It’s the church’s not so well kept secret. Pornography and sex addiction are destroying the lives of men, women, marriages, and families at an alarming rate. Even more sobering is the reality that, if you think the problem is severe now, Dr. Patrick Carnes observes, “The tsunami of sex addiction has not yet hit America.”
This is not our father’s sex culture. When King Solomon proclaimed “There is nothing new under the sun”, he was not able to see into the future and warn us about the nuclear threat of the internet. Historically, “old school” pornography was typically accessed through static magazines, low quality videos, and premium cable and satellite channels. There was this seemingly self-imposed cultural barrier that limited how, when, and where pornography was accessed. As technology advanced, there was soon to be birthed a new super highway that had more exits to the clandestine, underground, crack cocaine-like sex addiction world than anyone could have ever imagined. That is, other than the producers of pornography. They knew they had found their holy grail with the world wide web.
Juniper Research found that by 2017 a quarter of a billion people were anticipated to use their cell phones and tablets to access pornographic content. This statistic represents a more than 30% increase since 2013.
The Barna Group conducted a survey in the U.S. in 2014 regarding the consumers of pornography. This survey found that 64% of self-identified Christian men and 15% of self-identified Christian women view pornography at least once a month. Some 37% of Christian men and 7% of Christian women view pornography at least several times a week.
One of the sobering findings in the Barna survey was that teenagers and young adults are taking a non-judgmental attitude and position when they are engaged in conversations about pornography with others in their respective peer groups.
The Barna report states, “When they talk about porn with friends, 89% of teens, and 95% of young adults say they do so in a neutral, accepting, or encouraging way. That is, only one in 20 young adults and one in 10 teens say their friends think viewing pornography is a bad thing.” Obviously this significant statistic points to the serious shift in our youth culture where there is a loss of the personal and social barrier to what is openly acceptable and even celebrated. Welcome to the 21st century’s new sexual revolution.
Another “sign of the times” avenue of pornographic connection is the use of video chat, which has grown exponentially. Whether in cyber chat rooms, or in private “person to person” individual video chat connections, this virtual sex experience has upped the ante. Raising (or lowering) the bar even more is the developing field of “teledildonics” or “cyberdildonics”. These robotic sexual devices are allowing individuals to virtually simulate sexual intercourse and other sex acts through the internet, by means of mutual masturbation. One wonders what the next ten years will reveal in the realm of technological opportunities for new levels of sex addiction and the devastation of lives impacted by it.
The “sexting” phenomenon has enabled young people especially to shoot from the hip, and send graphic sexual pictures and messages to people they know or don’t’ know. The Barna survey found that 62% of teenagers and young adults have received a sexually explicit image from someone, and 41% of those surveyed acknowledged they had not just received a “sext”, but had sent their own sexual image through texting. Not only is this “sexting” issue a problem of on demand sexual acting out, it is sadly also a new technological method of sexually abusing or sexually harassing people. The legal issues surrounding “sexting” are serious, and typically not considered by the underdeveloped brains of teenagers and young adults.
Social Media an Apps:
While social media is certainly being used for good purposes, this platform has also provided pathways of connection for adultery, emotional affairs, and casual sexual hookups. I have worked with a number of clients who, through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat were able to reconnect sexually and emotionally with old classmates and former love relationships from their growing up years. Apps such as Tinder and Ashley Madison allow people to find someone very close by to hook up with sexually, often without having to leave the building or area they are in.
Behind the Ashely Madison Curtain:
Back in July and August of 2015, a security breach rocked the internet and more importantly, the personal and private lives of some 32 Million people. A group known as “The Impact Team” hacked the Ashley Madison website and eventually exposed the names, personal data, and credit card information of the website’s users. Ashley Madison was known for providing a “secure” playground for people to arrange to have extramarital affairs. Suddenly, several websites popped up with the names and personal data of these Ashley Madison users. It didn’t take long for the word to spread, informing people everywhere that they could quite easily search for the names of someone they knew, to see if that person had ever utilized the services of Ashley Madison. Many of our counseling offices began to see this increase in new clients seeking immediate help. Their presenting problem: They had been discovered to be connected to the Ashely Madison scandal, and in some cases, while not yet having their secret exposed, feared the inevitable trauma of their “other life” being found out.
