News and Noteworthy

Battling pornography: strategies for home and classroom

The good news is that media literacy and character development can protect kids.

by Thomas Lickona for on February 7, 2017

For more than four decades, my work as a developmental psychologist and educator has focused on helping schools and parents develop good character in youth. I direct a character education center at the State University of New York in Cortland, New York.

Among many things, our Center’s work includes teaching young people how to respect the gift of their sexuality—how to exercise virtues such as good judgment, modesty, self-control, and authentic love in this vulnerable part of their lives. More than ever, our children need good guidance in this crucial area from their parents and teachers and others who love them.

The sexual revolution has been the dominant cultural revolution of the past half century. It promoted a radical ideology of unrestricted sexual freedom. It has created a more difficult world for our children to grow up in, a hypersexualized culture that surrounds them with sexual pressures and temptations and the message that in matters of sex, anything is okay “as long as nobody gets hurt.”

One of the biggest effects of the sexual revolution is that it normalized pornography. With the arrival of the Internet, pornography exploded. According to recent estimates, the average age at which boys now begin use of Internet pornography is 11. Many are addicted by the time they are teens. Many carry that addiction into their marriages and families.

The good news: media literacy, science and grassroots movements

But there is good news in the battle against pornography. Many smart and dedicated people are addressing the problem. As families and schools, we can draw hope from that and make use of their good work.

It’s good news that we have educational tools that schools and families can use in fighting this battle. Character education, especially character education that includes media literacy, is one such tool. Media literacy, whether it’s done at home or in classrooms, has two goals:

1. to teach students how to think critically about all forms of media (Who created this? What are the messages?)

2. to teach students to think critically about their own media habits. How does any particular form of media influence their values, beliefs, attitudes, goals, how they spend their time, and the kind of person they are becoming? Is it making them a better person and helping them build a positive future—or not? This kind of self-examination turns media literacy into authentic character education. It challenges students to take a hard look in the mirror—and then change what they discover needs changing.

It’s not hard to get students to think critically about media. They enjoy that. It’s considerably harder to get them to think critically about themselves. But that’s essential for building character—and for confronting the problem of pornography.

It’s also very good news that there is now a science of pornography that helps us understand how pornography does its damage. It’s good news that there is a growing body of solid scientific research showing the many harmful effects of pornography.

It’s good news that more therapists and others in the mental health profession recognize pornography addiction as a problem. For many years they did not. You may be surprised to learn—I was—that Harvard University now has a psychiatrist on its Medical School faculty who is teaching psychiatrists-in-training how to use a virtue-based approach to treating pornography and other addictions.

It’s also good news that there is a growing anti-pornography movement led by young people themselves.

Fight the New Drug

The movement called Fight the New Drug was started in 2008 by college guys. They tell their story in a 3-minute video, “Fight the New Drug: A Movement for Love.”

Their website includes a lot of other videos you could use as part of a media literacy unit or watch at home with your family. Then check out the Get the facts tab. That link will take you to an excellent summary of how pornography “harms the brain, the heart, and the world.” You can read and absorb the key points under each of those three headings in about 15 minutes.

The ‘Porn Kills Love’ movement

Fight the New Drug has launched a second website. Porn Kills Love has become its own movement, promoted by young women as well as guys. They emphasize that they are “pro-sex”—but sex in the right kind of relationship, one where there is true love and lasting commitment.

What do other sources of evidence say?

If you are doing a good job of teaching critical thinking when you do media literacy, your students might ask, “But how do we know Fight the New Drug isn’t biased? They have an agenda; they don’t want people to use porn. Why should we trust what they say about the research?”

Affirm your students for asking tough questions like these. A healthy skepticism is part of critical thinking. Have them look at other sources of evidence.

Here is one: In October 2015, the American College of Pediatricians issued a report titled: “The Impact of Pornography on Children” It summarizes dozens of studies of pornography’s effects on both children and adults.

But the clearest explanation I have found of this an article titled, “The Science Behind Pornography” by Dr Kevin Majeres. Dr Majeres is the Harvard psychiatrist I mentioned earlier as specializing in a virtue-based approach to treating pornography and other addictions. I think you could use his article with your students or children.

To succeed, we need virtue education

The big idea we want to hold on to and have our children and students hold on to is this: If you want to be a good person and lead a good life, rules can help. They teach us right from wrong. But rules aren’t enough. We need virtues in order to live by the rules. We need virtues in order to turn knowledge into action.

