Recently in Church our lesson focused on pornography; and as is typical, the teacher awkwardly spake about the subject in general and passive terms. A few times now when this topic has come up, I’ve made a comment to my own concerns that we often times are not clear and straight forward enough about this topic; however, with the limited time, and the usually already awkward setting, it’s often difficult to explain the observations I have made and things I’ve learned about this subject. Perhaps this blog post will be more helpful then my comments often are.
In our world today we have so many people who seem oblivious to the dangers of something that just a few decades ago was obvious to most. The degradation of women (and even men) to the level of an object to be desired and used at will is increasingly pervasive throughout societies across the world; further perpetuated by ideas of “If it feels good, do it” while seemingly ignoring or having no regard for the consequences for one’s actions. Even the “safe sex” techniques promoted today ignore the spiritually damaging consequences of pre/extra-marital sexual activities.
The start of the problem for most men is often caused by common place and publicly visible displays of female sexuality; whether fully dressed, or only covering up what they are legally required to. On billboards, on magazines covers prominently displayed on store shelves for all to see, and even at the beach or swimming pool as women show off as much of there bodies as they can; often revealing more skin than common underwear would. Why is this so acceptable today, when just a few decades ago it would have been considered indecent exposure? Why is it such a big problem for men? Has the world disregard the words of Jesus himself, that “whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart” (Matthew 5:28)?
The reality is that we are all sexual beings; it’s a part of who we are, and for good reasons. Pretending this isn’t the case, or denying this side of ourselves can also contribute to the problem. Sex, and even more so, the idea of sex, can arouse feelings in us any time we allow it to; men and women alike. When properly used, these feelings help us develop bonds with our spouses, and encourages compliance with another great commandment of Gods: to “multiply and replenish the earth” (Genesis 1:28, 9:1).
The problem with sexuality being so pervasive, comes from the fact that men tend to be more visual then females when it comes to sexual stimulation. Thus women are less susceptible and cognizant of the constant bombardment of sexual stimulus that men see (and often pretend to ignore) every day. This often makes it more difficult for women to understand the real issues that lead to pornography addiction, or even how to help cure an addiction to the same. This one reason is why I found it refreshing to hear a woman in general conference speaking about the issue for once; as it is the women who are truly best equipped to help those struggling with this issue.
So what’s behind this problem?
It takes about twelve years for a persons mind to fully develop, but around that same time puberty usually sets in and short-circuits everything. Girls suddenly stop being awkward looking, cudie-filled enemies, and boys start experiencing new a new kind of growth and development in their bodies. A little bit of stimulus here, and a bit more there, starts to add up, and essentially programs the brain to start seeking the rush of endorphins, and other naturally created stimulus hormones, on a regular basis. Unfortunately an increasing amount of these endorphins are required for the next experience to produce the same level of fantasy and feelings as the previous one did, and each time the mind tricks us men into believing that the yearnings will stop if we take it just a little further then before.
Since our brains are designed to primarily to keep us alive, it tend to revolt when something has come to expect is suddenly stopped. Thus, simply fighting the urge using pure will power only results in eventually giving in followed by diminished self esteem and confidence. This is because the brain will do everything it can to trick us into getting things back to what it’s use to. As young boys become exposed to increasing amounts of sexual stimulation, and constant threats from his society as to what might happen if he slips up, the conflicting messages of the world and his religion are undoubtedly going to trap him into a no-win situation. He can’t screw up, but admitting that he’s struggling with his bodies strongest natural desire, and seeking help, would only expose him as a disgusting vial little man. Thus without knowing were to go for help to understand what his body is experiencing, he gets stressed out and eventually “slips up”; resulting in a huge reward from his bodies natural hormonal response, and the hidden addiction sets in.
