Porn in school: a necessary subject?

Reading Gail Dines’ ‘Pornland’ makes me feel quite ill in places. In my quest to find out more about the porn industry, I’ve been keen to avoid seeing any images (that would simply perpetuate the abuse), but rather read descriptions in order to redeem this knowledge for good purposes. And it’s tough stuff. Whether you focus on the physical effects (e.g. anal reparative surgery) or the mental consequences (e.g. self-destructive behaviour), it really is tortuous and bleak.

On a wider level, it is heart-breaking to read about how young women’s body confidence is being dismantled – in some cases destroyed – by the ruinous expectations set up by the porn industry. So many feel the need to look like porn stars, with the endless waxing involved, otherwise they risk rejection by potential partners. (Pornland, Dines p99ff) Reading the disgust with which some have been greeted for not waxing sufficiently demonstrates the totalitarianism of the porn industry – ‘it’s our way or social exclusion’. And the mainstream ‘women’s’ magazines who peddle the same line in more acceptable ways simply add fuel to this fire. This is, of course, before we get into the details of what might be demanded in the bedroom. I recently heard of a case where a marriage broke up within a couple of years because the husband’s previous porn consumption had led to demands that could not (and should not) be fulfilled by his wife. I’m sure this is a widespread issue leading to misery, separation and possibly violence.

So here’s a suggestion I open up for discussion: is there a place for education about pornography, its values and its effects, in Relationships and Sex Education in Schools? Could it be taught in age-appropriate ways through the age range Year 6 to Year 11 in a way that builds self-esteem for both sexes? And could parents be sent a summary of the presentations to provoke family conversations?

Your thoughts are most welcome…

Is our silence on pornography fuelling Islamic fundamentalism?

This post is slightly tangential and I certainly had no idea I’d be posting on this subject when the series first began. But having spent some time considering what is going on at a more international level, I stumbled across a couple of interesting news reports from the recent archives. Firstly, in 2008 there were a series of threats to a French TV station concerning their regular broadcasts of pornography into North Africa. The originator of the threats self-identified as a Muslim and threatened to blow-up the headquarters of Canal+. I can find no record of this being carried out. Secondly, after the US Navy Seals killed Osama Bin Laden it was widely reported that he had a sizeable catalogue of porn videos. As ‘A Tale of Two Cultures‘ has correctly identified his entrapment in this seedy, degrading world may well have acted as a compelling motive to oppose the values of the West or the Christian nations as he would have seen it. And this led me to thinking- is our silence on this issue actually fuelling Islamic fundamentalism? It is difficult for us in the UK & US to come to terms with the fact that for the vast majority in Islamic nations we are seen as Christian countries. Our Christian witness is damaged whenever we remain silent about, tolerate or promote anything that assaults our common human dignity. Whether our governments act is something we cannot be held responsible for but (whether through fear, wearied fatalism or lack of care) our silence is. It is not for me to comment further on the Islamic approach to sexual expression. But it is enough to know that pornography is considered a subversive medium & a threat to society that gives us common cause. Maybe if we were more vocal and developed more strategic campaigns on this issue we might discover new allies, make new friends and act as peacemakers. It’s an optimistic vision- a dream if you like- but nothing was ever achieved without a vision. If you doubt the admittedly swift trajectory of this argument, have a look at one of the commenters on the report of the Canal+ threats:

‘as long as there are christians to defend pornography france is safe’

Hmm

If we knew, would we view?

I’ve started to read through a few papers on the effects of pornography. As you might suspect all is not as glamorous and happy as the porn producers would like us to believe. For now, though, I want to consider those enticed into the porn industry and pose a simple question:

‘One study reports that at least 70% of adults involved in the sex industry were sexually abused as children while a review of the literature on prostitution concludes that 60-90% of prostituted women (including those in pornography) were sexually abused children.’

Dr Karen Boyle, citing Doreen Leidholt “Prostitution: A Form of Slavery” in Making the Harm Visible: Global Sexual Exploitation of Women and Girls, (eds. D. Hughes & C. Roche, Coalition Against Trafficking in Women, 1999) and Melissa Farley “Prostitution and the Invisibility of Harm”, Women and Therapy 26 (3-4), pp.247-80, 2003

My guess is that when viewing pornography not a moment’s thought goes into the backgrounds of women pretending to be enjoying themselves. It suits the process of stimulation & ecstasy not to ask any awkward questions. The acceptance of what is viewed at face value is also a worrying consequence of the pornification of our culture. If porn stars can be photographed cheerfully with world celebrities, then surely it’s a dignified profession? The effects of performing in the porn industry will be looked at subsequently, but for now the fact that the majority of entrants are victims of child sexual abuse should be considered in its own right. Let’s get the information out there so that everyone will be in no doubt: viewing porn creates an unsafe haven for the vulnerable. But if we knew, would we view?

