Porn isn’t usually found in the pages of a church magazine. But it’s becoming a digital public health crisis, and we need to start discussing it at home and in church.

There were 42 billion visits to one porn website alone last year. Sunday is its busiest day and, although accessing pornography is a predominantly male pursuit, around a third of visitors to that site are women.

The sexual acts in pornography are a far cry from the risqué top-shelf magazines and videotapes of yesteryear.

We’re now exposed to graphic images that promote life-threatening sexual acts such as rape or choking a partner for pleasure. Sexting, revenge porn and unnatural body images are skewing what we consider normal. When we consume this content, we are purchasing someone’s humiliation and fear.

What evidence do we have for this digital public health crisis? The average age of someone accessing porn for the first time is 11. Our children are just a click away from hard-core pornography. Nearly 90 per cent of the most-watched porn scenes feature violence against women and 84 per cent of those viewings are via a mobile phone.

“The New Testament calls us to honour God with our bodies…”

The picture is just as bleak for adults. Online pornography is re-wiring our minds and sexual behaviour. A UK survey last year suggests 38 per cent of women under 40 have experienced unwanted slapping, choking, gagging or spitting during consensual sex, and as many as 10 per cent of Britons have been victims of revenge pornography.

We become excarnate when we consume pornography. That is, we are acting in a virtual world, outside of our physical bodies. In the cold light of day, we might excuse porn use as merely fantasy and entertainment. That the images portrayed are acted and fake, that no-one is hurt.

That can’t hold true. Masturbating to cruel, humiliating or ‘vanilla’ pornography rewires our brains away from sexual intimacy and connection to normalising something sinister. The New Testament tells us to honour God with our bodies and to love our neighbour as ourselves. We are sexual beings, but can consumption of pornography, violent or not, truly be honouring to anyone?

Is there such a thing as ethical porn, or are we all victims? In an era of performance anxiety and body-image issues for boys, girls, men and women, we are at risk of ruining our chances of healthy sex in a committed, loving and intimate relationship. The sort of intimacy that’s so beautifully described in Song of Songs.

What can Christians do? We need to talk openly and honestly with our partners, children and church families about porn before the pornographers do. Perhaps we need a long hard conversation with ourselves too. ¶

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Share this

Thinkuknow is for children, young people and their parents. The site has age-appropriate information about sexual abuse and sexual exploitation:

Childline has excellent resources to help young people understand the risks of sexting and what to do if they have shared a nude image:

Talk about it

Culture Reframed is a US based website with free to access online modules designed “to help parents to raise porn-resilient children”:

The NSPCC has tips for talking with children about the risks of porn, how to limit access to it and what to do when they discover explicit content:

Speak out

#notyourporn describes the horror and humiliation of revenge porn. This grassroots group is demanding legislation to protect victims:

We Can’t Consent to This challenges normalised violence against women in sex and use of “rough sex” legal defences:

Get help

The Naked Truth project is designed to help churches, congregations and their communities to talk about and tackle pornography:

Your Brain on Porn explores how porn rewires our brains towards low desire for partnered sex and escalating to extreme material:

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Additional resources

Key quotes

Pornography is already increasingly appearing on platforms children use from a young age, such as Snapchat and Instagram and games consoles.

Dr Gail Dines, a scholar of pornography and professor emerita of sociology and women’s studies at Wheelock College, Boston, “…they are also masturbating to it. They say they know it’s fake, but what does that mean? You haven’t got one brain that processes fake stuff and one that processes real stuff. You have one brain and one body that’s aroused. If you begin by masturbating to cruel, hardcore, violent porn, studies show that you are not going to grow up wired for intimacy and connection.”

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  • Nearly 90% of the most-watched porn scenes feature violence against women.
  • A third of all young people under the age of 12 have seen pornography
  • about 20% of sexts are photos of girls under the age of 15
  • 35% of all internet downloads are porn.
  • Large groups of young children are just a click or two away from free hardcore porn. Today, an estimated 25% of six-year-olds in the UK use a mobile phone, and the average age in the US is 10.
  • In 2016, the average age for first exposure to online pornography in the UK was 11.
  • Of 3,000 boys aged 13-18 surveyed, 81% said they looked at pornography.
  • A 2016 analysis of 1,001 11- to 16-year-olds by Middlesex University for the children’s commissioner and the NSPCC found that at least 56% of boys and 40% of girls had been exposed to online pornography by the age of 16. The study also found that not only are boys more likely to keep seeking it out after they first see it (59%, compared with 25% of girls) but they are more positive about it.
  • 53% of boys and 39% of girls in the Middlesex University study saw it as “a realistic depiction” of sex