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Why Boys Never Become Men (Part 1) – Pornography & Video Games

31 August 2012

After many years of working with and ministering to males between the ages of 18-35 and in considering my own personal journey, I have spent a long time thinking about what stops boys becoming men. By that I mean, what stops male teenagers growing up into responsible, loving, reliable, mature, servant-hearted, faithful and ‘initiative-taking’ men by the time they are in the twenties? So I thought I would write two (maybe three) short blog pieces on why boys never come men and how the Holy Spirit can apply the gospel to our hearts to set boys free to become men*.

Part 1: I want to look at how porn and video games stop boys becoming men and look at possible paths to freedom.

Part 2: I want to look at 3 ‘fears’ that stop boys becoming men and look at 3 truths that will give us power to overcome our fear.

Why Boys Never Become Men (Part 1) – Pornography & Video Games

After leading dozens of men’s groups, meeting with a large number of men 1-2-1 and preaching on the issue a number of times it is clear that pornography is a huge issue in the church in our pornified 21st century culture. Just yesterday I read these scary and saddening statistics about our culture…statistics that are unfortunately very similar within the church as well.

Did you know that that one in three 10 year olds have watched pornography online?

…or that the single largest group of viewers of pornography are children aged 12-17?

…or that four out of five 14-16 year olds regularly access explicit photographs and footage on their home computers?

Given the accessibility of porn today, many men have been habitually looking at porn (and masturbating) daily or weekly since their teenage years and so find it hard to break the pattern when they enter their twenties. It carries on into their marriage and can become something that affects their own children. Why do men get caught in the trap of pornography? It’s really because they believe they’ll find the intimacy, power, pleasure and escape that their heart craves at no cost to themselves. The problem is that this is just a counterfeit that never satisfies and leaves you hungering for more. Only the real God can satisfy those heart cravings.

I recently read an interesting short article by Michael Keller (son of Tim) summarising a book called “The Demise of Guys: Why Boys Are Struggling and What We Can Do About It” where the similarities between porn and video games were highlighted. Whilst I am not against adult men playing computer games to relax, from my experience it can easily go beyond that. Many men are still wasting hours of time/money, failing to love and serve their wives and failing to take on responsibility and grow up because they are basically addicted to computer games and regularly play late into the night.

Here is what Michael Keller says:

There is a new book called The Demise of Guys: Why Boys are Struggling and What We Can Do About It. It sheds light on the problems facing young adult males. The book cites research that young men have become hooked on two mediums: video games and online porn. The link is that they both focus on various forms of arousal. Similar to gambling and drug addictions, researchers are saying it is possible to become emotionally addicted to video games and porn due to the arousal effect of each. Brain imaging technology shows that both video games and porn lead to a constant state of stimulation that becomes problematic when the individual does not know how to operate without this input, or is continuously seeking it.
He goes on to say:
…porn tends to give a sense of intimacy while actually not being intimate with anyone at all. In fact, if anything, it tends to objectify the individual viewed, leading those who watch porn to see someone as primarily physical and therefore an object to be used and not a person to be communicated with.
If porn gives a false sense of intimacy, then video games give a false sense of accomplishment. What better way to feel a sense of reward than to beat all the levels, and unlock all the secret passages and boards of the latest game that others of your generation are playing as well? Games like “Call of Duty” release new versions yearly so that individuals can spend hundreds of hours to master the game, only to start over again 365 days later.
But here is the bit that was hugely insightful and helpful in making me see why computer games as much as pornography can stop boys becoming men…they don’t take risks!
Interestingly, while stimulation and addiction appear to be a physical problem as much as a spiritual and psychological one, porn and video games ultimately lead men to become less willing to take risks. It is easy to feel a sense of accomplishment and intimacy from the comfort of your own couch. When given the option between getting a job, working at school, or starting a family—why would men take that risk when there is more to gain and less to lose by sticking with the comfort electronic images? Real life is risky, pixels are not.
So what is the solution? Michael Keller rightly says, in line with the famous preacher Thomas Chalmers, the answer is NOT to say ‘stop doing it you bad people’ but rather to give them a vision of something that is far more intimate, freeing, pleasurable and comforting than their pathetic counterfeit. Chalmers calls it the “expulsive power of a new affection.” That is rather than telling people to ‘stop’ we give them something that is so much better that they don’t even find pleasure in their substitutes…they find the reality their hearts have always craved: Jesus!
He ends by saying:
At the end of the day males aren’t failing because of porn and video games—they are failing because they don’t have a significance outside of themselves. And only Jesus can offer that.
Jesus understood the “expulsive power of a new affection” way before Chalmers when he famously said in Matthew 13.44-45:

44 “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.

45 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. 46 When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.

I’ll post something more next week regarding some of the fears that stop boys becoming men, why they are not willing to take risks and what the truth is that will set men free!
  • Finally, there is currently an online petition called “Safety Net Petition: protect our children’s innocence online‏” which calls “on the Government to force Internet Service Providers to make pornography an adult-only opt in service. This will give adults the freedom to view such content but, more importantly, ensure our children are free to surf the web safe from harm” – so do sign it and join the stand to challenge the government to take this more seriously than they do.

* I am sure that the same issues are true for women also but (a) I am not a woman and (b) I have never met with a woman to talk about it, so I can’t speak from first-hand experience.
21 Comments leave one →
  1. David Horsfall permalink
    31 August 2012 3:52 pm

    Great post Steve, such an important issue for the 21st century church. I totally agree that guys need to be captured by a better vision (Chester came up with a great title). Do you think this needs to be done in tandem with guys also being given responsibility in the church to help them grow?

  2. 31 August 2012 4:18 pm

    Hey Dave,

    Yes but….if the guys were struggling with these issues then before I gave them responsibility within church life I would

    (a) Want to see that they were genuinely repentant and had confessed their sin to the church leaders. Which then begs the question “how do you know if someone is genuinely repentant?” Well their repentance (change of heart/thinking) would show itself in some level of freedom from their habit – i.e there would be some fruit. They don’t need to be totally free of the issues before they are given responsibility in church life but they do need to show that they are (a) repentant and (b) showing positive fruit and moving towards freedom

    (b) Make sure they were in some form of accountability/community where they were bringing their sin and mistakes into the light of God’s community to be challenged and encouraged with truth. When these issues are brought into the light (not kept hidden in the darkness) then their grip begins to be loosened and the Spirit can bring transformation.

    So yes I agree that freedom from sin comes in tandem with being given responsibility – something to channel your energies into. Interestingly when David committed adultery with Bathsheba it is quite probable that it was because he was bored and not serving God as he should have – he should have led the armies out to war but instead stay at home.

    2 Samuel 11 starts by saying

    “In the spring, at the time when kings go off to war, David sent Joab out with the king’s men and the whole Israelite army….But David remained in Jerusalem. One evening David got up from his bed and walked around on the roof of the palace. From the roof he saw a woman bathing. The woman was very beautiful…”

    And you know how the story goes. Boredom and not taking on responsibility within the church led to sexual sin!


  3. 31 August 2012 6:23 pm

    “video games give a false sense of accomplishment. What better way to feel a sense of reward than to beat all the levels, and unlock all the secret passages..”

    I think this guy is only focusing on one of the many reasons people spend a lot time playing computer games. Does he consider that computer games can be very fun, social and require a lot of skill in terms of reactions, problem solving, spacial awareness etc. He does seem to be implying that: Games = sense of accomplishment . I mainly play for the social aspect with playing online with friends and having fun.

    “spend hundreds of hours to master the game, only to start over again 365 days later.”

