Sexual Recovery Blog

Teaching Youth to Avoid the Snare of Porn

Posted by Anthony Liu on


Would you be surprised to hear that porn sites get more monthly visits than Netflix, Amazon and Twitter combined?  The first time I heard that, I sure was!

The sheer volume of pornography use doesn't merely reflect use by adults. With the prevalence of smart phones and the accessibility to online sexually explicit material, the average youth today is first exposed to porn between ages 8-12. 

I feel sad that many kids get their sex education through porn. Online porn that objectifies, abuses, or degrades women is extremely common. Teenagers end up believing that this type of sex is normal and expect it in their relationships. 

Teens are smart. They need smart answers.  Yet, there seems to be a general lack of discussion about pornography in youth groups, high schools, or churches. There is also a lack of resources that teens can turn to for facts presented in an accurate, compelling way.

On one hand, scholarly articles or studies make their arguments inaccessible to teenagers. They don't speak the language of emojis, dynamic videos, and high resolution jpegs. The arguments seem to go over the youths' heads.

On the other hand, documentaries about porn from network news outlets show sexually provocative images, which is often triggering and lead to more porn viewing. There is a built-in financial incentive for these documentaries to show these provocative images to increase ratings or sales. At worst, these films advertise and glorify the porn world.

That's why, a few months ago, I was pleasantly surprised after attending a viewing of a documentary entitled, "Addicted to Porn: Chasing the Cardboard Butterfly."  I met the filmmaker, Justin Hunt, who hopes the film will spur more discussions about porn, healthy sex and relationships.

The documentary provides a fascinating metaphor of mating rituals of butterflies to porn viewers.  In 1973, Dutch Ornithologist, Nikolaas Tinbergen was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in part for a study on the mating habits and rituals of a certain type of butterfly.  

The female butterflies flap their brightly colored, ornate wings to attract a male mate.  In the study, the entomologists create cardboard replicas of the female butterflies. These replicas have unnaturally large, more elaborate and colorful wings than those of the real female butterflies. 

The scientists find that the male butterflies try to mate with the cardboard butterflies and end up neglecting the real ones. 

I respect that the film considers differing viewpoints on porn. The film includes interviews with both a certified sex addiction therapist and a counselor who ardently argues that sex addiction does not exist. The film also does not argue from a religious or moral platform.

The documentary features no provocative sexual images, yet the graphics, statistics, and personal story of one couple's story of porn use definitely evokes strong feelings. After hearing the personal story, I thought about many of my clients experiencing similar heartache. I cried. The film has the power to capture a youth's attention and make him or her think.

That's what we need to help our youth navigate and avoid the snare of porn: more honest discussion and more thinking.

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