In this paper I will attempt to explore four issues. First, I will explore the definition of pornography and its prevalence in North American culture. Secondly, I will try to explore why pornography is problematic, and thirdly, I will attempt to understand why so many people (even those who should know better) use pornography.  Finally, I will explore the possibility of freedom from pornography as a sexual addiction.    
            Pornography is highly prevalent and easily accessible in our culture, and attitudes towards it are variable. Some have suggested that it is amoral (even recommending its use), while others have outright condemned it in its entirety as immoral. However, it becomes a more complex issue when we try to define what makes something “pornography”. Where is the line between Playboy and Maxim? Both contain pictures of nude women, but only one allows viewing access to the “swimsuit area”. While Maxim would strategically place the model so that the nipples and groin of the naked woman would not be exposed in the picture, both models are naked and both models tend to stare into the camera with a “lusty gaze”.
            The issue becomes even more complicated when we look at advertising like the Victoria’s Secret catalog, and numerous other ads in various magazines, some of which do not take care to hide model’s nipples. Walking down the street I have seen posters showing a picture of Jenna Jameson that could be argued to be pornographic. As I walk down Yonge Street I am presented with numerous pornographic (or near pornographic) images on the outside of various businesses. Lauren Winner recounts an incident where Ambercombe and Fitch withdrew their 2003 catalogue (which “featured bare-breasted young women performing unabashedly sexual deeds to smiling young men”) from circulation after a group of “feminist activists and Christian pundits” pressured them to do so.[1]    
            Pornography is more accessible than it has ever been since the advent of internet pornography (or “I-Porn”). This has resulted in a larger and more diverse consumer base.[2]  Until recent years, to purchase a pornographic magazine one had to walk into an “adult bookstore”, take it from the top shelf at the cigar store, or ask for it from behind the counter at the gas station. These scenarios may have been embarrassing or socially inappropriate to many people, which may have acted as a deterrent. Now the internet has removed the social control[3], which has unpredictably resulted in more women and clergy acting as consumers of pornography. Winner has presented statistics stating that 7% of married clergy admit to using pornography regularly, while 40% of clergy “admit to having surfed a porn site at least once”.[4] In 1998 the Dean of Harvard Divinity School was forced to resign after a shocking amount of pornographic material was found on his school computer.[5]  Winner also tells the story of a pastor’s wife who called the Focus on the Family’s pastoral care hotline reporting that her husband was viewing porn mere minutes before stepping into the pulpit.[6] Manning reports that as of 1999 over half of Americans (172 million) used the internet and 20-33% (14.4-56.8 million) of those used the internet for sexual purposes.[7]
            I would be uncomfortable defining visual “pornography” as “an image of a nude man or woman”. Surely Michelangelo’s David is not considered “porn”, neither would the Venus de Milo, or Titian’s Venus of Urbino. I also would not consider pictures of the native peoples of the Amazon Rainforest in National Geographic as porn. Defining “porn” seems more difficult than it first appears, however, the “desire to create sexual arousal in the viewer” could be part of what defines something as porn, which brings us back to the difference between Maxim and Playboy. However, there is also the issue of literary pornography to deal with.
            Balswick and Balswick bring attention to the Greek root of the word “pornography” as being porne, which means “female captives”.[8] While we should be careful in using an ancient root to define a modern word, their definition is worth exploring. Related to this root they define pornography as the “use of sex for subjugation, aggression, degradation, abuse, coercion, violence, dominance, control, sadism or rape”.[9] These authors also draw a (not so distinct) line between pornography and erotica, which are both sexually arousing materials. While pornography is used to degrade others and always results in dehumanizing, erotica “celebrates human sexual experience”.[10] The spectrum they present is related to the value and meaning given to sex, rather than the sexual explicitness:[11]
Degrading ← Dehumanizing ------------------------------ Affection-
ate -------------→ Committed

Given this point of view, a gentle and affectionate and sexually explicit movie scene between a wife and husband in a committed relationship might be describes as erotic, but not pornographic. Similarly, they might describe a less sexually explicit scene that shows dehumanizing or degrading sex as being pornographic.
            The definition gets even more conflated when one begins dealing with periphery issues like documentaries that try to show the damaging effects of pornography. In this way motives and presentation alter the definition. While they might show sexually explicit material, the context is such that it is educational, therefore not pornographic, despite showing scenes from explicitly pornographic magazines or films.[12] 
            Balswick and Balswick shed further light on the complicated matter by drawing attention to objective content (sexually explicit material) versus subjective effect (the way the material affects the viewer).[13] While the artist of a particular picture or film might not be attempting to produce pornography, the maturity of the subject who experiences the content can have an effect on the definition. What one person might experience as educational, or erotic, another person might experience as pornographic.[14]      
            Defining Pornography is not as important as understanding the problems that result from its use. Pornography is not an issue talked about in the Bible, since “porn has [only] been with us since the eighteenth century”.[15]  However, I wonder what Jesus would have to say on the topic in the light of Matthew 5:28:
But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

