Erotica is becoming mainstream. 50 Shades of Grey was a New York Times bestseller last year, and the movie is expecting to be one of the largest grossing movies to date. Christianity has largely been silent on the issue. Oh, don’t get me wrong, there are many blog posts, articles, even books disparaging this trend, and this trilogy in particular, but the individual Christian response has not been so united. Quite the opposite in fact. I hear more Christians promoting and giving support, for the 50 Shades of Grey trilogy in particular, than I do Christians who are dismayed or appalled at this trend.
We’ve known for quite some time that porn use is quite high in the Christian community. Best estimates put it around 50% of men are struggling with porn use (including pastors). With porn, there is at least the sense of shame and embarrassment about it (although it’s unfortunate that stops so many from seeking help), but with erotica…there’s no such stigma attached. It’s as if, as a “lesser evil” to porn, it’s been accepted in Christian society, though I strongly suspect the temporary boost in sexual interest from their wives is biasing many men’s responses to this past time.
I’ve been asked, numerous times, what the should Christian response be. What is the biblical advice on this? Is this something Christians should be okay with, or something we should stand against? And so, I shall attempt to give what I believe is a biblical response to the books, knowing that many of you will disagree. But, at least we’ll be talking about it.
My opinion on erotica, erotica literature and 50 Shades of Grey
Just so we’re all clear, in case you haven’t figured it out, I’m against it. For those of you still willing to read past this sentence, I’ll spend the rest of the post explaining why. In short, I think it has negative psychologically and spiritual effects on it’s readers, and this, in turn, negatively affects their marriage (current, or future if they are as yet unmarried). So, I’m going to spend some time looking at what the Bible says about how we should conduct ourselves as Christians, particularly with respect to sexuality, and then I’m going to try to address all the objections people might raise to my stand on this issue. Lastly, I want to share some of the comments from our survey that I think art pertinent to this discussion.
What does the Bible say about erotica?
Yes, I am aware there is no passage that says “thou shalt not read erotica”. However, I think we can safely extrapolate from some verses about what God’s wish for this area of our lives is. Let’s take a look at some verses.
So, first off, we need to learn some Greek. Just one word, I promise! There is a Greek word that shows up 26 times in the New Testament. That Greek word is πορνεία, and if you’re Greek alphabet is rust, we would pronounce it porneia (por-ni’-ah). Porneia is sort of a blanket term that typically gets translated as “sexual immorality” and it means a great many things: adultery, fornication, incest, bestiality, prostitution, and others. In short, it appears to mean doing anything sexually that is outside of God’s will for us. The word porneia has one other interesting meaning: it holds the concept of selling out, selling off a piece of one’s self. Some translations use the term “prostitution” instead of sexual immorality because of this facet of the word. To me, this is pointing to the fact that when we commit sexual immorality, we sell off a piece of our relationship with God in favor for gratifying our sinful nature, to feed our sexual desire in improper ways. Interestingly enough, this word also mentions idolatry in some of the studies on it, and that’s really what idolatry is: choosing something else over God.
For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you should abstain from sexual immorality [porneia]; that each of you should know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, not in passion of lust, like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one should take advantage of and defraud his brother in this matter, because the Lord is the avenger of all such, as we also forewarned you and testified. For God did not call us to uncleanness, but in holiness. Therefore he who rejects this does not reject man, but God, who has also given us His Holy Spirit.
1 Thessalonians 4:3-8
Thus, we get the term “sexual immorality”, things that are immoral regarding sexuality, and we define morality by God’s will. So, what is God’s will for our sexuality? Well, some of the obvious ones are:
- That sex is to be shared between a husband and wife (Genesis 2:21-25)
- That after you are married, you should not have sex with others (Exodus 20:14), even if your spouse says it’s okay
- While married, sex should be frequent and no one should have veto power (1 Corinthians 7:5)
There are less obvious ones. For example, I argue that sex should only be shared with your spouse. Now, that may seem like a restating of the above, but when you get into discussions about solo masturbation, it becomes less clear for some. I argue that solo masturbation is wrong, because you are experiencing sexuality without your spouse, contrary to the Bible’s clear intent that sex is to be a shared experience between husband and wife. One such passage that supports this intent is:
Nevertheless, because of sexual immorality, let each man have his own wife, and let each woman have her own husband.
