How internet porn is rewiring society’s brain by Dionne Gravesande

Dionne Gravesande explores how pornography is impacting the Christian community, and calls on the Church to create safe spaces, where people can deal with their addiction to porn

Internet pornography is very real and very dangerous. In my life as a counsellor, this issue is having devastating consequences on the lives of women and men in and outside church, and it’s important that we are aware of the mental, emotional and even physical dangers of Internet pornography.

Here are some facts you should know about pornography on the World Wide Web:

  • there are 420,000,000 pages of pornography on the Internet
  • there are 4,200,000 pornographic websites
  • there are 68,000,000 search engine requests for porn every day!                      

With such high numbers of people watching porn, don’t assume that this isn’t a problem in the churches. One UK evangelical leader was sceptical of similar survey findings, which said 50% of Christian men have looked at porn recently, so he surveyed his own congregation. He found that 60% of them had done so within the past year, and 25% within the past 30 days. Is this a shock? And it isn’t just men who have a problem with porn, since other surveys reveal that one in three visitors to adult websites are women.

At Quit Porn Addiction (the UK’s main porn counselling service), almost one in three clients are women struggling with their own porn use. Yet, what is striking is the real sense of despair and loneliness for the women who get caught up in it. In almost every case, the women believe they are the only ones ever to have struggled with the issue. “Porn and sexual addiction may be referred to as a man’s problem, but for women it’s an unspoken struggle. Many women talk of a problem dating back to their early teens, before they’ve even had a relationship. Whether started out of curiosity or other factors, it seems that once you start, pornography can take over your life. The images can sit in your mind all day long, and it taps your subconscious, encouraging you to look at more.”

Porn is gaining a stranglehold on mainstream society and culture. One reason is the false message that porn viewing is harmless and socially acceptable for the sexually frustrated. The reality is it is not harmless; the number of casual porn viewers who end up sexually addicted runs into the hundreds of thousands.

Pornography appears to be a taboo word in the corporate church space and, in my view, we cannot afford to play the taboo game; there are too many lives at stake and in need of help. Christians, who have spoken out about this subject, say: “It was like a constant battle between my sexual urges and my self-control. I’d think to myself: ‘It’s not doing any harm’, but then I started to loathe myself for giving in and wasting so much time on it.” Like me, you might believe the Church stands as Christ’s disciple, and we need to be mindful of the evils that wrap and bind people into lonely isolated places. And it isn’t just the new believers coming into church who are getting addicted to pornography, but also those who have been in the pews for a while.

For those inside church, stigma and fear work against those Christians who wish to address this issue. A courageous churchgoer, John, bears witness to this reality. After much prayer, John decided to step out and start a ministry to offer church leaders an unprecedented look into the way men’s accountability groups function. One crucial element is creating a confidential context for full disclosure. Disclosure of sex addiction or porn use is so stigmatising that it is best handled in a confidential, small-group setting, in which participants agree not to pass judgment. They also grant each other ‘the right to call’ 24/7 for unannounced check-ins. The ministry is successful and is growing.

This reminds me of how distinctive Christian community can be. “Because Christian community is founded solely on Jesus Christ, it is a spiritual and not a psychic reality. In this, it differs absolutely from all other communities.” Theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s comment perfectly sums up what faithful, risk-taking congregations offer a sexually obsessed society.

Evil has many names, and we should call out the names if people are to be liberated. Pornography is addictive and a very destructive poison. It is a way to control and promote a society that looks at marriage as something for the weak. It causes you to redefine women and men as sexual playthings, and destroys [future] family units. Porn really will blind you from the true meaning of sex. God intended sex to bond the two persons together, so that they become one flesh and enjoy not just the sex but all of the other amazing things that a partnership can bring: love, loyalty, a family and other more important things.

If porn has become a habit for you, take a step in faith, confide in a trusted pastor, counsellor, elder or friend. If you are an overcomer, consider setting up a support ministry. Since there are not many meetings where pornography addicted people can help support each other, we need to send a message saying: You are not on your own; the Church can support, pray and deliver men and women from addictive behaviours.

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