Tag Archives: porn recovery

Q&A with J: “What Should We Call Persistent Porn Use?”

Usually on Thursdays, I answer a reader’s question. Today, I want y’all to answer my question. Here it is:

What should we call ongoing and persistent porn use? If you read various marriage blogs, you might have seen some recent discussion about porn “habit” vs. “addiction.” (You can see my post here.) Some say it’s a habit and calling it an addiction makes it harder to fight because that connotes that it’s outside their control. For others, it feels well beyond habit and calling it an addiction prods them to getting the help they need to overcome. 

While I understand that “addiction” isn’t quite the right word, “habit” doesn’t seem enough. At this point, I’m thinking maybe we need a better label. What alternative words could we use to refer to a porn addiction/habit?

Title with text over black hole graphic background

I’ve honestly believed this argument over semantics isn’t nearly as important as just fighting off this evil. But after reading various comments on the subject, I’ve decided it matters to some to use the right words.

Calling it a habit gives some porn users the empowerment they need to gain victory, because then they feel like it’s a behavior they control. For others who have tried to quit, repeatedly and unsuccessfully, labeling it an addiction encourages them to seek the outside help they need to break free.

Honestly, I don’t want to cause problems for either group. I’d hate to think that my word choice inadvertently hindered anyone’s ultimate victory over this terrible temptation.

But what is persistent use of pornography?

Is porn use an addiction?

Substance addictions and persistent porn use have these similarities:

  • Someone else often offers you the first “hit”
  • You try it out of curiosity or intrigue
  • Your body delivers a natural chemical reward
  • You might seek out stronger forms of the substance to receive the same or a more intense effect
  • You experience a mix of good feelings and bad consequences
  • If you try to quit, you may experience resistance or a sense of loss

Chris Taylor of The Forgiven Wife wrote an excellent post on Is Porn Use an Addiction (and Does It Even Matter)? In that article, she also points out:

For a person who is trying to medicate emotional pain, the “high” they feel after using a substance is a respite from their pain. When the effects go away, they often feel worse emotionally—but they don’t know how else to address the pain, so they continue using, again and again.

I also believe many porn producers are like drug dealers, in the way they entice users, offer increasingly intense experiences, and ignore the damage they do users and those around them.

However, recent research studies have shown that persistent porn use doesn’t behave physiologically like an addiction. For instance, in one much-touted study, “subjects who reported experiencing problems as a result of their pornography use did not display characteristically addictive brain activity when viewing sexual images” (The Daily Beast: “Your Porn Addiction Isn’t Real”; Journal of Biological Psychology: “Modulation of late positive potentials by sexual images in problem users and controls inconsistent with ‘porn addiction'”). Rather, some experts propose it’s more analogous to a compulsion (see American Psychological Association: “Is Pornography Addictive?”).

Moreover, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) — the manual used by psychiatrists, psychologists, and counselors to diagnose and treat clients — does not recognize a hypersexual disorder or porn addiction. The experts determined there was insufficient evidence to support these labels and the treatments that would follow.

Is porn use a habit?

Habits and persistent porn use share these similarities:

  • You form them through a system of cue/trigger, routine, and reward (see ABC News: “Science of habits: Understanding why we do what we do”)
  • You reinforce the habit through repetition
  • In anticipating the reward, you create a craving to engage in the routine
  • You link the habit to other environmental triggers (e.g., a certain room in your house or time of the day)
  • Even when the habit is clearly hurting you (or people you love), it’s an entrenched routine you tend to fall back on

According to researcher Dr. Wendy Wood, as you repeat behaviors in the same context, thus forming a habit, your brain shifts from processing in the decision-making center to a sensory motor loop that no longer retains information on the goal or outcome. The result, according to Wood, is “our minds don’t always integrate in the best way possible. Even when you know the right answer, you can’t make yourself change the habitual behavior” (Science Daily: “How we form habits, change existing ones”).

For example, in one interesting study on habits, 98 people watched movie trailers and were given popcorn to munch on, some of it fresh and some of it one week old. Those used to eating popcorn at movies ate the same amount of stale popcorn as fresh, because — even though stale popcorn is yuck — they had an entrenched habit triggered by the environment (LA Times: “People eat out of habit, a study finds, even when food is stale”). That sounds like the persistent porn user who — regardless of how yuck the porn is — feels compelled to watch, because it’s a triggered routine.

