This was my Senior Paper for my Master’s Degree at Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary. It was presented in the Spring of 2010. I believe this paper calls attention to one of the most looming threats in our society, offering practical tools for fighting this evil force. I hope you find this paper enlightening and motivating. I commend all of those who are on the front-lines, both sounding the alarm and working to “set captives free”. May we all play our part.
In this paper we begin with the call to protect children from the significant dangers of pornography. We examine how children are exposed to pornography, where it is available, the detrimental effects it can have on children, and why they are often not adequately protected by adults. Looking in depth at Proverbs 5, we learn about a force similar to pornography; the adulteress. We consider the author’s intentions and how we too can help young people choose a beneficial path. Lastly, we consider practical ways that adults can protect children from pornography, concluding with an invitation to defend children and change the world for their sake.
Protecting Children from the Path of Pornography
John F Kennedy once said “Children are the world’s most valuable resource and its best hope for the future” (1963). Children indeed have immeasurable worth. Along with all of humanity, young people are created in the image of God and mirror Divine characteristics such as purity, playfulness, and tenderness. They believe with “childlike faith”. Children follow the examples of their caretakers and internalize the messages they hear in the world around them. While these characteristics allow children to be to learn and to grow, they also leave children vulnerable. Children’s virtue is easily assaulted, victimizing those who are not protected.
In our society, we have learned to protect children in many areas. The government has established mandated reporting laws, labor laws, and requires car seats for young children. It seems that when we detect a serious danger to children, action is taken to protect them. Today, a new danger is present and we must take it as seriously as we do other threats to children. Technology has brought pornography into our children’s lives and it has never in history been so easily accessed by them.
Pornography is dehumanizing material that negatively affects children in all areas of their personhood: sexually, relationally, spiritually, and psychologically. For these reasons, we as adults have the moral obligation to protect children from exposure to pornography and its damaging effects. If we do not learn how to fight this battle with and for our children, there will be many casualties.
It may seem overwhelming for adults to wade through all of the pertinent information and take appropriate action. This paper’s purpose is to provide a thought-provoking and hopeful resource for those who are uninformed, confused, or weighed down by this topic. To begin, we will examine the dangers of pornography and consider reasons some parents fail to protect children from it. Then we will pursue truth on this matter through the study of Proverbs 5. The paper will conclude with practical application, where we will consider steps adults can take to protect children from the threats of pornography.
The Dangers of Pornography
Definitions. Pornography will be defined in this paper as “the portrayal of explicit sexual subject matter for the purposes of sexual excitement and erotic satisfaction” (www.wikipedia.org). This may include “softcore” pornography, which refers to people semi-clothed and nude posing in provocative positions, and “hardcore” pornography, which denotes intercourse and other graphic depictions of sex. The term children will refer to people below 18 years of age.
Prevalence. The ever-changing number of websites available on the internet is reported upwards of 20 billion (www.worldwidewebsize.com, 2010), about 2 billion of which are pornographic. The United States has more than 20 times more pornographic websites than any other country and leads in “adult” video production, yet the top 10 countries searching for the word “porn” are outside of the US (Family Safe Media, 2006). Family Safe Media (2006) reports that revenues from pornography in the United States surpass revenues of NBC, CBS, and ABC combined.
Exposure. There is some disagreement about the average age children are first exposed to pornography; some say 11 years old (Internet Filter Review, 2004), while others say 8 years old (Jackson, 2004). A Canadian study found that 90% of boys and 70% of girls, ages 13 to 14, reported viewing sexually explicit material (Thompson, 2007), showing that it is an interest for both sexes.
While some children purposefully look for pornography, others come across it accidentally. A national survey reported that the age group experiencing the most unwanted contact with pornography was children ages 13 to 17 (Wolak, 2007). The same study showed that 8% of girls and 33% of boys admitted to intentionally viewing pornographic sites within a year from that date.
Internet. Children born between the mid 1990’s to the later 2000’s, are referred to as the Net Generation (www.wikipedia.com). Young people are so connected to the internet that they have become defined by it. Internet use among American teens ages 12 to 17 is growing rapidly from 73% in 2000, to 87% in 2004, to 93% in 2007 (Lenhart & Madden, 2007). Considering natural sexual development, it is no surprise that 12 to 17 year-olds view pornography on the internet more than any other age group (Internet Filter Review, 2004). Ninety percent of children between ages 8 to 16 have seen pornography on the internet (London School of Economics, 2002), and 80% of 15 to 17 year-olds have seen hardcore pornography multiple times (Family Safe Media, 2007).
Email. Pornography is often sent via email. One study surveying 1000 children ages 7 to 18, found that 80% of them who were email users daily received inappropriate spam and 21% opened the emails (Symantec, 2003). Forty-seven percent said the emails contained links to pornographic sites. Even when children are not seeking out pornography online, pornography is finding them.
Electronic devices. There are many technological devices that allow children to access pornography through an internet connection: computers, cell phones, PDAs, Palm Pilots, iPhones, iPods, gaming systems (such as the Play Station 2 & 3, the Wii, and Xbox 360), and portable gaming devices (such as the PSP and Nintendo DS). Knight’s Quest Ministries, one relevant resource for parents, shares that, “Any new technology is going to be exploited by the porn industry, and the adult industry and by predators within a week or two of its release” (Knights’ Quest, 2009).
Cell phones. Cell phones are another significant risk when it comes to children accessing pornography. Ownership of cell phones among children has increased by 68% in the last 5 years (MRI, 2009) and the porn industry is working to increase availability of sexual content through this medium (Caplan, 2008). “Sexting” is another phenomenon that threatens children, in which people (often peers) take sensual pictures of themselves and send them to others. A survey of 1300 teenagers found that 20% have participated in Sexting, despite many of them acknowledging that it may be illegal (Feyerick & Steffan, 2009), since they are underage.
