Does Avoiding Pre-Marital Sex Devalue Marriage?

Two separate things have led to me writing this post.  A few weeks ago I had a Twitter chat with people after pondering whether an abstinence approach to sex may in fact dishonour marriage.  Then a couple of days ago I listened to THIS discussion between Dianna E Anderson and Sarah Long, facilitated by Justin Brierley on the Unbelievable show at Premier.

The debate was “Should Christians save sex for marriage?”

The debate was interesting, though I’m not sure it fully worked.  Dianna has written a book reflecting on US purity culture in Conservative Christianity.  Sarah is UK based and has worked with Romance Academy.  There’s some massive culture differences between the UK and the US, so to some degree it became much more about acknowledging the different contexts and less about a debate based in the same cultural context.  Though I think many would say the culture isn’t as different as was perhaps suggested on the show.

Sarah’s main view was that sex is a covenant and as such should be saved for marriage.  Her work has generally been in a youth context and therefore the focus has been with young people.  Dianna’s view was that the Bible isn’t clear at all about sex before marriage and as such she would place it within the adiaphora of Biblical stuff; basically it’s a conscience issue, not an absolute.

Mr GLW and I didn’t have sex until we got married; I’ve written a few thoughts about sex and Christianity in THIS blog post, in which I bemoan awful post marital sex that is rooted in the many unhealthy messages attached to abstinence values.

Some thoughts I have about the whole saving sex until marriage thing…

1. It may possibly work when people are in their teens and early twenties.  What about people in their forties, fifties or sixties who have never had sex?  Did God just decide they shouldn’t ever experience the awesome gift of sex?  Not everyone is going to have a partner.  The whole abstinence teaching is connected so strongly to the “everyone will get married and have babies” narrative.  What does sexuality look like for people who don’t ever get married?  Do they simply suppress it FOREVER?  What about masturbation?  Is that off limits too?

2. When abstinence teaching is intertwined so strongly with purity culture is there a baby left in the bath when you chuck out the bath water?  Or is the shaming of women, blaming of women, infantilising of men, lack of understanding of consent and terrible sex so fused with “don’t have sex before marriage” that we can’t keep the latter without holding onto the former?

3. Within the Unbelievable debate, there was no mention of how abstinence teaching disables people from recognising abuse.  For me this is paramount.  I am confident that my young adulthood sexual experiences would have been non-abusive if I’d chosen to embrace pre-marital sex.  Could that have been the case if I’d been educate in healthy ways about consent and had awareness of abuse?  Perhaps.  But could the messages from across Christian culture about abstinence have drowned out the voices providing that awareness?  Also quite possible.

I’ve been wondering about whether Christians put a higher value on sex than on marriage.  If people HAVE to get married to have sex, how many (usually young) Christians rush to the altar so they can GET IT ON?  Conversely, how many Christians suppress their sexuality and their natural desire for one another for years while they wait to be able to get married. leading to a whole load of marital problems?

One of the examples on the Premier debate was a couple who’ve been together for four years, are engaged but can’t afford the wedding.  Dianna suggested that having pre-marital sex in that context was a matter between the couple and God, they could pray about it and come to their own conclusions.  Sarah’s view was that the couple could choose to marry in an inexpensive way in order to “save sex” for marriage.

Is that the best approach?  Should people reject the whole Big Wedding thing in order to have sex?  Or does that suggest less value for the whole process?  Do the couple elope and get married in a registry office somewhere so that SEX?  Or is the marriage ceremony and the value placed on it and the community element significant enough that pre-marital sex isn’t the main consideration that should be attached to it?

What does abstinence mean anyway?  Should there be no kissing pre-marriage?  No tongues?  No nakedness?  No oral sex?  No groping?  Is everything non penetration based okay?  Is there a sense of legalism in the whole thing?  Is this whole thing simply tithing herbs (Luke 11:42)?  Are we neglecting the weightier matters of a deep and considered sexual ethic that takes into account the many ways abstinence is painful?

The Bible wasn’t written for our context.  People got married REALLY young.  Mary was probably 14.  Women had no rights.  Contraception didn’t exist.  Periods were seen as impure. Singleness wasn’t an option for women.  Women’s sole value was attached to their husband and sons.  Rape victims were to marry the man who raped them.  Then there’s Song of Solomon which is full on sexiness, seemingly between unmarried people.  Marriage was a financial contract between the girl’s (it usually was a girl) husband and her father.  How do we extrapolate a sexual ethic for our time, our culture from a book written in such an extremely different context?

I don’t know.

