celibacy, chastity, pornography, Sex

Frank Answers About Pornography and Chastity

Question: Is pornography always bad? What does it mean to live a chaste life, whether married or single? What does it mean to be celibate?

This questioner wants a course in sexology. I’ll give the Cliff Notes version. Let’s begin with your questions asking about chastity and celibacy because these terms are often confused and then to go to the main question about pornography.


To lead a chaste life means to be sexually pure in one’s thoughts, words, and actions. Martin Luther gives a traditional Christian understanding of chaste sexuality in his explanation of the sixth commandment, “You shall not commit adultery,” in his Small Catechism. He writes: “We are to fear and love God, so that we lead pure and decent lives in word and deed, and each of us loves and honors his or her spouse.” The commandment forbidding adultery (unfaithfulness in marriage) is linked with chastity. Being chaste in marriage means, above all, being faithful to your spouse. Marriage vows are not primarily about love but about fidelity. You “forsake all others” and cleave to your spouse. Being chaste means you don’t get involved with someone else in a way that could lead to an adulterous affair.

Being chaste in singleness means you don’t have sexual intercourse until you’re married. That’s been the traditional Christian view (and the view of other religions also). The problem in our modern world is that people are waiting longer to get married today than they did in earlier times. Especially young adults who go to college or university and are getting started in a career may put off marriage until their lives have stabilized. Can one hold off from sexual intercourse until, say, one’s thirties? This may seem impossible in today’s hook-up culture, but it’s been known to happen.

Many people in Western societies today don’t get married at all, although they may parody marriage by moving in with a partner and living together. They may even have children without the benefit of a public, legal commitment. But there’s usually some kind of private commitment. They are really living a married life without the benefit of legal recognition or the religious bestowal of God’s blessing. So I would say that chastity also applies to this relationship of co-habitation. Hopefully the relationship will move toward a legal marriage which would secure the relationship, at least for the sake of children born to this sexual union who should have the stability of two parents in their lives.

Couple in bed laughing and cuddling


Celibacy, on the other hand, is an intentional commitment not to get married or to be in a sexual relationship. It is abstinence from a sexual relationship. There have been renunciates in several religious traditions who have given up marriage and family to devote themselves to the work of God. Jesus spoke of those who are celibates (eunuchs) for the sake of the kingdom of God.  The early church had orders of widows and virgins who took vows of celibacy. This is the origin of orders of nuns. Celibacy is usually accompanied by a vow, just like marriage. Some celibate monks, nuns, and priests may have had spouses and sexual relationships in their past. But once they make their vow they are single thereafter (although this singleness is often lived in a community of celibates). In Christianity celibacy is a holy calling and it is not for everyone since it requires resisting the temptations prompted by  natural biological urges.


Now we can move on to what I assume is the main issue in the question: pornography—good or bad?

What is porn? In 1964 U.S. Supreme Court Justice Potter Steward, in describing his threshold test for obscenity in Jacobellis v. Ohio, famously wrote: “I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description [“hard-core pornography”], and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it, and the motion picture involved in this case is not that.”

I think Justice Stewart’s description applies to everyone: we know pornography when we see it because it arouses us and offers no further redeeming value.  This definition of pornography is necessarily subjective because what arouses me may not arouse you. So there needs to be a more general recognition that some works of art, novels, and films, which are erotic, have redeeming qualities. This may be because they profoundly probe the human condition (e.g., D. H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover) or idealize human sexuality (e.g. medieval Indian Shiva-Shakti figurines in yab yum posture).  Here’s an example of a Loving Couple from the Eastern Ganga dynasty in 13th century Odisha, India in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, on display for everyone to see.

Loving Couple 13th c India

Back in the days of my youth (not quite a millennium ago) we had Playboy and other girly magazines that we smuggled into our bedrooms and hid from our parents. Some guys in college, of course, said they bought Playboy for its literary content and suggested that some of the centerfolds were works of art. After all, the photos had been air-brushed and touched up. Probably those Playboy nudes would not be considered pornographic today. I think pornographic material is not only sexually explicit, but its sole purpose is to arouse the viewer or reader (and it usually lacks any artistic merit). The above 13th century figure could definitely be arousing, but it also has artistic and historical value.

