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Porn Nation: What Are the College Students Saying? (Part 1 of 2)

Last Updated: July 14, 2021

Luke Gilkerson

Luke Gilkerson has a BA in Philosophy and Religious Studies and an MA in Religion. He is the author of Coming Clean: Overcoming Lust Through Biblical Accountability and The Talk: 7 Lessons to Introduce Your Child to Biblical Sexuality. Luke and his wife Trisha blog at IntoxicatedOnLife.com

As well-attended as Michael Leahy’s “Porn Nation” campus presentations have been, not everyone agrees with Leahy’s message (argumentative college students, imagine that). I thought I would give some highlights for our readers about specific rebuttals Leahy has received (as well as toss in my own two cents as a former campus minister).

Of course I can’t defend Leahy on everything. While I have read his testimony and seen video footage of his talks, I can’t presume that Leahy has done and said everything “right” on every campus. But I deeply respect Leahy’s perspective and his bravery. I hope that he gets the opportunity to speak on many campuses in the future. His message is one people need to hear.

Deceptive Advertisement

Weeks before Leahy arrives on a campus, students will probably see advertisements that look like this:

During the Q & A time after Leahy’s talk some students accused him, and/or the organizations that sponsor him, of being misleading. One staff member at Glendale College said, “They were deceptive in their advertising.” After the talk he stood up and publicly accused Leahy of manipulating students to promote his spiritual message.

It is true that the posters and other advertisements tend to be ambiguous. At the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, one staff member of a Christian organization that sponsored Leahy’s talk said his group chose not to advertise the religious side of “Porn Nation” because it might turn people off.

We didn’t want to feel like we were tricking people into coming,” he said, so Leahy told students that he was going to move into the meat of his spiritual message and gave them a 4-minute break to leave if they didn’t feel like staying.

Leahy does this on most of the campuses he visits.

Still, some Christian groups have been criticized for lack of clarity in their promotion of “Porn Nation.” One student at Wabash College thought advertising was misleading. “It was misleading of them to simply put the words ‘Porn Nation’ on pamphlets and signs around campus, which could have lead to students’ thinking the presentation would have both sides represented.”

One student who was interviewed at the University of Calgary said, “I felt as though I had been tricked into a sermon, I enjoyed the discussion, but I would have liked to have known it would be religious.”

Some at Calgary thought this comment was unwarranted. Apparently at least some of the posters included a description of the event as a “multimedia, live-speaker presentation focusing on the question, ‘How does living in a hypersexual culture affect our relationships, and how we see ourselves and others.’” In addition, all of the advertising listed the sponsoring Christian organizations.

Leahy says the posters and the name of the presentation are purposely ambiguous so people cannot tell what stance the show takes, according to reporters at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

This can be a tricky subject for ministry advertisers. Advertising in general is not meant to give away everything about an event (religious or otherwise). Certainly, in our “sex sells” culture, people who have no religious affiliation whatsoever will come to a talk called “Porn Nation.” But is it right for Christian organizations to tap this urge?

With as many activities that are available on college campuses, students usually have their pick of the litter. Personally, I believe that names of sponsoring Christian organizations should be a sufficient warning to the anti-religious on campuses.

Too Preachy

Along these lines, several student editorials were quite vocal about Leahy’s spiritual message. Leahy knows that opposition to the “religious” theme is not uncommon.

As he does at most of his college visits, Leahy gave the students of Boston University the option to leave before the “religious aspect” of the presentation began. Almost all the people in attendance remained. One sophomore said she was “surprised as to how many people came out and then stayed after despite the spiritual part.”

One student at Wabash College said, “I thought it was good—the presentation was good and very informative, yet the last 10 minutes, even though you didn’t have to stay, was kind of preachy and it felt kind of awkward.

Reporters for The Gauntlet, student newspaper at the University of Calgary, said after exiting the lecture theater, “it was impossible not to overhear students’ negative comments about Leahy’s evangelical urgings.”

One student at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire said that she appreciated the warning before the evangelical message, but this “did not ease the awkwardness she felt during the religious content.”

I have a few things to say in response:

1. Some spiritual messages should be jarring. Consider the exclusive claims of Christianity; we know that its message will shock many of its listeners. Christians believe in one true God of the universe, that He has acted throughout history, revealed himself in numerous historical events: specifically in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. Christians claim that Jesus is the true King, that he is ushering in a world with no more sickness, tears, death or deceptive idolatries. A world where the true God is worshiped everywhere, and all other competitors for our deepest affections have no place. This is a shocking message.

I love what the late Harvard Law professor Harold Berman said about this: “To be a scholar is to search for truth. And to search for truth is to be open to the possibility that some discovered truth will lay claim to one’s allegiance.” Christianity does this. To believe in and follow Christ lays claim to our allegiances. It makes us live differently. It changes what we love and value. This should jar everyone who hears about it.

