by Paul Wilkinson
Welcome to the online version of this book. After discussions with a number of publishers, the economic slowdown hit full force, so the print version got put on hold. However, I wanted to have this information out there right away! I believe it can be helpful to a number of people and didn’t want to wait for the print version.
I hope you find it helpful. The comments section has been disabled, except for a chapter at the end called Questions and Answers. If you wish to comment in an e-mail, you can write to searchlight [at] nexicom.net.
If you got here from a WordPress tag or search engine, delete the section after the “com/” in the address bar and hit ‘enter’ to reveal the entire contents. Or just click here.
You are also welcome to check out my personal blog (which is really, really different from this) at www.paulwilkinson.wordpress.com
Contents copyright (c)2008 Paul Wilkinson.
As some WordPress blog pages tend to be hard-to-read, go to your browser under “view” and select “font size” or “text size” and select “increase” or “larger”. The complete book is only two full pages in the online format. Or just hit CTRL and the plus “+” sign at the same time.
The text in this book is not always fully compatible with Internet Explorer. If you can, view this with Mozilla Firefox. Click on “previous entries” at the bottom of this page to reveal chapters 7-15.
At the end of chapter six, click on “older entries” to view chapters 7-15.
You can also do this at the end of chapter 15, where an auxilliary page was installed, and now contians follow-up material posted six months after the book first went online.
I’m very sorry that this particular topic brings us together. I know that most of you don’t want to be reading this right now, and on a number of levels, I don’t want to be writing it. I don’t want to be associated with this topic. Most people don’t. Nor would I want to be considered an expert on this topic. If you want to speak with an expert, talk to one of the hundreds of thousands of men and boys (and some women and girls) who are added each week to the numbers of the addicted. I’m just a person who had some comparatively minimal exposure to what I’m about to write about, who also happens to have a somewhat analytical way of looking at things, and wants to help.
I’m also not recently conversant on this topic. I wanted to write this book ‘clean’ so to speak; so at the point when the manuscript began to take shape, it had been more than I year since I spent any amount of time (which was never extensive to begin with) looking at the websites concerned, with the recent exception of a couple of very short (i.e. less than a minute) return trips eighteen months later to verify that some internet situations still existed. The internet is always changing, but there are principles here that I think will apply for generations. I wanted to write this with the distance and detachment that can only come with time.
From this vantage point, it’s probable that the majority of the copies sold of this book will be through Christian retail channels, and one thing you won’t find here is extended Biblical teaching on the subject. I wanted to write something that you could read and then place into the hands of someone you know who is also dealing with this issue, but hasn’t (or hasn’t yet) come to place of trust with regard to what the Bible says.
Of course, it’s hard for me to escape the worldview that comes with being a Christ-follower; that will inevitably surface. And if I lapse and quote something from Proverbs, you can feel free to skip that part. But I hope you won’t.
For those who are “in the fold,” as we say, if you want some sound Biblical teaching on this subject, there are some good books now and others that will come after this is published. If you want to do a keyword search on this issue, I would suggest that for believers, the following are the issues at stake:
(a) lust (that was a no-brainer)
(c) the stewardship of our time
Another thing you won’t find here is a how-to guide on finding things online. I’m already concerned that there’s one major thesis in this book that could put ideas into someone’s head, and I’m going out of my way not to help anyone source anything. So if the voyeur in you is hoping for some juicy anecdotal stories, or you’ve got a pen and paper handy to write down some web addresses, this is going to be a complete disappointment.
This also isn’t autobiographical, though early on I’ll let you in on how I went from owning a computer for twelve years without ever seeing anything remotely erotic online, to spending about six weeks seeing just about everything. By the way, I don’t think anybody ‘stumbles’ onto this stuff online, but I’ll be the first to admit that I think ‘stumbles’ is the perfect word.
I’ve also been told that; “This is the book your pastor wants to write but can’t.” I’m hoping that writing from a vocational position of theological and ministerial neutrality affords me the opportunity to be more direct and personal about some aspects of this issue.
What I want to do here is share the dynamics of this one facet of computer addiction – and there are dozens of those, starting with the Solitaire game that came preloaded when you bought the computer – with the people I think are least likely to have direct contact with it. Simply put, a lot of pornography is produced by men and targeted at men, and I suspect there are a lot of wives, girlfriends, mothers, daughter and sisters who simply don’t know what it is that has impacted their family. Actually, everything about sex, including the language used to describe it, is somewhat biased towards the male perspective. No wonder some women start to feel lost in these discussions.
I’m not a pastor, not a counselor, not a psychologist and not a computer expert. I’m just a guy who spent a few weeks camping out at the edge of the information highway, who was rather shocked (and no doubt affected) by what I saw driving by.
If you’re a woman reading this, I hope it helps to make some sense out of this form of internet addiction. If you’re a man reading this, I hope it helps you to see the bigger picture. This book has one purpose: To save lives.
Most writers place a glossary of terms in an appendix at the back of the book. It occurred to me that if we’re writing primarily to people who are concerned about someone else’s use of the computer, we may be using terminology here that we just assumed the reader would understand. It may be the case that you don’t use the computer at all.
So we’ve placed this list of terms here at the beginning. You can skip to the first chapter if you’re familiar with the way things work. There are also a few terms here that aren’t used in the book, but they may help you become more conversant on this topic.
application – a program in your computer that ‘kicks in’ when you want to do something else; for example Adobe Acrobat is a program that lets you read what are called ‘pdf’ files, containing pictures, Windows Media Player or Quicktime are applications that let you listen to music or watch movies
auto complete – the computer remembers previous search and website criteria and offers to “fill in the blanks” from a listing of previously selected choices
blog – short for “web log,” it refers to an online diary or a type of website that can be updated frequently
browser – a computer program that is designed for searching for and then displaying internet web sites, of which Explorer and Firefox are currently two of the most popular; also, I think, a great name for a dog
buffering – the time and action being taken by the computer to receive (usually) image files such as pictures or movies that you are going to view right away, but not keep permanently (compare to “download”)
chat – live conversation using a keyboard instead of a telephone; however VOIP (voice over internet protocol) technology means that with a microphone, the internet can become a telephone substitute
cookies – device whereby the website (see “sites”) you’re visiting finds out from your computer who you are, sometimes resulting in a subsequent barrage of unwanted e-mail; may also refer to what you eat with a glass of milk while using the computer
download – the act of receiving a file (see “files”) over the internet connection for either permanent or temporary storage
e-mail – electronic mail requires connection to the internet, but doesn’t necessarily require a web browser, so it’s possible to keep e-mail, but disable connection to websites
extension – files and website addresses (see definitions) always have a name followed by a dot, followed by two or three letters; with the internet it tells you something about the kind of website: .com is the most common (the British equivalent is .co.uk; Canada often uses .ca) while .edu indicates an educational institution; .gov is government, .org is often (but not always) charitable agencies, etc.
file – anything you want to store on the computer: text, images, movies, etc.
file sharing – a means whereby some computer users can both upload and download (see individual definitions) files; some file sharing sites are used to pass around illegal content
forums – places on the internet where people with a particular interest go to discuss that interest with other like minded people; you read previous comments and then write your own
hard drive – the part of the computer that stores files that have been downloaded in order to ‘keep’ them permanently on the computer
history – the computer’s memory of websites (see “sites”) it has been to lately; some also keep a record of the different search criteria (see “search”) that you’ve typed in trying to find something; in some circumstances (ranging from everything to online shopping preferences to possible police monitoring of pornography) it’s possible that an external history of your website visits is being compiled; ‘Big Brother’ may be truly watching you!
home page – the initial display that greets you when you arrive at a website; it will usually offer choices or further direction as to how to move further into that website; though some sites may consist only of a single page which may be short and simple or may take several minutes to be fully visible
link – a line or text or picture on a website that will, if you click on it with the computer mouse, take you to another website; usually appears underlined and in a different color if found in text; using the browser’s “back” button on the screen takes you back to where you linked from, however sometimes a picture itself may be a link
online – being connected to the internet, as opposed to using the computer’s own internal programs; if you’re on dialup, it’s the time spent using the phone line with the computer; if your internet is on cable or is a high-speed connection, your computer is technically online all the time
page – a single website (see “sites”) may contain many different pages; some are quite complex and offer a variety of choices once you arrive at the site
pop-up – a second (or third) web page that opens after you open another one; it may appear as a half size ‘window’ and usually contains advertising; some web browsers are set to block these; in this context, someone may be reading a risqué text-only (no pictures) site, and a pop-up will appear on the screen containing explicit photographs
post – similar to “uploading;” one posts something to the internet; a post can also be a comment or article; think of it as posting a notice on a utility pole or a bulletin board at the grocery store
search – a key element of this discussion, knowing how to efficiently list search criteria is the means by which internet users find what they are seeking
search engine – a particular type of website (viewed in a browser) used to search the internet; Google and Yahoo are currently the most popular, but there are many other choices
sites – if the internet is an information highway, sites or websites refers to all the shops, offices, houses, parks and other buildings you pass along the way
surfing – using a web browser (see definition) to look for websites that meet a particular search criteria; as opposed to simply typing in the address of a website you already know; or simply using links to jump from site to site
upload – obviously, the opposite of “download;” it’s how the content of websites gets on the internet in the first place; but anyone can think in terms of uploading a comment to a discussion site
web – there was once a subtle difference, but nowadays you can think of the ‘world wide web’ (from which we get that whole ‘www’ thing), and the internet as being one and the same
websites – same as “sites,” we use the terms interchangeably; some additional explanations are given in the chapter of the same name in this book
As a guy trying to write something that is intended to read by a dominantly female audience, I know that women are into relationships. So I thought that beginning there would be a good jumping off point. The point is that when guys view internet pornography it changes the relationship… (wait for it!) …with their computer.
I see two possible responses here.
Jim has done a bit of gaming, he knows how to check his stocks and mutual funds online, he has a friend who blogs, he’s got two e-mail addresses and he’s looking into switching his long distance from a standard carrier to VOIP on cable. Then he discovers the internet’s darker side.
Dawn, his wife, asks him to check her e-mail for a message from her mom, and from nowhere, she hears his voice answering her, “I’m not going anywhere near that thing.” He walks out to the patio and shuts the door.
Dawn’s understandably bewildered. Why doesn’t he want to check it? She opens the door, asking, “What’s the matter, did it bite you? Did you get an electrical shock off the keyboard?”
Around the block lives Rick. He loves to play the 300 variations on Solitaire he bought online, has a few friends he e-mails, likes to read articles from major newspapers online, and subscribes to a few comics to brighten the time when he gets home from work. Then a friend sends him a link to a site he thinks Rick will ‘enjoy.’ His eyes grow wide as the first image appears onscreen. His friend sends links to other websites.
Rick’s wife Alicia is unable to ignore what’s happened in the last few weeks. Rick has suddenly become an expert on all things related to the online world. He knows ‘search’ like never before, he’s suddenly an expert on downloading all manner of things, and it’s getting harder and harder for her to get any time online. Sometimes he’s up an hour early in the morning, and sometimes he’s up an hour late at night.
Alicia has entertained some suspicions, but anytime she walks by the screen all seems normal enough. But there’s no doubt in her mind that her man has suddenly transformed himself from a casual computer user to a rabid computer nerd. Or something.
Two guys. Two similar family dynamics. Two computers. But two entirely different responses. In the one case aversion, in the other case, immersion or saturation. One guy is treating the computer the way he might treat the family dog if it bit him. The other guy has suddenly become a handy guy to have around if you have any computer questions.
