This is a slightly amended version of my latest piece for Samaritan Ministries International


Some subjects are a joy to write about. Others not so much. The topic in this piece most definitely fits into the latter category, yet it has become such a massive issue in recent years that it can hardly be ignored.

In recent weeks, I’ve come across what seems like a multitude of articles on the subject of pornography, especially articles focused on the fact that more and more teenagers and children are now viewing pornography on a regular basis. The latest piece to catch my eye came from Rod Dreher on The American Conservative website. At one point, Mr Dreher writes a paragraph in which you can almost hear him weep in sorrow as you read it:

“This society has a death wish. I wish I had some idea how it could be saved. What concerns me most of all right now is the horrifying complicity of conservative, even conservative Christian, parents in the spiritual, moral, and emotional ruin of their children and of their moral ecology because they, the parents, are too damn afraid to say no, my kids will not have a smartphone, I don’t care what they and society think of me.”

I hope that readers will share his sorrow, and that it might induce parents who have perhaps been blasé to take a long, hard look at their situation and take whatever action they can to protect their children’s innocence.

The issue of pornography is a difficult one to even talk about, but we must. In this piece I want to consider the societal phenomenon, addressing what I believe is one major way we are being deceived and then briefly looking at why pornography is so destructive. Then in a follow up piece, I’ll look at the issue more at the individual level, first asking what the root of the problem is and looking at a remedy.

I would assume that all Christians reading this know instinctively that pornography is wrong. At the same time, I am also aware that we can often fall into the world’s way of thinking on issues, and that this can mean that we accept its solutions to problems and fail to see the real issue. One of the ways we are doing this around pornography is increasingly seeing the major problem as being its spread to children, rather than pornography itself. Of course the spread to children is a massive problem, but it is not the problem.

Here’s an example: An article by Conor Friedersdorf in the Atlantic quotes one of the world’s biggest “porn stars” expressing concern that we’re not doing enough to stop pornography getting in front of children. Yet the same article states that “accessing hard core porn is (properly) legal.” This now seems to be the default position: pornography is fine for adults, but we just need to keep it from children.

Now it is of course true that pornography filtering down to children is a very great evil. Young minds are more susceptible to habit-forming from new stimuli in ways which adult minds are perhaps not. Nevertheless, if we concentrate all our efforts on simply stopping pornography getting into the hands of children, we miss the point completely. For the problem is not primarily that pornography is falling into the hands of children, but rather that as a society we have opened the floodgates to allow porn in and normalised it.

It is absurd to think that it is possible to normalise something like this, and for it not to filter down to children. Children, by their very nature, want to grow up to be adults, and they often want to do adult things before their time. So if we have largely normalised pornography amongst adults – and we have – then no amount of paywalls and banning of smartphones or anything else is going to make much difference. We have become a pornographic society, and children, who aspire to do what adults do, will generally find ways of getting their hands on it by hook or by crook (though of course responsible parents will take as much action as they can to prevent their children coming into contact with it).

Look at it like this. There are two types of activity that adults seek to protect children from. First, there are perfectly good activities that we want them to grow up into, but for which they need to come of age before we allow it. For instance, driving a car. Then there are activities which are bad in and of themselves, and which we try to protect them from not just because they aren’t old enough to do them, but because we don’t ever want them to do them. Taking heroin would fall into this category.

So which category does porn fit into? Is it like driving? Or is it like heroin? Is it something a child should one day be able to do, only not just now? Or is it like heroin; something that no sane parent would ever want their children to get into, no matter how old? If our culture puts it in the same category as driving a car, something to be avoided as a child, but something that is perfectly normal once you turn a certain age, then it can be safely said that we have lost all moral compass and are quite sick. If, on the other hand, we see it in the same category as heroin, then at least we would be acknowledging it as a problem to be dealt with.

Sadly, I would say that we have moved in the last ten years from treating it in the heroin category to the driving category. “We don’t want you to touch it now, but of course there will come a time when it becomes your right to consume as much of it as you like,” is essentially the message. And yet the schizophrenic nature of this is obvious when you think about why it is we don’t want children seeing it. Isn’t it because we know it pollutes their minds? Isn’t it because we instinctively know that it demeans and degrades them? Isn’t it because we are well aware that it will give them a terribly unhealthy and warped view of the opposite sex? Of course it is, but are we really naïve enough to think that it doesn’t have the same sorts of effects on adults?

