This blog was adapted from the fourth episode of the second series of Project Six19’s podcast, DriveTime.
The culture is full of many lies when it comes to pornography and sadly, so too is the church. And not because of anything they do on purpose. It’s with good intent but a lack of knowledge or willingness that the church can sometimes communicate something it doesn’t plan or hope to share.
How we speak about, engage, and tackle this issue communicates what we believe about not just pornography but all of sex and sexuality. That is why it’s important for us to discuss the issues surrounding pornography with honesty both in our homes and in our church.
Please be aware – even though we are speaking about the church we recognize it’s dangerous to say this is true for every church because it’s not. These are simply lies that have taken place in some churches and have in some way made it into our larger lexicon of beliefs surrounding this subject. The majority of churches are doing great work around the issue of pornography.
We must be vigilant when it comes to any lie that either the culture or the church shares. Our goal must be to point back to the creation story and God’s ultimate plan as the sex-maker.
Lie 1: Everyone Who Looks at Porn is Addicted
Not everyone who watches pornography will become immediately enslaved. Sometimes we hear from parents who worry their child will become an addict after being exposed a few times. Too often, as fear and shame enters the parent-child relationship, it can make the problem worse by creating distance and isolation. While we are looking at how to navigate the pitfalls of pornography, we have to also recognize that those who fall into porn are not “bad” people, and not all people who are exposed become addicted.
The desire to watch porn arises, in part, from simply being a sexual human being. It’s true that science and research are showing the harms of viewing pornography, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to automatically ruin their lives and turn every person who watches into a hopeless porn junkie.
Here is a legitimate question. Do we as Christian leaders interchange the words habit and addiction without meaning so? Understanding the difference between habit and addiction is extremely important. Especially as it relates to how one engages pornography. One noticeable difference between habit and addiction is the amount of effort and time required to change the behavior. Altering habits require minimal effort, time, and attention. On the other hand, addiction often demands an integrative, long-term plan to treat negative physical, social, and spiritual symptoms like withdrawal, as well as the emotional disconnect between body and behavior.
As a human being, you are naturally drawn to habitual patterns because repetition creates familiarity and comfort. Positive habits can even become tools of survival. Sometimes, however, habitual behaviors take a dark turn and develop into addictions. Recovery requires that you honestly assess your behavior and how it is affecting your health, relationships, job, spirituality, and life to understand the difference between habit and addiction.
Someone who habitually watches porn is dramatically different than someone who is addicted to porn.
When trying to assess your son or daughter’s pornography use, it can help to hear some of the warning signs of porn addiction. These include:
Being consumed with thoughts of porn even when they are not actively viewing it.
Viewing porn on a smartphone, iPad, and/or iPod during school, work, or in social situations where you might be seen.
Feeling ashamed, guilty, or depressed about their porn viewing.
Continuing to watch porn despite any harm it has had, is having, or may have on their relationships, school, work, or home life.
Early onset of sexual activity.
Getting upset when asked to stop using porn.
Losing track of time when viewing porn.
Trying and failing to quit.
If you thought you observed more than three or four of these warning signs in your son or daughter it would be good to seek professional help. Most times, however, what we observe in church could be described as a habit, which requires the breaking of a custom or norm.
Lie 2: I Am The Only One That Struggles With Pornography
Silence, unfortunately, is something the church can do quite well. As the number of those who struggle with pornography increase, along with an ever-growing number of individuals who experience other forms of sexual brokenness, it is unfortunate the church as a whole doesn’t engage the issues surrounding sex and sexuality more often.
There are a variety of reasons for this silence. We think it’s our own pasts and sexual baggage that keeps us silent, and dealing with sexual brokenness in our life and the lives of others is messy so we avoid it. I also think we don’t have a complete understanding of God’s grand design as the sex-maker, or maybe we simply just want to pretend everything is okay. Staying silent may seem easier than addressing these issues.
Think about what this silence breeds. It can make people believe that their struggle is unique and that no one else has this same issue. This can make them retreat and cause shame to grow.
And remember shame communicates, “I AM A MISTAKE” where as guilt communicates “I MADE A MISTAKE”. Those are dramatically different statement. So its important to recognize silence can make people believe they are not valuable.