Why sexualisation can be an unhelpful term

There is a difficulty with the language we sometimes use. Often we talk about the sexualisation of society and particularly the sexualisation of childhood. This is a wide-ranging term that includes fully-clothed adults kissing, for example. However, in this description we regularly conflate it with exposure to pornography as if that is merely a subset of sexualisation. Whilst I have objections to certain aspects of sexualisation in, say, advertising, I agree with researcher Meagan Tyler that subsuming pornography into sexualisation leads to an unhealthy association between sex and pornography. Pornography uses sexual stimulus, yes, but it is a woefully distorted depiction of sex that has no emotional intimacy. Because of this one-way voyeuristic practice it objectifies women and corrodes the self-esteem of us all. In short – it is counterfeit goods.

Many of us would say that regarding sex as a taboo subject has damaged our ability to educate and encourage best practice in Relationships and Sex Education. The porn industry has therefore felt vindicated in celebrating the wide acceptance of its product as a major contribution to get us talking about sex. Would a wider acceptance of armed robbery help us to better understand the craft of Olympic pistol shooting? No – because its values are demonstrably different. So it is with porn. It is not about sex – it is about money, power and abuse. So ‘pornographication’ (seemingly the preferred academic term) or the short-hand ‘pornification’ is a much more helpful way to describe the mainstreaming of this practice. For the sake of the abused, the entrapped and those whose self-image is twisted by this corrosive practice, we need to get our terminology right – our culture has been pornified and it is time we challenged the impostor.

Reference: http://vu.academia.edu/MeaganTyler/Papers/963967/The_Politics_of_Pornography_and_Pornographication_in_Australia

Is the availability of porn leading to more child abuse?

After attending the recent Westminster seminar on ‘The effects of pornography’ hosted by Premier Christian Media, I came away with many thoughts, many questions and a copy of the Independent Parliamentary Inquiry into Online Child Protection. The submissions from a wide range of sources are illuminating and concerning. Here are a couple of quotes:

‘One of the developments though over the last four or five years is responding to adult males involved in accessing child pornography and what has been intriguing in engaging with that population… is the significant proportion- this is not excusing their behaviour for one second- who progress from viewing online mainstream adult pornography to viewing child pornography… We have now had to develop [programmes to help offenders] to younger people because there are younger people engaging in similar material.’ Donald Findlater, The Lucy Faithfull Foundation.

‘children don’t really have a natural sexual capacity for [processing sexual exposure appropriately] at about 10 or 11 [year old] and what porn does is that it short circuits the normal personality development process and provides misinformation about sexual gravity and can be very disturbing for them and also their sense of self and their sense of body… they introduce children to sexual sensations that they aren’t mentally ready for’ Lucie Russell, Young Minds

Placing this in parallel with the work of Dr. William Struthers on the re-wiring of the adolescent brain by pornographic exposure it paints a potentially catastrophic picture. If a nearly-adolescent has such a distorted view of themselves as a sexual being what chance is there that they would be able to make the distinction between pre-pubescent and adult pornography? Could exposure to ‘adult’ pornography at this crucial point of development lead to an increased likelihood of interest in child pornography? If so, it blows apart the concept of harmless fun often portrayed by the porn industry. And strengthens the resolve that begins with the Online Safety Bill currently in parliament. More research is clearly required. But one thing’s for sure – this is a most urgent task.

Liberalism has betrayed the porn generation

We know it’s there but how has it become so embedded in our society? The porn industry has successfully manipulated its way into mainstream society without large scale opposition. There have been notable exceptions (Whitehouse, Longford, Dworkin, Dines) but in the main we have wilfully turned a blind eye to the prevalence of porn. Perhaps, even more shockingly, liberalism has become the bastion for the freedom of the porn industry to purvey its trade virtually unrestricted in the western world. Well let’s have a further look at this. Here is one definition of liberalism:

[Liberalism is the] concept that the preservation of individual liberty and maximization of freedom of choice should be the primary aim of a representative government. It stresses that all individuals stand equal before law (without class privileges) and have only a voluntary contractual relationship with the government. It defends freedom of speech and press, freedom of artistic and intellectual expression, freedom of worship, private property, and use of state resources for the welfare of the individual.
(www.businessdictionary.com)

The freedom of the individual is paramount based on the premise of natural goodness. Whilst we all have capacity for great goodness this is far from the full story. Interaction with porn will show anyone with eyes open the twisted nature of much human thinking and many human relationships. The boundary of individual freedoms is the welfare of others. This is where liberalism asks itself the most challenging question- Is it better to restrict the right of the individual for the benefit of others? In the case of porn this question has been lamentably ignored. As the evidence of the harm of porn has gathered the governing elite have been silent. Shame on them.

