Martin Saunders’ culture feature in the latest issue of Premier Christianity suggests people are becoming more open about consuming pornography. Saunders gives the example of a man openly reading Fifty Shades by the pool as their respective children were having a swimming lesson.
Many of the people I know who have read the book would consider it romance literature rather than pornography; to them it is merely a cheap thrill. Meanwhile, complaints are already flooding in about the film; not because sex scenes comprise 20% of the film, but because it simply isn’t considered romantic or raunchy enough.
What constitutes porn?
The question is, where do we draw the line? Does looking at Page 3 constitute porn consumption as some critics suggest? If so, the Fifty Shades film (and many shower gel adverts) must be porn. And if the film is, doesn’t the book it is based on also have to be classed as pornography?
Redefining these boundaries could produce some interesting shifts. The pornography problem is always associated with men, for example and there are some valid reasons for this. But if erotic literature counts as porn, and with some internet porn sites now featuring ‘female-friendly’ categories, perhaps the stats are a little less clear-cut, and maybe more women are consuming porn under the guise of ‘romance or erotic content’.
Even without actively viewing porn, society has become far more accepting of sexualised imagery. One respondent to the poll Saunders commissioned for his article wrote: ‘I have never gone to/watched/read specific pornographic websites, books, films and magazines. However, I think that even 'non-pornographic' material often seems to have quite a high sexualised content.
‘So, I can say I've never watched pornography, yet I have nonetheless seen and read about sex scenes and naked women.’
Another grey area – if you’ll excuse the pun – is exposed in Saunders’ article. Saunders found that just 5% of male respondents admitting to looking at internet porn on a daily basis. Despite this, 42% said they would describe their behaviour as ‘compulsive or an addiction’.
‘If these men are truly suffering from an addiction, shouldn’t these two percentages be closer together?’ Saunders writes. ‘Is it possible that Christian men who have heard warnings from the Church about porn addiction and feel ashamed of their own occasional use mistakenly believe they are suffering from an addiction they can’t control?’
Perhaps this sounds like a quibble over semantics. But actually, the distinction between a weakness and an addiction is a significant one. Saunders continues: ‘By calling them addicts, we have given them a mental excuse to concede defeat.
‘Is that right in the majority of cases? Or can we actually call them higher, to train themselves to steer clear of porn? Of course, there are true addicts, but correctly labelling the issue for the majority could be a simple but key step in changing those statistics.’
Getting the relevant support
We know from the poll that a large proportion of Christians – including church leaders – view pornography of one sort or another on a regular basis. But while the Church is starting to talk about it more openly, 88% of respondents think it is still not doing enough.
‘I feel the churches I have been to and the Christian groups I have been in have helped me a lot in dealing with pornography…However, I am aware that this isn’t the case for some of my other Christian friends. So the Church does need to address these issues to a greater extent,’ one respondent said.
Another writes: ‘Pornography is a hidden addiction. The Church needs to state that it is wrong and offer non-condemnatory support.’
Saunders ends his article with the following challenge to us as Christians: ‘The release of the Fifty Shades of Grey movie is another leap forward for pornography in the mainstream. Could the Church respond with self-awareness, intelligence and compassion?’