The habit argument is laid out well in “Does Your Spouse Have a Porn Addiction or Just a Bad Habit? The Difference Matters!” on Sheila Gregoire’s To Love Honor and Vacuum blog.

Yet, habits run the gamut in whether they’re good, neutral, or bad. Thus, when some hear the word “habit,” they’re more likely to think about how their kid puts his dirty shoes on the couch or their husband leaves the Worcestershire sauce on the wrong refrigerator shelf than someone taking up smoking or losing himself in hours and hours of porn. And calling it merely a habit sounds to some like you’re putting what is adultery of the heart (Matthew 5:28) on the same level as consuming more coffee than you know you should.

Moreover, the suggested way to kick a habit is to change the trigger. But what if the craving is the trigger? Or what if the trigger is something you can’t control, like having a computer (that you need for work, home tasks, etc.) or being sexually refused by your spouse? (This is not blaming the spouse for porn use! That spouse is not responsible, but that action could be something the porn user has in his habit loop.)

Is porn use something else?

I asked on my Facebook page for alternative words, and here are some of the answers:

  • struggle
  • affair
  • sin
  • betrayal
  • self-control problem
  • virtual adultery
  • compulsion
  • bondage
  • trap
  • spiritual stronghold

Let me clarify one more thing. I’m not a licensed counselor, but I went through a graduate program that prepared me to become a counselor, including making diagnoses. I do not contend that porn use can be classified for medical treatment or insurance reimbursement as an addiction, because that is a specific definition in that context.

However, if someone writes me a question or a comment that refers to the person or spouse being “addicted to porn,” I’m not going to argue with them. When your co-worker says, “I’m addicted to coffee,” or your best friend says, “I’m addicted to superhero movies,” or Robert Palmer says, “You might as well face it, you’re addicted to love,” we understand that they’re using “addicted” colloquially. I hope to use more precise language from now on, but quibbling over their terminology still seems far less important to me than providing insight, encouragement, answers, and hope.

Now I hope you’ll chime in! What alternative words could we use to refer to a porn addiction/habit?

A Prayer about Sexual Temptation

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the struggles people have with sexual temptation. Whether it’s a porn habit/addiction, reading or watching erotica, emotional affairs or adultery, or lusting after others, too many marriages face troubling situations and the appeal of temptation that has damaged, or will damage, their marriage bed.

In keeping with my Praying More goal for 2017, I’m posting a prayer for the sexual intimacy in our marriages at the end of each month. This time, I invite you to pray with me about the sexual temptation we and our husbands face.

A Prayer about Sexual Temptation with woman's hands holding heart

Dear Lord,

We know you are listening. You have invited us to cast our anxiety on you, because you care for us (1 Peter 5:7). We are weary and burdened and need the rest that only Your Son can provide (Matthew 11:28). Because we are under attack, our husbands are under attack, our marriages are under attack.

We are under attack, our husbands are under attack, our marriages are under attack. Click To Tweet

Sexual temptation is constant in our world. We cannot turn on a television, walk through a mall, or visit the grocery store without being exposed to lies Satan wants us to believe about sex. The world promises that sex is about our own selfish pleasure, that flesh is a commodity, that consent is all that matters, and that Christian ideals about sex in marriage are antiquated, irrelevant, even prude.

But You created sex to be a beautiful gift in marriage. Please prick our hearts when we stray from Your superior design for intimacy. We invite the Holy Spirit to convict us when we have lost our way, whether through our actions, our words, or our thoughts. Help us to take every thought captive, Lord, and make it obedient to Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5).

Strengthen our husbands as they struggle with visual temptations and the false messages of the world. You said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him” (Genesis 2:18). I don’t want my husband to be alone in this battle; rather, I want to be his helper.

Mold my heart so that I can be a safe place for him to admit his struggles. Give me courage to fight alongside him. Help me to be a constant support so that he can gain true victory. Give me your eyes to see him as you do — a sinner in a battle for his heart, soul, and effectiveness in the world. May his problems become our problems, as we live into your one flesh design for our marriage.

But wives are also prone to sexual temptation. You know my struggles and how Satan wants me to wander from my marriage and Your plan. Lord, help me to be in this world, but never of this world. Protect me from the evil one (John 17:14-16). Help me to avert my eyes, to guard my heart (Proverbs 4:23), and to flee from sexual immorality (1 Corinthians 6:18).

