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JBMW 21.1 | Virtually An Affair: Are Evangelicals Prepared to Face Pornography’s VR Revolution?

May 31, 2016
By Matthew C. Millsap

Matthew C. Millsap | Assistant Professor of Christian Studies and
Assistant Director of Library Services
Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary
Kansas City, Missouri

Meet Michael. Michael is a 35 year-old, middle class, American male with a wife, Kate, and two small children. Michael has a good job, lives a relatively comfortable life, and is loved by his friends and family alike. Michael and Kate are both believers, each claiming to have been born again through faith in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. Both are active in their local church: Michael is a deacon and Sunday school teacher, while Kate leads a weekly women’s Bible study. If one were to ask Michael and Kate about the state of their relationship, each would answer positively—they enjoy a healthy marriage.[1]

Meet Stacy. Stacy is an attractive, 22 year-old, single American female. Describing herself as an “adult performer,” Stacy works for a web-based pornography company through which she interacts live with her clientele online. Though she typically is many miles away from most of the men who pay for her services, she is able to perform for them in real-time via webcam in her apartment. Stacy talks to her clients when she performs, and, of course, her clients are able to see and hear what she does. But Stacy’s clients are different than what one might call traditional voyeurs; her clients are instead direct participants.

Michael is one of Stacy’s regulars, though his wife, Kate, is unaware. About two months ago, Michael felt he was becoming dissatisfied with his marriage. Something seemed to be lacking, and Michael traced it to his and Kate’s sexual relationship. Kate seemed to be tired quite often and reluctant to perform the sexual acts that Michael desired, thus Michael felt his “needs” were not being met adequately. Consequently, Michael found the company online that employs Stacy (or more accurately, exploits, Stacy[2]) and for the past month, he has been availing himself of Stacy’s services. Several nights a week, after Kate has fallen asleep, Michael quietly slips into the study in their home. He logs in to the porn company’s website, goes to Stacy’s page, and initiates the video connection, though it is not to the screen of his laptop. Rather, Michael dons a virtual reality (VR) headset connected to the laptop. Through the headset, he has been transported into the virtual space of Stacy’s room and, through her placement of a special 360-degree video camera, he is in her bed. Michael then secures a device to himself designed to stimulate him physically, a device over which Stacy, miles away, has control via her Internet connection. Stacy begins her performance, and one can imagine what transpires thereafter.

The next morning, Michael justifies last night’s activities. After all, he has needs, needs that Kate either cannot or will not meet. Michael reminds himself that he has always been faithful to his wife: Both were virgins when they married, and he has never slept with another woman. Nor did he sleep with one last night, he tells himself. Sure, there was the lust that is always involved when watching conventional pornographic videos, but he can repent of that later. He may have been telling a woman what to do sexually live, but what she did was just simulated because he was not physically present in her room. Yes, he may have actually felt sexually gratified after it was over, but it was only technology involved—a woman inside a VR headset and a machine placed on his body. It wasn’t actual sex, right? It wasn’t real.

While Michael’s story may sound like something straight out of some bad self-published science fiction available for purchase on Amazon, the reality (if you will forgive the pun), is that this technology already exists and is steadily being refined.[3] But when one hears that it exists, he need not seek it deep in the R&D laboratories of Silicon Valley tech companies, hidden from the eyes of the world. Rather, he need only look in the public square, at press coverage of events like the Consumer Electronics Show 2016, where VR porn was not only the tech du jour in terms of buzz, but was even being demoed for attendees.[4] As VR continues to gain traction and more consumers become attracted to it, a probable conclusion emerges that there may well be many Michaels wading into these troubled waters in the near future. In fact, according to a prediction by the prestigious investment banking firm Goldman Sachs, the VR/AR market will become an $80 billion market by 2025, less than a decade away.[5] One might argue that there are no Michaels in his church currently (spring 2016), and perhaps that is the case. Five years from now, however, this assumption is going to be significantly more difficult to defend.