Adolescence is a period of life spent at the crossroads. It’s a time marked by overwhelming change, numerous questions, and a search for answers. But the crossroads where they stand are anything but quiet and desolate. Not sure which direction to take, our children and teens are presented with an abundance of confusing options. The noise can be deafening. Perhaps the signposts they choose to follow are the ones that are most attractive, loud and convincing in response to their unspoken teenage cry of ”Show me the way!” This is why we need to be absolutely clear when we talk to our kids about sex and sexuality. This includes our conversations surrounding pornography. Silence should never be an option.
There is a reason our kids are drawn to the naked human body – they were created to desire this. But there is a plan and a place where God has prepared for us to experience this desire – in the covenantal marriage relationship and we should be speaking this at every intersection along the way!
DriveTime is a tool for you as a parent to get equipped, so you can better engage the world your son or daughter inhabits.
Check out further discussions around parenting and all the reasons you should be encouraged on Project Six19’s podcast, DriveTime. Available now where ever you get your podcasts.
At the risk of incurring the wrath of Disney, and every little girl who has grown up loving Princess stories, I think it’s time we adults take a drastic step:
We need to kill off Prince Charming and Cinderella.
I’ll admit my own little girl will be growing up watching every Disney classic I can get my hands on. She’ll probably play with dolls, hold imaginary tea parties with her dad, and wear princess dresses until I have to peel them off of her.
The problem isn’t with the princess stories or the dreams and fantasies they inspire when we’re young. Those stories are meant to teach us lessons of valor, chivalry, the struggle to find a love worth fighting for, and how to discern between the real princess and the witch masked by a spell.
The problem is that while we’ve stopped playing dress-up with dolls and plastic swords, we’re still living in a land of make-believe and fantasy.
As we grow up, we replace the Disney movies with Hollywood romance movies that continue to reinforce the message that love must be perfect in order to be real. If you’re not instantly swept off your feet, madly in love every day, and skipping through life with a gorgeous specimen of a human being beside you, then you simply haven’t found ‘it.’
We expect to marry Prince Charming or Cinderella in all their Disney perfection, looking for a spouse that can be our soul mate, our perfect match, the answer to all of our problem.
When we encounter struggle in the relationship, have to face conflict or are asked to be vulnerable, we instead cut and run. It’s uncomfortable showing our imperfections and we certainly don’t want to be reminded that other people are imperfect.
Rather than kill off our expectation of Prince Charming or Cinderella in the hopes of finding a real relationship, we hold on tight to our fairy tale, bemoaning that all the “good ones” have already been taken.
The irony is that we’re also incredibly skeptical.
We’ve watched so many marriages fall apart that we struggle to fully believe ours could be different, that we don’t have to live the same storyline as our parents. We wonder how we’ll ever find love in this broken world.
Could it be that our impossible expectations are a means of protecting ourselves, a defense mechanism designed to keep us from having to face our fear of a failed relationship?
We decide it’s better to never have loved at all than to have loved and lost. We want so desperately to find that life-long partner, to experience marriage at its best, but can’t shake the fear of enduring marriage at its worst, of waking up next to someone one day a little less excited than when we first met them.
Relationships, especially marriage, go through cycles. Some days are better than others, some more exciting, more joyful, more full of romance. Others are filled with the monotony of life, with battling together and against one another, of overcoming disappointment and letting go of expectations.
The good is made better and the bad less bitter when we’re able to share it with someone. Even if that someone is as imperfect and confused as we are.
It’s time to dump Prince Charming and Cinderella in order to find the authentic, gloriously difficult, life-changing love we seek.
It’s time to let go of what we think we want for what we need.
The stunning reality is that in doing so, we usually find ourselves living a story better than anything Hollywood could have written.
A version of this post originally appeared on Joanna’s Blog on June 5th, 2013. Used by permission.
A native of Spokane, Joanna (Repsold) Hyatt has spoken to thousands of teens on healthy relationships and sexuality and has authored The Sex Talk: A Survival Guide for Parents. She is currently the Director of Strategic Partnerships at Live Action, a national non-profit that educates on abortion and the humanity of the pre-born.
