Last week, Christian Concern organised a conference which focused on the pertinent issue of pornography. It was eye-opening, revealing, sobering and hopeful – all at the same time. Here are some of the highlights.

The prevalence of porn

Andrea Williams, chief executive of Christian Concern, kicked off the conference with a presentation that featured some sobering stats on the prevalence of porn. One porn website reported 42 billion visits in 2019. That’s 115 million visits per day, or over 80,000 visits per minute. A recent survey found that 94% of children had been exposed to porn by the age of 14. Another survey found that 79% of men and 76% of women aged 18-30 years old said that they view pornography at least once a month. 36% view pornography at least daily. 20% of men admit to watching porn online at work. 25% of all search engine requests are pornography related. That’s 68 million per day.

These shocking statistics are not restricted to non-Christians. 57% of pastors and 64% of youth pastors admit they have struggled with porn, either currently or in the past. 42% of practicing Christians in the UK say they have a ‘porn addiction’, with over 50% admitting viewing adult content at least once a month. 90% of Christians believe that the Church does not adequately support those who struggle with pornography use.

Pornography is normalised and openly discussed by celebrities who say they support porn and use it. Some are now brave enough to criticise the porn industry and admit they struggled with porn addiction. Our society in general though, accepts porn and essentially views it as ‘harmless fun’. Children and teenagers are not warned of the dangers of porn at schools or elsewhere.

The philosophy of porn

Rev. Dr Joe Boot, Head of Public Theology at Christian Concern gave an insightful presentation on the philosophical roots of pornography. He pointed out that porn is not new. The Greeks did not distinguish between art and porn, and they had pornographic images on household items such as vases depicting explicit sex acts – sometimes with animals. The only reason we differentiate between art and porn today is because of Christianity. Pornography is degrading and dehumanising.

Joe explained that what defines and qualifies marriage as a unique kind of relationship is the sexual bond. Sexual expression is reserved for the marriage relationship alone and is appropriately celebrated in that context. This is a Christian understanding of sexuality.

Now, sadly, we have a highly sexualised culture which promotes sexual stimulus on demand. As Christianity has lost its influence on society, so pornography has gained in acceptance and use. Somehow it has become socially acceptable to watch women being portrayed a sexual objects to be used and abused by men. The roots of this can be traced back to ancient religious fertility cults which saw chaos as the source of power and regeneration. There are also influences from evolutionary ideas, the Marquis de Sade, as well as Freudian psychology. Only the gospel can set us free and provide a healthy philosophical perspective on sex and sexuality.

The power of porn

Sex and love addiction therapist Gary McFarlane spoke about how addictive pornography is. He explained that sex addictions pre-occupy your thoughts and can easily become out of control. They affect the brain, setting up neural pathways making them ‘hard automatic’ and hard to break out of. Powerful bio-chemicals are also produced such as oxytocin, adrenaline, dopamine which your body becomes addicted to. MRI scans of the brain of someone who has injected illegal drugs and those with these biochemicals show the same levels of intense experience. Gary explains to clients using pornography that they are actually drug addicts!  The person enters a false intimacy in order to escape reality. Just as you can’t tell an alcoholic to just stop drinking alcohol, you can’t tell a porn addict to just stop using porn. More support and help over a period of time is required.

Gary also explained how “love addiction is a compulsive, chronic craving and/or pursuit of romantic love in an effort to get our sense of security and worth from another person.” Women are more prone to love addiction and can use things like Mills and Boon novels or Fifty Shades of Grey to feed their addiction. Gary highlighted an article by Lauren Dubinsky “What I Wish I’d Known before watching porn,” which laments that no one explained how dangerous porn is.

Breaking free from porn

Elisha Kolade, author of The Cry for Freedom: The Story of a Porn Addict, told his powerful story of escaping from porn addiction. Elisha explained that he was first exposed to porn aged 12. He became a regular user of porn from age 13, and started using prostitutes from age 16. He spent much of his time as a student watching porn and then going to a sex shop to act out what he had watched. He started having erection problems from age 18, along with irregular sleeping patterns and other health issues. The addiction also damaged his cognitive ability so that he couldn’t think straight. By age 23 he was suicidal. Finally, he sought help and started a journey towards freedom which took seven years. It was three years till his mind was fully working again.

One of his key messages was the time it takes to get free of such addictions – patience is required. His message also struck a note of hope – he is now fully free from a very powerful porn addiction, and happily married with young children.

Is porn just play?

Sex historian Lisa Nolland critiqued the prevailing cultural assumptions around sex and porn. Sex is sold as merely a plaything. It is shrunk as if it is no big deal and presented as light-hearted fun. The idea is that sex needs to be ‘liberated’ so that all types of sexual activity are normalised. Meanwhile, the short- and long-term damages and costs of our misuse of sex are ignored.

Lisa went on to expose Alfred Kinsey, the father of the sexual revolution whose work on the prevalence of various sexual activities is still used and referred to today. Kinsey sought to normalise all types of sexual activity, including sex with children and with animals. He filmed his ‘research team’ engaging in all sorts of sexual activity and he was himself a sadomasochistic sex addict. Most shocking are his reports of “orgasm in preadolescent males” which includes children, some as young as 2 years old, clearly indicating that he was involved in sexual abuse of very young children.

Lisa also discussed the sexualisation of children in schools through explicit sex education, including the “All About me” programme which discusses self-stimulation from age 6. She explained that this is similar to how paedophiles groom vulnerable children. Some teachers openly talk about smashing ‘heteronormativity’ in the classroom.

What can the church do?

Michael Phillips from the Christian Legal Centre gave a helpful presentation outlining what the church can do to help counter the porn tsunami in our culture. He compared porn with alcohol and described how the church historically opposed the abuse of this drug, particularly the Methodists and the Salvation Army, and including political campaigns. Alcohol consumption and alcohol related crime are now declining in the UK, but sex offenses are increasing. Prosecutions for child abuse images have doubled in 10 years. Porn is the new alcohol. A dangerous drug which is damaging individuals and society.

Michael discussed how the church can address the root causes of porn – people’s lack of self-worth and solid identity. He said that churches should be a ‘visual oasis’ where we are careful not to wear provocative clothing. Much as churches are careful with alcohol because of the possible presence of alcoholics, we need to be careful with things which people may find sexually distracting. He also urged us to purity in what films or TV shows we watch. He concluded on the need for discipleship which holds people accountable in love, and asks how people are doing, looking for real conversations.

Every church needs to tackle this

This is only a summary of what was said at very enlightening conference with a wide variety of perspectives. There were also other testimonies and talks which added to the event and encouraged us to take action to fight the porn problem in society. Every church will have people who feel trapped by porn addiction. We need to start talking openly about it to warn our children of the dangers whilst offering hope and freedom to those who have become enslaved. We encourage you to access the slides and other resources we have made available following the conference. The church is the hope of the nation and we need to be unafraid to confront the evils of porn and to openly expose its darkness.

Republished by permission of Christian Concern.

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