Struggling with Pornography

The large amounts of sexual and pornographic content that exist on the Internet are easily accessible.  Unlike traditional media such as radio, TV and newspapers, which are regulated by censorship laws, there are no such restrictions on the Internet.

Pornography is not a new phenomenon.  It existed in ancient times. Definition of the Greek word means graphic prostitution.  Judaism strongly opposed the culture of nudity that existed in ancient Greece.  Christianity, too, attempted to eliminate all pornographic expression during the reign of the Holy Roman Empire.  In modern times, the liberal 60s of the 20th century saw a rise in materialism and permissiveness, and social movements advocated for increased civil liberties, which led to the overturn of laws that had prohibited the distribution of sexual content.  A booming and highly profitable sex industry developed, although pornography was still regarded as contemptible by most of society.  Lacking any emotional bond or love, pornographic content is a crass demonstration of nudity and sexual entertainment aimed at creating thrills and fantasies, and aimed at objectifying women.  Like drug consumption, the threshold of excitement needs to be constantly elevated, to the point that it is devoid of any human sensitivity.

Right from the beginning of the Internet much pornography existed, reaping big profits for its distributors, including search engines.  The Internet has facilitated the growth of pornography to new dimensions, both with respect to its content, and to its accessibility.  Is the most widely accessed topic on the Internet, and it exists on millions of web pages.  The Internet has essentially legitimized pornography, and it can be found on commercial websites, forums, social networking sites, leisure and entertainment, and more.  Online visibility is evidence that individuals are sharing content without shame.  The Internet has exposed pornography to new audiences, such as teenagers and children.  Only with respect to pedophilia is there any enforcement action and limitation.  But even here not enough has been done.

The Impact of Pornography

Pornography creates serious damage to the human soul.  It is particularly harmful to children who have no conception of life as a couple.  When children view pornography they gain a distorted perception of sexuality, which affects their sexual development.  During adolescence their heightened curiosity drives them to search for online for information, further increasing the likelihood of their exposure to perverse sexual content.

The effects of exposure to pornography are usually behavioral: engagement in premature sexual experiences, searching for sexual release, compulsive masturbation, a distorted perception of the body, sexual abuse (usually within the family), the making of sexual comments, leering at others, indecent acts and even rape.  Viewing pornography is also known to have led to same-sex experimentation, even before puberty.  Pornography can develop uncontrollable urges and deviant behavior.

The effects of pornography are long-term.  Significant exposure at a young age can have a negative effect on sexual development and marital life.  Viewing pornography develops a need for a virtual experience and a constant substitute for sexual images and sexual situations.  Pornography is one of the harshest fields blurring the lines between virtual and real worlds.  Some try to consciously or subconsciously mimic the virtual experiences in real life, and as a result cause serious damage to their relationships, often ending in divorce.

Addiction to Pornography

One of the worst effects of exposure to sexual content and pornography is addiction.  Addiction to pornography is considered one of the most difficult types of addictions.  Its effects are similar to those of drugs, which create hallucinations and lack of control.  A chemical reaction occurs in the brain stimulating the release of pleasure-increasing substances such as dopamine, and creates increased hormonal activity.  Addiction to pornography or other sexual content is characterized by the need for greater or more extreme consumption.  Intensity of addiction may lead to lack of control, feelings of frustration, loss of limits and engaging in extreme behavior.  In such cases, professional help is needed. One can consult with Netivei Reshet's hotline here.

Sexual Content Not Defined as Pornography

Today there is an entire culture using sexually explicit content to attract, sell and convey messages.  In the virtual world sexual content is common, including partial or full nudity and sexual acts which are not defined as pornography.  But they are extremely harmful to the healthy development of children and youth. These messages appear on common websites for movies and videos, in chat forums, and even on social networks.  Large websites such as YouTube suggest similar content to what a visitor clicks on or searches for, so if a video with sexual content is clicked on- even accidentally- the site will offer similar videos at a later browsing session, increasing exposure to such content.  It becomes harder to ignore these messages that flash across the screen and have a cumulative effect on the mind.  Among those addicted to virtual sex, there are many – primarily women- whose introduction to pornography occurred through "legitimate" messages like these.

Differences Between Boys and Girls

Boys are far more exposed to pornography than girls because girls dislike the crass content. Studies of Israeli teens (including religious youth) found that roughly 80% of boys and 50% of girls are exposed to pornography.  With girls, exposure to pornography sometimes causes deep shock leading to aversion to any sexual relationship, later harming the ability to build a loving spousal bond.

How to Detect Exposure or Addiction to Pornography

1.  Speak on occasion with young children about the risks of the Internet, and ask them if they or their friends have encountered disgusting websites, abnormal behavior or crude and immodest content on the web.

