Let’s Talk about Porn

Note: This isn’t going to be the stereotypical “Classic Clark” piece, and there’s a lot of dark material in here. I want you to read it, that’s why I wrote it, but I want you to be prepared to think, pray, and talk to others about porn, masturbation, lust etc.

Second note: This piece is partially aimed at Christian readers, but the arguments still apply to others, and I would welcome feedback to the piece from anyone.

I first saw porn in a church. There’s a sick, demonic irony to this: the perversion of sex infiltrating my mind in the house of God, all because of a “friend” who didn’t know how to clear a browser history. I was eleven or twelve, which is actually pretty late for exposure to porn, so props to my parents.

When I was fifteen, I started looking at porn regularly. I knew this was wrong, but didn’t grasp the seriousness of what I was doing until I was older, and was already addicted. No one ever really talked to me about porn until it was too late, and I had no idea what to do in order to break the horrible habit, outside of willpower. Unless the will is properly trained, however, the appetites of the flesh will overwhelm willpower nine times out of ten. This was not a solution.

Porn addiction is much more widespread and common than the average person would think.

I talked to youth pastors who were struggling with the same thing, friends who were struggling with the same thing, and read blogs by people who were struggling with the same thing. The theme here is that a lot of men and women struggle with porn, lust, masturbation etc. It’s not a small problem, and out of every single guy that I’ve talked to about this issue (and I’ve talked to a lot), only one of them hadn’t struggled with porn. That was Sophomore year of high school, so things may have changed since then. To be clear, the struggle with porn may be in a different form for women, or have different effects, but the problem exists nonetheless, and I hope this article can encourage some women in their struggle as well.

There are a lot of lies about pornography, but one that I want to focus on in this piece is: I’m not hurting anyone.

Wrong. I could write an essay on the connection between the porn industry and sex trafficking, but instead I’ll link to Huff Po. This article has compiled a lot of data on this argument, along with the original sources.

Weinstein, Louis CK, Cosby, Kevin Spacey, et al. These were names that we admired (or at least appreciated in one aspect or another) and they have all come crashing down over the past few months. I am grateful for the #MeToo movement, and the normalization of sharing your story. These men are monsters, and need to be brought to justice if at all possible. All this being said, if you think that porn and these events are unrelated, you are sadly mistaken.

Porn rewires your brain to make you objectify others. I experienced this in high school, and often saw others as sex objects. That’s awful, and while I never acted on those thoughts as many A-list celebrities have, the objectifying, dehumanizing nature of porn was one of the many terrible effects which led to me quitting it.

In one sense, porn is rapacious. There is no real consent between someone who views porn and the people on the screen. This is not even discussing the very real category of porn which is written to look non-consensual, allowing the viewer to watch a fictional rape, placing themselves in the rapist’s position. No, this is about treating people as a means to an end (the viewer’s pleasure) instead of as a child of God, made to be loved. If you want to fight against the objectification of women in the culture, then you need to fight against porn.

A related argument here is the negative effects of violent pornography, which leads to problems down the road. “Sex is going to hurt” is an awful lie, which takes at least some of its roots in the nature of violent porn. Men and women operate on different timelines when it comes to sex, and the approach that most porn takes with sex as “something to be enjoyed for one’s own pleasure” leads to problems in an actual relationship.

Repeated exposure to porn, especially when coupled with masturbation, will lead to a connection between sex, pleasure, and convenience. While sex was made to be a good thing by God, it is not solely a physical activity, but incorporates the mind, emotions, and soul. Repeated porn consumption will become a pattern, forming people for the worst. James K. A. Smith, the contemporary philosopher, says that humans are primarily desiring creatures. We are what we love, literally, and if we love porn, then we will change who we are to fit into that Satanic mold.

The second lie that I want to look at today is this: Christ died for my sins, so this is not a big deal. 

Wrong again. This is an excuse that I was often tempted to use in high school. While Christ died for all sins, Christians must still take their sin seriously. The blood of Christ can not fail, but if we do not view this sin as a serious problem with eternal consequences, then we are not viewing this issue as Christ would. “For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins”- Hebrews 10:26

Well that’s all pretty depressing, huh? Your friend, acquaintance, relative, or random guy you are friends with on Facebook just revealed his darkest secret to you, and then gave a “Sinners in the hands of an Angry God” essay about the dangers of porn to both society, and the self. But I have some good news: I stopped looking at porn in April of 2014, meaning I only struggled for three and a half years. I say only, because I know how much longer the struggle is for many people, and have talked to people who continue to struggle with porn on a weekly, or daily basis. Decades of crippling addiction to something that society increasingly deems as normal.

But, listen. There is hope.

That’s why I’m writing this piece, because I have hope. It’s obnoxiously optimistic, and if you know me, I’m not really that optimistic, but nevertheless it is there. A spark of hope that porn can be fought, and fought successfully. This is not a battle that you or I can fight alone, however. It’s impossible. You don’t go up to someone battling depression and say “stop it.” That won’t work, and while an addiction to porn is different in many ways than depression, I believe that a strong community around a struggling individual is an absolute necessity for both issues.

What does this sort of community look like? First, it’s not a bunch of people sitting in a circle, trading stories about how they “failed this week” or “let everyone down.” The community cannot be a collection of fallen people, all commiserating with each other, saying “oh that’s tough,” or “you’re going through a lot right now” or “that’s ok.” It’s not ok. It’s really, really not ok. It’s awful, and something has to be done about it.

