Porn 101: Marriage Edition

Recently, during a class break, I was chatting with one of my students. Our previous hour I had been teaching about porn. He clearly had some urgent thoughts he wanted to share.

Confidently, he said, “I have struggled with porn, but I am soon getting married so it is no longer an issue. Once I get married I will be having sex with my wife, she will satisfy me, the porn will be a thing of the past.”  I calmly listened, not sure whether to laugh at the absurdity of what he was saying or cry at the tragedy of his deception.

But so many of us are saying, “Porn is terrible, that’s why I’m so glad our marriage doesn’t have a pornography problem!”  Here’s the deal. Unless you are actively talking, communicating and acting on the reality of porn then you, quite simply, are deceiving yourself. Too many of us have a fantasy world that simply is not reality (read my post on the reality of porn).

By “porn problem” I do not even mean that one or both of you is regularly engaging with porn. I simply mean you have a big bulls-eye on your marriage in this area.

Even if neither you nor your spouse has ever looked at porn (which is unlikely), we need to humbly say, “that could change tomorrow.”  All of us are tempted sexually. Even Jesus was tempted sexually (Heb 4:15). I’m guessing you and your spouse are not more pure, holy or stronger than God himself.

With this in mind, here are 4 ways I think we can practically protect our marriages:

Start Talking:
This is the hardest part. If you’ve never had this conversation with your spouse, then it won’t be easy. Perhaps the topic is embarrassing, you both avoid deeper issues, are afraid to be honest or hear your spouse be honest. It may be painful, embarrassing or scary… but do it.

Today, go to your spouse and say, “I read this crazy lady’s blog and it got me thinking… we should make sure that we are protecting our marriage against porn.”

My friends, if I had one prayer for you it would be this, “Lord, let them talk”. That’s it, just start the conversation. Stop being passive and living in a dream that porn is an issue for every marriage but ours. Stop thinking, “I will never look at it again”.  If you need help because of what you might hear or what you have to say, get a trusted friend to help… but do it. Talk.

Keep Talking:
Once you have started the conversation, keep it going. This is a conversation that should be happening for the rest of your married life. You should both agree to actively protect your marriage, in this area, as long as you both shall live.

Remember, this isn’t based on your past or if one or both of you have a problem with porn. It is based on humble wisdom: “We live in a porn-filled world and we are both tempted sexually. Therefore, we will walk in a way that assumes we are susceptible at any time.” Check-ins don’t have to be daily or weekly but they should be regular. There should be the freedom to simply ask one another, “how are you doing in this area?”.

Take Action:
After you have the conversation going, talk about practical safe-guards. These are steps which will bring safety and build trust in your marriage.

Each of you can tell the other two things:
1. Knowing my own weaknesses, these are steps I should take.
2. It would bring me peace if you did this.

So, you are both saying things you need to do for yourself. But, you are also telling the other person what you would like from them.

At a minimum, you should both be putting safe-guards on all devices that have access to the internet.  X3Watch.com  has free and paid apps for all computers and devices.  You can also turn on SafeSearch for Google on all devices.

What are other practical steps? Perhaps one of you sets a self-imposed limit on the types of movies you watch because it’s just not helpful. Or maybe if you are traveling alone, more strict steps are put in place. We had a friend who asked my husband to call him daily while traveling alone, just to check in on how he was doing and provide accountability. Another friend calls hotels before hand and requests that all paid TV is turned off. His wife knows he does this. It’s different for each person, but think of practical steps, communicate them to each other and start taking action.

Make it a Community Effort
I highly recommend both the husband and wife have a friend, outside the marriage, that they are accountable to. Women and men can have different views, experiences and struggles in sexual temptation.

I once knew a couple that were struggling with his porn problem. They were trying to do the right thing, so he was telling her every time he was tempted to look at porn. She couldn’t handle it, it was devastating to her. It would have been so much better if he had another male friend whom he could go to, be honest with and get the support he needed.

