Some amazing responses to my “Terrible Cost Of Porn” post from this morning. These came in the mail, and I post them with permission:

First off, I want to offer you a profound and heartfelt thank you. This won’t make sense until I offer a little bit of a back story about myself. I am a man in my early-20’s who was raised in a fairly devout Protestant home, attending church every Sunday and Wednesday nights until I was around the age of 15. My family attended this church in the very liberal, atheist Pacific Northwest, and let me say that I learned just about every amoral behavior I could from people I met at church. I had my first encounter with Marijuana in a church parking lot. My friends from youth group turned me on to pornography at the age of 11 (perhaps one of the worst decisions I ever made, but more on that later). These same friends taught me how to swear, catcalled the girls in our youth group, and gave me a pretty good compilation of dirty jokes (I confess, I still enjoy the jokes).

My mom stopped attending the church around the time I turned 14 or 15. She had a falling out with the leaders of the church when she served on the board directing the youth ministry. She had seen what I was learning at youth group and at church and urged a change in course for our youth ministry from one focused on seeming “cool” to one focused on actually imparting the importance of orthodoxy AND orthopraxy. She was laughed off as a hyper-conservative freak (she was raised in the south and was always seen as something of an oddity in our corner of the world). She became so frustrated she left the church and urged me to stop attending youth group. But those were my friends, and I, too, thought she was overreacting. It was just a bit of fun wasn’t it?

My parents divorced when I was 16. I was going through confirmation at the time (a little late), and still saw myself as a committed Christian despite rarely displaying any behavior that would cause anyone else to describe me that way. I’m the oldest child in my family and have always had deeply conservative views on life (again, contradictory to my lifestyle). Around this time, I was volunteering on the Santorum campaign in Washington state. I was scared for my sisters, knowing being raised in single-parent households was bad for emotional development. I was angry and hurt, feeling that my parents had betrayed me by breaking their vow of “to death do us part.” I sought answers and healing for my anger at the church I was still attending. I found none

I yearned for some deep meaning, some sort of way of understanding everything that was going on in my incredibly fucked up brain at the time (pardon the language). The divorce, a fairly debilitating porn addiction (again, more on this later), and multiple failed attempts at relationships (strangely, because the girls were always fearful to commit) had left me feeling empty and unmoored. My parents moved between three different houses/apartments that year, and that didn’t help. But my youth group leaders practiced Moralistic Therapeutic Deism through and through and all they focused on was providing me with some sort of new age, semi-spiritually infused psychological claptrap counseling.

I became so disgusted I began to lose my faith. In fact, I quickly became very hostile to faith and organized religion. I remained deeply conservative but prided myself on being more intelligent than the other suckers. I was “smart enough” to figure out that religion was just to placate the fears of the “stupid people” (yes, I really was this pretentious). I continued to go through confirmation, because I had made a commitment and I don’t break those, but I did say I would not ask for membership in the church when I stood on the stage with my confirmation group. My youth group leader called my mom and asked her if maybe, just maybe, could I just “pretend” to ask for membership? My youth group leader said I was a leader among my peers and that if the others saw me renouncing the church, the others might follow suit. She wasn’t so concerned that I’d lost my faith. She was just concerned that I not LOOK like I lost my faith, because that would be an embarrassment. To the credit of my mother, whom I genuinely believe should be up for canonization shortly, my mom was furious with the youth group leader and told her so in no uncertain terms– despite the fact that I know my leaving the faith broke my mother’s heart deeply.

From about 16 through to November-December 2016 time frame, I lived a life of pretty pure hedonism. I struggled with romantic relationships (I’ve had one successful, long-term one, but even that was clouded by the girl’s inability to commit–I’m unfortunately still pretty madly in love with her). I consumed nearly every drug I could get my hands on, developing a deep dependency on cocaine and nicotine for a time. I continued to watch porn multiple times a day and engage in promiscuous sex–I even went so far as to engage in a threesome. All this while remaining on the face of it a very successful person for my age. I go to a small liberal-arts school in the South, have been awarded a full-ride scholarship for academic excellence, have been elected to campus wide leadership roles, have served as a leader in my fraternity, and am in the top 5% of my class. I say this not to brag, but rather to say that people looked at me as though I was someone to look up to.