I do know that the current system isn’t working.  Abstinence teaching doesn’t produce chastity.  It leaves people ill equipped to recognise sexual abuse, sexually damaged, repressed and/or with a deeply unhealthy sexuality, it blames women and encourages men to avoid responsibility for their sexuality and wrongly assumes that every twenty-something Christian is going to meet a nice Christian (opposite sex) partner, marry them, have babies and live happily ever after.

I’m not sure what a positive sexual ethic looks like.  I guess I veer close to Dianna’s view.  What’s wrong with trusting couples to discern what is right for them?  What is the risk in encouraging people to seek God’s will for their lives over and above an abstinence rule that isn’t fit for purpose (and actually isn’t in the Bible)?  When the current messages are causing serious damage to individuals and couples can we risk insisting abstinence is the way forward?

Matthew 23:24 comes to mind…  “You blind guides!  You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.”  Yes abstinence may get women to their wedding night with their hymen intact, however what about the camel of shame, vaginitis, pornography use, woman blaming and/or sexual repression?

The conversation amongst young people should be a different to that with adults.  One of the difficulties of the Premier debate was that Sarah’s context was young people.  We can’t liken the sexual choices of two people in their mid twenties (and upwards) to how we approach 14 year olds.  However, is the right approach with teenagers and young adults to focus on marriage as the means by which people access sex?  Does that put unnecessary focus on marriage as the end goal for people’s lives?  In a Christian culture which is deeply heteronormative and idolises the nuclear family, how do we articulate the liberating message that marriage is not the logical start of adult Christian life?

With our children, Mr GLW and I have focussed on:

  • Ensuring they own they bodies, lives and choices. This is the foundation of consent.
  • Nakedness and sexuality are not shameful, bodies are BRILLIANT.  Puberty is fabulous and exciting, if somewhat messy and traumatic.  Since they were very small we regular talked about how bodies change; hair, periods, wet dreams and the like.  This stuff shouldn’t be a surprise.  It is INEVITABLE.
  • That sex is awesome yet SO extremely special and precious that it’s a serious matter.  Babies can be made and diseases can be caught, so great thought must go into when, how and who we choose to do it with.
  • Singleness is GREAT!  We regularly chat about the amazing single people we know.  At first the kids assumed that all the single adults we knew were married, they just hadn’t met their spouses.  This stuff must be made explicit or kids won’t notice it.
  • Critically examining the messages around us; women are not objects, sexism is all pervasive and it is wrong, gender stereotyping is bad, racism is everywhere and it is bad, male privilege is real, a lot of masculinity is toxic and needs to be challenged etc etc.
  • There’s creepy naked stuff on the internet (pornography) and when they see it (because they will)  they need to tell us so we can help them make sense of it.

Our kids may have sex before marriage.  It’s not something I’m concerned about.  What I am concerned about is that every sexual experience they have is one they have entered into willing (and legally), in an informed way and with deep respect and love for themselves and the other person they engage in any sexual activity with, and also deep respect and honour for the seriousness of the act they engage in.

Yes, marriage may be a way of ensuring this stuff happens.  But that is not guaranteed.

Genuinely, I don’t want my kids to get married.  I want them to live lives of worth.  And if that includes marriage, great!  But if not, that is JUST as wonderful!

Advertisements

No Sex Please. We’re Married

Everyone knows what the Christian view of sex is.  That it should be “saved” for marriage.  That it’s this precious gift God gave humans and that sex outside of marriage can be damaging.  Depending on who you talk to, the damage ranges from a vague possibility to ABSOLUTE DESTRUCTION which requires a whole lot of prayer to get rid of “soul ties” which some would say mess you up in all sorts of emotional and spiritual ways.

 

Yesterday I listened to teaching on sex delivered to 12-14 year olds at a 2015 national Christian youth event.  Separate sessions for boys and girls.

 

The boys were told the only relationships they should have with girls should be friendships, in part because they can’t “go out and get a job to support the girl” when they’re only 12.  The speaker explained to these 12-14-year-old boys: “If the girl is not your wife, then she’s your sister.”  He went on to explain there should be no touching, kissing etc. until the couple are engaged.  The boys were also told that masturbation is wrong; avoid it by going for a walk or by reading the Bible (because they were told, the Bible isn’t sexy at all).

 

The girls were told “God wants His best for you.  He wants you pure and undamaged and unhurt.”  They were also told, “If you want to be attractive, dig into God.”  The girls were told that girls’ wanting to have sex was a form of seeking love and validation (the boys were not told this was the case for them).  The girls were also told that masturbation was wrong, addictive and the devil would use the shame they subsequently feel from masturbating to harm them.