Other forms. Pornography is available through magazines, videos, telephones, television, and music. Sexual scenes on television have increased, nearly doubling from 1998 to 2005 (Kaiser Family, 2005). Sensuality in music videos is further explained when we consider that some are directed by famous pornography directors (Levin & Kilbourne, 2008). “Podgasms” offer audio recordings of sexual activity (Knight’s Quest).
Effects of Pornography Exposure
Sexual development. In normal sexual development, children gain a gradual interest in sexuality (Gil & Johnson, 1993). However, in working with over-sexualized children and children who molest others, Gil (1993) reports, “It is also apparent that children’s interest or preoccupation with sexuality can be influenced…[by] exposure to explicit or inappropriate sexual material (p. 101). Contact with pornography can cause sexual obsession and premature interest in sex.
Sexual messages. Pornography teaches children destructive and demoralizing messages about sex. The sex portrayed in pornography focuses on selfish consumption, rather than intimate connection (Levin & Kilbourne, 2008). While children may think they are learning the facts about sex, they are actually becoming more ignorant about it. If a curious child searches for sex and finds bestiality, sexual violence, or another version or perversion of sexuality, it will provide an answer that is far from the truth.
Sexual experiences. Viewing pornography may lead children to earlier sexual experiences. In a study of 437 adults, those who had internet access between ages 12 to 17 participated in sexual intercourse at younger ages than their peers without internet access, with boys engaging in oral sex at younger ages. (Kraus & Russell, 2008). Also, associations have been found between engaging in anal intercourse and use of pornography by young people (Flood, 2009).
Pornography also affects the worldviews of children, as they learn to objectify others. One message of pornography is that people are sexual objects, made for the sole purpose of sexually satisfying the drives and desires of others. This is contrary to the Biblical perspective that people are sexual beings, worthy of love, care, and intimacy.
In the world of pornography, where people are viewed as commodities, physical appearance and body parts are the focus of interaction and the basis by which value is measured (York & LaRue, 2002). For example, the more pornography a man consumes, the more he refers to women using sexual words (Paul, 2004), viewing women as “seductive and frivolous sex objects” (Lavine, Sweeney, & Wagner, 1999, p. 32). This places value on women that is contingent on their sexual abilities rather than their innate worth and contribution to the world.
Future relationships.According to Levin & Kilbourne (2008), some of the prices our children are paying for being over-sexualized are equating relational value with sex appeal, pursuing an unrealistic body type as their standard of attractiveness, and observing a fake sexuality that lacks intimacy, emotions, or consequences. In studies of adult men who view pornography, it has been found that they are less satisfied with the affection, sexual experience, and attractiveness of their partner as a result (Zillmann & Bryant, 1988). When children view pornography and learn to objectify others, an unstable foundation is laid for relationships.
Rape. Pornography use can lead to acceptance of rape myths. In the Journal of Interpersonal Violence, it was reported that the women who were most accepting of rape myths and who experienced more rape fantasies were the ones who were exposed to pornography as children (Corne, Briere, & Esses, 1992). Statistics also suggest an association between pornography and rape. It is reported that when the pornography laws were loosened in South Australia, rape occurrences rose by 284 %, while in Queensland, Australia, where the pornography laws were more restrictive, rape only increased 23% in the same period of time (Court, 1984).
Experts say the increase in accessibility to sexually graphic imagery is related to a 20% increase in sex offenses committed by children between 2004 and 2007 (This is London, 2007). A study of 160 male juvenile sex offenders found that 89% used pornography (Becker & Stein, 1991). Also, children who molest their peers report being most stimulated by soap operas, music videos, and movies portraying both violence and sex (Gil & Johnson, 1993). It is important not to assume a necessarily causal relationship within these findings because some children will view pornography and not respond with criminal behavior. However, pornography usage does result in attitudes that can lead to crimes against others (York & LaRue, 2002).
Sexual violence. A case that exemplifies the association between childhood exposure to pornography and violence is the true story of Ted Bundy. By self-report, Bundy was a normal child from a healthy Christian family. He was first exposed to pornography around age 12, beginning a lifelong interest in sexual violence. Throughout his life he raped and murdered 28 women and girls. The day before his execution Bundy shared his views on pornography, reporting that all of the men he has met in prison who committed violent crimes were addicted to pornography. He added that “The FBI’s own study on serial homicide shows that the most common interest among serial killers is pornography” (Dobson, 1995). He went on to emphasize the importance of protecting children from exposure to this material, based on his own unfortunate experience.
Addiction. Pornography is a highly addictive material that has been compared to hard drugs such as cocaine (Colson, 2000) and heroin (Brody, 2000). Pornography exposure creates a biochemical high from the release of powerful chemicals such as endorphins, serotonin, adrenaline, and dopamine (Haney, 2006). This is one important reason why pornography can be seen as a drug (Haney, 2006; Carnes, Delmonico, Griffin, & Moriarity, 2007).
Shockingly, when children view pornography, it can take only 7 days for an addiction to take root (Knights’ Quest). Due to children’s lack of brain development in the prefrontal cortex, they are also more susceptible to poor decision-making and can choose to view pornography repeatedly despite the adverse consequences (Health and Justice for Youth Campaign, n.d.).