Dr Majeres’ ideas are actually a combination of new insights from modern psychology—like “reframing” and having a “growth mindset” (“I can get better if I really work at it”)—and very old wisdom. Thousands of years ago, the Greek philosopher Aristotle said, “If you want to be kind, do acts of kindness. If you wish to be brave, perform acts of courage. If you want to have self-control, practice self-control.”

If our character education efforts are not changing our students’ behavior, then we are probably not spending enough time guiding them in practicing the virtues. Virtues are good habits. We can’t develop good habits without effort and practice. A lot of character education, unfortunately, is mostly talk, not action.

What makes Fight the New Drug effective character education?

The Fight the New Drug and Porn Kills Love program is a good example of what I consider effective character and media literacy education. Here’s why: It’s designed to develop the three essential components of character—the head, the heart, and the hand.

To become a person of character is to become the best person we can be. That involves knowing the good (understanding the nature of virtuous circles and vicious circles, for example), loving the good (strongly desiring to grow in the virtues, like purity), and doing the good (strengthening the virtues through practice, until they become habits).

One of the ways this program engages the head and heart and contributes to our desire to do something is by exposing what really goes on in the porn industry. Porn and prostitution fuel each other, Fight the New Drug says. They are both part of the sex trade.

In one of their videos a former male porn star tells the story of his descent into the industry and eventual redemption. This is a poignant video, very tastefully done, with a moving message and no graphic details, but you might want to save it for high school and up.

Using good movies to develop the head, heart, and hand

* The New York City altruism project

Stepping back from strategies that deal directly with pornography, I’d like to share with you the story of a character education experiment with inner-city kids in New York City. Its goal was to try to develop altruism—the virtue of doing good for others without asking, “What’s in it for me?”

(Paul C. Vitz and Philip P. Scala, “Evaluating a Short Curriculum for Teaching Altruism,” unpublished study, Department of Psychology, New York University. Available from Paul C. Vitz, The Institute for the Psychological Sciences, Suite 511, 2001 Jefferson Davis Highway, Arlington, VA 22202.)

The virtue of altruism orients kids toward the needs of others. An orientation toward others is one of the most basic building blocks of character. It’s the opposite of selfishness. Selfishness is at the psychological core of using pornography; you’re not thinking of anybody else.

If we want to help our children resist the lure of pornography, and help others do the same, they’ll need more than critical thinking (media literacy) and more than self-control and patience. They’ll need many other basic virtues, like wanting to do good for others. We’ll need a character education program that develops character in the full sense.

I like the New York City altruism project for three other reasons: (1) I love movies myself; (2) It’s another good example of how to design a character education experience that—like Fight the New Drug—engages and develops head, heart, and hand; and (3) It shows how to evaluate whether what we have done with students, actually worked.

How do we know if our character education efforts are having any impact on students? Schools won’t make time for character education if they don’t have any evidence that it’s worth their time—that it produces results. They can tell easily whether students are learning math and reading, by their test scores. Is it possible to measure their growth in character?

For their project they chose seven racially and ethnically mixed classrooms of 8th- graders (13-year-olds), most of whom came from low-income families and tough New York City neighborhoods, where drugs and crime were common.

They decided to use stories—ones that showed altruism in attractive and dramatic ways. They knew that movies are the form of storytelling that young people today find most engaging. So, they created shortened, half-hour versions of seven feature films. Each movie presented a strong example of altruistic behavior.

Anne Bancroft Patty Duke Miracle Worker 1 1960 These movies included classics such as:

It's a Wonderful Life (the prayers and support of George Bailey’s family, friends, and an angel dispel his despair and convince him his life has been worthwhile)

The Miracle Worker (pictured, right, 20-year-old Annie Sullivan finds a way to teach language to 7-year-old Helen Keller, who is blind, deaf, and dumb; freed from her psychological prison, Helen goes on to graduate from college and to promote the cause of the blind worldwide)

Brian’s Song (two professional football players, one white, one black, initially compete for the same position on the team, then become close friends and help each other through illness and injury, including Brian’s fatal struggle with cancer).

Class discussions also included role-playing. Students volunteered to act out an altruistic deed they had performed during the preceding week.

Vitz and Scala concluded that three things worked together to make their project successful:

1. adequate “dosage”—a long-enough intervention to have the desired impact on students’ thinking, attitudes, and behavior

2. inspiring movies, followed by focused discussions, that helped students gain a clear understanding of altruism and its positive effects

3. enough practice—an altruistic act performed every day over the seven-week period—for good habits to begin to form and for those habits to have an impact on students’ “sense of identity” (as reflected in the boy’s comment, “I know I’m a good person because I do good things”).

