Focus on the Family

Pornography

by Gene McConnell , Keith Campbell

Not everyone who sees porn will become addicted to it. Some will just come away with toxic ideas about women, sex, marriage and children. That kind of damage is bad enough. And porn isn't the only ingredient in addiction. Usually, those who become addicted have some kind of emotional opening that allows the addiction to really take root.

Some of you reading this will become addicted, like I was. The porn companies don't mind at all if you become completely addicted to their product. It's great for business. An addicted customer keeps coming back for more. And so they fill their porn with images that will excite you, arouse you and get the hormones flowing. You don't have to shoot up any drug with a needle to get addicted to porn — your body will make its own drugs just by looking at the pictures. Dr. Victor Cline says that sex and pornography can be a more difficult addiction to break than cocaine.

Five Stages of Addiction

  1. Early exposure. Most guys who get addicted to porn start early. They see the stuff when they are very young, and it gets its foot in the door.
  2. Addiction. Later comes addiction. You keep coming back to porn. It becomes a regular part of your life. You're hooked. You can't quit.
  3. Escalation. After a while, escalation begins. You start to look for more and more graphic porn. You start using porn that would have disgusted you when you started. Now it excites you.
  4. Desensitization. Eventually, you start to become numb. Even the most graphic, degrading porn doesn't excite you anymore. You become desperate to feel the same thrill again but can't find it.
  5. Acting out sexually. At this point, many men make a dangerous jump and start acting out sexually. They move from the paper and plastic images of porn to the real world.

When I personally got to the "acting out phase," I started fantasizing about what it would be like to actually rape a woman. I finally tried it one night when I saw a woman who "fit" the scenario that porn had taught me to look for. I was lucky. Very lucky. I didn't go through with it. After being reported, arrested and spending some time in jail, I finally was able to begin the process of weeding out the lies in my life that porn had put there.

Other men aren't so lucky. I realize now that with just a little push, I could have gone over the edge. I could have raped that woman and then killed her to cover my tracks. That's how Ted Bundy got started. When the porn he was addicted to wasn't enough anymore, he tried the real thing — rape, and then murder. When he succeeded, he did it again. And again. Pornography addiction is very serious.

Are You Addicted?

Some of you reading this may have already developed an addiction to porn. If you see any of the patterns I've described above in your life, you need to put the brakes on right now. Is porn beginning to control your life? You can't put it down — you keep going back for more? Perhaps you find yourself needing to see increasingly graphic pornography. You're masturbating more and more often. You're starting to take risks or act out physically for sexual thrills. If you see yourself at any point on this progression, you are in serious trouble, and you need to realize it — and get help.


When Children View Pornography

No parent wants to think about his child viewing pornography, but it often happens.

by Rob Jackson

No healthy parent wants to think about his child viewing pornography, but it often happens. Some researchers have stated that the average age of exposure to pornography is down to eight. Before the days of the Internet, children were typically between the ages of eleven to thirteen when they began by viewing soft-core pornography found in magazines like Playboy.

Today's child lives in a culture where hard-core pornography abounds. Our children are being seduced daily, and we need to bear this fact in mind whenever we have the occasion to redirect them away from pornography.

It is also extremely important that parents not direct all their efforts toward their sons at the expense of their daughters. Pornography and other sexualized media can adversely affect girls as well as boys and often leads to significant damage in their ability to form healthy relationships as an adult.

The goal

We want to be intentional parents. It's our privilege and responsibility to educate them about sexuality. We want to begin early, and continue throughout their time with us in the home.

The ultimate goal for our children's sexuality is that they will be able to see the dynamic interplay between sexuality and spirituality. As Christians, we want to help them understand, for example, that sexual intercourse is an act of love shared between a husband and wife. This sacred act symbolizes the spiritual union that will occur between Christ and His bride, the Church, upon His return to earth. We hope our sons will see themselves as a type of Christ as they relate to their wives, and that our daughters will see themselves as a type of the church as they relate to their husbands. What we model today in our marriages will likely reproduce itself in our children's marriages.

By helping our children to see the big picture about the sanctity of sex, we are better prepared to confront the problem of pornography when and if it occurs in our children's lives.

Do you and your spouse share the same core values?

Ideally, parents will share the same core values that promote sexual purity. This unity will facilitate your child's recovery. On the other hand, if a child's parents are divided about pornography, that child's rehabilitation will be more difficult.

A child's repetitive involvement with pornography can be a symptom of an unhappy home. Once the child's issues begin to surface, his parents may benefit from marital therapy if they continue to be at odds on pornography in general or fail to agree on how to facilitate their child's recovery.

Before you start beating yourself up, however, any exposure to pornography can harm children—even otherwise healthy children. The point here is not to blame parents but to help them identify any problems that may be negatively affecting their children's understanding of sexuality or recovery

Did my child view pornography intentionally?

I'm convinced that children are victims of a covert form of sexual abuse1 whenever they are confronted with sexually provocative materials. With this in mind, our children need us to be healthy advocates for their well-being – even if we must confront their willful exposure to porn.

If a child has been found with pornography, it's important to not jump to conclusions. A harsh, impulsive interrogation will most likely just shut down your child. An unhealthy shame often leads to more acting-out with pornography.

You will want to learn how your child found pornography. For example, did someone introduce your child to pornography? Mental health professionals recognize the power differential that occurs as result of age, and if the person who introduced the pornography was older by three or four years, it constitutes a type of sex abuse.2 These incidents should be reported to local authorities.

Was this my child's first exposure?

It will also be important to learn if this was his first exposure to pornography. The frequency of exposure matters, as a child becomes increasingly desensitized over time. As desensitization occurs, a child typically begins to seek a greater frequency of pornography, and a harder or more severe quality. Greater frequency and a shift to hard-core pornography are indicators that the brain has begun to seek more stimulation, which can lead to addiction.

If you learn that your child has developed a habit of viewing pornography, it will be important to seek the services of a specialist who is trained to facilitate recovery.

Just exactly what did my child see?

What types of pornography did he see? Sadly, with the Internet a child can be exposed to a wide range of sexual perversions in seconds. If your child has an e-mail address, chances are he or she is being exposed to pornographic e-mail. One recent study found that 47 percent of school-aged children received porn spam on a daily basis. This study also found that as many as one in five children open the spam they receive.3 It will be important to learn about the types of pornography that your child viewed. For example, was the pornography heterosexual or homosexual? Was it limited to body parts or did it include sex acts? Was sexual violence a part of the pornography, and did it include bestiality?

Many parents will seek the help of a therapist at this point. Wisely, they want to safeguard their roles as parents, and avoid harming the relationship by making the teen feel interrogated or ashamed as they ask such difficult questions. The therapist can also delicately approach the job of ascertaining to what extent he or she has been exposed to more severe types of pornography, without inadvertently planting ideas the teen has never even imagined.

Regardless of what was viewed, it will be more important to rehabilitate your child than to merely correct or punish him.

How can you prevent future occurrences?

Frankly, there is no guarantee that even the best parent can prevent his child's exposure to pornography. As with parents of any age or culture, we seek to do the best we can with the resources we have. Should another incident occur, it will be another teachable moment where you restate the precepts and principles that guide us toward wholeness.

Fortunately, the probability of future occurrences can be diminished by taking a four-pronged approach.

Behavioral. Behavioral approaches attempt to prevent a scenario from developing in the first place. The house and grounds, for example, should be purged of all pornography. Media should be carefully screened for "triggers" that serve as gateways to acting-out. If the problem occurred with the Internet, a filter can be one of your strategies, although it can never replace parental supervision and involvement.4 Other common-sense approaches include moving the computer to the family room where others can easily view the screen, limiting the time on the computer so that no one is alone on the Internet, and developing a mission statement that directs the family's the use of the computer and the Internet.

Cognitive. Pornography is propaganda and generates destructive myths about sexuality. Once exposed, it will be critically important that a comprehensive sex education gets underway, if it has not already been initiated. The child will need to learn what and how to think about sexuality. More than mere behaviors, parents will want to communicate the core values of sexuality, the multifaceted risks of sex outside of marriage, and their ongoing compassion for what it must be like to grow up in this culture.

Emotive. Sex is inherently emotional. Premarital sex has even been linked with codependency, where at least one person becomes compelled or addicted to be in relationship with another. The youth culture would lead you to believe that sex is not necessarily emotional for them – don't you believe it. Sexual relations of any type bond the bodies, minds, and spirits of two individuals. At the conscious level, this attachment is largely emotional. Our children need to understand that emotional attachment is often involuntary, and especially when the relationship has been compromised sexually.

Spiritual. At its core, sexual integrity comes down to a spiritual commitment. The Christian message of how Christ loves His bride, the Church, is our inspiration. The prohibitions and consequences of sexual sin are secondary to the intimacy that one experiences in obedience to God. Our children need to see how our lives are different because of His love. With confidence, we can share with them that God's true love will empower them to avoid the trap of pornography.

