A reader who is a good man writes:

This morning I read your post on the NYT porn-ed article, and a lot of the comments. I thought I would share with you a personal story I recently experienced that’s directly related to the subject matter.

I was working out of a public library a few weeks ago, when at the table right behind me settled two young ladies, one of them slightly older than the other (guessing late 20s/early 30s), let’s call her Ms. O, the other (I think) in her early to mid-20s, to whom I’ll refer as Ms. Y.

Much as I was trying to focus on my work, given their proximity and volume of conversation I could not help overhearing virtually everything they were talking about, and it quickly became clear that they were both state social workers, Ms. O more experienced, mentoring Ms. Y and giving her advice on some of her cases.

At one point, they began talking about one family in Ms. Y’s caseload where, from what I gathered from the conversation, there was a 15-year-old boy involved, and a mother who, from the context, seemed to be single and struggling. The mom had recently caught her son watching the filth online, and was very hurt and distraught, not knowing how to intervene or effectively put a stop to it. This was one of the situations that Ms. Y was unsure how to handle and sought Ms. O’s advice.

Ms. Y was clearly uncomfortable and had a natural sense of shame about discussing the whole matter. Ms. O quickly took over the conversation and started lecturing about how the mother (and implicitly, Ms. Y) needs to realize that “teen boys watching the stuff is absolutely inevitable,” so she needs to “get over it” and give up any pretense of trying to stop it.

Instead, she suggested that Ms. Y have a private conversation (!) with the boy (!!) and “tell him about more respectable sites” (!!!!) so he doesn’t “stumble into the crazier stuff.”

Ms Y immediately made it clear that she was very uncomfortable with the idea of talking to a 15-year-old boy, obviously from a troubled background (since state social services are involved), privately about his p**n use. (Who on earth would blame her?!) She was also flabbergasted at Ms. O’s assumption that she (Ms. Y) would have extensive knowledge about supposedly “respectable” sites. But, despite her protestations and her obvious discomfort with the situation (and likely sympathy for the mother’s pain), Ms. O just got more aggressive, dismissive, and authoritative in her pronouncements. It turned into nothing short of a formal Sexual Revolution indoctrination session.

Rod, it was absolutely awful having to sit there and listen to it, with a sense of creeping dread and despair for both Ms. Y, the rightly suffering mother, and the boy. It reminded me of the scene from Spotlight you quoted recently… “So this is how it happens.” An older social worker leans on a younger one, and everyone looks the other way while a struggling mother’s love and hope for her wayward child is mercilessly quashed, the child is “reassured” that their slavery to this filth is “unavoidable,” and the young social worker loses whatever natural sense of dignity, shame, and propriety she once had, and becomes complicit in the system.

I didn’t know what I could or should do. I had such an overwhelming feeling of helplessness. I finally took a little piece of notepad paper and wrote down the URLs of NCOSE, the National Center on Sexual Exploitation, and X3Watch, one of the filtering/accountability software out there that first put me on the path of healing many years ago when a young priest recommended it to me by name in the confessional (may God reward him amply for it, and I hope more priests follow his lead!).

Then I thought, “I can’t do this. I just don’t have it in me, it’s not my place to intervene, and it won’t do any good anyway…” so I packed up my things and walked away feeling angry and cowardly.

Then, thank God, I suddenly had a certain knowledge that I just could not walk away like this. In one of the most dreadfully awkward moments of my life, I walked back up to their table, and their eyes were fixed on me, obviously realizing that I must have heard everything they said and had something to say about it. The younger one had an expression of curious puzzlement in her eyes. The older’s gaze I can only describe as cold, steely hate.

All I could get out in a shaking voice was, “I’m sorry for interrupting you, but I couldn’t help overhearing some of your conversation. I am 30 years old, and I just wanted to tell you that there is nothing I wish for more than that when I was 15, someone had told me that porn is NOT unavoidable.” I then gave them the piece of paper and told them these resources were personally helpful for me, and they could do with it whatever they wanted. Ms. O thanked me very coldly and curtly, making it clear from her tone and posture that the conversation was over (not that I wanted it to continue myself!).

I have no idea, Rod, what God could, has, or will accomplish with that awkward intervention. I certainly don’t feel like it was my own doing or merit, as I would much rather had walked away and I am convinced that it was only by a thin lifeline that the Holy Spirit enabled (if not made) me to turn back and talk to them. But ever since then I have hoped and prayed that it might provide whatever glimmer of hope for Ms. Y, the mother, and the son, and God willing, work on Ms O’s heart. If nothing else, I don’t think either of them will ever forget the interaction… at least I know I probably never will!

Thanks for bearing with me through my story. It really shook me up and I have been thinking about it almost every day since then. I hope you will say a prayer or two for the people involved!

I have just prayed for them, and for you, thanking God for your bravery. You knew from what Egyptian slavery you were delivered, and you had the guts not to let it happen to somebody else, if you had anything to say about it. You, sir, are an inspiration.

Readers, this is what a brave soul does to fight the power. I hope I have the courage of that young man. I hope you do too. Live not by lies. 

Please forward this to everyone you know. People need the encouragement to stand up and do right.

UPDATE: A reader comments:

I’m a little hesitant to write this, because we are obviously on very different sides of a giant gulf when it comes to familiarity with internet porn, even though I think our perspectives have some considerable overlap, and so to write what I’m about to is to out myself as a pretty contemptible reprobate.

