The Pornography Revolution<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" />
By Sean McDowell
At the end of last year I lead a class discussion on the topic of Internet pornography (I teach at a private Christian school in southern <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags" />California). As we discussed openly with each other, a young man sitting in the back became noticeably disturbed by the conversation, which was evident by his body posture and lack of eye contact. He stayed after class to talk and confessed to me that he had been hooked on pornography for over six months. His dad would confront him, yet he would just lie directly to his face. This was not an ordinary kid, but a young man who grew up in a solid Christian home who had a great relationship with his father. He shared with me how he could control every aspect of his life but this one; and it was eating him up inside. This experience impressed upon me the following reality: every kid today is susceptible to the alluring power of pornography.
Studies show that about 40 million adults regularly visit Internet pornography sites (Microtrends, 2007, p. 276). That's more than ten times the amount of people who regularly watch baseball. Which one, again, is America's pastime? In fact, the ubiquity of porn is so great that it has now become the norm. Consider some statistics about pornography today:
- 70 percent of porn is downloaded between 9 am and 5 pm. 20 percent of men admit to accessing it while at work.
- In 2003, Today's Christian Woman reported that 53 percent of men at that year's Promise Keepers Convention admitted visiting a porn site the week before.
- According to Leadership Journal, 40 percent of pastors admit to visiting a pornographic website.
- Revenue from Internet porn exceeds by nearly a 2 to 1 ratio, the combined revenues of ABC, CBS, and NBC (Microtrends, 277)
- 25% of all searches are for sex, which is the number one search term people plug into Google and Yahoo!
- Sales of pornographic material on the Internet surpass the cumulative sales of all other products sold online (George Barna, Boiling Point: It Takes One Degree: Monitoring Cultural Shifts in the 21st Century, p. 223)
- 70% of 18-24 year-olds visit a pornographic website in a typical month (Pamela Paul, Pornified, 15).
- Average age of first Internet exposure to pornography is 11 years old (www.familysafemedia.com).
The Pornography Revolution
Consider three ways pornography has changed over the past few years. First, it is more accessible. People used to have to travel to seedy parts of town to get pornography, but now it comes looking for us-and our kids-while we surf the Internet or watch cable TV. Mark Penn, author of Microtrends says, "Where this may have the greatest impact is with teens who once bought illicit magazines, and then acquired videos. Now they have access through the Web" (p. 278). One result, he says, is that the age of first sexual contact is decreasing.
Second, pornography is now more accepted. Pornography is now seamlessly integrated into popular culture. Just ask yourself a simple question: When was the last time you heard the merits of pornography even being debated? For the most part the debate has died down, because it has become largely accepted. Women's magazines regularly discuss porn but from a new perspective-how women can introduce it into their own lives. One Rolling Stones article said, "Until recently, public fraternizing with a porn star was pretty much a no-no; now it lends the musicians an aura of danger and intrigue." A 2004 video game entitled, The Guy Game features women exposing their breasts when they answer questions incorrectly, available for X-Box and Playstation 2. It didn't even get an "Adults-only" rating. In Pornified Pamela Paul observed, "Girls today emulate porn stars in the same way earlier generations gyrated to Madonna" (184). Pornography is largely accepted in society.
Third, pornography is more aggressive. Porn has become increasingly violent and nonconsensual. In one study, 25% of porn magazines showed some form of violence, ranging from verbal aggression to torture to mutilation, compared with 27% of pornographic videos. Usenet groups on the Internet depicted violence 42% of the time (Pornified, 58). The lines between hard-core and soft-core pornography are no longer distinguishable-everything is available easily online. Pamela Paul noted: "Soft-core pornography has become part and parcel of the mainstream media. The majority of men interviewed for this book [Pornified] did not consider Playboy-once the epitome of the genre-to even be pornography at all, because it doesn't depict actual sex acts. 'True' pornography today is confined to the hardcore." (5)
Pornography Shapes a Worldview
Viewing pornography shapes the worldview of young people (and really, all people). Sadly, pornography is now the primary place that kids learn about sex. In Forbidden Fruit, Mark Regnerus notes that, "Filmmakers understand that Internet pornography is certainly the primary-and for some, only-sexual education that teenagers now receive. Debates about whether educators will or will not address oral sex or anal sex or condoms or gay or lesbian sex are quickly becoming utterly irrelevant, since a few clicks of a mouse will bring any of us to a demonstration of exactly how each is performed and 'experienced'" (p. 59). In one study, 60% of boys said they had learned "some" or "a lot" from porn" (Forbidden Fruit, 189).
The problem is that kids tend to think that sex online is not only real sex (sometimes it is), but normal sex. Consider just some of the implicit messages of heterosexual pornography: (1) all women want sex from men; (2) Women like all sexual acts men perform or demand; (3) Any woman who does not at first realize this can be persuaded with a little force.
Without exception, the more porn people watch, the more likely they are to believe that others are sexually active and adventurous. Porn gives the idea that sexual pleasure can be entirely divorced from a healthy relationship. In a study of 600 junior high school students over 66% of the males and 40% of females reported wanting to try out some of the sexual behaviors they had witnessed. In high school 31% of the males and 18% of the females admitted actually doing some of the things they had seen in the porn within a few days after exposure (Donna Rice Hughes, Kids Online: Protecting Your Children in Cyberspace).
Why is Pornography so Appealing?
Pornography meets a deeper need in many men (and women) beyond physical pleasure. For instance, porn depicts sex as an easy process, which is a welcome refuge for many young people from the difficult world of sexual politics they encounter every day. The user is put in complete control. In reality, men can reject women and make them feel inferior. But porn, on the other hand, offers sex without risk, vulnerability and humiliation. In Pornified, Pamela Paul says, "In the porn fantasy, a guy is no longer that tech geek that nobody liked in junior high school or the awkward college student lacking in social skills. In his mind's eye-despite a paucity of dates and a sexual history confined to the girl from math class-he has always gotten the woman he wants." (44)
Pornography is so alluring to young people is because many lack the healthy relationships God designed them to have. When we do not have intimate, healthy relationships, we are susceptible to all kinds of addictions, including pornography. In Hurt (2005), youth ministry expert Chap Clarks notes that one of the defining characteristics of young people today is their sense of loneliness from broken relationships with significant adults. No wonder so many are drawn to pornography.
What can we do?
Here are some quick thoughts for parents, youth workers, teachers, and others who care about reaching young people who struggle with Internet porn.
First, in talking to kids about sex and pornography it's important to balance expectations with information. Most conservatives tend to talk about values, but not discuss the realities of pornography. Mark Regnerus, author of Forbidden Fruit, observed, "Balancing information about sexuality with expectations about boundaries is a rare but optimal approach to a well-rounded, morally sensitive sexual socialization and is appreciated by most teenagers" (204).
Second, Create open dialogue with your kids or kids you work with. Once again Mark Regnerus said, "Open dialogue about sex is clearly not the norm among devoutly religious families" (75). Be willing to listen, share, and engage in genuine discussion about this critical topic.
Third, don't just discuss the negatives of pornography, but praise the benefits of God-ordained sex. Most young people are getting only a negative message about sex, but we have to show that God's design for sex is clearly the best.
Fourth, never judge or shame a young person. Let them know that your opinion of them has not changed. Kids will shut down if they think you are looking down on them or judging them.
And of course, preach forgiveness and grace. Let kids know and personally experience the incredible grace of God. No one by their own strength can defeat the temptations of this world. In fact, it's only when we truly admit our weakness that we can truly be strengthened by God to succeed.
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