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What's the Big Deal with Porn?

What's the Big Deal with Porn?


SeanMcDowell.org


 


Earlier this year some high school students invited me to lunch. To my amazement, the girl across the table from me had live TV on her cell phone. While this has become more common recently, this was the first time I had seen this. She had perfect reception of CNN, VH1, MTV, Fox News, and more. I had to take a closer look! So we swapped phones for a few minutes. Pretty soon all the students were showing off the "cool" features of their individual phones. One young man handed me his phone and I wanted to see how quickly it would connect to the Internet. I pushed the Safari icon but got something I was not expecting-a deeply disturbing pornographic image. This got me wondering how many young people look at porn. How common is this? Now that porn is accessible from anywhere, at any time, how much is it really affecting young people?


 


Consider some statistics:


ü  4 billion dollars is spent on video pornography in the US each year, more than on football, baseball, and basketball combined


ü  42.7% of all Internet users now view porn online


ü  Every second there are approximately 28,258 Internet users viewing pornography


ü  In 2006 worldwide porn revenue was estimated to be $97.06 billion. $13.3 billion is generated in the U.S. annually


ü  Approximately 30% of Internet porn consumers are female


 


Some people think pornography is not really a big deal. "It's just a phase kids go through," said one young mother to me. Dr. Jill Manning, a sociologist who works with young couples, thinks very differently. "Several years ago," she said, "I would have considered myself complacent if not downright indifferent about the issue of pornography. Today, I feel a sense of urgency about this issue that often surprises me"[1]


 


Three thousand years ago King Solomon warned his son about the dangers of prostitution. In fact, Solomon nearly begged his son to listen. He said: "Hear, my son, your father's instruction. And do not forsake your mother's teaching" (Proverbs 1:8). Since pornography actually means "writing about prostitutes," it seems appropriate to approach the issue with the same sense of urgency.


 


Three Myths about Pornography


 


Myth #1: "It doesn't affect me"


A couple years ago one of my students came to see me during lunch. For the past six months he had been looking at porn every night, and it was tearing him apart inside. He even admitted lying directly to his father's face to hide his newfound addiction. When I asked how it affected him he shamefully uttered the following words, "I can no longer look at a woman without seeing her as a sexual object."


 


Journalist Pamela Paul shares a story that drives this point home: "A single twenty-something graphic designer told me he would find himself in bars berating himself over the way he scanned potential dates. 'I'd be saying, 'No, her breasts are too small, she's not worth it,' then wonder, 'Who have I become? Why am I judging women like this?'"[2]


 


Dr. Gary Brooks, a psychologist at Texas A&M University explains that "soft-core pornography has a very negative effect on men as well. The problem with soft-core pornography is that it's voyeurism-it teaches men to view women as objects rather than to be in relationships with women as human beings"[3] Rather than seeing a woman (or a man) as a human being who has physical, emotional, spiritual, and relational dimensions, pornography reduces a person simply to the physical. Pornography reduces a person to his or her body parts, and thus treats people as objects for consumption. It's impossible to divorce porn consumption from how we view people in the "real" world.


 


Porn also affects how we view ourselves. Dr. Jill Manning reports: "In my office, and the offices of many of my colleagues, however, there appears to be increased insecurity, body image issues, sexual anxieties and relationship difficulties for female consumers of pornography."[4] How can anyone compete with the perfect (or near perfect) bodies of porn stars?


 


Pornography offers a script about the role and purpose of sex. Just as we learn how to behave in a library or a football game by watching how others behave in similar settings, porn offers a script for how people are to behave sexually. Consider the basic script of porn:


 


1.       Sex is best experienced outside of a loving relationship. Porn is void of affection, verbal compliments, embracing, laughter, or expressions of love. Rather, sex is cold, mechanical, and a purely physical means of attaining pleasure. Is this how sex is best experienced? As I document in my book Ethix, it's actually married couples who are having the most and the best sex. Part of the reason is because marriage involves a deep commitment of love and trust. Real love is about giving, but porn is about taking. Viewing porn may feel good, but it can never provide the deeply fulfilling experience of marital love as God designed it to be experienced.


 


2.       Women like all sexual acts that men perform or demand. Sadly, because of the prevalence of porn, there's been an increase of young women being pressured into performing oral sex, anal sex, and other sexual behaviors to please men. More female adolescents are tolerating emotional, physical, and sexual abuse in dating relationships, feeling pressure to make out with females as a way to turn guys on.[5] This is why I often tell young girls that if any guy ever pressures you then he does not love you, period. A word of encouragement to all the ladies who are reading this article: You are too valuable to be treated as objects by men.


 


3.       Any woman who says she does not want sex can be persuaded with a little force. A recent content analysis of 50 best-selling adult videos revealed that nearly half had scenes of verbal aggression, and over 88% showed physical aggression. Men who viewed massive amounts of pornography recommended significantly shorter sentences for men who committed violent sexual crimes.


 


The jury is in: porn affects those who view it.


 


Myth #2: "I'll quit later"


To respond to this myth, we need to take a look at the complexity of the brain and its role in addiction. According to Dr. Joe McIlhaney, "The human brain is, without question, the most complicated three-pound mass of matter in the known universe"[6]. A surprising fact about the brain is that it is moldable and adaptable from birth until death. The brain is not fully formed until age twenty-five.[7] Thus, our behavior and thoughts, especially during adolescence, contribute to the development of the brain. Let's take a closer look.


