Screenshot of Nicholas Kristof's New York Times column

Kristof’s article a reminder that we need to examine sites like “Pornhub” and name its secrets

Kristof’s article a reminder that we need to examine sites like “Pornhub” and name its secrets

By Martin Elfert

I’ve been thinking a bunch about Nicholas Kristof’s brilliant and profoundly painful article “The Children of Pornhub.” And as I’ve done so, I’ve been remembering something that Jesus says. Jesus’ words go like this:

Nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. Therefore whatever you have said in the dark will be heard in the light, and what you have whispered behind closed doors will be proclaimed from the housetops.

Luke 12-23 (NRSV)

There are ways in which those words might sound alarming or ominous, as though Jesus were making some kind of threat. But I am convinced that what Jesus actually is offering us is a liberating promise. I am convinced that he is telling us that one of the things the Kingdom looks like is the end of secrets.

The wild failure of empathy that is Pornhub is predicated on secretiveness: the site is massively, almost inconceivably popular; and, like porn more broadly, we by and large observe a cultural contract in which we agree not to discuss it. (While I had heard of Pornhub before Kristof’s article, I was naïvely unaware that it hosted illegal and/or wildly unethical content.) To some extent, that contract is OK. An individual’s sexuality is probably an inappropriate subject for small talk or for workplace banter. But there absolutely need to be contexts in which we can collectively examine a site such as Pornhub, in which we can name its secrets, in which we can shout those secrets from the rooftops.

That’s because most of us come to exhibit common sense with the help of our neighbours and likewise develop our moral sense with the help of our neighbours.

(By “moral,” by the way, I don’t mean “humourlessly puritanical.” I mean, rather, that we give the best possible answer to the question, “How shall we live?” I 100 percent agree with Kristof when he says, “It should be possible to be sex positive and Pornhub negative.”) Back in my days as a stagehand, for instance, there were several instances in which I was on the verge of doing something recklessly unsafe with power tools before a colleague saved me. And to this day, I can forget my heart easily, I can forget my compassion easily. Often it is another human being who, with God’s help, sees what I have done or what I have left undone and who helps me to do better.

For so long as we honour the social contract in which porn is a persistent secret – a contract within which vastly more people are consuming porn than talking about porn – we are deprived of the moral help of our neighbour. We have no context within which to ask questions such as:

Is porn ever ethical?


If porn is sometimes ethical, what makes a particular expression of porn more or less acceptable whereas another is unequivocally wrong?

What if we terminated our contract with silence around porn? And what if our neighbour’s moral help allowed us to live in a way that is more free, more joyous, more kind? Consider one of Kristof’s many and painful examples of the content found on Pornhub. To whom would you be willing to say out loud:

I watch hidden-camera videos of unsuspecting people taking their clothes off in change rooms.

My guess is that, if you have even the rumour of a conscience, you would be unable to utter such words without being knocked over by a cold wave of remorse. You would not even need to wait for your neighbour’s response to know that you were doing something that was terribly wrong, something that forgot the dignity of your fellow human beings.

A time will come, Jesus says, when all of the secrets will end. And maybe he makes this holy promise because, like the mould growing in that forgotten corner of your fridge, Jesus knows that the devil hangs out in our secrets and, safely hidden there, he becomes more and more powerful.

Porn in general – and Pornhub in particular – does not deserve that kind of power. One of the big services that Kristof has done for us is to help us uncover this conversation. Let’s join in the uncovering. Let’s shout it from the rooftops. Let’s bring the Kingdom a little nearer. A Kingdom in which we will know and be known so deeply that there will be no more need for secrets or shameful silence or fear or fraud. We will, joyously and liberatingly, be the same person in the closet as we are out on street, for the lamb will be our light.

About Martin Elfert

The Rev. Martin Elfert is an immigrant to the Christian faith. After the birth of his first child, he began to wonder about the ways in which God was at work in his life and in the world. In response to this wondering, he joined Christ Church Cathedral in Vancouver, British Columbia, where he and his new son were baptized at the Easter Vigil in 2005 and where the community encouraged him to seek ordination. Martin served on the staff of the Episcopal Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist in Spokane, Wash. from 2011-2015. He is now the rector of Grace Memorial Episcopal Church in Portland, Oreg.

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