Certain children may be more vulnerable to addiction than others. According to Flores (2004), “Experiences related to early developmental failures leave certain individuals with vulnerabilities that enhance addictive-type behaviors and these behaviors are misguided attempts at self-repair” (p. 7). Also, the disassociation that is present with sexual addicts later in life is traced back to experiences in early childhood (Matousek, 1995). While such childhood environmental and biological factors influence sexual addiction, anyone can form an addiction to pornography, when exposed to it frequently and under vulnerable circumstances (Ullman, 2008). Culture, styles of parenting used in the home, personality, and emotional state are other variables that affect the influence of pornography on an individual (Malamuth et al., 2000).
Reasons for Inadequate Protection
There is a wide range of reasons why parents and caregivers are not preventing exposure to pornography as well as they could. Caregivers may be scared of technology, yet feel helpless due to lack of knowledge. In one study, teens reported that their parents were concerned about the sexual materials available to them, yet most of the parents did not change their methods (Thompson, 2007). Another reason could be that they do not believe viewing pornography is morally wrong. Thirty-eight percent of adults believe it is morally acceptable to view pornography (Barna Research Group, 2003).
Parents may not be aware that their children are accessing pornography. Looking at statistics by Harris Interactive-McAfee (2008) on the secrecy of teenagers regarding online activity reveals some alarming trends: 63% reported knowing how to cover-up their internet activity; 32% prevented discovery of their online activity by deleting their browser history; 43% reported minimizing or exiting their internet browser upon hearing their parent’s footsteps; When filtering or blocking software was installed, 11% reported disabling the controls; and 16% had secret e-mail accounts. Even some children as young as kindergarteners have internet activity that their parents are not aware of (Rochester Institute of Technology, 2008).
In some cases, parents are not only protecting their children poorly but are modeling poorly by bringing pornography into the home. This may be due to parental addiction. In homes with a sexually addicted parent it is reported that sometimes children discovered pornography on the computer, overheard phone sex conversations, observed their parent chatting or having online interactive sex, or were even exposed to parental masturbation and pornographic images online (Schneider & Weiss, 2001). Also, a standard of unhealthy behavior can be set in the home when a parent is sexually addicted.
We know that some parents are diligently protecting their children and we commend them for that. For those who are not, this section is not meant to bring shame, only enlightenment. We now turn to Proverbs 5 to gain further insight.
Exegesis of Proverbs 5
Proverbs 5 is relevant to our topic in many ways. The entire chapter reads as follows:
My son, pay attention to my wisdom, turn your ear to my words of insight, that you may maintain discretion and your lips may preserve knowledge. For the lips of the adulterous woman drip honey, and her speech is smoother than oil; but in the end she is bitter as wormwood, sharp as a double-edged sword. Her feet go down to death; her steps lead straight to the grave. She gives no thought to the way of life; her paths wander aimlessly, but she does not know it. Now then, my sons, listen to me; do not turn aside from what I say. Keep to a path far from her, do not go near the door of her house, lest you lose your honor to others and your years to one who is cruel, lest strangers feast on your wealth and your toil enrich the house of another. At the end of your life you will groan, when your flesh and body are spent. You will say, “How I hated discipline! How my heart spurned correction! I would not obey my teachers or turn my ear to my instructors. And I was soon in serious trouble in the assembly of God’s people.” Drink water from your own cistern, running water from your own well. Should your springs overflow in the streets, your streams of water in the public squares? Let them be yours alone, never to be shared with strangers. May your fountain be blessed, and may you rejoice in the wife of your youth. A loving doe, a graceful deer—may her breasts satisfy you always, may you ever be intoxicated with her love. Why, my son, be intoxicated with another man’s wife? Why embrace the bosom of a wayward woman? For your ways are in full view of the LORD, and he examines all your paths. The evil deeds of the wicked ensnare them; the cords of their sins hold them fast. For lack of discipline they will die, led astray by their own great folly (Proverbs 5:1-23).
Background and Context
Authorship. As we consider how the above Scripture fits our topic, an appropriate starting point is authorship. Proverbs is often attributed to being written by King Solomon but this is only partially true for two reasons. First, there are other authors mentioned within Proverbs and second, proverbs were orally transmitted so they could not have been written by the hand of Solomon (Longman III, 2006). Proverbs 1:1, 10:1, and 25:1 are superscribed (introduced) as “proverbs of Solomon”, whereas other authors are credited elsewhere in the book. For example, Proverbs 30:1 is superscribed “the sayings of Agur son of Jakeh”, 31:1 credits King Lemuel, and Proverbs 22:17 refers to “the sayings of the wise”. While Solomon’s influence is likely part of Proverbs, there is no proof that he was the author of the book (Perdue, 2000; Longman III, 2006).
Genre. Proverbs is part of the Hebrew Old Testament but the book also has connections with Ancient Near Eastern and Egyptian wisdom literature (Longman III, 2006). First Kings reads, “Solomon’s wisdom was greater than the wisdom of all the men of the East, and greater than all the wisdom of Egypt” (1 Kings 4:30), showing that the wisdom genre was a part of these prominent cultures. The primary distinction between their wisdom literature and Old Testament wisdom was the belief in a personal God who desires His people to display His character (Goldberg, as cited in Harris, 1980). It is difficult to determine the date the final work of Proverbs was written (Dermot, 1982).
The genre of the book of Proverbs is proverb, wisdom, and sapiential. Sapiential writings are defined as “literature whose primary concern is human life and nature, and the individual’s evaluation of them based on experience and reason” (Dermot, 1982, p. 7). Wisdom literature is not meant to provide absolute truths but to cause the reader to think, engaging them critically in discovering what is right therein, so they can personally apply the message (Perdue, 2000). Other Wisdom literature is Ecclesiastes, Job, and some Psalms (Richards, 1985).
