Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Erotic Lit and the Christian Woman

Fifty Shades of Grey and its sequels did not make it to the top of the Amazon best-seller list without the help of Christian women.

A book does not become number one unless a bunch of Christian women are reading it, along with their secular counterparts.

For years, as Christian women, we have lamented the fall of our menfolk into the bondage of pornography.  We have talked about the disservice their viewing of porn has done to us as women.  We have cried over our broken relationships and the loss of trust.  We have come to find that viewing pornography is never a victimless sport.  It involves the real emotions and brokenness of the actors and actresses who are involved and for whom Christ died.  It brings us unrealistic expectations of what a man and a woman should be.  It may harm the self-image of a spouse who feels completely inadequate, never able to match up to the manufactured "perfection" on the screen.

Paul said it best: "All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful; all things are lawful for me, but not all things edify" (I Corinthians 10:23, NKJV).  We are not called, as Christians, to pull ourselves completely out of culture.  I personally do not feel called to stop watching TV or movies or reading books that are part of the secular market. Though I sometimes encounter content such as bad language, sexuality, or the like in my media consumption (some of which I fast-forward or in Christian nerd fashion cover my eyes for!), I also often find meaning and edification in my viewing or reading.  Once I start to realize that a show, for instance, is not edifying me in any way, but is wasting my time, I find myself eliminating it from my viewing.  This is not legalism.  It is what I might call Christian pragmatism.  Is my media "diet" building me up or tearing me down?  I also believe that for every Christian, media choices will probably be different.  Romans 14 is helpful here as we make media choices in the midst of Christian liberty.

However, liberty does not mean license.  We do always need to be on guard that we are "in the world, but not of the world."  And pornography is something which has no "grey area" (contrary to the best seller's title).  Do Christian women rationalize their consumption of erotic literature such as Fifty Shades of Grey (or any number of paperback romance novels) by telling themselves that "nobody is getting hurt" by their "harmless little fantasy"?

What if your child picks up one of these novels?  Reading something like this could damage their view of sex for a long time to come.  What if you begin to be so entranced by your fantasy life that real life no longer hold vigor for you?  What if your husband begins to become boring and unsatisfying to you because he just doesn't match up to the ripped muscle hunks on the cover of your erotic novels?  What about the example you are setting for your husband?  If erotic lit is ok for you, why isn't internet porn ok for him?  What if you start being drawn toward visual pornography and thereby using the lives and bodies of real and broken people who Jesus loves for your own pleasure.  Research has shown that a high number of those who are involved in making pornography have suffered sexual abuse.  Will you re-victimize them?

I don't mean to be angrily stern.  I have made mistakes in my life, just as you have.  None of us is flawless as we stand at the foot of the cross, particularly when it comes to sexuality.  The good news is that there is forgiveness for usThere is hope. There is healing.  There is a new relationship to be had with our spouse in which we love them for them, not for an idealized idea of what they should be.  There is companionship with our God when our love cup is so empty and our hearts so desperate that we turn to pornography to fill us. 

God calls us to be in the world, not of the world. This is a life-long journey.  But perhaps God is speaking to you today about your consumption of erotic literature or visual pornography.  Will you hear His voice?  May He strengthen you--and me--through the Holy Spirit to dare to be counter-cultural and to see people as people for whom Christ died and not things for our consumption?


  1. Pornography is bad in so many different ways; bad for the people who use it, bad for their wives or husbands, bad for the people who are used to fuel a million sordid fantasies. As you say there is no grey area here; pornography is the thin end of the wedge and like any addiction can get worse and worse; in other words, what satisfied a month ago ceases to satisfy now and we need more and more just to get the same hit.

    I suspect many people, and probably most men, at some point struggle with issues of pornography; I know I have anyway. What we do need to understand is that God can check this in us, and let us see that the vain pursuit of sexual fantasies IS illusion; it's not real, it's a market to make some people very rich, some people momentarily satisfied and many more unfulfilled. I always say that we have a spiritual need which can NEVER be filled by any kind of material or earthly thing whatsoever; only God has the answer to every need a human has, or thinks they have.

    It seems that sexuality is possibly the biggest issue most people, and certainly Christians, will face in life. We can't escape it, we can't escape the feelings we all have, but we can put them in a correct light with God; sex is more than lust and more than copulation; it is also about love and commitment, consideration for the other person. We all get old and less desirable, but the love of God conquers all that and means that we are valuable and love regardless of how attractive we are or desirable, and so on.

