I should warn you that this blog speaks of serious, difficult, and sex-related things. But I felt strongly I should write it.
Because the changing nature, higher addiction rates, and increase in the social-acceptability of “porn” is one of the epic problems facing our society today.
I’m concerned about what’s happening and want to help people make better choices for the sake of
- their children
- their relationships
- and our society
And there is increasing science about how the brain works and changes.
Pornography used to be more taboo. Now? Not as much.
We are seeing the porn-ification of our “modern” society. What used to be labelled as “soft porn” is now on cable TV, and sometimes within view of our children on magazines in the corner store.
And it’s more accessible than ever due to the internet and hand-held devices.
Modern pop music videos increasingly use dance moves based on the actions of porn actors. (By the way, actors are more often referred to as “stars”—a trend which is a part of the normalization of porn.)
As a semi-aside I should say that Bob Pittman, founder of MTV once said, “At MTV, we don’t shoot for the 14-year-olds, we own them.”
Dr. Gregory Jantz and Michael Gurian write that in America, “on average, by the time a boy is eighteen, he has seen approximately one million images of sex and violence on screen. We would be naïve to believe these images don’t impact his relationship with his world.”
Recently, I read an article on FaithIt.com profiling a website called “PornHub,” a website that tries to normalize the industry. In 2014 it had 18.3 billion visitors. The most common comment was “love.” How ironic.
In 2001 an MSNBC.com survey of their viewers found that 80% “were spending so much time on pornographic sites that they were putting their relationships or jobs at risk.”
And that was 14 years ago.
Sometimes “gateway sites” with this-seems-innocent-enough pictures exist to lure people to the side tabs with “stronger” and more violent content.
For those who justify the normalization of pornography, the rationale is weak:
People who are pro-porn often label everybody else as anti-science or anti-progress. And sometimes overly “Puritan.”
Advocates say something like: “These are just natural impulses and instincts which are the result of millions of years of evolution; and now we’re more free and unrestricted. This has always been happening but now we’re more open about it. Yay us!”
But the science doesn’t support that.
If that were true, sexual tastes would be relatively unchanging. As Dr. Norman Doidge explains in The Brain That Changes Itself, pornography is evolving. What used to be “hardcore” (clearly depicted sex between a man and a woman) is now “softcore.”
When it comes to “hardcore” pornography, it has evolved and increasingly has themes of forced sex, often with various body parts, or many people—“orgies”, and includes scenarios of violence, hatred and/or humiliation.
Some of the “fantasy scenarios” I read about were so traumatic—ranging from hate-sex, rape scenes, and even some fantasizing prison or terrorist plots—that I had to stop reading.
In her book Pornified, Pamela Paul chronicles many disturbing trends. One of them is an observation by Masters and Johnson clinical director Mark Schwartz who talks about 14- and 15-year old boys developing addictions:
“It’s awful to see the effect it has on them. At such a young age, to have that kind of sexual problem… Your brain is much more susceptible… Many of these boys are very smart and academically successful… It affects how they develop sexually. Think about a twelve-year-old boy looking at Playboy magazine. When you’re talking about Internet pornography, you can multiply that effect by the relative size of the Internet itself.”
‘But Matthew, I’m not a kid. And in terms of that hardcore stuff you write about, that isn’t really a part of my world. I just watch a few things here and there. Come on, it’s not that bad. Right?’
Hold on. There’s more.
Part of the reason the epidemic is so pervasive is because it affects every day, “normal” people who have jobs and families. And once someone starts it can be hard to stop.
Here’s part of the reason why: Pornography changes your brain.
Doidge calls it neuroplastic change. The more you engage in watching pornography (no matter “soft”, “hard” or anything else), the more you lose interest in real life relationships. And your brain starts to change and (de)evolve in a bad way.
Based on the subjects in his research, since the brain thrives on novelty, fantasies were required more and more because their sexual fantasy lives “were increasingly dominated by the scenarios that had, so to speak, downloaded into their brains, and these new scripts were often more primitive and more violent than their previous sexual fantasies.”
The more you watch pornography, the more it deadens real live sexual experiences, inhibits natural creativity, and changes you and withdraws you from real human relationships.
It slowly—and sometimes quickly—kills real-life, people-honoring relationships and families.
“As tolerance develops, the addict needs more and more of a substance or porn to get a pleasant effect; as sensitization develops, he needs less and less of the substance to crave it intensely,” Doidge explains.
When one watches pornography, new “maps” are created in the brain based on the photos people see. “Because it is a use-it-or-lose-it brain, when we develop a map area, we long to keep it activated… Because plasticity is competitive, the brain maps for new, exciting images increased at the expense of what had previously attracted them…”
Like someone with two fingers tied together, new brain maps often fuse things together that were supposed to operate separately—like sex and violence. As you watch un-loving sexual encounters you are re-training yourself to think in unintended ways.
It also needs to be noted how women are used and abused in pornography. They are usually depicted as “ready and willing” subjects of a man’s (often violent and uncontrolled) sexual desires.
How many women are forced or coerced into this industry? How many babies are aborted in the process? How many mothers and fathers are looking for missing children who end up on these screens?
The entire enterprise devalues both sexes—and, I think, especially women—as human beings, and as people created in the image of God.
Doidge goes on to explain addictions: “All addiction involves long-term, sometimes lifelong, neuroplastic change in the brain.” So it needs to be un-learned. It can happen through re-training of the brain.
It can also work the other way too. Romantic love can trigger a re-wiring of the brain. When you fall in love with someone, your definition of beauty can change to mirror what is in the person you love.
What the apostle Paul writes is wildly timeless. That higher joy comes upon you when you focus your attention on what it should be focused on: whatever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, and admirable. “If anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things,” he writes, “And the God of peace will be with you.” (Philippians 4:8)
At the end of the day, what you do and expose yourself to creates you.
If you consciously choose to insert junk food into your body all day, it will change your body and deaden your health.
And if you insert pornography through your eyes, it will change your brain and deaden your capacity to know what healthy sex is, to be healthy, to be a strong role model, parent, and member of society.
It will also deaden your capacity to be fully alive in God’s image.
Jesus even equated lustful thoughts with adultery. Are any of us perfect? No. Only he was. But it makes us step back and re-focus on the very specific, liberating and powerful purpose God had in mind for sexual relationships: between a married couple.
Does that seem revolutionary to you? Counter-cultural? Un-popular?
If so, I think it’s supposed to. It’s a wonderful joy and gift.
Shortly after I moved to Barrie I met Scott Jackson, someone who had previously struggled with a pornography addiction. In preparing for this blog, I asked him if he had any helpful advice for those who were stuck and needed to make some positive changes. Here’s what he said:
“I think of the song by dc Talk, “In the Light.” Lyrics: “What’s going on inside of me. I despise my own behavior. This only serves to confirm my suspicions, that I’m still a man in need of a Savior. I want to be in the light, as you are in the light. I wanna shine like the stars in the heavens. Lord, be my light and be my salvation. All I want is to be in the light.”
Scott continues: “That’s how I want to live. Porn starts at night. Even if I was doing devotions at night. The enemy wants to steal our attention with stupid stuff. Eventually I check email and surf the net, and ended up on bad sites.
“How to fix it: Stay off the computer at night – you can’t trust yourself – admit it. Keep the computer in a family room with the door open.
“Tape a scripture verse to the computer as a reminder. Commit to yourself to stop messing around. Stop lying to your wife and kids.
“Satan wants you to think you’re the only one with the problem. You are not alone. Memorize: “How can a young man keep his way pure? By living according to your word. I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.” Psalm 119: 9-11.”
Thanks so much for sharing that, Scott!
When talking about the way forward, Dr. Doidge says this about the people he treated: “most were able to go cold turkey once they understood the problem and how they were plastically reinforcing it. They found eventually that they were attracted once again to their mates. None of these men had addictive personalities or serious childhood traumas, and when they understood what was happening to them, they stopped using their computers for a period to weaken their problematic neuronal networks, and their appetite for porn withered away.”
The good news is that we live in the glow of a God who forgives and makes all things new. He’s that committed to us. He designed us for honor, and tomorrow is a new start.
Maybe it’s helpful to remember the old expression: “Character is doing the right thing when no one is looking.”
What you do and expose yourself to creates you.
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Powerful stuff, Matthew.
Excellent post, Matthew – thoughtful, sensitive and insightful. Thanks for tackling such a difficult issue.
Thanks Cathy. Not an easy one, but an important one to talk about, that’s for sure.
A difficult topic to discuss, but well written. It is important to recognize that this is a serious problem in today’s generation. Thanks for sharing.
Hi Crystina, thanks for the note. I agree that it’s a serious problem—and I believe it’s more far-reaching than people think, perhaps because of how easy it is to access and that people can now do it so very privately. Plus, I’m sure the normalization of pornography and increasing social acceptance (not in all circles, of course, but some) make it easier for people to justify.
Great post Matt. Something the Church really needs to hear and needs to be talking about more.
In my experience, community is also vital to recovery. Regularly meeting with other guys can be really helpful. You gain a wider sense that you’re not the only one struggling. And you can share tactics together, read scriptures that are helpful, pray for each other, create a network of accountability where you can reach out to other guys when you’re feeling a trigger come along.
Hi Curtis, I appreciate these words. You’re right, people don’t talk about it much — and I guess, to a certain degree, that’s understandable. It’s a tough one. I really think the community bit that you raise is big. Not only does it help with the support, but it also brings in the accountability.
This is an important topic and an addiction that holds many Christians and others imprisoned. It is only by God’s grace that I was led out of it and only by keeping eyes on Jesus that I am able to continue to walk free of it. The following website provides help and support for those who struggle with pornography.
Hi Christopher, thanks for your comment and for your honesty! Sounds like you’re doing great. And thanks for that website link; it looks like some really helpful stuff.
Totally agreed, Pornography use may be unfortunately common in our culture, but that does not make it “normal,” healthy, acceptable, or harmless. Your own feelings at the moment, as well as the damage to your relationship with your spouse, give a good example of the harm pornography use can cause.
Hi Rose, yes, and I think ‘damage’ is a good word. Thanks for sharing.
I’m really concerned with how media is normalizing this stuff by making silly baseless arguments that claim couples who watch porn are happier and supposedly have better sex. Because for one thing, having sex when you ‘know’ you’re going to get off without any effort is going to be considered ‘good’ by the type of person who views porn (but it’s just selfishness being confused for joy and happiness and better sex), and secondly of course they’re “happier” but it’s a sort of artificial happy they get from the high viewing pornography gives them. To me that’s no more happy than a drug addict, which is not true happiness.
Another reason I disagree with those surveys is that if you also ask someone who is high in a survey based study “are you happier now that you’re on heroin?” It’s really a no brainer the answer from the drug user on their high will be “yes.” But that does not mean it’s not negatively affecting them internally or that they ARE actually happy in the true form of happiness those of us who don’t view pornography are. But that information appears to dominate the truth that is otherwise shared regarding porn on Google. I have a hard time finding real research on this subject due to the bias from those sites that use the online surveys as “evidence” behind their “studies.” It’s not fact and it’s not reality.
Thank you for your article! I appreciate when someone is not afraid to stand up for what is right and state the truth.
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