Cybersex and the Church’s Silence

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A new epidemic is afflicting people across the world and unfortunately the Church gives it little or no attention. I am speaking of “cybersex,” a term variously defined, but for our purposes here refers to “any use of a computer to in some way enhance sexual stimulation.” That definition is very broad and covers a host of behaviors that range from encounters in chat rooms, to live video cams, to the incredible proliferation of pornography on the internet. Chances are that everyone reading this post has encountered this epidemic in one way or another, either through willing participation or by inadvertently stumbling upon it from routine computer practices like surfing the web or checking your email inbox.

If anyone thinks “epidemic” is too strong a word, consider these facts (many of which are several years old and represent lower numbers than current ones – stats taken from www.xxxchurch.com):

  • Pornography generates approximately $1 billion annually with growth projections to $5-7 billion over the next 5 years, barring unforeseen change (NRC Report 2002)
  • 25 million Americans visit cybersex sites between 1-10 hours per week (MSNBC Survey 2000)
  • 9 in 10 kids 8-16 yrs. have viewed porn online, mostly accidentally while doing homework (UK News Telegraph, NOP Research Group, 1/07/02)
  • 89% of sexual solicitations of youth were made in either chat rooms or Instant Messages (Pew Study reported in JAMA, 2001)
  • 26 popular children’s characters, such as Pokemon, My Little Pony and Action Man, revealed thousands of links to porn sites. 30% were hard-core. (Envisional 2000)
  • 30% of all unsolicited emails contain pornographic information (Choose Your Mail.com study, October, 1999).
  • Estimates for the number of X-rated sites on the net range from 20,000 to 7 million (CNET.com, April 28, 1999).

The list could go on, but hopefully you get the idea. Cybersex is here in a big way and it doesn’t look like it will be going away any time soon. With the advent of this new reality has come a tidal wave of sexual addiction, promiscuity, and unhealthy deviance. Some are quick to point out that the world has always experienced such things wherever human communities live and relate. That may be true, but such an observation fails to account for the proliferation of such behavior that is possible precisely because of the medium through which it is expressed (the internet). Cybersex is so popular because it promises things that people soon discover it really can’t deliver: anonymity, safety, no-fault pleasure, and a means of escape (from flesh and blood relationships, reality, or even boredom).

So what does the Church have to say about cybersex? I have been a Christian for most of my life and a pastor for the past 11 years. During all that time, I never heard the word “cybersex” or even a close equivalent until a few weeks ago at a Conference on Sexual Ethics for Pastors entitled “Integrity in Ministry.” I was glad it was being addressed, especially the portion of the workshop that dealt specifically with integrity and the internet, but I couldn’t help but wonder why something that seems to affect so many gets such little attention in such a limited way. Why does the church wait to talk about something that threatens the faithful? Why does the church seem to postpone such discussion indefinitely until it becomes an issue that might have legal repercussions?

I am not sure I know the answer to such questions, but the skeptic in me has a few thoughts that come to mind. The Church has always had an aversion to speaking forthrightly on the subject of sex; that much is a given. When we do broach the subject, our preoccupations seem to focus on the “speck” rather than the “log.” The statistically less prominent issue of homosexuality is the clear winner for our hot button while an epidemic divorce rate gets casual attention at best. Teaching safe sex trumps discussing abstinence and moral chastity in a “hook-up” culture. In general, we like to major on the minors because that usually means that all our talk about sex can focus on someone else. Those who reject this moralistic and reductionistic finger pointing often choose just to say nothing at all, as if to grab a third, “above the fray,” alternative that does not exist. Such silence from the Church leaves this crucial subject to a sex-saturated culture hell bent on educating, teaching, and shaping our living and loving in its own way. Should we really be surprised at the result?

In posts to come, more will be said about faithful living, in real space and cyberspace. I invite you to join the discussion by posting your own comments, suggestions, and resources. I have not even broached the subject of popular sites like myspace.com or other online communities that have captured an entire generation of youth – and my intention is not an attempt to reject all such mediums (that would be kind of hypocritical since I am posting to a blog!). What I am suggesting is that the Church find her voice again amidst new challenges to faithfulness, especially those that have arisen because of a world that is wired.

