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feminism

August 03, 2007

A feminist leader affirms what the Bible has been telling us all along.

New York Magazine recently featured an interesting article called “The Porn Myth.” Written by feminist Naomi Wolf, it was first printed in a 2003 edition of the magazine but is as timely today as ever. I’ll say from the outset that her article is just a little bit graphic at times, but only because Wolf deals with the pervasiveness and power of pornography. I’ll attempt to be as tasteful as I can in writing about this article.

Wolf was one of the leaders of feminism’s third wave. It was this generation of feminists that are largely responsible for breaking down many traditional gender roles in regards to sexuality. When we see young girls wearing shirts that say “Hot Babe” across the chest, or when we see thongs sticking out the back of the shorts of pre-pubescent girls, we are seeing the fallout of this wave of feminism. Feminists taught that women needed to go from being the hunted to being the hunters, to transition to the role of the aggressor in relationships. They were to throw off inhibition and try to beat men at their own game.

But Wolf, and many other feminists, have had to rethink their position a little bit. Once advocates of pornography, they have had to take an honest look at how pornography has affected our culture. “The Porn Myth” does just this. If you read this site often you know how much I delight in finding articles in secular publications that just say what the Bible has been saying all along. In many ways, this is just such an article.

Wolf begins by saying that some feminists used to be concerned that the widespread acceptance of pornography would turn men into beasts, causing them to rape and pillage women. Years later she says, “the effect is not making men into raving beasts. On the contrary: The onslaught of porn is responsible for deadening male libido in relation to real women, and leading men to see fewer and fewer women as “porn-worthy.” Far from having to fend off porn-crazed young men, young women are worrying that as mere flesh and blood, they can scarcely get, let alone hold, their attention.” So porn is not causing men to see women as objects of unbridled lust (though in some cases I know this has happened). Rather, porn is causing men to become bored with sex and bored with real women. “For most of human history, erotic images have been reflections of, or celebrations of, or substitutes for, real naked women. For the first time in human history, the images’ power and allure have supplanted that of real naked women. Today, real naked women are just bad porn.” That last sentence is shocking for its forthrightness and for its implications. Men who immerse themselves in pornography know that real women compare unfavorably with the stars of their pornographic movies. Those women have perfect bodies, no inhibitions and are willing to express pleasure in any act, no matter how vulgar or demeaning. They exist only to please their men.

Wolf admits two things that very few are willing to openly state: “Pornography is addictive; the baseline gets ratcheted up.” And that is exactly the case. Pornography is addictive and, like most addictions, requires more and more in order to provide the same amount of pleasure or the same depth of experience. With every passing pornographic experience the baseline for stimulation gets ever higher. What was once erotic is soon boring; what was once fascinating is soon tiresome. Wolf draws a helpful analogy with food. “If your appetite is stimulated and fed by poor-quality material, it takes more junk to fill you up. People are not closer because of porn but further apart; people are not more turned on in their daily lives but less so.” Pornography makes other relationships boring in comparison. Even sex can be boring and men can easily turn to pornography as a substitute. “A whole generation of men are less able to connect erotically to women—and ultimately less libidinous.”

Wolf now proposes why we need to turn off the porn. “The reason to turn off the porn might become, to thoughtful people, not a moral one but, in a way, a physical- and emotional-health one; you might want to rethink your constant access to porn in the same way that, if you want to be an athlete, you rethink your smoking. The evidence is in: Greater supply of the stimulant equals diminished capacity.” Isn’t it amazing how God has wired us? He has made us such a way that there are reasons even beyond the moral to abstain from sin. Sin does not just further the rift between man and God, but also severs other relationships. Our lustful appetites can destroy our healthy appetites. Our desire for sin can easily overwhelm our desire for what is good and pleasing and lovely.

Wolf soon has to make the shocking suggestion that women revert from their “give it all away” mentality and learn the value in holding themselves back. Women need to see sexuality as something sacred, something that is worth waiting for. Amazingly enough, she even turns to the Bible and writes about distinctly male sexuality.

I am not advocating a return to the days of hiding female sexuality, but I am noting that the power and charge of sex are maintained when there is some sacredness to it, when it is not on tap all the time. In many more traditional cultures, it is not prudery that leads them to discourage men from looking at pornography. It is, rather, because these cultures understand male sexuality and what it takes to keep men and women turned on to one another over time—to help men, in particular, to, as the Old Testament puts it, “rejoice with the wife of thy youth; let her breasts satisfy thee at all times.” These cultures urge men not to look at porn because they know that a powerful erotic bond between parents is a key element of a strong family.

And feminists have misunderstood many of these prohibitions.

Just recently I was reading through Hebrews 3 where the author of the letter draws a comparison to the Israelites in the desert and, as with any time I read that story, I thought of Keith Green’s song “So You Wanna Go Back To Egypt?” Green pokes fun at the Israelites who wanted to trade freedom for captivity, heavenly manna versus leeks and onions eaten as slaves. And this is what sin does to us. It makes us long for Egypt. It makes us long for captivity rather than freedom. Pornography offers nothing but captivity and even people who once advocated it as harmless fun are coming to realize this. Sin is so subtle, so captivating. Yet it affects us in so many ways and in such deep ways.

When I speak with young men these days I find that, almost invariably, they are recovering porn addicts. Since I wasn’t born yesterday I take this to mean “I’m addicted to pornography but can’t quite admit it.” I try to warn them that there are consequences to this sin. Of course I tell them that God is dishonored by this sin, but they are Christian guys and they already know this. So I tell them also that this sin is going to have consequences in their lives that go far beyond what they do when nobody else is looking. For example, addiction to pornography will not disappear when they fall in love and commit to marriage. Rather, pornography will be a destructive force they bring into that marriage. They may find that they are enraptured with a wife for a few months, but the addiction, if not conquered, will come back. It will haunt the marriage until it is properly dealt with. And when pornography returns, that wife suddenly won’t look so wonderful. She will have spots and blemishes and stretch marks. There will be things she will not want to do in bed. She will have nights when she does not want to have sex. Suddenly the women in pornography will look pretty good in comparison as they are always eager, always beautiful, always available.

But these women are but a sinful fantasy. They beckon like the captivity in Egypt. Pornography looks at the heavenly manna God has provided and looks instead to the slavery of sin. And the sin somehow compares favorably. Real naked women become just bad porn.

Sin is subtle; it is powerful; it is captivating. Even people who care little for the Bible are having to admit that it was right all along. And we know from the Bible that only God offers true freedom.

Here is the link to Wolf’s original article. As I said earlier, it is a tad graphic in a few points so keep that in mind before you click.