Screwtape's Formula

Boys, Video Games & Porn

Rating: 5.00

According to a new book, we are witnessing the social, intellectual and sexual demise of our young men. We should have seen it coming. I’ll explain, next on BreakPoint.

Listen Now | Download

John Stonestreet

A generation of young men is choosing fantasy over reality. At least that’s what Dr. Philip Zimbardo of Stanford University and psychologist Nikita Duncan argue in their new book, The Demise of Guys: Why Boys Are Struggling and What We Can Do About It.

The message of the book is simple: Research is demonstrating that young men are becoming addicted to video games and online pornography on a scale unparalleled by any addiction that we’ve ever seen in history.

But unlike with drugs, alcohol or gambling, these addictions aren’t for ever-increasing quantity. Instead, they drive boys and young men to seek novelty  — the next big thrill.

According to Zimbardo and Duncan, it’s the same phenomenon observed in laboratory rats which, when given the opportunity, abandoned food in order to electrically stimulate the part of the brain responsible for pleasure. In effect, the rats gladly “short-circuit” their natural means of enjoyment to get a thrill that felt new every time.

“Young men…who play video games and use porn the most,” say the authors, “are being digitally rewired in a totally new way that demands constant stimulation.”

Not only does this kind of addiction rob guys of the time, money and health they need to do other things, but it also diminishes their ability to enjoy real life, which can never offer stimulation as frequently, easily or in as much variety. As a result, say Zimbardo and Duncan, young men addicted to digital sex and digital soldiering are less able or willing to participate in those acts for real.

A recent study in “Psychology Today,” which I talked about last year on “The Point,” reinforces this prognosis. The study found that men who regularly viewed internet pornography actually lost their ability to perform in real-life sexual relationships.

As a consequence of this over-stimulation, boys are now growing up with “new brains.” Not only are they poorly wired for traditional learning, they lack the capacity for strong romantic relationships. Why? Because they tend to be largely unable to delay gratification or set long-term goals.  They have to live for now.

And as any junkie knows, this ultimately makes us miserable. A recent study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reveal that “regular porn users,” despite constant stimulation and excitement, are more likely to report depression…poor physical health,” and “isolation.” And we all probably know young men who could use a little more playtime with real people and a lot less PlayStation.

I’m reminded of a chapter from C. S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters, in which the distinguished old devil, Screwtape, tells his apprentice nephew how to destroy humans with pleasure: “…we always try to work away from the natural condition of any pleasure,” he writes, “to that in which it is least natural, least redolent of its Maker, and least pleasurable. An ever increasing craving for an ever diminishing pleasure is the formula.”

But simply cursing the darkness here won’t solve anything. We need to recognize that, as Screwtape himself admits, all pleasures — even destructive ones — are originally based on God’s good design.

Young men are supposed to desire sex — within marriage. And, while all right in moderation, video games aren’t the true outlet for the male desire to be heroic and to fight for worthy causes.

We need to learn how to replace counterfeit pleasure with legitimate pleasure, encouraging young men to set aside cheap imitations and prepare themselves spiritually, morally, and emotionally to pursue the real thing.

This is a place where the church can lead culture — by leading the rescue effort for this generation of young men.

Do you have any ideas? Visit BreakPoint.org, click on this commentary, and leave a comment or a suggestion.

Further Reading and Information

'The Demise of Guys'
Dr. Philip G. Zimbardo and Nikita Duncan | CNN | May 24, 2012

Fake Love, Fake War
Russell Moore | Desiring God | May 25, 2012

Internet pornography destroying men's ability to perform with real women, finds study
Daily Mail Online| October 11, 2011

