Resisting the power of pornographyWritten by Steve Watters
What's inside this article
Seductive faces and scantily clad bodies lurk around every corner – in display windows, in the movies, sometimes even in high school hallways. What happens when you take those second and third looks and start to fantasize? When you go another step and sneak a peek at a Playboy (or that Japanese graphic novel)? When you watch adult cable movies or surf porn sites online?
Pornography causes massive damage in guys' lives and relationships. Are you struggling with its lure? Do you know someone who is? There is a way to avoid its snare. And if you're already trapped, there's a way to get free! If you'd like to know more, keep reading. You'll learn how pornography tears down instead of building up. You'll meet real guys who have struggled with the porn monster and broken free. And you'll learn some principles for keeping pornography out of your life.
The destructive power of porn
Pornography is anything you see, read or hear that's designed to cause sexual arousal. It includes many types of media – magazines, books, movies, music, the Internet and more.1 Pornography promises thrills and sexual satisfaction, but it fails to deliver on these promises. It can't give anyone deep and lasting fulfillment.
King Solomon once said, "Can a man scoop fire into his lap without his clothes being burned?" (Proverbs 6:27). Along those lines, can you repeatedly bring sexually arousing images into your head without consequences? You may not be physically burned by sexual images, but psychologists argue that those images can actually be burned into your mind. Emotional arousal causes the release of a hormone called epinephrine in your brain that chemically burns the pictures into your permanent memory. This effect is heightened by the combination of pictures and masturbation.2
Porn affects real relationships, too. You may think that it's okay to experiment now, while you're single, but getting married won't stop a fascination with porn if you've already been feeding it. Many wives complain that pornography crowds their marriage with unwanted extra faces. The New York Times told the story of a 34-year-old woman who discovered that her husband, a minister, had an online porn habit. "How can I compete with hundreds of anonymous others who are now in our bed, in his head? Our bed is crowded with countless faceless strangers, where once we were intimate."3
Sometimes, pornography can even lead you to do things you never imagined. Consider Gene McConnell. He was an ordinary businessman with a wife and daughter, but fascination with pornography became the fuel that caused his normal life to explode. "It began to ruin my marriage, my business, everything," explains Gene. "It started with strip-tease or topless bars, then to massage parlours and prostitutes. Finally, I started fantasizing about what it would be like to actually rape a woman. I tried it one night when I saw a woman who 'fit' the scenario in porn. Fortunately, I didn't go through with it. After being reported and arrested by the police, I spent some time in jail."
Images burned into your mind? A bed filled with strange faces? Going off the deep end? These consequences happen all the time in varying degrees. The fantasy world of pornography is like a big carnival pulling guys in every day with promises of great thrills only to place them on a lonely roller coaster of excitement and emptiness, arousal and anxiety.
When God created us, He gave us a desire for love and intimacy that we could satisfy only in a relationship with Him and, to some degree, through a special relationship with one woman. It breaks God's heart to see men bypass these relationships in pursuit of mere images – lifeless reproductions that can arouse but never give or receive love.
The dirty little habit
Meet Brad.4 Brad came from a loving, two-parent home. He had a younger sister, a cat and a dog. His love was for sports – especially baseball. He was active in his church and school, but pornography caused him to live a double life. Brad's first exposure to pornography came when he was only 8 years old.
"At that age, I hadn't heard of the 'birds and the bees,' so there was no way for me to know what the people in the pictures were doing. However, with viewing those pictures there also came an urge – I knew that what I was seeing was dirty, and that made it all the more exciting. I remember my pulse quickening and the adrenaline rushing through my body. At the age of 8, I hadn't felt those things before. They were very foreign feelings. For many years I held the belief that I was the only one who struggled with this sort of thing."
If you have grown up with a secret habit of viewing pornography, you are not alone. Hundreds of thousands of young men battle this uncontrollable fascination. In fact, teen guys ages 12 to 17 are among the largest consumers of hard-core pornography.5 Like Brad, they often discover it early in life. They stumble onto magazines in the trash or hidden away by a relative. Their hearts race as they thumb through the pages and experience a combination of arousal and guilt. It's a moment of discovery that unfortunately happens in nearly every boy's life. How deeply they get involved with pornography often has a lot to do with how readily porn is available.
Unfortunately, today there's lots of pornography available – at the click of a mouse, the touch of the remote or the purchase of a ticket at the cineplex. Although porn has existed for generations, technology has accelerated the problem through easy access. Now, the determined and curious can easily pull up pictures on the web that are too obscene for adult bookstores to sell. The dirty little habit is growing . . . fast!
