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Audience takes sides in porn debate; Women in Porn Steering Their Own Ships says Ron Jeremy

GRAND RAPIDS — Brandon Szymczak used to look at pornography.

The 24-year-old Grand Rapids man said he gave it up recently because he knows it is bad, and it has ruined personal relationships.

“It makes you want to be alone,” he said. “It separates you from people.”

Szymczak was one of about 400 people who attended Tuesday’s debate between “Porn Pastor” Craig Gross and “Porn King” Ron Jeremy at The Intersection, 133 Grandville Ave. SW. The unlikely pair have toured the country.

Joe Kunard, 25, of Hudsonville, believes the stigma that surrounds pornography is the true villain.

“I side more with Ron Jeremy,” he said. “I think if porn were a more socialized concept, the number of violent sexual crimes would go down.”

Both camps listened to Jeremy and Gross dive into such issues as child pornography, phone sex, masturbation and female empowerment.

Jeremy, star of 1,900 pornographic movies, said many female porn stars steer their own ships.

“A lot of them are making lots of money and are in charge of their companies,” Jeremy said.

But at what price, Gross asks.

He believes not only are the women making the films exploited, but women in relationships are forced to live up to unreal expectations.

“Porn is your sex ed these days,” he said. “Women can’t compete with it.”

Gross, a California native and Grand Rapids Township resident, is founder of xxxchurch.com, an online ministry dedicated to helping those who struggle with porn.

His church has helped adult film stars get out of the industry by offering financial, emotional and spiritual support. He has distributed Bibles at porn conventions and hosts an event called Porn and Pancakes, where those who struggle can seek help and listen to others’ stories.

But the goal is not to rid the world of porn, Gross said.

“I’m not about shutting down the porn industry at all, because you have a right to view it,” he said.

The pair fielded questions from the audience, directly and via text messages.

One person asked Gross whether he feels organized religion has done more harm than porn.

His response: “God has had a lot of poor spokespersons.”

Jeremy addressed viewing by children. He said he is aware it is a problem, but said the Adult Video Association does its part by labeling the boxes.

Gross said that is not enough.

Yvette Walker, 29, of Grandville, said she is anti-porn and was not convinced by Jeremy’s rationale, although she was impressed by his education.

Jeremy has two bachelor’s degrees and a master’s degree in special education.

“A person who has had sex for a living, how much of a brain do you expect them to have?” she asked.

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