Influence

 the shape of leadership

The Porn Phenomenon

How can the distinction between pornography's form and function help church leaders craft more effective ministry strategies?

on August 24, 2016

Pornography is notoriously difficult to define and often very subjective. It was important then, at the very outset of Barna’s recent study The Porn Phenomenon, to determine how people define pornography.

What counts as sexually explicit material is both highly subjective and highly contested — especially considering recent and rapid shifts both in pornography’s form (the media used to create and deliver it) and its function (people’s reasons for producing and viewing it). And this distinction is critically important for a number of reasons.

While nearly everyone agreed in the Barna study that “an image of sexual intercourse” is definitely porn, the issue of function seems to be at the center of most people’s thinking. For instance, if you use that image for personal arousal, it’s porn.

Most of us have probably been to an art museum where we saw a fully nude statue or painting. Less than one-quarter of adults over age 25 (24 percent) consider a fully nude image to be objectively pornographic. But if that fully nude image is sexually arousing, it’s a different story. Half of adults over age 25 (53 percent) say that “a fully nude image that is sexually arousing” is definitely pornography, and nearly seven in 10 young adults (68 percent) and eight in 10 teenagers (78 percent) agree.

So for most people, the purpose behind viewing an image is critical to determining whether something qualifies as porn. When asked what kind of viewing situation classifies images or words as porn, seven out of 10 say the key element is watching, listening or reading for the purpose of sexual arousal.

If you’re like many leaders, your first impulse is to be concerned with content (form) rather than function. 

So why does this matter? Because if you’re like many leaders, your first impulse is to be concerned with content (form) rather than function. But a person’s intentions toward sexually explicit content are a more pressing matter. Certainly, blocking access to content can be helpful as a first step for a person who wants to be free from porn use. But understanding and acknowledging the desires and longings that motivate porn use — and seeking to sanctify those desires — is the more important pastoral task.

Sex is a God-created aspect of human life — it’s not a dirty word. As pastors and leaders, we must celebrate and promote God’s good intentions for sex as a counter-narrative to the false stories told by pornography. Church leaders must steer their congregations in more hopeful directions, away from the distorted picture of sex touted by porn, to a fuller and more biblical vision for sex. This means actually talking about sex and pornography, and contrasting God’s plans with porn’s lies early and often.

When we do this, we both preserve the created goodness of sex, while avoiding a culture of shame that does little but drive sin into hiding, where it festers and grows in isolation from community and accountability.

For research methodology, and to order your copy of the full Porn Phenomenon study, visit www.barna.org

 

Roxanne Stone is editor in chief at Barna Group. This article was originally published in the August/September issue of Influence. For more print content, subscribe

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