My wife and I attended an anti-pornography conference put on by the Utah Coalition Against Pornography.
It was really good and very eye-opening. Below are some of my notes, hopefully reworked so they are somewhat more coherent. Sorry, this is a really long post. But I think it’s pretty important.
Donald Hilton gave the opening keynote. His speech focused on the science behind pornography addiction. He discussed “Neuroplasticity,” which is the science of how the brain is constantly changing itself. Under normal circumstances, the brain makes connections and drops connections based on what we do and how often we do it. Reminds me of the phrase, “That which we persist in doing becomes easier to do, not that the nature of the thing has changed, but our power to do so is increased.”
He explained how addictions take advantage of and short-circuit this process. Ironically, part of that involves less dopamine (pleasure) being released in the brain. That means that in the case of an addiction, the same action that created a high before doesn’t accomplish that after a while. He went on to demonstrate how it has been shown that exposure to pornography has this same effect, just like drugs such as cocaine and heroine.
He defined addiction as follows: Addiction is a chronic disease of the pleasure systems, involving a loss of control of the activity and requiring increasing levels of stimuli.
He mentioned that critics attack him for pushing his moral stance. To which he replies that he prefers to discuss it on a scientific basis. He mentioned previous inadequate studies and ideas promoting pornography and compared them to early studies showing how good smoking was for you, or advertising things such as cocaine toothache drops; the point being that our knowledge and understanding of what is harmful grows and changes over time. We know more about how the brain works and can see how pornography really is an addiction in the classical sense (something which we did not understand not that long ago).
She talked about being conscious and aware about the media that you and your children are consuming. On average, youth spend 7 hours per day on entertainment media. Young adults spend 12 hours per day. Approximately 100,000 words cross our eyes and ears each day.
She asked, “If the only thing someone knew about you is the media you consume as well as when and where you consume it, what would it say about you? What does it say about how you use your time? Is there anything they would learn that would make you cringe? Is it too much or too often?”
Another way to look at it is to think of the top three to five priorities in your life. Does the time you spend consuming entertainment media fit with your priorities? This is not to say that we should stop all media use, but maybe it could be trimmed some to make more time for the things that are really important.
Another suggestion was to think of the content that you consume. Is it mentally or spiritually nourishing? How well does it reflect your values?
It’s also important to establish standards as a family. There are several variations of a “Clean and Safe Media Pledge” that you can download and adjust to your own standards and values. Review it regularly with your family and update it as needed. Have regular media-free times. Fill that time with other activities, preferably family activities. Read a book together, go on walks, play sports, work on a garden, work on other projects. There are so many good things that we can be involved in.
Consciously seek out the best, and mindfully avoid the worst. Sometimes finding the best things takes a while, and that’s fine.
My favorite presentation was from Clay Olsen, with Fight The New Drug (FTND). They are something like “D.A.R.E.” from the 80’s. They do mostly youth assemblies in high schools and junior high schools discussing pornography and its dangers. Clay’s presentation was geared toward helping us adults understand what the pornography landscape looks like to a teen and what we need to do as parents and leaders to help. At the same time, we got a pretty good flavor of what their youth presentations are like.
Parents need to better understand the dangers of pornography. We need to understand that it really is an addiction and should be treated as such. Just saying “cut it out” or “don’t do it” is not really helpful. Teens need the facts, which means that parents need to understand the facts.
The harms of porn fall into 3 main categories:
- It is addictive
- It kills love
- It harms society
The addictive nature of porn has already been discussed by Dr. Hilton, but they have a somewhat simplified version of the same ideas that they present. It needs to be treated like an addiction.
On how porn can kill love, he referred to an experiment performed by Dr. Tinbergen, in which he created cardboard versions of a certain kind of female butterfly with exaggerated colors and markings. He found that the male butterflies preferred the cardboard fake and would try to mate with those rather than the real butterflies.
He discussed how porn changes men’s view and attitudes about women, objectifying them so that they see a woman as a collection of parts rather than a person. A person hooked on porn can get to the point where they simply prefer the virtual false experience over the real thing. (Raymond Berner and Ana J. Bridges, 2002)
On the harms to society: A common misconception is that porn and trafficking are not related. In fact the opposite is true. The porn industry fuels the trafficking industry. Many sex performers are trafficked and have no real way out. But to the consumer of porn, it is presented as consensual. They have no idea what is going on. He played a recording of a sex performer talking about the various drugs that would be given to her before a performance was to be recorded: a amnesiac, or a paralytic, or a strong pain suppressor, or some odd combination, depending on what the desired result was.
Another thing that parents and leaders need to understand is that porn today is so much different than it used to be. Part of that is due to the various new mediums available (for example, web-camming). Clay opened our eyes a bit more when he mentioned that many of the teens he worked with did not consider Playboy to be porn, as it consisted only of nudity. A study concluded that 88% of the more popular porn films portrayed violence to women and children.
He went over what he called the the four A’s:
- Accessible – Porn is accessible in nearly all times and places. Many of us have phones, which means access to porn is available in our pocket, 24/7.
- Affordable – There is a lot of content that is free. This industry focuses on trapping the teen in order to get a lifelong paying customer.