Has your child's exposure to pornography triggered you?

A child's exposure to pornography often triggers a parent's unresolved issues. It may be that a mom will be reminded of sex abuse in her past, or a father will be reminded of his own struggles with pornography and other sexual sins. Because these kinds of memories can be painful, coping with a child's exposure to pornography can become even more difficult. For these reasons, family therapy may be particularly helpful.

A final thought

If we really believe that sin is a powerful barrier between our child and God, we will move past a mere "sin management" approach to mentor them into a loving relationship with us and, more importantly, with Him. Wherever pornography or sexual sin is found, whether in the lives of our children or in our own, we can surrender ourselves and those we love to the greater care and compassion of our Father. His purity remains and cleanses us.


1Sex abuse can occur without physical touch. The brain is the most important organ that responds to sexual stimulation.
2Sex abuse can be distinguished from child play whenever the power differential of three or four years of age exists between the two children. The older child will be more experienced and sophisticated, while the younger child will be more vulnerable and naive.
3"Symantec survey reveals more than 80 percent of children using e-mail receive inappropriate spam daily," Business Wire, June 9, 2003.
4Internet filters are effective, but not perfect. For children and adolescents, a combination of a filter and an accountability web application like Covenant Eyes is better. If one willfully and repeatedly attempts to get around a filtered Internet, the computer is like a "Skinner box" which actually reinforces the compulsion to find more pornography.

I Know What You Did Last Night

Ken's not the only one whose problem is now public – he's part of a trend identified at several Christian college campuses.

by Steve Watters

Ken 1struggled to adjust to the dorm scene his freshman year. Guys dropped by his room all the time, but not to see him. In fact they ignored him as they hung out with his roommate who seemed to be adjusting just fine. Ken hoped to simply get by — going through the motions of college and often bypassing the social scene around him. At this tough time, pictures of naked women seemed to be faithful friends. When he felt lonely or frustrated, he knew exciting images were only a few clicks away on the Internet. The rush they provided dulled the drudgery of sitting in class and the awkwardness of social time between classes.

Ken knew it wasn't right. He struggled with pornography throughout high school and going to a Christian college didn't change things, but he thought it was just a private little habit he'd have to work on. Until his habit was exposed. Some guys on his hall — the same ones he hadn't been able to fit in with — caught him in the act. They spread the word and seemed to enjoy the embarrassment it caused him. It made him mad. He denied viewing the porn even though he had been caught. He lost his temper and started pushing people around. When the pushing led to a fight, Ken got kicked out of the dorm.

Out from the shadows

Ken's not the only one whose problem is now public — he's part of a trend identified at several Christian college campuses. Sixty-eight percent of the guys surveyed at five religiously affiliated schools recently said they had intentionally looked for porn online. 2In that survey by the National Coalition for the Protection of Children and Families, 10 percent said they viewed porn frequently and five percent thought they had a problem with it.

The wiring of Christian colleges for Internet over the past few years pushed the issue into public view. School administrators can no longer deny a porn problem when they review logs of campus Internet activity filled with porn sites or watch late night spikes in telecom demand as students plug their modems into dorm room phone jacks.

Additionally, campus pastors and counselors can't ignore the problem as more and more students come by telling how their old smut habits were accelerated via the convenience and affordability of Internet porn.

Talk about porn on the campus of a state school and students will say, "What's the big deal? It's not hurting anybody." Christian students usually know better. The same survey that looked at porn exposure on campus also asked about attitudes. While a majority of those interviewed had seen porn, they also agreed on three facts: Porn can be addictive, porn hurts relationships, and viewing porn is a sin that damages relationship with God.

So that means a lot of Christian students have a gap between their beliefs about pornography and their behavior. Like Paul, they do the things they don't want to do and are not able to do what they would like to do. Recognizing this gap, many Christian colleges now install filters on their Internet service, but they also go the next step and try to help students do the equivalent of installing a filter on their hearts. "This is a problem that can't be solved with technology alone," says David Tilley, Vice President of Student Life at Lee University in Tennessee.

Lee, along with Taylor, Wheaton, Biola and several other schools now look to special chapels, accountability groups, and innovative dorm programs to address sexual purity and to provide guys like Ken with a safe place to confess their struggles. Their effort is paying off. During a recent revival at Biola University, several students confessed their Internet porn problem and were finally able to work towards freedom from a lifelong struggle.

A Longing for Intimacy

Like those at Biola, many students have discovered that confession can break the cycle of shame driving their porn habit. "What drew me in deeper to pornography was the secrecy, shame, and guilt that is usually associated with it," says Brad* who struggled throughout college. "I felt like I couldn’t tell anyone about my problem, and this began to snowball. The deeper I became involved in pornography, the harder it was to climb out."

Here's how the cycle works. Whether they recognize it or not, guys like Ken and Brad need relational intimacy — they need for people to know them and like them. Early on, however, they realize that relationships can be awkward and complicated. Meanwhile, their needs are still strong and they see that pornography can at least give them some sense of satisfaction without all the complications of human relationships. Now they have a secret — a dirty little habit they don't want anyone to know about. They still need intimacy, but they think, "if anyone knew what I did last night, they wouldn't love me." And so they build walls that make it even harder to be known and loved.

Guys aren't known for sitting around and talking about an underlying need for intimacy. More often they can be found in testosterone-fueled conversations about the more physical aspects of sexuality. But intimacy — that experience of being known and loved — is a powerful need that nevertheless drives sexual desire. That's why the act of intercourse was once described as "being known" (as in "David took her into his tent and knew her.")

But who is "knowing" anybody when a guy stares at an airbrushed image on a computer screen? The tragedy is that pornography pretends to meet a need for intimacy while systematically making intimacy impossible. In his book, The Centerfold Syndrome, Dr. Gary Brooks explains that pornography erodes a man’s ability to relate to a woman in an intimate and honest way because it "pays scant attention to [his] needs for sensuality and intimacy while exalting [his] sexual needs."

An image of a woman without her clothes creates sexual excitement, but disconnected from marital closeness, it fails to deliver the closeness and oneness that complement visual stimulation. C. S. Lewis paints a great word picture for this in Mere Christianity. "You must not isolate [sexual] pleasure and try to get it by itself," he says, "any more than you ought to try to get the pleasures of taste without swallowing and digesting, by chewing things and spitting them out again."

Worried that his porn habit had damaged his sexual appetite, a student named Tyler* vowed he wouldn't take a porn problem into his marriage. It wasn't easy, though. His commitment required him to fight back years of experiencing sex as a selfish and controlling act through pornography and masturbation and to replace it with a selfless and intimate view of sex in the context of serving his wife. "Marriage won't cure a porn addiction, so don't wait until then to address it," Tyler says, "It isn't fair to your future wife and it shortchanges the relationship that God has for you."

The notion that intimacy heightens sexuality even made it to the hip and worldly pages of Men's Health magazine recently. In a surprisingly critical look at Internet porn surfing, the writer questioned the value of sexual pleasure that is disconnected from a committed and intimate relationship. One of his better quotes comes from Carl, an oceanographer, who says, "It is a constant battle to remind myself, when arousal material is so easily accessed, that to attain a higher level of real sexual fulfillment takes intimacy."

One concept Men's Health magazine probably won't tackle, however, is the idea that real intimacy begins with God. In a fallen world, anyone who desires to be known deeply and loved deeply will inevitably be disappointed by his or her relationships. Only God can know you and love you completely. Think about that. He's the only person who sees you around the clock and knows your every thought. He sees all the good things in you that you want the world to see, but He also sees all the bad stuff you want to hide. And remarkably, He loves you unconditionally.

In response, God asks that you love the people around you in the same way He loves you. Instead of being focused on having your needs for love and intimacy met by others, God calls you to receive His love and then focus on loving others. So what it comes down to is this. Pornography promises something like intimacy and then cheats you of real intimacy twice. First it pushes a wedge between you and God — the only one who can know and love you completely. And secondly it gets you so focused on your own desires that you are unable to know and love anyone else in an intimate relationship.

C.S. Lewis provides another illustration offering a clear distinction between the brief and counterfeit pleasures of pornography compared with the eternal and abundant promises of intimacy with God. "We are half-hearted creatures," he says, "fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mudpies in the slums because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea." His next line is the clincher: "We are far too easily pleased."


1Not his real name
2The National Coalition for the Protection of Children and Families conducted this survey among 857 college students and released the results November 13, 2000. The five colleges involved asked not to be identified. The survey can be found online at http://www.purehope.net/home.asp*.

Hope for the Sexually Addicted

Trapped in a deep dark jungle of addiction, shame and despair, is there any way out?

by Anonymous

Due to the nature of this testimony, Physician has agreed to keep in confidence the identities of those involved.

I am a family physician in Edmonton, Alberta. I am also a sex addict. I do not recall ever choosing to be the way I am, but my earliest pre-sexual memories are of watching "Tarzan" on television. I felt a deep, inexplicable thrill at the scantily clad women on this show, whose helplessness necessitated weekly rescue. I was drawn to these images of power and suffering — they filled me with a longing and excitement for which I had no name.

