Sexually oriented pornography is a multi-billion dollar industry annually in the United States. It is estimated that every second $3,075.64 is spent on sexually explicit material. Nearly 25% of total internet search engine requests (i.e. Google, Yahoo) are pornographic in nature, totaling approximately 68 million hits per day. The average age of first exposure to pornographic material is estimated at 11 years old.
The societal, relational and financial costs of pornography are staggering. According to the National Coalition for the Protection of Children & Families, 47% of families in the United States reported that pornography is a problem in their home. The same study shows that the consistent viewing of sexually explicit material increases the marital infidelity rate by more than 300% while 40% of “sex addicts” lose their spouses, 58% suffer considerable financial losses and 1/3 lose their jobs.
On a sexual level pornography distorts attitudes by objectifying the sacredness of self-giving sex and turning it into a self-serving sport. It skews reality with an unrealistic fantasy and destroys families and lives. Statistically speaking men are far more susceptible to the perils of sexually oriented pornographic material than woman and thus more accustomed to being the recipients of strong rebukes and intensive accountability measures within the Church. And rightly so. The Enemy has a strong foothold in the lives of many men suffocating in a fantasy that is destroying their reality. We're well aware of this in the Church and unashamedly outspoken about it from the pulpit.
We are, however, notoriously silent about a frighteningly similar and equally dangerous epidemic threatening not the sensual faculties of men but the emotional recesses of women within the Church. The life-stealing effects of sexual pornography for men are real and devastating and evil, but not any more or less than the emotional pornography of TV dramas, reality dating shows, Hollywood blockbuster romantic comedies and even Christian novels many women are indulging in on an equally destructive level. The intent of this post is not to prudishly boycott cable or Hollywood, nor is it to legalistically elicit guilt or shame in those who are fans of these types of stories. Its purpose is to bring awareness to a subtly pervasive issue that is running wildly unchecked within the Church, and to simply say - let's not be naive, but careful.
Most of our efforts of prevention, accountability and recovery are primarily directed towards the more overt temptations of men when it comes to sexually-oriented pornography. There's software to install on your computer, men's groups to attend and thousands upon thousands of Christian books and articles written on the subject. Yet, the souls of many women are silently suffocating under the unrealistic expectations and unhealthy ideals culturally acceptable and emotionally deceiving means of entertainment are projecting on them - and we just don't talk about it. As a matter of fact we write it off in the exact manner our culture wants us to...as nothing more than fun, light-hearted entertainment.
I am well aware that many women struggle with sexual pornography and many men struggle with unrealistic emotional fantasies, but by and large our culture aims to pierce the eyes of men with visual images and pluck the hearts of women with sentimental ideals.
So, if sexually-oriented pornography says to men, this is what sex should be like with a woman, then emotionally-oriented pornography says to women, this is what love should be like with a man. For example, women are led to believe that a young, good looking, physically fit bachelor can be both perfectly sensitive and staggeringly strong for 25 women who are pining for his affection (really for his ring). For weeks Hollywood producers portray a figurative man in a fantasy environment and catch millions of women up into a fairy-tale world that could not be further removed from reality. The point is not for viewers to fall in love with this character, but to fall in love with the idea of him, and to fall in love with love all over again in a highly glamorized way. Horse back riding on exotic beaches, helicopter trips to far away islands, penthouse suites at the most luxurious resorts. Like unrealistic depictions of physical beauty on a magazine cover, these are but airbrushed depictions of romance and love.
This is what love should be like with a man, so they say. Innocent fun on one hand? Maybe. Dangerously manipulative on the other? Absolutely. It's training women to emotionally operate in their imaginations. What happens when the real life of the single girl longing for love, the newly married wife surprised by the difficulties of being married, the tired mom feeling worn out and unfulfilled or the empty nester wondering where the passion went over the last 30 years - what happens to their souls as they sit on the couch engaged in a fairy tale story that in no way resembles their current reality? Comparison, disappointment , disillusionment, resentment. Always the case? No. Like pouring gasoline on an open fire? Probably. And when you play with fire someone eventually gets burned.
The goal of pornography is to skew reality with fantasy and in the end cause us to ask one simple question: I wonder what it would be like if ___________? For men, the fill in the blank is obvious. For women, it's much more subtle. I wonder what it would be like if I was married to him? I wonder what it would be like if my husband was that emotionally available to me? I wonder what it would be like if he were that successful? I wonder...
The perfectly-sensitive-but-emotionally-strong, New-York-city-loft-apartment-living, physically-ripped-but-attractively-disheveled, care-free-motorcycle-riding, always-has-a-great-relationship-with-his-mother-and-sister-artist-type personified in most Hollywood narratives has become predictably boring...but powerfully influential. Fantasy skewing reality.
Again, I am not calling for a Christian boycott - those generally do more harm than good. I'm also not applying a general blanket to women assuming the influence of these forms of entertainment have the same effect on all, although their intent is to do so. As well, I'm not claiming that shows like this have never been on in our home. They have (but I'm usually in the garage at the time doing manly stuff like changing the oil in the car or building something with wood...right!?). I'll also be the first to admit I've seen more Channing Tatum movies than I would wish even on my worst enemy. I'm not saying protest, per say, I'm simply advocating that the Church not be so focused on the clear and overt forms of sexual pornography many men struggle with that we fail to address the more emotionally subtle forms attempting to blindly influence the thinking of many women.
This is not a pass for men to not be the strong, sensitive, hard-working, physically healthy and emotionally available men God has called us to be. In so many ways we need to step up and do better. It is an appeal, however, for single women to understand that their potential future husband will be a fatally flawed sinner in desperate need of continual grace from them, and to current wives to not get lost in a fantasy to the detriment of the reality God has placed them in.
Both sexual and emotional forms of pornography skew reality with fantasy and destroy lives, families and marriages. They exchange the truth of God for a lie and leave us naive to the seek-and-destroy tactics of the Enemy towards that which God has deemed beautiful and holy. The Enemy has gripped many men in the addictive vice of sexually pornographic material - we are all very aware of those dangers. However, perhaps its time the Church became more vocal about the equally dangerous allure of emotional pornography that many women are secretly suffering in submission to, or are simply more vulnerably susceptible to than they realize.
Let's no longer pass off as light-hearted entertainment that which so subtly distorts reality with an inevitably disappointing fantasy.