1 Corinthians 7:2
To me, this is clear that God intended sex only to be shared with a spouse, and because we cannot control ourselves (see 1 Timothy 5:11), we should marry so that there is a safe place in which to experience this gift of sexuality.
Now, the bulk of the Christian community accepts, largely without question, that pornography (in the form of video) is wrong, though I think we do so for the wrong reason, or rather, for only one of many reasons. It seems that the major argument rests on this verse:
But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
And we take that too literally. We have no problem extrapolating this and saying that women obviously can’t look at men with lust We extrapolate further and agree that it doesn’t matter if it’s in person, or on video. But, for some reason, many fail to extrapolate this to include non-graphical expressions of the same thing. In fact, our society has gone so far as to restrict our definition of the world pornography to include only video, when the actually definition is far more encompassing, and I think rightly so:
Pornography – printed or visual material containing the explicit description or display of sexual organs or activity, intended to stimulate erotic rather than aesthetic or emotional feelings
I argue that, whether or not erotica include images, it is still pornography, lending credence to the term that gets attributed to erotica: “mommy porn”. And so we see pornography become mainstream, accepted by a vast number of Christians.
So, how is it that so many Christians can be deceived by this? I think LatterDay Marriage nailed it on his comment the other day:
I think what you are seeing is that for those who are actively living their faith that sexual intimacy has a bigger spiritual aspect to it (or that part of it is more important to them). What they experience from erotic literature is so damaging to the spiritual side that any supposed benefit in the other areas is effectively canceled out or made irrelevant. A couple that doesn’t have a strong spiritual dimension to their intimate life or doesn’t put as much value on that side of it isn’t going to experience that.
While I don’t think this is the entire answer, I think it accounts for a large percentage. It seems, from our survey results, that being more active in Christianity (Bible reading, prayer, church attendance, small groups, etc.) increases the gift of discernment. And we see this in Paul’s writings as well. As His relationship with God progresses, He goes from being “A Hebrew of Hebrews” who could do no wrong (while persecuting them), to including himself as a sinner (Romans 3:23) to being the worst sinner who ever lived (1 Timothy 1:15). One would almost think Paul was getting worse, was committing more sins. However, I think his relationship with God was improving, and so he saw more and more what he was doing that is wrong. He grew in discernment.
So, I agree with LatterDay Marriage, that those who are more active in their Christian faith will be better suited to finding God’s will for their lives, and that offers them some protection from sexual immorality…but some, faithful attendees, regular worshipers and Bible readers are still deceived by it. So, let’s go through some of the objections to saying erotica is not appropriate for Christians to read.
Objection 1: It helped our sex life
In our marriage erotic literature has for the most part enhanced our experiences together.
– Comment from the survey
This is the one I see most often. As I said, I think it’s one of the primary reasons more people aren’t outraged at this infiltration of pornography into our churches. The problem is that there are a lot of harmful things in this fallen world that can seem to help us. Typically these are the most devious of the devil’s deceptions. He masks evil behaviors with easy, large, initial results, results that distract us from the slow, lingering damage, so that we don’t even see the danger.
I see this same argument used for doing drugs, watching porn and having open marriages. And now, we see it with this surge of written pornography. These benefits are often short lived. We saw from our survey results that those who have exposure to erotic literature have no more sex than those who don’t. So, what happens? The spouse who reads them (most often the lower-drive wife) suddenly is aroused by an source external to the marriage, this generally leads to more sex. But for how long? Until the book is done? Maybe a little longer? Then what happens? You need a new fix, a new, fresh injection of excitement to arouse you again. But, have no fear, there’s a second book! And so, we repeat the cycle, and again with a third. And what’s this? Oh, a movie! Well…it can’t be that bad, can it? After all…the books helped your sex life.
But what about after the movie? Your sex life has now had a fairly stead influx of arousal from an external source. Now you know it can be more exciting…but your spouse hasn’t changed. Are you going to be content going back to your previous normal? Will your spouse be happy with the frequency dropping back down to normal?
