by Terrell Clemmons
In recent years, visitors to the semi-annual AdultCon pornography extravaganza have encountered a new and unlikely exhibit. A poster prominently displayed in front of the booth lists disturbing statistics about the porn industry while another toward the back simply reads, “Porn Is Not Glamorous.” The men and women manning the booth wear black t-shirts with a hot pink cross on the front. Some of the shirts also read “Ex-Porn Star” beneath the cross. Meet the outreach team of the Pink Cross.
Founded by Shelley Lubben in 2008, the Pink Cross is a non-profit charity that reaches out to adult industry workers offering emotional, financial, and transitional support for anyone who wants to get free from the trap of pornography. A tall, blond wife and mother of three, Shelley knows how desperately they need it. She’s an ex-porn star herself.
Molested at age nine by a classmate and the classmate’s older brother, Shelley engaged in various sexual encounters with both boys and girls until her parents told her to leave home at age 18. Alone and penniless, she sold herself, first as a prostitute and exotic dancer, then as a star in adult films because the money was better.
Shelley’s descent into porn is typical—about 90 percent of adult film actors were sexually abused as children. That statistic alone indicates that there is something terribly wrong about this industry. But it gets worse. The apostle Paul wrote to the Christians in Rome, “Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone to obey him as slaves, you are slaves to the one whom you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness?” (Romans 6:16). A closer look at porn shows that it causes enslavement, destruction, and death wherever it spreads.
Too Terrible to Describe
Before his 1989 execution, convicted serial killer Ted Bundy explained how reading pornography had influenced his criminal behavior. “My experience with pornography . . . is once you become addicted to it . . . [you] keep looking for more potent, more explicit, more graphic kinds of material.” The most damaging kinds of pornography, he warned, “are those that involve violence and sexual violence. Because the wedding of those two forces, as I know only too well, brings out the hatred that is just, just too terrible to describe.” Bundy, who said he began reading pornography at about age 12, confessed to murdering more than 30 women.
That same decade President Ronald Reagan had appointed a commission to study the effects of porn on society. The commission found that pornography was linked to organized crime, sexual violence and degradation, and a host of other societal scourges and recommended that laws concerning it be strengthened and enforced. But the Senate voted to reject the commission’s findings and recommendations, and porn has exploded. Today it accounts for a fourth of all video rentals. Internet pornography is the fourth most common reason people give for going online, and the largest group viewing it online are young people ages 12 to 17.
Like a cancer in our midst, the affliction is varied.
Physical damage. It should be no surprise that sexually transmitted diseases are epidemic among industry workers. A whopping two thirds of actors have non-curable herpes, and an estimated seven percent have HIV. The average life expectancy of a performer is about half that of the general population. The damage to consumers is of a different kind, but no less harmful. Neurologist Dr. Norman Doidge, in The Brain That Changes Itself (Penguin Group, 2007), describes how habitual use of pornography influences the development of neural pathways in the brain, and alters users’ brain circuitry in much the same way as does cocaine and methamphetamine use, pathologic gambling, or compulsive overeating. For all practical purposes, pornography is neurologically addicting.
Psychological damage. Shelley explains how porn stars get lured in and willingly cooperate in their own undoing. “You have to do what they want on the sets,” she says. “Girls . . . feel like stars. They get attention. . . . They don’t realize the degradation. . . . Raised on porn, [they] don’t even ask if it’s wrong. . . . They get into drugs to numb themselves . . . and they turn themselves off emotionally and die.” As for consumers, Dr. Doidge notes that in a study of men viewing Internet pornography, they looked “uncannily” like experimental rats pushing levers to get their next fix of dopamine. “Pornographers promise healthy pleasure and relief from sexual tension, but what they often deliver is addiction, tolerance, and an eventual decrease in pleasure,” he concludes.
Relational damage. Men and women are made for bonding, but pornography use subverts the natural bonding that should occur in marriage as users begin to substitute porn for human interaction, intimacy, and character-building challenges requiring discipline and self-sacrifice. “Porn impotence,” where a man prefers masturbation with pornography over physical intimacy with his wife, is a growing phenomenon, resulting in husbands who are dysfunctional and wives who feel abandoned for a virtual mistress.
Societal damage. As goes marriage, so goes society. Because of its ubiquity and anonymity, pornography is one of the most immediately available forms of sexual abandon today. In Sex and Culture (Oxford University Press, 1934), Cambridge anthropologist Dr. J. D. Unwin examined 86 cultures spanning 5,000 years. Without exception, cultures that valued and practiced a “sex-within-marriage” ethic prospered. Those that didn’t deteriorated.
Evil Forces, Horrific Realities
Pornography is more than naughty behavior. Like all perversions of things God created to be good—in this case, sexuality—it’s driven by spiritual forces at enmity with God. Shelley wrote that when she did her first adult film, “Something very ‘dark’ came over me.” April Garris, another porn actress turned Christian, began to pray for people trapped in pornography. She wrote about one of her prayer sessions during which “the Lord literally opened my eyes to see and understand the demonic reality that exists in the midst of the porn industry. It does not exist ‘behind-the scenes’ nor has it ‘infiltrated’ the industry—it completely controls the inner workings and has power over those involved. The people involved in the production of the video [are] completely oblivious to this horrific reality.”
Light Shines out of Darkness
The antidotes for the affliction of pornography are the same as those for any sin: the love of God, the grace of the gospel, and the truths of creation—in this case, the truth that God created sexuality to be good and marriage to be the setting for it. In 1994 Shelley met a kind young man named Garrett, who took a genuine interest in her. He frequently called her, but, “I kept saying no. I wasn’t able to have a normal relationship because my heart was completely cold toward all men.” But Garrett persisted, and eventually “my broken heart started to feel again. He said he wanted to rescue me. I never met any man like Garrett. He saw something in me no one else did. He was a friend to a prostitute, just like Jesus.” They married in 1995, and Shelley began to heal. In 2002, she began counseling adult industry workers in rescue missions and prisons, and in 2008 The Pink Cross was born.
Love, grace, and truth rescued Shelley. Today, a beautiful, light-bearing embodiment of the redemptive power of Jesus Christ, she labors to rescue others, even if it means going back into the belly of the beast. “Pink Cross pledges,” she paraphrases President John F. Kennedy, “that we shall meet any hardship, bear any burden, oppose any foe to assure the success of our mission: to expose the lies of porn and set the captives free!”
Terrell Clemmons is a freelance writer in Indianapolis, Indiana.
Find out more about Shelley:
And her foundation, The Pink Cross: