By Jason McFarland
The Grand Canyon didn’t used to be a canyon.
That’s when you say, “Uh, what does that have to do with pornography?”
Have you ever been to the Grand Canyon? As you hike along the red rim of one of the natural world’s seven wonders, peer down into the depths. Don’t get too close, just look. Can you see it? That teeny, tiny blue ribbon? That’s the Colorado River.
That little bit of water carved one of the largest canyons in the world.
See where I’m going with this?
Ah, yes, you say, but pornography isn’t that big of a deal. It doesn’t really hurt anybody. It’s a natural, human urge. Like scratching an itch.
Yeah, well. It only starts with a look.
Perhaps you’re sure most Christians don’t partake in such disgusting habits. You don’t know anyone who looks at porn, right? Or maybe you think you’re the only one who takes an occasional peek online.
You’ll be surprised to know, then, that 50 percent of all Christian men and 20 percent of all Christian women struggle with addiction to porn. According to data from Internet users who participated in the General Social Survey, people who commit adultery are 218 percent more likely to view pornography, and those who engage in paid sex are 270 percent more likely. Even more surprisingly, those who refer to themselves as “fundamentalist” Christians are 91 percent more likely to look at porn than those who don’t go to church!
But that’s still not you, right? And what can really go wrong?
Oh, so much. The American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers reports that 56 percent of divorce cases are linked to one of the parties having “an obsessive interest in pornographic websites.” And other studies show that prolonged exposure to pornography leads to:
- Diminished trust between couples
- Belief that promiscuity is the natural state
- Cynicism about love or need for affection between sexual partners
- Belief that marriage is sexually confining
- Lack of attraction to family and child-raising
The Grand Canyon wasn’t formed in a day, but it is deep. And dangerous.
Pornography is a huge problem, and it’s easy for Christians to judge those who have allowed that trickle of pornography to eat into the bedrock of their souls. Or, let’s admit it, you’re one of them and think you’re alone in your struggle. But there are numerous and pioneering ministries out there dedicated to recovery from porn addiction. One of those is the ministry Guilty Pleasure, based in Australia.
Guilty Pleasure is a nonprofit organization dedicated to raising awareness of pornography’s harmful effects and helping men and women overcome their addiction. They’re developing a range of resources—documentaries, sermon series, websites—and just this past March, Guilty Pleasure flew renowned neuroscientist Dr. William Struthers to Australia to talk about how porn literally rewires the brain.
Recently, MannaEXPRESS had the opportunity to talk to Jason Huxley, founder of Guilty Pleasure, about his own climb out of porn addiction and the depth of the problem facing men and women today.
What is it that your ministry does and how did you get into it?
You know the name of our ministry—Guilty Pleasure—I founded it mainly out of what I learned through my own struggle with pornography. I took my marriage to the point of divorce and ’fessed up to my wife at that point. My motivation was to actually end the marriage. I wanted to be free of the shame and guilt.
And she said, “No, I’m going to stick by you.” That kind of caught me off guard, because it meant that I had to actually go and do something about it, which I really didn’t want to do. And so we started this incredibly long, slow, lonely journey to recovery.
In that period I just found myself going crazy. I was having withdrawal symptoms. And so I started researching my behavior. Why was I suffering withdrawal-like symptoms from not viewing pornography?
I found early research being done by some psychologists and neuroscientists who were finding that porn addiction was looking very similar to a drug addiction. They started paving out principles about these things called neural pathways or brain tracks and how to deal with an addiction. So I started applying those principles, and it gave me inroads into why I was behaving that way.
I joined a 10-week recovery course in Australia, and when I did that program I realized that I wasn’t on my own. A lot of guys had similar stories, and out of that I built this passion to start giving people the understanding of some of the science behind this so they could walk out of it without doing the kind of lonely journey that my wife and I did.
And so ultimately, the mission of Guilty Pleasure is to raise the awareness of the harmful effects of pornography and then connect people to professional help.
How old were you and how long had you been married to your wife when that all went down?
I was kind of predisposed to it when you look at the case studies of the type of people who really get hooked. I was someone with low self-esteem, had a lot of health issues when I was young. When I was about 15 or 16, we had the old dial-up modem at home. It took a long time to download one picture in those days.
Once I started going to Uni[versity], I had an account that allowed me more access. I started dating Laura, and when we got engaged I actually ’fessed up to her then. I wanted to give her an out at that point. It really wasn’t a selfish motivation. We kind of figured once I had that fanciful supply of sex that I thought marriage would bring that the problem would go away. And in reality in about six months I was back viewing again.
I got to the point where I was spending hours of the day viewing, and I planned my day around it. Yeah, it’s just ridiculous. We’d gone probably four years of marriage by the time I ’fessed up to her [again]. By that time I’d had a history of viewing for 10–12 years.
Are there really that many people who look at porn?
