04/18/17

Porn is a Public Health Hazard

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In a strange but true way, there was a study published in the Journal of Sex Research that found a correlation between some measures of religiosity and Google searchers for the term “porn.” In states with higher percentages of Evangelical Protestants, theists and biblical literalists—as well as states with higher church attendance rates—predict higher frequencies of searching for “porn.” Higher percentages of religiously unaffiliated persons in a state are related to lower frequencies of searching for porn. “Our findings support theories that more salient, traditional religious influences in a state may influence residents-whether religious or not-toward more covert sexual experiences.”

The above discussed study, “Unbuckling the Bible Belt: A State-Level Analysis of Religious Factors and Google Searches for Porn,” raised some questions when I saw graphics from the study on Twitter. Here is the link to the Twitter post. The linked study abstract and graphic on Twitter may be somewhat deceiving, as they plot and discuss searches done for the actual word “porn,” which could be done for a variety of reasons besides just wanting to view pornography. Yet the concern over the adverse social and spiritual effects of viewing pornography is a very real concern among a wider audience than just Evangelicals, theists and biblical literalists.

The state of Utah passed a resolution in March of 2016 declaring that pornography was a “public health hazard.” The resolution recognizes pornography leads to a broad spectrum of individual and public health concerns. It pointed to how young children are increasingly exposed to pornography, with the average age of exposure now 11 to 12 years of age. This early exposure leads to a multitude of personal and social problems, including: adolescents engaging in risky sexual behavior; an increase of sexual behavior at a younger age; depicting women and children as sex objects and rape and abuse as if they were harmless.

Writing for the Evangelical website The Gospel Coalition in May of 2016, Joe Carter described how pornography is increasingly being seen as a public health problem. Studies from the late 1960s to the mid-1980s concluded pornography had “no marked social effect.” But that was before the Internet. Since the late 1980s, there has been a wealth of social science research demonstrating the negative effect of porn on individuals, families, children and communities. Carter linked two meta-analyses that found sexual aggression among males and females was associated with the consumption of porn; and an overall positive association between pornography and attitudes supporting violence against women.

In “The Science of Pornography Addiction,” Gary Wilson described the effects of watching porn on the brain. He said that 25% of all Internet searches are for porn. It is the fourth most common reason people give for going online. In many ways, it acts like a drug. With prolonged exposure, it will lead to tolerance, loss of control and the compulsive desire to seek it out despite negative consequences. And there is “withdrawal” when it goes away. “The issue is that continued exposure can cause long term or even life-long neuroplastic change in the brain.”

There is a release of dopamine in our brains as a reward whenever we accomplish something, including sexual activity. “It alters and forms the brain cells to motivate certain actions. It rewires your brain.” The more time you spend doing a certain action, like viewing porn, the more dopamine is released—which then reinforces the behavior. As you begin to imagine the images away from the computer or while having sex, they become reinforced as well. “It’s a feedback loop that becomes harder to escape.”

The good news is this can be reversed or extinguished. Wilson said the brain is often described as “the use it or lose it system.” Like with muscles, the neural connections you use become stronger and want to be activated, while the ones you ignore become weakened. So the same neuroplastic system used to acquire these habits can be used to acquire healthier ones.

In another article on pornography and the brain, Joe Carter recommended “The Science of Pornography Addiction” video. He also summarized the thoughts of William Struther, an associated professor of psychology at Wheaton College. Commenting on the dopamine process described above, Struther said: “Pornography thus enslaves the viewer to an image, hijacking the biological response intended to bond a man to his wife and therefore inevitably loosening that bond.” Overstimulation of the reward circuitry, as when repeatedly viewing pornography, creates desensitization. “When dopamine receptors drop after too much stimulation, the brain doesn’t respond as much, and we feel less reward from pleasure.”

The psychological, behavioral, and emotional habits that form our sexual character will be based on the decisions we make. . . Whenever the sequence of arousal and response is activated, it forms a neurological memory that will influence future processing and response to sexual cues. As this pathway becomes activated and traveled, it becomes a preferred route—a mental journey—that is regularly trod. The consequences of this are far-reaching.

Internet porn is unique in a number of ways. First is its extreme novelty. Second, unlike food or drugs, there is almost no physical limit to its consumption. Third, a user can easily escalate to more novel “partners” and unusual genres. Fourth, unlike food or drugs, the brain’s natural aversion system is not activated. Like with drugs, the age users start using porn is a crucial factor. “A teen’s brain is at its peak of dopamine production and neuroplasticity, making it highly vulnerable to addiction and rewiring.”

A nonprofit organization called Fight the New Drug is trying to raise awareness on the harmful effects of porn and get this information to a wider audience. They use science, facts and personal accounts to bring the issue out in the open and get people talking about it. The organization’s website said not only are we the first generation to face the issue of pornography at this intensity and scale, “we’re also the first generation with a scientific fact-based understanding of the harm pornography can do.”