A life in pieces
Mike is another young man who struggled with pornography. "The weird thing," he says, "is that 99.9 per cent of the people who knew me would have been absolutely shocked to know I had this habit. I was a classic 'nice guy.' Still pretty shy and easily embarrassed by discussions of sex, I was terrified that anyone might find out."
This is one of the worst side effects of viewing pornography – it divides people. It breaks viewers up inside and separates them from others. Guys who view pornography develop one compartment where they hang out with friends, go to church and spend time with family, while in another compartment they indulge dark and sometimes dangerous fantasies.
That's not the only division. Porn also causes guys to separate physical images of women from all the other things women possess – their minds, hearts and souls. The physical image dominates other more important characteristics.
Worst of all, pornography separates people from God. Guys who indulge in porn often feel the need to hide from their heavenly Father, and – like Adam and Eve – they stop taking "walks in the garden" with Him because of shame and guilt.
Sex and lies
Gene learned his lessons about women and sex from glossy magazines and sex shops. Only after years of frustration and trouble with the police did he grasp the extent of his miseducation. "In jail, I was able to begin the process of weeding out the lies in my life that porn had put there," he says. Gene now travels around the country helping young men evade the clutches of pornography. In his talks, he details the lies that pornography plants in guys' heads:6
Lie #1: Women are less than human.
The women in Playboy magazine are called "bunnies," making them cute little animals, or "playmates," making them a toy. Porn often refers to women as animals, playthings or body parts. Some pornography shows only the body and doesn't show the face at all. The idea that women are real human beings with thoughts and emotions is played down.
Lie #2: Women are a "sport."
Some sports magazines have a swimsuit issue. This suggests that women are just some kind of sport. Porn views sex as a game, and in a game you have to win, conquer or score.
Lie #3: Women are property.
It's common to see pictures of the slick car with the sexy girl draped over it. The unspoken message is, "Buy one, and you get them both." Hard-core porn carries this even further. It displays women like merchandise in a catalogue, exposing them as openly as possible for the customer to look at. It's not surprising that many young men think that if they have spent some money taking a girl out, they have a right to have sex with her. Porn tells us that women can be bought.
Lie #4: A woman's value depends on the attractiveness of her body.
Overweight or less attractive women are ridiculed in porn. They are called dogs, whales, pigs or worse, simply because they don't fit into porn's criteria of the perfect woman. In fact, if someone is attracted to a heavyset woman, porn labels that a fetish, which is a sexual obsession or hang-up that isn't "natural." Porn doesn't care about a woman's mind or personality, only her body.
Lie #5: Women like rape.
"When she says no, she means yes" is a typical porn scenario. Women are shown being raped, fighting and kicking at first, and then starting to like it. Porn eroticizes rape and makes it arousing. Women are shown being tied up, beaten and humiliated in hundreds of sick ways and finally begging for more. Even while being tortured, the porn actors and actresses have a smile on their face – a look of intense enjoyment. Porn teaches men to enjoy hurting and abusing women for entertainment.
Brad heard Gene's message, and it affirmed what he had seen in his life: a pattern of trivializing and objectifying women. "When I viewed pornography, it was a totally selfish endeavour. I didn't think about the person I was 'abusing.' I didn't associate my own selfish motives with the fact that this was a real person who has real emotions, real issues and real pain in her life."
I still haven't found what I'm lookin' for
Even though pornography is not a source of lasting satisfaction, guys who view it usually do so because they're looking to fill a deep need. Pornography is a cheap substitute for what they're really seeking – intimacy.
Intimacy means being known inside and out and being loved for who you are. Because God designed us for relationships, He made us with a hunger for intimacy. But being known that well is scary, because it makes us vulnerable. So we go searching for intimacy in less threatening places. Pornography is one of them.
Even if pornography provided accurate images of women (and it doesn't), it still only offers an image – not a real person. For many guys, an image is easier to relate to than a young woman with a heart, mind and emotions. An image has no expectations. You don't have to impress an image or deal with any of the awkwardness that comes with relating to a real person.
Face it. We are all imperfect people. Ever since Adam and Eve messed up in the garden, we have had to deal with shortcomings and disappointments in relationships. The temptation of pornography is to bypass the effort involved in building a relationship between two imperfect people. Porn gives guys a chance to fantasize about perfect people and helps them to forget about their own imperfections. This was something that enticed Brad.
