One of the many idols that is praised in American culture is pornography. It has bound and continues to bind many Christians to its bondage, including me. This blog is about the physical and spiritual detriments of pornography addiction, as well as my own testimony about my deliverance from addiction. As such, this is really difficult for me to write, as I am taking the risk of being extremely vulnerable with complete strangers on the internet and the testimony includes some extremely personal information about me that I don’t normally share with people, even those closest to me. I have strongly hesitated to write this blog. Hopefully you can understand why.
I am especially risking a lot of people negatively changing their opinions about me, but what I have to share is worth the risk. I have decided to write about it here for a) full disclosure as a future pastor, and b) to encourage and provide support for any other Christians who are struggling with pornography addiction. Keep in mind that whilst pornography addicts are certainly sinners who need to repent, they are also victims of a highly sexualised society and, especially, victims of the Devil and his lies, just as alcoholics and drug addicts are in need of repentance whilst also remaining victims of their substance abuses.
I was about 14-years-old when I first discovered masturbation. When I later discovered pornography, it exacerbated the habit until I eventually became addicted to it. Whenever I was tempted, I would find time to look at porn and masturbate. When I was upset or lonely, I’d do the same. Even if I were just bored I would find the time to masturbate with porn. I would masturbate anywhere between one or several times a day. Sometimes there would be days when I didn’t masturbate at all, but the inevitable urge for that instant gratification would always win once it came.
I kept this addiction a secret for eight years. My parents never caught me and I never talked about it with anyone, even those few friends I had who admitted to masturbation and pornography use. Those friends, however, didn’t admit the habit in admission of their guilt; they admitted it in the promotion of masturbation and pornography use. I can’t speak for women, but many men today will tell you that masturbation and pornography are healthy, even some Christian men. They have been fooled and blinded by the Devil in this thinking.
Again, I’m writing this not only to address the detriments of pornography, but also to encourage and provide support for any men who are suffering with pornography addiction. (I would for women as well, but as a man I don’t know how to fully relate, but still feel free to contact me and I will do what I can to find support for you.) If you’re ashamed of your pornography use or addiction, good. Shame leads us to repentance, which leads us to transformation by the grace of Christ. I was ashamed too, and I still am. Yet the grace of God my Father far outweighs the guilt and shame of my forgiven sin.
“Pornography is Healthy” as a Logical Fallacy
Whenever I read a Christian article addressing the issue of pornography use, one of the issues they always address is how it affects your marriage. Yet not every porn user is married. Most of these articles seem to forget about porn users who are single—that is, unmarried. As one who is perpetually single, this frustrates me. There’s nothing wrong with addressing it to married couples, but we also need to talk to singles about it. Singles seem to be a forgotten demographic, and not just with pornography. So, I’m going to talk about some things that single Christians will care about. Keep in mind that I’m speaking from a male perspective, so if you’re a woman reading this, forgive me for not addressing its detriments on women, but I encourage you to continue reading as some things might relate to you.
It is common secular thinking that masturbation and pornography are normal, even healthy. In fact, I’ve heard several non-Christian people say everyone should masturbate regularly whilst they look at pornography, even if you’re married. Their only “logical” argument is that “it’s normal” to masturbate, so it must be healthy. That statement in itself is a logical fallacy called hasty generalisation, which is to make a claim without sufficient evidence to support it.
There is nothing normal about masturbation and pornography. Masturbation might be “normal” insofar as it is something people do as a result of sin, but that sinful normalisation certainly does not moralise it, and it definitely does not normalise or moralise pornography either. Pornography has deep ties to sex trafficking. Because of this, I argue that our watching porn is a passive participation in human sex trafficking, even if we’re watching it “for free.” So, pornography is as much a moral issue as it is a physical and spiritual issue.
Aside from the moral issue of pornography, why should men—whether single or married—care about its physical detriments? Well, for one, too much porn use coupled with masturbation can lead to erectile dysfunction. Pornography and masturbation are like a drug. With any drug, the more you use it, the more you build your tolerance to it; and the higher your tolerance, the bigger the dosage needs to be in order for you to get that “high” again. It is the same thing with pornography and masturbation. The more you use it, the more you’ll be aroused by porn alone. You have to keep going to it more and more and find more hardcore images/videos in order to satisfy your libido. Men should care about this for obvious reasons, but women should also if she wants to have a good sex life with her future husband. (Also, is there a female version of erectile dysfunction? I have no clue.)
