Editorial: We've Got Porn
Zogby International recently conducted a telephone survey on Internet sex for Focus on the Family. One question in particular first struck us as, well, dumb:
"How likely do you think it is to find sexual fulfillment through the Internet?"
Sexual stimulation on the Net? Plenty of that. But sexual fulfillment? Who would look for something that is fundamentally bodily and interpersonal to a medium that is essentially disembodied and impersonal?
But it wasn't such a dumb question. Survey results showed that one in four American men (25.9%) and about one in six women (16.7%) say it is either very or somewhat likely they can find sexual fulfillment online. Nearly one in five Christians (18.68%) gives the same response.
As a society, we're muddleheaded about sex. We need to keep in mind C. S. Lewis's distinction between Eros ("that kind of love which lovers are 'in' ") and Venus (the "animally sexual element within Eros"). "Sexual desire, without Eros, wants. hellip; the thing in itself," Lewis wrote. "Eros wants the Beloved."
Sexual fulfillment requires both Venus and Eros. Apart from the intensely interpersonal and mutual experience of Eros, we are alone. And love (even when it can only hope for and anticipate the Beloved) is never fully alone.
The Technology of Temptation
Pornography is a moving target in the Christian fight to keep sex linked to committed interpersonal love. The Internet and cable television have brought the retailing of pornography to the family room. We once lobbied zoning boards to shut down the seedy "adult" bookstore wedged between the convenience store and the Laundromat. Now the adult bookstore inhabits an electronic territory no zoning board can regulate. Christians once pressured the entertainment industry to keep sleaze out of prime time and corporations like 7-Eleven to keep it out of our neighborhoods. But now sleaze is sold by small-cap entrepreneurs who are invulnerable to boycotts and bad publicity.
Porn merchants have been the creative pioneers of e-commerce. They were the first to use shopping-cart technology and credit cards for online payment. They figured out ways to transmit large graphic files despite narrow bandwidth. And they were early adopters of innovations such as streaming video. They also devised ways to disable your browser's "Back" button and to gratuitously open window after salacious window to prevent you from leaving their sites.
The naturally lascivious bent of computer users and the trickery and business sense of the porn merchants have combined to make cybersmut one of the few profitable e-commerce sectors. Online stock trading is the other sector, but its typical profit margins of about 0.2 percent pale next to porn-site profits, which often reach 30 percent. The 1999 revenues of pornographic Web sites were estimated at $1.1-$1.2 billion. Clearly Americans are taking advantage of pornography's new availability. And the numbers are growing, according to a recent U.S. News & World Report article, Nielsen NetRatings for January 2000 showed a 40 percent increase in porn-site traffic compared with four months earlier.
Online Ministry for Online Strugglers
As pornography is increasingly targeted to the private spaces we share with our personal computers, the battle must shift from retailer to consumer and employ a new Christian strategy: an emphasis on ministry to those who are enticed and entrapped by this newest version of "the lust of the eye." Such ministry is appearing in several quarters.
The Christian men's movement, Promise Keepers in particular, has made it acceptable for men to discuss their porn temptations and possible addictions in the context of mutual support, confession, and prayer. The power of such temptation is in secrecy, and shared burdens often bring personal victories.