Ep. 078: The (Still) Important Issue of Pornography
The (Still) Important Issue of Pornography
In the last 10-15 years it seems as though pornography went from being an ultra-taboo topic in the church (no one talked about it), to being a regular taboo topic (some people have started talking about it). The reality is, the business and consumption of pornography is still a massive issue in the world – including men and women in the Church. Joining us this week to help re-inform us on the staggering stats of porn use as well as the affects it has on the brain is Chris McKenna – the Educational Resource Manager for Covenant Eyes and the creator of Protect Young Eyes.
Who’s Our Guest?
Chris McKenna is the Educational Resource Manger at Covenant Eyes. He has a BA in Accountancy and Spanish from Western Michigan University. After 12 years in business advising with Ernst & Young, God led Chris to a full-time student ministry role. He started protectyoungeyes.com in 2015 as a ministry to equip and educate parents and teens on the latest gadgets, apps, and how to use the Internet well, which led him to Covenant Eyes.
Chris is the Educational Resource Manager for Covenant Eyes, a Christian-based organization that provides Internet accountability and filtering.
Chris is also the creator of Protect Young Eyes. This organization trains parents and students on smart/safe tech use.
*Below is an edited transcription of the audio conversation.
With me today is Chris McKenna. Chris is the Educational Resource Manager for Covenant Eyes. He’s also the creator of Protect Young Eyes. It’s great to be with you today Chris.
Isaac, it’s my pleasure. Looking forward to it.
Why don’t you first tell us a little bit about who you are, where you’re from. Also, how you met Christ. That’d be awesome.
Sure. So, I’m in Grand Rapids, Michigan – if your audience is familiar with where that’s at. I’ve been in Michigan my entire life. I grew up in a very religious home, but it wasn’t until I went to college, at a university there in Michigan, through a very powerful experience that the Lord truly grabbed my heart. And in a moment that I can only partially describe, because there aren’t words for it, I heard the words “You are mine,” and from that point forward, albeit very imperfectly, felt very much that I had be claimed.
In fact, you would see on my right wrist the tattoo of 1 Corinthians 6:20, that I am bought for a price. That I was paid for with His life. So I’m wanting to be reminded of that often, of His awesome sacrifice. So that was back in my early twenties.
Now, twenty years later, still feel that I have much to discover, and there’s just a constant desire for more. It’s as quickly as I can summarize 43 years.
The two roles that I have today, at both Covenant Eyes and Protect Young Eyes, when I look at my professional career, are two that I have not been doing for too long, because they are neither of them being things that I ever expected to be spending time on as a double major in accountancy and Spanish. Which are, of course not related to either of the roles that I have today. But, that is a whole separate conversation, that, maybe we’ll organically uncover as we continue to talk here.
You mentioned Covenant Eyes and Protect Young Eyes. So, I mean, I’m pretty sure people would be, if they were familiar with one of the two, they’d be familiar with Covenant eyes – it’s been around for quite a while.
Why don’t you just tell us briefly what Covenant Eyes is, and also what Protect Young Eyes, which, I think was just created a few years ago now.
That’s right, it’s two years old. It’s as a result of Protect Young Eyes that I’m here in my role at Covenant Eyes. But personally I discovered Covenant Eyes as one of a few resources that helped educate me on my own pull towards pornography as I was consuming that for a good part of my adult life. And Covenant Eyes was part of the solution, one of the tools I was able to put in my belt, along with openness and accountability and relationship in order to leave that issue behind. Although I would say, and this is just being totally honest in the hopes that people in your audience might relate to this.
I no longer identify myself as a porn addict.
I am somebody who understands what that addiction looks like, having put it in my past, but I was telling a friend the other day that I feel like it’s an issue that tailgates me. Meaning, I think that many Christians can speak in freedom and victory over things, and yet, the Enemy will select one or two things and go out of its way to remind us, poke us, prod us, in those places. And I find that that is a place where I am constantly needing to be vigilant in order to keep myself sexually pure with what I see and what I think about.
So I guess I would just offer to anybody in your audience, that if you find yourself in that spot, know that you’re in good company and that there’s still freedom, I think, in that, in
turning some of that misery into ministry.
