Jeff first saw porn when he was seven years old when he came upon a Playboy magazine. By fifth grade, the Internet became a main source of pornography for his young mind. As technology advanced, so did his obsession. But it was his iPod, and later his iPhone, that gave him such easy access.
The days of the X-rated movie theater may be nearly over, but unfortunately, many teens and young adults today are carrying around an adult theater in their pocket. Last year, US Internet users crossed a threshold. According to what is possibly the largest porn website in the world, now more than half (52%) of US porn use is coming from smartphones—yes, the majority of those who access porn in the United States are doing so from a mobile device.
Sadly, many teens are joining the ranks of mobile porn viewers. Today, 31% of 14-17-year-olds own a smartphone, and with no restrictions, smartphones can access graphic hardcore pornography with ease.
The Downward Spiral of Technology
Jeff describes his childhood introduction to the Internet as an “‘instant,’ vast, and deep hole.” Once online, he would look at anything and everything his fifth-grade mind could find. He soon discovered AOL Instant Messenger and the ability to sex chat with strangers. Peer-to-peer networks gave him access to vast amounts of porn, but with the invention of Flash and broadband Internet, his access to videos became even easier in middle school and high school.
Finally, his sophomore year of college, he got an iPod for his birthday. Jeff could lay in bed and watch porn with his headphones on while his roommate sat at the other end of the room unaware.
Realizing the depth of his addiction, he would attempt some sobriety, but these were short-lived seasons of success.
The summer after graduation, Jeff got an iPhone 4 with 3G access, and the pit got deeper and deeper.
Talking to today’s college students, we know digital access to porn in the teenage years is not a new thing. More than 90% today’s college men and more than 60% of college women in the US saw porn before the age to 18. For most men (51%) their initial exposure to porn came before their teenage years (a third of women say the same).
Moreover, young men and women are not just consuming porn—they are becoming porn. Conservative estimates say about 20% of 16-year-olds and 30% of 17-year-olds have received a sext (sexually explicit text message) from someone else. Teens use Snapchat to send nude images of themselves—with the false hope that the image cannot be saved. Boyfriends and girlfriends use Skype to masturbate in front of their webcams for each other. Teens can use Tumblr or Facebook to post leaked sexting photos of their peers. Ex-boyfriends or ex-girlfriends are even posting sexual images of their ex online—a phenomenon called “revenge porn.” Sexual images like this are often a catalyst for “slut shaming.”
The Need for Mobile Accountability
Now more than ever, parents and schools need to broaden their approach to Internet safety.
- Both parents and schools need to be proactively teaching teens about the negative impact of pornography. Programs like Fight the New Drug are coming to schools nationwide, teaching teens about negative health effects of porn compared to healthy human sexuality.
- Both parents and schools need to recognize the problem with the anonymity of mobile pornography. Schools need to think hard about the devices they distribute to their students. Do school-issued iPadshave access to porn both on and off school grounds? Does that iPod touch parents purchased for Christmas have protective restrictions?
- Parents need to take a leading role in encouraging an environment of loving accountability in the home, showing sympathy for present struggles (if there are any) while setting appropriate limits on what should and should not be accessed on mobile devices. Accountability software should be installed on all mobile devices with a clear expectation that there is no room for privacy when it comes to harmful content online. (By the way, if you use Covenant Eyes Internet Accountability, you can now use our Android app to lock down other apps, like unmonitored browsers.)
Like Father, Like Son
Jeff isn’t the only one in his family impacted by pornography. His father, George, was also a porn addict—all while pastoring a church.
Jeff remembers his father catching him with porn when he was young and being punished for it. He also remembers the day when he was 18 years old—the day George confessed to him, his mom, and his siblings that he had an addiction to porn and had been wrapped in an affair. A few days later George resigned from his Senior Pastor position. “First he was my dad who punished me for looking at porn,” Jeff says. “Then he was the hypocrite who failed his family.”
After Jeff graduated college he moved in with his parents. After many valiant efforts to quit looking at pornography, and after a stint of victory, one day he found himself stressed out about an upcoming job interview. The stress triggered in his mind a desire to return to his old release valve of porn. He binged all afternoon and evening, and by that night he was sitting under the heavy weight of his shame.
Then a still small voice reminded him: “You know, your dad can help you with this, and he’s just at the end of the hall.” At this point in his life, Jeff still hated his father for the grief he put his family through, but he finally gave in and knocked on his father’s door.
I expected the man from my childhood to tell me how horrible I was and how guilty I should feel. Instead I was saw a man I had never met before. He told me how sorry he was. He offered to pray for me and encouraged me towards Jesus with the Gospel. I cried so hard that night, but I found so much peace. That began a healing work in the relationship between me and my father. It has taken almost four years, but he is now my sponsor, and we talk every day—if anything, just to check in. I am very thankful for him.