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

Last Updated: July 30, 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

In Michael Leahy’s presentation, “Porn Nation: The Naked Truth,” he told students at the University of New Hampshire, “Porn is the 800-pound gorilla in the room that nobody’s talking about. I want everyone to see the truth of what’s going on.

Let’s continue our look at how some University students have critiqued Michael Leahy’s controversial “Porn Nation” talk. As always, I’d love to hear anyone else’s comments.

Don’t Tell Me What Is Right

At the University of Pennsylvania, Leahy’s porn lecture took place within 24 hours of another on-campus event: an interactive “leather and kink” demonstration. With two sexually oriented presentations happening so close together, the campus newspaper, The Daily Pennsylvanian, decided to make a comment: “The difference between the Porn Nation people and the leather and kink people is . . . leather people don’t try to decide what is normal for other people.”  The author thought that Leahy’s talk was more potentially harmful than helpful.  Why?  Trying to tell people how they “should” relate sexually typically creates more problems than it solves.

I hear similar remarks at the “porn debates” coming from famed porn actor Ron Jeremy when he debates pastor Craig Gross. Ron usually will make a comment like, “I respect what Craig does. He helps people who need counseling or who have addiction problems. Craig’s the one who doesn’t respect what I do as a porn director and actor.”

The sentiment is this: “Those who enjoy watching porn and find nothing wrong with it don’t try to persuade others that they should watch porn, so why should those who don’t like porn try to impose their opinions on others?”

What’s wrong with this argument?

 

The problem with this line of reasoning is that those who use it are frequently not consistent. If there is something distasteful about trying to persuade others that their actions are immoral, then there is no point in taking a stand on any sort of social or systemic evil: no need to stand up for child sex workers in Calcutta; no need to stop extremist groups; no need to speak out against the Hilters or Stalins of the world. So why do we take a stand against these things? Because in a world of diverse ethical theories, we all agree, there is something wrong with these situations.

Of course, if you don’t see anything wrong with pornography, you would have no reason to take a stand for or against it. Saying “Look at these weird people who try to decide what is normal for other people” is really avoiding the heart of the issue. Let’s not come with this patronizing nonsense that someone who takes a stand against something they think is wrong is out of line.

The heart of the issue is a disagreement about sexual ethics. Christians derive their ethic from a belief that God has revealed Himself and His will in history: specifically in the prophets of Israel and the person of Jesus of Nazareth. Others base their sexual ethic on other grounds. It is the difference between these foundations of belief that need to be respectfully discussed on our campuses.

Not Anti-Porn Enough

What I found interesting is some students don’t think Leahy takes a strong enough stance against pornography and the men who watch it. At the University of New Hampshire, for instance, a member of the Feminist Action League thought that Leahy limited the parameters of his presentation to his own story. She didn’t think Leahy took a strong enough stand against porn itself. During the Q&A time, she publicly told Leahy he was deliberately “tiptoeing around the issue.” Several others in the audience echoed these sentiments. Pornography is a social cancer, they said, and is symptomatic of how men contribute to the oppression of women.

I very much sympathize with this thought. Pornography is certainly a symptom of a much larger problem. Porn would not be the huge industry it is today without the appetite for it in the culture, specifically among men. Porn contributes to the oppression of women and feeds the false belief that women exist for male pleasure.

After reading some of Leahy’s material and hearing some of his presentations, I don’t know that he would disagree with these sentiments. So the question is: How should we approach the cancer of pornography? When we stand before the masses, how should we speak about porn?

Some would say that you shouldn’t fight a cancer with soft-handed approaches: tell people like it is!

There is something to be said for this, but sometimes people don’t want to listen to a doctor if they are totally oblivious to how sick they are. To quote one of my favorite preachers, John Piper, our culture is so awash in pornographic material and hyper-sexual media, “we’ve become fish who don’t even dream about air anymore.”

This is why Leahy’s approach is so desperately needed today, especially for the men in his audience. It hasn’t even occurred to these men that there is something wrong with their lustful glances. With Leahy men get to meet someone whose life was devastated by lust, and they are forced to question the culture that teaches them to look for the next big sexual buzz.

I probably wouldn’t mind hearing a strong “Hey you, stop watching porn” message, but then I’m not the type Leahy is trying to reach.

In a one-on-one interview after Leahy’s UNH talk, he said the feminist critique is a fairly common one wherever he travels. He also shared his reasons for not taking a stronger anti-porn stance: “If I had come out and started saying, ‘Porn is bad, and all you guys out there should be ashamed of yourselves for watching it,’ I would have lost half the guys there tonight. And those are the guys I’m trying to reach.

Porn is Good for Women?

On the completely opposite end of the spectrum, some feminist critiques think Leahy is wrong in his assumption that a porn-soaked culture is hurtful to women.

One campus “sexpert” at the University of Calgary responded to Leahy’s talk by quoting feminist author Wendy McElroy. She argues that in certain cases pornography can act as a new information medium for women. Porn can offer women a sense of how it would “feel” to do something, thus enabling women to be more sexually expressive.

I would agree that porn is an emotionally charged information medium and does convey a powerful message. It may even pass along a few sex tips now and again. But these are minor observations in the midst of major difficulties:

(1) McElroy and some other so-called “sex positive feminists” need to reexamine whether pornography really is a healthy expression of sex-positivity.Women who take commercialized porn films as their tutors for sexual liberation need to keep in mind that they are internalizing a false picture of femininity, one created for them by an industry that seeks to objectify them.

(2) While I don’t agree with all of her views, feminist author Naomi Wolf offers, I believe, a fabulous presentation of how pornography damages male-female relationships.She says, “The onslaught of porn is responsible for deadening male libido in relation to real women, and leading men to see fewer and fewer women as ‘porn-worthy.’” Read her article, “The Porn Myth” for more information.

(3) The view that porn can help women ignores the rise of pornography addiction among women. For starters on this subject, read my recent post “Not Just a Man’s Problem.”

Positive Responses

Certainly not all, not even most, of the vocal responses to Leahy’s talk have been negative. I’ve only highlighted them here for the purpose of discussion. Many, many students have been powerfully impacted by his presentation throughout the country.

A religion professor at Wabash College expressed his satisfaction with Leahy’s lecture because he “described how he eventually found freedom from porn’s grip through a deepened understanding and experience of God’s love and grace. He now seeks to warn others of the dangers of pornography, particularly its tendency to generate compulsiveness in users and short-circuit the capacity for real love and intimacy.”

A sophomore at Wabash said, “I could not believe how much courage it must take for that guy to go up there almost 100 times and tell his story.”

The first year that the Purdue Campus Crusade chapter asked Leahy to come in, they reported that more than 300 students trusted Christ after hearing his presentation.

An agnostic student at California State Polytechnic University said that she saw the advertising for Porn Nation and was cautious at first, but later wrote,

The more I found out about Porn Nation, however, the more I came to believe that underneath whatever religious motives may be behind it, lies an important message that we should all go check out. . . .

All religions aside, the issues at hand are important enough for those who have time to go and listen.

Listen to a man who had the courage to come forward and talk about his addiction.

Listen to a man who turned his mistakes into a positive learning experience for others.