Sexy Pics and Secrecy

A group of researchers at Newcastle University set out to observe the littering behavior of students in a university cafeteria. Posters at eye level displayed pictures of human eyes staring out at the hungry students all around the cafeteria. Strangely, researchers discovered people were twice as likely to clean up after themselves when surrounded by the eye posters.

This and other studies suggest that even on a subconscious level, we modify our behavior if our brain tells us we’re being watched. Even though I know the eyes on those posters can’t see me, I’m wired in such a way to pay attention to them.

When it comes to facing Internet temptations, knowing others are watching us can change the way we behave—and there are good biblical reasons why.

Triple-A Engine of Porn

From the earliest days of the Internet, social scientists have noted what’s called the “online disinhibition effect.” Basically, people say and do things online
 they wouldn’t say and do in their “real lives.”

This goes for pornography and cybersex as well. Several years ago the late psychologist Alvin Cooper theorized that Internet pornography was alluring due to three primary factors: it’s accessible, it’s affordable, and it’s anonymous—what he called the “Triple-A Engine.” These three aspects of Internet porn open the door wide to online temptations.

Little can be done about the affordability of pornography: it’s freely available at hundreds of thousands of online portals. And unless you eliminate all contact to computers and smartphones, porn will always be accessible in some fashion. This is why many people seek to remove the third factor: anonymity. If I no longer have the option to view pornography in secret, I’m much less likely to view it at all. If someone I trust is monitoring my online activity, I’m more likely to avoid temptations altogether.

Secrecy and Sexual Sin

Secrecy and sexual sin often go hand in hand.

The apostle Paul said those whose lives are marked by sexual immorality, impurity, and greed (Eph. 5:3) commit shameful acts “in secret” (v. 12). He depicts this way of life as hiding in “darkness” (vv. 8, 11). Sin seeks out the darkness so its deeds aren’t exposed to God or to others (John 3:20).

Christians are meant to walk in the light. Among other things, this means we must fight both the illusion of secrecy and also our tendency to create private corners where sin can thrive. This is especially true in an age like ours when there are thousands of digital corners in which to hide.

Accountable to God

Additionally, one of the great motivators God has given us to avoid sin is the knowledge that he sees all we do.

Paul calls Christians “children of the light” (1 Thess. 5:5)—those united by faith to the light of the Word (John 8:12) and living in the light of Jesus’ return. We know that God is real, that Christ has come, that he is our Lord, and that he is coming again to set all things right. We live in the dawn of the age to come. The night of this present age is ending, so we must live like children of the day: brimming with faith, hope, and love (vv. 6-8) and casting off the works of darkness (Rom. 13:11-12).

One day, each of us “will give an account of himself to God” (Rom. 14:12; cf. 2 Cor. 5:10; Heb. 4:13). We live knowing we’re finally accountable to the God we love.

Accountable to Others

Another motivator God has provided to keep us from sin is the threat of potential disgrace or shame before others (Luke 14:9; Rom. 1:24-26; 6:21; 1 Cor. 11:6, 14; 14:35). We must be aware of how our sins influence other people and our relationships. Paul’s term for this awareness is “walking properly” (Rom. 13:13; 1 Cor. 14:40; 1 Thess. 4:12). It means living in a manner of decency, understanding that our actions affect those around us.

None of us sins in a vacuum. Our sin affects our families, our friends, our communities—and our place in those relationships.

Walk in the Light Online

Internet accountability helps to cure us of online tunnel vision. In my seemingly private online life, it’s easy to feel that the time is my own, that my choices affect only myself. But when I’m reminded I’m not alone—that at least one other person will see what I do—my myopic vision is broken. For a brief moment I see my temptations through the eyes of another, not just through my own foggy vision.

By choosing to remove the secrecy, we pull our lives into the light. Being exposed to another’s eyes helps me remember my accountability partner isn’t the only one watching me. The one who loved me and gave himself for me “sees my ways and numbers all my steps” (Job 31:4). And in that moment I recall: I have made a covenant with my eyes; help me, O God, not to look at any worthless thing (Job 31:1; Ps. 101:3).


This excerpt is adapted from the new e-book Coming Clean: Overcoming Lust through Biblical Accountability (Covenant Eyes, 2013). Download it for free here.

  • Steve

    There are some legitimate difficulties with internet accountability though. Finding men who see the value in it isn’t easy. I’ve had numerous partners agree to accountability, but after awhile it becomes obvious that my partner has quit the program (either he blocks the emails about me or I stop receiving his). Without a partner there is no accountability. It’s an odd, isolating feeling to have someone quit on you.

    Additionally, the cost is quite prohibitive for a vast majority of strugglers. College students, young married men, men in ministry, and many others all have tight budgets that live and die on that $15-$20 each month. A monthly subscription, though understandably necessary for upkeep and system maintenance, keeps the software out of the hands of those who need it most. Even xxxchurch quit offering support for their free version (it is still available, it is just broken).

    For now, a man who is pursuing lifelong sobriety from pornography, but cannot afford or cannot find a willing partner, the only option is a strict filter.

