Helen Thorne, Purity is Possible: How to Live Free of the Fantasy Trap (The Good Book Company, 2014)
Porn is often thought of as a male problem. There is generally less help for, or acceptance of, women who struggle with porn, erotica and sexual fantasies, and so Thorne’s book is a very welcome resource for Christian women who find this a battle in their own lives.
As the book opens, Thorne challenges us with the question: ‘What kind of woman would you like to be?’ (p.17). The alternatives presented shine a spotlight on what’s really going on in our hearts when we seek out porn and sexual fantasy:
‘Do you want to cover up the pain of the past or the longings of the present with some cheap sex-substitute? Or … do you want to experience a pure life, without regrets and the desperation of settling for second best? Do you want a life of contentment, of value, of peace?’ (pp.17-18).
The positive framing of the move away from porn and fantasy that underpins the book is so helpful. Rather than taking a ‘just don’t do it’ approach and looking at strategies to modify behaviour, Thorne helps us to see the motivations behind porn use and how Jesus can satisfy our deepest desires.
Thorne turns to a brief but helpful discussion of the negative effects of both porn use and fantasy and exposes the danger of them becoming an addiction and the shame and powerlessness that comes with that. It’s clear that these habits damage our identity and our relationships with God and others (this is picked up later in chapter five). I found this enlightening:
‘When we fantasise about becoming intimate with people we know, we usher them into a world where they have no ability to say “no” to us. We stop caring about what they want and use their voice and their image to fuel what we want’ (p.57).
The chapters entitled ‘Reality’ and ‘Factory’ expose the problem of the human heart, which is the driving force behind all sinful activity. We often powerfully desire things that aren’t good for us, or we desire good things that God has created to an extent that pushes God out and makes the thing or person we desire into an idol. Thorne observes that our thoughts and actions ‘are driven by a misplaced longing deep within us that we are choosing to follow instead of God. Ungodly behaviour stems from ungodly worship’ (p.34).
The biblical exploration of idolatry in these chapters is clear and compelling, particularly the examination of what is going on during the Fall in Genesis and how that corruption affects us today when we idolise relationships, experience and control.
Thorne moves on to explain what we can do about the idolatry and accompanying guilt that we all experience:
‘First we have to get real about the depth of our rebellion, and then we have to get real about the depth of God’s forgiveness’ (p.51).
That’s exactly what Thorne does in chapters five and six entitled ‘Guilty’ and ‘Mercy’. There’s a helpful list of things we don’t need to feel guilty about, including desiring and enjoying sex with our husband, having a physical reaction at certain times in our period, and being hurt sexually by others. These are contrasted with things that actually make us guilty before God, like porn and erotica. These things draw us away from God’s purposes for us as people made in his image, cut us off from his people and the experience of his love, and fail to reflect the holiness of God to the world.
Chapter six examines the amazing truth that God doesn’t leave his idolatrous and unfaithful people in a state of guilt and despair. Using the story of Hosea and Gomer, Thorne shows both God’s heart to restore his wayward people and our responsibility to respond to his mercy by turning our hearts towards him. It’s clear from Scripture that, ‘No matter how low we have sunk, God’s mercy is wide enough, deep enough and wonderful enough to reach us’ (p.68). The call to us is simply to ‘be real about our sin and ask for God’s forgiveness through Jesus’ (p.69). We are encouraged to pray Scripture – specifically Psalm 51 – as we come to the Lord in repentance and trust, relying on the fact of God’s forgiveness rather than our own fickle feelings. Thorne is realistic about the ongoing struggle with sexual sin but reminds us that God’s grace is sufficient to cover our future failings as well as our past.
The rest of the book paints a beautiful picture of the life that it is possible to live as forgiven children of God. Thorne leads us through how to identify and get rid of the idols in our lives and lean on the truths of Scripture in the power of the Spirit to experience freedom from our addictions. She draws on the fantastic truths in Ephesians 1 to highlight who we are in Christ, a glorious identity that is far more precious than anything we could conjure up for ourselves, full of hope and leading to glory. She reminds us that ‘In Christ, there is no such thing as an unhappy ending’ (p.93).
At the end of chapters seven and eight, there are some great tips and questions to help readers reflect and put into practice the principles of turning from idolatry, being clothed with Christ and rehearsing our new identity in Jesus.
To conclude, Thorne encourages us not to give up pursuing Jesus and his life of purity, especially when the going gets hard. She uses God’s promises in the Bible to remind us that his power is at work in us and one day, when we meet Jesus face-to-face, we will be perfectly pure. It’s worth following him now and for eternity.
Practical and accessible
There is much practical advice and wisdom in the short question and answer section at the end which helpfully tackles issues like whether it’s ok for spouses to watch pornography together, how to start an accountability group, and what to do if we discover our teen is using porn.
There isn’t much to criticise about this little book. I was a bit surprised that there wasn’t a single mention of masturbation, given its strong connection with porn use and fantasy. It’s something that many women have questions and concerns about and it would have been nice to see it addressed.
Same-sex attraction isn’t mentioned except briefly in one case study, and again very fleetingly in chapter four. Throughout the rest of the book, the assumption is that temptation and idolatry is heterosexual (e.g. ‘We may love God, but we will love the idea of being with a man more’ (p.40)). The appeal of the book could have been broadened by simply making this language more inclusive so that it relates to same-sex attracted women’s experiences too.
This book is short and accessible, and can easily be read in one sitting. The writing is warm and honest, with Thorne being very upfront about her own struggles. The author is no detached moralist. She’s very honest about the attraction of porn and fantasy and the way it makes us feel good. The six real life stories in the first half of the book reassure readers that they are not alone in battling sexual sin.
Porn isn’t something that I’ve personally struggled with, but I certainly haven’t kept my mind pure when it comes to fantasies. I found this book extremely encouraging in my own walk with God and also for understanding the experiences of my friends in the challenges they face. Anyone who knows ongoing sinful desire (and that’s probably all of us!) will benefit from the wisdom in this book.
The book is thoroughly grounded in Scripture which exposes our predicament, but also gives us the hope and healing that we need. The vision of the whole book is compelling. Thorne makes it clear that it’s not just about stopping bad habits, but about becoming the beautiful people that God created us to be and enjoying the rich, good life that he has called us into.
‘We learn to be holy when we see in the Scriptures how immeasurably more beautiful it is to be walking with the Lord than it is to be pulling away from his loving hand like a petulant child’ (p.96).
Far from being an impoverished life of abstinence, we are invited into a full life of abundance. God delights in transforming us when we cast ourselves on him and actively trust and obey. Purity is possible!