Becoming a Healing Presence:
I would like to do the next step in this podcast series on becoming a healing presence—that is to say, becoming more available to the fire of God going through us to other people—by looking at ourselves and our culture. And one of the major obstacles in that conduit of our heart so we can help other people, one of the major blockages is internet pornography. Big, big, big, big problem.
I’ll begin with a quote. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” The implications—that’s a Beatitude—the implications are—a couple of implications are clear. The first implication is “they shall see God” on this earth, in their daily lives, as they live their lives.
The second implication that’s implied is the converse. Those who are not pure in heart might not see God through their eyes and through their heart in this daily life. So we’re dealing with something about what God is saying to us.
I would like to say some things directly about internet pornography. When I give talks, parish retreats or talks here and there, often I will hear afterwards, “Oh, Dr. Rossi, I’m so glad you spoke about this, because virtually nobody in Orthodoxy is talking about this.”
Well, I don’t know about that. I don’t know about all of Orthodoxy in America, but from my experience, that’s true. And it’s also true that in evangelical circles, many people and organizations and web sites are dealing with this problem frontally, because it’s just a great big issue. So, I will say what I can today about the topic, with the view that it’s in the culture to stay.
I gave a retreat recently on a different topic, and a woman came up to me afterwards. And I spoke about internet pornography for five minutes during that talk. And a woman came up to me afterwards, and she said, “Oh Dr. Rossi, I’m so glad you said what you said about internet pornography, because I’m divorced, and my husband left me because of his activity with internet pornography. And now I’m stuck raising a couple of very angry teenage children in the home.” That’s where the road goes. Or at least, that’s where the road can go.
So my goal in this podcast is to give myself and give you some idea of the problem and get to some things we can do about it. It’s not enough to say it’s a big, big problem. Okay, okay, okay. What can we do about it?
We are told we need to be “children of the light” who are “innocent as doves” and “wise as serpents.” We need to know what is going on. Internet pornography is a silent killer and a gateway drug. Now, those words are very carefully chosen. Is internet pornography a drug? Definitely yes, and I’ll explain that in a few moments. It’s a drug because it changes brain chemistry just like alcohol or cocaine or other drugs have their effect by changing brain chemistry. That’s how they do their work. They change us on the inside, the inside of our heads.
Sixty million people in the United States, which is a big number, purposefully visit internet pornography sites, yet seventy percent of those who do keep it a secret. What does that say to us? It says there’s a whole bunch of people doing this, and there’s a lot of secrecy and shame around it. Sixty percent of all web sites on the internet—all the la-la-la-la-la-la-la websites of any sort—sixty percent of them all are sexual in nature. That’s the way the internet is.
Now, I love technology. I love Ancient Faith Radio. I love getting out to a whole lot of people through technology. I use my computer a great deal through my day. So I’m not bashing technology at all. I’m simply having all of us know what the facts are.
There are 2,500 brand new sites for internet pornography each week. I didn’t know there were 2,500 total. I’m told. There are twenty thousand images of child pornography posted on the internet every week. Again, that’s where the road can go.
I would like to, right at this point, acknowledge that most of what I’m going to say in this podcast is not original. And I’m deeply indebted to Mark Kastleman, who wrote a wonderful book, The Drug of the New Millennium, that I highly recommend, [subtitled] The Brain Science Behind Internet Pornography Use, wonderful book. I’ve used that extensively. Lovely article called the “Slave Master: How pornography drugs and changes your brain” by Donald Hilton; an article in the Army Times that I’ve used entitled “Addicted to Online Porn;” and a web site called Covenant Eyes—C-O-V-E-N-A-N-T-E-Y-E-S. I have some material on this podcast from all of those sources. But in large part I’m indebted to Mark Kastleman and his book The Drug of the New Millennium.