The internet presents a whole different situation. Porn on the internet is ubiquitous and available at the click of the mouse. Who hasn’t viewed it? I can’t imagine anyone who uses the internet—from youth to old age—who hasn’t encountered porn. It manages to seep through even the strictest security settings. I can’t imagine anyone who, upon encountering it (even by accident), doesn’t linger a bit…and then maybe go to a few more links. It is highly seductive and viewing regularly it can easily become addictive.


Married folks, and even celibates, take occasional or regular dips into the murky waters of internet porn. Religious people watch porn. So do women. A New York Times article reported that many young women learn about different sex positions from watching porn. British photographer Amanda de Cadenet teamed up with Marie Claire to create a comprehensive survey exploring modern women’s relationships with porn and the results indicate that the majority of female porn fans are viewing the erotic videos alone, for their own pleasure, rather than with a partner. “Using porn to cultivate one’s own sexual agency is very different from what we often hear: that women feel threatened by it or watch it reluctantly in order to please their partner,” Amanda explained.

Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-3281671/One-three-women-admit-watch-porn-week-say-use-cell-phones-view-X-rated-footage.html#ixzz4KE8bYnjo


The problem is that regularly watching porn can escalate what you are willing to watch. Viewing a man and a women having ordinary sex fails to arouse after a while and so the person moves on to threesomes, gang bangs, rape scenes, and other perverted types of sex.  Some people end up watching child porn because of this escalation.  At this point you’re into illegal stuff because child porn involves taking and looking at explicit pictures of innocent children who have been taken advantage of for commercial gain. Viewers as well as producers are  exploiting tender youth and that’s just plain sinful. The viewers are as guilty as the producers because if there weren’t potential viewers, there would be little reason to produce it—which is true of all pornography.

Sex on the Brain

I won’t pretend to be an authority on why people who are prone to addictive behavior fixate on viewing porn. But there is an obvious link between porn, masturbation, and erectile dysfunction. Why are so many millennials complaining about erectile dysfunction? Does it have anything to do with the amount of pornography they view on the internet?

Teenage boy lying on his bed at home using a smart phone to watch porn.

Masturbation and porn can cause erectile dysfunction when the brain becomes confused about whether one is self-gratifying  or having sex with a partner. There is a difference between being in complete control over one’s movement toward ejaculation and reciprocating with a partner to bring about mutual orgasm. For some single people watching porn masturbating may be the only sex they have. But consider that when masturbating while watching porn the body’s energy is going into the screen because that’s the source of your arousal.  The body’s energy follows the focus of the mind’s attention.

There is a better way to pleasure oneself than by watching porn. Sex occurs both in the brain and genitals. A thought or visual image can trigger a reaction in the genitals, which is the way many of us function when looking at porn.  But masturbating while watching porn results in a weak ejaculation that does not revitalize the body because the sexual energy goes into the screen rather than staying in the body.

One can engage in self-pleasuring that is not prompted by porn and focused only on the genitals. Your genitals can react to any stimulation, like a breeze blowing on your naked body, rubbing your body all over as far as your arms and hands can travel, and breathing deeply. You can feel your body vibrate with self love while holding the charge until you reach the absolute  point of ejaculation. The energy loss from this ejaculation is not as great because the body has received energy through your self-pleasuring.  Your attention has been on your own body, not on the screen.

Connecting with Another

While I see no shame in self-pleasuring, I must say that humans are created to connect with others sexually.  When exploring and loving another person bodily our energy is going out to that other person and we are also receiving energy from that person in return.   Psychologists report an increasing number of male clients who experience erectile dysfunction and aren’t interested in sex with a partner. Upon further probing it turns out that they spend several hours a day viewing porn. Their sexual energy has gone into the screen, not into their bodies.

Guilt Feelings

Many people feel guilty that they get into pornography. They want to stop looking at this stuff but it’s damn hard to break any addiction, and watching porn is no exception. For those who want to break the habit I suggest getting into more interesting and productive projects or spending time in meditation. But be aware that relapse is not only probable — it’s inevitable. Rather than shaming yourself and feeling really bad, reflect on what led you to relapse and think about how you can better handle the situation next time you get the urge. Nothing is gained by cultivating self-hate, and it could even lead to deepening your addictive habit.

