What Do Porn & Donuts Have In Common?

Donuts.  So delicious.  So bad for me.

I know they’re unhealthy, and I know that afterwards, that donut (or 3) will leave me feeling worse for wear.  So why do I go there?

The same could be said for many decisions that people make in life.  We have a sense of what is good for us and bad for us, and yet we so often don’t choose the good.  It could be our approach to driving, or to exercise, or the ill-fated sports team we continue to support.  We so often knowingly and willingly choose the bad.

The Huffington Post published an article this week about Australians’ use of porn and how women are depicted in porn.  The article featured the findings of a University of Sydney study involving 20,000 people.  They found that 42% of men and 49% of women believe that pornography degraded the women in it.  The survey also found that half of the respondents believed that watching porn could improve their sex lives.  

Let’s hope that those who thought porn improved their sex lives weren’t the same ones who said it was degrading to women.

So why do people watch something when they believe it to be degrading to women?

James K. A. Smith recently wrote a book called “You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power Of Habit.”  Smith argues that people aren’t predominantly moved by what they believe is right or wrong, rather they act according to what they love.

So as I walk past Donut King, and I smell those cinnamon donuts, I want the flavour and satisfaction that comes from eating them more than I want to be healthy.  In my mind, I minimise the harmful consequences and over-emphasise the good.  I choose short-term pleasure over long-term gain.

Is it possible that people do exactly the same thing with porn?  We know it’s degrading to women.  We might even believe that there are other issues that result from watching porn.  We may even feel there’s something morally suspect about it.  But in that moment, we want the arousal and pleasure it causes more than we want to avoid consuming something that degrades women.

Because after all, it’s easy to think that despite the clear degradation of women in porn, they appear to love what’s happening to them.

So how do we fix it?  

Some would argue the answer is to watch porn that isn’t degrading towards women.  The problem with this argument is that all pornography commodifies people - both men and women.  And to reduce and commodify people in that manner is by definition degrading. This also ignores the wealth of information about the harms related to habitual consumption of pornography.

Perhaps a better way is to begin to consider our loves.  In his book, Smith talks about the need to reorder and retrain our loves.  

For the person watching porn, there has to be a recognition that there is a disconnect between what we know is wrong and what we do.  We want to get off by watching porn, and so in order to change our behaviour we need to want something else more.  

Smith, writing from a Christian worldview, argues that people should love God above all else, and order their loves around God’s work in the world and his world.

For those who don’t subscribe to the Christian faith, there’s still wisdom in what Smith is arguing.  We need to want the good more, see the good as more attractive, more valuable - ultimately it’s about denying a short term high for a long term one.

It’s easier said than done, especially when it comes to porn.  But this kind of thinking changes the conversation from ‘stop wanting something bad’ to ‘want something good more’.  And that change could make all the difference.  Because the odd donut here or there is no big deal.  And while porn won’t make you gain weight, its hidden effects can be far more detrimental.

Here’s to loving and choosing the good.