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Porn U: Protecting Purity at College

Last Updated: February 20, 2014

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

A Guide for Christian Parents and School Administrators

When it comes to porn at college, we’ve come a long ways since the days of Animal House. Thirty years ago, frat boys had to settle for pinup girls and Penthouse. But today, the Internet brings pornography free of charge into virtually every dorm room, computer lab…or wherever an online connection exists.

For many students, the college environment creates a “perfect storm” for porn to thrive.

Porn is Anticipated

Hopefully, a parent has been proactive in discussing Internet temptations with their student long before they enter college.  Over a third of youth say they have been unintentionally exposed to pornography online while growing up at home, many while doing homework, doing innocent word searches, or checking their e-mail. One study shows 93% of boys and 62% of girls see Internet porn before they turn 18. Moreover, two-thirds of teens have cleared their browser history to make sure their parents wouldn’t view their online activity.

“Most parents of teens do not take their responsibility to shepherd their kids’ sexuality seriously,” says Reagan North, student ministry director for Mars Hill Church in Shoreline, Washington. “Most parents are terrified to have frank discussions with their kids about love, intimacy, and sex. Helping teens remain as sexually pure as possible requires an untold number of awkward conversations, a staunch commitment to protecting teens from pornography, and a staggering level of courage to fight against prevailing culture.” That being the case, North believes parents who take an active role in talking to their kids—before they start packing for college—can help them traverse the sexual dangers of teen culture.

Kids who have not had this guidance, once out from under their parents’ roof, anticipate an even greater degree of freedom online at college.

Porn is Accessible

Pornography is, of course, very easy to find on the Internet. According to authors of the new book, A Billion Wicked Thoughts, more than 42,000 of the top million most popular websites are sex-related. The most popular adult website in the world alone gets around 32 million visitors every month—that’s almost 2.5% of the several billion Internet users—a large percentage for any website.

And in the college environment one is never too far from a portal to the World Wide Web. College undergrads and grad students are among the most avid users of the Internet. According to a recent report, 92% of undergraduates are wireless Internet users, able to connect with a laptop or cell phone. And virtually every sizable campus provides wireless Internet for their students.

Porn is Accepted

Depending on the school, many students find college culture is broadly tolerant of pornography. A study published in the Journal of Adolescent Research found two-thirds of college-age men and nearly half of college-age women agreed that viewing pornography is acceptable.

Michael Leahy, author of Porn Nation: Conquering America’s #1 Addiction, has traveled to more than 200 campuses and has spoken to more than 100,000 students about the subject of pornography. In his survey of nearly 29,000 university students:

  • 45% said they make no effort to hide their sexual behaviors from others,
  • 44% said others had been hurt emotionally by their sexual behavior,
  • 64% of men said they spend some time every week online for sexual purposes, and 13% said they spend more than five hours a week.

Comments from college staff and students offer a taste of this porn culture. One college administrator said, “You see porn on just about every computer screen in nearly every male dorm room on campus. It’s just everywhere and totally accepted as a normal part of campus life.” One male student said, “Porn and sex is pretty wide-open on our campus, so it’s like I face constant reminders everywhere I turn.” A female student comments, “Most of the guys I know are really into porn.” Another male student said, “There’s nothing wrong with porn just like there’s nothing wrong with sex. And those who think so are just stuck in an old, puritanistic, repressive mind-set.”

Porn is Anonymous

The college environment offers a new kind of anonymity for students—the absence of parents. “College life was a whole new ballgame,” writes Michael Leahy, remembering his undergrad experience in the 70s. “No more sneaking around and hiding from my inquisitive parents. Finally, I was free and in control of my own life.” Not much has changed since Leahy was in college.

The late Dr. Al Cooper said one of the factors that often drives online sexual activity is anonymity. And in college students experience a double portion of anonymity through both the newness of parental absence and the relative secrecy of the World Wide Web. The Internet gives us the ability to experience, explore, and express ourselves in privacy. Knowing no one knows what we do or see online lowers our defenses and removes our inhibitions.

