How is porn affecting this generation? What are some of the most common and pernicious myths people believe about how it affects relationships? Sean and Scott interview Matt Fradd, author of "The Porn Myth." He offers an insightful cultural analysis of how porn has shaped our culture, responds to the most common myths, and offers some practical steps for parents and other leaders.




Episode Transcript

Sean McDowell: Welcome to the podcast Think Biblically: Conversations on Faith and Culture. I'm your host, Sean McDowell, Professor of Apologetics at Talbot School of Theology, Biola University.

Scott Rae: I'm your co-host, Scott Rae, a Dean of the Faculty and Professor of Christian Ethics, also at Talbot School of Theology, Biola University.

Sean McDowell: We're here today with a very interesting guest by the name of Matt Fradd. You might recognize his name. I first heard him debating on the topic of pornography on the popular radio show, Unbelievable. Matt was winsome, he was thoughtful. Really speaking with somebody who made a case for the goodness of pornography, and I thought, "We need to connect." I got his book, which is called The Porn Myth, which in my estimation is one of the best books on this topic. We connected, he also has a podcast called Pints with Aquinas, which is interesting and popular.

Matt, thanks for joining us, but let me start by asking you a question. Just broadly speaking, of all the topics you could cover, what motivated you personally to write a book on the myths of pornography?

Matt Fradd: Yeah, thanks Sean. Thanks for having me on the show.

I experienced a conversion to Jesus Christ at the age of 17. And at that point, I tried to be holy as one ought when one becomes a Christian. And the one thing that was really standing in my way, was the sin of pornography. And several years after that, I began to find a good degree of freedom from it, and I began speaking out about that freedom. Because at the time, there wasn't a lot of people doing this, at least it that seemed that way to me, and it just sort of grew from there. I had a passion for it, it seems to me to be one of those obstacles that prevents the reception of the gospel if you think of heart being made ready to receive the seed of the gospel.

It seems to me that pornography in one sense is it scorches the Earth and maybe makes the germination of that seed impossible, right? Because how long can you go on believing that the human person has intrinsic dignity and unalienable rights. And at the same time, engage in a media that treats people as a sort of disposable thing for my gratification. I think eventually, one will suffocate the other. And, yeah. That's it, I guess.

I don't ... It's funny, I usually joke at the side of my seminars, and I'll say mom's super proud of me, you know? Here I am speaking about pornography. But, I don't ... I just ... I have tremendous optimism. There's an army of young people, teenagers and young adults, who've seen what pornography's done to them, and they don't think it's good, and they want a love that's more beautiful and more purer, I think.

Sean McDowell: Well Matt, I'm definitely not your mom, but I'm proud of you because this issue is kind of the elephant in the room, and a lot of people aren't willing to talk about it.

I'm wondering if you could talk about, in what practical ways and in what depth, do you see just the pervasiveness of pornography affecting our society, the church, relationships, individuals, in what way does it affect people and how they live their lives?

Matt Fradd: Gosh, it affects so much. You know, I was Tweeting about this yesterday. I said, "Here's an idea for a Marvel Villain." And I know you're a comic book guy, Sean. So, you might appreciate this.

If you wanna destroy the world, well, you could start by destroying societies. Well, what's the fundamental building block of societies? That's a family. All right, but what's the basis of the family? Well, the relationship between husband and wife. Okay, but what's that act, that is proper to husband and wife? Well, that would be the marital embrace. All right. Well then if you wanna destroy the world pervert the conjugal act, because there's the family goes, so goes society, and so goes the world in which we live. Now that might sound rather bleak, and I mean it to be, because I think it is that bleak.

I think pornography's incredibly pervasive, and for good reason, right? It feels good, it's very rewarding in the short-term, it's a way to escape, it's a way to pacify one's emotional turbulence. But, like all sin, it leaves us with less than it promised. So, when we go to pornography, we never went to say, objectify people. We went for what? I don't know, excitement. But, we became bored, we went for ... we went for joy, we became sad, we went because we wanted to free to do whatever we wanted, and we became addicted and enslaved, we went for adult entertainment, and became increasingly juvenile.

