Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The Real Problem: A Guest Post About Pornography Addiction

"The most important thing to know about pornography addiction is that it's not about sex. It's not about pornography. That's just the symptom of it. This problem is really about pain management . . . People who have addictions are really just seeking God." --Geoff Steurer, Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist, Lifestar Network

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The Real Problem
by Anonymous (male)

The real problem with pornography isn’t pornography. Not the salaciousness of it: the pictures, or videos, or the stories or the masturbation. It’s not the lost jobs or damaged relationships. Not the objectification of others, or the heartbreak from the betrayal of trust.

Those things –so deeply significant as they are—are only symptoms.

When pornography is used to numb pain and disconnect with the world--your wife, your friends, your children--and more and more of it is needed to do the job, then pornography becomes a problem. When you want to quit the behavior and can't, it's an addiction.

For the addict, the real damage stems from coming to believe --deeper than any other thought-- that you are broken. Damaged beyond hope of repair. Faulty. Unworthy, unclean, unloved.

Typical, self-centered addict-speak? Yes. Yes, but until the self-loathing stops, nothing improves; neither the addict, nor the hurt they’ve caused.

I’ve been an addict for 30+ years. My addiction (like so many, many others) became serious with the internet. I have tried a thousand times a thousand to be rid of it. I’ve spent years cursing, praying, fasting, pleading and weeping. If it didn’t sound so dramatic, I tell you I’ve thought seriously about suicide.

I have promised myself I would quit. I have promised friends, family, my wife…my unborn children… that I would quit. I’ve promised God that I would quit.

Picking a “worst part” is pointless, but breaking those promises has been unbearable. My determination, my confidence, my creativity, my self-respect…everything good about me feels muted or hidden, or destroyed. If I can’t keep a promise to myself, to my dear wife, my children…to God? What worth am I to anyone? To myself?

That’s the real problem with addiction . . . to anything. The deep, black pool of self hate. It quietly, relentlessly spreads until it taints everything. Thought, emotion, action. You want to quit what hurts you, but you can't.

Simple awareness of this fact begins the arduous path to healing.

Here are some things I wish I’d known 30 years ago.

-Addiction to internet pornography is real. Chemically, it happens in the same way that other addictions do. It changes your brain. It’s validating to know that the struggle is real and can be monumentally difficult. Saying my church is making me feel guilty cheapens my struggle. 90 minute brain addiction presentation Dr. Donald Hilton
-Neurologists refer to the brain as “plastic.” It can change. It can be trained to crave the dopamine rush associated with viewing pornography, and it can be healed of that craving. TED talk by Gary Wilson 16 minutes.
-Internet pornography is more addictive than that stash of Playboys your uncle had. The constant stream of novel experiences is (almost) infinitely more potent to the reward system in our brains. We actually do have it harder than our progenitors. (see above TED talk.)
- Everyone around you is an addict. Try thinking that way for a week. Husbands, fathers, sons, bosses, coworkers. Not empirically true, but it’s closer than you think.
-Not talking about it doesn’t help. Oppositely, it feeds the separation between the addict and real self-love and healing.
-Being addicted to pornography does not make you evil. And demonization feeds the cycle. There is no compassion (therefore no redemption) in words like pervert or deviant or creep…We don’t need help hating our addiction. Or ourselves.
-We’re not morally or spiritually broken. We may believe we are, but it’s just not true. I am (still…ever) a powerful, worthwhile soul, and I’m working on overcoming an addiction.
-Abstinence is not healing.
-Loving someone with the addiction ≠ excusing their actions. Without compassion, we will fail. It’s too much.
-Cliched, but deeply true: “Love the sinner, hate the sin.” If you can despise the sin, yet enfold the sinner in compassion and love, you initiate healing. For the addict and yourself.
-If you are an addict, you need help. Stop trying to fix it yourself.

I’m slowly learning (with the support of my dear, undeserving wife, an amazing therapist, LDS 12-step and reading and studying and praying and fasting…) this; until I find myself and re-learn to love myself, I have no hope of overcoming my addiction and righting any of the other wrongs that come with it.

If pornography addiction is a new concept for you, please take time to watch this short Ted Talk by Gary Wilson about the reality of this compulsive behavior. It's not a religious matter, it's a reality:


Rachel said...

My mother is a therapist with Lifestar Network in SLC. She & her colleagues have spoken about this subject to church groups, bishops, even general authorities. If you would ever be interested in talking to her and them, or having her do a guest post, please don't hesitate to contact me.

kam said...