 

This was at an event that happened in 2015.

 

In the church, we’re very good at talking about not having sex.  What we’re not good at talking about is the awful post-marital sex a lot of Christians endure, especially if they’ve done the “right” thing and waited.

 

If a couple have waited to have sex until they get married (whether or not they’ve had sex previously) there can be an expectation that such a sacrificial and counter-cultural choice will be rewarded by mind blowing sex from the wedding night onwards.

 

Sadly, multiple orgasms do not ensue.  From 12 years upwards they’ve both been told not to masturbate and not to think about sex.  At all.  Until “she’s a wife not a sister.”  The boys have been taught they should “resist temptation”.  The girls have been taught their value is intertwined with their purity.  Both have been conditioned to think only males have a sex drive.

 

Post-abstinence marital sex can be utterly abysmal.  Rarely is this talked about.  When it is talked about, it’s euphemistic at best.

 

I’ve been married over 8 years, my husband and I didn’t have sex with each other until after we were married.  We’d both had sex previously, and I brought two small children to the relationship.  From 17 to 21 I was abused by my ex-husband.  Much of the abuse was sexual.  I had been raised in Christian culture which taught me not to have sex but didn’t tell me what consenting to sex actually meant.  All of my first sexual encounters were coerced, forced or manipulated.  And Christian culture had given me no framework for this, so I thought the trauma I was suffering was caused because I had betrayed Jesus, not because I was being raped.

 

At 23 when I married my now husband, I’d been dealing PTSD, depression, self-harm, suicidal thoughts and more.  He’d been single in the church for 13 years and had tried to avoid thinking about sex the whole time.

 

Our honeymoon was amazing in most ways.  Except that sex was generally difficult.

 

Marriage has been awesome for us.  Sex not so much.  And even though I’d been sexually abused for the majority of my life at that point, my husband being raised in the church caused us at least as many issues as my stuff did.  We’re not alone.  So many Christians (even where there hasn’t been abuse) experience extreme damage from abstinence and purity teachings in church.

 

Christian women and men have been conditioned to see sexual acts as shameful.  How do they then engage in those same acts after saying “I do” without shame?  The wedding ceremony isn’t going to negate years and years of unhealthy and sexually negative messages.

 

My husband and I are doing good now.  But stories like ours must be told.  Because otherwise every couple struggling, every woman feeling ashamed for simply considering initiating sexual activity, every man feeling inadequate because his sex drive doesn’t meet some arbitrary level he’s been told is normal, feel this is just them.  And it’s not.  There’s loads of us out there.  Welcome to crap Christian sex!  We’re not getting much.  But hey, it can get better!

 

I would tell 12-14 year olds that…

 

  1. Compulsive masturbation is a problem. What isn’t a problem is learning how your body works, what feels good and what doesn’t.  Girls especially are not taught about their genitals and popular culture can leave girls and women ashamed of their woman bits.  God isn’t ashamed of your vagina or vulva, he made it and He wants you to love it!

 

  1. Boys, it is not your job to pursue, provide for or protect a girl. That is nonsense made up by people.  Only God does those things.  Don’t take on responsibility that was never meant to be yours.  God made women and men equal and gave them the awesome gifts of intimacy, equality and partnership found in marriage.

 

  1. Choosing to have sex is a big deal. God made it as a thing to do within a marriage relationship.  There’s the potential for making babies and catching diseases and all sorts when you start doing it.  Understanding the difference between choosing to have sex and being coerced or forced is really important.  Sex is a big deal and when someone hurts us sexually they can cause us great damage.  But there is help available and healing is possible!

 

  1. You are not defined by your virginity. God loves you whatever your sexual experience or lack of it and so should any person you have a relationship with.

 

And to all you Christians preparing to get marriage please be aware that if you haven’t engaged in sexual activity with your spouse before getting married, don’t expect sex to be mind blowing straight away (if it is, lucky you!).  Like anything valuable in a relationship, it takes time, effort, understanding, respect and self awareness.  Sex can be awesome, get help if you need it and marriage is so much more than how good the sex is anyway.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Intimacy Agenda

After a break from writing about pornographies, I have more thoughts to share.  The previous pieces are here:

 

Porn Is Not A Thing

The Christian Porn Conversation

De-Euphemism-ising Pornographies

 

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…).

 

  1. 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?

 

  1. 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.

 

  1. 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.

