The Pornography Plague

Kerby Anderson

Pornography is tearing apart the very fabric of our society. Yet Christians are often ignorant of its impact and apathetic about the need to control this menace.

Pornography is an $8 billion a year business with close ties to organized crime.(1) The wages of sin are enormous when pornography is involved. Purveyors of pornography reap enormous profits through sales in so-called "adult bookstores" and viewing of films and live acts at theaters.

Pornography involves books, magazines, videos, and devices and has moved from the periphery of society into the mainstream through the renting of video cassettes, sales of so-called "soft-porn" magazines, and the airing of sexually explicit movies on cable television. To some, pornography is nothing more than a few pictures of scantily-clad women in seductive poses. But pornography has become much more than just photographs of nude women.

Nearly 900 theaters show pornographic films and more than 15,000 "adult" bookstores and video stores offer pornographic material. Adult bookstores outnumber McDonald's restaurants in the United States by a margin of at least three to one.(2) In 1985, nearly 100 full-length pornographic films were distributed to "adult" theaters providing estimated annual box office sales of $50 million.(3)


The 1986 Attorney General Commission on Pornography defined pornography as material that "is predominantly sexually explicit and intended primarily for the purpose of sexual arousal." Hard core pornography "is sexually explicit in the extreme, and devoid of any other apparent content or purpose."(4)

Another important term is the definition of obscenity. The current legal definition of obscenity is found in the 1973 case of Miller v. California. "According to the Miller case, material is obscene if all three of the following conditions are met:

  1. The average person, applying contemporary community standards, would find that the work, taken as a whole, appeals to the prurient interests.
  2. The work depicts or describes, in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct specifically defined by the applicable state (or federal) law, and
  3. The work taken as a whole, lacks serious, artistic, political or scientific value.(5)

Types of Pornography

The first type of pornography is adult magazines. These are primarily directed toward an adult male audience (but not exclusively). The magazines which have the widest distribution (e.g., Playboy, Penthouse) do not violate the Miller standard of obscenity and thus can be legally distributed. But other magazines which do violate these standards are still readily available in many adult bookstores.

The second type of pornography is video cassettes. These are rented or sold in most adult bookstores and have become a growth industry for pornography. People who would never go into an adult bookstore or theater to watch a pornographic movie will obtain these video cassettes through bookstores or in the mail and watch them in the privacy of their homes. Usually these videos display a high degree of hard core pornography and illegal acts.

The third type of pornography is motion pictures. Ratings standards are being relaxed and many pornographic movies are being shown and distributed carrying R and NC-17 ratings. Many of these so-called "hard R" rated films would have been considered obscene just a decade ago.

A fourth type of pornography is television. As in motion pictures, standards for commercial television have been continuously lowered. But cable television poses an even greater threat. The FCC does not regulate cable in the same way it does public access stations. Thus, many pornographic movies are shown on cable television. Like video cassettes, cable TV provides the average person with easy access to pornographic material. People who would never go to an adult bookstore can now view the same sexually explicit material in the privacy of their homes, making cable TV "the ultimate brown wrapper."

A fifth type of pornography is cyberporn. Hard core pictures, movies, online chat, and even live sex acts can be downloaded and viewed by virtually anyone through the Internet. Sexually explicit images can be found on web pages and in news groups and are far too easy for anyone of any age to view. What was only available to a small number of people willing to drive to the bad side of town can now be viewed at any time in the privacy of one's home.

A final type of pornography is audio porn. This includes "Dial-a- porn" telephone calls which are the second fastest growth market of pornography. Although most of the messages are within the Miller definition of obscenity, these businesses continue to thrive and are often used most by children.

According to Henry Boatwright (Chairman of the U.S. Advisory Board for Social Concerns), approximately 70 percent of the pornographic magazines sold end up in the hands of minors. Women Against Pornography estimate that about 1.2 million children are annually exploited in commercial sex (child pornography and prostitution).

