Study: monthly porn exposure the norm for teens

NASHVILLE (BP) -- Half of teenagers and nearly three-quarters of young adults come across pornography at least monthly, and both groups on average consider viewing pornographic images less immoral than failing to recycle.

Those are among the findings of a survey of 2,700 Americans released Tuesday (Jan. 19) by Josh McDowell Ministry and the Barna Group. McDowell Ministry and the Internet accountability software provider Covenant Eyes paid approximately a quarter-million dollars to commission the online survey, McDowell told Baptist Press. The study also found porn use is on the rise among young women and that 14 percent of senior pastors surveyed "currently struggle with using porn."

McDowell, a Christian author and speaker, said he is most concerned about the findings related to teens and young adults.

"What this study shows is that little by little, porn is becoming more acceptable, more 'spiritually okay'" among teenagers and adults ages 18-24, McDowell said. With pornography "so accessible now and becoming more accessible, it's going to become more mainstream."

Part of the problem is that children's first exposure to porn is coming earlier than in previous generations, according to the study. Some 27 percent of 25-30-year-olds say they first viewed pornography before puberty. In contrast, only 13 percent of adults from Generation X, the group just ahead of them in age, first viewed porn before puberty.

Exposure to porn apparently increases in the teenage years. Even if they aren't actively seeking pornography, 8 percent of teens responding to the survey say they encounter it daily. An additional 21 percent encounter it weekly, and another 21 percent encounter it at least once a month. Among young adults, 16 percent come across porn daily, an additional 32 percent weekly and another 23 percent monthly.

Intentionally seeking pornography is a daily activity for 8 percent of teens, the study found -- the same percentage who say they encounter it daily whether they seek it or not. An additional 18 percent seek porn weekly, and 17 percent more do so monthly. That translates to 43 percent of teens seeking porn at least monthly.

Among adults ages 18-24, 57 percent seek porn at least monthly, the report noted, while forty-five percent of adults ages 25-30 seek porn monthly.

The most common reason people of all age groups said they use porn is "for personal arousal," according to the study. Teens and young adults cite "boredom" and "curiosity" as the next two most popular reasons for porn use.

Though many discussions of pornography focus on men, Barna's research found 56 percent of women ages 13-24 "actively seek out porn" at least once a month. That compares with 28 percent of women 25 and older.

McDowell said porn use among teen girls and women is increasing "faster than men." Many women use porn in attempt to "save" their marriages, he said, adding teen girls use porn to keep or attract boyfriends.

The survey yielded some positive news about pastors. A full 79 percent of youth pastors and 86 percent of senior pastors said they do not currently struggle with using porn.

Solutions

While there is no "single silver bullet" to reduce porn use, McDowell said, pastors and other Christian leaders must play a major role in addressing the issue. He and Covenant Eyes are hosting a Set Free Global Summit April 4-7 in Greensboro, N.C., to unveil the full results of the study and discuss various facets of pornography use with Christian leaders.

Pastors can help families by teaching about pornography and biblical sexual ethics, McDowell said, and families can help their children by teaching them in age-appropriate ways the biblical model of sexuality by age 6 or 7, just prior to the average first exposure to pornography.

"Pastors and the church need to help parents create such a loving, intimate, safe home environment that [a] child is totally free and comfortable to ask mommy and daddy anything without shame, without judgment," McDowell said.

He suggested that churches and ministries move away from "one strike and you're out" policies regarding porn use by staff members. Any ministry leader who is unrepentant about porn use must be fired, McDowell said, but those who admit their sin and covenant to stop completely should be given opportunities to keep their positions and seek help. Policies of immediate termination "drive [porn use] underground," he said.

Jay Dennis, a leader of Southern Baptists' anti-pornography initiative, commended McDowell for "the passion, excellence and experience he brings to addressing culture's number one issue."

Barna's study "gives us valuable insight into the impact of pornography on teenagers and older children," Dennis, co-sponsor of the Join One Million Men campaign, said in written comments. "With more relevant statistical information, we can better communicate the problem. With these statistics, we can qualify what we have suspected: that pornography use is increasing and is becoming normalized. This survey says to every pastor, 'Wake up!'"

To help the 93 percent of pastors whose churches, the survey found, do not have programs to help those struggling with porn use, Dennis said Join One Million Men will soon publish four new resources, including one for teens and another for parents of teens.

Dennis, pastor of First Baptist Church at the Mall in Lakeland, Fla., is scheduled to speak at McDowell's April anti-pornography summit.

David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention's news service. BP reports on missions, ministry and witness advanced through the Cooperative Program and on news related to Southern Baptists' concerns nationally and globally.
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