Christian psychologist John Steley offers some practical tools to help those who struggle with the problem of pornography. For a wider look at sex, the Bible and society, we'd recommend our Cambridge Paper 'Free Sex: Who pays?'
Pornography is defined as “printed or visual material containing the explicit description or display of sexual organs or activity, intended to stimulate sexual excitement”.[i] Pornography can be ‘softcore’ (suggestive) or ‘hardcore’ (explicit).
Pornography is a problem for many men and women, both married and single, including many in the church. People can turn to turn to pornography out of curiosity, for excitement or adventure, or in the hope of intimacy. This is particularly the case for people who are feeling isolated, bored, tired or unfulfilled.
In the short-term viewing pornography can lead to feelings of guilt and shame. It can also cause the user to have mental images that may be upsetting or that can distract him/ her from other activities. In the longer term it can cause the user to view people as objects rather than as whole and complete individuals. These ‘real life’ people can be seen as being inadequate or defective as they do not live up to the unrealistic ideal images produced by pornography. This may cause a difficulty in relationships, especially those of an intimate nature.
Viewing pornography can become an addiction. The one who views it is ‘rewarded’ in the form of sexual stimulation. Every time this happens the behaviour becomes more entrenched. It is impossible to say in advance how much sexual stimulation the user will receive on any particular occasion. He or she will therefore be exposed to rewards of unpredictable intensity which, according to behaviourist theory, will be particularly difficult to extinguish.
Some people have found that over time they want more extreme pornography in order to find it satisfying. Watching pornography may lead to other sexual temptation as the user may want to engage in the activity he or she has seen on the screen.
It is illegal to view pornography in some countries. It is also a disciplinary issue in some organisations.
Pornography can come in various forms, including pictures (for example in magazines), books, films, cartoons, sound recordings, video and video games.
Those who produce pornography are usually motivated by financial gain. It is important to remember that making payments for pornography can support exploitation and abuse of children and/ or vulnerable adults. The moral questions regarding the use of pornography therefore extend past its effects on the user to include its effects on others, in particular the poorest and most desperate.
Nowadays most pornography is accessed via the internet. Included below are some steps that people take to stop using Internet pornography. There are also some suggestions as to how maintain a ‘pornography free’ thought life after the accessing of online pornography has ceased. However, all pornography is a problem, and most of these steps also apply for overcoming the desire to view other forms of pornography.
Things you can do to stop using Internet pornography:
- Tell a trusted person about the problem. This may be your pastor, home group leader, or another mature Christian. Ask this person to enquire regularly about your Internet use.
- Use an Internet accountability programme. You will be asked to name a number of people who will receive regular emails telling them what sites you have accessed. Try typing ‘Accountability software’ into your search engine and see what is available.
Think carefully about the people you name for your accountability programme. Ideally, they should be people with whom you have regular contact and who you respect.
Make sure the people you use for your accountability programme check their inboxes thoroughly.
Have an accountability programme operating on every computer to which you have access.
- Ask your Internet provider what sites they can block you from accessing.
- If possible, place your computer somewhere that others can see the screen. (Unless you are working with material that is confidential.)
- Take extra care if you are hungry or tired. Self-control is more difficult when blood glucose level is low or when you are lacking energy.
- Do not ‘go to the edge’ e.g. Use your search engine to find pornographic sites but not access them. (Doing this still feeds the addiction.)
- If you are tempted to use pornography try nurturing yourself in a way that is acceptable. Maybe listen to music or call a supportive friend.
- If you feel the urge to use pornography is irresistible, try putting it off until some time later. Maybe go for a walk. (Leave your phone at home if you are using it to access pornography.) You may find that after a while the urge to use pornography has gone or is at a level you can resist.
Things to think about:
Ask yourself what need pornography is filling in your life. Is there a need for greater intimacy? More excitement or adventure? Do you just have too much idle time?
You may find yourself thinking,
‘Just a little bit will not do any harm.’
‘I need to know what is out there so I can inform others.’
‘Everyone does something wrong. This is just my particular failing.’
‘This is not what I find most titillating.’
‘Looking at this might help my sex life’, or something similar.
These are rationalizations. You need to focus on something else. (See Philippians 4:8)
If you fail, do not punish yourself. Ask God’s forgiveness. Maybe tell a trusted friend and do something useful. (Maybe make a list of useful things to do and have them to hand.)
If you go for even a short time without viewing pornography, tell yourself ‘Well done!’
Remember. Most addictive problems do not go away easily. You will probably need to persevere for some time – until not using Internet pornography becomes a lifestyle. Give yourself regular encouragement and tell yourself the goal is worth it.
After you have stopped using internet pornography
Even after you have stopped accessing pornography via the internet you may be tempted to ‘replay’ in your mind the images that you have seen.
There are a number of things you can try if you are recalling pornographic images:
- Have in mind something that is legitimate but which you find interesting. (E.g. Football, cricket, your next summer holiday.) When you feel the urge to visualize pornography think about this instead.
- Maybe try using a ‘score card’. Every night before bed give yourself a score between zero and ten to indicate how well you have done that day in not visualizing pornography. (Score ten if you did not visualize pornography at any time that day. Score zero if you visualized it all day.)
If you give yourself a high score, tell yourself ‘Well done!’
If you give yourself a low score, do not punish yourself. Tell God you are sorry, resolve to do better tomorrow and go to bed.
Hopefully, over time the scores you are able to give your self will get higher.
Note: Do not use the score card if you find that the scoring procedure causes you to visualize pornography again.
- Keep in mind some appropriate scripture.
E.g. Philippians 4: 8
"Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things."
As with accessing pornography via the internet you will probably need to persevere for some time. Again, give yourself regular encouragement and tell yourself the goal is worth it.
John Steley is a Christian Psychologist based in London with more than 25 years experience. He offers Christian counselling and consultancy. https://johnsteley.co.uk/
For further information see:
Cusuck, M. J. (2012). Surfing for God. Nashville: Thomas Nelson
Struthers, W. (2010). Wired for intimacy: How pornography hijacks the male brain. Nottingham: IVP.
Chester, T. (1994). Captured by a Better Vision: Living Porn-Free. London: IVP.
[i] Oxford University Press (2013) Oxford dictionaries (at http://oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/pornography )