A brief history of sex bans in the Bible. Starting at the beginning and on through antiquity, sound doctrine provides proper context.
There's almost nothing that provokes someone to become a-moralistic more so than some made up moral fight. That’s how it is with some issues in the church. And ironically, fixating on enforcing those prohibitions in order to battle the "problems" of certain natural sexual desires, instead of grounding our faith in Christ, will only exacerbate those issues.
Christian culture tells us that to be pure and godly we must completely rid ourselves of viewing anything sexually arousing except for a spouse. But what does that do? It creates an increased desperation for whatever sensual desires are denied, whether it's by God or by people. Visual stimulation, then, can become all consuming, and obsessions and addictions set in due to excessive prohibition. It could seem like one is in a great battle for purity, but really it's an unnecessary one, as if fighting a self-made straw man.
Any time there's a man-made prohibition of something that God does not prohibit (be it beauty, food, smoking, music, dancing, technology, etc.), and shame and condemnation are present, people can become highly prone to addiction. Those who are desperate for sexual imagery and excitement and who try to resist those urges tend to think about them even more, in proportion to the degree they resist. This is how religious prohibition works.
The way these moral conundrums happen is first there's a desire for something along with a prohibition of that desire (e.g. "Do not watch sexy lingerie ads"). But then the restriction often causes us to want the thing even more, so much so that we may scheme to obtain it. If it's simply a man-made rule such as no visual gratification, then no harm, no foul. But if it clearly violates a law or command of God (and vague sexual immorality doesn't count), then the opportunity for sin exists, or perhaps the specific sin of coveting if it's only intent to sin. If there's further restriction, especially if it's a natural God-given desire, obsessions and addictions are almost sure to follow.
Sexual Prohibition part 2: Religious Moralism
No, not some kind of erotic teetotaling. Unhelpful and unnecessary prohibitions provoke us to moralism. But God's grace changes that.
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You may be amazed and even upset by the prohibitions some religious leaders give. Jesus was. He sharply rebuked the Pharisees and scribes in Mark 7 for teaching their own commands as doctrine and for holding to their traditions not found in scripture. Sound like purity culture?
The reason there's even any problem to begin with is that unnatural and unbiblical sexual prohibitions are imposed. That said, the way to eliminate the "problem" of porn or masturbation is to understand that God doesn't call them sin, so we can’t call them sin either.
The apostle Paul warns us in Colossians 2 that when we follow human prohibitions - ANY human prohibitions that are not actually prohibited by God - we are actually indulging the flesh, not regulating it. That’s because our sinful desires love self-righteous rules and religion. Paul says that rules and religious regulations have no power to control sinful desires, and he's right. This includes prohibition of natural desires, as well as harsh and excessive ascetic disciplines.
More so, people tend to rebel in anger against unbiblical restrictions that are imposed on them. Paul describes in Romans 5:20 how the law increases sin, and in chapter 7 how sin takes the opportunity when something is prohibited to produce even more sin.
With all this sin going on, some people then reach the wrong conclusion that they should simply avoid any and all sexual excitement outside of marriage, which can sound godly, but really it's just moralism in disguise.
By simply looking at porn or masturbating, are people committing any of the sins mentioned in verses like 2 Corinthians 12:20, Ephesians 4:31, or Galatians 5:19-20, sins such as strife, fury, bitterness, malice, enmity, dissention, and many others? Not so much. But those who condemn them, wives specifically, are likely guilty of many of the sins listed. It's those sins along with resentment and rejection that often drive men to porn and masturbation in the first place.
As sinners, it's our acceptance by God that's of greatest importance, and like Paul, our standing before him is desperate. For even Paul, who by human standards had the greatest reason to have confidence in his own abilities, showed great lack of it. Being right with God is not a result of, nor is it maintained by following a plan for sexual purity. We will always fail at some point or else feel justified in our own ability to not fail.
God wants to give us his grace and righteousness, which Jesus already secured on the cross. He longs to do that and to bless us, but it doesn't happen often enough because we prefer our own religious prohibitions. Rather, when it comes to sex, we refuse the simple joys God grants us. It's as if we act like we're afraid of them or something.
By contrast, when people come to accept that God has unconditional grace for them through Christ, with no condemnation, it changes everything. By knowing that deeply, we can better allow our sexual drives to operate the way God made them. Or we can even direct them towards marriage and fully embrace how God made us to appreciate the fullness and blessings of sex.
The end of Prohibition
Have some constructive feedback about this article?
When it comes to immorality, what some think of as sexual "sin" (such as porn) is really a matter of conscience.
"Prohibition will work great injury to the cause of temperance. It is a species of intemperance within itself, for it goes beyond the bounds of reason in that it attempts to control a man's appetite by legislation, and makes a crime out of things that are not crimes." -Abraham Lincoln
Is all sexual pleasure outside marriage a sin? Most is, but some isn't. We just have to understand the specific contexts. Anything within the categories of porneia and moicheia (basically sex outside marriage) is sin. But that still leaves some options. Certainly, anything that doesn't involve more than one person doesn't seem to be prohibited by God. As well, visual appreciation of sexuality such as porn is nowhere condemned in scripture. Just know that indulging in it at times can be unhelpful (1 Cor 10:23).
Along with creators and promoters, probably most Christian wives, mothers, others, and religious people especially, contribute to the extensive use of porn. How can one say that? Why through prohibition and religious moralism. Frankly, no one wants to acknowledge it though.
No church leader would dare implicate any fellow moral supporters as being accomplice to the widespread use of porn, nor could they. No one in the sexual morality echo chamber would accept it. That would be ministry suicide, not to mention that the cognitive dissonance would be unbearable. The same can be said for anti-porn organizations. Instead, people just continue to tow the line they’ve been taught that “all porn is evil,” but without ever verifying it in scripture. Certainly pornography can lead to addictive-like behavior, which could be considered sinful, but apart from that, just watching it is not inherently wrong.
By: David J. Ley, Ph.D.
Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2012.
We all have a deep, God-given need for beauty.
Christiansexdeception.com (via web.archive.org)
By: The Therapist / CAMFT
Sexual self-pleasure is a gift from God. Yet many Christians continue to condemn the practice. Why?
"Prohibitions create the desire they were intended to cure."
For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving.
1 Timothy 4:4
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A critical look at why people think pornography is wrong. However, the real problem is not porn itself. But rather, it's how we think about it.