Fighting Porn

Dec 12, 2002 |Marshall Allen

It’s gone “mainstream,” but that doesn’t mean you have to act like it’s OK. Marshall shows a Christian way to take a stand.

What's college life all about anyway? According to a new movie, the answer is: porn.

I'm not making this up, as Dave Barry would say. Comedy Central recently introduced viewers to campus life with its first full-length movie, Porn 'n' Chicken. The movie is based on a real-life club at Yale University whose activities consisted of watching porn and eating fried chicken. (I wonder if they got student activity funding?) The movie, which debuted Oct. 13, is the story of an uptight, studious geek, who gets dumped by his girlfriend for being too boring. His rowdy roomie decides his friend needs to unwind by watching porno the Colonel's way, and voila — the geek turns cool and other Yalies join the club. The movie itself contains no actual pornography, but when the campus prudes try to shut down the club, the porn n' chicken gang decide to make their own porno movie. Talk about a film that'll leave a bad taste in your mouth.

Porn 'n' Chicken is sensational and certainly gross (the premise is nearly as disgusting as actual porn would be). Alas, it's yet another example of pornography being mainstreamed into pop culture.

Somewhere pornography lost its taboo and started getting promoted as a normal part of everyday life. It's considered funny, open-minded, emancipating for women (who should be "proud of their bodies") and just plain natural for men. Nowadays, shock jocks like Howard Stern don't use porn as shock material, but banter about it like they're talking about their grocery list. And porn stars — excuse me, "adult" film stars — are being promoted to the point they're becoming household names. Several are now crossing over into mainstream film roles.

Even network TV has embraced porn. No, NBC isn't airing skin flicks in between Pampers ads, but on Friends porn is an old standby. In one episode Ross and Chandler are euphoric when they somehow tap into an X-rated cable channel. (They're so afraid of losing the free peep show they resolve to never turn the TV off.) In another, Phoebe's twin sister stars in a porn film — which creates a wacky misunderstanding when the other friends think it's Phoebe starring in the movie.

Is porn really so mainstream or is the media just making it look that way? I'm afraid it's increasingly the former. During the month of April 1998, 9.6 million people logged onto the 10 most popular cybersex Web sites alone. That's about 15 percent of Internet users at the time. The revenue generated by porn is astounding. The New York Times reported that Americans spend more than $14 billion on pornography annually. That's more than they spend on professional baseball, football and basketball combined. Apparently sports isn't the number one addiction in America.

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But if porn's widespread, it's not going unopposed. And some of the people most opposed are the same ones who've been heavily involved in it.

Take Gene McConnell, a former porn addict and one of the speakers in a traveling campus workshop called "The Power of Porn." He told his story at the University of Arkansas in October — and it wasn't pretty.

McConnell's struggle with sex addiction began when he was 12 and found more than 200 porn magazines in a shed at his uncle's house. Looking at the magazines was like a drug, he said, and he went through every one. Soon, McConnell was dealing porn to other boys his age. He continued using pornography until age 16, when he found a book called "Playing with Little Sis" lying beside the road. At that point, his life took a drastic turn for the worse. The book encouraged sexual relations between brothers and sisters. McConnell had a sister. He did what was in the book, hated himself for it and swore off pornography.

Only breaking away wasn't easy. McConnell said he returned to porn at age 21, when he was married and his wife became sexually distant during pregnancy. He started going to strip clubs and visiting prostitutes. After seven years, he was spending between $300 and $500 a week on his sex addiction. Eventually, his life got so out of control he attacked a woman and barely stopped before raping her. The woman got his license plate number and turned him in. McConnell went to jail.

What makes porn so addictive? Men are attracted to pornography because the women are always willing, McConnell told the audience. Unlike real women, they'll never reject the viewer. This results in porn users being unable to emotionally connect with people of the opposite sex, or see them as real people, he said.

Not everyone ends up molesting his sister, of course. But porn takes a toll any way you slice it. It demeans people, it desensitizes people, it makes people unable to form or sustain real relationships. It's never "harmless fun" or "a healthy release." It's always offensive to God; it's always corrosive to God's design for our sexuality.

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So what do we do about it? There are resources for people dealing with porn in their own lives (see note at the end of this article). But how about those of us who want to fight the intrusion of porn into the culture that surrounds us?

We must take our stand, but in a redemptive way. Considering the example of Jesus, we should view sin as an opportunity to point people toward the kind of life God created us to have. We shouldn't use pornography, or any other sin, as an opportunity to flaunt our spiritual superiority to other people. The truth is, by nature we're all just as far from God, and it's only by God's grace that anyone can come to Him at all.

People may think I'm a prude, a dweeb, or hyper-conservative, but when the subject of conversation turns to pornography, I'll badmouth it in the most polite way possible. My usual approach is to say that pornography makes me sad, and sometimes angry, because it's so degrading to women and shows a misunderstanding of sex. It objectifies them and sets them back in their quest to be treated as equal to men. When used to fantasize and masturbate, it turns sex into a solitary act that warps a person's perspective on relationships. The degradation of women and warped sexuality are certainly not God's plan. I've never had anyone argue with me about these points.

In addition to badmouthing porn in personal conversations, I take the time (usually no more than five minutes) to share my feelings about pornography at bookstores or other places where it's on open display. One day while traveling with my 7-year-old nephew I was dismayed to see a Playboy magazine, at a child's eye level, in an airport bookstore. I didn't point the magazine out to my nephew, but I did ask the clerk to bring me his manager. When the manager arrived I explained to him that as an adult who cares about my nephew and other children, I found it highly inappropriate to have Playboy on open display. Playboy is demeaning to women and pornography destroys lives and warps sexuality. I did the same thing in Borders when the latest Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue hit the newsstand.

Yes, the managers often look at me as if I'm the only person to ever complain, but sometimes they agree. They always shrug and say their company dictates where and how to display magazines. I don't make threats or demands. After all, they're merely cogs in a sick societal machine. But I do tell them that it's sad that they're powerless and have to contribute to these wrongs. Then I get a phone number to call headquarters, or fill out a complaint form.

What's the point? Well, to begin with, Christians are called to stand for what's right, not to succeed. Beyond that, though, sometimes you get a pleasant surprise.

When Yahoo! announced its decision to add "adult" videos and sex toys as a shopping link on the home page on its Web site, that one really fired me up. I called the company, politely voiced my displeasure with a customer service rep, and got the e-mail address where complaints should be sent. Then I e-mailed everyone on my address list, explaining the situation and asking them to please call Yahoo! customer service or send them an e- mail. Apparently, I wasn't the only one to do this, because Yahoo! announced three days later that they were reversing their decision due to customer complaints.

There are no guarantees that anything's going to change when we speak up. But we can take the opportunity to point people toward God's design for male-female relationships and for sexuality. That's being faithful to what we know is true. And God is pleased to work faithfulness in us.

Copyright 2002 Marshall Allen. All rights reserved.

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