“I just found out that my boyfriend struggles with regular porn use”
“My girlfriend shared with me she’s struggling with compulsive masturbation”
What do I do?
The amount of questions I’ve received lately regarding the topic of sexual struggles and sexual integrity has been on the rise. Partly, because of how mainstream the pornography industry has become. Where a person had to sneak around with a Playboy magazine, now porn can be accessed anywhere, anytime, using a device that we carry around in our back pockets.
But, I also believe that the questions have also increased because of our changing culture, and the freedom to talk about things we never felt able to discuss out loud before. Sexual struggles have existed since the beginning of time, but now, I’d like to believe we have more awareness of the damage that unbridled sexual energy can do. More and more research is coming to the surface to reveal the damage that porn use has on a relationship. It’s important that we acknowledge that, and then take next steps to get ourselves to a better place.
So, what do you do if you find out that your boyfriend or girlfriend is struggling with sexual integrity in his or her life? What if you find yourself in that position right now? When are sexual struggles a deal-breaker when it comes to dating and relationships? How do you know if you should break up with someone, or see them through the struggle? While I don’t believe there is ever a one-size-fits-all approach to navigating these types of relationship issues, here are some questions I believe are important to ask with regard to contemplating next steps:
Is there openness and honesty or deceit and concealing?
I think the most important indicator of whether or not someone is on the path toward healing in this area of their life is their openness and honesty about their journey with sexual integrity.
Are you in a relationship with someone who has patterns of lying and covering their sexual struggles, or someone who is honest about where they are and how they’re desiring to get to a better place? If you’re with someone who is lying, covering up their struggle, or not taking it seriously – that’s a sign that they’re not on the journey of healing. Because even more dangerous than being stuck on pornography, is lying about it.
Healthy relationships involve two people consistently moving in the direction of healing in their life. If this doesn’t sound like your dating relationship, than maybe it’s time to pursue your healing alone. – (tweet this)
Are they seeking external accountability and putting boundaries in place as they move toward healing?
One thing I always tell people who are looking to change something in their life is that you’ve got to change the outside while you’re working to change the inside.
If you’re trying to lose weight, you’ve got to fill your fridge with healthy foods and get rid of the junk in your pantry. The same thing applies to sexual integrity. What steps have you put in place on the “outside” (your house, your devices, your accountability) while you get the “inside” (your heart) in the right place? A couple things I recommend for this:
Find an accountability partner (of the same sex as you). Meet with someone who has victory over this specific are of their life, and talk through your struggles on a regular basis. A regular time of confession can bring so much healing and give you so much power as you’re moving toward healing.
Be proactive on the web. Download a program like Covenant Eyes to help keep you in check when you might have a tendency to struggle.
Take inventory of the not-so-obvious (yet still harmful) areas that might be fueling your sex drive and shaping your sexual palette such as your Netflix account, your social media, and your entertainment – and cut out the junk. Less junk in = less junk to deal with. (For more on the importance of shaping you sexual palette, check out Chapter 8 of Choosing Marriage).
If you’re in a relationship with someone who says they want freedom yet aren’t willing to put in the effort, that’s a major red flag.
Is this a struggle or a stronghold?
Most people are battling the struggle of sexual integrity in some way, shape or form. I think the battle itself is a normal part of life. If it’s not battling porn use or masturbation, it’s battling thought life or sexual interactions.
We’re all facing a struggle of some sort, but struggles don’t have to own us. There is a difference between a struggle and a STRONGHOLD.
A struggle is an area in our life in which we are moving toward healing day by day.
A stronghold is when give in to that struggle and decide we’d rather not even fight it.
With a struggle, you continue moving forward, but with a stronghold, you find yourself moving backwards.With a struggle, you have victory more times than not. With a stronghold, you give in more times than not. If you or someone you are dating someone is caught in a stronghold rather than a struggle – I believe it’s important to recognize this, and then take a few steps back in the relationship to make room for a focused time of healing.
Because when you get yourself healthier, your relationships become healthier as well.
