Pornography. There are few words that I hate more and yet it is so ingrained in our culture that we can’t escape it. As Christians we tend to believe that it is a problem of secular American culture, but sadly it is also widespread within the Church. It is just not that pornography can destroy marriages, but it has a profound effect on men, women, and children. It is unequivocally destructive and the pornography victims are many. As Christians we need to acknowledge that those victims are sitting in our pews and even preaching from the pulpit.
How Common is Porn Addiction in the Church?
As I have begun to delve into this topic, talk about it, research it, I have found that there are generally three types of Christians. There is the “Our family doesn’t struggle with pornography” Christian; the “It has touched me personally and I struggle to find a place to talk about it” Christian; and the “I am addicted to pornography, but the shame is too much to bear so I will keep it a secret” Christian.
There are a few very blessed individuals whom pornography has not touched. However, statistically it is more likely that the first group of Christians I mentioned are oblivious to the struggles of a family member. It could be a wife who thinks that there is no way that her husband would ever look at pornography, or parents who think their kids would never engage in that kind of behavior. There are two main reasons for this overconfidence. 1) Churches in general are not talking about it so people really just don’t understand how rampant it is. 2) For those that are addicted, it is so shameful they have become masters of secrecy leading their loved ones to believe there is nothing wrong.
I remember having a conversation with a friend who completed the “Conquer Series” and “Seven Pillars of Freedom” program produced by Pure Desire Ministries, a ministry designed to help men and women break free from their struggles with pornography. He was surprised to recognize faces from his own church in the program. Some were men who he had considered to be pillars of his church, men whom he never would have thought struggled with pornography. And yet there they were.
The statistics of pornography within the church confirm my friend’s experience.
- 68% of church-going men view pornography on a regular basis.
- 50% of pastors view porn on a regular basis.
- 76% of young Christian adults (18-24) actively seek out porn
- 87% of self-identified Christian women have watched porn
The statistics are shocking and revealing, but what they do not tell us is the extent of the addiction that some of our brothers and sisters experience. Some Christian men and women may periodically look at arousing pictures on their phones that from a clinical standpoint would not be considered an addiction. (This article does a good job of helping to explain what the secular world would classify as pornographic addiction.) We may naively believe that the occasional viewing of pornography is mostly what we will find in the church. On the one hand, the occasional viewing of pornography must be dealt with because from a Biblical standpoint it falls short of God’s standard. On the other hand, there are many Christians that are more than just viewing it every once in while.
Within the church there are many with a full-fledged pornographic addiction. Experts in the field of pornography share countless stories of Christians whose addiction has escalated to a more ominous level. Some have joined sex-related chat rooms, visited strip clubs and “massage” parlors, and others have engaged in even darker behavior. I have heard of highly respected pastors who shortly after giving amazing sermons would find themselves in the arms of prostitutes.
These are the dirty little secrets within our churches that we keep under the surface. We don’t like to talk about it and we don’t even want to consider it as we walk into our church lobbies and greet our fellow Christian brothers and sisters. But if we ignore it, we are failing as a church. We love to point the finger at how corrupt the culture is all the while we ourselves are so corrupted on the inside. We must have the courage to take this bull by its horn, expose it, and cleanse the church from the inside out.
The first step is to understand it. Satan has been very strategic on how he has used this as a tool to corrupt the church, and with God’s help we must also be wise and strategic on how we root it out.
As someone who promotes the empowerment of women, I deeply believe that pornography is one of the most destructive tools that the Enemy has used to keep women suppressed. (To read my article on how Jesus himself empowered women, click here.) While there are circles within the secular feminist movement that support pornography under the guise that it promotes female sexual empowerment, there are other feminist groups that understand its destructiveness because it relegates women to mere sexual objects. If even these secular feminist groups can see the destructive nature of pornography, then certainly we as Christians must reject it even more.
