By the time the couple made it to my office, their marriage was already chaos. She had cheated on him, he had cheated on her, and neither seemed remorseful. The problem, as they saw it, was that the other was not satisfying them. The problem, as I saw it, was that they had each spent years consuming pornography. Frequently subjecting their minds to perverse pictures had created a pattern of thinking and of arousal. And my counselees are hardly the only ones in this predicament.
The sexual climate of our culture is dominated by the pornographic. The way most people think about sexual expression is tainted by lubricity. True sexual morality is seen as inane and archaic. Sex and sexuality are governed by the immoral, and the pornographic mindset has cornered the market on all sex. In short: we live in a Pornopoly.
This monopoly has affected everything from sex education in schools, to clothing styles for pre-teens, to the expectations of married men and women in their bedrooms. The porn problem is not contained to adolescent boys and their computers in mom and dad's basement. It has spread, like a rapacious plague, across our culture and even into the church. Porn controls much sexual expression and sexual discussion in our culture.
For example: porn has deeply affected the way men relate to women. The average single man watches porn for 40 minutes, three times a week. That's two hours a week, and 104 hours per year. The average male views porn for the first time at age 11, which means by the time he is 30 he will have watched almost 2,000 hours of pornography. For the average man in a relationship it is only slightly different. A married man, or man in a steady dating relationship, will watch porn 1.7 days a week for 20 minutes. Perhaps more alarming, 90 percent of men watch pornography. William Struthers talks about how this prolonged exposure to porn affects relationships. In his book Wired for Intimacy, he writes:
Because of these cognitive structures and the ability to store sexual images that are associated with sexual arousal and gratification, the minds of many men become hidden, personalized adult film studios. Any women they have seen and anyone else they can imagine are their performers. As porn and fantasy take control of the mind, it becomes a dream theater that is transposed over the waking world. Every woman they come into contact with is objectified, undressed and evaluated as a willing (or unwilling) mental sexual partner. She is rated on her imagined sexual proficiency and then either stored for later use or discarded as worthless. This mental consumption of a person is a violation of the image of God in each of us.
The frequent use of porn shapes the way a man views and relates to all women, not just those on his computer screen.
It affects the marital relationship too. Women admit that their husbands are asking them to do things in the bedroom that they do not feel comfortable doing, things that their husbands have seen in pornography. Men admit it too. They want their wives to look like and act like porn stars for their own enjoyment. Some men and women even find their marital sexual life boring after prolonged use of pornography. Like my counselees, they receive excitement from viewing porn that cannot be matched by marital intimacy. Porn has now come to alter not simply the single man's sexual fantasies, but the married man's sexual realities.
How to Respond
Whether we are discussing politics and the battle for "gay marriage," or music and songs about "doing it like animals," the Pornopoly framework plays a part in the discussion. The church must respond to this crisis, but how we respond is of crucial importance.
In many cases our approach to dealing with sexual sin has been to issue lots of warnings and to point our finger at those living in sin. That's one approach, and it contains biblical elements. It was also relatively effective in centuries past. But as our culture has come to be so dominated by this degenerate view of sex, the church rarely makes much difference in the area of sexuality. Even within the church, the Bible's views are rarely affirmed by the average attendee. We need more than a list of restrictions; we need a fully developed theology of sex. Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary president Paige Patterson says:
Voices raised against this Epicurean madness are dismissed by postmodern society as "prudish" or "puritan" or "legalistic." Indeed, Christians have sometimes failed to address sexual issues in a thoughtful and helpful fashion, giving instead the impression that Christian living is an endless series of prohibitions aimed at preventing any enjoyment in life.
Pastors and theologians must take the initiative to equip themselves and other Christians with a more fully developed Biblical theology of sex and sexuality. This will require more than a facetious sermon series about a pastor's rooftop sexperiment. This will require us to be more thoughtful and thorough.
The Pornopoly has more control on our culture, our churches, and even on us than we realize. To battle against it will not require the church revert to an old-school sexual repression. After all, as the Creator of sex, God thinks it a good thing. We should think it a good thing too, but only as it conforms to his full design.