Is Pornography Rape?

pornographyandrape

I recently read a blog post titled, “7 Good Reasons to Stop Looking at Porn,” from a blogger and man I frequently read and respect. The article was a good reminder of the anti-social and hostile tendencies of sin, especially sexual sin. And while knowing the cost of sin is only a secondary motivator to the gospel applied to sin, I think the piece is overall pretty helpful. This post isn’t intended to be critical of the author’s words, or nit-picky about his phrasing, but it is the summary of some thoughts this piece stirred in me.

I was struck by one line in specific, “A vast amount of the pornography you enjoy is created by people against their wills. The simple fact is, by watching porn, you are watching rape and deriving pleasure from it.” The statement was intended to be off-putting. And we should be disgusted at the depravity of ourselves on display when we view the human aspect of pornography through the eyes of divinely created beings. Yet, I think the idea that pornography is rape needs to be cautiously considered in light of the subjects. I think that the bigger problem is that pornography is only sometimes rape.

Pornography is only sometimes rape. This is a bigger issue.

I want to exercise great caution with what we equate with rape. As disgusting and abusive as pornography can sometimes be, there is a huge difference between a college guy watching pornography and a college guy raping a girl. This is true for the viewer, but even more true for the woman. Certainly some aspects of porn, specifically revenge porn (where sexual acts are filmed without the female’s consent and posted online as a shaming, vengeful action) are similar psychologically with what rape victims experience. But the physical, mental, emotional and all around human impact physical rape has on a woman should not be so quickly lumped in with pornography. This is an issue which again, given the nature of severity on both sides, must be dealt with and viewed with wisdom, discernment and great care. This is out of respect and understanding to the people who have been victimized physically.

However, I think we can even push this envelope even further to expose the greater pain behind pornography. In rape there is a real awareness that something is horribly wrong. There is an unwanted and forced disregard of someone. Unfortunately in most of the pornography industry this awareness of wrong is at best minimum and at worst completely disregarded.

Most porn workers are not forced to perform in the same way some prostitutes and rape victims are. In fact there is an unfortunate trend in how outsiders speak of the pornography industry, and increasingly how sex workers themselves view the pornography industry.

For instance one Ph.D Professor at the University of Idaho is lobbying for a more progressive view of sex workers saying: “I suggest that the appropriate response lies in advocating for the legitimation and celebration of sex work as a creative occupation that not only provides an important source of income for many persons but can also be personally meaningful and fulfilling.”

Another researcher says, “Arguments range from positioning sex work as empowering, pleasurable work, aligning sex workers with medical caregivers or therapists, to low-status, informal and sometimes exploitative labor, aligning sex workers with the working class.” She goes on to write in detail on the increasing global trend of sex workers forming unions to defend their way of life and social dignity by with the motto, “As Human Beings and As Workers.

This is the trend which allows us to find an even more nuanced reality than “pornography is rape.” Unfortunately for many women, pornography is not physical slavery but spiritual slavery. They are fine doing what they are doing because they are unware that what they are doing is sinful and harmful. They are so numb to it that they actually embrace and welcome it. All humans are created in the explicit image of God, and even through the fall this image has not been removed. But heartbreakingly in some circumstances, the moral law of God which has been written even on the hearts of unbelievers (Rom. 2:14-15) has become so marred, tainted and distorted by sin that the pain of sexual sin is actually erased and framed in a positive and welcomed light. 

Paul implies that your conscience can become “seared” by sin (1 Tim. 4:2). This deadens our spiritual pain receptors so much so that what is normatively wrong and harmful is no longer seen that way. In other words we are acting unlike humans. God’s ultimate plan for sexuality was one woman and one man, in one flesh (marriage) for life. In pornography this is distorted, disregarded, and shared with disconnected people for the sake of money and pleasure. This realization should not only change the way we resist porn, but it should also shape the way we engage the sex industry workers.

Ultimately the greatest hope for these women (and in some cases men) is not only to be rescued from the physical oppression, but to be rescued from spiritual oppression. The physical part is needed, especially in cases where victims are being held and exploited against their working will. But how much more do we need to understand the healing application of the gospel which is needed to undo the porn industry at its core.

In the same way viewers of porn are blinded to the sickness of it, so are many people who are engaged in the pornography business. “In this case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God…for God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shown in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor. 4:4,6). We need to stop viewing porn. We need to cut off the revenue, income and demand. But we also must move forward with evangelism. We must not only free their careers, but attempt to free their hearts. Sustainability in our fight against porn and sex trafficking comes not only from the curbing of the consumer’s desire, but the curbing of the industry’s desire. This can only happen through the gospel.

This issue is not as cut and dried as it may seem. Christendom needs to exercise great care moving forward in this. The level of depravity and distortion which happens at the level of the porn viewer is only myopic compared to the confusion which has grasped the hearts of the porn actors themselves. This effort will take time, care and wisdom. But by the grace of God it can be done.

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