Is looking at pornography a sin? If so, why does God prohibit pornography? What does God say about sexual lust, intimacy and marital faithfulness?
Pornography has been around for centuries. Is watching porn a sin? Why? And if you’re addicted to porn, what can you do to stop the addiction?
Lots of people watch porn—and on a regular basis too.
Over the last decade, watching porn has become less and less of a cultural taboo. In fact, the majority of teens and young adults in the United States are more likely to rank “not recycling” and “overeating” as more immoral than viewing pornographic images.
The statistics show that, on the whole, watching porn is becoming more and more of a normal, culturally acceptable activity.
But normal and okay are two different things. Even if everyone in the world were doing it, it’s only okay if God says it’s okay. And that’s the most important question we can ask here:
Is it a sin to watch porn?
The simple answer is yes, watching porn is a sin. Here’s why:
The Seventh of God’s 10 Commandments deals with sexual behavior: “You shall not commit adultery” (Exodus 20:14). The underlying principle of the Seventh Commandment is the protection of the marriage unit and, thereby, the family. The only acceptable setting for the expression of sexual love is in the context of marriage between a husband and wife. According to the God who created sexuality, sexual intimacy before marriage or with anyone other than your marriage partner is a sin.
(We talk more about how God designed that sexual love to work in our article “The Gift of Sex.”)
Merriam-Webster.com defines pornography as “the depiction of erotic behavior (as in pictures or writing) intended to cause sexual excitement.” Sometimes porn is explicit, highlighting every facet of the sexual act, and sometimes it’s “soft porn”—common in movies, where the sexual act is implied but not explicitly shown.
The simple answer is yes, pornography is a sin. But it can be helpful to understand why God calls it a sin.Regardless of the kind of pornography, these depictions are a misuse of the sexual relationship God intended for a husband and wife. Rather than an act of married love, porn reduces sex to an act of lust.
Jesus Christ explained God’s perspective on sexual lust to His disciples: “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:27-28).
To lust after another human being, married or not, is to commit adultery in our hearts. To commit adultery is to violate the Seventh Commandment. Watching porn gives us something to lust after, and so watching porn is a sin.
But why does God call it a sin?
Why is porn a sin?
The simple answer again is that God does not forbid things that are good for us, but He does forbid things that are harmful. Here’s the longer answer:
God designed both marriage and the human mind.
The marriage union involves both physical faithfulness—and mental faithfulness. The choice to be faithful or unfaithful begins in the mind, with our thought processes. If we are unfaithful in our mind—lusting after what is not ours through pornography or other means—it is impossible for us to remain fully committed to our marriage relationship and family.
It doesn’t even matter whether we’re married or not—porn affects both how we think and what we think about, and that unfaithful thought process will follow us into marriage.
In other words, pornography is guaranteed to damage the marriage relationship and the family—and for those not currently married, to damage their potential to enjoy a lasting and healthy marriage relationship and family life. Porn also damages people who do not marry because it detracts from the Christian goal and purpose to become more like Jesus in thoughts and deeds.
Research confirms how porn affects relationships
A great deal of research has been done on the effects of porn. Consider the findings of the Marriage and Religion Research Institute:
“Pornography is a visual representation of sexuality which distorts an individual’s concept of the nature of conjugal relations. This, in turn, alters both sexual attitudes and behavior. It is a major threat to marriage, to family, to children and to individual happiness. In undermining marriage it is one of the factors in undermining social stability.”
Specific points their research unearthed are:
- Married men who are involved in pornography feel less satisfied with their conjugal relations and less emotionally attached to their wives. Wives notice and are upset by the difference.
- Pornography use is a pathway to infidelity and divorce, and is frequently a major factor in these family disasters.
- Among couples affected by one spouse’s addiction, two-thirds experience a loss of interest in sexual intercourse.
- Both spouses perceive pornography viewing as tantamount to infidelity.
- Pornography viewing leads to a loss of interest in good family relations.