The Spectrum of Pornographies: A Man’s Perspective PART 2

This post is part of the series I’ve been doing about the spectrum of pornographies, you can read the others (along with a few of my previous posts that cover the subject) here.

This is the second guest post from a Christian man who I asked to share his views…

I personally have been helped by some of the literature and resources developed by Christians aimed at men who consume porn of the types I did. Their frameworks for understanding compulsive behaviour and my motivations were very useful, as were the practical strategies for changing problem behaviour. I would commend the work of XXXChurch in the US particularly, especially as it is noteworthy that they are addressing aspects of the production of porn as well as its consumption.

However, the language in the books and on the websites produced by Christians can be problematic. Talk of addicts and addiction, of being a user can reinforce the notion of men being primarily victims and analogous to drug users. Yes, the literature does address the effects on family and friends of an ‘addicts” behaviour, just as those addressing alcohol or drug abuse do.

But telling men they are victims in a spiritual battle – whilst partially true – is only a part of the bigger picture.

The battle can be too often described only as the struggle of ‘good men tempted’ against the ‘flesh and blood’ of naked women (or men) having sex on screen.

It is closer to the truth, I think, to say that men are called – no, compelled – to take up a battle against the ‘powers and principalities’ behind the systematic and all-pervasive denigration and objectification of women of which pornographies are manifestations of.

That may mean men learning not to solely be obsessed with maintaining personal purity (though resisting the lust Jesus speaks of IS a non-negotiable) and being willing to speak about and root out every form of misogynistic thinking and practise. It’s not either/or, it’s both/and but it’s essential we stop casting ourselves as the victims of the piece and face up to our greater responsibilities.

What does an effective response to this issue look like?  Do you have any thoughts about what a theological response to the issues looks like?

I only have tentative answers but there are some things I think we definitely do.

Firstly, given that the majority of exploitation and degradation one can observe in pornography of all forms is enacted by men against women, we men firstly need to listen to what women would have us do. Men are not the saviours of porn performers nor of porn consumers but we do have responsibilities. We need to learn not to shrug off our responsibility to act but we do need to curtail our assumption that men know what is best for women and that we know what women need us to do.
I think too that men need to engage more readily in conversation with – and especially in listening to – feminists within and outside the Church. They are able to teach us how pornography connects with wider issues of sexism and women’s liberation.

We also need to talk together more frankly and honestly about what is out there – I don’t mean talking porn for the sake of showing how much we know or how in touch we are with what is out there but in order to confront the realities and expose the mechanisms of exploitation and damage.

As I’ve suggested, we need to think more carefully about our language and terminology. Can we find language which is more accurate and honest than only “addict/addiction/purity/lust”? Should we be speaking of consumers not users given most pornography is unashamedly cynically marketed product, given that many pornographies is outworking of capitalism?
What about the language of “models” and “performers”? Where is the line between “performer” and “product”? I don’t want to deny the self-determination of women nor the fact that women do choose to produce and act in porn movies, and I don’t wish to speak for women (see above) but when women are saying “pornography is hurting women in all manner of ways” then to fall back on language which emphasises freedom and consent and downplays power and exploitation is disingenuous.

This goes for the larger narratives we employ in our writing and speaking about pornographies in the Church. Whose stories do we emphasise: men who have “suffered” loss due to porn, men who have “recovered” from addiction? Or do need to give more airtime and platform space to women telling their stories about porn? About the effects of the men they know consuming porn? Of their own experience of having been exploited by porn producers? Do we need to pay more attention than we do to the voices of women who have suffered sexual violence due in part to the shaping of men’s minds and actions by violent porn?

In some of the Christian books and websites I’ve read addressing pornography I’ve read much about men who “use prostitutes” and stripclubs, or pay to access porn online, but next to nothing in the same books and sites about who these prostitutes are, who works at these strip clubs, who made the porn and “performed” in it.
For every man’s life “ruined” by pornography consumption there is at least one woman whose life has been ruined and whose health and well-being have been compromised.

Even the well-meaning talk of “would you want your daughter to be watched in that way?” is problematic. We should instead be saying things like “should any woman be treated in this way or feel compelled to make a living like this?”

We need to resist shallow stereotypes about men and women and sex. Addressing porn has to be connected with what we teach in churches about men and women and sex more broadly. Much teaching can inadvertently give more license to men to consume pornography by emphasising “men’s needs” and their apparently greater sex drive, and women’s supposed more “emotional” and “passive” view of sex. If our church teaching on sex reinforces male potency and drive, and female passivity and receptivity, does this not shape men’s expectations of sex to conform to what they see on their screens?

