jasonbwatson

July 28, 2016

Battling Porn

This post contains mature content that may be offensive to some readers. Reader discretion is advised.

Pornography is not topic that many people are comfortable talking about in an honest and forthright manner. Many people do not like to talk about it at all–at least not many people outside of a locker room or frat house gathering. For many years the church was not willing to take about it at all in any constructive manner, by which I mean saying anything beyond “it’s bad, don’t do it” (or something even more directly threatening and minimally helpful). That has changed some in recent years with Stephen Arterburn’s The Every Man Series of books, Clay Crosse’s honesty in his 2005 book I Surrender All: Rebuilding a Marriage Broken by Pornography and others. In my November 6, 2015 post Not-So-Good News I explained that the announcement that Playboy would no longer publish nude images in its magazine was good news but actually indicative of the ease with which nudity and all manner of sexual activity is now available to just about anyone just about anywhere thanks to the internet. That post also addressed some of the high costs of pornography.

In April 2016 TIME ran a cover story on the subject entitled “PORN,” with the “o” depicted as a red circle with an X in the middle of it. Belinda Luscombe’s article was subtitled “Why young men who grew up with Internet porn are becoming advocates for turning it off.” The article consumed five-and-a-half pages of the magazine (not including a two-page photo and headline introducing the story) and included a graph showing that there were 58 million monthly U.S. visitors to adult internet sites in February 2006, which equated to 34.7% of all U.S. internet users. Broadband internet had just reached 50% of Americans that year. in January 2016 there were 107 million monthly visitors to adult internet sites, accounting for 41.3% of all U.S. internet users. The graph also showed that in 2009 there were 22.3 billion video views on the adult video-sharing site Pornhub. In 2015 that number was 87.8 billion. In 2016 Pornhub launched a virtual reality channel.

I already told you what TIME‘s cover said for the April 11 issue. The cover page of the article, though, reads this way:

Porn and the threat to virility.” The subtitle says, “The first generation of men who grew up with unlimited online porn sound the alarm.” The lead to the story introduces Noah Church, “a 26-year-old part-time wildland firefighter in Portland, Ore. When he was 9, he found naked pictures on the Internet. he learned how to download explicit videos. When he was 15, streaming videos arrived, and he watched those. Often. Several times a day, doing that which people often do while watching that genre by themselves.

The article then informs the reader that it did not take too long before those videos no longer aroused Church as much as they used to, “so he moved on to different configurations, sometimes involving just women, sometimes involving one woman and several guys, sometimes even an unwilling woman.” Church stated that he could find anything he could imagine as well as plenty that he could not imagine. Eventually the appeal and arousal from those diminished as well, and “he moved on ot the next level, more intense, often more violent.”

This is a truth that has been too often ignored over the years–that pornography is like a drug. Plenty of studies show that it has a similar effect on the brain as drug use and that, over time, the effect is diminished, requiring the user to find something stronger and more arousing in order to get the same result achieved previously. In other words, porn works just like gateway drugs which progress to stronger and more dangerous ones. Can use of porn eventually result in death, like a drug overdose? No. It could, I imagine, result in the user killing someone else as a result of acting out what was seen in the pornography or seeking to achieve a thrill by making what was fantasy a reality. I think there are a number of such stories that could be found with little effort.

The TIME article goes on to explain that when Church finally had the opportunity to “have actual sex” during his twelfth-grade year, his body would not respond. “There was a disconnect between what I wanted in my mind and how by body reacted,” he said. That was the segue into the article’s discussion of PIED–porn-induced erectile dysfunction. I had never before heard of this term or condition but, unlike some new medical diagnoses that seem to be fancy made-up terms that serve as excuses for something that is simply a matter of a lack of discipline or some other easily-corrected behavioral issue, this seems to be legitimate. I can easily imagine how regular, increasingly-graphic and extreme exposure to pornography can have a very real impact on the brain and, thus, on the rest of the body.

Luscombe describes the PIED progression like this:

A growing number of young men are convinced that their sexual responses have been sabotaged because their brains were virtually marinated in porn when they were adolescents. Their generation has consumed explicit content in quantities and varieties never before possible, on devices designed to deliver content swiftly and privately, all at an age when their brains were more plastic–more prone to permanent change–than in later life. These young men feel like unwitting guinea pigs in a largely unmonitored decade-long experiment in sexual conditioning. The results of the experiment, they claim, are literally a downer.

While there are more publications–Christian and secular–openly addressing the dangers of pornography now, there is still confusion and conflicting information. The increasing availability of studies and professionals willing to address the dangers of porn are countered by plenty of studies and professionals willing to state the opposite. Just last November, for example, Dr. Sandra LaMorgese posted a blog on The Huffington Post that included the following:

Studies have shown no increase in rape or other sexual deviance due to porn viewing. There is also no apparent connection between excessive porn viewing and sex addiction. In fact, it might be good for you if used properly: a 2008 Danish study found that moderate porn watching gave viewers some benefits. Both men and women who did so said they had more satisfying sex lives and healthier attitudes towards sex and the opposite gender. One interesting find was that the more hardcore the videos were, the more positive the person’s view on sex tended to be.

