Anti-Porn Doesn’t Have to Be Anti-Sex…

But it often is.


The NY Times has an article about the first Christian ministry to address porn addiction with female clients. I’ve written about my thoughts on sex addiction and I think that many of them carry over to porn addiction as well. The short version is that I recognize that many people feel out of control with their porn habits and they need some support for dealing with that. By the same token, some people are out of control with their spending, eating, or video game habits. People seem to get hooked into cycles of behavior that cause problems for them for lots of reasons and in lots of ways, so I think it’s important to have help when they want to change their patterns.

Having said that, there’s a quote in the NY Times article that I think is pretty relevant:

Kelsie, the 17-year-old, also agreed to speak on the condition that her full name not be used. She said that she had been taught secular views about masturbation, but that Ms. Renaud’s way made more sense.

She added: “You have to take into consideration what’s best for the one you’re going to be with. Say someday I’m married and my husband can’t please me as much as I please myself. That’d be terrible.”

I agree. That would be terrible. But what I think is even more appalling is that the solution offered by the church group is for this young woman to keep herself ignorant about the range of possibilities and sexual pleasures available to her. Instead, they’re telling her to avoid masturbating in order to preserve a relationship with a hypothetical man who doesn’t know or doesn’t care to learn how to be a good lover. And that is, in my opinion, one of the most sex-negative messages that they could send.


Solo sex is one of the best ways to discover what you like and don’t like. It’s one of the best ways to take responsibility for your own pleasure and satisfaction. Rather than protecting her future husband’s fragile ego, this woman could show him what she likes and they could learn how to develop their sexual relationship to be the best that it could be. But instead, she’s encouraged to forgo her own pleasure and coddle his incompetence.

Sex-negativity may not be the entire foundation of this approach. There may be an aspect of it that’s rooted in the idea that women’s sexuality is dangerous, or that women are supposed to be inexperienced when they get married. This is where we see the intersection of erotophobia, slut-shaming, and sexism.

Whatever the underlying motivation, there are much better ways to help this young woman. According to the article, she’s been looking at porn since she was 10 and she wants to stop. Rather than avoiding masturbation, I think she might get a lot out of learning how to be fully present while masturbating. She could learn to let go of the fantasies (whether on a screen or in her head) and discover how to tune into her authentic desires, wherever they may come from. This could be an opportunity for her to find ways to connect with her authentic sexual pleasure, which would help her build a solid relationship with another person.

Granted, given that she’s a minor, the church group might be a bit wary of going there with her. But from the article, it’s pretty clear that they don’t make a distinction between masturbation that supports well-being and masturbation that harms it. And that’s what makes their message sex-negative. Helping people develop better sex lives can sometimes include helping them find ways to stop distracting themselves with porn. I get that. And I would really love to see more people doing that without vilifying sexually explicit media, masturbation, or sex.

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2 Responses so far.

  1. Tim says:

    Charlie thank you so much for posting this and your smart comments. I saw this article too and liked your deconstruction of it…

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  2. May Ling Su says:

    This reminds me of my adolescence, discovering my sexuality, finding porn in my parents’ closet, all in an overwhelmingly Catholic environment (church on Sunday and all-girls Catholic school on the weekdays). Masturbation and viewing porn felt naughty, and that was exciting, but it also made me feel guilty and ashamed. I must have said, “impure thoughts” in confession every week! There is so much wrong in making people feel bad about something that is so natural and good and essential.

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