We need to join the dots in our speaking and acting between pornography, sex trafficking/slavery, and sexual violence. These relationships are complex. Not all that comes under the banner “pornography” is necessarily exploitative and connected with sexual violence; but much is. However, we need to resist seeing ourselves as the male saviours of poor helpless women – back to listening and learning before acting – whilst still acting when we can.

We need to read our bibles “better” – to see the narratives of sexual exploitation, the gender stereotypes often under the surface of texts we read too simplistically.

A quick example:

David and Bathsheba: do we read this as David in a moment of weakness succumbing to temptation? Or do we notice and highlight the power dynamics at work: the powerful king seeing another woman as a sexual object to own and consume, a woman who could not realistically say no to the summons from the King who “sent messengers to fetch her”? In our modern terminology, was this really fully consensual sex or was this exploitative behaviour within an asymmetrical power relationship?

I’m not advocating that we demonize King David or dismiss the fact that he was a man “after God’s own heart”; rather we perhaps need to learn that “good men” are not simply “tempted”; sometimes they are exploitative and abusive.

We need to open our minds to recognise that when we laud a biblical character simplistically as a “goody” we risk overlooking the patterns of sexual exploitation and sexism even within our scriptures.

The same goes for other aspects of the Bible – how do we read Paul’s epistles within a “pornified” culture where women are routinely objectified on camera and in print? When I read in 1 Corinthians that a wife is not “master” of her own body, I must treat and read that text extremely carefully given that pornographies so frequently depict a woman’s body simply as an object for a man or men to use to achieve orgasm. Paul had his reasons for writing, and I don’t think he is advocating the routine objectifying of women. However, thousands of women within pornography industries are routinely treated and told that they are not “masters” of their bodies; they are told that their bodies exist for men’s pleasure, and their value as people is proportional to the degree of pleasure a man derives from gazing at or physically using their bodies.
We certainly can draw on Paul’s writing to develop a healthy theology of the body and of sex BUT we need to be very careful and not rely solely on a simplistic reading of him.
I’d also ask: please, please, please resist quoting chunks of Proverbs to address porn and sex. I’ve heard that book used too often to endorse narrow sexual roles especially for women, and to perpetuate the notion that men are “potential victims” who must resist the advances of “temptresses” whether in the flesh or on screen.
Finally, if we want to hold up Samson and Solomon as heroes of the faith, also be honest about the massively exploitative sexual behaviour they were engaged in. Solomon’s harem of women were not in his royal court purely of their own volition, acting from true freedom and self-determination. Our ancestors In the faith used women as objects for pleasure and to continue their bloodlines. Yes, God was gracious enough to “use” these men for his purposes but let’s at least be more honest about the long legacy of sexual exploitation in our faith’s story.

I realise I’ve offered more questions than answers. I realise I’ve offered no programme of action or 10 steps to eradicating pornography. I hope these suggestions about how we think and speak and listen will provoke others to develop appropriate ways of acting. My greatest concern is not so much ridding my home or computer of porn (though this is essential), nor to rescue men from addiction (though men do need help stopping what they’re doing). There is a bigger cause of ridding the world, our communities and churches of the ways of thinking, speaking and behaving which contribute to pornographies being so pervasive, and increasingly violent and damaging. That’s a huge and more complex task.

The Spectrum of Pornographies: A Man’s Perspective PART 1

This post is part of the series I’ve been doing about the spectrum of pornographies, you can read the others (along with a few of my previous posts that cover the subject) here.

I asked a Christian man I’d been chatting with about the issues around pornographies to write about his experiences.  He said a question and answer approach would work well, so here is Part 1…

How long have you been in Church?

Church has been a constant part of my life since birth. My parents are Christians and there’s never been a time I’ve not been heavily involved in Church – attending, helping lead worship, children’s work…

What is your current church involvement?

I’m currently a full-time paid minister of a church as part of a small team. I’m still relatively new to full-time leadership having spent time training full time at a theological college and on placements.

My work is very varied: from work with older people to all-age worship, preaching, community engagement and work with schools.

I’ve previously had a fair bit of experience of working with teenagers.

My work with teenagers in a number of settings gave me a greater awareness of the rapid and constant changes in that wide range of media we call ‘porn’ and how and what young people access.

What are your thoughts on the spectrum of media that makes up what is commonly described as pornography?

In a previous blog post you made the very helpful point that pornography is not one monolithic entity but a vast spectrum or diversity of material and media.

