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|Pornography: Confession, Healing, and Contention (View in PDF)|
"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")
Why am I sharing this? |
Why are boys and men so attracted to it? |
Why does sexual desirability matter to boys and men?
The truth about porn | Men, women, and porn: differing views | Excuses I used for viewing it | How God freed me from it
Compassion, porn...and the church? | The tough, but true opposite side of the coin | The post-healing struggle | Guarding against the push of immorality
Please note that this article is not intended for "churched" audiences, as it is my experience that the church simply isn't interested nor willing to hear the truth/issues from both sides of the discussion and contention surrounding pornography. Let alone deal with it in their congregations.
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 an old "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."
"Reputation is what other people know about you. Honor is what you know about yourself." — Lois McMaster Bujold
Boys and men will always notice (note I didn't say always lust), and be fascinated by, the female form. Young or old, we are hard-wired by God to be visually drawn to it. 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 completely—unless something medically happens to us (castration or severe, chronic depression, etc.)—we're stuck with it.
The pornography industry knows this, and it remains their greatest weapon. Pornography will always have a strong allure for two primary reasons:
One of the deadliest things in our society is the cessation 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:
"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."
I believe being found sexually desirable to women is seen as the most believable, persuasive evidence and deepest proof of being genuinely loved and wanted—acceptance of all aspects of who we are, including our physicality and sexuality—valued, desired, and affirmed by a woman. Other than the sheer physical and sexual allure of the female form, this is the next biggest 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.
Porn ≠ Love and Beauty (doesn't equate)
Quoting from mychainsaregone.org, "Porn is wrong because it tells lies." But it's more accurate to say it either insinuates lies, or simply "doesn't care" about the consequences on the viewer and his/her family, because beliefs or assumptions stem from what porn unabashedly displays, but doesn't overtly say:
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.
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."
Please note that I didn't call this section "Women and pornography", because I'm aware that most women who struggle with lust likely do not struggle with pornography; or at least for the same reasons that men do. So I include this section for two primary reasons:
Because the physical brains of men and women differ (as God created them to), there are notable differences in how they view pornography. Boys who see porn for the first time are immediately responsive to it because their brains are visually wired to be—they don't need to understand exactly what they're seeing, they just know they like it, and no further questions are asked. Even boys as young as 2 can be affected, as one rather distraught mother learned the hard way. In her reply to J Parker's blog post The First Time I Saw Porn, she notes:
"When my son was young, we used to watch a TV drama series that had a lot of topless women in it. One day, when he was about 2, I asked him what DVD he wanted to watch, and instead of picking from the umpteen cartoon kids ones, he decided he wanted to watch 'boobs' (his words) choosing that DVD case from amongst the others. There were no boobs on the cover of the DVD case, but apparently that was what his eyes had picked up on from being in the background of us watching this show. Thankfully, I have learned to be more intentional in my parenting since then!"
But for the majority of girls seeing porn for the first time—at least initially—their brains are wired to process the images through the lens of emotions and relationships, and so porn doesn't make sense.
Part of the issue here lies in how various types of porn is depicted. Some is displayed very sensually and "respectfully" (for lack of a better word) while others are depicted in a virtually animalistic way. Because of their relationship-centric wiring, women are incapable of understanding how men can appreciate (without lusting) the female form—specifically, parts of the female form. But they can, and do. The majority of women have a strong tendency to only see people in their entirety, and have little desire to focus on, or appreciate, individual physical parts of a person. They are also more susceptible to their own imagination, where relationships and a "storyline" are front and center to arousal. The porn "industry" knows this, and has since been creating porn tailored specifically for women; think "50 Shades of Grey": more backstory, dialogue, character development, and sensuality between sexual scenes. Basically, visual romance novels with some "edge" to draw viewers into the world of mainstream porn.
Porn is certainly not the only issue going on behind the scenes. The basic differences between the sexes are themselves enough of an issue to discourage any kind of ongoing interaction. Another is the truth that women's inclination to compare their attractiveness to other women stirs problems. As one woman shares:
"I will admit there are times where we both see a very attractive woman (and yes, I know he is looking) and the only time I don't like it is when I'm feeling self-conscious about myself. Perhaps I'm not feeling particularly attractive that day then yes, I don't like it but not necessarily because he's looking. It usually has more to do with how I feel about myself. When I start comparing myself to this other woman is when I don't like 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.
God had to tear down my stubborn will, pride, and excuses to bring me to repentance, and He did this in several ways:
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.
The church is the only army that shoots its wounded. — unknown
Though I have shared elsewhere about sexuality and the church, the topic of pornography is one that remains chronically unaddressed, despite the devastation it is wreaking among believers below the surface. There are numerous reasons why. It's simply easier for the church to foster an environment where sin and struggles don't exist, than it is to foster one of compassion, grace, and healing.
I vehemently believe that much of Christianity's headlong rush into pornography and sexual immorality is a backlash response to its own colossal failure to carefully analyze its views of, and speak candidly about, biblical sexuality. Our God-instilled, but unmet, desire for its expression in at least some form in our lives isn't going away. The church is called by God to boldly speak the truth in love, yet the effort it takes to maintain a healthy balance on the topic of sexuality and the dangers of pornography requires great risk and time—tremendous work and discomfort that the vast majority are simply unwilling to do.