But they’re adults, and we can’t stop their rights, can we? Well I am not suggesting that we suddenly enact a law that bans it all. Such a law at the point we currently find ourselves at would be as effective as King Canute commanding the sea to go back. But I am suggesting that our culture urgently needs to stop looking at the main problem as being one of trying to prevent pornography falling into the hands of children, which is in reality a bi-product of a much larger problem, and instead focus on the acceptance and normalisation of pornography among adults.

A Christian culture would understand this instinctively. It would see that pornography, by its very nature, cannot be anything other than dehumanising, not just for the people making it, but for the viewer and – crucially – for the whole of society. It would understand that just as the continual watching of extremely violent films or computer games is bound to desensitize people (no matter how much the makers of such things try to convince us otherwise), so too pornography cannot fail to desensitize us, not just to sex itself, but to people in general. It would understand that you cannot have people watching this stuff, which objectifies and commoditises people, and expect them to come away from it with a view of people which does not at some level objectify and commoditise other people.

In other words, a society that normalises pornography has already sown the seeds of its own destruction. If we defend the rights of people to view this stuff as much as they like, ultimately all we are doing is defending the rights of people to destroy society, since the health of that society very much depends in the long run on people not objectifying and commoditising one another.

But of course none of this gets to the root of the problem or suggests how individuals who have fallen into the grip of pornography can escape it. The fact is that it has an astonishingly magnetic lure, and is a notoriously difficult vice to overcome. I hope to return to this in a second piece.

11 thoughts on “The Pornification of Society – Part 1

  1. Pornography seems to be a magnetic lure, as you say, because it incorporates one of the most basic and natural instincts human beings have as a species; reproduction and the allure of sex. It is hardwired in us to be instinctively attracted to sex. Charles Ess states that “pornography may be harmful for children and adolescents, as it might foster both less than respectful attitudes towards young girls and women and understandings of sexuality that emphasize power and exploitation rather than respect, equality, and mutual intimacy (Ess, 2014, pg. 163). While this may be a fallout of explicit material, I believe we should focus on the potential causes of why children are so susceptible to pornography.

    Children tend to more or less stumble across pornography in an attempt at learning about something that is labeled “taboo” by many conservative christian families, and these families also tend to dance around the topic of sex education. This may be a main underlying issue, that the failure to properly educate children on sexual education leads them to learn about it on their own through the internet, which is obviously not the most reliable source for them to receive such information. Do you think our current sex ed. system is properly equipped to deal with teaching young adults about sex, and the dangers of pornography?

    Ess, C. (2015). Digital Media Ethics (Second ed.). Cambridge: Polity.

    Tyler Clanton

  2. Pornography in today’s society is becoming a huge problem and it is only growing every single day. Our Digital Media Ethics book mentions, “as the internet and digital media have facilitated such an explosion of the production and diffusion of SEM’s, they have thereby made the difficulties of defining pornography that much more complex.” (pg. 159) This blog explains how that in the media it is fine for adults to watch pornography but not for teenagers and the younger generation, but the younger generation are the ones who have just as easy access as adults maybe even more. The article states that “The society has a death wish.” I think that our death wish or problem is that our parents in today’s age don’t monitor their kid’s electronic devices and all their smartphones and iPad’s, etc. these kids are experiencing twitter, Facebook, and Instagram at an extremely young age. Pornography industries do a great but terrible job by putting this stuff on the internet for anyone to get ahold of it. I think it’s terrible because these industries don’t care about what they are doing to the younger generation they just want their stuff out on the internet. Digital media is destroying our younger generation in many ways and pornography is one of the biggest reasons. I believe that there should be laws and banning against pornography but it takes people to make a stand or even a very powerful person to make this change happen.
    Ess, C. (2015). Digital Media Ethics (Second ed.). Cambridge: Polity.

  3. I came across an blog that talked about pornography, and how it is wrong. Not only did it talk about how it is wrong, but it pointed out that in our latest generations that teens and children are the one watching it the most now. I also think it has become a big problem for men and teenagers. They see it as just as pleasure or fun, but in reality; it goes way deeper than they think. As stated in Digital Media Ethics, “One as the Internet and digital media have facilitated such an explosion of the production and diffusion of SEMs, they have thereby made the difficulties of defining pornography that much more complex. Two, this mediatization of sex and sexuailty thereby intersect with the larger patterns of mediatization — meaning the various ways in which we use digital (and analogue) media to represent ourselves and our lives, both to ourselves and others: as digital media continue to diffuse into every corner and wrinkle of our lives, so more and more of our lives are experienced through and with these media.” (pg.159) So with that being said, these men and teenagers watching this stuff on a normal basics are imbedding these thought into their mind as to how things should be or for insist, that women are objects and not human beings. I feel like there should be laws against porn but it would take a person with a lot of power to do so.