There is no question we live in a world that is simply consumed with pornography.[6] Almost every sexual act our depraved minds might possibly conjure is now available to view on demand, and if there are perhaps some new acts that have not yet been devised, one can be certain that the porn industry is hard at work to find them, create demand for them, and then sell them to millions of waiting consumers. As evangelicals, our past responses to pornography have been firmly consistent and rooted in a biblical sexual ethic. But are we prepared to face the new issues inaugurated by the advent of virtual reality technology?

In this essay, I contend that evangelicals are largely unprepared for the coming challenges posed by the pornography industry’s adoption of VR. In response, I will then suggest three actions evangelicals should take in order to ready ourselves to address these challenges both cogently and winsomely. Consequently, what I offer here is not meant to be an extensive treatment of VR pornography from a theological perspective (though undoubtedly some need to be written), but rather a call for a conversation to begin in earnest by offering suggestions for a way forward for evangelical engagement of this important issue. Toward that end, we begin by looking for past interactions.

Evangelical Lack of Preparedness

As indicated by the previous projections of how quickly VR will be adopted, evangelicals simply cannot sit by idly until reaching a boiling point in which many believers have found themselves mired in VR pornography addiction and struggling to be freed from it. Rather, it is incumbent upon us as light-bearers in a culture of darkness to be at the forefront of conversations surrounding the innovation of VR porn and its potential consequences. Unfortunately, although they have written much on the ravaging effects of conventional pornography, it appears that few evangelical authors have chosen to address VR porn specifically.[7]

There are notable exceptions, of course, and going back as far as at least 1997, one finds prophetic voices such as that of Douglas Groothuis, who in his book, The Soul in Cyberspace, briefly discusses the potential implications of adopting 90s-era virtual reality technology for sexual purposes in a section of a chapter on cybersex.[8] Though the technology unsurprisingly has advanced beyond what he was able to describe nearly two decades ago, the general principles underlying the appeal of virtual reality remain consistent and thus relevant today. Yet it appears that Groothuis has not considerably pursued his discussion of the topic further since the late 90s.[9]

Evangelical engagement with VR’s implications on pornography since the time of Groothuis’s initial thoughts has been almost nonexistent.[10] In my research for this essay, I found no scholarly work beyond Groothuis and few Internet articles available written by professing Christians (not necessarily evangelicals) about the development of VR porn, none of which dig deeply into the issue. One article located suggests that Christians should be mindful of this shift in the pornography industry, but then does not appear to offer much by way of specific actions or responses Christians should take.[11] Another article, published by XXXchurch, a parachurch organization aimed at helping Christians overcome sexual and pornography addictions, offers action steps but does not attempt to detail why VR porn would be able to tempt many to travel down destructive paths.[12] These articles notwithstanding, the overall lack of evangelical attention to the dangers of VR porn could be due to a variety of factors, but I posit that three in particular are likely reasons.

First, few evangelicals appear adequately aware of the nature of virtual reality and of what it is capable. This is ascertained by not only the paucity of engagements with the VR porn issue, but also their brevity and lack of detail.[13] Given the sensitivity of dealing with pornography, the Christian must of course be concerned with not glorifying or relishing the lurid details of illicit sexual acts and deviances. As Paul states in his letter to the Ephesians, some things are so shameful they should not even be mentioned (Eph 5:12). However, at the same time, neither can the Christian allow himself to be ignorant of the intricacies involved in discussing VR technology and how it has been applied toward pornography. It is not enough simply to know that VR porn exists and that people use it because they are, by nature, sinners; one must also determine how and why it appeals to us as human beings by examining the technology that fosters it.[14]