Following are just some of the topics I believe the church needs to address from God's Word (wherever applicable, backed up with medical facts). They don't necessarily have to be an entire message on each topic; but acknowledgment that they exist and are issues is a critical first step:
In her blog post entitled Why the Church Must Be a No-Shame Zone, author Jen Ferguson notes that:
"If the church, the body of Christ, continues to adhere to this ideology that some sins are worse than others, we will simply continue to provide fertile ground for Satan to keep sowing rows and rows of shame in our pews. Shame shuts us up. The results? Catastrophic.
... He [Satan] has such a field day with the sins that are sexual in nature. In most churches, we don't talk much about sex, let alone sexual sins. We mention the story of Rahab (see Joshua 7) the prostitute and extol her good works and her coming to faith, but we don't use it as a launching pad to discuss our own struggles with sex and identity. Rahab shows us redemption is possible and while the Bible doesn’t show us exactly how she worked out all her issues, this is key—everyone knew her past. Her sin was out in the open and she was accepted despite it. It wasn’t stuffed in the closet, obscured from view as she lived among the Israelites. And when her story is recounted in the New Testament, her past was still made known, not for reasons of shame, but to affirm the incredible power of God to heal."
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 in turn sincerely desires intimacy with me? God created my physical and emotional being with this truth in mind. So if not, why doesn't He provide some means to dissipate or suppress the desires He alone is responsible for instilling in me?"
The sense of rejection and denial for anyone not in a sexually fulfilling marriage is very real. Not just from the world's eyes, but from fellow believers, and from God Himself (Genesis 2:18). It leaves believers with an even greater sense of lost value, emptiness, and heightens 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 "pretend it doesn't exist" philosophy (while sinning in the background). There is a glaring lack of balance through "speaking the truth in love" while genuinely living the same truth. In effect, you could say:
The stark absence of creates an insatiable hunger for.
Namely, the church is notoriously marked by an unsettling absence of healthy interaction and affection; not to mention validation, affirmation, encouragement, and sincere, genuine listening ears; compassion, candor, and honesty.
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 has any intention of meeting or providing 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, especially in a world that celebrates sex. In other words, there is no tangible incentive or reward—let alone encouragement—from God or other believers for our ongoing obedience. It is something I still wrestle with greatly.
"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 (on rare occasion) rightly preaches against pornography, yet offers no encouragement to men (or fraction of women) in the midst of the battle against it, let alone makes no attempt to address, acknowledge or communicate anything about, the very reasons why we crave it so much. And the tough truth is, sometimes it feels precisely like vomit is all that's available. For whatever reason(s) we may feel as though we will never experience genuine love, respect, interest, and desire from the opposite sex.
Even though it's mostly scripted and fake, pornography acknowledges (and openly offers) what the church adamantly refuses to: an unapologetic acknowledgement that the female form is beautiful, desirable, and offers a positive (albeit sinfully expressed) view of sexuality. I could go on and on about how intricately beautiful women are, but it would only elicit jealousy, anger, suspicion, and anti-sexual rage from most people in the church—especially women. For multiple reasons, women have significant issues with the topics of beauty, body image, and sexuality in general. And until they can genuinely see themselves as beautiful, they will likely never have a positive view of sexual intimacy and the blessing God intended it to be for them.
How many of us genuinely have someone (especially of the opposite sex) speaking words of encouragement, love, and admiration into our lives? 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 simply 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 literally "as good as it gets" for most of us in terms of any kind of association, interaction, 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 and shapely 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. So husbands hear the "Don't look at them!" message. However, though no inherent fault of their own, what complicates this is the accompanying message "...and don't you dare look at me!" that comes across in the lack of positive body image and self-confidence 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).
Tough as it sounds, until the whole church, from the pulpit on down, is willing to get their hands dirty and face the slew of rotting issues below their sugar-coated exterior, they have nothing effective to say on the issues of sex and pornography. And the porn industry knows this only too well. No backbone on these issues means things continue getting worse.
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 you see 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—and it's all you're ever going to get." And it's impossible to not believe that, because God makes absolutely no guarantees of sexual fulfillment whilst simultaneously being the creator of the unrelenting issue of sexuality.
The greatest challenge of our faith versus pornography is the virtual suppression of the truth of beauty inherent in 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 (the diversion of the energy of a sexual or other biological impulse from its immediate goal to one of a more acceptable social, moral, or aesthetic nature or use) in dealing with sexual temptation. Sublimation, incidentally, comes from Freudian psychology). The notion that if you divert or burn off enough sexual energy, temptation will virtually vanish. 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, and frequently serve others with little thanks or gratitude in return. Sexual temptation, at its core, is both a perpetual hard-wired physiology and heart struggle that wrestles with the plight of men (and women) in regards to their propensity toward physicality and sexuality. Not a busy-or-not or exercise-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. 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.
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.
"In talking last year with the manager of one Cincinnati hotel, part of a chain that hosts some of the largest Christian conventions in our nation, I discovered that the hotel chain profits greatly from hosting these particular meetings. The conventions are attended each year by hordes of pastors, religious broadcasters, Christian writers, speakers, and musicians. Would you like to guess what is attributed to the hotel's bottom-line increase during these conferences? According to the manager, purchases of pornographic movies are tremendous!"
Like Jessica Harris said, "Sin 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 | 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 various links above may not necessarily reflect my own. | Comments?|