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Christian Counseling - What Drives People Back To Porn Use?

The information in this blog comes from my counseling experience and not research.

It is tragic that many Christians view pornography on the Internet. Its incidence has increased for many reasons, including a growing amount of content that is offered for free, which eliminates credit card use and protects the viewer's anonymity. It is an epidemic, even in Christian circles, even among our leaders.

The timeline from occasional use of porn to addiction is most often short, but is sometimes not discernible because it occurs instantaneously. Some indicators of porn addiction include: a negatively altered user's life, secrets and lies that hide the truth, and a person who weekly (an approximate, not a fixed time) yields to the compulsion to look for sexual excitement.

The factors that attract and drive men and women back to porn use again and again are many. Christians understand one's sin nature pulls people to do things their minds and part of their hearts know is wrong and don't want to do (Romans 7). Some stop their analysis there, make confession and pray they won't succumb again. That formula, though necessary and a part of recovery, by itself is rarely successful. What many fail to deeply understand is that we are also human and there are many psychological drivers of porn use.

My counseling experience has shown me that central to the human side of every person's occasional use or addiction is the need for more and/or different relational connections. Here are three of several emotions that are very frequently attached to relational connection needs--loneliness, anger and anxiety. To better understand their relationship consider porn use as a relational connection via sex. Consider also porn use as a way to reduce the misery of those three feelings, which are almost always connected to people. We are lonely for people. We get angry with people. And we feel anxious about our relationships with others--what they think, feel and might say or do to us. If we don't work these things out directly with others, we leave ourselves vulnerable to unhealthy alternative ways of connecting with others and things (food, shopping) that can become addictive. These alternatives provide only temporary comfort by reducing the strength of negative emotions, like the three mentioned above.

The solution to the psychological side of porn use is to review one's quality and quantity of relationships and compare them to one's desires and fantasies (comparing the real to the ideal). The discrepancy between them should be minimal. Also, turning toward other people, as well as God, to meet underlying, previously mentioned (and other) needs of pornography use is necessary in overcoming the addiction, especially doing so the moment temptation strikes. 

2 comments (Add your own)

1. frankmancusophd wrote:
Jacob, Thanks for writing about this difficult and troubling issue of sexuality. No question that single Christians have a tough time maintaining sexual purity, most often equated with abstinence. As a side point, many married people have trouble with sexual purity as well, with the availability of porn and the pervasive conflict between spouses, where for women, love with certain kinds of personal expression must be the forerunner of sex and men who don't require love be a part in the same way. Sexuality is a painful issue for most Christians, especially for those who rightfully believe there are sexual boundaries for all of us.

You say it hard to understand why expectations for married or single people are the same. I suggest it is because sexual sin is sin regardless of who does it or why. Although, I must say that married couples have an outlet and single people do not, from the abstinence point of view. In my view, generally, scripture says that anything that stirs sexual desire which a person entertains (chooses to engage, fantasizes about, dwells on) other than one's marital partner is morally wrong. However, there is one curious point and a partial exception, which you mentioned--the issue of masturbation.

Of the many verses and commands God gives us regarding sexual behavior and attitude, He omits any prohibition of masturbation, and because the behavior is almost universal, God must have an important reason for omitting it. In theological teachings, omission by God is a message to His people. The only comment about masturbation in the Bible, that I am aware of, is Onan who spilled his seed on the ground (Gen. 38:9). God was angry with Him, not seemingly about masturbation, but for not following the law, which required him to produce offspring with the wife of his deceased brother. Based on this significant omission, I do believe that if one's conscience is not violated, masturbation (without fantasizing about others) is permissible. Although, I would say it is not God's best for us. And, anecdotally, the majority of people who frequent masturbation before marriage will continue to some degree in marriage.

In 1 Cor. 7:2,10 Paul states that because of immoralities and a lack of self-control, it would be better to marry than to burn or sin. Marriage is God's antidote for sexual temptation and fulfillment of desire. One of the problems for today's single people is that marriage is delayed many, many years beyond physical sexual maturity. This is a very serious issue and the main reason, I believe, that single people struggle with sexual purity.

In biblical times those who were 13 years of age were free to marry, women with parental consent, and carry on in the community as adults with most rights and privileges. In America, we developed an insidious, destructive label and forced our young adults into it--adolescence. It is a no person's land where they lose their childhood, but have little to no adult rights. Our society and most parents have suppressed the natural time of children becoming adults by coddling or overprotecting their "babies." Preparing people from two years old and on for independence of thought, decisions and behavior could begin to reverse and set right this human error of the past 100 to 150 years in our country.

Lastly, Jacob, you said you "prefer to not look at such things [mild porn] at all, ever..." You would do well to listen to those words from your conscience and/or the Holy Spirit. On some level, given your words, I suspect you feel guilty about that behavior. May the Lord direct you in living the life you want to live and His intended life for you.

10/11/2011 @ 4:23 PM

2. Jacob M wrote:
Do you think the occasional viewing of the mildest porn (i.e., swimsuit photos or videos) is less of a cause for concern in a mid-20s virgin than in a married man? I can never understand why people have the same expectations for an unmarried person as for a married person, and are equally judgmental of the single person. For example, Matthew 5:28 did mention "adultery," which pertains to the married, and Romans 7:7 indicates that lust=covetousness. Lust involves intent--it is MORE than fantasy. On the other hand, I do understand that compulsive porn viewing is bad to develop. Since this is the case, I go long periods of time without viewing anything sexually stimulating other than, sometimes, what is around me. I intentionally avoid addiction. In fact, I would prefer to not look at such things at all, ever, but when I do it is to reassure/remind myself of my sexual health (ability to be aroused, etc.). I think this is a reason for mild soft porn use that people fail to notice and identify with, that makes it more understandable for an unmarried virgin to do.

Would most conservative Christian fathers be okay with their daughter marrying a young man who has occasionally viewed mild soft porn? Do you think he should?

I can understand porn use being a dating/courting question, but I don't think it's right for people to ask young men about masturbation. People shouldn't be worried about masturbation that is not accompanied by visual (or other explicit) stimulation. Would you agree?

What masturbation frequency is recommended to prepare for REPLACING it with marital sex in the future? Will I likely be able to stop as a married person if, before marriage, I masturbate every couple days? Three days? Week?

10/11/2011 @ 3:07 AM

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