The point here is that those same reactions – aversion or immersion – can also affect the dynamics in a family. For sake of simplicity let’s ascribe the same reactions to couples with the exact same names.
Jim is suddenly cold toward Dawn. She doesn’t know why he doesn’t find her appealing anymore. She gets her hair styled, but he doesn’t seem to notice. There are fewer hugs. Fewer intentional touches. Jim’s aversion could be because he’s finding sexual fulfillment online. Jim’s aversion could be caused by the fact he simply feels guilty and suddenly finds sexuality – even sensuality – for lack of a better word, dirty.
But over at Rick’s house, Alicia couldn’t be happier. Jim has come alive sexually in ways she’s never seen before. Secretly, she wonders where he’s getting all these new ideas. But things are far too exciting to stop and think about it. She figures that maybe he read a book or an article in a newspaper. At any rate, she’s not going to complain.
Within the context of happy marital relations, Rick and Alicia’s situation would seem to be the better of the two, but what is Rick thinking – or pretending – while all this is going on? And what would a psychologist say about the fact that of the two men, Rick is the one who appears to be ‘acting out’ on his newfound interest?
The ‘acting out’ question is critical here because if exposure to internet pornography changes the relationship dynamics between a man and his wife or his girlfriend, could it have consequences for his daughter, his sister or his mother? Don’t be too quick to discount any of those, because when you see the recurring types of sexuality, and the themes that are dominant on the internet, you soon discover that there is a fine line between using the ‘net to stimulate healthy sexuality between a man and woman who are in relationship, and more overt perversity.
Furthermore, it’s a slippery slope that I’m certain leaves some guys saying, “I never thought that could happen to me.”
I would submit that almost from the first minute of viewing, that exposure to internet pornography is going to change the way the guy – any guy – looks at any female, from strangers to women in close proximity. I would submit that for most guys, if the escalation of interest in online erotica continues unchecked, there would come a point where ‘acting out’ would be considered, if not actually carried out. (In other places of course, you can read stories that indicate just about all the perpetrators of sexual crimes trace their behavior back to exposure to pornography. Logically, that doesn’t mean the story will end there for every man, but it means that with those for whom it did end there, its beginnings are undeniable.)
Even if nothing criminal ever happens, the consequences could be huge. One silly off-the-cuff remark to a female coworker could end a longtime career; a remark that wouldn’t have been made if certain thoughts hadn’t been planted in his head. One indecent suggestion to a friend’s wife, a cousin or a neighbor’s wife could totally destroy families, friendships and neighborhoods; a suggestion that would never have been vocalized if the person didn’t think that such behavior could be considered normal.
Someone once compared the things that enter our thought life to what happens when farmers sow seeds and later reap the harvest. The little verse goes:
Sow a thought, reap an action;
Sow an action, reap a habit;
Sow a habit; reap a lifestyle.
One thing is certain, whether there’s aversion or attraction, interpersonal dynamics are changed. Someone has said, “You are what you eat.” You certainly are what you read or view on television or your computer screen.
I don’t think anybody who stays connected with pornography is the same person.
The Christian bookstore I owned was located for ten years across the parking lot from a house which had a rather seedy reputation.
I didn’t grow up around people who were heavily into drugs or alcohol, but I got to know some of the guys who lived there through the owner of another store in the plaza, and in so doing, got a crash course in the nature of addictive behavior. I began to realize that there were a number of things to consider when dealing with people like the ones I met:
(a) how quickly one becomes addicted
(b) the intensity of the addiction itself
(c) the interconnectedness of other addictions
How long does it take to become addicted to something? I knew people in high school who were casual smokers. Despite what people say about the addictive properties of nicotine, these people could take it or leave it. However, I also heard a story once where someone having media credibility suggested that when it comes to cocaine, the time from first contact to hardcore addiction was something like six seconds. He proposed that the within six seconds of that first inhale, the body is immediately crying out for more.
Sadly, if I had to choose, I think that addiction to pornography falls into the latter category. The mind craves more and more; with the internet, technology is more than willing to oblige. The statistics below were compiled from comparing research data that was compiled from a variety of sources. I believe they are a reasonable representation of the size and scope of the issue we’re discussing:
(a) Porn is an eight billion dollar industry in the U.S. alone (some say thirteen billion)
(b) There are over 100,000 pornographic websites
(c) 200 new ones are added daily
(d) 25% of men and 4% of women have visited one in the previous 30 days
(e) Despite online availability, strip club revenue doubled in the ‘80s and doubled again in the ‘90s.
Personally, I think that (b) is low. I suspect there are dozens of types of websites that would get missed in a superficial study. Plus there are websites belonging to individuals and others belonging to organizations that have legitimate uses some of the time – including those belonging to educational institutions – and are used as channels of pornography at other times. Later on, we’ll discuss what constitutes a pornographic website.
Here’s another thing to consider with respect to (b): If you check the lists of the most active websites, you’ll see familiar names such as (at this writing) Google, Yahoo, E-bay, Wikipedia, YouTube, Craigslist, Adobe, Facebook, MapQuest, etc. In fact, until recently – one site has just entered – there was nothing in the Top 100 that belong to the category sometimes called “adult content.” The scary thing is: While pornographic websites represent only about 1% of the total number of sites online, it’s estimated that they drive 20% of all web traffic. Is that saying that one in every five online connections right this minute are watching pornography? It seems high; on the other hand, I wouldn’t be too quick to dismiss it.
While some of these websites are an island, many are part of a sophisticated networking of websites that work together in industry cooperation like you’ve never imagined. It’s like walking into department store “A” to buy a pair of shoes, and if they don’t have your size, they’re more than happy to send you store “B.” One big happy family.
And one big goal: To get you so wanting more that you are willing to part with your credit card number to get the one thing that they have that you want: More!