Now, LaMorgese’s byline includes the, shall we say interesting, description that she is “Author, Podcast Host, Sexpert, Metaphysician, Keynote Speaker, Holistic Practitioner, Ordained Reverend” so maybe her thoughts on The Huffington Post are not the best source. Fair enough. How about this from TheHealthSite.com in February 2014:

In the last decade or so, it’s become quite fashionable for people to throw around big words like dopamine addiction and blame everything from the rise of sex crime to erectile dysfunction on porn. However, research suggests that sex addiction is not similar to cocaine or alcohol addiction, in fact there’s no proof that it reflects any unique brain-related issue at all. A study which looked to prove sex addiction was an illness, actually found the opposite. A new study claims that there really is no such thing as porn addiction and those who say it actually ignore the positive benefits of porn. The study has found very little scientific data to suggest that porn actually even causes any negative side-effects. ‘There was no sign that use of pornography is connected to erectile dysfunction or that it causes any changes to the brains of users,’ explained David Ley, a clinical psychologist and executive director of New Mexico Solutions – a large behavioural health programme.

In a 2010 post on the Psychology Today web site entitled “Pornography: Beneficial or Detrimental?” the findings of a 2008 paper written by Gert Martin Hald and Neil M. Malamuth are summarized like this:

In their survey of 688 young Danish adults (men = 316; women = 372), Hald and Malamuth found that respondents construed the viewing of hardcore pornography as beneficial to their sex lives, their attitudes towards sex, their perceptions and attitudes towards members of the opposite sex, toward life in general, and over all. The obtained beneficial effects were statistically significant for all but one measure across both sexes. Now here is the kicker: A positive correlation was obtained between the amount of hardcore pornography that was viewed and the impact of the benefits reaped. This positive correlation was found for both sexes. In other words, the more that one watched porn, the stronger the benefits (for both sexes)!

And, in a 2012 opinion piece for The New York Times Candida Royalle began with the statement “Watching pornography is not inherently harmful to men or women.” She went on to provide some potential benefits derived from the use of pornography before also saying of sex or porn addiction, “I don’t believe in it.” In the same online debate in which Royalle offered her opinion, Ana Bridges, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Arkansas played Tevye by writing, “Can pornography harm users? Yes, in some cases it can, but in the vast majority of cases it does not. Can pornography be beneficial? Absolutely, but many times it is not.” In the same debate, Mireille Miller-Young, an associate professor of feminist studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara, headlined her opinion piece “Pornography Can Be Empowering to Women Onscreen.”

I mention all of this to make sure that we understand that, despite the increasing prevalence of voices opposing porn and exposing its negative effects, there still are–and always will be–those who say that’s all a bunch of baloney and porn is harmless and worst and beneficial at best. We can never hope that the world is going to reach the conclusion that something that sin is sin. In my previous blog post linked above I stated that “only a heart change can cause someone to realize that genuine relationships with real people are more meaningful and more satisfying than the fake interactions made possible through porn.” That remains true. There may be movements within the world that oppose porn and offer solutions for porn addictions, and those can be beneficial. Luscombe’s article provides a number of examples, describing “online community groups, smartphone apps and educational videos to help men quit porn” all of which are being created by men who have traditionally been “from the same demographic as [porn’s] most enthusiastic customers.” Noah Church, with whom Luscombe led her article, now “devoted about 20 hours a week to trying to help others eliminate porn from their lives.” Such efforts are admirable. Porn is not going to go away, and if you are a firm believer in free speech you may have a hard time even arguing that it should, but there are still reasonable means for limiting its availability. Luscombe describes one such effort coming from Utah state senator Todd Weiler, who said, “We’ve changed how we’ve approached tobacco, not by banning it but by putting reasonable restrictions in place.” There are reasonable ways to limit the access of pornography from public places and to minimize the exposure of children and teenagers to pornography.

Even then, though, there will be real work for the church to do. There will still be a need for candor and uncomfortable conversations. There will still be a need to find ways to help those struggling with porn be willing to acknowledge that and work through it. There will need to be a change from the judgment and condemnation that has traditionally been associated with any discussion of this topic.

The articles in the August 2016 issue of Tabletalk magazine are devoted to the topic of addiction. They are not dealing specifically with porn addiction, but the principles and recommendations in the articles are relevant. The first article is by Ed Welch and is titled “Addictions and Idolatry.” His article begins like this:

“I want”–addictions start here. Then, though small steps, want becomes need. There is no recognized definition of addiction, but most of its proposed definitions share a common core. Addictions are compulsive searches for a desired object or state of mind that are generally unresponsive to the inevitable harmful consequences of those compulsive searches. Most definitions also include how addictive behaviors change underlying brain patterns.

That explains why porn is so prevalent and is not going away. The word says that sexual pleasure brings happiness and satisfaction and porn is one way to achieve that “desired object or state of mind.” Welch later writes that “We are able in Christ to do battle with old slavemasters rather than succumb to the inevitable.” Heath Lambert, in another article in the Tabletalk issue, writes, “God has made provision for enslaved addicts to follow a better master who brings freedom from slavery.” In yet another article, Michael Morales writes, “God’s Word calls us to flee our natural lusts, which would shackle us again, and to make every effort to progress in sanctification.” He goes on to explain, “The ‘putting off’ aspect relates to deliberate and disciplined mortification of sin, requiring both vigorous effort and sacrifice,” while “the ‘putting on’ aspect relates to training in godliness, the intentional replacement of corrupt habits with God-honoring behavior.” My post Besetting Sins from earlier this month talks about these issues as well, and includes discussion about how to overcome sin.

May we who profess the name of Christ become bold in our willingness to acknowledge and confront issues like pornography and do it in a loving but uncompromising manner. May God grant us the willingness and surrenderedness to defeat sins like porn addiction and replace such “compulsive searches for a desired object or state” with “training in godliness” and “the intentional replacement of corrupt habits with God-honoring behavior.”

November 6, 2015

Not-So-Good News

This post contains mature content that may be offensive to some readers. Reader discretion is advised.

The odds are good that you have already heard by now that Playboy has decided that it will stop publishing full nudity in its magazine. The New York Times reported on October 12 that Cory Jones, the top editor at Playboy, went to see Hugh Hefner and suggested that the magazine “stop publishing images of naked women.” Hefner, the man who made his fortune and his image as a playboy and a purveyor of “tastefully nude” images of women agreed with Jones. “As part of a redesign that will be unveiled next March,” the Times reported, “the print edition of Playboy will still feature women in provocative poses. But they will no longer be fully nude.” Why did the magazine that is synonymous with nudity decide to stop publishing nudity? “That battle has been fought and won,” said Playboy‘s chief executive, Scott Flanders. “You’re now one click away from every sex act imaginable for free. And so it’s just passé at this juncture.” In other words, Playboy fought for the freedom to sell nudity and won…and has fallen victim to the seemingly unending amount of nudity and pornography–of every kind–that is now available. That is precisely why so many commentators have said that the news from Playboy is really not good news at all. Considering that the decision was made because nudity is available anytime, anywhere, for free, those who are concerned about porn and its influence have no reason to cheer.

Here is what Albert Mohler had to say in response to Flanders’ statement: “That is one of the most morally revealing statements of recent times. Playboy has outlived its ability to transgress and to push the moral boundaries. As a matter of fact, it was a victim of its own sad success. Pornography is such a pervasive part of modern society that Playboy is now a commercial victim of the very moral revolution it symbolized and promoted for decades.” Phil Cooke, on My Christian Daily, wrote, “this has happened because of the growing amount of extreme, dark, and violent pornography online. Today, children have easy access – not only through computers, but social media platforms like Twitter and Instagram.” In Fortune, Neil Powell wrote, “To those of us over the age of say, 40, Playboy once held an almost mystical, forbidden fascination. It was something to be coveted, hidden away, and with any luck, occasionally stumbled upon under your dad’s bed or in some older kid’s secluded hangout. This is almost laughable now, as we live in a world where porn is so widely available for free on the net and produced so widely for free by ‘amateur’ companies.” In other words, there is really not any good news in all of this.

In February 2014, in Psychology Today, Dr. David Ley wrote that common sense would seem to indicate that pornography is not good, that something like Playboy can be a gateway to more serious, more extreme forms of porn because of the tolerance effect, but that such assumptions and presumptions don’t hold up. “But, porn exposure in kids doesn’t have a life-altering, warping effect on children,” Ley wrote. “In fact, recent research in the Netherlands showed that exposure to pornography explained less than 4% of the variance in adolescents behavior. This means that 96% of the reasons why these kids do the things they do have NOTHING to do with the fact that they saw pornography. But, from the hyperbole and panic that we all hear on a regular basis, we are paying a lot more attention to porn than it deserves.” With all due respect to Dr. Ley’s PhD, I think that’s a bunch of boloney.

Stephen Arterburn is the author of the well-known book Every Man’s Battle and the subsequent version for teens. Writing on Huffington Post in February 2014 he wrote the following:

For the regular pornography user, sex becomes an act of relief or release while lusting after a photograph, a video, or a live webcam performance by an object called a woman. In this act, the man is all about his penis, his needs; whatever makes him feel good instantly–and with no regard for anyone else. He views the pornographic woman who demands nothing, does not judge his performance, or require anything other than that he look at her, and he most likely never forgets the image.

Perhaps it is tempting, for those like Dr. Ley, to suggest that Arterburn’s position is based on something other than scientific evidence and driven largely by a sense of puritanical ethics that ought not be forced on the rest of society. Truth be told, though, there is a multiplicity of evidence, both scientific and anecdotal, that Arterburn is right. In 1994 Tim Allen had the number one television show and movie in America along with a bestselling book, Don’t Stand Too Close to a Naked Man. In it, he recounts his first exposure to nudity, which came in the form of a poster he saw in his friend’s brother’s bedroom. Allen described how after that exposure he looked for reasons to go into that room every time he was at the house. He described how, decades later, he could still vividly recall that image. In November 2013, Scott Christian, on GQ.com, wrote a piece entitled “10 Reasons Why You Should Stop Watching Porn.” After listing his ten reasons he sums it up this way: “So there it is men. While the evidence may not be scientifically thorough, there’s certainly enough to suggest that porn has a negative impact on our lives.” According to Britain’s Independent, a Cambridge University study found that men “who are addicted to pornography show similar brain activity to alcoholics or drug addicts.”

An anonymous piece published in March 2010 on NPR included the following, after a personal recounting of how internet pornography had cost the author her husband:

In a study published in Sexual Addiction and Compulsivity, Schneider found that among the 68 percent of couples in which one person was addicted to Internet porn, one or both had lost interest in sex. Results of the same study, published in 2000, indicated that porn use was a major contributing factor to increased risk of separation and divorce. This finding is substantiated by results of a 2002 meeting of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, during which surveyed lawyers claimed that “an obsessive interest in Internet pornography” was a significant factor in 56 percent of their divorce cases the prior year.

Porn use creates the impression that aberrant sexual practices are more common than they really are, and that promiscuous behavior is normal. For example, in a 2000 meta-analysis of 46 published studies put out by the National Foundation for Family Research and Education at the University of Calgary, regular exposure to pornography increased risk of sexual deviancy (including lower age of first intercourse and excessive masturbation), increased belief in the “rape myth” (that women cause rape and rapists are normal), and was associated with negative attitudes regarding intimate relationships (e.g., rejecting the need for courtship and viewing persons as sexual objects). Indeed, neurological imaging confirms the latter finding. Susan Fiske, professor of psychology at Princeton University, used MRI scans to analyze the brain activity of men viewing pornography. She found that after viewing porn, men looked at women more as objects than as human beings.

To the best of my knowledge, Tim Allen, GQ, the Independent and NPR are not bastions of puritanical morality. So there must be something to the reports and accounts that are so readily available. In Britain’s The Telegraph, Radhika Sanghani wrote last month about the impact of pornography on her peers–young, professional women in the UK: “The consequences have been severe. These porn videos showed a one-sided, male perspective of sex – with overly-eager girls and absolutely no emphasis on female pleasure. A number of my peers now have sexual issues they directly relate to porn…. As scientists have previously suggested, many can also struggle with intimacy. But this is not the end of porn’s influence. While girls of my generation would watch porn simply to learn what third base was, now a new generation of girls is watching it for career advice. Seriously.” Sanghani describes how young women, even teenagers, are attracted to the seemingly-glamorous life of being a porn star only to be shocked by the realities of the industry that kicks them to the curb after a few months because they are old news.

The good news is that Sanghani also reported that Marriott, Hilton and Hyatt hotel chains have recently banned on-demand porn and adult entertainment in their guest rooms. This is a welcome development. Far more has to be done though to address the root cause of the problems of porn–both for the users of it and the makers and actors in it. Those roots can be found tracing back to a rejection of God and His design for humanity in general and intimacy in particular. Even if you are not swayed by biblical arguments, though, the roots can be traced to the decline of the family, to a redefinition of love and sexuality, to a destruction of the idea that sex is more than a physical act.

So Playboy’s decision to stop printing nudity is news, but it is, sadly, not-so-good news. I am sure I am not the only one who would gladly go back to the days of Playboy and Penthouse appearing behind opaque panels on convenience store and news stand shelves if it meant we no longer had millions of pages of porn on the internet. The internet is going away, though, and neither is pornography, which is all the more reason for parents to be diligent in monitoring their children’s use of the internet and digital devices. The reason porn is not going anywhere is that there is a market for it. Legislation and litigation will not change that; only a heart change can cause someone to realize that genuine relationships with real people are more meaningful and more satisfying than the fake interactions made possible through porn. Only a heart change can cause someone to recognize that her real worth is not in her body and that any pleasure she thinks she is deriving from the attention she receives in displaying and offering her body is temporary. So let’s not celebrate the Playboy announcement. There is still much work to be done.

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