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Porn and Patriarchy: A Study in Power

by Stephanie Georgieff | September 07, 2022

See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction. (Dt. 30:15)

I had the honor of serving in the Peace Corps in Albania from 2017 to 2019, at the same time that the United Nations and European Union were focusing on the status of Roma in Europe. I witnessed firsthand the discrimination these people experienced. Currently, I am serving with the International Fellowship of Saint John in Bulgaria, which has one of the largest Roma populations in terms of percentages of the total population of any nation in Europe. I am a house manager for a safe home for Roma girls aging out of orphanages.

It was through my time in Albania and currently serving in Bulgaria that I have come to see a distinct link between patriarchy and porn that is rooted in the abuse of power against women and girls.

These girls have no family or affiliation with established Roma communities, and they are thrust out into the world with no resources, skills, or familiarity with the basics of living independently. There are resources for Roma boys and men who are homeless, but not women. Because of these factors, female Roma youth are particularly vulnerable to sex trafficking. Our aim is to prevent young women falling victim through providing safe housing, life skills, and vocational training. We also offer safe housing in crisis situations, but our goal is to prevent such crises through proactively modeling the Matthew 25:40 charge to care for the least of these.

What Is Patriarchy?

Patriarchy has several definitions. Essentially, patriarchy is a social and cultural organization where inheritance is recognized through the father. Males hold all the legal and religious power over people and property. To be seen as legitimate, women have to be related to a male, specifically within a religious and legal marriage.

Patriarchy is about male power over externals, specifically people and property. Patriarchy sees women, children, and the natural world as commodities. Patriarchal control is done through cultural, religious, legal, and physical means. If the first three practices are not satisfactory or effective, then physical violence is employed.

What Is Porn?

According to Merriam-Webster, porn is

  1. the depiction of erotic behavior (as in pictures or writing) intended to cause sexual excitement
  2. material (such as books or a photograph) that depicts erotic behavior and is intended to cause sexual excitement
  3. the depiction of acts in a sensational manner so as to arouse a quick intense emotional reaction.

Porn is a way to exert control over when and how we experience sexual stimulation, free of the effort of enticing others to participate. There is no relationship in porn, simply the instantaneous external catalyst for personal pleasure. Porn abounds in patriarchal cultures where women are seen as a commodity, something to control.

Before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the global porn industry was estimated to be worth US$35 billion. Now, the porn industry is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 15 percent each year. Many see access to porn as a privacy and freedom of expression issue, but these people often don’t understand that a large proportion of the people they watch online are actually sex trafficking victims who have been kidnapped, coerced, and drugged into performing acts in which they normally would never participate.

The Link Between Porn and Patriarchy

This tragic fact has been especially true in Eastern Europe since the fall of communism, particularly within the Roma community. Prostitution and porn had virtually disappeared within the communist political structure in the Eastern Bloc. Then the Soviet Union collapsed, the Warsaw Pact was signed, and great economic and political upheaval prevailed.

An unfortunate social response to chaos is to blame marginalized communities for problems. This was certainly the case with Roma communities in Eastern Europe, who were brutally targeted with pogroms and ethnic cleansing. Without viable governmental structures, the mafia and organized crime quickly filled the vacuum.

The greatest victims of this new power structure were Roma women and girls. Porn and sex enslavement of Roma girls and children is a lucrative business. Since Roma lack proper representation within existing nations, there is no recourse or justice for such practices. Online porn sites are filled with these individuals who are often drugged and threatened with violence if they do not participate in the activities that enrich the mafia while destroying the lives of the most vulnerable on the continent.

All of this is done in the name of entertainment. Or is it? Porn and sex trafficking maintain power structures that elevate men and the upper class. Porn supports economic power for those who profit from it, and patriarchal power is maintained through pornographic entertainment devoid of relationship, mutuality, or intimacy.

The lack of social services in Bulgaria for Roma girls and women, orphanage transition housing for girls, as well as protection against such crimes shows the double bias against Roma as well as females. The safe home where I work is the first of its kind, and our licensing process took almost a decade due to this bias.

Christians Are Called to More

Opposing porn as Christians is not puritanical or dour; it is a moral responsibility to our fellow humanity, both women and men. Recognizing God’s gift of sexuality is not abstract. The blessing of sacred physical love between two people does not involve coercive power, titillating entertainment at the expense of the vulnerable, or commodification of life in general. Participating in porn by purchasing/watching it is antithetical to the dignity and sacredness of life.

We have a choice between life and good, or death and evil (Deut. 30:15–20). God invites us to choose life, to choose the good. Let us honor goodness and choose life-enhancing activities so that the least of us, the marginalized and vulnerable, can share in the dignity that is our sacred inheritance.

We also know that “the truth shall set you free” (John 8:32). The truth is that Christ came for all humans regardless of gender, class, or race. We are loved equally and have dignity by virtue that we are all children of God. At the safe house where I work, Roma women and girls are flourishing. We treat these children of God with respect and love they have often never experienced before—because all they knew was abuse, sex trafficking, or being the forced subjects of porn. The trauma is deep, but healing is possible through modeling the love of Christ. This is the truth that shall set us all free.

Porn is not freedom; it is slavery for all. True, deep, abiding love flows from God toward humanity to grant the freedom we all crave. I have the privilege to witness such love to these dear souls, who go on to live full lives in the confidence they gain through recognizing their value as part of a global family of Christians.

Photo by Nikolay Hristov on Unsplash.


Related Reading

Church Leaders and Porn: The Devastating Effects for Women in the Church 
Pornography for Profit: The Link to Sex Trafficking 
Is There Such a Thing as Ethical Porn? Male and Female Perspectives