let’s talk about porn, baby

((Disclaimer: I am aware this is a controversial topic, and I am aware that this is MY view and experience. What compelled me to write this piece was to encourage discussion between couples in a relationship, or parents to their kids (or to think about how to talk about it with your kids down the road!); I don’t expect this narrative to represent all situations or people, and I realize this mainly touches on my experience with men. One piece of early feedback I got back was that I might consider balancing it out with the equal female perspective or equivalent to porn. I would say I think the only equivalent is porn itself. While other unhealthy habits or coping mechanisms may form for any person, porn, as you will see below, can take a life of its own in our brain mapping…whether your male or female, this can apply to you.

The people pleaser side of me is very uncomfortable about posting this piece to begin with, nervous what you dear reader or friend may think, as I tend to keep my stronger  perspectives to myself on social media/online . But at the heart of me, without blame, shame or judgment, I want to provoke others’ thoughts as I think about it too. I feel strongly about this topic since I know so many people affected, and from first-hand experience can see what a slippery slope this could be. I believe it is important! With that said, I ask for your grace too.))

in the clouds dec 2013

One of the coolest cloud scenes I’ve ever seen, Jamaica to Atlanta last month. Insert grace here! :)

————-

Starting in high school, for some reason I couldn’t tell you now, I began to ask every guy I dated if he looked at porn.

You wouldn’t be shocked to know that all of them did or had. And through the years (I’m now 28), while it isn’t commonly talked about, I picked up that this was a pretty normal reality.

Out of the handful of conversations I’ve had about masturbation and pornography with friends, I only know one guy friend that has never been compelled to look at porn regularly.

Growing up in the church and running in Christian circles, the context I mostly heard pornography (but rarely) discussed was with “shame” and something guys “struggled” with (because I never heard girls ever talk about it as an issue, but this can of course be the case too!). For the guys I know who have been honest about this part of their lives, most have said it has been something that has had a power over them they didn’t want, but yet they keep going back…

(“I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate.” – Romans 7:15)

Today, I’m glad I started those conversations in my teenage years and became comfortable with that conversation. What I didn’t know then is because of that openness, it has allowed me to unabashedly learn a lot about the issue and the people I know and love – many who have dealt (or are dealing) with this usually hidden part of their lives. And for the people I’ve come to know that have this impulse, it is tied to something deeper that we can all relate to – such as anxiety, fear, the need to escape, curiosity, shame, paralyzation, feeling lost, etc.

(And I think we all have different ways of coping with these feelings! Louis C.K. has a funny but poignant bit on Conan that relates to this, but regarding technology.)

SHOCKING REALITIES TODAY

One of the best articles I’ve ever read on porn is by a ex-editor of a women’s soft corn porn magazine in Britain. In the article,  Experiment that convinced me online porn is the most pernicious threat facing children today, Martin Laubney interviews kids and young teens (ages 12-16) to learn what they have seen or know when it comes to online porn. I think you will be shocked by what he learns, too. Here is one excerpt:

“We found Dr Valerie Voon, a neuroscientist at Cambridge University and a global authority on addiction.

Then, in the first study of its kind, we recruited 19 heavy porn users who felt their habit was out of control and had Dr Voon examine their brain activity as they watched, among other things, hardcore porn.

She was interested in a particular brain region called the ventral striatum – the ‘reward centre’ – where our sense of pleasure is produced. This is one of the areas where an addict will show a heightened response to visual representations of their addiction – whether it’s a syringe or a bottle of vodka.

What we discovered was a revelation. When shown porn, the reward centre of normal volunteers barely reacted, but that of the compulsive porn users lit up like a Christmas tree.

The compulsive porn users’ brains showed clear parallels with those with substance addictions.
Everybody on the project was astounded, even Dr Voon, who admitted she had been ‘sceptical and ambivalent’ about the study at the outset.

If porn does have the insidious power to be addictive, then letting our children consume it freely via the internet is like leaving heroin lying around the house, or handing out vodka at the school gates.
And this toxic effect is filtering down directly into young girls’ lives.

The most shocking testament came from Professor Gail Dines. Regarded as the world’s leading anti-pornography campaigner, she has interviewed thousands of men and women about sex and pornography.

‘When you interview young women about their experiences of sex, you see an increased level of violence: rough, violent sex,’ she says.

‘That is directly because of porn, as young boys are getting their sexual cues from men in porn who are acting as if they’re sexual psychopaths.”

Laubney used to be an outspoken pro-porn advocate, but now, after helping make a documentary called ‘Porn on the Brain,’ he says, “I feel as if an entire generation’s sexuality has been hijacked by grotesque online porn…We have to tell our kids that pornographic sex is fake and real sex is about love, not lust.”

One book that I found extremely fascinating last year is The Brain That Changes Itself, by psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Dr. Norman Doidge. In Chapter 4Acquiring Tastes and Loves: What Neuroplasticity Teaches Us About Sexual Attraction and Love, he talks specifically about porn addictions (similar to the excerpt above) and the science of how it affects the brain. He helps people literally rewire their brain maps and develop new habits to overcome their previously life-consuming addictions (by life-consuming he means it affects their ability to hold down a job, interferes with maintaining a healthy relationship, etc). Our brain is an amazing, amazing thing!