* Love and Life at the Movies

This is a published curriculum that also makes use of classic and contemporary films to engage students as ethical thinkers and choice-makers. Developed by Dr. Onalee McGraw of the Educational Guidance Institute, lesson plans for each film promote critical analysis and writing about character issues.

Love and Life has been used in high school and junior high school classrooms, after-school programs, and also detention homes for delinquents. McGraw comments: “The films are chosen for their power to depict personal virtues such as integrity, courage, and love, but also to model the meaning of moral and social bonds with the larger community. The films contain no bad language, violence, or sexual references.”

* Teach With Movies is an online resource that capitalizes on the power of films. It catalogues hundreds of movies and offers lesson plans for using movies to explore character themes.

Obviously, we can and should also watch good movies with our kids at home—and discuss what we each liked and took from a film. This can greatly enrich the shared experience and educational value of watching a good movie as a family.

What else can parents do?

As Common Sense Media points out, “Despite dramatic changes in media use, TV still reigns supreme in children’s media lives. Television can very easily take over as our children’s main character educator in two ways: (1) by shutting down family communication, and (2) by bombarding our kids with bad values.”

Working out family media guidelines

Here’s the big idea we want to communicate to our kids (and a family meeting is a good way to do this): The use of the media in the family is a privilege, not a right. That privilege has to be exercised in a way that is consistent with our family values. So, for any particular TV show, movie, magazine, music CD, video game, Internet site, or social media, here’s the question: Is it consistent with what we value and believe as a family?

In formulating your family’s guidelines, you may wish to consider including the following. It’s wise to write them out, in a posted “Media Contract” that everyone signs:

1. The use of any media in our home should be consistent with our beliefs and values as a family.

2. Watching TV is a special event, not a regular routine. In general, it is also a family event, not a private pastime.

3. No TV before school, before homework is done, or during meals.

4. Always ask permission to turn on the TV; watch only approved programs.

5. Certain nights are “quiet nights”; the TV stays off so we can focus on family activities and doing others things. (Choose these nights together as a family).

6. All video games must be previewed by a parent, and limited to agreed-upon times.

7. No mobile devices at meals. Unless permission is granted, no use of mobile devices after agreed-upon times (set a reasonable curfew).

8. Pornographic and hate web sites are off limits and blocked by an Internet screen installed by the family (digitally savvy kids know how to get around most of these controls, which is why our talking with them about these issues is essential for developing the most important control—their conscience).

9. Internet rules: No use of the Internet without parental approval. You must have parental permission to download anything. Do not share your password with friends or over email. Never physically meet someone you have met online. If a stranger tries to involve you in an online relationship, tell Mom or Dad right away.

10. Movies: No R-rated movies and no PG-13 or PG movies without parental permission. (Parents will check out the content and rating of current films on and

There is no more toxic legacy of the sexual revolution than pornography. But in this battle, we can take heart from the progress being made and share that good news with our colleagues, students, and families.

Thomas Lickona is the Director of the Center for the 4th and 5th Rs (Respect and Responsibility) at the State University of New York at Cortland. The above is an edited version of a paper given at the Character Education and Digital Lifestyles Conference, convened by Interaxion Group, in Rome last October. A comprehensive interview with Dr Lickona on this subject can be found at Family and Media.

Credit: Image of "The Miracle Worker" (eBay front back) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Sex Before Kissing? 15 year old girls trying to deal with porn-addicted boys

A new report from Australia speaks for itself: 

When asked, “How do you know a guy likes you?,” an 8th grade girl replied: “He still wants to talk to you after you [give him oral sex].” A male high school student said to a girl: “If you [give me oral sex] I’ll give you a kiss.” Girls are expected to provide sex acts for tokens of affection, and are coached through it by porn-taught boys. A 15-year-old girl said she didn’t enjoy sex at all, but that getting it out of the way quickly was the only way her boyfriend would stop pressuring her and watch a movie.

Read the whole sickening thing here

Long and Winding Road out of the gay lifestyle: a story of forgiveness

The headline over at LifeSiteNews says this is a story out of the gay lifestyle. And so it it. But it is first and foremost an inspiring story of forgiveness and repentance. Any Survivor of the Sexual Revolution, any person seeking peace, can benefit from this article. 

A sample: 


I embarked upon an incredible journey of forgiveness, having many people from my past, and especially men, that I needed to forgive. The therapy and prayer sessions I now regularly engaged in never focused solely on my being sexually attracted to men, but I was encouraged to look every aspect of my present and past in the eye. This included the painful process of accepting that I had been consistently sexually abused by a number of men as a child over a three-year period.

Much of my spiritual journey became concerned with recognizing where, during my infancy and childhood, my little soul had chosen to build walls within myself against significant others in my life, especially against my parents, siblings and other prominent people from my past.

He faced the wrong that was done to him (child sexual abuse) and at the same time took responsibility for the ways he had built walls around himself. Eventually, he became able to forgive those who had wronged him. 

Survivors of all sorts: please study this! 


Is pornography a public health crisis?

The evidence is piling up.

by Michael Cook

This article was first published February 24, 2016 at

A committee in the Utah legislature has voted to classify pornography as a public health crisis. Although this is merely a resolution and not a law, it could mark a new stage of awareness of the harms of pornography.

"Everything in the resolution is supported by science and research,” said the state senator who introduced the resolution, Todd Weiler. “It's not just a kooky thing that some politician from Mormon Utah came up with. It's bigger than that."

The news was ridiculed across the internet and on social media by people who asserted that pornography is neither addictive nor harmful.

"I personally believe it is,” Weiler responded. “I think the science shows that it is. I believe that's a discussion we should be having because it's impacting divorces, it's impacting our youth, it's undermining the family"

“Public health crisis” is a term which has been used to describe Ebola, SARS, the Chinese milk scandal and smoking. Is porn really as destructive as these?

Pornography is a huge industry, although hard figures are difficult to obtain. According to a report in The Economist, there are possibly 700 to 800 million individual porn pages, 60 percent of them in the US. A portal for pornography, PornHub, claims that it had nearly 80 billion video viewings in 2014 and more than 18 billion visits.

It’s obvious that we live in a pornography-saturated culture. The figures vary from study to study but across national boundaries, the story is the same: young people are consuming lots of pornography. Michael Flood, an Australian researcher in the sociology of pornography, notes that in one Swedish study from 2007, 92 percent of young men and 57 percent of young women aged 15-18 had watched a “porno film”.

But is there a problem with this?

Writing at RH Reality Check, an on-line magazine about reproductive and sexual health issues linked to the United Nations, journalist Martha Kempner sneered that there is no science to back up Weiler’s claim that pornography is a public health crisis.

… it’s not an epidemic, it’s not inevitably harmful to the viewer, and it won’t be the downfall of our society. What might be our downfall, however, is allowing politicians to impose their own morality and use pseudoscience and misinformation to scare us all into buying their beliefs or at least living by their rules.

Nonetheless, there is growing evidence to support nearly all of Weiler’s assertions. Unfortunately, evidence does not mean agreement on how to achieve change, or even what successful change looks like.

Broadly speaking, there are two overlapping but different ways of framing opposition to pornography.

Documented harms

Michael Flood, the Australian academic, approaches it from a feminist perspective. At a recent conference at the University of New South Wales organised by Collective Shout, a lobby group “for a world free of sexploitation”, he listed some well-documented harms.

Pornography is becoming a primary sex educator for boys and young men, displacing explanations from parents, formal instruction in schools, and even conversations with peers. However, what they learn from pornography websites is kinky practices which strip sex of intimacy, loving affection and human connection. And they learn that women are always ready for sex and have insatiable sexual appetites.

Women feel betrayed by men who use pornography. Most often men conceal their use of pornography. When a partner discovers it, she often feels as if he was having an affair. Pornography use decreases intimacy and makes women feel less attractive and more like mere sexual objects.

Pornography may become an addiction. Flood is cautious about analogies to drug addiction. He points out that attachment ranges from recreational users to compulsive and self-destructive users. However, as with other addictions, some people experience social, work or financial difficulties because they use pornography.

Pornography entrenches sexist attitudes. Abundant research shows that men who use pornography are more accepting of attitudes that sexualise and objectify women. They tend to want sex without emotional involvement.

Pornography disposes men for violence against women. Flood writes, “Exposure to sexually violent material desensitizes male viewers to sexual violence, diminishing their emotional response to the stimulus, eroding their sympathy to victims of violence, and informing more callous attitudes towards women rape victims.”

As a pro-feminist man, Flood and other activists view the sex industry as patriarchal, misogynistic, and brutalising. They call upon men “to quit pornography and forge ethical sexual and gender relations.” Their strategy for change is good sexual education, mostly in schools.