Women, just like men, where created to be image bearers of God (Genesis 1:27). Relegating a woman to a sex object as pornography does desecrates that very image. Furthermore, the more a man is exposed to pornography, the more his views of women are likely to change. One study found that there was a correlation between the age that a man was exposed to pornography and the belief that women should be controlled by men. Another study showed that men who watched sexually-explicit films were more likely to treat women in a negative manner. I don’t think any of this is surprising, but it certainly is disturbing.Women, just like men, where created to be image bearers of God (Genesis 1:27). Relegating a woman to a sex object as pornography does desecrates that very image. Click To Tweet
We certainly know that the women in the adult industry are victimized, but these studies reveal another victim, the every day woman. How men treat women on a day-to-day basis, can be largely dependent on how addicted they are to pornography. As a church we want men to view women the way that Christ viewed them, as God’s creation, created to bear His image. And yet, if some of our brothers in Christ are spending more time viewing pornography than reading God’s word, they will have a distorted view of the image of women. As a mother of two girls, THIS unsettles me on so many levels and one of the main reasons I have chosen to write about this topic.
Women lose out in another way. They are robbed from developing healthy intimate relationships with their husbands. Intimacy is something most of us women crave. Even for women that have a higher sex-drive, it is rarely just about sex. Most women want the conversations. They want the hugs and the cuddles. They want to spend time with their husbands to get to know them more deeply, but a man who is addicted to pornography will become less and less interested in building that kind of intimacy. Pornography and masturbation end up providing the “satisfaction” of sex without the “work.” That sexual release becomes the addict’s intimacy leaving a huge void within the marriage and hurting his wife in the process.
If you are a woman, reading the previous couple of paragraphs might make you very upset. Honestly, as I was writing, I felt myself getting angrier and angrier. However, to truly tackle this sickness in the church, we have to think strategically. It is not helpful to engage in men bashing or men shaming. Men shaming will cause men to hide this behavior even more and that is not helpful. We need to provide men a safe space to confess and get the help that they need because the reality is that men are victims too.
In the age of the internet, access to porn has become so easy. You don’t have to look for it. I remember doing a quick search on Twitter for Christian Latinas as I wanted to connect with more Christian women that were Hispanic. How quickly I learned of my own naiveté. What I got was a slew of inappropriate images. It doesn’t surprise me then that the average age for men’s first exposure to pornography is nine-years-old. With such early exposure, before their brains are fully formed for optimal decision making, men can develop a struggle, or worse become addicted.
Telling a man who struggles with porn to promise to stop is akin to telling a woman to stop worrying about her weight. It is not something that we as women can easily switch off. Why? Because worrying about our weight is just the symptom of deeply rooted issues. The same is true with pornography. Pornography is the symptom, it is not the root cause. Whereas shopping or indulging on food becomes the primary avenues women may use to deal with stress, hurts, and wounds, pornography becomes one of the primary go-to methods for men to relief stress and medicate their own wounds. The most successful programs in helping men overcome a porn addiction address those wounds, wounds that likely occurred during their childhood. It is a painfully long process for men, but the wounds have to heal before the symptoms will stop.
But it is even more complicated than that. The other reason it is difficult to just stop viewing pornography is because pornography changes the brain. Prolonged viewing of pornography leads to the brain producing new nerve pathways. Therefore what starts as a moral problem can easily turn itself into a brain problem, as Ted Roberts, the founder of the Pure Desire ministry often says. These changes can be reversed, but it is a long process that has to begin with a man (or woman for that matter) admitting and confessing their addiction.
But getting a man to admit to his addiction in the current church culture is difficult; it is even more difficult to admit it to their wives. Men learn at an early age that it is wrong to show vulnerability. It is not “manly.” When they finally do show vulnerability, generally they are shamed for it. Whether we like to admit or not, as women we don’t like to see our men weak and vulnerable. We say we do. We want them to talk to us. Tell us what they are thinking. Then they do. They tell us they are addicted to pornography and we lose our minds (for valid reasons). And men know this, so they keep quiet, they hide it, and feel utterly ashamed for the addiction and the secrecy.
The porn industry is targeting children. When sexually explicit videos have titles like, “Dora the Explorer” it is certainly not meant to target adults. If the industry can get children addicted, they have customers for life. The industry understands how highly addictive porn can be and they use that to their advantage. One image can be enough to spiral a young boy into porn viewing habits because viewing a pornographic image produces the same chemical rush that illicit drugs do. The Internet is flooded with so much pornographic content that an innocent Google search for a school project can land a child on the wrong website and the porn industry does this purposefully and strategically. And they have been very successful. (For more information about the tricks that the porn industry uses to lure young people, read this article.)