Secondly, few evangelicals appear adequately aware of the vested interest the pornography industry holds in financially assisting the development of VR technology. For instance, many of us as believers are thankful for the use of streaming online video for ministry and kingdom purposes, yet comparatively few of us seem to grasp that our ability to use such technological methods is owed largely to pornography.[15] We enjoy shopping online today, yet conveniently ignore that during the Internet boom of the 90s, the pornography industry spent millions of dollars developing ways to sell porn to Internet users through reliable online interfaces that would securely process credit card transactions, interfaces that were then sold to other online retailers.[16]

The point here is that evangelicals should be cognizant that whatever good may arise from VR technology and whatever future gospel applications it might hold, the pornography industry plays a key role in driving its development. When such is the case, the supposed neutrality of the technology involved becomes compromised: The intended immoral uses of the tech necessarily shape the development of the tech itself.[17] Failure to understand this if intending to engage theologically the issue of VR pornography produces cursory treatments that deal solely in externals and never strike at the heart of what motivates the innovators in the first place.

Lastly, few evangelicals appear adequately able to address how the potential effects of VR pornography use might be even more disastrous to the spiritual and physiological well-being of its users than the effects observed from the consumption of conventional pornographic videos. This third explanation for lack of engagement with the VR porn issue directly relates to the first, the lack of awareness of the nature of virtual reality and of what it is capable. Once one has learned how exactly how VR porn works or might work in the future, and once he understands the sophisticated methods by which it appeals to the mind of the user, only then is he able to compare and contrast its potential effects to those stemming from the use of conventional porn.

The effects of consuming conventional pornographic videos have been well documented by both scientists with no moral objections to pornography whatsoever and evangelicals who strongly oppose pornography on biblical grounds. The current scientific evidence is clear: Even if watching pornographic videos were not morally wrong, repeatedly watching them causes physiological changes to the brain.[18] In fact, according to William Struthers, in his book, Wired for Intimacy: How Pornography Hijacks the Male Brain, pornographic videos “rewire” the brain of the viewer, literally forming new neural pathways for sexual arousal that become well-trodden and deeply ingrained through repeat usage.[19] In other words, the more one watches pornography and is sexually aroused by what he or she sees, the more he or she requires that same cycle of content—and in some cases, different or more extreme content[20]—in order to achieve and maintain arousal.

For example, in the increasingly unlikely scenario of a 22 year-old male who has never seen a pornographic video, he is presumably able to become aroused visually by the sight of an attractive woman. The more her body is revealed to him, the more aroused he becomes. However, if this young man watches a pornographic video that features violent actions, for instance, and finds himself aroused by the acts he sees performed, a new neural pathway is formed in the brain, ready to lead to sexual arousal the next time he watches a similar video in which the female is physically mistreated. As he watches more of such videos, the neural pathway for sexual arousal that was initially formed when he watched the first video is continually reinforced. This eventually leads to a point at which it is physiologically difficult for him to become aroused at the nude body of an attractive woman. Rather, he must not only see her physical body, but also either mentally envision violent acts against her or actually engage in violent acts against her in order to become and remain sexually aroused. Combine this with other neural pathways of arousal associated with particular sexual acts, and one ends up with a physiological “cocktail” of sorts in which the visual stimulus of a nude woman and the physical stimuli of traditional foreplay and lovemaking are no longer sufficient for sexual gratification.

But this is the background for the consumption of conventional pornographic videos, and our focus here is on virtual reality. When one involves VR, he or she potentially “ups the ante,” as it were, in the arousal game. In short, the appeal of virtual reality is largely predicated on the ideal of fantasy fulfilment. The brain, in effect, is able to be tricked into believing that what it is seeing is actually taking place, even if technically the participant is cognitively aware that this is not the case.[21] Therefore, if considering the previous scenario of the 22 year-old male, we would now have a scenario in which he is, in some capacity, participating in the violent acts being inflicted upon the woman he sees and hears in his VR headset. He has now progressed from an arousal cycle in which he views violent acts via video to an arousal cycle in which his brain is effectively tricked into thinking he is participating in these violent acts. A progression from fantasizing to fantasy fulfilment has occurred. Add to that the apparatus used by Michael in the opening of this paper, and as one might imagine, we have now moved to a new level of the effects of pornography on the person.