    I’m not sure this guy has played Call of Duty before…Or to seems to understand the hobby of gaming in general for that matter. The new version of the game that gets released every year is very very similar to the previous version, it just includes new content to play in (maps etc)

    He seems to treat Gaming more of a bad habit rather then just another one the countless hobbies people have and admittedly can get addicted to.

  4. 31 August 2012 7:59 pm

    Hi MK,

    Thanks for your comments. Yeah I guess Kellers comments could seem a little one sided so it’s helpful to hear your point of view (to be fair to him, he was only quoting a book he had read).

    Computer Games, like most hobbies, are in and of themselves harmless/neutral and like any gift from God, can be used for enjoyment, companionship, improving your reaction times and enhancing your problem solving skills. In that sense it falls into the same category as music or sport or business or whatever else (not pornography I hasten to add, that is not neutral).

    In the end it comes to motivation, do I participate in this activity (computer games) to glorify God and to bless others or…do I use this to serve my end own selfish ends (find power and a sense of accomplishment). Also, part of the way you work out if your use of computer games is the former rather is by discerning whether they have a control/hold over you. If they do it will reveal itself in other destructive fruit in your life which give away your addition (not spending time with friends, family, spouses, kids or not giving your work/studies the best you can because you are exhausted from playing late into the night etc).

    In terms of the details of a game like Call of Duty I am fairly ignorant, I still like the Super Mario on the Nintendo game-boy or Free Tetris Online and Mario Cart on the Nintendo, Wee which probably tells you how uptodate I am.

    Thanks again for your comments and for highlighting that computer games can be a good thing, you’re absolutely right.


  5. Simon Barlow permalink
    1 September 2012 8:51 am

    Well steve can see your points about addiction being a bad thing, and also children should have restricted access to porn.
    It is a shame though that the only alternative you give to “redeem” these people is to turn to religion.
    There are many non secular ways and program’s available to help these individuals stop or control their addiction, and unless I’m mistaken yourself and others within the church have no formal training or expertise to help them clinically.
    Such a troubled individual who immerses himself or herself like this I suppose though is an easy target for the church/alpha group to recruit and another type of troubled individual who if they can be addicted to one thing can also get addicted to Jesus.
    You talk about the joy gotten from porn and computer games and from brain scans the elation that can be seen, I would also put too you that the same can be said from any organised event such as a football match or evangelical church service.
    I’m sure as an intelligent person you can see the similarities between addiction to porn computer games and addiction to Jesus both are very uncontainable and all are fantasy figures!!

  6. 1 September 2012 9:35 am

    Hi Si,

    Long time no speak, I didn’t know you’d read a blog like mine. Nice to hear from you and thanks for your comments.

    In terms of what you have said. Here is how I see them

    (1) Yes I believe that true freedom is only found in Jesus – and yes I appreciate that that can be (is?) offensive/bizarre to anyone who thinks differently.

    (2) As a church we are very happy to work alongside experts as, with regards to another issue, my blog interview with Rob Waller a few weeks ago highlighted –

    (3) I am not asking people to turn to organised religion to redeem them but to a relationship with the living God who made them, loves them, died for them and can give them fullness of life (again, I appreciate this may sound looney to someone who thinks different)

    (4) In terms of ‘easy target’ – I have found the opposite. Whilst I would love the church to be good at welcoming and helping those with pornography addition, all too often these people feel either (a) too full of shame that they would never talk about it to anyone or, tragically, (b) feel judged by the church and therefore they would be the LAST people they’d talk to. Jesus seemed to avoid both these problems as some of his greatest friends were prostitutes.

    (5) I totally agree that a football match or evangelical service can give same elation, the question again (see comments above) is whether it is self-serving or others/God-serving. I am not against (and nor is God) elation/joy/ecstasy in and of itself.

    (6) In terms of ‘addition to Jesus’. Firstly, I firmly believe he is not a fantasy but rose from the dead and is alive and well and working in the lives of millions today (an issue of debate I know but a person of your intelligence can’t just dismiss him that easily surely?!). Secondly, I believe that ‘addition to Jesus’ as you put it is the only addition that doesn’t become enslaving and crushing but frees you to serve others and INCREASES your self-control not the reverse.

    Grateful for your comments, as you can see…I think we mainly disagree…but I think these types of debates (in the right spirit) need to happen.


    • Simon Barlow permalink
      1 September 2012 11:19 am

      Steve great too speak to you too, been ages since seen you and glad your healthy and well and your family is well too xx

      So steve are you a creationist or believe in science? Do you believe dinasours existed? Etc etc as an intelligent person as you put it, why would I “believe” in something that cannot be proven to exist??
      The faith card doesn’t wash unfortunatly as doesn’t the story book etc you “believe” in.
      The church and organised religion is what’s wrong with this world and totally outdated,
      Wars, persecution, fundamentalism etc etc!!

      I find the notion of an omnipotent being that created all this ludicrous, if he exists who created him? and before him him? etc etc!!
      If this so called being exists isn’t it more likely he was a being from another planet that started off “evolution” on our planet rather than an old geezer with a white beard who is looks like us?? Which sounds more ridiculous??

      Sorry fella agree with certain things causing a breakdown of marriages, family’s and people growing up thats only part of the problem I bet!! In this fast moving world people choose due to lack of contentment and belonging and feeling disenfranchised, alone and unhappy to different vices to bring them some sort of relief and belonging, yes they watch porn and play video games, drink, use drugs and masterbate 😉 which none in moderation kills you some may make you go blind though 😉

      I like you was brought up in the church but as I grew up realised the hypocritical nature of it and the problems it brings, can see it can do good don’t get me wrong, can be a vital part of society and focus for communities.
      Unfortunatly since attending evangelical weddings and seeing the alpha course infiltrate and brainwash individuals who are messed up and vulnerable and the way it targets those type of people not only in the UK and Is now doing so in Australia as well I am appalled at the direction the church is going and at the people who are making money out of all this!!

      Ah well you enjoy being part of an organisation that is praying on the weak minded and converting them to the church whilst certain individuals make money out of it!!

      Sorry fella but someone has to speak out for others who are too weak minded to realise what is happening to them!!

      Si.b peace and love to all

  7. 1 September 2012 11:35 am

    Hi Si,

    Thank you for your passionate comments. Let me hazard a guess that you are a Richard Dawkins fan? I see many similarities in tone and content…you are the modern atheist preacher!!

    I’m sorry you had such a negative experience of church and have such negative views on Jesus. In terms of your objections, I’ll point you in the direction of a few people that I have found particularly helpful

    Andrew Wilson: If God then What –

    Tim Keller: The Reason for God –


  8. Jimbo permalink
    1 September 2012 11:40 am

    I would say boys becoming men has nothing really to do with porn,video games or even Jesus. There are many boys who don’t do porn or vids and still remain enslaved and there are many real men out there who have never heard of Jesus. Surely its more to do with being led, mentored and encouraged through your suffering by an older man who has paid his own dues…

  9. 1 September 2012 11:56 am

    Hi Jimbo,

    Whilst, as you know, I do think the first 3 matter I think you have hit on a key issue as to why boys never become men. The issue of good male role models (especially fathers) who demonstrate to boys what it is to be faithful, self-controlled, servant-hearted, strong (though not necessarily macho) and loving is a MASSIVE issue. I may write a blog post on this issue and extend the series


    • Jimbo permalink
      1 September 2012 12:29 pm

      Awesome. I did like you blog, tho I feel that porn and vids are symptoms, and that even though I have a Christian faith, that saying Jesus is the answer to the masculine problem doesn’t fix anything. I would also suggest that role models are not needed. Models are observed from afar…true mentors guide the boys through their suffering don’t you think?

      • 1 September 2012 1:07 pm

        Hi Jimbo,

        What’s the difference between a role model and a mentor in your mind? Because whilst i think mentors are great (& have personally benefitted from them) I don’t think they are essential for boys becoming men. However I do think role models are essential – not everyone needs a mentor but everyone needs a role model.