So, back to internet pornography, per se. It is the fastest growing addiction in the United States, and probably elsewhere, by far, by far, by far, by far. And it is a $100 billion industry. Now, statistics are statistics, but there’s a difference between 100 million and 100 billion. Internet pornography is a $100 billion industry that brings in more money than the National Football League, Major League Baseball, and the National Basketball League combined. So it’s big, big, big, big business. And, of course, the investors and those who are profiteering from this industry are very interested in protecting their investment in so many ways.
Internet pornography cheapens and distorts sacred sexuality. Sacred sexuality is a gift from God to human beings, to be used in context from him in a committed Christian marriage, lifetime, eternal. I’m married, and my wife is dead, and we have an eternal relationship. And even if I were remarried, I’d still have an eternal relationship with my wife. Internet pornography cheapens and distorts that.
That’s a very important sentence to say, because 87% of male youth today and 31% of female youth today say they use internet pornography. What does that mean? That means that our youth, both non-Orthodox and Orthodox, are getting their sex education from internet pornography.
What does that mean? It means it makes real relationships, especially male-female relationships, much more problematic. And therefore, makes marriages and family life in the future more problematic. And the whole Orthodox Church, all of Christianity, is built on the bond of the family. The bond of the family is, then, the building block of the bond of the parish, which is the building block of the Church. And internet pornography has all the possibilities of being a virus, eating at the Church itself, Mother Church, from the inside-out.
Internet pornography is looked at through the lens of four A‘s. A, as in the first letter of the alphabet. Internet pornography: A, it’s accessible. It’s right there. And the largest group of consumers are boys between the ages of twelve and seventeen. And the frontal lobe, that is, discernment and reasoning in the brain, is quickly distorted; and the limbic system, another part of the brain—emotional reactions in the amygdala—clicks in very quickly. In teens, this connection is underdeveloped, which is the reason they so often act without thinking. They’re acting out of their limbic system. Visual images bypass the frontal lobes; that is, they go past their thinking process directly into our pleasure centers. So most vulnerable are our youth.
It is easily accessible. Now, I’m an old man, and frankly, have never looked at internet pornography, at least not intentionally. But one time, years ago, I was doing research, and in Google, put in two words. I won’t even say them on the air. Two really safe words. La-la. Just typed them in. Search, clicked “Search.” And up came a pornographic video with two young persons doing sexual things with black velvet background, so, very visual. And I squinted my eyes; I said, “Argh!” And I pushed “Delete.” And up came a new one, two different humans doing sexual things with black velvet background, and I pushed “Delete” again; and up came a third, different pair of people doing sexual things.
And my eyes just about closed, I pulled the plug on my computer and said to myself, “I will ruin this computer, but there’s no way I can get those images off the screen. They won’t go away.”
So the first A: It’s accessible. The second A: It’s aggressive. It’s not like I’m looking for it. Oh, no. Rather, it is looking for me.
Recently, I was at a restaurant with my daughter and her husband and their three kids, pleasant time, talking. And my seven-year-old said, “Papa, can I use your iPhone, play with your iPhone?”
And I have a child’s game on my iPhone that the children enjoy, so I said, “Oh, sure.”
So I handed him my iPhone. And I’m talking to Beth and Greg. And Colin handed me my iPhone back, and he said, “Papa, this isn’t so good, is it?”
And I looked at my iPhone, and on my iPhone is pornography. I didn’t panic. I simply said, low-key, “No, Colin, that’s not so good.” And I clicked it off.
I’d no idea that I had access to pornography on my iPhone. Now, granted, I have this naive streak in me. So a little later, I said, “Colin, what did you do to get to that video?”
And he said, “Oh, I pushed YouTube, Papa.”
I said, “Oh, well, thank you.”
Now, frankly, I’ve never used YouTube on my iPhone. I didn’t even comprehend that it was there. But it comes with the iPhone. Probably most smartphones. And I don’t doubt that Colin simply typed in some safe word like “games” or I don’t know what. And up came this.