    Ess, C. (2015). Digital media ethics (Second ed.). Cambridge: Polity.

  4. I believe that as human nature, we want to be accepted by others and keep up with the current trends. We push the limits knowing that they are unethical and over time of pushing the limits, we have allowed sexualizing everything to become the norm and widely accepted. Our young children thrive to be like us, their role models. When they see us interacting in this behavior and accepting its presence, then they are going to believe that this is accepted and normal. They are so impressionable and if this is the idea they grow up with as being okay, they will never fully understand and respect a real true relationship. These ideas can set them up for failure in future relationships. Charles Ess states that “pornography may be harmful for children and adolescents, as it might foster both less than respectful attitudes towards young girls and women and understandings of sexuality that emphasize power and exploitation rather than respect, equality, and mutual intimacy (Ess, 2014, pg. 163).”

    Thanks,
    Jessica Jelken

    Ess, Charles. 2014. Digital Media Ethics. Cambridge: Polity Press.

    1. Thanks Jessica.

      I very much agree with what you have written. The question I don’t currently have an answer to, other than a mighty work of God and/or judgement of God in our generation, is how we get back to anything like a normal view of sexuality from the place we are currently at.

      Best wishes,

      Rob

  5. This is a very interesting blog topic and very well written. I would like to first say that I am very interested in the difficult questions you posed. Is the category of under aged pornography consumption like driving a car, or taking heroin? I would like to try and answer this by saying that pornography (as you hinted) is unethical at any age, as is the subjectification and oppression of women in general. As Charles Ess states in his book; Digital medial ethics, 2nd edition, when speaking of popular pornographic web sites he states: “These sites appear to emphasize SEM’s [sexually explicit materials] designed primarily to arouse heterosexual males as a focus on women as both a targets and active agents of male sexual pleasure” (p. 165). Do you think that this type of subjecification of women could have a negative effect on a young boys attitude towards them when he starts to date?
    In answering your question, I quite agree with you. The focus and responsibility should be with the parents and the upbringing of our children. We should teach our boys respect for women and that they are to be respected and not seen as merely a subject for their sexual desires, and we should also raise our girls with a sense of worth, meaning and that they have value beyond their potential sexuality.
    Do we teach this like driving a car, or like taking heroin? Neither – we teach this like we teach our children to respect our elders and open doors for people with their hands full. It is a matter of respect. Disrespecting others is not illegal, but it is just morally and ethically right, and more importantly it is proper at any age. We cannot say whether our children watch porn when they grow up as it is their own liberty to do so, but we can make sure that they have respect for the opposite sex and do not allow pornography to have a negative effect on how we treat and see others.

    Ess, Charles, Digital media ethics, 2nd edition. (2014) Polity Press

    1. Thanks so much for this helpful comment Rickey. I agree with what you’ve said, and particularly like this point that you make:

      “Disrespecting others is not illegal, but it is just morally and ethically right [to respect others], and more importantly it is proper at any age.”

      Absolutely. I am hoping to address this very issue soon in a piece, but on a broader level than just pornography. The issue is that public discourse has tended to present issues such as this (and things like freedom of speech) as having two options: absolute freedom on the one hand, or absolute law/tyranny on the other. Those who advocate absolute freedom are petrified that the state might deny them some freedom or other. And those on the other side are petrified that the absolute right to freedom will descend into chaos.

      But actually, in a properly functioning society, there’s a whole area in between the two which functions as a restraint on both tyranny and chaos. It is called social stigma, or social etiquette, and it involves people voluntarily agreeing to a set of standards, which are, as you say, “morally and ethically right”. They are not enforced by law, and so do not lead to tyranny, but they stand as a bulwark to stop freedom descending into anarchy.

      Unfortunately, this area between law and freedom has increasingly been eroded in Western societies in recent years. And increasingly we see a clash between those who demand their absolute rights to do what they want, when they want, where they want, and the fact that this leads to chaos which must then be stopped by law.

      As you rightly point out in the issue of pornography, the key is not just to allow a free for all, but nor is it necessarily to come down on it with the full weight of the law (which would probably be disastrous just now). Rather, if we rediscover that middle ground of respect, ethics and morality, the issue will begin to be dealt with.