    1. Tim, thank you so much for this comment. You are so right that porn is used to make people very rich and we are all pawns in that game. I love your point too about how God's love conquers the objectifying of human beings and gives us REAL love. I would add that the gift of a loving spouse, however imperfect they may be, is a tremendous gift. Learning to love each other through the years, through ups and downs is fantastic. My husband was very overweight when I met him, but I got to love him right then and there (I did!) and he has gotten healthier and worked so hard and I am so proud of him. Now I have put on a little weight and he still looks at me with the same love. It's a powerful thing. Instead using people, it's learning to love your spouse, just as they are. What a powerful thing! Porn can NEVER offer that.

  2. I don't know that there's no place for erotic lit in the Christian home - Song of Solomon is pretty erotic. I think we just need to be aware of the context. Is it erotic in a way that can be edifying, by acknowledging the beauty of the bodies God has given us, and the loving ways that we can use those bodies for one another's pleasure? Or, is it erotic out of context? I think that's the real harm in the type of erotic lit that tends to end up on the NYT list - it's sex without substance (and usually with descriptors that should never have made it out of the locker room they were born in).

    You're right that much of the erotic lit on the market today is basically porn in words, and is harmful. But I think that as Christians, we have an opportunity to write literature about characters grappling with expressing their desire lovingly. Sexuality is part of life, and the way that most Christian lit avoids it, or ignores it, or romanticizes it, makes it feel disingenuous.

    Realistic expectations aren't built in a vacuum, and a lack of examples of healthy sexuality can be harmful, too. A lot of that can be done in non-fiction, but I think that we can learn a lot about life from good fiction.

    1. This is a really good post and is eliciting some very good comments. Embers, you wrote: "...is it erotic out of context?" Very good point. I think we can talk about the Bible in many cases being taken itself out of context, so then people coming to wholly wrong conclusions.

      Yes, we do need examples of healthy sexuality, within marriage and about love as holistic, as being part of love and not the b-all and end-all of everything! Sex isn't everything, it's just a part of love.

    2. Emily, I think you raise some valid points. I think when I encounter something related to sexuality in literary fiction, for instance, it is generally only a part of a larger work that has more to say to me and the larger work has a beneficial purpose of some kind in my life (often). Sometimes even there I find it excessive, but it is not necessarily pornographic. In this blog post, I am talking about the no grey area stuff--the pornography that is all about the sex and self-fulfillment and polluting the mind. Such as 50 Shades of Grey.

      I agree with you that sexuality is part of life and that Song of Solomon is definitely one of the most erotic pieces of literature out there. But it also is a piece of literature that builds up relationships. It's the kind of writing that draws you TO your spouse and not further away. Also, I think the rabbis in Judaism didn't used to let men read it before they turned 30. Imagine if we maintained that kind of rule today!

      I'd be interested on any other thoughts that folks have about distinguishing between pornographic writing and writing that simply deals appropriately with the subject matter of sexuality.

      I refer again to Paul's adage, "All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful." I can keep an eye on myself and see if I am being edified by my media intake.

      Romance novels (the paperback kind with the guys with ripped muscles on the front especially!) and 50 Shades of Grey though...my conviction remains. This stuff has no place in our lives as Christians.

    3. I agree with the lines that you've drawn about where the gray area is and isn't - I just wonder if part of the reason that Christian men and women are being so drawn to pornographic content is the lack of healthy content on sexuality. As humans in relationship (especially in marital relationship), we need to form language to express our desires and expectations, and literature is a tool that people use to form those skills.

      I think, too, that humans naturally have anxiety about the unknown, and the Church is doing a very poor job of providing the type of frank and open discussion about sex and relationship that will make talking about desire less scary. Unfortunately, we've created an environment in which watching pornography or reading erotic lit seems less risky than trying to seek mutual fulfillment with a spouse! It's heartbreaking to realize how unprepared conservative Christians often are to even begin to explore sexual pleasure once they are married, because they've been under-informed (with a healthy dose of guilt thrown in), or over-exposed to the unhealthy ideals of pornography, or a combination of the two.

      So, yes, we need to remove pornographic and other unedifying sexual subject matter from our lives, but we need to intentionally replace it with something edifying (and, often, specifically edifying to our sexual relationships with our spouses), or that vacuum will just lead us to other media that's unedifying in another way.

    4. So, Emily, what would edifying literature look like? For me, the first thing that came to mind was not fiction but Real Marriage by the Driscolls which I reviewed last week. They deal VERY frankly with sexuality but it is a healthy way too. Another good book is Intended for Pleasure.

  3. Sexuality is part of life, and the way that most Christian avoids it, or ignores it,christian chat


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