Some resources worth checking out:

For help with online addiction: www.cybersexualaddiction.com / www.xxxchurch.com / www.pureintimacy.org / www.blazinggrace.org

Accountability Software (You’ve heard of prayer partners? How about an online accountability partner?): www.covenanteyes.com / http://www.x3watch.com /

Help with internet filtering: www.safeeyes.com / www.netdogsoft.com / www.cyberpatrol.com / www.cybersitter.com

My Space: From Wired Safety / Safety Tips from My Space itself

Articles worth a look:

How your Church can take on the Porn Epidemic

Clay Crosse Testimony

2 comments

  1. >I remember the first time I was exposed to a pornographic cartoon as a teenage. I remember being repulsed, feeling sick in the pit of my stomach. The repulsion stemmed from the dehumanization and “thinging” of the human body. It is very similar to the feeling I get when I hear about senseless violence, war, torture, bombings, massacres – everything we are exposed to on the news these days. It’s also similar to the feeling I get in my stomach when I see certain groups of people discriminated against and treated unjustly. All of these things are a form of violence – in order to perpetrate sexual violence, or kill, or discriminate, we need to dehumanize the “other”, rather than see them as sacred children of God, despite their race, nationality, faith tradition or sexual preference. It’s all connected.The fact that humans can so dehumanize others in order to kill and humiliate has always sickened me – especially, when I see the American government perpetrating so much of the violence and so many good people and good churches condoning it, or turning away from dealing with it. It’s as if 911 gave us license to do anything in the name of security. It’s sort of like learning that your idealized parents aren’t all they’re cracked up to be and that it may not be totally safe living with them. Very, very scary.The latest sick feeling in my stomach happened when I learned of that certain Christians are planning to attract people to Jesus by offering a violent videogame based on the “Left Behind” books. I hear this will be marketed heavily through the some of the mega-churches. See: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/11567350/site/newsweek/http://abcnews.go.com/Video/playerIndex?id=1958823, http://www.christianpost.com/article/technology/723/section/left.behind.battles.rage.on/1.htm.It’s been documented that violent videogames as promote aggression and violence in youth. http://www.apa.org/science/psa/sb-anderson.html. To see this done in the name of Jesus is especially repugnant.It all seems to be part of a pattern. The more alienated, fragmented and numbed out our society gets, the more we go in for dehumanizing approaches to sex and violence. Back in the 80’s a psychiatrist named Robert Lifton coined the phrase “psychic numbing” as a response to the threat of nuclear holocaust. It is described in the following article: http://globetrotter.berkeley.edu/people/Lifton/lifton-con3.htmlI fear our nation is in a numbed-out trance – and in my professional experience I find addiction takes place in a trance – trance often follows a trauma – whether it’s the national trauma of 911, or the experience of childhood sexual abuse. As Anna Wilson Schaef stated in “When Society Becomes and Addict” over 20 years ago, we are becoming a nation of addicts (and enablers of addicts). I know that the national bodies of several mainline denominations have made statements against much of the war and violence that is going on in the world and in our country. To cite a few: http://www.umc.org/site/c.gjJTJbMUIuE/b.1187261/k.292F/Resolution_on_the_War_in_Iraq.htm, http://www.commondreams.org/headlines06/0225-03.htm, http://www.umc.org/site/c.gjJTJbMUIuE/b.1187345/k.FEA0/Torture_is_unacceptable_NCC_assembly_says.htmUnfortunately, I believe that when the rubber hits the road, much more energy gets put into discussing the “gay” issue in many denominational church conferences than issues of peace, justice and human rights (sigh). Until our nation reconnects to its true values of compassion and justice, and its authentic humanity and spirituality, I don’t think we’ll see the end of Cybersex and all the other addictions that plague us.So, while the nation sleeps, we will indulge our addictions. Porn and violence are not my favorites – I think I’ll go look for some ice cream. Better yet, I think I’ll pray.

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