And I think God can do that in some powerful ways.
Covenant Eyes has been around for 16 years. I describe it in this way, to kind of explain both ministries: Covenant Eyes is an organization that looks for people who floating in the river of sin and temptation with their hands up, whether they are a traumatized spouse, or a man, and more frequently now, woman, who is trapped in addiction with their arms up saying, “I know I need help, help me.” And we love to throw life preservers out and ropes out to people in that situation to say, “Okay, we can help.”
On the other hand, Protect Young Eyes, we like to live a little further up stream with our hands out towards families and kids saying, “Don’t get in the water. There is an awesome way to use technology, but do not get in the water in these specific places,” whether it’s through certain social media, or obviously pornography, or others ways that technology can be abused. So that’s the way I describe both of those, which are both absolutely necessary, given the digital world that we live in. But they tend to compliment each other very well.
I want to get into that at the end (Protect Young Eyes), learn some good tech advice. But before we get there, I wanted to consider pornography. I could be wrong, Chris, but I don’t know, it seems to me that the topic and issue of pornography for the last 10-15 years, it seems as though it’s been taken from being completely hidden to revealed through different organizations like Covenant Eyes and triple X church – they really made a push to make it known that this is a real issue going on. And the door seemed to be open for churches to talk about it.
But, just a straightforward question: from what you see in the North American church, is porn still a taboo topic?
It’s better, yet still taboo.
It’s still on the list of topics that a pastor would probably prefer to not have to talk about.
And we see this play out statistically. I mean, Barna would show us that- and we recently surveyed an audience of multiple thousands of people, and
99.8% of people that responded to a survey asking them about the church’s role in educating the congregation said, “Yes! The Church needs to be a primary contributor in educating and helping its people live with integrity online.”
Well, Barna found in 2016 through their unbelievable study “The Porn Phenomenon,” is that only 7% of churches have a program.
So you have this chasm that exists between the needs of the people and the programs that exist- and I don’t even necessarily fault pastors for that. They weren’t educated, they weren’t equipped. There are very few pastors who have the right tools to even have this conversation in a very dark, lonely, hopeless, hard spot to talk about. So, to try and bridge that chasm, Covenant Eyes has been working really hard over the past 12 months to create a model where we come alongside churches to help them create a campaign, form integrity, create this sort of groundswell of “Let’s all do this together,” that’s really what we were founded on, is that, everything out in the light, everything we do together, things in relationship often get fixed.
The Enemy wins one-on-one in dark, lonely places – he does. And you’re fooling yourself if you think otherwise.
And so, our mission has been to help individuals, and now more recently organizations, to create a culture of openness and accountability where we can have victory.
Now, can you just refresh and remind us of some of the hard facts and stats on pornography use, and sort of the business of it as well?
Yeah, the numbers are just staggering. When you just look online- I’ll give you one example. The largest pornographic website, on the world wide web, is owned by the same parent company. If you were to go their site, they would look like a very innocent, SEO/IT company. But they are a private organization that privately owns every large pornography website on the world wide web.
Every year they publish statistics, much like a public organization in the United States would publish an annual report on their business operations, they publish an annual report of porn consumption.
For the year 2016, there were over 4,500 centuries of time watching pornography. That’s over 4 billion hours.
So you think as you break that down into centuries, that’s over 4,000 centuries of time spent watching porn. Right? So the numbers are mind-boggling for one website for one year, that human beings are consuming an unbelievably large amount of pornography.
And so, we find that more and more it’s young people that-
41% of teenagers who would say they have strong faith periodically look at pornography, that’s multiple times a month.
1 in 7 women, adult women, would say that they view pornography at least once a month.
And so, you know, the numbers are just one side of it. We know that there is a human being attached to every single one of those, and all the stats just point to the fact that, “We need to do something, this is a growing concern at all levels, all the way down to young people.”
What I’ll just share quickly is that, and I get this on both sides whether Covenant Eyes or Protect Young Eyes, but, recently I had some conversations with an organization in Grand Rapids that does counselling for families dealing with sexual abuse. And they deal predominantly with helping counsel children who are recovering from sexual abuse, either as the perpetrator or the victim. Both sides of that.
