GORDON-CONWELL THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY
PASTORAL COUNSELING FOR PORNOGRAPHY ADDICTION: HOW THE ROMANS 7 MAN CAN BECOME THE ROMANS 8 MAN.
SUBMITTED TO DR. STEVEN MACCHIA IN FULFILLMENT OF PC760HS - PASTORAL COUNSELING: RECOVERY & COUNSELING METHODS FOR PORNOGRAPHY ADDICTION
BY LARRY HACKMAN BOX 182-B MAY 6 2011
It feeds on fear and excretes shame. It can literally alter the human brain with the same power of heroin or cocaine. Our culture at once vilifies those afflicted by it and exalts the very things that make it prevalent. It especially preys on those who are weakened by abuse and wounds, but anyone can be susceptible to its charms. And while it is intensely physical in its nature, it dramatically affects the heart, mind and will. This description of pornography addiction certainly seems to have a tone of mythic proportions, but for those trapped in its snare, feeling powerless, the drama is not too understated. The very nature of addiction is the inability for the addict to control his own behavior, even despite the consequences.1 The porn addict feels like a puppet on a string and may find himself crying out with Apostle Paul, “I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate…. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?”2 But despite the power of porn addiction, there is hope. Pornography is so powerful because it takes advantage of some of the deepest insecurities that human beings face. When individuals can face their fears and explore who they are and who God is, they can begin life in true freedom. But before we can talk about restoration we must explore a little more of the nature of the problem. One of the common misconceptions about pornography addiction is that it is simply a moral issue. Many Christians have naively counseled porn addicts to simply “try harder,” or to read their Bible and pray more, as if porn addiction is something that happens by not trying hard enough in the first place. The intimation is that pornography is simply a sinful pleasure, and will power must be exercised to find more lofty, holy pleasures to replace it. But that is like trying to treat skin cancer with Oil of Olay. Yes, there is will involved. Yes, prayer and Scripture reading
William Struthers, Wired for Intimacy: How pornography hijacks the male brain (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2009), 79.
Romans 7:15, 24, ESV.
are important. But the problem is not a simple one and a simplistic approach will not address the pervasive nature of porn addiction. Instead, the pastoral counselor must recognize that pornography addiction is something that pervades the spheres of the spiritual realm, the psychological, and even (perhaps especially) the physical, all of which intermingle. Based on these three spheres, what follows is my best efforts at presenting a simplified (though not simplistic) framework approach to counseling those who are addicted to porn, specifically as it relates to men.3 My conclusions are not only gleaned from some excellent reading materials but also from interviews with recovering sex addicts 4, family therapy counselors, an experienced pastoral counselor, and leading an accountability group for recovering porn addicts. But lest it seem like the matter is settled, “conclusions” may not be the best word. Instead, I hope the reader finds this paper as an initial primer in counseling and walking alongside others in recovery. There is much still to learn. The Problem Our culture is a “pornified” culture.5 Never before has a society had so much anonymous, accessible, and affordable6 access to pornographic materials, primarily through the wonders of instant internet access. Moreover, mass-market entertainment is more saturated with sex than ever before, and lest one think that is merely hyperbole it is easy to quantify with statistical
There are a growing number of women who are addicted to porn, though still significantly lower in number than men. A lot of what is discussed in this paper is true for these women also, but there is enough distinction between how women and men become addicted that this paper will focus on men, for the sake of simplicity.
The distinction between a sex addict and a porn addict is that the porn addict is only dealing with the “building blocks” of sex addiction (porn, masturbation, and fantasy) while the sex addict has moved on to include other kinds of sexual behavior. A porn addict is a sex addict, but a sex addict is not merely a porn addict.
Mary Eberstadt and Mary Anne Layden, The Social Costs of Pornography: A Statement of Findings and Recommendations (Princeton: Witherspoon Institute, 2010), 13.