Looking back on his struggle, Brad sees how pornography tried to fill his need for intimacy with a lie. "That lie tried to convince me that intimacy can be found in pornography, and it can be just as fulfilling – if not better – than a real relationship. I was drawn to attach my intimacy, emotion and personal desires to a piece of paper or a computer screen." Using pornography as a shortcut to intimacy can cause men to develop a fear of true intimacy – despite deep loneliness, they're not able to give their hearts to real women.7
Out of control – when fascination becomes addiction
"I have heard that allowing a boy to look at pornography just one time can be as addictive as crack cocaine," Brad says. "I have to agree. It is a rush. A young boy with the most innocent of intentions can be drawn in to the trap of sexual addiction. I strongly believe that is what happened to me. I had my first 'hit' of porn, and I was hooked."
For Brad and hundreds of other guys, pornography is like a drug. "What drew me in deeper," Brad says, "was the simple fact that I was getting bored with the 'soft-core stuff.' And, just like the addict, I needed more and more to satisfy my desires. The picture that I used the day before didn't quite do it for me today. Spending an hour engulfed in porn was long enough last week, but this week I needed three hours. The deeper I became involved in pornography, the harder it was to climb out."
If porn's biggest consequence was addiction, that would be bad enough, but it gets worse. Here's how the addictive process operates:8
Early exposure: Most guys who get addicted to porn start early. They see porn when they are very young and it gets its foot in the door.
Addiction: You keep coming back to porn. It becomes a regular part of your life. You're hooked and can't quit.
Escalation: You start to look for more graphic pornography. You start using porn that disgusted you earlier. Now, it excites you.
Desensitization: You become numb to the images you see. Even the most graphic porn doesn't excite you anymore. You become desperate to feel the same thrill again, but you can't find it.
Acting out sexually: This is the point where men make a crucial jump and start acting out the images they have seen. Some move from the paper and plastic images of porn into the real world: violence, prostitutes and maybe even rape.
The road to freedom
Often it's easier to get into a world of fantasy images than it is to get out. Those who are stuck on the porn roller coaster may vow to jump off after they have bottomed out, but then they find themselves thinking about the next high and not wanting to get off quite yet. From the stories of Gene, Brad and Mike, you can begin to get a picture of how devastating pornography is. Maybe you're struggling with the grip of this monster, too. Or maybe you know someone who is. All these guys have found freedom from the power of porn. And you can, too!
There is a better way
Porn promises intimacy and satisfaction but leaves guys empty and searching for more. The good news is we don't have to search endlessly. Jesus Christ knows our desires and is able to fill them perfectly with His love. If you don't already have a personal relationship with Him, talk to a pastor or wise Christian adult to ask how you can begin this relationship.
What's more, God has a plan for you that's good. He's not anti-sex; it was His idea in the first place. He created sex to be the deepest physical expression of intimacy between a man and woman. God is excited about sex, and He wants us to experience pure sexual fulfillment in the way that He planned. Unfortunately, pornography damages our sexuality, not to mention the mental and emotional parts of us. Pornography isn't wrong because God wants to kill our fun. It's wrong because our loving heavenly Father wants to protect us from porn's damaging effects and keep us pure. When we guard our hearts and minds, we can enter joyfully into marriage – the exclusive place God created for sexual expression and true intimacy.
In order to experience sex as God designed it, we need to be walking the road of purity. No matter what you've been involved in up to this point, God is ready and waiting to help you get back on that road. To get there, you've got to make a serious commitment to restoration and a new life. This kind of commitment has three key components: confession, accountability and mental transformation.
The Bible tells us that "if we confess our sins, He [God] is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9, emphasis added). No matter how dirty, broken and worthless we feel, God can and will restore our purity. Confession means admitting that we've done wrong, agreeing with God that it is sin and deciding to turn around and do the right thing from now on.
King David was known as "a man after God's own heart." But even David sinned sexually and got caught in the trap of his actions. (See 2 Samuel 11-12.) He had an affair with Bathsheba and then had her husband killed to try to cover up his wrongdoing. Once David was confronted with his sin, he was heartbroken. Psalm 51 demonstrates his anguish and shows how he opened his heart before God and pleaded for restoration. Grab your Bible and read his words as a prayer of confession for your own life: "Create in me a pure heart, O God . . ." (Psalm 51:10).
God didn't ignore David's confession. In fact, Psalm 32 tells the rest of the story: "I acknowledged my sin to You and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, 'I will confess my transgressions to the Lord’ – and you forgave the guilt of my sin" (Psalm 32:5, emphasis added). If God forgave and cleansed David, He will forgive and cleanse you, too!
Consuming pornography is a private sin, and the temptations are greater when you're alone. For that reason, it is important to surround yourself with godly friends who will build you up and support you in your efforts to be pure.
"Accountability is the key to breaking the chains of pornography," Brad explains. "What helped me the most was being able to share my struggles with someone else. It was difficult at first, but gradually it became easier. It finally reached the point that I was comfortable with sharing everything, and Satan's game plan was thwarted. He relied on shame and guilt to keep me feeling that I was in a unique situation with no way out. By exposing his lies to the light – by being accountable – I was able to start down the road to recovery."