But let’s talk about the free stuff, first. Just think, you’ve got an addictive substance which is potentially profitable for you, but you are able to give away large quantities of free samples. Can you imagine the cigarette company standing outside the high school giving out free packages of smokes? Every day? “Well,” you say, “the kids would just use the free product and they wouldn’t need to buy anything.” That’s where you’re wrong. What if the liquor store is able to stand at the entrance to the mall and pass out samples? What if the local drug dealer sets up a large kiosk at the beach where you can help yourself to his product?
Absurd? No, that’s what you’re dealing with here. You’ve got an addictive substance. You’ve got oodles of free samples. And you’ve got all the time in the world to wait for the day that somebody is willing to pay just a little more for a slight variant on the core product and the credit card number and expiry date are flying across the internet faster than anybody can give it a second thought. Constant exposure will eventually break down resistance to giving up that credit card number, either online or over a toll-free phone line.
That’s how this game is played. And if I enter site “B” through site “A” it’s all being tracked and appropriate commissions are issued up and down the line. The version of “You scratch my back…” that’s played here is, “You link to my site and I’ll link to yours.” Wonderful cooperation. If only competitors in other industries (or dare I say, churches and charities) would work side by side as well as these.
A final word about the crash course I got in addictive behavior: I discovered early that people who have a weakness in one area of addiction usually have a weakness in another. Witness the number of people who need to take a cigarette break halfway through the AA meeting. Or the number of people with either vice who can’t stop buying lottery tickets. Internet pornography doesn’t always fit that pattern. There seems to be a capacity for people who don’t smoke, don’t drink, don’t gamble, etc., to have a real addiction to pornography.
That’s what makes it relatively impossible to know or predict who might be involved. There’s no smell on your breath, and no yellow marks on your fingers. As secret habits go, this one has the capacity to be very secret.
The guys in the house across the parking lot from my store would fall into the category of the economically disadvantaged. The ‘chicken and egg’ question as to whether their addictions added to their poverty or whether they were poor first and turned to drugs or alcohol to numb the senses doesn’t really matter. What matters is that the poor are very prone to addiction.
Pornography as an addiction is much more middle class. It strikes at people who manifest a very different vulnerability. They’re dealing with fear and anxiety. They’ve just had a job change. They’ve been through a separation or divorce. There is stress at home or at work or in the area of finances. There’s been a death in the family. They have just had a medical diagnosis. All of these can contribute to a need to want to dull the senses. The underlying reasons an adult male might have to seek out pornography online is quite different from that of a teenager who is just randomly curious.
Or, it could just be boredom. Or the need to want to create a buffer zone between themselves and reality. Or a desire to find another corner of the universe that is wholly different from the one they know.
The addicted person may not know they are addicted. Or they may be well aware. Either way, internet pornography can’t be considered a ‘hobby’ or an ‘interest;’ it’s a full-blown addiction, the same word we use to describe tobacco, alcohol and crack cocaine.
When dairy farmer Bob first got a copy of the centerfold calendar from the local plumber nearly forty years ago, he took it out to the barn and placed it in his corner workshop. Each month it revealed a new picture of a shapely woman, and Bob never flipped ahead to see what the next month had in store. Most years he gets a similar calendar, and when he retires next year, he’ll take the last one down from the workshop and possibly will never receive another.
Bob is an unusual exception. In today’s ‘remote control’ world men want to see all the pictures right away. Not all the pictures on a particular website, but all the pictures that exist. Someone said that with the TV remote, “men don’t want to see what’s on, they want to see what else is on.” Whether the man is holding a remote control or a computer mouse, the result is the same: Bob the dairy farmer, and his kind of casual response to pornography, just don’t exist anymore.
They say that laughter is actually a surprise emotion. I find that watching comedies on TV, if I can guess where the humor is going, I don’t laugh because I’m not really surprised. It takes some really quirky lines, a plot twist, or a truly funny delivery to make me laugh out loud. Laughter is partly surprise. There’s a parallel here between the comedic form of entertainment and the pornographic form of entertainment.
After a little while, the internet images can get stale, and the purveyor of porn is looking for something new. In a 1960’s hit song, Kicks, Paul Revere and the Raiders said it best
It’s gonna seem like kicks just keep gettin’ harder to find
And all those kicks ain’t bringin’ you peace of mind…
If porn is your drug of choice, you eventually will get to the point where you’re looking for harder stuff. That’s why some men’s tastes might skew towards something they weren’t expecting like masochism, or same sex sites, or what are called fetishes, which I won’t list here because if you know what that means, I don’t need to, and if you don’t, believe me, ignorance is bliss. Of course, not every guy goes that route, but the preponderance of evidence including the number of sites themselves, and the way that the visual sites are marketed would indicate that for the vast majority of men, tastes skew in only one direction: young.
Depending on the jurisdiction where you live, there is probably a cutoff age below which it is against the law to make, distribute and (in some cases) even view pornography with subjects below that age. This means that in the eyes of the law, there are only two kinds of pornography, relative to the ages of the subjects:
It’s that simple. For purposes of the rest of this discussion though, I want to use three terms relative to the subjects contained in visual pornography:
while recognizing that legally, there is no difference between (b) and (c).
This creates a number of variables however, because the sites may represent themselves as one type but in fact be something else altogether. Thankfully (at least in one way) category (c) is the most clear which makes it less likely to ‘accidentally’ ‘stumble’ over such pages.
(At this point, it might be good to backtrack a few paragraphs and mention that in terms of child pornography, the laws in your area may make it a crime to not only produce, distribute or view, but it might even be a crime to seek child porn online.)
The blurring of the lines in categories (a) and (b) can include adult sites which do contain subjects who are 18 or 19, but are marketed as teen sites with the models made to look young; adult sites where the owners were duped because younger subjects showed up for photo shoots with fake identification; or actual teen sites (a few of which are produced by the teens themselves).