Both my husband and I have close friends that we talk to about these deeply personal topics and we know who they are for each of us. It is so helpful to us that we are not alone in protecting our marriage for life!

Start talking, keep talking, take action and make it a community effort.  What other ideas would you add?

*Please be aware that if you have a serious, compulsive and ongoing struggle with pornography I would strongly suggest that you talk to a mature friend, pastor or counsellor, before telling your spouse. Get their help and input on a way forward which gives the support that will be needed for both you and your spouse.

Porn 101: Waking Up

The world we live in today is so different than the past. Especially in regards to pornography.

I remember, not so long ago, my husband and I counselling a young married couple. The husband had an ongoing struggle with porn. After we had talked and prayed for a while we worked with them to set some practical safe guards. One of the main ones was that he wasn’t allowed to fill up his car with fuel. Why? Because that was where the most accessible porn was for him.

This advice is now so antiquated. Today, the gas station is the LEAST accessible place to get porn. Porn is now easier to get than water. I actually have to stand up and go to the sink to get water. With porn I just reach in my pocket, pull out my phone and there it is. The game as changed. We need to change too.

Porn is no longer simply seeing a lady, in underwear, in a catalogue. Nor is it a trivial issue we should snicker about because “boys will be boys”.

Let’s be honest, this is what porn is and does:

Porn is Everyone’s Problem:

In the U.S. alone there are 40 million regular users of pornography. An average of $14 billion is spent per year on porn. This is more than the amount spent on professional baseball, basketball and football, combined. And get this: most porn isn’t even paid for, 80-90% of people get porn for free. The reality is that 95% of men and 40% of women (and growing) have seen it. If you are a man between the ages of 17-35, there is a 70% chance you’ve looked at porn this week. Combine those odds and it virtually guarantees that either you or your (potential) spouse have actively engaged with porn at some point.

I teach young people from my missions organisation on relationships. These students are the top tier. They are the most motivated, and passionate Christians out there. They are willing to travel to hard places and live in incredible hardships, all for their faith. The above stats are basically what I have experienced in teaching hundreds of these wonderful people.

Porn is Addictive:

The latest research shows us the reality of this, it is not just a compulsion. Porn is an addiction akin to cocaine or heroin. In fact, the latest research shows that porn has the exact same affect, if not worse. Scientists are realising that porn is an addiction taken in through the eyes. Chemically, it releases both dopamine (same as in cocaine) and opiates (same as in heroine). This double whammy makes it highly addictive.

Porn is Progressive:

Because porn actually affects our brain chemistry it can develop very real chemical changes in our brains regarding our sexual attractions. Porn is different than, say, cigarettes. A smoker can tell you their brand and how many packs they smoke a day.  It generally doesn’t change. But pornography is built on novelty. You rarely find a man or women addicted to certain, single pornographic picture. Once sucked in to repetitive porn viewing, they are always on the pursuit to find newer and more novel forms of porn to get the same effect as before. Thus the porn gets more severe and unusual in order to create the same satisfaction.

Porn is Destructive:

As we have seen thus far, porn is not a small problem. The true danger, though, lies in the effect on actual lives and relationships.

Well known pastor, Dr. Russell Moore, recently recounted that in the past he would counsel couples that were having sexual problems because the wife did not desire sex as much as their husbands. Now, he finds the complete opposite. Men no longer desire sex with their wives because either; (a) she doesn’t look like the porn pictures and they are no longer turned on by her or (b) they have depersonalised sex and no longer desire to engage in sex with a real person.

Even non-Christians are seeing the destruction. Professor Gail Dines says, “When you interview young women about their experiences of sex, you see an increased level of violence: rough, violent sex. That is directly because of porn, as young boys are getting their sexual cues from men in porn who are acting as if they’re sexual psychopaths. Pornography is sexually traumatising an entire generation of boys.”

