Thinking Out Loud

December 29, 2012

Men and Pornography: Keeping the Discussion Going

In July, 2008, I posted a draft version of The Pornography Effect online, and spent a great deal of energy trying to increase awareness of this plague which has spread via technology and has had particularly damaging effects on men. A few months later, popular blogger and writer Jeff Goins interviewed me on the subject, and today I can’t honestly recall where the interview appeared; but after finding a copy of it yesterday, I thought it helpful to spread this message yet again. Besides, we need to keep this discussion going. This is the first time this material has appeared at Thinking Out Loud.

You can read The Pornography Effect here, it uses a blog format but reads like a book with the chapters in proper order and a ‘next page’ type of click necessary to get to the second of the two screens.  It takes about 55 minutes. There’s also a ‘Cliff Notes’ version of the key points here.

The Interview

What is your personal experience with pornography? What did your own struggle look like?

We owned a computer that was connected online for about ten years before anything remotely pornographic ever crossed the screen.   Up until that point, I would say I was probably in the “This could never happen to me” category.   One Saturday afternoon doing a relatively random search, I ended up in the middle of an erotic novel.   A few days later I decided to read the whole thing from the beginning.   When I finished the story, nearly two weeks later, a link took me a site which contained photographic porn.   At that point certain walls of resistance had already collapsed.   Like the proverbial “guy with a remote control” who “wants to know what else is on,” I was determined to explore this alternative universe.   The internet was more than willing to oblige.   Even though I was leading worship in my church on Sunday, I was on the way to becoming a hopeless slave to internet pornography addiction.   But I rationalized that I was balancing the two worlds quite capably and getting away with it.

After what I consider a wake-up call several months later, I was able to break free for several months.   And then I went back for several weeks.   And then broke free again.   Today, there is a short-term freedom in being able to honestly say I’ve forgotten the internet addresses of most of those sites.   But in the long-term, the fact remains I know the search criteria that got me there.   For anyone, the internet’s dark side is never more than a few clicks and keystrokes away.

When did you realize that this was a systemic problem in a lot of men’s lives?

After remaining free for a longer period, I decided to (a) go public, and (b) create a forum for women to know more about the mechanics of how the internet porn industry functions.   There are millions of pornographic web pages, but each has one thing in common:  They were all put there by someone.  That person had a reason, a motivation, and I thought it would be helpful to create more understanding of why the stuff is there in the first place.   Perhaps I’m wired to want to share and apply knowledge once it’s acquired.   Perhaps I was trying to redeem a bad personal experience.   I just figured there were already seminars for men who were dealing with a multitude of addictive behavior, but nothing for the women who were, as I termed it, the collateral damage in the sphere of internet addiction.

teen with computer I found out really fast that this is truly “the elephant in the room” both within and outside the church.   Tell people this is what you want to discuss, and the room gets really quiet.   Plus, I’m in Canada where there isn’t the same transparency about personal struggles.   We don’t talk about our spiritual lives here in the same way that people do in the U.S.  I have always know that this was a hot topic, but once I was trying to create open discussion, it was initially the silence that told me I had struck a nerve more than anyone’s particular admission or confession.

For a younger generation of internet sex addicts, though, this is a non-issue.   Images of naked people — even images of their classmates — have been available online all their lives.  An entire generation is being raised without a sense of shame.   It was once the case that humans distinguished themselves from the animals by our ability to blush, but slowly, an entire generation is losing that.   They would say there is no problem at all here.

How does pornography affect men’s relationships with their wives, family members, and God?

I don’t think anyone who has had exposure to pornography is ever the same.   Over an extended period, I think exposure rewrites the brain programs of our minds, to the point where, for guys, any female is just a body to be exploited.    I don’t think any man who is deeply hooked can look at his wife or girlfriend, his sister, his daughter or even his mother the same way.   Yes, I’m saying it changes all relationships that a man has with all females.  The girl serving at the fast food place.  The woman in line at the bank.   The kindergarten teacher at the elementary school.  All females. 