I knew, however, that something big was missing. Or at least I began to know around May of 2016. Everything seemed to be going well, I was poised for success, I had great friends, and I had an absolute blast partying every weekend. But I felt empty. In the Spring of 2016, I went with a good friend of mine to his lake house to celebrate his grandfather’s 80th birthday. The grandfather’s best friend was a Catholic priest, whom I ended up drinking some wine with and having a conversation. He told me I wasn’t an atheist–I was just on a vacation from God. I’d be back he said. I laughed in the moment, said I liked the way he put that, and tried to ignore it. But I thought about that phrase often for the next six months.

Not long before the election last year, I stumbled upon to the American Conservative (I was working a little on the Trump campaign and was led to the site through that). I read one of your blog posts. And another. And another. And another. I won’t go too much into detail as I’m already annoyingly rambling, but God spoke to me through your work. Your blog posts made me realize that I needed to return to the faith. I tried some Methodist services, some Presbyterian services, and an Episcopalian service. It all still felt empty. I read one of your posts about orthodox services, and I decided to at least try a Catholic Mass (I was raised with a Southern mother and a British father, so my household had no shortage of anti-Catholic bias). One of my professors whom I have grown very close to is a Catholic, so I asked where he attended Mass. From the first service I attended at the local Cathedral, I knew I had found what I was missing. I will be going through confirmation in the fall. I have given up heavy drinking, stay away from drugs, and have sworn off casual sex.  I feel happier, more fulfilled, and calmer. I have some answers–or at least enough faith to know that if I don’t have the answers, God does. And I have you (and God and my professor) to thank for that. So, sincerely, deeply, thank you.

Notice that in the list of things I don’t do anymore, I did not say that I have given up watching Porn. That’s because I tried. In fact, I try multiple times a week. I pray about it. I have sought spiritual mentorship on it. I easily gave up cocaine, nicotine, binge drinking, and casual sex. But I cannot give up pornography. Well, I give it up multiple times a week actually. But it never sticks. I think it is evil, soulless, empty, and always leaves me feeling that way. But I still find it incredibly difficult to stay away. The Bible and spiritual guidance have helped me to lessen my dependence on it, certainly. But I cannot rid my life of it. It is a looming presence despite my deep knowledge that it could destroy my life and any hopes I have of a fulfilling, intimate relationship. I have told my mother to keep my young sisters (in early High School and Middle School) off technology as much as possible, and I know that if I am ever blessed enough to have children of my own, I will do my utmost to keep them far, far away from porn. I have even begun to tell my friends of how corrosive it is (even just physically–huge cause of young E.D.). I have been shocked how many of my friends, even the liberal atheists, have said they absolutely agree–that they, too, feel porn is empty and sad but that they just can’t stay away.

I apologize for the length and rambling-nature of this email. But I had a lot to thank you for and I didn’t think the weight of it would come across unless I gave a little back story. I also wanted to give you yet another example of how disgustingly corrosive pornography is–and how even people who have no relationship with God can sense something is wrong with the stuff, but just can’t give it up.

Thanks for your time and all you do. I remain a faithful reader. I think that same Professor who is helping me convert has probably grown annoyed with how frequently I have sent him one of your posts. But it is truly exciting when someone writes what I think and I learn that I’m not merely a lone crazy person worrying about societal disintegration.

Here’s another letter:

I am very grateful to God for your highlighting of the pornography epidemic (not too strong a word), and in light of your most recent article I wanted to share some of my own experiences in the hope that it would enrich your understanding and perhaps enlighten some of your readers.

To quote your piece:

“For Sue’s surgery isn’t in some inner-city borough where kids may have been brutalised or come from cultures where such practices are commonly used as contraception. Sue works in the leafy heart of Hampshire.”

And also this:

“You think that being “nice” people, and maybe putting your kids in Christian school, is going to protect them from this? You’re dreaming.”

I want to state, without intending to brag, I am not one of the so-called “fail-sons” and I am not one of the great mass of unemployed young, white men living in their parents basement and spending inordinate amounts of time playing video games and watching porn. Too often the porn epidemic has been associated with these men. It goes so much deeper than that, as this passage also made clear:

“At a conservative Christian college not long ago, a campus minister told me that every single young man he works with, helping them to prepare for seminary after graduation, is addicted to pornography (meaning that they use it compulsively, and find it impossible to stop, even though they want to). Sixteen young men — conservative, churchgoing men who want to serve God and others as pastors — caught in that trap. You think it can’t happen to your kids?”

I grew up in a stable, two-parent household, went to a great college and then to a prestigious law school. I am actually found paying work as an attorney and have been responsible even for some jury trials. I was raised to be successful, do the right things, check all of the right boxes…and I have struggled with porn greatly. It has hurt me personally and, I regret to say, has done awful harm to my wife, who I love dearly. This is not a “lower class” problem, not a problem for slackers or someone else’s kids; this is everyone’s problem. Being “nice” and “moral” in a vague sense was not enough. Porn attacked and wreaked its havoc on me regardless.

Like I said, I grew up in a stable, two-parent household, and my parents worked hard to raise me well, but I lacked any sort of Christian formation from them. I had to go to youth groups and later campus ministry groups to get that, and praise be to God that I did. But, when the temptation arose, porn was everywhere, and despite my resume and good intentions, I lacked the spiritual discipline to resist.

I was a ’90s kid, so I was not even part of this current, smartphone-inundated generation. Only Christian formation done early and often at the family level can guard young men today.

I am happy to say that, despite continued struggles, I am making progress and experiencing more freedom because I have recently been involved in tight, intentional Christian community. A brother at my local church who has experienced victory over this same demon has prayed with me and helped institute a habit of prayer and fasting for the most stressful and vulnerable days. The spiritual power of this has already made a world of difference.

Countercultural and tightly-knit community to inculcate these spiritual disciplines has been my saving grace in this struggle. In order words, I can tell you from personal experience that something that sounds suspiciously like the Benedict Option (hmmm…) is needed to beat this demon back.

Thank you again for your heart for this issue. I hope this letter was not too long, but your attention to this and your work on the Benedict Option has touched me deeply.

Thank you, brothers. I will update this post throughout the day, as people send me their own stories. If you are willing to let me post it here, please say so. Anonymity assured.

UPDATE: A reader:

Sounds like I’ve had a similar trajectory to your first letter-writer, though I didn’t let myself go quite as much as he did. But I myself had been finding myself at a crossroads in my life when I stumbled upon your blog. (For reference of where I’m coming from generationally, I’ll turn 28 this summer.)

Leading into the past couple years, I’d felt the ambient culture driving my belief in God out over time — we’re talking a decade-plus process here. It wasn’t as much my lifestyle — I’ve never lived the stereotypical hard-partier lifestyle or anything like that. I just browsed the web incessantly from the age of 12 or so on, and stumbled upon porn and things like LiveLeak (or whatever the equivalent was back then). In other words, I — like many my age — was exposed to the worst of humanity while still in middle school. In any case, it wore at me over the years, and I gradually came to instinctively realize I’d have to choose between my faith and my “wordly” interests.

Then the Republican primary came and Trump got nominated. And a lot of older folks I knew threw out their principles to support him. This threw me into a major time of questioning, and it was while I tried to sort out my feelings (and figure out the hell was going on) that stumbled upon this blog. As with the letter-writer, seeing you not only discuss the problems that I was noticing in society, but actually articulate and discuss their long-term historical/civilizational sources, was breathtaking. It seriously ended up being what one might call a “red-pill” moment for me.

