By Joe Madison
Presenter & Trainer with Love People Not Pixels & Volunteer with Elijah Rising
“Do you ever still look at porn?”
Stunned, he stared at the words and arrived at a crossroads. He couldn’t lie one more time, he was sick of it. So instead he typed out a partial truth, admitting to the porn but not the rest. Her reply staggered him again:
“Ok, we can work on this together. But if we do and something else comes to light later that you didn’t tell me then we are done. I can’t take that.”
A few months ago I was presenting to a room full of men, and I asked the question,
“Can you ever imagine yourself as a sex buyer?”
Eventually, the typical sex buying scene that would probably come to mind for most came to light:
A man in a car slows to a stop—a barely clothed girl working “that street” leans in, and a transaction is agreed upon while somewhere a pimp lurks in the shadows.
The room changed. The apparent denial and indignation by the guys that followed even the mere suggestion of this would be seemingly justified. I could see them thinking, “A sex buyer? Me?!? No way, I’d never be part of someone being sold like that!” I then went on to ask them if they would believe that, while this street-level activity still happens with frequency, it is by no means the most common way sex is bought in our culture.
The Link Between Pornography & Prostitution
To explore this further, we need to take a closer look at what it really means to be a consumer that buys sex. The fact is, the new red light district now includes not only street addresses but web addresses as well. About 2.5 billion of them, to be precise. Recalling the street prostitution scenario above, let’s express it as an equation:
Supply (the person used for sex) + Seller (determines the cost/ type of sex that person is going to have) = Prostitution
Illegal. Immoral. Exploitation. Right?
Then how could adding a camera recording this terrible act somehow validate it? Shouldn’t that make it even worse? After all, that equation would look like this:
Supply (a person used for sex) + Seller (determines the cost/ type of sex that person is going to have + Demand (someone buying sex) + Camera (recording the act of prostitution for further and repeated exploitation = Pornography
Legal. Artistic. Entertainment. Wait, what?
Pornography is simply prostitution with a camera present. And whether buying equals downloading a movie, subscribing to a porn channel or clicking on a ‘free’ site, that person who’s buying represents a demand for this “product.” And our general culture promotes this as normal and harmless.
Con artists will tell you that the most effective lies contain a little bit of truth. Porn is no different. It preys on the reality of our natural connection to sex but distorts it with the unnatural lie of exploitation and depravity. Often, we don’t realize the food is bait until the hook is set firmly in our mouths.
Can you see it beginning to take shape? The outline of a sinister business model? To illustrate it plainly:
Culture VALIDATES Porn–> Porn FUELS Demand –> Demand REQUIRES a Supply –> Supply is often SOURCED through Exploitation and Trafficking.
And while this industry relies on the same fundamental economic principles as any other business, supply and demand, porn does not play fair. The demand in this cycle replaces love with sex, intimacy with loneliness and the emotional with the physical.
Considering this, it’s no wonder a majority of men view porn regularly, thus becoming a huge portion of the demand.
Do you know what you are buying when you watch porn?
Consider the following: After the presentation to the group one of the guys David (alias) came up to me and shared his story of revelation:
“At first when I was listening to you I was nodding my head, kind of judging those guys who do that stuff (buy street prostitution). Then after I while I wasn’t nodding anymore, it started to seem like you were talking to me directly. Then I felt like shaking my head because I feel like I’ve been tricked into being part of the problem by watching porn. I don’t want to be a sex buyer.”
The power of David’s story is this: men and women struggle with porn, yet no one can break free from it alone, and the good news is we were never meant to. David & I talked about steps to take to get porn out of his life that for him included prayer, honesty, and accountability. Since then he now has an accountability partner that he has paired up with him in his fight against porn.
Understanding The Escalation Dynamic
“I don’t have a problem, I’m a single man and this time I just got caught. There’s nothing wrong with me.”
He was standing 3 feet in front of me, handcuffed behind his back, defensive and defiant. Just a few minutes prior, Mike (alias) had just been arrested for solicitation of prostitution. In all, 41 men were arrested in just a matter of days in an operation by the Harris County Sheriff’s Office and Love People Not Pixels was invited to be there on-site to counsel these men with empathy & understanding.
I wasn’t sure exactly what to say to Mike after his opening comments. I just relied on what I’ve seen and know to be true. I told him I would never presume to say that there was anything wrong with him and I just wanted to talk to him about what it’s like to be a man in our culture. While we can never defer our own accountability, the truth is that there is a set of stairs that the illicit sex industry wants to drag you up, selling and manipulating you the whole way. What I covered next is something that I’ve come to refer to as the Escalation Dynamic:
Stair Step 1
I empathized with Mike about the lie and trap that is porn. I asked him:
“Did you know that nearly 90% of even ‘softcore’ porn portrays some violence against women? It’s deliberate and designed to draw us to the next level of porn’s “product line.”
