American teens are watching porn and seeking it out more than any previous generation. According to a report released January 20 by the Barna Group, today's teens and young adults are exposed younger, are viewing more, and are increasingly desensitized to the images.

The Barna Group presented the results of their wide-ranging, nationally-representative sample of nearly 3,000 American teenagers, Christian pastors, and the Christian church. The Barna analysis did not compare Catholic teens and religious leaders with those from other denominations, but similar results are likely.

Christian author and speaker Josh McDowell, speaking at the Barna Group's press conference on “The Porn Phenomenon” this morning in New York City, said, “Pornography violates all relational values between the individual and self, the individual and society, the unit of our families and our moral fabric and fiber as a nation.... When we objectify and demean life by removing the sanctity of the human person, our future is at risk.” 

With pornography easily available on-line and on cell phones, more than one-quarter (27%) of young adults ages 25-30 (referred to as “Millennials”) reported that they had viewed pornography before reaching puberty. In contrast, only 13% of young adults classified as “Generation X”—those  who were born between the early 1960s and the early '80s—first viewed pornography at that early age. And nearly half of respondents say that the come across porn at least once a week, even when they're not looking for it.

With the increased exposure to porn, there has been a corresponding increase in acceptance. Barna reported that 90% of teens and 96% of young adults have a cavalier attitude toward porn—speaking about it in a neutral, accepting or encouraging way. Ironically, while these young Americans take for granted the widespread availability of pornographic images, they are nearly twice as likely to view “not recycling” as morally wrong.

High school boys, at 92%, are still the group most likely to view pornography; but more young women are actively seeking out porn. Barna reports that one-third of young women ages 13-24 seek out porn at least once a month, as compared to only 12% of women over 25.

Especially troubling in the report is the increase in “sexting” or sending pornographic images via cell phone. Barna reported that two-thirds of teens and young adults (66%) have received a sexually explicit message, and two in every five (41%) have sent one—usually to/from a boyfriend or girlfriend.

The Catholic Church considers the use of pornography to achieve sexual gratification to be gravely immoral. The Catechism (Paragraph 2354) says:

It offends against chastity because it perverts the conjugal act, the intimate giving of spouses to each other. It does grave injury to the dignity of its participants (actors, vendors, the public), since each one becomes an object of base pleasure and illicit profit for others. It immerses all who are involved in the illusion of a fantasy world. It is a grave offense. Civil authorities should prevent the production and distribution of pornographic materials.

Dr. Gregory Popcak, in his book Holy Sex: A Catholic Guide to Toe-Curling, Mind-Blowing, Infallible Loving, quotes Dr. Paul Vitz, citing five secular arguments against the use of pornography and masturbation to achieve sexual satisfaction:

  1. It's narcissistic. Masturbation takes something that should be a path to sanctification and communion with others and turns it into a miserly act that's all about keeping the gift to oneself.
  2. It's regressive. Dr. Vitz described masturbation as “one step above thumb-sucking.” People who masturbate habitually often do it as a way of dealing with the stress that comes from problems in life. But grown-ups deal with the problems of life by facing them and solving them, not by retreating to a dark room with a glowing screen and a box of tissues.
  3. It's addictive. Masturbation artificially stimulates the pleasure centers of the brain and releases the bonding chemicals that accompany sexual release. Although the biochemical bonding impulse is engaged, there is nothing to bond to—except the act itself.
  4. It's objectifying. It turns people into objects in two ways: First, the models are treated like “things” that can be posed and thrown away, instead of like people who have a right to be loved. Second, it teaches the person who views porn or masturbates that real people should act just like the models in the images, or that real people exist just to simply scratch the individual's sexual itch.
  5. It's progressive. Like any addiction, eventually you need more of it, and more extreme forms of it, to maintain the chemical high achieved by the behavior.

The Barna Group will release a full report this spring at their Set Free Global Summit, a comprehensive conference for Christian leaders on Internet pornography, which will be held in Greensboro, North Carolina on April 4-7, 2016.