Our culture is infatuated with youth. From female tennis stars to pop singers, it’s not unusual to find the media spotlight on girls who are 14 or 15 or 16. Fresh faces. Healthy hair. No worries. They say what they’re thinking. They make good news copy and good cover stories.
The world of internet porn mirrors this fascination, along with the added male obsession about girls who are virgins, or reflect some kind of virginal quality before the camera. Either as front-and-center or as subtext we see innocence and, more often its related theme, the destruction of innocence.
I didn’t actually see much in the way of category (c) – in fact I think you have to be trying fairly aggressively to find child porn. One time a page popped up, and I admit to wanting to look further, but I didn’t want to even keep the address on my screen or in my history. So I wrote it down in pencil on a piece of scrap – all 50 characters, yes 50 because these sites are often buried deep in other sites – and needless to say, got some characters wrong. So that’s my only viewing of it. Another time I saw a site which was clearly on the edge of child porn, though the subjects were somewhat clothed (at least on the home page, which is all I saw). What surprised me this time was that the internet site made no attempt to mask the fact it was marketed at pedophiles. I was shocked to see the ages of the kids – all single digits – listed under their pictures. A page like this may have been a pedophile’s dream but it’s also a parent’s worst nightmare.
But while I don’t quite “get” the whole pedophile thing personally, I am not completely without understanding of those who skip category (a) entirely and move on to category (b), teen pornography. And once again, we find that there are two different kinds of sites:
(a) sites which basically involve pictures of teens or girls of 18 or 19 made to look like younger teens, posing for pictures or in shots made to look somewhat candid
(b) sites which clearly portray teens or girls who are undeniably under 18 or 19, often in situations where they are being exploited by an older adult (not a peer; those are rare) in various ways
Later on, when we look at the various types of sites on the internet, we’ll see other ways in which men’s tastes skew from the basic stuff to what the song would call, ‘harder kicks.’ The point is, you’re not just dealing with addiction here, but with an addiction that becomes increasingly insatiable.
Now that we’ve introduced the concept of teen pornography, what happens when the audience is the teens themselves? (We could term this ‘peer pornography’ where audience and subjects are the same age.) Much has already been written about the availability of the internet to kids, but let’s review the obvious factors:
(a) you don’t have to leave the house to get it
(b) there’s no budget required (initially) because of the free samples available
(c) there is more pornography online than you could ever view
To continue here, I want to pursue an analogy from a branch of science I don’t really know that much about, but the concept is rather simple: Stem cells. These cells are in such demand right now because they are basically cells in formation; their ultimate destiny and purpose isn’t fixed and so they can be harvested from embryos and implanted in humans. (I’ll stop here before I get over my head with the science.)
I think that teens are like stem cells. They are still being formed, shaped and molded into the people they are meant to be. And a sudden infusion of pornography is just what they don’t need to throw their sexual orientation off course. Kids are influenced. Once they see things online, they are never the same people again. (Which may be why one Proverb says, “Do not awaken desire before its time.”)
In the second chapter I said that porn addiction is more like cocaine than tobacco. In just seconds there is the desire to see more pictures, go to more websites. For a young teen, in just seconds they have become corrupted by what they see. Furthermore – and I’m sure there is much anecdotal evidence for this – I am convinced that given thirty minutes to an hour of exposure to various facets of the dark side of the ‘net, a relatively innocent teen can be thoroughly corrupted by it, and a peer or an adult can probably convince them that behaviors they would have considered off limits or even repulsive half an hour earlier, are suddenly not such a big deal.
Add this to today’s high school environment of “friends with benefits,” “rainbow parties” and “recreational sex” (again, if you don’t know; ignorance is bliss) and you’ve got yourself a climate for intensive youth corruption. Furthermore, each year, the age of sexual curiosity and/or participation drops slightly, as preteens become more sophisticated in their knowledge at earlier stages than their parents might have imagined.
There’s also the question of those websites which are particularly targeting teens (and even much younger kids) which seem to have a hidden agenda beyond simply getting them to watch. That will come up in a few chapters. (A month after writing this, I discovered that Quantcast, an internet traffic reporting service, shows a measurable percentage of activity on these sites in the age 3 – 11 demographic.)
It might be helpful here to note two techniques used by pornographers to entice both young and old. Sometimes the “lease” on a legitimate internet site will run out and the organization or business will move to a new location. At that point, pornographers will swoop in and take over the site, building on the traffic that keeps going to the old location. The other technique involves our tendency to make “typos” or common errors in typing a popular site address. Instead of ending up at the desired site, one is faced with hardcore pornography.
One internet filtering company cites a study by the Kaiser Family Foundation suggests that 70% of teens whose exposure to online porn is genuinely accidental, got there because of “porn-napped” websites (the former case above, where the expired domain names of innocent sites are taken over), or “typo-squatted” sites (the latter case; deliberately introducing typographical misspellings). Not mentioned is our common tendency to confuse file extensions; substituting .com for .net; or .net for .us endings.
Teens and adults share a slippery slope when it comes to pornographic images:
(a) initial shock at seeing their first such image
(b) becoming desensitized to such images
(c) looking for other images which will shock
(d) becoming desensitized to those images
(e) looking for an opportunity whereby what were once images are part of real life.
The other challenge we face with teens is not knowing what the long-term effects are going to be for a generation that has grown up with pornography so ubiquitous. Let me give an example.
In the area where I live, as I write this, we are in the final season where lawn and garden companies will be allowed to apply chemical pesticide and herbicide for cosmetic purposes. Spraying both residential and commercial properties is supposedly in its final year. As an environmentalist, people think I must be overjoyed with this development.
Not exactly. The point is, it’s going to take at least twenty years before we know what the effect is going to be. These pesticides are water soluble; they are not removed by filtering either when rainwater runoff exits the municipal supply into the lake, nor when the lake water is pumped back into the municipal drinking water supply. The results will take at least a generation to be seen.