There is a common pattern with men who struggle with this increasingly common addiction. They struggle with masturbation and avoiding porn as young men. Doing everything they can to just get by until they reach that one goal that is so predominately preached to them: Marriage. Once they are married, they think, they will finally have an approved outlet for these desires, and everything will be ok; however, what usually happens is quite different. The exposure to pornography, and the unrealistic fantasies it and the world creates for sexuality, simply cannot be satisfied in an appropriate marriage relationship; so when the real life intimate relationship within the appropriate bounds of marriage doesn’t fulfill these unrealistic expectations, the addiction eventually starts to resurface. The brain is looking for what it was trained to view as normal, and starts to create cravings when it doesn’t get what it thinks it needs to keep things “normal”. Eventually the addiction is once again in full force, and still hidden for the very people who can help, due to the feared social response that is continually taught.
What’s the real solution?
In an effort to provide the much needed help, here are the three main areas that should assist with overcoming most addictions, whether it be alcohol, drugs, or even pornography (but keep in mind that I’m not a professional in this area, and anyone struggling with addictions of any kind, needs to seek real help):
- Physical – You don’t have to be a body builder, or be the healthiest person on the planet, but you do need to get some kind of physical exercise on a regular basis. Work in the yard, go for a walk, play Wii Sports, or what ever works for you. Just find something you can enjoy doing – that you are willing to do at least a few times a week – to help you body release some of it’s built up energy as well as some endorphins in a more productive way. Get the right amount of sleep to help not only your body regenerate, but also so your mind can properly process your daily stress; meditation can also help a great deal with this.
- Spiritual – Pornography is a killer of spirituality, and how better to combat that then with spirituality. Reading even a few passages of scriptures daily, praying multi-daily, reading good books, listening to or watching something positive and uplifting, etc. All of this is good and helpful, but all too often this is the only answer given by churches and religious leaders; leaving those who struggle with this addiction with an incomplete and unbalanced solution.
- Mental – Without a positive, realistic, and appropriate view of reality (especially when it comes to appropriate sexual expectations within a marriage), one will never be able to compete with the fantasies shown in movies or on the internet; after all that’s the goal of those types of media; to provide an escape from reality in favor of something more stimulating. This is were most Christians Churches that teach abstinence most often fall short. Even when they do teach more then just “Don’t do it”, the message of not doing it becomes dominant, and often what our kids are left with is a sterilized, technical knowledge of what they are not supposed to do; leaving them questioning and curious. This is where the world comes in, with it’s constant bombardment of sexually suggestive innuendos that start to seed the young persons mind with the drug like fantasies that will make Pornography so addictive. With nothing (or very little) to counter the worlds sensationalized fantasies, the ideas of what sex is all about becomes polluted with unrealistic expectations.
The best way to combat this is within the home through the loving examples of the children’s parents. Parents also need to be properly equipped with the knowledge, training, and tools to properly teach their children about appropriate loving relationships. Unfortunately, the challenges of life sometimes get in the way of the child having this kind of environment to grow up in, and can become severely disadvantaged in their future relationships if extra effort and attention isn’t given to children in such situations. This often requires extended family, and even Church leaders to step in and help out when appropriate and welcomed.
Unlike substance abusers who can learn to avoid putting the drugs into their bodies, or who can learn to stay away from the bar, the things that make pornography so addictive, are unavoidably a part of who we are. Our desire to procreate is an important part of how we are designed, and is meant to be there for our benefit. Thus unlike other addictions, that are often dealt with by behavioral avoidance, sexual addiction requires a real change in one’s core desires and subconscious programming. When our natural sexuality is abused through thing such as pornography and masturbation, it can create addictions that are impossible to overcome without a great deal of help. It’s naive for us to think that if drug addicts and alcoholics need help to recover, that sexual addictions are any different.
If you struggle with this, you need a support system that includes those closest to you. You need someone you can openly talk with about your struggles, such as a spouse, or a psychologist. Bishops or other religious leaders are important to talk to as well – the confession will help with your spiritual recovery – but all too often our religious leaders are not equipped with the knowledge or training needed to fully help someone with an addiction; it’s unfair to these leaders, and the addicted, to expect a complete solution to come from them alone. Hopefully they can be a good starting point towards getting the needed help, and support groups for porn addiction are even becoming more prevalent within Church organizations; despite the overwhelming potential it has for causing social embarrassment (so much so that even making this blog post could likely cause some to feel embarrassed for me).