies, that is a deeply painful experience. As Jesus said, when you look at someone lustfully, you are committing adultery. The partner of someone who is viewing images of women and girls being degraded while masturbating is experiencing the pain of a partner committing adultery. It can be deeply traumatic to find out our partner is not who we thought they were, that they are engaging in sexual activity without us. It can lead us to feel insecure and lacking in value. Our partner’s continued use of women’s and girls’ bodies can be painful and fill us with shame.
Within that context, it seems totally lacking in compassion to make intimacy the big issue for men who are masturbating to images and videos of women and girls being sexually used by men. So often the man who discloses his “struggle with porn” is presented as a victim dealing with intimacy issues. If he has a partner/wife/girlfriend, she is invisible. Her pain potentially increased by the inference that intimacy is the issue, what we may read into the Intimacy Agenda is “his relationship is the problem”.
It’s not that intimacy isn’t ever a factor. It’s focussing on intimacy that is the problem. Surely re-humanising the women and girls in the videos and images should be a higher priority? As should the need to take responsibility for our choices. The man is the active agent in the “struggle” between a man and the pornography he is watching. He chooses to open the browser, click on the link, begin masturbating. Those are not actions that happen to him.
Until our language and communications insist on personal responsibility being key in addressing people who consume images of women and girls being sexually degraded we will not achieve the seismic shift required to reduce the impact of pornographic content on society. Intimacy issues might be involved (often they’re not), but what is ALWAYS involved is the active choice of the viewer to watch the content being offered to them. It is choice, not intimacy, that must be the focus.