Graham Heslop
Graham Heslop I have an insatiable appetite for books, occasionally dip into theology and am presently reading for my Masters in theology at George Whitefield College, Cape Town. Most often found on the beach, a soccer field or my couch.

Would You Watch Porn If The Plots Were Better?

Would You Watch Porn If The Plots Were Better?

Would you watch porn if the plots were better? That probably sounds like a silly question to most readers. For few people pretend to watch porn for its rich characterisation, profound themes, or compelling plots. At the same time, most Christians would insist that porn isn’t something we should ever watch. And I agree. But my question is nevertheless worth further consideration, in light of what we readily choose to watch these days.

Are We Entertaining Ourselves to Death?

In 1996 David Foster Wallace published Infinite Jest. The novel is about a movie that is so brilliant it is deadly. Once someone sets their eyes on it, they cannot divert their attention, desiring only to watch it repeatedly. Wallace said that a central question to his novel was whether we will be able to keep ourselves from being entertained to death. Put another way: will we realise that what we’re watching—both in terms of content and quantity—is harmful, before it’s too late? For me, this raises a whole host of searching questions for Christians regarding our present media consumption.

As Brett McCracken writes, “Yes, there is a risk of overthinking our entertainment choices. But the greater risk—to the state of our souls and our witness in the world—is underthinking it.”

The Excuses We Give

As binge watching series becomes not only more acceptable but completely normalised, will Christians be self-aware enough to recognise that they’ve drank too deeply at our consumeristic culture’s well? As onscreen sex and gratuitous nudity is held up as integral to plot and character development, will Christians realise that not everything on our screens should be countenanced, especially explicit content? Will we, despite our desperate need for cultural relevance and appearing au courant, forfeit certain shows because they are excessively lewd and unnecessarily gratuitous? All of these questions bring me back to my title: would you watch porn if it scored highly—sorry—on IMDb, promising incisive social commentary, engagement with culture, and moving characterisation, all within an ingenious plot?

Many Christians cite the above as justification for watching basically anything—except perhaps porn. So, would you watch porn if the plots were better? We already ‘stomach’ a two minute sex scene with no less full-on nudity than one might find at PornHub, because the film also happens to land some intriguing philosophical points. We tell ourselves that tangled gorgeous naked bodies are fundamental to character development. But they rarely are, if ever, and you know it. Perhaps we convince one another that a series renowned for trading in sexually explicit scenes makes too many sound social and cultural comments to be skipped. So we watch. We watch anything—as long as it isn’t porn.

Are We Unwittingly Watching Porn?

So let me turn the question of this post around: why don’t we watch porn? Is it because the acting is atrocious; the plots are awful; and the soundtracks are shoddy? No. We don’t watch porn because Jesus said that lust is sin, comparable to adultery (Matthew 5:27-28). This sin, says Jesus, nests in our eyes and burrows into our hearts. Therefore we cut ourselves off from content that is certain to make us lust, deforming our very souls in the process (Matthew 5:29).

We know that porn is deceitful, dishonouring to women, and definitely not worthy of praise (cf. Philippians 4:8). We know that the holiness for which God saves us is sullied when we watch porn (1 Peter 1:15; 2:11). That’s why we don’t watch it—or wrestle with that particular sexual temptation. But when it comes to the great stories packing incisive social commentary on reputable streaming services we forget most of this.

To conclude, I’m not conflating porn with series or films that contain sexually explicit content. But we probably need to recognise that the line between those is not as easy to draw as it would have been 50, even 20, years ago. There are many shows that we should probably not watch—for the very same reasons that we wouldn’t watch porn. Christians should be ready to forgo series and films that regularly trade in graphic depictions of sex and bold nudity. But then Jesus did say that discipleship would mean giving things up. When it comes to content that is spiritually perilous, that decision should be fairly easy.

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