“What if she was your sister?”
“What if she was your daughter?”
If you’ve been a porn addict then undoubtedly you’ll have heard someone urge you to consider these two scenarios in an attempt to warn you off porn.
But if you’ve been a porn addict, you probably also know that these statements have had little or no effect on you. It is after all, in all probability, not your sister or daughter that you are viewing on your laptop screen. At least I hope not.
I get the idea behind these kinds of statements. That if you are able to stop for a moment and remember that somewhere the women and men you are viewing have Dads and Moms, brothers and sisters and even children of their own, then it wouldn’t be so attractive.
Or maybe you’ve heard the idea that porn contributes to human trafficking which you are playing your part in driving every time you open up a porn site.
These are popular notions to get people to stop doing something, but they don’t work.
That’s because morality has very little effect on someone when faced with porn.
Often we find ourselves shocked when Pastors are found to have had porn on their computer and the reason is that we can’t imagine they would be the type of person who would view porn.
Which begs the question, what kind of person is that exactly? We believe deep down that if you are respectable enough or have a certain amount of stature then porn will not be able to get it’s grips into you. That if you have enough morals then you are safe. But the reason so many of us find ourselves deep in porn addiction is not because we aren’t good people or don’t have jobs that look respectable but because there is something deeper going on underneath the surface.
We’re hurting. We’re in pain.
Now of course the response to that could very legitimately be, well lots of people have pain in their lives and don’t have to look at porn. Which raises so many more questions regarding why some people fall into addiction and others survive. But it’s important for us to resist the temptation that just because some people do not seek destructive tools to handle or mask pain; that addiction is not a life shattering presence in the lives of many.
Think about every time you end up medicating with porn (if porn is not your thing, imagine whatever it is for you). Now, what made you indulge in it? Perhaps you’d reply with boredom or being alone or an argument you had with your spouse. Or maybe it’s just you like to look at pictures of attractive, naked people having sex and that’s as complicated as it gets.
Now, what did that last time feel like?
I don’t mean, did it feel good or bad or whether it made you feel excited or ashamed. I mean, what did it physically feel like?
Or perhaps a better way of framing the question is, where did you feel it?
I bet that is a far more difficult question to answer.
Because it has probably become so automatic for you that you are completely unaware of how your body is reacting. Even in the act of viewing porn you begin to feel numb to what you’re feeling. The same websites or clips don’t seem to do it for you anymore. So you move onto something a little more extreme, something new that you hope will deliver the same feelings you used to experience.
There used to be an excitement and adrenaline rush but now you don’t even notice it.
And even if you do try and begin to feel where that emptiness is; shame shuts it down before you can even become aware.
Like most “drugs” (and I use this term to describe anything that we use to medicate pain) there is a physical effect accompanying it.
So when it comes to porn addiction at least, it’s far better to focus on the sensations we experience physically and how that pain manifests itself. What does the trigger feel like? OK, you feel angry, but where in your body do you feel that? Is it in the pit of your stomach or is it in your chest. I used to feel a dark hole right in the middle of my abdomen.
Discover that place and that is what you are medicating, not porn.
My friend Seth explores this idea brilliantly in his book “Feels Like Redemption”.
The reason that most of us don’t think this way is because we want simple and quick results and answers to our problems. We want to heal from the pain without actually feeling the pain. So we come up with ideas that will hopefully dissuade us watching porn.
Think of the great Christian bullshitting phrase “acting out”. This is such a vague term and there is a good reason for it. It can mean anything. And often it means nothing. We can feel like we’re being open about our addiction without actually being open about it. The language we use therefore acts as a shield from what others will think of us or a way to avoid really facing up to something we want to hide away from the world and most notably, ourself.
It’s also why we constantly use ideas around morality to help cure us, without any real success.
Whether you view the porn star as someone’s daughter or sister won’t be enough to stop you looking at porn. It doesn’t mean that porn isn’t damaging or that we would want member of our family to start making porn. It doesn’t mean that the porn industry isn’t directly linked to trafficking. I really don’t know.
I do know however that as a fix it quickly becomes redundant.
It does nothing about the pain we’re experiencing. It’s our attempt at making ourselves feel a little better about ourself.
Interestingly as Christians we’re often fed messages about sin being sin and there not being a difference between one type of sin or another. We’re all in need of salvation right?
But next time you’re in your small group and you have to follow the person who asks for prayer because they are struggling with an “unspoken” sin and you want prayer because you love looking at porn, tell me how easy it was.
So we don’t really believe that all sins are the same; not truly in a way that transforms us. Again, morality doesn’t help us because we’re engrained as Christians to be ashamed of anything sexual to such an extent, that morality just increases our shame.
