As a high school youth pastor, I recently sat my boys down and we discussed Christian teaching as it related to sexual purity and, in particular, on the problem of pornography. I started that discussion with this quote from Frederick Douglass: “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.”
We spoke at length on the current socio-moral climate which makes it incredibly difficult and frustrating for boys to grow up into men. We discussed the nature of pornographic addiction, and how the veritable explosion of soft porn and free porn has sparked a moral regression where viewership of sexually graphic material is not only virtually unrestricted, but normative for teenage boys. We spoke about how our brains are being bombarded by vividly sexual material everywhere – on our smartphones, at our schools (heck, sometimes even our churches!), with our mates – even as we are least capable of processing all that information, and deciphering the differences between real love and lustful fantasies. We acknowledged the enormous intestinal fortitude, courage, and character required to pursue chastity, and lamented over the truly ruinous absence of strong male leadership to serve as examples in our fight for what’s important.
I made it a priority to talk about this myriad of things because I care about my boys, and I don’t want them to look back on years of regret in the same way that I do. I want nothing more than for them to become better, stronger, and happier men than I am. But all the while we sat down and punched out some #realtalk between us, the same, repeating thought blared like a fire alarm in my mind: “This is how we protect our girls. This is how we protect our girls. This is how we protect our girls.”
Pornography has the devastating capacity to ruin otherwise good and noble men, and accordingly there is ample reason to be concerned for, and encourage solid “guy talk” in relation to pornography. The consequences of pornography upon young women however, not only oftentimes go unnoticed or underappreciated, but they are all the more toxic. Since the sexual revolution of the 1960s, generations of women have been wounded, marred, and damaged, but unable to figure out exactly where they’re hurting.
I was shocked to rifle through the pages of a 2016 survey of 600 Australian teenage girls that revealed seven out of ten Australian girls aged 15-19 believed that sexual online harassment and bullying is endemic, and that a further 81 per cent believed that pressure to share sexually explicit photos with boys is commonplace.
Pornography is conditioning the sexual behaviours and attitudes of our boys, but the greatest losers in that transaction is a generation of girls who are increasingly left without the resources to cope, relate, and deal with porn-saturated boys. That’s messed up, and that’s precisely where our girls are probably hurting most – pornography has been, and currently is depriving yet another generation of young women of their childhood in ways that are just beneath the surface. It is a social tragedy that we are witnessing in the lives of our boys, but the price for which we have not yet paid for our girls.
Mother of two, Liz Wann, composed this brilliant analogy in an open letter to her two sons:
What you behold, boys, you become. If you steep your tea too long, it becomes bitter. Likewise, if you sit and soak in pornographic fantasies, your life will have a bitter taste. At first, the flavors might taste sweet, but bitterness will always be the end result. And the bitterness will be shared someday in your interactions with girls: how you think about girls, talk to girls, treat girls, and pursue girls.
So, what should we do? Rather, what can we do? Oftentimes we’re left scratching our heads and mumbling to ourselves, “It wasn’t like this in our day.” That much is certainly true. In fact, I recall not too long ago the days when we used to sit by phone in eager anticipation, praying that our crush would call and praying just as fervently that Mum wouldn’t be listening in on the line, or that our siblings wouldn’t jump on the internet mid-conversation (those good, old dial-up days).
Those days are long gone. With the explosion of technology, it is becoming increasingly difficult to protect both boys and girls from inappropriate and harmful content: text messaging, Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat. We possess very little, if any, ability to monitor the interactions that take place and let’s face it: our kids are smart enough to circumvent most of the safeguards that we implement for the purposes of protecting them. My boys, for one, might not be smart enough to clean up after themselves, but they certainly are smart enough to clean their web browser histories religiously. As is the propensity of all human beings, we are so terribly attracted to the idea of being “smarter sinners.”
The good news however, is that even though the context has changed, best practice has not: conversation. Sometime, someplace, and seemingly unbeknownst to any of us, society fell into a place of cognitive dissonance: “Consumption of porn is fine,” it reasoned, “but discussion about it is strictly off-limits.” We may tuck away our shame, and hide our guilt, but candid conversation – yes, the type of conversation that hurts – needs to happen.
The days have passed us by when it was ‘good enough’ to have that brief, one-off conversation with little Jimmy about the birds and the bees. No, today our children are exposed to increasingly explicit and increasingly frequent sexual content, and that means our conversations must follow suit: explicit and frequent. Sure, it will be awkward at first, and you’re probably bound to make some mistakes along the way. Thankfully however, in the same way that pornography has proliferated through the internet, so have the wealth of resources available to combat the epidemic like Fight The New Drug and XXXChurch.
I will happily concede that I don’t have all the answers, that I’m still young and working things out for myself. Neither do I believe that there is a single solution or that we can approach the problem of pornography with a flippant “just-add-water” approach. But I am hopeful, and am fairly convinced that the more concretely our boys understand the facts and consequences before diving headlong down the winding rabbit hole of pornographic addiction, the more likely they will opt for real, wholesome relationships than poisonous illusions and caricatures of love. And the more we build our boys into men, the better we are positioned to love, care for, and guard our girls in ways that really matter.
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