What a moral surrender to pornography looks like

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Next, we shift to a 1-2 punch on the issue of pornography in Sunday’s edition of the New York Times, most importantly the cover story in the New York Times Magazine. Now I just have to tell you right up front that I’m not going to be able to say much about this article which is the cover story in the magazine. It is simply far too explicit. It’s too explicit even for a magazine like the New York Times Magazine to a run just a few years ago but that just tells you something about how the moral context of our country has changed utterly and decidedly just over the last several years. The important thing to recognize here is that the catalyst for the moral change we are observing on this issue is the arrival of the digital revolution and the near continuous and universal access to pornography.

The cover story’s main point has to do with the fact that it has argued in the article that pornography has become the main vehicle for sex education amongst American teenagers. Maggie Jones writing the article tells us that many teenagers are fully aware of the fact that pornography is omnipresent in their lives. And many of these teenagers do not appear to be particularly happy about it. But access to pornography, consuming pornography, appears to be such a given in terms of the adolescent experience in America today that the New York Times Magazine article is mostly important because of its central message. It’s a central message to Americans, including American parents, this is simply a reality you’re going to have to find a way to deal with it.

It’s incredibly telling that in this article the main point is actually not a moral verdict on pornography at all. It’s as if as a society we’re really past the ability to render this kind of moral judgment, but it is a cry of concern about what this is doing in the actual lives of teenagers not only when they are adolescents but when they become young adults. And it’s a warning that this has been particularly damaging to young women. Amongst the things mentioned in the article is the fact that pornography has changed utterly the sexual expectations of boys and young men.

The statistics about the pervasiveness of pornography in the article are really these days no longer shocking simply because we have seen the same statistics over and over again. One new number included in this article however is the fact that American parents by a very wide gap underestimate both whether and how often their own children are viewing pornography. Without going into the numbers, the citation is from a report done in Indiana University in 2016, I simply quote this,

“Half as many parents thought their 14- and 18-year-olds had seen porn as had in fact watched it.”

Where morality does enter into the consideration of this article in the New York Times Magazine, it mostly has to do with the impact that there is a different impact on males and females, and that women are particularly vulnerable as our young girls. The implication here is that the main moral principle of concern would be the presence of sexism and the perpetuation of sexism by means of pornography. But the shock value of the article presumably even to readers of the New York Times is the fact that the point of the article is that parents should consider how to educate their own teenagers not so much in whether to view pornography but how.

In one amazing paragraph in the article, it actually suggests that the moral issue is not whether or not teenagers are looking at pornography but what kind of pornography they are viewing and whether or not it brings out a certain form of sexism in them. One source cited in the article said and I quote,

“I think porn can be a good thing to have as an outlet. I’m not scared by explicit sex per se. I’m afraid of the bad values.”

Now just consider the moral universe in which those sentences can be put together in which it’s an affirmation of pornography at the same time arguing that the concern would be bad values in pornography. The assumption here and we should note is the argument that parents should direct their teenagers toward pornography with better values rather than worse.

The article basically champions an approach that is known in some places as porn literacy in which teenagers are taught how to view pornography in a more discriminating fashion. I’m going to leave the New York Times Magazine article at that. There’s really not much more I can say about it, but I did need to say that much because you are looking at a major milestone in the moral context of our culture. When you’re looking at the moral revolution, it’s one thing to consider how these kinds of issues are addressed to adults. It’s yet another thing to consider how parents are here being told that they need to join the revolution when it comes to pornography with and for their own children.

by Albert Molher

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