A few months ago, I started watching “Friends” on Netflix. I wanted another show that falls into the “brain dead” category. What I mean is, sometimes I am tired and I do not want to be smart or thoughtful. I want stupid stories with no care for a complex plot so I can just disengage for 20 minutes. I decided to watch Friends because, well, I never really have. I was 9 when it first started its run and I wasn’t allowed to watch that show. I would catch some reruns on TBS every now and then, but I never really watched it. I figured, “Well… what was all the fuss about?”

There are so many anachronisms in the show, it’s really cute. In 1994, everyone wasn’t walking around with phones in their pockets, much less Internet/HD video machines. I think I laughed out loud when, at one point, Ross pulled out a beeper. I remember when my dad had a beeper! And there was shot after shot of the Manhattan skyline that had the World Trade Center looming in the skyline that reminded me repeatedly that things had changed a lot in more than a “look at the neat toys we have” sort of way.

To be honest, I’ve been pretty bored with the show. I was sure that I was nearing the end of the series run near the end of the fifth season because nothing was really happening. None of them really even went to work. But then I realized there were still FIVE MORE SEASONS. The comedy graph was pointed downhill after that.

One of the things that I found so bizarre was the frequent and offhand references to pornography. Joey and Chandler (and I guess occasionally Ross) frequently mention their appreciation of porn. And, shockingly, the women in their lives accept their fascination with porn as if it’s slightly weird, but kind hot, too. It’s so acceptable that, in a recent episode I watched, Monica walked into a hotel room and caught Chandler with his hand in his pants. “Fortunately,” he turned the channel quickly to a Shark Week show so she “only” thought he had some bizarre sexual attraction to sharks. So, of course, OBVIOUSLY, she tried to enjoy this fetish with him before they, after comedic hijinks and silly miscommunication, realized that, “Oh Chandler was just watching ‘good ole-fashion American girl-on-girl action.'” Thank goodness! (laugh track)

This attitude towards pornography struck me as bizarrely open and and simplistic. I wonder if such an attitude would still be shown in a primetime network TV comedy these days. I can’t help but think it wouldn’t but I don’t know. Maybe I’m sheltered.

In a culture that increasingly emphasizes the beauty of sexuality and the worth of women and (in our own way) the power of marriage, though, we should all be able to be united around this very clear message:

Pornography is awful.

Pornography is not a cute, funny thing that lots of guys use and more and more girls, too. It’s not an acceptable foible. It’s horrible. It’s degrading to women. It’s destructive towards normal human relationships. It’s addicting. It changes the structure of your brain, for crying out loud.

It’s not funny. It’s deadly.

I imagine that we could be standing in a place 20 years from now where we look back at our cultural approval of pornography the same we stepped back and looked at cigarettes and said, “UGH! Why were all our tv and movie stars smoking?! That’s gross!”

We have confused a message that people needed to hear (“Sex is fantastic and not shameful”) with the wild opposite (“Anything you want to do with your sexuality if totally fine”). Here I can remind everyone that my cards are on the table. I’m a Christian. I have a Christian view of sexual ethics. I very much believe that sex is fantastic and not shameful. I mean, it’s intended for a certain venue (marriage), but it’s not dirty or shameful. But I definitely do not agree that anything you want to do is fine.

We’ve long bought into the reactionary opposite, though. We’ve stuck our chins out and screamed, “YOU CAN’T TELL ME WHAT TO DO!” like spoiled children. But it turns out that you don’t even have to be a Christian to finally realize that pornography and “sex on my terms and without boundaries” is destructive. Dr. Norman Doidge writes (as quoted on fightthenewdrug.org), “Thirty years ago ‘hardcore’ pornography usually meant the explicit depiction of sexual intercourse. Now hardcore has evolved and is increasingly dominated by the sadomasochistic themes … all involving scripts fusing sex with hatred and humiliation. Hardcore pornography now explores the world of perversion, while softcore is now what hardcore was a few decades ago.” The boundaries of sexual expression don’t exist in pornography and what’s the end we’ve reached since the explosion of Internet pornography? The sexualization of violence and the demeaning of sexual love.

Porn teaches men especially (but women to) to have unreasonable expectations about sex, sexual performance, real love. It fosters loneliness. It hurts families as children access it far too young. It hurts children as sexual appetites spiral down into darkness and more and more people look for more and more “hardcore” content. Our generation is comfortable decrying sweatshops (when we don’t look at the tags on our own clothes) and modern slavery, but not often comfortable enough to recognize that pornography consumption fuels pornography production which fuels “small-budget productions” preying upon vulnerable people and even plunging some into sexual slavery. Sure, that’s not the “mainstream stuff,” but the mainstream stuff makes that fringe stuff possible. Pornography teaches your brain to move towards the fringes of deviance.

This is not a Christian cause that I’m writing about. Christian and non-Christian culture need to find more and more places of commonality and like-mindedness to remind each other that it’s possible for us to live and fight for justice together, even if we have wildly different views of the world. The limitation of and eventual disappearance of pornography is something that we should all be able to get behind. A culture that rightfully stresses the need for women to be valued, not as sexual objects but as partners with men, equals, should not be comfortable with an industry that profits from treating women as objects for the pleasures of men. You can trot out the quotes from porn stars saying they like what they do. I might even believe some of them. But it’s really, really easy to find women who are out of the industry now who can tell you the ugly dark side of having sex on camera for money.

So can we do something? Don’t normalize pornography in conversation. Don’t joke about it and pretend like it’s silly. Put a negative connotation on it. Call it what it is: gross. Call it manipulative and degrading. But don’t make light of it.

And let’s say something else to one another: Many, many of us know that porn is like a drug because we ourselves can’t quit it. Our brains and our loneliness are driving us back to those dark rooms, those glowing screens, those waiting “people.” We need to tell each other the truth, though. You can get help. You can quit looking at porn. Your brain can be reshaped and can heal from the damage inflicted by porn. And if you’re ashamed and disgusted with yourself for not being able to stop or for what you’ve already seen, I can tell you that anyone at my church, including members of my church (and most churches I know), is welcome to share the things they are most ashamed of in the pursuit of being free of them. We’ve all got things that we’re terrified for anyone to know. But we only get free of those slave drivers when we drag them into the light of day. Don’t be alone on this anymore. Get out from under this one. Get help. If you don’t want to go to church, get help from someone. Go see a counselor. Find someone to give you a hand.

Sex is good. We need to hear that. Christians especially, I think. We need to hear that God made sex and it’s good for married people to enjoy it. It’s not shameful. It’s wonderful. Stop squirming, Christian people, when folks say, “Man, sex is awesome.” It is! And we think God made it that way! Sex is very good.

But porn is not sex. It is false. It’s a lie. It’s dragging you down into a hole by yourself with its hands over your eyes, whispering lies all the way.

Sex is good. Porn is not. Let’s keep telling that truth to each other.

If you are interested in more details about how bad porn is for you, it’s easily out there on the Internet. I recommend you check out the research at FightTheNewDrug.org. Specifically, you can go here to look at the three levels of porn’s damage (the self, relationships, and society). If you’re worried about it being preachy and Christiany, don’t be. It’s not a Christian website. It’s really great for anyone who is curious about this subject.

Advertisements