9 reasons XXX Church misunderstands pornography consumption

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Christianity has an uneasy relationship with sex. The focus on no sex before marriage means we spend a lot of time avoiding sex, while all of our internet connected devices give us unlimited access to videos of other people having sex, usually in violent and degrading ways. If we want to honour sex and sexuality as God created, we must be committed to responding to pornography.

As director of the DAY Programme, my role involves helping people communicate about pornography. XXX Church's blog Nine Reasons Men Should Stay Away from Porn raises concerns for me about their lack of understanding.

1. Pornography is filmed sex.

It is not fantasy. "Pornography has little to do with sex and everything to do with fantasy" reads the blog. A pornography consumer may see their fantasies realised onscreen, yet saying pornography is fantasy erases the humanity of the performers. It makes it unreal, rather than women God created being degraded and violated onscreen by men and the wider industry. Later in the post the author says, "...the more that you bond with fantasies on your computer screen, the harder it is to actually bond with real people." Men aren't bonding with fantasies; they are having orgasms at the expense of women's filmed violation.

2. Pornography doesn't make you *be* anything.

XXX Church claim "porn makes you unhappy and bored". Pornography is filmed, photographed or written sexually explicit content, it can't "make you" do/be anything. It is the choice to continually view it that causes unhappiness and boredom. Porn and/or "the brain" doesn't "make you" do anything, this erases agency and encourages the pornography consumer to avoid responsibility for their choices. Most people consuming pornography are not addicted and discussions around porn/sex "addiction" may pathologise rather than help them to rehumanise the people they are watching.

3. Porn performers are not 'cybersex slaves'.

In making a good point about sexual desensitisation, the author says that "men have trouble getting turned on by their wives who happen to not be cybersex slaves". Women in pornography are God-created human beings. They have lives, dreams, hopes. No woman is a cybersex slave. This view allows the pornography consumer to justify his choices as harmless, while the woman he watches is sexually violated every time he masturbates to her image.

4. Dominating women is a fundamental of mainstream masculinity.

XXX Church says that "porn is not manly". Actually, pornography is the epitome of mainstream masculinity. As these humorous photographs from Rion Sabean show, we are culturally primed to see sexually objectified women as the norm. Christianity has a Fall-age problem with male dominance and XXX Church is not immune from this. XXX Church founder Craig Gross has teamed up with Shaunti Feldhahn whose nuggets of wisdom include "A man's highest need is to feel respect, whereas a woman's highest need is to feel loved". "Porn is not manly" because men dominate women, but men "need" respect? Seems vaguely contradictory...

5. Porn is a professional liability...for porn performers.

They explain that watching pornography may affect work productivity. Perhaps a greater motivator would be considering that the women being masturbated to are human beings working in a dangerous environment. They are likely to have suffered abuse in childhood, sexual violence in the workplace and great physical and emotional risks from STIs and being penetrated violently in various orifices for hours at a time.

6. Pornography consumption can constitute domestic abuse.

"Porn hurts your significant other" XXX Church tells us. Yet, it is the man's choices that hurt their partner, not pornography. Pornography consumption normalises sexual violence. This can result in the man expecting or insisting on sexually abusive acts. Also, the wider damage done by a partner consuming pornography can be experienced in the same way as other forms of abuse. Making it about "emotional connection" and "monpolising desire" frames it as an emotional issue rather than one of potential abuse.

7. Pornography isn't junk food.

The blog likens pornography to junk food. Junk food isn't dangerous in moderation while pornography is consistently violating women. It is too huge to make false equivalents with. The constant euphemising of pornography is one of the reasons many responses to it are inadequate.

8. Unmarried people consume pornography too.

The blog finishes by suggesting men should be motivated by "a vision of a marriage that is worth fighting for". Many children are exposed to pornography in primary school and are consuming it regularly by the time they are 13 years old. Marriage is not a motivator for them. Assumptions about marital commitment being the ideal are both wrong and infer that it is only when married that consuming pornography is a real issue.

9. Women watch pornography too.

I have referred to the pornography consumer as male throughout, yet women do consume pornography too. The blog fails to mention or engage with this at all and if, as they suggest, "porn is not manly", does that make it okay for women?Seeking to address pornography consumption is a laudable objective and one Christians must be on board with if we want to honour God's vision for sex. Yet if an organisation reinforces the dehumanisation and damage that pornographers intend, then hard questions must be asked of that organisation. And luckily for them, I am willing to be the person asking those questions!

Natalie Collins is a gender justice specialist. She set up Spark and works to enable individuals and organisations to prevent and respond to male violence against women. She is also the creator of DAY, a youth domestic abuse and exploitation education programme. 

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