This is the way of an adulteress: she eats and wipes her mouth and says, “I have done no wrong.” – Proverbs 30:20 (ESV)
I was simultaneously heartened and disheartened late last week as I read an op-ed in Thursday’s Wall Street Journal. In a piece titled Take the Pledge: No More Indulging Porn, Rabbi Shmuley Boteach and actress and “ahem” model Pamela Anderson co-authored a commendable appeal for “an honest dialogue on the dangers of pornography” and for voluntary rejection of and abstinence from its use.
A summary of the argument
If you have a subscription to the Wall Street Journal, you can read the article here. If not, I’ll summarize the duo’s main points.
- Porn is dangerous and addictive, and we don’t yet know all the consequences and effects resulting from its near-unlimited availability to adults and children. The known statistics suggest that consumption of pornography occurs among men and women, with rates of dependency (i.e., trying and failing to quit using) similar to that among users of marijuana.
- The authors suggest that we can’t yet tell how these rates will change because the current cohort of children raised in the current sex-saturated, media-enabled environment haven’t reached adulthood. They predict that the desensitization likely to result from such early and constant exposure will inure them to genuine intimacy, and lead them to crave increased stimulation — if it can be found.
- Using the case of disgraced former congressman Anthony Weiner as an example, Boteach and Anderson opine that porn use and related acting out belie a crisis in masculinity. They state that Western men, made comfortable by material prosperity and liberal/secular values, are bored and entitled. Even the love of a wife or girlfriend doesn’t alleviate the sense of listlessness, so they choose pornography for the jolt it provides.
- Given the changes in societal morés — especially with regard to sexuality — and the advance of technology that makes consumption of pornography practically anonymous, the authors express doubt that laws would curtail consumption, if they could be passed at all.
- Instead, they recommend that individuals pledge to reject pornography out of self-interest. And they issue a call for what they call the “sensual revolution,” which would emphasize the bond between sexual expression and love in the context of relationships.
They end by encouraging parents to internalize and teach their children that “porn is for losers.”
At the risk of sounding like a curmudgeon, let me offer a hearty two cheers for this article. I agree with the central argument, and if you haven’t heard me say you should steer clear of porn in all its forms, you just did. And I think the Rabbi is on safe ground presenting his message to an audience who may not share his theological assumptions.
At the same time, it’s a bit thin to hear a woman whose fame and income derived in no small part to the release of two(!) sex tapes and the most appearances on the cover of Playboy magazine say that “porn is for losers.” In other words, all you suckers who spent your time and money while she cashed in her beauty are losers. And only now that she is nearly 50, and her opportunities to continue to do so are diminishing does she see fit to say so. Does that seem hollow on her part — or gratuitous on mine? If so, I’d add that I’d like to know what brought her to this new view.
Let me unpack what they get right
I agree with Boteach and Anderson that porn use is more about the user than his relationships. Men living in a culture that emasculates and dis-values men will always be susceptible to artificial agents that promise to relieve the boredom through stimulation or comfort. And any man who has cultivated the habit of medicating himself will, as the authors point out, not break the habit even when he is loved. If between 50 and 99% of men consume porn on a regular basis, those aren’t all bachelors.
It’s not simply a matter of the eyes. When we engage with a text (And by the way, thanks for reading!), an image, or a video, we are introducing thoughts. We’ve already covered the link between thoughts and feelings, between feelings and actions. Pilots train in flight simulators. Musicians and athletes visualize optimized performances. If a man intends to be the best version of himself, he should not put himself through simulation training to violate himself and others.
Addiction is principally about the heart, and about what one loves. If you love your fix — in whatever form — more than you love God (or for my unaffiliated friends, more than you love being clean or sober), you will remain stuck. My pastor says it this way: “Jesus is not obligated to deliver you from your friends.”
And porn use is not simply a “safe” alternative to acting out sexually. And it’s certainly not a “victimless” activity — not when men and women are trafficked and exploited sexually, some ending up on porn sites. Now you know.
But here’s where I differ with them: substituting a Sensual Revolution for the expression of sexuality within the bonds of covenant marriage is, to borrow from Mark Twain, “like the difference between lightning and lightning bugs.” Re-establishing the expression of human sexuality in the context of loving, non-exploitative relationships is significantly better, but failing to reserve sex for the matrimonial context is like reattaching a severed limb without re-establishing its blood supply. I’ll say it again: sex was made for its fullest realization within marriage. I’ve been married (to the same woman) for a long time, so if it weren’t true and possible, I would tell you so.
Let’s revisit the statistics for a moment. The Census Bureau says that as of 2012, there were approximately 120 million males age 15 or over living in the US. If half of them consume pornography on a regular basis, and 9% of them become dependent, that’s 5.4 million men. And that’s the lower end of the range.
But even if you’re not hooked, feeding your mind and spirit this consumerist, disembodied, soulless approach to sex — zombie sexuality — it will affect the way you regard others, and it will burden your marriage with unfair expectations as you compare your wife to the endless buffet of imaginary partners. You will wound her — and not lightly.
Bringing it home
Let me end by saying that I agree with Boteach and Anderson that more laws against pornography are unlikely to be passed, and even less likely to cut demand. What will reduce porn consumption is to have what Dallas Willard calls a “Renovation of the Heart” — a spiritual transformation that directs one toward generosity. It isn’t magic — for most of us, it takes time.
Using a dietary example, if you used to gorge yourself on donuts, you likely won’t lose the craving for them overnight, just because you decided to follow a low-carb diet. In some ways the sex drive is a more potent appetite than the one for food, and more difficult to corral. Where one’s sexual appetite is concerned there simply isn’t a substitute — porn is not a “low-carb” version of sex. But by desiring a genuine, deep, and authentic marriage, and by seeking the emotional and spiritual well-being of your wife and children (even if you don’t have them yet), you will cultivate the necessary self-discipline and generosity that will, by God’s grace, result in the full enjoyment of guilt-free sex.