2. One doesn’t need to be Christian to agree that pornography addiction is a real problem today. At the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Leahy said that his goal is to educate in a clinical manner the subject of pornography and its prevalence in society, not preach about morals or advocate censorship. He really wants to be a catalyst to start a dialog about the subject. One reporter at the University of Calgary didn’t agree with Leahy’s spiritual approach, and said, “it is still important to consider Leahy’s advice—get to the root of what may be an unhealthy obsession with pornography.”

I would hate for my readers to have the wrong impression about Leahy’s talk.  Reports from most campuses speak of an overwhelmingly positive reaction to Leahy’s talk, including his spiritual message. I’m only highlighting some of the negative critiques for the purpose of discussion.

Porn Can Be Good?

In response to Leahy’s talk, one student reporter at Purdue writes, “Porn, a bad thing? . . . Yes, I realize some of us have been raised to view pornography as a sinful and taboo subject, but in reality, it’s just another medium of entertainment.”

Some students at Ripon College in Wisconsin said that pornography can be beneficial. One senior comments, “Porn can be kind-of funny and sometimes sex can be awkward to talk about, but when you look at it in a comical way, it makes it easier to talk about.”

When Campus Crusade for Christ set up their booth at McMaster University to promote “Porn Nation,” one student started their own pro-porn campaign. He set up his own booth beside CCC in the student centre with a sign that read, “porn is fun” and handed out candy to students passing by. This student said, “The Porn Nation campaign heavily insinuates that pornography is a sign of a sick society. My belief is that a society without pornography is a sick society.”

The McMaster student paper, The Silhouette, apparently agreed with him: “this is the first time all year the Sil[houette] has voted unanimously on anything: Porn is a healthy and natural part of a free society. Stay away from the kids, stay away from the snuff, and then let people watch it if they want to.”

Funny. Entertainment. Healthy. Fun. Natural. This is how some students are describing porn.

Behind these descriptors is a belief that sexuality-on-tap media really creates no problems in our culture. In fact, it does create problems. Talk to the counselors and psychiatrists who are working with sexual addicts. Talk to the ex-porn stars who once found themselves trapped in a brutal industry.

Am I thinking only of extreme cases? No. Even recent scientific research shows that pornography is one actual cause of impotence. For those who are actively seeking emotional and sexual intimacy with one other person, pornography can easily desensitize them, rendering them incapable of intimacy.

Pornography can be damaging because it shows us too much, but it can also be damaging because it shows us too little. Pornographic pixels on the screen cannot allow someone to experience commitment and real intimacy. Moreover, pornography can radically shape our beliefs about intimacy and sexuality, all reinforced by the repeated delivery of powerful pleasure chemicals to the brain.

Of course, most who voice these rebuttals against Leahy aren’t coming from the perspective that sex is a spiritual and emotional bond that is intended exclusively for married couples. Many of these students say that this is a part of ‘old-time religion,’ an outdated sexual ethic.

To their credit, it should be remembered that the no-sex-outside-of-marriage concept is not something that all people inherently know. Had God not given us a conscience and written down His express thoughts about sexuality in the Scriptures, no one would know what He intended for sexuality.

This is exactly what Leahy’s message seeks to convey. There is a God who created us as sexual beings and has a powerful, beautiful purpose for sexuality. This same God has revealed Himself and His will in history. He has spoken through prophets, poets, kings, and His Son, Jesus. He has not been silent; He has made His will known to us. For those who believe this message, their lives—including their sexual lives—can be reshaped into what God has intended.

Read Part 2 . . .

  • Comments on: Porn Nation: What Are the College Students Saying? (Part 1 of 2)
    1. dennis j. cox on

      Hello just figured i would let you know i had a issue with this blog coming up frozen also. Might be gremlins in the page.

      Reply
    2. James Kershaw on

      Masturbation is a completely normal activity and no harm will come as a result of it. You can maturbate as many times as you want per day/ hour with no blindness or loss of hair on your hands or body. If someone uses a picture or movie for additional stimulation that’s great. It means that he or she is civilized. These individuals are organized and keep a folder of the media they most enjoyed for quick easy access. Likewise, women need to masturbate in order to achieve maximum control of their sexual responses. The problem comes when religion and society with its repressive punitive attitudes try to make human beings feel guilty or sinful for thinking certain pleasurable thoughts. It has become so bad that if someone thinks something he or she believe they actually did it. So what you’ve got from this “learning” are many individuals who could potentially cause damage to themselves or others because of the anger that can erupt from accumulated repression, whether self imposed or imposed by the environment. Sadly this is really what western society is all about. Natural instincts (masturbation) must be controlled, not discussed.

      Reply

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