Lust or Love?
John Stonestreet | BreakPoint.org | November 29, 2011

His Cheatin' Heart
Kim Moreland | BreakPoint.org | August 20, 2007

Porn Degrades Everyone
Gina Dalfonzo | BreakPoint.org | May 25, 2009

Born for Pleaure?
T. M. Moore | ColsonCenter.org | September 10, 2011

Antidote to Pornography
T. M. Moore | ColsonCenter.org | February 14, 2011


Want for alternatives and narratives
Thank you Mr. Stonestreet for this concise eye-opener and poignant commentary.
Thank you other commenters, also, for rallying with support. However, as a 21 years-young man in the very throes of this world's attacks, I find the comments and suggestions dismally lacking. Yes, I agree there should be affirmation to young men that it is good and even *attractive* to stay pure, even to measure their sexual prowess (yes this must be addressed - young men want to be powerful in pretty well every way) in terms of restraint rather than use, and yes we should be told it is good to hold doors and sacrifice for sisters. But, there is an enraging gap there: what are we to do with our creative energies? Our sexual desires? Our desire for action? Our free time? Should we submissively dawdle around in circles trying to stay pure, and running from public place to public place trying to be more efficient servants than revolving doors? No. Young men, I think, need to have visions cast for them about good things to do. People on the forefront need to explain the beauty and adventure in books ranging from Sci-fi to History. We young men need visions cast repeatedly of SPECIFICS of how the ordinary life can be an adventure. Honestly we need a G.K. Chesterton perpetually speaking to the our hearts, and a companion like J.R.R. Tolkien wouldn't hurt. Instead we have the fairly whinny John Eldridge who shows that (pardon my crude paraphrasing - but realizing, most of us only get/take away the crude paraphrasing) men are only men if they go kill a bear instead of masturbating. We have texts such as Everyman's Battle which gives more creative examples of how the authors sought lustful pleasure than how they overcame their bad habits. Yes, I see that I am not providing these resources, but I am finding more and more how much they could help me. If I at all can represent the heart-cry of young men (though I am a Summit staffer and Hillsdale student, I am still a young man in this culture), then please work to provide better visions, ideas for playtime with others, invested companionship/mentoring, and stories of adventures in the ordinary. It is true, we should turn off the TV and pick up the Bible, but just saying that is pretty worthless. We young men need you to give us narratives, visions, and quality time with both excitement and exhortation; not so much flat reasons, pitiful self-help books, and distant rebukes.
Thank you dearly for taking the time to read through this rant.
In Christ,
Alex Graham.
War against the flesh
Thank you Mr.Stonestreet for shedding modern light on this problem that has existed since time's begin. One thing that hit me was you saying, "while all right in moderation, video games are not the true outlet for the male desire to be heroic and fight for a worthy cause." You're right men have been sucked into the gaming world leaving behind a world that desperately needs leaders and contributors to fight for causes such as proclaiming the gospel, providing relief for the poor, increasing education in low achieving neighborhoods, and so on. But temptation is overpowering men and as men in the church we should be on our knees pleading with God to help us instruct this generation to love God and to do His will. 1st John 3:15-16 tells us of the sins common to man and verse 17 tells us of the result of those who obey sin verses those who heed Gods commands by doing His will. Please let us continue to instruct the younger men with grace and gentleness but also firm rebuke as a loving father, brother, or friend.
This is so true, and very frightening. I am not sure that there is an answer for this epidemic. Not only are boys and young men filling their minds with this stuff, and causing damage, but, more and more are being created and advertised in mainstream media. Unfortunately, even though the church must be the leader in this fight, there is so much less interest in church these days that it is hard to imagine people listening to what church people have to say.
Well Said...
My ears perked up when I heard this on the radio and what he said is absolutely true and well stated. I think it is easy for people to get riled up about this topic when it is brought up but recognizing the problem is one thing and knowing how to work with men who are struggling in this area is another. I say this from personal experience. I was addicted to Pornography for over 6 years as a young man and I was a believer. Even when I sought help most of what people did was not helpful. People in the church take too simple an approach to this problem often giving trite answers rather than committing to long term dialog or pointing them to someone who can. Ultimately God led me to an organization that knew what they were doing. It is called Pure Heart Ministries based out of Portland, OR. The men who run this organization were sex addicts themselves and God led them out of their problem and they are teaching young men what to do based on God’s word as it related to their personal experience. They are also they are professional counselors. It took me two years of consistently addressing this in accountability and weekly lessons to be free and my life was turned 180 degrees around. I have found as I have been counseling guys that once I teach them the principles I have learned that it bleeds over into the issue of all the other fake ways they are satisfying their God given desires. P.S. Masturbation is the power source for much of this problem. Once this is taken care of, which is not easy, then it becomes far easier to solve the porn issue. What is hard is that fathers are either absent from their sons or they see so many problems in their son’s and then try to solve all of them at once. The young man is left with so much knowledge he doesn’t know what to do. The father should take one truth a week and go over it with his son. He should teach it with authority but keep the time short and leave lots of space for the son to speak. The son may have very important things to say.
Thanks, Erik
Making Men
This is a terrific article. Thank you for highlighting the need to rescue the current generation of young men from counterfeit pleasures.

A book I found helpful to that end is "Man Made: Reclaiming the Passage from Boy to Man" (De Man, Pearson, Arendt). It's a quick read written by guys in the thick of raising their sons. Each chapter unpacks a stage of manhood (the authors present five) through stories from their lives. Then they present practical ideas for crafting experiences that foster authentic manhood in boys from age five to adulthood.

Appreciate your on-going effort to assist us with bringing a Biblical Worldview to our culture.

Boys schools
The Christian world might do good to rethink high school. Our public schools have become fountains for an anti-biblical world view. We also need to think whether coed schools are best for our children. An amazingly disproportionate number of leaders come out of single-sex schools. Chuck Colson himself went to a Boys school and I believe Brown was still a men's college at the time he graduated. There is much about single-sex schools that develop leaders and we need more leaders in the Church!
I believe that everything that we watch on television we are influenced by... I say turn off the tv, put down the video game and lets pick up the word of God... the believers need to come together...
Someone at work was having a baby. They asked me what advice I would give them. I thought for a moment, then said "You know that I want you to raise your child in a Biblical fashion, so that goes without saying. My advice-Keep your kids away from all forms of electronic media for as long as you can"

I hope you stand strong also. That's what we've been calling Breaking the Spiral of Silence around here. It won't be done by any formula, but by courage.

