Pornography has gotten a lot of attention in recent days and for good reason. A recent survey revealed that approximately 85% of men interact with pornographic material on a monthly basis. Early exposure and addiction to porn is rapidly increasing, with boys and girls getting hooked before adolescence.
We are learning more about the negative impact of pornography on people’s sexual and emotional health and relationships. We know that porn kills intimacy, but we are now learning that pornography is sabotaging relationships before they even begin. Whether or not you’ve ever used porn, it is impacting you. Why? Because the wide use and acceptance of pornography has changed sexual norms and expectations in our culture.
Whether you are married or single, it’s important for you to understand how pornography has impacted the way you and those around you think about sex.
I’ve been studying the research of sociologists Mark Regnerus and Jeremy Uecker in their fascinating book Premarital Sex in America. They explain that sexuality doesn’t happen in a vacuum, but romantic relationships are impacted by the attitudes and beliefs of the culture.
Regnerus and Uecker observe that women have always set the “price” for their sexuality. When a man’s sexual desire drives him to a woman, she gets to determine what she requires for her sexuality. She is the sexual gatekeeper. According to God’s design and many past cultural norms, the “price” for a woman’s sexuality has been for a man to make a lifetime commitment to love and provide for her.
Pornography has given men a sexual outlet that requires nothing from them. Regnerus and Uecker write, “the ubiquity and perceived quality of digital porn has the capacity to sexually satiate more men -- and more often -- than ever before…. If the porn-and-masturbation satisfies some of the male demand for intercourse --- and it clearly does -- it reduces the value of real intercourse” (p99).
In other words, men are less willing to sacrifice and commit to a woman for access to her body. Because the value of sex in our culture has decreased, women (and girls) feel like they cannot demand commitment for sex. They are more willing to give sex for a couple of dates or even for a few hours of attention. Hence, the hookup culture and the increasing trend to live together instead of getting married.
While a woman might enjoy non-committed sex in the moment, the long-term impact of many sexual partners will likely impact her for years to come. God designed a woman to bond with a man through sexual intimacy. When a woman is involved sexually outside of marriage, she is likely to experience guilt, regret, temporary self-loathing, rumination, diminished self-esteem, a sense of having let yourself down, discomfort about having to lie or conceal sex from family, anxiety over depth and course of the relationship and concern over the place of sex in the relationship (p137). Having sex outside of a committed relationship or with multiple partners over a lifetime is associated with poor emotional health in women. Regnerus and Uecker write, “Even getting married doesn’t erase the emotional challenges for women who have had numerous sexual partners in their lifetime” (p149). When men use porn, women are set up for loneliness, regret and the pressure to compromise their spiritual and emotional health.
Even within marriage, we can see the impact of a culture that has embraced porn and sex with no attachments. One of most common questions I get asked about sexuality addresses young marriages in which men are not interested in sex. I hear from an increasing number of young wives who are devastated to be asking for sex, wondering why he isn’t initiating. While there are many possible reasons for this trend, without a doubt the greatest culprit is porn.
When young men have grown up looking at pornogrphy and sastifying their desires through masturbation, they learn to view sex as a consumer. I should get what I want, when and how I want it. Sex is about obtaining pleasure, excitement and a release for personal benefit. Porn doesn’t demand anything from a person, but exists to immediately cater to every sexual fantasy. Porn trains a person’s sexual response to be impatient, selfish, and always demanding something more exciting than what you experienced last time.
Transfer those beliefs to a sexual relationship in marriage and you have a train wreck. Having sex with a real person who has feelings and her own sexual needs means you have to be patient, understanding and unselfish. Most sex within marriage will be “normal” (no toys, strange positions, role playing, and bizarre fantasies) and will not cater to an appetite for something more. It will take years and hard work to build true intimacy as you explore the gift of sexuality together. Instead of working toward this magnificent goal, the man (or woman) involved with porn will probably go back to a sexual release that demands nothing.
While porn may appear to demand nothing, it eventually steals everything. We were not created for a series of extreme sexual experiences. We are designed for authentic intimacy, celebrated and expressed through sex with a real person who is committed to loving you for a lifetime. I have never met a man or woman who is truly satisfied with porn. Porn use may be “normal” but that by no means suggests it is healthy.
While this blog post isn’t exactly uplifting, I hope and pray that it challenges you to confront the acceptance of porn in your life, in your marriage and in our culture. Using pornography (including erotic books and movies) is not just a personal choice. It is a decision that impacts the people and even the culture around us.
At Authentic Intimacy, our desire is to equip you to confront counterfeit intimacy for the purpose of building the real deal. As we roll into February, you will probably hear about the new Fifty Shades of Grey movie. This may be a great opportunity for you to share with friends and loved ones why our personal decisions have an impact on those we care about. As we celebrate romantic love on valentine’s day, we also need to be willing to confront those things that sabotage God’s good design for love, sexuality and intimacy.
Follow Up Resources from Juli:
Podcast #97: 12 Secrets of a Hot Mama
Recently, a newly wed friend asked me this question. “What’s the purpose of marriage? Sometimes I think of it as free sex and housekeeping. Is marriage just an arrangement of living off my husband financially in exchange for taking care of a home and making meals?”
From a purely pragmatic perspective, my friend is right. Marriage is an arrangement of bartering goods and services. Even in a less traditional marriage, the husband may provide nurturing, sex and childcare while the wife “brings home the bacon.” Marriage also provides an exchange of less tangible goods, like companionship and emotional support.
If marriage is only a fair exchange of goods and services, then it makes perfect sense to live together without the paper making it legal. After all, a man and woman can exchange all of these things without being married. And if this is how we view marriage, we should dissolve marriages when the exchange between husband and wife is no longer fair. In reality, this is why most marriages fall apart. The “arrangement” is no longer working.
But marriage is much, much more. The true meaning of marriage has nothing to do with fairness or equity. Wedding vows have never said, “I promise to give you as much as you give me” or “I will love you as long as our relationship is equitable.” Marriage is not an agreement, but was designed from the beginning of time to be a covenant.
A Design Written Within Our Bodies
At its core, marriage is not a cultural invention to keep people civilized. Yes, the research has proven that cultures that affirm marriage are far more stable than those who do not. This is because we were designed for marriage, and life works better when we live according to God’s design.
The essence of marriage is written within our bodies.
I have three teenagers. Why around the age of puberty have all three boys become fascinated with girls? If you have girls, I’m certain you’ve seen the same “awakening” in them. Why in young adulthood is there a tension between choosing intimacy verses staying safe and isolated? Why is it only within the context of the promise of “till death do us part” do we finally have the freedom to stop performing for the person we love? And why is there no pain like the pain of sexual betrayal and exploitation?
These are not random evolutionary qualities within humanity. They speak to a design … a plan… a story written within our bodies. Within every one of us is a cry for intimacy, a longing to be known, and the drive to express fully the joy of love. Those urges can be squelched by fear and even rejected because of the pain we’ve experienced, but they will never completely go away.
A Story Written on Our Hearts
The drama of romantic love and the fulfillment of it within marriage speak of the story of God’s love for us. Every high and low, the pain of longing and the ecstasy of expressing love, and even the tedium of faithfulness during boring times are shadows of the universal drama of the Gospel.
So often in our relationship with God, we view Him as a transaction. We can think of religion as just another exchange of goods. If I please God and do what is right, than He owes me happiness, success, and health. When that “contract” seems to be broken, we may walk away from God to find another cosmic relationship with a god who will play fair. But God never offers you a contract. Instead, He extends a covenant…. a vow that can never be broken. “While you were yet a sinner, I died for you” and “I will never leave you or forsake you.” He asks for complete trust and fidelity, even during times when our relationship with Him makes no sense.
A Gospel Displayed Through our Lives
My friend’s new marriage has little to do with who cooks the meals and how often they have sex. These are the everyday expressions of the promise she and her husband made to live out the Gospel in front of a watching world. Through the disappointments and challenges, their love will be tested. Someday they will face a crossroads of truth: Have we simply agreed to a contract of fairness or have we committed to a vow of love?
The greatest impact of our culture’s rejection of marriage (and there are many!) is that the most tangible metaphor of the Gospel has all but disappeared. Rarely do you meet a couple that grasps that their vows are about more than their own personal happiness and fulfillment.
I have the privilege of having a mom and dad who are still married and loving each other after 55 years. They have faced illness, financial stress, sharp disagreements, successes and failures. The example they have lived before me not only gives me hope for my marriage, but also gives me a glimpse of what it means to make a covenant of love and keep it.
While our society preaches the supremacy of personal happiness and fulfillment above all else, the call to fidelity and commitment will never completely disappear from humanity. Why? Because the hope of all that marriage represents is written on our hearts with indelible marker.
The Bible records a story of ten men whom Jesus cured of leprosy. No doubt, all ten were joyful and grateful, but only one of them took the time to come back and thank Jesus. Beginning a new year is not only a time to plan for the future, but also a great opportunity to thank the Lord for all He has done in the past.