If pornography is a tool, arguably, its purpose would be to incite lust in the viewer. If lust for anyone besides one’s wife (or husband) is equated with adultery, Christians should consider pornography as dangerous material. Balswick and Balswick draw a difference between lust (which is destructive) and fantasy (which can be positive).[16] They broadly describe lust as “desiring a specific person, and dwelling on ways to fulfill that desire”.[17] Fantasy is defined as more general, and may include such things as positive desires for a future spouse.[18] While I do not want to spend much time on this issue, I would like to draw attention to this difference so that the reader knows that even this might not be as black and white as it might seem.
            Jesus also teaches that the greatest commandment is to,
'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments." (Matt 22:37-40).

If pornography leads to demeaning or dehumanizing a creature that was made in the image of God, then it is easy to conclude that pornography has no part in the Kingdom.
            Similarly, Winner has concluded that,
Porn turns sex into something simultaneously fantastic and exploitative, removing it from the relational reality of marriage, importing outside standards into the bedroom, and thereby objectifying whatever living and breathing fleshly person one might later have sex with. Pornography is destructive because it communicates a tacit narrative about physical gratification without saying a thing about how sex really happens. It teaches its clientele expectations that are, simply, not connected to reality, to real men and women with real bodies (not to mention real souls, hearts, and minds).[19]

Furthermore, Naomi Wolfe states that “The onslaught of porn is responsible for deadening male libido in relation to real women, and leading men to see fewer and fewer women as ‘porn-worthy’”.[20] It is difficult, to justify the use of porn, especially by a Christian.
            Balswick and Balswick have presented others’ findings that suggest that “pornography increases sexually aggressive urges and attitudes of men toward women”.[21] They also draw the conclusion that generally subjects who view pornographic material have a more callous attitude towards sexual violence directed at women, and are more likely to actually commit a sexually violent act if they were certain that they would not get caught.[22] They describe the effect of Pornography on the viewer using the following chart:[23]
Viewing Pornography ----- → Arousal →  -------------------------------------------→ Disinhibition
           ↑                    └ -----------→ Desensitization→ --------------------------------- ┘       ↓                       
Priming effect                                                                                                     Sexually aggressive                             attitudes and behavior
towards women

