Second Chapter – Addiction


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.


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