I had a disturbing conversation last week. It was with a man who told me, rather shamelessly, that he travels to southeast Asia to visit brothels. Let that sink in. He’s an American man, a fairly typical middle-aged guy, who travels across the country to buy sex from children enslaved in brothels. He could be someone you passed on the street today.
What sort of person would do that? More than you might think. I told this man that the girls he visited in these brothels were most likely slaves, kept there against their will. I explained that I’ve actually visited villages in northern Thailand where these slaves come from: their families are told the children will work a good job in the city and send money home, then the children are never heard from again. They become the forced prostitutes that this man uses. To all this news he responded with a defensive self-pity, “I’m lonely.” What sort of person would do that? A desperately lonely person.
But that loneliness doesn’t instantly translate into the heinous acts this man was engaged in. There’s a pattern that goes on for a while before that behavior goes to such extremes. As this article by Benjamin Nolot says, “What kind of culture is producing so many men who are eager to buy women and children for sex, contributing to a $32 billion per year human trafficking industry? I believe the answer is the kind of culture that produces and perpetuates a $100 billion per year pornography industry.” According to Philip Zimbardo’s Ted Talk, the porn industry is the fastest growing industry in America: For every 400 movies made in Hollywood, there are 11,000 pornographic films. The more that men consume this material, the more they develop an “arousal addiction” which actually re-wires their brains. And this has social implications: This arousal addiction actually damages the work and social skills men would otherwise be developing.
In other words, pornography use reinforces poor social skills. Loneliness begets loneliness. Who’s consuming this material? Mostly lonely men. Who’s traveling across the globe for sex tourism? Mostly lonely men who’ve learned to feed their loneliness with the false-intimacy of explicit images.
I believe that dedication to truth is a spiritual discipline which can transform our lives. Here’s a case where it can transform the world. If men who struggle with the temptation to use porn reminded themselves of these facts, they’d find the temptation easier to resist. If all such men recognized the total falsehood of any “intimacy” they receive from either porn or prostitutes, the sex industry might just collapse. That’s a lot to ask, but it’s not too much to pray for.
I want to tell that lonely man more of the truth about pornography and human trafficking. I want to tell him that his loneliness points to a real need for intimacy that can’t be met in any of the places he’s looked for it. I want to tell him that the real way out of his loneliness is to give up his perversions and seek real relationships. I want to tell that man he needs to repent. I was too angry to say it when the conversation took place last week, but today I would tell him that if he repents he can be forgiven for those sins. And I want to tell that lonely man that there is a community of other forgiven sinners out there who would welcome him, show him the love he truly needs, and help him free the slaves he used to abuse. Lord have mercy.