They Do Exist.

A Woman’s Conversation About Purity, Porn, and Erotica

Editor’s Note: Today’s post is written by Katherine. She has her degrees in Child and Family Development and Women’s Studies, and blogs at Her Maiden Voyage. You can also follow her on Twitter at @kathhickey. – Lauren

As a feminist and a Christian, I love opportunities to bridge the two cultures together, and porn allows us to do just that. While I can’t speak on behalf of the entire feminist community, I can say a growing number of feminists are strongly dismissing porn as an anti-woman industry. This probably comes as a surprise to many who aren’t involved in the feminist movement. However, you would be surprised by how many topics feminists and Christians agree on, and pornography is no exception.

On average, 11 is the age at which boys start viewing or are exposed to porn. This means that pornography is the one of the first sex educators. It is crafting young boys’ first images of sexuality. Let’s stop and think about this. A young boy’s first perception of sexuality is of usually extremely violent sex, where the male partner treats his female partner as an inferior, in wholly unrealistic situations, practicing unusual sexual acts. What do you think he is going to expect his first sexual encounter to look like? What do you think he is going to expect his female partner to perform during sex? What do you think he is going to try to perform during sex? I shudder. Researcher and anti-porn activist Gail Dines wrote a book named “Pornland: How Porn Has Hijacked Our Sexuality”. The title alone captures what is happening in our porn-saturated culture; we are being hijacked. Directors and filmmakers are creating images that dictate how we are expected to have sex. Gail Dines claims men are having “industrial strength sex that makes real sex seem boring”. It treats women as a commodity, disposable. It creates norms, and very disturbing norms at that, for how we are expected to experience sex. It regresses women into patriarchal, stereotypical, gender roles, where sex is something you do to a woman, not with a woman.

There is one particular form of pornography that rarely gets mentioned, and that is erotic fiction. I love my Amazon Kindle, I really do, I just don’t like having to pay for e-books. Amazon offers a list of free e-books, and most of them fall in the category of erotica. What I find interesting is that Amazon has no qualms around releasing all of the erotica for free. I like to think that subconsciously, they realize its lack of value, and can’t imagine charging a reader for such useless books. While I haven’t heard many stories of women who read erotica, I realize that it can be just as tempting as “the real stuff”.

I remember reading The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks in high school and being shocked that there was steamy sex scene in it. While my objections to porn align themselves pretty well with erotica, there is one aspect of erotica that really trumps them all. Authors use words to describe feelings, thoughts, and emotions. We are going beyond the visual of porn, we are stepping into the person’s mind. Not only are told that this is what sex looks like, we are told that sex must also make you feel a certain way, and think certain things. The actual sexual act is hijacked, but also the emotions and feelings surrounding it.

In Christian circles, we tend to associate our conversations around porn with the notion of purity. Purity in itself is an interesting concept. We tend to have a binary, dichotomous, view of purity. You are pure or you are not. You are a virgin or you are not. You are a prude or you are a whore. We have regressed purity to a state of being which, once lost, cannot be retrieved. This is incredibly obvious in our discourse on purity. Why do we call it “losing your virginity”? Why is it lost? Where did it go? Can you find it again? Jessica Valenti wrote a wonderful book on the topic called The Purity Myth. While it is written from a secular standpoint and some Christian readers won’t agree with all of it, it is still a mine of information and insight. Valenti claims, “For women especially, virginity has become the easy answer – the morality quick fix. You can be vapid, stupid, and unethical, but so long as you’ve never had sex, you’re a “good” (i.e. “moral”) girl and therefore worthy of praise.”

She’s right. We have a double standard. Our sexuality is not limited to whether or not we have had intercourse, even though that’s what religious groups tend to focus on. Our sexuality is engrained in a larger culture and society. Our sexuality is influenced by the media, by friends and family. We may be hesitant to admit this, but nearly everyone and everything around us affects our sexuality. Purity is not an “either/or” situation, but a “both/and” notion. Viewing porn does not instantly turn you into an “impure person” instead of a “pure person”, because let’s be honest, we are all impure. We have all participated, seen, or read something we shouldn’t have. I am not purer than the person beside me who is addicted to porn.

We need to remember that we all have the same goal, and are reaching for the same prize. Purity isn’t something you lose, because you never really had it to begin with. We are all born into sin, in a world saturated in sex and self-gratification. It is something you gain. It is something you work towards. Impurity is about staying where you are, at the bottom of the ladder looking up. And thank God, there will always be room for improvement, to move upward, to work towards the Ultimate Gain.


