One of the common sins and forms of idolatry that Drew as “The Dirty Christian” courageously discusses and exposes is pornography addiction. It has bound and continues to bind many Christians to its bondage, including me. I was about 15-years-old when I first discovered masturbation. When I 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 from 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 it a secret for eight years. My parents never caught me and I never talked about it to anyone, even those few friends I had who admitted to masturbation and pornography use. These 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 nearly all 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. My reason for writing this is to let all you who suffer like I do know that you’re not alone in this. If you’re ashamed of it, good. Shame leads us to repentance, which leads us to transformation by the grace of Christ. I was ashamed too, and I’m still ashamed. Yet the grace of God my Father far outweighs the guilt and shame of my forgiven sin.
Whenever I read a Christian article addressing the issue of pornography use, one of the issues they address is how it affects your marriage. Yet not every porn user is married. In fact, most of us are single. These articles I read never address single people and always seem to focus on married couples. As a perpetually single guy, this frustrates me. There’s nothing wrong with addressing it to married couples, but we also need to talk to singles about it. So I’m going to talk about some things that single Christians will care about. Keep in mind that since I’m a male, I will be speaking from a male perspective.
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 while they look at pornography, even if you’re married. There is no logical argument for their side other than the argument that “it’s normal.” That statement in itself is a logical fallacy called hasty generalization, which is to make a claim without sufficient evidence to support it. There is nothing normal about it. By viewing and/or purchasing pornography we are supporting sex slavery (for more on this, see this article). A consensus for an activity does not normalize it.
Too much porn 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 in order to satisfy your libido. It can even lower your sex drive, which will ruin your sex life with your future spouse. The rationale becomes: why bother with sex when you can have whatever fantasy you want with internet porn at your disposal?
There are many negative physiological and psychological effects to your brain on porn besides the two I mentioned. 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 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.
Besides the negative physical effects, what negative spiritual effects might it impose? Again, since I’m a man, I can only speak on the effect this has on men. However, most of what I talk about can work vice versa for women. The most obvious spiritual effect is that it causes men to lose respect and honor for women. When a man is addicted to pornography, he no longer views a woman as a human being created in God’s image. He sees her as an object to be used for his sexual gratification. The moment he sees an attractive woman, he begins to undress her with his eyes. He is not concerned with her as a child of God or as a simple human being created in God’s image, but as a thing to be used for his pleasure. This inevitably leads to failed relationships. Believe me, I would know.
Pornography becomes his idol and he loves it more than he loves his girlfriend and/or his sisters in Christ. He 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 is his first love. Instead of following Scripture’s exhortations to honor and respect women, he disrespects and dishonors her by how he views and treats her and other women because of pornography’s effect on his mind and spirit. God’s Word says, “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, but if you’re single, how can you love your future wife as a man of God if you’re sexually misusing your body while you’re single and looking at women as sexual objects while 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. Recovery is not possible unless you surrender your sin and your will to Christ and allow Him to make the 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. Or if you’re in a relationship, your desire for premarital sex will increase. Again, I would know. St. Paul said, “Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourself to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control” (1 Corinthians 7:5). Paul is saying it’s permissible for a married couple to come to an agreement about not having sex for a period of time for whatever plausible reason that may be, especially to devote themselves to prayer. However, he also says not to sexually neglect each other for too long, lest Satan use that to tempt one or both into sexual sin. Pornography causes the man to neglect his wife, and vice versa. Because, as I said earlier, why bother with sex when you can have whatever fantasy you want with internet porn at your disposal? After all, you know exactly what to do to please yourself more than your spouse does, and that is a huge problem. For singles, this will be even more of an issue should you continue pornography use before you get married.
There are more spiritual and physical detriments than what I covered, but I want to move on to my recovery story, especially since that’s what the title of this article says it’s about. My addiction to pornography caused me to seek other sexual habits. One year while 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. Of course, I wanted it too, so I’m just as much at fault as she is. I lost my virginity to her. We didn’t have sex just once; we did it a lot. After I went to my next duty station, 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 in committing the sin. I told her I felt guilty about giving in to sexual temptation, and I told her we should both seek repentance and reform our sexual behaviors, but she didn’t listen. She didn’t want to stop having sex with me. So, I made the hard decision and broke up with her.
After this, I fell into deeper sexual sin in my 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 get even worse (and it’s really difficult to type it down). In spite of my shame, however, I kept on doing it. Eventually my shame got so bad I just stopped doing cyber sex overall. This is when I hit my bottom. My shame got so bad that I experienced self-loathing, which I suffered with for about a year. No matter how many times I repented, I deeply hated myself. I kept telling myself, “How the hell can God forgive me for something like this when I can’t even forgive myself?” I couldn’t see how God could love and forgive me because of these sins, even in spite of my constant repentance.
