No subject makes me quite as uncomfortable to speak or write about as pornography. I suppose this is because I know the problem is so profoundly difficult yet I actually know so little about it. I have read very little on the subject and never attempted to counsel porn addicts. I have, rightly I think, preferred allowing those more skilled to help men in the grip of this mind-numbing, soul-destroying sin. I have known a few friends who’ve had serious struggles with pornography and I am keenly aware of how wide-spread the problem is in both the culture and the church. I suppose these facts, plus the reality that I have never seriously struggled with it, explain why I was not particularly prepared for a recent book review in Newsweek (July 16) on a book titled: Pornland: How Porn Has Hijacked Our Sexuality (Beacon Press, 2010).
Researchers tell us that pornography and sex-related sites make up nearly 60 percent of daily web traffic. There are 370 million web sites that exist for pornography and the number is still growing. For millions of men it goes on in every day, even in their own homes after their family goes to sleep. One survey found that twenty million Americans spend a good deal of their waking hours looking at pornography. And they don't stop because they are, in the truest sense of the word, addicted. These addicts need help. Author Michael Leahy (Porn Nation: America’s Number One Addiction) calls it America’s our number one addiction! How does porn affect us? How is it changing the way people see themselves and others? How is it impacting our culture? And what can be really done about it, both legally and personally?
In reviewer Kate Dailey’s Newsweek article about Gail Dines' new book she says “profits, not pleasure, drive the porn industry.” Dailey says that Dines' argument is that porn really has become a celebrated and commonplace part of our American experience. Gail Dines is a professor of sociology and women’s studies at Wheelock College in Boston and the author of other articles and books on this subject.
Dines writes not as a Christian but as a feminist who believes porn is growing more graphic and mainstream than ever. Our culture, she says, is “hypersexualized.” In the process, concludes Kate Dailey, "[Porn] is now mainstream, undermining the way’s men and women approach sex.” In the foreword to Pornland Dines says: “Porn is not something that stands outside of us: it is deeply embedded in our structures, identities, and relationships. This did not happen overnight, and there is a story to tell about how we got to the point that mainstream Internet porn has become so hateful and cruel” (xxix). Here are some of the conclusions of Dines.
1. The majority of porn is based on women’s humiliation or their degradation. “[The] women of porn world seem to enjoy having sex with men who express nothing but contempt and hatred for them, and often the greater the insults, the better orgasms for all involved (xxiv).
2. Porn does contribute to pedophilia. This is debated by the so-called experts but it seems both self-evident to me. Men who see too much porn can become desensitized. Dines argues that research does not point to two identifiable groups, men who are pedophiles and men who are not. Rather, she says, there is a “continuum: some men are situated at either end, but others are scattered at various points” (160). Even porn that is not explicitly promoting techniques used by pedophiles contributes to the problem by pushing men further along this continuum. Again, this seems pretty obvious to me but I know there is a huge debate among researchers here.
3. Research of male web sites shows just how far this addiction goes when the comments left on web sites is taken into consideration. Dines’ point, says Dailey, is “the modern porn culture both desensitizes users to women while also making porn seem like an acceptable option for girls.
Porn has existed throughout history but there seems to be a new dimension to it with the Internet. Even if this is a chicken-and-egg debate reviewer Dailey asks if porn is “a symptom or a disease?” I suppose I would so it is both. If women were better treated by men then the problem might be lessened. But this is where researchers like Dines do not deal with the spiritual consequences of porn at all. In the book Porn Nation author Michael Leahy concludes:
But even as I talk with today’s youth and college students, the real target of this growing industry with an insatiable appetite for profits, this unprecedented level of saturation comes as no surprise to them. The most common response I get when asking them if they’re aware of their juxtaposition to all of the titillating content around them: “Sure, we know, we’re soaking in it!” When asked how it’s affecting them, most can only shrug their shoulders. Like the proverbial frog enjoying a swim in the boiling pot sitting on a stove, all we really know is it’s a good bit warmer in here than it used to be.
Those who struggle with our “newest and most challenging mental health problem–pornography addiction” (Patrick Carnes, Ph.D., author of Don't Call It Love and In the Shadows of the Net ) need help. Christians counsel is seriously needed. I thank God the help needed is not far away if men want to seriously find it. I encourage pastors to be extremely careful and to avoid two extremes: too much interest in this problem and/or too little. Be careful what you talk about in sermons with children present but provide help and do not be surprised when men come out of hiding and seek that help.