Not unlike many church plants today, the infant church in Corinth faced many challenges in its early years. Near the top of the list of those challenges was the problem of sexual sin. Paul confronted this in 1 Corinthians 5:1 where he writes, “It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father’s wife.” The term Paul used when confronting the issue of the man in the church sleeping with his stepmother is the word porneia, which is found 25 times in the New Testament in reference to any number of sexual sins. It is from porneia, of course, that we get the word pornography.
Not long after photography became commercially viable in the 1860s, the emergence of erotic photos for sale soon followed, and by the 1890s, the first pornographic magazines were on the market. No sooner had porn magazines hit the market did the motion picture revolution begin––and with it, the creation of the “stag film.” In the 1970s and 80s, the invention of the VCR and cable television brought pornography right to the convenience (and anonymity) of one’s own home.
But none of that compares to the impact of the internet, as noted in the book, A Billion Wicked Thoughts (Plume, 2012):
The proliferation of pornography and the convenience to access it was only compounded by the dawn of the smartphone age in the late 2000s. In just over 150 years, we’ve witnessed just how deep the human penchant for sexual sin is, as technological advancements have brought pornographic material from being expensive and inconvenient to obtain, to being both free and available in an instant. It’s shocking to consider how dramatic of a change technology has brought to the satisfaction of humankind’s appetite for sexual sin.
The pornification problem
American society has a porn addiction. Today on average, the first time a person sees porn is around 11 years old. Despite widespread agreement from both Christian and secular groups that pornography is harmful, there is even a growing acceptance of pornography in our culture. Research from the Barna Group found that while 54% of adults (25 and older) say viewing porn is wrong, that percentage drops to only 32% among 13-24 year-olds.
Much of this growing porn acceptance and usage is happening while parents are completely unaware. One in five girls ages 13-17 reported sharing nude photos of themselves via their smartphone. Fifty-one percent of 11-13 year-olds and 66% of 14-15 year-olds reported viewing porn, despite the fact that 75% of parents believe their children had not seen pornography.
But pornography harms the entire family. A report from the Family Research Council cited several findings about the harmful impact of pornographic consumption on the family, including diminished satisfaction emotionally and sexually between spouses, loss of libido, desensitization of sexual fantasies (and an increased drive for more extreme fantasies), and a gateway for infidelity and divorce.
Here are a few other serious consequences to consider about the use of porn:
1. It causes men to devalue women.
At the root of the issue of pornography is how it breeds in a person an unholy and objectifying view of other human beings created in the image of God. This is especially true of the devaluing affect pornography has on the view of women among men. A study by the American Psychological Association of 330 men aged 17 to 54 found that “the younger a man was when he first viewed pornography, the more likely he was to want power over women.” Men exposed to porn at an older age would more likely engage in “playboy” behavior marked by promiscuity, not by appropriate honor toward women.
2. It’s connected to human trafficking.
The production of pornography is the third leading cause for sex trafficking, behind escort services and elicit massage businesses. The relationship between the pornography industry and sex trafficking is deep and wide, ranging from recorded acts of trafficking victims being uploaded to increase revenue streams from a single victim. In many other instances, the victim is duped into believing her participation means one thing, only to show up and it require far more heinous acts.
Still other times women are specifically trafficked for the purpose of the production of porn videos. In response to this, the industry has responded with the idea of “ethically sourced porn,” referring to porn content that is produced by consenting adults who are compensated and treated fairly. And while it is true that such situations do exist, the porn user accessing videos through one of the millions of sites has no way of guaranteeing that their porn consumption meets “ethical” criteria, and there is little protection or regulation over the industry to guarantee such a thing.
Overall, data suggests that the desensitization that comes with regular porn consumption also can manifest in an increased willingness to buy sex, resulting in a growing demand for sex trafficked girls. So whether one might consider his or her porn habit “ethically sourced,” it still contributes to an ever-growing appetite for exploited women forced into sexual slavery.
3. It harms your relationship with God.
In his helpful book Spiritual Detox, Tim Challies observes the dark side of porn as seen in three primary ways: 1) Pornography mocks God’s intention for sex; 2) it “is inherently violent, inherently unloving;” and 3) it is progressive: “it always wants more.”
When David confessed his sin to God in Psalm 51 he said, “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight” (Psalm 51:4a). In this David is not denying the impact of his sin on others; he is acknowledging the depth of his sin against his God. Porn consumption is a habitual sin that maligns God’s intent for human desire and for sex. It is a vice that prevents our total surrender of ourselves before God.