Mark Laaser, Healing the Wounds of Sexual Addiction, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004), 32.
anecdotes.7 Ultimately, more people view pornography on a regular basis than ever. In 2008, a study revealed that 69% of male students between the ages of eighteen and twenty-six viewed pornography more than once a month while 10% of female students did so as well. 8 But pornography is not something simply enjoyed in the privacy of a dark room, it has real consequences that spill out into the sunlight of society. A study done in 2004 showed that respondents previously involved in an extramarital affair were three times more likely to have used internet pornography. As well, those who had “engaged in paid sex or prostitution were almost four times more likely to have used internet pornography than those who had not engaged in paid sex.”9 Therapists and clinicians are reporting an alarming correlation between pornography and child abuse, finding that a significant majority of sex offenders were exposed to pornography as children. 10 Significantly, “numerous users have described… the apparent slippery slope from using pornography featuring adults to using child pornography.”11 Why I quote these statistics is not simply to say “pornography is bad,” but to show that pornography is not just an individual problem, it is a societal problem with societal causes and effects. Sex is objectified by our culture, cheapening it and making an intimate act a very public one. This has wide-ranging effects, not only on individuals but also on families.12 Our “pornified” culture itself is not the main problem (it only exposes already existing insecurities, as it will soon be shown), but its wide availability makes it an easy escape for hurting people. Pastoral counselors must not confuse the symptoms with the disease, but
7 8 9
Eberstadt and Layden, Social Costs, 14. Ibid. Ibid., 24. Ibid., 31. Ibid., 21. Ibid., 36.
10 11 12
certainly there are conditions that help disease flourish. As much as poor sanitation can lead to cholera and malaria is found where mosquitos swarm, we should not be surprised to find pornography addiction in a porn saturated culture. Even if we were to rid our culture of pornography entirely, to “drain our swamp” so-to-speak, it would not solve the issue at the heart of the problem. Even if one were to chop off the hands of a thief, he may still want to steal. Just the same, without the symptom of pornography addiction, many people would still suffer from a root problem at the heart level. However, addiction not only preys on pre-existing conditions of the heart, but it also has a very real effect on the body, particularly the brain. The Physical Effects of Porn One very prevalent misunderstanding about pornography addiction is that it is merely a matter of the mind over will. Many people might be surprised to find that pornography has an effect on the brain much like a mood-altering drug. 13 In fact, the neurological effects of pornography (combined with the effects of the almost compulsory masturbation) are frighteningly similar to cocaine and heroin usage.14 Specifically, it should be noted that men seem to be more susceptible to sexual kinds of visual stimulation than women are.15 How does this work? There are number of important functions in the brain that are involved in processing the act of viewing pornography and it will be necessary to outline several of these different brain areas before putting them all together in a trip through the amazingly complex brain of a porn addict. The ventral tegmental area (VTA), lies deep in the brain in an area called the midbrain that, among other things, regulates important functions like consciousness, attention, sleep,
13 14 15
Struthers, Wired, 69. Ibid., 97. Ibid., 84.
wakefulness, general arousal and motor behavior. Specifically, the VTA manufactures the neurotransmitter dopamine, which is one of the major factors in pornography addiction.16 Dopamine’s function in the body is primarily to focus the mind’s attention “on things that have significance to us.”17 For example, when a person experiences the pleasure of eating a good meal after feeling hungry, that pleasure is the effect of dopamine reinforcing the behavior. Dopamine, in effect, focuses the mind on important tasks like eating, drinking, and sex, and “rewards” the behavior.18 It is dopamine that is exploited in “nearly all drugs of addiction, and many disorders affecting motivation and attention such as [ADD], [OCD], and behavioral addictions...”19 In other words, dopamine plays a large part in why pornography can be addictive. Another important part of the brain is the limbic system, composed of the amygdala and the hippocampus. The amygdala is part of the brain that is utilized to express emotions, while the hippocampus takes all of the sensory information the body receives and processes it as memories. Closely linked to the limbic system is the hypothalamus, the “drive center” of the brain that regulates the three primary drives: eating, drinking, and sex. 20 Directly above the hypothalamus is the thalamus, the region of the brain that organizes and directs sensory input. Surrounding all of these things is the basal ganglia which involves motor control of the body. All these parts work in close conjunction with one another. The largest part of the brain is the cortex, where most of a person’s conscious thinking happens. The cortex is where our “psychological experience emerges,” and it is the part of your
16 17 18 19 20
Ibid., 89. Ibid., 101. Ibid., 100-101. Ibid., 90. Ibid., 92-93.
