Sex was created by God to bring joy to his creation. It is not some terrible, disgusting thing, as it is so often portrayed to be. According to Genesis, God made the world “and it was good.” God made sex. And it is good, too.
Yet, Christian parents are often unwilling to even say the word in front of their children. This lack of discussion can lead to a negative view of sex that is more harmful to children than it would be to talk about it openly.
I grew up in a religious household, going to church every Sunday. My parents never had “the talk” with me. The only thing that anyone ever said was “no sex before marriage,” as if that phrase was all I would ever need to know. Unfortunately, that lack of education led me to develop an unhealthy dependence on porn and a twisted view of sex that I am still working to overcome to this day.
Of course, pornography consumption is not the only side effect of the stigmatization of sex. There are countless other pitfalls that stem from it, such as the vilification of sex workers.
However, porn use is the outcome I have experienced in my own life.
When I was eight years old, I began to utilize the information superhighway to satisfy my curiosity. It did not take long for me to discover pornography.
If my parents left to go to the store, or if they were in the living room watching television, I would sneak onto the family computer and watch porn. I did not always understand what I was seeing. All I knew was that watching these things made me feel good.
But it also made me feel ashamed. I was terrified of how my parents would see me if they ever found out. Their daughter, their little girl, was watching porn. I felt disgusting. And that feeling is why it took me four years to tell my parents what I was doing and seek their help.
Unfortunately, my story is not a unique one.
Excessive porn usage has become a rising problem with teens as the internet has become more accessible. Brigham Young University conducted a study in 2012 which showed that between 1970 and 2000 there was a 16% increase in pornography consumption by young men, and an 8% increase by young women. Porn is available 24 hours a day, everywhere and anywhere, as long as you have a device that can connect to the internet.
Especially in religious communities where sex is treated like the eighth deadly sin, it is not uncommon for young people to reach out to alternative sources for information or to get their questions answered. And when the internet is right there, it is far easier to type in a search bar than get up the nerve to ask your parents what an orgasm is.
If teens’ concept of what is acceptable sexual behavior is not coming from their parents, then it is being modeled and informed by the media that they watch. Often, that media is pornography.
As more and more porn has been produced, it has been dramatized, utilizing taboos such as incest and rape to entice viewers to watch. Porn is not exactly known for stressing the importance of consent.
Having discussions about consent and respect are important to start at a young age. However, if a child feels that even discussing sex is shameful, they are never going to ask important questions that will set them up for successful relationships in the future.
Along with encouraging unhealthy sexual practices, watching porn can also chemically alter your brain.
According to a University of Cambridge study published in 2014, watching porn increases the amount of dopamine that is secreted into your brain. This can damage the pleasure center of your brain, making you unresponsive to natural sources of pleasure. This aggressive change in dopamine levels can also lead to sexual dysfunction, depression, and anxiety.
The anti-sex culture that has been perpetuated in the church may seem good in theory. Abstinence until marriage eliminates the risk for teen pregnancy and lowers the likelihood of contracting a sexually transmitted disease. And talking about sex can be uncomfortable. It is much easier to just not even mention it.
But the reality is that abstinence-only education does not work.
Teenagers are naturally curious. With the answers only a few clicks away, it is easy to fall into the trap of pornography. I should know.
It took me a long time to stop feeling ashamed. Even now, six years later, I have moments where I hate myself for what I did. But then I remember that this anger is not what God wants for me.
God loves me, not in spite of, but including my past. And he loves you just the same.
If you are struggling with excessive pornography use, please reach out to a trusted friend, or mentor, or make an appointment at Seattle Pacific University’s Health Services, or with the Counseling Center.