Whenever I go to a Christian college to speak, I talk to professors, staffers, and campus ministers about what they’re seeing among the students. Two things always come up: 1) far too many of their students know next to nothing about the Christian faith, and 2) pornography is a massive problem.

At one Christian college I visited over the past few months, a professor said, “For the first time, I’m starting to see it becoming a problem for my female students, not just the male ones.” A campus minister who works with young undergraduates headed for professional ministry told me that every single one of the men he mentors has a porn addiction.

Every. Single. One.

A Catholic priest who ministers on campus said that porn addiction is the biggest problem he deals with in his work. “Nothing else even comes close,” he said. And these are the undergraduates who recognize that it is a problem; many of them don’t see at that way at all.

A lot of Christian parents are totally in denial about what they’re aiding and abetting by providing their kids with smartphones. You know who’s not in denial? The porn superstar James Deen. In this piece from The Atlantic, Conor Friedersdorf takes note of Deen’s concern about pornography and the young. (Warning: there is some graphic description in the piece.). He begins by quoting from this 2012 profile of Deen by Amanda Hess:

Emily was sitting in her fourth-grade classroom when she was first introduced to porn. “These boys were sitting next to me, talking about boobs,” she says. Emily asked one of them what that meant, and “he stared at me like I was crazy.” In school the next day, the boy slipped her a piece of paper with a URL written on it. She caught “like five seconds’ worth of humping” before closing the page.  Now 17, Emily is distributing porn links of her own—this time, to other teenage girls across the United States.

Emily runs a Tumblr blog dedicated to her two obsessions: Twilight and James Deen. Thanks to Deen, Emily is no longer watching porn for the generalized humping. “When I watch his videos, I don’t really pay attention to the sex,” Emily says. “I watch his videos for his reaction. It amazes me.”

Friedersdorf quotes at length from Deen’s recent interviews, nothing that “he now feels there is an ethical dilemma in porn.

On one hand, the industry’s success depends on its being accessible to mass audiences online. On the other hand, Deen is convinced that the accessibility of porn is harming young people.

Here, he quotes Deen:

I’ve had conversations with business partners, the people that run––well, they run a bunch of adult web sites. This guy, he’s a father of two, and we were having a conversation about how I want all adult web sites, I want everything to be behind an age-verification wall. You can’t just say, “Yes, I’m 18”—you actually have to input a credit card, or something, the best you can, to create an 18-and-older environment… And he said––and I agree with him––“As a father I agree with you 100 percent, I would love to do that. As a businessman, I will go out of business in a day.”

Think about that: here is a man who makes his living exploiting young people, enticing them to watch things that he does not want his own children to see. If this were a just and sane society, he would be out of business, or in jail. I am not remotely a libertarian on this stuff.

Friedersdorf:

Just as likely, the industry will instead invest in virtual reality, and the teenagers of 2023 will see pornography that even Deen’s teenage fans could scarcely have imagined.

Insofar as that is a problem, it is not because seeing sex is inherently damaging to young people––for thousands of years, a village’s adults had no bedroom walls for privacy––but because what young people see, when exposed to hard core pornography, resembles real sex only as much as a Jackie Chan sequence resembles a real fist fight. Yet it creates the illusion of reality, then reaches sexually inexperienced porn consumers in a society where there are few graphic but non-pornographic portrayals of sex, and where accessing hard core porn is (properly) legal, but a teenage couple texting naked pictures to each other is a criminal sex offense.

No one would choose anything like that information ecosystem for the sexual acculturation of young people. But technology evolved in a way that made it so, changing the social landscape faster than humans evolved norms to mitigate its flaws. Mercenary concerns are delaying any hedge. The consequences remain to be seen.

Read all of Friedersdorf’s piece.

This society has a death wish. I wish I had some idea how it could be saved. What concerns me most of all right now is the horrifying complicity of conservative, even conservative Christian, parents in the spiritual, moral, and emotional ruin of their children and of their moral ecology because they, the parents, are too damn afraid to say no, my kids will not have a smartphone, I don’t care what they and society think of me.

If this is you, stop and think about what you’re doing! If even a porn star is worried about it, why aren’t you?

I strongly, strongly urge you to buy my friend Andy Crouch’s new book The Tech-Wise Family.  It’s about how and why to reclaim a space for your family from technology. It’s not mostly about sex and technology, but that is the focus of the final chapter. According to data in the book, more than half of teens ages 13-17 seek out porn, and three out of four young adults aged 18-24 do. He writes:

The porn-saturated culture comes to see sex itself as a kind of technological enterprise — to be assisted with various devices and techniques that ensure satisfaction, remove vulnerability and uncertainty, and require neither wisdom nor courage, just knowledge and desire (and knowledge of one’s own desires). The next frontier in porn will be enhanced by virtual reality and robotics, so that devices substitute entirely for other people, allowing for a perfectly controllable experience of solitary ecstasy.

But Crouch cautions:

The truth is that if we build our family’s technological life around trying to keep porn out, we will fail. Pornography saturates our society even if you somehow manage to never click on an “NSFW” (not safe for work) website. … The path to health is not encasing our children in some kind of germ-free sterile environment that they will inevitably try to flee; rather, it is having healthy immune systems that equip us to resist and reject things that do not lead to health.

According to Barna Research, whose data Crouch uses in the book, “the vast majority of teens (79 percent) say they have no one in their life helping them to avoid pornography. And those who do are most likely to say it’s a girlfriend of boyfriend rather than a parent or spiritual advisor.”

Andy Crouch concedes in this chapter that he once had a porn addiction. His wife helped him overcome it. He doesn’t come at this topic from a position of outside judgment, but as a Christian who has struggled personally with it. There is no mere technological fix for this challenge. It has to involve the whole family. I was talking earlier today with a couple of readers who administer a classical Christian school. I mentioned the Friedersdorf piece to them, and said that I really want to help parents realize how serious this situation is regarding kids, porn, and smartphones, “but I don’t want to freak them out.”

“Freak them out,” said one of the men. “They need to be freaked out. That’s the reality we’re dealing with.”

So it is.