As I reflect on 2016, I am grateful…grateful to God and grateful to you. I think of all of the women I met this year while on the road speaking. I think of the letters, emails and messages we’ve gotten about how God has used this ministry to encourage, to teach and to bring healing. I’m thankful that we are ending the year with our bills paid because many of you sent in year-end gifts. I’m so thankful that I get to be a small part of proclaiming to the world the love and truth of Jesus Christ.
You probably don’t know some of the behind the scenes struggles, difficult decisions and God stories of Authentic Intimacy. This ministry began by faith in 2012. Neither Linda Dillow nor I knew what the ministry would become. We simply took each step as the Lord showed us what to do next. Linda has taught me the difference between asking God to bless my work and diligently seeking to know and do the Lord’s work.
Many ministries (and marriages) begin by God’s initiative, but then we take them over with our own planning, wisdom and resources. “I think we should…” “If only…., we could…” Paul scolded the Galatians for this, “Are you so foolish? After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh?” (Galatians 3:3). While God wants us to be wise and to seek counsel, He doesn’t want us to live by our own wisdom and provision. There are times when it’s much easier to create a 3 year plan than it is to be daily dependent upon the work of the Holy Spirit. This is a tension I often live with as I lead Authentic Intimacy.
I share all of that to let you know that my heart’s desire for 2017 and beyond is for the Lord to be in charge of this ministry. He has asked me to relinquish my plans and to be sure we consistently seek His will. I believe that we serve a God who speaks, who leads and who provides.
Within the first few months of the new year, we may be announcing some changes to the vision and structure of Authentic Intimacy. Would you pray with me that God would make His ways clear? He is the One who came to set the captives free, to give us eternal life, and to expose the lies of our enemy. He is the One who can bring healing and freedom to the millions around us who unknowingly have been taken captive by the devil to do his will (2 Timothy 2:26). He is the One who knows why He started this ministry in the first place!
Thank you for caring about this ministry, for caring about God’s glory and for caring about those who are hurting around us. I look forward to all the Lord has for us in 2017! Buckle up… it’s likely to be a wild ride!
Christmas shopping for my husband is always a challenge. He's a particular guy. He takes hours to pick out a gym bag, and days to choose a watch. On my own, I never get it right. He's also the kind of guy who usually buys what he needs and doesn't wait for Christmas.
Although I found something to put under the tree for him, the best gifts are ones I can't wrap. They are intangibles my husband needs and deeply values. They are not gifts that I can quickly buy, but ones I'm learning to craft throughout the years of our marriage.
Here are four gifts I'm learning to give my husband this holiday season:
Do these pants make me look fat?
I'm getting old—just look at all these wrinkles!
Do you ever wish you had a wife with long flowing hair, with long, sexy legs or big breasts?
Yep. These are all things I've said to my husband over the years. Of course, I never expected him to respond honestly—I expected him to reassure me that my body is attractive to him. Ironically, by seeking his affirmation, I'm highlighting my flaws. For years, his assurance that he thinks I'm beautiful wasn't enough. Then one day it hit me. When my husband compliments my appearance, why do I argue with him? Why can't I just thank God that my husband likes the way I look, and leave it at that?
Do you know what is really attractive to a man? A woman who is happy with her body, and is confident she can please him. Being sexy has more to do with what you think than how you look. So I'm giving my husband the gift of a wife who won't fish for compliments, and one who is grateful for an imperfect body that can still turn him on.
Life is serious. Almost 20 years of marriage has brought some challenges and heartache. Like every other couple, we have bills to pay and problems to solve. Our boys, ages 16, 14, and 10, require a lot of time and energy. But in the midst of all of that, Mike and I haven't lost the art of having fun.
I have my husband to thank for most of the laughter and light-heartedness in our home. I'm the serious one. At times, I've resented my husband's fun nature, feeling angry that I was the one who "had to worry" about everything. He would try to get me to laugh, and I would scowl. He would sleep soundly at night while I tossed and turned, fretting over what the future might hold.
I'm happy to say that resentful worrywart is gone—I've learned to share the burdens of my heart first with the Lord, and then with my husband. And I've learned to delight in his laughter, and share in his fun.
As you've probably picked up, Mike and I don't fit the biblical stereotype of the man being the "leader" of the house. I'm the driven, goal-oriented planner. Early in our marriage, I would bang my head against the wall when Mike wouldn't lead regular family devotions or project where we would be financially in 10 years. How could I follow his leadership when he wouldn't lead?
