I heard about this book a few years when it first came out in 2009 – I had been intrigued then, but not to the degree I am now that I’ve been through college and can appreciate the scientific and academic aspect of it.
So as a psychology major, I was intrigued to see this particular topic explored from a scientific perspective, because – to be honest – it’s a very personal issue. I won’t go into details because, while I feel public confession is a good thing, I don’t think it’s necessary to share just how deep (or maybe not deep) this has run in my own life. That said, pornography is something that I’ve struggled with for years (since about the seventh grade.)
Dr. William Struthers is a professor at Wheaton College in Illinois, and is a neurobiologist, so the perspective was always going to relate to the brain and how our behavior links with our brains and vice versa. The key detail to note is that he teaches at Wheaton college, which is a Christian school, so this is also from a Christian perspective.
I think this is important to note because it sets the tone of the book – this was always going to be a book that, shall we say, discourages pornography. But it doesn’t discourage it in the ways that a lot of other books do.
As a man in the 21st century church, I’m used to porn-bashing. I know it myself, and I agree with it. Porn is bad news. But why is it bad news? How do I actually deal with it? How does it affect me negatively? These are the questions I had in mind when I started this book.
Dr. Struthers comes out of the blocks with strong language about what porn really is – it’s a dishonoring of the image of God by treating people as sexual objects because ultimately, porn is a product, and it’s a product to be consumed. Porn takes sex out of context, he argues. And because it’s a product to be consumed, it’s something that’s also digested by the brain and the body, the way that the stomach and the body consume food. But (and this was perhaps one of the most impactful points for me) there isn’t a way for disposing of waste in that sense.
The frightful thing about porn is its covert nature – how it affects the ways we think in subtle manners that we don’t realize. But the reality is that it creates expectations for our sexual experiences that are not only unrealistic but also unhealthy.
Here’s where I make a confession…
He quotes an episode of popular 90s-2000s show Friends in which Chandler and Joey have been watching way too much porn, and they talk about how disappointed they were that in their everyday lives, they didn’t have sexual experiences. For example, the hot bank teller didn’t ask Chandler to go into the vault with her like the hot porn actress would in the movies. Nor did the woman who delivered pizza to Joey ask to come in for sex.
It’s funny, but it’s unfortunately somewhat true. There have been times in which I’ve entertained the idea of sex when I’ve been alone with a woman, wondering “what if” they invited me in, or invited me upstairs or into their own bedrooms.
This is the first time I really noticed the pervasive nature of porn into how I think – not because I watch pornographic movies in which these scenarios occur (I can thankfully say this is not the case) but that porn has made my brain believe that sex is just easily accessible.
The first few chapters are where Struthers makes what I believe are his most effective arguments. He forces you to face how you approach porn, how you consume it, and how you try to dodge the problem of porn, whether that’s by changing the definition, by arguing it’s simply legal, or by trying to say that problems associated with porn are correlational instead of causal.
He also lays out three of the main reasons porn is so prominent – it’s accessible (I could tell you all my tips on finding easy porn,) it’s affordable (free) and anonymous. This was one of the parts that hit me like a ton of bricks and helped me see how disgusting a habit it really is, how I choose something easily accessible instead of fighting to develop a real relationship that may be harder to do but more rewarding in its intimacy; choosing something that costs me nothing either in monetary terms or relational terms; and how I choose it because it doesn’t involve me – that is, the girls I mentally sleep with don’t know who I am, and the internet doesn’t know who I am…
…as a man, that was convicting. It just hit me how dishonorable that was and how badly I want to stop because it’s such a cheap alternative to intimacy.
The second chapter talks about how porn corrupts our intimacy, and how it rewires our brains to view certain aspects of women (ie. The parts of them we find sexually appealing) and damages our intimacy because porn appeals to our desire for intimacy but fails to deliver it.
I don’t want to summarize the entire book chapter-by-chapter because then you may not have a need to read it, but he makes a lot of very good points – he talks about the consequences of porn (relationally, sexually, spiritually, mentally, physically, etc.) how porn rewires the way we view images and the way we view real women, and the brain structures involved in the consumption of pornography and the chemicals involved.
My initial criticism of this book was that the first half seems very scientific and academic, while the second half seems a little more philosophical, but then I realized he actually divided the book into two sections on purpose!
That said, the first side covers a lot of science. The second talks more about masculinity and sexuality as a whole, and what should be expected of men (especially Christian men) in relation to their sexuality. The second half is to be read through the lens of the first, so keep that in mind if you choose to read this book. It talks lots about intimacy, about the dignity and value with which people were created (because people bear God’s image,) and masculine sexuality.
I’ve already said this, but I’ll repeat it because it’s so crucial, I believe – I appreciate this book because it’s not simply another sin management book. It’s a book that forces you to face the reality of what porn does to your mind. It doesn’t make an argument based simply on morals, but on science and fact that intertwines with those morals (ie. If you really want to experience intimacy and/or honor women, then porn is bad, because it hijacks how you view women and it promises a false intimacy but it fails to deliver on that.)
It’s a compelling, convicting read that I believe God has begun to use to forge new pathways in my mind of honor and intimacy, written in a way that doesn’t shame the reader for his (since this book is aimed at men) past consumption of pornography but exhorts and spurs him on toward sanctification away from the path of pornography.