A few summers ago, I experienced an object lesson that perfectly illustrates the struggle that many men have with porn.
I was attending a men’s retreat led by David Murrow, the author of Why Men Hate Going to Church. Because I am friends with Dave – and I gave him a lift to the retreat – he asked me to be his assistant for this lesson.
Who is the strongest man in the room?
The attendees were seated around five tables, with 12-14 guys at each one. Dave asked each table to select its strongest man. Five men came forward.
“Now,” Dave announced, “we’re going to find out who is the strongest man in the room.”
Pushups would decide it. When Dave told them to start, the five men would begin doing pushups. Dave informed them that it didn’t matter how many pushups they did. Instead, this was a test of endurance. The last man who was still doing pushups continually, without more than a second of rest in between two pushups, would be declared the strongest man in the room.
The men started. Within two minutes, two men had quit. A minute later, a third dropped out, so it was down to two. These two men went at it for another minute. Then two. Then three. Finally, one of them could not lift his chest off the floor. He was done. We had a winner.
Can anything subdue his strength?
Pointing to a chair, Dave instructed the winner to sit on his “throne,” in front of the rest of the men. Then, with the winner’s permission, I zip-tied his wrists and ankles to the chair.
In a loud voice, Dave addressed the man in the chair. “Let’s see how strong you are now. Get out of the chair!”
The man tried to break the zip-ties. He strained to pull his wrists up. He made a great effort to move his legs but succeeded only in flipping his chair (and himself) to the ground.
Dave turned to the men. “Here’s my question: How was the strongest man in the room rendered utterly powerless by four thin pieces of plastic? How could something so trivial completely incapacitate a man of great strength?"
What sin binds roughly 70 percent of Christian men? Pornography.
In fact, it's today's most common zip-tie. This seemingly trivial, private compulsion results in broken relationships and tremendous shame for men of all ages. Even the strongest Christians, including half of pastors and two-thirds of youth ministers, say it’s a current or past struggle for them, according to a research report from Barna Group.
Pornography’s impact on men is increasing every year:
- There’s much more content online: In the U.S., three porn sites are among the 10 most popular sites, trailing only Google, YouTube, Facebook, Amazon, and Yahoo. And, of course, thanks to the ubiquity of smartphones, porn from those sites and many others is just a few taps away.
- Porn providers target occasional users: Once someone looks at porn, the provider loads up his phone or computer with cookies that alert other providers to his interest, thereby ensuring that he gets more such content.
- Younger men are more frequent users: According to the Barna report, Christian men aged 13-24 are nearly twice as likely as Christian men 25 and older to use porn regularly.
- VR porn is here: Use of virtual reality porn, which reportedly is much more realistic and addictive than 2D porn, has been growing at a rapid clip since its debut in 2016.
What are the impacts of porn on users and society?
While we don’t know the full impact of porn on our lives, says the Barna report, “there does exist a body of research claiming that pornography has a significantly negative impact on society, relationships and individuals.” Negative societal impacts may include:
- Objectification and demeaning of women
- Abuse and exploitation of people, especially women, involved in porn
- Possible links between porn and sex trafficking
- Growth of child pornography
Negative personal and relational impacts may include:
- Addiction, even among younger users: In an article in The Guardian, Mary Sharpe of the Reward Foundation explains that frequent exposure to porn by adolescents impacts them “at an age when they’re most vulnerable to mental health disorders and addictions.”
- Sexual problems, including less satisfaction with your sexual partner, less ability to achieve orgasm, and erectile dysfunction, even among young adults
- Increased sexual violence
- Reduced capacity to love one’s spouse because of the “dissociation of sex from friendship, affection, caring, and other normal healthy emotions and traits which help marital relationships”
- Infidelity with “porn partners,” and an increased temptation for infidelity with “real partners”
Not surprisingly, porn use is cited as a contributing factor in many divorces.
What is the one key to breaking free from porn?
Of course, not everyone who views porn becomes an addict. And some men, once they recognize the negative consequences of viewing porn, are able to break their porn habit in fairly short order.
But most men who use porn remain zip-tied to it for years.
Back to our object lesson. As the men at their tables engaged in a lively discussion, our poor pushup champion remained zip-tied to the chair.
Dave turned to the crowd and asked, “How is our strong man going to be freed? Can he struggle his way to freedom? Can he pray his way to freedom? What will it take to restore him to full strength?”
A man in the back shouted, “Anybody got a knife?”
At that moment I appeared next to Dave – with a pocketknife, which I used to free our champion. He leaped from the chair to the applause of his brothers.
Then Dave explained the lesson: Just as the strongest man in the room was unable to break himself free from the zip-ties, the strongest Christian can find himself unable to break free from sin on his own. He needs help from God…and support from his brothers.
But when it comes to the sin of pornography, he’s unlikely to go to his church to get it.
Who can supply the knife?
According to the Barna report, for Christians, “using porn comes with feelings of guilt and shame, and many local faith communities do not seem like safe places to admit a struggle with sexual sin.” A handful of churches offer recovery and accountability groups, which can be helpful to some, but most Christian porn users are uncomfortable sharing their struggles in front of a group. They need a confidant who can:
- Keep things confidential, so that the porn user is more likely to be open and honest about what’s going on.
- Serve as an accountability partner, because accountability is key to overcoming porn use.
- Help with relational issues, because porn use often is a symptom of deeper relational pain.
Unfortunately, fewer than 20 percent of porn users report that they have even one person in their lives who is helping them avoid porn, and fewer than half know someone who could help.
Men, the need for friends and mentors has never been greater.
Who will answer the call and help their Christian brothers cut their ties to porn?
Feel free to share your thoughts with an email to email@example.com.
Chris Bolinger is the author of Daily Strength for Men, a 365-day daily devotional published by BroadStreet Publishing, and available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Christian Book Distributors, DailyStrengthForMen.com, and other retailers.
Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/sb-borg