Youth Culture Window
Is porn a big deal?
If entertainment media is our moral barometer, then the answer is, “No.” Consider the viral preview for the brand new movie Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates. Another casual bit to chuckle about, right?
Is porn wrong?
According to books like the popular little devotional, Sex Matters, porn is a perversion of something to be cherished. But what do mainstream teens believe? Some would contend porn is less immoral than not recycling.
So which is it: casual, or a distortion of something precious?
In a telling report conducted by The Barna Group, researchers uncovered troubling news about porn usage in our nation, specifically with regards to teens and Christian leaders. In the ongoing debate over porn, George Barna’s research team discovered that:
- almost half of young people search for porn online at least once per week.
- 41% of teens and young adults have sent sexually explicit images to friends.
- teen girls are significantly more likely to view porn than women over the age of 25.
- and yes, many teens claim “not recycling” is more immoral than viewing porn.
According to researchers, their data “reveals a younger and younger exposure to pornography, increased desensitization and an escalating usage of pornography.” Without a doubt, most parents and youth workers find these numbers unsettling. That is, unless they use pornography, too….
Yep, the Christian-based research group found that 21% of youth pastors struggle with pornography and 12% admit they’re actually addicted. (14% of their bosses – senior pastors – also confessed that they struggle with porn while 5% of them admitted full addiction to pornography.) Interestingly, more than half of these youth pastors reported being approached by a teenager within the past year who was seeking help with pornography.
That qualifies as the blind leading the blind….
The Barna Group has invested extensive amounts of research into a project they’re calling The Porn Phenomenon. Though their complete report on more than 3,000 interviews won’t be available until April, their press release reveals that they’re trying to define porn, understand why so many use it, comprehend the shifting attitudes of approval and condemnation between generations, and what the appropriate response to porn addiction should be.
Meanwhile, Family First, a non-profit organization based in New Zealand, conducted a “meta-analysis” on 22 different reports about porn usage from 7 different nations around the world. Their research claims that porn is “significantly linked to increases in sexual aggression, both verbal and physical.” For example, men who’ve used porn regularly display a greater tolerance for promiscuity, aggressive sexual behavior, and even rape. Extended use of porn was found to lead to perceptions of women as objects instead of humans. Director of Family First, Bob McCoskrie, said, “If we want to tackle sexual violence, we must first admit the role that pornography plays and the harm that it does to attitudes and actions.”
“Admitting” might be the difficult part for some concerned adults, because many are oblivious to porn’s reach. In Jonathan McKee’s new book to parents, More Than Just the Talk: Becoming Your Kids’ Go-to Person about Sex, he devotes an entire chapter to how to talk with our kids about pornography. In my personal interview with Jonathan he noted, “Most parents’ visceral reaction is, ‘Not my kid.’” Jonathan spends the first half of his parent workshops educating parents about today’s youth culture and technology, because many of today’s parents have little understanding of how prevalent sexually explicit material is in today’s entertainment media. Then he provides them with practical help preventing the permeation of porn.
Ending Porn’s Influence
There is never going to be an end to the presence of porn; sadly, it’s got a very bright future with ever-evolving technology. But that future doesn’t have to leave the teenagers you love (as parents) and lead (as youth workers) broken in its risqué wake. Porn has a long reach and a deep impact. Here are several ideas for youth leaders to consider as they combat the growing reality of pornography.
- (If needed) Get help for yourself. If you’re part of the 21% of youth leaders (or 14% of pastors) who struggle with pornography, the very first step you need to take is to get help for yourself. Clearly, your (extended) efforts haven’t worked. It only makes sense that you cannot lead a teenager out of a trap that still ensnares you. Do for yourself what you preach to your people. Your soul will thank you.
- Be practical in the counsel you give. A lot of teenagers believe the Bible isn’t practical, but that misguided belief has less to do with the Bible’s usefulness and more to do with the way it’s taught. You can devote time to hermeneutics, translate the Greek language, define relevant terms, present your ideas in slick acronyms, and even build accompanying PowerPoint slides…but if you don’t give students practical tools they can immediately implement, you’re not being true to the overall intent of the Bible’s message: total, lifelong transformation.
Yes, point to 1 Corinthians 6:18 (“Flee from sexual immorality.”), but then give them actual/real ways they can do this physically and relationally. Find out where and why porn is creeping into their lives. For example, is their smartphone the problem? If so, then they might need to ask themselves some hard questions about the price they’re paying for nonstop connectivity. Is it a friend? If so, then that relationship has to be managed in a different way (if it’s to continue at all).
Don’t be afraid to use helpful tools like: Sex Matters, an extremely relevant book presenting a Biblical approach to sex and intimacy in plain language, with an entire chapter about pornography, and discussion questions at the end of each chapter so young people can discuss what they read. And another great resource is this Youtube Discussion Starter we recently wrote up with a testimonial and video from Terry Crews.
Bottom line: show your students how the Bible’s teaching takes form in their day-to-day lives.
- Be prepared to offer professional help. In no way does this idea diminish the power of spiritual practices such as prayer, Bible study, and confession; but clinical recourse might need to be considered as part of the overall therapy. You’d be wise to get to know the professional counselors and/or treatment agencies in your area as soon as possible. That way, when the need arises, you can make a confident and effective referral to a hurting family.
Pornography isn’t invincible. As evidence of this fact, you probably have people in your church who’ve already overcome this temptation. Maybe you have yourself. Use every resource available to continually push porn and its terrible consequences away from the teenagers you love.
David R. Smith
is a 15-year youth ministry veteran who helps youth
workers and parents through his writing, training, and speaking. David specializes in sharing the
gospel, and equipping others do the same. He co-authored his first book this year,
Ministry By Teenagers
. David provides free
resources to anyone who works with teenagers on his website, DavidRSmith.org
David resides with his wife and son in Tampa, Florida.
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