“Why Can’t I Stop Watching Porn?!”

HABITUAL SINS SEEM impossible to stop. I’ve been there many times. As is often the case, I stepped far outside morality while in active addiction—stealing money and medications from family and friends; using someone’s bathroom only to raid their medicine cabinet. Victory came only after I turned to Jesus with an honest and willing spirit. Porn addiction was just as difficult to overcome. I cried out, “God, I know you want me to stop watching pornography, but I can’t do it by myself. I try and fail over and over. Please help me!” The last time I fell to temptation, I was mortified over my abusing God’s grace, and taking the death of Christ for granted.

The struggle led me to write several blog articles on porn addiction (see The Gluttony of our Appetites Part One: Origin, Sixty-Eight Percent!, and I Cannot “Not” Do!). I was compelled to write this article to share why it can be extremely difficult to break the chains of porn addiction. Habitually viewing pornography has a major impact on the brain and its neurochemistry. Francesca Filbey writes, “Guided by multidisciplinary research in neuroscience, epidemiology, brain imaging and genetics, addiction is now understood to be a brain disease due to the changes it exerts on the brain.”(1) When trying to quit porn, the brain will again go through significant changes that alter its chemistry, writing new pathways. This process that can be rather daunting.

I count him braver who overcomes his desires than him who conquers his enemies; for the hardest victory is over self. —Aristotle

Rick Warren* said, “Bad habits and addictions wreck ministries. You see it all the time. The truth is, everyone has bad habits, and pastors are no different. But you can’t have the ministry God has called you to if you let anything but Jesus control you.”(2) Warren added, “No matter how hopeless you feel your situation is, and no matter how long you’ve kept a bad habit, God can do a miracle in your life.” I remember years ago when an addictions counselor who shares my faith in Christ looked at a book I was carrying, The Explicit Gospel by Matt Chandler, and said, “You can’t do this [pointing to the book] and that out there too [meaning continuing in addiction]. You can’t have both.” Warren says we need to start where we’re at, refuse to blame others, and examine our life. More importantly, we need to become willing to change; to face the discomfort of giving up watching pornography despite the need it fulfills and the escape it provides.

Your Brain on Porn

Behavior associated with addiction revolves around a heightened response to rewarding stimuli and the uncontrollable behavior addicts present in order to get more of their drug of choice. Gary Wilson believes brain neuroplasticity** is indicated in addiction. He says, “Addiction, it turns out, is a form of pathological learning, just as porn-induced sexual conditioning is, and brains can change.” Many internet porn users suffer from porn-induced sexual dysfunctions, morphing sexual tastes, and symptoms of addiction. This includes an inability to quit despite negative consequences, withdrawal symptoms, and distressing escalation to more extreme material (tolerance).”(3) He added, “Maybe you’ve escalated to fetish material that you find disturbing or out of alignment with your values or even your sexual orientation.”(4) Mainstream culture does not believe pornography can cause severe symptoms. Unfortunately, this has a damaging effect on Christian lifestyle and ministry.

Porn addiction refers to a person becoming emotionally dependent on pornography to the point that it interferes with their daily life, relationships, and ability to function. —William Blake

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition (DSM-5) classifies Substance Use Disorders (“SUDs”) by degree of impaired control, social impairment, risky use, and pharmacological criteria.(5) The DSM-5 says, “An important characteristic of SUDs is an underlying change in brain circuits that may persist beyond detoxification, particularly in individuals with severe disorders (i.e., type of substance, amount and length of use).”(6) Regarding pornography addiction, the DSM-5 currently has no defined disorder. However, the above criteria regarding substance abuse is appropriate when problematic porn use is associated with an escalating course, impairment in roles or well-being, and progressive worsening of negative consequences.(7)

Psychological

Jennifer Minarcik writes, “…problematic pornography use can be conceptualized from various theoretical lenses. Similarly, the maintenance factors surrounding the use of pornography also vary based on the function and context of use. The behavioral reinforcement model proposes that both positive and negative reinforcement are likely to maintain problematic pornography use, which is often accompanied by masturbation and sexual gratification.”(8) Pornography provides both psychological and physiological reinforcement (e.g., sexual arousal and/or sexual gratification) at a high level, thus encouraging problematic porn use, and, like drug abuse, physically rewires the neuropathways of the brain.