brain that you are using to understand this paper. 21 Spread throughout the cortex are what are known as “mirror neurons.” These are parts of the brain that deal with the perception of behavior, actually allowing the brain to mirror behavior that it sees and have been called “monkey see, monkey do” neurons.22 For example, when my wife watches the latest Hollywood blockbuster action film with me she visibly tenses up and will even duck or cringe in moments when the action is extreme. Her mirror neurons are at work, mirroring what is happening in the screen inside her mind and interacting with the rest of the brain and body in response. At this point enough components of the brain have been surveyed to begin to trace what happens to the human brain when someone views pornography. Imagine that someone we will call John sits down at his desk and begins surfing the internet. For one reason or another, he ends up seeing a pornographic film clip. The visual stimulus of that image travels from his eyes into his brain and hits the thalamus, which processes visual stimuli, and sends it out into the cortex. Immediately the mirror neurons begin processing the behavior John is viewing, and his brain begins mirroring what he sees, placing him “in the action” so-to-speak. This activates his drive system, the hypothalamus, and actually “supercharges” the amygdala, the seat of emotions in the limbic system, consequently flooding the brain with dopamine.23 At this point, John is experiencing an incredibly heightened tension, caused by an amygdala lit up like a Christmas tree and a brain swimming in dopamine and testosterone, another hormone that corresponds with heightened sexual arousal. The only way that the body can resolve this tension is by either ending the stimulation and allowing the chemicals and brain
21 22 23
Ibid., 94. Ibid., 95-96. Ibid.
activity to slowly dissipate, or through orgasm.24 So naturally, after extended viewing of the pornography increases the heightened state of arousal, John begins to masturbate. As he does so, the basal ganglia (brain center for motor control) implicitly associates the motor behavior with the sexual anxiety. His hippocampus (memory center of the brain) sets aside the behavior in his memory. In other words, John’s brain is learning how to react to the stimulus. If the pornography is exciting enough or a shocking new experience for John, norepinephrine (a hormone related to adrenaline) will “burn” the experience into John’s memory.25 Later this may cause John to experience “flashes” of imagery from the experience, whether he wants to remember it or not. When masturbation brings John to orgasm and ejaculation, his body is flooded with a mix of hormones and his amygdala literally shuts down, allowing him to enter a euphoric state for a moment. A number of opiates help cause the euphoric state, while two other particular hormones, oxytocin and vasopressin are released. Oxytocin is a hormone that has been shown to cause men to “display a higher level of trust and a reduction of fear,” while vasopressin is “particularly important in binding the male to his mate.”26 In the absence of a true mate, if John repeatedly acts out sexually in this way he “will be bound and attached to the image and not a person.”27 In short, extended viewing of pornography leads to an incredibly heightened state, building an urge for release in the form of ejaculation, leading to a chemical rush. Dr. William Struthers notes how this causes addiction: “This is how pornography addiction and sexual compulsion is built from scratch. It involves the visual system (looking at porn), the motor system (masturbating), the sensory system (genital stimulation) and neurological effects of orgasm (sexual euphoria
24 25 26 27
Ibid. Ibid., 103. Ibid., 105. Ibid.
from opiates, addictive dopamine in the nucleus accumbens and reduced fear in the amygdale). They have now begun to store this pattern as a reinforced neurological habit.”28 The viewing of pornography and the attendant masturbation create a moment of escape for John, and if certain psychological factors are present (which will be covered later) he will be predisposed to return again and again to this release. From this repeated behavior, John’s limbic system (seat of emotions and memory) will literally be conformed to the behavior, like a trough beat into a concrete slab from a dripping fountain.29 Meanwhile, the repeated exposure to opiates in the brain, similarly to a chemical addiction, will result in tolerance. “With repeated acting out… the absence of opiate activation results in craving and diminished euphoria.”30 With a sense of fatality, another scientist remarks that: “The men at their computers [addicted to] looking at porn [are] uncannily like the rats in the cages of the NIH [National Institute for Health], pressing the bar to get a shot of dopamine or its equivalent. Though they [don’t] know it, they [have] been seduced into pornographic training sessions that [meet] all the conditions required for plastic change of brain maps.”31 Psychological Factors in Porn Addiction But human beings are more complex than rats. And more is involved in pornography addiction than a simple dependance on brain chemicals. As hinted at already, there can be a psychological disposition that makes one prone to addiction. The inner world of the mind and the heart is where the outer symptom of pornography addiction takes root. Human beings are finite creatures. We have limitations, and it is in coming up on those limitations that insecurities come to the surface. Some handle the insecurities better than others,
28 29 30 31
Ibid., 99. Ibid., 106. Ibid., 104-105. Eberstadt and Layden, Social Costs, 19.
but all at some level go through life with fears, doubts, and wounds. Another way to put this is that every person has needs. Those needs make us innately vulnerable. Many people tend to cope with their vulnerability in a variety of ways. Pornography can be one of those ways. “The degree to which men develop problems with pornography is an indication of the intensity of their unmet internal needs and desires.”32 This is the root of addiction: core needs have gone unmet and coping has manifested in an unhealthy way. These are basic emotional needs. People want to know that they are valued. (Do I have any worth? Does anyone care about me?) People want to know that they are loved, which stems from the value received from other people. (Am I accepted as I am?) People want to know that their needs will be met. (Can I really do this?)33 If these needs are not met, there is an experience of insufficiency, exposure, unworthiness,34 and especially abandonment.35 People decide whether these needs are being met at an early age. As children, the family dynamic helps decide whether one is truly loved, truly cared for, truly valued. If not, or if one perceives they are not, then they begin to cope with the loss by other means.36 Pornography addiction begins with unhealthy family dynamics,37 especially in early childhood.38 These unhealthy dynamics can be non-obvious. For example, if the family life is rigid and disengaged, focused on performance and not sinning, that can create an atmosphere of shame once the child commits a sin. Shame leads to a sense of worthlessness. In fact, Dr. Ted
32 33 34 35 36 37 38
Struthers, Wired, 73. Patrick Carnes, Out of the Shadows, (Minneapolis: Compcare Publishers, 1983), 69-71. Struthers, Wired, 164. Carnes, Shadows, 68. Ted Roberts, Pure Desire, (Ventura, CA: Regal, 2008), 65. Laaser, Healing, 73. Roberts, Pure Desire, 69.
Roberts believes half of the sexual addicts he works with come from homes like this. 39 Another kind of home may have a father who does not emotionally express himself well, and has never told his son that he loves him. The family may otherwise function “normally,” but that son may experience an acute perception of being unloved, and thus feel the need to cope. Then there are homes where the unhealthy dynamics are obvious, homes where sexual, emotional, and physical abuse occur. One study showed that, from a sample of 1,000 sex addicts (not porn addicts specifically)40, 97% were emotionally abused, 74% physically abused, and 81% were sexually abused, indicating an incredible correlation between abuse and sexual addiction. 41 And why not? Of all things, abuse certainly tells the abused that they are unloved and unworthy. But whether they are obvious or more subtle, unhealthy family dynamics are where negative core beliefs begin to take root. Once these core beliefs take root, and a person has begun to use pornography as a means of medicating, the sexual addiction takes on a cyclical nature that reinforces itself (as seen in appendix 1). Dr. Pat Carnes lays out the addictive cycle, beginning with negative core beliefs. Those core beliefs turn into impaired thinking, a rationalization of negative behavior. For example, lets follow John from the example earlier through the cycle. John may think to himself, “I’ve had a long day. I need to reward myself and porn is my way of relaxing,” or, “This doesn’t hurt anybody,” or “I am horny and I have to meet my needs.”42 Impaired thinking is a way to
Ted Roberts, Seven Pillars of Freedom: Pure Desire Men’s Workbook. (Gresham, OR: Pure Desire Ministries International, 2010), 50.
Recall that there is a distinction between porn addiction (which only deals with the “building blocks” of sex addiction) and sex addiction (which includes porn along with other sexual behaviors). See footnote 4.
