Porn and Human Trafficking in Spokane

On the surface, Spokane, Washington, seems like any other big city in the Pacific Northwest. Yet it is a city in the grip of a public health crisis. On February 23, 2019, a nationally assembled team of doctors, academics, sociologists, psychologists, and law enforcement officers met at Spokane’s Gonzaga University to examine the city’s crisis and to educate citizens how to mount an effective response.

The crisis in question concerns the pervasive use of pornography in the city.

In many respects, Spokane is a cameo of America as a whole, where the widespread use of the smartphone has enabled the sex industry to begin realizing its goal of making porn affordable, anonymous, accessible, and addictive.

It is this last point—the addictive nature of porn—that was a key focus at the Gonzaga conference. The conference was also set up to expose the links between porn addiction and human trafficking.

Two days before the conference, I had a phone conversation with Dr. Alfonso Oliva, a Spokane surgeon who helped put on the symposium.

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Salvo Magazine #50: Fighting the Porn-Trafficking Axis

Salvo Magazine #50 is now hot off the press. My article on porn and human trafficking in Spokane has been made available for free so that non-subscribers can read it. Here’s a link:

This article is a follow-up to my earlier article, “Human Trafficking in the Pacific Northwest,” and my ongoing series on Porn and Immodesty.

If you are not a subscriber to this magazine, now might be a good time to fix that by going here to subscribe.

Human Trafficking in the Pacific Northwest

“You Work For Me Now”

Amber grew up in foster care, spending time with various families in Eastern Washington. Although Amber was popular at school and appeared well-adjusted to the outside world, she struggled to believe in her own self-worth. She spent time with some loving families, yet she always knew that people were taking care of her only because they were paid to.

While Amber’s school friends looked forward to growing up and going to college, Amber knew that once she reached seventeen, she would be on the street. Six months before aging out of foster care, at the bus station Amber met a man named Randy.

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Addiction and Pain-Management

Helping people who struggle with pornography has never been a focus of my writing ministry, even though I have written extensively about sexual ethics and modesty. I have never personally struggled with porn and I have always found it distasteful and kind of “icky” to talk about. However, that will be changing. Last Saturday Salvo Magazine asked me to report on a conference at Gonzaga University on how porn has become “the new drug.” I came away from the conference convinced that this is a crucially important topic that requires just as much of my attention as some of the other issues I frequently write about. So keep an eye out for my report in upcoming editions of Salvo Magazine.

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Nudity and the Christian Worldview (Part 2)

This article was originally published in my column at the Colson Center. It is republished here with permission. For a complete directory of all my Colson Center articles, click here.

“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” Philippians 4:8

In a blog post from 2009 titled ‘Sex in Movies,’ I remarked that one of the dangers in watching sex scenes on programs is that it tends to unconsciously orient viewers to find righteousness strange and to find sexual compromise normal. Put another way, exposure to erotic stimuli on the screen can desensitize the viewer, causing important barriers to be lowered in the process.

So much so good, but what about programs that show erotic scenes that aren’t immoral and unrighteous, such as when it involves married couples? It is true that most programs are not interested in showing sex among married couples because Hollywood assumes that marriage renders sex less exciting, but it is still a legitimate question to ask.

To answer the question, I’d like you to do a little thought experiment.

Would it be wrong to sneak into the bedroom of a husband and wife you know and watch them having sex, or even to watch them undress as they get ready to have sex?

Of course that would be wrong.

Now let’s modify the question a little. If a couple you know gave you permission to come into their house and watch them have sex, or even to watch lesser forms of erotic contact, would it still be wrong for you to view it?

Again, I am assuming that most Christians would agree with me that this too would be wrong. (If you don’t think this would be wrong, then you need to review some of the scriptures I brought up in part 1 of this series.)

Now let’s modify the question still further. If the same couple made a video of themselves having sex, or even just undressing each other, and then sent you the video, would it be wrong for you to watch either all or some of it? Again, I am assuming that most Christians would have no hesitation saying that the only acceptable thing to do would be to throw the video in the trash.

