Wired for Intimacy

I recently read the book Wired for Intimacy: How Pornography Hijacks the Male Brain by William Struthers (IVP, 2009). In this post, I’ve picked one chapter to summarize and then critiqued the book as a whole. The chapter I chose to summarize is Chapter Three.

Summarization of Chapter Three

Chapter three is titled “The Consequences of Porn”. Struthers starts the chapter with the already proven assertion that viewing porn is a sin. He highlights that this is a sin “we may think to no one knows…but God is there with us.”[1] Like any sin, it can become stronger the more it occurs, and there may be seasons in which it remains hidden, but “it will eventually come to the light.”[2] Struthers points out early in the chapter that if this sin is left unchecked, it can lead to other difficulties:

“just look at the headlines. The sexual activities of celebrities and politicians are routinely exposed in the news. Sexual violence against women and children is also frequently reported…The problems that result range from practical social consequences (loss of job, reputation and finances) to deeper emotional, relational and spiritual problems.”[3]

Struthers then spends some pages writing about a few reasons why men view porn and psychological patterns that may be contributing factors to their porn problem. He later hits on a focus of the book, saying “The simplest explanation for why men view pornography is they are driven to seek out sexual intimacy.”[4] He then writes about some research suggesting deeper connections between men seeking porn and prostitution and the need for sexual intimacy, power, control, etc.

He then again focuses on the consequences of porn, specifically the “cognitive consequences”.[5] He states, “Time spent with porn prevents the user from engaging in real relationships with real people who can better meet their needs.”[6] He later talks about how porn use is like an attitude-changing drug, why men may resort to this drug and

“pornography’s ability to dominate the person’s life and behaviors. They become increasingly preoccupied with acquiring, viewing and acting out to the point that it consumes their thought life. Spending time on sexual pursuits becomes the norm, not the exception for their daily activities.”[7]

Struthers then writes about “cognitive traps” men fall into when confronted with their problem, such as entitlement, omniscience, altruism, deception, blaming/victimization, pride, objectification, distraction, and revenge.[8] He then spends a little time talking about “side effects of regular pornography use”, such as

“Increased callousness toward women, decreased satisfaction with sexual relationships, diminished attitude of love toward existing partners, dissatisfaction with one’s own body, an inability to control sexual arousal, shame about one’s own sexuality, feeling separated from God, an increase in deviant sexual fantasies, irritability, a preoccupation with acquiring additional sexually explicit material, increased interpersonal conflict, paranoia about being caught as well as lack of inhibition in other aspects of their life, such as alcohol and drug use or gambling.”[9]

He then writes about other reasons men may view porn, the appeals of it, and the underlying issues that could result in the manifestation of porn viewing.

For the rest of the chapter, Struthers engages with defining and clarifying the technical psychological terms (specifically applicable to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association or DSM-IV for short) that are a part of the debate of whether viewing porn is an addiction, compulsion, etc. He first spends several pages discussing what the terms “addiction”, “use” “abuse”, and “dependency” mean and how they all play a role in the discussion. He then builds a case for the use of the term “porn addiction” by comparing it to the criteria used for “substance abuse” and “substance dependency”. In the last handful of pages of the chapter, he does point out there are levels of degrees to the problem of porn use. He mentions several men instead of having “porn addictions” may have “porn compulsivity” and/or “porn impulsiveness”.

Struthers later concludes the chapter with a purpose statement: “As men gain a greater understanding of why they struggle with porn, the emphasis on redeeming and rewiring themselves neurologically should be informed by these embodied facts.”[10]

Critique of the Book as a Whole

Overall, I think the book is extremely helpful in tackling the subject of (Christian) men’s battle with pornography. Some of the main points Struthers makes are that we live in a culture soaked in sex, porn robs men of intimacy, and it affects the male brain in ways in which those who have been affected by its addictive control need to be refurbished for sanctification.

