I am worried I am going to become a monster. It used to be that I could separate porn from relationships. Now I am not so sure. – Kevin
I’m not ready to tell you everything, but it’s just so evil. -Brittany
This article is the third in a three-part series excerpted from the book, Unwanted: How Our Sexual Brokenness Reveals Our Way to Healing by Jay Stringer. The content of these articles is very important, but for mature readers only.
Let me state unequivocally that I believe that pornography exists predominantly due to male violence against women. When masculine anger is sexually hijacked, it moves into degradation of the feminine. The origins of the word degrade involve reducing someone to a lower rank, particularly to punish someone. Although the use of pornography may involve the curiosity to see the beauty of the female body, it will move to a hijacked desire to see women subservient to demands. Degradation functions on a spectrum. On one end is reducing a woman to less than man, in which she quickly becomes a sex object; on the other end, a woman’s body is defaced and punished in overt sexual violation.
The fantasy world created in pornography or prostitution requires a woman to be reduced to an object or commodity. In pornography, a woman’s rank as a co-revealer of the image of God is reduced to a gender that exists to submissively serve the errant longings of men. This is why you have likely seen an escalation in severity of the pornography you watch. You may have started with a lingerie or swimsuit catalog, but pornography moves toward greater exposure, more loss of innocence, more subservience, more women, and ultimately more degradation.
Pornographers know that men move from hearts of lust to demands to possess beauty and, if they stay long enough, to the desire to see the bodies and faces of women degraded. The heartbeat of the pornographic world is to seduce men through their lust in order to offer them the ability to deface the beauty and life-giving power of women.
Pornography exposes one of the tragic dimensions of the heart of a man: his violence. The problem of male sexual entitlement and anger is a malignant though often overlooked issue. The #metoo movement was proclaimed to the nations precisely because it named what most faith leaders consistently miss: the misuse of power, control, and anger in the sexual lives of men. Although the church should be on the front lines of exposing male violence against women, it has been largely silent.
Men need to rapidly wake up to the systemic issue of our sexual violation of women. For example, we talk about the number of women who are sexually harmed but next to nothing about the number of men who sexually harm women.[i] We refer to women, even teenagers, as sluts and whores but refer to men as lonely, johns, and horny. Language reveals not only how far men distance themselves from the problem but also where they truly place the blame for sexual brokenness. Jackson Katz, author and renowned cultural commentator, writes,
We talk about how many women were raped last year, not about how many men raped women. We talk about how many girls in a school district were harassed last year, not about how many boys harassed girls. We talk about how many teenage girls in the state of Vermont got pregnant last year, rather than how many boys and men impregnated teenage girls. . . . Even the term “violence against women” is problematic. It’s a passive construction; there’s no active agent in the sentence.[ii]
If male violence against women is prevalent in our intimate relationships and in our schools and organizations, surely it is metastasizing in the underground world of pornography as well.
One of the most surprising findings in my research was that women sought out more aggressive, violent, and degrading forms of pornography. Women pursued porn that featured bondage and rough or aggressive sex at a higher rate than men.
Former Google data scientist and Harvard-trained economist Seth Stephens-Davidowitz also found this trend. He writes, “If there is a genre of porn in which violence is perpetrated against a woman, my analysis of the data shows that it almost always appeals disproportionately to women.”[iii]
I was shocked by these findings, until I began seeing it through the lens of male power and violence against women. The overwhelming key driver for female fantasies of aggression and violence was the desire to see someone else have more power over them. This included a desire to see someone older than they are, situations in which they were the less powerful one, and scenarios where it made them feel like they were being used.
There is a tremendous amount of mystery and complexity to female arousal, and I make no attempt to definitively state a conclusion for why women pursue sexual violence in pornography at greater numbers than men. That said, there does appear to be an association between the sexual violation girls and women undergo and the pornography they later seek out. Research conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that approximately one out of four girls will be sexually abused before the age of eighteen,[iv] and the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) estimates that one out of every five (21%) women will be sexually assaulted after entering college.[v] Additionally, the average age of introduction to pornography is now between eight and eleven years of age.
These statistics give us a window into how men and women pursue violent pornography for different purposes. Whereas men tend to pursue pornography to find power over their shame and harm, women tended to pursue violent pornography to repeat their shame and harm. Our choice of pornography reveals the stories not only of the harm we endured but the ways we attempt to reverse or repeat these dynamics in the future. The tragedy is that either pursuit ends in the degradation of women.
Evil seduces us to degradation to eclipse the greater God-given longings in our hearts. Pornography offers us an imitation version of the justice and rest found in Jesus alone. In pornography, a victim is chosen to suffer violation in order to offer the porn user revenge and escape. In the gospel, humanity chooses an innocent victim to suffer death. In Jesus’ atonement, we are paradoxically offered the justice and rest we most desire. Both pornography and Jesus appeal to the deepest longings in our hearts. Only one offers freedom.
We can see, then, the effective idolatry taking place in pornography use. Rather than accepting the willing self-sacrifice of a God who offers to atone for our sins, we seek out an alternative sacrifice—a victim both unwilling and inadequate—and bring out lust and anger there instead. Rather than submit ourselves to a loving God, we have submitted ourselves to (and implicated ourselves in) evil.
Healing is one of the primary ways we take back the ground that evil attempted to steal. Such healing requires confronting our pursuits of degradation. Men need the honesty to name the ways they’ve misused their power, specifically in the harm of women. Women need the honesty to confront that much of their pull toward the degradation of pornography was driven by the abuse of men. For many women, honesty is an issue of naming how much of their sexual stories were unwanted and pursuing sexual stories that bear honor, beauty, and choice.
This was the third of three articles that reveal three hijackers of our souls as it relates to unwanted sexual behavior. The content is from the book, Unwanted: How Sexual Brokenness Reveals Our Way to Healing by Jay Stringer. Get the book or learn more about Jay’s work at jay-stringer.com.
[i] Thought credit to Jackson Katz. For more on this topic, see Katz’s TED Talk, “Violence against Women—It’s a Men’s Issue,” 17:37, November 2012, TEDxFiDiWomen, https://www.ted.com/talks/jackson_katz_violence_against_women_it_s_a_men_s_issue/transcript.
[ii] Valentina Zarya, “‘We Talk about Women Being Raped, Not Men Raping Women.’ Meet the Man behind the Viral Quote,” Fortune, October 18, 2017, http://fortune.com/2017/10/18/rape-viral-quote-twitter-weinstein/.
[iii] Seth Stephens-Davidowitz, Everybody Lies: Big Data, New Data, and What the Internet Can Tell Us about Who We Really Are (New York: HarperCollins, 2017), 121. Women searched such terms as force, brutal, and others far more graphic.
[iv] “Understanding Child Sexual Abuse,” American Psychological Association, December 2011, http://www.apa.org/pi/about/newsletter/2011/12/sexual-abuse.aspx.
[v] Christopher Krebs, Christine Lindquist, Marcus Berzofsky, Bonnie Shook-Sa, and Kimberly Peterson, Campus Climate Survey Validation Study Final Technical Report, Bureau of Justice Statistics Research and Development Series, 71.