The priming effect represents the beliefs of the person prior to viewing the pornographic material. If a person has beliefs consistent with the pornographic material being viewed it is more likely to have an effect which reinforces, influences, or changes the beliefs of the person. If someone has beliefs that oppose the pornographic material presented the person is less likely to be effected by the material.[24]  
            When an effect takes place it conditions the viewer to associate sexual arousal with the viewing of demeaning and aggressive sexual acts. Therefore, constant viewing of pornography has the overall effect of creating a distorted sense of sexuality, in which “normal eroticism becomes insufficient for sexual arousal”.[25]  Arousal is then caused by increasing levels of dehumanizing and degrading sexual stimuli, in which they insert themselves personally into the content.[26] 
            Pornography also acts to desensitize the viewer so that the aggression and degradation within the material is not taken as seriously, which in one study has shown that some men actually began to believe that women enjoy being raped, and actually desire men to be sexually aggressive.[27] The overall result is disinhibition, which increases sexually aggressive attitudes and may cause aggressive sexual behavior toward women.[28] While Balswick and Balswick are careful to point out that there is little information showing that there is a causative link whereby pornography causes illegal sexual behavior, there is, however, evidence of a correlation that shows that persons who engage in illegal sexual behavior are also usually high consumers of pornography.[29]
            Manning (citing Zillman and Bryant’s work) also lists numerous negative consequences tied to the viewing of standard non-violent pornography (not internet pornography) including: “(a) increased callousness toward women; (b) trivialization of rape as a criminal offence; (c) distorted perceptions about sexuality; (d) increased appetite for more deviant and bizarre types of pornography (escalation and addiction); (e) devaluation of the importance of monogamy; (f) decreased satisfaction with partner’s sexual performance, affection, and physical appearance; (g) doubts about the value of marriage; (h) decreased desire to have children; and (i) viewing non-monogamous relationships as normal and natural behavior”.[30]  Reflecting the information provided in the paper by Balswick and Balswick, Manning also cites further research that “exposure to pornographic material puts one at risk for developing deviant tendencies, committing sexual offences, experiencing difficulties in one’s intimate relationships, and accepting the rape myth [that women who are raped ‘brought it on themselves’]”.[31]
            Pornography use has also proven to have disastrous effects on marriages, specifically with regards to cybersex addiction, meeting a new love interest over the internet, online pornography, sexual chat rooms, and other uses of the internet.[32] Furthermore, one of the previous presidents of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers stated, “While I don’t think you can say the Internet is causing more divorces, it does make it easier to engage in the sorts of behaviors that traditionally lead to divorce”.[33] Pornography has also been shown to negatively impact other areas of sexual experience including less satisfaction with one’s intimate partner in terms of affection, physical appearance, sexual curiosity, and sexual performance.[34]
            Findings also show that cybersex users experience decreased sexual intimacy with their partners. It seems that both the users and the partners (who are aware of their spouses cybersex use) experience a decreased desire for sexual intimacy.[35] Many partners of users of online sexual activities view their partner’s activities as just as real as an offline act of infidelity.[36]
            Often the partners of those who engage in online sexual activity feel that the other has violated the relationship, that they are not loved or desired, that they cannot compete with the women of pornography, and that they no longer have a place in the world as the beloved.[37] Partners have also reported feeling like sex objects, like their partner is imagining “porn women” during sex, that their partner does not care about them, and feel that they are “pretending” to have a loving relationship.[38] Many partners describe themselves as feeling sexually undesirable, worthless, unlovable, weak, stupid, and a failure as a wife and as a woman.[39]
            Furthermore, the partner’s view of the person involved in online sexual behavior becomes quite negative. They see the user as a pervert, a sex addict, an objectifier and degrader of women, as untrustworthy, selfish, as a failure as a husband/father, and as “sick”.[40]
            According to Balswick and Balswick, erotica (as opposed to pornography) does arouse “sexual feelings and desires, but unlike pornography, it does not necessarily reinforce sexual aggression or coercion”.[41] However, consumption of erotica (depictions of non-violent sexual activity) has been shown to increase aggressive behavior. This might be due to the fact that while erotica does not show aggressive sexual behavior, it may depict dehumanizing sex acts. However, this dehumanizing aspect causes Balswick and Balswick to re-categorize this material as “pornography”. Dehumanization holds the act above the relationship, thus sex becomes relegated to an itch that needs to be scratched.[42]
             The above authors believe that erotica can be positively used in developing sexuality, and can also be used effectively in the arts, especially when portraying sex “within the context of a caring, loving and even committed relationship”.[43] However, the healthiness of the erotica is highly subjective and dependent on context. The viewer is reminded to be continuously discerning, especially with regards to the amount of control the material has over the individual.[44] Erotica can be powerful and as dangerously addictive as a drug.    
            If it is decided that the use of pornography is unethical and destructive, then why is it so prevalent? Why do even pastors risk their careers and reputations to view porn? What is porn giving them that they keep returning to it? If pornography use is considered a sexual addiction, then we might be able to find some answers. The addict is really attempting to repair his or her self-esteem.[45] Balswick and Balswick quote Patrick Carnes who states that a sexual addict has a “pathological relationship with a mood-altering chemical”.[46]  He further describes the addiction as likened to athlete’s foot- it desires to be itched, but the relief is temporary; itching actually furthers the damage and intensifies the itch.[47] 
            Manning has presented statistics stating that users of online sexual activities engage in these activities to (in decreasing percentage) “distract themselves or take a break … to deal with stress … to engage in sexual activities they would not do in real life … to educate themselves … to meet people with whom to have offline sexual activities … to meet people to date … [and] to get support with sexual matters”.[48]
            There are a few factors that might cause one to fall into the addictive cycle. While we do not have space to get into these issues in any significant detail, it is worth describing the factors that can help lead to the addiction. First, living in an addictive society can make one vulnerable to addictive behaviors. In an age of increased anxiety, the quick fix of the endorphin high that sex (and other issues that surround the addiction) claims to offer can be highly tempting to some through the illusion of helping to reduce tension, relieve anxiety, give comfort, attribute meaning, reduce isolation, and gain personal satisfaction.[49]  
            A second factor that is presented is that of family cohesion, or emotional connectedness or separateness between family members. Related to this is a family’s ability to adapt to changes in the family’s life cycle, and achieving a balance between stability and flexibility.[50] In order to allow the development of an authentic sexuality, “a family must respect individual boundaries [cohesion], as well as establish reasonable and appropriate structures to safeguard a member’s sexuality. In order to develop a strong sense of self as a sexual person, a child needs the secure love and connection of family members, as well as a clear affirmation of sexuality and relational strength”.[51] These factors relate to low self-esteem, which is a “major component in the sexual acting-out patterns of the sex addict”.[52]
            Sexual addiction shows itself as a pattern:[53]
In Control
→→→→→→→→→→→→         Trying hard to keep sexually       →→→→→→→→→→→→→
Addictive thoughts out of mind
           ↑                                                                                                                                                                  ↓
Resolve to never                                                                                           Increasing preoccupation                                                                               
do it again                                                                                                                      with sexually addictive thoughts
Feelings of despair,                                                                                                                                   Rituals leading
Shame and guilt                                                                                                                                           to sexual fix
            ↑                                                                                                                                                                  ↓
 ←←←←←←←←←←←←←←         Obtaining              ←←←←←←←←←←←←←
Sexual fix
Out of Control

