Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a man commits are outside his body, but he who sins sexually sins against his own body. (1 Corinthians 6:18 NIV).
If you are a man or if you are married to or dating one who has learned the truth of that statement the hard way please read on, I have good news for you.
Decades before the Ashley Madison website hack and the very public falls of Josh Duggar and Jared Fogle we were hearing from men, Christian men, and their wives, about the havoc their pornography addictions were wreaking. But never have the words of Scripture been so thoroughly validated by a non-religious source as they have now been by the April 11, 2016 cover story in TIME.
First, a note to the men who are struggling with this: I do not condemn you and you are not alone. This post is not about making you feel bad. I’ve counseled enough of you to know that many of you feel terribly ashamed, and isolated, and helpless. I’m offering hope.
Let’s start by being real about the problem.
A few, a very few, of the statistics TIME reports are: 46% of men and 16% of women ages 18-39 intentionally view pornography in any given week. From February of 2006 to January 2016 monthly visits by U.S. citizens to porn websites increased from 58 million to 107 million, according to one web-tracking company. Yes, that’s 107 million visits per month.
Christians are not immune. Covenant Eyes website reports that about 64% of Christian men and 15% of women access porn every month. And as the Apostle Paul warned the Corinthians, it’s damaging their bodies.
TIME confirms that, citing a 2014 fMRI study from the Max Planck Institute which revealed that habitual porn use may have an effect on the brain. Repeated exposure to porn appeared to cause the brain’s reward center, called the striatum, to be less and less responsive. In other words, the brain becomes desensitized, requiring more and more stimulation to achieve the same level of pleasure. This is somewhat like the way cocaine and other drugs effect the brain. It’s no surprise then that porn addicts often progress from plain vanilla porn to harder, more violent, or simply more bizarre forms. Many also end up frequenting prostitutes and some become predators.
Scientists have long known that the brain is our primary sex organ, but it isn’t the only one suffering from the effects of porn. Young men, Christian and non-Christian alike, are increasingly reporting PIED, porn-induced erectile dysfunction. Their bodies have been so desensitized by porn that they cannot respond to normal sexual stimuli.
Enough of the bad news, I’ll provide links to more information at the end if you’re interested. Let’s talk about redeeming what’s been lost.
The Bible teaches that we are three-part beings, body, soul, and spirit. Dealing effectively with this or any other addiction requires addressing all three. Some of you who aren’t Christians, and even some who are, don’t have any problem with sex outside of marriage. But the Bible calls that sin and I encourage you to do the same. The first step to freedom is calling slavery what it is. Even if you can’t yet see it as a sin against God or your own body, an honest look at the underbelly of the porn industry will reveal that the whole thing is one massive assault on the dignity of women. That’s why businesses like Hilton Hotels have eliminated pornography channels in their hotel rooms in 85 countries. They have a company policy against participating in sexual exploitation and recognized the link between sex trafficking, prostitution and porn. Christ died to free us from slavery to sin. Agreeing with God that pornography is sin frees the Holy Spirit to help you do away with it.
Second, understand that your mind, will, and emotions, what we know as the soul, have been damaged by porn. You were created to be a thinking, choosing, feeling and relating being. Porn addiction, like others, pulls your soul into a spiral of sickness. Your thinking is clouded, your will is weakened, your feelings are misleading, and your ability to relate in healthy ways to other human beings, especially women, is damaged. You’re going to need some help sorting out your feelings, strengthening your will, straightening out your thinking, and reshaping the way you relate to others. Happily, there are many different kinds of help out there for this, from books to websites, to support groups. I’ll list some at the end.
Finally, your body is going to need rewiring. One of the most fascinating and hopeful things I’ve learned from counseling men with pornography addictions is the power of simple behavior-modification techniques. Pastors and counseling psychologists often assume that all problems stem from within the soul and can be effectively addressed by talking, teaching and prayer; correcting the wrongs of the psyche. I’m not discounting any of those, but the fact is that not everyone becomes addicted because they have issues with their upbringing. The neurology of our sexuality is incredibly important. Repeated exposure to porn trains the brain and the body to react a certain way by burning deep neural pathways. Think of it as a kind of sexual muscle memory that won’t go away just because you wish it would. The good news is that it is possible to burn new pathways and let the old ones die off. It takes time and training, but it is possible.
If you find yourself or a loved one a victim of the porn pandemic there is hope. Christ died to set you free from sin and give you full access to the redemptive power of his Spirit. God in his mercy has provided all kinds of aids, secular and spiritual, to help you break free. I’ve listed all the ones I’m aware of at the end of this post. May God bless you as you pursue freedom, forgiveness, and healing.
Resources for Recovery from Sexual Addiction.