If we were to end here, we would be left with a bleak picture indeed. Evangelicals have not engaged the issue of VR pornography sufficiently or with any concerted effort, likely due to the reasons I posited above. What then, should be the evangelical response to VR porn moving forward? Assuming that evangelicals have educated themselves regarding VR technology and how it has been applied to the pornographic industry, I offer three suggested courses of action.

Action #1: Articulate a Strong Theology of the Body

First, evangelicals should articulate a strong theology of the body. While space does not permit a full examination of what the biblical text says about the human body, nor does it permit a full discussion of a theology of the body, at the very least we can acknowledge that evangelicals have not typically viewed the human body in an predominantly favorable light. Gregg Allison addresses this deficiency in evangelical circles:

“It is my contention that evangelicals, at best, express ambivalence toward the human body and, at worst, manifest a disregard or contempt for it. Many people, often due to tragic experiences with the body (e.g., physical/sexual abuse), abhor their body, and many Christians, due to either poor or nonexistent teaching on human embodiment, consider their body to be, at best, a hindrance to spiritual maturity and, at worst, inherently evil or the ultimate source of sin.”[22]

Allison is correct in his assessment of the pervasive attitude toward the physical body by evangelicals. The fact is that we have proverbially dropped the ball on advocating a comprehensive position on the body as something that was originally perfectly good as made by God, yet good even in its current fallen state. Far too often evangelical bodily focus has been almost exclusively on the eschatological hope of a glorified and perfected body like that of our Lord, the firstfruits of the resurrection. Although that is something for which we all rightly long, our earthly bodies nevertheless are good gifts given to us by God and worthy of our positive attention.

This goodness of the physical body is especially important to discussions surrounding VR pornography. The VR porn user, in effect, “excarnates” himself into a different form of reality in which physical presence has been minimized in favor of virtual presence.[23] Rather than fulfilling sexual desire the way that God intended in the context of a marriage between one man and one woman for life, the VR porn user has not subverted God’s design with an extramarital sexual relationship that is corporeal in nature, but instead with one that is incorporeal. A paradox of sorts is thus produced, one in which the individual, in order to achieve sexual gratification, intends to move himself beyond the confines of physical space to the virtual, yet nonetheless must rely on some minimum amount of physical stimulation.

There is something starkly perverse about attempting to fulfill sexual desire almost entirely at the cognitive level, intentionally distancing oneself from physical presence, and evangelicals should be at the forefront of arguing this. Under the pretense of fantasy fulfilment, the VR user perhaps finds he actually prefers a reality in which he is effectively able to control every aspect of his own gratification. Ethically speaking, there is little to prevent a plausible future in which many persons attempt to achieve sexual fulfilment by foregoing embodied presence entirely.[24] Therefore, prime territory here is available to be taken by evangelicals with fully developed theologies of the body. If we are not willing to be the prophetic voices who advocate the essential goodness of embodied presence in a rightly exercised sexual relationship as contrasted against excarnated sexual acts, who will speak toward it?[25]

Action #2: Acknowledge that Virtual Reality Is Reality

Secondly, evangelicals should acknowledge that virtual reality is reality. At first glance, this action may appear to be contradictory to what I argued above. But we must be careful that we make the distinction between physical presence and reality. There is a reality in which you and I are physically present. I am in reality as I write this essay, sitting in a chair at a desk. You, the reader, are in reality as you read it. But were we instead in virtual reality, you and I physically in different locations but virtually in the same space via our VR headsets, and I were standing before you, reading the essay aloud, it would nonetheless be reality although there is no shared physical presence. If I am delivering the essay and you are experiencing it through VR technology, you are still hearing and seeing “me” deliver the essay. The content of the essay is identical and its meaning is communicated, whether in physical or virtual space. The reality of the communication remains consistent although the presence is subject to change.