Anonymous, Thank you for writing this, and CJane, again, thank you for this series! Wonderful insight from the perspective of the addict himself. Thank you for posting this! I loved this: "Being addicted to pornography does not make you evil. And demonization feeds the cycle. There is no compassion (therefore no redemption) in words like pervert or deviant or creep…We don’t need help hating our addiction. Or ourselves.
-We’re not morally or spiritually broken. We may believe we are, but it’s just not true. I am (still…ever) a powerful, worthwhile soul, and I’m working on overcoming an addiction."...... Well said! I realize not every marriage can survive, and I cannot judge at all those couples who need to divorce- it happens and sometimes personal intuition (i.e. revelation) leads us to this choice. However, This post helps to educate that learning to love self and others in healthy ways is the only way to manage an addiction (I don't believe on "cures"...I believe in "maintaining health"). My husband and I have become infinitely better and stronger through our trial. Once there is an awareness, and a *willingness* on the part of *both* individuals in the marriage, miracles will happen in that marriage. An addict (and his/her family) can get better...infinitely better, stronger, and healthier. Thanks again for this post! Prayers and hope for you in your continued healing and recovery!

Amanda Lopez said...

As someone who is not LDS, I have a question for those of you who are. Does the LDS religion (and those who practice it) differentiate occasionally watching pornography, and having an actual addiction to it? I'm just asking b/c many people do not believe there is anything wrong with occasionally watching it, and it isn't a problem until it becomes an addiction. Similar to the thought that having an occasional glass of wine is fine, but drinking to the point of being addicted is not.

Beth Allen said...

Beautiful and brave. This is not unlike food addictions, I've found. All addictions are just symptoms. Thank you for this series, courtney. This needs to be talked about more, myself included. It is my belief that Sunday school or relief society/ priesthood should teach a lesson from the Addiction Recovery Program manual each month. It is fantastic, and I think, crucial to everyone. Thank you, anonymous, for being so candid and honest.

Beck Family said...

Amanda Lopez - How does a person become an addict? It all starts with that first try, that first look, that first thought. It all starts with what images go into your mind and those lead to your thoughts and your thoughts lead to your actions. Those who think its o.k. to occasionally watch porn or to occasionally drink alcohol are simply justifying their action and are in reality, playing with fire. You can't play with dirt and not expect to get a little on you. The sad thing about porn is it is so easy to hide so people are addicted and don't really know it or claim it. . . until its started to disrupt their life. They justify "just a little" and soon their little is a lot and they have a problem.

Hope Sparrow said...

I really appreciate an addicts perspective. Thank you ANON for your courage in sharing your story. Beautiful thoughts and insights. Also thank you to all of those who posted positive comments. This is not an easy subject to discuss. I appreciate your love and compassion for those of us who are battling this.

If you want to learn more about pornography addiction and read more stories from addicts and wives of addicts go to...

If you are the wife of an addict come find hope and healing with other wives at...

Amanda Lopez said...

Beck Family,

Thank you for your response. I'm sorry if my question was not clear. I don't want to debate whether certain things are "right" or "wrong" that's up for everyone to decide themselves. For example, I see nothing wrong with having a one glass of red wine once or twice a week. (I have been doing this for ten years and have yet to become "addicted"). Because my religion does not preach against such things I do not feel as though I am "getting dirt on me" anymore then someone who eats chocolate or fried food once in awhile would be warned that if they eat too much it would become an addiction.

Amanda Lopez said...

My actual question was really just whether or not the LDS church differentiates between someone who occasionally watches this material and someone who is truly addicted. I was just wondering if there are differences, or not. That's all.

La Familia Pearson said...

Amanda Lopez:
In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, pornography is NEVER considered a good thing. Here is something from an LDS pamphlet called "Let Virtue Garnish Thy Thoughts":
"Marriage between husband and wife is central to our Heavenly Father’s plan of happiness. Physical intimacy is a sacred part of the marriage relationship. It allows children to be born into families, and it brings couples closer together throughout their lives.
The adversary tries to thwart the Lord’s plan of happiness by suggesting that physical intimacy is only for personal gratification.
Pornography encourages this destructive and selfish preoccupation. Pornography depicts or describes the human body or sexual conduct in a way that arouses sexual feelings. It may be found in written material (including romance novels), photographs, movies, electronic images, video games, Internet chat rooms, erotic telephone conversations, music, or any other medium. It is a tool of the adversary."

Hope that helps! I know that it can be overcome with the help of Jesus Christ. There is always hope for everyone. :)

Vanessa Brown said...

"Being addicted to pornography does not make you evil." It lets evil into your life and into your family's lives. Do you not think it allows evil to grow inside of you?

You are what you do, watch, eat, say, etc. You are what you fill your mind/body/soul with.

