“There’s only a few things I really care about in life. My body. My pad. My ride. My family. My church. My boys. My girls. And my porn.” With that confession in a recent movie, “Jon” renewed the national discussion on porn use in America.
It’d be wise for youth leaders and parents to pay close attention to the conversation.
Don Jon’s Discussion
Released in theaters in late 2013, Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Don Jon put porn addiction (back) in the public eye by focusing on a Jersey guy who is “dedicated to his family, friends, and church,” but “develops unrealistic expectations from watching porn and works to find happiness and intimacy with his potential true love.” The movie’s official trailer shows how the film addresses the serious problem of porn addiction using humor and porn’s impact on relationships.
Since then, porn has been in the headlines quite a bit. For example, California outlawed “revenge porn” (more on that in a moment), arrests were made in connection to child pornography, a kid found porn on his digital Christmas present, and so on. The headlines are so full of porn-related news because, well, so many American lives are full of porn… even teens and tweens.
Many adults are suppressing this truth. “Not my kids.” I’ve (Jonathan) heard it hundreds of times from moms and dads at my parent workshops across the country. “Our kids aren’t even thinking about this yet.”
Sadly, those of us who spend a lot of time with teenagers (churched and unchurched), know the majority of young people today are well versed in porn vocabulary and have seen far more than Mom and Dad ever dreamed.
To promote understanding of the porn pandemic, Covenant Eyes, an online enterprise that seeks to help those held hostage by addictions to pornography, compiled statistics on porn that were made available in 2013. Here are just a few of the highlights…and low points:
- Every year, $13 billion is spent on pornography in the US.
- 24% of smartphone owners admit to having pornographic material on their mobile device.
- 50% of all Christian men and 20% of all Christian women say they are addicted to pornography.
Turning the focus exclusively on teenagers, we find a reality that is just as saturated with porn as adults’, if not more so. For example:
- 93% of boys and 62% of girls are exposed to porn before their 18th birthday.
- 71% of teenagers feel the need to hide their online activity from parents.
- 15% of boys and 9% of girls have viewed (illegal) child pornography online.
- Only 3% of boys and 17% of girls have never seen internet porn.
That prevalence of porn in the lives of all people led Paul Fishbein, founder of Adult View News, to say, “Porn doesn’t have a demographic – it goes across all demographics.”
Though porn has a tight hold on lots of American dollars, its impact on culture isn’t limited to just our wallets. Porn seems to be influencing other areas of life, as well.
Naomi Wolf, noted author and researcher in the area of sex, discussed the impact of porn in a recent article. Her findings have uncovered alarming problems such as impotence in men, decreased sexual intimacy and satisfaction in couples, and even changing sex patterns in the lives of those who use porn. She reports that couples are having 20% less sex (per month) than they did a decade ago. She laments with the school guidance counselors who seek help for their students who use porn so often that it’s negatively impacting their academic performance.
Speaking of performance, she shares about the many young men who tell her that they are in a constant search for harder and more graphic pornography to meet their addiction needs. Their sex lives are so dysfunctional that they can’t even have sex unless pornography is playing on a screen in the bedroom. She also fears for the young ladies who are treated like female porn stars in adult films. “Young women tell me that hair-pulling, and even pressure around the neck at orgasm, are normal parts of courtship sex these days.”
It’s not uncommon to find sex on the bedroom screens anymore. Point of fact, it’s hard to dodge sex on screens of late. Popular shows like Game of Thrones have created a gateway to porn. We live in a country where much of our top entertainment choices are on pay channels like HBO, Showtime and Starz, all which provide explicit sex and nudity as a main course of their entertainment diet.
Many young people are imitating this kind of on-screen behavior. Young boys are asking young girls if they want to do a threesome. After all, almost every good onscreen sex moment includes a threesome (ask James Franco).
Most of those findings have been well-documented over the years, but porn’s negative impact seems to be growing in new and different directions as of late. Take, for instance, “revenge porn.” Revenge porn happens when Regular Joes and Janes take naked pictures/videos of themselves to send to their significant other, only to have them surface later, after the couple has broken up with one another.