You can probably guess where I’m heading with this thought experiment, which has one further modification. Suppose the same couple were videoed having sex or being naked in an erotic context, but it occurred within a movie? Would that be wrong to watch?

I would argue that this would too would be wrong for the same reasons, but suddenly I find myself in a minority, because millions of American Christians are completely comfortable viewing such content, for they do it all the time when they sit down to watch television and movies. Indeed, the only difference between the sexual content that is routine in movies, on the one hand, and the final stage of my thought experiment, on the other, is that the actors are not married and we do not know them. But if anything, the fact that they are not married merely adds another layer of wrongness to the activity.

In short, if it’s wrong to watch people having sexual contact in the real world, then it is equally wrong to watch the same actions on television or in a movie.

Research Warns About Sex on Television

Let’s switch gears for a minute and talk about children. Unfortunately, many Christian parents are incredibly naïve when it comes to what they let their children see. Some parents even allow their children to have unmonitored internet access in their own bedrooms, through which they can watch unrestricted television programs when the parents are asleep.

You don’t have to be a Christian to recognize that this is unhelpful to children. Recent studies conducted by secular researchers has found that children are damaged by viewing sexual content at an early age. One study, carried out by Dr Hernan Delgado and reported about in The Telegraph, found “that for every hour the youngest group of children watched adult programmes over the two sample days, their chances of having sex during early adolescence increased by 33 percent.”

The team of researchers came to this conclusion after tracking 754 girls and boys. They found that those who “watched grown up shows” were “more likely to have sex earlier when compared to those who watched less adult-targeted material.”

Dr David Bickham, the co-author of the study, commented, “Children learn from media, and when they watch media with sexual references and innuendos, our research suggests they are more likely to engage in sexual activity earlier in life.”

Another study conducted earlier this year found that children who watch films with a high sexual content are more likely to lose their virginity at an earlier age and to go through multiple sexual partners. This study was published in Psychological Science, the peer-reviewed journal of the Association for Psychological Science. It involved six-years of research of more than 1,228 teens. Writing about the study in The Daily Mail, Daniel Martin commented, “The results indicated that exposure to sexual content in movies at an early age is likely to influence adolescents’ sexual behaviour.”

Don’t Desensitize your Kids

As parents this should concern us. Of course, I am assuming that most Christian parents will not let their children watch programs with inappropriate adult content. However, based on what I said at the beginning of this article, I would go even further and suggest that we should also avoid letting our children see programs with any displays of sexuality or nudity even if such displays are not immoral within the context of the narrative.

One reason for this (in addition, of course, to the arguments presented at the beginning of this article) goes back to a point I made in my Salvo feature, ‘Sex & the Kiddies: The Sexualization of Children & How Advertising & Entertainment Change Their Brains.’ In this article I pointed out that when children lose their natural shyness and embarrassment concerning sexual matters (as they inevitably will if they are exposed to sex on the screen) the result is that they can become more comfortable exposing erotically important parts of their bodies. This can lead the children to grow up into teenagers who refuse to acknowledge the erotic implications of revealing attire or nudity, so that the sexually important parts of their bodies are treated as if they are merely common. This is a situation I have run into before when counseling parents and teenagers.

Another way to make the same point would be to say that visual exposure to sexual content on the screen has a desensitizing effect, since it subtly encourages youth to treat sexuality as something trivial, benign, and commonplace. As I wrote in ‘Sex & the Kiddies’,

“The result is that our brains are being changed to think of sexuality in completely disenchanted terms. In earlier generations, when this area of life was considered ‘holy ground,’ the veil of shyness that properly attended sexual things preserved the sense that our sexuality, though on one level purely functional, is also a matter of great significance, calling for reverence, respect, and privacy.”

Privacy is the key, and that is why I suggested earlier that the same canons of privacy we are prepared to honor when it comes to sex in the real world, should also be honored when it comes to sex on the screen.