So, it's ... I think it's just as pervasive in the church as it is in the world, and it perverts as I say, the conjugal act, and prevents one to look at another person, as such. Right? Like the problem with porn, it's being sad, isn't actually that it shows too much, it's that is shows too little. It reduces the person with all of his or her complexity and individuality to a sort of two-dimensional thing for my consumption.

So, for all its talk of exposure, pornography always ends up obfuscating the person who is the performer. Right? She's the most ignored, even though at first it appeared that she was getting the most attention. I'm not interested in her, in her dreams, in her hopes, in her fears, and what happened to her when she young. All of that, would get in the way of this selfish act that I now wish to engage in.

Scott Rae: Our listeners I think will detect a bit of an accent from you. Just tell our listeners where did you grow up and what was it about that culture that you grew up in, that contributed to some of the issues that wrestled with prior to coming to faith.

Matt Fradd: Yeah, so I'm from the deep south, that is Australia. And I, like many people in the west in the 80s and 90s, grew up finding pornography at friends' houses, in the dad's closet or stealing it from newspaper stores and so forth. I had a ... One of my very good friend's mom used to buy it for us at the age of 12 and 13 and my parents didn't know about it and I was fine with that. And yeah, I just dove into it. I think this is really important because when we wanna demonize something, like it's important that we recognize that whenever we do something, we do it because we believe it's good for us, right? That's Aristotle, that's Thomas Aquinas, like you never choose something because you think it's bad for you. Like even if what you're choosing is legitimately and objectively evil, you still choose it because you believe it to be like a certain good.

And that's why I think it's important that those who are immersed in this, just admit that and say, “Look, I like it, it makes me feel good.” And that's where I was at as a teenager. And I never felt great about it, even as somebody who wants particularly entered in my faith. But, it was only after coming to Christ that I realized I had to do away with it.

Scott Rae: Matt, what is it, in your view, that makes pornography such an insidious temptation, for people? And it's so hard to shake, for many adults.

Matt Fradd: Well I think, other than the desire for say, water, and food, it's the most pressing, and tempting urge that we have, and we ought to have it. Sex is good obviously, right? What's the first commandment in the Bible? Genesis Chapter 1 verse 28, “Be fruitful, and multiply.” God didn't mean grapefruits, and then calculators. So, right, good, sex is good, and sexual desire is good, but pornography sort of taps into that, and perverts it, and it illicits within us, well, an unnatural sexual desire. A sexual desire that is inordinate, and misplaced.

Again I think it feeds the sense of, wanting to be loved, wanting to be powerful, wanting to be found attractive, and it also just gives us this incredible neurological cocktail, of different transmitters. So it gives us this sense of relief.

I think if you could say, what's the one reason people go back to pornography again, and again? I think the answer would be to soothe themselves. I think it's the way we pacify our emotional affect, our emotional turbulence. When I feel emasculated, or invisible, or shut down, or not good enough, or rejected, or whatever, then I become, we all become, emotionally turbulent. We all have different behaviors we then turn to, to sort of quale that. That might be a bag of peanut butter M&Ms, it might be a bottle of whiskey, it might be just binging on Netflix, not all of that, of course, is intrinsically disordered, pornography certainly is, I think.

So we turn to it, to sort of pacify that, and it works quite effectively in the short term, but then leaves us more wretched than we began with.

Scott Rae: Given that, that's the case, why is it that pornography overwhelmingly appeals to men, and not to women?

Matt Fradd: I believe that this is partly true, and partly false. Partly true because I don't know how many men went out and bought 50 shades of stupid, right? So the idea, the cliché that men are more attracted visually, I think there's obviously some merit to that. But since the advent of porn tube sites in 2006, since we've been raising children with unsetted internet access, which has allowed them to be exposed at a very young age. There is a tremendous degree of young women who are hooked on porn and masturbation.

So I speak to about 50 to about 70,000 young adults, teenagers, every year, primarily on this topic. If I were to ever say, this is a guy's issue, not a girl's issue, it wouldn't resonate and it wouldn't be true.