 


Synapses are the part of the brain which enables neurons to communicate (there are over 100 trillion connections in the typical brain!). Synapses are sustained or allowed to deteriorate based upon our thoughts and behavior. The common phrase is, "Neurons that fire together wire together." For example, the Chinese language does not include sounds for L and R. Thus, Chinese children raised in Chinese-speaking households never hear nor use those sounds, so the part of the brain that would allow them to pronounce Ls and Rs withers and dies. Consider a second example. If a monkey's fingers are sewn together and so forced to move at the same time, the maps for them would fuse, because their neurons fired together and hence wired together.


 


Porn viewers develop new maps in their brains, based upon photos and videos they see. These images come back when they are away from the computer, reinforcing them. The brain becomes physically wired to sexually cue a computer (or an image), rather than to a human being. Pornified author Pamela Paul says: "Boys who look at pornography excessively become men who connect arousal purely with the physical, losing the ability to become attracted by the particular features of a given partner. Instead, they recreate images from pornography in their brain while they're with a real person."[8] It's difficult to simply quit something that has become wired into the brain.


 


Neurochemicals are also an important part of the proper functioning of the brain. For example, dopamine is the "reward" chemical that makes a person feel good when experiencing something exciting or rewarding. Drugs such as cocaine and methamphetamine target dopamine neurons in the brain and give immediate pleasure. The problem is that drugs short-circuit the natural process through which dopamine is meant to be released. Drugs over-stimulate the dopamine neurons and cause the brain to become numb to pleasure, causing the person to seek more of the drug or behavior that produced the good feeling in the first place.


 


Dopamine is also released during porn consumption, activating the brain's pleasure centers, and causing addiction. To reach the same level of pleasure, more porn is needed to get the same effect. Or harder-core porn is sought after, just as greater doses of drugs are needed to reach the same "high." Here's the bottom line: Porn can be just as addictive as drugs.


 


Michael Leahy was addicted to porn for thirty-three years, beginning at age eleven. It eventually cost him his marriage, career, and reputation. He now speaks and writes to university students about the damaging effects of pornography on relationships. Is it feasible to say, "I'll quit later?" In Porn University, Leahy says, "The majority of college women I've spoken with tend to assume that most guys will eventually abandon it as well, especially when offered real sex as an alternative. But what most of today's college women don't understand is that it's unlikely many of their male counterparts will ever cease to have some kind of a relationship with pornography"[9] (p. 69).


 


The jury is in: claiming that you will "quit later" is a myth.


 


Myth #3: "I'm not hurting anyone"


 


Our culture is deeply committed to the idea that anything is moral as long as no one gets hurt. Thus, porn use would seemingly be fine as long as no one else gets hurt. There is only one problem with this idea: it's a myth. Porn use does hurt other people. Husbands rarely think about how deeply their porn use hurts their spouses. It is not uncommon for women who discover their husband's porn addiction to say things like, "I have no idea who he really is anymore," "I feel like I have lived a lie the entire time I have been married," and "I thought we had a good marriage until this was revealed." Women regularly report feelings of betrayal, loss, mistrust, devastation and anger. In fact, porn use has become one of the top reasons cited for divorce.[10]


 


A study was done to determine if exposure to porn affected how men treat women. In the experiment, men viewed either pornography or nonsexual news coverage of war. Following the film, the men were partnered with females to complete a problem-solving task involving how to survive a plane crash. Experimenters found that men who viewed porn showed more dominant behaviors, touched their female partners for longer periods of time, and ignored their partner's contributions more often than males who viewed news clips. The women whose partners had viewed porn showed similar levels of anxiety, physical proximity, partner touch, and gazing as their partners. Ana Bridges concluded: "It suggests that women are affected by a partner's use of sexually explicit material, even when they are unaware of such use"[11]


 


The jury is in: porn use hurts other people.


 


So, What Do We Do?


When it's all said and done, the reason pornography cannot be ignored is that it profoundly affects our relationship with God and with other people. As Jesus said, the greatest commandment is to love God and to love other people.[12] The great human desire is for intimacy in relationships, which is being fully known and fully knowing another. But this is the very thing pornography robs us of the ability to experience. In Porn University Michael Leahy observes, "Nearly all who have made porn consumption a regular part of their lives confess struggling in relationships. They talk about the guilt and shame they feel regarding sex and the difficulty they have experiencing genuine intimacy with others, sexual and nonsexual."[13]


 


Burdens of guilt or shame erode our capacity to trust others because we have something to hide. We can't be fully known because there's always a secret to keep, some part of ourselves that we feel we must hide from others. This is why the Apostle Paul says to renounce "the things hidden because of shame, not walking in craftiness or adulterating the word of God…"[14] If you struggle with pornography (or any other issue), the place to begin the healing process is to confess to God and to another believer. It's never too late! 1 John 1:9 says, "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness." Amazingly, such confession actually begins the process of rewiring the brain!


 


God wants us to be holy. But just as importantly, we worship a God who is compassionate, loving and forgiving. Pornography can be addicting, but we worship a God who is far more powerful and committed to our well-being than even we are. Healing is possible. I've seen it many times.


 


 


Recommended Resource: Porn Nation by Michael Leahy (there is a student version, too)


 








[1] Dr. Jill Manning, "The Impact of Pornography on Women" Jill C. Manning, July, 2008.



[2] Pamela Paul, "From Pornography to Porno to Porn: How Porn Became the Norm" July, 2008



[3] Ibid, 5



[4] Manning, 13



[5] Ibid, 12



[6] Joe McIlhaney & Freda McKissic, Hooked (Chicago, Ill: Northfield, 2008), 28.



[7] Ibid, 29



[8] Paul, 16



[9] Michael Leahy, Porn University (Chicago, Ill: Northfield, 2009), 69.



[10] Paul, 12-13



[11] Ana Bridges, "Pornography's Effects on Interpersonal Relationships" July, 2008



[12] Mark 12:29-31



[13] Leahy, 91



[14] 2 Corinthians 4:2