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Pornography: Confession, Healing, and Contention

"Sexual intimacy is a beautiful creation by God to bring two people close together. The sex in porn involves no intimacy or connection. It is the conjoined bodies of two fake people, performing meaningless physical intercourse absent of any emotional or spiritual essence. They do not know or mean anything to one another. The money is what brought them together."April Garris (former porn "star")

Foreword | Why am I sharing this? | Why are boys and men so attracted to it? | Why does sexual desirability matter to boys and men?
Why is pornography wrong? | Excuses I used for viewing it | How God freed me from it
Compassion: The missing component | The post-healing struggle | Guarding against the push of immorality

Foreword

For some time, I was reluctant to share this publicly, because I knew it meant being vulnerable about a sin that few admit to—that people would see the ugliness of that part of me. But it paled in comparison to the truth that needed to be heard. Having listened to Jessica Harris's testimony (original link, now broken)—a lady God rescued from addiction to pornography), I was convinced that this is what I needed to do.

I was addicted on and off to pornography from sometime in the mid-1990s to about 2008. For the most part, it all began with an lharc-compressed image file I downloaded from a local Bulletin Board System (BBS). The image wasn't what I wanted—someone had intentionally misnamed its description with an innocent title to hide its pornographic contents. I say "addicted on and off" and "for the most part" because my addiction didn't begin with my first exposure to it, but like a virus, it was dormant. I also tried unsuccessfully many times (in my own strength) to free myself from it. Neither was it the only time I was inadvertently exposed to pornography (among others, scenes from a movie on an international flight, a photo in a Swazi newspaper, and a discarded "Scope" pornographic magazine two high school friends and I came across in a field near their house), but it was what I consider to have been the beginning of an ugly addiction. Because while I never asked for those initial encounters, I was guilty of asking for the ones that followed.

Clearly, I blame no-one but myself. I grew up in a Christian home, and was taught what was right and wrong. I knew better; but looking back to the early 90s, it only took one intentionally misnamed image to move the addiction from "dormant" to "active."

Why am I sharing this?

"Reputation is what other people know about you. Honor is what you know about yourself." — Lois McMaster Bujold

  1. I want to be the same person on the inside that you see on the outside—no mask. This confession is part of that process—"Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much." James 5:16 (NASB), and "He who conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will find compassion" Proverbs 28:13 (NASB), and "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." 1 John 1:9 (NASB).
  2. I pray that, somehow, God might use this confession to accomplish His work of redemption and healing from pornography in the lives of others.
  3. I fear for the church. As you may already be aware, this sin is rampant—especially in the church; including pastors, youth pastors, and other leadership, and it's not just a sin that men are susceptible to. There are two websites ministering specifically to women of all ages addicted to pornography and lust: beggarsdaughter.com and dirtygirlsministries.com. The ubiquitous nature of the internet and insidious onslaught of media, coupled with the secrecy of mobile devices is putting generations at tremendous risk; no-one is outside of its reach. All it takes is one image, video or audio clip, book, or magazine.
  4. Pretending it's not a major problem in the church isn't working.

Why are boys and men so attracted to it?

Boys and men will always notice (note I didn't say lust), and be fascinated by, the female form. God alone is responsible for that. He created us that way, and as many times as we would love to permanently switch it off or destroy it—unless something medically happens to us (castration or severe, chronic depression, etc.) to destroy it—we're stuck with it.

The pornography "industry" knows this, and pornography will always have a strong allure for two primary reasons:

  1. It shows the female form in all of its intensely captivating physical beauty—but especially what boys and men can't normally see: full views of the breasts and vulva.
  2. It shows girls and women who at least appear to offer the viewer several things that other women have no desire to, or apparently can't; namely:
    1. Acknowledgement that their body is beautiful and desirable, and seemingly without shame in expressing that fact.
    2. Desire and appreciation for the physical act(s) of sex.
    3. Desire and appreciation for men's physicality and sexuality—sadly, something very rare in most marriages.

One of the deadliest things in our society is the termination of safe, non-sexual, sincere compliments and gestures of validation and affirmation (expressions of essentially "I really like and admire you, and see value in you as a person") between members of the opposite sex. Pornography then, by default, becomes the exclusive means of trying to obtain those two critical elements, making it even more difficult to resist. I believe men and women are equally susceptible in this regard, albeit through mostly different avenues.