So, for background, there was about a 3 week gap between my exposure to the internet at age 19, in 1995, and my finding of internet porn. That’s about how long it took. And it’s been a significant factor in my life ever since, used for the usual purposes. And I’ve been very internet savvy since, and am very familiar with a lot of the young male internet spaces where this stuff is especially native. That has been my culture since finding the internet. I’m almost certainly addicted to internet porn, although it’s not something I give much thought. My behavior is compulsive, and I experience it as a net negative in my life… but I guess most of the time I just don’t give it much thought.

I’m saying this all to say, having read that Times piece, and having read the above story, the thing that sticks out to me more than anything is that there’s this intense desire by educated liberals to make the story of porn a typical fight between uneducated abstinence minded conservatives versus enlightened, thoughtful, knowledgeable, mildly permissive liberals who can shape the behavior of the next generation by relying on their open-mindedness and earned authority. They sound like the parents who insist they are going to be cool by letting their kids smoke pot upstairs, and that somehow that laxity will be the thing that keeps their kids honest with them and prevents them from moving on the heroin.

From my vantage point, as someone steeped in the young male cultures online that are riddled with all manner of really depraved porn (a lot of the spaces I’m in have guys ranging in age from 20 to 40, and many of these spaces are proximate to somewhat younger online male spaces), this is an incredible act of self-delusion on their part. It’s not the forces of educated permissiveness versus the forces of ignorant abstinence. It’s the forces of ignornance on both sides (and I don’t say that as an insult – to get less ignorant about this stuff mostly means wading in deep, as I have done, but you can’t help but be affected by the process)

It’s just deeply willful blindness. There are young male subcultures, especially, in which this stuff is emeshed. And if you go to the places online, all the ambient local social forces pull in the direction of those cultures, not away from them. The idea that some young guy is going to go on p*rnh*b and then studiously only look at the things that his liberal schoolmarm instructors said were transgressive to conservatives but not to liberals is painfully absurd. I’ve been there. I know those spaces.

This warmed-over, tired gender studies fixation on questions of representation is entirely inadequate and refusing to deal with the core issues. There is a LOT more porn out there than just plastic barbie porn stars flopping around and being jackhammered with unrealistic camera angles and poses. Look, just to be blunt, (and skip the rest of this paragraph if you’re particularly squeamish about vague descriptions of depravity) – the 55th biggest website in America by traffic has couples who text chat with their audience in front of live webcams and then perform live sex acts for tips while still chatting, in real time, with their audience, mostly quite cheerfully, usually from the comfort of their homes. There are ads for this and other real time camming sites on all major porn sites, because it makes tons of money. You can’t miss it. There are also all manner of deeply non-consensual voyeur and exhibitionism videos on the biggest, most mainstream websites, with videos of real young women changing clothes and showering and using the toilet, all filmed with hidden cameras by invasive people in their personal lives. Hundreds of thousands of views. You don’t have to go to dark corners of the internet to see that stuff – it’s on all the biggest sites, and well integrated into the cultures of young men online. There are fairly major sites that host videos of men filming their sleeping partners while the men expose their partners bodies and sexually mess with them, all filmed and uploaded. It’s not going to be on the front page of the biggest sites, but you seriously don’t have to dig around all that far to find these things, and there’s entire subcultures and communities that will help you find them. This is stuff off the top of my head, but I could easily make a list 20 times as long about all manner of things that are out there that would horrify you, that are not at all hard to find, that are not present in that Times piece. And within the circles I’ve spent time in online, the creepy escalation young men experience with porn, as tamer things just get really boring and they turn to more and more ugly stuff, only to be revolted at themselves as their heads clear post orgasm, is well-known.

The idea that the boys interviewed by their instructors in the Times piece were being at all honest about what they’d seen and what they thought is just laughable.

Setting aside very real religious arguments, the real problem with the porn cultures that have come into being online are not about Sex Ed, issues of representation, and bad expectations in young men. I mean, to be fair, those are real issues to a point, but they’re exactly the sort of thing you’d expect someone to say if their only lens was coming from a gender studies program who were incapable of having much empathy for young men and didn’t really know what they were talking about. No, at least judging from my own observations from the young men who have been marinating in this space for a while, the overwhelming problem with online porn culture is that it promotes a truly intense nihilism in young men about bodies and their own sexuality generally. To be blunt, the entire culture of porn online exists to reduce the male orgasm to the status of defecation – a bodily function to be attended to on a regular basis in privacy to give mild physical relief, but something with no particular value or meaning. And female bodies are likewise so reduced along the way. Sex reduces to plumbing – it is entirely disenchanted. It’s worse than depravity – depravity suggests some kind of actual authoritative meaning to transgress against. The long term effect of porn for a lot of the young guys I encounter is just a pervasive numbing meaninglessness, attached to a kind of limp hedonism. They’re adrift, and their own degrading relationship to their own sexuality because of porn is a major factor in that.

If you want to understand the surprising response of young men online to someone like Jordan Peterson, it’s worth understanding that this (along with a lot of other cultural factors young men experience that are intensely nihilistic, like much of online video game culture, and online message board cultures) is a major factor lurking in the background. The way young men are experiencing porn, and what it is doing to them, is leaving a major mark.

You are not a contemptible person. You are a child of God, a human being with dignity, who is enslaved to his passions, and who therefore does contemptible things. You can be free. There are people who will help you find freedom. It is the enemy’s strategy to make you hate yourself, to make you feel worthless. A friend of mine who was sexually abused as a child told me that until her conversion, she felt so worthless that she numbed herself with drugs to escape the shame. That was part of her imprisonment. Freedom is not going to be won easily for you, friend, but it can be won.