Laaser, Healing, 95. Carnes, Shadows, 7
allow John to rationalize his behavior in order to participate in the coping behavior that allows him to medicate. It is essentially self-deception. After this rationalization comes the actual acting out, in this case pornography and masturbation, which manifests its own cycle. This begins with preoccupation or fantasy. It is during this stage that John’s brain begins building up its state of heightened arousal as testosterone and dopamine flood the cortex and the amygdala lights up. This is coincided by ritualization. John has built several rituals around acting out and may not even be aware that he is actually doing this. Rituals may be small things, like closing the blinds or picking a particular place. However it manifests, the ritual is a continuation of the preoccupation, and allows John to stay in a trance-like state.43 All of this is fueled by the dopamine rush. Then, of course, comes the actual pornographic viewing and usual, subsequent masturbation. After the rush and high of acting out comes the crash which manifests in shame and despair for John. Once again, John has done something he knows is not healthy. Because John does not feel good about himself he needs to find a way of escape. So he begins to fantasize to take his mind off his shame, and the cycle begins anew. His behavior of repeated activity makes John feel like his life is unmanageable, especially if his addiction takes him to dangerous lengths to get his fix. This just reinforces John’s negative view of himself, that he is, after all, unlovable, unworthy, and so on. And once again, he is driven to cope. This cycle does not look the same for everyone. For some it may be more mild, and it may be days, weeks, or even months between acting out. For some the wounds may be deeper and he may desire to escape his shame more frequently. For those that do act out more
frequently, their tolerance level will go up, and they will need a greater thrill to find their escape which leads them on to edgier and more unhealthy behavior.44 This is why pornography, masturbation, and fantasy are considered the “building blocks” of sexual addiction.45 In sum, pornography addiction is rooted in negative core beliefs which may develop in childhood amidst unhealthy family dynamics. The nature of the addiction is cyclical, reinforcing the negative core beliefs and seemingly leaving no way out. A Scriptural Basis for Recovery At this point, Paul’s plaintive cry from Romans 7 certainly begins to ring some bells. His description of the man who is seemingly out of control and unable to control his own impulse to sin sounds remarkably like the pornography addict who is seeking restoration. But it is important to note what Paul does not say in response to this situation. He does not say, “Wretched man that I am, if only I prayed more and read more Scripture. Tomorrow I resolve to do better, if only I try a little harder.” In fact, this tends to be the response of many Christians. It is the unfortunate experience of these Christians to become fixated by their problem and to fail miserably at managing their sin over and over. They end up sounding more and more like the Romans 7 man. The reason for their failure is that they are trying to solve their problem with the very thing that has caused it: themselves! Instead, Paul points us to the basis of recovery: the grace of God. Immediately after his cry, he says, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” In other words, Paul’s solution
For example, the voyeur who was caught putting a video camera in a girl’s room on a college campus. Without knowing his particular situation, I can almost guarantee that he had been addicted to porn for a significant time before he went to that extreme.
Laaser, Healing, 55. The distinction between a sex addict and a porn addict is that the porn addict is only dealing with the “building blocks” while the sex addict has moved on to more severe sexual behavior. A porn addict is a sex addict, but a sex addict is not merely a porn addict.
is not to buckle down harder, but rather to cry out for help. Then he says, “There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, for the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.”46 It is only by God’s grace that the Christian walks in the truth and light, not by mustering up the will power to do what is right. Not only that, but Paul promises total freedom from condemnation. As we cry out “Abba! Father!” our Father sees the blood of his son covering our sins. It is he, not us, who gives us the grace to walk in his Spirit as his adopted sons.47 The parable of the prodigal son from Luke 15:11-32 provides another insight into recovery. The son, after squandering his estate, finds himself in the pig slop wishing he could eat some. Then he comes to his senses and realizes that he should return to his father. This is key for the pornography addict. Just as the son reveled for a time, so do porn addicts. There is, after all, a benefit to addiction: it allows for an escape, if only for a short time. It is not until the porn addict realizes his situation is unmanageable and comes to his senses that he is ready to receive grace and begin restoration. If a person does not want to change, he cannot be helped.48 Then there is the immeasurable grace of the father running out to meet his son. His gesture of running through the village gauntlet that was sure to be waiting the son shows that he bears the shame that should be the son’s. Then he places the signs of the father’s identity on the son: the ring, the robe, the new shoes, all meant to show that the son is not a pig-slop-eating derelict after all but a son of the father. He has value. He is loved. Christ’s story shows that the Father is willing to take on our shame from sin and give us a new identity as beloved sons and
46 47 48
Romans 8:1-2, ESV Romans 8:15 Laaser, Healing, 122.