In terms of spousal relationships, the problem — and fortunately this wasn’t exactly the issue for me — is that men are intended to find sexual fulfillment in their wives. (And likewise, wives in their husbands.)   So immediately the relationship is encountering damage.   But where the internet habit is also a secret habit, there is an additional wall of separation building between the husband and wife.   Trying to get “alone time” on the family computer can also cause friction between other family members.

Spiritually, sin is sin.   While we can admit that God probably ain’t too happy, we can use all kinds of rationalization to justify that what we’re doing isn’t such a big deal.   After all, aren’t a lot of popular songs played on radio somewhat pornographic when you read the lyrics?    If a person is really tuned in to their own spirit, I think they’ll recognize that, like Adam in Eden, we’ve somewhat hidden ourselves, and hurt the relationship in the process.   There are other indicators of spiritual life and growth that will start to flash warning lights.

 Have you encountered women who have struggled with porn?

Once I went more public with my desire to speak to this subject, I had a number of women who came to talk me.   While at first discussing a husband’s or a son’s addiction, they eventually shared with me that they had struggled with this themselves.   Yielding to female stereotypes of soap operas and romance novels, I assumed they were speaking of text pornography, like the novel that had initially hooked me.   But they were saying no such thing.   They were into the pictures just like the guys were, and one woman in particular hinted at a very deep addition that had tied up hundreds and hundreds of online hours.

However, one of the main ideas I want to advance is the idea that text pornography is every bit as dangerous and harmful as drawn or photographic pornography.  It is able to convey ideas that either (a) cannot be expressed in a picture, or (b) would still be considered taboo graphically.  Text pornography, which includes but is not limited to erotic literature, puts forward ideas which in some cases are intended to change societal norms.  It ought to be the focus of more concern.

 What does it mean for a porn/sex addict to discover grace? What does that look like?

I think that the grace of God comes in the form of the strength that we don’t have within ourselves to walk away from the internet, either figuratively or literally.  Apart from Christ’s power working in us, there’s no compelling reason to break free, let alone the strength to do it.   But with Christ’s power, I believe that breaking free of this particular addiction can be a relatively painless process.   If we see our sin as being sin against God, we will strive for holy living.   The man who desires to do the will of God positionally does not sin.  

Grace can also appear in the form of a friend who has walked the same road, or a friend who is simply brave enough to wade into the topic with you.   Grace can be a pastor willing to devote a Sunday morning sermon to the topic; and grace can be a congregation that doesn’t judge when you walk towards the altar at the pastor’s invitation.  Grace can be an understanding spouse who desires to encourage you towards freedom from addiction.   Grace can even be a young daughter who catches a glance of an image on your computer screen and asks, “Daddy, how would you feel if that were me?”

Can you share at least one story of someone you know who was able to break out of a porn addiction?

It’s interesting to think about that question apart from the various things I’ve read in books and magazine articles that were all U.S.-based.  The Book Porn Nation by Michael Leahy, and the book I Surrender All:  Rebuilding a Marriage Broken by Pornography by Renee and Clay Cross share two stories that I believe to be representative of stories that are common to so many.  In my country, what I’ve experienced is hushed voices, speaking in low tones, whispering, “Been there.  Done that.   Free now.”  

I think the curiosity factor engages a great percentage of men at one time or another, particularly as the computer changes the way pornography is accessed.    The question is how long are you going to stay in Sin City?   Some stay a long time.   Some reading this are there right now.   No… make that many reading this are there right now.  Thankfully,  I think there are probably more stories of spiritual victory out there than we realize, but far too many men are afraid to admit the problem existed in the first place.   A person has to simply determine not to go back there. 

What resources are available for those who are struggling?

If a person has a trusted friend who can serve as an accountability partner, I think that accountability software like Covenant Eyes is probably the best resource we have right now.   I know pastors who serve as accountability watchdogs for each other.   If a person is really fighting the addicitive nature (which can be part of the human condition) then a program like Celebrate Recovery is also helpful.