The greatest issue they see bubbling up in their office right now is peer-on-peer sexual abuse. We often think that, if a child is sexually abused, it has to be an uncle or an adult that has done this to the child. What is happening more frequently is peer-on-peer sexual abuse, and the primary, by far, the number one contributor to that is childhood exposure to pornography.
Because, we know this, if you’re a parent you know this, whatever children see, is what they try to do. This is why we model as parents, and they sometimes pick up traits we don’t want them to, but they do what they see. Therefore, if a child is exposed even periodically, but certainty those who are exposed frequently, to pornography at a very young age, it’s not that they’re bad kids doing bad things. It’s just that their brain is telling them, “Do what you’ve seen.” And so they practice it on other kids.
That’s one of the more heartbreaking realities that we’re finding with the amount of pornography that’s out there and how easily accessible it is.
Now, it’s been said that porn addiction can be difficult to overcome. Lies from the enemy, lots of stuff goes on. But, I want to ask you specifically, what goes on mentally in the average man or woman as they watch and become addicted to porn? I know Covenant Eyes has done a study on this as well.
Yeah, you know, when it comes to porn addiction, well, I mean, I’m not going to just let them get away with the copout of, “It’s my brain, it’s neurology. I can’t help it,” there is almost always some intimacy disorder – something on the relational side. If you peel back the onion far enough, a kind of intimacy disorder is going to be a core source to what manifests itself later as a porn addiction that I’m using to feed some lacking that I’m feeling somewhere else. That’s a whole part of this.
Later on, there are things neurologically that go on to just solidify and to create this crazy cycle, whereby as created beings, God created us to desire sex. It’s a super-stimuli in our brain that was designed not only relationally, spiritually, physically, and emotionally, but physiologically designed to bind me to my spouse in a one plus one equals one, in God’s math, relationship.
There is something neurological that goes on when I experience sexual intimacy with my wife. The problem with pornography neurologically is that it mimics that exact same reward pathway, especially if I am self-stimulating during that viewing of pornography. What I’ve essentially done is chemically trained by brain to bond to the porn in the same way that it was designed to bond with a person.
The brain is amoral – it does not discern between “That’s a good bonding and that’s a band bonding.” It responds to stimuli and sets off a cascade of chemicals and neurotransmitters accordingly.
So regardless of the trigger, it’s going to start that set of dominos and so, coincidentally I’m working on an e-book right now that is titled PIED: Porn Induced Erectile Dysfunction. Meaning, that we are now experiencing a whole generation of young men who never created a sexual template attached to women and instead their entire sexual template was attached to porn, who no longer find normal women sexually arousing.
Wow, that’s crazy.
It is, and I mean, that’s a whole other conversation. We’re just trying to paint some of the dark edges that exist around this issue – those are some of the extremes that we find ourselves in at Covenant Eyes.
I appreciate you sharing some of the details of it, because I think on the outset, a lot of people who are little bit naïve may consider pornography and say “Oh yeah, it’s a dangerous thing,” and they know some things about it, but what you’ve just shared, it’s deep. There’s a deep issue going on, and I do appreciate you sharing that Chris.
In your experience, and you’ve touched on this a little bit, researching all this stuff, speaking to many people, what kinds of spiritual ramifications are there for watching pornography?
Well, there’s relational ruptures. I mean, you think about, we were designed as whole body beings.
You cannot separate the sexual from the physical from the emotional from the relational.
We are created in the image of God, one body, I mean, mind, body, spirit, all these things are interconnected and so, having been there, it’s very easy to believe the lie that while watching pornography I’m not hurting anybody.
And then you step back and you think, “Oh my gosh, what victimization is happening to the person on the screen that I’m watching? What are the funds that are behind the website that I’m watching with my clicks being used towards? Some exploitation or abuse of children or whatever it might be.”
I’ve had stories of men who have told me that, “Even though, I know for a fact, Chris, that none of my children knew that I was addicted to porn, as soon as I quit, my relationship with them changed.” I had one man tell me that for the first time, in her eleven years, that his daughter started sitting on his lap.
And those seem like maybe little, unrelated things, but I, and I think you would agree, that there are unseen ruptures that occur relationally when we are abusing that part of our design as created beings.
There’s a lot of different things we could talk about there, but I guess the overall takeaway is that there is always a victim – not just the person watching it and how they’re disrupting their own neurology as we’ve talked about, but there’s always collateral damage that sits all around like a fallout from a nuclear bomb – that sits around anyone who is viewing pornography in an addictive manner.
And like you said, to break that lie from the enemy that “This is just about you, alone, you’re not effecting anyone else.” I think that’s good to break that lie. Especially when you read through the Scriptures and all the talk about the justice that God practices and the justice that He wants us to take on ourselves, that when we do see injustices that we ought to be behaving in such ways that bring justice in the injustices of the world. There’s lots of injustice that goes on in the pornography business. I think that’s important to see.
I just want to add one thing because I think there’s an objection that I hear from people through our blog. Some people say, “Well there are some women who choose that. How can you say it’s wrong when there’s a woman who’s chosen to make good money by going into the field of pornography and film?”
And, I believe it was Matt Fradd, he’s a Catholic apologist, who said, and I’ll speak just in terms of men for a minute,
“As a man, even if a woman for a period of her life has a disoriented or broken view of her own dignity, isn’t it my responsibility as a man to uphold that for her? And to pray for her? And to not enable and support that? Isn’t that my job to care for her soul too?”
And when I heard him say that I was like, “Wow. That just crushes every one of those objections.”
When someone doesn’t know they’re hurting, isn’t it our job to pray for them and to care for them in the midst of their hurts? I think the answer is absolutely yes.
That’s awesome Chris, thank you for sharing that.
We have only a few minutes left, but I really wanted to get to this question. You created Protect Young Eyes to equip and encourage parents and students towards responsible use of technology. So, why don’t you just broadly, for those who are stuck in porn addiction, and for those who aren’t, what practical advice would you give when it comes to the principles of technology use?
Yeah, well the first would be that as a parent, I do not believe you can lead your children in purity and responsibility online if you are not modelling it yourselves.
I don’t think it’s possible to pour purity out of a dirty cup, and our parenting needs to model whatever behaviours we want to see in our children.
So if we think for our children that a filter or accountability like Covenant Eyes is good, then model that for them. Show them what that looks like. I advertise to my twelve-year-old daughter when I’m going to speak to my accountability partner. I want her to know that that’s an important part of my life and why I do it, so that she understands that our family exhibits a culture of openness and transparency and accountability. I want her to know that that’s something that applies to all of us. So that’s one of our eight strategies that we teach to parents in Protect Young Eyes and we speak to them on creating an internet safe home.
Another one that I would focus on is to have the right conversations with the right kid at the right time. And this isn’t just about porn, but every single child is wired a little bit differently. So yes, this might mean that in your house, you have different rules for different kids in the same house. But that’s because God created them differently. But you cannot delegate awkward conversations in the digital age. Therefore, you must look your children in the eye and talk to them about all the things that nobody ever talked to you about as a parent.
Because, if mom and dad do not engage, Dr. Google will – his office doors are open 24/7. Therefore, if you do not know how to have those conversations, then find a tool that will help you do it. And so, a lot of the time, in the ninety minute talk we do with parents through Protect Young Eyes, is I find myself more in a position of teaching them how to parent in a digital age, albeit from a very imperfect parent myself, but teaching them how we can parent more effectively in the digital age, compared to how we were parented. And I come from a Gen-X generation, we were a little more passively parented. And therefore, that is not feasible in the digital age because there are so many competing media voices for the hearts and minds of our kids.
That wraps up our time. I would love to have you again on the show to talk about something more in depth. But I just want to say a big thank you, Chris. I appreciate you taking the time to chat. For listeners listening, you can learn more about Covenant Eyes by heading to covenanteyes.com, you can also check out Protect Young Eyes by going to protectyoungeyes.com.
Anyways, thank you again Chris. And I look forward to talking to you again soon.
Your welcome Isaac, take care.