Pornography on mobile devices fueling addiction, brokenness

NASHVILLE (BP) -- By 2017, access to pornography on smartphones and tablets will be available to 250 million people worldwide, according to a new study from Juniper Research, a London-area analyst of the wireless sector.

Higher-resolution screens, faster networks and personal security offered by password-protected phones and tablets will make the devices the fastest-growing distribution channels for adult content since the Internet was created, according to the study, released Sept. 25.

Adult entertainment companies also are beginning to create content specifically for the portable devices because of "the increasing trend towards tablets becoming personal, as opposed to shared household devices," according to a report by the Center for Media Research in Lincoln, Neb., Oct. 11. And much of the content may be available free, making its use more likely and more easily hidden, according to analysts.

The increasing use of digital adult content and other forms of pornography prompted the launch of "Join 1 Million Men" at the Southern Baptist Convention in June, an initiative to call men and women to sexual purity and to protect ministries, marriages and families from the devastation caused by pornography.

Florida pastor Jay Dennis, at the SBC annual meeting in June, said, "Internet pornography is the perfect trap because it hooks men" and will not let them go. That is why he along with Woman's Missionary Union and the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission are sponsoring the campaign.

R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, wrote in an online column Oct. 9 that sexually explicit images have crept into every facet of American media, including advertising and marketing. This "ambient pornography," Mohler wrote, confronts viewers even in settings traditionally considered safe, like shopping malls and on primetime television.

Earlier this year in a column, Mohler noted how pornography has increased support among men for the legalization of same-sex marriage, according to researchers.

"By some estimations, the production and sale of explicit pornography now represents the seventh-largest industry in America," Mohler wrote in his Oct. 9 column. "New videos and Internet pages are produced each week, with the digital revolution bringing a host of new delivery systems. Every new digital platform becomes a marketing opportunity for the pornography industry."

Just how far the industry is reaching into new technologies is not yet known, but according to Juniper Research, users in the United States and Western Europe will have access to the greatest amount of adult content in the future and likely will spend the greatest amount of money on it -- a continuous annual growth rate of 25 percent.

"The total number of users of adult mobile content … will reach almost a quarter of a billion users in 2017, at 243 million users. This is attributable to an emphasis on high-definition, niche-centric product, as well as the flourishing availability of mobile-optimized free content. Although the user base is spread globally, Juniper has found that revenues are likely to be concentrated in the US and Western Europe throughout the forecast period," the Juniper study predicted.

Mohler noted in his column that research also is providing insight into the brain composition of those who are most likely to use adult content on computers, smartphones and tablets -- the American male. "While research does nothing to reduce the moral culpability of males who consume pornography, it does help explain how the habit becomes so addictive," he wrote.

Mohler pointed to a book by William M. Struthers, associate professor of psychology at Wheaton College, who has pointed out that pornography disrupts the normal function of the male brain and rewires it to dismiss the normal, God-given desire for sexual intimacy with a spouse.

"Pornography takes human sexuality out of its natural context -- intimacy between two human beings -- and makes it a product to be bought and sold," Struthers wrote in "Wired for Intimacy: How Pornography Hijacks the Male Brain," now in its sixth printing since 2009. "By debasing the human body and valuing it in the same way we would something from the local convenience store, pornography promotes a human being's sexuality as a product for consumption."

Struthers wrote that pornography is a type of long-acting poison to the male brain because images and sounds taken in cannot be "unseen" or "unheard."

"Viewing pornography is not an emotionally or physiologically neutral experience," Struthers wrote in the book. "It is fundamentally different from looking at black and white photos of the Lincoln Memorial or taking in a color map of the provinces of Canada."

Pornography becomes a drug, Struthers wrote, and like most drugs, its repeated use builds up tolerances requiring higher and higher doses to achieve the same level of pleasure.

The simple name for the practice is "addiction," researchers in Great Britain say.

The rise in addiction to pornography there led researchers to study the brain while it was being exposed to pornographic images. In the process, researchers from Cambridge University found that MRI scans of 19 self-described pornography addicts were nearly identical to those of alcoholics and drug addicts.

The ongoing study, as yet unpublished, was featured in a multi-part documentary currently on air in the United Kingdom. "Porn on the Brain" chronicles the investigation of the physiological and social effects of pornography by journalist Martin Daubney, who left his job as editor of an adult magazine after the birth of his son four years ago.

Valerie Voon, the lead scientist featured in the documentary, told the Sunday Times in the UK, "We found greater activity in an area of the brain called the ventral striatum, which is a reward center, involved in processing reward, motivation and pleasure."

Voon noted: "When an alcoholic sees an ad for a drink, their brain will light up in a certain way and they will be stimulated in a certain way. We are seeing this same kind of activity in users of pornography."

A study by faculty at the University of Sydney also found that pornography addiction is on the rise. In that study, released in 2012, researchers said the addiction caused dysfunction in social interaction, harmed personal relationships and even resulted in job losses for some of those addicted to it.

"We all know what porn is, but until now we haven't known much about its impact," said Gomathi Sitharthan, one of the researchers in the University of Sydney study.

