Beauty and the Beast

Pornography doesn’t love you and it never will.

I have no doubts about the nature of pornography. It is utterly without value. Yet, sadly, I am drawn to it like a fly to manure.

When I see an image of a naked woman, it makes me feel good. It gives me a burst of adrenaline that can make me forget my troubles for a time. When I was drawn to this hidden world as a young man, having seen so many glimpses of it even as a boy, I wasn’t looking for anything shocking or explicit. I just wanted to see a woman with no clothes on, like the women in the magazines I’d heard about from friends at school.

But any quest for excitement of this kind will inevitably lead to a much darker world where people impose degrading sexual acts on each other: the unimaginable brought to life. With the arrival of the internet, my desire to see naked women was easily met, but certainly not fulfilled. There was always so much more to see, and as I clicked my way through the world of porn, I would inevitably stumble on things that I wasn’t looking for—ads for explicit sex, ads promising things that made me feel uncomfortable. I never wanted that uncomfortable reality to infringe on my enjoyment of looking at beautiful women posing in various milieus without their clothes on.

I wanted to believe that my pursuit was an appreciation of beauty, for certainly, as a good Christian young man, I knew that the naked body was created by God.

I wanted to believe that my pursuit was an appreciation of beauty, for certain, as a good Christian young man, I knew that the naked body was created by God. But soon I stumbled onto sites where, in spite of the images of seemingly happy naked women, users had posted comments of disrespect or outright hate. There were ads for videos of “kinky sex” and girls who were “barely legal,” little animations in the sidebar depicting explicit and troubling sex acts. I couldn’t ignore it anymore. This had nothing to do with beauty. How could I have even considered it?

Porn is like that alluringly forbidden house on a hill from a horror film. It is grandiose and intriguing from the outside, but on the inside, amidst all the gaudy and tacky finery, a staircase descends into chilly darkness, a darkness that draws you in, feeding on both your curiosity and your desire, inviting you to come and see something you’ve never seen before—just one more step, just one more step.

Even in the midst of that ugliness, I couldn’t forget that there is real beauty in a naked body. Despite my horror and shame I always found myself longing to reach a place where I could savor that beauty.

It was with regret and a backwards glance that I resolved to leave porn behind. I wanted to be free of the darkness, from the guilt and shame and insatiability of it, but I also longed for a beauty that could bring me those feelings without the taint of all that ugliness.

But it didn’t exist, and so as I continued to crave that rush of sexual desire, which inevitably turned to shame, I also longed to be someone who didn’t want to look at those things anymore. I began to despise the sexual part of me that would never give up, never be satisfied. I prayed that God would deliver me from it somehow. I was confused and frustrated. I didn’t understand my sexuality, how something that seemed to have such potential for beauty could be so tainted. I didn’t understand how I could be so drawn to something that made me feel so bad.

But I was working with some faulty assumptions. One was that I was turning to porn to find and connect with beauty. This is ironic, because pornographers make no pretenses about selling beauty—or, for that matter, intimacy. Pornography is about the opposite—it’s cartoonish and manipulated and depicts people who are being paid (usually) to connect their bodies in what would normally be considered “intimate” situations but which in reality are anything but intimate. No, it wasn’t about the women’s beauty. It was about me and how it made me feel. I find mountain panoramas beautiful, but I don’t spend hours incessantly clicking and searching through hundreds of photographs of natural landscapes, one after the other, in a semi-comatose state. A naked body can be very beautiful, but when I’m looking at one, its beauty is merely coincidental to the way it makes me feel.

The trick with pornography is that while it purports to be about what is happening in the images, in reality, the subject of pornography is the viewer. When I look at porn, my body behaves in the same way it does when it thinks it is going to have sex with another person. Except that I am alone. There is no “other” to relate to, to consider, to interact with. It purports to offer all the benefits of sex—stimulation, pleasure, stress relief—without any of the requirements of an actual relationship—kindness, patience, honesty, vulnerability, true intimacy. The push-a-button-get-a-reward effortlessness of pornography, coupled with ease of access and affordability, is such that it can be hard to resist. It is marketed as harmless fun—good feelings at virtually no cost.

The problem is that, over time, the things that were initially very exciting lose their ability to arouse as they once did. If the user wants the sexual stimulation to continue, he or she must find new and more extreme material. The degree to which this happens varies from person to person. Not everyone will become addicted to this new drug. Not everyone will want to consume such huge quantities of porn. But you can’t know ahead of time if it will happen to you or not.

People don’t set out to become addicted to violent, degrading, and illegal porn, but for many, this is exactly what happens. One step at a time, bit by bit, they enter a new world until they can’t remember how they got there and have no idea how to find their way back out. Only a small percentage of people will come to the point of criminal behavior that will endanger themselves and others. It does happen, and pornography can certainly play an integral part, but the danger for the average porn consumer lies elsewhere. It lies in the way we adapt to sexual stimulation without the benefit of another person, which in turn changes the way we interact with real people sexually. It affects what is for many people the most important relationship in his or her life. This is the danger, and all those who enjoy porn with increasing regularity need to ask themselves how much real intimacy with a real person matters to them, because porn will have a detrimental effect.

Even if porn does not drive a permanent wedge between two people in a loving relationship, there is no question that it will not bring them closer together. It adds nothing.

Some people argue that watching porn as a couple brings a freshness to their sexual interactions. I can only speak for myself here. Looking at porn never made me love my partner more. It just made me want to watch more porn—alone.

…sex is meant to be shared. We are relational creatures.

We are drawn to porn because we are drawn to sex, but sex is meant to be shared. We are relational creatures. God himself said that it is not good to be alone. We want to find flesh of our flesh and bone of our bones. We want to become one with someone else.

Porn is an imposter. It distills what is meant to be an intimate relationship with another person into a solitary experience that can be popped like a pill. If real love relationships matter to us, whether we are in one now or hope to be someday, we would do well to avoid that captivating house on the hill. It is full of lies and distortion. It is empty.

Brian Wigg is a husband, father of three children, trained actor, and an economic analyst. He wrote a blog for many years about the lies of pornography and how life without it is far better.

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