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The Problem with Porn

This week, I got the chance to hear from Ryan on the impact of pornography use on our well-being. Ryan has years of experience working in pornography addiction recovery and has walked with many clients towards freedom and healing in this area. I’m thankful to have gained his expertise on this sensitive topic. It’s no secret that pornography use is a relevant issue. 68% of young men and 18% of young women view pornography at least once a week. More than 25% of those with Internet access view porn during work hours (Nielson Online). The first exposure to pornography begins at the average age of 8-11 years old. And around 20% of adults and 80% of children get exposed to pornography unintentionally. (http://www.covenanteyes.com/2013/02/19/pornography-statistics/)

Pornography use is a global concern that does not discriminate against age, religion, SES status, occupation, or relationship status. It’s everywhere. It's impacting our home life, our work productivity, our children's brain development, and our personal well-being.

The problem with porn is that it offers this false sense of connection. We don't have to expose ourselves or become vulnerable in the process. We get pleasure without risk of rejection. We get to satisfy a longing for connection without any tangible human encounter. It's intoxicating... until it's not. Until it becomes a binding trap to our brain and our body and our souls.

As much as this problem is global, it’s also deeply personal. And I want you to know that if pornography has become an unwanted guest in your home and in your heart, you’re not alone. There is hope and there is freedom and there is a way out – do not believe the lie that you are stuck in the cycle. There is freedom found in connection – with God and with others.

Here’s Ryan's on the impact of porn use:

1. Overall, how does pornography use impact the well-being of individuals?

There are so many ways in which pornography use impacts health. It increases shame and memory loss. We can also see that the porn-addicted brain looks really similar to the brain addicted to cocaine through brain mapping. Prolonged exposure to porn leads to a much higher chance of sexual promiscuity, which increases the chances of STD transmission.

2. How have you seen pornography use play into a lack of connection/intimacy with others?

One of the key ways that pornography use impacts intimacy with others is its perpetual cycle of shame. Shame leads to hiding. Intimacy happens when couples are exposed, vulnerable, and authentic. When a spouse sees that they can be loved and wanted just as they are, that leads to a joy that is far greater than the rush. However, intimacy requires risk and porn addicts are trying to bypass risk to get joy, forgoing intimacy in the process. The more they choose the rush, the less they choose intimacy. Often, the spouses of porn addicts sense that they are hiding and the hiding leads to the spouses feeling ‘second place’ in the relationship.

Another factor is that no human being can sexually match the performance of a fantasy. Since the spouse can’t match the adrenaline rush that one gets from porn, porn addicts substitute the deeper connection and bond they can experience from their spouse for the rush they can experience from porn. Men who view porn regularly begin to see sex as self-gratification versus a space for connection with their spouse.

3. What are ways that pornography use affects sexual behaviors or expectations about sex?

Pornography and masturbation are like gateway drugs. If you indulge them, it takes a stronger and stronger hit to get the same high. So a common thing that happens is that addicts develop sexual desires for things they were not even attracted to at first.

For example, I had a client who was an addict for 30 years. He said that he was addicted before he got married. He married a virgin who had virtually no sexual experience. She saw sex as a way to increase their connection, bond, and have great fun. However, when they first had sex she felt extremely disappointed because it was obvious to her that sex for him was about gratification and not connection. As time went on, he became rougher with sex and she hated that. Then, he wanted to indulge in fetishes that she found disgusting. He lost interest in having sex with her and had serial affairs. He kept trying to find something that would give him an incredible rush. When he first started masturbating and watching porn he was not into rough sex or fetishes, but these desires developed over time as he became desensitized to the initial rush. 4. How have you seen pornography play a role in internalized shame?

Porn reinforces and exacerbates shame. As addicts continue to indulge, they start to view themselves in really negative ways. Once they believe those negative ways, the shame climbs further.

5. What are tangible first steps you would recommend for someone struggling with a pornography addiction?

If they are a follower of Christ, I would say the first step is for them to recognize where they have made an idol out of their object of lust and repent. Repentance is key. They must learn what it means to abide in Christ. Then, they need to notice their patterns with porn. When do they typically give in? How do they give in? Once they see their patterns, they need to work to radically eliminate any and all means to give in. Also, they benefit from substituting other things for what they have eliminated. For example, getting together with friends, once-cherished hobbies, and dating their spouse again are excellent substitutes.

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More than anything, I would encourage anyone who is wrestling with pornography use to start by moving away from isolation and towards connection. Choose to open up to a trusted source about your struggle. This could be a counselor, a pastor, a mentor, a family member, or a trusted friend. There is power in recognizing the need for others to walk alongside us. Bravery and boldness are demonstrated in vulnerability. It is not weakness; it is courageous to let people in.