Psychological Effects

Psychologist Edward Donnerstein (University of Wisconsin) found that brief exposure to violent forms of pornography can lead to anti-social attitudes and behavior. Male viewers tend to be more aggressive toward women, less responsive to pain and suffering of rape victims, and more willing to accept various myths about rape.(6)

Researchers have found that pornography (especially violent pornography) can produce an array of undesirable effects such as rape and sexual coercion. Specifically they found that such exposure can lead to increased use of coercion or rape,(7) increased fantasies about rape,(8) and desensitization to sexual violence and trivialization of rape.(9)

In an attempt to isolate the role of violence as distinct from sex in pornography-induced situations, James Check (York University in Canada) conducted an experiment where men were exposed to different degrees of pornography, some violent, some not. All groups exhibited the same shift in attitude, namely a higher inclination to use force as part of sex.(10)

In one study, researchers Dolf Zillman and Jennings Bryant investigated the effects of nonviolent pornography on sexual callousness and the trivialization of rape. They showed that continued exposure to pornography had serious adverse effects on beliefs about sexuality in general and on attitudes toward women in particular. They also found that pornography desensitizes people to rape as a criminal offense.(11) These researchers also found that massive exposure to pornography encourages a desire for increasingly deviant materials which involve violence (sadomasochism and rape).(12)

Dolf Zillman measured the impact of viewing pornography on the subjects' views as to what constitutes normal sexual practice. The group that saw the largest amount of pornography gave far higher estimates of the incidence of oral sex, anal sex, group sex, sado- masochism, and bestiality than did the other two groups.(13)

One study demonstrated that pornography can diminish a person's sexual happiness.(14) The researchers found that people exposed to nonviolent pornography reported diminished satisfaction with their sexual partner's physical appearance, affection, curiosity, and sexual performance. They were also more inclined to put more importance on sex without emotional involvement.

In a nationwide study, University of New Hampshire researchers Larry Baron and Murray Strauss found a strong statistical correlation between circulation rates of pornographic magazines and rape rates.(15) They found that in states with high circulation rates, rape rates were also high. And in states with low circulation rates, rape rates also tended to be low as well.

Of course, a statistical correlation does not prove that pornography causes rape. Certainly not everyone who uses pornography becomes a rapist. And it is possible that rape and pornographic consumption are only indirectly related through other factors, like social permissiveness and "macho" attitudes among men. In fact, Baron and Strauss did examine some of these factors in their study and did not find any significant correlation.

Subsequent studies have had similar results. Ohio State University researchers Joseph Scott (a man who testifies frequently for pornographers in court) and Loretta Schwalm examined even more factors than Baron and Strauss (including the circulation of non- sexual magazines) and could not eliminate the correlation between pornography and rape.(16)

Michigan state police detective Darrell Pope found that in 41 percent of the 38,000 sexual assault cases in Michigan (1956 1979), pornographic material was viewed just prior to or during the crime. This corroborates with research done by psychotherapist David Scott who found that "half the rapists studied used pornography to arouse themselves immediately prior to seeking out a victim."(17)

Social Effects

Defining the social effects of pornography has been difficult because of some of the prevailing theories of its impact. One view was that it actually performs a positive function in society by acting like a "safety-value" for potential sexual offenders.

The most famous proponent of this view was Berl Kutchinsky, a criminologist at the University of Copenhagen. His famous study on pornography found that when the Danish government lifted restrictions on pornography, the number of sex crimes decreased.(18) His theory was that the availability of pornography siphons off dangerous sexual impulses. But when the data for his "safety valve" theory was further evaluated, many of his research flaws began to show.

For example, Kutchinsky failed to distinguish between different kinds of sex crimes (e.g., rape, indecent exposure, etc.) and instead merely lumped them together. This effectively masked an increase in rape statistics. He also failed to take into account that increased tolerance for certain crimes (e.g., public nudity, sex with a minor) may have contributed to a drop in the reported crimes.

