Porn 101: Parenting Edition

*This is part 3 of a 4-part series on Pornography. The first two are: Porn 101: Waking Up and Porn 101: Marriage Edition.

As a parent, recent news and research on porn use amongst children has sent me in to some slight moments of panic. Just a weeks ago I read this article and for days could not get out of my mind the level of pornographic use among 8-12 year olds. The sexual slang children now know is shocking. I also read this article and just felt sad, for a whole week, about the sexual devastation young people are dealing with… especially young women.

But one thing kept leaping off the screen as I read these shocking articles: this is preventable. Raising a child who is free of porn is possible. But, the key factor is us, not them.

This is personal for me, of course, because I have two young sons. So, it is not just an abstract scenario but a very real and present reality. Here are my thoughts as we are raising our boys to be free of the devastation of porn. All of this is built on the foundation of my strategy to talk to kids about sex: Early, Openly and Often.

In the area of porn, two words have been guiding my husband and I: EQUIP and PROTECT.

EQUIP:

The goal of parenting is not just to protect them from all harm and potential danger. It is a goal but not the goal. In everything we do, there is that ever present reality as parents: they will leave us! So, we need to parent with their departure in mind.

Raising a child that has never seen porn, heard of porn, or know about porn is not success. In fact, that is the biggest failure I can imagine (apart from not seeing it). The goal is a child who becomes an adult that has the strength and wisdom to navigate these waters apart from Mom and Dad’s watchful eye.

First: Equip them with the What, Why and How
By the time our children are adults, they should know the what, the why and the how.

What: I think they should have a clear understanding of what porn is and what the reality is of the world out there.

Why: They should know, at a heart level, why it would bring them more joy, life and pleasure to avoid porn as opposed to engaging with porn.

How: They should be equipped with the skills necessary to reinforce their own decisions to avoid porn as an adult.

So prepare yourself, parents. We will need to explain pornography so that our children know about it. Start in little ways and explain more as the years go by. We started early with our sons. When we had the first “official” sex talk my oldest son, my husband laid the groundwork even then. He told him about sex and that it is good but some people do things which cause harm. That there are even bad things on the internet which our whole family tries to avoid, that is why Mom and Dad want to be there when he Googles things for a school project.

Second, deal with the heart.

Porn is a heart issue. So often, we as adults, look to porn to because of internal issues: intimacy avoidance, dealing with anger, masking loneliness, numbing pain, coping with depression, handling stress… the list goes on.

Equipping our children to deal with their internal struggles in a healthy way is just as much preparing them for a porn-filled world as computer filters are. Slowly and patiently help your child learn how to deal with sin, pain and loneliness in healthy ways. This young girl’s story is common, “’I remember the feeling of being sucked in, really wanting that two-minute fix, that numbness I got when I used porn…I was stressed out…”

I have a son who struggles with emotional self-control. We like to say he is “sensitive”. But if he is emotionally upset, he can fly off the handle. This is a porn issue for me. I’m asking, “will he learn to handle hurt and pain in healthy ways so that he won’t run to porn to cope with it?” (this obviously is relevant to other areas and addictions as well).

PROTECT:
So, we are equipping them with the what, why and how and dealing with the heart issues. We also need to protect them. Our goal is to not just to protect but also to be open about it so that the tools can be taken up by them as adults.

This story is common: “Jamie was ten years old when he saw his first pornographic sex scene. During a sleepover, a classmate offered to show him ‘some funny pictures’ on his laptop. ‘At first I found it a bit scary and a bit yucky,’” Some Mother’s tell stories of how their son would be in their room, privately looking at their laptop for up to 6 hours a day. Children explain that when a friend tells them a word they don’t know, they simply Google it. Googling is what we all do, right? But what if the term is “oral sex” or “anal sex”? Imagine the myriad of pictures and videos that instantly display for them to see and explore. This scenario is preventable.

There is a common core to these scenarios and so many others: Internet and Friends

In regards to the internet: make it a public and community event. Practical advice I’ve been given and utilise:

  • If your child has access to a computer, put it in a public place. I put our computer right in our kitchen/dining room area, the most public are of our whole house. I would advise to never to put a computer in a child’s room or other private place.
  • Put filters and protection software on that computer and all other internet enabled devices.
  • All other devices that are not theirs but they could have access to: password protect them. I have an iPod touch. Sometimes my boys play Angry Birds on it. I put a password on it simply so that they will have to ask me to unlock it every time they want to play… this makes me aware of when they are on an internet enabled device. I don’t want them sneaking off to play Angry Birds and accidentally land on something they can never forget and I am none the wiser.
  • Think long and hard about what age you want them to have a smart phone, iPod or tablet device of their own. The devices can be taken in to private places and thus become more of a temptation.
  • Talk to them clearly and openly about the dangers of Googling words and phrases they don’t know. Encourage them and demonstrate that they can ask you about anything they hear from friends or anywhere else.
  • In all of these things: be open about what you are doing and why.

In regards to friends:
This is more difficult. The reality is that we cannot completely prevent a friend from exposing our children to things. We can attempt to safeguard. More importantly, we can equip our children how to respond if they find themselves in a situation. My ideas:

  • For their closest friends: ask the other parents what their strategy is in regards to internet use. This could be awkward but it’s important. Simply ask,”What access to computers, phones and video games will my son/daughter have when our kids are playing?” Ask direct questions, “Does your child have a computer in their room? Will our kids be playing any video games together?”
  • Starting at a young age, explain to them how to deal with situations where they are exposed to conversation, videos or pictures which they know to be wrong. Teach them how to simply walk away, with no explanation needed. This is something your child does not need to explain to their friends. Our oldest son recently told us of a kid who keeps bringing up uncomfortable subjects. Amongst other things we have done, we explained and rehearsed how to simply walk away saying, “I just remember that I’ve got to go do something”. I don’t like that he’s in these situations but I’m aware that this skill is something that will serve him for the rest of his life.
  • Be intentional about developing friendships with other families that are just as open about porn use as you are. This creates a huge safety in the friendships that your children have!

Let us all Equip and Protect our children for life, not just for today. There is so much more that can be said! What ideas do you have?

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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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.