My first experience with porn was vacuuming cars in my dad’s service station. I was about 10 at the time, and I found magazines under some of the customer’s company cars which had naked women on almost every page.
My most interesting experience with a porn-shaped world was working in a Texas male maximum-security prison that housed Death Row. I never had been in a more sexualized culture than that prison. I saw firsthand the “fruit” of pornography.
Over the nearly seven years I was there, I found myself struggling when hiring new staff for our mental health department. I always have respected women, striven to show women in the workplace the respect and honor they deserve. What I knew was that any woman who was hired for our department would be subjected to the most crude and frequent sexual remarks from offenders.
Through that experience, I saw what porn does to men and to the women who had to interact with them.
First, I noticed the disrespect. Women went from being persons to being objects of sexual desire whose only value was in their sexual potential to arouse and pleasure a man. It was a pervasive attitude toward women of all ages and frames. One of our social workers (who was a larger woman) told me of hearing a lewd remark from an offender saying, “Wouldn’t you love to get smothered in that.”
Second, I noticed the displaced value of the sexual relationship. In a men’s prison, there are few sexual relationships with women (and those would and did get the woman fired). So men adapt. Men can have same-sex relationships in prison simply to “meet a need.” However, sex is reduced to a need like sleep, eating, exercise and drinking enough water.
Third, I noticed the lack of sexual satisfaction. In fact, outside of intimacy, sexual satisfaction has the half-life of a day lily. It is here today, gone tomorrow. And then the need is there again. Sometimes more powerful than the day before. For obvious reasons, sexual activity was divorced from intimacy. In other words, it was sex for sexual satisfaction that never lasted, not unlike the last meal.
“Outside of intimacy, sexual satisfaction has the half-life of a day lily. It is here today, gone tomorrow.”
Fourth, the educational value of porn was always off the mark. Men who grew up on porn had no idea of what sex was about. No idea. Everything they thought they knew was wrong. It just wasn’t that way in real life. However, if enough folks work off their education from porn, it can become that way.
What are those lessons? Sex is my most important need. I cannot do without sex. I cannot substitute that desire. I must have that need met.
The naked truth
Which brings me to my concern today. I am listing below some rather shocking statistics that I hope will concern you as they concern me:
- More than 40 million Americans are regular visitors to porn sites. The average visit lasts 6 minutes and 29 seconds.
- There are around 42 million porn websites, which totals around 370 million pages of porn.
- The porn industry’s annual revenue is more than the NFL, NBA and MLB combined. It is also more than the combined revenues of ABC, CBS and NBC.
- 47% of families in the United States reported that pornography is a problem in their home.
- Pornography use increases the marital infidelity rate by more than 300%.
- Eleven is the average age that a child is first exposed to porn, and 94% of children will see porn by the age of 14.
- 56% of American divorces involve one party having an “obsessive interest” in pornographic websites.
- 70% of Christian youth pastors report that they have had at least one teen come to them for help in dealing with pornography in the past 12 months.
- 68% of churchgoing men and more than 50% of pastors view porn on a regular basis. Of young Christian adults 18-24 years old, 76% actively search for porn.
- 59% of pastors said married men seek their help for porn use.
- 33% of women ages 25 and under search for porn at least once per month.
- Only 13% of self-identified Christian women say they never watch porn — 87% of Christian women have watched porn.
- 55% of married men and 25% of married women say they watch porn at least once a month.
- 57% of pastors say porn addiction is the most damaging issue in their congregation. And 69% say porn has adversely impacted the church.
- Only 7% of pastors say their church has a program to help people struggling with pornography.
The statistics may vary from one source to another, but they will generally sift out to be the same. Since porn has become so available, it has consumed many of our youth and our men. And, beyond personal conversations with men convicted of their porn problem or addiction, very few churches are stepping up to help their members with this issue. It is one of those “hot button issues.”
Why pornography is toxic
I remember through 33 years of being a pastor getting the most pushback when I tried to speak on the biblical teachings about intimacy and marriage. People did not come to church to be embarrassed — and speaking of such things embarrassed them. So they were more comfortable with silence. I was unwilling to call out men with the damning statistics about porn use, knowing many of their wives would beat them over the head with the information.
“I was unwilling to call out men with the damning statistics about porn use.”
I chose silence, or modified silence. I skirted the edges, I puffed up the truth to make it more palatable. All the time knowing our men were in crisis.
Let me give you several reasons why porn is so toxic.
Porn reduces people to one dimension. Scripture tells us (Psalm 139:14) we are fearfully and wonderfully made. Genesis 1:27 actually moves beyond the psalmist when God reports man has been made in God’s image. Students plumb the depths of that statement as others have for thousands of years. Porn provides a worldview where sex is all that matters. For the porn consumer, it draws a very tight circle around the sexual need, to the exclusion of every other facet of one’s being. For others, it reduces them to objects to be viewed as potential pleasure givers.