Where I have been blind to my faults, show me where they are. Expose the lies I have bought into. Help me to align my desires with Yours. Prod me to take action to rid myself of temptations in my own home, to confess my sin to someone who can help me (James 5:16), and to seek professional assistance if I need it.

Put in place the resources and mentors my husband and I need to deal with the struggles we face. Lead us in Your righteousness (Psalm 5:8).

Oh Father, my heart also aches that many — far too many — spouses were mere children when the “father of lies” (John 8:44) spread his poison. They were exposed to porn and other sexual temptations at a tender age. We know how deeply You care for our little ones and the harsh fate You’ve declared for those who cause them to stumble (see Matthew 18:1-6).

Help me to see those exposed so young, who yet struggle as adults, as victims as well as sinners. But You alone can give us victory and trample our enemies (Psalm 60:11-12). Activate me and other Christians to oppose this preying on our children whenever we see it. Use us for Your purposes, to save not only this generation but the next. 

Above all, help us to seek the best in our marriages and our marriage beds. Let my own marriage bed set the standard for what sexual intimacy is and should be. Bless our sexual union so richly that we lose our taste for anything but Your perfect plan. Infuse our hearts with sexual longing only for one another.

All this I pray in Jesus’ name,

Amen.

Q&A with J: “My Husband Is Addicted to Porn”

Today’s question is an important one. And it’s very straightforward. Here’s what the wife asks:

My husband is addicted to porn. I have no one to talk to — where do I go?

Q&A with J- My Husband Is Addicted to Porn - sad woman with hands over face

Even in this short question, I can sense the pain, urgency, and despair. When it comes to pornography, let’s be clear about two things:

  1. Too many men battle this temptation and feel trapped by a horrible habit that they don’t want to continue, yet feel insufficient to overcome.
  2. It’s cheating on your marriage. What was supposed to remain entirely within marriage — sexual pleasure and satisfaction — is being met elsewhere.

As much as I feel for the addicted porn viewer and their struggle, it’s no wonder that wives who discover their husband’s porn use feel betrayed. According to Jesus, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:27-28).

...it's no wonder that wives who discover their husband's porn use feel betrayed. Click To Tweet

Porn isn’t the stray glance or public temptation of scantily dressed women; it’s the intentional consumption of sexually charged materials for the purpose of lusting and receiving sexual pleasure.

Yet for some, many perhaps, it is also like an addiction. As I said, they know it’s bad, often they want to quit, but the temptation is so strong. If you’ve ever been addicted to anything — drugs, smoking, coffee, soda, etc. — you understand how the head knowledge and the heart desire to quit something are constantly battling with the baser need you have to feed the hungry beast. You’ve experienced the longing, followed by the dopamine and adrenaline rush, and your body tells you to keep that loop going.

The point is that when one spouse is habitually using porn, both of you are suffering. Your marriage is suffering. It’s easy to feel like you’re on opposite sides. So one major goal you need to have is to get on the same sideIt will take both of you working together on this issue and your marriage. He needs to do his part, and you need to support him.

To the question: I have no one to talk to — where do I go? The best response I think I can give is to point you to resources. Following are a few great posts addressing the issue of a husband’s use of porn.

First Steps in Battling Pornography from OysterBed7

Discovering Your Husband’s Porn Use from To Love Honor and Vacuum (guest post from Hopeful Wife Today)

What Should You Do If Your Husband Looks at Porn? from Authentic Intimacy

Pornography Destroys These Things In A Wife from Unveiled Wife

Unveiled Wife also has a list of Resources to Educate Yourself on Pornography

Q&A with J: When Your Husband Falls Off the Porn Wagon here on my blog

You should also look into filtering software, such as Covenant Eyes. By the way, Covenant Eyes has a blog with helpful articles as well.

As far as talking to someone and getting real help as the wife of a porn-addicted husband, XXXchurch provides many resources for overcoming porn addiction and walking through that experience with your spouse. They have small groups you can participate in online, as well as an entire program for wives called Recover. (If someone has been through this program, I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.)

Some of the churches in your area might also offer programs for porn recovery, including outreach to spouses. Check around and see what’s available; you might be surprised to discover useful resources in your own neck-of-the-woods.

I don’t know whether your husband confessed the porn addiction or you simply discovered it, whether he is remorseful or recalcitrant, and whether he wants to seek help or you feel alone in this matter. Of course, this will all be easier if he is repentant and willing to reach out for help.