daughters, all under the canopy of absolute, profound grace. In the parable we begin to see some of the the keys to recovery: a revelation of need, a removal of shame, a renewed identity, and grace, grace, grace. Pornography addiction is an intimacy disorder. 49 The love and acceptance that should be gotten from relationships is instead found from the glowing images on a screen. One of the relationships that is damaged is the porn addict’s relationship with God. But to begin recovery it is important to have a healthy relationship with God before beginning to work towards healthy relationships with others.50 A healthy relationship with God centers around the believer’s concept of grace. Many Christians do not grasp the concept of unlimited grace. They can understand justification by grace, but they do not believe sanctification by grace. As a Christian, the porn addict must come to understand that his works did not determine his salvation as a Christian, and his works do not determine whether he is still a Christian.51 It is all by the grace of God, both now and eternally, that one can be in relationship with Him. It is crucial to understand that there is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus. Road to Recovery Obviously, not everyone has the same wounds. Not everyone has the same personality. Consequently, pornography addiction does not look the same for everyone. However, I believe that all men share some commonalities. As noted earlier, the deeper the wounds go, the deeper the addiction goes. All men who are struggling with pornography addiction are dealing with wounds that have caused negative core beliefs, at some level. All men who have been using
49 50 51
Ibid., 55. Carnes, Shadows, 140. Roberts, Seven Pillars, 18.
pornography for some time have, at some level, literally trained their brains to respond a certain way through repeated dopamine hits. So there is some commonality to what recovery looks like. So what does recovery look like? It looks like Romans 12:2: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Addiction recovery is a process of renewing the mind, just as much as addiction was a process of corrupting the mind. Important factors in this process include structure, consistency, community, and patience. Recovery is not an instant fix; it takes time. It may take years, possibly three to five years.52 But freedom tastes sweet, and the effort of attaining a life free from secrets, free from bondage, is well worth it. The following steps are roughly patterned off the twelve step program from Alcoholics Anonymous. The twelve steps program is meant to reverse the negative core beliefs and has been used successfully as a means of recovery for a number of different addictions.53 They provide the structure, consistency, and community that is necessary for recovery. However, for my purposes I will simplify and adapt them for a number of contexts, whether it be one-to-one pastoral counseling or group accountability. That said, those familiar with the program will recognize principles and steps from the program in what follows, but it will reflect more of a spiritual formation approach rather than a clinical therapist approach that will involve an interplay between three disciplines: confession, awareness, and vision. Confession Let’s return to our man John again. Before recovery can really begin, John must, like the prodigal son, come to his senses. Until this point, the benefits of pornography addiction are
Roberts, Pure Desire, 75. Carnes, Shadows, 134.
outweighing the downsides, at least in John’s mind. In fact, up to this point John may have been using denial to ignore his condition. Denial is a common feature of addiction, and rationalization is part of the addictive cycle, so John must come to face his sin for what it is and move out of the deception that has been characterizing his life.54 He must realize that he cannot pull himself up by his bootstraps and that he needs help. If he cannot acknowledge his need for help, he cannot move on.55 The best, and most healthy way to do this, is by confession. By confessing to another person, or to an accountability group, John is breaking the barrier of his shame. It may be one of the most difficult things John has ever done, because John has to admit to his failure. In a sense, John is opening his wounds for others to see. But the healing process begins when the festering wound is lanced and the secrets of a addicted life can be purged. In the process, John can begin to learn forgiveness and grace, to restore relationships with God and others, and to be whole again. Another important aspect of confession is being able to make sense of one’s own story. By talking about his story, John can begin constructing a redemptive narrative for his life. John’s ability to be reflective, honest, and coherent about his past (including the ugly parts) will help him make sense of his narrative going forward, seeing how God can be sovereign in his life. Being able to do this will ultimately impact those closest to him. In fact, one study showed that how parents were able to tell their story was a powerful indicator of how their children would make sense of their own world. 56
54 55 56
Laaser, Healing, 51. Struthers, Wired, 180. Roberts, Seven Pillars, 63.