At most of our events we run a live survey. We’re finding that about 85 percent of attendees at any function say that they’ve viewed in the last 12 months. Surveys that have been done in the U.S. are saying that 50 percent of Christians struggle with it in some capacity in their home. The American Association of Matrimonial Lawyers came out in 2006 and said 56 percent of divorce cases are directly related to either pornography or sexual betrayal of some capacity.
There are a bunch of different stats out there: 38,000 people viewing every second. There are numbers saying the porn industry’s worth about $100 billion worldwide.
Is there a significant difference between men and women who look at it?
The official stats are saying about two-thirds of men and a third of women now. The third of women tend to be 35 and younger. And it’s kind of expected of them; we’ve kind of pushed that onto them.
Why are men more prone to look at porn?
Men have got this Achilles heel that is sexual imagery. Guys are very visual in almost every way. That’s the way God’s created us. We’ve just taken that and distorted it away from its original plan. That bonding that comes when you have an orgasm actually is designed to bond you to your wife and make that relationship stronger. But what we’ve ended up with now is a situation where we’re bonding to pixels on a screen, or we’re bonding to images in a book, or we’re bonding to women at a strip club.
You just finished touring with a neuroscientist talking about the effects of porn on the brain. What are a few of those effects?
What happens is that you start replacing women with the scene. You have this thing in your brain called mirror neurons, and when you’re viewing pornography you’re kind of imagining yourself in that situation. When you go away from the pornography, you start doing the inverse of that. You start seeing women and putting them into those scenes. Women start becoming part of the nonstop movie that’s playing in your mind.
You end up in a situation where you can’t relate to women properly anymore. You end up in situations where husbands are pushing their wives to do things that are playing out the scenes in the movies. You end up in situations of fathers pulling away from their teenage daughters, because they’re finding their daughters are looking close to the young girls that they’re watching in the porn movies.
Eventually what happens is it distorts your perspective on life, and this is exactly what happened with me. Where I am now there’s no way I’d ever want to divorce my wife--I treasure her beyond belief. But it had warped my view so much that I’d thought, “Divorce, whatever, I can get my fix. I’m already quite happy with what I’m doing.”
Not everyone takes it to the point of addiction, but it changes our perspective of sexuality. Ultimately, a lot of guys end up starting to act this stuff out. They go and chase the secretary in the office and have an affair, or whatever the case might be. We’re basically eating what I call sexual junk food. We’re becoming sexually obese.
Would you draw a connection between men simply looking at porn on their computers and other forms of sexual deviancy?
Absolutely. It’s that progressive path of what becomes acceptable. You can make the link to sex trafficking. When you look at it, prostitution really is just sex trafficking.
I was a part of a ministry in Amsterdam that had a ministry to the prostitutes. So many of the women in there didn’t choose it. They didn’t want it. They were lured into it.
You know, sexuality is not just the genital action of sex. Sexuality is who we are; it’s the way we relate between male and female. What we’ve done is we’ve kind of compartmentalized sexuality. We’ve pulled off the baby-making component and we’ve gone, “Oh, what, you get pregnant? That’s OK. We have a solution for that. Go and get an abortion.” We’ve taken sexuality and pulled off the bits that we like and thrown away the rest. All we think about is the pleasure of it, but really we’ve taken it out of that natural context and turned it into this resource that we buy and sell.
What would you tell a person who believes that pornography is simply like scratching an itch? That it’s just the result of a natural human urge?
That point of orgasm is designed to bond us to our partner. So when we’re viewing pornography, we’re bonding ourselves to something else. That ends up becoming our appetite. Look at my story, where over time my appetite went completely away from my wife—who is absolutely gorgeous—to images on the screen. They were worth my whole life and my whole marriage.
Do you really want to start that process? Do you really want to be a person who’s drawn to non-real situations? Pixels on a screen rather than real relationships? Do you want to get to the point where you can’t relate to people in any other way but a sexual way anymore?
We know from a spiritual point of view that sexuality is the closest that we can get to God. The Bible says this is sin against our own body. It is actually a sin that is above any other sin, and there’s a reason for that, because it creates these soul ties. So from a spiritual point of view you’re doing incredible damage. You’re tying your soul with a bunch of different people.
How do you help people who are addicted to pornography free themselves from their addiction?
As the church we’ve created a perfect environment that harbors addicts, because we have systematically cut out any way for them to find anyone to go to without feeling condemnation and shame and guilt. We’ve got to get out of that mode. We’ve got to give people an understanding that they’re not on their own, that there is help out there, and that it is a journey and is something you can recover from.
For addicts, we really need to be coming alongside them. What they need are people beside them who are looking out for them. The common thing through a recovery process is that you fall back. When I was going through my recovery process I fell back repeatedly, and we need to give people an understanding of that. As a process with people who are struggling, it’s really important to do the journey with them.
One last question: Is anyone ever too far gone?
By the grace of God, no. In society people would say yes, but I think by the grace of God we can overcome these things. Jesus came to the earth as human to demonstrate what man is capable of. It seems unattainable, and certainly God doesn’t expect us to become sinless. But we have Jesus as the model of “this is actually possible.” •
For more information about Guilty Pleasure or resources to help you or someone you love dealing with sexual addiction, please go to www.guiltypleasure.tv.. If you live in the Dallas area and need Christian counseling for a sexual addiction, visit www.lifeworksrecovery.com.
The Morning Shift
Morning shift at a hostel starts early.
No, I didn’t misspell “hotel.” And forget scary movies set in Eastern European countries. Hostels, for the most part, are clean, inexpensive, and social places where almost anybody would feel comfortable. Hostels have, as a matter of fact, become a worldwide industry that offers much more than just bunk beds in dorms that smell like dirty socks.
And I got to work in one! I love world travel, I love meeting new people, and I love ministry. At the Shelter Youth Hostel in Amsterdam, Netherlands, the world actually came to me, and I worked with young people from a dozen different countries who loved Jesus and wanted to see his name spread among the nations.
Of course, that also meant getting up early to relieve the night shift.
So I’d crawl on my bike, Amsterdam’s most popular mode of transportation, and set off down the red-brick streets of one of Europe’s most famous cities. The sky would slowly turn a brighter blue as I passed the massive Central Train Station on my left while some of Amsterdam’s narrow buildings literally leaned over me on the right.
And then I would enter Zeedijk, one of the oldest streets in Amsterdam. I’d bike the narrower avenue a bit faster. The sky seemed farther away. Figures in tattered clothes would still be sleeping on the stoops. And dark shadows would be hunched in corners with the shiny gleam of needles sticking out of dirt-smudged arms. I tried to look at them, just like I tried to ignore what I knew was going on just a few streets over. The one with red lights.
Finally, I’d ride through Nieuwmarkt Square, still mostly empty of people that early in the morning, and turn right onto Barndesteeg Street. I’d try to keep my eyes away from the other end of the alley, waiting impatiently—a little nervously—after ringing the bell for the night man to let me in. I’d ring it again. Please let me in. I don’t like what’s pressing on me from the left.
Amsterdam is what I dare to call a very honest city. You’ll immediately see that it’s beautiful. The people are beautiful. The streets are clean. Everywhere you look you’ll find culture, art, and history intermingled.
But whereas other cities try to hide their seedy underbellies, Amsterdam wears its sin openly, blatantly. A mark of pride. In the year 2000, the Dutch government legalized prostitution, allegedly to protect women by giving them work permits. And many forms of so-called “soft drugs” such as marijuana are, if not technically legal, legally tolerated (a policy called gedoogbeleid). I remember walking every day past coffee shops (Dutch businesses where the sale of cannabis and other soft drugs are tolerated) with the distinctive smell of weed rolling out in waves. I can also tell you stories of dealing with guests at the hostel who would smoke their legally tolerated purchases within our building, which, as a Christian ministry, we did not tolerate.
When you work at a hostel, depending on what city you’re visiting, you get asked a series of predictable questions. In Amsterdam those might be:
“Where is Anne Frank’s house?”
“How do I rent a bike?”
“What’s the best coffee shop in town?”
But the worst was: “How do I get to the Red Light District?”
Most of the guests who asked this question simply wanted to see Amsterdam’s most infamous part of town. Almost every tourist asked. My mom wanted to see when she came for a visit. And at the Shelter Youth Hostel, the answer was, “Go out the door, turn right.”
Oh, yeah. The hostel was located only a few dozen feet from that area with the amber glow. Every evening a night receptionist might hear an alarm echoing through the streets. It sounded almost like an old-fashioned rotary phone ringing, and it meant a woman was calling for her pimp. She was having a problem with a “customer.”
I honestly tried to avoid walking through the district, but sometimes it was unavoidable. I always felt dirty—and guilty—after seeing a woman with empty eyes press a hand against one of the windows that lined the street, beckoning me. Keep your head down, Jason. Don’t look at the poor women.
So many images flash through my head as I remember the ugly part of Amsterdam: The non-Christian volunteer who cried in my shoulder when he was molested in the Red Light District after getting high. The refugee lured into prostitution by a “loverboy” who seduced her with promises of safety and money. The group of Korean businessmen who stopped me on the street to ask the location of the Red Light District (I pointed them in the wrong direction).
How can these places exist? What could turn a man into such a monster that he would hurt a woman like that? Was he once like me? Oh, yeah, don’t forget to erase your browsing data before you turn off your computer, Jason.
I honestly loved my time at the hostel in Amsterdam. I made friends. I enjoyed the city. Ignore the junkie in the corner. Keep your head down. Don’t look at the women.
But I think maybe Amsterdam doesn’t really know what it means to be honest.
Jason McFarland is a world traveler who now makes his home in Memphis, Tennessee. He's a graduate of Dallas Theological Seminary and makes a living doing graphic design when he's not trying to figure a way back overseas.