EXAMPLES & STRATEGIES

I know four couples who have all had pornography wreck their relationship for a season, or even a few. But on a hopeful note, I have also seen how all four couples have grown together through that struggle, and both parties have worked their asses off to not let it interfere anymore (and some still have to work at it!).

If for any man or woman who struggles with porn but wants to kick it from their life – I wanted to share how three men (and sorry, I’d love to share a woman’s perspective here but do not have it here, although I think the steps the men/couples take below are relevant to a woman who struggles with porn too) specifically have (yes, past tense!) overcome the unhealthy power that pornography had in their lives (sorry, so many parentheses!).

As you will see, they have taken what some would call very active drastic steps (and still do daily), with the help of their wives, to keep porn a thing of the past. These dear friends, whom I admire greatly, have shared their struggles and beautiful stories with me over the years, and it continues to be a lifelong effort they take on together. Even though not all of them would call their struggle an “addiction”, it is something they wanted to get rid of their lives, and it was hindering them in different capacities – for some it has meant facing those fears and not fun feelings they were originally trying to escape (and honestly, couldn’t we all afford do that?! Props to anyone who does…)

Here are some examples of how they handle it:

  • The men talk about what they see (be it porn or sexually stimulating images regularly) – even day-to-day things they accidentally see each day (think magazines at the grocery store, woman in yoga pants walking down the street, movie poster,  advertisement with girls in bikinis, etc); OR something they were tempted to look at, or something they sought out but stopped; and if they don’t always volunteer this information, their spouse asks regularly to open up the conversation, check in, be there, keep in stride with one another, offering support and love (yes, that isn’t always easy!)
  • Based on the above, a conscious practice of averting their eyes when they see something they want to look at when out in public or surprised by something online – trying to make the choice to look away and thinking of something different
  • Some of the guys have installed an accountability software on their computer (like X3 Watch) that blocks certain websites, ads, searches, and sends a list of where they go online to certain friends (or their wives)…think accountability
  • Before going to see movies or streaming something on Netflix, they look up the parent reviews to see what kind of nudity/sex is in it; usually they will just have to pass on that movie or show (and if something unexpected/unwanted pops up when watching a movie or show, they will turn away and look at their spouse as long as needed) – teamwork and rolling with the punches!
  • They don’t use the computer unless their spouse is home and in the room
  • They choose not to go to YouTube, Hulu, or even news sites where other videos or article suggestions pop up and may have preview image of a girl in a bikini, or something of the like

These approaches are individual and may not work or be necessary for everyone, but I wanted to give some specific examples of how some people are structuring their lives and choices around what they want! You get the idea. It is unique to the couple and their individual story, struggle, agreement, need, and relationship. That is a beautiful thing!

START THE CONVERSATION

I think it would be foolish to think that if you aren’t talking about porn with the most important people in your life, it isn’t a reality. If you haven’t, I want to encourage you to talk about it with your spouse, your kids, or the person you’re seriously dating.

Ask. Use it as a place to learn; to learn about them, where they are at if they struggle with it, and if they don’t struggle with it, than maybe just their opinions on it! If they struggle with it, use it as a time to learn compassion, to give compassion, to practice listening well, and practice asking good questions. Use it as a time to form your own opinions and feelings. And if they don’t think it’s a big deal, a problem, and watch it all the time – well that will also make a good conversation (I honestly have never talked to anyone that has this perspective and would be interested to do so). It isn’t a “fun” conversation per se, but it might be very important.

And if this is a part of your life, and you want to talk to someone – choose someone you love and trust. I encourage you to bring up the conversation too!

As for bringing it up with your kids – I couldn’t begin to know what to say. I don’t have kids yet and kind of dread what accessibility they will have by the time they young…But I know ignoring it is not a good solution!

A side note on love and compassion: It should go without saying that everyone is different, and like anything else, this topic is individual to each person. I would encourage you not to pigeonhole someone or approach the conversation with a blanket belief about it or them. If this is a conversation you might seek to have, please ask with love, openness, honesty, and truly listen. You’re dealing with a human…a complicated, beautiful, individual person. Golden Rule it!

FINAL THOUGHTS

This topic is something I am still learning about and trying to figure out how I can make a positive impact. What do I even want when it comes to the prevalence and role of porn and sex in our culture? For me, my marriage, my future kids? Why doesn’t the Church talk about it more and address it if is so common (the only site I know is XXXChurch)? And for that matter, addiction in general? How do we best address it?

I honestly don’t know. It can be awkward. It is not fun. People struggle. And there is no blanket fix. And that is both sad and annoying.

So for now, I write.

Thanks for reading.

All my love,

Erin

P.S. I found this infographic interesting, from the Mars Hill website.

statsonporn_GMS

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