Reward Circuitry of the Brain

The first step to arresting runaway porn use is to give your brain a rest. Stop all artificial sexual stimulation for several consecutive months. I know, this can be quite difficult, but it is critical to regaining control over your hijacked reward system. Primitive circuitry in the brain governs emotions, drives, impulses, and subconscious choices. We get the impulse to have sex from dopamine, which amps up our reward center. This is where pleasure, cravings, and the potential for addiction are formed. The proper function of dopamine is to motivate what serves your genes. Excessively viewing porn will overwhelm the dopamine cycle, causing brain chemistry go crazy. Gary Wilson says, “Dopamine surges are the barometer by which you determine the potential value of any experience.”(9) Dopamine also tells us what to remember by rewiring the brain through stronger nerve connections. Sexual stimulation and orgasm cause the biggest natural blast of dopamine we can experience. Feelings of pleasure involve the release of “natural” morphine-like opioids that bind to mμ-opioid receptors in the brain.

Theological

We know there is a clear psychological component to porn addiction. Viewing pornography can be a rather potent elixir or escape from depression, anxiety, loneliness, boredom. For me, it was also a distraction from chronic pain. Because these rewards can be quite efficacious, there is a high risk for obsession and compulsion. Brain neuroplasticity notwithstanding, viewing pornography causes our flesh to have dominion over our spirit. J.S. Shelton writes, “Make no mistake about it, Satan has identified sexual sin as his number one weapon, and he is constantly using it to incapacitate us.”(10) Many Christian churches today steer away from discussing sin, substituting sermons on grace over obedience. Sexual sins are getting swept under the rug. Hiding habitual sin misuses God’s grace. Satan is using sexual sin to stifle God’s plans for us as followers of Christ.

Paul wrote, “…do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body.” (1 Cor. 6:9-10, 13b). Sexual sin is particularly damaging—like a 100,000 acre forest fire that began with one casual toss of a match. Proverbs 6:27 says, “Can a man carry fire next to his chest and his clothes not be burned?” Left unchecked, sexual immorality will scorch every acre of the human heart.

“For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God. For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness” (1 Thes. 4:3-5, 7).

Joshua Mwangangi writes, “Sexual sin is a broad term. It encompasses actions as well as thoughts. Nearly all sin is sexual sin. Sexual sin is any action that is performed with the intent of causing sexual arousal, whether it be between a husband and a wife or a stranger. It is also any action that leads to sexual arousal and is not within the confines of a marriage relationship.”(11) Addiction to pornography can devastate the relationship between a husband and wife. It leads to men objectifying women. Watching porn often leads to intense feelings of guilt, especially when it has become a secret obsession. When a wife or husband discovers their partner’s secret porn habit, he or she might feel inadequate. Not surprisingly, porn addiction often puts marriages at risk of infidelity.

Sexual immorality is a heart issue. The more one watches pornographic images, the more it becomes a lifestyle. Porn changes how we see others. When the reward of viewing pornographic images is what one justifies as a “much needed escape,” he or she is able to excuse their sin, and leads to abusing the grace of God. Let’s call this sin what it is—adultery. Adultery is not restricted to cheating with another married person. In addition to lust of the flesh, “lust of the eyes” is also considered adultery. During His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “‘You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matt. 5:27-28). The apostle John wrote, “For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world” (1 John 2:16).

Concluding Remarks

Satan knows we were created as sexual beings (see Gen. 2:24). He knows sexual immorality incapacitates us. Satan also knows shame causes us to hide from God. J.S. Shelton says a Christian man in sexual sin is muzzled, rendering him passive and powerless to participate in the kingdom of God on earth. He writes, “It prevents him from becoming the man, husband, father, and witness he is called to be.”(12) Worse, it stops him from fulfilling his God-given purpose. Women who struggle with sexual sin have often been abused, neglected, or manipulated by men. In either case, potential is drowned in lust and obsession. No matter how hard it can be to quit, breaking free from pornography is extremely important. Mainstream culture does not believe pornography can cause severe symptoms. Unfortunately, this has a damaging effect on Christian lifestyle and ministry.