Have someone share their story/perspective on how pornography has and sometimes does lead to rape, abuse, child molestation, etc. I know that is a touchy subject. Some studies show that it does, some do not. I believe that is does.

This is written by my sister's Grandfather (in law) I am sure if you have been studying this subject you have heard of him. Read the section on "Effects on Adults"
Sadly he (the author, Victor Cline) passed away two weeks ago.

Sara L said...

@Amanda Lopez,
As an active member of the LDS church (but certainly not speaking for the church as a whole) I do see a big distinction between occasional viewing of pornography and addiction. Pretty sure everyone has viewed pornography at least once-even inadvertently. This does not make them an addict. Addiction is a compulsion. It makes people act in ways they would ordinarily not. They lose relationships and jobs over addiction. I stand by the church's official doctrine to refrain from looking at pornography. I think it objectifies and dehumanizes us. I think it confuses people about what a real, loving (and sexual) relationship looks like. Morally, I am opposed to viewing it. But, I think these posts are about addicts. Not people who view pornography or choose to frequent strip clubs once in a while. The problem is not the act, but the compulsive behavior.

Jaime Ashby said...

-Being addicted to pornography does not make you evil. And demonization feeds the cycle. There is no compassion (therefore no redemption) in words like pervert or deviant or creep…We don’t need help hating our addiction. Or ourselves.
-We’re not morally or spiritually broken. We may believe we are, but it’s just not true. I am (still…ever) a powerful, worthwhile soul, and I’m working on overcoming an addiction.
-Abstinence is not healing.
-Loving someone with the addiction ≠ excusing their actions. Without compassion, we will fail. It’s too much.

I thought these were good points.

Jaime Ashby said...

While they are good points...

How about we get to hear from a perspective of true, raw, anger, hurt from from a woman that didn't stay and doesn't feel the need to be so kind and forgiving to someone who rocks the foundation their very existence lived on at one time?

Let's get that perspective in here ASAP.

Those horror strories are pretty gory.

Creole Wisdom said...

Again, so much respect for those who are brave enough to share their stories with you, CJane. Thank you anonymous for having the courage to share you experience and story.


"Those who think its o.k. to occasionally watch porn or to occasionally drink alcohol are simply justifying their action and are in reality, playing with fire. You can't play with dirt and not expect to get a little on you."

Ahhh! It is exactly object lessons like the one above that are so frustrating. I'm not going to dissect how comparing dirt to alcohol is even valid.

Here is how I believe addiction works: some of us are more prone to addiction than others (through life experiences, genetics, unknown factors.) People can be responsible with alcohol and some cannot handle it. At the end of the day everything, even everyday things can become addictions: food, sex, time online.

I guess I think in some part is has more to do with a search for grace than God. I said this in my comment yesterday but it bears repeating, there needs to be more grace. Once the shame and possible loss of family, friends, church status/callings is no longer a threat I think more people can and will come clean and work towards more holistic and healthy ways of healing. It is exhausting to try and appear perfect constantly.

Lauren Mc said...

Jaime, you could, and maybe should write that one?

We all know it is hard, and the betrayal is real and deep and painful ... but these people are trying to heal, they are trying to overcome the anger and cope with the hurt.

I saw your comments on the last post, and you did what was right for you, and that is exactly what these people are trying to do to, what is right for them.

Clearly though, you have a perspective not yet revealed here and have every right to say so, but it's unfair using your perspective to downgrade the perspective and efforts of those who are sharing their stories.

Jaime Ashby said...

@ Lauren Mc...

Again, dang it, I must be coming across as angry at these people telling these stories and I'm not.

I'm sorry.

This topic, in general, makes me angry. I know it's not black and white. I know that so help me I know it.

I know what I did is not what others want, can, or need to do.

I guess what triggers my reaction is that somehow (just MY opinion) it seems that the weight of the problem is put on the people surrounding the person with the "problem". They are expected to be forgiving and kind and understanding and "stand by your man" that sort of thing.

But what the hell? Where was my man when he was supposed to be supporting me and our marriage/relationship? Oh that's right, he was off somewhere viewing porn to get his rocks off.

See? That's where my anger comes from.

Let me go ahead and say I'm sorry because I'm not attacking any one particular person. I don't know these people and I'm not saying they are right or wrong. It's just my perspective.

C said...

@Amanda Lopez I understand your question. It seems the LDS people I know assume any viewing of porn makes someone addicted to it. That's why I find this series so frustrating. Addiction is one thing but we need to be careful about what we declare is an addiction.