The statistics on how early children become exposed to pornography are horrifying.
- 93% of boys and 62% of girls are exposed to Internet pornography before the age of 18
- 79% percent of young people’s exposure to pornography occurs in the home.
- The average age of exposure to pornography is 9 years old.
Our current culture is setting up our children for failure. It has become harder and harder to protect our children from these kinds of images. We may limit their screen time at home, but we don’t know what they are viewing on the school bus or what they see when they are alone with their friends. Even homeschooling them or sending them to private Christian schools is not fail safe. Based on the statistics, kids are most likely to be inadvertently exposed to pornography at home anyway.
The victimization of children goes beyond just exposing children to pornography. Children are vulnerable and they easily become prey to individuals whose porn addiction has reached a point where they want to act out their fantasies. There is a very clear connection between pornography and the sexual exploitation of children. (For more in depth information on this subject read this article.) This all makes my stomach churn, but it gets even worse. Children themselves can become predators as they move to act out the porn images that they are seeing. When I think of the abuse that I endured as a toddler, it was committed by teenage boy–and this was during a time when the Internet didn’t even exist (to read my story, click here).
This is hard to read and it is hard to talk about. This is when we want to bury our heads in the sand and pretend that this is not happening. We want to have the mentality of “not at our church,” but our churches are not immune from any of this. The media exposed the victimization of children within the Catholic church, but if pornography addiction can be found among Christians in general, then the victimization probably occurs in Protestant churches as well. Of course, these are extreme cases of porn addiction, but I believe that if you can reverse the porn culture within the church there will also be a reduction in the number of incidences of illegal behavior against children (and women).
Our Future Generations
Unfortunately, the effects of pornography do not stop there. Evidence has come to light that pornography addiction is affecting the next generation. I am not talking about philosophical views that transcend into future generations. No, I am talking about how the brain is so radically transformed by pornography that it changes the genetic expression of the individual. This genetic expression is then passed on to their progeny as it is explained in the video below produced by the Conquer Series. In other words, if you become addicted to pornography, you can pass the propensity for the addiction to your children. If this is not a wake-up call, I don’t know what is.In other words, if you become addicted to pornography, you can pass the propensity for the addiction to your children. If this is not a wake-up call, I don't know what is. Click To Tweet
How do we turn the tide of pornography addiction within our churches?
The first step is to be aware and to understand how invasive the porn industry is in this culture. It is not helpful to walk around assuming that our spouses or children have not been exposed to pornography. We are better off assuming that they have, because statistically that is what is most probable, and if they have not been by now, they will at some point in the future. That is just the culture we live in, but we can take the proper steps to be proactive and ready.
What Can I do as a Mother?
As a mothers, one of the best things we can do is have conversations with our kids. If you have a nine or ten-year-old and you or your spouse haven’t had the sex/puberty talk, you should (and many would suggest that conversations on sex and puberty should start as soon as children have access to a phone/tablet with internet capabilities). Those conversations should then be followed up with conversations about pornography and its dangers. If your kids see that you are comfortable talking about these kinds of subjects, they are more likely to come talk to you when they have a question or when something does happen.
These conversations shouldn’t be about shaming people who watch pornography (as that will just cause your kids to keep this stuff to themselves). Instead guide your kids on how deal with pornography exposure; explain what it is, why it is dangerous, and why it is contrary to God’s standards; show them how easily people can get addicted to pornography; help them develop steps and strategies to help protect themselves; and stress how important it is for them to get help if they are already struggling with porn. I suggest this article as a good starting point.
The second step is to come up with a strategy to monitor and control family access to the Internet, specifically social media. We need to be very aware about the dangers of social media and how the porn industry circumvents protective measures put in place by social media sites. Kids can find pornography through Instagram, Snapchat despite these mediums efforts to thwart these types of infiltration. (Good article on how teens are finding porn). Thankfully, there are strategies we can take and software and apps exist that can help us keep our families protected such as NetNanny, Covenant Eyes, and others. For a more thorough review on how to protect kids, I suggest 13 Ways Pornography Leaks Into Your Home and How to Stop Them.
