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Mainstream researchers are waking up to the real dangers of porn.

The latest issue of Time Magazine landed on stands yesterday. And, you might have heard, the cover story paints a menacing picture of sex and sexuality among younger Americans. When the story, “Porn and the Threat to Virility,” first appeared online last week, it initiated no small buzz around the Internet, including an unusual teaming of conservative Christian and secular feminist voices characterizing Time’s findings as indicative of a larger, systemic cultural problem.

During the past decade or so, we’ve heard a lot about how viewing pornography affects the human brain. That, apparently, is a relatively controversial claim. Time’s Belinda Luscombe references experts who argue both for and against that idea—and all of whom bemoan a lack of research in the area. Neurological effects aside, Luscombe basically concludes that for a generation of men more or less raised on porn, the law of diminishing returns comes heavily into play—and those effects are leading to a generational health crisis.

She writes:

A growing number of young men are convinced that their [physical, in-person] sexual responses have been sabotaged because their brains were virtually marinated in porn when they were adolescents. Their generation has consumed explicit content in quantities and varieties never before possible, on devices designed to deliver content swiftly and privately, all at an age when their brains were more plastic–more prone to permanent change–than in later life. These young men feel like unwitting guinea pigs in a largely unmonitored decade-long experiment in sexual conditioning. The results of the experiment, they claim, are literally a downer.

So they’re beginning to push back, creating online community groups, smartphone apps and educational videos to help men quit porn. They have started blogs and podcasts and take all the public-speaking gigs they can get. Porn has always faced criticism among the faithful and the feminist. But now, for the first time, some of the most strident alarms are coming from the same demographic as its most enthusiastic customers.

For a generation of men more or less raised on porn, the law of diminishing returns comes heavily into play—and those effects are leading to a generational health crisis.

The men in these online communities and support groups, Luscombe takes pains to reiterate, are not antisex or some kind of emerging asexuals. Just the opposite, in fact. They, at least in theory, like sex, but their addictions to the pornified portrayal of it won’t let them have the real thing. One man told Luscombe, “I just want to enjoy sex again and feel the desire for another person.” Another: “The reason I quit watching porn is to have more sex.” And simply: “Quitting porn is one of the most sex-positive things people can do.”

The Mainstream Backlash

Time’s cover story is reminiscent of a late 2013 article in GQ called “10 Reasons Why You Should Quit Watching Porn.” At least to me, this article came as a little bit of a surprise, given the magazine’s history of love for the conquesting “gentleman.” The article looked at a survey of the Reddit group NoFap (which also figures in prominently to the Time research). GQ warned sexually active men essentially about the same thing the Time piece now warns an entire society about.

In addition to this kind of anecdotal evidence, Luscombe’s article in Time also details some of the statistics surrounding pornography use—she mentions, too, that the academic world seems curiously hesitant to study the phenomenon, which results in relatively scant data. Still, the results she does report are as damning as the testimonies. She cites an “independent Web-tracking company” that counted some 58 million monthly U.S. visitors to adult sites in February 2006. “Ten years later,” Luscombe writes, “the number was 107 million.” She also claims that the website Pornhub reported 2.4 million visitors per hour in 2015 alone. Around the world, people watched a gargantuan 4,392,486,580 hours of porn on the site. According to the Time article, that represents “twice as long as Homo sapiens has spent on earth.”

All this porn watching adds up to an overwhelmingly consistent claim from the consumers themselves: Porn users are saying that what they wanted from porn—the pleasure and fulfillment of sex—they’ve now lost completely.

As revealing as Luscombe’s article is, it may not even be the most indicting porn data in this week’s issue of Time.

Porn users are saying that what they wanted from porn—the pleasure and fulfillment of sex—they’ve now lost completely.

Also in this week’s issue, a small column appears titled “How Porn Is Changing a Generation of Girls” by Peggy Orenstein, the author of a new book, GIRLS & SEX. Her account of the toll of pornography culture on women, particularly young women, might even be more alarming than the cover story. Orenstein writes:

There is some indication that porn has a liberalizing effect: heterosexual male users are more likely than their peers to approve of same-sex marriage. On the other hand, they’re less likely to support affirmative action for women. And porn users are also more likely than their peers to measure their masculinity, social status and self-worth by their ability to score with “hot” women.

Perhaps because it depicts aggression as sexy, porn also seems to desensitize: female porn users are less likely to intervene when seeing another woman being threatened or assaulted and are slower to recognize when they’re in danger themselves.

If we take this issue of Time seriously—and why shouldn’t we?—porn not only robs men of the very thing they want from porn, but it also damages women, the very people it supposedly celebrates.

A Paradoxical Fight

Back in January, the Barna Group published the results of large study on this same pornography culture. The findings confirm and underscore what we’ve known for a while: Porn use is a massive and growing problem, even among Christians. In part, the Barna study reveals that a staggering 57 percent of younger Millennials (ages 18 to 24) seeking out porn at least once or twice a month. Among older Millennials, the number is only slightly better at 43 percent. Gen-Xers and Boomers reported 41 percent and 17 percent respectively.

Perhaps the most dejecting finding of the study is that only half of adults consider viewing porn is wrong (54 percent). In fact, on a list of taboos, respondents said viewing porn ranks number seven on a list of 11. Things like overeating and not recycling ranked higher.

Anyone who has ever struggled with pornography—or helped someone who has—knows the paradoxical nature of it. On the one hand, of course, sexual drive and desires come naturally. On the other hand, these same desires, as the Time piece clearly articulates, can get out of control and lead toward actions that actually make light of sex and hinder sexuality.

A Spiritual Conflict

One of my former professors talks about what he calls “refugees of the sexual revolution.”


A Prayer about the Entanglements of Pornography

     Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? . . . Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. Rom. 7:21-248:1-2

Dear Lord Jesus, we come before you today on behalf of our friends—men and women under enslaving and destructive influence of pornography. The gospel is the only power which is mighty and merciful enough to bring freedom and healing. This is why we come boldly to your throne of grace today, with great concern, but also with a great hope.

O Lord of resurrection and redemption, bring your kindness and strength to bear in clear and remarkable fashion. Things impossible for us are more than possible for you. You have come to set captives free and to heal the brokenhearted. Pornography is creating an overabundance of both. Sin has corrupted our godly desire for rich relationship and the beauty of intimacy, and we have become easy prey for destructive counterfeits.

Lord Jesus, for friends somewhere in the pornography continuum of titillation to addiction, we ask you to reveal yourself as a pursuing and redeeming Lord. We ask for the holy gift of godly sorrow, not the short-lived remorse of worldly sorrow. For your non-condemning love has great power to deliver those who cry, “Who will rescue me…?” (Rom. 7:24)

Lead them to that cry, Jesus.

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February 2020
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