One of the greatest lies about pornography that we may be tempted to believe, even in the church, is that porn is basically harmless. Many have described it as ‘victimless’, with performers who willingly bare it all for a handsome profit, while consumers simply use it to channel their desires away from actual affairs or other more devious forms of acting out.

This lie tragically misses the mark. Research has repeatedly shown that in pornography, those involved are often being forced or coerced into the industry against their will. Porn has also been shown to have strong linkage to sex trafficking and sexual abuse. It is nearly impossible for a consumer to know whether the porn they are viewing is forced or not. Porn is far from a victimless activity.

Beyond the ills of the platform itself, the impact pornography has on relationships—and marriages in particular—is equally, if not more, devastating. As pastors and leaders in the church, we must be educated on these dangers in order to equip those we lead for health and resilience in their marriages. These are the primary ways, among many others, that pornography negatively impacts a marriage:

1. Porn disrupts the God-given bonding process.

We should not be surprised to learn that in His infinite wisdom, God designed humans for lifetime, monogamous relationships. In the sexual cycle, dopamine and adrenaline are released, telling our brain that this activity matters and needs our focus. At the moment of climax, vasopressin in males and oxytocin in females are released that bond us to the person we are with, and in the aftermath, another chemical protein is released that reinforces the pathway in our brains, making us more likely to repeat the whole process!

With pornography, this entire system becomes confused and chaotic as the brain attaches and detaches from person after person, image after image. As this behavior is repeated over time, the brain will have difficulty attaching to a real person—a spouse—as God intended.

In Genesis chapter 2, when God the Creator brought Adam and Eve together, Adam declared, “This is bone of my bones, flesh of my flesh!” And a short time later, the Bible declares that Adam and Eve were both naked and felt no shame! (Genesis 2:23, 25 NIV) What a beautiful description of the bonding process as our Heavenly Father intended it. When the brains’ neuro-chemicals are released only in the context of a committed marriage relationship, they become like emotional and relational glue connecting a husband and wife at a deep, deep level.

2. Porn reinforces a body-only function of sex

When God created humanity with the ability for sexual connection, this act was intended to be a connecting point of body, soul and spirit between a husband and wife. The Hebrew word ‘yada’ is the word most frequently used in the Old Testament to describe sexual intimacy. This word is translated as ‘knowing’ and gives us an accurate depiction of what God intended our union to be—a deep connection where spouses fully know and fully love one another, and then express that connection through a physical act. The act itself, however, is far more than physical. God designed it to connect us on many levels!

Pornography works against the very fabric of this connection. Porn tells us that we are nothing more than bodies with hormones and desires that must be met. In pornography, the expressing and meeting of these physical needs is all that matters. Any relationship is only treated as a trite sub-context for the more important matter of physical stimulation and fulfillment. When we reduce sex to a mere act of the body, we lose a major part of God’s design for sex!

3. Porn strengthens patterns of selfishness

When any man or woman consumes pornography, the message being communicated by it is, “My needs are most important.” Pornography is designed to take the user into a fantasy world where every whim, desire, or lust can be fulfilled. “Anything you want anytime you want it” is pornography’s mantra and seductive alure.

We know from Scripture, however, that the purpose of sex in marriage is to meet the needs of one another! In I Corinthians 7, the Apostle Paul is calling on both spouses to equally commit themselves to a revolutionary way of viewing the marriage bed: my primary intent is to focus on your needs! “The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband.” (I Corinthians 7:3)  When a wife AND husband undertake this challenge, they are moving toward a God-given vision of sex in marriage that this world cannot fully comprehend.

4. Porn creates unrealistic expectations of healthy sexuality

For far too many people, believers and non-believer alike, the porn industry is shaping the expectations of what human sexuality should look and feel like. Never before has such an artificial product so thoroughly shaped people’s definition of reality. But that’s just the problem: pornography is artificial, filled with airbrushed, make-up covered, plastic-surgery laden performers who are acting in a role. Even if we know cognitively what we are viewing is fake, our brain is still shaping desires and expectations around what we are viewing.

When men and women then go about having a lifelong relationship with a normal human being with real faults and flaws, pornography can make this feel impossible. No human being, regardless of how hard they try, can match up with the false reality of pornography. Every single day, men and women around the world divorce their spouses and go off in search of the perfect mate who can meet all of their perceived needs, only to discover too late that such a person simply doesn’t exist!

Instead, our good, Heavenly Father has invited us into a way of sexuality where Jesus is our model, not the falsehoods of pornography. In Ephesians 5, Paul calls the husband to love his wife as Christ loved the church, and a wife to serve (submit) her husband as you do to the Lord! (Ephesians 5:22, 25) What a high command and calling! When we make our love for Christ the model of our love for our spouse—even at a physical level—our desire for one another can flourish from a place of reality.

So what can we do as Pastors and leaders to combat these negative, destructive messages from the world of porn, and the tragic impact it has on marriages? I would suggest these four practical action steps:

1. Teach on the reality of the human brain

I have found that in the church, very few men and women understand the impact of pornography beyond the moral side, or sin, of this decision. Thankfully, some powerful resources exist where churches could grow in their understanding of this God-designed system. William Struthers book, Wired for Intimacy, and Michael John Cusick’s book, Surfing for God, are two great resources to check out. Your church could also go through one of two video training series on the topic,  KingdomWork’s The Conquer Series,  or Sexual Integrity 101 by Pure Desire Ministries.

2. Approach human sexuality from the perspective of Creation, not the Fall

Too many sermons on sex and pornography describe the sin, consequences, and offense to God when we violate his will for us. While these messages may be true, they tend to create a negative environment around human sexuality. We may even find ourselves labeling sexual struggles as “that problem for those people” and miss the truth that every man or woman has been made by God as a sexual being. When we preach and teach on sex, God’s good creation of our sexuality needs to be the primary starting point.

3. Create environments for grace

When we only speak about sex through a negative lens and call out the sin of those who struggle, we will create environments where people feel hesitant to share their true struggles. On the other hand, when we can speak regularly of the path of help and recovery we have available for all people, this lessens the shame people feel and gives them an opportunity to pursue health. Leader, consider ways that you could make your church a safe place for men and women to acknowledge their brokenness in an environment of grace through testimonies, helpful illustration, and practical tools. Grace doesn’t lead to acceptance of the behavior; it leads us to an acceptance of one another!

4. Support recovery groups for both men and for women, the struggler and the spouse.

Pornography by nature is a shaming, isolating sin. The struggle makes us feel separated from others and fearful of sharing what is going on beneath the surface. Because of this, the healing journey requires a supportive community around us, for mutual encouragement, prayer, and accountability, in order to break out of isolation. This kind of environment is needed for both men AND women, because both men and women struggle with pornography. These groups are also needed for both the one who struggles AND the spouse who is dealing with betrayal and trust issues. If we only help half of the marriage heal, the couple will continue to be held back by this issue. This is what we do at Pure Desire Ministries. We would love to talk with you and your church about starting groups that have a long track-record of helping men and women heal!

Pornography can have a deeply painful and lasting negative impact on marriages. Now is the time for the church to become a place of hope and healing for all who suffer under this weight. As we embrace God’s view for healthy sexuality and depend on Him, we can craft transforming communities of love, truth, and healing.

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