Purpose. The general intended audience may have been children in the household or in the royal house, or students (Perdue, 2000). Proverbs 1:4 states the purpose of the book as “for giving prudence to the simple, knowledge and discretion to the young.” Passing wisdom on to the younger generation is the foundational purpose of the book.
Structure. Various commentaries divide Proverbs into sections based on themes and authorship. Our passage is generally placed within the “Introductory Instructions” (Murphy, 1998, p. xxxi), or “Extended Discourses on Wisdom” (Longman III, 2006, p. 37), composed of chapters 1-9. In contrast to other sections of Proverbs, this introductory portion is primarily a collection of ten speeches or lectures, in which a father addresses his son (Pemberton, 2005). Pemberton notes that all of these lectures are persuasive, containing a “…proposition, proof, and epilogue…”, half of which also “…caution the reader about the seductive rhetoric of the opposition…” (Pemberton, 2005, p. 64). For example, a continuous theme in Proverbs 1-9 is the contrasting female personifications of Wisdom and Folly (Goldberg in Harris, 1980). Seen as coinciding with Folly is the adulteress, a significant character in Proverbs 5-7.
King Solomon. Proverbs 5 is said to be written by Solomon, whose history is relevant to our topic. Solomon was given superior wisdom from God (1 Kgs 3:12-14). This wisdom brought him fame and he spoke thousands of proverbs (1 Kgs 4:29-32, 34). Solomon married Pharaoh’s daughter yet “loved many foreign women” (1 Kgs 11:1), despite God’s prohibitions against this, and eventually had “seven hundred wives of royal birth and three hundred concubines” (1 Kgs 11:3). These “wives led him astray” to other gods (1 Kgs 11:3-4), causing the true God to become angry, saying He would take away Solomon’s kingdom and He brought an enemy against Solomon (1 Kgs 11:9-14). If Solomon were the initial source of Proverbs 5, this back-story sheds great light on the warnings in the chapter against the adulteress. If these proverbs originated before he amassed these wives, then we see his epic failure to follow his own advice, leading him down the chapter’s predicted path of ruin. If this proverb was spoken afterwards, then he articulates it from his own bitter experience, explaining the author’s strong phrasing.
Introduction. Whoever the author was, it is clear from our pericope that his protective instincts were intact. He knew there were certain paths that lead to life and others to destruction. With this knowledge, the author wrote bluntly about one of the strongest forces in the world, the lure of sexual temptation. Proverbs 5 starts with an address to, “my son” (5:1). In Proverbs 4:3, the author explains how, when he was a boy, his father came and shared wisdom with him, demonstrating that this is a likely a father talking with his son. He calls his son to attention (5:1), so that he can clearly hear the warning to follow. He then explains the reason why he wants his son to listen; to “maintain discretion” and “preserve knowledge” (5:2). This statement reveals that the father is looking out for his son’s best interest, not his own.
The strange woman. After this compelling introduction, the author presents his son with the reality of a certain future temptation: the “adulteress woman” (5:3). The adulteress woman is also referred to as the “Strange Woman” in other versions, because the word for her in Hebrew is the verb zuwr (Strong’s H2114), meaning “be a stranger.” According to the Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, “…the basic thought is of non-acquaintance or non-relatedness” (Wood, 1980, p. 248). This Strange Woman can be a stranger, foreigner, or prostitute (Blue Letter Bible, 2010). This word is seen throughout the Old Testament, occurring 77 times; six times in Proverbs. According to Harris, “…the harlot, who is given prominence in this section, represents all sin…[and she] is held up as the opposite of personified righteousness” (Douglas & Tenney, 1987, p. 830). Whether the Strange Woman represents all sin or just adultery, she is considered a deadly threat.
A trap. Verses 3-4 explain the imminent trap. The adulterous woman, whose lips “drip honey” and whose “speech is smoother than oil” (5:3), will be alluring and mesmerizing. She will know exactly what to say to lure in the young man, deceiving him to believe that a night with her will be worthwhile. The word but in verse 4 disproves that idea, explaining the ending point for the one who chooses to give in, who will eventually find that what he thought was sweet was actually “bitter as wormwood” and “sharp as a double-edged sword” (5:4). Wormwood (la’anah in Hebrew) was an intensely bitter plant (Easton, 1897); a night with the adulteress will quickly lead to disgust. It is important to note that the author did not argue that the adulterous woman was unattractive or that sex with her wouldn’t feel good. The point is that the pleasure is momentary and pain ensues afterwards, leading to “death” (5:5). Proverbs 5:6 explains the sad mindset of the woman. She is oblivious to her own paths, which “wander aimlessly” (5:6). She does not know what she is missing, nor does she comprehend how lost she is.
Paths. Then, the father calls attention to his sons (plural), rather than son (singular) (5:7). What follows is so important, it deserves a larger audience, hence the warning “…listen to me; do not turn aside from what I say” (5:7). He then highlights the best strategy to flee this very real temptation: “Keep to a path far from her…[and] do not go near the door of her house” (5:8). In keeping to another path, his sons will be focused elsewhere, rather than walking closer and closer to that in which they know they will indulge. This strongly resembles the author’s call in 4:26: “Make level paths for your feet and take only ways that are firm”. Next, the author reiterates the ramifications of not staying on the right path, which include losing honor and even years of life (5:9). Though the Strange Woman appears wonderful, she is really cruel. When she stabs her victim in the back, she will twist the knife.
This brings us to examine another important aspect of this passage, which is the theme of the path, occurring in 5:6, 5:8, and later in 5:21 (as paths). Path in the singular is orah in Hebrew (Strong’s H734) and this word occurs 58 times in the Old Testament, 19 of which are in Proverbs. In the context of this passage, orah means way. Hamilton writes that this word is generally “…used in a figurative way, describing the way to life or to death…the path of life corresponds with the life of integrity [and] God’s own path [while] the path of evil [is] a false path” (Harris, 1980, p. 71). Paths in the plural is the word ma’gal (Strong’s H4570), which refers to an entrenchment or track (Blue Letter Bible, 2010). What begins as a choice becomes a lifestyle.
The future. The author then further expounds on the consequences of the false path, adding to the list the loss of wealth (5:10). Verse 11 presents a grim view of the end of life, which is filled with groaning and anguish. The phrase “when your flesh and body are spent” (5:11) attests to the physical consequences of their choices, which result from years of giving up their bodies to that which destroys. A devastating vision is created of a man on his deathbed, filled with regret, a sentiment again reflected in verse 12 when the author predicts how they will yell at themselves for making such poor choices. Referring to the heart in this verse speaks to the reality that evil actions come from deep within, a belief previously mentioned in 4:23: “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” These choices were not just about actions, but about motivations.
The author ends this dreadful prediction by noting the effect it will have on the community. Being “…in serious trouble in the assembly of God’s people” (5:14) reveals the interconnection between the people. They will be held accountable to others and likely embarrassed, making this another sex scandal of their time.
Healthy sexuality. At a point in the story when the audience would have been captivated with fear, and doubting God’s reasons for even creating sexuality, the author turns the conversation towards a case for healthy sexuality. Using water metaphors, he directs his listeners “Drink water from your own cistern, running water from your own well” (5:15). This statement is clearly referring to sexuality and resembles other imagery in the Song of Solomon where Solomon writes, “…drink your fill, O lovers” (5:1).
Expounding on this metaphor in Proverbs 5:16, he asks the rhetorical question, “Should your springs overflow in the streets, your streams of water in the public squares?” To explain the significance of water in this passage, Harris writes, “Because of its scarcity in Palestine, water is much appreciated there…absence of water was very serious” (Douglas & Tenney, 1987, p. 1057). They relied on rain to supply water to springs and fountains, and cisterns were a necessity for water storage (Douglas & Tenney, 1987). This explains the high value the author places on this water that need not be wasted but should be enjoyed. In this passage, “…the cistern represents the son’s wife, while the water symbolizes the sexual satisfaction she is capable of supplying” (Chisholm, 2000, p. 399). The author highlights that this sexual enjoyment with his wife will be for him alone.
Proverbs 5:15-19 highlights the intoxicating nature of sexuality within marriage. In verse 18, the author shares the secret of a blessed sexuality saying, “…may you rejoice in the wife of your youth”. He uses other metaphors of a doe and a deer (sounding like popular musical lyrics). Chisholm paraphrases this, as if the author is saying “My prayer is that your wife will be a sexually potent source of pleasure who, with her affection and charm, will make mating enjoyable” (Chisholm, 2000, p. 408). The author paints the picture of a much different reality than what was previously described. In this marital relationship, he describes the possibilities of having a loving and graceful wife, with breasts that satisfy, and an intoxicating love. It is as if he is saying, “Don’t go for the cheap thrill, invest in what satisfies”.
Infidelity. In verse 20, when he rhetorically asks why the son (singular) would be intoxicated with another man’s wife, embracing her bosom, there is no talk of satisfaction. This starkly contrasts with the good path, the one that ends in sexual passion and fulfillment. Hubbard writes, “When this kind of companionship is available at home, is it not sheer stupidity to seek it in the arms of a person whose name, values, and habits of life are foreign to you?” (Hubbard, 1989, p. 94).
God’s will. To further promote this path of life, the author adds, “For your ways are in full view of the LORD, and he examines all your paths” (5:21). This is the first time God’s will is mentioned. The author has described two paths, both with contrasting endpoints, and although the audience has a choice of direction, he reminds them that their choice is not a secret; God is watching.
Bondage and death. The author concludes with a solemn reiteration that evil is a trap. This is the clearest verse about the iron grip that sin can have on a person, as “…the cords of their sins hold them fast” (5:22). The father has presented the way of wisdom, but sadly for those who choose the other path, “For lack of discipline they will die, led astray by their own great folly” (5:23). This death may or may not refer to a bodily one but this entire chapter provides warnings of many other kinds of death and loss. There are the deaths of expectations, purpose, honor, trust, and integrity. There are the losses of money, time, relationships, sexual enjoyment and blessing, intimacy, and freedom. Looking at these many potential losses it is certain that their lack of discipline could lead them to death on many levels.
Call to warn. The value the author places in his warning is essential to our understanding of the passage. He is willing to speak bluntly about difficult topics. His example is one we are obliged to follow, lest we lose our children to the societal dangers that threaten them, some of which are sexual. The call to warn our children is for all of us: parents, counselors, ministers, youth pastors, teachers, and everyone else in the community. Some education may need to take place so that we all understand the threats involved, but protecting the younger generation is worth the effort.
Children’s sexuality. We must also realize that children are sexual and will curiously look for an outlet for their sexuality. Of the text in question, Chisholm explains, “The father is no platonic idealist; he recognizes his son’s sexual urges” (Chisholm, 2000, p. 409). We too must be willing to acknowledge the sexuality of our children and speak honestly with them concerning appropriate directions for their desires. We can also learn from the author’s approach by seeking to guide children’s morality through presenting valid arguments and maintaining a realistic perspective (Chisholm, 2000).
Literal interpretation. One way we can interpret this passage is literally taking it to be addressing adultery or sexual temptation. Although prostitution is not a temptation to most children, pornography is similar to having a whore in the closet, taking a person through the same process described in Proverbs 5. The temptation appears enjoyable or interesting but leads to death in many areas.For children, there is a death of innocence and their view of humanity is warped, not to mention all of the effects described previously. We can warn our children that pursuing adulteresses in all forms, whether in person or on a computer screen, will lead to severe natural consequences. On the positive side, it is important to go into the same detail with healthy marital sexuality and the joys that come with it. Though this speaks of a future reality, we can cast a vision of the goodness to come for those who wait.
Figurative interpretation. Another way to understand this passage is that it generally refers to all temptation and sin. We can instruct children that when they are enticed, they can exercise wisdom, reminding themselves that it may look good or feel pleasurable but that it will result in pain and unnecessary shame. We can share with them the long-term benefits of resisting temptations and not allowing sin to master them.
Life paths. We can also see from this passage that there are two paths in life: one associated with wisdom that results in wonderful benefits and one associated with foolishness, which ends in destructive consequences. There is a God-ordained path for our lives and then there is a path that will take us away from God’s will. The good path includes joy and wisdom. The bad path leads to wastefulness, despair, and regret, hurting both the person and the community. Teaching children about the positive and negative consequences of their actions means instructing them in the Biblical law of sowing and reaping (Gal 6:7-8).
The author of Proverbs 5 must have known how hard it is to resist the adulteress when she is standing before you. Keeping boundaries is a key component of many recovery plans. If someone knows they have a weakness to alcohol, it is wise for them to avoid bars. If someone knows they have little self-control in the presence of sweets, it is foolish to walk down the ice cream aisle. Similarly, Proverbs 5 teaches us to avoid the vicinity of the adulteress. More importantly, it urges us to stay focused on a better, more rewarding path. In a world that has many over-sexualized and dangerous paths, we must be on guard and remember that our “…enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Pet. 5:8). He cannot have our children.
The purpose of this final section is to explore many ways to practically protect children from the adulteress of pornography. Let us adopt the courage of the author of Proverbs and face this challenging subject head-on.
Just as the author of Proverbs knew the territory the children needed to avoid, we too must begin this journey by educating ourselves. In other words, let us pursue wisdom. The author shared from his own knowledge, saying, “…pay attention to my wisdom, listen well to my words of insight” (5:1, emphasis mine). We cannot effectively protect children without knowing what we are protecting them from. There are many online resources and printed forms that can aid adults in protecting children. Reading this paper is a great starting point and we recommend browsing the books in the References section as well. The call to seek out factual information is for parents as well as influential community leaders.
Technology. One pertinent area of study is the realm of technology. While it may be impossible to research every emerging form of technology, it is essential to understand the devices children have access to. We can study how these devices work, whether or not they are internet-accessible, and how they could be potentially manipulated to provide a path to pornography. As new technologies emerge this will be a continuous task (Knight’s Quest). It is also important to learn about technology designed to protect internet users from sexually explicit materials. There are diverse programs and services available, some of which block materials while others just record screen shots or histories of what is accessed.
The right tools. Finding the right tools may require research: checking reviews, asking others what they use, looking for updates after installation, and testing whether or not the tool actually works (Freeman-Longo, 2000). If we can maneuver around a program, a technologically savvy child can likely do so as well (Freeman-Longo, 2000). A word of caution: we must be careful that as we look for ways to protect children, we must know our own threshold for temptation so that we do not go down those paths ourselves.
Creating safety. Cell phones are another device that can be made safe. The National Coalition for the Protection of Children and Families is a wonderful resource that provides detailed information on the appropriate use of cell phones. For example, their site provides a list of cell phone companies and the services they offer to protect children from pornography and other inappropriate material. There are also programs available for the iPhone and iPod Touch that help limit content (Safe Eyes) or email which sites are accessed to outside parties (Covenant Eyes). These are examples of available resources and it is important for each individual to research the technology that is most pertinent for their family.
Children. It may appear self-evident but another area of study is our children. Becoming aware of our children’s strengths, weaknesses, developmental stage, and susceptibility to addiction, will help us customize our protection plan. Examples of this include determining how much detail to discuss with them and understanding their degree of interest in sexual matters. It is also important to know what, if any, pornographic materials they have seen and what kinds of technology they can access in other settings.
One of the greatest strengths of the author of Proverbs was his ability to communicate clearly and talking with children is foundational to protecting them.
Defining choices. Proverbs 5 provides wonderful examples for how to define and communicate children’s choices. We too can present them with choices, using understandable language. It is also important to explain the detailed dimensions of each path, preparing children for what they will see, hear, and experience, so they are not blindsided when these warnings become reality. This discussion includes artistic persuasion, weighing out the benefits of the two paths. Teaching children that their choices will eventually evolve into a lifestyle is another helpful tactic.
Teaching. All adults of influence in children’s lives are teachers. We can teach children about self-respect, respecting others, and about the values and beliefs of the family. One lesson that’s important for children to understand is that when Proverbs says “for your ways are in full view of the LORD, and he examines all your paths” (5:21) this does not mean they need to walk on eggshells to please Him. On the contrary, lessons that “God is love” (1 John 4:8), is on their side (Romans 8:31), has wonderful plans for their life (Jeremiah 29:11), and wants obedience so that they “might always prosper and be kept alive” (Deuteronomy 6:24) will provide them with a strong spiritual foundation. Instructing children and even role-playing with them on how to set personal limits with friends and others when pornographic material is presented to them is important (Cloud & Townsend, 1998). The hope in teaching children about the possible paths they can take is that when they grow older they will not turn away from them (Proverbs 22:6).
