The annual trek of many anxious high school graduates, and their even more anxious parents, has begun as college campus dorms fill with eager young minds pursuing higher education, clarification of career paths, and enduring truth (we hope). What they will also likely find, however, is a subculture of tolerance and even promotion of pornography use: a subculture analogous to what many a generation ago might have encountered with readily available alcohol, but arguably with more devastating effects. While alcohol abuse and imprudent intoxication have left much havoc in their wake, there is something different at work with pornography - something that chips away at the viewer's sense of himself, of others, and of meaning in relationships.
As evidence, consider the following anecdote shared by a current student at a prominent university in Washington DC. She was dating a promising young man, destined for the Marine Corps following completion of his degree, who was by all counts an upright gentleman. When the subject of pornography anecdotally came up during a conversation, it became clear to the young woman that her boyfriend was a consumer of such material. So she asked:
"You watch that?
...Sure, yeah, it's normal...
Why would you want to?
...I have needs...
And what about how it makes me feel?
...It shouldn't bother you..;"
"It's normal," he says. Why?
We can only assume that this young man is surrounded by peers who are equally, or more, involved with pornography, such that any reticence he may have personally had upon arrival to college was swept away by the constant opportunity or exposure. Or, perhaps he was ridiculed as being an oddball for not approaching the objectification of women with the same nonchalance as others. Presumably lost on the boyfriend was how nauseating the idea was to his girlfriend: the idea that she might be thought of in any way similar to the women he viewed in pornography.
Not surprisingly, the relationship did not progress. The woman went on to share with me the frustration of many in her position, the hurt they experience when young men think of this as a non-issue, as something that women should all accept without question. But question they do; and with good reason.
Evidence of the harm of pornography to society and individuals is clear, and recent studies of people who view internet pornography extensively are showing increasing evidence of actual changes to brain development. The issue for many young people encountering the college dorm environment is not that the phenomenon is new to them - sadly most adolescents by the age of 18 have already encountered internet pornography; some are already regular consumers. What is new is likely the unfettered access. Parental controls and net-nannies are gone. Combine that with the lack of a culture among their peers that in any way might dissuade them, and the slope becomes quite slippery. The peer pressure to 'do as a student does' is fierce.
Aggravating this environment is an intellectual community that is confused at best in its communications about pornography. Add to this combination the availability of free, instantaneous pornography on the internet and these young men are placing themselves at risk for a chronic problem of compulsive addiction that can have deleterious effects on their careers and productivity, their relationships and marriages, their psyche and their mental health. With ready temptations and little guidance, the governor is off.
Historically, women have been the guardians of chastity, to which a true gentleman responded with admiration and proper attention and affection. Some men, too, have adopted a chivalrous stance throughout the years and these men are to be admired for their virtue, even in the face of the nay-sayers who thought they were dousing all the fun. We need to work our way back to such a place.
Modern day examples do exist. A case in point is Peter Stordalen, the owner of a large hotel chain who has announced pornography will no longer be offered to his customers. Mr. Stordalen cites the association between the pornography industry and the plague of human sex trafficking as the basis for his decision.
There are also growing efforts to educate young men. An organization called "Men Can Stop Rape" has a youth development program, the Men of Strength Club (MOST), geared towards preventing sexual and dating violence. The MOST Club provides young men with a structured and supportive space to build individualized definitions of masculinity that promote healthy relationships, and has been doing so since 1997. Although seemingly well-conceived and thriving in some respects, sadly one university recently published that the group was disbanding on its campus for apparent lack of interest, though other groups on campus, predominantly female, will continue the efforts. So while progress is being made, still, many challenges are faced.
Call me old-fashioned, but I rather like the message sent by an all-male group that is rallying against the objectification of women. I can't help but wonder if there is not a correlation between increased acceptance of pornography and decreased interest among men willing to spend their time in a cause dedicated to protecting women in this way. The current zeitgeist of readily-available pornography being a casual affair is an artifact of the failed sexual revolution which is now entering its 5th decade. From all time, sexual indiscretion and infidelity has been understood to interfere with a man's ability to grow in virtue and flourish as intended. If there is any upside to where we are now, it is the growing clarity of the consequences of the choice to be made: either trek with the crowd over the cliff into increasing indecency, or, be an oddball for the good: your good, and the good of the women you love.