The case is exactly the same with kids who have been brought up to have unfettered access to images of explicit sex. Some images will be forgotten, but others are forever imprinted in their memory. Whatever place human sexuality held in the era of Leave It To Beaver, My Three Sons, or The Andy Griffith Show; that’s not the same place where it fits in the lives of kids brought up bombarded by sexual imagery in magazines, music, movies and internet media.
For these teens, making those images part of your lifestyle doesn’t necessarily mean that you become one of the people in the onscreen picture. It can have more to do with attitudes, beliefs, lifestyle choices and values. But I want to halt the discussion early on this topic because part of this flows into the next section which deserves its own chapter.
While we tend to think that world shapes the worldview of our children, adults’ worldviews may also constantly be in flux. Some people carve their beliefs in stone, but others write them in pencil. It’s clear that in what were once considered core values – matters of faith or politics or musical styles, for example – many have adopted a “cafeteria” approach. They may vote Republican / Conservative one time, but vote Democratic / Liberal the next. They may have switched car radio presets recently from top 40 hits stations to country and western. They might choose to worship in a modern, contemporary church for a few years, and then suddenly find formal liturgy attractive.
Our values are shaped largely by the people we hang around with, and the things we see and read. Internet pornography cannot help but affect our view of the world, and one of the first things that changes is that we start to believe the same lie that we were told back in high school: Everybody’s doing it.
To alter the classic Marshall McLuhan statement: The magnitude is the message. Or: The multitude is the message. Find me someone from a country where they don’t have the internet, and let that person watch visual pornography for an hour, and they will walk away convinced that this is what everybody in the western world is doing. Every North American is posing for pictures. Every western European is participating in orgies.
The sheer volume of the stuff very slowly works its way into your brain and suggests that perhaps what you’re seeing onscreen is ‘normal.’ In fact though, frequent exposure would eventually indicate that many of the pictures repeat from site to site on the most popular ones. Operators working in harmony, as we noted previously, freely borrow pictures from each other’s sites; many of the addicted who are looking for something different because they feel they’ve seen it all before, have in some cases actually seen some of it before. (So actually, everybody isn’t doing it.) Of course this only drives these ‘webmasters’ to find new subjects, new situations and new technologies which will ‘push the envelope’ to create that type of ‘surprise’ factor already mentioned.
What are some of the other values that get assaulted here? How about:
- Modesty (even offline, that ship sailed long ago)
- Privacy (the ‘sanctity’ of what takes place in the bedroom; both verbal and visual)
- Respect (and self respect)
- other taboos
The internet is often only one of several factors in play that some believe is moving society in what airplane pilots – if they were given to commentary on society at large – would call a ‘graveyard spiral’ morally. The term is used for an aircraft that is descending rapidly and can’t pull out of the dive. The analogy suggests that, unable to pull ourselves out, we’re heading for an eventual crash. Even if you don’t think morality matters, the pushing of the envelope toward more liberalized sexuality is bringing negative consequences, the spread of disease being only one.
But our society is often so willing to buy into the lie. Take item (3) above, fidelity. Not everybody is going to dismiss this overnight and head off to a ‘swingers’ party. But instead, we’ve invented this wonderful oxymoronic term, “serial monogamy.” It reminds me of the classic Seinfeld line about “grape nut” cereals having neither grapes nor nuts among the ingredients. On the one hand its meaning is all too clear, while on the other it’s totally meaningless. If you’re moving quickly from one relationship to the next, it’s not monogamy. It’s not even close.
They say that if you want someone to move towards a viewpoint that is foreign or uncomfortable to them, present your case in an extreme form first. Take item (6), innocence. I’m told that there is a group in the United States that strongly advocates a child have their first sexual experience at age eight. Eight.
Item (7), other taboos, will come up again when we look at the various formats of internet porn.
Christian families are not exempt from any of this. We’ve seen an increasing permissiveness with regard to a variety of activities once considered inappropriate. Whereas once Sunday was once truly a day of rest, today stores are open and Sunday shopping is never questioned. Whereas once card-playing was restricted to games like Rook, today it’s not a stretch to say that some guys from the church Men’s group probably get together for an occasional game of Texas Holdem. Whereas once evangelicals never went to dances, today we find some churches holding a dance at the church. Whereas once evangelicals never would admit to that occasional glass of wine, today we have pastors who blog about their favorite beers and liqueurs.
It seems like we who are Christians have become much more casual with everything on the cultural spectrum. (Except Halloween; never mention that your kids go ‘trick or treating.’ Not sure why.) But we’re also more casual in terms of things on the sexuality spectrum: The way women and girls dress for church services; the crude jokes we tolerate; the catalogs we allow into our homes; the plotlines contained in the romance novels we read. It’s easy to say, “Where’s the difference?” Whatever happened to the idea of Christians maintaining a ‘distinct cultural identity?’
If you read Clay and Renee Crosse’s book (see resources section) you’ll hear Renee admit that over a period of time, their approach to life had become increasingly secularized. She’s not taking responsibility for her husband’s activities, just pointing out that their home life created a climate where the lines were becoming blurred. If even the worldview of Christian families is under assault from an overall liberalization of behavior (and the rules that govern behavior) before the darker side of the internet enters the picture, what happens on the day when pornography suddenly is added to the mix?
In families and homes already secularized – the non-religious, or ‘unchurched’ – the changes in accepting newer conventions of behavior can take place at an accelerated pace, as there are fewer pre-programmed points of resistance. And what counselors refer to as “acting out” really begins with a change of worldview; a re-programming of the brain.
