“We are fast becoming a pornographic society. Over the course of the last decade, explicitly sexual images have crept into…virtually every niche of American life,” R. Albert Mohler writes. “By some estimations, the production and sale of explicit pornography now represents the seventh-largest industry in America.” Pornography has become—as William Struthers has pointed out in his book Wired for Intimacy—“a whispered promise. It promises more sex, better sex, endless sex, sex on demand, more intense orgasms, experiences of transcendence.”
Pornography as “A Harem of Imaginary Brides”
Six decades ago, C.S. Lewis described the emptiness and deception of this “whispered promise” well in a letter counseling a young man about a different (albeit not-unrelated) topic. What pornography promises is—to borrow Lewis’s eloquent verbiage from this letter—
a harem of imaginary brides. … The harem is always accessible, always subservient, calls for no sacrifices or adjustments, and can be endowed with erotic and psychological attractions which no real woman can rival. Among those shadowy brides he is always adored, always the perfect lover: no demand is made on his unselfishness, no mortification ever imposed on his vanity. In the end, they become merely the medium through which he increasingly adores himself.
And yet, our Creator never intended our sexuality to be divorced from the costly joy of covenant commitment. The result of this pursuit of an imaginary harem is not increased pleasure but brokenness and pain that extend to at least three areas of life:
- The persons on the screen are not “imaginary”; they are images of God exploited for the purpose of profit: “You’re viewed as an object and not as a human with a spirit,” according to one former participant. “You are a number.”
- For those that are married, this “harem of imaginary brides” demeans and degrades the spouse that God has given us: Nikki Daniel interviewed women whose husbands viewed pornography and concluded that “the destruction of pornography extends directly to wives.” Here were a few of their responses:
“I avoid thinking about it because I still cry about it. I avoid looking for signs of it because it’s too hurtful.” “I mostly tried to take the blame on myself.” “I have been more offended at every occurrence. I think it feels like a slap in the face. Like, ‘Hello? We’ve already been down this road and it was hell, so why would you go back there?’” “In a weird twist of emotions, I felt unworthy to sleep with him. I don’t look like those women. I don’t perform like them.”
- For those that are single, this “harem of imaginary brides” diminishes the capacity for deep friendships: In the words of Wesley Hill, addressing the issues of lust and masturbation:
If the celibate person, no less than the husband or wife, is called to go out of himself in the love of friendship and siblinghood and in other bonds of kinship, then he also should want to guard his heart from constructing self-serving fantasies that have nothing to do with self-giving. … Keeping an imaginary cadre of men or women…whom we can ogle at will is a habit that harms our ability to strengthen the ties of friendship. This is because friendship, as someone said to me recently, is more itself, not less, when it is unencumbered by lustful desire. Moreover, if part of the rationale of Christian celibacy is to witness to the goodness of marriage precisely by refraining from sexual relations outside of marriage, then the sexual purity of the celibate—again, no less than that of the married—points to the beauty of a real man uniting with a real woman. … Therefore, even if Lewis himself doesn’t spell this out, I can take his rationale…as relevant for…vocational-celibate chastity, too.
Discuss in the Comments:
How can Christians be more effective and intentional in calling one another to holiness and covenant faithfulness in this area of our lives? If you are Christian who is struggling to avoid pornography, do not give up. Begin your path to healing by entering into accountability and counseling with a more mature believer. You may find the resources located here and here to be helpful.