Not only is this true; I also feel it is important to note that porn users are diverse, have very different patterns of usage, and access porn for different reasons and with a variety of felt needs or drives.

My first experience of pornographic material was at around 11 seeing magazine of what would today be regarded by many as very ‘tame’ – essentially naked or scantily clad women in ‘alluring’ poses (it’s worth noting they had pubic hair in contrast to the seemingly ubiquitous contemporary requirement for women in most forms of porn to be hairless, as you’ve noted previously).

My ‘descent’ into what I would call a porn addiction followed a path from ‘softcore’ still images online (dialup internet and 1990s tech precluded my viewing moving images for several years) to hardcore short movies online by about 2010.

I shocked myself at how rapidly my choices of material accessed changed over a few years, in terms of the shift from softcore “lad mag”/playboy stills to short movies of male-female and female-female explicit penetrative sex.

What I note now looking back is how a click on a free site offering playboy images of nudity always offered up immediate free access to still images and videos of ardcore penetrative sex acts, mainly m-f or f-f. ‘Escalation’ of usage happened very easily.

My main motivation for using porn was initially curiosity – not having had sex until my 20s and married, I was curious about the naked female form and the mechanics of sex.

The motivation shifted in time such that it became about relieving boredom or low mood by seeking sexual stimulation.

I have accessed hardcore porn over a period of maybe 10 years on and off.

One of the motivators in recent years to get help and kick my habit has been the realisation of what is out there, how easily I was being sucked in, and the risk of my beginning to access more extreme and degrading material.However, in what must have been just 3 or 4 years, as my access escalated from nudity to watching two people having penetrative vaginal intercourse, so I became rapidly aware of what I found and find a far more disturbing, degrading and violent world of pornographies.

For example, while I may have clicked on a page to view still full frontal nudity and/or a ‘model’ masturbating, sidebar ads and pop ups offered an array of other content: anal sex, ‘facials’ (a man or men ejaculating on a woman’s face), gangbangs (multiple men penetrating one woman, sometimes simultaneously), bondage/S&M, and a variety of content specifically offered up as being what I’d call ‘deviant’. By this I mean content which involves physically abusive, overtly exploitative sexual activity.

I didn’t explore much beyond what would be called “vanilla” male-female/female-female porn, and I quite frankly didn’t understand why anyone would be interested in some of what seemed bizarre or disturbing types of porn. I’ve never been drawn to some of the forms you listed in your previous blog: porn involving other bodily functions, ‘facials’, orgies, gangbangs, what would be called ‘fetish’. But the realisation of what was out there disturbed me deeply.

Now, to be clear: I would say from my experience as a user and from my research that the vast majority of pornographies involve some form of exploitation of women; most porn in whatever form almost always places men in a position of dominance and power over women. This is often explicit in the behaviour of ‘performers’ and the scenarios offered up; it is almost always the case in what goes on behind the camera and when the cameras aren’t rolling, in how the industries operate.

This being said, there are forms of porn which are actively marketed using the language of exploitation, of men forcefully “doing to” women with no attempt to suggest that there will be mutual pleasure.

It became clear that porn as one woman and one man depicted as engaging in mutually pleasurable sex (yes with the man being more dominant, but seemingly mutually consensual and ‘vanilla’) had become just one thing on a vast menu.

The descriptors attached to videos and screenshots I began to see on the two or three sites I visited became ever more violent, degrading, explicitly objectifying and insulting of women. They were all about what one or more men would do to this or that orifice. Women were “sluts”, “bitches” and “whores” whom the viewer could see degraded. There was/is no veneer of respect in these forms of porn. The language was/is debasing women in every way possible without actually coming out and saying they are being raped. Some descriptions on ads for sites or videos treated the woman-as-person as incidental or irrelavant – they described only what would be done to one of her body parts by a man or men.

I personally felt not even much curiosity never mind desire to access these more violent and abusive forms BUT they were just a click away, as easy to access as a ‘Nuts’ image.

The near ubiquity of ejaculation onto a woman’s face (something I’ve witnessed and have no desire to see again – it left me feeling not only ashamed but disturbed) seems to me to highlight the fact that porn usage or addiction is far more complex and bigger than being just about (mainly) men looking lustfully at a woman or watching a couple copulating in order to gain a sexual thrill.

There are aspects of the array we call ‘porn’ which are not just about the lust to enjoy sexual pleasure with another person: how do we Christians address the fact that some of our brothers are choosing regularly to access still and moving images of women being physically abused, subjected to obvious discomfort, used as no more than a collection of orifices, and humiliated?