Then there is Elizabeth Smart. On June 5, 2002 when she was 14, Elizabeth was awakened by a strange male voice saying that he had a knife to her neck. She was told to get up without making a sound and come with him or he would kill her family. She remained a captive by this man and his wife for nine months, where she was repeatedly raped by the man. Sometimes he brought her hardcore porn, which he looked at and forced her to look at. Then he acted out with her what they had seen. Here is a short video of Elizabeth telling her story.

Looking at pornography wasn’t enough for him. Having sex with his wife after he looked at pornography, it wasn’t enough for him. Then it led to him finally going out and kidnapping me. He just always wanted more.  I can’t say that he would not have gone out and kidnapped me if he had not looked at pornography. All I know is that pornography made my living hell worse.

The morning following her rescue, her mother gave her a piece of advice that changed her life. She told Elizabeth the best punishment she could give to the people that did those things to her was to be happy. Elizabeth went on to become an advocate for abuse prevention and an advocate against pornography. She married in 2012 and gave birth to a daughter in February of 2015.

P.S. Elizabeth Smart lived in Utah when she was abducted.

06/25/14

Let the Marriage Bed Be Undefiled

One woman told me that she didn’t think she could even tell her closest female friend some of the things her husband had forced her to do sexually. Another woman spent about two months in counseling accompanied by her best friend before she trusted enough to meet with me alone. A woman went with a friend of hers to a conference on abuse to be supportive of the friend. She left the conference with an awareness of how her husband had sinned against her sexually. All three of these marriages were between professing Christians. All three husbands used pornography at some point in their lives.

I first heard about When Your Husband is Addicted to Pornography by Vickie Tiede from a pastor as we talked about individuals and couples who struggle with porn addiction. Then someone I was counseling said reading it had really helped her. Then I heard that Harvest USA endorsed it, and finally read it. I was using another Harvest recommendation, Closing the Window by Tim Chester, when counseling men with sexual addiction problems. Now When Your Husband is Addicted to Pornography and Closing the Window are my one-two punch in reading assignments when I counsel couples struggling with porn addiction.

From the very beginning, Tiede reaches out to minister to women hurting because of their husband’s pornography addiction. “If you are reading this introduction, it’s most likely because God had unveiled your husband’s secret addiction to lust, masturbation, and pornography. Perhaps I am the first to say this to you: I’m so sorry.” Her gentle, personal tone is evident even in the midst of honestly telling it like it is. She frequently shares from her own experience and those of other women to illustrate her various topics.

As she said in a YouTube video (available on her website, vickitiede.com): “I wrote this book because it’s my story.” Her first husband was addicted to pornography. She clearly tells her readers that the book is not a handbook to fix their husband. “It is for and about you, not your husband.”

The chapters of her book are structured as six “weeks” of themes, with five “days” of reading and contemplation around each theme: hope, surrender, trust, identity, brokenness, and forgiveness. The discussion themes are carefully grounded in Scripture. Vickie’s discussion of forgiveness is one of the best-reasoned and balanced ones I’ve ever read.

Discussion, testimony, bible study and assignments that apply to the material are throughout the book. She also lists several helpful resources, including internet filters, support groups and workshops, Christian ministry websites and professional counseling resources. As Vickie suggests, keep this resource handy to give out when there is an unexpected conversation with a neighbor or friend (or someone you counsel) whose husband struggles with porn addiction.

There is no biblical justification for using pornography. And whether a husband uses porn to feed his own lust or spice up his marital sex life, he abuses his wife and defiles his marriage. Let marriage be honored by all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral (Hebrews 13:4). Unfortunately, there is a crucial need for Vickie Tiede’s book. Fortunately she had the courage to write it.

What other resources do you know of for women whose husbands are addicted to porn? 

06/13/14

Coping with Our Porn-is-the-Norm Culture

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What would you say if someone came up to you after a church service and said:

  • “Dirty, ugly, shameful, unwanted and unloved are a few of the words I’ve used to describe myself. For twenty years I have lived in the darkness of sexual addiction.”

or

  • “I was a good, Christian boy raised in a good Christian home and community, and my life didn’t look any different from the world and what it promotes sexually. . . . I knew all the Christian doctrines, but in my heart I was helpless to resist, a slave to my desires—for the next 25 years.”

or

  • “After college I “stumbled” across pornography following a broken relationship. . . . After every fall I would be crushed with guilt and shame; I would ask for forgiveness; I would feel better; and then shortly thereafter fall again.”

Could you give these three people any hope and practical help for their struggles with sexual sin? One place you could suggest is Harvest USA. In their Winter 2013 Newsletter, you can read the complete personal stories of the three people quoted above. In that same newsletter, is the Dave White and Nicolas Black article, mentioned in a previous blog post, “Our Porn-is–the-Norm Culture.”

Another helpful resource that I’ve used regularly in Tim Chester’s book, Closing the Window. Chester said that porn is providing the sex education for a generation of young people. It is establishing their expectations for sex and marriage. “We have a generation of young people for whom the call to repentance must include a call to turn from porn.”

Chester gave a helpful, biblically sound definition. Porn “is anything we use for sexual titillation, gratification or escape—whether it was intended for that purpose or not.” So looking at ads or catalogues to stimulate lust, “undressing” someone with your eyes, fantasizing about sex with someone who is not your spouse, are equally pornographic along with sexually explicit material in magazines or movies or on the Internet.