Budding research on the effects of VR outside the VR experiences themselves is beginning to demonstrate that VR experiences are real enough to produce effects that extend beyond the actual time spent in virtual reality.[26] Consequently, it seems appropriate to conclude that it is more accurate to say that virtual reality is a different form of reality or a different space within reality rather than not constituting reality at all. Indeed, there are many actions that can be taken in virtual reality that translate into actual communication extending outside the virtual space. For instance, if two VR users interact in the same virtual space by shaking hands as their avatars, a communicative act is nonetheless being exchanged between two human beings living on planet earth. The fact that it is taking place virtually rather than physically does not preclude its actuality.

Why is this acknowledgment important for evangelicals specifically? It is important because if we follow the temptation of many in society to dismiss virtual reality as something of a gimmick and “not real,” then we inadvertently open the door for arguments that experiences had and actions taken within virtual spaces likewise are not real. For example, although we naturally find a man and a woman going on dates behind their spouses’ backs to be morally wrong, what justification would we have for finding a man and a woman spending time together in virtual spaces behind their spouses’ backs through VR headsets to be equally wrong? If the incorporation of VR technology somehow automatically disqualifies the reality of the interaction, then logically we are left to conclude that the man and the woman have not actually communicated with one another at all.

The problem here should be obvious. Morality cannot be conveniently confined to the physical spaces we inhabit. Rather, what one does in a virtual realm can and does hold moral consequence in the physical realm. In order for this to be so, virtual reality must be reality. The degree to which the line between physical reality and virtual reality is blurred may be an open question, but it can never be drawn so distinctly that the two are impermeable.

Action #3: Work to Understand the Relationship between Virtual Acts and the Desires of the Flesh

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, evangelicals should work to understand the relationship between virtual acts and the desires of the flesh. In a way, this third action is a natural progression from the first two. If evangelicals hold to a strong theology of the body that prizes physical presence and if they work within a framework that treats virtual reality as reality, then the next logical course of action is to tackle the conundrum of acts performed in the virtual realm as motivated by desires in the physical. At the outset of such an endeavor, one must admit that this is a complicated issue to which no one, as yet, has offered a definitive solution. At the very least, in the limited space available, perhaps we can consider a potentially helpful way of thinking through the matter.

As VR use progressively becomes more widespread and its sexual applications become more enticing to an increasingly aware public, evangelicals should be ready to discuss to what extent actions in a virtual realm may, in fact, be sinful. After all, our own sinful natures as humans are not somehow prevented from accompanying us into the virtual realms we may enter. Some instances of sinfulness will be clear. For example, if a scriptural case can be made against watching conventional pornographic videos, then the same case holds against viewing sexual acts on a VR headset regardless of whether or not there is any active participation on the part of the viewer.

Things become more difficult, however, when dealing with larger scriptural issues under which the use of VR porn may fall. Let us return to the scenario that opened this essay. How are evangelicals to respond to Michael when he attempts to argue that the sex he experienced with Stacy, the adult performer, was not real sex but something akin to masturbation? Certainly the lust involved is the same either way and thus condemnable in that respect, but did Michael commit actual adultery even though he has never been in Stacy’s physical presence or actually physically touched her body?

Michael’s wife, Kate, certainly thinks so. She is planning to go to her pastor to explain to him that she feels she has biblical grounds for divorce because Michael committed actual adultery rather than it being a Matthew 5 case of adultery in his heart. Is she right? Michael did lust after Stacy, he did commit sexual acts with her, albeit virtually, and he did physically experience orgasms brought about by a combination of his actions (his choice to use the stimulating device) and actions not his own (Stacy’s control of said device). Under a biblical definition of actual adultery, is Michael an adulterer?