None of this means that we shouldn’t let our children watch movies that show kissing, displays of romantic love or even people in bed together. Every parent will have to draw the line for themselves, but a good rule of thumb that I use is this: all displays of love that my wife and I would be uncomfortable doing with our children around are probably also things our children shouldn’t be watching people in movies do.

Personal Challenge: Do you know parents who allow their children to have a TV, or a computer with internet access, in their bedroom? If you do consider sharing this article, and the earlier article in this same series, with them.


Nudity and the Christian Worldview (Part 1)

This article was originally published in my column at the Colson Center. It is republished here with permission. For a complete directory of all my Colson Center articles, click here.

Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.” Genesis 3:7

In what the Baptist Press has called the “most significant broadcast indecency case since 1978”, the Supreme Court has been in the process of deciding how much autonomy to allow the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) when regulating displays of nudity and indecency in films.

As things currently stand, the FCC has legal power to penalize broadcast companies that violate federal indecency standards. However, many broadcast companies are not happy with this, and have objected to FCC’s findings against ABC’s NYPD Blue program, following complaints from viewers that the program contained far more nudity than is normally allowed on broadcast television.

Since television broadcasts are considered public spaces, many believe the government has a responsibility to protect us from indecent content in much the same way the authorities can intervene if someone decides to walk naked through the middle of town. The broadcast companies, on the other hand, have gone to the courts in a bid for more freedom, decrying the imposition of ‘censorship.’

Why Not?

Behind the surface issues relating to the balance between federal responsibility and broadcast freedom, a deeper question has been percolating: what’s wrong with nudity in public spaces anyway?

We all instinctively know that there is something inappropriate about nudity in public or the Supreme Court wouldn’t be having this debate in the first place. Significantly, even the broadcast companies who are pushing for more freedom are not advocating the elimination of all restrictions. But again, why not?

The reason I ask is not because I have a perverse desire to defend public nudity. Rather, I wish to point out that within a purely evolutionary narrative it is hard to justify the universal squeamishness we have about nakedness. (Yes, I know, there are tribes where the people go completely naked. Yet as Wendy Shalit has shown, even these people groups have their own standards of modesty.) While evolutionary ethics may be able to explain why humans developed the impulse not to go around naked like our quadruped ancestors, the evolutionary story cannot maintain that public nudity is wrong in any objective sense. While evolutionary ethics may be able to give many pragmatic reasons for remaining dressed in public (including the public spaces of the airwaves), it cannot appeal to any ultimate ethical standard for people any more than it can for apes.

Nudity and the Fall of Man

Christians, on the other hand, do understand why it is important that our nakedness be kept private. In Genesis 3 we learn that the awareness of nakedness came at the time of the fall as one of the necessary consequences of the loss of innocence (Gen 3:7). In fact, God Himself even made garments for Adam and Eve so that they could be covered up (Gen. 3:21), something He evidently considered to be important.

Nudity and the Christian Community

Given the premium the Bible places on modesty, one would expect Christians to reject public displays of nudity on television. Sadly, however, millions of Christians have come to treat sex scenes as a normal and accepted part of their viewing habits, especially if it is only one scene in an otherwise good movie. They will often justify watching these scenes in the same way they will justify watching gratuitous violence, by claiming that it does not affect them.

When I hear Christians say that watching sex scenes in movies does not affect them, I sometimes wonder if the shoe isn’t actually on the other foot. If someone can honestly claim that viewing erotic nudity does not affect him, then this seems the clearest evidence that such content has already had a marked effect. This is because such a person is admitting to having become so desensitized that viewing a body that is bare, or partially bare, has become merely commonplace like looking at someone’s elbow. It is not a sign of maturity to be unaffected by cinematic sex, or even plain nudity, since there is a hardening up process that must occur before a person can view such scenes detached and non-sexually. The same applies, of course, to scenes containing graphic violence.

A Brief Glimpse of Nudist Colonies

Those who have decided to go the whole hog and embrace a nudist lifestyle have testified to experiencing a similar type of desensitization. In 2003 the New York Times ran an article about one of the many youth nudist camps that are becoming increasingly popular in the United States. Kate Zernike quoted a 15-year old camper as saying, “It makes me a bit freaked out that people would think of nudity as a sexual thing.” These words are significant since frequent exposure to nudity does tend to trivialize the human body, emptying it of its implicit eroticism and making public nakedness seem merely common and non-sexual.

In their book Sexual Attitudes, Myths and Realities, Vern and Bonnie Bullough have similarly testified to the desexualisation process that occurred among the early advocates of nudism. “Early advocates of nudism put high on their list of goals the demystifying of the human body and the reintegration of the sex organs with the rest of the body. The emphasis, however, lay not so much on sexuality as on desexualization. Nudists of the time never tired of pointing out that the complete and unabashed practice of nudism was not an erotic experience…”

Demystifying the Human Body

We do not need to travel to nudist colonies to see this process of demystification at work. All we need to do is to listen to some of the common defences women give for wearing skimpy swimsuits. In discussing modesty with young people, I often get a response that goes something like this: “Women who wear bikinis are not trying to be provocative. This is just what women wear for swimming suits these days, and you shouldn’t import sexual connotations onto it.” Although I think this is often naïve and wishful thinking, my response is to take the young people at their word and to assume, for the sake of argument, that there really is nothing sexual in the minds of those women who strip down to a bikini, or those men who defend the practice as “not having anything sexual about it.” I then point out that if the female body can be almost entirely revealed without the presence of erotic overtones than this only shows how desexualized we have become. Indeed, if a woman can strip down to a bikini in the presence of men without having any thought of the sexual overtones, then this only shows that she has let her body become demystified, that her God-given barriers have been lowered, and that her bare flesh has been evacuated of its inherent eroticism. And this is exactly what early advocates of nudism hoped would happen. (Incidentally, it is also what early advocates of sex education desire to occur, a topic I have explored in the latest edition of Salvo magazine.)

I suggest that we are drifting towards being neuter when the signals of our sexuality are treated as anything less. If we reach the point where attire which conceals less than underwear (e.g. contemporary beachwear) is anything short of utterly erotic, disarmingly sexual and totally provocative, then we have actually repressed an important part of our sexuality. Being in a condition of undress has been unnaturally disengaged from the sexual connotations that ought to accompany it. It follows that the line “there’s nothing sexual about this” is as much an indictment against immodesty as it is a defence of it.

Perhaps God never intended for the naked body to be demystified like this. Perhaps seeing someone of the opposite sex in a state of undress (whether on the beach or on television), was never meant to be disengaged from its sexual connotations and to become merely ‘ordinary’ so that we can say ‘Oh, that doesn’t affect me.’ Perhaps we were never meant to become so detached that seeing someone genitals becomes like looking at their elbow. Perhaps it is for this very reason that we are supposed to protect our eyes, to make responsible decisions about how we dress and what we watch on television. Perhaps it is for this very reason that the Bible places such a premium on modesty (see 1 Timothy 2:9–10 and 1 Peter 3:3 for starters), restricting nudity between the sexes to the marriage bed.

If we are Christians there is no ‘perhaps’ about it. The Bible makes clear that ever since the fall of man, nudity was meant to be associated with sexuality. After our innocence was lost, trying to regularize nudity can only happen through demystifying the human body and repressing our sexuality. And that is precisely what is occurring today. If we reach the point where nothing fazes us, where we can enjoy a beach party with virtually unclad men and women, or think that we can watch various stages of nudity in movies without it affecting us, then we are the losers. What have we lost? We have lost the ability to be naturally sexual as God originally designed. We have in effect let ourselves become functionally neutered in one crucially important area.

If the Supreme Court decides to let the airwaves be flooded with even more nudity, the viewing public may ironically not become more sexualized but less. Those things which ought to signify sexuality, and therefore kept private, will be increasingly emptied of their God-given meaning, and the naked body will continue to become increasingly commonplace, trivial, benign, demystified and disenchanted.