August 03, 2008
Musings on Pornography
I ran across the image on the right while browsing the Internet this past week. It interested me. The caption says “Sex is part of us. It’s a part of our nature. But to show it, it’s suddenly ‘Dirty Pornography’. Shoulnd’t a body, any body, in a state of sexual ecstasy be considered more beautiful? More artistic?”
It’s not a bad question, though I am doubtful of the Platonic philosophical motives of its source. I will try to answer it.
Sex is indeed beautiful. It is the most intimate thing one human being can do with another. It is both physical and spiritual. In some ways, it is a fulfillment and affirmation of what it means to be human, of God’s intent that love should find its joy, its ecstasy in giving joy and ecstasy to another.
Yet we humans are ashamed of it. Have been ever since the fall. “Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.” (Genesis 3:7, ESV). Seems a strange first action for humans newly emancipated from the tyranny of God. But it rings true.
One word which should describe sex is “intimate.” But now we humans are all afraid and ashamed. None of us would be willing for everything we’ve ever said, done, or thought to be known to everyone else. Sex generally affords another human being the chance to see us totally naked, stripped of the clothes we wear that make us look “acceptable.” Every physical flaw is laid bare. Small wonder it holds great fear. But sex is more than physical; the emotions of a person are also laid bare. Or should be. If they aren’t, sex becomes increasingly mechanical and emotionally void.
So should we cheer on those of us with the courage to “take it all off” and envy them their cheek? Courage is required to do something you’re afraid to do. But courage can be required to do evil things as well: I hear that most killers are at least somewhat apprehensive their first time as well; killing someone also takes “guts”. You cannot blindly admire someone for doing something they were afraid to do.
How much intimacy can pornography have when the one being pornographed is a stranger? They lay it all out for you and you give nothing back. And they don’t do it for you as a person; they do it for the crowd. For the generic, impersonal “you”. Whatever intimacy is given is a lie.
Pornography when the pornographed is known to you (your wife, for instance) is a trickier issue. One trouble with it is that it is still unidirectional: one party reveals themselves and the other does not. Though the graph (I figure an instance of pornography can be referred to as a graph) could be of the two of you. Then I inquire about the purpose.
The purpose of sex is to give. The reason your organs were made the way they were is to give pleasure to another. To be sure, sex is a source of great pleasure for oneself, but when it is used as such instead of a source of great pleasure for another, it is twisted. This, by the way, is my fundamental objection to masturbation. I struggled with it greatly as a teenager and still face the temptation (far easier to deal with now that I’m married). And I realize that masturbation is a contentious issue and one that’s dangerous to judge too harshly: many many people live under a terrible crushing guilt because they’re trapped in an infinite cycle of giving in to temptation, regretting and repenting, and giving in again. It’s demoralizing in the extreme.
But I still think it’s worth fighting against, particularly for a guy. The fundamental problem with masturbation is that it uses one’s sex organs (and one’s mind) for your own unshared pleasure. I think there is great gain and maturity to be found in fighting against its temptation if you fight because you know that your sexual powers were not made for you, but for another.
This has great relevance to the case against pornography as well. If pornography has good uses (which I have not yet conceded), by far most of its uses are evil: they are a case of a person (usually a man) taking sexual pleasure in a graph of people he does not know or care about as people. There is no true intimacy in it. And sex without intimacy is evil.
There are only two cases I can think of where pornography can be good, and they’re debatable. One use of it is when the pornographed is your spouse, and you view it not to get sexual pleasure in the current moment, but to remember a marvelous intimate moment of the past. I find remembering my wife and our moments together to be an inoculation against temptation of all sorts. The other case would be when you share the graph with the pornographed and together you delight in it.
As an aside, it is perilous to commit pornographs to anything but memory. My wife refuses to do so, and she has a good point. A photograph can be viewed by someone who shouldn’t far easier than a memory.
So back to the image and its questions. A human body in a state of sexual ecstasy is more beautiful and artistic, but it is also far, far more intimate. It cannot be intimate for you, though, unless you truly know and love the pornographed, and sex without intimacy is evil. Additionally, pornography is commonly viewed for the sexual pleasure it provides the viewer. Sexual pleasure is meant to be given; to seek it out for oneself is evil.
And finally, to neglect or deny the shame we humans feel about ourselves and our bodies is foolish and naive. We are ashamed because we are conscious of sin. It is perilous to lose or destroy that consciousness of sin unless the sin has been dealt with, much as it is dangerous to lose the painful sensation of burning until you have quenched the fire.
And even we Christians are not exempt. The sin nature still haunts us and gives us cause for shame. This is a whole separate topic in itself: the sin nature is at once dead and alive in us. We are free and not free of it. I have not puzzled out the interconnections completely. But I find Jesus’ parable to be extremely valuable:
He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field, but while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also. And the servants of the master of the house came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have weeds?’ He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ So the servants said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ But he said, ‘No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them. Let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’”
Matthew 13:24–30, ESV
I think the kingdom of heaven in our own hearts is similar to this: we have wheat and weeds in our souls, and God to avoid rooting up the wheat chooses not to strip out the weeds until the harvest. I’m not sure if we should be ashamed of our sin nature anymore, but we should be aware of it.