Living Christianity: The Ten Commandments (Pornography)
March 17, 2020
by Peter Amsterdam
Living Christianity: The Ten Commandments (Pornography)
(Points for this article were taken from Christian Ethics,1 by Wayne Grudem, and Christian Ethics: Contemporary Issues and Options,2 by Norman Geisler.)
We’re continuing in this post with our sub-section of articles on the Ten Commandments as they relate to human relationships and sexuality. The seventh commandment states that “you shall not commit adultery.”3 This commandment prohibits a married person from having sex with anyone other than their spouse. This same commandment also teaches that sex between those who are not married to each other is forbidden.
The tenth commandment, which will be covered later in this series, says:
You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.4
To covet something means to desire it earnestly, to set one’s heart and mind upon it, to long after it. The tenth commandment speaks against desiring or longing after something which does not belong to us, including someone else’s spouse.
When quoting the seventh commandment in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus drew in the principle of the tenth commandment regarding coveting:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”5
Jesus focused not only on the act of adultery, but also on someone’s desire to commit adultery, showing that desiring to have sexual intercourse with someone other than one’s spouse is morally wrong.
Jesus stated that looking at a woman with lustful intent was sin. What about looking at pictures or reading written material which arouses sexual desires? Is it morally wrong to look at a picture of a woman “with lustful intent”? The intent is important. One can look at a classical painting which has depictions of nude men and women without having lustful intent. The purpose of looking at such art is to see and admire the painting as a work of art. One isn’t generally looking at it for the purpose of sexual arousal.
Pornography, however, doesn’t fall into the same category as classical art. The difference lies in the fact that pornography depicts nudity and sexual acts for the primary purpose of arousing the sexual desires of the person viewing it, and these sexual desires are aroused by someone other than one’s spouse. Therefore, pornography is contrary to God’s moral standards.6 Using pornography is spiritually wrong, as the purpose for creating it and viewing it is to arouse sexual desires which are displeasing to God and therefore not morally acceptable. It also demeans women, as it objectifies them for the sake of one’s own gratification rather than viewing them as a creation of God meriting dignity and respect.
(Some statistics estimate that of those who regularly view pornography, 70–75% are men and 25–30% are women. Though there are women who use pornography, since the majority of users are men, I will sometimes refer to the man or the husband throughout this article; however, the same principles apply to women as well.)
Pornography use can cause serious harm to marriages and other romantic relationships. It can tend to transfer one’s affections away from their spouse and shift their focus outside of the marriage. It can cause the husband to divert his emotional affection from his wife and turn his heart from her and her affection. Some signs that a husband is using pornography are a declining interest in having sex with his wife, expressions of anger when asked about pornography use, emotionally distancing himself from his spouse, increased criticism of her appearance, increased secrecy, excessive Internet use, and antisocial behavior.
Pornography is known to be addictive. Studies have shown that the brains of long-term porn users behave similarly to those of drug addicts. There is something in the human brain called the “reward pathway.” Its function is to “reward” you when you do something that feels good by releasing pleasure chemicals. However, the reward pathway can be hijacked. When people use addictive drugs such as cocaine or meth, this affects the reward pathway, forcing it to release high levels of chemicals. Viewing pornography has been found to induce the same reaction. The chemicals which flow through the brain create new brain pathways which cause the one using pornography to return to the behavior that causes the chemical release. The more the user watches porn, the deeper those pathways are wired into the brain. Like with addictive drugs, the more pornography is used, the more it can be desired. Added to that, those who view a lot of pornography are likely to find that their brains get used to the porn they have already seen, and so they are inclined to move on to viewing more extreme forms of porn in order to get aroused.
Intimate relationships call for an investment of time and energy, as well as sacrifice and vulnerability, all of which can be difficult. The use of pornography can be a quick and cheap way to find sexual satisfaction but avoid the emotional investment needed to build a healthy love relationship with another person. It can lead to breakdowns of relationships and marriages. A poll of 350 attorneys who specialize in divorce at the American Academy of Matrimony Lawyers revealed that a large number of their divorce cases involve one person with compulsive pornography use.
Research shows that after men are exposed to pornography, they rate themselves as less in love with their partner than men who don’t watch porn. Another study found that after exposure to pornography, people were more critical of their partner’s appearance, sexual performance, and displays of affection. Regular use of pornography can lead to feeling less aroused by your spouse. It can also cause one to turn away from close human relationships and to instead turn toward the source of stimulation on the screen or page. It can change sexual tastes and preferences toward behaviors that are more deviant, dangerous, or illicit than what used to be arousing.
Part of the sordid underbelly of the pornography business is that it is linked to sex trafficking. Dr. Mahri Irvine wrote:
I really wish that people who watch porn knew more about [its connection to sex trafficking]. Because I think they believe that they’re engaging in this activity in a very passive way. And they’re like, “Oh, I’m doing it in the privacy of my own home and this is just a video that I’m watching.” And they are not associating it with the fact that pornography is very often the filmed rape of sex trafficking victims.7
Noel Bouché, Executive Director of pureHOPE, explains:
While pornographic content includes trafficked victims from around the world, porn consumers aren’t told anything about the performers, including which ones may have been trafficked from an early age. Regular users of internet pornography are likely consuming pornography that includes adult and child victims of sex trafficking.8
In the book of Galatians, we read:
Walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. … Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality …9
Certainly viewing pornography falls under the category of a “work of the flesh” as it is sexually immoral, impure, and sensual, and as such is contrary to the fruit of the Spirit. Scripture instructs us to flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body.10
Jesus’ statement that “everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart” makes it clear that pornography is morally wrong.11 Besides taking a personal stand to not watch pornography, it is also possible to block access to porn on computers and cell phones, if you suspect your child/teenager may be viewing pornography or to prevent them from beginning to do so. There are a variety of websites that provide instructions on how to block access to pornography sites on your computer. One site I thought was helpful is https://www.wikihow.com/Filter-Porn-Web-Sites-on-Your-Computer.
Looking at an attractive person and admiring their beauty, such as in art, is not sinful. However, viewing pornography—meaning nude images/videos for the purpose of sexual arousal—is wrong according to Scripture. Those who wish to live according to Christian moral standards, who choose to follow Jesus and apply His words to their lives, will want to avoid viewing pornography.
Unless otherwise indicated, all scriptures are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
1 Wayne Grudem, Christian Ethics (Wheaton: Crossway, 2018).
2 Norman L. Geisler, Christian Ethics: Contemporary Issues and Options (Baker Academic, 2010).
3 Exodus 20:14.
4 Exodus 20:17.
5 Matthew 5:27–28.
6 Grudem, Christian Ethics, 786.
7 Conquer Series, “This Is How Porn And Sex Trafficking Are Linked,” https://conquerseries.com/this-is-how-porn-and-sex-trafficking-are-linked/.
9 Galatians 5:16–17, 19.
10 1 Corinthians 6:18.
11 Matthew 5:28.