Recently we updated our pornography statistics resource packet, but I was asked to give examples of how someone can practically use the data. It is so easy to use stats anecdotally or flippantly.
Here are some of my suggestions:
1. Statistics are great discussion starters. Statistics are essentially numbers on a page, very impersonal, and fairly disarming. For instance, in talking to a friend about Internet-surfing habits I might say, “Did you know that the Journal of the American Psychological Association reported 86% of men are likely to click on Internet sex sites if given the opportunity. That’s almost 9 out of 10 guys.” This might open the door to a more specific personal confession (“It’s not an uncommon struggle. I’m tempted like most men”) or a probing question (“Do you think that’s pretty accurate?”).
2. Statistics expand the breadth of a discussion. Pornography affects our lives and this world in many ways. With a taboo and emotionally charged topic like porn, it is easy to focus only on elements of our own experience. You might be a single man who struggles with pornography, but you haven’t thought much about how porn affects marriages. You might be an older man who had brushes with your daddy’s Playboy when you were young, and yet you’ve never considered how ubiquitous porn is for the Internet generation. You might be painfully aware of how porn harms its viewers, but you’ve never thought about how the adult industry harms the performers. Stats bring to life the breadth of the problem.
3. Remember not to over generalize without qualifications. Don’t say, for instance, “50% of Christian men are addicted to porn.” Rather, say, “According to one survey, as many as 50% of Christian men believe they are addicted to porn.”
4. Remember to carefully define your terms. Keep in mind how the bias of a source affects language. Every source comes with its value judgments. Is the source assuming a Judeo-Christian understanding of the world? Is the source blatantly secular? How do the value judgments influence how the data is presented? For instance, stats on how many people are “addicted” to pornography can vary widely. Carefully note how the studies define “addiction” or “regular use of pornography.”
5. If possible, cite the reputation and quality of the source. You’re not likely to remember every source for each stat, but try to at least remember the nature of the source used. Was it an Internet survey? A peer-reviewed academic journal? A well-respected book? A news story? Was it an interview?
6. When using numbers it is helpful to use comparisons. For example, when talking about porn revenues strictly from Internet sales, which brought in about $3 billion in 2006, compare it to what the top 4 blockbusters grossed worldwide the same year (about the same amount).
7. Don’t use stats to excuse, but to expose. It may be easy to look at stats which stress the widespread problem of porn and allow them to neutralize our sense of responsibility. “All guys struggle with this, so my struggle isn’t all that bad.” Rather, we should take responsibility for being a part of the widespread problem or porn. By exposing the problem around me, it brings to light the sin in me.