Flee sexually deviant behavior. Every sin that a man doeth is without the body; but he that committeth sexually deviant behavior sinneth against his own body (1 Corinthians 6:18).
We are witnessing major shifts in how people in Western secular culture approach and treat sexual ethics. Our culture seems to enshrine an Epicurean and libertarian philosophy about sex, suggesting that people should be able to do as they please as long as all parties involved consent and no harm is being done. This tendency is especially evident in the treatment of matters such as pornography and sex before marriage (the narrow definition of fornication): those who do or approve such things justify the behavior by suggesting that no one is hurt in the process. If all involved consent to the behavior, how can it be wrong?
But is it true that no one is harmed if one participates in consensual fornication or uses pornography? In 1 Corinthians 6:18 Paul warns the Corinthians to flee porneia, sexually deviant behavior, because while other sins are done outside the body, those practicing porneia sin against their own body. How can this be? What is this “sin against the body”?
Many times the sin against the body is explained in terms of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). STDs can be a consequence of porneia, but not always; it does not seem that STDs are entirely what Paul has in mind in 1 Corinthians 6:18.
In 1 Corinthians 6:12-20 Paul writes to exhort Christians to avoid porneia in its “original” form: he does not want them visiting prostitutes (Greek porne; 1 Corinthians 6:15). Those who have sex with a prostitute have become one flesh with her, but Christians have been made members of the Body of Christ, and thus should be joined to the Lord in one Spirit and glorify God in their bodies (1 Corinthians 6:12-20). Thus, in 1 Corinthians 6:18, Paul’s primary concern is for Christians to understand what happens if they practice porneia with a porne: they sin against their bodies. Yet in what way?
We do well to step back for a moment and consider God’s purposes for sexuality (the opposite of porneia). God is one in relational unity (Deuteronomy 6:4-6, John 1:1, 14, 17:20-23); He has made man in His image and His divine nature is revealed through humanity (Genesis 1:26-27, Romans 1:19-20). God made humans male and female, and the man is to leave father and mother, cling to his wife, and become one flesh with her through sexual intercourse (Genesis 2:24, Matthew 19:4-6); they remain two persons but are one flesh, a metaphor for Christ and the church (Ephesians 5:31-32). Fully human sexuality, therefore, cements the relationship between a man and his wife; it maintains not only physical but also emotional, mental, and spiritual components, unique among animals.
But what about sex with a prostitute? As Paul said, a person becomes one flesh with her (1 Corinthians 6:16), but not in the way God intended. The man has no emotional, mental, or spiritual connection with the prostitute, and has no desire to develop them; he is using her purely for physical gratification. Every time he has sex with a prostitute he further separates the physical component of sexuality from its emotional, mental, and spiritual components. In so doing he becomes less than human in his sexuality; he has deadened himself to the emotional, mental, and spiritual components of sexuality, and may never be able to restore them. He is just using body parts; his behavior is no more advanced than that of the animals.
And thus perhaps so it is that porneia is sinning against the body: by divorcing the physical gratification of lust from the emotional, mental, and spiritual connections which are to be inherent in sexual intercourse, one becomes less than human in their sexuality, more animalistic, driven by lust, less able to maintain a healthy sexual relationship with their present or future spouse.
If this is true with visiting prostitutes, how can it be any less true with fornication? If two people have consented to use each others’ bodies for physical gratification without any expectation of developing a relationship, which is inherent in modern hookup culture, are they not divorcing the physical from the emotional, mental, and spiritual components of sexuality? And if this is true in fornication, is it not even worse in terms of pornography? In fornication there is at least contact and connection with another human being in real time; with pornography all the physiological impulses are stimulated and yet without even physical connection, let alone mental, emotional, or spiritual connection. Gratification is obtained via pixels on a screen; the object of lust in pornography is frequently dehumanized to a significant degree. In the process the mental circuits are “fried”; many users of pornography have found it very difficult to maintain romantic and sexual relationships in real life because the “real thing” cannot compare to the fantasy world they have created for themselves. Such a person has sinned against their bodies to the point of killing their sexuality; is this what God intended for human sexuality or the result one would expect as the effect of sin?
Fornication and pornography are not harmless and victimless behaviors! They promote unrealistic and unhealthy expectations and views of sexuality. Full and complete intimacy is far more precious and valuable than variety. Pornography does not depict normal or healthy sexual relationships; most people will not have bodies that look like the bodies in pornography, and woe betide the one whose expectations about the nature of sexual relationships is informed through what they see in pornography! Those who participate in such behaviors are all but destined to experience disappointment and frustration in their sex lives, for seeking true satisfaction in fornication or pornography is vanity. Human sexuality was designed for something much more holy, godly, pure, and better: a man and a woman who have clung to one another becoming one flesh, experiencing the full range of intimacy (Matthew 19:4-6).
Therefore, if you participate in fornication or use pornography, who is hurt? You are! Every time you participate in the gratification of physical lust outside of marriage you further divorce the physical component of sexuality from its emotional, mental, and spiritual components. Every such use will make it that much harder to fully give yourself, mind, body, and soul, to your present or future spouse; the further down such roads you travel, the more healing you will have to experience before you can be restored to a fully human sexuality. Those who fornicate and use pornography sin against their own bodies; we do well to flee from sexually deviant behavior and pornography and seek to reflect God’s purposes for human sexuality in our lives!
Ethan R. Longhenry