A Lifestyle of Accountability—Starting Early

In college settings, porn is anticipated, accessible, accepted, and anonymous. These factors create a formidable temptation for male and female students alike.

To prepare children and teens for the future, Douglas Wilson, pastor of Christ’s Church in Moscow, Idaho, believes parents need to do more than filter their Internet on their home computers. “Blocking, by itself, is simply a fence,” he writes. “But building a fence does not prevent someone from wanting to be on the other side of it.” Pointing to Romans 5:20, he says building fences often only provokes our children to want to be on the other side of it. “It is the sweetness of forbidden fruit.”

Coming from homes with protective parents, students away at college don’t often find the same Internet blockades in place. “Parents often rush too quickly to technology as the easy fix for their fears,” says Ron DeHaas, CEO of Covenant Eyes. “They just want to have a stronger fence to keep the bad guys out. But the answer isn’t always about building stronger fences. It’s about equipping ourselves and our kids to live in a world where fences aren’t always available—and many times they aren’t.”

This is one reason why DeHaas created the concept of accountability software. “It is not just a technological tool: it is a relational tool,” he writes. Through this accountability program parents can receive a detailed report of everywhere their child goes on the Internet, and use these reports as ice-breakers for good conversations about how to use the Internet properly.

Accountability, says Pastor Wilson, helps to establish a moral understanding in our children. “Accountability teaches and builds. Accountability comes alongside and helps in the crucial task of moral formation.”

“Real accountability is a mutual and visible relationship,” DeHaas says. For the Christian student, healthy accountability is a two-way conversation: it is a student’s willingness to give an account for their actions and their willingness to receive wise and godly counsel in return.

Instead, in many homes—even Christian homes—monitoring the Internet is a spying game. A recent survey shows 77% of teens say their parents do not monitor where they go online or don’t know if they are monitored. Of these, 42% of parents actually monitor Internet use—and don’t bother to tell their kids.

DeHaas believes that is a poor tactic.

“We didn’t invent our system to be an invisible program to spy on others,” writes DeHaas. “Parents should use our accountability service in an upfront way. Let your kids know they are being monitored.”

A Lifestyle of Accountability—Continuing at School

When students from his church graduate high school, Pastor Kent Boyum of Christian Life Church in Farmington, Minnesota, knows one of the best gifts he can give young people is accountability. “With deep spiritual concern for the hearts of our graduates, we have decided to offer them a one-year subscription to Covenant Eyes as our church’s gift and blessing for them upon graduation,” Pastor Boyum writes. He encourages students to find good accountability partners who help them to remain true to their convictions. Knowing the temptations college students face online, the leaders at Christian Life Church give a gift that goes beyond a token and becomes a protective and proactive source of spiritual encouragement.

Some college and university leaders have also caught on to the idea that character can be built through accountability. Dr. John Woodhouse, principle of Moore Theological College in Sydney, Australia, knows when a student is tempted by pornography or habitually using it, this can be very difficult to confess in Christian circles. He insists Christians have a responsibility to create a safe environment for confession.

“Internet pornography is a serious problem in our environment that I believe we can do something positive about,” says Woodhouse. “We are inviting our community to join in creating a ‘culture’ in which this force is largely neutralized.” This is why Moore College offers Covenant Eyes to any student who wants it.

Moore College does not make using Covenant Eyes compulsory. “We wanted our students to take responsibility for their proper use of the Internet by choosing to opt in to the Covenant Eyes program,” says William Hood, manager of their information systems. “Students can choose their own accountability partners, which can be other students or in a few cases, faculty members. Only the accountability partners receive the reports. The college does not look at any student’s reports.” Today, more than 50% of the faculty, staff, and students voluntarily use Covenant Eyes.

Creating this culture of Internet accountability at Moore hasn’t completely eliminated the problems of online temptations on campus, says Dean of Students Keith Condie, but he has heard many testimonies from students about how it has helped them change. Condie reports, “We believe that this software has greatly assisted in removing the temptation to access Internet pornography.”

Know any pastors or school administrators who would be interested in using Covenant Eyes to protect their members on the Internet? E-mail this article to them.