These books, stories, whatever, they are a temporary boost. They make your heart race, your libido soar…and then, when they’re done, you slow down again, your libido settles back down…and you’re left feeling…unsatisfied.
Increasing intimacy should be internally driven. It should come from knowing each other more, experiencing more, sharing more, being more vulnerable. I think that’s why the euphemism in the Old Testament is “to know” your spouse. Because that is when we truly experience greater excitement, intimacy, arousal: when we know and are fully known. These books…they don’t let you be known, they don’t let you know your spouse better. They let you know the author’s sexual mind…I don’t think that’s what God intended.
Objection 2: They aren’t real people, so it’s okay
I feel it’s a lot different then porn simply because there are no faces to the names.
– Comment from the survey
I think this again has to do with that Matthew 5:28 verse. People think that so long as they aren’t looking at someone real, it’s okay. After all, you can’t lust after a fictional person can you? Yeah, you sure can. In fact, I’d argue if you are fantasizing about a version of your spouse that is unrealistic, then you’re cheating on your real spouse too. Think that’s too far? Hear me out.
You should be focused 100% sexually on your spouse, no one else. If you are reading about someone else (or watching, fantasizing, whatever), then you aren’t focused on your spouse, and for those that say they are…that makes no sense. What you are doing is getting someone else to arouse you, and then transferring over to your spouse. This is the psychological equivalent of going to a bar, meeting a stranger, grinding up against them all night long, flirting and chatting them up, making out, and then going home to work off your arousal with your spouse. Hopefully I don’t have to argue that this is a bad practice. The only difference is that the person “isn’t real”. But, our minds make it real, don’t they? Tell me when you read your book, you don’t create a look for the person based on the description, that no imagery, no sounds, smells, textures come to mind. Our experience of reality is based on an abstraction of the physical work. To our brain, there is little difference between a real person and a made up one. The same chemicals get produced, the same arousal pattern happens. Even if you’re fantasizing about this “perfect” version of your spouse, your not focusing on the real one. After all, does the fact that they look the same, in your mind, mean anything? They aren’t the same person after all, are they? I mean, that’s the point of the fantasy. You are letting someone other than your spouse get you aroused. Your starting foreplay with someone else, than tapping your spouse in when you’re good and worked up. Would your spouse be okay with that? Real or imaginary, I’d call this adultery.
Objection 3: It’s okay if it’s about a married couple
I only like to read erotic material about committed monogamous couples
– Comment from the survey
To the people who said this, I’m curious: Would it be okay if it was video of a married couple. What if you were to watch them in person? Still okay if they are married? I think this is a rationalization, something along the lines of it being a “lesser evil” if they’re only reading about monogamous, committed couples having sex. Sort of an “at least we aren’t promoting adultery or fornication”. But, that’s not really a valid argument, is it? I mean, that’s like telling the police “Well, yeah, I killed him….but he was a criminal…so, it’s okay right?” That’s not going to get you off of any jail time, and no, it’s not okay.
Really don’t know what else to say on this, except to again reference my answers to Objection 1 and 2.
Objection 4: What’s the difference between reading erotica and reading Song of Solomon or this site (SexWithinMarriage.com)?
If someone has an issue with the spiritual negative aspects of erotica then I would ask how is this site any different?
– Ricky on a post comment
This objection came up a couple times in comments and on the survey. In short, I think it boils down to intent. My intent is never to arouse you, the reader. I mean for this site to be communicative, informative and educational. And, I think Solomon had the same idea for Song of Solomon. I don’t think his intent was to arouse every reader that came across his poetry. I think it was expressionistic, and also, I think educational as well, given his other writings. And while intent does not always equate to result, I would argue that there is a vast difference between this site and erotica…hopefully my readers will agree.
Comments from the survey
Lastly, I want to leave you with some comments from the survey that exemplify my stance. It didn’t come out in the numbers, but I was quite surprised at how many comments were from people who used to read erotica and stopped, because they realized it was wrong, or saw damage done to their relationships first hand due to it. So, without further ado, here we go. Note: I reserve the right to edit for brevity and spelling. Also, all survey comments are anonymous, so I’m not going to attribute any names.
