Marcia Segelstein - Guest Columnist - 5/19/2009 6:40:00 AM We are awash in sex. We, and our children, can't escape it. The teen clothier Hollister prominently displays Maxim, a "soft core" pornographic magazine on a shelf next to publications devoted to skiing and skateboarding. Urban Outfitters, another retailer targeting teens, has naked models in its catalog. Victoria's Secret TV commercials, which run during supposedly family-friendly fare like American Idol, show high-heeled models strutting down runways in suggestive barely-there underwear. The Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition, available annually at your local drugstore chain, has become an American icon. Sexual references and innuendoes abound in television shows and movies. "Women's" magazine cover headlines regularly promise to reveal secrets to better sex. Hotel chains make huge profits from their in-room X-rated movie offerings. Hugh Hefner -- who almost single-handedly brought pornography out of the shadows and into the light of day (making himself a fortune along the way) -- is just another celebrity.
We have "mainstreamed pornography," as author Michael Leahy puts it. Our hypersexualized, pornographic culture has all but obliterated a vision of what healthy sexuality is.
So it shouldn't come as any surprise that the intentional viewing of pornography has become commonplace on college campuses and in the workplace. Michael Leahy documents these trends in his books, Porn University and Porn @ Work. Leahy is also a self-described recovering sex addict whose immersion in pornography nearly destroyed his life.
Leahy now spends a lot of his time speaking to college audiences about pornography and sex. In conjunction with his college tours, he has surveyed over 26,000 college students, with some surprising results. Given our "no limits" sexual culture, he was surprised, for example, that 44 percent of men and 39 percent of women answered "yes" when asked whether they ever feel bad about their sexual behavior. Then there's this survey question: "Have you ever felt degraded by your sexual behavior?" Among college women, 33 percent said they had; 29 percent of college men felt the same way. Perhaps not surprisingly, 64 percent of male college students spend time every week on the Internet for sex. In Leahy's experience, college women have the attitude that "all the guys look at porn."
In the workplace, pornography has become the proverbial elephant in the room, according to Leahy. Two-thirds of nearly 500 human resources professionals surveyed reported finding pornography on employee computers. Seventy percent of all online pornography is accessed during the workday hours of 9 to 5. In 2003, employees at Britain's Department of Work and Pensions were found to have downloaded two million pages of pornography while at work, 1,800 of which contained child porn. Here in the U.S., a recent investigation revealed that the National Science Foundation had failed to detect widespread use of pornography among its employees over a period of many years.
During his own years as a compulsive user of pornography, Leahy wasted countless hours of his employers' time secretly feeding his habit, as it were. The consequences of using company time and computers to download or view pornography reach beyond the individuals involved. As Leahy writes, "Violators expose the organization to a very real threat of sexual harassment and hostile workplace environment lawsuits, public embarrassment and ridicule, and harm done to other employees...."
One of the biggest problems when it comes to dealing with pornography is that society generally views it as harmless. Our attitude is that there will be a few, like Leahy, who become addicted. But for most, what's the harm in picking up a "men's" magazine now and then? Plenty, as it turns out.
Studies have shown that men who view pornography, addicted or not, have problematic attitudes toward women: they objectify them. Current research on brain chemistry shows that pornography triggers the release of dopamine, the same chemical released when we're in the "in love with" phase of a relationship. Again, addicted or not, overstimulation leads to desensitization. And over time, more and different stimulation is needed to achieve the same "high." The healthy intimacy of marital sex starts to lose its ability to satisfy.
Leahy writes that sex is inherently a good thing, in the context of what God intended it to be. Outside of that context, the evidence of the harm it can do is glaringly apparent: the epidemic of STDs (and we're worried about swine flu?), the daily slaughter of the innocents we call abortion, young people degraded by emotionless, casual sex, addiction to pornography and the resulting damage to marriages and families.
It's time for a new sexual revolution â€“ or counterrevolution in this case. It's time for society to clean up its act when it comes to sex. Changing our complacent attitude toward pornography would be a good place to start. Adopt a policy of zero tolerance. Make sure your Internet is as safe as it can be from porn. Check out Bsafe Online and Enough is Enough for information on filters and other protections. If you or someone you know needs help overcoming a pornography habit, visit BraveHearts.net (a non-profit organization founded by Michael Leahy). When you see indecent material displayed in public â€“ whether it's on television or in a mall â€“ courteously but firmly voice your disapproval, and enlist your friends to do the same.
Michael Leahy recounts what the turning point was for him: "In my own experience, once I was willing to admit that I wasn't God and that I needed God's help in order to get well, important changes began to take place in my life."
Likewise we can also enlist God's help to make important changes in the life of our society.
After ten years as a producer for CBS News, forty-something years as an Episcopalian, and fifteen years as a mother, Marcia Segelstein (firstname.lastname@example.org) considers herself a reluctant rebel against the mainstream media, the Episcopal Church (and others which make up the rules instead of obeying them), and the decaying culture her children witness every day. Her pieces have been published in "First Things," "Touchstone: A Journal of Mere Christianity," and "BreakpointOnline," and she is a contributing editor for Salvo magazine.
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