There’s no question that watching porn is a sin with serious personal and interpersonal consequences. But is it a sin that’s easy to walk away from?
Is porn addiction real?
There’s still some debate in the scientific and medical world about whether viewing pornography can technically become an addiction or not:
“Porn addiction is not directly defined in the latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, which doctors use to diagnose mental disorders. But a growing body of research suggests that heavy porn use might be a sign of addiction. … And some porn users do show symptoms of addiction, including:
- “Not being able to stay away from it consistently
- “Problems controlling their behavior
- “A craving for rewarding experiences
- “Being unable to see the relationship issues caused by heavy use.”
While there’s not enough research to explain what exactly goes on in the brain of someone who frequently watches porn, there’s no debate that pornography can be a difficult habit to leave behind. The jury might still be out on the best technical way to define heavy porn use, but for the purposes of this article, we’ll look at it from the angle of an addiction.
If you’re struggling to stop watching porn, you’re not alone—and there’s hope. Know that, first and foremost, you’ve set your heart on doing the right thing. The road to victory might be a difficult one, but it’s possible. Others have fought this battle and succeeded.
Here are some tools for moving forward in your fight.
How to recover from a porn addiction
Sin ultimately hurts. And pornography hurts marriages, families and children—and one’s relationship with God—by damaging the mind and affecting the relationships of the one who views it. The scriptural response to all sin is to repent and seek God’s forgiveness, determining not to repeat the mistake again (Acts 2:38-39; 2 Corinthians 7:10-11).
Repentance is the first and most vital step to overcoming any sin. It’s important to remember that God wants to see us succeed, that He called us to overcome our sins. As our Creator, He perfectly understands our human weaknesses:
“For as the heavens are high above the earth, so great is His mercy toward those who fear Him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us. As a father pities his children, so the LORD pities those who fear Him. For He knows our frame; He remembers that we are dust” (Psalm 103:11-14).
Recognizing a sin and overcoming a sin are two different things—overcoming takes time and effort, and there are times when we will fail and fall back into old habits. When (not “if”) that happens, our job is to get back up and try again. “For a righteous man may fall seven times and rise again” (Proverbs 24:16).
God isn’t looking for perfect Christians, but for Christians who respond to failure by getting back up and pushing forward.
Develop a plan for avoiding porn
Sheer willpower alone is rarely enough to overcome an addiction—or else, let’s be honest, it wouldn’t be much of an addiction in the first place. Just wanting to overcome watching porn only gets you so far. When the temptation comes, there’s every chance your willpower will falter and you’ll find yourself back to square one—unless you have a plan.
Here are some specific things you can do:
- Make use of filters. There are tons of free Internet filtering services you can use to make sure pornographic content never makes it onto your screen. You can block porn at the router, computer or smartphone level, and your browser of choice likely has free plug-ins you can choose from as well.
- Get an accountability partner. Find a trusted friend you can share your struggle with, and ask the person to check in on you on a regular basis to see how you’re doing. Having a confidant who holds you accountable makes it easier to keep fighting instead of throwing in the towel.
- Fill your mind with good things. The best defense is a good offense. Before Satan has a chance to tempt you with pornography, take the initiative to fill your mind up with godly things. Meditation is an often-overlooked tool that makes it extremely difficult for Satan to distract us with sin.
Don’t let a cheap imitation of true sexual intimacy hold you hostage. God designed marriage to be an incredible gift—watching porn is a sin that can only cheapen that gift. And if you aren’t married, watching porn derails your effort to become more like God.
Anyone desiring to live the Christian life, married or not, should put forth every effort to remove pornography from his or her life and seek repentance and forgiveness from God—while also understanding that the Christian journey of self-improvement takes God’s help and committed, ongoing effort.
It is possible to overcome a habit of pornography and leave it behind you. Doing so will strengthen your relationship with your family—and, most importantly, it will strengthen your relationship with the God who loves you and wants the very best for you.