Friday, February 04, 2011

The Social Costs of Pornography

The findings of this study cause me to shudder and pray to God that he would kill me before I would be entrenched in habitual porn viewing.  May God have mercy and may we name these issues in our churches and apply the Gospel to the causes and effects.

By way of my two cents, here are some quick suggestions for those who are struggling with porn:

1.  Confess your sin to as many people as is appropriate.  Sin lives in the dark.
2.  Ask these people who know about your struggle to give you an actual consequence for failure in this area beyond a "Oh, man, sorry to hear that.  Let's pray."  Accountability rarely works without real consequences.
3.  Get an accountability system on your computers/phone, etc.  This alone has been the biggest practical help for me.  I have three dudes who get a weekly report on everything I have clicked on.  As a pastor, husband, and father, the stakes are very high if I fail in this area.
4.  If you are married, cultivate a healthy relationship with your spouse such that the sexual relationship is the natural overflow of genuine love for each other.  Men, as C.J. Mahaney says, "Touch her mind and heart before you touch her body."  Sex is always a symptom of a greater reality.  Focus on loving, giving, serving and communicating in marriage and real, satisfying sex will happen over the long haul.
5.  Read David Powlison's chapter in Sex and the Supremacy of Christ.  It's worth the cost of the book alone.  He masterfully helps us diagnose the idols that fuel our fleshly pursuits.

What else would you add?

Here are the findings of the study:
"Moreover such consumption frequently makes them incapable of getting sexual satisfaction with real women because they are so dependent on pornographic images to become aroused that they are no longer attracted enough to their own wives to engage in intercourse with them"--Eberstadt and Layden.

"The Social Costs of Pornography: A Statement of Findings and Recommendations" is a booklet, edited by Mary Eberstadt and Mary Ann Layden and published this year by the Witherspoon Institute. The booklet summarizes a consultation of 54 scholars held in Princeton, N.J. in December 2008 sponsored by the Witherspoon Institute and co-sponsored by the Institute for the Psychological Sciences.

Some Revealing Comments on Findings:

1. More people than ever before--children, adolescents, adults--are consuming pornography with powerful effects on them and on the entire society (p. 15).

2. Internet pornography elicits addictive behavior in some users, and this addiction can become compulsive despite its negative consequences on users' work and relationships. Such compulsive behavior regarding consumption of pornography was rare until the internet made instantaneous acquisition of pornographic images possible (p. 18). It has in fact affected the brain's neurology so that, as one scientist, N. Dodge, puts it, "men at their computers [addicted to] looking at porn are uncannily like the rats in the cages of NIH, pressing the bar to get a drop of dopamine or its equivalent" (p.19). Moreover, 80% of internet porn users are men, and these men, as Pamela Paul observes, "have trouble being turned on by 'real' women, and their sex lives... collapse...many admit they have trouble cutting down their use [of internet porn]...and find themselves seeking out harder and harder pornography" (p. 20). Most alarmingly is the evidence that many users admit moving from porn featuring adults to that featuring children (p. 21).

3. Researchers, among them A. J. Bridges, R. M. Bergner, and M. Hessin-McInniss, report that "women typically feel betrayal, mistrust, loss, devastation, and anger as a result of the discovery of a partner's pornography use and/or online sexual activity" (p.23). There are psychic costs, increased likelihood of divorce and family break-up. The wives and girlfriends of pornography consumers have serious health risks resulting from increased likelihood of the porn consumer's exposure to other partners. One study, for example, showed that persons who had engaged in paid sex or prostitution were almost 4 times more likely to have consumed porn on the internet than those who had not engaged in paid sex (p. 24). Evidence shows that although men constitute the highest number of internet porn consumers, increasing numbers of women, about 30% and growing, are swelling its ranks (p. 25).

4. There is no doubt that children and adolescents are now far more exposed to internet pornography than ever before, with boys significantly more likely than girls to have friends who view online porn--one study showed that 65% of boys aged 16-17 had friends who regularly viewed and downloaded internet pornography (p. 27). Moreover, there are no effective filtering systems widely in place on cell phones with internet access or iPods that can transmit "podnography" despite the popularity of these media with teens (p. 28). This exposure of children and teens to the hard core kind of pornography displayed on the internet, iPods,etc. is also extremely harmful to children and adolescents. For instance, studies in Italy, Australia, and the US showed increased aggressiveness in boys who consumed such porn, a dramatic increase in boys' forcing girls to have sex, and that 29 out of 30 juvenile sex offenders had as children been exposed to X-rated magazines, videos, etc. (pp. 30-31).