Having victory from sexual struggles is not only possible, it’s completely and entirely probable for anyone who is willing to put in the work. I’ve met with countless men and women who have consistent victory over this area of their lives, and I really believe it’s a necessary part of having a healthy relationship — which in turn, leads to a healthy marriage.
*If you are caught in a sexual “stronghold” and your sexual struggle is starting to negatively impact your social life and relationships, your job, or even negatively impacting you more days than not, I suggest you take the time to meet with a professional counselor to help you discern if you’re battling a sexual addiction, and equip you with practical steps toward healing.
Have you heard? Pornography is now being considered a public health crisis in three states with several more considering this option. South Dakota, Utah, and Virginia are among a growing number of states whose lawmakers who are saying that children are being exposed to porn “at an alarming rate,” while noting that it is also “linked to a lessening desire in young persons to marry.” The measure in Virginia goes further and calls for more “education, prevention, research, and policy change at the community and societal level in order to address the pornography epidemic that is harming the people of the Commonwealth and the nation.”
Although this is great news we must understand the many realities that have lead to this moment in history. For much of the last decade organizations like Fight the The New Drug and ministries like XXX Church have spoken of the many ills of porn. However, up until recently no one really listened. Yes, sexual imagery has always been available but never to the extent it is today.
Porn is anonymous, free (or very affordable), and more accessible than ever before.
Divorce, sexual assault, depression, anxiety, a dismantling of trust between partners, and unrealistic expectations of the love partner are just some of the many results from habitually viewing pornography. These results have ended marriages and destroyed others before they even started.
I am grateful that so many are starting to realize the harm pornography brings to our society, but I worry it’s not amounting to much more than words.
Most of this legislation is nothing but gestures of kindness. It expresses a concern but no funding mandate, no programs they are making available, or offering any solutions to ending the cycle of distribution pornographers have created over the last several decades. Porn is being declared as dangerous with few actionable programs in place to battle exposure or addiction.
And the church is not in any better of a position to answer the call in addressing the issue of pornography.
In a 2016 Barna Group research study commissioned by Josh McDowell Ministry, church leadership indicated that this problem is much bigger than it was 20 years ago, yet only 7% of pastors said they have a ministry program for those struggling with porn.
Churches should be the hospitals in this health crisis, but very few have something to offer when it comes to sexual discipleship.
A few years ago we asked several lead pastors from around our region how often they addressed issues related to sex from the pulpit. On average the topics of sex, sexuality, and pornography were addressed 1-2 times every three to four years. This blew me away.
The church is struggling to offer support in this area.
Recently we hosted a lunch with over a 100 church leaders addressing this very issue with my friend, Walt Mueller. During our time together I realized that its not because church leaders don’t want to address it. Rather, they lack the tools. Seminary prepared many of these men and women for sharing scripture but not the resource or expertise to dive into the sensitive landscape we now find ourselves in when it comes to sexuality.
Let us use the momentum of states like Utah, South Dakota, and Virginia to create a measure for own congregations.
Initiating such vulnerable conversations can be a major hangup for most leaders, but by simply speaking about the impact pornography is having in your church will open up opportunities for change and healing.
Take steps to develop tools that shed light on this conversation.
The churches greatest resource is its people. Often we think we need the hottest or greatest sermon series or program to create change in our congregations. And there are some great organizations and programs that are incredibly helpful in this journey! But I’ve learned that the best thing we can provide someone struggling with pornography is a community that is willing to sit down, listen, and give direction. Every church has people that can do this!
Recognize that we sometimes need trained professionals to help us.
There is absolutely nothing wrong in seeking outside help. Because this issue has become an epidemic we need to understand there will be times a community of people will just not be enough. Fortunately there are several qualified counselors in every community to help. Don’t be afraid to admit if something is over your head.
What else do you think the state or church could do to end this public health crisis?
This morning I got up early to head south to Daytona Beach. I’m spending the next couple of days with a group of youth workers talking about significant trends in youth culture. This afternoon, I will be speaking about pornography’s growing and pervasive influence in our culture. For some reason, my mind wandered back to a day almost five years ago when I was flying and noticed what the young women in the row in front of me was reading. While sitting here during a delay, I went back to read that post. I’m sharing it here once more. . .