That is to say, it is there, and it is aggressive.
Third A: It is affordable. In the beginning, it’s effectively free. Then, as one becomes aware of what one can watch, then it begins to cost, and it can cost big, big, big, big dollars.
The fourth A is that it is anonymous. It’s a stealth drug. So one can self-medicate, change brain chemistry and feel better, with no immediate after-effects. No staggering, no slurred speech, no blackout, no DWI. It’s just, look at it, and then it’s over.
So those are the four A‘s. Accessible, aggressive, affordable, and anonymous. And given all of that, and given the world that I travel in, I will say this over the air, my own—and we’ll see how this goes: My own private hypothesis is that in years gone by, and even currently, alcoholism is—was and is—a great, great addiction and thirty years ago was ruining churches, especially the Orthodox Church. And just lots of horror stories about alcoholism and what it did to both priests and people on parish councils, and all the rest of it.
I don’t doubt that as time goes along—because alcoholism is primarily a male addiction, although females are addicted to alcohol, as internet pornography is mostly a male problem, but there are females addicted—that as time goes along, I don’t doubt the alcoholism rate is likely to go down significantly. Why? Because, what can get the same brain chemistry changes without the after effects? There’s no great big hangover. There’s no great big headache. No DWI. There’s none of the effects of alcohol, at least immediately. We’ll see about all that. That’s hypothetical.
But back to internet pornography. I’d like to use a quote from Fr. John Breck that’s vital at this point. In his book The Sacred Gift of Life, Fr. Breck says, “Our threshold of tolerance toward sexual explicitness and exploitation has been [dramatically lowered]...[and] the spiritual and psychological toll exacted by this situation is incalculable.”
That is so profound. Where I live in Yonkers, New York, if you drive up Central Avenue, on the back of the bus is an ad for lingerie that really, in my childhood, would have been called pornography and today is just called advertising. It’s just advertising. That’s the way the world is. And if one doubts that our tolerance has been greatly lowered, one needs only turn on the TV in the evening, and regular channels, not MTV or other stuff, and just watch—I don’t, but if one were to watch TV for a half hour, the amount of simply sexual innuendo and explicitness is outrageous. It’s just—that’s the way it is, but it’s still outrageous. That’s the way things are. And to be blunt, things are likely to get worse. At least, that’s my prediction. And I’ll give you a couple of examples.
In the movie theaters now, there is 3D; there’s the whole phenomenon of 3D movies. And I’ve seen a couple of Disney 3D movies. And they’re really good. I’ve seen, one time in a movie theater, objects coming at me so fast that I put up my hand and ducked my head to avoid the virtual objects coming at me. Very, very interesting. That 3D experience in movies, now movie theaters, is likely to be coming to computers soon. More sooner than later. So that’s going to be simply more—computer watching is going to be more realistic.
More than that, I read recently that in beta, that is, in the experimental stages, technologists have now come up with what’s called tactile pixels. P-I-X-E-L-S. Tactile pixels are little molecules in the computer that will allow a person to touch a screen and distinguish between hot and cold and between wet and dry. Well, isn’t that interesting. And of course, if used in the proper sense, it could be quite attractive.
However, talking about internet pornography, doesn’t that make internet pornography more alluring? Virtual images in 3D that you can touch a screen and feel the warmth of a human body? Much more difficult to resist.
That’s the world we live in. Okay, I’m not bashing technology or the world; I’m simply saying we need to know this is the world we, but especially our children—youth—are living in.
I was told that in Europe, there’s an airline, low-fare airline going between countries, that has announced that it will now allow pornography films on airlines. What does that mean? That means that if I’m flying with my children, and the person beside me or my children is watching pornography, it’s very difficult to not see what that person’s seeing.
