Pornography: The Dirty Little Secret
Pornography is rotting the soul of the Western world. Is there hope for a world increasingly hooked on lust? If you are enslaved to porn, is there hope for you?
At first it starts out so “innocently.” At least it seems so. Just a glance, a quick look—a jolt of excitement. And then another look. A moment of curiosity turns into a fascination. It pulls you in, until you are sinking in a quicksand of shame and guilt. One time becomes two, then three. One minute becomes an hour. A momentary diversion becomes a habit that recurs over months and years. You lose some of the most valuable things in your life. Maybe your job. Maybe your wife or husband, girlfriend or boyfriend. But most painful of all, you lose your integrity and self-respect.
It is “the new drug” in Western culture: pornography. In the United States alone, four million people are addicted—roughly as many as are hooked on cocaine, heroin and methamphetamines combined. And 40 million Americans admit to viewing porn regularly. And it is not just a problem in the United States. Two thirds of Australians admit to viewing pornography occasionally, with many heavily addicted. Seventy percent of British men aged 18–34 admit to using porn at least once a month. In a UN report on the sexuality of teens in Ireland, 78 percent of teen boys and 40 percent of teen girls reported watching porn on the Internet (“Changing the Future: Experiencing Adolescence in Contemporary Ireland,” UNICEF, December, 2010).
What is going on? Is there hope for millions being swallowed up by a lifestyle of lust?
There is no celebrated “war on porn” as there is against drugs. There is no concerted effort by governments and agencies to fight this cancer. And yet it affects the brain in exactly the same way that illicit drugs do. When a person views pornographic material, the brain is over-exposed to pleasure chemicals like dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin, and epinephrine. The brain rewires itself to accommodate the extra chemicals. You build up a tolerance and a dependency on the chemicals. You go from wanting the pleasure chemicals in order to feel good to “needing” them. Pornography is the new drug epidemic. And it is taking the world by silent storm.
Just as with any other drug, thousands brazenly profit from its victims. Pornography is a multi-billion dollar industry. Pushers of this perverted form of “free speech” unabashedly fight attempts to curb illicit material, no matter how vulgar or debasing it may be. Television and movies portray it as harmless fun. Some misguided counselors have even encouraged couples to watch porn to help solve their marital problems. What a tragic and horrible mistake!
Some will argue that looking at a few erotic images is no big deal—a “victimless crime.” But what about the people—overwhelmingly women—who sell themselves, or are sold, to fuel the porn industry? And what about the addicts themselves? Are they really fulfilled and contented by a habit that chains them to a cycle of uncontrolled lust followed by the downward spiral of self-loathing?
More and more research is showing the absolutely devastating effects of pornography on those who fall under its spell: increased chance of severe clinical depression, feelings of loneliness, loss of jobs, financial loss, marital infidelity and divorce. Perhaps the most surprising effect of porn is that it causes many addicts to lose their ability to enjoy or even engage in sex with a real person.
In their book, The Porn Trap, authors Wendy and Larry Maltz describe the devastating effects of pornography.“Because using porn often involves high levels of dishonesty and secrecy, those who are caught up in it often say they feel isolated, ashamed, depressed, phony, morally compromised, and even in some cases, suicidal.… Most porn users we’ve counseled or spoken with are surprised at how easily porn transformed from an occasional diversion or fantasy to a habitual problem that has the potential to destroy almost every aspect of their real lives… dragging down their relationships, their jobs, their self-esteem, and even their dreams and desires” (pp. 2–3). So, what is the solution?
Thousands of years ago, the patriarch Job wrote that he was very careful about where he allowed his eyes to stray: “I have made a covenant with my eyes; why then should I look upon a young woman?” (Job 31:1). Proverbs 6:23–25 continues, saying, “The commandment is a lamp, and the law a light; reproofs of instruction are the way of life, to keep you from the evil woman… Do not lust after her beauty in your heart, nor let her allure you with her eyelids.” The Apostle John echoed the same warning: “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever” (1 John 2:15–17). Sexual lust and covetousness are not new at all, but a very old temptation that has cast down many “strong men” (Proverbs 7:26).
The Apostle James explained how temptation occurs and where it leads: “But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed” (James 1:14, KJV). The next verse says that lust leads to sin, and sin leads to death (James 1:15). What type of death does pornography cause? Death of your character and self-esteem. Death of trust and integrity. Death of honor and self-confidence. Death of enjoyment of normal, healthy relationships. Potential physical death from sexually transmitted diseases through promiscuity. And ultimately, death in the lake of fire, the “second death,” where the “unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars” will be burned up (Revelation 21:8). God does not want anyone to die, but rather to repent and live. “‘As I live,’ says the Lord God, ‘I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn, turn from your evil ways” (Ezekiel 33:11). God hates porn because it destroys the lives of His children, whom He wants to be in His Kingdom.