        I’m definitely going to do a post on mentors/role models/fathers from the book of proverbs and make this a 4-5 part series.

        Would live to know your thoughts on how you see role models and mentors.


  10. Jimbo permalink
    1 September 2012 1:18 pm

    Hey Steve,
    Great question, thanks!

    I would say that role models encourage passive imitation from a distance. This can be either positive or negative. We can have role models that help us or hinder us but the point is they are passive, and the observer merely takes on someone elses behaviour. I have definitely benefitted from this kind of imitation but I know that what I have needed to move from boyhood to manhood (something I can never be sure has happened) is to come face to face with my own flaws and weaknesses, to suffer losses of different kinds – in short – to be initiated into a new life, something a role model can’t offer.

    A boy could have the best role model in the world, and could follow that pattern his whole life, but is he living his own narrative?

    A mentor would be someone who has also done this work and can tell us merely to keep going, love us and be with us in it. In my opinion, this is much more beneficial to boys than just watching someone elses behaviour.

    It also raises the more theological question of Jesus. Is he a role model? Do we merely imitate him? Or are the gospels about our participation in his life, suffering and ultimately resurrection. I lean towards the latter, and in this sense I would say Christ is the ultimate mentor.

  11. 1 September 2012 1:31 pm

    Hi Jimbo,

    Thanks for your insights and personal testimony. And yes you raise an interesting question regarding Jesus – is he our model/example or our saviour & Lord or both? I do think we imitate him (Philippians 2.5, Ephesians 5.1) but given that we will never perfectly imitate him we have to accept our flaws and receive him as saviour and follow him as Lord as well

    Thanks again…more to follow in another post

  12. 1 September 2012 1:41 pm

    Hi Steve, found this from a link Luke Smith put on facebook.

    I thought your post was excellent. As someone who has played video games for 20 odd years and worked in a video game shop I read your post with great interest.

    I think a few years ago I may have reacted in a similar way to one of the other commenters, extolling the positives of video games, all of which I do agree with to an extent. My struggle came when I felt called back into Christian Youth work after a four year hiatus. I looked at my collection (and of DVD’s too) and felt challenged I guess. The amount of violence and other things didn’t sit well with me anymore, so I sold the offending games and just kept things like FIFA which I did indeed play with mates.

    However, I soon got my part-time job back in the shop and again found myself pulled into the world of wanting the latest title and so on. Eventually the shop closed and I lost my job. Which brings me to now. Now I have reached the point again where I am thinning down my collection to mainly sporting titles. I could argue that as a youth worker it’s good for me to know what the kids are banging on about, but as you have pointed out they need good role models. Not people who do the same things they like but people who have the right attitudes to the things they like.

    Sorry if that’s a bit jumbled. As an aside the gaming industry is becoming hugely expensive with add on models that increase the cost to the consumer. Most games now have optional downloadable content and the most ‘savvy’ of publishers are not only selling a game for £40-£50 but also an additional ‘season pass’ which gives you discounted access to this content for a period of time. This can cost anything up to £35.

    Anyway back on track. When it comes to addiction would you say that human’s, in general, have addictive personalities?

  13. 1 September 2012 1:58 pm

    Hi Nick,

    Thanks for your honesty. It is really helpful to hear your story as I have mainly worked with guys struggling with porn not computer games (though seen it from a distance). It is great to hear you have managed to exercise self-control when you feel the pull and that you take your job as a youth worker (role model) seriously.

    In terms of your question, I think the bible clearly says that we are all addicts (slaves is the biblical word) to our passions, faulty thinking and worldly ways and can only be set free by the Holy Spirit as we hear the gospel. See John 8.33ff, Ephesians 2.1-3, Titus 3.3-4 & 2 Peter 2.19-20 to name a few passages.