Dr. Ed Stetzer, is an expert on culture, and holds the Billy Graham Chair of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College, as well as serving as Executive Director of the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism. In August of 2015, Stetzer published an article titled, “My Pastor is on the Ashley Madison List.” In this piece, Stetzer revealed some shocking news based on personal conversations with church leaders. Stetzer wrote:
“Based on my conversations with leaders from several denominations in the U.S. and Canada, I estimate that at least 400 church leaders (pastors, elders, staff, deacons, etc.) will be resigning Sunday. This is a significant moment of embarrassment for the church—and it should be. To be honest, the number of pastors and church leaders on Ashley Madison is much lower than the number of those looking to have an affair. Yet, there is still much that we must consider in the midst of the embarrassment.”
The impact of this well-publicized sex scandal was not just the devastation to churches and ministries whose pastors and leaders were involved in the Ashley Madison web. Even more painful was the trauma and tragedy of the people, including pastors who committed suicide in the midst of deep shame, guilt, fear, and regret. This is a sobering reminder that in a profound way, pornography, adultery, and sex addiction are not victimless problems.
Pastors and Pornography:
The Barna survey found that a staggering 57% of pastors, and 64% of youth pastors admitted to a struggle with viewing pornography, either in the past or as a current struggle. Out of those surveyed, 21% of youth pastors and 14% of pastors admit they are currently personally battling with the use of pornography. It is no surprise then that 55% of these pastors admit to living in constant fear of their secret lives being found out. These numbers may indeed be even higher because it is common for men and pastors to under-report. The shame factor is so high for pastors and Christian leaders who struggle with pornography and sex addiction. I have counseled many pastors who find the safe sanctuary of a confidential counseling office to be the only place they would dare risk the vulnerability of opening up and disclosing their secret struggle with pornography. These pastors are convinced, and probably rightly so that if they get honest with their elder or deacon board, or with their other staff members about their secret, that will mean a fast track out of the ministry and the livelihood they have given their lives to. It follows that if the pastor cannot or will not open up and be vulnerable about his own sexual struggle, the chances are low that the men in that church will feel safe enough to do their recovery work in the local church setting. And so we have a staggering volume of men sitting in our churches on Sunday, who will leave the light of the brick and mortar “sanctuary” to spend much of the rest of the week compulsively wading through the stronghold and cesspool of cyber darkness.
While statistics are important, the sobering numbers don’t truly seem to make a significant impact to get the problem of pornography and sex addiction, and a proven treatment plan for the same on the front burner of our churches. Our mission here must not be to merely curse this literal darkness. Indeed, we must access and put into practice the brilliant light that illumines the clear path for these men to come out of the darkness, the shadows, and the virtual graves through which they are stumbling.
A Vision for the Church and for Counselors:
While the struggle and devastation of pornography, adultery, and sex addiction is epic, the truth remains that we have more help and hope than people have problems. We must increase our efforts to educate, inform, and provide resources for local churches to begin to carefully address the 21st Century version of broken sexuality. Wisdom is crucial here to not break open the proverbial Pandora’s box of sexual disclosure without the proper container. Counselors, especially those trained in sex addiction treatment should be on the front lines of providing training and support for churches in their geographical areas. Professional counselors can invite pastors to come to the confidentially safe refuge of the counseling office to open up about their personal struggles with pornography and sex addiction. I believe that if pastors cannot do their own therapy work to address their sexual struggles, there is little chance that a recovery ministry for pornography and sex addiction will be able to thrive in that local church setting. Certainly, local churches can partner with counselors in their area to have a trusted network base to which they can refer church members and attendees.
The powerful resource known as “Covenant Eyes” is a vital component to successful recovery from pornography and sex addiction. This internet monitoring, filtering, and accountability software provides a massive protective wall for computers, tablets, and smart phones to help keep people safe from the destructive aspects of the internet. This resource practically helps people rebuild the broken down walls in their lives, like Nehemiah, and echoing St. Paul in Romans 13:14 provides the tools to “make no provision for the lust of the flesh. Check out www.covenanteyes.com.
From my many years working in this field of sex addiction recovery, the most effective mode of successfully addressing the problem is the setting of a several day sex addiction workshop or intensive. While the standard fifty-minute hour certainly can be helpful in addressing pornography struggles and sex addiction, we are dealing with a multi-faceted problem that needs a multi-faceted solution. The several day workshop model provides the time and space to address the deep complexities of sex addiction. Our Integrity Redeemed Workshops and Intensives explore the impact of family of origin, trauma, neurochemistry, the foundations of sex addiction, understanding the cycle of addiction, and a proven sex addiction recovery plan that offers real hope for a life of freedom. This intensive model provides the foundation for a person to go back to their therapist and local church, significantly more adequately prepared to continue and succeed in their sex addiction recovery.