This is illustrative of the questions evangelicals should be prepared to address, and they will be hard pressed to do so if they do not begin working now toward understanding the relationship between virtual acts and the desires of the flesh. Perhaps a helpful principle in pursuing that end might be to remember that the lustful desire manifested in the consumption of pornography is both the issue and not the issue. In one sense, lustful desire is the issue because it can lead to the action to participate in VR pornography. And, of course, there can be no mistake that the lust itself is sinful. On the other hand, the lustful desire is not the issue because it need not necessarily result in the use, to whatever degree, of VR porn. It could be that the person in question takes the lustful desire and instead acts upon it by watching a conventional pornographic video.

In defining the relationship as outlined above, then, we must be cognizant that addressing the sexual lust at the foundational level is both helpful and needed, as it holds the potential of preventing other sinful actions that might result. But we must also be cognizant that if the person in question has moved beyond conventional pornographic videos to participation in VR porn, there is more behind the motivation than merely sexual lust; something else has additionally contributed to moving the user to the allure of disembodied, virtual gratification. Evangelicals should seek to ascertain the nature of the factor that ultimately pushed the user over the edge of the virtual precipice.


In this essay, I have argued that evangelicals are not prepared to address the challenges that will arise and have already begun to arise with the advent of virtual reality pornography. I then offered three suggested actions for evangelicals to better prepare themselves: articulating a strong theology of the body, acknowledging that virtual reality is reality, and working to understand the relationship between virtual acts and the desires of the flesh. The new frontier of VR porn is fraught with peril, and our adversary, Satan, no doubt has the desire to use it to the fullest to ruin countless lives. As evangelicals whose work is to speak truth as light into darkness, we must be ready. We must consider those who are at risk of pursuing VR porn. We must consider those who are currently addicted to VR porn. We must consider those who are involved in making VR porn. We must consider those who are refugees from VR porn. We must consider the innocents who have and will suffer because of VR porn. And we must consider the world around us who will be watching our responses. Will we be winsome and cogent in addressing these major issues at the forefront? Only if we take steps now to begin the conversation in earnest. We must educate ourselves and do the hard work of engaging the attendant issues before countless lives are ruined by the honey which drips from virtual lips.


[1] This essay is adapted from “Virtually an Affair? Are Evangelicals Prepared to Face Pornography’s VR Revolution?,” a paper I presented at the 67th Annual Meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society on November 19, 2015 in Atlanta, GA.


[2] The exploitation of pornographic performers is not limited to the companies who employ them. Rather, the viewer of pornography is complicit as well. See Andrew David Naselli, “When You Indulge in Pornography, You Participate in Sex Slavery,” JBMW 20, no. 2 (2015): 23–29.


[3] Throughout this essay, in the interest of avoiding sexual temptation for the reader, I have elected not to name or cite any developers of VR pornography, nor to name or cite sources for any developers of VR technology or devices that have direct sexual application. However, it is worth noting here that a recent crowdfunding campaign for a device like the one described in the above hypothetical scenario was suspended because the demand for the device apparently outstripped the original planned supply capacity of the company making it. Consumers clearly are already eager to experience VR porn.


[4] CES 2016 was held January 6–9, 2016 in Las Vegas, NV. See the above note regarding the lack of source. Further instances will go unmentioned.


[5] Julie Verhage, “Goldman Sachs Has Four Charts Showing the Huge Potential in Virtual and Augmented Reality,” Bloomberg, January 13, 2016, I recognize there is a difference between VR and AR (augmented reality) technology (as do the analysts at Goldman Sachs), but the conflation of the two when talking about the market potential of the technology is fairly standard in business press. Either way, an $80 billion market for VR/AR translates into literally millions of VR headsets alone.