If he is not cooperative, you need to be willing to bring it up to someone in your church congregation. Of course this is difficult, and scary, but you cannot allow your marriage to disintegrate. Nor is it any favor to your husband to allow him to continue in sin. Likely he recognizes that his porn habit is taking a toll on himself and his marriage, even if he doesn’t admit it right away.

Many Christians steeped in pornography have a hard time getting help because they feel such shame even admitting their problem. It’s hard to bring out in the open the worst parts of ourselves and ask for help and healing.

But Luke 8:17 says: “For there is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed, and nothing concealed that will not be known or brought out into the open.

God already sees and knows. As long as you hide, however, you cannot be healed. Consider it like this: Would you want a life-saving operation to be conducted by your surgeon in the dark? We have to step into the light so that all our struggles can be seen and our Healer can make us, and our marriage, whole again.

Be wise about whom you bring into your confidence. But consider that this may be a step you need to take.

I pray that the resources I provided will point you in the right direction. And may God bring you strength, comfort, and hope.

When Should You Stop Battling Porn?

Sometimes my aha moments come when I’m in conversation with someone about godly sexuality. Recently, I was discussing with a friend men’s struggle against visual temptation, easily found these days in rampant pornography that you must intentionally avoid, and I said something like this:

Maybe we’ve talked too much about porn being a struggle. A man can think that it’s okay to struggle for the rest of his life, that it’s just part of being male to fight against porn but never really win.

When Should You Stop Battling Porn? via @HotHolyHumorousAs a writer, I’m well aware of the power of words. While I don’t like honing in on one particular word rather than taking a person’s message as a whole, sometimes our word choice can convey an erroneous message. Or rather it’s truth, but not the whole truth.

With book titles like Every Man’s Battle and my own statement in a recent post that men often struggle in this area, maybe we’ve unwittingly conveyed the message that it’s okay to simply battle the pull of porn for the rest of your life. As such, you expect some wins and some losses, some advances and some retreats, some good days and some bad days. Maybe that’s all you’re truly aiming for.

But the subtitle of Stephen Arterburn and Fred Stoeker’s popular Every Man book is “Every Man’s Guide to Winning the War on Sexual Temptation One Victory at a Time.” Did you see that? Winning the War!

And I’m fully convinced that, in Christ, we can have victory.

“But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:57).

“For the Lord your God is the one who goes with you to fight for you against your enemies to give you victory” (Deuteronomy 20:4).

“For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds” (2 Corinthians 10:3-4).

“With God we will gain the victory, and he will trample down our enemies” (Psalm 60:2).

“In fact, this is love for God: to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God” (1 John 5:3-5).

Of course, fighting against intense temptation is a hard road. It is a battle, but it’s a battle that can lead to true victory.

“In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

“They have greatly oppressed me from my youth, but they have not gained the victory over me” (Psalm 129:2).

Here’s the reality: I struggled in my promiscuous past and took on plenty of sexual baggage. I was an easy target for Satan and didn’t anticipate that I could ever be good enough to satisfy God. I battled, but deep down in my heart, I didn’t expect victory.

When I finally fell in humility before God and begged for His victorious hand to lift me up, that’s when the real battle began. That’s when I was no longer fighting with an ice pick but a sword. Did Satan get in some jabs? Oh yeah, he did. I still struggled, but I could see progress.

I was no longer having some wins and some losses, but more wins and fewer losses. And my wins became more frequent and my losses less frequent, until one day I realized that the things that used to be a temptation . . . simply weren’t anymore. That old life held no appeal for me.

Porn was not my issue, but it’s the issue many men and some women are dealing with today. Please struggle against it, but with God’s covering and with hope that someday you’ll stop battling porn. Because you will have won.

I’m not discounting the belief that an addict is always in recovery. I get that. You have to remember your history, as Paul often did, and make conscious decisions to guard against that temptation rising against you again. But I also believe this verse:

“He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6).

Don’t wallow in the belief that this is something that will always be a struggle, even giving yourself an “out” for bad behavior. Expect more of yourself and of God! Strap on your armor and get to fighting. Fight harder and smarter.

You don’t need to struggle alone. Invite God into your battle. Be honest with your spouse. Find mentors, counselors, confidants, and friends who will fight with you. Seek resources that will keep you on the right path and help you get back on the path if you stray. Believe in the possibility of victory.

So when should you stop battling porn? Not until, with God’s glorious help, you’ve won.

“Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him” (James 1:12).