October 3, 2008

May 9, 2011

Pornography Changes Worldview

I’m at a point where I often forget that I have an online book, let alone a book about a devastating social problem.  But then I’ll hear a sermon where someone discusses the effects of pornography, and I’m reminded of some of the unique things my manuscript had to say on the subject, and aspire to see the material reach more people.

…Redemption comes in various forms. The redemption of a period of several weeks being counted among the this-could-never-happen-to-me addicted to the internet’s dark side, was a book manuscript that would help females understand what’s going on in the lives of some male they know.

screenshot - book online The Pornography Effect is available online as a free internet resource.

Sadly, this is totally defeating the point. The original idea was that as a crisis resource — which describes the under-24,000-words length — this book would be a print product that would be given to women who might be completely unfamiliar with the workings of the internet. Having the book online is helpful, but that help is now limited to those who can get online to find it.

The original publisher contact — who told me his company did over 400 titles in 2007 — took this one step further and suggested that the book be shrink-wrapped in packs of four or five, so that pastors and counselors could have copies on their desk to put in the hands of those dealing with this problem. But then came the “backhanded complement” that this project was “too big” for his company to handle. Hmmmm.

Sadly, I’ve been unable to find a publisher who would catch that vision and meet two industry criteria as to its distribution to retail stores. And now, three years later, I’d want it to be a rather different version of the text instead of this Version 1.0 edition. In the meantime, people needed help; and they need people to start the conversation.

So here are the highlights of my book for those of you that don’t want to click the link at the beginning and end of this article. If you do click; allow about 50-55 minutes to read the thing fully, and since it’s formatted as a “reverse blog,” click on “previous entries” to find chapters 7-15.

These are the Cliff Notes, or for those of my fellow-Canadian readers, the Coles Notes.  Chapter by chapter, the book goes something like this:

  1. Any exposure to internet pornography results in immediate changes in relational dynamics between men and women. A man who watches this stuff over time will look at his wife, or girlfriend — and perhaps even his sister, or daughter, or even his mother — differently.
  2. Addition to porn is at the extreme high end of the spectrum of addictive behavior and addiction consequences. Its availability is not unlike the cigarette company is standing outside the junior high school passing out samples.
  3. After much exposure, the tastes of porn viewers “skews” to interest in things they would have previously considered reprehensible. I don’t believe anyone just gets up one morning and says, “I think I’ll look at pictures of naked eight-year-olds.” Doesn’t happen instantly like that. But does happen over time.
  4. The long-term consequences of pre-teens and teens growing up with pornographic images freely available won’t be known for at least 20 years.
  5. Immersion in pornographic and related websites will eventually change your worldview on a number of issues connected to family and sexuality.
  6. Porn is more than pictures. The guy in the office staring at a screen that is all text may well be reading erotica. Text sites can also be a gateway to visual or photographic porn.
  7. For all the pictures on pornographic websites, don’t expect to see shots of people in love. Porn sites are all about people “using” other people. Nobody “cares” about anybody else but themselves and their own personal gratification.
  8. Whether it’s passive viewing on internet sets, or the more interactive nature of chat rooms, the “next step” of “acting out” on something seen online is just a heartbeat or two away from happening.
  9. There is a limitless number of formats that pornographic websites can take. Many are inter-linked and all of them eventually want to you to produce a credit card number so that you’ll pay for what was formerly free.
  10. Just because it’s set up as “photography” or “art” or “modeling” or “recreation” doesn’t mean it’s not porn. Many of these are just shallow attempts at establishing legitimacy.
  11. Cartoon pornography is porn nonetheless. Aimed at kids, it’s actually more dangerous. And it has a mission: The incest agenda. Promoting the acceptance of incest. (Betcha those other books on this subject didn’t tell ya that one!) And the kids are watching. And downloading.
  12. While psychologists debate genetic predispositions to homosexuality, a lot of same sex attraction begins with the internet and is based somewhat randomly on the type of website — and surrounding online community — that gets to a young person first.
  13. If a family member is caught up in online porn, you are — whether you like it or not — engaged in a battle. You have to start fighting back, for the sake of that person and the sake of nuclear and extended family. The forces you are fighting are giants and you are David. But…
  14. …Faith can be the slingshot you’ve got to go up against the giant. Pray, yes; but pray very specific prayers. Teach your kids self control and delayed gratification. Be intentional about the spiritual formation of yourself and your family. But always remember that many people clicked on that first website because of personal hurts that also need to be addressed.
  15. You are not alone. There are number of different types of resources available to help.