Initiate conversations with adolescents about the subject of sexual urges and how to deal with them.  Speak about the harms of pornography.  Take interest in how the teen deals with the subject.  On occasion check on the teen's computer to see if s/he deletes or hides any browsing history.

2.  If the child exhibits discomfort or recognizable shame on his face following Internet browsing.

3.  If the child retreats and surfs out of sight or at unusual times.

4.  Decline in scholastic achievement or in social relationships.

5.  Signs of depression and introversion.

6.  Frequent talk about sexuality or sexually explicit phrases.

7.  Harassing or harmful behavior towards others.

8.  The use of blatant sexual gestures.

9.  Signs of compulsive masturbation.

10.  A child conceals or deletes his browsing history.

11.  Periodic inspection of the child's online activity, or following suspicious signs.  See our recommendations in the כלים טכנולוגים tab.

12.  Proliferation of computer viruses.

How to Deal with Exposure to Pornography or Addiction

1.  Upon discovering that a child was exposed to pornography, it is important to discuss it without accusation.  An open and understanding approach is critical for dealing with the issue.  Exposure to pornography rattles the lives of children and teens, so it is important to give them a sincere, calm and thoughtful explanation.  A full understanding of the subject on the parent's part will greatly facilitate handling the situation.

For younger children lacking comprehension of sexual concepts, gently explain about the lack of boundaries on the Internet, and that there are people who act in crass ways to attract attention and make money. Compare animals and humans, explaining how while animals need not cover their private parts, people cannot walk down the street naked, and those that do are worse than animals, and one should not look at them.  Ask your child if he or his friends ever encounter rude or disgusting content.  Stress the importance of their informing you if they do.

For adolescents, talk with your teen about urges and how to channel them as positive forces.  Explain about the beauty of intimacy when it includes emotions and love in a true relationship - not as sex is presented in movies and even less in pornography.  Make it clear why pornography is not positive intimacy, and how it may be harmful.  Religious families might also include religious sources in their explanation.

2.  Determine the degree of exposure. Is it extended exposure?  Is the content extremely harsh?  Is there concern of addiction?

3.  It is important to determine the child's approach to the subject; does s/he understand what s/he is seeing?  Does s/he view it as normative behavior?

4.  Investigate whether your child is experiencing negative social peer pressure to view pornography.  If you discover s/he is, take measures to remedy the situation on the school level, with parental involvement.

5.  Someone exposed to pornography will likely search for it again out of curiosity or awakening sexual desire.  As such, it is important to ensure that a child is not exposed to it to begin with.  To do this, keep lines of communication open, but deter easy accessibility by monitoring Internet use, use filtering software, and by preventing the child from surfing alone in a closed room.  For older children the filtering software is greatly ineffective and easily circumvented.  Therefore it is important to engage in personal and educational conversation to discuss the issue.

6.  If you discover that a child has developed an addiction or deviant behavior, approach the problem with empathy and care.  It can evolve from a very young age, when the child does not understand what is happening to him.  Seek professional assistance to build a help-plan which includes value-based explanations, close monitoring and distancing the child from the subject.  Consult with Netivei Reshet's hotline here.

Preventive Measures

1.  Take care to protect your child from pornography at a very young age.  Be aware of what your child views on the computer.  Discuss with your child the long-term damage pornography can have on a child.  Do not allow the child to surf the Internet alone in an isolated room, but position home devices in a central room.  Establish time limits for use.  Utilize monitoring and content filtering software, and ones that are effective in Israeli Internet content and in the Hebrew language.  Avoid giving young kids a personal device with an unlimited Internet connection.

2. Be sure to approach the idea of using filtering and monitoring software with your children by explaining that it is to protect the child from the dangers of the Internet, and not to limit their access or because you mistrust them.

3.  For younger children, allow them to visit websites approved by their parents.  It is possible to establish such an approved "white list" using filtering and monitoring software. See our recommendations in the כלים טכנולוגים tab.

4.  With respect to smartphones, recognize that the devices develop dependence and abuse.  Use good judgment to determine when it is appropriate to give a child an instrument.  There are several options for filtering, but their effectiveness is still not clear.  See our recommendations in the כלים טכנולוגים tab.

For tablets, at a young age is not desirable to have a child using a tablet without restriction. You can keep the tablet in the parents, give it to the boy measured times and track use of the device. There are several applications to restrict content or time.

5.  Exposure to pornography is often caused due to boredom and random Internet surfing.  As such, take care to use time effectively and engage in positive activities, particularly when using computers and the Internet.

6.  Talk with your kids about how to surf with caution and identify signs of problematic content.  If they encounter online extreme behaviors - they should inform an adult.

7.  Excessive warnings about pornography may result in increased interest in it.  Keep a balanced family discourse; if the child is not exposed to pornography, refrain from making it a serious subject of attention.