5. Not only are the consumers of porn harmed by such consumption but so too are those on the "supply side," that is, the persons whose bodies are used to portray the pornography. Among these "suppliers," "women of all ages comprise 80% of those trafficked, children comprise 50%, and of these women and children 70% are used for sexual exploitation." The lives of these "performers" in the sex industry are often "beset with exploitation, drug use, disease, and other afflictions" (p. 33). Pornography has been implicated in sexual assaults. Particularly at risk of harm are female adolescents. As one scholar, J. Manning, says: "[Because of] modern trends in pornography consumption and production, sexualzed media, sex crime, sexually transmitted diseases, online sexual predators, internet dating services, and sexualized cyber bullying" today's woman "lives in a world more sexually distorting, daunting, and aggressive than ever before" (pp. 34-35).

Academic studies by scholars such as L. M. Ward, Susan Fiske, and others show that adolescent boys and girls exposed to sexualized media are more likely to view women as "sexual objects" than those not so exposed and that after viewing pornographic images men looked at women more as objects than as humans. This obviously harms women who themselves do not consume porn but who are now viewed not as human persons to be respected but as things or objects to be used (p. 35). Widespread consumption of internet pornography thus harms the entire society (p. 36).

6. Since men are by far the predominant users of internet porn empirical evidence of the harmful effects of such use on males is more abundant and available than evidence of such effects on women. The harmful effects on the wives and girlfriends of these male consumers, as noted already, can be catastrophic but it easily extends to the male users. Men who routinely consume porn are less attractive to potential female partners. Moreover such consumption frequently makes them incapable of getting sexual satisfaction with real women because they are so dependent on pornographic images to become aroused that they are no longer attracted enough to their own wives to engage in intercourse with them (pp. 37-38). Chronic porn consumption is associated with depression and unhappiness. This is the evidence given by psychiatrists, e.g., N. Dodge, and in many ways explained by philosopher R. Scruton, who wrote: "Once they [men] have been led by their porn addiction to see sex in the instrumentalized way that pornography encourages, they begin to lose confidence in their ability to enjoy sex in any other way than through fantasy...And then the fear of desire arises, and from that fear the fear of love" (p.38). Porn consumption and addiction desensitizes its viewers. Habituated to being stimulated by images that at one time would have repulsed them, they now find that in order to be aroused the images must become more and more disgusting--bestiality, S&M, genital torture, and on and on, as journalist Pamela Paul has described in her interviews with those obsessed with the kind of porn now so available (p. 39). This has led to the creation of a series of "cottage industries as some users [of internet porn] attempt to curtail or cease their consumption. These industries prove that some users perceive themselves to be harmed by such consumption" (p. 40).

7. Although pornography consumption is philosophically and morally problematic, the signatories of this report emphasize that "throughout history this phenomenon has more often than not been stigmatized and circumscribed by law and custom" (p. 43).

8. Despite recent efforts to make it more and more difficult to prosecute purveyors of obscenity and pornography (a recent trend contrary to prior efforts to do so), the signatories of this report note: "It remains sound First Amendment doctrine that truly obscene material is not protected by the Constitution, and that even legally protected materials can be regulated as to the time, place, and manner of their distribution and use" and that "courts could reverse their precedents if faced with cases that force them to confront the emerging evidence about pornography consumption and its effects" (pp. 45-46).

(HT:  Anthony Bradley)


Jason Kanz said...

Do you have any software that you recommend? I agree that this is an important thing. Also, do you have it on all your connections (e.g., computer, i-phone, etc).


Vitamin Z said...

We use Covenant Eyes. Great service. Don't have anything for my iPhone yet. Anyone know of anything that is good?


Johnny Noto said...

I believe Covenant Eyes has an app for iPhone.

Also, not really sure what you mean by "sex is always a symptom of a greater reality." Maybe I'm just thrown by the negative connotation that goes with the word symptom (I am a Christian counselor). It almost makes sex sound like a bad thing.

Parker said...

I'm a little late commenting here but I have a question. You mention that accountability rarely works without real consequences and I'm wondering what that means or what practical consequences are meant? Can you flesh that idea out a bit whether in relation to sexual sin or otherwise?

Vitamin Z said...


We need to figure out ways to structure real consequences into accountability. Like, losing a leadership role at church, losing a computer, etc. I think it needs to go beyond just "it's ok buddy, you'll do better next time." I know I usually don't respond well when that is all it is for me. I am not seeking to be overly heavy handed here, but realize the strength of my desire to sin and want to kill it.