- Anonymous – Drugs and smoking have external signs, whereas signs of porn use are much harder to detect.
- Addictive – (Already discussed)
At this point Clay shifted gears in the presentation more towards prevention. Not surprisingly, he emphasized that parents are a big part of the solution. They need to be involved early and often. Clay indicated that in the few years FTND has been in operation, they have seen younger and younger children admit to problems with porn.
Parents need to get educated about porn, and that’s not a one-time thing (like a conference). They need to continue to educate themselves on what is going on, especially with their youth. They need to pay attention to what their youth are doing and experiencing. They have found that the first exposure to porn typically happens inside the home (79%).
Some things that parents need to be familiar with (not in a over-the-shoulder interrogating way):
– What publications and media access do your kids have?
– What internet access to they have?
– Where can they access that media?
– When can they access the media?
– What social media profiles or streaming services do your kids use?
At this point he brought up a slide with about 50 different logos to various social sites that are currently available. None of which are particularly evil, but any of which can (and do to some extent) have explicit content shared on them. He did warn specifically against Tumblr and Snapchat. One cautionary tale he told was of two teenage girls who shared explicit pictures of themselves on some site. They quickly realized realized their mistake and took them down. They had been up for about a minute. And that’s all it took for those pictures to be copied, shared, tweeted, and re-tweeted. Those girls ended up having to change schools because of it.
Next he shared some warning signs that there might be a problem. These included:
- Deleting the browser history
- Using a different browser than what everyone else uses
- Being overly protective of their digital device
- Accessing the internet without monitoring
Again he emphasized the need to discuss this with our children, and sooner than we think. The one-time “birds and bees” discussion is simply not enough. It should be an ongoing (regular) conversation about healthy sexual relationships as opposed to counterfeits. Helping our children understand the difference between these two was his “If you don’t remember anything else, remember this” statement. Kids today don’t really have a context, and if they don’t get that understanding and education from their parents, they may not even understand that there is a difference.
Some guidelines on having these conversations:
- Make sure there is enough time. Don’t have something in the oven
- Make it one on one.
- Try to not make it a forced conversation.
- Understand that the vast majority of teens really do want a committed lifelong relationship
- Be “In their corner.” Kids are absolutely inundated with this. Love them first and foremost
- Don’t shame or guilt. The majority of teens have this problem.
And then guidelines on what to say:
- Ask questions and listen. find out where the gaps and misunderstandings are.
- Teach them the facts. Teens are figuring themselves out. deciding if they believe what you believe. They need the facts.
- Share your family values. Don’t skip the other steps and go directly to this–that’s just a lecture.
- Repeat. repeat. repeat.
He also talked about the need to having family standards and making sure our children know what those standards are.
This was my favorite of the sessions. To me it was the most applicable in giving me a framework and ideas to use in teaching my children, particularly on the “What to say and how to say it” And I did rather like that his “Don’t forget this!” point was very much along the lines of what my parents taught me growing up.
The final keynote was given by Mary Anne Layden and was titled “What’s the Problem? What’s the Solution?” One of the main focuses of her talk was about “Permission-giving Beliefs” and how those things can lead people to do or believe things that they otherwise wouldn’t. She talked about counseling with people who believed that sex is a need, and how that justified many different behaviors.
She gave some statistics that were pretty concerning. I didn’t write all of them down, but here are a few:
- Porn performers’ average life expectancy is less than 38
- Only 25% have a marriage that lasts as long as 3 years.
- 77% of prostitutes have head injuries
- 68% of prostitutes have PTSD
- 87% want to get out of prostitution
- The average age that a woman goes into prostitution is 13. Typically they’ve been raped and are homeless.
That last one in particular was really scary.
She discussed three different policy strategies surrounding the selling of sex. One of these was to legalize it. Not surprisingly, that tends to lead to vastly increased prostitution and trafficking.
Another common approach is to make prostitution illegal. She showed mugshots taken by a Denver sheriff of prostitutes under arrest. Each women was in her late teens or early twenties. There were 8 mugshots taken–each was a successive arrest. The problem is that the woman gets arrested, then released, and then what can she do? Very typically they just go right back to prostitution, as they don’t really have any other option (that they can see). The really sad thing about these mugshots was seeing how very many of the pictures showed that they have been beaten. By the eighth shot, it looked like they had aged twenty years, yet all the samples we were shown took place within two years or less.
She then mentioned a different approach taken by Sweden. This country decided to make the purchase of sex illegal, which means the man (usually) is the one that gets arrested. What happens to the prostitute? She is considered a victim and given counseling, drug rehab if needed, and subsidized housing. The idea is to punish the demand. From the numbers she showed it appeared to be a wildly successful approach, with the number of prostitutes going down from the thousands to the hundreds.
She mentioned another study asking men what things would keep them from purchasing a prostitute. There were lots and lots of interesting responses, such as “tell my mom” and “impound my car.”
Not much else to say, except possibly “Eww” and “Help!” Dr. Hilton closed his speech with the following quotes from World War II. The first is from Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was a pastor executed by the Nazis for speaking out against their regime.