Proving cause and effect in pornography is virtually impossible because ethically researchers cannot do certain kinds of research. Researcher Dolf Zillman says, "Men cannot be placed at risk of developing sexually violent inclinations by extensive exposure to violent or nonviolent pornography, and women cannot be placed at risk of becoming victims of such inclinations."(19)

Deborah Baker, a legal assistant and executive director of an anti- obscenity group, agrees that conclusively proving a connection between pornography and crime would be very difficult:

The argument that there are no established studies showing a connection between pornography and violent crime is merely a smokescreen. Those who promote this stance well know that such research will never be done. It would require a sampling of much more than a thousand males, exposed to pornography through puberty and adolescence, while the other group is totally isolated from its influence in all its forms and varying degrees. Each group would then have to be monitored through the commission of violent crimes or not. In spite of the lack of formal research, though, the FBI's own statistics show that pornography is found at 80 percent of the scenes of violent sex crimes, or in the homes of the perpetrators.(20)
Nevertheless, there are a number of compelling statistics that suggest that pornography does have profound social consequences. For example, of the 1400 child sexual molestation cases in Louisville, Kentucky, between July 1980 and February 1984, adult pornography was connected with each incident and child pornography with the majority of them.(21) Extensive interviews with sex offenders (rapists, incest offenders, and child molesters) have uncovered a sizable percentage of offenders who use pornography to arouse themselves prior to and during their assaults.(22) Police officers have seen the impact pornography has had on serial murders. In fact, pornography consumption is one of the most common profile characteristics of serial murders and rapists.(23)

Professor Cass Sunstein, writing in the Duke Law Journal, says that some sexual violence against women "would not have occurred but for the massive circulation of pornography." Citing cross-cultural data, he concludes:

The liberalization of pornography laws in the United States, Britain, Australia, and the Scandinavian countries has been accompanied by a rise in reported rape rates. In countries where pornography laws have not been liberalized, there has been a less steep rise in reported rapes. And in countries where restrictions have been adopted, reported rapes have decreased.(24)
In his introduction to a reprint of the Final Report of the Attorney General's Commission on Pornography, columnist Michael McManus noted that

The FBI interviewed two dozen sex murderers in prison who had killed multiple numbers of times. Some eighty-one percent said their biggest sexual interest was in reading pornography. They acted out sex fantasies on real people. For example, Arthur Gary Bishop, convicted of sexually abusing and killing five young boys said, "If pornographic material would have been unavailable to me in my early states, it is most probable that my sexual activities would not have escalated to the degree they did." He said pornography's impact on him was "devastating. . . . I am a homosexual pedophile convicted of murder, and pornography was a determining factor in my downfall."(25)
Dr. James Dobson interviewed Ted Bundy, one of this nation's most notorious serial killers. On the day before his execution, Ted Bundy said that the "most damaging kinds of pornography are those that involve violence and sexual violence. Because the wedding of those two forces, as I know only too well, brings about behavior that is just, just too terrible to describe."(26)

Censorship and Freedom of Speech

Attempts to regulate and outlaw pornography within a community are frequently criticized as censorship and a violation of the First Amendment. But the Supreme Court clearly stated in Roth v. United States (1957) that obscenity was not protected by the First Amendment. Federal, state, and local laws apply to the sale, display, distribution, and broadcast of pornography. Pornographic material, therefore, can be prohibited if it meets the legal definition of obscenity.

The Supreme Court ruled in the case of Miller v. California (1973) that a legal definition of obscenity must meet the three-part test we previously discussed. If it appeals to the prurient interest, is patently offensive, and lacks serious value (artistically, etc.) then the material is considered obscene and is illegal.

The Supreme Court further ruled in Paris Adult Theatre v. Slaton (1973) that material legally defined as obscene is not accorded the same protection as free speech in the First Amendment. The court ruled that even if obscene films are shown only to "consenting adults," this did not grant them immunity from the law.

In the case of New York v. Ferber (1982), the Supreme Court ruled that child pornography was not protected under the First Amendment even if it was not legally defined as obscene under their three- part test. Since children cannot legally consent to sexual relations, child pornography constitutes sexual abuse. Congress also passed the Child Protection Act in 1984 which provided tougher restrictions on child pornography.

