We're not in the age of Playboy anymore. Teenagers and children once had to stumble upon a friend's magazine stash or face a convenience store clerk to get their hands on pornography.
But these days porn is available at the tap of a finger-on computers, smart phones, tablets, and cable television. So much so that even secular consciences are prickling.
A survey by the Public Religion Research Institute found that only 29 percent of Americans believe consuming pornography is morally acceptable. A full 77 percent of women condemn it, and despite the fact that roughly half of American men are hooked on it, 65 percent of them say they disapprove. Deep in their hearts, most Americans just know it's wrong.
But without appealing to Christian morality, justifying their aversion to pornography is a challenge-although they have come up with several interesting theories.
Many experts are treating porn addiction like a disease. Writing in the Daily Mail, British psychotherapist John Woods describes how many of his young patients spend hours a day indulging their obsession at the expense of schoolwork, relationships, and jobs. They end up in his office after their habits take them beyond the limits of what's legal-and police come knocking at the parents' doors.
Take Jamie, a 13-year-old who's now a registered sex offender after police found child pornography on his computer. His parents, who assumed he was doing homework during the long evenings upstairs, were oblivious to the dark world their son had discovered.
"I stopped leaving my room and seeing my friends," Jamie says, "because when I was away from the pornography, I was dying to get back to see what else I could find."
According to Woods, young people like Jamie, who have had access to high speed internet since birth, are on the front edge of a looming public health crisis.
"Once these brutal images have formed a child's first sex lesson," Woods writes, "they can be difficult to erase. The more hardcore the material, the more intense and long-lasting the effects."
But many others don't see pornography as a disease; it's bigotry. More to the point, it's misogyny.
Take HBO's smash hit series, "Game of Thrones," a show packed with nudity and sex. From its premiere, producers have had to defend their seemingly pointless and routinely pornographic depictions of violence against women. Meghan Casserly, writing in Forbes, argues that audiences have come to accept what she calls "sexist" programming where women are portrayed as playthings for men-just as long as historic costumes and settings are involved.
There's truth here, but neither objection really gets to the bottom of what's going on, or why so many consciences are still bothered by porn.
In a time where most people will write off Jesus' clear warning that even looking at a woman lustfully is equivalent to adultery, we need to be able to make the case why this stuff is so wrong, and such a bad substitute for the beautiful sex God designed. Here's a good place to start.
Pornography is an assault on human dignity, because it changes the way a viewer looks at and relates to other people. When a man consumes porn, women become a commodity rather than a person. And this alters how men treat women off-screen, too, and threatens real and loving relationships.
Also, it preys on children. The average age of first exposure to porn is nine, says Josh McDowell. And it's not because they're looking for it. It's looking for them.
And of course, there's the physical and emotional harm inflicted on the men and women depicted in porn. Disease, abuse, sex-trafficking, drug use are all rampant in the porn industry.
Using the language of human dignity, harm, and justice, we can help move our culture beyond guilt to action.