Here we meet Johnny, yet another guy who found freedom from pornography. Johnny grew up with an alcoholic father and longed for a real relationship with him. Pornography gave him the appearance of intimacy and adventure but always left him longing for more. Johnny says accountability relationships were key in his recovery as well. "I sought out guys who were strong in this area and asked them to check up on me. I looked for one guy who was my age and then found an older man who had a lot of wisdom and life experience. As I grew to realize that God could meet my needs for intimacy better than porn could, my accountability partner would constantly remind me to keep my 'God cup' filled."
In addition to personal accountability, take advantage of "virtual accountability." Several companies now provide Internet service that is filtered before it comes into your home. Along these lines, Focus on the Family Canada is now partnering with Net Nanny. If you have found that confession and accountability efforts are not adequately addressing your struggle, you should consider professional counselling. A counsellor can be like a physical trainer – offering steady encouragement and professional insight for tackling problems. Most important, a counsellor can help you address underlying issues such as family trauma that may be woven into your struggle.
Focus on the Family Canada has a staff of registered counsellors available for you. You can reach them by calling 1.800.661.9800. This one-time counselling session is available at no cost to you. Our staff may also be able to help you find a professional counsellor in your region who can provide more in-depth and long-term help.
The ongoing battleground in a world saturated with sexual images is your thought life. You will be confronted with sexual images. The enemy will place lustful thoughts in your mind. You will have relapses and remember images you have seen in the past. But you don't have to dwell on those thoughts.
One way you can reduce the temptation is to cut back on the number of "gateway images" you expose yourself to, especially from TV, movies, magazines and music. If you know that a particular sitcom causes your mind to wander to sexual fantasies, it's time to cut it off. When Johnny realized that his temptation was to channel surf late-night television for sexual images, he resolved to no longer watch TV after 10 p.m.
2 Timothy 2:22 says, "Flee the evil desires of youth, and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart." While reading this passage, Johnny was reminded that it wasn't enough for him just to avoid temptation; he needed to pursue righteousness. This meant working actively to replace sexual images in his mind with more wholesome thoughts.
It is also essential to replace selfish and lustful thoughts about women with a godly view of love. Brad describes how his thought life had become dominated with lustful thoughts about women he met and talked with: "I would look at a woman, undress her in my mind and then complete my fantasy. These women were completely unaware of what I was doing. After all, this can happen anywhere – the mall, at work even at church. And all of this takes place with complete disregard for the woman." In contrast, Paul's description of love offers a higher view that transcends lust:
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. (1 Corinthians 13:4-7)
Brad came to understand that to get rid of wrong ideas about women and love, he needed to restructure his time and thoughts: "You have to replace the deceptive images with positive ones. When I was deeply involved in pornography, it was not uncommon for me to spend three, four, even five hours on the Internet, though it seemed that I had been online only for an hour or so. Once I began to break free from the porn, the next question I had to answer for myself was, How do I fill this time – the time I used to spend engulfed in pornography – with productive alternatives?
"I began to invest in relationships, get into God's Word, seek Him in prayer and step out of the mould that pornography had cast me in. Sometimes I didn't want to put forth the effort, but to come to a complete healing, it was something I had to do. So I began to reach out to others, read more, pray more and talk more. My emphasis shifted from myself to the people around me, and I began to care again. I noticed that I was much less susceptible to lust when I was actively pursuing relationships with others. It was a hard road to travel, but the alternative was literally destroying me, and I was determined that I was going to make it."
Wrappin' it up
Although it is difficult in today's culture to avoid suggestive images, you can avoid the consequences of giving in to their pull. By committing to a high standard of purity and setting up an accountability structure, you can avoid the emptiness and frustration that comes with a secret porn habit. If you have already been drawn in by pornography's lies, there is hope and healing for you. Now is the time to allow God to erase the images of your past and to recast you in His image.
1. Adapted from Gene McConnell, Toxic Porn (Focus on the Family, 1999), 2.
2. J.L. McGaugh. "Preserving the Presence of the Past," American Psychologist, February 1983, 161.
3. Jane Brody, "Cybersex Gives Birth to a Psychological Disorder," The New York Times "Health and Fitness," May 16, 2000, 1.
4. Not his real name.
5. Reported in the 1970 Presidential Commission on Pornography and the 1986 Attorney General's Commission on Pornography.
6. Adapted from McConnell, Toxic Porn, 7-10.
7. National Coalition for the Protection of Children and Families, Pornography's Subtle Effects.
8. McConnell, Toxic Porn, 17.
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