The producers of internet pornography already know they have a captive audience. But like any other people in business, they want to grow their market. Covertly – by their very presence – they ‘preach’ their message through visual pornography, and in other places they lobby more overtly to ‘spread their gospel’ to various levels of government to try to change the worldviews of entire nations. It begins, one person at a time, by trying to attract new converts to their beliefs. People just like you. Or someone close to you.
It’s at this stage in the discussion that I felt it would be helpful to relay some of my own story, though my contact with internet pornography was just a brief pit stop on a larger life journey, so I apologize ahead of time that it doesn’t end with any major depravity , and the content of my hard drive never consisted of anything anyone would find related to this topic.
Before I begin that though, let me tell you an almost entirely unrelated story. Nearly two decades ago, a very generous man donated a digital piano to our church, during the time I was the worship director. It produced thirty-two excellent sounds (actually ‘sampled’ from real life instruments) including some of the best pianos, pipe organs and brass I’ve ever heard on an electric keyboard.
However, this instrument also held a secret: If you held a certain button down at the same time as you turned on the power, it would configure differently, offering one hundred and twenty-eight sound choices. It would open up an entirely new world; a secret world, too, since it wasn’t labeled anywhere on the panel. I remember years later watching television with my wife and asking her where the secret button was on our TV set so we could see another, different bank of channels. It’s fun to be able to – at the push of a button – open up a whole new world of possibilities.
We had a computer for almost twelve years before it ever displayed anything resembling what’s under discussion in this book. One rather dull Saturday afternoon I did a search on a particular phrase (I truly don’t remember what it was) and ended up reading a very short story about someone describing their first sexual encounter. It would be wrong to say I didn’t know that kind of thing was online, but it had never landed on my screen. I read the story; it was well written and I certainly caught the eroticism of it.
At this point, I need to say that whichever of the two or three phrases it was I did the search on that afternoon, there may have been something in the back of my brain that was bored and ‘looking for trouble.’ The particular sentence fragment was probably somewhat edgy, but had I known where it was going, I wouldn’t have hit ‘enter.’ I do regret that day, and I have been careful not to fall back into that mistake again. It is, however, the reason I wrote at the outset that I don’t believe most guys truly stumble onto a pornographic website. There is always some intention.
I read a few more stories that day, and a few days later searched a few more phrases. One of them landed me in the middle of an erotic novel that had been posted online. I thought the chapter ‘had its moments’ and I certainly found reading it stimulating (though in a rather confusing combination of ways, most relating to how foreign the story was to my own life experience) but when the author got to the sections where he actually described the sexual situation taking place between the two main characters, I found it somewhat cold and clinical. The attention to detail and obvious knowledge this person had of sexual physiology made the story sound more like a medical textbook. I figured that if this is what hardcore erotic literature is like, I don’t need it. I closed the computer window and walked away.
But a few days later, I decided to go back and start at the beginning and see if I could make the novel make more sense. As someone who grew up with a strong Christian faith, I was repulsed by the majority of it, but was curious to see what the next chapter might bring. It was a whole new world. Surely I had read worse in the advice column in the newspaper. Hadn’t I? And there were no pictures. So I was simply satisfying a general curiosity and decided to check out the next chapter.
I was hooked. Or was I? I decided I didn’t care how the story ended. But then I would go back a few days later and download another chapter. (We didn’t have high speed internet then, so I couldn’t truly ‘read online.’)
My head was definitely getting messed up by what I was reading. I began to wonder if my view of sexuality was too repressed or too restrained by my upbringing. I was becoming somewhat internally conflicted. I was wasting time for sure and definitely spending more time reading the story – it was quite long – than I was reading things that would have been more profitable and more honorable. I was involved with something my wife was initially unaware of, too, which meant I was keeping a secret from her. That bothered me the most.
I finally finished the story. And then I wanted more. Furthermore, there were links at the end of the story which led to websites containing visual, photographic pornography. My resistance was slowly wearing down.
But before I get ahead of myself, I need to say that our computer faces out into a large family room located at the bottom of a set of stairs. You can’t walk in the room without seeing what’s on the screen. With erotic literature, you could walk by someone’s computer right now, and never realize the true content of what they’re reading. My wife walked by. My kids walked by. Nobody noticed. Nobody suspected. That’s something that had never occurred to me before; the idea that I myself could walk by someone’s computer who was essentially viewing a kind of pornography, and never know. At work. At the library. At an internet café.
I discovered that there were several sites like this where semi-professional writers posted online novels; but for each one of these were hundreds more where people had submitted their own stories, some of which were cleverly crafted and others which would never get a passing grade in a creative writing course. Each one offered something different, however, there being no limit to what happens when the human imagination collides with an obsession about sex.
As I mentioned, my resistance to visual pornography was weakening. Many of the story sites had a picture or drawing, but many had links that led to other types of websites, that are closer to what you normally think of as pornographic. For at least a month, visual pornography became a habit for whenever I could get a few minutes online whenever nobody else was in the room. During this time we switched to high speed internet – we’d been on a waiting list for a year – which only made the situation worse.
I’m the kind of person who keeps flipping the remote to “know what else is on.” Once a year or so our family pays a visit to something called the Pacific Center, a shopping mall designed to look like streets in Hong Kong. There’s nothing there I need to buy, I certainly don’t speak the language, but I find I have to walk up and down every single street before we leave. It’s obsessive, I know; I simply want to see it all without missing anything.
My approach to my newfound ‘world’ was similar. I didn’t really want to linger over the images onscreen, as much as I wanted to know what images were available. This was like a foreign country to me, and as a tourist I wanted to capture as much information as I could. Did other people know this was here? That sounds like a foolish question, but I think that even while I was losing objectivity concerning my own brief addiction, I’m the kind of person who gathers information in order to disseminate it; therefore the germ or the seed for this book was being planted at the same time.