The truth is, I had a very narrow understanding of leadership. It turns out that my man is a wonderful, creative leader. Over the years, he's led me by teaching me to relax, to pace myself, and to have realistic expectations for our kids. He challenges my faith in God by pointing out how I try to do it all myself rather than trusting.
I love the unique ways my husband leads me.
Voltaire is credited with this proverb: "The perfect is the enemy of the good." This wisdom definitely applies to marriage, as I've had my head filled with fairy tales over the years of what a perfect marriage should look like. To make matters worse, Christians are prone to spiritualizing the fairy tales: "Just follow God, and He will bring you Prince Charming!"
I don't have a fairy tale. I didn't marry Prince Charming, and he certainly didn't find Cinderella. With God's grace, Mike and I have worked to develop a deep friendship, seasons of romance, and a very solid marriage. My appreciation for what we have is directly related to what I compare it to.
Much of my career has been spent doing marriage counseling. Some nights after hearing stories of abuse, addictions, and rancorous conflict, I came home and just hugged my husband out of gratitude. That's a far cry from how I treat my husband when I dwell on perfection—when I wish for what we don't have. I think the Devil is in fairy tales just as much as he is in horror stories. What a tragedy to miss the beauty of the good because of unrealistic fantasies!
I have no idea how my husband will like the waterproof headphones I'm getting him for Christmas. But I know he'll be very happy with the wife who will lie by his side tonight.
Whenever I write a blog on a controversial sexual issue, I typically hear from people who remind me that God says not to judge other people. Whether I’m teaching about pornography, Fifty Shades of Grey, living together outside of marriage, divorce or homosexuality, some people simply write off what I’ve said because they think I’m being judgmental. The “who are you to judge?” question has curtailed countless conversations (and even relationships). In fact, some pastors are nervous about teaching on sexuality because they don’t want the label “judgmental.”
Over the past few months, I’ve taken time to study what the Bible actually says about judging. I have learned a few things that help me discern when to stay silent and when it may be time to “speak the truth in love.” Although this isn’t an exhaustive study (what blog could ever be exhaustive?), it may help you to sort through what the Bible says about how we should engage in conversations that involve moral and ethical choices. Here are seven things to keep in mind:
I think this is perhaps the most important distinction to understand. If we interpret “do not judge” passages as keeping us from ever talking about God’s standards of right and wrong, we have a Christian church that would never confront greed, theft, selfishness, heresy or even the sin of being judgmental. One of the primary purposes of the body of Christ is to proclaim His love and His truth to one another, so that we may be set apart as the “salt of the earth” and the “light of the world.”
Talking about God’s moral standards is not judgmental. Let’s look at an example we can all relate to. Let’s say your friend is driving you to the airport. She is going 85 in a 60 mph zone. If you were to say to her, “Just want to be sure you know that the speed limit is 60,” that may cause an awkward silence, but it would be perfectly understandable. That’s different than saying, “Um, you know you’re going 25 over the speed limit, don’t you? You’re speeding. You deserve a big fat ticket.” Can you see the difference between the two?
We should continually hold up God’s truth as a standard of living. The importance of teaching God’s Word is emphasized throughout both the Old and New Testament. Moses encouraged the nation of Israel to remember the Law of God, impressing it upon the hearts of our children, talking about it every day, in our homes and on the road (Duet. 6). Paul encouraged the Christian church and pastors to “teach God’s Word in season and out of season” (2 Timothy 4:2), to keep the pattern of “sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ (2 Timothy 1:13) and for each of us to be transformed by the renewing of our mind (Romans 12:2) . The writer of Hebrews says that the constant use of God’s Word will help us to discern right and wrong (Hebrews 5:14).
For you or me to say, “I believe the Bible teaches that a homosexual lifestyle is sinful” is very different than telling your gay neighbor, “You’re a sinner and you’re going to hell.” Teaching a moral standard from God’s Word is not the same as taking the liberty to judge people with that standard. Their choice to ignore or abide by God’s Word is between them and God.
There are some things in the Christian life which are unclear (grey areas). This is the context of Romans 14 where Paul wrote, “Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand.” Here, Paul is answering disputes the early church has on topics like whether one day is more sacred than another day and dietary restrictions. Paul says that these are not issues of morality (clearly defined guidelines for holy living) but are issues of conscience. We are to respect each other’s consciences in these grey areas. Issues like these for Christians today might include what you wear to church, whether or not you drink alcohol, and whether or not you use social media. The famous Olympian Eric Liddell was convicted that he would be sinning if he competed on a Sunday. Does this mean that every Christian NFL player is sinning in his job? No. This is an issue of conviction and conscience, not clearly an issue of morality in God’s Word.
