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Sex has seeped into our culture to such an extent that we can no longer accurately define pornography. It used to be simple: Selling sex for money.  Nowadays we Clinton the definition, questioning what is sex versus what is sexy, all the while wondering whether we’re artsy or just plain perverted. As a result, we not only question what constitutes pornography, but we question whether or not individual interaction with pornography is acceptable. For the sake of this discussion the latter is, of course, the more valuable question, simply because to the God who granted us free will, the choices we make are what ultimately matter to our relationship with Him and each other.

So, when it comes to drawing lines regarding porn and porn-related behaviors, the first question anyone needs to ask themselves is: What do you define as pornography and, more importantly, why?

The common definition of pornography involves “obscene writings, drawings, photographs or the like”.  ”Obscene” is defined as “offensive to morality or decency; causing uncontrolled sexual desire.” Biblically speaking, there is no direct commandment proclaiming pornography evil. Yet, there are several commandments regarding acceptable and unacceptable sexual behaviors. And, in relation to writings, drawings and photographs, God prohibits us from making graven images to worship.

When approaching any graphic material we must ask ourselves if we are in any way submitting ourselves to that image. In the case of pornography, are we submitting to uncontrollable desire when we confront an obscene image? Conversely, are we ascertaining authority from our relationship to that image? In either case, how will our relinquishing or claiming of control impact the choices we go on to make?

Porn advocates would argue that as long as a porn user remains “in control” of their porn usage, there is no harm being done. In a recent conversation, my editor relayed two stories to me. The first involved an older, fairly observant Jewish man who found Playboy harmless because his own father, a loyal family man, had a lifetime subscription. The second involved an Orthodox man announcing in front of his wife that he’d be going with his buddies to a strip club to celebrate a friend’s bachelor party, to which his wife didn’t bat an eye. Both are examples of the “no harm, no foul” theory at work.

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Consider the following evidence against the “no harm, no foul” theory:

Countless studies connect porn with a new and negative attitude to intimate relationships, and neurological imaging confirms it. Susan Fiske, professor of psychology at Princeton University, used MRI scans in 2010 to analyze men watching porn. Afterward, brain activity revealed, they looked at women more as objects than as people. The new DSM-5 will add the diagnosis “Hypersexual Disorder,” which includes compulsive pornography use.”

According to the report, overexposure to sexually explicit images and video  have caused men to lose interest in ordinary sexual encounters — including  experiences with a real woman… After a period of time, excessive porn watchers overstimulate a neurochemical  in their bodies called dopamine — the drive behind every “want” and “desire”  that humans feel we need to “overcome.” But with your libido in constant drive  mode, your dopamine reaction will become numb and, eventually, you won’t be  aroused by the same experiences as before.”

A survey of 28,000 users found that many Italian males started an “excessive consumption” of porn sites as early as 14 and after daily use in their early to mid-20s became inured to “even the most violent” images, said Carlo Foresta, head of the Italian Society of Andrology and Sexual Medicine (SIAMS).”

“…pornography would normalize things I wasn’t emotionally or physically ready to handle in my relationships with men, making me feel like I had no options or control over my sex life, filling me with much regret and physical pain …[that] I would begin to objectify men, build up images in my mind and think of sex day in and day out, to the point where I couldn’t remain focused on anything else …[and that] it would make me feel less valuable to men and bring up insecurities for years in the bedroom.”

Perhaps the most damning evidence comes from Dr. Victor Cline, research scientist and expert witness on the effects of pornography:

“The second phase was an escalation-effect. With the passage of time, the addicted required rougher, more explicit- more deviant, and “kinky” kinds of sexual material to get their “highs” and “sexual turn-ons.” …Being married or being in a relationship with a willing sexual partner did not solve their problem. Their addiction and escalation were manly due to the powerful sexual imagery in their minds, implanted there by the exposure to pornography. They often preferred this sexual imagery, accompanied by masturbation, to sexual intercourse itself. This nearly always diminished their capacity to love and express affection to their partner in their intimate relations. The fantasy was all-powerful, much to the chagrin and disappointment of their partner. Their sex drive had been diverted to a degree away from their spouse. And the spouse could easily sense this, and often felt very lonely and rejected.”

While we may have lost sight of what constitutes pornography in our over-sexed era, we have gained real insight into the impact pornographic material has on the individual and those around them. 3,000 years after the mitzvot were given, we’ve finally figured out what we couldn’t understand all along: God is a rather practical lawgiver to whom “No harm, no foul,” doesn’t really make any sense.

For a Biblical Feminist, the litmus test of pornography is the same as for any other media: How are the images you are exposed to impacting the way you think and the choices you make? I can’t make choices for others, nor do I seek to judge. Rather, I simply seek to point out the common sense in Scripture: If what you are viewing (or even reading) isn’t inspiring you to be your best or the best to others, then why pursue it?