I mentioned at the beginning of this that I kept this all a secret for eight years. The first time I ever confessed my pornography addiction to anyone was with a pastor. This was after I was honorably 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. So I found a good church that was about a 5-minute drive, and immediately I began connecting with the people there and the associate pastor. As my relationship began to build with the pastor, there was a specific Sunday during his sermon when he used the example of his past suffering with pornography use as a point in his message (I don’t remember what the message was). 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 shame and 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 biggest 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 realize your brokenness in sin—that all mankind is broken in sin. Then you experience healing with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
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 my experience I was confessing this deep feeling of self-loathing I had and the root of it. It wasn’t just pornography, I found—it was also feelings of feeling stupid, worthless, unlovable, 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 (e.g. pornography, stupid, worthless, ugly, unlovable, etc.), 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 didn’t love me and wouldn’t forgive me. With those lies on the cross, they told me all those things died on the cross with Jesus. That really hit me. I hadn’t realized that until this point—that my sins died with Jesus on the cross, and that these lies I kept telling myself are lies from the Devil, not truths. These weren’t reasons for God to hate me; these were reasons for God to love me and He died for me because of these things.
After this, they had me sit down on the floor with my eyes closed. They asked me what color I imagine when they say the word “purity.” I said white, so they put a white balled up cloth in my hand (they told me what it was). They told me to press it firmly against my chest, so I did. Then, one of the staff members came up from behind me, wrapped his arms tightly around me, and I just lost it. I bawled my eyes out as he began giving me words of affirmation, saying things Jesus would say such as, “I love you. You are not stupid; I have made you intelligent. You are not worthless, because I died for you. You might hate yourself for the things you have done, but I love you in spite of all those things.” Before that weekend, I daydreamed constantly about what it would be like to hug Jesus; all I wanted was to embrace Him and not feel like a big pile of crap anymore. Not only was the staff member who was hugging me representing Jesus, but within me all I could feel was that simultaneously cool and warm feeling of the Holy Spirit. At that moment, I felt my self-loathing being released from my spirit as I was bawling my eyes out. For the first time, I finally believed God really does love me and He forgave me a long time ago. Just because I can’t forgive myself doesn’t mean God does not forgive me. Since then, I am finally able to see me for how God sees me in Christ.
That was my first step towards recovery. That’s right, I didn’t stop using pornography after this, but the point of the weekend was not to give me a magic recipe to immediately stop the habit. The point was the consequences I suffered because of the porn—extreme self-loathing. I believe I was cured from most of the spiritual detriments, 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 didn’t stop using until 3 years later. Currently, it’s December 2016, but I first stopped using in July, so this wasn’t that long ago.
I was hanging out with a close friend of mine, who recently became a new friend, and we were talking about spiritual warfare as he also told me of his addiction to pornography. His addiction was worse than mine ever was, and I realized 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, I was sober, which was 5 months. I relapsed in early December, but that does not mean I failed my recovery. Back in July, 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 the longest I had ever gone. That is 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, 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.
Because of this newfound freedom, some things have changed. I am able to focus more on God, and I’ve found His Word and wisdom come to me much easily now. Even after Edge Venture, some shame still dwelt with me, and I still feel I am not worth loving by any woman of God because of my disgusting sin, but never to the point of self-loathing. The shame was just the feelings necessary to see my sin and in response, to repent of those sins. Now, I am free. Free is the only word I can think of to describe it. I now know more than ever the touch of God’s grace.
Sobriety does not mean you no longer face temptation. As I briefly mentioned, I recently relapsed early this month, 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 it was really difficult not to give in to the temptation. I also experienced sexually intense dreams. These are actually withdrawal symptoms of no longer using pornography and masturbation. Every now and then, I may face a craving, and I still experience temptation when I see a beautiful woman. However, the difference now is that I am trusting God to give me the strength necessary to fight temptation. Compared to a lot of stories I’ve heard from other men who suffer with pornography addiction, I’ve had it easy. For some, the road to sobriety is a lot more difficult for them than it has been for me. Some experience a week of sobriety, then they act out, are sober again for another week, and then act out again. But they’re still making progress. If you are on the road to sobriety or are just starting and you act out a couple times, do not give up. It is not over. God is with you. Every day away from pornography is a milestone—every minute away from it is a milestone.
I strongly encourage anyone struggling with pornography addiction to get involved with an accountability group. Talk to your pastor about it, or you can even contact me. Add me on Twitter at @WriteousChristn and direct message me if you need someone to talk to about it. You are not an impossible case; victory is possible. If you’re blessed enough not to suffer with pornography addiction, do not judge those who do. They are victims, not criminals. The road to recovery starts with admitting your guilt to Jesus, surrendering the sin to Him, and having fellowship with brothers in Christ who understand what you’re suffering 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. It is not impossible for God to help you because it was not impossible for Him to die for our sins.