Today I had a long flight. I decided to dig into the stack of books that’s growing on a spot on my office floor. My summer reading/study emphasis is pornography. . . its place in our culture and what it’s doing to our lives. The pile of books has grown in the last few weeks and I’m not at all looking forward to what I’m going to be reading and what I’m going to learn. Still, it needs to be done.
As I settled into my seat I pulled out my copy of William Struthers’ Wired for Intimacy: How Pornography Hijacks the Male Brain. I’ve been fascinated by the little bit I’ve read from this Christian Biopsychologist who teaches at Wheaton College so I’ve been yearning to learn more about the not-so-surprising connection between pornography and the things it does to men’s brains. After all, we’re integrated beings created by a Maker who has made us with amazing complexity.
At the same time that I was opening my book, a young woman who appeared to me to be in her early twenties settled down in the row in front of me. She quickly stowed her carry-on bag under her seat and then eagerly opened her book. . . . Fifty Shades of Grey. You might remember that I blogged on this blockbuster book a few posts ago.
And so I proceeded to read these words about what pornography does to the male brain:
As men fall deeper into the mental habit of fixating on these images, the exposure to them creates neural pathways. Like a path is created in the woods with each successive hiker, so do the neural paths set the course for the next time an erotic image is viewed. Over time these neural paths become wider as they are repeatedly traveled with each exposure to pornography. They become the automatic pathway through which interactions with women are routed. The neural circuitry anchors this process solidly in the brain. With each lingering stare, pornography deepens a Grand Canyon-like gorge in the brain through with images of women are destined to flow. This extends to women that they have not seen naked or engaging in sexual acts as well. All women become potential porn stars in the minds of these men. They have unknowingly created a neurological circuit that imprisons their ability to see women right as created in God’s image.
Repeated exposure to pornography creates a one-way neurological superhighway where a man’s mental life is oversexualized and narrowed. It is hemmed in on either side by a high containment walls making escape nearly impossible. this neurological superhighway has many on-ramps. The mental life is fixated on sex, but it is intended for intimacy. It is wide – able to accommodate multiple partners, images and sexual possibilities, but it is intended to be narrow – a place for God’s exclusive love to be imaged. . .
And as I read these words from William Struthers, I kept wondering to myself about what was happening in the brain of the young lady seated in front of me. . . . . and the brains of so many other young men and women.
We stumbled on this helpful infographic that’s worth passing on to parents. It’s all about some of the deeper and darker corners of the online world. No, we don’t believe that technology, social media, and the internet are inherently evil and unredeemable. But we do believe that parents and youth workers need to be diligent in their efforts to help kids use these remarkable tools in a way that brings honor and glory to God. An important element in that quest is to know how these tools can easily be misused. So, here you go:
It’s been a little over a week since the news broke about the sexting ring at Canon City High School in Colorado. Early reports were that at least 100 students were involved in distributing at least 300 to 400 nude photographs, including pictures of Canon City School high school and middle school students. Needless to say, the area is now trying to sort out a parenting, educational, and legal nightmare.
As we say here at CPYU, the people in Canon City have been forced into the redemptive or response mode. It’s for this reason that we’re adamant about trumpeting the need for parents, churches, schools, and communities to exercise a prophetic and preventive influence in the hope that these kinds of things won’t happen. . . at least as extensively or severely.
The prophetic mode is where we tell the truth about sexting from a biblical perspective. We explain that it is a horribly flawed and broken expression of the God-given gift of our sexuality. We also tell them that it is immoral, sinful, and wrong. In fact, we should flee from it! (I Corinthians 6:18).
The preventive mode is our effort to derail sexting by explaining ahead of time the moral, spiritual, relational, ethical, and legal consequences of sexting. In other words, consider now the consequences that could stick with you for life if you choose in the moment to send and/or receive sexually explicit texts and/or photos.
In an effort to help you talk about this subject with your kids, I’m passing on two resources. The first is our free downloadable handout on sexting that can be found on our Digital Kids Initiative page. The second is the video embedded below. . . 8 Things You and Your Teen Need to Know About Sexting. . .from our friends at Common Sense Media.