A World Wide Public-Health/Family-Health Pandemic

abstinence, adolescent sexuality, child well-being, children, community, culture, D.C., elections, family, fathers, pornography, Technology, youth 1 comment

Recently, for a talk in Chicago to parents of high school boys, I had to update my knowledge based on a 2009 review of the effects of pornography. On this issue the world has changed a lot in less than ten years: the use of pornography has escalated and the effects are alarming.

The most telling effect, I think, is the epidemic of erectile dysfunction (ED) among men.  For all of human history this was mainly an older man’s problem.  As recently as 2002 the rate of ED for men aged 40–80 was about 13% in Europe. By 2011 rates reached 28% for men aged 18–40. As reported above, a 2014 cross-sectional study of active duty, relatively healthy, 21–40 old males in the US military, found that one third (33.2%) suffered from ED.

Unaware of these changes, for the last year or so I had thought that the drop in high school students’ rate of sexual intercourse was good news and that, since 2007, abstinence ideas were winning, but given the above data, all of the causes may not be good news. Increased pornography use among teenage boys, resulting in decreased interest in girls, may be the cause. This also serves to put in context a disturbing experience I had a few weeks ago while driving through a wealthy Washington D.C. suburb during rush hour: I noticed (as must several other drivers waiting for the traffic lights to change) a 12-year-old moving along the sidewalk, intently looking at his smartphone in one hand while his other hand was engaged in self-abuse.  I had not yet reviewed the new research on the prevalence of pornography viewing and was quite taken aback.  No longer.  At age 12 he was already so addicted to porn and had no shame.  The average age of a boy’s first viewing of pornography has dropped to 10 years of age. Fathers be aware.

75 percent of porn-watching is done on smart phones.  25 percent of all internet searches are for pornography.  Tablets and computers make up the rest, computers being the smallest percentage. The average length of stay on a porn site is about 10 minutes. 70 percent of US college students watch porn — alone, with others, or in couples.  45 percent of women now accept it in their relationships.  10 percent of women refuse to view it themselves but accept it in their husbands or partners.

A decade ago women viewed pornography at about one sixth the rate of men.  Today, depending on the country, it varies from only one third the rate of men (US) to one half (the Philippines and Brazil).

Estimates of production range up to 4.2 million websites (12 percent of the total sites worldwide) with 420 million web pages. Every single day, worldwide, there are more than 68 million search engine requests for pornography (which is 25 percent of all search requests).

What are the negative effects for those who become habituated and especially for those who become addicted?  Changes in brain size (diminished); the younger boys start the greater the effects on their brain, and the more difficult to overcome the addiction; men see women as sex objects not as persons, have greater interest in pornography than in the company of women or girlfriends; they suffer increasingly from erectile dysfunction, become more aggressive in their relationships with spouses or partners, are more likely to believe the ‘rape myth’ (that women enjoy being sexually abused), and progress to more and more deviant pornography to attain sexual arousal, leading in turn to greater sexual deviancy;  teenagers will be more likely to engage in same-sex sexual activities. It is no wonder that American young adults and college students are less and less interested in marriage and may be on the way towards the “Japanese disease” of widespread withdrawal from interest in sexual matters among 30-year-olds.

This is a calamity of monumental proportions.  Combined with contraception and abortion, we now have a ‘society-collapsing’ conception and practice of human sexuality.

Given the borderless nature of the internet, pornography is difficult to control.  However, there is not a nation on earth for whom its effects are not massively deleterious.  This is one public health hazard on which the governments of the world should cooperate.  Without that cooperation it cannot be stamped out. And, given the rate at which porn movies are made, the industry would have to be a major source of the sexual exploitation of women, with probable links to sex-trafficking.

In the meantime, savvy parents — and even savvy teenagers — will switch to dumb phones.  Giving a teenage boy a smart phone is installing a porn-shop in his pocket… and a very alluring shop it is too: cheap (free) porn, immediately available, and anonymous. In ten minutes a teenage boy can see more and more beautiful undressed women than the greatest sultan harem-owner in history ever saw in a lifetime. Who could resist?  Not many.

One father, a friend of mine who took great care in introducing his boys into a gradual and full understanding of male sexuality and its foundational role in marriage, came up with a savvy way of helping his boys avoid pornography:  He told them that, if any boy at their school showed porn to them on a smartphone, they had his full permission to grab the phone, smash it on the ground, stomp it into bits, and then tell that classmate to have their father call his father. One can imagine their glee but, so far, they have not had the joy of following through.  Their school now forbids smartphones during school hours on school property.  Maybe the practice will spread. ‘Dumb phones’ work fine for communicating with parents, family, and friends. The world is different when dumb is smart!

Smartphones vs. the Most Important People in the World

community, depression, family, happiness, Technology, youth No comments

Today’s two findings link the digital world with relational outcomes that no one wants: abortion and unhappiness.  The digital world is a two-edged sword.  We know its benefits, but increasingly we are getting to know it’s down-sides.  Japan, one of the most digitally saturated societies on earth, is experiencing one of technology’s noxious byproducts: hikikomori  they call it, the shut-in lifestyle of young people who have withdrawn from society in fear and isolation to live, not socially, but digitally.

Being human, we are deeply relational from the first moments of our existence and thrive on good relationships throughout our lives. We are brought into existence by the most intimate and desirable of relational activities.  We come into the world to be nursed and cuddled in an intimacy many of us, subconsciously, seek to recreate throughout life, especially if we did not get enough in infancy.  We thrive in families that spend lots of time together, supporting each other in the tasks of life.  This is made even easier for us if we live in a close community.  Add lots of intact marriages and lots of weekly worship (both deeply relational) and life is pretty good for almost all involved.  Children who grow up in these environments are much more likely to thrive in adulthood.

Life in a Jewish Family” by Edith Stein, describes just such a family life in a close-knit Jewish community. It changed how my wife and I raised our children.  Later it led me to frequently suggest to my daughters that, in their turn, they consider living close to each other, if possible, when they married and began their own families because their children would benefit from all the aunts, uncles, and cousins they would have around them.  Better still, if they were anchored in a community of worship, and best of all if they had all this and friends close by.  What gifts for all the children involved!

Charles Murray of AEI in Coming Apart and Robert Putnam of Harvard in Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis tell pretty much the same story: upper-class parents, by and large, understand the relational needs of their children and that their own marriage is foundational to their children’s future.  These parents are well educated and know the research. These upper-class parents also understand and practice the worship of God more than most!

But all this good work can be undone, even for the best of parents, should the digital get a hold on the imagination and habits of their children.

Here too, savvy elites catch on quickly:  A few years ago, I gave a presentation to a group of very wealthy and highly educated married couples. The topic was ‘the benefits to children of the time married parents spend with them’.  One of the couples recounted their smartphone strategy: every family member, including each parent, puts his smartphone into a big ceramic bowl in the foyer when he arrives home.  The phones stay there until after dinner and, on going to bed, are put back there again until after breakfast … which they all have together as their start to the day.  They insisted they knew the value of things and that the most valuable of all is time with the most important people in their lives … each other and their children.


With an eye to the child, the future of America,

Pat Fagan,
Director, MARRI at CUA