Pornography provides a potent reinforcement that encourages habitual use. Increased cycles of dopamine rewire neuropathways and hijack the brain’s reward system—primitive circuitry in the brain that controls emotions, drives, impulses, and subconscious choices. As this cycle deepens, addiction sets in, making it seemingly impossible to break the habit. Sexual immorality is also a heart issue. Ultimately, viewing porn causes our flesh to have dominion over our spirit, changing how we see others. The deeper one’s obsession grows, the less likely he or she walks by the Spirit. Walking in the flesh leads to the slippery slope of abusing God’s grace.

Frankly, if God’s grace is not transforming us, then we are misusing it. Isaiah puts grace into proper perspective. He writes, “Seek the LORD while he may be found; call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the LORD, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon” (Isa. 55:6-7).

Steven Barto, B.S. Psy., M.A. Theo.

References

(1) Francesca Mapua Filbey, The Neuroscience of Addition (New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2019), 1.
(2) Rick Warren, “9 Steps to Breaking a Bad Habit,” pastors.com, July 13, 2022, accessed July 14, 2022, https://pastors.com/9-steps-to-breaking-a-bad-habit
(3) Gary Wilson, Your Brain on Porn: Internet Pornography and the Emerging Science of Addiction (UK: Commonwealth Publishing, 2014), xi.
(4) Wilson, Ibid., 1.
(5) American Psychiatric Association, Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th ed. (Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Publishing, 2013), 483.
(6) Ibid.
(7) M.P. Kafka, “Hypersexual disorder: A proposed diagnosis for DSM-V,” Archive of Sexual
Behavior
, 39, 377-400. DOI: 10.1007/s105008-009-9574-7.
(8) Jennifer Minarcik, “Proposed Treatment of Problematic Pornography Use: A Cognitive-Behavioral Approach,” (PhD diss., University of Arkansas, Fayetteville (2016), 10, accessed July 18, 2022, http://scholarworks.uark.edu/etd/1453.
(9) Wilson, Ibid., 67.
(10) J.S. Shelton, Unmuzzled: Escaping Sexual Sin (Dallas-Fort Worth, TX: J.S. Shelton Publishing, 2019), 20.
(11) Joshua Mwangangi, “How Sexual Sin Affects Your Relationship and Soul,” The Joshua Mwangangi Blog, March 12, 2022, accessed July 20, 2022, https://joshuamwangangi.com/how-sexual-sin-affects-your-relationship/
(12) Shelton, Ibid., 23.

* Rick Warren is Lead Pastor at Saddleback Church in Lakeforest, CA. He wrote The Purpose Drive Life: What on Earth am I Here For? He has also come alongside Pastor John Baker in the formation of Celebrate Recovery.
**Neuroplasticity refers to the capacity of neurons and neural networks in the brain to change their connections and behavior in response to new information, sensory stimulation, development, damage, or dysfunction. First observed in stroke victims, it is now also a known risk factor of addiction.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture references contained herein are taken from the English Standard Version (ESV).

I Look Foward to a Dialog on This. Please Comment.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

nobledevotionblog.wordpress.com/

Getting to the Heart of an Issue

Set Apart

Hope On The Road Less Traveled

the poet's billow

a resource for moving poetry

fightorflights

Anxiety & Panic Disorders & Addiction RECOVERY

Poetry for the People

Exploring the Ordinary to Find the Extraordinary

From The Darkness Into The Light

love, christ, God, devotionals ,bible studies ,blog, blogging, salvation family,vacations places pictures marriage, , daily devotional, christian fellowship Holy Spirit Evangelists

Caeli's Words

There is always light in the darkness. Poetry and writings by Caeli McKamey to fuel the soul.

Reflections from the Pew

"And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us, and we saw his glory!" John 1:14

So Brightly Black

Depression, suicide, addiction, recovery, from a literary social worker

In Gods Service

Following In Faith

The Accidental Apologist

Christ in Post-Christian Culture

We Are Free Indeed

'So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.' John 8:36

Christ-centered ruminations

Here we discuss a variety of issues in light of scripture and experience

Alethea's Mind

...find truth!

Karina's Thought

Living by Faith

My Bible Reading, Listening and Living

revelations and reflections from my daily devotion

%d bloggers like this: