The porn landscape has meteorically changed. We cannot ignore it because it invades everyday life. Brian Krum says it is time to talk honestly about pornography—with our children and teens and among ourselves—so we can get free from the damage it is wreaking in our homes, our relationships, and in our walk with God.

For those of a legal adult age and with cash in their pocket, the main ways to access porn used to be from behind the black curtain of a special room in the video store, or from within a sealed magazine on the rack. Despite the supposed secrecy, anyone could see you pick it up, walk down the aisle and purchase it from a person looking you in the eyes as you gave them your money. If you were young, broke and curious, as most young people are, you resorted to the underwear pictures in the Farmers catalogue.

The historic barriers of cost and public access that once kept people away from porn are now gone. Digital pornography is available on all devices, is free, and you can access it privately in your bedroom, at school, parties and even while surrounded by a room or a shopping mall full of people. You don’t even have to go looking for it; you can be exposed to porn accidentally while innocently surfing the internet or flicking between TV channels.

Porn—sin or addiction? 

God’s pretty clear about porn. Matthew 5:28 says, “But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Simply put, viewing any pornography in any medium causes lust, and lust is a sin. 

So, if we know this, why do we deliberately go there? Well, for the normal reasons we stumble into any other kind of sin: we’ve let down our guard; we feel we are missing out; or we are in active rebellion. For some, pornography serves as a toxic ‘friend’ when times get hard, stressful, or feel out of control. It gives us a predictable short-term boost without requiring any work on our part.

That feel-good factor is because watching pornography causes our brains to release addictive chemicals. The longer or more frequently we do this, the more embedded these ‘pleasure pathways’ in our brains become. Over time, we become desensitised and need more or harder-core pornography to satisfy our desires. 

Like any other addiction, pornography begins to affect our behaviour—perhaps by leading us to find pleasure in things we once considered wrong, or by compelling us to do whatever it takes to get the next fix or a higher rush. This eventually brings guilt, shame and distance from anyone or anything that would hold us accountable. In essence, pornography prevents us from being close to those who can help us in our struggles, including God. 

How can I protect my kids?

Rory Birkbeck (Otumoetai Baptist Church) was a brand new dad when he and business partner Aaron Sinclair set up an award-winning tech company and social enterprise, Safe Surfer, in 2016. Online safety was an increasing concern for Rory and his wife, and as an IT professional, Rory was fielding a lot of requests from parents seeking help to keep their families safe from internet nasties.  

“As parents, we are the first generation that really has had to grapple with the internet,” says Rory. “We’ve got to learn a whole new style of parenting that’s never been taught before.”

To some extent we already are playing catch-up. According to a recent Office of Film and Literature Classification report, one in four children by the age 12 will be exposed to porn.1

If only keeping our kids safe was as easy as unplugging and throwing
away all devices! We know that won’t work, so what should we do as parents? Answer: we must talk to the young people in our life. 

Our kids will not want to talk about sexual stuff with us. But they need to. We teach our kids how to cross the street and not be hit by a car. We teach our kids how to drive before we give them our car keys. So let’s teach our kids about the risks and dangers on the internet before we let them lie awake at night in their bedrooms with their smartphones. They will whinge and complain, but we will have done our job as parents. 

Starting the conversation 

Jo Roberston, a sex and relationship therapist, teaches parents to have a ‘heart, head and hands’ conversation with their kids. First, respond to their heart, and ask them how they are feeling. How did they feel when they saw porn? Were they concerned, confused or traumatised? Did they feel pressured? Do they feel safe? Be a soft ‘pillow’ for them, not a concrete slab.

Secondly, address their heads. Help them unpack some of the problematic messages of porn. Porn doesn’t set us up well to have a good sex life. It can teach us that hurting people is OK. It teaches us consent is not important. These are all problematic messages. Finally, guide them by the hand and make a plan. Talk about internet filters, privacy settings, peer pressure and how to manage our devices better.

Jo reminds parents that this conversation doesn’t happen once over a milkshake at McDonald’s. Check in regularly, every few weeks or every month, and ask if they have seen porn again. Do they have any questions about it? Have their friends seen it and are they talking about it? We parents must show and remind them that we are safe people to talk to about this.

Alongside its internet filter products, last year Safe Surfer developed a children’s book. Keeping Safe on the Web with Kyle the Kingfish tackles pornography as well as other internet safety issues such as screen time, protecting identity and online bullying. Funding from NetSafe has enabled 10,000 copies to be distributed free to schools and counsellors around the country. The book is aimed at children aged six years and older, showing how early these discussions can start.

“The key thing is this idea of turn, think, tell—so getting kids to understand that as soon as they see something, that they should be turning their eyes away, thinking about something good or fun, and telling a parent or trusted adult,” says Rory.

“It’s that engagement they have with their parents and the confidence they build to be able to talk about such things that is quite new for our generation. But if parents don’t have the conversations, then someone else is going to.”

There is hope!

Rory points out that media coverage about pornography and teens often steers parents down a fear‑based track. 

“We’ve got to be conscious of that, because the reality is that the young people who are coming up now are literally going to be the world changers. We’ve got a 19-year-old volunteer in our office who developed our desktop app and translated it into six different languages with his friends. He is crowd-sourcing the ability to build in more of these language translations. 

“Over the last three years I have seen lots of positive signs of change and young people taking to that change. There’s more awareness around the oversexualised culture that they live in, even though it is still a big part of what is going on. They are really the ones that are going to flip the switch and are going to make big change for us all. That’s the good news story in all of that.” 

Story: Brian Krum, with Linda Grigg

As a father of six daughters, a pastor and the Baptist Youth Ministries team leader, Brian wants all our daughters’ and sons’ relational and sexual experiences to be safe, empathetic, emotionally connected, marriage covenanted, consensual, loving and pleasurable. The way God intended. 

Resources:

  • thelightproject.co.nz — for help navigating the new porn landscape, including resources and counselling referrals.
  • safesurfer.co.nz — a social enterprise focused on internet filtering, that gives back to the community by providing education and resources to help families navigate the digital surf.
  • tedxchristchurch.com/2019 — for a presentation by Jo Robertson at TEDxChristchurch, 25 August 2019.

Reference:

  1. The 2018 NZ Youth and Porn study surveyed more than 2,000 New Zealand teens aged 14-17 about their exposure to online pornography: classificationoffice.govt.nz/news/latest-news/nzyouthandporn.

7 steps to getting free

If you want to get help for yourself, or for someone you know and care about, you must address pornography addiction as a health issue rather than as a shamed-filled stigma in which only ‘weak people’ fail. 

Stopping pornography use is not the only goal; identifying and addressing the underlying issues are equally important because that empowers you to choose healthier ways to cope with what you are feeling or experiencing.

Here are a few actions you can take right now if you want to cut pornography out of your life completely: 

1. Have a serious talk with God 

Ask God for forgiveness. 1 John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” In Psalm 51, after committing serious sexual sin, David asks God to wash and cleanse him, blot out his sins, and give him a clean heart. Praying this type of prayer is crucial if you are to move forward.

Secondly, commit to change your behaviour, which is repentance. We see an example of this in the way David not only turned from his sin but also turned towards a righteous life. Turning away from sin and pursuing a righteous lifestyle will allow God to work in your life and bring his power into your problems.

2. Be transparent 

Richard Black, founder and director of Strength to Strength counselling, says, “Pain and shame grows stronger in darkness. Because of the stigma of porn, and to watch it means I’m a distorted, degenerate person, people don’t speak up about it to others.” 

Being transparent will act as a safeguard by allowing other people to see your actions and help protect you from falling back into old behaviours. Talk to someone who isn’t struggling with this issue and who is solid in their walk with God. Let them know everything, including your plan for stopping porn use. If you are married, let your partner know what’s going on and what you’re doing about it, but talk to a pastor or a counsellor about this first, to help prepare for that conversation. 

3. Clean out the closet 

Get rid of the junk that causes you to act out. Be honest and ask your support system—friends, pastor, or your spouse—for feedback on what needs to be thrown out. Serious growth is going to take serious sacrifice. 

4. Build your team

If you attempt to do this alone, without transparency, without confession, without cleaning out the closet and without a support team, you will not succeed. Team members will include friends, counsellors, pastors, family and/or an addiction support group—anyone who can ‘be real’ with you and help you kick your habit. 

5. Learn your triggers

Knowing your triggers will take away their ability to surprise you. Create a plan that takes your triggers into account and gives you a way out when you need it. 

6. Get to the underlying issues

Even if you’re able to quit, not knowing why you use pornography often leads to using it again or finding a new addiction to take its place. Talking to a pastor or counsellor starts the process of sifting through your life and bringing awareness to why you do what you do. As you uncover the underlying causes for your pornography use, it becomes easier to work through them—an opportunity you will not have if quitting pornography is your only focus. 

7. Don’t look back

The enemy is going to whisper in your ear, “You are not a good person. You are a repeat failure. God is tired and ashamed of you.” Please do not give in to those lies. In God’s Kingdom, failure is an event, not a person. So stop looking back. Just move forward. Remember who God says you are and are going to be.