Another little example. Recently in the Midwest, a bill was introduced to State Congress to allow socializing between high school teachers and high school students. What does that mean? It means that high school teachers would be allowed to take high school students out on dates and proms. Now, I don’t know what happened to the bill, and I really don’t think it’s going to pass. But we need to know there’s a movement in that direction. We need to know this is the culture we live in. And we need to know the fight and the problems that our children are up against.
A word about the brain and brain chemistry. Is internet pornography a drug? Oh, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes. When a human being, man or woman, is aroused in the slightest, sexually, the brain begins to narrow its focus like a funnel. Why does it do that? Because neurotransmitters and a couple of hormones simultaneously are released.
What are they? First is dopamine. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter between the synapses that focuses our attention, gives us unwavering motivation; we become more goal-directed. It’s the neurotransmitter of ecstasy and exhilaration. A wonderful hormone. And drugs, cocaine and all the others, give a dopamine squirt. [Squirting noise.] That’s how they work.
Norepinephrine, also called adrenaline, is released, so we get a natural shot of adrenaline. Testosterone is released, neurotransmitter, which is the sexual desire, per se—positive energy and a sense of wellbeing.
And oxytocin, a very interesting part of us, that is in both males and females. In females, oxytocin produces the contractions in childbirth, and milk production in women for neonates. It produces the bonding agent for mother and child. It’s called the hugging chemical. It rises with hugs. And sexually produces the feeling of oneness, a natural tranquilizer.
And the last thing I’ll mention right now is serotonin. A depletion of serotonin results in depression. When we’re sexually aroused, there’s an increase of serotonin, which gives deep feelings of calmness and satisfaction and a release from stress. When all of that is released inside of us simultaneously, to be per—we feel good, we feel relaxed, and we feel calm.
And the image that’s used is a funnel. So that’s the beginning with the arousal. Then it’s an increased funnel as one becomes more aroused. One becomes more and more focused and calm and intense and feels wonderful. In marriage, that of course leads to eventually climax, bottom of the funnel, which is a love act between two persons who are doing a God-given act of love.
Now the image that’s used is a funnel, with a bottom of the funnel, and then a second funnel, an inverted funnel that goes outwards. That is to say, after climax. That’s what happens after climax occurs. Meaning, what’s that all about? In marriage, that pertains to the context of the marriage. All of the thousands of different things that married people need to deal with and bring up and resolve, and negotiations made, and crosses and crowns. So that love making is one part of a thousand-pieced communication system.
In internet pornography, after climax, there’s no meaning. There’s no context. So the person is left empty, meaningless, bored, and filled with shame. Whatever the person was looking for by going to internet pornography, one now does not—not only not have, but feels worse. What does the person do? Well, generally, the person, if addicted, has to kind of do that again. Maybe the next day, maybe the same night, whenever, but does it again. So, in its own way, it is addict—how do I say—causes addiction. Causes people to seek more and more and different kinds of solutions or satisfactions to what one is looking for in internet pornography.
When one looks at internet pornography, the healthy coping skills through the frontal lobe of the brain diminishes. Now, men and women differ in all of this, and women are aroused differently. Predators know that, so they engage women in a different kind of way, through chat rooms generally, and then through more innocuous visuals until, finally, pornography is presented in a very crafty way. And then women can become more tolerant and enjoy that more.
So I’ll kind of wrap up this podcast on this topic for today. And I will do a sequel in my next podcast.
But for now, the four A‘s of internet pornography: It’s accessible, it’s affordable, it’s anonymous, it’s aggressive. The pornography is not like a drug; it is an endogenously processed poly-drug, producing an intense though misleading sensory reward in pornography. So it’s a super drug.
And again, I just need to say that I’m deeply indebted to the wonderful work of Mark Kastleman and his book The Drug of the New Millennium, as well as to Donald Hilton, and all of the work of the Army Times, and the website Covenant Eyes. All of those are behind the research I did for this topic.
So until the sequel comes in a couple of weeks, for now, for Ancient Faith Radio, this is Dr. Albert Rossi.