Internet porn a wide-ranging problem, even in the church
Editor's note: This is part of a special four-part series of Baptist Press stories about Internet porn addiction. For others in the series visit www.bpnews.net and search for "Internet porn addiction" (with the phrase in quotes).
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)--Long before the surgeon general issued his 1964 report showing the devastating harm of smoking, much of the nation viewed cigarettes as fun and harmless, even cool.
A new report says much of America today has a similar naive attitude toward Internet pornography and that it needs to wake up and see porn's destructive impact not only on individuals but also marriages, children and society in general -- before it's too late.
The 53-page report, called simply, "The Social Costs of Pornography," was released by The Witherspoon Institute in Princeton, N.J., and was signed by more than 50 scholars from a wide variety of backgrounds: conservatives and liberals, Democrats and Republicans, atheists and Christians.
Gone are the days, the report notes, when porn was the sole domain of shady nightclubs, dark alleys and adult theaters. Today, porn is easily accessible and affordable, and -- with most Americans having a computer -- its users can remain largely anonymous.
"[A]lthough pornography has existed for millennia, never has it been as widely available or used as it has been in recent years," the report says. "... There is evidence that more people -- children, adolescents, and adults -- are consuming pornography -- sporadically, inadvertently, or chronically -- than ever before."
Internet porn, the scholars say, can be psychologically addictive and can even reach levels of what psychologists call a "compulsive" addiction -- meaning that it continues "despite negative consequences" to a person.
Similar to what is required of cigarettes, the report says all porn -- print and digital -- "should carry a warning" about porn's addictive potential and possible psychological harm.
How wide is the problem? The report cites one 2008 study of undergraduate and graduate students ages 18-26 that showed 69 percent of the men and 10 percent of the women viewed pornography more than once a month. But it's not just adults. In 2009, the fourth-most searched word on the Internet for kids ages 7 and under was "porn," according to data by OnlineFamily.Norton.com. For all kids -- those up to age 18 -- sex was No. 4, porn No. 5.
Hollywood makes 400 films a year to the porn industry's 11,000.
The report did not cite any data specifically about Christians' use of Internet porn -- reputable data is largely non-existent -- but Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said the problem is very real among believers. He called Internet porn "perhaps the greatest challenge Christians face today."
"I am convinced that millions of men and boys are being destroyed by pornography, and statistics show that women and girls are joining their numbers," Land said. "Their abilities to be godly marriage partners are being warped by it, and it is one of the major causes of divorce. Pornography is an evil that thrives in silence and proliferates in the dark. And the sad truth is that believers are not in any way, shape or form impervious to its lure."
Focus on the Family's Daniel Weiss agrees.
"The church needs to be concerned about this," Weiss, senior analyst for media and sexuality, told Baptist Press. "I'm concerned the church is not taking this seriously enough. The number of people coming to this ministry looking for help is pretty high.
"The test of character is what you'll do when no one's looking. That's true on the Internet as well, and a lot of people are failing that test when it comes to this material. Part of the reason is that it's highly addictive stuff. It's kind of like putting a really desirable drug on the table and then just saying, 'I'm not going to touch that.' A lot of people are going to try it if it's sitting there long enough. It draws a lot of people in, and it draws Christians in as well."
Porn's usage among Christians is significant enough that a growing number of ministries and Christian publishers are releasing materials designed to encourage mental purity and to help those with addictions. The book "Every Man's Battle" (By Stephen Arterburn, Fred Stoeker and Mike Yorkey) remains a popular resource and has seen spinoffs aimed at young, single men, women and even small groups. Christian singer Clay Crosse wrote a book with his wife Renee ("I Surrender All: Rebuilding a Marriage Broken by Pornography") detailing his victory over porn addiction. The ministry Freedom Begins Here (FreedomBeginsHere.org) has a "personal toolkit" for individuals as well as resources for small groups featuring Gary Smalley, Ted Cunningham and Mark and Deb Laaser. And the group Music for the Soul has made a DVD named "Somebody's Daughter" (www.somebodysdaughter.org) featuring gripping testimonies from four Christian men who were addicted to porn. The DVD also includes the testimony from a wife. Music for the Soul also sells a discussion guide, and a CD with songs accompanies the DVD.
The Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC.com/pornography) and Focus on the Family (PureIntimacy.org) have online resources.
Every home computer, the ministries say, should have an anti-porn filter. (Two of the more popular ones can be downloaded at InternetSafety.com and BSecure.com.)
"We can try and write porn off in the church and say, 'Well it's not that bad, because I didn't really sleep with anybody.' But Jesus was clear about that," Music for the Soul's Steve Siler told BP. "He said if you've lusted after a woman in your heart you've committed adultery. That's not a parable that's hard to understand."
Porn's negative impact on marriages cannot be overstated, the report argues. It cites a Time magazine story about a 2003 meeting of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, where of the 350 attendees, 62 percent said the "Internet played a significant role in divorces in the past year, with excessive interest in online porn contributing to more than half of such cases." And, for those marriages that survive, porn causes the men to lose the desire to have a physical relationship with their wives, the report says.
As Pamela Paul, one of the report's signers, wrote, Internet pornography touches "all aspects" of an addict's life. She penned a 2005 book about Internet porn addiction, "Pornified."
"Their work days became interrupted, their hobbies were tossed aside, their family lives were disrupted," Paul wrote. "Some men even lost their jobs, their wives and their children."
The report quotes one scientist who says frequent pornography users develop "new maps" in their brains based on the pictures and videos they see. Those news maps develop a "hunger to be stimulated," so much so that the men at their computers are likes rats in a lab cage, "pressing the bar to get a shot of dopamine or its equivalent."
Exacerbating the problem, pornography by its very nature de-sensitizes men so much that images they once would have thought disgusting they now find appealing; to reach the same "high," they must try something new, the report says. This slippery slope can even lead to the viewing of child porn, the report says.
The report also quotes a 2009 Princeton University study that used MRI scans to study brain activity. The study showed that "after viewing pornographic images, men looked at women more as objects than as humans."
Pornography is, the report says, "one of the great social diseases."
"The triad of pornography consumption, dependency, and addiction is clearly not the only problem facing our society. However, it is a serious problem as well as an under-recognized one, which is why the signatories urge readers of all beliefs and political persuasions to attend to the empirical record of its harms," the report says. "Those who would ignore that record do so to the detriment of the society it is shaping, not only for the adults among us, but for those others who surely deserve to become adults in a world less glutted by pornographic imagery."
Michael Foust is an assistant editor at Baptist Press. The Social Costs of Pornography is available at Amazon.com ($5, not including shipping.)