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PORNOGRAPHY AND ADDICTION

n the past several years there has been much needed understanding about drugs, alcohol and food addictions.  It has only been in recent years that we are beginning to see sex as an addiction.  There are a lot of men and women who use sex as a mood altering substance to block pain as they do with drugs. Whenever they are depressed, angry, lonely, unloved, or rejected they use sex as a drug of choice.  "Drinking in" the pictures in pornography with compulsive masturbation, or going to a sex club, or an affair to null the pain. Sex thus provides them a temporary relief from their pain. In the long run instead of making the pain better, it ends up making it worse.  The pain and shame of the behavior only deepens their need to act out again, and again.  At first they were in control but somewhere in their coming to sex as a quick fix, they find themselves slaves to the behaviors, which once seemed to relieve them, now only further enslaves them. It is only when that person deals with the inner issues of pain (the source), trying to stop the acting out only ends in one more failed attempt. An example of this is walking with a rock in my shoe, and taking pain killers instead of taking the rock out.

The Pornography Problem

Like many pornography addicts, my addiction to sexually explicit material started during adolescence and was preceded by sexual abuse.  I learned to use pornography to cope with the emotional pain but instead of salving my wounds, it merely fed the addiction.  It took harder and harder forms of material for me to reach the same level of satisfaction. Dr. Victor Cline, a clinical psychologist who specializes in sexual addictions, has identified a four-step process by whereby a person can become addicted to pornography. According to Dr. Cline, Step 1 includes addiction to the material and repeated return to it for sexual excitement; Step 2 is an escalation in the individual's need for more explicit, deviant and sexually shocking material to achieve the same level of sexual stimulation; Step 3 is a desensitization toward initially shocking material so that, in time, this material becomes acceptable and desirable to the viewer; and Step 4 is an increased tendency to start acting out sexual activities portrayed in pornography. 

Pornography is not only highly addictive material but also it is chock full of lies about women and relationships. Consequently, a pornography addict may think his secret addiction is harmless when in reality it is extremely harmful for his relationships.  Even soft-core pornography portrays women as sex objects who exist only to give sexual satisfaction to men.  They are "pets" or "playmates" valued only from the neck down.  Hard-core pornography teaches that women enjoy being abused or raped and that children are appropriate sexual partners.  Furthermore, pornography teaches that sex is purely recreational in nature.  There is no emotional intimacy in pornography only immediate physical satisfaction.

Therefore, false ideas of pornography sow seeds of sexual sin and dysfunction  A man cannot continuously fill his mind with degrading ideas about women and false ideas about sex and relationships without it eventually affecting his relationships with the women in his life. 

I was one of those men who loved my wife and family, but was enslaved to an addiction to pornography and sex. The fear of telling someone that I was masturbating to images that were to the normal person disgusting, and very strange.  I was afraid of rejection and that no one would love me.  This fear kept me from getting help. So for several years no one knew, not even my wife.  I was an assistant Pastor and youth Pastor, married with 3 children.  I was respected in the church as a man who was alive, but inside I was dying. Dying for someone to love me for who I really was, wishing that I could tell someone, but the fear was greater. I never thought this addiction would lead me to an attempted rape, but it did. Each time my addiction to porn and sex increased requiring more graphic, more shameful, more disgusting materials to achieve the same high.  I came to that crossroad where porn and sex did not do it for me any more.  I needed a real person. I would never have believed that I would have tried rape, but over a period of time the viewing of pornography eroded away all the good things in my life.

The beginning step for me to get help was when I was arrested, because it forced me to face it.  Hopefully those who read this and say I can see parts of me in this article, will not let this go to the point I did. The only way to ensure that it does not is to move beyond the fear and get help. Most of us do not go to a dentist when we have a tooth ache, we usually go when the pain becomes greater than the fear. Don't wait!

As vice president for victim assistance and strategic cities at the National Coalition for the Protection of Children & Families, I regularly encounter Christian men who struggle with pornography consumption and its effects on their lives.  One of the largest gatherings of Godly men in this country is the annual Promise Keeper conference certainly not the place you would expect to find men struggling with addiction to pornography.  But I have met hundreds of men there who have confessed that they have either lost or are in the process of losing their families because of a pornography problem. It is dangerously naive to think this problem vanishes when these men are brought into the church.

A Three-fold Approach

Given, then, that pornography is addictive and destructive, and given that it is a serious problem in the Christian community, what should be our approach?  If we are going to successfully help people overcome pornography addiction, I believe it is critical to understand the effect of the addiction on the entire person. Pornography affects the whole individual physical, emotional and spiritual.

Physical

As in all addictions, there are physical effects.  The rush of adrenaline from the shame and excitement of something forbidden combined with the physical responses of sexual excitement and orgasm is extremely powerful.  Researcher Stanley Rachman found that masturbation in connection with fetish pornography created fetishes in virtually all men.  For this reason, recovery from addiction to pornography must incorporate a therapist who specializes in addictions.  In recent testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Dr. Cline described sexual illnesses as highly addictive, compulsive, repetitive and difficult to treat. He stated that self-control and self-discipline don't stop their occurrence.

Unfortunately, much of the advice given to pornography addicts focuses simply stopping the behavior instead of dealing with its addictive nature. Telling an addict to "take a cold shower," "exercise," "memorize Scripture" or "sing a hymn" can be completely ineffective if the emotional and spiritual issues are not addressed.

Emotional

Pornography addiction also involves an emotional component.  The sexual excitement and eventual release obtained through pornography is mood altering; consequently, addicts many of whom have a history of abuse, shame or emotional or physical abandonment use it to escape pain. I once talked with a man who described himself as "tri-sexual."  He commented that "everything sexual I've already tried." This man grew up with a father who criticized him for his overdeveloped breasts, forced him to wear wet underwear on his head because of a bed-wetting problem, and finally humiliated him by dressing him in girls clothes and sending him to school. By the time he came to talk to me, he was considering a sex change.  He had been to a counselor and a men's group at church, but none of these experiences had ever been addressed.

