Monday, February 18, 2013
If My Couch Could Talk by Guest Blogger Christy Ridings
From Guest Blogger Christy Ridings, Associate Minister at Belmont University, a well-known Christian University
One of the most significant aspects of my vocation is hearing the stories of 18-22 year olds. As a Campus Minister, I am a strange hybrid who lives with one foot in the academy and one in the church. My ‘congregation’ is very specific and, developmentally, very similar. For this reason, many of the stories I hear parallel one another. At times, I bear witness to moments of self discovery, enormous growth and personal triumphs. Other times they are moments of regret, of brokenness and utter hopelessness.
There is no greater context in which these moments are formed than a college students’ grappling with their own sexual identity. Each student brings with them a unique set of baggage. Events and circumstances of their past become the oversized bags of their present and they are left to navigate an already tedious journey with this extra weight in tow. In many ways, this is how I would describe the relationship of pornography and today’s young adult.
Much of the dialogue about pornography relates to its moral and spiritual implications. The cycle of shame that so often plagues those who struggle and the ways in which that shame becomes the backdrop of their lives is central to the understanding of its destructive nature. This nature inevitability alters the perceptive of who God is and who we are. It is a brokenness that I have become all too familiar with.
As of late, however, I am becoming increasing interested in a different type of brokenness as it relates to porn and young adults. There is a growing amount of research relating to the physical and neurological implications of prolonged exposure to pornography. The scientific term for this is neuroplasticity. If you are like me and only took the science courses you were required to in college: this big term simply refers to the brain’s ability to ‘rewire’ itself in response to changes in behavior or environments. For instance, how many times have you pulled into your driveway after your commute from work and realized you did not make one conscious decision while driving. Or how many times have you gotten your infant out of the crib in the morning only to find that you, at some point during the night, had gotten up and changed them without any marked recognition of the event. These types of scientific phenomenon can be explained by neuroplasticity.
Essentially many route behaviors we participate in have the ability to wire our brain to respond in certain ways and to specific stimuli. The shot of dopamine that is released during orgasm is one of the greatest natural responses and therefore one of the strongest motivators for behavior. If you don’t believe me, look at the lengths people (maybe even you) go through to get the attention of that someone special! Further evidence to me, of how intricately our Creator thought through all aspects of His creation….
So what does this have to do with porn and college students? Statistics tell us that, on average, the first exposure to pornography happens at 11 years old. This means that by the time most students arrive on campus, they have been potentially viewing porn for 7-8 years and (in many ways) are already ‘wired’.
If I am honest, this perspective has been a game changer for me. It helps me understand the full nature of the brokenness I find in the faces of this generation. In many ways they are like fully functioning junkies whose bodies ravenously crave something they were only meant to experience on a short term basis.
In addition, they are completely unaware of their addiction. You see, the catch with dopamine is that it requires novelty. This is why viewing two dimensional explicit photos turns into video which evolves into more hardcore video and interactive venues like chat rooms. To continually obtain the high, or in this case become aroused- there must be something new to simulate us. The pervasive availability of pornography provides whatever that ‘new’ thing needs to be and provides it in quantities young adult brains were never meant to handle.
Pair this neurologically altered perspective about sex with the developmental challenges most young adults already face in relating to others and the urgency of a more comprehensive conversation about the effects of pornography is clear. It is a spiritual issue for sure. But it comes with some human consequences that are often overlooked.
Those of us who espouse to be followers of Christ must understand the physical needs of those broken by the grip of pornography in the same way we seek to understand the needs of those who are starving. We must begin to offer food as well as truth to those in need.
As I have begun to dialogue more frequently with young adults about the physical implications of their porn use, I see them in many ways connecting the dots in their own lives. They begin to recognize (many of the first time in their struggle) that there are links between things they are physically experiencing and their engagement in pornography: from depression to their inability to perform with someone else.
Interestingly enough, understanding why they struggle in the way they do often leads to a greater understanding of why they were created in the way they were. The conversation is larger for them. How pornography can potentially alter all aspects of a person is more tangible. Its destructive nature is more clearly defined and they can connect it with their own life. In this process, their perspective of God is potentially aligned a bit.
So I continue to listen to the stories of this generation. I am honored to bear witness to their brokenness and to see them recognize those things that encumber them as they journey. Pornography continues to be a pervasive character in these stories of brokenness.
From one side of the couch,
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