Seventy percent of American men ages 1834 view Internet pornography once a month. This shocking fact is one of many that CT consulting editor John W. Kennedy found during his research for this month's cover story, "Help for the Sexually Desperate" (page 28).
Don't assume that porn isn't a problem in the church. One evangelical leader was skeptical of survey findings that said 50 percent of Christian men have looked at porn recently. So he surveyed his own congregation. He found that 60 percent had done so within the past year, and 25 percent within the past 30 days. Other surveys reveal that one in three visitors to adult websites are women.
Porn is gaining a stranglehold on mainstream American culture. One reason is the false message that porn viewing is harmless and socially acceptable for the sexually frustrated. One reason it is not harmless is the number of casual porn viewers who end up sexually addicted. The term sexual addiction is only 25 years old. But it describes the very real problem of extreme sexual behavior that is destructive to self and others. In his research, John found that experts believe tens of millions of people are addicted to sex.
Stigma and fear work against Christians who wish to address this issue in the community of their church. John himself bears witness to this reality: He became motivated to write about sex addiction after his pastor stonewalled his request to start a confidential men's accountability group. The pastor basically said this hot potato was too hot to handle. After much prayer, John decided to change churches; he then contacted CT to begin writing this article.
John's thorough reporting grants church leaders an unprecedented look into the way men's accountability groups function. One crucial element is creating a confidential context for full disclosure. John said, "I'm a guy. And just about everybody has struggled with this at one time or another. But we don't talk about that at church usually." Disclosure of sex addiction or porn use is so stigmatizing that it is best handled in a confidential, small-group setting in which participants agree not to pass judgment. They also grant each other "the right to call" 24/7 for unannounced check-ins.
"The thing that struck me the most in talking with these men is that I found an honesty rarely apparent in the church," John told me. "These guys are real. They are transparent, honest, no bull, no plastic smiles."
Some of John's recommendations for starting a men's accountability group include starting small, extending the group's focus beyond sexuality only, and maintaining its Christian purpose. This reminds me of how distinctive Christian community is. "Because Christian community is founded solely on Jesus Christ, it is a spiritual and not a psychic reality. In this it differs absolutely from all other communities." That comment from Dietrich Bonhoeffer perfectly sums up what faithful, risk-taking congregations offer a sexually obsessed society.
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More articles on sexuality and gender are in our full-coverage section.