In my experience, early emotional wounding is almost always a factor in pornography addiction. Therefore, a therapist with expertise in identifying emotional wounds is essential to the recovery process.  Because of these wounds, the addict has an intense need for intimacy but is too afraid to pay the price of trusting and being vulnerable to another individual. They are attracted to pornography because the women in pornography won't reject them. They are attracted to the prostitute because no commitment is required. The addict fears that whoever gets close to them will see them for who they really are and reject them.

Spiritual

Finally, there is a spiritual dimension to recovery from pornography addiction.  At the root of all addictions is the search to fill a spiritual void. Pornography promises to deliver the things that fill this void, but it doesn't fulfill its promises.  This deep spiritual void is something that only a relationship with God can really fill.  Jesus encounters this same kind of emptiness in the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4).  Although she has drifted from one sexual encounter to another, she is still "thirsty" for more.  Jesus offers her what she really needs a relationship with him, which quenches spiritual thirst. But addicts have a hard time reaching out for this living water.  Because pornography has only increased their sense of guilt and worthlessness, they are afraid to expose themselves to God or accept his love.  Consequently, it is important that addicts understand that only God's love can set them free from their bondage.

Typically, some psychologists and counselors have approached addiction as exclusively a problem of emotional wounding. On the other hand, some pastors and other Christians have approached addiction exclusively as a problem of spiritual bondage.  It is both, and the healing for one will not necessarily heal the other. Therapist Jan Frank, a noted author on incest and sexual abuse recovery, says, "You can't 'heal' a bondage and you can't 'deliver' a wound."  Both healing and deliverance are necessary.

Where Did It Fall?

In II Kings 2, a workman is cutting wood, and the ax-head flies off his ax and lands in the water. His cry of anguish over the loss attracts the prophet Elisha.  Elisha asks the man, "Where did it fall?" After being shown the place, Elisha throws a stick of wood into the water, and the ax head floats to the top and is returned to the thankful workman. I see this Scripture as an analogy for the emotional wounding aspect of addiction.  When we have suffered emotional loss, we are like the workman.  We've lost our "cutting edge" on life. Something is missing.  Notice what the prophet does. He makes the workman return to the place of loss. Then, with a stick of wood, which suggests the cross of Christ, he restores what was lost.

When faced with an emotional wound, many of us try to carry on by pretending that everything is OK.  But we've lost our "edge" our ability to trust and love.  We must return to a place of loss. Jesus asks, "What have you lost and where did you lose it?"  Then he offers healing and restoration. Only when we are led back to the wounds and pain of our past and face them, can Christ's cross heal us.

He Does Not Despise

Psalm 69:33 says, "For the Lord hears the needy and does not despise his who are prisoners." (NAS)  Counselors, pastors, and most especially addicts must know that the Lord does not despise people who are in captivity locked in behavior patterns they can't break.  He hears the cry of the addicted.  This theme occurs again in Psalm 37:23,24.  "The steps of a man are established by the Lord, and He delights in his way.  When he falls, he will not be hurled headlong, because the Lord is the one who holds his hand." (NAS) Clearly, even a "good" man will fall. 

It is important to realize that most addicts have never walked in spiritual and emotional freedom. They don't know how. Therefore, patience and unconditional love is critical to helping a pornography addict recover.  His most deeply held belief is that if anyone really knew the truth about him, they would despise and reject him.

All too often, this is exactly what happens in a Christian setting.  My congregation's reaction when they found out about my addiction confirmed by worst fears. It completely drove me away from God and the church.  My life continued to deteriorate until the day I visited a pastor friend. Without having planned it, I confessed my deepest secrets to him, pouring out my failure and guilt When I was finally done, I was certain he would loath and reject me. As he came around his desk toward me, I almost expected him to strike me in outrage. Instead, he grabbed me in his arms, embraced me, and wept over me.  He told me, "I've so, so sorry for the pain you must have gone through."  There in that office, for the first time in my life, I understood that God loved me, because this friend showed me.

Most people share God's love at a distance.  But by hugging me, my friend offered a physical demonstration of the love of God.  I believe God uses the body of Christ to be his hands and his arms so his people might catch a glimpse of his love.

In the Light

Although it is important to identify and understand the roots of addiction to pornography, it is also important that the addict take responsibility for his behavior.  Not only did I have to serve time in jail for the attempted rape but also I had to stop blaming my wife and others for my addiction and take responsibility for my actions.

In I John 1:5-10, the writer exhorts us to "walk in the light," rather than darkness.  He adds, "If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." One of the first steps to recovery from addiction to pornography is repentance coming into the light, becoming accountable to one another and renouncing secrecy and deception.

Here is where men's groups can play a critical role  They allow men to open themselves up to the light, in safety and with confidentiality. Not only do they receive love and encouragement from group members but also they are held accountable for their actions.

Working Together

Pastors and trained counselors must partner in helping addicts overcome their addictions.  Trained counselors are indispensable in identifying core issues and working on behaviors.  But a counselor is a paid professional. Professional care, while important, can never replace the love that the addict so desperately needs to find in the church. Pastors can help the addict understand spiritual bondage and direct him to men's groups.  Ultimately, the most vital role the church can play is providing men's groups, mentoring programs and other help groups where Christ's love is demonstrated.  Every addict needs a safe place where he will be loved, accepted and challenged, and the church is in the ideal position to set up these kinds of places, assisted by the expertise of trained counselors and therapists. 

       Gene McConnell

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

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