Government officials in Ohio are raising an alarm for a new epidemic: heroin use is ravaging the state. In 2015, the state recorded 65 deaths due to overdose. In 2016, that same number was tallied within the first half of the year. If epidemics are defined by their breadth and a government’s present inability to arrest the problem, then Ohio is under the scourge of an epidemic.
But there is an even greater epidemic traversing the American landscape. While its affects are not felt in numbers of fatalities, it is just as potent and dangerous as the heroin problem in the upper mid-west. The epidemic is pornography.
The statistics are staggering. According to a study conducted in 2014 by the Barna Group, 79% of 18-30 year-olds surveyed admitted to viewing pornography at least once a month, while 67% of 31-49-year-olds and 49% of 50-68-year-olds confessed to this same frequency of use. Perhaps most alarming is the fact that among those surveyed, 63% of 18-30-year-olds, 38% of 31-49-year-olds, and 25% of 50-68-year-olds stated that they view pornography multiple times a week. Overall, 55% of married men and 70% of unmarried men confess to using pornography once a month.
And, while pornography has historically been the object of male indulgence, women are increasingly viewing it. According to the Barna study, 76% of 18-30-year-olds, 16% of 31-49-year-olds, and 4% of 50-68-year-olds say they view pornography once a month. 21% 18-30-year-olds, and 5% of 31-49-year-olds admit to multiple viewings per week.
Pornography and Heroin
You may have noticed that I referred to the “use” of pornography and not only the “viewing” or “watching” of pornography. This terminology is deliberate. Extensive studies have shown that pornography actually works much like a narcotic. It stimulates similar regions of the brain, quickly leads to addiction, and requires increasingly greater stimulus in order to achieve the desired “high.” In this sense, then, people can be said to “use” pornography, not merely view it or watch it. For many, pornography has become something they “need” in order to function properly. This, in part, explains why so many men (and women) find themselves almost unable to stop viewing pornography without the aid of some form of intervention and accountability.
In his book, Wired for Intimacy: How Pornography Hijacks the Male Brain, Dr. Willam Struthers argues that pornography “acts as a polydrug delivering emotional and sensory excitation” which provides the user with a “mood-altering experience.” Because of these effects, pornography has the ability to “dominate [a] person’s life and behaviors.” Like drug addicts, porn users “become increasingly preoccupied with acquiring [and] viewing” pornography to the point that it eventually “consume[s] their thought life.” Soon, users become bound to pornography to such at extent that they begin to build their lives around their addiction and spend much of their energy and time fulfilling it.
Pornography and Your Soul
And while pornography is not decimating its users with fatal overdoses, it is destroying people just the same. Peter tells us that fleshly lusts are not something with which to trifle, because they “wage war against your soul” (1 Peter 2:13). And the fallout from this warfare is extensive.
Because pornography is a perversion of God’s good gift of human sexuality, it distorts the minds of its users toward this good gift and disables people from using it appropriately. Pornography promotes relational selfishness and creates unrealistic, unhealthy expectations for sexual intimacy while greatly weakening a man’s ability to delight in his wife’s physical beauty. But pornography also robs men of ambition, discourages initiative, perverts inclinations, sabotages desire for godly productivity, promotes passivity, dampens passion for adventure, hinders taste for spiritual truth, and weakens the ability to concentrate. Pornography truly wages war against the whole person.
And it could be that the growing use of pornography in America is one reason—perhaps one of the primary reasons—why men are waiting longer and longer to get married. Through constant pornography use, young men have lost their ability to appreciate the beauty and goodness of the women around them and have become satisfied with a digital harem who will not only do all their bidding, but who will not bother him with difficulties that attend real relationships.
And while the statistics clearly indicate that pornography use is much higher among males than females, this trend is presently shifting. The same study I mentioned above found that 76% of 18-30 year old women surveyed confessed to using pornography at least once a month. This is a massive increase from only a few years ago. And similar to how pornography affects men, it disables women from thinking or feeling rightly about romantic relationships, marriage, and the beauty of human sexuality.
Pornography and Your Neighbor
But pornography doesn’t aim to destroy only you; it has its sights on destroying your neighbor as well. Your brothers or sisters might be mired in a slough of pornography and they need you to pull them out. Your husband may be caught in the snare of sexual sin and needs you to ask him some hard, life-saving questions.
But pornography is also destroying the lives of those who participate in creating it. The confessions of some former female adult movie stars are heart-wrenching. They speak of traumatic physical abuse, severe health problems, and addiction to narcotics. The use of alcohol, cocaine, ecstasy, hallucinogens, methamphetamines, heroin, tranquilizers, and prescription pain-killers is common among these female actresses, and one can only imagine why: these women are bearers of the divine image, created by God to be protected and loved by their dads and brothers and husbands, but who are being treated as nothing but mere sexual objects by men they barely know. In order to help them cope with such vile mistreatment, these women turn to alcohol and heavy narcotics to drown the pain.
The male actors and producers of pornography, while fully culpable for their sin, are also being destroyed by this wicked industry. Enmeshed in an ever-growing, never-satisfied desire to feed their sexual lusts and financial greed, these men are enslaved to their own shame.
Some have been able to leave the industry and are now speaking out against it. But many are caught in the industry’s vicious cycle, described by one former actor: “I would go to work and do the porn, to buy the drugs, to bury the pain, of doing the porn.” Love for our neighbor should compel us to pray diligently, not only for those who view pornography, but for those who are responsible for creating it. Their lives, too, are being devastated by this immoral industry.
Pornography and the Gospel
But the negative effects of pornography use and production run infinitely deeper than the psychological, social, and emotional problems they cause. Eternal lives are at stake, for the one who views pornography, and the one who participates in creating it. Jesus tells us that a person characterized by unrestrained sexual lust will end up in hell.
You have heard that it was said, “You shall not commit adultery.” But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into hell (Matt 5:27-29).
Jesus also tells us that those who deliberately put temptations before others face the same fate.
And he said to his disciples, “Temptations to sin are sure to come, but woe to the one through whom they come! It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were cast into the sea than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin” (Luke 17:1-2).
For those who carelessly indulge in pornography and for those who produce it, certain judgment awaits. The gospel, however, delivers both people from this judgment. While we can rejoice over the many stories of people who have overcome their addiction to pornography or removed themselves from the industry, we cannot fully rejoice until these stories of personal success become stories of divine redemption. Some people may stop viewing or creating pornography because it is wrecking their life, but unless they see their sin in light of God’s holiness and have that sin forgiven at the cross of Christ, they have only improved their earthly life, not their eternal one.
For Christians who are currently battling sexual temptation, we must see that all the resources we need to overcome these temptations are found in Christ and His Church (2 Peter 1:3). Christ supplies us with a gospel that secures our justification and gives us His Spirit so that we can wage effective warfare on our pervasive but forgiven sins. Our Savior also gives us brothers and sisters to help us root out our sin with sharp questions, warm encouragement, and firm admonishment. And don’t think you can battle this enemy with only one of these resources. Each one is essential in our fight for purity. Use these gospel weapons, and pray for others who have yet to pick them up.