In some porn there is still the effort made to depict scenarios of mutual pleasure and relative respect for each other’s comfort and wellbeing.

In other forms, the pretence isn’t so much abandoned as actively opposed.

The material I saw offered was seemingly designed to appeal to male fantasies of subjecting a woman to anything he chooses for his own pleasure with no interest in woman’s bodily safety never mind pleasure. Women are written about as having no say nor right to derive pleasure or comfort from sexual acts; they are there to be used and to be either silent or only open their mouths to acquiesce to a man’s demands.

Do you think the current focus of the church on addiction and purity around this issue is helpful? 

An emphasis on purity and resisting lust does have its place in the church’s addressing of porn ‘addiction’ but is insufficient on at least four counts:

1) These approaches can make men feel misleadingly that they are the primary victims in the porn addiction narrative. They are victims yes of their own lusts, but these lusts as provoked and exploited by the loose women onscreen: that’s sometimes what the purity/lust narrative implies and leads men to believe. Careless citation of stories about Solomon or King David, or quotes from Proverbs often do more harm than good: they overlook the exploitation and dehumanising of women in those texts for a start; they also place the emphasis on men resisting “the temptress”. If men addicted to porn are victims, they are victims of a mainly male capitalist and misogynistic machine which treats them simply as interchangeable consumers.

2) This emphasis on purity/lust seems inadequate for dealing with the many men among us either for pleasure or out of compulsion watch women being degraded in material marketed as such. I’m not sure what the answer is to this but it must be more complex and far reaching than treating and supporting the individual addict.

3) In and of themselves, approaches which focus solely or mainly on purity and abstinence only address the problem of breaking an addictive pattern (no bad thing) and not the problem of thousands of women’s lives being ruined and bodies exploited. There is a pressing need for the church and men ourselves especially to address the foundational misogyny, systemic sexism which means that there is a market for the full array of pornographies.

4) This approach does little or nothing to address the phenomenon of people accessing porn depicting sexual or quasi-sexual behaviours which radically depart from what the church would generally advocate as healthy, desirable, and safe within a marriage; behaviours which many of us would see as suggestive of problems with a person’s psychological/emotional/sexual health and development. I realise that makes a value judgement but that seems inevitable even desirable if we wish as the church to tackle porn in all its forms and with all its problems.

I will publish Part 2 of this piece over the next few days…

De-Euphemism-Ising Pornographies

In the last piece in this series on pornographies I wrote about the shape of the Christian conversation on pornographies and considered how it needs to be broadened.  Today I thought I’d create a handy “de-euphemism-iser” so that when you read Christian articles about the spectrum of pornographies you can translate them and understand what they’re actually saying.

 

I was discussing the idea behind this post with a very wise friend who worked for many years as a counsellor.  She said that when counselling people who had suicide ideation and those engaged or thinking about taken drastic action that would damage themselves or others it was very important to de-euphemism-ise the actions they wanted to take.  Where someone said they “wanted to fall asleep”, there was a need to make that real; to not enable them to use language to hide the reality and consequences of what they wanted to do.  As this resource states, when working with people considering suicide, “Use clear, direct terms, not euphemisms for suicide”.

 

In the same way, the current language surrounding the spectrum of pornographies (especially within Christian conversations) does not use language which discourages  people from accessing explicit material; it does not use language which leaves them unable to justify, minimise or rationalise their behaviour and choices.

 

Though some men are viewing images and videos of gay men, or men performing gay sex acts, the vast majority of men are viewing images of women and “teenage” girls.  Yes some women do view pornographic content, but not to the same degree. Images of children being sexually abused are often referred to within the media as “child pornography”.  This term is reprehensible as it hides the perpetration and crime of child sexual abuse.  At some point, I may write a separate piece about this, but for clarity, it is not part of this piece.

 

So without further ado, may I present the DE-EUPHEMISM-ISER.

 

(Many of the phrases listed come from Christian websites about pornographies)

 

Using pornStruggling with pornBattled with porn; Watch porn; Sin onlineLustful indulgenceThe consumption of pornInvolved in pornIllicit sexual behavior they’re engaged inStruggling with sexual brokenness, woundedness, addiction or dysfunctionVarious forms of sexual bondage and brokenness.

 

ALL THE ABOVE TRANSLATE AS: Masturbating until ejaculation while choosing to watch images of women being degraded, objectified and punish.

 

Pornography provided me with me with a sense of security

 

Choosing to watch images of women being degraded, objectified and punished, while masturbating until I ejaculated, provided me with with a sense of security…

 

All of my stress and worries could be solved with a simple click

 

All of my stress and worries could be solved by clicking on images of women being degraded, objectified and punished while I masturbated until I ejaculated.