However, this is as good a place as any to say that I don’t believe anybody can rationalize or justify any time spent online because they “want to be informed in order to help others.” I continued to explore this world long after I had enough exposure to write everything you’re reading. Furthermore, I would be suspicious of anybody who says they’re watching pornography to understand it in order to counsel people who are into it. It’s not necessary to go out and get drunk in order to understand the effects of alcohol. (Feel free to add any similar analogies which you find useful here.)
On the other hand, I wasn’t the kind of person you might picture sitting naked in front of the screen using the visual images as inspiration for self-stimulation, either. That just never happened. To a large extent, I think it never happened because after a short time, it all just gets old. Call it the law of diminishing returns. That surprise factor, those ‘kicks’ we talked about, just don’t happen. At that point I would guess that you’ve got to plunge deeper into more perverse sites or be willing to part with that credit card number in order to get the same ‘high’ as before.
And it possibly never happened because I myself am older. I can’t begin to imagine how devastating the world of internet pornography would be if I was – like many are – a guy in my teens or 20s or 30s, where the rush of endorphins meets more youthful hormonal levels. That’s playing with fire.
In any event, the guy who has to see every street at the Pacific Mall, became the guy who ran a frantic race through the internet, clicking frantically on everything, and using a technique known to fishermen as “catch and release.” I would “catch” the essence of what a website was about, who they were targeting, how they were making money, what other websites they were linking to, etc., and then “release” that page to go on to another one. I would see everything, but never leave an image onscreen long enough to really fantasize over it or dwell on it. Believe me, I am quite sure that puts me in a decisive minority, and I don’t want to pretend for a minute that some of those images didn’t come back into my head a few hours later when the computer was either turned off or far away. I also know that many people don’t have the same level of self control. But as I said before, there was also an academic curiosity at work; the seed for what you’re reading was planted and “catch and release” seemed like a good way to see it all without deeper commitment.
Then something happened in our family life – one of those unexpected phone calls – that brought me crashing back to reality. I don’t believe so much that God sends things into our lives when we’re where we shouldn’t be, as much as God knows that some things are going to converge at certain points in our lives. But I do believe sometimes he intervenes and send things, too; and I’ve seen times in my life where I was heading down a road I shouldn’t be on, and God clearly sent a person or a situation to interrupt my direction before I got too far lost. (For a similar story of intervening circumstances in this same context, check out a book by singer Clay Crosse and his wife Renee, I Surrender All.)
I told my wife that I was clearly in a state of addiction to this particular means of escape. With her support I simply did what I needed to do: I stopped going to those websites and effectively said “goodbye” those web pages. What’s the point in having a ‘wake up call’ if you don’t intend to wake up? Quitting is not so easy for the majority of men. Furthermore, it’s also possible to never look at another pornographic image again in your life, yet continue to be waging the battle of this particular addiction.
(I’ve often disagreed with the idea of people going to AA meetings, who have not touched a drink in twenty years, standing up and saying, “Hi; My name is _______, and I’m an alcoholic.” C’mon…you’ve been sober for two decades! However, more recent reading is helping me understand that various forms of addiction can continue long after we would otherwise want to declare the individual ‘cured.’)
A few months afterwards, I jotted a half page of “notes” in a journal in order to remember some of the observations I made during that time. I also looked into “accountability sites” where you have an “accountability partner” who monitors all your online use, and decided that with God’s help, I would make a clean break of it, which I have. But for many – perhaps a majority – of people, I would recommend accountability software as a great way to keep faithful to internet purity, if you have that all-important other person who will work with you. (See the list of resources in the last chapter.)
I decided quickly that the notes I made could be helpful to people; after all, if it could happen to me it could happen to anybody. Life is always better when you can learn certain things from others before the wakeup call becomes necessary; before the lesson becomes a difficult lesson.
Most of the people who do “ministry” in the area of pornography deal with men. But what about the collateral damage that’s done to the ‘victims’ of porn addiction? I decided to put together a seminar – yeah, I’m always doing stuff like that, but that’s another discussion – that would be advertised as being for “the wives, girlfriends, daughters, mothers and sisters.” The first two are somewhat obvious, the next three will become more significant when we look at types of websites.
Nobody responded. In a small town, it’s a tough thing to admit there’s a problem like this in the family, because you’re not only identifying yourself but you’re identifying someone else, too. The people who came to speak to me tended to show up informally and were all from out of town. They told me clearly that they were afraid of “losing” their son or husband. They told me stories of family members who simply couldn’t stop; the addiction was so powerful. They also told me – emphatically – not to be so quick to assume that women aren’t reading and viewing internet porn also.
In short, I learned very quickly that this is a subject that is affecting vast numbers of people – I only know a handful of people who don’t own a computer – and nobody is willing to talk about it.
In the broader Christian community of which I am a part, programs like Celebrate Recovery deal with “hurts, habits and hang-ups” of every kind; these programs are equipped to deal with people struggling with porn issues but rarely do you see anything specifically advertised to tackle this issue in any kind of lecture or support-group format. If you own a computer, this issue is clearly “the elephant in the room.”
So if I had held that seminar, what new information would I present that people didn’t already know? I think that first and foremost, I want to advance the thesis that text pornography – stories like the ones I started reading – are every bit as dangerous as the color picture sites. In fact, I would say more so. If there’s anything today that would tempt me, it would be the text sites. I’ve seen all the pictures before.
Having just said that, I want to now say it again. Don’t be too dismissive of text-only pornography. It’s not just a gateway to more hardcore sites; it presents its own dangers. Whenever I discuss this topic now, that is the major message that I deliver. I’m not hearing it said elsewhere, so I’ve decided to be the guy with the slightly different take on this issue: Yes, pornography is about visual images, but beware narrative, text-only erotica.
But whether it’s text, or the ‘picture that’s worth a thousand words,’ be sure of this: The producers of internet pornography have an agenda, they have a message, and they have a mission; and make no mistake about it, they are making converts, many converts, every single hour.
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