Earlier this week at the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission’s Leadership Summit, author and professor Heath Lambert delivered an address on the gospel and human sexuality in which he urged churches to proactively confront the issue of pornography. I’ve been married to a therapist who works with men with sexual addiction for 13 years, a man passionately committed to helping men find freedom from pornography, so I fully appreciate and agree with Lambert’s call for more attention to be drawn to this area. However, Lambert’s speech was punctuated with references to “the forbidden woman of pornography”, a hyperbolic literary personification of porn as female that is deeply problematic.
When porn is female, we obfuscate the real nature of pornography addiction, excluding a wide swath of porn abusers, discounting their experience. Women, who are more likely to act out pornographic behavior than men, constitute 28% of porn users with 9.4 million women visiting porn sites each month. Seventeen percent of women say they are “addicted”. Some estimates state that gay pornography makes up 5%-15% of all porn and several studies reveal that half of gay men use pornography for masturbation or as a prelude to sex. Child pornography is a $3 billion annual industry and over 100,000 websites offer illegal child pornography.
When porn is female, women are held responsible for the sexual failings of men. We shift the locus of blame for sexual immorality from the inner spiritual condition of a man to the outer, physical body of a woman. We turn 1 Corinthians 6:18 on its head: “Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body.” But wait, no one believes that. No one really blames women for men’s sexual problems. And yet, they do. I was raped by a pastor who said that the problem was me, not him. He didn’t feel so bad about his actions because “sex sin” is outside him, coming from woman. Au contraire. Sexual sin is concerned with and deeply affects our own bodies in ways that other sins—such as gluttony, drunkenness—do not.
When porn is female, we perpetuate a culture in which women are objects and therefore, commodities. The objectification of women has led to a burgeoning sex trafficking industry in which women are abused and exploited. The objectification of women impairs men’s ability to overcome sexual addiction. Once the habit of female objectification is imprinted on the mind, it is difficult to change.
Some might object by saying that Lambert was simply appropriating a metaphorical personification from Proverbs 9, in which Dame Folly is described as a seductress, but if so, that would be sloppy hermeneutical practice. First, the “Dame” is “Dame Folly”, set in the larger context of folly in general, not just folly in sexual matters. Second, the author of Proverbs uses female metaphorical personification in both a positive (Wisdom) and negative (Folly) sense, while Lambert exclusively uses the negative.
Words are the incarnation of our ideas and beliefs, and those ideas have consequences. What we say and how we say it matters because words are the vehicle through which we come to understand ourselves, our world, and the nature of reality. Words, the task of naming, was our first responsibility as human beings. Let us steward them well.