What is going wrong with our boys

The silent addiction plaguing young men

Returning to Australia in 2010 after serving 12 years in east Africa in missions, I noticed that something seemed to be going wrong with boys and young men. Specifically, I’m talking about boys and young men in the church, in youth groups and Christian schools – invariably from good Christian families.

I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. I was seeing a lack of interest in things of God, a veneer of Christianity, along with depression, anxiety and promiscuity. Teen gym junkies were increasingly obsessing over their muscles and body image. More were turning to alcohol and drugs and had far less drive and energy. Many were failing to launch and so on. What was the explanation?

Then a mother to three teen boys, I was particularly concerned. Young men by the droves were walking away from their Christian faith and I didn’t want this to happen to our sons.

Initially, I assumed it was simply the prevailing culture in general, and if so, how could one do much about it? What else could be possibly driving this downward spiral?

It wasn’t until years later when I began to interview young men for my book, Lost Boys, that I was to discover what that significant driver was: pornography – accessed through smartphones, school-issued iPads and laptops. Even the most hardcore, deviant pornography was being brought right into the homes of families 24/7 without parents’ knowledge.

I listened to story after story in horror and anger as young men told me how they became hooked on pornography right under their parents’ watchful eyes. Little boys were carrying incredible shame; many were completely traumatised by what they were viewing and unable to stop. None had the ability to talk to a parent or responsible adult as they couldn’t fully comprehend what they were experiencing. Their childhood innocence was stolen and replaced with fear, condemnation and the burden of carrying a huge secret.

By the time some parents or teachers – only a minority – cottoned on to what children were accessing, it was too late.

Dr James B. Weaver III, professor of psychology, said (before a US Senate subcommittee on pornography in 2004), “In men [and boys], prolonged exposure to pornography creates and enhances sexual callousness toward women … [resulting] in both a loss of respect for female sexual autonomy and the disinhibition of men in the expression of aggression against women.”

As I researched my book, the emerging statistics on child-on-child sexual abuse were shocking. For example, in the UK in 2018, there was a 400 per cent increase in children under 17 years sexually abusing other children. Experts said that it was directly linked to kids viewing pornography, often the very hard-core content. The story was similar in America.

Statistics show that Christian men, both young and old, even pastors, are regularly viewing pornography.

The exposure of the ‘dark culture’ of sexual assault among Sydney high school boys – that made news headlines for weeks earlier this year – brought to light the ugly fruit of boys consuming pornography. And the reality is that this is a situation that could have been exposed in any city in Australia. Principals pointed out the glaringly obvious, that online pornography consumption is a key issue in tackling the sexual assault allegations and consent issues.

And if you think it’s different amongst Christians, think again. Statistics show that Christian men, both young and old, even pastors, are regularly viewing pornography. Recent research in the US revealed that 68 per cent of men in churches regularly seek out porn, 50 per cent of pastors regularly seek out porn, and 78 per cent of young people aged 15 to 24 in churches regularly seek out porn.

One young man who had been struggling with pornography since boyhood told me that when he started dating a girl in his youth group, he became desperate to stop his pornography habit. He decided to ask for help from men in his church, yet he found not a single man who could help him. He said that most of them shrugged him off, saying this was something that all men struggle with.

He was devastated, because if the Church had no answer, then there was no hope for him.

Men on porn cannot worship in spirit and in truth.

Young Christian men have told me that because they cannot give up pornography, in order not to be a hypocrite they stop going to church and stop reading the Bible. Those who keep attending are in anguish, as they feel like hypocrites. They cannot look at the young women in the church without all of those images flooding into their minds; the shame is heavy; the condemnation is debilitating.

Another young man told me that during his teen years he cried out to God so many times, prayed Scripture and believed, and when this didn’t work, he walked away because after all, isn’t God supposed to help?

Some experts even dub porn the silent killer of families.

Christian young women are continually complaining about a ‘man drought’ in the churches. Beautiful, gifted, intelligent women of marrying age cannot find a Christian husband.

There was once a time when a leader of a Christian youth group could say confidently that it was unlikely that the guys in the group were looking at pornography. Now I’m told it’s unlikely that a guy in a Christian youth group is not looking at porn.

And girls know it. They tell me that young men at church can’t look them in the eye, can’t hold a conversation, can’t commit, and are lukewarm or ‘fake’ in their faith.

Two young women I know well were lamenting about this one day when one of them finally said, “I’ll just have to accept that I’ll marry a man who watches porn.”

Brethren! This should not be so.

The pornography problem is huge, with a large proportion of divorces attributed to it. Some experts even dub porn the silent killer of families. In addition, it’s behind some of the ugliest societal ills, such as domestic violence, that are, alarmingly, on the rise. It is estimated that at a minimum one in three porn videos depicts sexual violence or aggression, predominantly toward women.

The 24/7 sexualised cultural narratives blasting through film, music and media, and the ubiquitous porn accessible even on the school grounds on iPhones, constantly saturate the minds of our boys and young men, but the Church is not countering it with equal weight.

Only 7 per cent of churches say they have the resources to assist their members with this addiction.

Ted Shimer, founder of The Freedom Fight and author of the book The New Drug: And the Truths That Set Us Free, said this year in The Christian Post regarding the problem of pornography, “Pastors and church leaders need to address it with effective, Gospel-centred, scientifically-informed solutions because it’s not simply going away.” He added that only 7 per cent of churches say they have the resources to assist their members with this addiction.

In the Book of Acts, we read about the Council of Jerusalem where the Apostles and leaders met to decide what laws would be required of the new gentile believers. They came up with two things: abstain from meat of strangled animals (because of the blood) and abstain from sexual immorality. Sexual immorality through pornography is taking out our men in massive numbers, and as with any predator, our little children are the most vulnerable.

The Church is full of sexually broken men and boys. Now is the time for the Church to rise up, address the issue, provide help and healing, preach the gospel in power, and stand out as a light for healthy families and marriages in this broken world.

Resources and tools for those struggling with pornography, for parents, churches and Christian leaders, are available on the Freedom Fight website

Cindy McGarvie is CEO of Youth for Christ Australia.

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