The Darkness of Porn and the Hope of the Gospel

TIME magazine has published one of the saddest, most horrifying cover stories I have ever read.

It is not horrifying like the carnage of war. It’s horrifying like the carnage of a culture that is committing slow-motion suicide. The essay documents a civilization-wide calamity on a scale that we have not seen before.

The title of the article is “Porn and the Threat to Virility” by Belinda Luscombe. I am not linking to the article here simply because the cover art for the magazine and at least one of the images within the article are too explicit to share. Indeed, the article is itself fairly explicit and definitely NSFW. Having said that, the article reads as a coolly rational look at modern porn use among males, even though it seems unaware that it is narrating a civilizational crisis.

At the heart of the article is the contention that there is a backlash against internet pornography among young men who have been heavy users throughout adolescence and adulthood. Luscombe writes:

A growing number of young men are convinced that their sexual responses have been sabotaged because their brains were virtually marinated in porn when they were adolescents. Their generation has consumed explicit content in quantities and varieties never before possible, on devices designed to deliver content swiftly and privately, all at an age when their brains were more plastic—more prone to permanent change—than in later life. These young men feel like unwitting guinea pigs in a largely unmonitored decade-long experiment in sexual conditioning.

The rest of the Luscombe’s article recounts what these young men have been consuming for the last decade and what the results have been in their adult relationships with real women. Many of them are simply unable to experience a sexual response with a real live woman. They are only able to respond to pornography. In fact, they prefer pornography.

But it is precisely here that the picture gets really dark. Pornography has been a ubiquitous fixture in their lives for the better part of a decade. Two dates are important to remember in this discussion. In 2007, broadband internet reaches over 50% of American households. In 2013, smartphone ownership exceeds 50% of the population. That means that at some point around 2007, more Americans than not had access not simply to still images but to free video images of people engaged in sex acts. By 2013, more Americans than not had access to video porn at any time and at any place through their smartphone.

The average age that a young man first encounters pornography is 11-13 years old. That means that countless young men have spent the better part of the last decade with access to moving porn. For many of them, everything they have learned about sex has come from pornography. Their sexual preferences have been shaped by this content.

And what about this content? It is not an accident that Playboy magazine stopped publishing pictures of nude women last year. There is no market for that anymore. And it’s not just because of the new internet delivery method. It’s because these young men aren’t interested in simple images of naked women. Their tastes are much darker and perverse. In fact, I do not feel I can in good conscience relay some of what Luscombe reports in this article. Suffice it to say that the norms of Leviticus 18 are turned upside down for those steeped in porn. Everything forbidden in Leviticus 18 is free and normal for countless young men who have been marinating in porn for the last decade.

One of the most striking aspects of Luscombe’s article, however, is the complete absence of a moral framework. The big question is not about whether one ought to use porn or not. The big question is whether or not porn use is a “public health crisis.” In other words, the main problem with porn is not moral or spiritual but that it keeps men from fornicating with lots of women. That is why the title of the article is “Porn and the Threat to Virility.”

This article is the latest evidence of our diminishing ability to speak about sex in moral terms. We are at a place in our culture in which sexual morality has been reduced to consent. Our society has embraced total sexual license. If anyone suggests any other moral norm beyond consent, they are dismissed as a puritanical, repressive throwback. And that is why Luscombe’s article—even after narrating the devastating consequences of porn use—cannot bring itself to condemn pornography as a moral evil. And that is what is so sad about this article. It documents a real problem in our culture, but it has very little to offer by way of remedy.

I am not being hyperbolic when I call porn use a civilizational calamity. The sexual revolution promised us more sex and more pleasure. It has actually delivered to us a generation of men who think of women as objects to be used and abused for their sexual pleasure. It has not given us men who know what virtue and honor are. It doesn’t teach men to pursue their joy in self-sacrificially loving and being sexually faithful to one woman for life. It teaches young men to use women for sex and then to discard them when they become unwilling or uninteresting. This means that it has given us a generation of young men completely unprepared for marriage and for fatherhood.

It’s not merely that so many young men are unprepared for marriage. They are unprepared for dinner and a movie. We have sown to the wind. We are reaping the whirlwind—especially our daughters, who are less likely than ever to find a man who hasn’t been corrupted by this.

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Source: The Darkness of Porn and the Hope of the Gospel