Having said this, I must also ask: Is viewing pornography—at least the “legal” stuff—the worst way to be bad? I don’t think so. The grave sins enumerated in the ancient church were apostasy, murder, and adultery. We usually rank “sins of the flesh” as the worse sins because they are so close to us. And viewing porn can produce guilt and shame and may cause some Christians to even despair of their salvation.

Justification by Faith through Grace

When it gets that bad I must bring to bear on the despairing believer Martin Luther’s most famous doctrine: “justification by faith alone.” After studying St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans, Luther concluded: you cannot do anything to be saved except believe that you cannot do anything and Christ has accomplished your salvation by his suffering and death on the cross. Luther concluded that giving up women and sex for the austerities of monastic life won’t save you; he tried that. Making vows to give up pornography won’t save you either, even if you are successful at it (and doing so would certainly be a healthy move). Those who seek justification and forgiveness by trying to follow the moral law will end up in despair because, as St. Paul said, the Law kills. Only the freely-offered grace of Christ’s sacrifice offers hope. That is what we depend on for salvation — grace!  Not vows we make such as not watching porn.

Pictorial art often expresses complex ideas with a clarity denied to words. If you need an image to cleanse you from the unchaste images and your guilt and shame over looking at them, look at the image of Christ taking your sin and shame on the cross and trust that you are justified by God and forgiven for Christ’s sake. Then, in thanksgiving, do what pleases God who has given us the good gift of sex to ennoble us by using it to express love and not to debase us.  Remember: the body’s energy follows the focus of the mind’s attention.

Pastor Frank Senn

Crucifixion by Anton van Dyke


  1. Frank Senn
    Comment by post author

    This in an email from a gay college student:
    “For me…, porn allows me to have a fantasy world of things I would probably never do, or it can also give me ideas on things to do! All relating to sex of course. I’ve never watched straight porn — gay porn is my thing. But there are so many “kinky” things gay men can do and I feel porn acts as a great resource to see what I might find hot, or not.”

    • Frank Senn
      Comment by post author

      Thanks for sharing with me your reason for watching porn. I’m glad you aren’t turned on by some of the kinkier things you described to me in your email. (I omitted your list in posting your comment since this is a family-friendly blog). You seem to suggest that watching porn is a form of research. Even doing “research” can become addictive. And what you view can fill your mind with fantasies that are far from chaste. Be careful out there.

  2. Avatar

    Richard Daggett

    Frank –

    I appreciate your thoughtful answers to many difficult questions. I am active in my church, and I recognize that many “churched” people have reluctance to bring up these issues.

    I came to this site through your swimming naked site. And, I found that site when a much younger friend was openly skeptical, and seemed even mortified, when he heard that people in the 1950s would swim naked in a public pool.

    He was even skeptical that junior high boys would be “forced” to shower together. I told him that this was common in 1953, when I entered the 7th grade. I tried to explain that nobody was “forced”, it was just something that all of the boys did.

    I knew he liked to swim, and I asked him if he had ever changed into a swim suit before entering a public pool. He said he always wore his ‘trunks’ under his clothes, and just removed his outer clothes. I guess he wore his wet trunks under his clothes when he finished swimming, and for the rest of the day. Yech.

    Although I never experienced nude swimming (I’ll explain at the end), every public pool I ever attended had male common showers and common areas for changing.

    I must admit to a little trepidation in the 6th grade, as I thought of showering in the 7th grade. I was always the youngest in class. I wondered if the more physically developed boys would taunt me. It never happened, but I’ve heard that it did happen to other boys.

    My journey took a different course after the 7th grade. Sort of like Robert Frost’s poem, The Road Not Taken, “I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.” I turned thirteen after I graduated from the 7th grade, and contracted polio a few days later. I spent the next six months in an “iron lung”. I had my first wet dream while I in the iron lung, and never saw my body until I was almost 16. I had nurses bathe me, dress me, and do almost everything for me.

    • Frank Senn
      Comment by post author

      Dear Richard, I’m glad you find my “Frank answers” helpful. I hope you directed your young friend to Frank Answers About Swimming Naked and the other related posts on swimming naked. Maybe this post on pornography would also be helpful to him.

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