That’s the bullet-point version. But you may know someone who needs to read this in full, with the topics fully discussed. For them, here’s the link one more time to The Pornography Effect.

July 12, 2010

Rock Music and Pornography: Parallels

The 1960s was a time of accelerated social change in Western Europe and North America.   No chronology of those times is complete without some reference to the role that popular music played in both reflecting and shaping those times.

As folk singers protested Vietnam and The Beatles sported longer hairstyles, the church began to establish its somewhat defensive posture; and by the end of the ’60s, the psychedelic branch of rock music combined with the message of free love to confirm all their worst fears.     Any band with guitars and drums was immediately caught in the line of fire.

The actual music form itself was no different than the modern worship that was played in the church service I attended yesterday.   The drums, bass guitar, electronic keyboards, lead guitars and rhythm guitars would later be regarded as morally neutral.

By the 1980s we began to hear a redefined meaning to the term “rock music;” it wasn’t the music itself, but the performers and their lifestyles and ideals; it was the attitude and the surrounding culture.   The music itself — the notes, the harmonies, the rests — were simply the wave which carried youth culture along; in fact it was the youth culture itself that the church had really been afraid of all along.

The eventual emergence of Christian rock wasn’t so oxymoronic.   It showed the spiritual neutrality of the musical forms, and showed that those forms could be used to carry a positive and even Biblical message.

Over two years ago, I posted a rough manuscript online of a short book titled The Pornography Effect:  Understanding for the Wives, Mothers, Daughters, Sisters and Girlfriends. Part of the reason that I’m still looking for a publisher for the print version is that some people disagree with the book’s basic assumption.

I believe that the visual images that one thinks of when they hear the term “pornography” are not the ultimate core issue.    I do believe that they are addictive, that they are exploitative and that they can be devastating to men (and women) and especially teens and pre-teens.

But like the music issue of the ’60s, I think we may be focused on the wrong target.   (The parallel ends there however; I don’t foresee those images appearing in our worship services 25 years from now the way that contemporary music styles are part of modern worship.)

Just as rock music is about lifestyles and ideals and attitudes, pornography changes the worldview of those who partake.   Again, I think that the point in my manuscript that some people can’t get past is the idea that text pornography — chats, forums, stories, blogs, etc. without pictures — is every bit as serious a threat as sites with various types of pictorial images. If not more so.

click image to orderThe Church’s response is to think in terms of pictures and videos (a concern not to be minimized) and think in terms of addiction (an issue to be taken seriously) but to neglect what exposure to porn does in terms of how men look at their wives and girlfriends, and even their sisters, daughters and mothers.   (The promotion of incest is a major agenda on many websites.)  Perhaps we’re more concerned with the physiological sexual response than the brain ‘wiring’ or brain conditioning that is at work here.   Perhaps it is easier to choose a target we can see than consider the more serious concern which is invisible.

Pornography has even changed the expectations men have as to what constitutes normal sexuality within marriage.   (And, as we’re seeing, increasingly changing the expectations of women also.)   The result is an increase in unusual requests and even demands in the bedroom.   But it also causes men to think nothing of considering an office affair; it causes boys to make advances toward their sisters; it causes heretofore straight individuals to nurture same-sex attraction.