[6] For a sampling of relevant statistics, see the “Annual Report 2015” from CovenantEyes, a leading accountability software provider, available at


[7] There are far too many to cite here, but a representative sampling of evangelicals dealing with conventional pornography includes: Tim Challies, “7 Good Reasons to Stop Looking at Porn Right Now,”, June 25, 2014,; Heath Lambert, Finally Free: Fighting for Purity with the Power of Grace (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2013); Andy Lewis, “Issues & Answers: Pornography,” Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, March 1, 2007,; Gavin Ortlund, “Fighting Porn by F.A.I.T.H.,” The Gospel Coalition, January 5, 2014,; John Piper, “Pornography: The New Narcotic,” Desiring God, October 9, 2013,; William M. Struthers, Wired for Intimacy: How Pornography Hijacks the Male Brain (Grand Rapids: Intervarsity, 2009).


[8] Douglas Groothuis, The Soul in Cyberspace (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1997). See chapter 6, “Cybersex: Eroticism without Bodies,” especially pages 95–97.


[9] Groothuis briefly mentions virtual reality in his article, “Christian Scholarship and the Philosophical Analysis of Cyberspace Technologies,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 41, no. 4 (1998): 631–40, but does not appear to address the topic in any of his scholarship thereafter.


[10] Evangelical engagement with virtual reality at all, for that matter, is scant. For example, assuming that the websites found in footnote 6 are representative of evangelical thought on the Internet, searches of “virtual reality” on each website produced zero results in which an accurate view of VR as experienced through a specially designed headset was expressed. Moving in a more scholarly direction, the recent three-volume, Robert H. Woods, Jr., ed., Evangelical Christians and Popular Culture: Pop Goes the Gospel (Santa Barbara: Praeger, 2013), despite containing chapters on video games, the Internet, and technological perspectives held by evangelicals, does not deal with virtual reality in any depth. Likewise, searches for “virtual reality” on theological databases, such as ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, yields few results at all, let alone work done by evangelicals.


[11] Alex Bursin, “The Approaching Scourge of Virtual-Reality Porn,” Think Christian, July 14, 2015,


[12] Adam Palmer, “VR Porn Will Soon Be Real: Here Are 3 Ways You Can Deal,” XXXchurch, February 15, 2016, Let the reader beware that the beginning portion of this article contains a couple of crude puns. While I have both theological and methodological reservations concerning XXXchurch, they are at least making an effort to address VR pornography.


[13] It is also ascertained by the lack of engagement with virtual reality on the whole. See footnote 9.


[14] Essays that engage in this very practice are waiting to be written by evangelical scholars, for certain.


[15] Tim Challies is a notable exception here. See Tim Challies, “Pornography Driving Technology,”, May 13, 2005,


[16] Regarding this and the preceding claim, see Patchen Barss, The Erotic Engine: How Pornography Has Powered Mass Communication from Gutenberg to Google (Toronto: Anchor Canada, 2011); Doug Gross, “In the Tech World, Porn Quietly Leads the Way,” CNN, April 23, 2010,; and Frederick S. Lane III, Obscene Profits: The Entrepreneurs of Pornography in the Cyber Age (New York: Routledge, 2001).


[17] This is a complex discussion involving philosophy of technology, for which we do not have the space. I would direct the reader’s attention to Jacques Ellul, The Technological Bluff, trans. Geoffrey W. Bromiley (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990); Evgeny Morozov, The Net Delusion: The Dark Side of Internet Freedom (New York: Public Affairs, 2011); Steve Talbott, Devices of the Soul: Battling for Our Selves in an Age of Machines (Sebastopol, CA: O’Reilly, 2007); and Langdon Winner, The Whale and the Reactor: A Search for Limits in an Age of High Technology (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1989) for arguments from different perspectives that technology is not neutral. This idea is rather unpopular among those outside of philosophy of technology, given the “technology as savior” narrative many sectors in today’s society implicitly adopt.


