Thirteenth Chapter – Responding

07/30/2008

I believe it’s better to light a candle than to curse the darkness. I hate listening to speakers who spend endless words decrying the ills of society and documenting the ‘slippery slope’ we’re on and the ‘collision course’ we’re headed for. Give me something encouraging to get me through today!

Part of my motivation here is based on the axiom that ‘knowledge is power.’ I think it’s important for the third-party ‘victims’ of pornography to know how the mechanics of how the thing works. If one person in a family constantly viewing this content changes the relational dynamics between that person and other family members, or creates an abusive situation, then this whole process needs to be seen and understood with open eyes.

But the mechanics pale in comparison to the motivation of the producers. So far we’ve covered three main points:

(a) This is a business with the objective of getting money out of our pockets and into their pockets, using credit cards and online technologies. No different than the barker outside the circus tent inviting people to come in and see the entire show.

(b) Pornography is more than pictures. It’s a genre that encompasses various forms, and its text form may be more insidious than the forms containing pictures

(c) Pornography has a message; its producers are ‘evangelizing’ the general population and some of them are determined to eliminate taboos which are necessary for the preservation of the family unit.

Looking back over my own story, I think the thing that caused me to return to the internet’s dark side every few days – the addictive factor notwithstanding – was frustration. But not sexual frustration. I might have had a bad day at work, or something was not going well in some other area, and I just wanted to escape for a few minutes. I know that may not be the same for everyone, but I suspect a lot of guys start surfing for porn because some other life factor isn’t being fulfilled. (Okay, I promised not to ‘Bible thump’ but maybe some other life factor is missing.) Or maybe they were just bored.

I think also that as a person who grew up in fairly conservative Christian home, this was a window on a whole new world. As someone who was told by a hippie English teacher in high school that my whole generation was ‘repressed,’ I longed to have a broad world view and wrote a paper once about adolescence as a period of moving, “from innocence to awareness.” The problem is that the internet tends to move people from innocence to corruption.

Married couples might well ask, “What about online sex manuals, or websites that provide advice for husbands and wives to use to heighten their experience in the bedroom?” I honestly don’t find most of those websites to be pornographic in nature. In fact, there are books that are similar to The Joy of Sex which are available in Christian bookstores, including Sheet Music by Kevin Leman (and others among his titles) and Intended for Pleasure by Ed Wheat. The concern here is that internet is so “guilty by association” that a married couple might do better to buy the print version of such books or manuals.

But what does one do if someone in the family is accessing pornography? Technology provides two distinct options:

(a) installing an online filter, so that some websites are simply blocked. My youngest son actually did this with his computer entirely on his own;

(b) accountability software which requires having someone who will act as an accountability partner; some of these systems are not easily circumvented, though they would not report a person’s internet use at work or at an internet café.

The technical solution may not necessarily get to the heart of the problem. Some technical solutions may work for man’s home computer, but not the one he uses at work. Open communication is probably the best way to deal with this issue, but as mentioned early on, constant exposure to pornography can shut down communications in a family.

At some point along the way, the person needs – to borrow a familiar line from various twelve step programs – to admit they have a problem. For me, a family crisis provided the necessary wake-up call, and as my wife sat next to me on the couch I suddenly confessed to having a problem about which she had no previous knowledge.

Mind you, my dalliance with online porn was extremely short lived. I would contend that if someone is watching this stuff over a long period of time, the family does get hints and clues, though I will also accept that there are anecdotal accounts of families where one individual’s online habit was a well kept secret.

The story often plays out differently, though, when one family member discovers the internet habit of another. The guilty party might respond angrily, might try to deny the severity of the problem, or might collapse in a sea of relief that their problem is recognized, knowing the time and energy it is draining and keeping them from more wholesome projects.

At this point it’s not enough to just start hitting the ‘delete’ key. There has to be a catharsis, a moment in time where the person says, “enough is enough;” or “I know I have to stop.” Sometimes however, there is a long interval between “I know I have to stop;” and “Here’s what I’m going to do.” Every case is different, however; anyone who thinks it’s that simple doesn’t understand the nature of addictive behavior.

But it’s not impossible. It may be a concerned wife who sits down next to her husband with the files he’s downloaded and says, “Look at her… that could be our daughter.” It might be an intelligent daughter who reads a downloaded online story and asks her father, “What if that was me in that story?” It could be a girlfriend who asks her boyfriend, “Is that what you’re thinking about when we’re out on a date?” It could be a mother who simply asks her son, “If the computer crashes right now and you take it in for repair, what will you do if they find all that stuff on your hard drive?” (In some areas, new rules require computer repair shops to report any content they find which may be illegal in that jurisdiction.)

If nothing else works, there’s always the cold turkey approach. I heard a story about a year ago about a guy who simply disconnected the computer, took it outside and smashed it to pieces with an axe. Of course, it doesn’t have to be that radical. Many internet service providers will suspend your account for a few months if you’re going on holiday; so if they’re a reasonable company they should understand that sometimes, some people need to take a computer holiday.

Failing that though, the computer needs to be ‘cleaned up’ with anything that might prove a temptation taken away. Never having downloaded anything, I can’t begin to imagine what a major task this might be. Backing up important files and then wiping the hard drive clean and reloading the operating system may be the only solution. Don’t give the computer away to someone. That could just lead someone into the situation you’ve just escaped.

Also, don’t forget that pornography existed long before computers. Months after I was long past thinking about porn, we were visiting a town park in another city and when I went to use the restroom there was a copy of a pornographic magazine that someone had ‘left behind.’ (I think there’s nothing more ‘icky’ than seeing a magazine like that lying around a public restroom.) As I walked past, I couldn’t help but notice that this ‘free sample’ had the same name as one popular porn website. Another example of media convergence and corporate synergy. Did someone truly forget to take this magazine with them, or are copies being left in public restrooms across the nation?

For some reading this, though, moving towards a solution is entirely in the future, and everything I’ve written is idealistic. All you can be at this point is loving and supportive, and try to provide an environment that offers fulfillment in a variety of other areas. For others, the title alone of the book Caring Enough to Confront by David Augsburger best describes what you feel you need to do. In either case, you want to tread carefully.

A few years back I invited a friend to join me at a special service at Church that was not the one he usually attends. While I knew he would enjoy it, his excuse was something about “how the cow tends to go down the same trail in the morning.” People addicted to pornography have a certain pattern of computer use that has been thoroughly ingrained over time. The cow trail has become quite worn. This pattern of behavior is familiar and comfortable and over time fits like an old shoe. They could turn on the computer in their sleep, and effortlessly navigate the internet to frequently visited locations. One counselor suggested to me that it takes “harsh measures” to break the “brain pathway” that causes this. For any of us to change we need to look at ourselves and our situation differently, and then carve out new pathways and practice following new pathways that are healthier.

If you’re in a situation with a family member – though it could just as easily be a neighbor or a co-worker – where you’ve been aware of the addiction but have been somewhat relaxed about the issue; it may be time to put your foot down and say, “enough is enough.” Don’t feel that what you didn’t do in the past has added to the problem; just focus on what you can do today to make a difference in both of your lives.

I also need to remind myself here that the person reading this may be the person with the problem, even though this book wasn’t designed with that in mind. Believe me, I understand the tremendous hold this addiction has on you, but I also believe it’s possible, right now with God’s help, to stand up, shake the dust off your feet, walk away, and not look back. There is no possible benefit that you are getting from viewing pornography that can’t be replaced with something that is one hundred times better, richer, fuller, deeper and more rewarding.


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