In July, 2008, I posted a draft version of The Pornography Effect online, and spent a great deal of energy trying to increase awareness of this plague which has spread via technology and has had particularly damaging effects on men. A few months later, popular blogger and writer Jeff Goins interviewed me on the subject, and today I can’t honestly recall where the interview appeared; but after finding a copy of it yesterday, I thought it helpful to spread this message yet again. Besides, we need to keep this discussion going. This is the first time this material has appeared at Thinking Out Loud.
You can read The Pornography Effect here, it uses a blog format but reads like a book with the chapters in proper order and a ‘next page’ type of click necessary to get to the second of the two screens. It takes about 55 minutes. There’s also a ‘Cliff Notes’ version of the key points here.
What is your personal experience with pornography? What did your own struggle look like?
We owned a computer that was connected online for about ten years before anything remotely pornographic ever crossed the screen. Up until that point, I would say I was probably in the “This could never happen to me” category. One Saturday afternoon doing a relatively random search, I ended up in the middle of an erotic novel. A few days later I decided to read the whole thing from the beginning. When I finished the story, nearly two weeks later, a link took me a site which contained photographic porn. At that point certain walls of resistance had already collapsed. Like the proverbial “guy with a remote control” who “wants to know what else is on,” I was determined to explore this alternative universe. The internet was more than willing to oblige. Even though I was leading worship in my church on Sunday, I was on the way to becoming a hopeless slave to internet pornography addiction. But I rationalized that I was balancing the two worlds quite capably and getting away with it.
After what I consider a wake-up call several months later, I was able to break free for several months. And then I went back for several weeks. And then broke free again. Today, there is a short-term freedom in being able to honestly say I’ve forgotten the internet addresses of most of those sites. But in the long-term, the fact remains I know the search criteria that got me there. For anyone, the internet’s dark side is never more than a few clicks and keystrokes away.
When did you realize that this was a systemic problem in a lot of men’s lives?
After remaining free for a longer period, I decided to (a) go public, and (b) create a forum for women to know more about the mechanics of how the internet porn industry functions. There are millions of pornographic web pages, but each has one thing in common: They were all put there by someone. That person had a reason, a motivation, and I thought it would be helpful to create more understanding of why the stuff is there in the first place. Perhaps I’m wired to want to share and apply knowledge once it’s acquired. Perhaps I was trying to redeem a bad personal experience. I just figured there were already seminars for men who were dealing with a multitude of addictive behavior, but nothing for the women who were, as I termed it, the collateral damage in the sphere of internet addiction.
I found out really fast that this is truly “the elephant in the room” both within and outside the church. Tell people this is what you want to discuss, and the room gets really quiet. Plus, I’m in Canada where there isn’t the same transparency about personal struggles. We don’t talk about our spiritual lives here in the same way that people do in the U.S. I have always know that this was a hot topic, but once I was trying to create open discussion, it was initially the silence that told me I had struck a nerve more than anyone’s particular admission or confession.
For a younger generation of internet sex addicts, though, this is a non-issue. Images of naked people — even images of their classmates — have been available online all their lives. An entire generation is being raised without a sense of shame. It was once the case that humans distinguished themselves from the animals by our ability to blush, but slowly, an entire generation is losing that. They would say there is no problem at all here.
How does pornography affect men’s relationships with their wives, family members, and God?
I don’t think anyone who has had exposure to pornography is ever the same. Over an extended period, I think exposure rewrites the brain programs of our minds, to the point where, for guys, any female is just a body to be exploited. I don’t think any man who is deeply hooked can look at his wife or girlfriend, his sister, his daughter or even his mother the same way. Yes, I’m saying it changes all relationships that a man has with all females. The girl serving at the fast food place. The woman in line at the bank. The kindergarten teacher at the elementary school. All females.
In terms of spousal relationships, the problem — and fortunately this wasn’t exactly the issue for me — is that men are intended to find sexual fulfillment in their wives. (And likewise, wives in their husbands.) So immediately the relationship is encountering damage. But where the internet habit is also a secret habit, there is an additional wall of separation building between the husband and wife. Trying to get “alone time” on the family computer can also cause friction between other family members.
Spiritually, sin is sin. While we can admit that God probably ain’t too happy, we can use all kinds of rationalization to justify that what we’re doing isn’t such a big deal. After all, aren’t a lot of popular songs played on radio somewhat pornographic when you read the lyrics? If a person is really tuned in to their own spirit, I think they’ll recognize that, like Adam in Eden, we’ve somewhat hidden ourselves, and hurt the relationship in the process. There are other indicators of spiritual life and growth that will start to flash warning lights.
Have you encountered women who have struggled with porn?
Once I went more public with my desire to speak to this subject, I had a number of women who came to talk me. While at first discussing a husband’s or a son’s addiction, they eventually shared with me that they had struggled with this themselves. Yielding to female stereotypes of soap operas and romance novels, I assumed they were speaking of text pornography, like the novel that had initially hooked me. But they were saying no such thing. They were into the pictures just like the guys were, and one woman in particular hinted at a very deep addition that had tied up hundreds and hundreds of online hours.
However, one of the main ideas I want to advance is the idea that text pornography is every bit as dangerous and harmful as drawn or photographic pornography. It is able to convey ideas that either (a) cannot be expressed in a picture, or (b) would still be considered taboo graphically. Text pornography, which includes but is not limited to erotic literature, puts forward ideas which in some cases are intended to change societal norms. It ought to be the focus of more concern.
What does it mean for a porn/sex addict to discover grace? What does that look like?
I think that the grace of God comes in the form of the strength that we don’t have within ourselves to walk away from the internet, either figuratively or literally. Apart from Christ’s power working in us, there’s no compelling reason to break free, let alone the strength to do it. But with Christ’s power, I believe that breaking free of this particular addiction can be a relatively painless process. If we see our sin as being sin against God, we will strive for holy living. The man who desires to do the will of God positionally does not sin.
Grace can also appear in the form of a friend who has walked the same road, or a friend who is simply brave enough to wade into the topic with you. Grace can be a pastor willing to devote a Sunday morning sermon to the topic; and grace can be a congregation that doesn’t judge when you walk towards the altar at the pastor’s invitation. Grace can be an understanding spouse who desires to encourage you towards freedom from addiction. Grace can even be a young daughter who catches a glance of an image on your computer screen and asks, “Daddy, how would you feel if that were me?”
Can you share at least one story of someone you know who was able to break out of a porn addiction?
It’s interesting to think about that question apart from the various things I’ve read in books and magazine articles that were all U.S.-based. The Book Porn Nation by Michael Leahy, and the book I Surrender All: Rebuilding a Marriage Broken by Pornography by Renee and Clay Cross share two stories that I believe to be representative of stories that are common to so many. In my country, what I’ve experienced is hushed voices, speaking in low tones, whispering, “Been there. Done that. Free now.”
I think the curiosity factor engages a great percentage of men at one time or another, particularly as the computer changes the way pornography is accessed. The question is how long are you going to stay in Sin City? Some stay a long time. Some reading this are there right now. No… make that many reading this are there right now. Thankfully, I think there are probably more stories of spiritual victory out there than we realize, but far too many men are afraid to admit the problem existed in the first place. A person has to simply determine not to go back there.
What resources are available for those who are struggling?
If a person has a trusted friend who can serve as an accountability partner, I think that accountability software like Covenant Eyes is probably the best resource we have right now. I know pastors who serve as accountability watchdogs for each other. If a person is really fighting the addicitive nature (which can be part of the human condition) then a program like Celebrate Recovery is also helpful.
October 3, 2008