John’s experience of confession may reflect that of David in Psalm 32. As he kept silent about his sin, it felt like a weight on him and made him feel like he was wasting away. But when he confesses he finds that God forgives him his iniquities immediately, and because he has disclosed his secrets he begins to experience what it means to be pure. Awareness After John has broken through his barrier of shame, he can begin to get at the root of why he is addicted to porn. This will be a process of self-awareness and God-awareness. John Calvin famously said that “we cannot attain to a clear and solid knowledge of God, without a mutual acquaintance with ourselves.”57 Essentially, this will be a process of spiritual formation. Awareness, spiritual formation, does not happen alone. John should, at the very least, be meeting with a trusted mentor or counselor or sharing his experience in a group with other men who are also recovering, and preferably both. It is in community that John can find affirmation, and it is through the community that the Holy Spirit will speak to John, using the personalities and gifts of the body of Christ.58 This is what true accountability is. Unfortunately, accountability in Christian circles today has a marred image. Often the experience of an accountability group is more like that of checking a box on a form. Every week, the group shares how they have stumbled (or not), each tells the other to try harder, repeat ad nauseam. Instead of focusing on the symptom, true accountability asks the deeper questions that get at the heart of the problem while providing an atmosphere of grace and confession if struggles continue. True accountability sounds like, “John, how is your hope or value being attacked this week? How are you showing love to your wife? How are you making space to be intimate with God?” These kinds of
194 Calvin, John, and John Allen. 1816. Institutes of the Christian religion. New-Haven [Conn.]: Hezekiah Howe. See Ephesians 1:23
questions will require courage and boldness to ask and to answer, but they are the kinds of questions that bring renewal and transformation. Reflection and meditation as part of the spiritual disciplines will be an important part of awareness as well. It may be helpful for John to begin writing a journal, as a deliberate way to be reflective and introspective. He can begin taking stock of himself in these times, assessing his stress levels and the fears and vulnerabilities that may creep up from time to time. Reading Scripture reflectively and slowly, identifying how God may be speaking to him through it may be part of this as well. Scripture memorization can be a key part of “renewing the mind.” Being able to internalize the life-giving truths of Scripture like Romans 8:1 is an important part of reversing negative core beliefs. As well, John can begin to identify “triggers,” environmental, emotional, psychological and autonomic cues that can set off the addictive behavior.59 Pornography addiction can have an almost Pavlovian quality to it. Dr. Struthers gives the hypothetical example of a man who is asked to watch one hour of pornographic material a day for a month. On the top of his computer is set a baseball cap. After that month, even apart from any other stimulus, just seeing that baseball cap will trigger an autonomic response because it is associated with the sexual arousal he experienced every day.60 Unfortunately, that is the reality of pornography addiction. But identifying the “triggers” that set off the brain can make the occasional flashes of temptation seem less mysterious and more manageable. Education is another important component of awareness. Reading some of the books included in the bibliography of this paper can go a long way toward understanding addiction so
Struthers, Wired, 181. Ibid., 173.
that it is no longer a mysterious process. In his small group, John can go through the Pure Desire: Seven Pillars of Freedom Workbook intended for men recovering from pornography addiction. As well, a good personality test can go a long way towards helping John understand his temperaments, weaknesses, strengths, and needs. I would recommend the Unique Self Test administered by Abiding Life Ministries as a good place to start.61 Awareness is certainly not restricted to the things just mentioned. The beauty of this step is that this is something any Christian can do, because it is intrinsically healthy spiritually. But for John, he cannot afford not to do it (though for all Christians in a fallen world, this is certain to be true at some point). The key to the process of awareness is that it must be deliberate, structured, consistent, and it must be done with others. The way he does this can be creative, and indeed John should tailor his awareness to who God has made him. Awareness may be challenging, it may be painful, but it should ultimately be life-giving. Vision Hope is important for finding recovery. Without hope there is no motivation. For John to pursue the goal of purity he needs to be able to envision what that looks like so that he can have hope to push on with the process of renewal. Recovery is not instant. As John seeks to renew his mind he is bound to lapse and make mistakes. In fact, John may experience what is called “limbic lag,” a phenomenon where the cortex, the thinking part of the brain, is not in agreement with his limbic system where his memories and emotions are controlled, what I like to call the “Romans 7 man.” The hurt and pain buried in the limbic system will want to resort to the old method of dealing with pain while the thinking part of John, his cortex, will know the truth that
This test can be taken online at www.abidinglife.com/selftest
pornography will not help.62 He may experience anxiety if he resists the urge to turn back to his old ways, but as he successfully resists this temptation again and again, his limbic system will relearn how to react to the pain and hurt. Vision is the necessary part of helping John make it through this period of “limbic lag.” Part of having vision is not being fixated on the acting out itself. Fixation on the problem will only make the problem stronger. This is why “accountability” and “self-control” will fail so often, because both of these things are often just excuses to fixate on the severity and frequency of the problem of addiction. As Dr. Ted Roberts notes, “Suppressing a thought only reinforces it. It gives it energy.”63 Instead, “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith…”64 Envisioning healthy sexuality may be part of the process of recovery. Pornography warps our perception of sex, objectifyingwomen and making sex merely a transaction of pleasure. While pornography is about using, healthy sex is about caring. Pornography is selfish, shameful, deceitful, emotionally cold, and spiritually empty. Healthy sex is selfless, honoring, authentic, emotionally bonding, and spiritually rich.65 Scripture provides the believer with an incredibly rich depiction of the spiritual quality of sex, from Jesus’ profound and sensual statement that a man and a wife are “one flesh” in Mark 10:2 to the teasing, suggestive poems of the Song of Solomon.66 God’s Word points to sex as being grounded in intimacy and mutual submission and
Michael Dye and Patricia Fancher, “Relapse and the Brain,” National Association for Christian Recovery, May 5, 2011, http://www.nacronline.com/addictions/relapse-and-the-brain.