My fantasy world grew. In it, I was either all-powerful or utterly powerless, usually bearing with stoic bravery some horrific injury, cared for by a legion of concerned females. None of this is particularly shocking, but it forms the earliest tendrils of the addiction that would plague me all my life.

My self-esteem, which was never good to begin with, took a beating in the traditional give-and-take of childhood athletics and social popularity. Puberty heralded yet another battle I was ill-prepared to face — the ever-present popularity contest now turned to romance. My fantasy world became a safer refuge.

I discovered masturbation at the same time I discovered soft-core pornography. It had an almost drug-like effect on me. This powerful source of pleasure combined with my cauldron of insecurity, self-hatred and loneliness to create a firestorm of emotions I could neither understand nor control.

The jaws of addiction's trap were about to snap shut.

Exploring the tumultuous environment of big-city downtown in the late '60s was a heady time for a wide-eyed 13-year-old. Here, pornographic bookstores displayed a cornucopia of sexual behavior. I have read of the experience a heroin user has the first time he takes a "hit" — that's what I felt the first time I read a sadomasochistic book. I felt at peace. In reality, I had just taken an enormous leap toward losing my soul.

As I could scarcely afford these books — nor would they sell them to me — I stole them. The pleasure I attained from reading these paperbacks and masturbating soon ruled my life. They created a safe place, a pleasurable place, one to which I could flee whenever I wanted.

The final elements of sexual addiction were firmly in place. I had come to believe that I was a bad person, that no one could possibly like me if they really knew me, and that I could not rely on anyone else to meet my needs — the most important of which was sex.

To help cope with these beliefs, I entered a helping profession — a common pursuit for people like me. Medicine is particularly appealing with its blend of status, power and healing nature, and to my great satisfaction, I was quite good at it. Yet my addictive behaviors were never far away, and I returned time and again to violent pornography in times of stress or to relax.

My loneliness finally drove me to trust a woman — the one who became my wife. She was honest and had an infectious zest for life.

She was a Christian, I was not. We had vigorous arguments about religion and finally agreed not to talk about it, though I was keenly aware that in her faith she had something I did not. After our son was born, my wife attended church regularly with him. I stayed home and fed my addiction, without my wife's knowledge.

I had taken to creating my own violent, pornographic stories and would spend eight or more hours at a time huddled in front of my computer. With the advent of the Internet, I became adept at downloading the pornography I craved, often staying up all night doing this.

The hours I wasted were taking their toll, and my life became increasingly unmanageable. I loathed the filth I created, promising each time would be the last, and I lived in terror of being found out by my wife. I hated the lies that were necessary to cover up my detested secret life. I contemplated suicide, thinking that killing myself was preferable to living with the monster that was overpowering me.

When my wife insisted that I attend church on Easter 1992, I grudgingly agreed. And while sitting in church that Sunday, I heard a message of Jesus' love I hadn't heard before. At that moment, my 33-year-old soul battered and empty, I accepted Christ.

I believed that with my newfound faith and the prayers I was haltingly learning to utter, my 20-year-old behaviors were conquered. But they remained. I was, at turns, both angry with my new Friend for not removing them as I had earnestly asked and remorseful at breaking His rules I had pledged to obey. The fall backward convinced me that I was too unlovable and bad for even God to help. Suicide seemed the only way out.

At a men's retreat, a pastor courageously recounted his struggles with sexual addiction and pornography, as well as his 12-step recovery program. It was the first time I saw my problem as addiction.

I sought the pastor and told him about my twisted life. I sobbed with shame as I confessed all that I had done before God, recognizing I had nowhere else to turn. Once a week, my pastor friend-turned-sponsor helped me walk through my own 12-step program. Psalm 51 never seemed so alive to me as it did then.

I have been in solid recovery for more than two years. Granted, it's been the hardest thing I have ever done, but my marriage is deeper, my faith in God a joy, and I am a far better doctor than I was before. In fact, I find myself reaching out with compassion to addicts, people I previously did not understand. Their shattered lives, healed with Christ's love, are an ongoing source of wonder for me.

The diagnosis of sexual addiction is conspicuously missing from the DSM-IV and is not entirely accepted by current, secular psychiatry. But anyone can become sexually addicted. Intelligence, social standing, even medical knowledge are no protection against this soul-destroying disease that knows no boundaries.

There is, however, hope — a well-traveled pathway out of hell.

I know.

I've walked it.


Pornography

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