Most men who are my age or older remember a day when pornography was rare and taboo. Pornography has existed as long as the camera has existed (and before that in more rudimentary forms, I’m sure) but has always been difficult to find and has always carried some kind of stigma. Today the tables have turned and porn has gone mainstream. Instead of being a shameful addiction it is now the punch line in jokes, the subject of sitcom episodes. Porn stars are admired. It’s probably significant that we don’t speak of “porn actors” but “porn stars” as if there is something inherently glamorous in their line of work. Books and magazines encourage us all to enjoy porn, to allow it to add a little spice to our relationships. It’s a lot harder to avoid porn than it is to find it.
And then there are the scary statistics, the scary reality, that men and boys are consuming porn like never before. Women and girls are now being introduced to it and even being encouraged to regard it as normal. An email that haunts me is one I received a short time ago from a girl of 14 who found herself battling addiction to pornography. It’s becoming a part of our culture, a part of our lives.
Amidst all of this, it can be difficult to avoid despair, to truly believe that anyone or anything can curtail the problem. We can look to the future and see a time marked by people who are utterly broken, whose sexuality has been undermined and destroyed by their consumption of never-ending amounts of pornography. We can see our sons and our sons’ sons growing up surrounded by it, giving themselves to it.
And, of course, we can see Christians increasingly viewed as being anti-sex for being anti-porn; in suggesting that the mainstreaming of pornography is harming individuals, families, and all of society, we are already regarded as repressed and repressors. This will only continue and grow.
Yet amidst this kind of despair, I’ve found great reasons for hope and I want to share two of those with you.
In the first place, there is the simple fact that pornography is morally reprehensible, that it is utterly opposed to God’s plan for sexuality. It is so opposed to God’s plan for sexuality that it will inevitably bring about harm. Eventually that harm will become too obvious to ignore and there will be societal backlash. I see pornography as akin to smoking in this way (which is not to say that smoking is as evil as pornography): At one time it was regarded as glamorous; everyone was doing it, very few people were concerned about what it was doing to them. But then we began to see that it was harmful, that it led to sickness and disease, that it could harm children, and society reacted by placing restrictions on it and by increasingly attaching some level of taboo to it (at least that’s more and more the case here in Canada).
I believe porn will eventually go the same direction. Time will show the harm it has brought about and society will react. God’s common grace will cause men to turn against something so very harmful. It will not disappear altogether, but it will fall out of the mainstream so that making a pornography joke will be as ugly then as making a slavery joke would seem today. I’d like to think that Christians may be at the forefront of this battle as they led the charge against slavery.
A New Generation of Parents
There is another thing that gives me hope. My generation and the generation that follows were raised by parents who had no real sense of the world their children would grow up in. We cannot blame them for this because no one saw the porn culture coming. Our parents did not see the seismic shift until it was too late. What it means, though, is that few Christian parents (and dads especially) raised their children to deal with porn saturation. We were taught the birds and the bees, but we were not taught about how to deal with bombardment by pornographic pictures and pornographic messages.
But these generations of men are now raising children of their own, and I know that they are raising them in an entirely different way. I know because I am among them. We are not raising sons wondering if they will someday encounter pornography; instead, we are raising sons and equipping them to deal with the when rather than the if. Already I am preparing my son for the inevitable reality that at some point he will be invited to look at pornography, at some point he will encounter it, and he needs to be prepared. He needs to know what pornography is, he needs to know how it will harm him, and he needs to be equipped to run the other way. As my daughters grow up I will seek to instill similar messages in them, telling them of the expectations that they may be burdened with in such a world as this.
This generation of dads will not assume that their boys or girls are getting through life unscathed. Instead, we will be asking our boys what they are seeing and what messages they are receiving. We will not let our kids have computers in their bedrooms, assuming that they know how to handle them responsibly. We will remember the way we struggled, we will remember what pornography did to us, and we will move heaven and earth to help our sons and daughters avoid it. We will pray unceasingly that God will protect them from seeing what they should not see.
Those of us with daughters will challenge our future sons-in-laws, asking what they have been exposed to and demanding that they detox, that they reshape the false messages pornography has taught them, lest they extend harm to our girls, lest their history become our girls’ history. We will not take for granted what our fathers took for granted. We cannot and we must not.
We will fail at times, and our children will still see things, do things, experience things that will grieve us. But we will help them detox from the smut, we will give them gospel hope, we will help them seek and find forgiveness and freedom.
Amidst all of the pornography, amidst all of the despair, there is hope. God gives hope through the gospel, and God gives our children hope through us, through this generation of fathers who cannot afford to be naive, who simply cannot take porn for granted.