Anyway, reading this blog — and, perhaps even more so, reading the stories like that of your first reader above — has made me realize that I need to change. I think the faith had slipped because I wasn’t living it. (My parents were/are non-fundamentalist evangelicals, but we didn’t go to church that much from adolescence on.) At any rate, I’ve still watched porn every now and then (just being honest), and part of the reason I hadn’t cut it off yet is because A) I’m pretty (though admittedly not totally) sure I’m not addicted yet, and B) I’d assumed I’d be able to just stop if I ever got into a serious relationship. After reading this story and others on here, I’m thinking I should stop ASAP before it’s too late.

Anyway, I figured I’d give you a bit of my story, and let you know (as I’m sure many others have before) that your writing is making a real difference. Thanks!

PS. One thing to note here: One reason my troubles happened is because my parents put a computer in my bedroom at one point (which they retrospectively recognize as having been a major mistake, needless to say). Once they figured out what was going on, they put a program called NetNanny on my system, hoping it would block out the explicit sites. But I, being the technically savvy kid I was, figured out how to shut the program down. They weren’t exactly sure what to do at that point.

Granted, maybe nobody really believes they can give their kid internet access, whether it be through computers or smartphones, and just rely on a filter anymore, but if anyone IS still under that illusion, lose it.

UPDATE.2: Reader B.

What I wanted to write to you about is porn. I had an addiction and I beat it, but it wasn’t easy. Porn nearly ate up my life. I am also a successful person. Graduate degree. Great job for good pay. Lots of responsibility and trust. A good marriage. From the outside I was a complete success. But it was a sham. I was trapped in a massive online porn addiction that was so bad that I was downloading the stuff at work because they had higher speed access than what I had at home. This was back in the day before all of the monitoring and filtering that goes on today. Still, if I had gotten caught, I would have been humiliated and fired, but I couldn’t control myself. Like one of the other guys said, I quit porn a bunch of times. Then I went right back to it. I knew it was wrecking me but I couldn’t beat it.

I got addicted to porn when I was away from the Church. I was raised Catholic but drifted away in college and stayed away until I was thirty-four. I bought into the worldly lie that porn was okay and could actually enhance your sex life with our wife. What BS! Instead it entraps you and ruins your relationships. Fortunately, for me, God had other plans. My wife and I had a child and that rocked my world. Then my wife said she wanted to go back to church. That rocked me even harder. I was a committed atheist at the time but I started doing some research  and ended up reading Mere Christianity. Lewis’ book set me back on the right path. I took a roundabout way back to Catholicism that led me through Non-Denominational, Episcopal, and then Baptist churches. Going to the Baptist church proved to be one of the best things that ever happened to me. Why? Because they showed the movie Fireproof one night at the church. That movie rocked me again. It made me realize what  mess I had become. I was just like Caleb in the movie. That night I confessed my porn addiction to my wife and started a years long struggle to beat it.

Needless to say, I mostly failed. I would quit for a while and then I would be alone in the house and the porn would start calling and pretty soon I would succumb. I was continuously ashamed and embarrassed by my constant failure. I had a daughter to raise now and was disgusted by the example I was setting for her. By that time I had returned to the Catholic faith. I confessed my addition over and over again in the confessional but still got no relief. Then God entered the picture again in the form of another book: Be A Man by Father Larry Richards. A sermon from Fr. Larry is like a punch in the mouth. He gives it to you straight up with no coddling or excuses. He was exactly what I needed. My problem all along was believing that I was strong enough to beat my addiction on my own. If that were true, I wouldn’t have the addiction in the first place. Fr. Larry taught me that you have to bring Jesus into the fight and let him win it for you. From that day on I gave my addiction problem to Jesus every day in prayer and asked him to break it on his cross. He did. It didn’t happen right away but it did happen within a couple of months. (Jesus wants to make sure your serious so he keeps you waiting on him for a while.) That was more than five years ago and I have been free of it since.

Do I still get tempted? Of course I do. But I can walk away from it now and pray a few Our Fathers and Hail Marys and the temptation passes. Just making the sign of the cross is a pretty potent weapon. Do that a couple of times and you can feel the strength flow into you. Porn, in my opinion, is really a spiritual problem and can only be defeated with the right weapons. Too many men are trying to fight a spiritual battle with earthly tools like psychology. I’m sorry, but that’s like bringing a water pistol to a gunfight. You’ll need more than that if you want to win.

