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Why The Benedict Option Is Appealing

When I hear people condemn as cowards those who consider some form of communal separation from mainstream culture because of how degraded the mainstream, I think, “Yeah, you have your head in the sand, Mister.” Consider this report from Britain:

The moment I knew internet pornography had cast its dark shadow over the lives of millions of ordinary British teenagers will live with me for ever.

I was sitting in the smart drama hall of a specialist sports college in the North of England with a fantastic reputation.

Before me were a group of 20 boys and girls, aged 13-14. Largely white, working class children, they were well turned-out, polite, giggly and shy.

As the presenter of a Channel 4 documentary called Porn On The Brain, airing next Monday at 10pm, I’d been invited to sit in on a forward-thinking class led by sex education consultant Jonny Hunt, who is regularly asked into schools to discuss sex and relationships. To establish what these kids knew about sex – including pornography – he had asked the children to write an A-Z list of the sexual terms they knew, no matter how extreme.

Most of these children had just hit puberty and some were clearly still children: wide-eyed, nervous, with high-pitched voices.

More. This is somewhat graphic, but if your imagination was formed, as mine was, in an era in which Playboy and Penthouse was as bad as it got, you need to know this:

But when Jonny pinned their lists on the board, it turned out that the children’s extensive knowledge of porn terms was not only startling, it superseded that of every adult in the room – including the sex education consultant himself.

‘Nugget, what’s that?’ asked Jonny.

‘A nugget is a girl who has no arms or legs and has sex in a porno movie,’ chortled one young, pimply boy, to an outburst of embarrassed laughter from some, and outright revulsion from others.

The adults in attendance were incredulous at the thought that not only did this kind of porn exist, but that a 14-year-old boy may have actually watched it.

But the more mundane answers were just as shocking. For example, the first word every single boy and girl in the group put on their list was ‘anal’.

When questioned, they had all – every child in a class of 20 – seen sodomy acted out in porn videos. I was stunned they even knew about it – I certainly hadn’t heard of it at that age – let alone had watched it and as a result may even have wanted to try it.

One 15-year-old girl said, ‘Boys expect porn sex in real life’. And one boy – to choruses of approval – spoke of his revulsion for pubic hair, which he called a ‘gorilla’.

When Jonny pointed out that pubic hair was normal in real life, the boys scoffed, but some of the girls were angry that the boys’ template of what to expect from real girls had clearly already been set by porn.

By the end of the hour-long class – and three others that followed with other children – I was profoundly saddened by what I had witnessed. While teenage boys will always be fascinated by, and curious about, sex, what’s now considered ‘normal’ by under-18s is an entirely distorted view of intercourse and the way relationships should be conducted.

It seemed as if the children’s entire expectation of sex had been defined by what they see in online porn. The conversation was horrifying enough, yet there was worse to come. 

Read the whole thing, if you can stand it. And if you are a parent in this culture, you had better force yourself to stand it. This is key:

I asked the teenagers: ‘On a scale of one to ten, how likely would you say it is that boys and girls your age are watching porn online?’

The reply was a chorus of tens, nines and one eight.

When I asked the children if there were parental controls on the internet at home, they all said no, their parents trusted them. They all admitted their parents had no idea what they were watching, and would be shocked if they did know.

As I’ve mentioned before, I know a homeschooling family who removed their kids from a good school because they couldn’t stand the way online porn was becoming a thing within the peer culture of their son, who was only 10 or 11 at the time, as I recall.

Total separation is neither desirable nor possible, perhaps — as a friend puts it, “The problem with heading for the hills is that they have Internet access there too” —  but just giving up is intolerable. When well-meaning Christians rationalize giving up by saying that their children need to be “salt and light” to the rest of the school community, that strikes me as a total abdication of parental responsibility to protect and nurture one’s children.

We need a middle way. I am reminded of the conversation I had in 2006 with a Muslim Londoner. She told me that she and her husband were so torn. The culture in their children’s schools was utterly degraded, in pretty much the way described in this report. But the only alternative they could see was putting their children in a school run by Islamic fundamentalists, which, in their view, was just a different kind of poison. What to do? She didn’t know, and it grieved her and her husband.

What do we do? This is not an abstract question.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. He has written and edited for the New York Post, The Dallas Morning News, National Review, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Washington Times, and the Baton Rouge Advocate. Rod’s commentary has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the Weekly Standard, Beliefnet, and Real Simple, among other publications, and he has appeared on NPR, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the BBC. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with his wife Julie and their three children. He has also written four books, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Crunchy Cons, How Dante Can Save Your Life, and The Benedict Option.

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