- I minister to women in my church and I can confirm that many struggle with expecting their husbands to live up to the characters in this kind of “literature”…always having the right words and actions for their women/wives. It’s sad that Satan is using this to break down relationships as expectations (that are totally unrealistic) are not met.
- I don’t believe I should have read the literature I did read as it leads to fantasizing about sex with women other than my wife which is sin.
- As the wife with the higher sex drive… And a husband with a very low drive, I turned to erotic literature…… Which only increased my sex drive, which in turn made me more dissapointed with my husband.
- The erotic books then didn’t suffice. So then I started watching porn.
I have confessed to my husband and have tried to stay away from all erotic books and movies.
It has not been easy. I struggle and sometimes fall.
I have recently read ‘Pulling back the Shades‘
I highly recommend it. It helped me to understand why I was drawn into the books. And why it went further. And why it hurt my marriage more than helped.
- I no longer read erotica. It sets up unrealistic and unfair expectations of my husband, as all the characters are easily aroused, are expert lovers and nothing awkward ever happens. Such is the case with mainstream movies on romance and love.
- While erotic literature may be intriguing at the time I feel it causes me to lust for a man like is portrayed in the books. And that in fact causes sin in my heart which damages my marriage to the man I actually married.
- I used to read erotic novels as a teen and early married wife, but found that it’s unreality was messing with my reality and causing dissatisfaction for me in my marriage, so I chose to not read that genre anymore.
- I considered for this survey, for me, Game of Thrones would be light exposure to erotic literature. It’s not intended to be that, but sex was frequent, immoral, sometimes violent, often emotionally detached, and explicit. I read the first two books and had to give up the series because I felt so gross in my spirit exposing myself to the sexuality of that fictional culture.
- The only erotic literature I have read was as an unsaved single woman and it was maybe 2-3 books. I wouldn’t even think of reading it now as a Christ follower!! I plays on the mind and spirit in a similar manner to porn. It can cause you to easily commit adultery in your heart as well as start to leave you unsatisfied with your current marriage due to unrealistic expectations.
- I no longer view erotic material as at one point I became addicted. Porn addresses the fantasy area of the mind.
- Reading erotic literature led me to writing it which led to a breakup of my previous marriage
- Exposure was pre-marriage (high school sexual curiosity). It was eye-opening, not really “educational”. Being in a marriage relationship it is unappealing and made me realize how it is as fake as porn.
- Books of this variety made me want to compare my spouse to the men in those novels. Of course he was not the same and it made me less interested in him. I think that they damaged our relationship so I chose to give them up.
- For a period of time in our marriage (early on when sex was still very painful for me) I used erotic literature to “shortcut” arousal. My husband was completely aware of it. We’d found very little support in terms of easing my pain- drs just said oh, it will get better dear. 3 yrs in it was certainly not better. And reading that stuff worked- I was turned on and relaxed enough to deal with the pain. But ultimately it didn’t promote intimacy in the least. And it didn’t teach my husband any of his own skills for how to help get me in the right frame of mind. We gave it up, suffered for another yr or so, had a baby and physically the issues resolved. I wouldn’t recommend erotic literature to anyone.
- The way my wife and I see it, if you’re looking to other things, such as pornography and erotic literature, then there is some need that is not being fulfilled by your spouse. Looking away from your spouse for sexual arousal is sinful. Jesus said that if you even so much as look at another woman lustfully you have commuted adultery in your heart.
- When I used to read romance novels it took me to an imaginary place where everything would work out & my knight in shining armor (or rough pirate) would be the man who swept me off my feet and loved me always. Coupled with society low view of the importance of waiting for marriage to have sex I was lost for a long time in sexual interlude after sexual interlude and all without the benefit of marriage. Now I have a spouse who struggles with sexual sin and porn/erotic literature just allows him to disappear into a fantasy that isn’t really me and all about him.
So, those are a few. I had quite a few more, but the list became ridiculously long, and I realized most wouldn’t bother reading it.
So, those are my thoughts. I’m curious what yours are.