Beating porn was my first experience and winning a battle with myself and my bad behavior. I’ve been fighting other battles since then using the same tactics. None of them have been easy. I did a lot of damage to my wife during my selfish years and it’s going to take time to fix that. But at least now I know what is possible: Anything…with God.

Porn is a cancer on our world. It is literally killing our culture.  Anyone who says otherwise has their head in the sand. Satan brandishes it as one of his most powerful and effective weapons. The story of these young women attests to its power. We need to wake up and do something about it.

UPDATE.3: This is not from a reader, but from a lawyer in deep Red America, talking about cases he has worked on. I have slightly edited this to protect his privacy:

There was one where 12 to 14 year old boys were having girls as young as four perform sex acts. I am also the father of little girls. With the things I see in my line of work, I am ready to head for the hills. One of these boys was using pornography as early as nine years old. It will probably be of no surprise to you it was found on his iPad.

I mean, things are bad. Things are very bad. A couple of years ago a colleague represented an individual on child pornography charges. The kinds of things that he was into would make you weep. And this was a pretty well-respected, successful member of his community.

UPDATE.4: Anonymous writes:

You are so right about this. I’m sure you’re sick of hearing it and would rather be wrong, but I hope I can offer some insight on what helped me and may help others.

I come from a mostly good, middle to upper middle class family. Practicing Catholics, stable marriage. I stumbled upon porn at about 15, but found myself drawn much more to chatting because I was lonely and desperate for connection. The real problem was that I didn’t know how to make friends and form deep connections with people, but talking online in chat rooms (in the mid 90’s) was more what I wanted.

Having had a conversion at 17, I became more involved in church and discerned a call to the seminary. For about a year and a half I was clean, but still had no idea of how to form real friendships, and my God was really myself. Later, my sponsor would tell me that it seemed like when I was praying to God, I was really just talking to myself. When my grandfather died, I returned to porn and chatting to fill the void. Mind you, during all this time I was considered a model seminarian: orthodox, pious, fervent. Seven days after my grandfather died, I met up with a woman I had met online for anonymous sex. I was ashamed and sad, but did it again the next day.

This began a 9 month bender of lies, avoidance, “borrowing” cars and money to feed my habit, and growing desperation and loneliness. Finally, I met up with someone who turned out later to be underage, and the police got involved. This was when the first wave of the Boston Globe exposes were coming out, and I had planned to kill myself out of shame. I felt I was just another pervert who deserved death and would disgrace the church. Fortunately a holy priest convinced me to halt my plan.

I spent the next year picking up the pieces of my life and dreams and believed that my life was over at the age of 20. Eventually, I avoided prison time, and was forgiven by the father of the girl I had abused. I served 90 days in the workhouse, did 3 years probation, and completed a treatment program. Now I’m married and putting this further behind me every day.

Why all the backstory? The key to all this, and to rebuilding the faith I had practiced so poorly, was a twelve-step group for sex addiction. They aren’t for everyone, and can vary in quality, but I’ve received more solid, unintentionally orthodox formation from these groups and the agnostics, new-agers, pseudo-Buddhists, and atheists than many priests. My current sponsor is a pseudo-Buddhist and sent me a quote from St Theresa of Avila about trusting God this week to remind me who is in control. I urge you to let some of those who are struggling with porn addiction to give one of the twelve step fellowships for sex addiction a try.

Another reader:

Porn made me impotent.

I have been married nearly 25 years, and for most of the first 20 years ours was a “dead bedroom.” Despite the fact we managed to have some kids we would go months in between intimacy. On at least one occasion we went a full year. Many people would have left the relationship but I determined I was going to stay for the sake of my kids, and I wasn’t going to cheat because that could lead to all kinds of complications (like divorce and not being able to see my kids).

