Youth Culture Window

Losing Out to Lust

Today’s young people are engaged in the fight of their lives…and it all takes place on screens. Whether it’s the battlefield of a laptop, a smartphone, a TV, or an iPad, pornography is waging war on the minds and hearts (and futures) of millions of teenagers.

And in too many cases, the kids are losing the (unfair) fight.

Same Old Problem of Porn?
I’ve written about teens and pornography before, even addressing porn’s pervasive infiltration of our culture. But since pornography is an ever-present problem for teenagers to deal with, I thought it was time to readdress this important reality.

Sure, it captured the collective consciousness of America in 1953 when Hugh Hefner first published Playboy, although pornography dates all the way back to antiquity. But no longer is pornography restricted to crude cave drawings…or even glossy magazines crammed behind the bench seats of pickup trucks. No, today’s pornography is very different than the erotic material of yesteryear, as Sean McDowell points out.

He notes that today’s porn is distinct from that of the past in three major ways:

  • Accessibility – the Internet has put porn just about everywhere.
  • Consumption – usage of porn has increased radically as a result of its accessibility.
  • Quality – today’s porn is much more “hardcore.”

Further citing the 2008 study by the Witherspoon Institute, McDowell highlights the fact that 69% of men and 10% of women reported viewing pornography more than once per month. And a whopping 87% of men admitted using pornography in the past year.

The researchers’ conclusion?

“In sum, there is evidence that more people—children, adolescents, and adults—are consuming pornography—sporadically, inadvertently, or chronically—than ever before.”

Well, if pornography is a problem for today’s kids, at least we know where they’re getting it from….

A Global Concern?
While Americans certainly consume their fair share of porn each year, we aren’t the world’s largest customers of the X-rated material; according to research made available by Top Ten Reviews, America ranks 4th of the list of lustful countries. Ongoing research and current trends from other parts of the world reveals that our young people aren’t the only ones engaged in the fight for sexual purity.

For instance, just across the pond in Ireland, a study on porn use by their teens has revealed some unsettling findings.

Amongst the 508 surveyed students, researchers discovered:

  • 54% of them look at porn.
  • more than one third of the students described pornography as “educational.”
  • only 1-in-5 kids ever talk to their parents about sex.

Recapping those numbers paints a grim picture: A majority of these kids view porn, many of them learn from it, and only a few ever get input on sex from their parents.

While none of that is good news, it still doesn’t complete the sad picture of the sexual practices of today’s worldwide youth. For example, many police officers and parents in Australia are concerned about a relatively new – and very risky – practice dubbed the Sneaky Hat trend. Evidently, a number of teenagers Down Under are blurring the lines of pornography by taking nude pictures of themselves with only a strategically placed hat between them and the camera lens…and then posting the pictures on their Facebook profiles. This behavior has already led to multiple arrests related to charges of child pornography, and has many wondering if this might be a “pedophile’s paradise.”

And as those of us in the U.S. come full circle and look at our own culture, it’s not difficult to see the results of a hyper-sexualized society influenced by porn. Case in point, clothes shopping in Colorado. While retailers were gearing up for a huge holiday sales event this past Christmas, one Colorado mom on a shopping spree with her children discovered crotchless panties for sale at a store named Kids N TeenI guess some stores are taking note of Abercrombie’s methodology. The mother was irate, took video footage of the underwear on her cell phone, and then contacted the local news stations. In the interview and investigation that ensued, the store manager rationalized the mistake by saying that, while most of the store’s merchandise is geared to kids, about a quarter of it is geared to teens. In other words, the crotchless panties were on the wrong shelf.

So, crotchless panties for 8-year-olds is bad…but crotchless panties for 14-year-olds is OK?

Close to Home
But those incidences happened in faraway places (unless you happen to live in Colorado). What happens when porn strikes much closer to home? What happens when it’s your kid?