The basic belief of the addict is that they are a bad person, unworthy, and no one would want them as they are, therefore they need to find a new way to meet their needs, thus they focus on sexual pleasure, which relieves their self-incriminating thoughts.[54]  Oddly, the behaviors engaged in are often against their own belief system, which created feelings of shame and regret soon after being engaged in the addictive behavior. This makes the addict feel worse about himself (or herself), which results in promises to never do the action again. Thoughts surrounding negative self-image come back and the addict soon seeks relief and escape, which causes him (or her) to focus on sexual thoughts and sexual behaviors that s/he believes will soothe the tormented mind.[55]
            The sexual thoughts often become obsessive, persistent and repetitive to the point that it interferes with life and relationships.[56] The addict also begins to engage in ritualized behaviors, which starts the process of capturing the high. Perhaps the addict will get on the computer late at night, perhaps even with the resolve that they will not look at pornography. However, they put themselves in a situation where they can easily fall into the addictive behavior. This predictably leads to the sexually addictive behavior, which medicates the self-loathing feelings.[57] The addict also has impaired thinking, which keeps him (her) from dealing with the problem. Instead they blame others, rationalize the behavior, and live “a secret double life that’s filled with suspicion and paranoid feelings about being found out”, which the authors claim is “particularly true for those who have a moral and religious public life”.[58] All this leads to the fix provided by the sexual behavior, which then leads to shame and remorse (verifying his/her feelings of self-worth) and starting the cycle over again.[59] 
             This cycle will inevitable lead to the compulsive behavior unless the cycle is broken. Balswick and Balswick state that the treatment to help sexual addicts involves four steps:[60]
1)      Recognize and understand the false beliefs
2)      Commit to relinquish the compulsive thoughts, ritualized behavior and sexual acts
3)      Look to a Higher Power to transform their beliefs and empower them to change
4)      Develop a capacity for emotional intimacy with significant persons in their life.
During this treatment, denial can also keep an addict from taking the above steps. Therefore, it is best to attempt this treatment in the company of others in the atmosphere of a group where personal relationships (including the development of a relationship with God) and support help to motivate one. Twelve step programs such as Sexaholics Anonymous (SA), Sex Addicts Anonymous (SAA), or Sexual Compulsives Anonymous (SCA) can be extremely beneficial in aiding the recovery of an addict.   


Sexaholics Anonymous (SA)
In Toronto:
(416) 410-7622
7 meetings per week

Sex Addicts Anonymous (SAA)
Tuesday 7:30 PM - Toronto Tuesday SAA Meeting
   Type: Mixed/Closed
   Location: St Peter's Anglican Church, east side entrance, Parish Hall, 188 Carlton St.
   Or contact ISO of SAA office at 800-477-8191

Sexual Compulsives Anonymous (SCA)
Listings for international meetings (outside USA) are restricted for members and potential members and are accessible by means of email from the following page-

Book suggestions by Balswick and Balswick on the topic of Sexual Addiction:

Canes, Patrick. A Gentle Path Through the Twelve Steps. Minneapolis: CompCare Publications, 1994.

Carnes, P. Contrary to Love: Helping the sexual addict. Center City, Minn,: Hazeldon Press, 1989.

Carnes, P. Don’t call it love: Recovery from sexual addiction. New York: Bantam Books, 1992

Carnes, P. Out of the shadows: Understanding sexual addiction. Minneapolis: CompCare Publications, 1983.

Schaumberg, H. False intimacy: Understanding the struggle of sexual addiction. Colorado Springs: NavPress, 1997.

