U.S. News

07.03.13

Porn Boycott: Pastor Jay Dennis Wants You to Join 1 Million Men

It may seem like an awkward mission for a Baptist pastor, but Jay Dennis is taking on pornography with an Internet campaign urging men to say goodbye to smut—and ‘destroy your porn stashes.’

Pornography will destroy your life. It is as addictive as crack cocaine. And your child’s cellphone can be a tool of Satan.

These are among the boldest of claims from a Florida pastor who has launched a campaign to find 1 million men willing to do what many may find unnecessary, if not unthinkable: quit porn. Cold turkey. Forever.

Baptist Pastor Jay Dennis of the Church of the Mall in Lakeland, Florida, never thought he’d find himself taking sexual addiction classes, he told The Daily Beast. But staff members were approaching him with concerns about pornography in the church: wives who’d caught their husbands, moms worried about their sons. He knew it would be an awkward conversation, taking on pornography as a mission, and he knew he’d face critics who would tell him the church is no place to deal with sexual issues, he said. “But my heart believed this is the very place to deal with it.”

So Dennis launched a glossy website, Join 1 Million Men, where he asks men around the world to add their first names to a wall, pledging to say goodbye to smut. There’s an iPhone app with related scripture, tips, and tools. Videos about how to “destroy your porn stashes.” Testimonials from men who’ve found themselves in the clutches of Satan’s ubiquitous tools. And some pretty jarring claims, like this one:

“I believe as many as 80 percent of men in the church are struggling with viewing pornography,” Dennis says in one video, adding that drastic action may be necessary to truly rid yourself of it. “You may even need to destroy your present computer. I realize that can be an expensive move, but it may be necessary if you are serious about living porn-free.”

Video screenshot

Dennis advocates for a porn-free life in numerous videos on his site.

A brief on Dennis’s quest in the Orlando Sentinel elicited some predictable mocking: “They can pry it from my cold dead hands” and “Supposedly he was going to ask them to take an oath, and raise their right hand, but that became a sticky issue.”

Yuk, yuk. But sex therapists say the pastor has a point, and along with feminists who object to pornography’s objectification of women, Dennis could become the third in an otherwise unlikely trio of interest groups fighting the same scourge.

The pastor’s rationale for excising porn from your life is rooted in Romans 13:14: “Put on the lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lust.” Porn, Dennis says, “is a place your flesh in a moment of weakness will run to for relief or medication from pain or stress.”

It’s also highly addictive and easily accessible, Dennis says. Whether you agree with his theology or not, it’s tough to argue with those two assertions.

“I look at porn like alcohol or gambling or chocolate-chip cookies,” says Rob Weiss, sex therapist and author of a forthcoming book on the Internet’s effect on intimacy, Closer Together, Further Apart. “All of these are pleasurable, arousing, exciting experiences to various degrees to various people. For some people, they will lead to escalation, abuse, and the eventual need for you to say, ‘I can’t do this anymore.’”

The trouble with pornography is it’s available anywhere, at any time. No longer do porn junkies have to shuffle into an adult store or avoid eye contact at the supermarket to buy a Playboy. Now, for anyone who has Internet access or a stocked thumb drive, there it is. That makes it easier and easier for (mostly) men to avoid putting in the work required to maintain a real relationship, with more rewarding intimacy. And it can have a serious social impact, Weiss says.

A recent survey in Japan, which is experiencing a disturbing population decline among young people, found that 36 percent of men between the ages of 19 and 25 said they had “no interest” in sex. The reasons, Weiss says: “People smell funny; they have to be given gifts; they talk too much.”

Pornography is a more reliable alternative. Weiss says he has clients who are 25 years old and have never dated anyone. They tell him, “All I’ve ever done is look at porn.”

“I’ve had people come into my office and say, ‘I’ve quit heroin. I’ve quit cigarettes. But I can’t quit porn.’”

There are consequences for the individual, too. Sex therapists Wendy Maltz and her husband, Larry, wrote the book The Porn Trap in December 2009, a guide to overcoming problems caused by pornography. Among them are porn-induced erectile difficulties and the same kind of slippery slope involved in drug use: it becomes more and more difficult to get aroused with the same kinds of videos and imagery over time. Maltz told The Daily Beast she has seen many clients who say they’re edging closer and closer to “barely legal” and eventually child pornography or increasingly extreme adult images, more violent, more graphic.

“There’s a lot of choking and gagging in mainstream porn now,” Maltz says.

With its intermittent rewards, pornography is powerfully addicting in the same way gambling is, Maltz says. People who play slot machines are excited because they never know when pulling the lever will result in a jackpot. Porn viewers never know what set of images is going to turn them on.

“I’ve had people come into my office and say, ‘I’ve quit heroin. I’ve quit cigarettes. But I can’t quit porn,’” Maltz says.

Pastor Dennis, who has written several books on Christian teachings, says he was first exposed to pornography at age 11 but has never had to struggle with avoiding it. He does remember working on a chapter in one of his books about pornography one night in 2000, when someone dropped a dirty magazine at his doorstep, he said. He has no idea who did it or why.

“Now I’m left wondering, how do I dispose of this?” he said. “If we put it in our trash and the trash man finds it, he’s going to think I’m looking at it.”

Eventually Dennis and his wife ripped the magazine to pieces and drove it to the dump, he said. Now he wants to do more. Nearly 2,000 men in his congregation of 9,000 have pledged never to look at pornography again. The website has dozens of pledges from around the world. Dennis himself is scheduling as many radio interviews as he can.

The most reluctant recipients of his message, he says, are other pastors. They tell Dennis they’re convinced the church just isn’t the right place to talk about sex in general, or they say it’s not necessary—a recent survey found that pastors believe less than 10 percent of Christians view pornography on a regular basis. But Dennis says he thinks there’s another reason he can’t get other churches to get involved with the pledge: some of those pastors are porn junkies, too.

“There are a lot of pastors struggling with it personally,” he said.

Dennis and others remain optimistic they can make a difference, though. The porn industry may be well entrenched on the Internet, but the chorus of critics is growing, from feminists to psychotherapists, says Mary Anne Layden, director of the sexual trauma and psychotherapy program at the University of Pennsylvania. The breadth of opposition shows the wide range of people who are damaged by pornography, she says. And just as taking on Big Tobacco didn’t turn out to be a nutty idea, the time may be ripe for a battle against Big Porn.

Case in point: renewed attempts to enforce the 1996 Military Honor and Decency Act, which bans the sale of pornography from military bases and ships but has been largely ignored since Congress passed it. It’s a small example, Layden says, but one of many small hints of a growing backlash.

What’s next?

“Lawyers need to get involved,” she says. “Sue the porn industry when they produce sexual violence. Hold them accountable.”

As for those already hooked, there are plenty of treatment options, mostly involving therapy. Maltz often surprises her clients by reminding them that they can masturbate without pornography (“They just kind of look at my cross-eyed”), without even thinking about pornographic images. Weiss’s focus is love.