Promoting sexuality. While Proverbs 5 leans heavily on the consequences of poor sexual choices, it also clearly promotes sexuality within a marital context. Using positive words like blessed, satisfy, rejoice, and intoxicated, presents sex as a pleasure-filled and joyous occasion. Openness with children in this way further explains the benefits of the good path. Instead of focusing only on what we are against, this gives us an opportunity to promote what we are for.
There are many resources available on when and how to talk to children about sex. Richardson and Schuster (2003) recommend that instead of waiting for kids to ask about sex it is “…better to decide what you would like your kids to learn and when, and if they haven’t asked by then, teach them” (p. 45). Learning about sexual matters from parents will reduce some curiosity and may decrease a desire to search elsewhere.
Guilt and shame. Proverbs 5 is devoid of shameful messages. The author does not condemn his audience for desiring what is forbidden nor does he threaten them with exclusion. Our children will likely want to look at pornography and will likely do so. Guilt and shame messages are a mistake (Cloud & Townsend, 1998) and can heighten the mystery of what is forbidden, leading children down the very path we want them to avoid (Gil, 1993). Prostitute and porn star Veronica Vera, who was raised in a strict Catholic home explains it this way, “Guilt is a tremendous aphrodisiac” (Matousek, 1995, p. 181).
When children see pornography, an alternative approach is to use it as a teachable moment, and an opportunity to practice moral reasoning (Richardson & Schuster, 2003), even after the fact. Pastors and parents alike may want to emphasize the sinfulness of viewing pornography, but a more effective approach is teaching children the law of sowing and reaping.
Analogous language. Proverbs 5 skillfully presents powerful analogies. Honey, oil, wormwood, and a sword are metaphors that spoke volumes to the original readers. We too can creatively craft age-appropriate analogies when discussing pornography with children. One might share with a younger child, for example, that pornography and its consequences are like munching on chocolate-chip cookies and chugging down ice-cold milk, only to find that the cookies are as stale as cardboard and the milk is spoiled. What initially looked so amazing now makes you sick. For a teenager, a metaphor for marital sex could be waiting 16 years to finally earn a driver’s license. The anticipation builds, and then celebration ensues. New and wonderful freedoms are experienced. The two paths can be likened to walking down a dark alley in a bad neighborhood at night versus strolling barefoot down a sunny beach. One brings anxiety, the other peace. Movie or media-related metaphors may be powerful as well.
Parenting styles. The author of Proverbs seemed to understand his influence on his audience, telling them “…do not turn aside from what I say” (5:7). Based on this approach, it is important for parents to realize that the ways they parent their children influence the child’s behavior regarding pornography.Rosen studied the affects of parenting styles on children’s choices on MySpace to view sensual poses of others, display such poses of themselves, and click on links to porn sites (DeAngelis, 2007). Rosen found that for the parents who monitored their children’s computer use with authoritarian (control with low warmth) and authoritative (control with higher warmth) parenting styles, the children were “…more likely than indulgent or neglectful ones to limit their youngsters’ use of MySpace, for example by keeping tabs on their children’s MySpace pages and requiring them to keep the computer in family rooms” (DeAngelis, 2007, p 50). The children whose parents proactively approached their Internet use reported viewing less of the risqué content than those whose parents did not set up these kinds of controls.
Boundaries. Another important aspect of parenting is creating boundaries for children so that they can learn how to take responsibility for their own choices and selves (Cloud & Townsend, 1998). Children do not naturally know the right path to take (Proverbs 5:8) so parents must guide them. Carnes (2007), a leading specialist in sexual addiction, states “Parents need to protect their children…and to respectfully help children learn to put limits on their own behavior…” so that they can eventually have healthy boundaries as adults (p. 99-100). Just like the author in Proverbs, by setting boundaries in the home we work for the child’s long-term growth and development, not for our own benefit. Creating boundaries for children includes developing rules, defining expectations, providing and practicing healthy choices, and developing and following through with appropriate consequences (Cloud & Townsend, 1998). All of these steps can be applied when helping children navigate around the path of pornography. Counselors too can help families set appropriate boundaries in the home (Schneider & Weiss, 2001).
Modeling. Parents can guide children along healthy paths by modeling appropriate behavior. Since nothing kills credibility quicker than hypocrisy, parents execute wisdom by enjoying entertainment that promotes sexual values they want their children to adopt (Johnson, 1993). Cloud and Townsend (1998) write, “Boundaries are “caught” more than they are “taught”” (p. 43), and we would add habits, morals, and worldviews to that list. Just as Proverbs points out that God “examines all [our] paths” (5:21), so too do young people watch the paths their parents and other adults choose.
People of all ages and sexes can be held tightly by sin (Proverbs 5:22). Based on the potential effects of parental addiction discussed previously, too much is at stake for parents not to seek the help they need. Programs like Celebrate Recovery, Every Man’s Battle, Avenue, and Sex Addicts Anonymous are available for adults. Counselors can also be helpful and some are Certified Sexual Addiction Therapists (CSATs). For children addicted to pornography, counseling services are helpful, as well as programs like Celebrate Recovery for Teens.
Providing alternatives. Realizing the degree which our children are connected to the internet and other technologies, we can allow them access while providing alternative choices, highlighting other positive paths. Hughes (1998) recommends a “white list” of websites that offer content for children that is acceptable (p. 135). Providing appropriate movies, video games, and television shows can be helpful. There are also endless alternative activities such as sports, games, hobbies, relationships, exercising, and playing outside. It is okay and even beneficial for children to enjoy some “unplugged” time.
