This post originally appeared on Reigning Grace Counseling Center's blog, Biblical Counseling for Women.
There are certain things I never expected to see go completely mainstream. By “go mainstream”, I mean to reach a level of complete societal acceptance. Such things would include “Daisy Duke” shorts. The militant GLBT agenda in American education. And….pornography marketed to women.
If you harbor any doubts that this world has completely lost all moral compass, look no further than the recent “50 Shades of Grey” phenomenon. (I nearly typed, “this country”, but the trilogy seems to be quite popular with teenage girls in Europe.) This Valentine’s Day, the sadomasochistic duo of Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey are coming to a cinema near you.
A disclaimer: I have not read the books, and do not plan to. I am, however, familiar with the premise: A college student begins a BDSM relationship with a businessman, which is somehow construed to be a romance. From what I read on Wiki, there doesn’t seem to be much of a plot – just a lot of “incompatibility”, leading to breakups; beatings; and violent perversion. The books portray an abusive relationship as being a romance; Ana, in fact, displays classic battered women’s syndrome by falling “in love” with the man who victimizes her. I will assume the readers of this blog are adults, and do not need me to explain what “bondage porn” is. A University of Michigan study demonstrated that women who read these books were statistically more likely to have an abusive partner (25%); binge drink (65%); and were more likely to have eating disorders.
We are about to see a new wave of counseling cases because of “50 Shades of Grey”, and here’s why: Christian women are reading this tripe at the same rate as the general population. A Barna survey shows that nine percent of American adults have read “50 Shades”, and the statistic is exactly the same for professing Christians. Shocked? Screenings for the movie sold out fastest in Bible Belt cities, too. This is not a demographic - these are our sisters in Christ. There is something desperately wrong when a Christ-follower chooses to put this kind of material in her mind. Let’s consider three specific “heart issues” involved with choosing to read or watch “50 Shades”.
The Normalization of Sexual Sin
First of all, let’s dispel the myth that lust is uniquely a man’s sin. It’s not, and we can safely say that adult women can also violate Matthew 5:28, since they are huge consumers of pornography. The difference, of course, is that it is literature designed to titillate, rather than actual photography (although the movie is said to be the most graphic R-rated movie released to date). Therein lies the difference: men are more visual; whereas women are more relational. Men are more likely to habitually view porn, while women prefer to indulge in “romance novels”. In both cases, the heart issue is the same: lust. A craving for satisfaction outside of the way God intended it.
While I am not justifying it, I understand – up to a point - why women are more likely to fall into emotional affairs than men. Or why men enjoy the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition. Certain weaknesses are inherent in our DNA. What I cannot understand, however, is what the attraction is in BSDM porn – the most extreme perversion of human intimacy imaginable – and how on earth porn has gone from public perception as seedy and shameful to being celebrated as a romantic art form. Philippian 4:8 commands the Christian to think on what is right; pure; honorable; lovely; and of good repute. Does this kind of “literature” fall under any of these categories?
What, exactly, does reading about a deviant, violence-filed sexual relationship do for you, ladies? Does it help you to grow in holiness? When you put it down, what does this book’s “wisdom” inspire you to do….unload the dishwasher? Pack your kids’ school lunches? Iron the family’s clothes? I like to think things over while ironing. I’m sure that’s it.
Abuse as Entertainment
A 2013 Journal of Women’s Health study stated the novels “romanticize abuse of women” and deemed the ironically-named “Christian” to be an emotionally and sexually abusive cad. No kidding, really? Did we really need a study to tell us this?
It is no secret that filmography has gotten increasingly violent and more graphic over the last decades. “50 Shades’” glorification of violence against women has been well-documented, and is reason enough for anyone to avoid the film. But there is another truth that Christian ladies need to acknowledge: By watching this film or reading these books, you are choosing to entertain yourself with the very things that nailed Jesus to the Cross.
Let that sink in for a moment.
The increase in violent films, video games etc. has led to an increasingly de-sensitized culture. Consider this: the sex trade is alive and well. Real young women like “Ana” are trafficked around the world, every day, and degraded against their will. They are all someone’s daughter. There is nothing more blatantly satanic than the degradation of another human being, who is made in the image of God.
The Message to Our Daughters
Knowing she had not read the books, I asked my 17-year-old daughter if they were popular among girls her age. She snickered, and admitted she didn’t know anyone who had read “50 Shades”. “It’s women your age who are reading that stuff, Mom…and older women, in their sixties. We laugh at it.” (Most of the readers of “50 Shades” are between the ages of 29-66). While I was glad that the book isn’t popular among American teens, the fact that my generation is popularizing “Mommy Porn” (and thus “normalizing” it) is tragic. If I didn’t have two daughters, who I want to raise as godly young women, it might not disturb me quite so much. But it does.
While we’re here, let’s dispel another myth popular among evangelicals: we cannot “guard” our daughters’ purity. In fact, we cannot guard anyone’s purity, except our own. We can only give them the Gospel; show grace, and pray that they will follow Christ. We do not want them to embrace a moral code and think they are Christians – we want them to embrace the living Christ; and follow His moral Law out of love and gratitude. If Christian moms are reading “50 Shades”, what message about God’s plan for marital love does this send? Does it keep the marriage bed pure (Hebrews 13:4)?
Renewing the Mind Defiled by “50 Shades”
While Christians may be reading “50 Shades”, I do not believe they are able to do so without conviction. The shame attached to this particular sin makes it harder for female porn users to admit they want help in forsaking it, although they are not unusual in the counseling room. The first step is in admitting that reading or viewing erotica is, in fact, sin. For the believer, this shouldn’t even be a question. This is simply not a gray area.
Next, she needs to see the behavior porn depicts as God does: filthy. While images and thoughts cannot be “unseen”, all believers are indwelt by the Holy Spirit and are no longer enslaved to sin. We can control what we think about, and self-discipline is a fruit of the Spirit. It is wise to start with 2 Corinthians 10:5 (“Take every thought captive to make it obedient to Christ”) to break the stronghold of sexual sin.
Throughout much of Scripture the process of choosing to think pure, godly thoughts is described. Renewal and transformation of the mind with the Word of God is crucially important for women who have become enslaved to porn, and “taking thoughts captive” is a good metaphor. Jay Adams wrote, “We do not have to let our minds go wandering down every alley; poking into every garbage can along the way.” Since all sin begins in the mind, I think of the first step of repentance as closing a door in my mind: “This is not an option. Period.”
Looking Upward; Not Inward
Unlike psychotherapy, which delves into the deeper reasons of why we may be prone to certain desires or behaviors, biblical counseling is more concerned with the solution: turning around and “putting on” the godly alternative. Forsaking a sinful thought pattern or behavior does not mean constantly ruminating on it or asking for deeper revelation into the reasons why we went in that direction. We sin because we are sinners; it is our nature. For example, when counseling bulimics, I do not ask them to keep a food journal - it focuses undue attention on the food itself; rather than the idols in their hearts. Likewise, a woman repenting of erotica/porn use needs to be in the Bible, but not necessarily fixating on every verse that deals with sexual sin. The whole of Scripture renews the soul by revealing the character of God – a start contrast to the dark, demonically-inspired world of “50 Shades”.
In the Gospels, one sees the character of Jesus as one filled with compassion – whether He is healing a leper; forgiving an adulteress; or calling a tax collector. We see it implied everywhere (and stated explicitly in Romans 2:4) that it is His kindness that leads us to repentance – not guilt; shame; or fear. Coming to know the true character of God and receiving His grace is what will change the heart of a woman seeking fulfillment in the broken cisterns of literary porn.