Porn is a Liar:

Porn treats people like objects for your own personal viewing pleasure. In porn they are not people of value because they are made in the image of God. When we view porn, we are a user. A user of God’s precious people for our own personal pleasure.

Porn also tells us the lie that the goal of sex is about satisfying your own sexual appetite. This is selfish lust not unselfish love. Porn says that it is ok to make sex about what I want and crave. As Dr. Russell Moore says, “Pornography promises orgasm without intimacy”, that this will truly satisfy. Ultimately this lie rots our soul and destroys our own life and the lives of others.

Finally, with porn we delude ourselves. We believe it won’t entice me. It won’t happen to my relationships. Or the big whopper of them all for some of us… last time was the last time, I will never do it again.

My next three posts will be some of my practical ideas on living with hope in a porn-filled world in marriage, raising children and as a single person.

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Let’s Talk About Sex: With Your Kids

Recently, the web has been ablaze with panicking parents and worried sociologists.  All around the issue of children and porn use.

The latest research and studies can be fear inducing… 8 year olds addicted to porn, really!?! (Yes, too often, porn starts early, is addictive and changes futures). Without a doubt the world our children are growing up in is a completely different world than the past.  The stakes are higher and the rules different. The parent that denies this reality does great harm to their child, without exception, in my opinion.

But what is a parent to do?  Should we walk up to our 8-year-old and begin talking about porn?!

I think what we do today has the same foundation as in all generations past, start with the basics.  If we don’t talk about relationships, love, and sex we can never get to the issue of porn.

In the hundreds of articles I have read about porn use, I also couldn’t help but notice that often there were basic things that could have been done. I’m not blaming all the parents but the reality is this; if something can’t be done to prevent this then we should just throw in the towel.

What can be done?

We as parents can take our cues from the ancient book. In the Bible, there is a man named Paul who is my hero in the area of dealing with complicated sexual issues. He ministered in highly sexualised cultures in Asia.  Paul was the church leader who found himself dealing with church members who were having sex with their mother-in-law and flaunting it (1 Cor 6:1). It’s the first Cougars with a family twist! Reality TV dreams of situations like this.

early-openly-oftenFrom Paul’s writings in the the Bible I have observed that his strategy was basically this: Talk about sex early, openly and often.  Paul quickly jumped in to the issue of sex with his people, constantly talked about sex, and openly talking about sex.

I think his principals can give us a grid for raising our own kids today.

Here’s some thoughts on the “early, openly and often” strategy.

Early:
Human development studies suggest that we talk about sex earlier than you might think.  The average age suggested from both religious and non-religious sources is between the ages of 8 and 9.  If you add to that, the amount of sexual content available to our children, I believe it is even more relevant to begin the discussion about sex and relationships earlier rather than later.  This sets the foundation to continue to add more information as they grow older.  We want our sons and daughters, when faced with comments or information from friends to say, “Oh, I know all about that stuff, my Dad talks to me about it”  instead of standing there with wide eyes and a confused mind and heart.

Openly:
Being honest and open is always the best strategy.  Using code words and beating around the bush only confuses.  It might feel awkward to us as parents.  But, we need to be the adults they need us to be and not act like an immature playmate who explains sex in code words and immature giggles.  What can we be open about?  In age appropriate ways we explain what sex physically is, when sex happens, how sex is fun and makes us feel good, and how sex can be a burden and bring pain.  Not all of this needs to happen at 8 years old!  But, through the years this openness about sex needs to pervade our conversations.

Often:
I have asked many, many people how they found out about sex.  Of those that heard from their parents there were basically two categories.  The first is parents that sat down, explained things and never spoke of it again.  The second are parents that had the big explanation but also had an ongoing conversation through the years.  Of those that had parents that spoke of sex in an ongoing manner, I find they are healthier and can be more open today about their sexuality.  My husband and I, in our own family try to find little opportunities to talk about things that pertain to sex.

Here are a few resources we have found helpful in explaining sex to our boys:
Two helpful articles from Focus on the Family here and here.
A very detailed article on how and what to talk about at each age.
Information from the perspective of human development.

Coming soon I will be giving more detailed thoughts and strategies for raising children in a porn filled world.

Sex is not a potato chip.

Seven years ago I was just beginning to teach on Relationships. It was then I first taught a class with predominately young South African men. To say I was ill-prepared is an understatement. The morning when we dove in to the topic of sexuality was both humorous and eye-opening. As I taught I began to hear these half-whispered comments, “I’m feeling hungry”. It went on with hands rubbing stomachs and giggling, “I’m really getting hungry now!”. I initially thought, perhaps we need to take a class break for drinks and snacks. Oh how naive I was! Their comments, of course, were simply a cultural euphemism for being turned on or desiring sex.

The next day I ran smack dab in to another South African cultural belief. It goes basically like this; if men don’t have sex then the sperm goes to their brains and makes them crazy. This is why we see hospitals for mentally ill patients. It’s full of under-sexed men.

This is slightly shocking to a Western mind. But are we really any different?

I can recall numerous episodes of the TV show Friends where (pick one) Chandler/Joey/Ross walk in to the room, declares he hasn’t had sex in 5 weeks and the rest of the friends stand back in utter amazement that he is still alive.

In both these examples it strikes me that on some level we have a belief that sex is merely an appetite. It’s like potato chips. We eat it when we want it. When we don’t want it, we don’t eat it. If I crave a potato chip for my own pleasure then I can have it because it’s just satisfying a craving. In ancient Greece they said this, “Food for the stomach and the stomach for food”. This was their way of saying, “sex for my pleasure and my pleasure is sex”. Basically, sex is just an appetite.

The potato chip is there for my pleasure, the potato chip deserves and wants nothing from me. Consumerism is a one-way street, it’s all about the individuals desires and cravings. It’s not a relationship, it’s an appetite to be satisfied.

You and I are different, right?

As I look around, here are some ways it strikes me we can treat sex like a potato chip:

Porn:

Porn is a consumer act. Porn says that sex has nothing to do with a relationship, it is just for feeding your appetite. I get it for my pleasure, how I want it, when I want it with no giving back of myself… I might even pay for it. I take in with my eyes and consume. It’s all about me and my urges. The women or man in that porn is not a person, they are sexual pleasure for my consumption, to feed my appetite.

Fantasy Worlds:

This is especially for women. 50 Shades of Grey is a classic example of sexual fantasy for consumption. I can enter a sexual fantasy in my mind without actually having to engage in real relationship. From book sales, it seems that 50 Shades is a pretty tasty potato chip. When we consume sexual content like chocolate, the satisfaction also lasts about as long and as deep as chocolate. Meaning, not long and not deep at all.

Saying “No” to sex:

Here’s a thought that might get me in trouble but let’s give it a go. I think that there are times that women denying their husbands sex can be making sex in to a consumer act. Consuming sex as a one-way physical appetite is easy to see. Is it not also treating sex as a mere appetite when a women tells her husband repeatedly that she doesn’t want to have sex tonight, “because I don’t feel like it”. I also don’t eat potato chips when I don’t feel like it. But sex is not a potato chip. I don’t consume or not consume simply based on my appetite.

Sex is a relationship. A giving of one’s self to another. What if we re-phrased it to say, “I don’t feel like being generous or loving towards you tonight?”.  How would this change our view? Perhaps it’s possible that sexual frequency based on “do I feel like it?” can be treating sex as an appetite and nothing more.  The same can go for men who expect sex when they feel like it and not considering the wife’s feelings, desires and personal place.

The truth is, sex is not a potato chip, chocolate, a hamburger or anything like that. Sex is not just an urge, desire or craving akin to your favourite meal. Sex is so much more. Sex is something that we only truly receive when we ourselves give, not just of our bodies but of our whole selves. It is in the giving that we truly receive and our deepest appetites are filled.