Even in this post I'm so frustrated by this sentence: "Everyone around you is an addict. Try thinking that way for a week. Husbands, fathers, sons, bosses, coworkers. Not empirically true, but it’s closer than you think."

It assumes that men are the only ones to watch and find pleasure in porn. It assumes that everyone who watches porn is addicted. This just isn't true.

What we should talk about is what porn does to shape our views of sexuality. The harm it can cause when young people use porn as sex education. The difference between how boys and girls are taught about sex and how that has a lasting impact on their lives and relationships.

Holly Decker said...

Cjane, thank you for doing this, it's changing my life

Bri!!! said...

Such a tough subject. Jaime, I totally get why you are angry. Thankfully I have not experienced a partner who was addicted to porn, but it is a fear of mine because I don't think I could hang in there. The anger would just be too much for me. As for the people saying that we are using the word "addicted" loosely, it is obvious to me that these people sharing their stories are in fact addicted. If one can NOT stop an action, it is an addiction. Yeah, there are people out there who I'm sure can view pornography without becoming addicted, but when addiction is present, it destroys families.

Danette said...

First time responder here, but I love this blog.

I do believe in our church some are trying to differentiate between addiction and exposure. I was told about a year ago by a leader in my ward that the questions in personal interviews have changed. That instead of asking "if you are addicted" the leadership now asks, or is being instructed to ask "when your last exposure to pornography" was. That to me spells change. Because it is out there. And it can't be all together avoided. However, I do believe that to seek it out, while not necessarily meaning addiction, does mean danger because of the possibility of addiction.

I want to say now, that pornography addiction has not been a part of my marriage, however I have seen the effects of it on people I love dearly. I have seen GOOD MEN in the spiral of self loathing and question god's existence because of it. I do not believe that an addiction makes A PERSON BAD, but it may lead to poor decisions, even evil decisions. To write off all addicts would be to deny the ability of the ATONEMENT in their lives which means I would have to deny it in my own, which I am unwilling to do.

That said I don't believe that staying in a relationship/marriage will always be the right thing to do. I believe that is between the spouse and God and my friends who have stayed I have supported, and my friends who have left I have supported. It's grief and heartache and hardship no matter how you slice it.

Frankly, I wish in all aspects of life there were more people willing to forgo judgement of others since we are all children of our Heavenly Father and only he knows how to judge us.

Suz said...

- Everyone around you is an addict. Try thinking that way for a week. Husbands, fathers, sons, bosses, coworkers. Not empirically true, but it’s closer than you think.

Wow. Qoutes like this REALLY bother me. Statements like this can also lead people to believe those who do not do it, do! Ever since reading these articles, I have asked my husband about 10 times if he has a problem. Which he does not. It is easy to fall into the "overbearing" wife when you are told statements like this. I don't know if I am making sense, but really? There REALLY are people who aren't addicts, especially husbands.

T said...

Great post! Thank you for sharing your resources and perspective! It is one that we don't often get to hear, and it is so valuable. I applaud your commitment to healing (both for your own sake, and for those that you love who are pulling for you). You are fighting a good fight and I am grateful for people like you who provide hope where hope is often abandoned. God bless you!

Brian said...

Thanks for sharing deep thoughts and feelings about pornography addiction. As an LDS bishop,I've tried to help many pornography viewers with several types of programs, including the fantastic LDS addiction recovery program.

The problem was relapse. I ended up doing my own research over the past several years and developed a step-by-step method that has helped viewers more than any other program.

I finally wrote down the steps in book form and made it available for others. If you're interested, you can find out more by doing a simple google search on "Power Over Pornography" to find the book.

It's only available as an e-Book so far but I really hope it helps those struggling with the problem.

Melody said...

Thank you, Annon., for your courage and compassion in sharing your thoughts and feelings here.

This is powerful. Thanks for the TED talk too. We live in an age of miracles. And terrible opportunities.

God bless you in your recovery.

woo said...

Suz, I can understand why that statement may bother you. But what I think is meant is that everyone around you (I'd especially prefer it not to be male exclusive) is a potential addict. Your husband is indeed not a porn addict right now, and many men are not. However, even those who are not now addicted to anything have the potential to become addicted. Porn, food, prescription drugs, alcohol, TV, games, etc. I don't know that we are to use that potential to become paranoid of everyone around us, but instead for caution and moderation and not overreaction when we find that someone we know and love IS currently addicted. And perhaps as a caution to ourselves to be aware of our own weakness and potential and perhaps not naive about those around us. I'd say asking your husband 10 times is unhealthy mistrust (in the absence of evidence) but asking him once a month probably isn't.

Jane said...

