The Truth About Pornography
Pornography is a disease that is hurting both the Church and the society at large. It is not a new problem, but it becomes an even more difficult problem to deal with as time goes on. It is a problem that has become more prominent in society with the advent of the internet. One prominent pornography website has bragged about having over 100 million daily visitors. To put this in perspective, according to the numbers on this site, the site that I am referring to gets about as much traffic per day, on average, as Wikipedia, Amazon, Facebook, and YouTube PUT TOGETHER. More people watch pornography online each day on this one website than people who tune into Netflix. In fact, this one website has more views per day than the number of subscribers that Netflix has in the US. Multiply this by dozens upon dozens of pornography websites, and you have an even bigger problem. In case I haven't made this clear, the pornography pandemic is far larger than we seem to realize. I want us to be fully aware of this.
In her testimony before Congress on November 9, 2005, Jill Manning noted that "Research reveals many systemic effects of Internet pornography that are undermining an already vulnerable culture of marriage and family." It is a problem that is not limited to one group of people. Both men and women find themselves addicted to pornography. It affects both adults and children. The statistics show that the vast majority of teenage children will view pornography before they turn 18. Although 75% of parents in one survey believed that their children would not accidentally stumble upon pornography online, the same study showed that, of the children preteen and teenaged children of these parents, 53% had viewed pornography. These were children under the age of majority. Approximately 63% of underage people who have viewed pornography have stumbled upon it accidentally, and then became hooked from there. Studies have also found that children as young as 7 or 8 are viewing pornography.
This is not just a problem that is limited to males of all ages, either. Some estimate that somewhere around 40-50% of women watch pornography. This is approximately every other woman you come across. And these estimates usually only account for adult women. Approximately 78% of underage teens have viewed pornography before they hit their 18th birthday. In short, there are more women who are not counted in this estimate, meaning that the actual number is, in all likelihood, higher than 50%. To review, pornography is a disease that affects more people in our society than we realize.
This is not just a problem that touches the members of a congregation or the population at large, however. This is something that many pastors deal with. In one Barna survey, it was discovered that 57% of Pastors and 64% of Youth Pastors admitted to struggling with pornography at some point in their life. According to this same survey, 21% of Youth Pastors and 14% of Pastors currently had an issue with pornography. To review, pornography is a disease that affects more people in our society than we realize. This is bad, because of the destructive effects that pornography has on society.
Men suffer from pornography. It may not seem like it to some, but there is suffering that results from men consuming pornography, not least of all in the area of intimacy with others. William Struthers has noted that "Pornography corrupts the ability to be intimate. It pulls consumers and producers in with the promise of intimacy, but fails to deliver the connection between two human beings." In other words, that connection that men are supposed to have with their spouse simply isn't going to be as strong when the man views pornography.
Women suffer from pornography. Women suffer from the use of pornography by males. Jill Manning came to this same conclusion in her report to Congress. She cites a study from Dolf Zillman and Jennings Bryant and comes to the conclusion that men who view pornography show, overall, "increased callousness toward women," along with a lesser view of the seriousness of crimes like sexual assault, a devaluation of monogamy, less satisfaction with their spouse's appearance and personality, doubts about the value of marriage, as well as several other issues. Each of the ones mentioned have the potential to be harmful to women in general. In addition, Jill Manning's report also concluded that women who were married to men who are engaging with pornographic materials end up emotionally injured. This emotional injury appears to be more significant for married women than for girls who are dating, although the emotional injury is still there in both cases.
What about the effects of women who use pornography? Many women have acted out on the fantasies that they have seen or read about in pornographic material, thinking that it will help them gain the affection of the men in their life. In reality, it doesn't. Those who do act on these ideas often end up making things worse. Women are sometimes exposed to physical harm when they act on these ideas. There is a reason the average life expectancy of a porn star is only 37 years. That is not the career expectancy. That is the LIFE expectancy. Imitating the acts that help lead to this shorter life can only shorten the life of women. Furthermore, women who engage in these acts to gain the attention of the opposite sex will often end up disappointed and emotionally injured because men typically do not stay with women who are considered "loose." Overall, there is no good outcome for women in regards to porn use.
Youth suffer from pornography. This group can include anyone from a young child to teenager under the age of majority. Jill Manning's research has found that children whose parents are regular users of pornography often do not get as much time or attention as they should expect due to their parent(s)' preoccupation. In addition, children in the homes of individuals who regularly consume pornography are more likely to come into contact with pornographic material at an early age, which places them at a greater risk of repeating any dangerous or harmful actions that their parents commit. In this sense, parents who watch pornography actually place their children at risk, as well. Those under the age of majority who watch or stumble across pornography are also at a higher risk of emotional injury than their adult counterparts. According to Manning's research, children faced a variety of emotions from embarrassment, disgust, anger, fear, and sadness. In addition, an Australian Child at Risk Assessment Unit found that, over the course of approximately 10 years (from the early 1990's to 2003), the number of children referred for sexually aggressive behavior per year jumped from 3 to approximately 70. This has been linked to these children having access to pornographic materials.
