02 October 2013

A Most Wicked Addiction

Our image of addicts is often of those who are gaunt and pale, bearing a vacant expression. Sunken eyes, missing teeth, unkempt hair. They seem dodgy and untrustworthy. We just know that they will do whatever it takes to get their next fix--betray their families, steal from their neighbors, lie to their employers.  If their drug of choice is a "harder" drug, we know that they probably began with a gateway drug sometime in the past.  Smoking leads to alcohol leads to Marijuana leads to ecstasy leads to cocaine leads to heroin.  School children hear this message beginning in Kindergarten. Movies and television programs may provide narrative flesh to the skeletal facts.  Having said that, about 7% of Americans use marijuana. Less than 1% of Americans are regular users of methamphetamine, cocaine, hallucinogens, or heroin. 

In contrast, 50% of Christian men and 20% of Christian women say they are addicted to pornography. 64% of college men and 18% of college women say they spend time online for Internet sex every week. Nine out ten boys have been exposed to online porn by age 18.  Six out of ten girls. 

The highest rate of illicit drug use is seven percent, which is for marijuana
.  In contrast, pornography affects nearly everyone to some degree and it enslaves about half of Christian men and one in five Christian women. This is an epidemic the likes of which we have never seen.

No one would be surprised that drugs affect the brain. Indeed, a primary purpose of drugs is that they affect our brain chemistry and subsequently the way we think and feel. What might be more surprising is that pornography is an equally efficient engine for altering brain chemistry. The work of neuroscientist Dr William Struthers demonstrates that, as he puts it, "pornography hijacks the brain." He documents the euphoric similarities between sexual release and the use of cocaine or heroin. Pornography, with its never ending novelty and easy accessibility, provides the ultimate vehicle for rewiring the brain's reward center. Pornography is then desired more frequently while "normal" sexuality provides diminishing returns in terms of the neurochemical reward.

The effects upon families are legion. Pornography use is a frequent contributor to marital infidelity, family breakdown, and symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder in the spouse of the sex addict.  Work productivity may diminish and people even lose jobs because of pornography usage. Much like drug use, it can have broad-ranging effects. 

Unfortunately, the issue is even more egregious. In the abuse of drugs, the vehicle for intoxication is a substance--a plant, a plant derivative, or a manufactured chemical. With pornography, the intoxicating agent is a person--a divine image bearer. Sex addicts are willing to abuse real living people--even if they are not directly present--to get their next high. What's worse is that because of the constant drive for novelty, images of many different men and women are required to achieve the same "high".  Furthermore, pornography also has gateway drugs. Rated R movies give way to soft-core pornography, which in turn gives way to hard-core pornography featuring all manner of deviance. For some, even this isn't enough.  Too many stories exist about men and women engaging in illicit sexual encounters, adultery, prostitution, and even child pornography and child sexual abuse. 

The majority of pornographic actors abuse illicit drugs, have sexually transmitted diseases, and deep emotional wounds. Consumers and performers alike become like the Nazgul, or perhaps Gollum, in Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, shells of their former selves rather than fully functioning, authentic image bearers. 

The spread of pornography is one of the most significant societal concerns facing us today. Pornography affects all aspects of a person's life and the physiological and emotional addiction is often harder to break than some illicit drugs. In addition, children at their most impressionable from a developmental perspective and their greatest risk from a neurological perspective are prime targets to become addicted. And yet pornography marches on undeterred flowing into homes and smart phones at an alarming rate. Even so, schools celebrate the sexual awakening of our children and churches too often ignore it.

Neither celebration nor ignorance will be of any benefit in turning the tide of this moral crisis. Parents, schools, and churches must step up and address this issue with a multipronged attack. We must speak with our children about healthy sexuality and the dangers of pornography. We must be aware of what images are coming into our homes, careful not to give an implicit nod to things portrayed on screen that we would be uncomfortable viewing if it were happening in our living rooms. We must address these concerns on a societal level. Churches must speak out, but also must love those caught as either consumers or producers. We must also address this issue societally, speaking to the media and to our representatives. We must shed light on this issue that is too often left in the dark. 

Struthers, W.M. (2009). Wired for intimacy: How pornography hijacks the male brain. 
Pornography stats gathered from: Covenant Eyes
Want to get involved? She's Somebody's Daughter

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