The pain still resides deep inside us, just now we have a very good reason to not expose it. The fear of judgment or condemnation.
If addiction is an emotional reaction that manifests itself physically it makes sense to at least entertain the idea that we need to heal from it in the same way.
In the 6 years that I’ve worked with recovering addicts the one thing that most of us them are not missing is a realization that they don’t want to be viewing porn. They get that. What separates those who find freedom and those that continue to make the same vows to quit every couple of weeks, is that some aren’t afraid to delve deeper into the emotional pain that is driving everything.
The question is, are we willing to admit what we’ve been doing hasn’t worked?
As Christians this is a big deal and here’s why. One of the things that Jesus came to transform was how we deal with “sin”. Instead of it being about controlling our behavior, it became about something deep within us.
This was obviously uncomfortable for many who focused so intently on following the Law to the iota.
Take, what I believe is one of the most misunderstood sections of Jesus teachings. When Jesus says that lusting over someone is as good as adultery, He’s breaking down the notion that if I just don’t sleep with someone outside of my spouse then I’m good. Not cheating on your spouse is obviously a good thing but if you still desire something so much that it takes over your life, it’s still not allowing you to live fully or freely.
It still controls you.
Most of us have read and understood this part of Jesus teachings to then assume He is saying if we even so much as look at another person in a lustful way we’re a cheater.
This teaching has only caused more shame and driven this subconscious lie that we hold onto in the Christian church that finding someone sexually attractive who you’re not married to, is wrong.
But I don’t think this is Jesus’ point. In fact I think that is to completely miss the point.
Instead I think He is showing us that by simply avoiding the physical act of cheating, we can still be trapped and miserable. It’s not even really about sex. It’s about the demanding and stifling nature of pursuing something so badly that it creates an immeasurable amount of stress and chaos and heartbreak in your life.
Of course, if you’re married, this lust could have far more devastating effects than if you’re not.
Yet, Jesus point here is pretty simple. He wants us to live fully connected to ourselves and to God and to the world around us. Lust, as we love to call it becomes something that takes over our lives. Whether it’s over another person or money, or stature or accolades or being desired.
These can all become medications for something much deeper.
So back to the crutch of everything.
As a church we’ve failed each other by focusing too much on tools that simply offer just more ways to try and control behavior. Install software, read your Bible more and pray more fervently. Even accountability can get in the way. If you’re struggling to stop one behavior why do you think you can easily pick up another one. Ironically, the need to control behavior is simply another way of looking good to others which you’ve guessed it, is just another type of medication.
So if logic and the idea that porn is “wrong” isn’t helpful then we need to go back to our bodies.
That is where we are creating the division within ourselves that we are medicating and so it is to there that we must go to heal.
Our triggers are the things that point us in the direction of where we need healing. They are not themselves the thing that needs healing.
Next time you want to medicate, sit for a minute, breath and locate that space in the pit of your stomach that is aching. Find where the anger is causing you to feel broken. Feel the sadness that you’ve been ignoring most of your life. Take that and instead of numbing it, open it up to the Spirit to work on. There is no need to be afraid because you are not alone. There is no need to feel ashamed because you are already redeemed.
If you want to stop porn and you’ve been dealing with it for a long time, I’ve got some bad news for you. What you’re doing is not working at all. The good news of course is, what you’re doing is not working at all.
Good news because it means we can be open to a new way of thinking and a new way of healing.
Heal emotionally and you will find a freedom you never thought possible.
Time to get to work.
Ok now before we end it there, I get that at this point many of you will be asking, “Is that it?!”
That’s a fair question because even for all the shift away from trying to “reason” or persuade ourselves away from porn, there are actual “tools” that we need to employ. But remember that using the tools are not the goal here. Below I’ve made a list of some of the resources that have deeply helped me on this journey and I hope and pray that they do the same for you.
First off, most of everything I wrote about here comes from the experiences of my friends Seth and David Taylor. You can purchase their book “Feels Like Redemption” here. They lay out many of the tools that I’ve used on this journey and have acted as a rough blueprint for my healing.
Seth also offers one on one coaching which I promise will be one of the best decisions you make.
Also, I can’t recommend meditation and mindfulness enough. These are going to be close allies on this journey to healing. My personal favorite guides are The Liturgists, but there are plenty more you can find.
And last but not least the book “The Tools” has given me a new insight into how we do need to do a bit of work here and how to keep going when you feel like giving up.
Start here and you’ll be well on your way.
And maybe most important of all.
Enjoy your journey.