Sixth Chapter – Background

07/30/2008

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.

[click on “load more posts” a few lines below to continue to the next chapter]

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