So, wherever I go I'm met by young women, who say thank you for saying that this isn't just a guy's problem, I think for men who are struggling, they might feel like, they're all struggling together, they're all in the same prison cell, you might say, but at least they're in it together. Whereas for women it feels often like solitary confinement, no one knows that the other is struggling, and it seems to be socially unacceptable to admit that one is.

Scott Rae: So would you say, help us understand this a bit. Is the experience with pornography different for men than it is for women?

Matt Fradd: Yeah, and I can only go from what women have told me, not being one, obviously. What they tell me is-

Scott Rae: Appreciate you accepting your limits there-

Matt Fradd: That's right, not everyone does, important to accept reality.

Well I think what women tell me is, when they view pornography, they imagine themselves to be the women, like at least she's being pursued. In a culture that's become emasculated due to pornography. Where you've got these gorgeous 20 and 30 year old women, who aren't being pursued, and feel completely invisible, at least this woman is, even if it's against her will, to some degree.

I think in that sense it might be viewed differently, and also the triggers that lead one to consume pornography, male or female, might be different as well, but certainly both are seeking sexual arousal and climax through this medium.

Sean McDowell: Pornography tells a certain seductive story about what brings pleasure, and meaning, and goodness to life. I'm curious what the counter claim is, without explicitly citing scripture, that you would use when talking to say, non-Christians, or people that don't hold the Bible as authoritative, to convince them that there is something intrinsically wrong with pornography, and there's a better alternative?

Matt Fradd: Great question.

So, Polish philosopher, Karol Wojtyla, who became John Paul II, but since we're talking to a non-Christian we'll refer to him as Polish philosopher Karol Wojtyla. He wrote this, he said, "The human person is a good, towards which the only proper, and adequate attitude is love."

Now, that's either true, or it isn't. We might not have time to look at the ontological rationale for such a claim, but I think most people hope that it's true, and try to live as if it's true.

So, if that's true, if the human person is a good, towards which the only proper, and adequate attitude is love. Then we can say, well what is love, and then we might say, with Aquinas, that to love, at least means this, it at least means that you're willing the good of the other, for the sake of the other. Not for your sake. I don't want my wife to work out so she's hot, not that there's anything wrong with wanting your spouse to be attractive, but I want my wife to work out, because she's feeling sick and this will help her feel good.

Love is to will the good of the other, for the sake of the other. The contrary to love, says Wojtyla, is use. So when one consumes pornography, one is treating a person merely as a means to an end. Merely a means to a selfish end. Where this person becomes a two dimensional thing for my selfish consumption.

So that would be the first thing I'd point out. I think, as a Christian, and they don't have to agree with this, but I think we've been made, by love, to love, and for love. That's not just some Hallmark sounding cliché, but that we have love as our origin, love as our vocation, and love as our destiny. If we don't get that right, we won't get life right. The more immersed one is, in behaviors that are contrary to what the person is, the more senseless, the more we know, the more sepia-toned I think one's life and relations will become.

Many people are beginning to realize this, this isn't just a religious issue. Just to cite two websites, my friend Gary Wilson is an atheist, he runs a website, Your Brain on Porn dot com, where he compiles all the studies coming out of academia showing why porn's bad for us on a scientific level. The other is my friend, Alexander Rhodes, who runs the website no fap dot com, which has a subreddit group of around 3-400,000 members, many of whom aren't religious, nor is Alexander Rhodes who runs it.

I think it's because the more one engages in this behavior, the more meaningless the most meaningful act becomes, and that can not, but affect you, and for that reason many people are trying to put away porn for good.

Sean McDowell: I love that you're approaching this question in a sense of design for human behavior, love, because then the next question really becomes, what world view, really meets those desires that we have, and that truth about the world? So I think that's a wonderful approach.

Let me ask you this from your book, which is called "The Porn Myth," there's 24 different chapters that are short, and concise and you walk through all these myths that culture, and many in the church have embraced.