Speaking of which, it can even ruin your sex life. This is an obvious concern for married men (and women), but it’s also something single men ought to be concerned about if they desire to be married some day. The rationale becomes: Why bother with sex when you can have whatever fantasy you want with internet porn at your disposal? Your spouse becomes incapable of satisfying your sexual desires, and you begin to desire other women besides your wife (more on this later).
For both the sexes, pornography causes and increases the objectification of the sexes, whether that be one’s opposite sex or even the same sex. Men who are porn addicts, for example, are reported to mentally undress women they meet whom they find attractive. Most of the time, this isn’t a conscious decision they make; it is something they cannot help but imagine as a result of their addiction to pornography. They cannot help but wonder what their bodies look like underneath their clothes, which leads to sexual fantasising, which leads to pornography use and masturbation, and the cycle repeats itself. This is true for women as well who objectify men.
There are more harmful physical effects as a result of pornography, but like I said, I wanted to briefly address some things that single men would care about. For any male who is struggling with masturbation and pornography, I recommend you read a book called Wired for Intimacy: How Pornography Hijacks the Male Brain. It’s a phenomenal book written by a Christian neuroscientist, William M. Struthers, who writes on the negative chemical effects pornography and masturbation have on the male brain, as well as the spiritual effects (he also says there are some similarities in women, but makes clear his scientific research was done on males).
For the sake of risking redundancy, allow me to reiterate that I am speaking from a male perspective. However, most of what I talk about here can work vice versa for women.
The most obvious spiritual effect of pornography is that it causes men to lose respect and honour for women. This also ties in with the psychological objectification described above, but on the spiritual side of things the man no longer views women as human beings created in God’s image worthy of their honour and respect. This inevitably leads to failed relationships. Believe me, I would know.
As porn becomes his idol, the man is no longer able to relate to important women in his life on the emotional and spiritual level because she, and God, come second to porn. Porn becomes his first love. Instead of following Scripture’s exhortations to honour and respect women, he disrespects and dishonours women by how he views and treats them because of how pornography has wired his brain to think of women.
Paul wrote, “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her… In the same way, husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself” (Ephesians 5:25, 28). Paul’s exhortation to the Ephesian Christian men through Christ is for them to love their wives just as they love their own bodies. How can you love your wife, girlfriend, or sister Christians if you’re mistreating your body for impure, sexual pleasure? If you mistreat your body, you’re going to mistreat important women in your life. I know I have.
One can make the argument that this is only in reference to married couples. Sure, this is true for them, but if you’re single, how can you love your future wife as a man of God if you’re sexually misusing your body whilst you’re single and looking at women as sexual objects whilst you’re single? If you’re doing that now and get married tomorrow, nothing’s going to change. Marriage and getting into a relationship are not magical solutions to pornography addiction. Again, I would know. Recovery is not possible unless you surrender your sin and your will to Christ and pray that He makes a drastic change in you.
Pornography also intensifies the selfish drive to serve oneself rather than others. Pornography and masturbation make you feel good, but not the kind of good that can be used to make peoples’ lives better. It becomes all about you. Just because it feels good doesn’t mean it’s good for you. Not only that, but if you’re married your sex life becomes all about you, not your spouse. If you’re unmarried but in a relationship, your desire for premarital sex will increase (or continue in it if you’re in that sinful practice). This is also true for singles who aren’t in any relationship, which will increase the desire for casual sex and/or unmarried sex with a future girlfriend. Again, I would know.
The last thing I want to mention—and I briefly mentioned this earlier—is that pornography is adultery. Jesus said, “But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28). In the days when I did not view my pornography use as adultery and sinful, I rationalised, “This is only for married couples because only married couples can commit adultery.” Fortunately, the Spirit convicted me in my sin and showed me how stupid and foolish my thinking was.
A man looking at another man’s wife lustfully is obvious adultery, so I won’t expound on that. Also obvious is a single man looking at another man’s wife lustfully as being adultery. Not so obvious is a single man looking at a single woman with lustful intent as being adultery. Rationally, she does not belong to another man, so this cannot be adultery (by “belong” I am not implying women as being property, so set your feminist triggering aside). She may not belong to another man, but as a creature created by God, her body still belongs to God the Creator, as do all our bodies.