* * *

I recently learned about an online small group ministry hosted by the XXXChurch, a Christian-based porn recovery ministry. If porn is your struggle, you might check out X3Groups. They also host groups specifically for pastors and for spouses.

It’s True: Porn Can Kill Your Sex Life

I’ve been reading about porn lately, not because that’s my favorite subject, but because I saw two excellent articles about the problems with porn — from secular sources.

Time Magazine’s April 11, 2016 edition had a feature article on Porn: Why young men who grew up with Internet porn are becoming advocates for turning it off.* The author, Belinda Luscombe, did a fair job of reporting what’s happening in science and society as people discover what the Bible has said all along: Sexual intimacy isn’t about using others for your own pleasure. That approach messes with your ability to enjoy what God intended you to have.

Sexual intimacy isn't about using others for your own pleasure. God has a better plan. Click To Tweet

The focus of that article is previous porn users who discovered how their heavy porn diet impaired their ability to perform and connect with a real woman. It’s called Porn-Induced Erectile Dysfunction (PIED), and more doctors are seeing erectile problems with younger men. The theory is that the men are desensitized to normal sexual stimuli and require a level of imagery, intensity, and novelty that isn’t real-life. Thankfully, some of these men are speaking up against the very activity they used to frequently pursue, warning of the dangers and consequences of consuming pornography.

It's True: Porn Can Kill Your Sex Life

Then there are Drs. John and Julie Gottman of the Gottman Institute, famous for their marriage and relationship research. Although previously proponents of using porn to increase intimacy in relationships, they have changed their minds. I encourage you to read An Open Letter on Porn. They lay out several reasons why pornography is detrimental to the user and to their significant other, including sexual arousal difficulties and mistreatment of women in porn.

Based on various studies, they conclude that “use of pornography by one partner leads the couple to have far less sex and ultimately reduces relationship satisfaction.”

Now I’ve heard the arguments that it goes the other way — for instance, a husband not having sex and experiencing low relationship satisfaction then seeks out porn to fill in the gap. But as much as I feel for those in a sexless marriage, that’s not helping!

In the long run, you’re making it harder for both of you to engage in satisfying sexual intimacy if and when the opportunity rises. You’re messing with your view of how your wife should be behave (she is not your sex toy) and how sex itself works. And you’re not satisfying yourself anyway, because you have to get more frequent and stronger stimuli to get the same “high.” Your body responds sexually, but it doesn’t respond with the satisfactory bonding you get when you make love to your wife.

Another thing that always crops up when I address porn is: What about women?! Aren’t they looking at porn? Or reading steamy romance? Yes, they are. The percentage of women viewing porn is increasing, and it’s a real concern. If any woman reading this is struggling with pornography, the one ministry I know designed to help is Dirty Girls Ministries. Check it out.

And I’ve written plenty about the problems with romance novels and erotic novels that promote terrible ideas about sexuality. Look, this is a case of “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters” (Matthew 12:30). Anything opposed to God’s design for sex is a problem we Christians need to address.

Anything opposed to God's design for sex is a problem we Christians need to address. Click To Tweet

I’m glad that secular research is catching up to what God has said all along. The momentary pleasure of viewing pornography is too high a price and robs you of what God intended when He created sex.

If you’re in this struggle right now — either yourself or your spouse — get help. No more dithering: Today is the day. Talk to your spouse. Confess to a godly confidant. Make an appointment with a counselor. Join an accountability group. Get on your knees before God.

Don’t let this ruin your sex life. Here are a few Christian-based sites you might want to visit:

XXX Church (porn recovery for men)
Covenant Eyes (internet accountability)
Dirty Girls Ministries (for women)

Also, don’t be naive about your kids. I’ve talked with my sons about this temptation, and they’ve estimated that 70-80% of guys in their high school watch porn regularly. They’re probably right, and I bet their parents have no idea. Speak regularly with your teenagers about what God desires for their lives, including their someday sex life — which starts with making right and wise decisions now. An anti-porn site aimed specifically at youth is Fight the New Drug (not Christian, but has good overall information).

As Christians and Churches, we need to stay well-informed and outspoken against anything so against God’s design for His children and for sex in marriage. This isn’t simply a cause for us to take up and pat ourselves for doing the right thing. Our denunciation of pornography and erotica is about saving individuals, marriages, and souls.

*The Time article is available online only to subscribers. I read the article by accessing the magazine at my local library.