Pornography: A Public Health Issue in a Digital Age

Pornography is a widespread public health issue, according to social researchers, health experts and legal experts who spoke at an event hosted by The National Center on Sexual Exploitation at the U.S. Capitol regarding the effects of pornography on society, reported USA Today.

Ed Smart, father of Elizabeth Smart, who was abducted at age 14 from her home and held hostage for nine months while being raped and abused, spoke at the event as well about the connection between porn and sexual abuse. “Pornography provides a slippery slope to take the next step to abuse and exploitation,” he said. Each speaker in turn emphasized that “pornography is a public health issue,” citing cultural expectations and research.

The wide reach of the internet allows millions access to pornography, boasting more users than Netflix and YouTube, according to Gail Dines, founder and president of Culture Reframed, an organization dedicated to educating the public on the harmful effects of pornography. The sheer number of users demands that society treat pornography as a health issue. “You don’t solve these kinds of problems by pulling out the women from the river one at a time,” said MaryAnne Layden, Ph.D., the director of education at the Center for Cognitive Therapy at the University of Pennsylvania. “You have to go upstream and find who’s pushing them in.”

Pornography in a Digital Age

As technology progresses and it becomes easier to access information and images, pornography use has become much more frequent. A new study from Barna, commissioned by Josh McDowell Ministry, shows that technological advances have brought more viewers into the world of porn and that has made the industry much more successful. According to Barna:

Pornography is not new, but the digital age has made it more ubiquitous and accessible than ever before. The technological realities of smartphones and high-speed internet have fundamentally changed the landscape of pornography, and ushered it into the cultural mainstream where it enjoys increasingly widespread acceptance.

Youth’s Wider Acceptance of Pornography

Roxanne Stone, one of the lead analysts in the study, said that there are marked generational differences with behavior and attitudes toward porn. This means that as porn becomes more and more accessible, a moral ambiguity toward porn becomes evident — particularly for younger people.

“Teens and young adults are living in an environment where porn is more acceptable — and more ubiquitous than ever before,” she said. “As access to pornography has increased, the stigma toward it has seemingly decreased.”

The problem won’t be going away any time soon. A new report from Juniper Research says that by 2017, 250 million people will access adult content on their mobile devices as the devices become increasingly personal.

Pornography, Christians and Pastors

Covenant Eyes, an internet accountability and filtering organization, put together a report based on their research in 2015. A 2014 survey showed that 79 percent of men ages 18-30 viewed pornography once a month; 67 percent of men ages 31-49 did so; and 49 percent of men ages 50-68 watched porn at least once a month. Women who viewed pornography once per month consisted of the following: 21 percent of 18-30-year-olds; 5 percent of 31-49-year-olds; and 0 percent of 50-68-year-olds.

The problem of porn isn’t simply a secular one. Barna’s 2014 report showed that of those surveyed, 64 percent of Christian men and 15 percent of Christian women viewed pornography at least once per month, while 37 percent of Christian men and 7 percent of Christian women viewed porn multiple times per week.

What’s more, pastors are just as likely to become involved with watching pornography as laity. Thirty-three percent of pastors said they had visited a pornographic website. Of those, 53 percent said they’d viewed it a few times in the past year and 18 percent of pastors said they visited pornographic sites from between “a couple of times a month” to “more than once a week.”

A 2000 survey showed that 51 percent of pastors struggle with the temptation of pornography, while 37 percent of pastors said viewing pornography was a “current struggle.” Perhaps tellingly, 75 percent of pastors surveyed said that they “do not make themselves accountable to anyone for their Internet use.”

Effects of Pornography on the Brain

In his article, “The Effects of Porn on the Male Brain,” brain researcher Dr. William M. Struthers notes that when men view pornography, it triggers “a cascade of neurological, chemical, and hormonal events,” which he likens to the “hit” of a drug. This in turn forms a neurological memory, “that will influence future processing and response to sexual cues,” said Struthers. “As this pathway becomes activated and traveled, it becomes a preferred route — a mental journey — that is regularly trod,” setting the stage for pornography addiction.

Dr. Jeffrey Satinov, former professor at Princeton in the Department of Politics, along with his colleagues, Dr. MaryAnne Layden and Dr. Judith Reisman, presented research to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation in 2004 in which he described the effects of pornography on the brain as comparable to hard street drugs. “Like any other addiction, the addiction is both to the delivery system itself — the pornography — and to the chemicals that the delivery system delivers … modern science allows us to understand that the underlying nature of an addiction to pornography is chemically nearly identical to a heroin addiction …” prompting the viewer to watch more and increasingly toxic pornography.

