“Can we talk?”
Ryan’s voice was barely audible. He had been unusually quiet in our men’s morning prayer meeting. Now he lingered by the door as the rest of the men filed out. Something was weighing heavy on his heart, a private prayer request.
“I’ve got a problem,” he said once the room cleared. “It’s about the Internet….”
You guessed it. He wasn’t fretting over whether to choose dialup or broadband. He was coming clean about porn. The habit of viewing illicit pictures online was sapping his spiritual life and jeopardizing his marriage. And Ryan wanted prayer and accountability.
He got it. Ryan plugged into a support system of Christian men. He started avoiding time alone at the computer. He confessed to us when he really struggled, or when he stumbled. Of course he still battled temptation. But soon he was living in victory.
What made Ryan’s actions so effective is that he understood the far-reaching dangers of his habit, and that he couldn’t get better on his own. It wasn’t just his problem. It posed a threat to those around him as well. He knew something had to be done. And quick.
Unfortunately some voices in the media would have guys like Ryan believe they didn’t have a problem in the first place. Unless you’re deaf and blind, it’s hard not to notice how porn has invaded our culture. It’s ubiquitous. Look at a magazine rack, watch a movie or glance at the pop-ups on your computer (just not too long!). Men are always just a click or flip away from a smorgasbord of flesh. Even if they resist clicking or flipping, the persistent pull of porn has a soul-numbing effect. It becomes normative, somehow a little more acceptable with each indiscretion. As a result, many guys fail to foresee the destructive effects it can have on their lives. Every day they’re being sold the insidious lie that porn use is a harmless pleasure or, at worst, a private and petty vice.
Case in point: a recent article in Psychology Today magazine entitled “You, Me and Porn Make Three.”1 The piece actually asserts that porn can be a positive force within marriage, a way for couples to “foster emotional and sexual intimacy.” And the intense jealousy and insecurity a wife feels when she discovers her husband’s porn habit? Paranoia. Overreaction. For couples unencumbered by convention, we are told, porn can serve as “a healthy outlet for sexual fantasy.”
To drive the point home, the article turns to authors of the latest, best-selling sex books who are all too eager to sing the praises of porn’s supposed relational benefits. One “expert” describes a patient’s report of being delivered from porn addiction by God as a missed opportunity. With a little coaching, he explains, the porn habit could have infused the client’s marriage with new life.
The article concludes by briefly acknowledging pornography’s dangers — but only for obsessive compulsive types, who tend to get carried away with just about anything anyway. Then it chides anyone who would drag morality into the discussion. “Researchers and therapists concur that couples are better off treating the conflict [over pornography] as a practical matter rather than a moral issue.” The gist of the article is that if porn doesn’t work for you, fine. You can stay in the dark ages. Just don’t say that it’s wrong. After all, it’s not a matter of morality.
I sat stunned as I finished the article, marveling at porn’s latest promotion. If its journey from sleazy sub-world to mainstream cool was hard to believe, this one snapped the cords of credulity. Porn as healthy practice? As marital aide? Larry Flynt a marriage counselor? Yikes!
Perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised. There’s no shortage of bad advice out there, especially when it comes to relationships. But such views, far fetched though they are, have a particularly corrosive effect for men, who need every ounce of strength available to fight porn’s seductive power. A cavalier attitude about this subject can be deadly. Pornography is not a trivial issue. It is not a male rite of passage or an acceptable feature of true masculinity. It’s a sin that ruins relationships both with God and others.
It’s a temptation that plumbs the depth of our capacity for self deception. Most Christian guys readily acknowledge the threat it poses to our relationship with God. But it’s so easy to fool ourselves into thinking that others won’t be affected. It’s only a personal problem, we tell ourselves. Since it’s done in private, we tend to think the consequences will be ours alone.
Time for a reality check. If you could talk to my close friend, Rich, he’d tell you how porn plays out in the lives of real people. To begin with, unlike Ryan, looking at porn was a problem Rich kept a secret. Few people knew about it. It started in his teens and he couldn’t seem to break the habit as an adult. It wasn’t like he had a stack of dirty magazines under his bed or that he spent all day surfing for skin. Occasionally he would sneak off to an adult shop and browse.
But contra the wisdom of Psychology Today, he found that porn didn’t provide the promised “outlet for sexual fantasy.” Nor did it “foster intimacy” within his marriage. Instead he found himself wanting more. And more. In time, he completely lost his will to resist against that seductive web of sin. But that’s not all he lost. This month he’s signing divorce papers because of behaviors that resulted directly from his porn habit.
Unfortunately Psychology Today wasn’t too interested in seeking out stories like Rich’s. After all, it would be so unenlightened, so uncool to undermine porn’s newfound veneration. The Bible, however, specializes in tipping sacred cows. As I witnessed Rich’s wife and children endure a year of hell because of Rich’s reckless actions, I couldn’t help thinking of James’ haunting words penned nearly 2,000 years ago:
“Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death” (James 1:15).
There are more people like Rich than the defenders of porn would have us believe, and they are reaping the bitter fruit of their secret sins. A study done by Dolf Zillman of Indiana University and Jennings Bryant of the University of Houston showed that viewing pornography drastically decreased levels of satisfaction with a person’s sexual partner. The study also found that daily exposure to porn decreased fidelity and increased the desire for sex without attachment. The alarming thing about the study is that participants were not subjected to excessive amounts of porn. They viewed only “soft-core” pornography for one hour a day.
Such findings illustrate an essential problem with pornography. Porn isn’t just bad because it shows too much. Its evil is compounded because it doesn’t show enough. It has no context. There is no attachment to the people it features, no bond of love and commitment to make sexual desire holy and real. Instead it makes people into objects useful only to exploit for personal gratification. So it warps our view of others. No wonder it results in the devaluation of the flesh-and-blood people in our lives.
Our challenge is to first acknowledge porn for what it is — a destructive sin. Don’t believe the lies coming from our culture. If you do have a problem with it, here’s my advice: Be a Ryan, not a Rich. Confess the sin. Fresh air and sunlight do wonders for such festering sores. Create a network of godly friends to keep you accountable. You’ll look back and be glad you did. And so will the people you love.