Porn and the Singleness Panic

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Why the state of marriage doesn’t mean we lower our standards.

Giving love

Young women raised in the church are given a number of directives for choosing their lifelong partner. Beyond simply finding a Christian, they are told–and rightly so–to seek a man who is active and sincere in his faith, who is growing in godliness, a man who will be a spiritual leader and loving father. Not that they’ll ever find a perfect husband, nor indeed themselves be a perfect wife, but they are told to have standards, to not “settle” for less. To marry wisely.

The years pass, and, because they have faithfully followed this advice, many, many of these young women are still single.

And this is causing some churches and ministers to panic.

 

Porn and the Singleness Panic

 

By Gina Dalfonzo for Christianity Today

 

In a society that largely champions sexual expression, including pornography, it is heartening to hear someone acknowledge its detriments. That’s why I was initially glad to see sociologist Mark Regnerus’s recent article in First Things.

“Revelations of pornography use end an unknown number of relationships, including plenty of marriages and many courtships,” wrote Regnerus, known for his research on sex, relationships, and family. “Contrary to what is sometimes asserted, women have the right to be annoyed or upset by porn. It’s not a good thing.”

But then he went on:

We often overlook another casualty of pornography (and the human reaction to it): relationships that fail to launch. Breaking off a relationship because of pornography use can be a rational, justifiable, and moral reaction to a problem—the predilection for peering at nudity online—but such actions contribute in ways not often noted to our broad retreat from marriage.

Regnerus brought up women who consider porn a dating deal-breaker. “While I’m sympathetic to their concern, I can also promise you that widespread departures—given the dour numbers on porn use—will only accelerate the flight from marriage in the Church and is likely to backfire on women…who would leave for pastures that may well not be greener.”

Porn is so prevalent, he says, that if all Christian women left their boyfriends or turned down suitors based on their browser histories, marriage and the future of the church would be doomed.

From his article, it’s easy for readers to conclude: Marriage is so important that we may need to start rethinking the idea of pornography as a deal-breaker.

As an unmarried woman, I fall into the target audience for such an argument. I respect Regnerus’s motivation for writing this piece. I believe he feels sympathetic toward those of us who are having difficulty finding a spouse, and that he sincerely desires to help promote marriage as a social good. But having said all that, I find his advice highly problematic. He puts undue blame on women for the state of marriage and could easily be read as suggesting they stop turning away men who view porn.

Regnerus himself states outright what many Christians already believe: Pornography is no good.

He links to a previous First Things piece (this one written by Reinhard Hütter) that calls porn “a uniquely toxic combination of the lust of the eyes and the lust of the flesh,” a practice that strikes at the very heart of human dignity. Yet, he seems to recommend Christian women consider choosing as their life partners men who participate in a practice that exploits women, desensitizes users, and too often destroys sexual intimacy in marriage. If we take seriously Christ’s warning that to lust after a woman is to commit adultery in the heart (Matt. 5:28), that’s asking women to tolerate adultery.

It should be noted that the term “pornography use” spans from the person who’s participated a few times and then walked away, to the person who wants to stop participating but is struggling to do so, to the hardcore, unrepentant addict. We recognize a significant difference between the person who acknowledges that porn use is wrong and is making a serious effort to abandon it, and the person who condones it and sees no reason to stop.

But unfortunately, there are plenty of the latter around, even among Christians. Having listed porn use as a “deal-breaker” in my own eHarmony profile, I’ve been scolded for my prudishness by a couple of those Christian men. Needless to say, I felt absolutely no desire to get to know them well enough for marriage.

At this point I have to ask: What happened to all those voices I heard in the church when I was growing up, the leaders telling us women to keep our standards high, and to choose only a truly godly man to be the spiritual leader in our home and the loving father of our children?

Here’s what happened: They saw singleness increasing within the church and started to panic.

I’ve written before that today’s church puts marriage on such a high pedestal that singles are often made to feel second-rate. I can now add to this that we’ve put it on such a high pedestal that we’re hinting at Christians to compromise their standards just to achieve it. In other words, we’ve turned it into an idol. And that makes singles feel more isolated than ever.

As Anthony Esolen recently wrote in Crisis: “Have you considered all those young people who want to be married, who should be married, but who, because they will not play evil’s game, can find no one to marry? The girls who at age twenty-five and older have never even been asked on a date? The ‘men’ languishing in a drawn-out adolescence? These people are among us; they are everywhere.

“Who gives them a passing thought? They are suffering for their faith, and no one cares.”

No one cares. That’s exactly how it feels when, having been taught to seek God’s highest and best for your life, and take a stand for sexual purity no matter the cost, you see some Christian leaders start start to back away from that teaching. After all, nothing could be worse than a church full of single people—that particular cost is too high—so just lower your standards and get married already!

Well, we celibate Christian singles are the ones paying the cost, so we should have a say in this discussion.

And what I have to say is this: I would rather be single for the rest of my life than marry the wrong man just to prove a point, to make a gesture, or to reassure everyone that the church isn’t fleeing from marriage. Marriage is far too important to treat it like that.

Marriage is, in fact, the social good that Mark Regnerus believes it to be. Those of us who desire it can vouch for that. But his effort to make things easier for us, in the end, only makes them harder.

Honestly, there’s a lot about being 39 and single that I don’t like. But as one of my friends said when discussing Regnerus’s piece, he’s asking us to capitulate to a worldview that says pornography gets to make the rules, and we just have to live with it.

And there’s even less to like about that.

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