Would you take maybe a couple of these that you think are most pressing, most likely for young people, or people in culture today to believe, and then show us the other side of them?

Matt Fradd: Yeah, I'll try and do it briefly.

I think one is the idea that pornography is not addictive. And so someone might say only drugs are addictive, pornography is not a drug, therefore pornography is not addictive. And other people, even Christians might say, besides when people throw out the term addiction, what they're doing is they're hiding behind this term, in order to avoid responsibility. A Christian, let's say, who doesn't think he ought to be looking at porn, might consider himself addicted if he's only looking at it once every two months or something. So, it's not an addiction, it doesn't really have any negative consequences, in the brain, physiologically like real addictions.

But the idea that because something, because there's something that you don't inhale, or don't ingest in some way, that it's isn't addictive, is out of touch with what we know through modern neuroscience. Since neuroscientist started looking in the brain, it's changed how we understand addiction. So, we know now that the behaviors can be just as addictive as substances can, that's why in the DSM, put out by the APA, the American Psychiatric Association. Now, the whole category for natural addictions, one of which is pathological gambling, and right now there's 39 peer reviewed neuroscience based studies on porn uses. And every single one of them supports the addiction model.

When I use the word addiction I'm using it in the neurological sense. So if somebody agrees, say that meth, or nicotine, or alcohol can be addictive, then I think they would surely conceive that something bad must be taking place in the person's brain, the further they get immersed in this addiction, and that's actually accurate.

So, these 39 studies show that something similar happens with an actual addiction like pornography. Just to cite one study, it came out a couple of years ago, Max Planck Institute in Germany, 2014 I think, they found that the more one consumed pornography, the smaller part ... they had different parts of their brain that had begun to shrink, including the frontal lobe areas, the managerial behaviors.

So that's rather concerning, anyone can look that up. They can look up Kühn studies the brain on porn, and read it themselves.

That would be a big one I think, obviously there's a lot more, but I don't wanna bog you down with too much.

Scott Rae: We've got time here, why don't you give us a second myth that you think is pretty close to the top of the list.

Matt Fradd: I think a second myth is that pornography, or strip clubs, or this sort of behavior is adult entertainment, right? And of course we believe this because these institutions need 5 foot neon signs screaming that they are one, which seems to me to be the height of defensive advertising. Usually actions speak louder than words, and in fact, here they do as well.

If you need to pay a woman money to pretend to like you, you might just need a 5 foot neon sign that you are one, because anyone with sober reflection, would come to the conclusion that this is a shameful act, this is shameful behavior. There's actually nothing adult, gentlemanly, masculine, about pleasuring oneself to one's iPhone, or to pixels on a screen.

This reminds me of Nietzsche, Nietzsche has this idea of [inaudible 00:19:29] which was the word he used to describe those people who found themselves impatent to attain certain goods, and therefore demonized the goods that they couldn't possess. I think something similar happens when somebody is addicted to pornography, and they're living a depraved lifestyle, what do they do? Well they could admit that they're weak, and can't seem to attain chastity, or they could demonize chastity, right? So now I'm the frigid, I'm the uptight one, I'm the one who's anti-sex.

So it seems to me to be similar to that, to what Nietzsche talks about. You have to ... it's not enough that people don't judge you for your bad action, you need to celebrate you as well. So I think this idea that pornography, or other such behaviors, a gentlemanly or adult entertainment is just asinine.

Sean McDowell: You've clearly done a ton of research on this topic, but I'm curious. What has surprised you most in your research on the effects of pornography?

Matt Fradd: Well, one of the things I find rather scary is the dramatic increase in things like, erectile dysfunction in men, premature ejaculation in men, sexual dysfunction in women due to pornography. This all started spiking pretty heavily, around 2006, and there's a reason for that, and that is that's when porn tube sites hit the internet, and since that time, you've probably noticed, the adverts for Viagra skyrocketing, and a lot of medical doctors that I speak to say that young healthy men, coming to them looking for this stuff.