Obviously, I can only speak for myself, but from talking with other men about this, it seems to me that the source(s) of the struggle often differ for most (except for the first item listed below, which is true for all men). It could be one or more of the following reasons, or some I'm not aware of:

  1. They find the female form to be very beautiful, desirable, and arousing. Speaking for myself, even at the age of 8, I was drawn to the beauty of the female form via the Sears catalog's underwear section—and (believe it or not) I still hadn't even connected the dots about sexuality, let alone how it happened.
  2. They are curious about—and fascinated by—female anatomy and the physical act of sex.
  3. They feel little to no sense of personal value to others; both in who they are (personality/character), and in how they sense the opposite sex views them.
  4. They are incredibly lonely.
  5. They long to be found as sexually desirable to women in real life as the females on-screen may appear to be conveying to them (and for many men, not for the sake of pride, but for affirmation/validation and value). The allure and power women have over men in real life through visual appeal and sexuality is drastically underestimated. Starting at puberty, males have testosterone levels 15 times that of women. It's very frustrating without a means for expression, and the sinful misuse of that frustration is what fuels the pornography industry.
  6. They have either been—or still feel—rejected by women and society/culture as a whole; including disparaging comments and views made about men.
  7. They struggle with the fact that the majority of women don't struggle with sexual temptation(s) to the extent that men do.
  8. It is used as an attempt to 'medicate' the painful, challenging aspects of life, lack of worth, and failure(s) whether real or perceived.
  9. They are angry at, and/or bitter toward, God; refusing to take "no" as an answer to desire (and expression of that desire) for the female form.
  10. If single, they are frustrated and angry at not having the opportunity to experience sexual and emotional intimacy, while plenty of other people (even decades younger) have and are—or at least appear to be.
  11. If married, they may be angry and resentful toward their wife for refusing them sexually. One honest man's statement from a blog post:
    "You want to know the true appeal of porn for married men? It shows women who act like they really enjoy having sex with their partners...something that many, many married men desperately want from their wives, but never get."
  12. Peer pressure from other guys to view it; to be accepted as "one of the guys."
  13. They believe they are learning how to be great "lovers."

Why does sexual desirability matter so much to boys and men?

I believe being found sexually desirable to women is seen as the most believable evidence and deepest proof of being genuinely loved and wanted—acceptance of all aspects of being a man, including our physicality and sexuality—valued, desired, and affirmed by a woman. This is a large part of why pornography is such a temptation.

In addition, if it comes from a woman that we personally find attractive, it carries even more credence and impact, and becomes much harder to resist.

Why is pornography wrong?

Porn ≠ Love and Beauty (doesn't equate)

Quoting directly from mychainsaregone.org, "porn is wrong because it tells lies." But it's more accurate to say it insinuates lies, because beliefs or assumptions stem from what porn unabashedly displays:

It touts the pleasures of sin, but 'conveniently' omits the consequences. And because it has such a false understanding of the human body, porn is lying about God Himself, for we are made in His image. It objectifies women; it distorts sexuality so that it doesn't match or build healthy relations, but erodes them by destroying trust, betraying commitment, and undermining self-esteem. It also typically contains no kissing, no intimacy, no love; just animalistic, self-gratifying acts of sex.

Speaking to women (but that also apply to men), Jessica Harris notes the following consequences:

In her article Ten Lies We Believe About Interacting With the Opposite Sex, Courtney Gabrielson notes:

"I would wager that if men and women spent more time interacting in a low-pressure environment with the opposite sex, the desire to rely on pornography as a source of relief would decrease. Is it a scientific fact? I don't know. Perhaps I'm oversimplifying. But from my perspective, it seems as though we're getting more and more uncomfortable with each other while the percentage of pornography users in the church grows. This problem is an essay for another day, but essentially, porn is crippling men and women, stunting their relational abilities while placing incredible pressures on the opposite sex."

Excuses I used for viewing it

I've been curious (read: fascinated, enthralled) about anatomy and sex since I was old enough to know the differences between girls and boys. Still single into my 40s, the truth is that it is hard to be single and long deeply for intimacy, especially as you get older and feel like a epic failure for not being married or at least heading in that direction. Yet we have to manage our God-given desires for emotional and sexual intimacy, and one way or another that requires sacrifice. Either our own will and desires up front (staying away from porn and lust) until—or if—God chooses to bless us with a spouse, or the deadly, cascading effects of porn in our lives which also spills into the lives of people around us when we choose to disobey God and live in sin.

As my mom told me a long time ago, excuses are the "skin of a reason stuffed with a lie." For more than fifteen years, my excuses were:

Despite knowing it was wrong, one or more of these excuses were my response every time I came under conviction of sin.

When the majority of your peers have met their spouse and are now married—many with children—it's impossible to not feel like a failure. It's an ongoing struggle. You long to be loved, accepted, and desired by a woman—but the truth is that pornography can never satisfy that deep yearning for intimacy. It only makes it worse.

How God freed me from it

God had to tear down my stubborn will, pride, and excuses to bring me to repentance, and He did this in several ways:

  1. Publicly exposing my hypocrisy as a Christian in a "dollar" movie theater when I went to watch a crude movie one Saturday afternoon in 2002. Before the movie started, two teens who had apparently been expelled from a Christian school recognized me, and from across the theater, yelled out in an attempt to embarrass me: "Hey you—don't you go to <name omitted> church?" Their tactic worked; perhaps even better than they thought. Shamed and embarrassed as I deserved, I began praying that God would somehow deliver me and make me sick of what I was watching, and He began to answer my prayer, albeit slowly because of my own stubborn sinfulness. I began to realize that many times even the movies themselves I watched did not portray a "happy" ending, but rather the devastating consequences of the sin engaged in (I can easily name a number of movies from memory that did this).
  2. Causing me to grow weary of living a lie and trying to hide my sin. I wanted to be the same person on the inside that people may have believed I was on the outside.
  3. Making me come to grips with the truth that:

In a similar fashion to the believers in Acts 19:19, this meant intentionally avoiding websites I used to frequent, permanently erasing numerous image and video files from my hard drive, destroying or throwing away movie and data discs, and drastically changing what I watched on Netflix and (more importantly) why.

But the temptation to lust isn't going to vanish because I got rid of material things. What has to change is my heart and mind's response to it. For a long time I've wrestled with the concept or view that holiness is like being in a white straitjacket inside a padded room, while the world outside has all the fun. But one honest look at the world around us shows up that lie for what it is, especially as the ugly contrast to biblical truth grows exponentially.


Over the phone: explaining boundaries
(Season 4, Episode 5: "The Man from 'Emperor'")

In regards to what we often perceive as unfair limits, there's an excellent quote from one of the episodes of The Dick van Dyke Show that touches on this. Toward the end (23m 11s) of season 4, episode 5 "The Man from 'Emperor'", Rob Petrie makes a great statement about marriage when his love for his wife, Laura, and their marriage is tested:

"Marriage, like a lot of other things, has boundaries. And to some guys, those boundaries represent walls, and that makes marriage a prison to them. But to other guys, those boundaries hold everything that's good and fun in life."

That's what God's commands are—boundaries designed to protect; not stifle, even though at times it will feel like it. When I see the consequences of living without boundaries, I gladly welcome each command. They are not arbitrary or Draconian; they are designed to protect and safeguard from unnecessary pain, grief, heartache, and damaged, destroyed lives.

Compassion: The missing component

The church is the only army that shoots its wounded. — unknown

I vehemently believe that much of Christianity's headlong rush into pornography and sexual immorality is a backlash response to its own failure to carefully analyze its own views and speak candidly about sexuality. It is driven by our God-instilled, but unmet, desire for its expression in at least some form in our lives, and isn't going away. The church is called by God to boldly speak the truth, yet the effort it takes to maintain a healthy balance on the topic requires great risk, time, a lot of work that the majority are simply unwilling to do.

The church rightly agrees that pornography is wrong, yet completely fails to speak to the questions and void with biblical truth about sexuality.

Would Jesus have compassion on someone caught viewing pornography? Would He treat them like He dealt with the Pharisees (Matthew 23:27,28) or the woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-11)? Though it would depend on the heart of the person who was caught, I believe the latter, and have often wondered: "What exactly would He say to them?"

While there are many different reasons for a desire to look at pornography, arguably the hardest single issue when facing it is:

"Don't I ever get to experience and enjoy sexual and emotional intimacy with a woman I find to be beautiful who sincerely desires it as much as I do? God created my physical and emotional being with this in mind. So if not, why doesn't He provide some means to take away or suppress the desires He alone is responsible for instilling in me?"

The sense of rejection and denial both from the world's eyes, fellow believers (that you are not married), and from God Himself is very real, and leaves believers with an even greater sense of loss of value, heightening loneliness and rock-bottom worth; especially as believers are immersed in a church culture that only acknowledges and ministers to marriage and family.

What you will rarely find in the Christian community regarding pornography is a genuine heart of compassion for those struggling with it. Is there a sincere desire to hear the whys, the thoughts, feelings, and circumstances behind the struggle? Or is it just a "whip you into shape" response? All too often the church either caves in to sin (liberal churches), or demonstrates the "beatings will continue until morale improves" philosophy. There is a glaring lack of balance through "speaking the truth in love."

It would be significantly easier to withstand pornography if there was genuine hope of those needs being met (i.e. a loving marital relationship with a member of the opposite sex to look forward to)—and finally knowing and experiencing the beauty of what God designed us to experience and serve as a reward for years, if not decades, of painful waiting. But there is no evidence in Scripture or reality that proves God intends to meet or provide the very needs and desires to express and experience sexual and emotional intimacy that He instilled in us—and that relentlessly persist from puberty. This is a very frustrating place to be. In other words, there is no tangible earthly reward—let alone encouragement—from God or other believers for our ongoing obedience.

The post-healing struggle

"Like a dog that returns to its vomit is a fool who repeats his folly."Proverbs 26:11 (NASB)

But what if vomit is all you have left, and is the closest you'll ever get to the opposite sex? The Christian church rightly preaches against pornography, yet does nothing to address the very reasons why we crave it so much—let alone communicate anything about them. And the truth is, sometimes it feels precisely like vomit is all you have left. We may feel as though we've lost all respect, love, and genuine interest and concern from people—especially women—and perhaps truly have.

How many of us genuinely have someone in our life (especially of the opposite sex) speaking words of encouragment, love, and admiration? How many even have someone they can trust in pouring their heart out to without fear of instant judgment and criticism? So many return to porn because:

Pornography is therein so prevalent because we sense that it's the only alternative to the things we long for in real life—i.e. it's "as good as it gets" for most of us in terms of any kind of association or connection with women (or for women, the opposite sex).

Many women, wives especially, justifiably hate pornography because they can't compete with the endless young women in the images and videos. However, most of these same wives refuse to let their husbands enjoy looking at them, because of body image issues, dislike of sex, etc. Husbands hear the "Don't look at them!" message. Yet what complicates this is the accompanying message "And don't look at me!" that comes across in the lack of positive body image that many women struggle with. The women in porn don't seem to have that problem (I say "seem", because the eyes don't lie, and at times, many of them are actually communicating messages of anxiety, shame, worry, or fear).

So what does life look like after you've been addicted to porn, and have experienced a measure of healing from it? How long does it last? After all, you know the lies it tries to sell, and that in the long term it's not going to make you feel any better. You know it's not an option, and don't want to hide anything. What do you do with women around you that you find to be beautiful? And I don't solely mean the temptation of 'ideal' (using that term loosely) physical female beauty via pornography—but the female form in general, wherever it exists and is encountered? It will always elicit some kind of response from us—even independently of lust—and we deeply long for the appropriate chance to express all the feelings of love, admiration, fascination, and desire we have felt (but were forced to suppress) for decades when we see it.

Yet your circumstances likely haven't changed, and your desire and search for worth, value, affirmation, acceptance, and longing to finally experience intimacy as God designed you to hasn't stopped—in fact, only increased in their intensity as the months and years go by. Deep down, each of us longs to know that we are somehow lovable, pleasing, and both physically and sexually desirable to members of the opposite sex. On their own, these are not sinful qualities or wanton traits that we crave fulfillment to. Yet in the absence of biblical sexual fulfillment, pornography presents itself as the purveyor of "for you, this as good as it gets—it's all you're ever going to get." It's very difficult to not believe that.

The greatest challenge of our faith versus pornography is the virtual suppression of the truth of beauty of the female form, as well as the denial of our desire to express that sense of overwhelming awe and longing for intimacy in a tangible way.

So you strive to focus on several truths in which God has used to spare you from a complete relapse:

The church, in effect, tells us to use sublimation (which, incidentally, comes from Freudian psychology) in dealing with sexual temptation. Really? In essence, what's being said is: "You need to stay busy enough serving God and people so that you won't have time to be sexually tempted." Let's check reality on that: know any pastors or ministry workers who caved to sexual temptation? Were they idle? They are, in fact, some of the busiest people on the planet. Sexual temptation, at its core, is a hard-wired physiology and heart issue that struggles with the plight of men (and women) in regards to their propensity toward physicality and sexuality. Not a busy-or-not issue.