But porn – porn was available to satiate the sex drive. At first, prior to the internet being what it is today, it was VHS tapes and then DVDs. But the internet just made it all so much easier. She would go to sleep, I would to my thing, viola, everyone was happy – or at least happy enough to keep on keeping on.

And at first I didn’t notice. But then around a decade ago it dawned on me – I wasn’t exactly standing at full attention, if you get my drift. Those rare sexual encounters with my wife became busts because I wasn’t up to the job (Viagra soon solved that problem). But porn never required potency. And I never thought about it; over the course of a decade I gradually made myself impotent, and I don’t need detailed scientific surveys to tell you it was because I substituted images on a screen for actual human contact.

Mine is a story with a happy ending, sort of. My wife, entering middle age, has seen a huge change in her libido, and we now have the sex life most married couples have right after they get hitched. But I still have my little problem – thanks to Pfizer it’s not too much of an issue, but still.

And I have rediscovered what most know, that the real thing with an actual human being is, on every level, so much better. But it is more work, and if you don’t have a regular partner, going out and courting someone just so you might wind up in the sack? Good god, just dial up PornHub, you’ve reduced your time and effort by 99.9 percent.

I do still look at porn. But it leaves me cold most of the time. I feel like I went in one end of the addiction and came out the other side. I still feel the compulsion but almost never the thrill. And I think I see it for what it is – digital heroin, maybe, pure temptation. It changes behaviors.

Or, put another way – why do we think the rate of teen pregnancy is down, why do we think fewer teens say they’re having sex? Internet porn means they don’t have to. So we say, look at these positive social indicators, porn isn’t a problem! But what’s inside that box, what are the behaviors they are learning (“But they just need to be taught correct behaviors!” your progressives will say, oblivious to the fact that many parents don’t touch this with a 10-foot pole and no, the state is not going to take over the role. So the likes of Teen Vogue, with its anal sex tips for kids still in high school, has assumed the role).

I laugh at those who would argue that porn isn’t a problem but that misogyny remains a pervasive one, and who fail to see the bright red line between the two. Keep dreaming. But meanwhile, that digital heroin is ruining lives. The problem is, having let the genie out of the bottle, there’s no way to get it back in. This is where we are now – this is who we are. Heaven help us.

Another reader:

Thanks for raising the porn issue — it’s hugely important, and I’m continually surprised at how many parents don’t even have it on their radar.

I’m part of the generation that had an analog childhood and a digital adulthood. My first exposure to porn was similar to what some of your other readers describe (pages torn from lingerie mags, the occasional Playboy, maybe a Porky’s video cassette on a sleepover if we could sneak one out of the local rental shop), but I later discovered internet porn and I couldn’t stop even though I hated it and I hated myself for using it.

Several months ago, I confessed to my wife my digital infidelity with porn, which I used on and off for more than a decade of marriage. By the grace of God (and I mean that seriously), I was somehow spared from the worst — my preferences stayed relatively “vanilla” and I never got sucked too far down the rabbit hole. But I know what’s down there, and I’m terrified for my sons.

Now we have our devices fairly well locked down (for my own benefit as well as the kids’) through both hardware and software/apps. We have a router-level filter, so the neighbor kids and other friends are filtered when they’re connected to our home wi-fi (though not on cell data), and our mobile devices are filtered wherever they go. It’s the friends whose parents don’t care, or haven’t thought about it, that terrifies me. I know my son can’t access porn sites at home, but I also know it’s out there on the playgrounds and at the sleepovers and on the unfiltered computers.

My wife mentioned my porn confession to her sister, who was surprised — not that I used porn, but that I confessed it, that I was taking steps to stop it, that my wife was so hurt by it. She and her husband use porn regularly, together and individually, and they don’t see anything wrong with it. I know their devices aren’t filtered, I wonder what their kids have seen, and it makes me nervous. Imagine that — nervous to send my kids to their own cousins’ house!

Tim Challies (a Reformed blogger) has been banging this drum for a long time and doing a fine job of it. His Porn-Free Family Plan is a very helpful resource, and I share it as often as I can. “Please Don’t Give Them Porn for Christmas” is another good post.