Cable television is presently unregulated since it is not technically "broadcasting" as defined in the Federal Communications Act. Thus, cable television is able to show pornographic movies with virtual impunity. The FCC Act needs to be amended so that the FCC can regulate cable television.

Biblical Perspective

God created men and women in His image (Gen. 1:27) as sexual beings. But because of sin in the world (Rom. 3:23), sex has been misused and abused (Rom. 1:24-25).

Pornography attacks the dignity of men and women created in the image of God. Pornography also distorts God's gift of sex which should be shared only within the bounds of marriage (1 Cor. 7:2-3). When the Bible refers to human sexual organs, it often employs euphemisms and indirect language. Although there are some exceptions (a woman's breasts and womb are sometimes mentioned), generally Scripture maintains a basic modesty towards a man's or woman's sexual organs.

Moreover, Scripture specifically condemns the practices that result from pornography such as sexual exposure (Gen. 9:21-23), adultery (Lev. 18:20), bestiality (Lev. 18:23), homosexuality (Lev. 18:22 and 20:13), incest (Lev. 18:6-18), and prostitution (Deut. 23:17-18).

A biblical perspective of human sexuality must recognize that sexual intercourse is exclusively reserved for marriage for the following purposes. First, it establishes the one-flesh union (Gen. 2:24-25; Matt. 19:4-6). Second, it provides for sexual intimacy within the marriage bond. The use of the word "know" indicates a profound meaning of sexual intercourse (Gen. 4:1). Third, sexual intercourse is for the mutual pleasure of husband and wife (Prov. 5:18-19). Fourth, sexual intercourse is for procreation (Gen. 1:28).

The Bible also warns against the misuse of sex. Premarital and extramarital sex is condemned (1 Cor. 6:13-18; 1 Thess. 4:3). Even thoughts of sexual immorality (often fed by pornographic material) are condemned (Matt. 5:27-28).

Moreover, Christians must realize that pornography can have significant harmful effects on the user. These include: a comparison mentality, a performance-based sexuality, a feeling that only forbidden things are sexually satisfying, increased guilt, decreased self concept, and obsessional thinking.

Christians, therefore, must do two things. First, they must work to keep themselves pure by fleeing immorality (1 Cor. 6:18) and thinking on those things which are pure (Phil. 4:8). As a man thinks in his heart, so is he (Prov. 23:7). Christians must make no provision for the flesh (Rom. 13:14). Pornography will fuel the sexual desire in abnormal ways and can eventually lead to even more debase perversion. We, therefore, must "abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul" (1 Peter 2:11). Second, Christians must work to remove the sexual perversion of pornography from society.

Steps to Combat Porn

First, parents must teach a wholesome, biblical view of sex to their children. Helpful aids can be obtained from groups like Focus on the Family and Josh McDowell Ministries.

Second, we must evaluate our exposure to media (magazines, TV shows, rock music) with inappropriate sexual themes. Parents should set a positive example for their children, and take time to discuss these stories, programs, and songs with them.

Third, pastors should warn their congregations about the dangers of pornography and instruct them in a proper view of sexuality. Like Joseph in the Old Testament, we should flee immorality which can entice us into sin. Messages should also be given to build a strong Christian home.

Fourth, parents should block cyberporn with software.There are many commercial services as well as special software that can screen and block areas children may try to investigate. These programs will block out sexual hot spots on the Internet and can detect an offending phrase that might be used in an online-chat room. (See the Probe article "The Internet" for a discussion of filtering software programs.) Parents should also try to be around their kids when they are on the internet and ask them questions about online computing. Extensive late night use may be an indication of a problem.

Fifth, individual Christians should get involved with a local decency group which is organized to fight pornography. These groups have been effective in many localities in ridding their communities of the porno plague.

Sixth, we should express our concern to local officials (through letters and petitions) about adult movie houses and book stores in the community.

