I remember when I first saw it. A teenager in the car next to ours pressed a picture of a naked centerfold against the inside of his window for me and my young brothers to see. I didn’t know what was happening, but I felt a sense of guilt at the same time I felt a sense of curious excitement.
Several years later I began a steady diet of viewing porn on my own. I loved it and I hated it.
The years I viewed pornography included thousands of images of women and men engaged in very personal and intimate activities. But I did not see enough of them. I saw too little of them.
I saw porn. I didn’t see people.
That’s pornography’s greatest and vilest secret: while it brazenly exposes human bodies, it hides real human beings.
Every woman and every man in porn has a story that led them to this place, a year-after-year path marked with experiences that could have gone another way. Track these stories back enough and each will include wounding, abandonment, insecurity, desperation, abuse, or neglect in some form or another—pains that porn promised to fix for them. Promises porn has yet to fulfill in their lives, promises that have come with much greater costs.
Pornography is dead and it leads to death. Years ago, Diane Sawyer did a lengthy interview with a “porn star” named Michelle. Michelle was full of smiles and laughter as the film crew followed her around and as she talked intimately with Sawyer about her life. She shared about her family, her love for everyone, her parents’ divorce, being a cheerleader in middle school, being raped. She talked about how she got into porn and finding herself funneled into a particularly violent genre of porn, about on-camera departures from script where she was forced to do things (or have things done to her) she never agreed to, about faking pleasure during scenes that actually hurt, about how she was going to quit the industry soon. All this full of smiles.
At one point in the interview, Sawyer asked her about this—why she was always smiling even when describing really painful parts of her life. The question seemed to catch Michelle off guard, like no one had ever noticed the dichotomy before. But she replied quickly with a coy, almost flirtatious response, “Because I like to hide.”
Sawyer’s a good interviewer, and she followed up by asking gently what it was Michelle wanted to keep hidden. Michelle’s coy composure began to slip. She forced another smile as she wiped a tear from the corner of her eye and said, “I want people to see how happy I am.”
Sawyer waited, her face like a loving, wise mom who knows. And then Michelle began to cry as she said, “But really, I’m not happy. I don’t like myself…at all.”
(Dear God, if only the goal of that interview had been the rescue of Michelle’s life, rather than good TV ratings.)
Michelle is a person, not a “porn star.” So is everyone else in porn. Each one has a real name—the kind of names parents give, not the ridiculously suggestive stage names slapped on them by the porn industry.
But this isn’t about the porn industry. When we line up at the feeding trough porn puts out for us, we’re not just watching a fiction, we’re feeding off human flesh.
I don’t write to shame anyone, but to wake us up. We live in a porn-saturated culture, and as I said, I’ve been to that trough. Quitting porn for me meant stepping out of the delusion and into reality.
How do we do this?
First, if you struggle with porn, get help. It doesn’t matter if it’s soft core, hard core, or something else, nor if you have an addiction or just a little habit you haven’t been able to break, you’ll need good support to leave it behind. Regeneration is one of many places available. We’d be happy to walk with you.
Second, acknowledge the real problem. Stories like Michelle’s reveal that this isn’t innocuous. Lives are in the balance. So name your part. The problem wasn’t that you watched porn, the problem was how you treated a human being. Say it as clear as you can. For example, I lusted after that person. I took advantage of her wounds and fed off her flesh for my own selfish gratification.
Next, come to the Merciful One, Jesus, who does not come to condemn us for our sin but to save us from it. Gather around the cross with people of every tribe and tongue, to receive His mercy and His thorough cleansing. Come not because you’re worthy, but in humble response to Jesus’ invitation: “Take, eat. This is My body” (Matthew 26:26).
And finally, cry out for eyes to see. The same One who gives mercy for our sin can open our blind eyes, can raise our dead eyes to life again. Not only is it possible for Him, He said this is one of the reasons He came (Luke 4:18). I still pray for my eyes because we need not fake it when our eyes are still faulty (Mark 8:24), when they still see sex objects instead of people. In humility, we can ask and keep asking as long as we need to, “Jesus, I want to see!”
Porn is dead. It’s a grave for those in it and those who view it (Proverbs 7:27). But Jesus is leading a train of people back to life. Jesus, give us eyes to see!
Question: What can help you see real people where before you just saw porn?