Reisman, president of The Institute for Media Education, reported to the Senate Committee that the effects of pornography on the human brain are far-reaching and long-term. “Thanks to the latest advances in neuroscience, we now know that emotionally arousing images imprint and alter the brain, triggering an instant, involuntary, but lasting, biochemical memory trail,” which, once established, are difficult or impossible to delete.

Damaging Effects of Pornography on the Psyche

Watching pornography goes beyond simply viewing images, or even creating new pathways in the brain, allowing addiction to take hold. Pornography harms the viewers psychologically as well, affecting not only their sexual performances but also how they view others.

Layden, in her presentation to the Committee, discussed the harmful effects of pornography on the viewer’s sexual performance:

I have … seen in my clinical experience that pornography damages the sexual performance of the viewers. Pornography viewers tend to have problems with premature ejaculation and erectile dysfunction. Having spent so much time in unnatural sexual experiences with paper, celluloid and cyberspace, they seem to find it difficult to have sex with a real human being. Pornography is raising their expectation and demand for types and amounts of sexual experiences; at the same time it is reducing their ability to experience sex.

Pornography “affects not only how we form memories and make attachments but also how we understand sexuality and how we view each other,” according to Struthers. Rather than viewing each other as valuable people made in God’s image, those who watch pornography will view women as a disposable commodity. “Human beings become objects of consumption rather than individuals requiring dignity and in this process those involved in its production and its consumption are harmed,” he said. “This harm is not only sociological and psychological, but also spiritual.

Spiritual Effects of Porn

Pornography hijacks the body’s biological response that God intended to bond a man to his wife, said Struthers. The body’s reaction to sexual stimuli is intended to bind the man to the object he is focusing on, “in God’s plan, this would be his wife,” said Struthers. Watching pornography “corrupts and pollutes our brains as it attempts to make sense of humanity’s sexual nature.”

God’s directive on human sexuality is straightforward. When we follow God’s guidelines, we will begin to honor each other rather than consume one another. “By moving beyond the lie of pornography — that people are nothing more than sexual objects to be consumed — we can appreciate each other as brothers and sisters in Christ,” said Struthers. “We can begin to move beyond objectification and false intimacy to real relationships, which honor the dignity of each person.”

More than the neurological and biological responses to pornography, sin separates us from God (Romans 5:12). Everyone who sins is a slave to sin (John 8:34). But in rejecting sin, we become holy and reap eternal life (Romans 6:22).

Pornography Affects Everyone

Pornography is not only harmful to the viewer and the performer (who often has a drug or alcohol abuse problem, depression or other mental health disorder), but — perhaps not surprisingly — is also harmful to the spouses and the children of the viewer and performer. Spouses suffer from depression and low self-esteem, while children may begin to view all relationships as sexual, have a low self-esteem, have a greater likelihood of experimenting sexually at an earlier age and have an increased risk of pregnancy and STDs. The distorted beliefs about sex and sexuality are reinforced and modeled by the viewer parent.

What Now?

There is hope for those struggling with an addiction to pornography. Those who are successful in fighting the addiction are most often part of an accountability group, or have an accountability partner. Perry Noble, former pastor of NewSpring Church in Anderson, South Carolina, struggled with an addiction to pornography for years. Then he made himself accountable to another believer — something he suggests anyone with an addiction to pornography should do. “Ask for accountability,” he said. “I am challenging you to find someone who does not struggle with the problem … and ask them to get in your face.”

Traylor Lovvorn, author of an article titled, “Beyond the Checklist: Casting a Vision for Real Accountability,” said that, to be successful, accountability groups “…must be full of real, great, and hard-boiled sinners where our sinful, broken human condition is understood and the solution is not ‘trying harder’ but deeper surrender.”

There may be other steps to take for those struggling with the addiction. For Pastor Noble, it meant getting rid of the internet. “Jesus said if your right eye causes you to sin then gouge it out so I don’t think it is a stretch to say if your computer causes you to sin then get rid of it,” he said. “…For about five years, I did not have the internet in my house because I did not trust myself.”

If you are struggling with an addiction to porn, or for more information, visit XXXChurch, or find a Celebrate Recovery program in a church near you. (For more from the author of “Pornography: A Public Health Issue in a Digital Age” please click HERE)

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