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9 Responses

  1. stephindialogue

    This is really excellent. You successfully roused alarm at the idea of erotic literature that imposes not only on the body but the mind and body of emotions as well. What may seem like a leisurely activity easily opens up our minds to be vulnerably shaped by this kind of content, shaping expectations and convictions. The same is true for all of us as we are daily exposed to the world's view of sex through different mediums, discernment seems to be the best way to keep ourselves attentive and thinking critically.

    November 7, 2011 at 7:56 am

    • Katherine

      Thank you for your comment, Stephanie! I think erotic literature can sometimes be neglected in the pornography conversation. It's my contention that it's a lot easier to feel comfortable "dabbling" into erotica than visual porn. I have found more and more racy scenes in novels in the past few years. In fact, I wonder if novelists are feeling pressured by the industry to participate in the sex culture.

      November 7, 2011 at 1:02 pm

  2. Theresa

    Katherine, it is not an understatement to say that this article has freed me from a horrific and life-long bondage to my own past struggles with sexual purity, a bondage which led to my viewing pornography and despising my sexual organs and desires, a bondage which bordered on hopelessness that I would ever be able to embrace my own sexuality as a beautiful gift. Particularly powerful is your statement that "purity isn't something you lose because you never really had it to begin with. We are all born into sin, in a world saturated in sex and self-gratification. [Purity] is something you gain. It is something you work towards." I can now visualize a life before me that in freedom explores and enjoys my sexuality in the context of marriage without being harassed for the rest of my life by my own short-comings before marriage. Our Christian community has done an extreme disservice to young men and women by casting purity as lily white versus the branded letter A. I see now how this depiction is nothing more than a thin line between righteous obedience and a subtle, condemning legalism.

    November 7, 2011 at 2:55 pm

    • Katherine

      Wow Theresa thank you for your thoughts. I know so many girls and women who think that once "lost", purity can never be obtained again so they give up all together. It's a pass or fail test in our minds. Thank goodness it's not that way for God, who doesn't brand us with a big "A" as you put it. We forget that purity is a process, not an exam. We are constantly regressing and progressing towards purity. I am glad to hear that you are working upward. I pray God will soak you with gumption :)

      November 7, 2011 at 4:57 pm

  3. Guest

    "She’s right. We have a double standard. Our sexuality is not limited to whether or not we have had intercourse, even though that’s what religious groups tend to focus on. Our sexuality is engrained in a larger culture and society. Our sexuality is influenced by the media, by friends and family. We may be hesitant to admit this, but nearly everyone and everything around us affect our sexuality."

    About what?

    And how is it not?

    Your sexuality may be, but not mine and not anyone else's of valor and independent-thought, of which there are very, very few.

    November 8, 2011 at 1:00 am

  4. Thanks Katherine for this terrific post.

    Remember the "take me away Calgon' commercials? There is nothing more fun than diving into a hot, steamy, and ROMANTIC well written erotica book by an author who understands the values of love, honor, cherish, respect and really great female sex.

    What better way to learn new techniques and fantasies to enjoy with your beloved in the privacy of your own bedroom. Men are great at providing, and that includes fabulous sensual pleasure for their partner. These stories not only arouse women, they provide her with some fun new ideas for an emotionally safe, sensually pleasing time with her guy! Hello!

    Women are aroused by how they feel… and reading about all that wonderful, emotionally connecting, consensual sex… mmm mmm mmm! Lucky gals AND guys. Keep the sparks alive in your marriage/committed relations… grab a great romantica and start reading!

    @Ande Lyons
    @bringbackdesire

    PS: in my humble opinion, porn is something you watch, erotica is something you read.

    March 25, 2012 at 12:47 pm

  5. Pingback: Top 10 Saddest/Craziest/Understandable Things I’ve Seen Christians Believe About Relationships

  6. Ingrid

    Would have to disagree about erotica. As I love to read, and sometimes I read murder mysteries or novels dealing with adultery. These books do not somehow get into my mind and convince me to kill someone or want to commit adultery/fornicate. Erotica is just like any other genre. It CAN be dangerous, just as it can have no negative affects. Doesn't this depend on the person reading it? Some people watch movies/read books and are entertained, others choose to act out on them. The important thing is to have an intimate relationship w/ God. He will not hesitate to convict us when we do something we shouldn't be doing.
    Erotica can also help married couples. It can give them new ideas to try out w/o them having to watch pornography.

    March 25, 2013 at 9:04 pm

  7. I remember reading The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks in high school and being shocked that there was steamy sex scene in it. While my objections to porn align themselves pretty well with erotica, there is one aspect of erotica that really trumps them all. Authors use words to describe feelings, thoughts, and emotions. We are going beyond the visual of porn, we are stepping into the person’s mind. Not only are told that this is what sex looks like, we are told that sex must also make you feel a certain way, and think certain things.

    December 23, 2013 at 5:17 am

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