Related to sexuality, I may have a conviction about a grey area. For example, it may be my conviction that a couple shouldn’t kiss until they get engaged. I should never hold anyone else to my conviction or opinion. Some of the “no judging” passages relates to these types of situations.
“Now it is required of those who have been given a trust must prove faithful. I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. My conscience is clear, but that doesn’t make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore, judge nothing before the appointed time; wait till the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in the darkness and will expose the motives of men’s hearts” (I Corinthians 4:2-5). While we can see a person’s behavior, we can never understand their motivations. Jeremiah 17:10 says, “I the Lord search the heart and examine the mind…” We are not in position to ever comment on someone’s heart before God. I may disagree strongly with someone’s sexual choices or their teaching on sexuality. While I may comment on points of disagreement, I am never in the position to pass judgement on that individual.
Jesus said, “Judge not and you will not be judged. Do not condemn and you will not be condemned. Forgive and you will be forgiven.” Jesus is teaching that none of us is above our brothers and sisters. We are all equal, needing grace and forgiveness. God is the judge that can both condemn our souls to hell and forgive us of our sins, granting us eternal life. Putting yourself in the place of judging someone else’s actions or salvation will result in a stricter judgement for you here on earth and before God. Someone else’s soul before God is none of my business and mine is none of theirs.
Proverbs reminds us that the wounds of a friend are faithful and can be trusted. In fact, the wise person seeks a rebuke from a friend and looks for people who can bring loving correction. Our friendship and love for a person earns the position to speak truth to them. We must also remember that confronting a friend sometimes means that they will confront right back for your lack of empathy or perhaps for your part in a disagreement. Are you humble enough to receive feedback? If not, you are not ready to confront. We should never confront anyone with an arrogant, self-righteous attitude. “How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while there is still a beam in your own eye? You hypocrite! First take the beam out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye (Matthew 7:3-5). Jesus taught that we will judged by the same standard we judge others. This means that we should be careful in examining our own hearts and failures when tempted to “cast a stone” towards anyone else.
“See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness” (Hebrews 3:12-13). Part of our responsibility as loving each other is to remind each other of God’s holiness and coming judgement. While I won’t judge my brother or sister, I am a good friend to speak often of God’s discipline in my life and the truth that we will each stand before God one day. The author of Hebrews wrote, “The Lord will judge His people. It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:30). Paul encouraged the Christians in Philippi, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling…” (Philippians 2:12).
In the Western church, we don’t talk much about church discipline. It is usually pastors who are scrutinized by the congregation rather than leaders shepherding their flock. God has set up a “balance of power” in His Word. Teachers are accountable to elders (I Timothy 3:1-7), people are accountable to their spiritual leaders (I Timothy 5:17-25) and all are accountable to God (Ephesians 1:22). Christian leaders are charged with the task of taking care of those in their spiritual care; this includes discipline. Just as I lovingly discipline my children when their behavior is inappropriate or immoral, spiritual “parents” should gently discipline their “children” according to God’s standards of holy living. We see Paul’s instruction on how to do this in I Corinthians 5:1-13 when he challenged the church to confront a specific sexual sin.
Here is one more thought to consider. How we walk out these principles will differ depending upon if we are interacting with people who claim to be Christ followers and those who don’t. Paul specifically writes about this in I Corinthians 5:12. “What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside?” We shouldn’t be surprised when people who don’t know Jesus don’t live by His teaching, and we certainly are not going to draw people to salvation by judging their lifestyles. When interacting with unbelievers, we are to show kindness, mercy and grace, sharing with them the hope Jesus has given us (I Peter 3:15). The passages in Scripture that encourage us to “speak truth in love” refer primarily to how we confront sin among the body of Christ.
While I have just shared with you a lot of Bible verses, this is a very practical question that requires discernment in how we react to issues like homosexuality and cohabitation that have become hotly debated among Christians. Understanding biblical teaching on judgement also helps us know how to respond to greed, gossip, dishonesty, betrayal and every other moral issue we face. God is very clear that He is the Judge. He knows the heart and motives of every person. Only He fully understands good and evil. Even at the heart of the choice to forgive someone who has hurt us, we are challenged to leave judgement to God.
Each of us will experience awkward moments of wondering how to respond to a friend or sister who defends or embraces behavior the Bible calls sinful. We are familiar with how we remind each other of truth in many arenas of life. This should not be a mystery or stumbling block related to how Christians talk about sexuality.