One way to fight the problem is through events, such as those that have happened at this university (Union University) where people gather together to recognize that many people struggle with this issue, and talk about how to fix these problems. I can appreciate these events, but they are only supposed to serve as springboards. In my experience, the campus is “on fire to fight lust” for a week or two after the talk, or series of talks, and then everyone forgets that hundreds of students on campus are involved in a struggle which will eat them away.

One particularly helpful way to battle porn is to join or make a small group dedicated to the issue. I helped to co-lead a group of six men last semester, where we met, told our stories, and then discussed practical solutions to the problems which were ruining our lives. We read scripture, talked about the psychological and physical tricks for recognizing “triggers” in our lives, and were able to grow over the semester. This wasn’t perfect. But the sad truth is, nothing will be. As humans, we can only do so much. Regardless, this strategy worked, and I would recommend it for anyone struggling with lust, porn, or masturbation. You need a small, dedicated community to perform metaphorical surgery, and this is only one way of making that group.

Although some parts of the modern church have problems with the practice of “confession” as it is practiced in the Catholic and Orthodox churches, all Christians recognize the need to put things right with God. What many people may not realize is the necessity to confess these sins to others. I’m doing this right now, and it’s awful. I don’t want people to know I’m a fallen person. I’m on the improv team, I’m on the debate team, I’m in Honors, I write for the Cardinal and Cream, and I’m a barista. I try and look like a successful person, and this sort of feels like a step back. It’s not though, and I recognize that. I’m being vulnerable, and that’s helpful for me, and hopefully others.

I’m not saying that you need to write a massive essay detailing your history of sexual deviancy. Even telling one person will take the biggest burden off of you, and I could not recommend it more. When I discussed porn for the first time with a friend, I was shocked to learn that he also struggled, and realized that things were not nearly as hopeless as I had thought they were. The Bible has it right in James 5:16 where it says “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed.” Confession and prayer work hand in hand, and are both absolutely essential.

For those of you in relationships, it is absolutely essential to talk about this with your girlfriend or boyfriend. It’s going to be one of the hardest conversations you will have, but it’s necessary. If you can’t have an honest conversation about your own lust, history of masturbation, or porn consumption, then you’re really not in a place to be in a relationship. This isn’t first-date conversation, obviously, but it’s something that should be discussed sooner rather than later. In addition, if your SO talks about this issue with you, for the love of everything, please show grace and mercy. Recognize that they are a fallen human, and have different sins than you, but are in no way a worse person than you. Please, please, please do not treat them as lesser. That will only exacerbate the issue.

A few years ago, Union banned the popular social media app, Yik Yak. SGA was able to get the app blocked from Union’s Wi-Fi, effectively shutting it down, and (ideally) preventing some cyberbullying, among other things. In an effort to similarly fix the porn epidemic at Union, people have suggested taking the Wi-Fi from the dorms. This is incredibly idealistic, and will fix precisely no problems, despite the allure of a simple fix.

LTE exists. Everyone has a cell phone, and while it may take a little more effort to stream porn, this won’t be a roadblock for anyone. There are dozens of work-arounds, and my point here is that cutting off Wi-Fi is not a fix. The problem is within people, not external to them.

I know of several people who have given up smart phones in an effort to combat porn. When they go home for the holidays, however, they have access to a computer, and the ability to be alone with that computer, and more often than not, they will slip up. This is not to say that precautions shouldn’t be taken to protect one’s eyes, heart, soul etc. We are told to cut off our hand if it offends us, and I think ditching the iPhone is a few steps down from that. However, simply giving up the phone or computer, or making sure you’re never in the dorm alone is not a solution. To fix the problem, you have to fix yourself, not your circumstances.

Think about a monastery. It is cut off from the world, and because of this, monks will not struggle with lust to nearly the same extent as somebody living in a city would. They are not content with just this though. While they are at the monastery, they are working on shaping themselves into better people so that they might not be tempted, even if they were exposed to something that would normally trigger them.

If you’ve read Augustine’s Confessions, then you are already familiar with the language of “rightly ordered loves.” This is the idea that there are certain desires in your body. all of which need to be placed in a certain order. Which ones will you prioritize, and which will fall to the wayside? As Christians, it is necessary to foster some desires, and starve others. One of the central arguments of this essay is for Christians to starve desires for lust, and build up desires for God and community. One should not happen without the other.

Please, break the cycle. Porn is a perversion of a beautiful gift that God gave humanity, and it must be fought by each and every believer. If you are blessed and do not struggle with porn, please do not just read this article, nod, and then move on to something else. Look for opportunities to discuss this plague which hovers over society, or share this article if it says something to you. Love your neighbors, and help them fight for their souls.

If you struggle with porn, and are working or hope to work on breaking away from the addiction, share this article, and then go tell someone. Tell a roommate. Tell your pastor. Tell your mentor. Tell a counselor. If you’re a guy, I would be more than happy to talk to you about it. I understand. I’ve gone through it, and with God’s help, I will continue to fight against it.

1 Comment

  1. This is the best article I’ve read! It honestly has helped me with my struggles. From the bottom of my heart i want to thank you for writing this.

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