 

The Temptation of Pornography

 

The temptation of choosing to masturbate until ejaculation while watching images and videos of women being degraded, sexually humiliated and dehumanised.

 

Explicit photographs and footageHardcore sexual acts

 

Images and videos of women being degraded, objectified, penetrated (usually by multiple men), ejaculated on and generally used by men, that are then posted online to enable a small number of very rich men to get richer.

 

Fictitious sexual scenarios with made-up people

 

Degrading and violating sexual scenarios created with real people whose lives are being destroyed in the process of being turned into a product for (mainly) men to masturbate while watching, until they ejaculate.

 

Porn ruins lives

 

Watching images of women being degraded, objectified and punished, while masturbating until ejaculating ruins lives.

 

The enemy is using media to destroy a generation

 

Rich (mainly) white men are producing images and videos of women being degraded, violated and dehumanised, in order to sell them to (mainly) men to watch while masturbating, in order to get even richer.  In the process the women/girls and (to a lesser degree) men who are often manipulated into being filmed are being destroyed.  When (mainly) men are masturbating while watching images of women being sexually degraded and abused they are losing their humanity as the dehumanise the people in the images and videos they are watching.  This is evil.

 

Pornography is a serial killer

 

The lives of women and girls who are being objectified, degraded and humiliated are being destroyed.  But we’re not actually talking about the people most damaged by an industry designed to make rich men even richer.  We’re talking about the people who then watch the images and videos of people being degraded and violated to masturbate until ejaculating.  We are more interested in their souls being defiled than we are in the actual people whose actual lives are being decimated.

 

Escape this trapBreak free from pornographyPursuing sexual purity

 

Someone choosing to stop degrading, objectifying and dehumanising women and girls through watching images and videos of them being sexually violated so that they can masturbate until ejaculation.

 

The generation that has been raised on porn is becoming less able to enjoy sexual intimacy

 

The majority of young people in the UK are learning about sex from watching images of women (and girls) being objectified, degraded and dehumanised.  They are learning that during sexual contact boys (and men) should be violent, aggressive, have enormous penises and should never be kind or gentle towards the girl (or woman) they are having sex with.  Girls are learning that they should be penetrated without any affection, love or care.  That they should be hairless and that they should want to end sex by having their face ejaculated on.  These images are also encouraging girls and boys to see having multiple boys/men penetrating one girl at one time as normal and desirable.  Sexual intimacy has become an alien concept due to this.

 

How Christ destroyed my addiction to lust

 

I was compulsively looking at images and videos of women being objected, degraded and humiliated.  Masturbating until ejaculating while watching those images changed the way my brain worked so I felt I had to continuing watching images of women being sexually violated.  I chose to act upon those compulsions.  Jesus helped me to choose to no longer act on them.

 

Men are hard wired to like watching pornMen are visual creaturesThe thing women do no seem to fully grasp is that the temptation towards lust does not stop; it is continual; it is aggressive; it does all it can to lead men down to death.

 

ALL OF THE ABOVE TRANSLATES AS:

 

I am going to use bad science to justify why men can’t help but degrade, objectify and sexualise women (and girls).  Even though much research has shown that the brain is not hard wired and that humans have neuro-plasticity (the connections in the brain change depending on our environment and experiences) I am going to continue to perpetuate the myth that the free will (which we hold so dearly as core aspects of the Christian faith) fails at the sight of a woman’s ankles, skin, “toe cleavage”, leggings etc.  Because men are not capable of choosing to see women as human beings and cannot treat them with respect unless they adhere to a strict dress and behaviour code which avoids every possible sexual desire a man might have.

 

Modesty: The Other Side of the Pornography Coin

 

The clothing and behaviour choices women make are at least 50% responsible for men choosing to find a private space, open a web browser, search for videos and images of women (and girls) being sexually degraded, violated and penetrated, and then masturbating until ejaculation while dehumanising the women in the videos and photos.

 

Lust and sexual pursuits are evidence of our need to experience the presence of God intensely

 

Choosing to objectify, degrade and dehumanise women is evidence of our need to experience the presence of God intensely.

 

Fathers, Step Up: Teaching Modesty and Purity to Our Daughters

 

Fathers!  Make sure you start early in telling your daughters that it’s their job to stop men choosing to objectify, dehumanise, sexualise and masturbate while watching images of women (and girls) being degraded and sexually humiliated.

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”?

Unknown

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.