On Pornography: Part 3, Why Change?

After stating my assumptions that my audience are people who are (1) consuming pornography and (2) are entertaining some thoughts about reducing consumption, I then went on to list reasons why people might wish to reduce consumption.

The reason for the list was twofold.

First, the list is just descriptive, a survey of the common reasons people give for wanting to reduce or eliminate pornography consumption.

The second reason is motivational. A detailed survey of all the reasons people give for changing their relationship with pornography should have a cumulative impact creating an increased desire for change. This is a technique common in motivational interviewing. 

So, what are the reasons for why people want to reduce or eliminate pornography consumption? Here was the list I shared:

1. Conscience
Evangelical purity culture gets slammed a lot for creating shame and guilt in regards to pornography and sexuality. But some people feel legitimately guilty for consuming pornography. Consumption wounds and troubles our conscience. I certainly feel shame and guilt, and I'm not in thrall of evangelical purity culture. Shame and guilt can be healthy, life-giving emotions. There's a reason we have them. Sure, shame and guilt can become toxic and debilitating. But let's not think that there's something unhealthy about feeling shame or guilt when you do something that violates your conscience. That's called being a human being. And for many people, pornography consumption troubles their conscience. They think it's wrong. And that's a healthy and legitimate reason.

2. Justice and Exploitation
Many people want to reduce pornography consumption because they don't want to support an industry that exploits and harms people, women mostly, but also men. And this isn't just about online pornography but the way pornography intersects with sex trafficking and other forms of sexual exploitation for profit. The issue here is less about maintaining personal sexual purity than refusing to be complicit in a system causing harm.

3. Over-consumption and Addiction
People may want to reduce pornography consumption because they think it's taking up too much of their lives, leaving too large a footprint on their day. Consumption may be becoming habitual, obsessive, or compulsive. Feelings of being out of control are emerging. An addiction is forming or has formed.

4. Perceptual Damage and Objectification 
Pornography can damage the way you see others. Your social perception becomes "pornified." When you look at people sexualized images intrude upon and assault your imagination. You objectify the bodies you see. All that to say, you may want to reduce pornography consumption because it increasingly sexualizes the way you see other human beings.

5. Moral Darkness on the Horizon
You may want to reduce your pornography consumption because your consumption is starting to scare and worry you. Your clicks have taken you into areas that are darker and darker. The videos you consume are tending toward, or explicitly depicting, rape. The female actors in the videos are getting younger and younger. The stimuli you are seeking are getting more and more extreme. All that to say, the content of your pornography may be increasingly a concern for you. You're starting to bump into some pretty dark stuff and want to stop and turn around.

6. Negative Impact on a Relationship
If you are in a long term romantic relationship, especially if you're married, your consumption of pornography may be having a negative impact on the relationship. For example, by sating your sexual drives with pornography you've become less interested in sex with your partner, negatively impacting the emotional and physical intimacy you once or could be experiencing. Also, your romantic partner may think your consumption of pornography is a form of infidelity so your usage is causing conflict and hurt, perhaps even to the point of breakup and divorce.

7. You Take the Science Seriously
Psychological studies have shown that pornography, and especially violent pornography, is associated with decreased relational satisfaction, decreased sexual satisfaction, and increased aggression, especially for men. In short, science shows that pornography negatively impacts well-being. So, you may want to reduce or eliminate pornography consumption because you take science seriously.

After this list, I concluded with some comments about how a Christian sexual ethic is a process of transforming eros into agape. Eros has a greedy aspect: We consume people. And porn is a liturgy that habits us into this greedy, consumptive posture.

Agape, by contrast, is self-giving for the other. Agape doesn't consume others, it gives and sacrifices for others. Romantic love, therefore, is a journey from eros to agape in a relationship.

That's a nice ending, but the heart of the talk was simply the list I shared above. Why?

Again, instead of issuing imperatives, by listing reasons for change I was trying to create, through cumulative impact, a motivational state, a desire for change. As I mentioned above, this is a technique common in what is called motivational interviewing, a therapeutic technique that works to move people through the stages of change. And one way to move people from "pre-contemplation" to "contemplation," or from "contemplation" to "preparation" and "action," is to make a list of all the reasons for change. In short, I was using my Belmont talk as a group therapy session using a motivational interviewing technique.

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