Rooting for you,
Heroic Thoughts
A very brief mentioning was made on your show today, in which the speaker stated that young men today aren't feeling the drive to be heroic, or to do things that have meaning. I feel like you need to realize something, fellow Christians and concerned citizens; This is a result of a lot of things. A lot of things you have been warned about. Somebody today also says "I don't know how we didn't see this coming"; I wonder how you didn't see it, also.

So many of my friends are literally addicted to evil. The music, the games, the TV, the drugs, the porn, the strip clubs, its crazy. And there's nothing i can do but sit back, and calmly state to my friends that its "Their choice" and I really can't interfere past that without them turning violent. Thanks to the Music, the TV, The drugs, etc.

Most of the youth today thinks its cool to be a "thug" because the media completely misrepresents thugs, showing them as being rich and luxurious. "Pimp.". After the kids are hooked on the idea that /that/ is the only way to acquire those things; they show them that the only way to be a thug is by being a loner, stealing, lying, cheating, and killing. "And when I go to hell, Lord knows I'm gonna fry."

Those are ACTUAL lyrics from a song. Messed up, right?

I wanted to let you know who I am, and what I'm doing, friends. My name is Daniel Hinkofer, M, 19. I have undergone a severe and miraculous recovery from the aforementioned afflictions, and I now feel like I stand alone against a tidal wave; as I alienated all of my christian friends a long time ago; to enter the "Thug Life". Getting hit by a semi really put things in perspective.

That right there should say something in and of itself; to snap me out of the trance most kids are in today; it didn't just take a slap in the face from God. No. It took a semi. It's time to literally stand up for whats right now. Todays radio broadcast was incredible. It tackled something most people out there would hate to hear; which means you were doing something right. Keep it up. Here soon, you should stand up and let EVERYBODY know/remember what a "thug" and a "gangster" actually are, and actually do.

Remind people its possible to live a comfortable life in God. Though it isn't /about/ the money, money could still be a blessing God provides. COULD. Not WILL. It is also important people understand that.

I want to stand before this tidal wave. I want it to hit me full force, pass me by, and still be standing in the same place I was when it hit. God is all that makes this even metaphorically possible; but I have the utmost faith that it will work out in the seen world, as well.
Saving Boys
Great commentary John, and good insight to a very important need. I can recommend the book Wild At Heart by John Eldridge as a fine resource in this area. And not for the feint at heart, I Am Charlotte Simmons by Tom Wolfe. It is pretty hard hitting, but an honest look at college life and the very damaging effects of an undiciplined, unrestrained lifestyle on both boys and girls. I had the "pleasure" of having my next door neighbor rent his house to a major university in Los Angeles as an off campus frat house for one semester. I was stunned at the base hedonism and absolute disregard for common decency and public law displayed by these boys and girls. The only thing they really seemed to care about was getting drunk or high and being reckless. And there was no one there to control them. Even LAPD got tired of coming to the same address every weekend, knowing there was very little they could do (without a warrant) other than to tell them (again) to quiet down. And the university police were equally as ineffective at control. It was quite an eye opening experience, one I don't recommend to anyone. (I think it was the $1700.00 light bill for the first month that finally got the landlord's attention....the property damage to the inside of his house was a second heart stopper....it was BAD.) The church needs to lead the way back to dicipline and delayed gratification as the only truely satisfying lifestyle.

Carry on, John, and all of you at Colson Center. You are all doing a wonderful job.

Keith C
Saving Boys
Thanks for the courageous commentary, John! As a Centurion graduate and a Pasotr of a 200+ family integrated Church of mostly homeschoolers, this topic comes up often. As a parent, we must talk to and know our sons. We must bring up this topic in private or as a part of family worship for the whole family. As a Pastor, this topic cannot escape our preaching. I recently spoke at a conservative Christian homeschool graduation and used the Birkenhead diaster (women and children first) as an example of godly manhood to challenge the graduates. This is a quote from that speech: "You see, the culture needs the firm moral foundation that you have been given. That foundation that tells boys that it is good to be a boy, it is good to be a man, it is good to be courageous, it is good to be a hero, it is good to sacrifice for his sister, it is good to hold the door for his mother, it is good to stay pure until marriage. Young men, you have been given this firm foundation. So, don’t follow the culture, lead the culture and reform it in the name of Jesus Christ!

And on this note of marriage, let me just say that I recognize that you may not get married, but until God puts that unique call upon your heart, I’d plan on it as it appears that God calls most people to marriage. Despite that fact, relationships between young men and young women are among the most vile aspects of our culture. So, I want to encourage you that as you go out as kingdom builders with your Christian worldview and moral foundation, keep your eyes open for godly women and encourage them in their godliness, treat them with respect and honor. If you find a particular young lady with whom God is knitting your hearts together, then get her father’s permission to take her out, setup boundaries for alone time to demonstrate that you respect her enough to stay pure until your wedding, work hard at your vocation to support her and your home – even if it is to keep you in your double-wide…and then as a key strategy to grow the kingdom of God on this earth, have a ton of kids as the Lord leads and blesses :~)'.

Keep up the good work, John! Laboring with you in the Lord...
Mark B