[18] Kent C. Berridge and Terry E. Robinson “The Mind of an Addicted Brain: Neural Sensitization of Wanting Versus Liking,” Current Directions in Psychological Science, 4, no. 3 (1995): 71–76; Norman Doidge, The Brain That Changes Itself (New York: Penguin, 2007); Donald L. Hilton, Jr., “Pornography Addiction—A Supranormal Stimulus Considered in the Context of Neuroplasticity,” Socioaffective Neuroscience & Psychology 3 (2013),; Donald L. Hilton, Jr. and Clark Watts, “Pornography Addiction: A Neuroscience Perspective,” Surgical Neurology International 2 (2011),; Simone Kühn and Jürgen Gallinat, “Brain Structure and Functional Connectivity Associated With Pornography Consumption: The Brain on Porn,” JAMA Psychiatry 71, no. 7 (2014): 827–34; Eric J. Nestler, “Is There a Common Molecular Pathway for Addiction?” Nature Neuroscience 8 (2005): 1445–49; Gary Wilson, Your Brain on Porn: Internet Pornography and the Emerging Science of Addiction (Margate, England: Commonwealth, 2015).


[19] Struthers, Wired for Intimacy, 101–04, 135–36.


[20] Paula Banca, Laurel S. Morris, Simon Mitchell, et al., “Novelty, Conditioning and Attentional Bias to Sexual Rewards,” Journal of Psychiatric Research 72 (2016): 91–101.


[21] For an example of this, see Arvid Guterstam, Zakaryah Abdulkarim, and H. Henrik Ehrsson, “Illusory Ownership of an Invisible Body Reduces Autonomic and Subjective Social Anxiety Responses” Scientific Reports 5 (2015), For why a perfect one-to-one correlation with physical reality is not required to fool the brain with VR, see Tom Vanderbilt, “These Tricks Make Virtual Reality Feel Real: Realistic Digital Spaces Need Delusions as Much as They Need Detail,” Nautilus, January 7, 2016,


[22] Gregg Allison, “Toward a Theology of Human Embodiment,” Southern Baptist Journal of Theology 13, no. 2 (2009): 4f.


[23] I am indebted to D. Brent Laytham, iPod, YouTube, Wii Play: Theological Engagements with Entertainment (Eugene, OR: Cascade, 2012), 110–132, for his use of the idea of “excarnation,” who in turn is drawing upon Charles Taylor, A Secular Age (Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2007). Laytham uses excarnation primarily as a criticism of video games, arguing that their very nature is excarnational, thus they divorce the player from physical reality. Laytham overstates his case, and I take a decidedly more positive view of video games in Matthew C. Millsap, “Playing with God: A Theoludological Framework for Dialogue with Video Games” (Ph.D. diss., Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, 2014), though I find his point better suited to virtual reality, the goal of which is, in many ways, excarnation.


[24] What I have in mind here is the development of technology that can trick the brain into thinking an orgasm has been experienced although there has been no physical orgasm. No actual physical stimulation would be required.


[25] An additional topic evangelicals should prepare to address is the temptation of foregoing bodily presence in favor of virtual gatherings for corporate worship as experienced through VR technology, which must include concomitant discussions of whether the ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper can be properly administered or experienced in virtual space.


[26] See, for instance, Sun Joo (Grace) Ahn, Jeremy N. Bailenson, and Dooyeon Park, “Short- and Long-term Effects of Embodied Experiences in Immersive Virtual Environments on Environmental Locus of Control and Behavior,” Computers in Human Behavior 39 (2014): 235–45, in which it was shown that users who cut down a tree in an “immersive virtual environment” subsequently used 20% less paper than a control group who instead read a description of tree cutting. This is but one of many studies performed by the Virtual Human Interaction Lab at Stanford University. For more of these studies, see For a fascinating Wall Street Journal interview with the director of the VHIL, see Geoffrey Fowler, “Jeremy Bailenson Peers into the Future of Virtual Reality: Strivr Labs Co-founder Says VR Has the Potential to Change the Way Users Feel—and Behave,” Wall Street Journal, February 10, 2016,


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