Character work. Parents who are focused and dedicated, developing healthy relationships with their children can direct them, “helping their children develop an inner moral and spiritual compass through God’s grace and truth” (“Sex and Cell Phones: Protect Your Children”, n.d., p. 4). Similarly, Schneider & Weiss (2003) recommend parents focus less attention on keeping them away from harmful material and put more effort into helping them become a “critical consumer” (p. 200) of it. After all the parenting strategies have been implemented, our children ultimately will make their own choices based on the contents of their character.
Changing the World
In this world where pornography is widespread, it is not enough to focus only on protecting our own children. We live in a culture where the adulteress is at every turn, enticing our children like moths to the fire. There is much we can do in the home but how can we fight against the structures in this world that feed this sewage into our children’s lives? We invite you to join the many who are standing up and changing the world for the benefit of all children. The book of Proverbs is a collective effort of many adults from different times and settings standing up for what they believed in and passing the torch to the younger generation. We have a similar opportunity.
Collective effort. Acting on the behalf of children as a community can be powerful when fighting pornography. Levin and Kilbourne (2008) share that “although there is a great deal we can do as individuals, we cannot solve the problem until we act together to change the world our children live in” (p. 177). This may mean partnering with groups that combat pornography such as Enough Is Enough or working with our church to raise awareness and mobilize members to fight for our children. The American Family Association (AFA), Inc promotes Pornography Awareness Week, sharing “The silence and apathy of the Christian community must end. Our society has suffered from pornography too much already because of our silence and our unwillingness to get involved in this issue” (“A Guide To What One Person Can Do About Pornography,” n.d., p. 45). Another way we can raise a collective awareness about pornography within our community is by educating institutions that provide the internet to children, such as schools and libraries (Freeman-Longo, 2000). These are starting points to rallying the community against pornography in our society.
Letters. One way we can actively oppose pornography in our society is by writing letters. A personal letter written to an elected official is powerful. It is the number one influencer of congressional opinion because it is believed to represent the opinions of many people (AFA, n.d.). Writing to corporate executives is influential for the same reason; companies want our money and view a letter as representing the viewpoints of hundreds and even thousands of people (AFA, n.d.). Letters to the Editor can also be effective in voicing concern about pornographic materials, especially when written by children (AFA, n.d.). One church took this opportunity seriously, assembling a writing team, enlisting almost half of the congregation to send letters to editors regarding pornography and other serious issues (AFA, n.d.). There are countless possibilities.
When new inappropriate content becomes available, complaints can be effective. For example, a pornographic Application (App) for the iPhone called Wobble iBoobs, was removed from the App store due to customer complaints (Moren, 2010). This also led Apple to remove all other sexual content as well. Another example occurred when a local Balley’s gym introduced a new class to their exercise schedule that was based on Striptease dancing. The class was to be held in a room adjacent to the childcare room. This writer complained by phone and the class was soon cancelled.
Boycotting and campaigning. A Guide To What One Person Can Do About Pornography, (.n.d.) is a valuable resource that explains how concerned members of the community can protest sexually explicit material. There are structured ways to boycott or campaign against a store or other establishment that brings pornography into the neighborhood and is it important to understand the applicable laws (AFA, n.d.). One simple way we can protest pornography is with our money. By refusing to shop where pornography is sold, a statement is made. This message is clearer when accompanied by a conversation or letter to the manager or owner (AFA, n.d.). If the store leadership takes no action a boycott can be organized. Citizens with signs send a loud message that the adulteress is not welcome. This speak clearly to our children as well.
There are many success stories of people fighting pornography. Picketing by citizens has resulted in thousands of stores cancelling the sale of pornography (AFA, n.d.). When Movie Gallery, the third largest video store in America, who also rents and sells pornography, planned to open a store in Fayette, Alabama, they met such opposition (AFA, n.d.). A pastor within the community alerted the Mayor, who called AFA for support and gathered a large, motivated team of people from the community and local churches. Movie Gallery was contacted and told about the plan to picket them as soon as they opened. Faced with this resistance, Movie Gallery conceded, committing not to stock their new store with pornographic materials.
Another massive victory against pornography occurred when the Australian Federation for the Family campaigned against Playboy for 17 years (AFA, n.d.). Their national boycotting efforts in Australia led to the eventual cancellation of all advertising contracts of both Playboy and Penthouse and in 2001 Australian Playboy was closed permanently (www.ausfamily.org). Sonnemann, the founder of AFF spoke about combating pornography saying, “We will continue this war until all our children are safe from porn” (AFA, n.d.). It is our hope that hearing these inspirational stories will ignite a similar passion in caring adults around the world as we join together to protect our children from the path of pornography.
There are countless consequences for our children and our world if we do not join ranks to fight the evils of pornography. While pornography threatens to steal much from our children, there is a path of hope for all who choose to follow it. Our time in history will be defined by how well we respond to this hazard and our children deserve our best efforts. May we use our talents and resources to defend those who need our help. May we choose to risk, interacting with the world in ways that matter, speaking words that make a lasting impact. May we leave a legacy that is worth mimicking and that inspires the children of the world to live in freedom. For those of us who fear the forces of the world, may our love for children lead us to act courageously nonetheless. May we remember that the God of the universe is on our side, beckoning all to follow His path of life, health, and satisfaction. As we follow the path of life ourselves, we can support our children in doing the same. In the words of Nelson Mandela, “We must turn this world around – for the children” (Levin & Kilbourne, 2008, p. 178). They are worth the effort.
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