Yesterday I was invited to a conference at Parliament, entitled ‘The Pornification of a Generation: The under-30s Perspective’. A whole afternoon of people from all sorts of professions, ages and backgrounds came together to talk about pornography and its effects on our culture – and ultimately what we do about it, presented by a group of under-30s giving their testimonies.
The conference was to address the reality that, as a generation, we have had more access than ever before to the internet and, with the ease of access, combined with a lack of suitable and adequate education, porn is reaching larger and younger audiences.
I have a few thoughts on the afternoon that I want to share.
Where is the harm? It’s just viewing a few images or videos, right? As one girl described yesterday, “the effects are not immediately evident, like drinking slow poison.” We are beginning to see evidence that consumption of pornography has impacts on the perception of the physical body in comparison to unrealistic expectations and related self-esteem issues, pressure to perform, increased engagement in risky sexual practices and, most worryingly, a surprising tolerance of violence in relationships.
The psychotherapists in the room shared how pornography is highly addictive – more so than crack cocaine – and has very real impacts on your brain. It is hard to stop and, worse still, over time you need a bigger and bigger ‘kick’ to reach the same level of satisfaction. That progression can lead down roads which at the beginning were never considered. Degrading porn becomes more and more normalised. Pornography is not an educator and it is not harmless. And its danger is in being presented that it is.
And then there is the whole world of sex trafficking and the porn industry. Sometimes I think we forget that these are real people in these videos. Real people with real lives and often they are just reduced to fulfilling a need. I could go on but the experience of the reality of life in porn is well documented in other places (check out Matt Fradd’s book)
As I was sat listening, I knew that this message needs to continue to sound out. In every story, people spoke about shame, embarrassment, trying to hide it, no one else knowing. Secrecy is a big problem. I was reminded of a quote someone once said to me, “Nothing good comes from keeping things in the dark.” Even if you think you are protecting people, that you would be rejected if people knew. Time and time again, that is how these adults found freedom – talking to people who they trusted, who could hold them accountable. I know from personal experience the feeling of being eaten up inside from guilt and shame. Also, as Catholics we have the joy of the sacraments. Thank the Lord for confession and for his mercy and strength that comes from the graces in that sacrament, and for the example of true love, given to us through the Eucharist.
The question was raised: Perhaps the problem is not purely with the pornography, but with the gap that pornography is attempting to fill. The problem is more a lack of intimacy; a longing to be valued and loved. We want relationship, community, unconditional love. If we don’t get that, then we turn to somewhere where we won’t be rejected, are in control and that goes some way towards fulfilling those desires. The danger is that pornography divorces sex and relationship. And so the desire for intimacy is never fulfilled, which results in the spirals of behaviour mentioned earlier. The solution is to teach intimacy. We run a danger of saying lots of ‘no’s, putting in place restrictions without ever offering a valid solution.
Love. Love is our solution. We need some good witnesses out there who can live the freedom of loving well. We cannot always focus on the negative, the bad and destructive. We need to show people what is on offer here so they know that intimacy is even possible, and that intimacy will satisfy. Although the conference was secular, you cannot help but draw parallels here to the need for God in our lives, and his ability to satisfy the deepest desires of our hearts. To satisfy our need for forgiveness and for second chances, but also for the need to be known completely and to be loved unconditionally. That is where real healing comes, and where true satisfaction is found. Again, thank God for the sacraments, and for God’s gift of his own body in showing us the reality of true love.
*These are just some of my reflections, and there is a huge amount of information out there. Romance Academy had a role in the presentations yesterday and they have a source of information on their website from a secular point of view.
For some more Christian perspectives, Matt Fradd has written a book about a variety of people’s personal experiences of this topic as well as blog answering some questions.Chastityproject.com is a website aimed at teens and young adults with a good blog covering the issue too.
For some of the academic research:
Michael Flood (2009) The Harms of Pornography Exposure Among Children and Young people
Barter, McCarry, Berridge and Evans (2009) Partner Exploitation and Violence in teenage Intimate Relationships
William M. Struthers (2009) Wired for Intimacy: How Pornography Hijacks the Brain