The biblical starting point for this definition of pornography is Matthew 5:27-28, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”

Chester suggested five key ingredients that need to be in place to win the battle with porn:

  1. Abhorrence of porn—a hatred of porn itself (not just the shame it brings) and a longing for change.
  2. Adoration of God—a desire for God, arising from a confidence that he offers more than porn.
  3. Assurance of grace—an assurance that you are loved by God and right with God through faith in the work of Jesus.
  4. Avoidance of temptation—a commitment to do all in your power to avoid temptation, starting with controls on your computer.
  5. Accountability to others—a community of Christians who are holding you accountable and supporting you in your struggle.

John Freeman, the President of Harvest USA, had this to say about Closing the Window: “This is a wonderful resource to add to the arsenal of anyone serious about finding freedom from the power of pornography. . . . It is an excellent pastoral tool to help those dealing with and impacted by the false promises and lies of our porn-is-the-norm culture.”

Several years ago I had a conversation with Tim Geiger, now the Executive Director of Harvest USA, about counseling individuals struggling with sexual sin. I frankly told him of my reluctance to counsel individuals with this issue. The problems were so entrenched. The denial and resistance was so strong. This was coming from someone who has spent most of his counseling career working with addicts and alcoholics. But that reluctance faded away after I read Closing the Window. This is THE resource to read and recommend to individuals struggling with porn.

Do you agree with Tim Chester’s definition of porn?

06/11/14

Our Porn-is-the-Norm Culture

“Those who argue that pornography has been with us since cavemen first drew fornicating women on earthen walls ignore the vast discrepancies between a world in which pornography was glimpsed on the sly … and today’s culture, in which pornography is omnipresent, accepted, and glorified.” (Pornified, p. 241)

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Today, according to Pamela Paul, “the entire culture has become pornified.” Paul is the author of the 2006 book, Pornified: How Pornography is Damaging Our Lives, Our Relationships, and Our Families. By pornified, Paul means that “the aesthetics, values, and standards of pornography have seeped into mainstream popular culture.”

In her essay, “From Porn to Porno to Porn: How Porn Became the Norm,” Paul noted how there has been a radical shift in the cultural landscape and social acceptance of pornography. Technology, especially with the Internet, “has made pornography more anonymous, more accessible, and more affordable than ever before.”

Porn stars are regular features in the same magazines that profile actors, singers and other celebrities. Americans rent upwards of 800 million pornographic videos and DVDs yearly. Eleven thousand porn films are shot each year, outpacing Hollywood’s yearly output of 400. More money is spent on video pornography (4 billion dollars) than on football, baseball and basketball combined.

A man rented “Smurfs 2” from a Redbox vending machine for his kids. After taking it home he discovered someone had overdubbed it with hardcore porn. Redbox said this was an ongoing problem. “This is an unfortunate incident caused by an individual with ill intent.”

Members of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers reported in 2002 that 56 percent of their divorce cases involved one party having “an obsessive interest in pornographic websites. . . . 33 percent of the divorce cases cited excessive time communicating in chat rooms (a commonly sexualized forum).” The association’s president said: “While I don’t think you can say the Internet is causing more divorces, it does make it easier to engage in the sorts of behaviors that traditionally lead to divorce.”

And the statistics just keep coming. Daily Infographic indicated that twelve percent of all the websites on the internet (24,644,172) are pornographic. Every second, $3,075.64 is being spent on porn. In the US, internet porn brings in $2.84 billion per year. Worldwide, Internet porn revenue is $4.9 billion. There are 116,000 searches daily for “child pornography.” The average age at which a child first sees porn is 11; yes ELEVEN. The most popular day of the week to view porn is Sunday.

Dave White and Nicolas Black, of Harvest USA referred to the normalization of porn within the church as a silent crisis. “Pornography, which is now so widespread and accessible, seems to have become almost a non-issue for so many churches.” They mentioned a woman who said her 11-year-old daughter had been watching online porn for months. They had a call from parents saying that they discovered their 8-year-old son was watching bestiality videos on his iPod Touch.

White and Black said the church cannot afford to ignore this growing epidemic. “We must speak up… We must name the problem, proclaim that there is freedom and hope in the gospel, and patiently show our people how to manage their sexuality well.” They observed that one of the reasons for the weak and wavering faith of many in the church today may well be how “its people are capitulating to the sexualized culture and are immersed in sexual struggles and sin.” Here are some of their suggestions:

  • Sermons on sexuality and faith with real-life illustrations and strategies on an ongoing basis.
  • Adult Sunday school classes where practical strategies on how to live with sexual integrity are taught.
  • Gender-specific men’s and women’s groups that talk openly about real-life struggles in this area.
  • Youth pastors and volunteers need to be equipped to know how to help youth who are ensnared in sexual struggles and sin.
  • Parents must learn how to talk about sexuality to their kids and given tools to protect them from the dangers of unfiltered Internet usage on tablets, smartphones and iPod Touches.

Do you think porn has become normalized within the church and within our culture?