The pathway from porn to purpose
You can safely assume that most men, as well as women, you meet have viewed porn at one time, or are currently viewing it. This includes over half of pastors and two thirds of youth pastors. Knowing how widespread the viewing of porn is, what are we to do? I want to offer several suggestions for becoming free from the corrupting grip of pornography:
1. Understand the pull of this sin and its destructive effects.
Tim Challies puts it clearly:
Understanding how damaging porn consumption can be is a key first step in mitigating its impact on both American society and upon the church. We need to talk openly and frankly about how porn destroys marriages, families, rewires people’s understanding of and appetite for affection in relationships, and even contributes to systemic injustices. The anti-porn organization Fight the New Drug notes that 70% of porn consumers who learn about the association of their porn consumption with human trafficking and exploitation take some form of action to combat it.
2. Tell someone.
Too often, we live lives that are surrounded by people yet isolated with our own personal thoughts and struggles. Too few have true accountability with a group of friends, a minister, or a mentor. If you are addicted to porn, talk to a counselor. In an article for Church Leaders, Mike Foster addresses why most accountability groups don’t help here, but how an honest meeting with a key person can:
I have seen leaders every year go away for a week and meet with a coach or therapist and have this time be very effective. They dump a ton of junk, begin working strategies in their life and start dealing with significant character issues. To be frank, I would rather have us have one week of brutal honesty than 52 weeks of semi-honesty at Denny’s.
Who knows about your struggles? Are you bearing this alone? It is too heavy to shoulder on your own. Tell someone.
3. Develop a holy theology of desire.
In a well-meaning effort to mitigate the damage of pornography, we warn people about the damages and sinfulness of porn consumption and no more. But in doing so, we stop short in getting to the root of the problem: a maligned theology of desire. Richard Foster notes how “because of sin, our sexual appetites have been distorted. In some cases, they have become obsessive and all consuming.” He describes the Bible’s high view of sex and that human sexuality,
For Foster, porn is a distortion of that holy sexuality. It “cheapens and dehumanizes” what God intended for us to be and the holy desire that informs deeply committed sexual relations between a husband and wife that are “a mixture of tenderness and halitosis, love and fatigue, ecstasy and disappointment.” At first, halitosis doesn’t sound all that sexy. But when we see Foster’s point, that desire is what drives deep, everlasting bonds that both transcend and permeate the act––that good sex is more than sexual intercourse, we begin to see something profoundly covenantal––profoundly holy.
It is not enough to stop doing the wrong thing. We must also fill the void left by the wrong thing with “a more excellent way” (1 Cor. 12:31) that does not, to paraphrase Rich Villodas,
“separate souls from bodies.” Instead, holy desire should orient us toward a bond with the whole person we have committed our lives to in marriage. Our churches must look not only to point out where desire is wrong, but also disciple people into knowing how to desire in a holy way, as God intends.
While the advances in technology have made it easier for people to indulge their sinful sexual appetites, Paul’s letters to the Corinthians remind us that the root issue behind pornography consumption is not technology, but desire that has not been formed in the way of the cross. As churches seek to respond biblically to sexual sin, we should consider several best practices.
First, we should be consistently biblical. This means dealing consistently with the sin, irrespective of the influence or position of the sinner. Far too often churches and denominations give a pass to holding pastors or other church leaders accountable for sexual sin or even abuse. This should not happen, especially when there is a lack of repentance.
Second, we should seek to be redemptive, not punitive. This means that the goal of dealing with sexual sin in a church should be the reconciliation and restoration of the person tangled up in sexual sin, not to exact punishment on them. As it pertains to leaders involved in sexual sin, this does not always mean he or she is entitled to be restored to position in the church, but it does refer to restoration in community as a brother or sister.
Third, we should seek to be merciful and practical in responding. When someone comes forward to confess a sinful struggle with lust, accompanied by a repentant heart, we should respond accordingly. We should extend mercy where mercy should be extended and consider how the response to such a confession impacts spouses and the family of the individual.
Fourth and finally, we should seek to disciple people into holy sexuality. This requires taking an honest inventory of how we approach the subject of sex. Do we pretend like it doesn’t exist? Do we dwell too much on the physical components of sex while ignoring a broader biblical theology of sexuality? Do we uphold the agency and dignity of women in how we teach about married sex?
It is when we proactively disciple people in our churches in such a way that promotes a healthy and biblical perspective of sexuality and desire that we will begin to root out the fundamental impulses that fuel the pornography industry. We have an opportunity to demonstrate a more excellent sexuality in the church as a missional embodiment of what Jesus desires for all of humankind. In doing so, we can put pornography in its rightful place: the catalogue of sinful brokenness from which Christ has redeemed us.
 Tim Challies, Spiritual Detox (Cruciform Press, 2010), 18-20.
 Challies, Spiritual Detox, 17-18.
 Richard J. Foster, Money, Sex & Power: The Challenge of the Disciplined Life, 1st ed (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1985), 103.
 Foster, 92.
 Foster, 103.
 Rich Villodas, The Deeply Formed Life: Five Transformative Values to Root Us in the Way of Jesus, First edition (Colorado Springs, CO: WaterBrook, 2020), 109.