    • Luke Gilkerson

      I totally understand this, Steve. Internet accountability software is really only as good as the people who are engaged in it. Without a partner, it is pretty much useless software. That’s one reason for the church to teach diligently about the biblical value of accountability.

      As far as cost goes, I can’t speak for other companies but Covenant Eyes has college student pricing (for instance, with Campus Crusade), and they also have a hardship fund (free service for those who need it but can’t afford it).

  • Johnny Appleton

    You know, I understand that it is importance for accountability and for men to help one another, but I think what does serve as a barrier, as shallow as it sounds, is the fact that men don’t want to have to pay for a monthly subscription fee, when there are services like K9 for free online. I realize that a “laborer is worthy of his wages” and so on, but all the same, we also live in a freebie carte-blanch world where if the adult material is free, we naturally expect the adult-filters to be free as well. Just some thoughts.

    • Luke Gilkerson

      Hear you there, Johnny. Some men don’t want to pay for a service. For those who want a more relational/accountability solution, not a filter, its hard to find something that’s is up to snuff.

      K9 has a great program.

  • Reese Crane

    As a man who was addicted to porn living in the darkness for 30 years I have now been set free to help set others free. Well it was freedom that Christ set me free but I am using this past to help rescue others from a history and legacy they will look back on in their life and wish they had never given themselves over to. I’m sure more people read my posts on Facebook than join the group because no one wants to ultimately be equated as belonging to a porn recovery group – unless they are very confident in their freedom in Christ and their life is transparent to all but I’d thought I’d put a link here for those who might read this and need help:

  • Curt Day

    This article is an example of the problem Christians have with porn. The problem is that we have reduced the motivation for abstaining from pornography to what happens to the consumer, the person who enjoys porn. What is missing is making people, not just Christians, aware of the high price some must pay to provide pornography and how we become supporters of the abuse these people suffer.

    Women who are filmed in porn suffer multiple physical and mental traumas along with the contraction of diseases. Porn is not a vitimless enterprise. And the more we consume porn, the more we enable the abuse of these women. That is right, if we consume porn, we play a contributing role in the abuse of women.

    So if one cannot resist porn because of personal reasons, at least avoid it so that, perhaps, fewer women are humiliated and abused.

    • Luke Gilkerson

      Totally agree that women in porn suffer a great deal. I’ve interviewed a number of these women for my work at Covenant Eyes, and the stories are always horrific.

      Really, I see your statement as another outcropping of what this article is about. Knowing we are accountable to God, we should think soberly about how our actions hurt those made in His image. As I said, walking properly means living in a manner of decency, understanding that our actions affect those around us. That includes those who are brutalized by the industry itself.

      Thanks for the comment!

      • Curt Day

        I was thinking a little differently though. In addition to not supporting the abuse and degradation of women because I am accountable, I want to not support it because of the harm it brings others regardless of my own accountability.

        BTW, was wondering if you saw the work of either Chris Hedges or Robert Jensen on this issue? Both come from a journalistic perspective and have done quite a bit research into the matter. Both come from the left and speak strongly against pornography and related sins.

        • Luke Gilkerson

          I am familiar with Hedge’s book Empire of Illusion. Fascinating read.

          I also have followed the work of Robert Jensen. Getting Off was an interesting book, but I really enjoyed his work with Gail Dines around this subject.

          I guess I don’t see what the incompatibility is between being held accountable for not watching porn, and not watching porn because of the harm it brings others. Can’t a person be held accountable for his porn habits, motivated by the knowledge of its societal harms and harms to women?

          • Curt Day

            I was not saying that the two were incompatible. I am saying that we need external motivations in addition to internal motivations. External motivations focus only on what effect an act will have on others. Internal motivations focus on my responsibilities and what happens to me if I participate or don’t participate in an activity.

            Certainly how my actions affect others make me accountable for what happens to them. But we also need to limit our actions simply because of what others will have to endure. Part of our focus should be solely on the other person. In this sense, we are loving the other rather than acting to in order to maintain our innocence.

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  • Brad

    To resonate with what’s been said here…I find that the greatest motivator to avoid sin is that, if in Christ, I cannot be what I was but what He is, and I can’t be what He is if I remain in sin.

    • Luke Gilkerson

      Thanks for your comment, Brad. Amen.

  • Steve Cornell

    What should I do when I fail?

    I John 1:9 “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” Proverbs 24:26a “The godly may trip seven times, but they will get up again.”

    Do not accept defeat by sin!

  • Akaerue Bright Chijioke

    Thanks so much. This is quite helpful and timely. I can’t wait to share friends. Hope i’m allowed to do so!

  • Kevin Allard

    A mistake to avoid with accountability software is letting shame or fear of man be the motivation that stops you from looking at pornography. You need to choose an accountability partner who is not going to tell you off if you look at pornography but who will talk to you about what happened and point you back to the Gospel.

    • Luke Gilkerson

      Exactly. There is a difference between the fear of man and being aware of the potential social shame caused by one’s sin.

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  • Adam

    WebChaver is another great accountability tool. They are affordable and they actually use Covenant Eyes software for the filtering component of their tool.

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