It’s the 1960s all over again.   The “Summer of Love” of 1969 is back with its message of free sex without consequences, but aided by a new technology tailor-made to get that message to the widest audience.

It’s the escapism drug-of-choice; with each dosage customized to meet individual desires.   In online pornography nobody ever gets pregnant, no STDs are spread, no one is arrested for rape or indecent exposure, no small children are ever left without a daddy.

Hedonism is the reigning philosophy.

Jesus said He came so that we might experience life to the fullest; however the “abundant life” is also the “narrow way.”  Countering the ‘message’ of pornography isn’t about saying “don’t look” anymore than putting up a wet paint sign on a freshly whitewashed fence is going to accomplish “don’t touch.”    Pornographers, advertisers and fashion designers will continue to keep pushing the envelope.   Men’s thoughts will continue to stray.

So while we do need to tell the world that,

  • pornography is an addictive behavior;
  • as an addiction it is subject to the laws of diminishing returns; the addict is never satisfied;
  • with God’s help you can be set free;

we also need to be proclaiming,

  • the version(s) of sex depicted online does not generally represent God’s intention for sex;
  • many of the subjects in online images are being exploited or being forced to participate; it’s not true that “nobody is being hurt”;
  • the movies and stories are unbalanced; they don’t show disease, unwanted pregnancy, loss of self-respect, or ruined lives;
  • if you keep watching, the images are changing you; as you give more time to worship at the altar of porn, the pornography effect is a sacramental effect; as you receive it, you’re allowing it to shape you and define you;
  • those so exposed need to recognize, confess and confront how pornography has so changed their worldview; both in subtle and greater degrees;
  • the consequences of long term exposure to the larger society is that it places that society in a downhill spiral (what pilots call a ‘graveyard spiral’) from which there is no recovery apart from dramatic repentance followed by dramatic intervention from God (or what might be called “a turning” or “revival”)
  • because it is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness; more energy needs to spent promoting models of modesty, purity and chastity; and less energy on appearing spiritual by simply “denouncing” porn;
  • in the end, pornography is not the problem; the human heart is deceitfully wicked; the core of the problem is human rebellion against God;
  • finally, we need to proclaim the omnipresence of God; men and women need to be reminded that God is constantly sitting next to us as we click the mouse, turn the scroll wheel and stare at the monitor; His Lordship has to extend to be Lord over the URLs we visit daily.

Allowing myself to be a spokesperson on this topic has had to involve some awareness of its magnitude, and I think the people who say there are 200,000 pornographic websites online are terribly low in their estimating.   I believe the person who suggests 1,000,000 might be more accurate.

This means that realistically, we’re not going to see an end to pornography any time soon.  (Although, I applaud those who faithfully file objections to blog hosts, internet service providers, and search engines; each day sites all over the world are shut down because of their counter-measures; and even some of the most liberal pornographers recognize a need for someone to be applying the brakes, though often for different reasons.)

What we can do is build resistance (not immunity) to it.   We can recognize that just as the music debate really wasn’t about the musical forms itself, the sexual ethics debate is not about this picture or that video.

It’s a battle for the mind.

It’s a battle for the heart.

Want to study more on this?  Here’s an article also posted today on the complications of leaving internet choices to filtering devices.


July 30, 2009

Pornography: Help for Wives, Sisters, Mothers, Daughters, Girlfriends

Redemption comes in various forms.   The redemption of a period of several weeks being counted among the this-could-never-happen-to-me addicted to the internet’s dark side, was a book manuscript that would help females understand what’s going on in the lives of some male they know.

screenshot - book onlineToday marks one year that The Pornography Effect has been available online as a free internet resource.

Sadly, this is totally defeating the point.    The original idea was that as a crisis resource — which describes the under-24,000-words length — this book would be a print product that would be given to women who might be completely unfamiliar with the workings of the internet.    Having the book online is helpful, but that help is now limited to those who can get online to find it.