Seventh, if we receive pornographic material in the mail, we should report it to our postmaster and request that federal agents take action. Finally, do not patronize stores that sell pornographic materials. Consider organizing a boycott and pickets in order to get community attention focused on the problem.


1. Report of the Attorney General's Task Force on Family Violence, U.S. Department of Justice, Washington, D.C., 112.

2. "Effect of Pornography on Women and Children," U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, Subcommittee on Juvenile Justice, 98th Congress, 2nd Session, 1984, 227.

3. "The War Against Pornography," Newsweek, 18 March 1985, 60.

4. Final Report of the Attorney General's Commission on Pornography, ed. Michael McManus (Nashville, Tenn.: Rutledge Hill Press, 1986), 8.

5. Ibid.

6. Edward Donnerstein, "Pornography and Violence Against Women," Annals of the New York Academy of Science, 347 (1980), 277-88.

7. Edward Donnerstein, "Pornography: Its Effects on Violence Against Women," in Malamuth and Donnerstein, eds., Pornography and Sexual Aggression (New York: Academic Press, 1984).

8. Neil Malamuth, "Rape Fantasies as a Function of Repeated Exposure to Sexual Violence," Archives of Sexual Behavior, 10 (1981): 33-47.

9. Linz, Donnerstein, and Penrod, "The Effects of Multiple Exposures to Filmed Violence Against Women," Journal of Communication, 34 (1984): 130-47.

10. James Check, "The Effects of Violent and Nonviolent Pornography," Department of Justice, Ottawa, Canada, submitted June 1984.

11. Dolf Zillman and Jennings Bryant, "Pornography, Sexual Callousness, and the Trivialization of Rape," Journal of Communication, 32 (1982): 10 21.

12. Zillman, Bryant, Carveth, "The Effect of Erotica Featuring Sadomasochism and Beastiality of Motivated Inter-Male Aggression," Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 7 (1981): 153-59.

13. Dolf Zillman, "Effects of Prolonged Consumption of Pornography," a paper prepared for the Surgeon General's Workshop on Pornography and Public Health, Arlington, Va., 22-24 June 1986.

14. Dolf Zillman and Jennings Bryant, "Pornography, Sexual Callousness, and the Trivialization of Rape," Journal of Communications 32(1982): 15.

15. Larry Baron and Murray Strauss, "Legitimate Violence and Rape: A Test of the Cultural Spillover Theory," Social Problems 34 (December 1985).

16. Joseph Scott and Loretta Schwalm, "Rape Rates and the Circulation Rates of Adult Magazines," Journal of Sex Research, 24 (1988): 240-50.

17. David Alexander Scott, "How Pornography Changes Attitudes," in Pornography: The Human Tragedy, ed. Tom Minnery (Wheaton, Ill.: Tyndale House Publishers).

18. Berl Kutchinsky, "The Effect of Easy Availability of Pornography on the Incidence of Sex Crimes: The Danish Experience," Journal of Social Issues, 29 (1973): 163-81.

19. Dolf Zillman, "Pornography Research and Public Policy," in Dolf Zillman and Jennings Bryant, eds., Pornography: Research Advances and Policy Considerations (New York: Academic Press, 1989), 387-88.

20. Deborah Baker, "Pornography Isn't Free Speech," Dallas Morning News, 17 March 1989, Op. Ed. Page.

21. Testimony by John B. Rabun, deputy director, National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, before the Subcommittee on Juvenile Justice of the Senate Judiciary Committee, 12 September 1984.

22. W. Marshall, "Pornography and Sex Offenders," in Dolf Zillman and Jennings Bryant, eds.,Pornography: Research Advances and Policy Considerations (New York: Academic Press, 1989).

23. "The Men Who Murdered," FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, August 1985.

24. Cass R. Sunstein, "Pornography and the First Amendment," Duke Law Journal, September 1986, 595ff.

25. Final Report, ed. McManus, xvii.

26. Interview with Dr. James Dobson with Ted Bundy in Starke, Florida, on 23 January 1989.

© 1997 Probe Ministries International