If you are hooked on porn but want to change, there is good news—you can! But first you have to understand you have a powerful, spirit enemy, Satan the Devil, who does not want you to change. He has deceived the whole world and led people into sin (Revelation 12:9). It is he who wants you to be swallowed up by addiction. But the Apostle Peter warns us to be aware of his attacks. He said, “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. Resist him, steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same sufferings are experienced by your brotherhood in the world” (1 Peter 5:8–9).
Satan capitalizes on shame. He wants addicts to feel overwhelmed. If you are addicted to porn, Satan wants you to feel that you are the only one battling such a problem. He wants you to feel alone, isolated, and unworthy of God’s forgiveness. But nothing could be further from the truth! As the Apostle Paul wrote, “No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it. Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry” (1 Corinthians 10:13–14).
Addiction is idolatry. When you are addicted, you crave something or someone to the exclusion of all else. When the craving comes, it becomes all-consuming, impossible to stop. And it is never enough, as Proverbs 27:20 tells us. One of the lies that addicts tell themselves is “I can quit anytime” or “it’s not a big deal.” If you are addicted to pornography, stop lying to yourself and get help! If you are trapped in the sin of covetousness and idolatry, you are putting your desire for “a created thing” before the God who made your life and gives you every breath you take! He takes that very seriously! Paul says, “Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry” (Colossians 3:5). Being addicted to sexual images is really no different than bowing down to an idol of stone or wood. It is just idolatry of the heart.
God wants us to be free. Jesus said, “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32). He continued, “Whoever commits sin is a slave of sin” (v. 34). The Apostle Paul echoed the same teaching: “Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one’s slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness?” (Romans 6:16). Paul explained that God wants us to be free from the chains of sin, and become “slaves of righteousness for holiness” (v. 19). He wants us to have “fruit to holiness, and the end, everlasting life” (v. 22).
If you have been enslaved by sexual lust but want to be free, you can! Turn to God with all your heart—everything you have. Submit to Him in every part of your life. All of it belongs to Him anyway, for He made you! Humble yourself before the ever-living God. As James writes, “Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Lament and mourn and weep! Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up” (James 4:7–10).
Ask God to grant you repentance, and to have a real relationship with Jesus Christ. Your Savior became flesh, so that He would understand what it is like to be human. He felt the temptations of the flesh, yet He never sinned (Hebrews 4:15). Since Jesus Christ was on earth and felt temptation, He can encourage and comfort those who are striving to overcome. And He can give them power, through His Spirit, to really overcome! “For in that He Himself has suffered, being tempted, He is able to aid those who are tempted” (Hebrews 2:18). In other words, there is hope to overcome!
If you really want to overcome addiction, you will need to make some concrete changes in your life. You will have to stay away from environments that put you in compromising positions (Proverbs 7:25). If old friends cause you to fall into old habits, it is time to find new friends (Proverbs 1:10)! Your old acquaintances may not be thrilled by your new standards (1 Peter 4:4)—but eternal life is worth the sacrifice!
Having personal rules of conduct which keep a person well away from “the cliff” are wise. For the porn addict, it means Internet filters and accountability partners—someone you can trust that can check up on you from time to time. It is worth it! God does not just counsel us to resist immoral conduct—He says to flee far from it (1 Corinthians 6:18)! Learn your addiction “triggers.” When do you fall into temptation? When you are under stress? Depressed? Bored? When you have not been praying or studying, and are not close to God? By knowing yourself, and analyzing the patterns of your behavior, you can be better equipped to know when you are in danger, and take steps to avoid “falling off the cliff.”
The ultimate solution to addiction is greater spiritual depth and purpose—a deeper relationship with God. And to really overcome forces as powerful as addictions, it takes God’s help. As Paul wrote, “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20, KJV).
Porn is not an insurmountable enemy. But victory requires commitment to yourself and your relationships. As authors Stephen Arterburn and Fred Stoeker write in Every Man’s Battle: Winning the War on Sexual Temptation One Victory at a Time: “The battle for purity is… about becoming your wife’s hero and not her nightmare, and proving you’re man enough to make your commitments to her stick.” (p. 229). The Christian life is a fight—all the way to the end! “But you, O man of God, flee these things and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, gentleness. Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life” (1 Timothy 6:11–12). If you are struggling, do not lose heart! Jesus Christ living in you can change your thoughts. He can change your life! But you need to choose!