A report by the British government recently declared that pornography is ‘basically everywhere.’  In the advent of broadband internet and handheld devices, pornography has an enormous and negative impact on many lives – including our Sydney Anglican community.
Pornography is not new – ever since cavemen could draw on walls, humans have had pornography. But with the combination of regressive censorship laws, the internet, and personal digital devices, pornography has intruded into every home.
Some people quite rightly point out that pornography is not the only urgent challenge facing society, nor is it the only problem carried over the digital carriers. However, since modern research shows the high rates of pornography exposure, as well as its wide-reaching effects, it’s important that we dedicate a space to tackle this particular challenge.
Why we exist
We want to help our community to resist pornography in every sphere—in personal lives, in marriages, in ministries, in churches, school communities, and into the future. We don’t seek to reinvent the wheel, since there are already many useful resources around the world, which we provide links to.
We combine the latest research with practical steps to combat the challenge of porn—as it affects us now, and how it will confront the next generation.
What is Pornography?
In 1964 United States Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart famously defined pornography with the words “I know it when I see it,”. Soft-core, hard-core, erotica, gonzo, POV, 50 Shades - what is pornography exactly?
The word ‘pornography’ comes from two ancient Greek words: ‘pornea’ (meaning sexual immorality), and “graphē” (meaning writings). There are many variations of definitions around, but most succinctly, pornography is any sexual media intended to arouse. In the internet age, this will commonly include explicit sexual pictures or videos, but also includes other erotic materials, including sexual literature, erotic art, pop-music videos and even advertising. Since sexual arousal is a personal thing, you may be surprised that other people get sexually aroused by things you wouldn’t find ‘sexual’ – however insofar as the content is intended to arouse, it is pornography.
Why do people watch porn?
There are a number of reasons why people watch porn, including:
- personal arousal
- sexual expression.
However of all these reasons, personal arousal is the primary reason.
Is porn a problem?
Many would argue that pornography is not a problem, rather it is good for society. Common opinions include: ‘if it isn’t hurting anyone, it’s okay,’ or ‘it helps my sex life, it’s fine,’ or ‘it empowers women,’ or ‘it’s a great stress release.’ In fact, a good proportion of research suggests that people think porn is positive.
International research describes a very different story. Pornography causes significant, widespread harm. It harms the users, it harms relationships and it harms society. Most significantly, pornography harms us spiritually. Below are four sections which outline how pornography is harmful, and why there is no place for it in our lives, our churches and schools, and society.
Who watches pornography?
For the current state of pornography usage, let the numbers speak. There have been many studies on the topic, of varying quality, but these statistics are a good guide for what is going on around you:
- International studies suggest 50-99% of adult men and 30-86% of women use porn ;
- Some studies suggest 93% teenaged boys and 52% teenaged girls regularly watch porn .
- A recent Australian study found that the average first-time viewing age was 13 for boys, and 16 for girls.
- This study also found that 94% of men and 48% of women watch porn watch porn more than once a month.
- 92% of users accessed their pornography over the internet (38% of users viewed porn on their mobile phone, whilst 54% viewed on their computer).
- A recent Barna study from the US found that amongst adults over 25, 54% said viewing porn was wrong, whilst amongst young adults (under 25), this dropped to 32%.
- The same Barna survey showed that 44% of over 25ers and 56% of under 25ers thought ‘not recycling’ was wrong .
- By gender, 42% of men over 25 say porn is bad for society, whilst 66% of women say it is bad .
- Alarmingly, 39% of practicing Christians are comfortable with their porn use, whilst 79% of the rest of society are comfortable about it.
- Regarding impact of porn on society, 77% of women believed porn negatively impacted society compared to 58% of men.
- The younger you are now, the more likely you are to have started watching porn earlier, had sexual intercourse earlier, and have a higher risk of mental health problems.
- Regarding the view that porn negatively impacts society by age group: 50% of millennials thought it was negative compared to 68% Gen-Xers and 78% baby boomers.
What the numbers say about pornography and the church:
- 77% of pastors feel guilty for using porn . Active church attendees who use pornography do suffer higher levels of guilt and unhappiness than the general population .
- Porn reduces a Christian’s spiritual coping, especially their ‘connectedness’ to God. Additionally, Christian porn users are less likely to seek help, opting for spiritual isolation.
- Perceived addiction to pornography negatively affects a Christian user’s self-esteem, and contributes to more anger, including anger at God , as well as their general religious and spiritual health .
- Conversely, and unsurprisingly, people with a more active spirituality were less likely to watch pornography.
- 75% of youth pastors and 64% of senior pastors say that porn has negatively impacted their ministry at some time. Christians in general are more likely to perceive their pornography use as addictive, and negative, compared to the general population.
- Interestingly, someone’s religious identity does not change the amount of pornography used.
- A Christian parent’s porn use does affect their child’s faith. Research suggests it is fathers who are the primary agents of various negative outcomes.[12, 13] including:
- less time spent with children discussing and reading religious materials
- less time spent religiously socialising the child
- a reduced passing down of religious heritage
- Pornography use negatively affects the spiritual health of Christian marriages. On average, marriages with (at least) one pornography user pray together less often. More disturbingly, marriages where one partner has excessively high use of pornography have higher rates of prayer than unaffected couples – suggesting a fundamental dissonance between the personal conduct and public identity .
3. https://www.barna.org/blog/culture-media/barna-group/porn-press-conference#.VrS9OrSJndl., J.M.M., The Porn Phenomenon: A Comprehensive New Survey on Americans, the Church, and Pornography. 2016, Barna Group: Ventura, California.
4. Hald, G.M., C. Seaman, and D. Linz, Sexuality and pornography. 2014.
5. Weber, M., O. Quiring, and G. Daschmann, Peers, Parents and Pornography: Exploring Adolescents’ Exposure to Sexually Explicit Material and Its Developmental Correlates. Sexuality & Culture, 2012. 16(4): p. 408-427.
6. Lim, M.S.C., et al., Young Australians' use of pornography and associations with sexual risk behaviours. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health, 2017: p. n/a-n/a.
7. Patterson, R. and J. Price, Pornography, Religion, and the Happiness Gap: Does Pornography Impact the Actively Religious Differently? Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 2012. 51(1): p. 79-89.
8. Picone, D.E., The Relationship of Shame, Guilt, and Religiousness to Pornography Use. 2016, Fuller Theological Seminary, School of Psychology: Ann Arbor. p. 73.
9. Wilt, J.A., et al., Associations of Perceived Addiction to Internet Pornography with Religious/Spiritual and Psychological Functioning. Sexual Addiction & Compulsivity, 2016. 23(2-3): p. 260-278.
10. Grubbs, J.B., et al., Internet Pornography Use, Perceived Addiction, and Religious/Spiritual Struggles. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 2017. 46(6): p. 1733-1745.
11. Grubbs, J.B., et al., Perceived addiction to Internet pornography and psychological distress: Examining relationships concurrently and over time. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, 2015. 29(4): p. 1056.
12. Perry, S.L. and K.J. Snawder, Pornography, Religion, and Parent–Child Relationship Quality. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 2017. 46(6): p. 1747-1761.
13. Perry, S.L., Pornography Consumption as a Threat to Religious Socialization. Sociology of Religion, 2015. 76(4): p. 436-458.
14. Perry, S.L., Pornography Use and Religious Bonding Among Heterosexually Married Americans: A Longitudinal Examination. Review of Religious Research, 2017. 59(1): p. 81-98.