63 64 65 66
Roberts, Pure Desire, 170. Hebrews 12:2, NIV. Struthers, Wired, 49.
David Carr, The Erotic Word: Sexuality, Spirituality, and the Bible, (New York: Oxford University Press, Inc., 2003), 157.
desire.67 Having this healthy, pure vision of sex in mind will help John to see pornography for the lie that it is and pursue a healthy sexuality. Most important for John will be his vision of God and of himself. I have already underlined how important understanding grace is to recovery. But life is not static and John will continue to encounter trials and challenging circumstances, as well as shortcomings and sin in his own life. Having a healthy view of who God is and knowing his identity in Christ will provide John with the ammunition to resist the lies of Satan and can provide him with the strength to move beyond life as a pornography addict and provide him with continuing transformation. Finding and internalizing some of the truths of identity and position with God in Scripture, such as God’s lavish grace (Ephesians 2:7), our completeness in Christ (Colossians 2:10), and God’s love that will never leave us (Romans 8:31-39) will provide John with true and lasting hope.68 As John renews his mind with these truths, keeping before him the vision of himself and God that the Bible sets before him, he will begin to be transformed. “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.”69 Conclusion Pornography addiction is an intimacy disorder, a sickness of escape from shame that feeds on negative core beliefs usually learned in childhood. Those negative beliefs “...affect our body. The behaviors we engage in affect our thinking. The interaction between thought and body is rooted in the neurobiology of the brain. Thoughts and
67 68 69
Ibid., 171. Some of these examples are taken from Neil Anderson’s Victory Over the Darkness. 2 Corinthians 3:18, ESV
behavior are woven together and intertwined with one another. This is how pornography and unhealthy sexuality pollutes the brain and body together.”70 The way out of addiction is by addressing the negative core beliefs and the behavior that reinforces them. Through confession, awareness, and vision, the pornography addict can begin a process of change, being “transformed by the renewal of your mind.”71 I was addicted to pornography once. I can speak to the truth of this paper, and to the path of recovery. I can speak of being exposed to pornography at age 10, of the trauma of losing my father at 12, of a sense of abandonment and loneliness, of feeling out of control and dirty. But I can also speak of God’s grace and of how he has brought me to realize my need for help. I can testify to how he has taught me, who he has made me, and how he has taught me who he is. And to you, reader, I can say with faith brimming that “you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”72
70 71 72
Struthers, Wired, 28. Romans 12:2. ESV. John 8:32, ESV.
Bibliography Calvin, John. Institutes of the Christian religion. Translated by John Allen. New-Haven, CT: Hezekiah Howe, 1816. Carnes, Patrick. Out of the Shadows. Minneapolis: Compcare Publishers, 1983. Carr, David. The Erotic Word: Sexuality, Spirituality, and the Bible. New York: Oxford University Press, Inc., 2003. Dye, Michael, and Patricia Fancher. “Relapse and the Brain.” National Association for Christian Recovery, May 5, 2011. http://www.nacronline.com/addictions/relapse-and-the-brain. Eberstadt, Mary, and Mary Anne Layden. The Social Costs of Pornography: A Statement of Findings and Recommendations. Princeton: Witherspoon Institute, 2010. Laaser, Mark. Healing the Wounds of Sexual Addiction. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004. Roberts, Ted. Pure Desire. Ventura, CA: Regal, 2008. Roberts, Ted. Seven Pillars of Freedom: Pure Desire Men’s Workbook. Gresham, OR: Pure Desire Ministries International, 2010. Struthers, William. Wired for Intimacy: How pornography hijacks the male brain. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2009. Rogers, Henry J. The Silent War: Ministering to Those Trapped in the Deception of Pornography. Green Forest, AL: New Leaf Press, Inc., 2001.