This is especially true for Christians. “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So, glorify God in your body” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). Here, Paul is exhorting the proper use of one’s body especially in sexual affairs. Men, the bodies of our sisters in Christ were bought with the price of the precious blood of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. They are temples of the Holy Spirit. Just as we dishonour the Holy Spirit when we dishonour our own bodies, so we dishonour the Holy Spirit when we dishonour the bodies of our sisters in Christ.
One might then say, “Fine, I’ll just mentally undress non-Christian women.” One, how do you know they’re not Christian unless you actually go up to them and ask before you begin to mentally undress them? Two, what a wicked, satanic thing to say. Just because non-Christian women don’t have the Holy Spirit doesn’t mean they’re not worthy of our honour and respect. They may not have the Holy Spirit, but they are still created in God’s image and they are still creatures of God; therefore, they are under God’s jurisdiction. God loves them and desires that they become His children. How dare we devalue such objects of God’s love and provision. As Christian men, we are called to be gentle and respectful caretakers of women, not sexual taskmasters to our desires and the desires of others. Regardless of a woman’s faith and relationship status, her body does not belong to you and it is not yours to do with as you wish!
I could go on and on about the physical and spiritual detriments of pornography, but then this would become a research paper. Instead, I want to move on to my recovery because there is hope for porn addicts.
My addiction caused me to seek other sexual habits. One year whilst I was in the Army, I came home from leave after my tour in South Korea. My girlfriend at the time had a huge sex drive, and she pressured me into having sex with her. I wanted her body just as much as she wanted mine, so I’m equally at fault. Unfortunately, I lost my virginity to her. We didn’t have sex just once though, but a lot of times.
After I went to my next duty station in Fort Sill, Oklahoma, there was a certain point when my guilt in the sin just hit me. All I could think of when I looked at her was my guilt and my shame. I told her I felt guilty about giving in to sexual temptation, and I told her we should both repent and reform our sexual behaviours, but she didn’t listen. She didn’t want to stop having sex with me. So, I made the hard decision to break up with her regardless of how deeply I felt for her.
After this, I fell into deeper sexual sin and hypocrisy. Without going into detail, I had a lot of cyber sex with women I met on online dating sites. This caused my shame and guilt to increase. In spite of my shame, however, I stupidly kept on doing it. That is addiction, after all. As an addict, you may very well realise what you are doing is wrong, but because you’re addicted you feel compelled to continue in the substance because your body is telling you that you need it.
Eventually, I hit my bottom, which was when I felt the full conviction of the Spirit—what we Lutherans call the Law as a mirror. As a mirror, the Law reveals to us the grime of our sin. It shows us how sinful and filthy we are. Somehow, the Spirit did His work in me and unashamedly showed me the grossness of my sin. The conviction of the Law was so great that it did its work as a curb—I stopped doing cyber sex and having sex with women altogether. But I still viewed pornography because of my physical addiction to it.
The Spirit showed me the Law, but I still needed the Gospel. He was showing me the Gospel of forgiveness, but the conviction within me was so extraordinarily great that I suffered with extreme self-loathing for two years. No matter how many times I repented, I deeply hated myself. I kept telling myself, verbatim, “How the hell can God forgive me for my disgusting sin when I can’t even forgive myself?” I couldn’t see how God could love and forgive me because of these gross sins, even in spite of my contrite repentance. Every time I looked in the mirror, I couldn’t help but be absolutely disgusted with what I was looking at. Sometimes, that still happens.
So, through the mirror of the Law, I hit my bottom. Even though the Spirit was showing me the Gospel, I could not trust in the Gospel because of how disgusted I was with myself. So, how did I hit my top? The testimony that follows is not my prescription for every porn addict; it is merely my personal experience on my road to recovery.
I mentioned at the beginning of this blog that I kept this all a secret for eight years. The first time I ever confessed my pornography addiction to another person was with a pastor. This was after I was honourably discharged from the Army for completing my active duty service in January 2013. Having returned home, I wanted to find a church close to where I lived because the people at the church I used to attend before I left for the Army stopped talking to me for unknown reasons.
