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Is the next thing that’s going to damage sex in evangelical circles the way that we’re treating porn?

Now, please understand: I think there is no excuse for watching porn. Porn is the biggest driver of sex trafficking. Even if the porn you’re watching is “consensual” (as if you could really know), when you watch you feed the demand for those types of things, and the things that you watch will eventually be forced on children and those who aren’t consenting. It’s a huge evil.

And porn does mess up the way that the user sees sex, changing the arousal patterns to respond to dehumanizing and objectifying behavior rather than to intimacy, and causing someone to need to emotionally distance themselves in order to even get aroused.

It’s a big mess, too.

This post is not about whether or not porn is bad–it certainly is. This post is asking the question: what are we going to do about it?

Are we treating porn for boys especially the way we treated sex for girls in the 1990s and 2000s?

Yesterday Keith and I recorded our podcast that’s coming out on Thursday, and we were reading from different books to help guys understand the messages their wives have been hearing about sex for years. One of the passages I read was from the book When God Writes Your Love Story by Eric and Leslie Ludy, two speakers/authors who were heavily involved in the purity culture movement.

In the passage I read, Karly and Todd, a couple who loved God and who had been dating in college with the aim to marry, found themselves overcome by passion and ended up in bed together. Afterwards they both felt guilty, and Todd got distant towards Karly.

But then listen to how they describe the implications for Karly:

As for Karly, she was hurt and confused by Todd’s behavior. She had thought he loved her. She had made the mistake of giving him her most precious gift–her virginity–but now he was distant and cold toward her. She was full of guilt. When she thought of all her childhood dreams of walking down the aisle in a white wedding gown, symbolizing her purity, she felt sick. She could never hope to have a beautiful love story with Todd now. She had ruined her chance. (p. 223)

Eric and Leslie Ludy, When God Writes Your Love Story

So Karly had given up her most precious gift. Her dreams were ruined. Her purity was gone.

But hold on a second. Todd had ALSO had sex. Why wasn’t HIS most precious gift gone? Why wasn’t his loss of purity a subject for discussion? Why was it only the girl who had lost something?

That’s the purity culture message that severely messed up a whole generation of primarily millennial women.

Your worth is in your virginity. It is the greatest gift you have to give. Once you are no longer a virgin, your identity is gone. If that virginity is stolen from you, you will never get it back. You will always be tainted.

And you will be all used up if you sleep with other guys. No one will want you. You will never be able to have the sex life or the marriage that you dreamed of and that you wanted, because that is reserved for only people who do things right.

Everything is lost.

Can you see a similarity between the way we talked–or even still talk–about virginity for women and the way we talk about porn for guys?

If you watch porn your brain will be rewired and you will never be able to understand real intimacy. You will ruin your chances of having great sex because you have wrecked your sexuality. God reserves great sex for those who have done everything right; you have used porn, and so great sex will always be out of reach. 

That’s a very hopeless message. You are ruined. You have lost something you can never get back. You will never enjoy the marriage and sex life you wanted.

Let’s look at four big ways that message fails:


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1. It makes people feel as if they are irreparably damaged even when the initial porn use wasn’t consensual

One of the most hurtful messages of the purity culture is that you could be “no longer pure” if you were the victim of sexual assault. It was sexual activity that tainted you, and even if that sexual activity was non-consensual, you would no longer be pure because you weren’t a virgin.

But think of all the children who see porn for the first time in a non-consensual way! If a friend shows you porn on his or her phone when you are 11, you haven’t consented, because you don’t understand at 11 the repercussions for seeing porn. You don’t understand how it can be traumatizing and arousing at the same time, and how the trauma of some of what you see can actually cause you to want to watch again and suck you in.

Just as we don’t say that 11-year-olds can consent to sexual activity, so we should not say that 11 or 12 year olds have truly decided to watch porn. They’re curious; they’ve often seen snippets from friends; and if they then seek it out, is that truly consensual? I’m not so sure that it is.

And in many cases I’m quite sure it isn’t. In many jurisdictions, showing porn to a minor is actually an offence and counts as sexual assault.

How many young people in their twenties–both men and women–who struggle with porn today started with porn in their preteen or early teen years before they had the maturity to understand what they were seeing? And once the habit starts, it’s hard to stop, because of what we know porn does to the brain.

2. It ignores the healing and transforming power of God

To say that once you’ve done something you’re damaged forever is, quite frankly, heresy. That’s exactly the opposite of what the Bible says. Jesus said, “if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” The old is gone. We are reconciled. We are redeemed. And we are transformed by the Spirit. We are no longer a slave to sin.

Now, recovery does take work still. But to insinuate that God will withhold the blessing of a great sex life and a great marriage because someone watched porn is just not the way God works.

3. It ignores what we know about porn recovery

A lot of people watch porn. A lot. In fact, the majority of those who came of age after the internet revolution have at least dabbled with porn.

But do you know what else we know? Most people enjoy their marriages. Most married people enjoy their sex lives. So that tells me that porn use does not have to doom anybody.

We also know from our survey of men that we finished a few months ago that when you quit porn completely, your marital and sexual satisfaction can be very similar to those who never use it. We’ll say a lot more about that in The Good Guy’s Guide to Great Sex, but this idea that you can never get over it and you’re tainted forever is not an accurate picture of reality.

4. It encourages black-and-white, defeatist thinking

What happens, though, when we believe that we are doomed if we watch porn? That we can never get over it? That this is every man’s battle, and we’ll always be struggling, and this is just the way things are?

Then it’s much harder to fight against. You start to believe there’s no point, because your sex life is ruined anyway.

We put a lot of shame on millennial women, and I fear we’re doing the same thing for Generation Z men.

(yes, I know women watch porn, too, but the defeatist messages are often aimed at men).

We need to get back to a gospel-centred view of sexuality. Yes, life can get messy. Yes, we can make mistakes. Yes, bad things can be done to us, and we can find ourselves in situations we can’t handle when we’re far too young.

But Jesus is the God who redeems, and His power can help us overcome the things that hold us back, and we do not have to let these things become our identity, determine our worth, or determine our future or current marriages.

If you’re dating or engaged, please deal with the porn use NOW. Nothing that I’m saying means that I don’t think you should take this seriously. But just know that if you do take it seriously, it is very, very likely that you will emerge on the other side, a healthy, whole person.


Need help with dealing with or defeating porn?

My favorite books for guys are: The Sexually Healthy Man by Andrew Bauman and Surfing for God by Michael John Cusick.

I also highly recommend Good Pictures, Bad Pictures for talking to your kids about porn, and Covenant Eyes to help protect your kids as much as possible.

We need a far more nuanced conversation about all of this stuff in the church, rather than just scaring people into doing what we want them to do.

That may get messier. But it’s closer to the truth. And you know what? People can handle the truth.

Porn New Purity Culture - Is Porn the New Purity Culture?

What do you think? Are we being too defeatist about porn use? Or do we not talk about it enough? Let’s talk in the comments!

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Sheila Wray Gregoire

Founder of To Love, Honor and Vacuum

Sheila has been married to Keith for 28 years, and happily married for 25! (It took a while to adjust). She’s also an award-winning author of 8 books, including The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex, and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila is passionate about changing the evangelical conversation about sex and marriage to line up with kingdom principles. ENTJ, straight 8

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