Next Stair Step
I expressed the fact that porn affects the brain in the same way a drug does. I told him: “Porn viewing is mapping our sexual template, effectively teaching our brains to build a tolerance to certain images, requiring more ‘hardcore’ visuals for the same dopamine release and effect. This escalation is one of the reasons web searches for child porn has increased over 400% in the last 5 years.” Porn turns people into ‘products’ to shop for, and the shopper goes from person to purchaser.
Then More Stair Steps
Now it is no longer enough to just view explicit sexuality, now some are drawn to directly connect with it via voyeur/webcam and strip clubs. I shared with him: “Did you know that strip clubs like Vivid actually began as porn content providers, then opened their own strip clubs? They funnel their viewers to their clubs to sell to them their services again and again, including prostitution.”
Finally More Stair Steps
I shared with Mike that some continue up the stairs to go from viewing to connecting, to ultimately experiencing explicit sex by becoming direct sex buyers. After being exposed to a culture that normalizes turning people into products this step for some becomes a desirable option where they once would never have thought themselves as potential sex buyers.
Considering his initial comments, I wasn’t expecting much in the way of a response from him when I was done. I began to offer to pray for him, but before I could get it out, Mike spoke: “Man, you just described the last 3 years of my life. I never thought of it as related, as an escalation. Maybe I do need help.” Mike’s story of revelation and conviction was a surprise, to say the least. He then asked if he could give me his cell number to check back in on him after a couple of days.
The power of Mike’s story has allowed me to put into context for others what the Escalation Dynamic looks like in real life to make them feel less alone and potentially lead some to the liberation that is very real.
When we talk to those struggling with porn two of the most important principles we share are these: “Everyone doesn’t need to know, but someone does.” “Pain is the midwife of healing.” This thing wants to isolate and shame you into submission. It wants you scared, untrusting and alone. The following true story of revelation, conviction, and liberation is a testimony that you are not alone—and freedom, while not easy, is a reality.
Told from Ben’s (alias) perspective: “I was living a lie, but just didn’t know it yet. I had been climbing the stair step (Escalation Dynamic) for 30 years, from seeking porn since the age of 14 to purchasing sex from massage parlors and prostituted women as an adult. I grew up in an environment that never addressed sexual integrity. Don’t get me wrong, I knew what I was doing was against the law but it really never seemed wrong. Then something remarkable happened. I accepted Christ and not long after, met the love of my life and got married. Wonderful, right? More like wonderful and terrible at the same time. You see, accepting Christ was life-changing in many ways, including the realization for the first time of what my addiction really was. Shame and guilt became daily companions. And later putting on a wedding ring didn’t change that, it was no magic cure. If anything, it increased the guilt and shame now times two. I didn’t completely understand why I continued buying sex even after I now had seemingly everything. My wife eventually had questions and suspicions that something wasn’t quite right, and I met each of these valid concerns with denial and manipulation. I hated myself for that.
Then, one day when I was out of town for work, it happened. A seemingly routine text message conversation with my wife turned and blindsided me with one question:
“Do you ever still look at porn?”
Stunned, I stared at the words and arrived at my crossroads. I couldn’t lie one more time, I was sick of it. So instead I typed out a partial truth, admitting to the porn but not the rest. Her reply staggered me again:
“Ok, we can work on this together. But if we do and something else comes to light later that you didn’t tell me, then we are done. I can’t take that.”
Boom. Punch number two landed squarely on my soul, but instead of knocking me out, it knocked something loose. I started typing. And I kept typing…all of it. As my thumbs were working I felt this partial suffocation that had served as my oxygen for so long subside, and I could really breathe again, I felt great. Then at once there, it all was, right there on the screen. I now refer to the distance to the send button the hardest 2 inches I’ve ever had to move. I finally hit send and sat there thinking about this terrible truth I had just burdened my wife with. The following few minutes felt literally like hours waiting for her reply. I called my boss and told him I had to leave on the next plane home, not sure what I would be returning home to.
By the grace of God and forgiveness of my wife, I still get to wear my wedding ring & our marriage survived. No, that’s not the right word. Our marriage actually began, the way it should have from the beginning. It wasn’t easy, it was no quick fix to be sure. But it was worth fighting through to have what we have now.”
What is your story? If you heard an echo of your story in one that was shared here, just know that there is help and freedom.
Elijah Rising is a proud partner of Love People Not Pixels. Love People Not Pixels is a 501(c)3 nonprofit that exists to empower people to have loving and empathetic conversations about healthy sexuality. If you or someone you know relates to the stories shared in this blog, or if you are free from porn and want to help others find that liberation please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org to connect with Love People Not Pixels.