In 1964, Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart famously tried to explain “hard-core” pornography, or what is obscene, by saying, “I know it when I see it.”
When the court finally came up with a definition for what constitutes pornography a key part of that ruling said that obscenity could be determined by “whether the ‘average person, applying contemporary community standards’ would find that the work, taken as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest.”
Let’s think about that for a moment.
The Oxford dictionary defines prurient as “having or encouraging an excessive interest in sexual matters.”
Since we use sex to sell literally everything in our contemporary society I’m not sure whether we need a new definition of “prurient” or a new definition of “excessive.”
Regardless, there are two other elements of this definition that make me raise my eyebrows.
They are the phrases “average person” and “community standards.”
It’s 1964 and you are sitting down to an evening of television. Depending on the night of the week you might be watching programs like The Andy Griffith Show, Bewitched, My Three Sons, and Mr. Ed. The closest thing you were going to get for a show with sexual content is Petticoat Junction or Gilligan’s Island.
Fade out. Fade in. It’s 2018. Your set might be tuned to Scandal, Empire, The Bachelor or Bachelorette, and The Housewives of (insert city here). Notice any difference?
The mainstream popularity of the gratuitously sexualized and misogynistic Game of Thrones is the surest way to know that the “average person” has the left the “community standards” of The Dick Van Dyke Show era in the dust.
And this is before we even take into account what is available on the Internet, which of course was non-existent until the 1990’s.
We have become the proverbial frog in the pot – not realizing that with every passing year our entertainment choices become more voyeuristic and more focused on objectification.
I created Somebody’s Daughter: A Journey to Freedom from Pornography because I wanted to help men quit using porn. But more than that just that, I wanted to get men to recognize that every woman has a mother and a father and is created by a Holy God. I wanted them to think about the relationships with the women in their own lives and ask themselves if they would want the women they loved to be objectified.
After the release of the project, I had a conversation with Dale Kuehne, a professor at San Anselm College in Manchester, New Hampshire. Kuehne is the author of Sex in the iWorld Rethinking Relationship beyond an Age of Individualism. He said he feared that we may have already begun to enter what he called a “post-relational” culture.
I found that to be a frightening statement. But he may well be right. After all, we now live in a world where people get a dopamine rush from seeing how many times a picture of their lunch has been liked by their “friends.”
Have you ever had a conversation with someone who can’t stop looking at their phone every few seconds? There is no doubt such behavior is a barrier to healthy intimacy. And so is fulfilling one’s own sexual desires through pixels. It is all taking and no giving. It has been said of pornography that it allows a man to feel like a man without requiring him to be one. This kind of prolonged behavior can threaten the ability of a person to function in a real relationship.
There is no question the Genie has been let out of the bottle and there is no way we are ever going to get it back in. But there is another Genie that’s been let out of the bottle as well. It’s called brain science. We are learning that porn does real and lasting harm. Anyone who spends time studying this research will find ample motivation they need to quit using porn.
If you or someone you love is struggling with porn there are lots of great organizations out there that can help. Be Broken, Bethesda Workshops, Fight the New Drug, and Restoring the Soul just to name a few.
Our grace-filled DVD/CD set Somebody’s Daughter, available in physical form or as a digital download, is a wonderful way to start someone on their path to breaking free from the grip of porn.
God has giving us each other to love. Loving our neighbors as ourselves is not about objectification. It is about service and kindness and thoughtfulness and selflessness. And we all know it when we see it.