5 observations after reading The Porn Phenomenon

BY GARRETT KELL

How would you define “pornography?”

Why do people choose to access pornography?  

What affect do you think pornography has on you personally? On your church? On your country?

These were the kinds of questions that drove Josh McDowell to partner with the Barna Research group to survey “nearly 3,000 U.S. teens, adults and Protestant youth and senior pastors about their perceptions . . . use . . . and feelings about . . . pornography.” The summary of their findings was published in a 150-page study called The Porn Phenomenon.

As a Christian, this study piqued my interest because I have felt devastating effects of this sin in my own life. And as a pastor, I desired to gain more insight into how to help those I love fight porn’s unrelenting onslaught.

To help me, I asked a dozen other Christians to read the report with me. Our group consisted of men and women, youngish and older, married and single, who are black, white and Asian. Our group’s diversity provided wonderful insights for me that I found challenging and edifying. 

Before we get started, I need to say that this study might not be helpful for everyone to read. At times, it gives TMI (too much information), which could stir up sinful curiosity in your heart. One brother said that it was wise to read it with other believers since it provides an opportunity for accountability. Christians need to have frank, honest and clear conversations about pornography, but we must be careful to do it in a way that resists giving each other ideas for sinning. Lord, help us know how to do this wisely!

What’s in the study

The study consisted of five chapters filled with survey information, colorful infographics and interviews from various pornography experts. The material progressed as you might expect: Chapter 1 began by helping to define pornography while Chapter 2 explored the motives and various ways people use porn. Chapter 3 showed the unsurprising correlation between morality and one’s perception of pornography. This was followed by Chapter 4’s saddening exploration of how pornography affects the mind and intimacy within relationships. The study concluded in Chapter 5 with a few practical considerations and applications.
 

12 takeaways from The Porn Phenomenon

1. Pornography is everywhere, and it isn’t going away anytime soon.

The horizon is dark with porn’s presence. The age of mobile devices has increased accessibility to porn at nearly all times in nearly every place. With technology advancing, the presence of Virtual Reality equipment only makes the offerings of sin more enticing. Jesus promised temptation will come, and he was not lying (Luke 17:1). A study like this helps to pull back the curtain on this ugly intruder and help the church think strategically about warring against it.

2. Our moral trajectory is terrifying.

One of the scariest consequences God can decree is for people to wander in the darkness of their own wisdom (Proverbs 1:29-32). This appears to be happening to us. We are eating the fruit of our own way and being filled with our own devices— and to our demise. The study revealed that rather than looking to God as the ultimate source of moral authority, “9 out of 10 adults agree ‘the best way to find yourself is by looking within yourself’ (91 percent), and 86 percent say that ‘to be fulfilled in life, you should pursue the things you desire the most’” (pg. 63). We have fallen prey to the destructive illusion of self-determinism.

With this perspective, it is no wonder that when asked about things that are “always or usually wrong,” teens and young adults surveyed said it was worse to not recycle (56 percent) than to look at pornography (32 percent) (pg. 66). Our hearts should break as we consider the effects the coming generations will reap from this deeply destructive misperception about morality.

3. Porn is designed to destroy sex.

One of the more troubling findings of this study is how deadly pornography is to real relationships. Surveys found that people’s perspective on the purpose of sex is moving away from “an expression of intimacy between two people who love each other” and toward “self-expression and personal fulfillment” (pg. 96). These changing perceptions are believed to influence the amount of porn people consume.  

One Cambridge University study found that porn addicts resembled drug addicts in that they fit the model of “wanting it more” but not “liking it more.” The urge to escalate use, coupled with the desensitization to “regular” porn, produced an increased appetite for more deviant and cruel images / scenarios.

As you can imagine, this vicious cycle manifests itself in dissatisfaction and dysfunction with intimacy in real relationships, especially marriage. When “one partner comes to sex looking for self-fulfillment [and] the other hopes for intimate connection” you have a recipe for disaster (pg. 98). Some studies have shown that porn also affects the way people approach their partners, particularly that they expect more violent, demeaning and perverse experiences. 

When sexual experience is separated from love, it becomes a selfish pursuit that cannot ultimately be satisfied or sustained. The gift of sex is given to deepen the bond between a husband and a wife. But the impact (and Satanic aim) of porn is ultimately to dissolve the self-giving nature of sex and empty people’s desire for intimacy in marriage. Ultimately this leads to an erosion and distortion of the glorious picture of the union between Christ and his bride, the church.

4. Children must be protected and instructed about the goodness of sex and danger of porn.

Young people must be taught about the dignity of their bodies and God’s gift of sexuality. Popular media, advertising and increasing sexualization of all things everywhere lays devastating traps before our young people. The section of the study on sexting among young people was heartbreaking and revealed the danger of “teens and young adults coming of age in an increasingly pornified American culture that ‘encourages and rewards the pornographic impulse’” (pg. 31).

The only hope against this sort of evil is for parents and churches to lead children and young people in the better way that God has designed. Parents must not be naïve or passive but understand that predators, both peer and adults alike, are pursuing them for exploitation.

Parents must be careful to ensure young people understand the dangers of the Internet while at the same time creating a home where curious questions can be answered and regretful sins can be confessed. How many parents in our churches have been equipped to lead their children about this area? I was deeply convicted about this and intend for our elders to be more vigilant about it in the days ahead. Lord, help us!

5. Women must not be neglected in this conversation.

One of the ways churches have sinned against our sisters in the past is by continually portraying struggles with sexual purity only as a “male issue.” Regardless of the reason this has happened, the church must be intentional to be a place that empowers, edifies and exalts women to thrive in their God-given gifts and roles.

One of the most critical ways is by ensuring that sisters are equipped to care for each other’s souls in regards to sexual temptation, including pornography. Do the women in your church feel free to confess or speak with other ladies / their pastors about lust, sexual addictions, pornography or anything of the sort? If not, the cycle of shame and silence is perpetuated and sin runs rampant in their hearts.

One sister who works with prostitutes in China commented that the message of American Christian purity culture is, ironically, not so different from our overly sexualized popular media culture: for both, a woman’s worth lies in her ability, or her refusal, to be overtly sexual. Both approaches teach girls that their bodies and their sexuality are what make them valuable. The church says “you’re valuable if you stay pure,” and the world says, “you’re valuable if you give it up.” Both are dead wrong. Our value is only found in the fact that God made us in his own image. The church must help sisters believe this because everything else tells them otherwise.

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