The original publisher contact — who told me his company did over 400 titles in 2007 — took this one step further and suggested that the book be shrinkwrapped in packs of four or five, so that pastors and counselors could have copies on their desk to put in the hands of those dealing with this problem.   But then came the “backhanded complement” that this project was “too big” for his company to handle.    Hmmmm.

Sadly, I’ve been unable to find a publisher who would catch that vision and meet two industry criteria as to its distribution to retail stores.   But then again, I think this topic is “hot” enough that I’m not prepared to pay an agent to place the title; and some of the largest publishers of Christian books only work through agents.   (Essentially, that’s how they all missed out on The Shack, which, whether you agree with the book or not, you have to admit it’s a major title to have missed out on.)   Perhaps I shouldn’t have limited its potential to the Christian book market.

In the meantime, people needed help; hence the online version.

So here’s the highlights of my book for those of you that don’t want to click the link at the beginning and end of this article.   If you do click; allow about 50-55 minutes to read the thing fully, and since it’s formated as a “reverse blog,” click on “previous entries” to find chapters 7-15.

Chapter by chapter, the book goes something like this:

  1. Any exposure to internet pornography results in immediate changes in relational dynamics between men and women.    A man who watches this stuff over time will look at his wife, or girlfriend — and perhaps even his sister, or daughter, or even his mother — differently.
  2. Addition to porn is at the extreme high end of the spectrum of addictive behavior and addiction consequences.   Its availability is not unlike the cigarette company is standing outside the junior high school passing out samples.
  3. After much exposure, the tastes of porn viewers “skews” to interest in things they would have previously considered reprehensible.   I don’t believe anyone just gets up one morning and says, “I think I’ll look at pictures of naked eight-year-olds.”  Doesn’t happen instantly like that.   But does happen over time.
  4. The long-term consequences of pre-teens and teens growing up with pornographic images freely available won’t be known for at least 20 years.
  5. Immersion in pornographic and related websites will eventually change your worldview on a number of issues connected to family and sexuality.
  6. Porn is more than pictures.    The guy in the office staring at a screen that is all text may well be reading erotica.   Text sites can also be a gateway to visual or photographic porn.
  7. For all the pictures on pornographic websites, don’t expect to see shots of people in love.    Porn sites are all about people “using” other people.  Nobody “cares” about anybody else but themselves and their own personal gratification.
  8. Whether it’s passive viewing on internet sets, or the more interactive nature of chat rooms, the “next step” of “acting out” on something seen online is just a heartbeat or two away from happening.
  9. There is a limitless number of formats that pornographic websites can take.   Many are inter-linked and all of them eventually want to you to produce a credit card number so that you’ll pay for what was formerly free.
  10. Just because it’s set up as “photography” or “art” or “modeling” or “recreation” doesn’t mean it’s not porn.   Many of these are just shallow attempts at establishing legitimacy.
  11. Cartoon pornography is porn nonetheless.   Aimed at kids, it’s actually more dangerous.   And it has a mission:   The incest agenda.   Promoting the acceptance of incest.   (Betcha those other books on this subject didn’t tell ya that one!)   And the kids are watching.   And downloading.
  12. While psychologists debate genetic predispositions to homosexuality, a lot of same sex attraction begins with the internet and is based somewhat randomly on the type of website — and surrounding online community — that gets to a young person first.
  13. If a family member is caught up in online porn, you are — whether you like it or not — engaged in a battle.   You have to start fighting back, for the sake of that person and the sake of nuclear and extended family.   The forces you are fighting are giants and you are David.   But…
  14. …Faith can be the slingshot you’ve got to go up against the giant.   Pray, yes; but pray very specific prayers. Teach your kids self control and delayed gratification.    Be intentional about the spiritual formation of yourself and your family.   But always remember that many people clicked on that first website because of personal hurts that also need to be addressed.
  15. You are not alone.   There are number of different types of resources available to help.

That’s the bullet-point version.   But you may know someone who needs to read this in full, with the topics fully discussed.   For them, here’s the link one more time to The Pornography Effect.

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