@Jaime Ashby

As the wife of a porn addict I've come to realize that I am justified in feeling a lot of things. I am justified in being angry, bitter, unforgiving. I am sure there isn't a woman out there who skippped over those feelings. But I decided I didn't want them anymore. Whether or not he ever changed, I gave forgiveness as a gift to myself. Not to him, he can earn trust if he likes. But to me. I didn't want to be bitter or angry anymore. I chose not to live that way, not because anyone "expected" me to, but simply because I intend to live my life in peace despite my circumstances.

Here is a link to a blog post written by a sarcastic and humorous wife of a sex addict. You can read her story and I promise many of her posts are full of raw and angry emotions. But this post is about is about giving those up.

meh said...

Women are addicted, too! We need to stop with the tall-tales that men are the only ones addicted, and women are only married to the addicted!!!

Kendra said...

Pornographic images never leave the mind. Ever. And they can/will be recalled to memory at any time or place. In my opinion an occasional peek cannot be justified. Sin is sin. Willingly viewing porn is a sin even if it is "once in a while." I appreciate the LDS church for educating its members by way of warning and by having a plan to help those with this type (and other types) of addiction.

SEECOY said...

As I see it, Mormon society's stigmatization of pornography isolates the addicts more consistently than it heals them. The off-limited and typically non-specific manner in which it is "politely" discussed increases the titillation and amplifies inherent curiosities that in themselves (my opinion) are natural and right(eous). We are sexual beings. Sex is a great thing. Nakedness is beautiful. Our puritanical roots have unfortunately wrapped our bodies up in tremendous guilt that manifests itself in many ways. What this functionally does is make men in the church more prone to initial, private explorations of sexuality at the readily supplied source of online porn INSTEAD of broaching the subject publicly with men in the community. A case in point: my 3-year old nephew asked his grandfather a question at the dinner table a few months ago about if grandfater "had an old peepee" and nothing but mortified, awkward silence followed. It's a single example that can't stand in for the whole, but does point to pervasive aspects of a culture that is deeply uncomfortable about expressing its own sexuality and sexual difference. I'm not defending pornography per say, but the impulse to view it. This impulse is not wrong, but the immediate censure that follows any acknowledgement of a sexual appetite creates a strange vortex of "perversion" around something that is already so fraught with feeling. We need to soften the rhetoric and recognize that viewership is not addiction and that shining a light on the dark places makes them a lot less scary. Yes, it can lead to addiction; yes, private addiction produces behaviors that destroy intimacy through the erosion of trust and lack of communication. And yes, homes and families are richer without its corrosive presence. The only cure in my opinion is open and persistent dialogue that properly recognizes that our cultural taboos turn people in on themselves with loathing and private disgust and produce even more problems… which is a common feeling I had over the years as I often felt there was nowhere to go with my feelings of shame and remorse. Just saying it is evil is not enough—-in fact it often does more harm than good.

christina77 said...

So if I'm reading these comments correctly, "Fifty Shades of Grey" is a no-no in the LDS community? ;)

April said...

Until these women (most of them Lds) consider that it's more "normal" for men to love the visualization of sex less "normal" for women to be so repressed sexually, then their mormon porn "problem" will never get solved. It's too bad some people won't even CONSIDER that they may be more of a product of leftover Victorian mindsets of their forefathers than the only people left on the planet with "truth". Sorry this is harsh, but from the outside looking in, it's so plain to see what's cause of a lot of this hurt.

Sage said...

Watch the TED talk. This discussion is about addiction. It's not a Mormon problem. It is a brain problem. You make assumptions that aren't true about what Mormons believe about sex. We know men are visually stimulated. We do prefer that that stimulation comes from our own bodies rather than strangers. I think that's a lot more normal.

ang :o) said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
April said...

I get the addiction problem. There will be those who get addicted in any population. But the mormon problem I was referring to was about the stat that came out about the high Utah porn viewing - insinuating the mormons may be an outlier when it comes to this problem. and the fact that in General Conference (for the general mormon) they feel the need to discuss this problem ad naseum. And from a personal standpoint, almost every mormon I know (a lot) has had issues with this (their husbands), while all my regular non-mormon close friends' husbands do not. When most people talk about someone being an alcoholic, some may be predisposed and just need to avoid it... I think we've established that. But there also are a great many who have other issues, probably stemming from childhood, that have contributed to the addiction. Why not then consider that maybe Mormons are an outlier when it comes to porn, and maybe the possibility it stems from the religious environment?

Olivia Ravan said...

I love this post as well as the other posts on this issue! Our bishop recommended this to us, and I just have to express how wonderful it was to dive into your blog. Thank you for creating this place for us to learn from.

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