Anna Groff is executive director of Dove’s Nest: Faith Communities Keeping Children and Youth Safe. Anna studied journalism at Goshen (Indiana) College and received a Master of Public Administration from Arizona State University. Originally from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, she now lives in Tucson, Arizona, with her husband and two daughters. She is a member of Shalom Mennonite Fellowship in Tucson.
When I was a student at a Mennonite high school, there was a succession of male students who publicly disclosed their past “struggles” with pornography in chapel talks. They usually said that through scripture, prayer and perhaps accountability with other male peers, they overcame the temptation to continue to view pornography.
As a young woman, these disclosures left me unsettled.
And, unfortunately, pornography use wasn’t discussed much beyond this narrative. These confessions did not address the consequences we all face living in a pornified world, which people in the church are not immune from.
Dove’s Nest and Atlantic Coast Conference attempted to address these realities through a panel event in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, on Feb. 25, entitled, “Being Proactive: Talking Together about the Realities of Pornography in Our Families as People of Faith.”
Linda Gehman Peachey, author of MCC’s Pornography: Lies, Truth and Hope; Brenda Martin Hurst of Eastern Mennonite Seminary; and Pastor Jon Carlson joined as panelists.
Our conversation affirmed the need for men to talk together about how to support one another and offer accountability, but it didn’t end there. We also included the importance of women’s voices in the conversation, as well as focusing on safety for children and youth.
We named steps that we can take as parents, teachers and church leaders.
- Accept the hard truth that our children will most likely view pornography (often accidentally and often at a friend’s house) much earlier than we would wish. Individual devices certainly increase the likelihood.
- Utilize internet filters, but do not rely solely on them. Prepare ahead of time for the tough conversations when you discover your child has seen pornography or if they ask questions. Respond calmly and do not overreact. Instead, aim to keep dialogue open and avoid shaming.
- Help them understand that pornography is not a realistic depiction of sex, like you would discuss advertising or other media with children. You could use the examples of World Wrestling Entertainment or car chases in movies, which are staged and for entertainment purposes only.
- However, while pornography is not real in the sense that it is not a realistic depiction of sex, there is real harm done to the people involved in pornography — especially women. We can help teens understand that sex trafficking, abuse and exploitation are all a part of the experiences of many in the industry.
- Pornography is also harmful to users. It affects our body image, our relationships, our spiritual life — and our understanding that we are all created in the image of God. Porn perpetuates violence and degradation. For example, in 88 percent of the scenes in popular porn films, there was verbal or physically aggression, usually toward a woman. And in most of those cases, the woman is shown as liking the violence or not objecting to it.
- Finally, discuss pornography within conversations about healthy sexuality in general. As Hillary Watson writes: “Sexuality education saves youth from abusive relationships. It saves them from making bad decisions. It saves them from becoming abusive or reproducing unhealthy patterns from TV or pornography. Anabaptist youth need sexuality education, and they need to receive it from their churches.”
Like I heard from male peers in high school, churches and pastors occasionally have congregants and lay leaders who disclose porn habits or addiction. While we commend this openness and vulnerability, our response shouldn’t stop there. We ought to ensure that any addiction is treated by a professional, in addition to spiritual work and church accountability. We also want to make sure everyone at church feels and is safe. Read more about Dove’s Nest recommendations here.
Part of abuse prevention and keeping children safe is having discussions that bring shame, secrecy and abuse to light. Pornography use is incredibly prevalent, and we can assume all of us are affected to some degree. These conversations and actions are challenging but necessary for the health of our families, churches and communities.
Gehman Peachey, Linda. Pornography: Lies, Truth and Hope. Akron, PA: Mennonite Central Committee, 2014