Ken* struggled to adjust to the dorm scene his freshman year. Guys dropped by his room all the time, but not to see him. In fact they ignored him as they hung out with his roommate who seemed to be adjusting just fine. Ken hoped to simply get by – going through the motions of college and often bypassing the social scene around him. At this tough time, pictures of naked women seemed to be faithful friends. When he felt lonely or frustrated, he knew exciting images were only a few clicks away on the Internet. The rush they provided dulled the drudgery of sitting in class and the awkwardness of social time between classes.
Ken knew it wasn’t right. He struggled with pornography throughout high school and going to a Christian college didn’t change things, but he thought it was just a private little habit he’d have to work on. Until his habit was exposed. Some guys on his hall – the same ones he hadn’t been able to fit in with – caught him in the act. They spread the word and seemed to enjoy the embarrassment it caused him. It made him mad. He denied viewing the porn even though he had been caught. He lost his temper and started pushing people around. When the pushing led to a fight, Ken got kicked out of the dorm.
Out from the shadows
Ken’s not the only one whose problem is now public – he’s part of a trend identified at several Christian college campuses. Sixty-eight percent of the guys surveyed at five religiously affiliated schools recently said they had intentionally looked for porn online.** In that survey by the National Coalition for the Protection of Children and Families, 10 percent said they viewed porn frequently and five percent thought they had a problem with it.
The wiring of Christian colleges for Internet over the past few years pushed the issue into public view. School administrators can no longer deny a porn problem when they review logs of campus Internet activity filled with porn sites or watch late night spikes in telecom demand as students plug their modems into dorm room phone jacks. Additionally, campus pastors and counselors can’t ignore the problem as more and more students come by telling how their old smut habits were accelerated via the convenience and affordability of Internet porn.
Talk about porn on the campus of a state school and students will say, “What’s the big deal? It’s not hurting anybody.” Christian students usually know better. The same survey that looked at porn exposure on campus also asked about attitudes. While a majority of those interviewed had seen porn, they also agreed on three facts: Porn can be addictive, porn hurts relationships, and viewing porn is a sin that damages relationship with God.
So that means a lot of Christian students have a gap between their beliefs about pornography and their behavior. Like Paul, they do the things they don’t want to do and are not able to do what they would like to do. Recognizing this gap, many Christian colleges now install filters on their Internet service, but they also go the next step and try to help students do the equivalent of installing a filter on their hearts. “This is a problem that can’t be solved with technology alone,” says David Tilley, Vice President of Student Life at Lee University in Tennessee.
Lee, along with Taylor, Wheaton, Biola and several other schools now look to special chapels, accountability groups, and innovative dorm programs to address sexual purity and to provide guys like Ken with a safe place to confess their struggles. Their effort is paying off. During a recent revival at Biola University, several students confessed their Internet porn problem and were finally able to work towards freedom from a lifelong struggle.
A Longing for Intimacy
Like those at Biola, many students have discovered that confession can break the cycle of shame driving their porn habit. “What drew me in deeper to pornography was the secrecy, shame, and guilt that is usually associated with it,” says Brad* who struggled throughout college. “I felt like I couldn’t tell anyone about my problem, and this began to snowball. The deeper I became involved in pornography, the harder it was to climb out.”
Here’s how the cycle works. Whether they recognize it or not, guys like Ken and Brad need relational intimacy – they need for people to know them and like them. Early on, however, they realize that relationships can be awkward and complicated. Meanwhile, their needs are still strong and they see that pornography can at least give them some sense of satisfaction without all the complications of human relationships. Now they have a secret – a dirty little habit they don’t want anyone to know about. They still need intimacy, but they think, “if anyone knew what I did last night, they wouldn’t love me.” And so they build walls that make it even harder to be known and loved.
Guys aren’t known for sitting around and talking about an underlying need for intimacy. More often they can be found in testosterone-fueled conversations about the more physical aspects of sexuality. But intimacy – that experience of being known and loved – is a powerful need that nevertheless drives sexual desire. That’s why the act of intercourse was once described as “being known” (as in “David took her into his tent and knew her.”)
But who is “knowing” anybody when a guy stares at an airbrushed image on a computer screen? The tragedy is that pornography pretends to meet a need for intimacy while systematically making intimacy impossible. In his book, The Centerfold Syndrome, Dr. Gary Brooks explains that pornography erodes a man’s ability to relate to a woman in an intimate and honest way because it “pays scant attention to [his] needs for sensuality and intimacy while exalting [his] sexual needs.”
An image of a woman without her clothes creates sexual excitement, but disconnected from marital closeness, it fails to deliver the closeness and oneness that complement visual stimulation. C. S. Lewis paints a great word picture for this in Mere Christianity. “You must not isolate [sexual] pleasure and try to get it by itself,” he says, “any more than you ought to try to get the pleasures of taste without swallowing and digesting, by chewing things and spitting them out again.”
Worried that his porn habit had damaged his sexual appetite, a student named Tyler* vowed he wouldn’t take a porn problem into his marriage. It wasn’t easy, though. His commitment required him to fight back years of experiencing sex as a selfish and controlling act through pornography and masturbation and to replace it with a selfless and intimate view of sex in the context of serving his wife. “Marriage won’t cure a porn addiction, so don’t wait until then to address it,” Tyler says, “It isn’t fair to your future wife and it shortchanges the relationship that God has for you.”
The notion that intimacy heightens sexuality even made it to the hip and worldly pages of Men’s Health magazine recently. In a surprisingly critical look at Internet porn surfing, the writer questioned the value of sexual pleasure that is disconnected from a committed and intimate relationship. One of his better quotes comes from Carl, an oceanographer, who says, “It is a constant battle to remind myself, when arousal material is so easily accessed, that to attain a higher level of real sexual fulfillment takes intimacy.”
One concept Men’s Health magazine probably won’t tackle however, is the idea that real intimacy begins with God. In a fallen world, anyone who desires to be known deeply and loved deeply will inevitably be disappointed by his or her relationships. Only God can know you and love you completely. Think about that. He’s the only person who sees you around the clock and knows your every thought. He sees all the good things in you that you want the world to see, but He also sees all the bad stuff you want to hide. And remarkably, He loves you unconditionally.
In response, God asks that you love the people around you in the same way He loves you. Instead of being focused on having your needs for love and intimacy met by others, God calls you to receive His love and then focus on loving others. So what it comes down to is this. Pornography promises something like intimacy and then cheats you of real intimacy twice. First it pushes a wedge between you and God – the only one who can know and love you completely. And secondly it gets you so focused on your own desires that you are unable to know and love anyone else in an intimate relationship.
C.S. Lewis provides another illustration offering a clear distinction between the brief and counterfeit pleasures of pornography compared with the eternal and abundant promises of intimacy with God. “We are half-hearted creatures,” he says, “fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mudpies in the slums because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea.” His next line is the clincher: “We are far too easily pleased.”