Norman Doidge wrote the book, "The Brain That Changes Itself," he says we should call this porn induced impotency. Dr. Abraham Morgentaler, the Clinical Neurologist at Harvard Medical School, was talking about this.

So, this is one thing I think we have a right to know, obviously. Time Magazine just a couple of years ago, had a great article, which documented all of the studies that are coming out. Say, look if you want to be sexual dissatisfied, then pornography is the way to go. I can't think of anything better. If you want to be sexually dissatisfied, if you want to shoot your future marriage in the head before it begins, pornography is definitely the way to do that.

Clearly most sane people don't wanna do that, and avoiding pornography is a great idea.

Scott Rae: Given that the availability of pornography is there just at the click of a mouse. What advice would you have to parents, teachers, youth pastors, but I'm thinking mainly for parents, in dealing with kids that are 10-12, adolescents, to help combat the insidiousness of this addiction?

Matt Fradd: Well, I'm gonna say something that's might sound rather scandalous, but here we go. I think parents ought to be talking to their children about pornography, from about the age of 6, and the reason I-

Sean McDowell: Amen.

Matt Fradd: Yeah, the reason I say 6 is cause it's usually at that age that one has some access to a screen. Now when I was a boy, screens didn't access this thing called the internet, whereas today almost every screen, including the screen we play Xbox on, can access pornography, and for that reason we should warn our children about it.

I have a podcast, you mentioned one early Sean, but I have two podcasts, one's just devoted to the topic of pornography. It's called, "Love people, use things," and I have a whole section for parents on this topic. I would say give your children an internal filter for an unfiltered world.

You might say to me, well how on Earth does that conversation look. Well let me just boil it down to a sentence or two. You might say to your son, or daughter, pornography, you'll say, is picture of videos, or maybe cartoons or people, who are showing parts of their body that their bathing suit should cover. And if you ever see that, you should always tell mommy or daddy, and we'd be really proud of you for doing that. You might think you'd get in trouble, but you wouldn't get in trouble, we'd be very grateful, and we'd be proud of you for doing that.

I think that could possibly change the trajectory of a kid's life, that there. Because if your kid has stumbled across porn, it's not his fault, it's your fault parents. You're the ones who gave him a portable X-rated movie theater, called a phone, that he keeps in his pocket. So to birth our children into a sexualized culture, to give them portable X-rated movie theaters, and then to get angry at them for finding what they ought to find attractive, that is sex, and the naked body. Well that's irrational.

I understand why parents get upset, because they're scared for their kids. They want what's best for their kids, and so they just react. But I would say, if your child has been looking at porn, that you should sit them down, and apologize to them, and say I'm sorry this happened to you, it shouldn't have happened to you, but I want you to know that daddy and mommy are gonna take some steps to make sure, that we as a family, are better protected.

So, as I said, I have a whole podcast just dealing with this issue, Love people, use things dot fm, like AM/FM if people are interested.

Scott Rae: I think that's really helpful advice, and I think that, that's a completely different trajectory to that conversation that I think most parents have with their kids, when it comes to this subject.

So, thank you for just incredibly insightful stuff, particularly the material on how pornography affects the brain, and just to have the consensus among the neuroscientists, that it is clearly addictive, and what it does to the brain. That's really helpful stuff, for us.

So, we've been with Matt Fradd today, I want to highlight his book, "The Porn Myth," if you don't have that, published by Ignatius Press, subtitled Exposing the Reality Behind the Fantasy of Pornography.

Matt, we're very grateful for you being with us today on the podcast, and we'll hope that maybe in the years to come, some of these myths about pornography will actually be dispelled.

Matt Fradd: Yeah, well thank you for having me on, I really appreciate it.

Scott Rae: This has been an episode of the podcast, Think Biblically, conversations on faith, and culture. For more about us, and today's guest Matt Fradd, and to find more episodes, go to Biola dot edu forward slash think biblically, that's Biola dot edu forward slash think biblically. If you enjoyed today's conversation, give us a rating on your podcast app, and share it with your friends.

Thanks so much for listening, and remember think biblically, about everything.

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