    We become slaves/addicts whenever we build our identity on anything other than God. When something, however neutral/good it may be in and of itself (e.g sport, music, beauty, food, computer games, money etc) gives us ULTIMATE meaning, hope, confidence and satisfaction in life then that thing will eventually enslave us and crush us. We will need more and more of ‘that thing’ to be satisfied and so it will start to control us. Like any addict we’ll experience the ‘tolerance effect’ where to get the same ‘buzz’ we need more of ‘the thing’ more of the time with increased dosages each time. Only Jesus (to quote Tim Keller) is a master who satisfies/frees us when we get him and forgives us when we fail him.

    In direct answer to your question, it seems that some people do have more addictive personalities than others IN THAT they make bad choices and continue to give in to something and therefore find themselves more enslaved. Also common grace and peer pressure can also constrain the human heart.

    Finding freedom comes through (a) believing the truth & delighting in Jesus, (b) prayer & the work of the Holy Spirit and (c) the encouragement & challenge of the Christian Community.


    • 1 September 2012 2:20 pm

      Cheers for that – articulated what I felt! I was just caught by that phrase earlier ‘addicted to Jesus’. I have always found bad habits (or addictions) much easier and quicker to form than good ones!

      I have read a few Keller books including Counterfeit Gods, and thought it was spot on.

      Do you think addiction is always bad and that Jesus is the only person who can handle our addiction? Maybe I am not as holy as others but my experience with Jesus is not like other addictions. Speculatively I suppose this may be to do with instant satisfaction vs long term satisfaction? It doesn’t just seem to be me either. I mean in a ‘normal’ addiction we just feed our addiction with more and more intense forms of it, but with Jesus often ‘salt water and fresh water’ flow from the same spring so to speak.

      Another difference is self discipline. To not indulge in your addiction requires, among other things, self discipline, which is also what we need to consistently choose Jesus.

      Just some random thoughts!

  14. ewanmckechnie permalink
    1 September 2012 11:31 pm

    Hi Steve,

    Just thought I’d share that although a year ago I would have quite possibly considered Simon’s views to be similar to my own, I can now say that Jesus really does heal in these areas and for the first time in possibly 10 years I am free from the shame and addiction to porn that I’ve felt in the past.

    Why? Because as I began to investigate the Christianity & the Bible, the more I followed Jesus’ directions, the less I felt drawn to and in need of porn. And when I suddenly realised what was happening I embraced it and found freedom! And not just freedom from porn, freedom from every earthly thing that I found myself overindulging in and feeling troubled by. Nick raises a crucial point in suggesting that Jesus is different to any other kind of addiction; He is permanent and not temporary! That’s the key reason why he is able to free us!..

    Addiction to Jesus is an ever-giving fruit that doesn’t just give in to us, but challenges us, changes us, heals us and eternally satisfies us! I urge anyone who is shocked or hurt by these words to simply step out and let jesus in by just digging a little deeper into what Christianity really is and what it TRULY feels like. But you have to step out, show him you are willing. He won’t fail to deliver and you have NOTHING to lose.

    So I can happily say YES I’m addicted to Jesus! and YES I am literally happier and more satisfied than I can ever remember being in my entire life. It’s pretty amazing.

    Two words. Unconditional Love.

    I Hope this helps someone.

    All the best,


    • 2 September 2012 9:19 am

      Hey Ewan,

      Thanks for your honesty and it is great to see how Jesus has changed your life.

      And I hope your testimony does help others too

      God bless

  15. 13 October 2012 3:18 pm

    Hi, I am looking for part 2 and 3 of this discussion (Why boys never become men). Can someone lead me to them. Thanks!

    • 13 October 2012 6:32 pm

      Hi Scott,

      Yep it is coming but (a) we have just moved countries so still finding our feet and (b) in trying to get a job I want to keep my blog away from topics that might put employers off.

      Hopefully parts 2-4 will be up by end of November

      Thanks for the prompt

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