Some Thoughts on Imagery and Impurity


I am posting the words below as my opinion only, and I welcome hearing from people whose opinions differ from those presented below.

One distinction that many people seem to struggle with is between what is lustful and what is healthy natural appreciation for the opposite sex is either looking at someone in person, or in artistic representations of a person.

I think the term lust is sometimes used too liberally to describe any attraction to the opposite sex, or appreciation of their physical attributes. Lust, as I understand it is an animal instinct, a craving or immoderated desire for sexual relations that overrides ones ability to relate to a person on a personal basis. It reduces people to nothing more than objects for physical satisfaction, and the driving force of the instinct impairs the ability for a deep authentic interpersonal relationship.

This is why pornography is unhealthy, because it reduces people to nothing more than objects for instinctual gratification, and trains a person to feel sexual instincts solely driving them toward the opposite sex rather than a deeper attraction to the person as a human being with a personality, intellect, and life of their own.

However, not all attraction to the opposite sex, or physical appreciation is lustful. This seems to be where many people are uncertain of whether their actions are sinful or not.

I described a sinful attraction above, but we were created for male and female to attract, so attraction itself isn’t sinful.

If for example, a man looks at a woman, and only thinks of her as a prize to be won, or how to act around her so she will be willing satisfy his desire to please his physical drive to have sex with her, he is acting out of lust.

However, if a man looks at a woman, and appreciates her physical beauty without feeling a strong instinctual drive to have relations with her, he is probably not sinning. If he calmly appreciates her physical body as a component of a human composed of body, mind, and soul, as an outward representation of her humanity, and a symbol of the beauty of our human nature, he is not sinning.

An example is the portrayal of the human body in art. There is nothing wrong with an appreciation of even an unclothed body. The body itself, and the art isn’t what is sinful. The situation portrayed has much to do with whether an image is aimed toward provoking lust or not.

For example, suppose there are two photographs or paintings that depict an unclothed person. Does the fact that within the picture is an unclothed person make the picture pornographic? No. All we know is that the human body is shown, so there is not pornography shown so far.

In the first picture, suppose it is a natural setting such as a field or ocean shore. In the nature scene, a couple unclothed humans are depicted. They are simply standing, or walking together. Whether they are clothed or unclothed seems to make no difference as to the morality of the picture, because it is a setting where the nudity is not out of place, and suggests nothing of an appeal to increasing an instinctual drive. Because nudity in such circumstances is not abnormal, it doesn’t seem likely that someone would interpret the picture in a way that draws attention to any particular part of the body in a way that is sexually suggestive.

In another picture, suppose nudity is depicted in circumstances where it seems forced into a situation it should not under normal circumstances take place, such as in a public business, by an exhibitionist seeking attention for doing something abnormal. In this case, the picture is immoral because, it is not simply a normal depiction of the human body where it is appreciated in a normal setting, but a forced attempt to draw attention to parts of the body which otherwise would be covered. In this setting, normally the body would be clothed. Since the picture is depicting an abnormal setting, the focus of the picture would be on what is abnormal, and thus the emphasis is on certain body parts which are abnormally exposed. This would lead to additional thoughts and conclusions about the picture. This is what I would consider pornographic, because the emphasis isn’t on simply a person, but on particular parts of the person, and in a way that is meant to provoke instinctual reaction.


I agree, but I think you over explained it. That’s not a bad thing it’s part of your throught process and somebody will probably appreciate the explanation, but for myself personally it’s a no brainer. I never feel shameful or guilty for admiring the opposite sex. I’m boy crazy that would be a big problem for me lol
Also, I was raised not to be ashamed or scared of nudity and that it was a very natural thing. My parents appreciate art and there were naked people all over our house be it a statue, painting etc. I do however remember my friends giggling or acting silly over seeing these images when they came over to play. I always thought the kids were just weird :shrug:


With photography especially, it is a very fine line between art and pornography. Sadly, our culture is so drenched with sexualized images, that even art can be taken the wrong way. I believe there is a sense of shame over nudity, especially between strangers, because of our fallen nature, and it serves a purpose: for one thing, to keep us from falling in to the sins of impurity. Some are trying very hard to remove that sense of shame, but that does not make it right. I am not a great lover of art, but I do know when something is presented for the sake of exciting the senses. Better for me not try to rationalize about any artistic merit, and just steer clear of it altogether. Just my opinion.


I’ve always said a little shame is healthy for society.

Good post.


I agree with the OP…

At the crux of the issue is that some people confuse concupiscence with lust. Concupiscence is the orientation to sin and often times refers to natural desire relating to sensual longing. Contrast that with lust…Lust is the disordered desire for sexual pleasure or as you put it immoderated desire for sexual relations that overrides ones ability to relate to a person on a personal basis.

I think much confusion stems from some early Church beliefs and teachings around sex… One that comes to mind for me is some of the ideas that St. Augustine put forward, namely that having sexual relations even with in the confines of marriage is only to be tolerated, but is a venial sin. In the history of the Church, there has at times been a pathology that looks on sex and normal sexual desire as something unnatural. Thankfully, our Church as evolved and has achieved a greater understanding of how we are designed by God and our human nature.

Over the last century, the Church’s teaching has moved away from its utilitarian definition of sexual relations being for procreation only. Pope Pius XII did great work in his encyclical Casti Connubii where he talks of the nature of sexual relations as being sacramental in nature, having benefit for the couple inherent in the conjugal union and, of course, procreation. Most have heard of Paul VI’s Humanae Vitae… where he talks of the both the unitive and procreative nature of marital relations and makes clear that both are equally valuable. Pope John Paul II in his Theology of the Body makes clear that the nature of marital relations is good and the nature desire that is stamped in to our being physically, emotionally and biologically … Sexual desire and pleasure is a gift from God and is only perverted when it is disordered.

With that said, the argument then becomes what is disordered or how is disordered defined? There are many view points here… mine aligns with yours in that it becomes disordered when it overrides one’s ability to see the other as other and the intent becomes solely self satisfaction. To bring my point home, some would say that when comparing the virginal state to a married couple who engage in sexual relations, the virginal state is more pure… I would reject that point of view because by making that distinction, we would have to accept that the act itself is inherently wrong or dirty.

Very interesting topic… look forward to the discussion.


“To the pure, all things are pure.” Titus 1:15

My problem when considering this topic is that I am well past pure, and so it is perhaps difficult for me to write about this objectively. Call it disordered concupiscence or lust, for me, that genie was let out of the bottle many years ago. The OP wrote specifically about images of nudity, and I suppose everyone must decide for him or herself when the depiction is no longer strictly one of artistic beauty, and when it crosses the line. Or maybe I’m just an old prude now!


It’s all very subjective which is why I need the objectivity of Christ.


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