Because lust comes from our minds and hearts, it isn't limited to things we see. It can spring from sources other than a lewd image, website or movie, and it can be just as easy to lust over someone who is fully clothed. It can hide in subtle thoughts, romance novels, or appear while walking in malls and parking lots, while driving, strolling down supermarket aisles, and in the middle of a church service. Whenever and wherever the 'trigger' for lust occurs, we are responsible for our own thoughts, and it's an issue that requires us to be completely honest with ourselves before God. We can lie to friends trying to keep us accountable, but we can't lie to God—only He knows what someone is, or is not, thinking. God always looks at the heart:

"But the Lord said to Samuel, "Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.""1 Samuel 16:7 (NASB)

So I don't have a pornography filter on my computer. Why? First of all, because filters are inherently flawed. They simply cannot fully protect me against pornography. There are images on a number of sites that they can't easily guard against: image searches on the web (with unnamed or misnamed imagery) and Wikipedia (with increasingly pornographic imagery being used in various articles) are two such examples. When you're learning to ride a bicycle, at some point you remove the training wheels. You cannot rely on them for the long term. Filters also cannot protect me from my thoughts and the images already burned into my mind, nor can I escape living in a world that is rapidly becoming more invasive and aggressive in its opposition to God and His design for sexuality. Some examples? I've been bombarded with near pornographic images on the slew of TVs surrounding me at Applebees while simply waiting for my food with my family, and the FCC is currently trying to eliminate its ban on full frontal nudity and profanity on TV. In early 2012, Dawn Hawkins from Morality in Media, spoke up about a nearby passenger who was looking at pornography near her on a Delta flight. When she complained, another woman nearby stood up and told her, "Be quiet. Nobody cares."

The best filter is a changed heart—one that recognizes the ugly lies that pornography, lust, and immorality are, while esteeming the beauty of what God intended sexuality and marriage to be. Immodest dress/fashion, magazine covers at supermarket checkouts—even TV ads—aren't going to going away; in fact, they're going to get worse. You have to first and foremost recognize and disarm the motives and intent behind whatever you may encounter, and God has to place within you a repulsion for it. The answer lies in the completely different focus and perspective than simply avoiding or not doing. It's in living out the truth of God's Word: honoring Him, respecting women, and calling on the carpet the lies and intentional twisting of sexuality for what it is. But the component of female beauty (which ironically, God designed to have such an impact on us) is a very difficult one—perhaps the most trying challenge in making sure our perspective and hearts remain right before God.

My prayer is that God will never let me go back; but since the unanswered pain of being single is ongoing, so is the struggle.

Guarding against the push of immorality

There's simply no way to avoid being exposed to some form of pornography in our society—it's all around us, and it's rapidly increasing by the day. Despite what some may believe, being raised in a godly, Christian home is no guarantee against falling into lust and pornography. The best prevention however, is two-fold: first, be open and honest about the anatomical/medical aspects of sex with your children—appropriate to their age—and secondly, share the truth often of how and why sex can be either a tremendous blessing in marriage or a serious sin problem outside of it. We all need those frequent reminders.

Listed in chronological order, these reports and statistics are sobering when you realize the problem has only been increasing with the saturation of mobile devices and insidious media actively and aggressively promoting pornography and immorality in our world.

Like Jessica Harris said, "Lust thrives in silence." As individuals and churches, we can no longer avoid confronting it.

Related links and files: Jessica Harris's testimony archived MP3 file (74.3 MB), original/broken link) and video (from the "Shamed" project) | beggarsdaughter.com | Cries in the Dark: Calls For Help From Women Who Struggle with Porn | The Pornographic View of the Body | pornharms.com | Jesus, On Lust (Joshua Harris, Covenant Life Church) | Why Shouldn't Johnny Watch Porn if He Likes? | Online Pornography's Effects, and a New Way to Fight Them | Two Big Mistakes Churches Make When Helping Porn Addicts | The Truth About Porn Our Teens Need to Hear (from a Mom Who Used to Like Porn a Lot) | Yes, Porn is a Big Deal: A Response to Elite Daily | License to Lust: How Porn Trains Objectification | Big Fat Lie: Porn Empowers Women | Why I Fight Pornography

Note: some opinions expressed in the links above may not necessarily reflect my own.

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