Right out the gate, he first hits the reader hard with his opinion that nearly everything about porn is a sin (in which I agree), in case anyone was unclear. He makes the argument “pornography dishonors the image of God in an individual by treating him or her as a sexual object to be consumed directly or indirectly.”[11] Furthermore, “Pornography takes human sexuality out of its natural context – intimacy between two human beings – and makes it a product to be bought and sold.”[12] I would add to his argument by explicitly pointing out viewing pornography is an obvious example of lust Jesus talks about in the sermon on the mount (Matthew 5:27-30), and it defies the sanctity of sex that can only be had in the context of marriage (Gen 2:23-34; Song of Songs; Exodus 20:13; Proverbs 5:15-20; Hebrews 13:4). I would be surprised to find out if porn actors and actresses were married to each other and only exclusively performed with each other. Even then, they are allowing other people in on the act by performing before a camera and (presumably) a crew.

With Struthers titling chapter one “Saturated with Porn” he alludes to the claim he later makes that porn “is an industry that has saturated our culture and extends around the world.”[13] I find this point agreeable as well, especially with his addition of the estimated financial size of the worldwide sex industry being around $57 billion.[14] He does acknowledge there is debate over what is included in the “sex industry”, but I think the point is clear: sex is all over our culture today. There is sex in movies, television shows, television commercials, magazines, novels, Super Bowl Halftime Shows, Grammy performances, social media, billboards, strip clubs, prostitution, and of course on the internet. The worst part of it is culture accepts it! Struthers points out:

“Many Christians find themselves in a cultural battle to protect both themselves and their children from this onslaught of sexual permissiveness. Pornography and the wider sex industry have brazenly walked through the front doors of the mass media into our televisions, computers and cell phones. See how long you can go without viewing or hearing something that has clear ties to the sex industry. The message is clear: Sex doesn’t just sell – it is the motivation for living.”[15]

I absolutely concur with his viewpoint here. I have trouble even watching movies and shows with my wife without worrying about what I am going to be exposed to.

The obvious connection here is culture both desensitizes men to sex and drives us to want it. Thus, porn becomes an understandably easy next step. Already having established porn as a sin, Struthers makes the point that a basic need for men is intimacy. Struthers defines intimacy as “to be known and to know, to be close, affirmed, loved; all the human needs.”[16] He says, and I agree, intimacy belongs between two people and with God (Gen 2:24; Matthew 19:5-6). Porn, however, “corrupts the ability to be intimate. It pulls consumers and producers in with the promise of intimacy, but fails to deliver the connection between two human beings…”[17] and also between God and self. I can attest seeing nudity and sex on a screen is completely artificial compared to the intimacy I have with my wife and the intimacy I have with my Heavenly Father. Struthers adds,

“The experience of sexual intimacy is properly intended between a husband and wife in a maturing healthy relationship. When pornography is acted upon, sexual technique replaces sexual intimacy. In the absence of a meaningful, relational context, nearly all of the elements of truly meaningful sexual intimacy are absent. Pornography teaches its students to focus on the physiology of sexual sensations and not on the relationships for which those sensations are initiated.”[18]

More of this is touched on in chapter three, as written above. Struthers then spends a good deal of the book writing about how men fall into this trap of false intimacy and the ways they excuse themselves to others for staying in the pit of the trap and all the guilt and shame that comes with this sin. One of the ways men excuse themselves is by relating to the first point that our heavily sexually saturated culture makes porn seem normal. Struthers responds to this excuse with one of my favorite lines in the book:

“Just because something is a cultural norm does not make it morally right or wrong, good or evil. For the Christian, the moral standing of an action is governed by Scripture and principles that are in line with the character of God.”[19]

Struthers spends an entire chapter writing about how porn affects the brain, in chapter four, “Your Brain on Porn”. It seems Struthers ties together the point of men being wired for intimacy and how porn affects the wiring of our brains as the two main points and thrusts of the book. This chapter may be the most helpful to some who would like more detail on how porn negatively affects men other than the relational and spiritual aspects perhaps most of us are used to hearing. However, as a seminary student and someone who is not well versed in biology or anatomy, a lot of this chapter, unfortunately, went over my head. Frankly, I am a simple man of strong faith so the view that porn is lust and disparages the image of God is enough persuasion for me to conclude it is terrible and we should avoid it. There were, however, some helpful and yet not surprising key points Struthers makes to support the broader point of porn being dreadful for your brain. For example, however cliché it may seem to people, Struthers does say,

