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Interview: Ian Henderson, founder and CEO of Naked Truth Project

17 September 2021

‘Christian silence communicates that porn is too terrible to discuss’

I founded Naked Truth in 2013 because I’d seen, with family and friends, how porn is hijacking people’s lives.

The damage is multifaceted.
One key thing is the change from videos to online porn. Neuroscientists can show how internet super-stimuli impact our brain’s reward system. Even checking ordinary texts can be addictive.

Part of what makes online porn a super-stimuli is there’s always novelty,
something more, in a way you didn’t have with magazines or videos. It feels more exciting, causing unnatural levels of dopamine release, which in turn can create dependency and tolerance.

In addition, content has become ever more extreme.
A Google search of “porn” would present abusive and violent and unregulated content on the first page of results. One MP put it like this: “What is illegal to buy from a sex shop because of UK laws is served up for free everyday online.”

It’s not just dependency or addiction.
GPs are now diagnosing porn-induced erectile dysfunction for men in their 20s, perhaps because the average age for boys beginning to view porn is now as young ten or 11.

Because it’s so accessible, anonymous, addictive,
it’s become a much more significant part in people’s lives, and this can affect what’s considered normal for relationships. A recent government report makes an undisputed link between the volume of porn consumed by young people and the increase in rape culture and harassment reported in schools and colleges. One survey showed 56 per cent of divorces cited excessive porn use as a cause of marriage breakdown.

Many people don’t realise the damage it’s doing until it feels too late;
so we’re as passionate about prevention as restoration. We try to provide education upstream and support downstream for people accessing mainstream, legal content.

It’s difficult for church leaders to speak about this,
but, statistically, at least 68 per cent of churchgoing men could be struggling with porn, and it’s not just men: 33 per cent of visitors to porn websites are female. In September 2020, 49 per cent of the UK population said they had viewed porn, according to OFCOM. One website reported over 44 billion views in one year. Behind these statistics are men, women, and children damaged physically, emotionally, relationally, and spiritually.

Just because someone attends church doesn’t mean they aren’t struggling with these things,
and if not directly, perhaps because of those they love. Parents are panicking about what their children are facing. It’s important to talk about it. Christian silence communicates that porn is too terrible to discuss, and so users feel they are terrible, and there’s no help for them. None of that is true.

Getting real, getting rid:
to get rid of this kind of problem, it’s starts with radical honesty with ourselves, first, and then others: what is this stealing from me? From those around me? How is it causing destruction? Sometimes people try to beat an addiction on their own, but usually it’s too difficult without bringing others into it. When we’re honest with ourselves about the damage that we’re causing, honest with God and even others, we can embrace God’s forgiveness, love, and freedom.

The Church can help to acknowledge the problem and signpost help:
both in Jesus, and in practical programmes. Ninety-three per cent of church leaders said porn was a bigger problem than ever before, but only seven per cent of that group had practical help for those that need it. That’s why we do what we do.

Our team of 40 communicators, educators, and creatives
works to inform and inspire conversation around the impacts of pornography in schools, churches, and culture; and our professional counsellors and specialists provide practical support to people and their families.

We have an HQ in Manchester, but the majority of the team work remotely and are based internationally.
All our recovery groups and sessions are hosted online; so we’re able to have teams in the UK, the US, New Zealand, and Europe.

We have schools teams based around various regions of the UK, too,
presenting lessons to thousands of pupils each year, and training parents through online and in-person workshops. We also raise awareness more widely, collaborating with creative artists and filmmakers.

Our recovery work is accessible and affordable:
either free or significantly subsidised. Our work in schools and churches often needs to be subsided, too; so we rely on the generosity of some trusts and grants, and lots of smaller donations from generous individuals.

We do have some exposure to case-studies,
and it’s difficult reading at times . . . stories from schools. As a parent, it’s . . . But we’re not having to wade through really difficult stuff. We have clinical supervision, and we’re aware of our own baggage.

What’s harder are accusations that we’re being moralistic or judgemental.
It’s not about judgement: it’s about believing there’s a better story for individuals and society. The story of the emperor’s new clothes says how easily we go along with things because we don’t want to look stupid. It takes a bit of courage to say: “I’m not so sure.”

There are many reasons for questioning porn, aside from faith
— and more people are starting to ask questions, particularly when it affects young people. Is porn just personal choice? Are we needing to put some guard-rails for society in here?

Starting a porn charity isn’t what many people plan to do with their lives. I certainly didn’t discuss it with my careers teacher.

I’ve worked for charities my whole professional life, mostly involved with mission and evangelism. Whether I was working in schools or church-planting in urban areas of deprivation, I wanted to break new ground and reach people who seem out of reach of the hope and life that God offers. Though Naked Truth has a focus around pornography, ultimately we are about pioneering something for the Kingdom: perceptions can change. God can restore and rebuild. History is our witness. He has changed culture before and can again.

I grew up in Oxfordshire, and then moved to the Norfolk coast for my teenage years — a beautiful place to grow up, with lots of freedom. For the last 20 years, I’ve lived in inner-city Manchester. We have two teenage daughters, who are born-and-bred Mancunians. We enjoy food; so, after cooking and baking, we tend to gather around our table to eat and talk. Daily life is loud — northern and southern accents competing to be the loudest.

I was brought up in a Christian home,
but my first personal encounter with God was as a 13-year-old at a Christian conference. Many teens give up on God and Church, but I experienced him in such a real and tangible way that I knew I needed to pursue him for the rest of my life.

The adventure continues,
as he continues to reveal his love and purpose for me and others. Like everyone, I experience pain, difficulty, disappointment, and challenge, but it’s that love and purpose that keeps me going. I hope to become more like Jesus, and be the person he would be in my shoes.

Some of my own failings make me angry.
And injustice. Selfishness. Lies.

I pray for Jesus to lead me,
and to be true to Christ, kind to others, and to go with the gospel.

The last 18 months have taught me that everyone is fragile,
and the hems of our heroes are frayed. Some very public mistakes were made, both in Christian and secular worlds. People do the best they can in challenging times, and they may not be as sorted as we believe they are.

The many young adults I know,
including my children, give me hope for the future.

I’d choose to be locked in a church with Julian of Norwich.
Lots of wisdom, and being locked in a church wouldn’t worry her.

Ian Henderson was talking to Terence Handley MacMath.

An online conference to advise churches on how to tackle pornography runs 28-30 September: pwordconference.com; nakedtruthproject.com

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