ACCORDING TO MANY Christian groups, pornography is a disturbing and increasing problem. A Promise Keepers survey found that 53 percent of its members consume pornography. A 2000 Christianity Today survey found that 37 percent of pastors said pornography is a "current struggle" of theirs. Fifty-seven percent called pornography the most sexually damaging issue for their congregations. A Barna Research Group study released in February 2007 said that 35 percent of men and 17 percent of women reported having used pornography in the past month.
The pornography industry in the United States is indeed large. Adult Video News, an industry publication, estimates the industry's 2006 revenues at $13.3 billion. The U.S. is the world's largest producer and consumer of pornographic material. Porn Web sites draw 72 million visitors every month; more than 13,000 pornographic video titles are produced yearly.
Reliable data on porn are hard to come by, however, given the private and often secretive nature of porn use. Statistics frequently come from sources that have their own reasons to exaggerate--either the pornography industry itself, which wants to show how popular its products are, or groups trying to combat pornography that are eager to demonstrate how pervasive it is.
One of the most reliable sources on sexual behavior is the General Social Survey (GSS), a wide random sample of American opinion and behavior. In 2002 the GSS found that 14 percent of respondents had visited a pornographic Web site in the past 30 days (25 percent of men and 4 percent of women).
Whatever the exact numbers, pornography clearly touches the lives of a significant number of people, including people in the pews and people in ministry. And for some of these people, pornography is a life-destroying obsession.
Sexual addiction, for which pornography is frequently a starting place, is a phenomenon that is increasingly being explored by therapists. David Delmonico, professor of counseling education at Duquesne University and author of In the Shadows of the Net, says that the dynamics of sexual addiction are becoming clearer. "As we become more sophisticated in our brain research," Delmonico says, "we are coming to understand that people don't get addicted to a drug; they get addicted to a process. Heroin may be the drug of choice for some, and sex may be the drug of choice for others. In any case, addiction perpetuates itself through a cycle, and until the underlying causes are addressed, the addiction will just continue or switch from one thing to another."
Psychologists say that the markers for addiction are unmanageability (a person desires to stop a certain behavior but cannot), increasing tolerance and escalation (searching out ever-more "hard core" materials or moving from pornography to sexual encounters, for example) and management of mood through the addictive activity. Sex addicts begin to use various sexual activities to alleviate stress and to relieve boredom or pain.
Because of its accessibility, Internet pornography can easily be what therapist Mark Laaser calls a portal to addiction. Even without the lure of the Internet, Laaser himself experienced an escalation in his attachment to porn. While a student in seminary and then in a program for pastoral counseling, Laaser was a compulsive user of pornographic material. Gradually his addiction to these materials progressed to encounters with prostitutes and to sexual relationships with several women that he was counseling. In 1986 the women sued him and he had to leave the ministry.
Laaser has since devoted himself to research on and treatment of sexual addiction, and he has worked particularly with clergy. He is motivated, he says, by the question, "Could anyone anywhere have seen my problem and helped to prevent me from doing what I did?"
Laaser, director of the Institute for Healthy Sexuality of the American Association of Christian Counselors, executive director of Faithful and True Ministries and author of Healing the Wounds of Sexual Addiction (Zondervan), thinks that pornography addictions are becoming more widespread and that the profile of addicts is changing. …