But this does not exclude the possibility of “good pornography”. And it includes acceptance of masturbation as a normal and natural part of human sexuality. Even more troubling, a feminist approach to pornography isn’t interested in the context of sex. It doesn’t need to be within marriage; it doesn’t even have to be heterosexual. The key thing is that it should be mutually pleasurable and lead to greater intimacy and affection.

Flood characterises the other approach to fighting pornography as “Christian”: it is based on total abstinence outside of marriage and it frowns on masturbation. He believes that this approach is limited, because “the contrary tenets of a powerful sexual culture” make it unrealistic.

However, in many respects, the Christian approach might be more realistic, if harder. Fundamentally it is based not on “narrow sexual proscriptions”, as Flood calls them, but on virtue, building up good habits that lead to human flourishing. What the feminist approach lacks is a clear vision of the purpose of sex and how it can be integrated into a mature personality. At the conference, for instance, the idea that sex is connected with babies, children and marriage was barely mentioned.

Young people need to be exhorted to struggle to control their unruly sexuality. The task is made much easier if they realise that this is part of their capacity to participate in procreation and the even greater and more absorbing responsibility of raising children and participating in society as mothers and fathers. Without a unifying vision like this, feminist exhortations also shrivel up into “narrow sexual proscriptions” like “No means No”, “Yes means Yes” and elaborate parsing of the meaning of affirmative consent to sexual activity.

A public health crisis

These important differences can put feminist and Christian activists at loggerheads. The beauty of describing pornography as a public health crisis is that they can work together in the same tent. Perhaps we can finally make some progress.

The idea had been kicking around for a while before Senator Weiler’s resolution in Utah. Cordelia Anderson, an anti-pornography activist from Minnesota, told a Congressional Symposium in Washington DC last year that “Individual stories and realities do not constitute a public health concern, but when the reach of today’s pornography through ever expanding and changing technologies create what some researchers, academics, and activists have called ‘the largest unregulated social experiment ever,’ we have reason to be concerned.”

“Various studies document the harms of viewing pornography [she said] including sexually aggressive behavior in adults and youth, sexually reactive behaviors in youth, desensitization to others in sexual situations, rape supportive attitudes, arousal to increasingly violent content, increased levels of sexual insecurities, and difficulties with intimacy or sexual functioning such as erectile dysfunction in males.”

Activists’ model for social change is the complete reversal of attitudes towards tobacco. In the 1950s, most people smoked and doctors even said that it could be good for people’s health. Today, smokers are treated like pariahs.

To be sure, pornography is deeply entrenched in the culture and the pornography industry is well-funded and powerful. But this was also the case with the Big Tobacco.

In 2009 social researcher Mary Eberstadt made a powerful comparison of the tobacco industry with the pornography industry. They both dispute the harms of their lucrative product; they both use bogus science to bolster their claims; they both rationalise addiction; and they both use sophisticated marketing techniques.

Bizarre as it seems, like Big Tobacco, Big Porn even uses philanthropy to burnish its image as a good corporate citizen. Earlier this month Pornhub pledged a one-cent donation to saving the whale through the Moclips Cetological Society, a non-profit organization, for every 2,000 videos streamed from its website in February. "This initiative allows us to demonstrate our sincerity and integrity when it comes to helping out one of the planet's most sacred populations of creatures," said Pornhub’s vice-president.

So if society turned its back on tobacco, why can’t it kick its addiction to an even more serious public health crisis, pornography?

The canary in the coal mine

Alcohol and Pornography Ban Warning sign at an Aboriginal community near Alice Springs, in the Northern Territory / Owen 65, Flickr

The stakes are high. As many speakers at the conference pointed out, pornography is destroying the capacity of young people to relate to each other. In the words of Dr Joe Tucci, head of the Australian Childhood Foundation, “Are we willing to remove from relationships the values of love and intimacy which make life worthwhile?”

Another speaker described the corrosive effects of pornography on remote Aboriginal communities. So many communities in the Northern Territory had been rendered dysfunctional by alcohol abuse and pornography that in 2007 the Australian government was forced to send in the Army to protect children against sexual abuse and neglect. It was an unpopular, paternalistic and undemocratic move. But child abuse fuelled by grog and porn had become a real public health crisis. Conditions in the impoverished camps were hellish, with children as young as four sexually abusing each other and pornography a staple of entertainment for men both young and old.

These Aboriginal communities have been corrupted by Western vices. Their desperation and degradation could be what awaits us if we do not win the battle to contain the spread of pornography. A campaign to treat it everywhere as a public health crisis is a welcome step forward.