Porn increases sexual desire to the point it feeds on itself. Many years ago after my father’s death (1982), I told my family physician I was having trouble sleeping. He said he had something that would help. He prescribed Xanax for me. It had just hit the market and was sold as a non-addictive medication along with other benzodiazepines. The problem became clear over a 10-year period when Xanax was discovered to be highly addictive, over time requiring larger and larger doses, finally culminating in triggering the issues it was treating. That is the story of porn. First it is titillating, then it becomes a habit, then an addiction, turning the person slowly into someone whose most waking hours are focused on sex.
“That is the story of porn. First it is titillating, then it becomes a habit, then an addiction.”
Pat Carnes, in his book Out of the Shadows, list four key beliefs for the person who becomes addicted to porn and sex. Regarding self-image: I am basically a bad, unworthy person. Regarding relationships: No one would love me as I am. Regarding needs: My needs are never going to be met if I have to depend on others. Regarding sexuality: Sex is my most important need.
Carnes tells the story of a 15-year-old student who came to see him because he was depressed. He and his girlfriend were having sex, they broke up, and he said to her: “But what am I going to do? I have needs!” Porn facilitates the movement of sex from desire to an absolute need.
Porn also immerses the person in shamelessness and shame. Shamelessness seeps in as the person is consumed with the desire moving toward needs, his behavior or sexual acting-out becoming shameless. He will say anything and do anything to get his need met. All the while creating an internally deepening shame.
Shame and guilt have been best contrasted for me by making this difference: Guilt is about what we have done; shame is about who we are. Brene’ Brown in her book Daring Greatly speaks of her work with men and women on sex and shame. For some men, it is less shaming to use porn, pleasure themselves, than to deal with the shame they feel when their sexual overtures are turned away. Marriage does not lessen the shame but sometimes intensifies it. Porn is a way initially of not subjecting one to the shame. However, over time, shame creeps in through the use of porn.
“Guilt is about what we have done; shame is about who we are.”
Porn also isolates the person, reinforcing loneliness, because God designed sex to be one tool in a tool kit of intimacy. Most crave closeness and a meaningful, intimate relationship. However, God has given us so many different tools to deepen intimacy. Sharing experiences, developing transparency between the couple, talking, sharing meals, sharing a bed, sexual intimacy, a deepening emotional connection, intellectual intimacy and facing trials and troubles together. All those can help develop a well-rounded, robust intimacy.
For the believer, there is one more important reason for the damage of porn. Slowly in the life of a believer, porn expands the lust for sex to the point that lust displaces God at the center of one’s life. It is all right there in what I have shared above. It consumes one’s thoughts, dreams, waking moments. It elevates itself to be the greatest need. It isolates us from others but most especially from God.
What shall we do?
The figures and stories speak for themselves. Our men, believers in Jesus Christ, our teens, struggling to become devoted followers of Christ, are being eaten alive by lust, porn and the damage it causes on the soul.
What can we do? What should we do? What must we do?
“Christian fathers need to talk with their sons honestly and candidly about the lifelong struggle with lust.”
First, Christian fathers need to talk with their sons honestly and candidly about the lifelong struggle with lust. I remember a revival afternoon gathering when I was in college. The “evangelist” was having a Q-&-A session, when he said he enjoyed the writings of Charley Shedd, a prominent minister at that time.
The theology professor rose to his feet in fury. What followed sucked all the air out of the room. He said, with some venom, “You believe Shedd when he says that masturbation is a gift from God?” There was silence. Such a word never had been uttered in our Christian college setting.
The evangelist stood calmly, quietly and after his adversary sat down, quietly, humbly said he agreed with Shedd. For the men in the room, it was liberating.
Sexual temptation never goes away. We don’t in this life get the victory. Men who are in their 70s and 80s wrestle with lust. We either manage it or it drives us.
Second, we come back to the biblical teaching of the power of sex in marriage. Sex within marriage is a bridge to intimacy. However, without vulnerability and transparency on the man’s part in the marriage, it will become an exercise in “getting satisfied.” It does not build intimacy.
“We need to draw deep from the well of intimacy, which requires a man and woman to be naked before each other in more ways than physically.”
Third, we need to draw deep from the well of intimacy, which requires a man and woman to be naked before each other in more ways than physically. We need that vulnerability, transparency; we need that dependency. For men it is hard to be that vulnerable, that transparent, that dependent.
Fourth, we need to understand that sexual intimacy will not bear the total weight of intimacy if there is no emotional intimacy, transparency and humbleness in the marriage outside of the sexual relationship.
Finally, Christian men need to put sexual satisfaction in its rightful place. It is not the end of marriage. It really is not the meaning of marriage. It is and always has been a part of marriage. Marriage is about growing in oneness. Sexual intimacy is only a part of that: an important part of that but only a part.
If you find yourself struggling with porn — whether you are a student, pastor, church staff member or church member— reach out to someone. There is help and there is hope. Research shows again and again that most men in America today no matter the age wrestle with anger and lust.
Michael Chancellor served 33 years as pastor of four Baptist churches in Texas, seven years as a mental health manager in a maximum-security Texas prison and now is a therapist in private practice in Round Rock, Texas.