Willingham, R. Breaking free: Understanding sexual addiction and the healing power of Jesus. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1999.


Balswick, Judith, and Jack Balswick. Authentic Human Sexuality: An Integrated Christian Approach. Downer’s Grove: IVP Academic, 1999.

Bergner, Raymond, and Ana Bridges. “The Significance of Heavy Pornography Involvement for Romantic Partners: Research and Clinical Implications”. Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, 28:193-206, (2002).

Manning, Jill. “The Impact of Internet Pornography on Marriage and the Family: A Review of the Research”. Sexual Addiction & Compulsivity, 13:131-165, (2006).

Winner, Lauren. Real Sex: The naked truth about chastity. Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2005.

Wolf, Naomi. The Porn Myth. <>

[1] Lauren Winner. Real Sex: The naked truth about chastity. (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2005), 112.

[2] Winner, 111.
[3] Jill Manning. “The Impact of Internet Pornography on Marriage and the Family: A Review of the Research”. Sexual Addiction & Compulsivity, 13:131-165, (2006):134.
[4] Winner, 111.
She cites “Caught in the Porn Trap,” <http://www.oneby1,org/resources/porn_trap>
Dirk Johnson and Hilary Shenfeld, “Preachers and Porn,” Newsweek, April 12, 2004.
[5] Winner, 111.
[6] Winner, 111.
She cites, “The Next Big Challenge for Clergy,” <>
[7] Manning, 138.
[8] Balswick and Balswick. Authentic Human Sexuality: An Integrated Christian Approach. (Downer’s Grove: IVP Academic, 1999), 235.
[9] Balswick and Balswick, 235.
[10] Balswick and Balswick, 235.
[11] Balswick and Balswick, 236.
[12] Balswick and Balswick, 237.
[13] Balswick and Balswick, 236.
[14] Balswick and Balswick, 238.
[15] Winner, 110.
[16] Balswick and Balswick, 246-248.
[17] Balswick and Balswick, 247.
[18] Balswick and Balswick, 247.
[19] Winner, 112.
[20] Wolfe, <> (Winner also makes reference to this article).
[21] Balswick and Balswick, 239. They cite the research of Allen, D’Alessio and Brezgel (1995).
[22] Balswick and Balswick, 239.
[23] Balswick and Balswick, 239.
[24] Balswick and Balswick, 239.
[25] Balswick and Balswick, 240.
[26] Balswick and Balswick, 240.
[27] Balswick and Balswick, 240.
[28] Balswick and Balswick, 241.
Regarding the correlation between aggression and pornography see also Manning, 136.
[29] Balswick and Balswick, 241.
[30] Manning, 135. See also Manning, 153, 156-157.
[31] Manning, 136.
[32] Manning, 141.
[33] Manning, 141.
[34] Manning, 142.
[35] Manning, 143. See also Bergner and Bridges, 196.
[36] Manning, 145. See also Bergner and Bridges, 196.
[37] Raymond Bergner, and Ana Bridges. “The Significance of Heavey Pornography Involvement for Romantic Partners: Research and Clinical Implications”. Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, 28:193-206, (2002): 196.
[38] Bergner and Bridges, 197.
[39] Bergner and Bridges, 198.
[40] Bergner and Bridges, 198-199.
[41] Balswick and Balswick, 241.
[42] Balswick and Balswick, 242.
[43] Balswick and Balswick, 242.
[44] Balswick and Balswick, 243.
[45] Bergner and Bridges, 201. See also 202 for further analysis of “why they do it”. 
[46] Balswick and Balswick, 250.
[47] Balswick and Balswick, 250.
[48] Manning, 145.
[49] Balswick and Balswick, 251.
[50] Balswick and Balswick, 252-253.
[51] Balswick and Balswick, 253.
[52] Balswick and Balswick, 253.
[53] Balswick and Balswick, 256.
[54] Balswick and Balswick, 254.
[55] Balswick and Balswick, 254.
[56] Balswick and Balswick, 254.
[57] Balswick and Balswick, 254-255.
[58] Balswick and Balswick, 255.
[59] Balswick and Balswick, 255.
[60] Balswick and Balswick, 258.


  1. A comment from a friend. (I guess the comment section was malfunctioning). She said:

    I realize that your focus was on the effects on the consumers or viewers of porn, but I think it's worth noting that being a pornographic sex worker is harmful to the women involved (as well as being evidence of harm they have already suffered) and in that way consuming pornography contributes to that harm in the same way that buying mass-produced items from unethical companies contributes to, say, child labour or sweatshops:


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