What can I do as a Wife?
As you read this, you might be tempted to call your husband up and ask him if he is addicted to pornography. Don’t. For one, you may not be ready for the answer. Learning that your husband may be addicted to pornography will feel like an utter betrayal. Most of us women already deal with self-image issues and learning about this will attack our self-worth. It makes us feel like we weren’t pretty enough, or loved enough, or worthy enough. And if our husbands hid this for years, it makes us wonder how we can ever trust them again.
I am not suggesting that we don’t ever address the topic with our husbands. What I am suggesting is that before we do, that we prepare ourselves for the answer. We can read about how pornography affects the brain and how it makes it difficult for our husbands just to stop. We can learn that in the male mind porn has very little to do with us while in our female minds it has everything to do with us. We can begin to understand that the road for healing is a long process that might take years and we should expect some setbacks along the way. Know that there are places we can go to to get the support we need if our husbands are struggling with this. Here is a good place to start.
Another reason to wait before we broach this subject with our husbands is that our husbands may not necessarily tell us the truth if we do ask. If we don’t have a culture within our marriage that it is okay for him to be vulnerable, even if he is addicted, you may not get an honest answer or a complete answer. Ask yourself, last time your husband made a mistake, what was your reaction? As I have dug deep into this, I have come to realize that I myself have not allowed my husband to be vulnerable. I personally have come to realize that if I want my husband to tell me the full story of his struggles, I have to allow him to be imperfect.
If our goal is to protect our marriages and the holy covenant that it is, then as difficult and heart wrenching as it will be, we will need to be ready to help our husbands walk through porn addiction recovery. It is isn’t something they can do on their own without our support. Marriage is about being broken together and helping each other walk through our imperfections. This isn’t about giving them a free pass as we will need to hold them accountable at each step, just as we need people to hold us accountable when we are growing through something. But we have to be part of the walk, part of the accountability process, and that is why it is important that we as women have our own network of support before embarking on this difficult process.
What Can the Church to help Pornography Victims?
I strongly believe that the best thing a church can do is develop a strategy on how to attack the problem. A men’s conference once a year is not enough. Pornography has become an epidemic and is no longer just a “man” problem” to think it can be fixed by talking about it every once in awhile. I like the intentional approach of Reston Bible Church in Reston, VA. Not only did they have an “All Men On Deck” middle-school to adult meeting to launch their full-frontal attack on pornography but they have integrated pornography recovery groups into their small groups. It is the only church I know of that is doing something this bold, but I believe more churches need to follow their example.
As churches put together a strategy, they need to remember two things. One is that women are becoming the fastest growing group of porn addicts. Any program must incorporate ways to help women overcome their addiction. Secondly, there needs to be a support system for the wives of men addicted to pornography. In an effort to help men, we cannot forget that there is a group of women who are suffering silently with the weight of what their husbands have done. Even though some of us women may understand the science behind porn addiction, our hearts will not easily align themselves up with what our minds are telling us. We will be broken and devastated and will need just as much support as our spouses.People should see the church as a place to go to for help and healing instead of judgement and condemnation. Click To Tweet
I believe that if we take these bold intentional approaches we will not only help those sitting in our pews, but we will become magnets for those that are broken and addicted outside the church. People should see the church as a place to go to for help and healing instead of judgement and condemnation. A church that can openly talk about individual struggles with pornography and direct men and women towards healing will embody the words of Christ as found in Mark 2:17:
“And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”
The app that helps guard your devices and provide accountability is called Covenant Eyes (www.CovenantEyes.com).
The program for women whose husbands are addicted to pornography: Betrayal and Beyond (https://puredesire.org/collections/betrayal-beyond)
Sermon by Ted Roberts (founder of Pure Desire) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MF-6CobxMvY
Interview with Ted Roberts on Porn Addiction in the Church https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sXd5ymn5iYw
Roots of Sexual Addiction. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=puyB_X9ttJ4