“The male brain is built like an ideal pornography receiver, wired to be on the alert for these images of nakedness. The male brain and our conscious visual experience is the internal monitor where we perceive them. The images of sexuality grab our attention, jumping out and hypnotizing a man like an HD television among a sea of standard televisions.”[20]

Having this validated is partly comforting. Knowing this as a man who struggles with wandering eyes from time to time, I am glad to know it is not purely because of my fleshly nature or a past sin struggle. It is also partly because that is the way my brain works. This does not diminish my struggle to not cross over into lust or stunt my efforts to make a covenant with my eyes (like Job did in the Bible), but it gives me some explanatory relief that a bit of it is inherent to my brain.

The last point of the male need for “rewiring and sanctification”[21] is rightly placed in the last chapter of the book. After spending nearly the entire book discussing how the problem came about, what the problem is, how to define it, how it affects men, and why it is considered a problem, Struthers concludes with how to fix the problem. I have often read books that are similarly formatted in that they spend most of the book talking about the problem instead of the solution, and I have often thought “I get it! It is a problem. I bought this book because I already know it is a problem, but I want you to tell me what the solution is! Why do I have to read sixty to ninety percent of the book before I finally get to the point where the author is finally offering help?” I can happily say those thoughts did not cross my mind when reading this book. Struthers would probably argue that Part One of the book is the problem and Part Two of the book is the solution, but I think the rest of Part Two is really just leading up to the solution. It is all helpful but “rewiring and sanctification” is the solution to any sin pattern. From my experience with this sin, there are so many practical things a man can do to help, but what has worked for me was eventually taking my focus off trying to fix the problem and allowing the Holy Spirit to sanctify me and to set my focus more on walking by the Spirit. In other words, I think it is (and was for me) valuable to do what you can to break the rituals and patterns that often lead to the sin and to try to remove the temptation of the sin, but there comes a point when that is not enough and turning your focus on being holy is much more effective than focusing on avoiding sin. I would say Struthers agrees in his concluding chapter and doing all the practical stuff is the “rewiring” and focusing on being holy and walking by the Spirit is “sanctification”. Struthers gives his practical ideas and then intertwines the spiritual alongside it, such as confession, repentance, accountability, mentorship, and finally sanctification. He concludes this point and wraps up the book nicely by saying:

“By understanding our purpose in this life and by demonstrating and experiencing God’s love, we are conformed to the image of Christ. We see the image of God in each person, we are able to appreciate women without consuming them, and we move beyond objectification to real relationship, presence and intimacy.

The process of sanctification is an addiction to holiness, a compulsive fixation on Christ and an impulsive pattern of compassion, virtue and love. This is what we are wired for. This is what we are meant for.”

I think this is a strong theological conclusion to his book. It both reminds men what a Godly life is all about (especially related to the topic at hand) and exhorts men to continue in sanctification, which are things even men who do not have a porn problem can relate to and strive for.

[1] William Struthers, How Pornography Hijacks the Male Brain, (IVP, 2009), 87.

[2] Ibid, 87.

[3] Ibid, 88.

[4] Ibid, 92.

[5] Ibid, 98.

[6] Ibid, 99.

[7] Ibid, 100.

[8] Ibid, 106.

[9] Ibid, 106.

[10] Ibid, 126.

[11] Ibid, 2.

[12] Ibid, 2.

[13] Ibid, 1.

[14] Ibid, 4.

[15] Ibid, 6.

[16] Ibid, 49.

[17] Ibid, 50.

[18] Ibid, 74.

[19] Ibid, 67.

[20] Ibid, 129.

[21] Ibid, 316.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Create a website or blog at WordPress.com

%d bloggers like this: