False Intimacy – Are We Drowning in the Current Tsunami of Pornography?
The first chapters of our Bible reveal a God who made sexuality core to the human experience. It was a beautiful gift to enjoy and a way for Adam and Eve to “fill the earth and subdue it.” (Gen 1:28 ESV). However, if we do not treasure and respect sexuality as God intended, it leads to perversion, idolatry, shame, addiction, and even self-destruction. Its unitive and procreative powers are removed and debased.
The Tsunami is Here
The tsunami of pornography is no longer coming. It is here. Today, increasingly, we face a deluge of media and advertising that has corrupted God’s intention for sex and sexuality. Recent research proves there is no room for smugness. We are all at risk, whether male or female, young or old. The sheer strength of these cultural currents can drown us in a raging sea. It is time to admit some of us desperately need a life preserver. We may need to acknowledge our weaknesses and reach out for help. Or we may need to extend a gentle, helping hand in love, all while recognizing that we, too, are subject to this temptation. (Gal 6:1-5).
In this article, we want to highlight the seriousness of the porn tsunami and briefly illuminate several sources of help. The endnotes hold supplementary resources. Furthermore, we hope the startling nature of this article will encourage independent efforts to discuss, research, understand and build helpful support structures in our relations and ecclesias. The solution requires a team.
Our English word pornography originates from two Greek words. Porne means prostitute, with the original notion being to buy, traffic, or sell a slave for prostitution. Graphein means to write or to draw. Combined, the two words refer to obscene depictions of prostitutes and those enslaved in sexually immoral practices for the exclusive purpose of sexual arousal. Pornography includes writings, images, recordings, and even art.
Pornography has now become the three As: Accessible, Affordable, and Anonymous.
Pornography has been around for centuries, but in 1993, it began to escalate. The Internet became widely available, and tens of thousands of websites were created to pipe this drug directly into homes, workplaces, university computer labs, and personal computers. The tsunami had started. Pornography has now become the three As: Accessible, Affordable, and Anonymous.
Several technological shifts made pornography more potent. In 2006, high-speed internet facilitated the availability of high-resolution images and video streams, along with cybersex chatrooms and webcams. In 2007, the iPhone made it possible to stream pornography to a handheld device and even share lewd images of oneself through apps. Recently, virtual reality has enabled sex to be a full-senses, tech experience without a human partner! The tsunami is here. Today, teenagers or adults do not even have to get out of bed to watch pornography.
Covenant Eyes has produced some helpful accountability software, publications, and a summary of staggering statistics that underscore the seriousness of porn. They estimate $3,075 is spent on porn every second on the internet, which translates into $97 billion per year.
One in five mobile searches is now for pornography. Seventy percent of 18-to 30-year-olds view porn once a month. Most teens and young adults (62%) have received a nude image from someone. Women are no longer passive users of porn. These stats mean pornography is affecting everyone—users and non-users. It increasingly fuels the objectification of men, women, and children, the breakup of marriages, increased violence, and decreased intimacy in relationships. Of particular concern is its highly addictive nature. Its obsession leads to financial crises, job firings, college dropouts, serious medical dysfunctions, sexual exploitation, and sex trafficking.
A Christian Tsunami? Really?
In 2015 a well-known Christian apologetics writer, Josh McDowell, commissioned a comprehensive study to assess the extent to which pornography has permeated Christian families, churches, and our society at large and to understand its impact. He described the results, summarized in The Porn Phenomena, as a personal “wakeup call.”
Those are shocking statistics, especially within the Christian community.
Two out of three youth pastors and more than half of senior pastors said porn is a current or past struggle–more than 50,000 US church leaders. Sixty percent of pastors said they were trying to stop using porn but could not. 41% percent of Christian males aged 13-24 and 13% of females actively sought out porn regularly. Comparatively, 71% of non-Christian males aged 13-24 and 36% of females actively sought out porn regularly. Josh McDowell also pointed out the rising use of pornography among women and its skyrocketing use in the younger generation; both believed to be due to the anonymity and accessibility achieved by smartphones.
Those are shocking statistics, especially within the Christian community. They led Josh to conclude: “We are in an epic spiritual battle, and our enemy is using pornography to destroy churches, pastors, marriages, and young people like never before. It is capturing the minds of the next generation, and few are sounding the alarm. Even fewer are offering real solutions.”
We may feel that Christadelphians have deflected this sexual tsunami better than other Christians. However, a 2008 online poll of over three hundred Christadelphians conducted for a Youth Summit showed that 68% of males and 10% of females over 18 viewed pornography sometimes, often, or always. These numbers are very similar to those obtained by Josh McDowell. This poll was conducted over 14 years ago!
Simply put, if we think we are immune to sexual sin, then we are stronger than Samson, godlier than David, and wiser than Solomon.
Abide in God’s Lifeboat
On Paul’s voyage to Rome, his ship met a violent storm called Euroclydon. Paul advised his shipmates, “unless these men abide in the ship, they cannot be saved.” (Acts 27:31 NKJV). Likewise, God’s instruction and encouragement, combined with godly helpers, can supply us with a lifeboat to survive the porn storm.
Jesus summarizes God’s life-saving advice when he reveals, “You shall not commit adultery. But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman [or man] with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her [or him] in his heart.” (Matt 5:27-28 ESV). These words, spoken 2,000 years ago, capture the timeless wisdom of God. In God’s view, pornography is about lust and sexual immorality. It is lust that eventually corrodes our hearts and minds, even if we have no intention of doing so. Lust is a strong temptation we need to flee from, just as Joseph did from the seductive offers of Potiphar’s wife (Gen 39:12).
If we ignore God’s loving instruction, it will eventually lead to dire consequences. It is akin to jumping out of the boat. Jude reminds us from history: “Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding towns gave themselves up to sexual immorality and perversion. They serve as an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire.” (Jude 1:7 NIV). God obliterated these cities, in large part due to their unbridled sexual lusts. Nothing has changed centuries later. Paul’s appeal to the Corinthians is similar: “Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality… will inherit the kingdom of God.” (1 Cor 6:9 ESV).
Later, Paul really raises the bar with the Ephesians: “Among you, there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality… these are improper for God’s holy people.” (Eph 5:3 NIV). If we offer our emotions, passions, and time to pornography, we will gain absolutely nothing, and lose our whole life.
Understanding the Tsunamis
Did you know pornography acts on our brains just like crack cocaine, gambling, or alcohol? To recover from a porn problem, or help someone that is battling it, it is critical to understand there are scientifically proven physiological reasons to the struggle. When we do something that makes us feel good, such as watching or reading pornography, we activate neurons in the reward pathway of our brain. These neurons then release a chemical called dopamine which gives us a jolt of pleasure. The same thing happens when we enjoy a kiss or hug, or when we receive a “like” on Facebook.
pornography acts on our brains just like crack cocaine, gambling, or alcohol
However, certain substances and experiences, such as pornography mixed with masturbation, give us abnormally powerful jolts that the brain remembers. When repeated, our brains begin to crave these intense “jolts” and even demand larger “jolts” through “harder” material. Pornography quickly rewires the normal and healthy circuits of our brain. High levels of dopamine also override the brain’s natural braking chemicals. This makes it harder to stop and leads to compulsive behavior. To recover, the brain needs help to be rewired back to its healthy state of balance. Thus, telling someone who is struggling with porn to “just stop,” or reminding them of God’s principles, will have limited effect despite the best of intentions.
Dopamine and other brain chemicals also contribute to an “addiction cycle.” This consists of seven cycling steps starting with a 1) Belief System that has been damaged (spiritual and other values, priorities, boundaries, impaired self-worth) and 2) Impaired Thinking (justifications, lies, excuses, delusion, paranoia). These two steps lead to a continual cycle of 3a) Preoccupation (with sex, porn, drugs, winning), 3b) Rituals and Habits (predictable steps leading to the act), 3c) Sexual Compulsions (watching porn, cybersex chat rooms), 3d) Despair, Guilt, Shame (for indulging again) and leading back to step 3a, more Preoccupation to soothe oneself. In the end these steps lead to a 4) Unmanageable Life (financial and marriage trouble, other aspects of life out of control), and full circle back to step 1, to cycle through again.
It is important to note the impact of shame in the above cycle. Every addict feels shame. To “shame” a person further or repeatedly call them a bad person for watching porn only perpetuates the addiction cycle. It adds further fuel to the “Despair, Guilt, and Shame” step. The person feels even more despair and guilt, which leads to more preoccupation with pornography to soothe themselves or cope with the shame.