      Best wishes,

      Rob

  6. Dear Mr. Slane,

    Your article has many valuable points. I, however, strongly object to the use of “d–n” as a curse word in the article. Damnation is a very serious reality, and not something to mock and make light of by using this word as a curse word. Can you see Christ or His Apostles referring to people as “too d–n afraid” of something? It is astonishing at a professing Christian would do such an ungodly thing as print this. Please consider whether this is what you want going out in the Samaritan Ministries newsletter–which is where I read it. I certainly will stop reading your articles in the Samaritan newsletter if this sort of language continues, and will reach out to Samaritan to suggest that they not use God’s money to print such things.

    Thank you.

    1. Tom,

      I’m glad that you found many valuable points in the piece. Regarding the rest of your comment, I’m torn between wondering whether you are joking or serious. If the latter, there are two points.

      Firstly, I didn’t use the word you refer to in my article, as such. I was quoting someone (Rod Dreher) who did, and you miss his point if you focus on that word.

      Secondly, actually the Bible used far worse words and expressions than this. For instance, in Philippians 3:8, Paul says this:

      “Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things and count them but dung, that I may win Christ.”

      The word translated dung here is the Greek word Skubala. It’s real meaning is far stronger than dung. Look it up. And it is by no means the only time that such strong language is used (Ezekiel 23:20 would be another example).

      It really would be a shame if we were to concentrate our attention on things like Mr Dreher’s use of a particular word, rather than the reason he uses such strong language, which is because he is practically begging Christian parents to wake up.

      Best wishes,

      Rob

  7. Decades ago we mused on the issues sex/nudity and sport and how their concept changed and as they got alienated from their natural or original purpose. The idea originated from a book written by professor Goudzwaard of the University of Amsterdam (“Vooruitgang en Kapitalisme”, 1976 – Progress and Capitalism – only in Dutch).

    Of course there are multiple angels to approach this issue but I read you in a way that you mainly aim at the scale and accessibility of porn today. And we too, in our concept focused on what spread the phenomenons rather than on what initiated them.

    The result of our thoughts was that capitalism internalized everything that was the beginning of a trend and that could be commercialized and turned into a money-machine. Sex and sport were at that time excellent examples of such internalization.

    After decades of observations I’m quite convinced we were right on the concept but dead wrong on the scale. Today, reality took us far beyond our wildest imagination. I never could imagine that we would go from the product “sex/nudity” to the product “porn” and certainly not to being it freely available for everyone as a teaser/surrogate/addiction.
    The same goes for sport that has become one of the biggest (corrupt) businesses in the world, with soccer far ahead of the rest. The content says it: porn-industry and soccer teams as merchandise and even stock market quoted teams … or not yet?

    Later I read a famous book that confirmed our concept (Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged”). Everything service must be available and needs an objective price tag, nothing should be for free (but I remember she struggled with the concept “love”). The four pillars of society (economics, culture, religion and politics) had been reduced to economics.

    And it didn’t stop with sex and sport. War (Blackwater), justice (private prisons), education (Betsy is going to finish the job in the US), politics (neoliberalism is the result of the internalization of politics), culture, religion (big business in the US), central banks and I dare say even the minds of people (consumerism) have been internalized. And recently I wondered whether the theme “global warming” has been internalized, cause as the dominant system, capitalism reacts much faster now than in the past?

    What once was outside commerce is now ALL commerce and we accept it willingly.
    Capitalism never creates trends and never invents; capitalism thrives on what becomes a trend and strengthens it until it becomes unrealistic, alienated and addictive. Hence the strength of capitalism, it joins a movement until it overrules and takes over … and then you loose!
    Hmmm, it just occurs to me: what about abortion, fertilization, cloning, …?

    Whatever the quality of my thoughts are, I fully agree that porn is a widespread plague, a vice of unseen proportions, and we need to do something about it. But I’m realistic and most parents cannot cope with the problem … how many watch porn themselves? Goverment? Sorry it has been internalized 😉
    I’m curious to what you will write in part 2!

    1. Once again, very thoughtful and thought-provoking comments GV. Particularly interesting where you say that everything had been reduced to economics. This is basically it, and something I’ve been thinking about a lot recently. Thatcherism, for example, was not really conservative, because the heart of it was not about conserving anything particularly, but about putting “the market” at the heart of everything, largely regardless of the consequences.

      I think we have, as a society, come to compartmentalise everything. Here is economics. Here is morality. Here is society. Here is history. Here is the law. Here is culture. And they all have nothing to do with each other!

      Except they do, and unless they are thought about together, with the consequences of the one being seen as bound up with the others, you’ll end up with a right royal mess.

      Rob

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