Why is watching pornography considered a sin?
The Bible makes clear that watching pornography is sinful. First, the very word pornography comes from a Greek word porneia, which is translated sexual immorality in our English Bibles. Believers are commanded repeatedly in the New Testament to flee from all kinds of sexual immorality and impurity. Consider these uses of the word porneia in the New Testament:
Gal. 5:19 Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality,
Eph. 5:3 But immorality or any impurity or greed must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints;
1Th. 4:3 For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality;
1Cor. 6:13 Food is for the stomach and the stomach is for food, but God will do away with both of them. Yet the body is not for immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord is for the body.
We could go on with more examples, but as you can see the Bible makes clear that the believer is to abstain from any and all forms of sexual immorality, from which we get the word pornography.
More specifically, watching pornography involves at least three forms of sin:
1. Licentiousness - The sexual acts on display in pornographic material are acts of fornication, which is the sin of sexual contact outside marriage. When we take part in this enterprise as an observer (i.e., as a customer of pornography), we are condoning and promoting fornication. This promoting behavior is itself the sin of licentiousness, or giving license to sin.
2Cor. 12:21 I am afraid that when I come again, my God may humiliate me before you, and I will grieve for many of those who previously sinned and have not repented of the impurity, sexual immorality, and licentiousness that they have practiced.
2. Lust - Pornographic materials are intended to illicit sexual arousal in our flesh, which is lust. Lust is any arousal of the flesh which occurs in an immoral manner, and the whole purpose of filming other people engaging in sexual acts (often grossly distorted and perverted acts) is to entice lust in the hearts of the audience.
Lust is a sin, and anything that brings us to the point of lust is a sinfully corrupting and tempting influence. Jesus says that the commission of lust is equal to the commission of adultery. Consider the Bible's teaching:
Matt. 5:28 but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
James 1:14 But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust.
James 1:15 Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death.
3. Sensuality - Watching pornography involves taking pleasure in observing strangers in a state of nakedness, which is the sin of sensuality or lewdness according to Scripture.
Glorying in another person's nakedness is sinful behavior, according to Scripture. Beginning in the Garden of Eden and continuing throughout the Bible, we find those who take pleasure in another's nakedness (outside of marriage) are depicted as shameful and due condemnation. For example, when one of Noah's sons took pleasure in seeing his father lying naked in his tent in Genesis 9, the Bible portrays the son's act as shameful and dishonoring.
More importantly, the Lord sees such conduct as reprehensible. Consider the Lord's admonishment against Israel when they engaged in lewd and immoral conduct:
Hab. 2:15 “Woe to you who make your neighbors drink,
Who mix in your venom even to make them drunk
So as to look on their nakedness!
Hab. 2:16 “You will be filled with disgrace rather than honor.
Now you yourself drink and expose your own nakedness.
The cup in the LORD’S right hand will come around to you,
And utter disgrace will come upon your glory.
In summary, the act of watching pornography is immoral and sinful. It is wrong because it condones fornication and is licentiousness. It is intended to induce lust in the heart, and it exposes us to the nakedness of strangers.
For practical advice on ending an addition to pornography, please read Solutions to a Pornography Addiction.