I am aware of porn designed for females and gay porn but what follows is solely focussed on (the vast majority of) porn designed to appeal to heterosexual men.

Consider this:

‘As men fall deeper into the mental habit of fixating on these images, the exposure to them creates neural pathways. Like a path is created in the woods with each successive hiker, so do the neural paths set a course for the next time an erotic image is viewed. Over time these neural paths become wider as they are repeatedly travelled with each exposure to pornography. They become the automatic pathway through which interactions with women are routed…With each lingering stare, pornography deepens a Grand Canyon-like gorge in the brain through which images of women are destined to flow…All women become potential porn stars in the minds of these men’

Dr William Struthers, Wired For Intimacy, p8
It is utterly outrageous that Liberalism that has done so much to champion the equality and dignity of women should be in bed with the porn industry. That Larry Flynt is considered a hero for challenging the restrictions of the state in order to peddle pornography is a vile contradiction. You may think I’ve gone a little too far. I always like to ask myself the following question when opposing a particular viewpoint- What are its redeeming features? Well, in this case, there are none. What do they care about- the end user, the porn actors or the children who might discover their material? This is a multi-billion pound industry that is so financially valuable that the authorities dare not intervene. It requires a grassroots movement who will protect children, reject violence against women, will help men trapped on the internet for hours on end and are prepared to be castigated as haters of sex to make our voice heard. It’s because we have such a high regard for sex that we reject pornography- the shortcut to misery. We will campaign to protect our human dignity by refusing the worst excesses of a greedy and amoral business that seeks to destroy sexual pleasure and replace it with sexual degradation and slavery. Supporting the rights of pornographers to make money isn’t ‘progressive’ it is complicity in condemning a generation to misery.

For a more detailed blog on the lies of pornography read @jjmarlow here

For CARE’s resources on this issue click here

Jamie Reed MP poses a big question

Twitter is the best place for crowd-sourcing opinion on political matters. So thanks to Jamie Reed MP for putting it out there with this relevant question. Certainly, ‘Christian’ opinion has been in the news with increasing regularity over the past decade from a very low base – you could be forgiven for thinking that we folded as a company after the Keep Sunday Special Campaign. The key question of analysis then is this: What has changed to precipitate this? Firstly, I think the church has woken up to the fact that its influence has waned. More positively, the evangelical church has recognised that the creation mandate demands a greater stake in society – a narrow mission of words-only evangelism is a limited message to a hurting world. So the Christian involvement in the campaign against human trafficking (including legislative meat to enforce prosecution and care for victims) has been huge. Secondly, culture is moving at speed to challenge the assumptions and foundations of the past. What might have been seen as ‘sacred cows’ like the traditional formulation of a marriage relationship are suddenly up for grabs. This has led to a wide gap where a kind of ‘sacred/secular divide’ in understanding leads to all kinds of mistrust and talking past one another. And Christians have been guilty of purely defensive thinking, defending territory and not arguing positively for alternatives (granted the media aren’t so keen on positive stories). Thirdly, politicians do not declare their hands openly, especially on social issues. Perhaps this is because they cannot foresee the rate of change or maybe it’s because such scrutiny at election time is uncomfortable. Either way, it results in a sense of a democratic deficit. Which leads me to my final plea to fellow Christians: We are Christ’s ambassadors. Deal with it. I often tell the story of when I first met my MP. At the end of our first constituency meeting he said this: ‘Some of the nastiest, most aggressive letters I receive are from my Christian constituents’.

Where is our value of respect for human dignity in all this? We should be those who thank, those who encourage, those who pray and those who challenge recognising we have a human being in front of us. Yes, we sometimes have our backs against the wall, yes we are passionate about issues. But if we win the battle through dubious tactics we will lose the war because we deny the gospel a hearing. And deservedly so.

Is pain the greatest enemy?

 

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Recently I was part of a discussion group that looked at various aspects of medical ethics. During the conversations we had, many of us reflected on personal encounters with pain whether they be physical, mental or emotional. In the midst of this the seminar leader shared the story of a couple who had been told they were expecting a baby with Edwards syndrome- a condition that meant his life expectancy would be short. They were presented with the possibility of a termination on receipt of this news. For them, though, this was no dilemma. Their Christian faith led them to continue with the pregnancy and so a boy was born. We were told that in his brief life he brought much joy to many people. Indeed when he died some months later friends were moved to bring stories of how their lives had been changed by meeting this dependant bundle of personhood. Such accounts reminded me that  there is much to be learned through suffering. It is not something we welcome but it is an opportunity for us to recognise that we are not in complete control of our lives. And that leads us to further questions about humanity and the existence of God. We should shrink back from becoming complacent or fatalistic but we can resist the clamour for assisted dying. A compassionate response demands improved investment in the hospice movement and our world leading palliative care. Is pain the worst thing we can face? Or is a society that determines when our quality of life has dipped below acceptable?