As a youth pastor for a decade-and-a-half, I’ve dealt with this problem too many times. And just last semester, I debated the owner of a local strip club and the manager of a local “adult” store at the campus ministry my wife and I run at the University of South Florida. Basically, these two guys argued that pornography was not only harmless, but in fact, allowed people to better express themselves sexually.

I lovingly told them that they sounded just like tobacco companies who dismiss the fact that a large portion of their clients “just so happened” to suffer from lung cancer. In case you’re wondering, here is a list of the “harmless” effects of pornography that research has yielded. But since that group may be accused of having a biased slant against pornography due to their thoughts on faith, check out what members of the scientific and political community believe porn leads to. And Jonathan recently wrote about the increasing rates of male impotency, another one of the proven side effects of pornography.

And while some want to claim that pornography only affects the user, Robert P. George, a professor at Princeton, builds a fairly compelling case that private vices usually turn into public problems. For instance, alcoholism at home tends to spill out onto the highways of America. Drug abuse often leads to theft or violence. Professor George’s take is that pornography, although consumed privately, impacts society publically…and negatively.

But pornography isn’t just an academic debate for me…or you. In all honesty, I readily confess that the upcoming battle over pornography is one of my most realistic fears as the parent of a young son. He’s only 5 years old now, but I can only imagine the temptations he will soon face. Besides the fact that the average age of first time exposure to Internet pornography is 11, ubiquitous porn will be the norm his entire life.

Turning the Tide
If we want to bring about change, parents and youth workers must first realize the problem…and their role in solving it. As a youth worker who is also a parent, I find myself asking the same question that the psalmist in 119:9 asked thousands of years ago: How can a young man (or woman) keep his (or her) way pure?

He answered his own question in the same verse: By living according to Your Word. I strongly recommend the same solution to you as you help the teenagers in your life win this fight.


  1. Use the truth in God’s Word to reveal the lies behind porn. Without a doubt, the Bible is our first and best line of defense when it comes to dealing with the sexual immorality of pornography. So many of us mistakenly think that porn is the root of our sexual problem. It’s not. Pornography is just one of the many symptoms of overall lust. And lust, according to the Apostle Paul, is nothing short of idolatry. (See Colossians 3:5) That’s probably why he tells us literally to “flee” that kind of temptation (I Corinthians 6). If the Word of God was proven to be effective in the sexual world of the psalmist where temple prostitutes and public orgies were commonplace, we should at least give it a try.
  2. Talk about pornography often and compassionately. An overweight person who’s trying to get in shape, but has to walk past 14 different bakeries every day, is a good analogy for understanding the dilemma today’s kids face with porn. They have to “walk by” porn, and a lot of it, every single day. Sexualization can be found, not just in porn, but in music, television, movies, magazines, billboards, and clothing, as we’ve already seen. We need to understand that facing pornography is a constant for them; doing so will keep us compassionate in the help we offer them. By offering our kids frequent and compassionate help, we’ll help make sure they only “walk by” porn, instead of “walk to” it.
  3. Get all the help you can. Pornography doesn’t fight fair. It never has, and it never will. So don’t be shy about getting as much help for your kids as you can. In addition to the truth of the Bible, and access to real-life conversations with you, consider using filtering/accountability software such as Also, if a teenager you know and love is already losing the battle, inquire about local professional help in your area. Of course, peer support should never be overlooked or underestimated, and strong, healthy youth ministries can provide that. In short, put as many allies around your teens as you can.

Understanding the fight our kids are really in when it comes to pornography is a great first step, but then we have to do something with that knowledge. Taking these steps above will go a long way towards leveling the playing field battlefield our kids live on.

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David R. Smith

David R. Smith

David R. Smith is the author of several books including Christianity... It's Like This and speaks to parents and leaders across the U.S. David is a 15-year youth ministry veteran, now a senior pastor, who specializes in sharing the gospel, and equipping others do the same. David provides free resources to anyone who works with teenagers on his website, David resides with his wife and son in Tampa, Florida.

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