Sadly, there are entire websites dedicated to this kind of abuse.
Revenge porn is quickly ramping up the number of victims that fall prey to the devices of an already porn-addicted culture. In fact, revenge porn has gotten so prolific that advocate websites (like this one) now exist to help those who have been hurt by the betrayal of a former significant other.
As porn continues to surface in the public sector, we can expect even more broken lives to be found in its wake. Could that be why the men’s magazine GQ gave its readers “10 Reasons Why You Should Quit Watching Porn”?
Exposing the Epidemic
Those who work with, and parent, teenagers have their hands full when it comes to stopping the negative influences of a porn-saturated nation. Fortunately for those who care, there are several tools that can aid in the fight. Here are a few practical ways parents and youth leaders can help the teenagers they love actually stop watching porn.
- Get educated about porn, its prevalence, and its power. Ironically, the Internet that provides so much of the devastating porn for free is also filled with thousands of resources to help you better understand how porn works and why it’s so addictive, like this free e-book from Covenant Eyes. I (Jonathan) write about it frequently and have linked helpful studies like this one. Pastor Mark Driscoll has even released a fairly hard-hitting document called Porn Again Christian that specifically targets Christians who are trapped in the fiery ring of porn. There are so many resources available that one of them is bound to fit the need you’re facing. The more you know about the problem, the better chance you have of solving it.
- Introduce accountability. Young people lack accountability in almost every aspect of their lives, but when it comes to the arena of sexual purity, the consequences for flying solo can be devastating. Get your teenagers a set of “digital eyes.” There are plenty of groups that offer focused resources to help a young person maintain their purity while surfing the web; the edgy XXXChurch is just one of them. Their X3Watch program is a great place to start (though it’s not the only one that ministry-minded folks offer). Accountability software is a great way to start the accountability process, but it’s far from the best. The best kind of accountability comes in human form, so….
- Engage teens on a frequent basis about pornography and lust. Talk with your teenagers over meals, in the car, and while doing chores together. Ask tons of questions instead of offering lectures, though. Let them know that you care about their sexual future, that you understand how difficult it is to stay pure in our culture, and that you are willing to sacrifice on their behalf. Those kinds of talks will make a big difference. But don’t just limit your conversations to “porn.” Remember, pornography is just one face of the overall lust problem many teens have. Give them tools to help them deal with lust so that it doesn’t lead to pornography.
Porn is a powerful enemy that seeks to destroy anyone it can get in its clutches. Young people and teenagers are particularly vulnerable to this monster. If your teenagers are among the unfortunate users of pornography, prepare yourself to be willing to make some big changes in your family’s life for the sake of your kids. Get professional help and enlist anyone in your faith community who’s willing to pray for you. Porn is big, but it’s only going to get bigger. Get all the help you can so that when you face this problem, you and your teenagers are able to overcome it.
Jonathan McKee, president of The Source for Youth Ministry, is the author of over a dozen books including the new The Zombie Apocalypse Survival Guide for Teenager, Should I Just Smash My Kid’s Phone?, and youth ministry books like Ministry By Teenagers, Connect: Real Relationships in a World of Isolation, and the award winning book Do They Run When They See You Coming? Jonathan speaks and trains at conferences, churches and events across North America, all while providing free resources for youth workers and parents on his websites, TheSource4YM.com and TheSource4Parents.com. You can follow Jonathan on his blog, getting a regular dose of youth culture and parenting help. Jonathan and his wife Lori, and their three teenagers Alec, Alyssa and Ashley live in California.
David R. Smith is a 15-year youth ministry veteran who helps youth workers and parents through his writing, training, and speaking. David specializes in sharing the gospel, and equipping others do the same. He co-authored his first book this year, Ministry By Teenagers. David provides free resources to anyone who works with teenagers on his website, DavidRSmith.org. David resides with his wife and son in Tampa, Florida.