Saturday, April 24, 2010

Women, Addiction, and Pornography

This week I came across something in Christianity Today that you may not have heard much about: the problem of women addicted to pornography. Check this out:

When "pornography" and "women" appear in the same sentence in Christian circles, the topic is usually pastors' wives or former porn stars. But for an estimated one in six women in the U.S., the topic is themselves. Crystal Renaud—whose own addiction started at age 10 after finding a magazine in her brother's bathroom—wants to dispel the idea that porn is only a men's problem. With the 2009 launch of Dirty Girls Ministries, she has given female addicts a place of confession, accountability, and healing. The Kansas City-based ministry also provides churches with biblically based tools to minister to women addicts in their midst.

Porn's effects are well chronicled, and the alienation and shame it creates are no respecter of gender. But Renaud, currently working toward certification with the American Association of Christian Counselors, believes men and women turn to it with different needs. "Many count women out as porn addicts, because they aren't known for being visually stimulated," she says. "But as emotional beings, women often seek porn as a way to escape and receive a false sense of intimacy." Through support groups online and in Kansas City, and speaking and online resources, Dirty Girls Ministries helps women escape secrecy's stranglehold and encounter the healing touch of Christ. (Read the whole thing here)

Reading about this I can't help but want to call up Crystal Renaud and give her a hearty "you go girl" for addressing an issue many of us don't know about (or want to in some cases) with candor, courage, and compassion. The Washington Post/Newsweek site "On Faith" has rightfully raised the question of whether religion can handle sex. Efforts like Renaud's suggest that it can, or at least it can try to.

I might rephrase the question slightly though from "can religion handle sex" to "can religion handle sex effectively"? How does religion move beyond mere moralizing to providing practical support at both the individual and community levels for people who are struggling to achieve fulfilling and healthy sexual lives or even (gasp!) fulfilling and healthy lives without sex?

While one may not yet come across a "Dirty Girls" Deepening (deepening is the word Baha'is use for study of their scripture), there are efforts within the Baha'i community to learn how religion can handle sex effectively. The Baha'i Network on AIDS, Sexuality, Addictions and Abuse has long lead the way in this area, and Baha'is such as Mary K. Radpour and Dr. Robin Chandler are also contributing to the effort. As we walk this path together, we can learn much from what other faith communities are trying as well.

"It is not merely material well-being that people need. What they desperately need is to know how to live their lives -- they need to know who they are, to what purpose they exist, and how they should act towards one another; and, once they know the answers to these questions they need to be helped to gradually apply these answers to everyday behavior. It is to the solution of this basic problem of mankind that the greater part of all our energy and resources should be directed."

Letter from the Universal House of Justice, dated November 19, 1974