A visit to Shropshire

Admittedly, it’s not my most inspiring of blog titles but I did indeed visit the green and pleasant pastures of The Quinta Conference Centre last week for the annual UCCF student leaders gathering, Forum. This wasn’t a first for me, it was my 9th such journey this time to team teach in two ‘Theology of Social Justice’ workshops. So what impressions grabbed me by the throat as I mused in the company of over 800 students?

Firstly, the combination of serious discipleship peppered with great fun and ridiculous humour. I can’t think of a better way of making an important point about the challenge of following Jesus than encouraging the audience to laugh at themselves and then delivering the inspiration of how it could be different. Graham Daniels told the story of former QPR footballer who earlier in his career as a 17 year old had spoken up at a club Christmas dinner to say something of the significance of celebrating Jesus. But the words just wouldn’t come. So he offered a song instead ‘Thank you Jesus, thank you Lord for loving me’. He made it through all three verses as sniggering colleagues tried to hold it together. As you can imagine, training was a nightmare for a while ‘Come on Dennis, sing us a song!’ But it left an indelible impression on at least one, for later he became a Christian. This account made us all laugh precisely because we can all remember occasions when we felt entirely inadequate in attempting to explain our decision to become a disciple. And it inspired and encouraged us because, despite our faltering words, God chooses to use such weak and trembling vessels.

Secondly, there was such an intentional thread of an all-compassing biblical worldview. This has been such an encouraging development in the conference ethos. Whether it be approach to academic study, involvement in Uni sports teams or influence in the Student Union they are all places where being a Christ-follower should be encouraged, supported and resourced. These are not places where Christians carry out occasional forays to prove their evangelistic bravery but rather places where the Spirit of God is at work enabling the incarnational presence of His people to live and love. Becky Pippert’s challenge to us all was to ‘practise the presence of Christ’- in other words to sense His Lordship in the midst of the struggles of everyday living. By being there and showing the wonders of grace we can point the not-yet-followers to another way.

By modelling and teaching in this way, Forum will deliver a great legacy to the wider church. We will all benefit through being joined by thousands of younger Christians inspired to live differently and equipped to apply Jesus’ message to the every aspect of life.

Hacked off with authority?

POLICE & SECURITY

I promise to obey used to be written into every church marriage service, well, for 50% of the participants, anyway. Obedience wasn’t seen as negatively as it is now. But due to the abuse of power, obedience has fallen by the wayside, trampled and cast aside by the individualistic anthem: ‘I will survive’. When trust has been obliterated by postmodern cynicism, what is there left that binds our communities together? Common self-interest is increasingly uncommon, our values and virtues are so diverse that we agree on little. And so rather than commitments of obedience our way of doing life has become  ‘I’d like to do what I can get away with’. Do I want to obey the letter of the law on my tax return? Do I want to be scrupulously honest on all insurance documents? No, I don’t want to but there is something bigger at stake than what I want- the truth. We all know that if none of us were truthful on our tax returns the system would fall apart. But if we decide to hide or distort the facts we do so because we think we can get away with it- that we are unaccountable- and that the honest ones will make up the difference. The problem with truth is that it lays claim to all sorts of things I would like to keep under the banner ‘personal freedoms’. I will defend the right to live unhindered lives  but when such freedoms lead to irresponsible parenting, civil disobedience and the peddling of nasty rumours we have to ask questions. Why has it come to this? Why do we all seem to be so hacked off with authority?

Well, if we have no higher sense of authority then we only have ourselves to answer to. If a phone hacker thinks he will be rewarded for getting a great story by illegal means then it’s well worth it. If a rioter thinks society owes him more than his struggling everyday existence, then opportunistic looting seems ideal. God is truth- absolute and personal. I can fool some of the people some of the time, I can even fool myself occasionally, but I cannot hide from the glare of divine truth. Pilate asked Jesus ‘What is truth?’ Truth is the only standard that really matters. Whilst we might think of it as cold and abstract, the Bible is clear, God is truly compassionate and loving. He knows my tendency for self-centredness and he knows I could never justify my actions before him. So he sent his perfect Son to live and die for me. I live knowing that I’m loved and secure but that I’m accountable, too.  And I’m also realistic about human nature. I will challenge and try to shape authority where necessary. I will encourage honesty and cheer on those who give offenders a second chance. And I will ask for your forgiveness when self-righteousness becomes my mechanism for unloving finger-pointing. But hacked off with authority? Not me, Authority has done me every good.