Helps—Undergirding a Sinking Ship
So, how do we break the cycle of pornography, curtail the contributions of dopamine, and effectively rewire the brain? Paul and his shipmates dealt with their storm proactively. They used helps (or cables in the NKJV) to undergird the ship, nourished themselves with food, cast-off weights that were sinking the ship, and worked as a team to save each other (Acts 27:17-40). This serves as a model for our recovery.
Simply put, a “holistic approach is essential for lasting freedom [from pornography]. There are physical, emotional, spiritual, and relational factors must be addressed for freedom to last.”6 We must turn knowledge into action and principles into practice. Most importantly, a resolve to change must come from deep within ourselves. Our recovery will not work if we are doing it to appease someone else or because someone else tells us to.
Proven holistic approaches include External and Internal Helps, often referred to as First Order and Second Order steps. External Helps are simple and concrete steps meant to break the cycle temporarily. Internal Helps require we soul-search and rewire our mind and heart. They take time and hard work. In his Shadow books, Patrick Carnes introduces some key steps, which are summarized on the following page, along with supporting verses where relevant.
Self-Control, Relapse and Forgiveness
The battle against pornography and lust is a battle for self-control, and this requires knowledge, helps and concerted action. God has provided each of us with these tools, and it is his deepest desire that we “should learn to control [our] own body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust.” (1 Thes 4:5 NIV).
Research suggests pornography is a challenge for most of us. It is, therefore, important we develop compassion and a spirit of forgiveness for those who are struggling. This is not to minimize the seriousness of this tsunami. But a censorious approach will only worsen the challenges of those already treading water.
Finally, in our struggle to develop self-control, we may fall many times. This means we also need to have compassion for ourselves. Relapses are not failure, and relapses should not cause us to give up, “for though the righteous fall seven times, they rise again.” (Prov 24:16 NIV).
If the tsunami knocks us off our feet, and we acknowledge our need for God’s help, God assures us of His abundant mercy and forgiveness (1 John 1:8-10). He will make the storm a calm, still the waves, deliver us from our distress, and bring us to our desired haven (Psa 107:29-30), “which hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and stedfast.” (Heb 6:19).
An Anonymous Brother
- Arterburn, Stephen and Fred Stoeker. Every Man’s Battle. Colorado Springs, Colorado: WaterBrook Press, 2000. Note that this is one book in a series, including Every Woman’s Battle, Every Young Woman’s Battle, Every Young Man’s Battle.
- Carnes, Patrick. Out of the Shadows: Understanding Sexual Addiction. 3rd ed. Center City, Minnesota: Hazelden, 2007. Note this author has many other publications, courses, workbooks, and helpful recovery programs that can be found online by searching his name.
- Carnes, Patrick, David L. Delmonico, and Elizabeth Griffin. In the Shadows of the Net: Breaking Free of Compulsive Online Sexual Behavior. 2nd ed. Center City, Minnesota: Hazelden, 2001.
- Covenant Eyes. Porn Stats. 2018 ed. Owosso, Michigan: Covenant Eyes Inc., 2020. Various pages. Note that their website has many helpful publications and materials related to pornography and computer filtering and accountability software (www.covenanteyes.com/e-books/).
- McDowell, Josh, and Barna Group. The Porn Phenomenon: The Impact of Pornography in the Digital Age. Plano, Texas: Josh McDowell Ministry and Barna Group, 2016. Note Josh McDowell also wrote the best-selling apologetics book “Evidence that Demands a Verdict,” familiar to many Christadelphians.
- Shimer, Ted. The Freedom Fight: The New Drug and the Truths That Set Us Free. Houston, Texas: High Bridge Books, 2020. Note the Foreward to the book isby Josh McDowell.
- Weiss, Robert, and Jennifer Schneider. Always Turned On: Sex Addiction in the Digital Age. Deerfield Beach, Florida: Health Communications Inc., 2015.
- Wikipedia. “Pornography.” Accessed March 15, 2022. www.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pornography
- Szalavitz, Maia. “The Science of Addiction,” In “The Science of Addiction: What We Know, What We’re Learning.” Special Issue, TIME Magazine, October 25, 2019.