So, I found a good church that was about a 5-minute drive, and immediately I began connecting with the people there as well as the associate pastor. As my relationship began to build with the pastor, there was a specific Sunday afternoon during his sermon when he used the example of his past suffering with pornography addiction as a point in his message. Since we were pretty close at this point, we got together for lunch at Panera Bread that week and I confessed to him what I was going through: my use of pornography and masturbation, sexual experiences, and the deep self-loathing I felt in spite of my constant repentance.
As we were discussing this, he invited me to participate in an upcoming men’s retreat called Edge Venture. Their mission statement on their website is as follows, “For every man to discover who they are in Christ through their affirmation, brokenness, and healing.” So, I jumped at the opportunity. I’m not supposed to give too much detail about what we do on the weekends to lead men towards spiritual recovery, but I can share the experience I had there.
During the weekend, the men on staff guide you to see the affirmation you have in Christ—the affirmation of the love, grace, and mercy He has for you. They also help you to realise your brokenness in sin—that all of us are broken in sin. Only after this realisation, they said, can you begin to experience healing with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I was already at this point. I had already realised my utter brokenness—what I described as my grossness/disgustingness. My problem was that I was not trusting Christ in the Gospel. But why? What was blocking that trust?
During the weekend, we were doing a certain exercise for all men to experience in small groups. I can’t give too much detail about it, but basically in the activity I was confessing this deep feeling of self-loathing I had. I came to find that I had deeper feelings of worthlessness, unlovability, and so on. As I was confessing these, unbeknownst to me, someone on staff was writing on sticky notes everything I was saying.
After I was done talking, they had me face the cross in the room, gave me the sticky notes that were a list of reasons for my self-loathing, and they told me to place them all on the cross. I put 33 sticky notes on the cross—thirty-three reasons why I hated myself and thirty-three lies for why I believed God couldn’t love me and wouldn’t forgive me. With those lies on the cross, they told me all those things died with Jesus on the cross. For the very first time, I saw that my sins were crucified with Christ, His blood covering my sins, and Christ is the basis for which I am forgiven. For the first time, I realised Christ didn’t just die, but He also died for me, and that He died for me because He loves me; and, most of all, His death covers the full extent of my sins. Yes, my sins are terrible, but even more terrible is that they required the death of God’s only Son, but God willingly sent His Son to take my sins and place them on Him that I might be reconciled to God.
When the Spirit made me realise this, I bawled my eyes out. All that pain I had felt left me as tears rolled down my face like waterfalls. Those who know me well know me as one who is stoic. I don’t show my emotions much, aside from obvious signs of joy in laughter and such. I assure you, I’m not a sociopath who doesn’t feel emotions; I just don’t like to show them for reasons I won’t get into. So, to see me cry—no matter how big or small—is an extremely rare thing. Bawling my eyes out in such a way was the result of a huge change the Holy Spirit was working in me—that result being the move from contrite in my sin to finally trusting in the grace of Christ by which absolution is obtained (see AC XII.3-6).
That was my first step towards recovery. That’s right, I did not stop using pornography after this. The point of the weekend was not to give me a magic recipe to immediately stop the habit; the point was to confront the consequences I suffered because of my addiction and to trust in the gracious forgiveness of Christ. In other words, I was cured from the spiritual detriments of pornography, but I still had to be cured from the physical detriments.
I was still physically addicted to porn. To my brain, I still needed that high. This was back in 2013 and I’m still in recovery. Like most addicts, there are times when I relapse. Even though addicts relapse from time to time, they are still making progress. My record of sobriety has been 155 days (5 months). Currently, as of March 26, 2018, I am 117 days sober (about 3.8 months). Let me explain how I got here.
Back in the summer of 2016, I met a new friend. We were hanging out one day, playing Halo, when we began to have a serious conversation about spiritual warfare as he also opened up about his addiction to pornography. His addiction was worse than mine ever was, and I realised if he can do it, then so can I. So, we prayed a prayer of spiritual warfare together for protection against the Devil and his demons. From that point up to early December of 2016, I was sober, which was 5 months. I had relapsed that early December, but that did not mean I failed my recovery.
Back in July of that year, my friend invited me to join his recovery group, and one of the things they taught me is that every single day of sobriety is a step towards recovery. I had never gone 5 months sober before. That was a huge step towards my goal to recovery.
Before this recovery group, I never had accountability with anyone; I always tried overcoming it by myself. Overcoming this addiction, or any other kind of addiction, is impossible by yourself. I cannot tell you how much having accountability helps. It’s not just the accountability itself, however; it’s also the amount of spiritual support and prayer we all receive from each other. We all know exactly what everybody’s going through because we’re all going through the same thing, and the amount of prayer we receive from each other is amazing. “For where two or three are gathered in My name, there am I among them” (Matthew 18:20). So, if you’re struggling with pornography addiction, or any other kind of addiction, I highly encourage you to join an accountability group (a good place to start might be with your pastor, or whomever else you feel you can confide in).
Because of this newfound freedom, some things have changed. I am able to focus more on God’s Word, and I’ve noticed since my recovery that discernment of His Word comes much readily. Even after Edge Venture, some shame still dwells with me; I will always be ashamed of this sin, but I am not ashamed to share it with others so that I may help them on the road to recovery. I also still feel I’m not worth being loved by any woman of God because of my disgusting sin and how I’ve treated women as a result of my sin, but no longer to the point that I believe I’m unlovable. (In other words, I know I am lovable, but I do not believe I am worthy of a godly woman’s love because of what I have done. Perhaps that is something I need healing from.) My shame will always be there as long as I live, but even more present is the grace of Christ to forgive my sins.
Sobriety does not mean you no longer face temptation. As I briefly mentioned, I had relapsed after my 5-month streak, but that record of those 5 months of sobriety was an enormous step towards my recovery. When I first experienced sobriety, I faced these extremely intense cravings at random moments and I experienced sexually intense dreams. These are actually withdrawal symptoms of no pornographic detox.
Every now and then, I will face a craving, and I still experience temptation when I have a girlfriend. However, the difference is that the Holy Spirit has utterly changed me. He has changed me not to objectify women, He has changed me not to seek sex in a romantic relationship, and most of all He has given me the ability to trust God and He gives me the strength necessary to fight temptation.
If you’re reading this and you don’t suffer with pornography addiction, what can you do? If you become a person whom someone feels they can trust you with their porn addiction, simply be their confidant. Don’t be their counselor or pastor (unless you are one of those two and they come to in your given profession). Simply be their friend. Listen to them. And two very important things: don’t tell anyone else without their permission and don’t tell them how sinful they are. If they’re coming to you about their addiction problem, chances are they already know it’s a sin, which is why they’re coming to you in the first place to seek help and comfort. Don’t beat the dead horse when they already know it’s a sin. When they come to you for help, they don’t need the Law; they need the Gospel. Be there as a confidant and a prayer partner. Also, don’t judge the porn addict. They’re victims, not criminals.
If you’re reading this and you’re struggling with pornography addiction, I strongly encourage you to get involved with an accountability group. Talk to your pastor about it if you feel comfortable talking to him about it. If there’s someone else you can trust who’s not a pastor, that’s fine too, just as long as you find somebody to talk to. I also invite you to contact me about it. Several people have read my blogs and contacted me for advice, comfort, and encouragement on different things, so you wouldn’t be the first. You can email me at email@example.com.
Most of all, your road to recovery begins with admitting your guilt to Jesus and trusting in His promise of forgiveness. And second, I have found that what truly helps a lot is prayer, prayer, and… you guessed it, prayer. Whenever I feel that urge to masturbate and/or look at porn, I follow this mantra: Stop, drop, and pray. Seriously. I immediately stop what I’m doing, drop down on my knees (I even prostrate myself on the floor at times), and I pray. Most of the time I don’t even know what words to pray. This is when the memorisation of Scriptures comes in handy for prayer, especially the Psalms. Most of the time, I pray Psalm 119:37, “Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things; and give me life in Your ways,” and Psalm 51:10, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.” I usually pray those two verses over and over again—and adding some words in between—until the temptation goes away.
Also, I highly encourage you again to seek accountability (i.e. fellowship) with brothers in Christ who understand what you’re going through. If you’re a woman, I recommend the same thing: talk to a pastor and/or woman you trust, and seek an accountability group with women.
If there’s anything I want to leave you with, it’s this: It is not impossible for God to help you because it was not impossible for Him to die for our sins.