Facing Up to Pornography and Sexual Addictions

by Jane P. Ives

“How could this have happened?” A retired pastor and his wife, devastated by their adult son’s confession that he had become addicted to pornography, wept in anguish. 

Growing up in a Christian home does not guarantee immunity to the sexual poison permeating our society. Pornography generates billions of dollars worldwide in revenues from magazines, videos, strip clubs, escort services, telephone sex, pay-per-view cable channels, and websites.1 Pornography accounts for 12 percent of websites, 25 percent of search engine requests, and 72 million visitors a month worldwide. Some of these visitors, quickly bored or repulsed by what they see, move on. At least 5 percent of these visitors, however, are already addicted; and another 10 percent will likely become addicted to the instant and anonymous gratification of online chatrooms and videos.2 These facts challenge us to address a problem that undoubtedly affects persons in our churches and in our communities. First, however, we need to understand how pornography can ensnare and corrupt.

The United Methodist Book of Resolutions, 2004, defines pornography as “sexually explicit material that portrays violence, abuse, coercion, domination, humiliation, or degradation for the purpose of arousal” and also labels as pornographic any sexually explicit material depicting children.3 Porn is very different from art, which may elicit awe and respect by celebrating the beauty of human bodies and of erotic love. Pornography portrays men and women as sex objects, titillates, creates unrealistic expectations, deadens the ability to experience real intimacy, and may encourage potentially dangerous attitudes and behaviors.4

Research shows that viewing pornography can cause physiological changes in the brain that may influence behavior and relationships. Pornography, especially when viewed in a high state of arousal, creates an imprint of the experience that impels the viewer to come back for more of the stimulant effect. Over time, persons viewing pornography may become desensitized, requiring more explicit and more deviant materials to get the same effect. Research documents a high correlation between frequent use of pornography and sexual abuse and violence. Children and youth have confessed to acting out what they have seen, and sexual offenders often report a history of viewing pornography.5

In Out of the Shadows: Understanding Sexual Addiction, Patrick Carnes notes that persons who become addicted to pornography may easily escalate to voyeurism,  self-exposure, adultery, prostitution, sexual harassment, and assault.6 Carnes describes an “Addiction Cycle” that begins with obsessive thinking about sex, followed by unique rituals or routines leading up to and enhancing the excitement of compulsive sexual activity. Once in this cycle, addicts cannot control or stop themselves; afterward they may seek release from their shame and guilt by obsessive sexual thinking, starting the cycle all over again.7

Addicts may rationalize that their compulsions have no adverse effect on their marriages, families, or work. Their secret lives, however, often cause them to withdraw, neglecting their families, work, and other responsibilities. Feeling unworthy of genuine love, they may turn to illicit sex more frequently to ease their increasing isolation. Once addicts realize that their lives are out of control, skilled therapists and caring communities – Twelve Steps programs in particular – can help them examine their behavior, break out of their isolation, and reclaim a sense of personal worth. Because secrecy deepens the bond of any addiction, talking about it with trusted advisors is often the first step toward healing.8

What can the church do?

  • Affirm sexuality as a God-given gift that can enrich our lives and relationships.
  • Teach reverence for the human body and respect for the feelings and needs of others.
  • Make clear that anyone may be vulnerable to pornography’s addictive lure.              
  • Note that Jesus’ warning about committing adultery in our hearts (Matthew 5:28) addresses the deliberate choice to welcome and entertain tempting thoughts and fantasies, which may occasionally present themselves to anyone.
  • Equip parents and teachers to help children process their likely exposure to pornography, whether accidental or deliberate.
  • Provide information through teaching, programs, and print material to help people understand and face this problem.
  • Research locally available trained counselors and groups for referral of addicts and families seeking assistance.
  • Speak out against public displays of pornography and against media that qualifies as “soft porn” and glorifies risky behavior.
  • Express concern for the actors and models exploited in pornographic videos and materials, recognizing that some of them may be victims of sexual trafficking.
  • Encourage parents to monitor their children’s internet and cell phone use, noting the dangers of visiting chatrooms, sexting, responding to strangers online, and posting personal information.
  • Counsel parents and other adults to view media programming with children and youth, calmly discussing the underlying messages to which they are exposed by asking reflective questions. (“What would you do in that situation?” “What might happen next?”)
  • Welcome and include recovering addicts, holding them accountable to their healing programs and establishing behavioral covenants to protect others, especially children and youth.
     

Pornography is as near as the computers in your home or the magazine stands in stores. Sexting has become a popular and daring activity among teens. Many prime-time TV programs, movies, and music videos show explicit scenes and seem, at times, to glorify risky behavior. What can families do? Don’t wait until something happens. Talk with your youth, calmly and often, about the underlying messages of pop culture. Watch programs and movies with them, asking thoughtful questions, “What do you think the consequences will be of that choice?” or “What would you do in such circumstances?” or “What would you say to a friend who made that decision?” Check out the websites they visit.

We cannot afford to ignore the devastating consequences of pornography and sexual addictions, nor can we safely assume that members of our congregations or of our families are not – or will not – be affected. Sound education, prevention, and recovery support ministries can help keep individuals, families, and communities healthy and safe.

For more information, see Resources for Facing Up to Pornography and Sexual Addictions.


Sources

1William M. Struthers, Wired for Intimacy: How Pornography Hijacks the Male Brain (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2009), p. 20

2Michael Castleman, 6 Ways Porn Can Hurt Your Sex Life

3The United Methodist Book of Resolutions, "Pornography and Sexual Violence," p. 166

4Rev. Cynthia Abrams, Sex and the Church: Pornography and Sexual Addiction

5The United Methodist Book of Resolutions, “Prevention of the Use of Pornography in the Church,” pp. 153 – 156.

6Patrick Carnes, In Out of the Shadows: Understanding Sexual Addiction (Center City, MN: Hazelden, 2001) p. 37-38

7Ibid. p.19-23

8Ibid., p.4-7



Jane P. Ives, United Methodist Marriage and Family Ministries Consultant
10 Quaker Lane, Portland, ME 04103, 207-797-8930, Janepives@gmail.com

Categories: Family Ministries — General Resources, Marriage, Marriage-Crisis and Transition

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