The human mind suffers from pornography. Medical doctors Freda Bush and Joe McIlhaney point out that when a man and woman are intimate with each other, a chemical called oxytocin (or vasopressin) is released that helps the two bond. Those who think that they can short-circuit this process are wrong. They also point out that our brains are moldable and remoldable throughout life. To summarize a large portion of their work, those who engage in pornography are, in a very real sense, having their brain molded in a manner that it was never intended to be molded into. Pornography affects you more than you ever thought it would.
Society suffers from pornography. With all of the effects mentioned above, and at the scale mentioned at the beginning of this post, is it any surprise that society as a whole suffers from the effects of pornography. Would it surprise us if we had lower numbers of sexual assaults, domestic violence, and one-parent households if we, as a society, were less concerned with the illusion that pornography provides and rather realized how devastating it actually is? I think the results would shock us.
Finally, the Church suffers from pornography. This is largely due to the Church at large not addressing the problem of pornography in our society. The statistics show that Christian men and women are not immune from pornography's effects. As shown at the beginning of this article, pastors themselves often struggle with pornography themselves. If this is you, pastor, then please get some help, no matter the cost. We need you in this fight. If this is not you, pastor, then we still need you. Part of the reason that the Church as a whole suffers from a pornography problem is because Church leadership, as a general rule, tend to tiptoe around difficult topics such as this. However, Jesus didn't (see Matthew 5:27-30). Neither should we.
If you are struggling with pornography, I highly encourage you to seek help, for your sake and for the sake of others. The steps that I outline below may provide some help, but you have to follow through. Your situation may be different than that of someone else. Hopefully however, these principles will help you through:
First, recognize that you have a problem. If you don't realize that you have a problem, then you will never face it. However, hiding from the problem doesn't make it go away. It simply means that you are choosing to ignore the reality of your situation. If you view pornography, but don't think that you have a problem, none of the rest of these principles will help you, and there is nothing more I can do to help. You may as well stop reading at this point. If you have a problem with pornography and seriously want help, please continue.
After realizing and admitting that you have a problem, one of the first things you should do is to tell someone else. Pornography is more difficult to watch when you are held accountable for watching it. I would also recommend not telling just one person. Rather, find some individuals that know you well, who have your best interest in mind, and who will hold you accountable. Three or so people is probably an ideal number for most situations. Give these individuals permission to be "all up in your business." This means that, if one of them asks to check your phone to see if you have illicit pictures on it, you should hand it over immediately. These individuals should also have the right to check your browsing history, as well as anything else that might tell them about your activity online. If you tell them about your problem, and ask them to hold you accountable, but do not give them the ability to do so, they will not be much help to you. This will be uncomfortable throughout this process, but it is better to have some discomfort than to continue in the addiction.
You should also have a clear plan to overcome the addiction. Some of my recommendations include:
1. If you have a computer in a private area, either move it to a public area where anyone can see what you are looking at at any given time, or else put it in storage until you have dealt with your addiction.
2. Utilize EVERY available resource. This may include Covenant Eyes and other similar tools, an app such as Blocksite for your phone, resources from places such as XXX Church, and spiritual guidance from a local pastor (provided said pastor is not an addict himself/herself).
3. Have your accountability partners put together a system of rewards and rebuke. It may help to have them reward you when you can prove, to their satisfaction, that you have been faithful to your commitment to kick your addiction. However, when you fail, your accountability partners should gently rebuke you and remove any stumbling block that may have led to a lapse.
4. Be prepared to take drastic measures. In Matthew 5:27-30, Jesus makes it clear that we should be willing to cut off our right hand or pluck out our right eye rather than to lust. While Jesus was speaking metaphorically, the point is that, if something is hindering you from kicking your addiction to pornography, you should be willing to get rid of it. A model for this is found in the movie Fireproof. When the main character (played by Kirk Cameron) was at the decision point for whether or not he was going to kick the same habit that we are talking about here, he took his computer outside and took a baseball bat to it. This may seem drastic, but this should be the distance we should be willing to go to kick ungodly habits.
Finally, but most importantly, you should not rely on your strength alone to overcome this addiction. Pornography is a sin, and therefore must be dealt with just like any other sin. Jesus Christ gave his life to save sinners from their sins. He didn't come so that we could only be saved from the consequences of our sins, but so that we could be saved from the sins themselves. Sin takes the heart into bondage, and apart from God's grace, there is no way out of it. The good news is that, if you want to kick this habit so that your life will be more pleasing to God, then this is a sign of God's grace working in you. In short, you would not have the desire to be free from sin unless God had extended grace to you to pull you from that sin. Let God lead you, no matter the cost. I firmly believe that God desires your freedom moreso than you do. Spend regular time in Scripture and in prayer, and lean on Christ in times of weakness. Commit everything you do to him. This is perhaps the most important thing you can do.
If you need help or advice on kicking the pornography habit, please reach out to us. We will do what we can to point you in the right direction and help you get started on your journey towards being porn-free.