Pornography, the use of images (either pictures or films) to illicit sexual arousal, has been present in society for a millennium in the forms of paintings, carvings, and even cave drawings. For much of the 20th and 21st centuries, pornography use was limited to red-light districts, and the distribution and use of it was controlled by local laws and their selective enforcement. Denmark was the first country to decriminalize pornography in 1969 and, since then, the production and consumption of it has been on a steady increase.
The introduction of the computer and more recently of the smartphone, which provides 24/7 access to anything and everything imaginable, has created a tsunami of porn use across all age groups and demographic profiles. Examples of pornography range from XXX movies to overt sex scenes in popular television shows to sexting (sending sexually explicit photographs by phone). And that is no coincidence.
Pornography is big business. According to various reports, the porn industry’s net worth is about $97 billion. This money is enough to feed at-least 4.8 billion people a day. The porn industry makes more than $15 billion in profit annually, more money than Major League Baseball, The NFL and The NBA combined.
Current use statistics
A look at some basic statistics suggests that:
- Most people who view porn do not have an addiction. Problematic use affects approximately five to eight percent of the adult population
- People who are addicted to cyber-porn, spend at least 11-12 hours viewing porn online each week
- The average age of first exposure to pornography is now only 11 years old. As many as 93.2% of boys and 62.1% of girls first see porn before they turn 18. And there is a correlation between early exposure to porn use and addiction later in life
- On the internet:
- 25% of search engine requests are related to sex
- 35% of downloads from the internet are pornographic
- 40 million Americans say they regularly visit porn sites
- 70% of men aged 18 to 24 visit a porn site at least once per month
- The largest consumer group of online porn is men between the ages of 35 and 49
- One-third of all internet porn users are women
Basic Quranic guidance
There are numerous references in the Quran which pertain to this topic. Three are particularly noteworthy:
“Indeed, Allah orders justice and good conduct and giving to relatives and forbids immorality (fuhsha) and bad conduct (al-munkar) and oppression (al-baghi). He admonishes you that perhaps you will be reminded” Surah An-Nahl (16:90).
“Say to them (O Muhammad): Do not even draw near to things shameful – be they open or secret” Surah An’am (6:151).
“Tell them (O Muhammad): My Lord has only forbidden indecent acts, whether overt or hidden” Quran Al-A’raf (7:33).
In spite of specific Islamic guidance which prohibits this type of behavior, Muslims are not immune. Quite the contrary, Muslim countries represent seven of the 10 top countries for the most proportional searches of the term “sex” on Google. And this is the case in spite of the fact that these countries have strict laws prohibiting the production and consumption of pornographic material.
Impact of pornography
As individuals and as a community we must gain an understanding of the problem and its consequences. Many groups and organizations in the U.S. consider pornography use and addiction to be a public health crisis. Since 2016, 17 states have introduced legislation to label it as such and draw more funding and services to address the problem at the state and local levels. Much of the push for this intervention has come from far-right Christian organizations.
Porn has also been identified as a gateway experience, very similar to the use of illicit drugs which can lead to the use of more dangerous and addictive substances. Similarly, the use of pornography can lead to increased use and an escalating need for more extreme scenes to achieve sexual arousal. Studies have consistently shown that pornography can impact a person’s:
- Physical health – brain function, sexual desire, ability to be intimate, ability to be aroused
- Mental health – body image, self-esteem, addiction behavior, anxiety, depression, relationships
- Societal health – marital strife and divorce, objectification of women, violence, sex trafficking
A step forward
The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said, "There is no shyness in matters of religion."
The topic of sex has long been taboo in many Muslim households and even institutions of learning. This is misguided and largely the result of ingrained cultural baggage. We have much information at our disposal to provide spiritual grounding. We must heed this guidance and not shy away from a discussion of pornography and all of its complexities and the question is watching porn haram, has a lot of information out there. And there is no time to waste, as marriages are being destroyed and generations of our Muslim children are being educated, not by their parents or Islamic scholars, but by public school sex education programs that are not consistent with Islamic values.
Gateways, at their essence, are openings which provide opportunities for caution and concern; but they can also provide opportunities for education, awareness, empowerment, and support. It is this version of a gateway that we will be using to launch a month-long series that not only puts a spotlight on the problem but instead takes a wellness approach to look at sexual health generally. We will bring you informed and informative articles, interviews with sexual health experts working in a multitude of professional roles, stories of struggle and hope, and tools for personal growth and involvement.
Moira McGuire, BSN, RN-BC, CSC, is a certified Psych/Mental Health Nurse and an American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors, and Therapists (AASECT) certified sexuality counselor. She is an active duty public health service officer and currently the chief of Integrative Health and Wellness at a military hospital outside of Washington, D.C.
Zahirah Lynn Eppard is Sound Vision’s Director of Religious Education. She is an educator, former Islamic school principal, marital and crisis intervention counselor, lobbyist, and social justice activist.