"Gone are the days when you had to go to a shop, pay for the merchandise, and come out with a magazine in a brown paper bag. You can now download anything, anytime, anywhere -- at home, in your bedroom, in your office, in the car, in the park, on the way to work."

Daubney, whose documentary has prompted a national discussion on pornography addiction in the UK, has expressed remorse for his part in building the adult entertainment business. Readily available pornography, he said, is destroying intimacy because it reshapes the male understanding of sex.

"While teenage boys will also be fascinated by, and curious about, sex, what's now considered 'normal' by under-18s is an entirely distorted view of intercourse and the way relationships should be conducted," Daubney told the UK's Daily Mail, pointing out that young people's expectations of sex are being defined by what is viewed in online pornography.

British Prime Minister David Cameron earlier this year pushed for new regulations on adult content delivered online. Cameron called online pornography a "corroding influence" on British children and said British lawmakers would take steps to curtail easy access to the material.

In the campaign, announced in July at the UK's National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, Cameron said Internet service providers will automatically block in-home access to pornographic material on computers and all devices of new users connected to a home's wireless network, making the absence of adult content the "default setting." Those users must "opt in" to adult content. Existing consumers are allowed the option of activating "family-friendly" filters on their accounts, Cameron said.

The new regulations on British media will be in effect by the end of 2013. Family advocates in other countries are seeking to capitalize on the momentum Cameron's law provides. In Canada and India, both former British colonies, petition efforts to block online pornography have been launched, and in Iceland, members of the government are debating a complete ban on online adult content.

Should Iceland's legislature institute a complete ban on online pornography, the ban would be the first of its kind. Saudi Arabia also is considering a ban on online pornography.

In September 2007, legislators in the U.S. Congress mandated the creation of an ".xxx" domain name for pornographic sites in an attempt to alert parents to their use, but the use of the marker for adult content is purely voluntary for online pornographers.

A University of Montreal study recently claimed that 90 percent of pornographic material is now delivered online, and another study from the technology blog Gizmodo indicated that 24.6 million websites, or 12 percent of the total websites online, feature some form of adult content. Studies vary on how early children are exposed to pornography online, but a University of New Hampshire study indicated that nearly half of all 10-year-olds have seen adult content online, many without seeking it out.

In a surprising survey from the Pew Research Center, published Oct. 10, Pew reported that of more than 1,000 people surveyed, only 12 percent of the total number of adults had viewed pornographic videos online. Of males age 18-29, however, 25 percent of those surveyed said they had watched pornographic content. Only 8 percent of women in the same age category said they had seen adult content online.

While the Pew survey conflicts with other studies of viewing habits for online adult content, the draw of online pornography is not debated.

In fact, Mohler wrote, it is "visually magnetic" to the male brain.

That is why Struthers' book, Mohler wrote, is important. It "presents a fascinating review of the neurobiology involved, with pleasure hormones becoming linked to and released by the experience of a male viewing pornographic images. These experiences with pornography and pleasure hormones create new patterns in the brain's wiring, and repeated experiences formalize the rewiring."

"And then, enough is never enough," Mohler wrote.

Dennis, pastor of First Baptist Church at the Mall in Lakeland, Fla., who pioneered the Join 1 Million Men campaign (on the Web at Join1MillionMen.org), described the response from pastors, churches and individuals as encouraging.

"Pastors and church leaders are discovering as they address the subject, the people are ready, they are hungry for practical help," Dennis told Baptist Press. "But we still have a lot of work to do. The world has done a much better job in the information wars than the church. Regardless of what Christ-centered, scriptural resources are used -- and there are great resources -- the main issue now is for every church to 'Have the conversation' about pornography use among Christian men of all ages and, increasingly, Christian women.

"This war is winnable, but only as we admit we're in a war," Dennis said.


Gregory Tomlin is a writer based in Fort Worth, Texas. Baptist Press editor Art Toalston contributed to this article.

EDITOR'S NOTE: With the advent of the smartphone and 24-hour Internet connectivity, pornography has become more accessible – and more addictive – than ever. And Christians are not immune. Christian leaders and authors warn that pornography involvement and even addiction does not stop at the church door. But while pornography is easy to get, so is help to overcome it. Here are a few resources, all available at Amazon.com and other outlets.

-- Our Hardcore Battle Plan: Joining the War Against Pornography, Jay Dennis (New Hope Publishing, 2013)

-- Our Hardcore Battle Plan A-Z, Jay Dennis (New Hope Publishing, 2013)

-- Our Hardcore Battle Plan for Wives: Winning the War Against Pornography, Dennis and Cathy Dyer (New Hope Publishing, 2013)

-- Finally Free: Fighting for Purity with the Power of Grace, Heath Lambert (HarperCollins, 2013)

-- Closing the Window: Steps to Living Porn Free, Tim Chester (IVP, 2010)

-- Clean: A Proven Plan for Men Committed to Sexual Integrity, Douglas Weiss (Thomas Nelson, 2013)

-- Wired for Intimacy: How Pornography Hijacks the Male Brain, William Struthers (IVP, 2010)

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