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    Freedom from Porn Addiction

    What can you do to help a friend who is addicted to pornography?

    By Matthew Loftus

    July 11, 2022
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    Pornography is everywhere. As many as half of children are exposed to porn as preteens, and the percentage of children who have seen porn prior to age eighteen is estimated to be between 84 and 93 percent for boys and between 57 and 62 percent for girls. It is disturbingly easy to access: a handful of websites that show adult material will ask for “age verification” less stringent than your average “choose all the pictures with boats in them” captcha, and social media sites (which are rarely blocked by filters) are easy places to find pornographic photos and videos. One study found that 11 percent of male internet users and 3 percent of female internet users report that they are addicted to porn, while 5 percent of pastors and 12 percent of youth pastors report that they are addicted to porn.

    You probably know some of these people. They might be your friends, your family members, your teachers, perhaps even your leaders and pastors. They’re ashamed of what they do, and rightfully so. The things they seek out are vile, and they know it. I will assume that most readers find these facts cause for sorrow and concern. Pornography is a soul-suffocating menace, soaking up hours of addicts’ time and weighing down their hearts with an invisible burden. It is corrupting children’s view of sex, sometimes before they have even experienced a sexual feeling of their own in puberty.

    What can be done? The best offense is a good defense, and unless we ban porn or at least put some kind of sensible opt-in ISP-level filter around the worst stuff, we’re stuck with every internet-accessible device and router as a gateway to filth. There are useful filtering options to prevent people from seeing unwanted material on the devices you control (including your router, which could otherwise expose your child to porn via one of their friends’ phones). Every family should have these sorts of protections in place.

    Prevention is not the same as treatment, however. For someone who is addicted to porn, filtering or accountability software only slows down their ability to see explicit material or makes them think twice about doing so when their risk of being caught is increased. It is not politically correct these days to use words like “madness” when speaking of a mental illness, but few other words describe choices like a father secreting his child’s iPad into the bathroom to misuse it or an otherwise hardworking employee using a work computer to access illegal material after already being threatened with discharge. Once in the grip of an addiction, folly and madness become the norm.

    As with many other illnesses, the people suffering must come to a place where they believe that they can get better and then act on that belief. Addiction, like depression and other mental illnesses, amplifies its power by convincing its sufferer to isolate himself or herself. People who are addicted to pornography remain addicted in no small part because they believe their sin is too vile to be named, too powerful to overcome, and too deeply rooted to be anything but their defining self. To counter these lies, they must hear that it is safe to confess and that they can find the power to overcome their addiction.

    It’s Safe to Confess

    I begin with this one because it’s the first step, and thus the hardest to take. Most people with any sort of addiction will go through a phase of deluding themselves into thinking that they can get better on their own. Once people realize that they will continue to fail as long as they try to quit by themselves, they will either reach out for help or fall into despair because reaching out for help feels impossible. The shame of admitting what they have done and the fear that they will lose their job (if they are in ministry) or their family are powerful deterrents.

    The best way to be a safe person for someone to confess to is to be a good listener. If you are quick to criticize others, prone to gossip, or don’t give other people time to share their thoughts in a conversation, people will not want to share their darkest secrets with you. If you are patient, gracious, honest, attentive, and not a blabber, people in need of a listening ear will gravitate to you. If your friendships feel too superficial for such conversations, you might consider how you’re using your tongue and your ears.

    When people bring their porn addiction to light, they are asking for help and for accountability. They need to know that when they confess, others will help them do whatever it takes to break free.

    We must also create spaces for people to share what is on their hearts. Men and women (but especially men) don’t always have places where they can be honest about their struggles. Sometimes a Bible study group, prayer meeting, or other scheduled gathering will meet this need, sometimes not. If the level of intimacy in your group never exceeds asking for prayers regarding Aunt Edna’s bunion surgery this week, something different is needed.

    Leading by example will increase others’ willingness to confess their sins. There’s no need to air all of one’s dirty laundry or to be the sort of person who shares their every thought and feeling on social media, but people will notice if we are willing to be at least a little vulnerable with them about our own besetting sins. They will reciprocate with their own admissions when they see us come into the light.

    Lastly, there is no easy way to deal with the fact that using porn has consequences, and confession means facing those. There is no way to mitigate any legal consequences someone may incur as a result of their action. All I can say is that anyone who could face such consequences ought to know that repentance is worth it. I don’t think that anyone ought to be fired or forced to step down from ministry right away if they confess that they have an addiction to pornography, but Christian ministries and churches should make it clear what the process will be for members of their staff who admit their sin.

    When people bring their porn addiction to light, they are asking for help and for accountability. They need to know that when they confess, others will help them do whatever it takes to break free. If they are married, this must include disclosing their addiction to their spouse and dealing with those consequences – whether it is a separation or a long time of healing after betrayal. We cannot take away the repercussions that they have built up for themselves, but we can promise that we will love and support them through those repercussions.

    Addiction Can Be Beaten

    After someone has confessed, what next? The hopelessness of addiction is one of the most powerful forces keeping someone enslaved. It seems as if it ought to be as simple as not looking at something evil, and so one’s constant, irrational inclination to look feels like an indelible stain and an unbreakable shackle. The people you love who are addicted to porn have prayed and surrendered to God many times before; by this point their prayers for deliverance might feel awfully hollow. The demons lie and keep addicts enslaved by insinuating that either their faith is counterfeit or their God is.

    There are people who used pornography regularly who have been able to walk away from it after a brief spiritual intervention. They are not the ones I have in mind here. The addicts most in need of love are the ones whose double lives rend their souls as they try and fail to live purely time and time again. These men and women will need partners for a much longer journey to freedom.

    Your loved ones need to hear that God’s grace really can forgive whatever they’ve done and transform their lives. They just have to be willing to receive that grace, by whatever means it may come. It is unlikely that they will succeed in quitting completely the first time they try, but as long as they keep trying to live a life of honesty they will keep getting better. There are many people in our families and churches who are no longer in bondage to pornography; their lives are a testimony to the healing power of God’s love.

    People who are addicted to porn will need a friend who is willing to ask how they are really feeling, how they are doing in the fight, and what they need in order to hold on.

    What forms might that grace take? There are organizations such as Bethesda Workshops, Faithful and True, or Restoring the Soul that offer three-day intensive programs to provide focused counseling and to help draw up a personal battle plan for the long war (some of them also have intensive sessions for spouses who are dealing with the pain of being married to an addict). If someone doesn’t have the time or means for an intensive program right now, there are online and in-person meetings for Samson Society, Celebrate Recovery, Sexaholics Anonymous, and Sex Addicts Anonymous that are open to all. Counseling and/or psychiatric treatment for mental health issues may be helpful, since porn is sometimes used to self-medicate depression, anxiety, or trauma.

    Mostly, though, these programs and meetings facilitate a life lived out in the open. People who are addicted to porn will need a friend who is willing to ask how they are really feeling, how they are doing in the fight, and what they need in order to hold on. And they need the same good things that everyone else needs to thrive: long walks, exercise, meals with friends, singing and listening to music, prayer, and someone to encourage them when they slip up again and feel like quitting.

    We live in an age where addiction is appallingly easy to form – even in the life of a kind, thoughtful person who wants to worship God and love others. People who are addicted cannot quit alone. Whether they join a formal program or not, they will need friends and family members who hold them to their commitments and carry them through their weaker moments. You can be someone who draws them out into the light with your own honesty and trustworthiness, and you can become a steady companion for a lifetime of recovery. God’s love is more powerful than porn – but addicts can only learn this truth and apply it to their lives in community.

    Contributed By a portrait of Matthew Loftus Matthew Loftus

    Matthew Loftus teaches and practices family medicine in Baltimore and East Africa.

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