First, let’s start with a simple definition of what pornography is. Pornography is material that is sexually explicit and that has the primary intended purpose of sexual arousal. Pornography addiction is a sub-category of sexual addiction and is progressive. It typically starts out with occasionally looking at pictures of scantily dressed people and then progresses from soft-core to hard-core pornography. This progression can lead to acting out behaviors such as online and in-person emotional and sexual affairs, visiting strip clubs and soliciting prostitutes.
“You have a problem with pornography? Just make up your mind not to do it anymore, stick to your commitments, think pure thoughts, read your scriptures and pray more,” is common advice. While all those suggestions are important spiritual activities, they do not provide a likelihood of curing a pornography problem because the issue does not stem merely from a lack of desire to quit. Pornography is a physical addiction that chemically alters the brain. To treat this problem, serious measures are required including a substantial amount of professional, outside help. If someone is addicted to alcohol, they would be strongly advised to seek counseling and immediately begin attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. It is essential to recognize that use of pornography, like alcohol, can lead to addiction. As with addiction to drugs or alcohol, it cannot be conquered through willpower alone.
A common misconception is that a compulsion to view pornography will disappear following marriage. While marriage may temporarily halt the use of pornography by disrupting the pattern of the addiction, the compulsion generally resurfaces and escalates. Pornography is often used as a way to deal with negative emotions and to cope with life’s problems, just as alcohol or illicit drugs might be abused. Although pornography use is not as common among women, the number of women viewing pornography is increasing rapidly.
This is a BIG Problem
Pornography is a rampant problem in our society. Some studies suggest that 70 percent of men ages 18 to 24 visit pornography websites in a typical month. (http://www.sync-blog.com/sync/2010/06/internet-porn-stats-should-parents-be-concerned.html) Forty-seven percent of families in the United States say pornography is a problem in their home. (http://www.safefamilies.org/sfStats.php ) A survey conducted in 2008 found that nearly nine out of ten ( 87%) young men and nearly one third (31%) of young women report using pornography. (Generation XXX: Pornography Acceptance and Use Among Emerging Adults) The average age at which children first see online pornography is eleven. (http://www.healthymind.com/s-porn) Although statistics are not specifically available for the LDS population, it is estimated they are similar.
Pornography use is almost always carefully hidden. Directly asking about pornography use can open discussions and help identify men and women who are struggling. Once the individual can admit to being addicted and talk about the problem in a safe environment, the shame and guilt begin to dissipate. Likewise, the spouses and other loved ones of addicts have a need to discuss the problem openly with others.
Because pornography is so rampant, it is important to provide training and education even to those who may not currently be struggling. As pornography is discussed more openly, individuals will have the courage to step forward and seek help if needed, recognize current problems and be better equipped to handle future problems. Openness does not mean condoning behavior or lessening consequences. It means eliminating the secrecy surrounding this subject and helping people understand that the problem is widespread and needs to be addressed openly in an appropriate manner.
White Knuckle Abstinence verses Addiction Recovery
Recovery from pornography addiction is difficult, but definitely attainable. Those who are completely committed to doing what it takes to find and maintain recovery will be successful. Recovery involves:
- Desiring to recover and honestly admitting to others the magnitude of the problem
- Becoming educated about the nature of pornography addiction and the recovery process
- Creating a safe environment where triggers and temptations are less likely to occur
- Continued participation in a 12-Step recovery program
- Seeking professional counseling. This will usually include a mixture of individual counseling, couples therapy, and group counseling (at least eighteen months is typically required)
- Seeking spiritual help by counseling with an ecclesiastical leader as well as seeking inspiration directly from Heavenly Father and applying the power of the Atonement
Abstinence is not the same as recovery. Abstinence involves going a period of time without viewing pornography. Recovery requires a life-style change and involves relearning healthy sexuality, resetting unhealthy expectations and establishing positive patterns of interaction with others. Additionally, recovering individuals must learn to manage emotions, stress, relationships, and other factors that underlie their addictive behaviors. They must learn to differentiate between lust and healthy love.
Just as an alcoholic can never consider himself to be cured, those who are addicted to pornography are always
susceptible to relapse and should take proactive measures to stay in recovery for the rest of their lives. With time, remaining in recovery becomes easier.
The following factors can be used to measure an addict’s recovery:
- Is he completely honest, open and transparent in discussing his pornography problem—past and present—with his leaders, parents, spouse, or girlfriend?
- What has he done to facilitate his recovery? Did he fully disclose his problem, work the 12-Step program and get counseling?
- Does he acknowledge himself as an addict and continue to attend 12-Step meetings and work with a sponsor to maintain recovery?
- How long have has he gone without viewing pornography? Has it been 7-12 months?
- Has he healed from the effects of pornography, addressed issues that led to pornography use and learned to deal with life in a more constructive manner?
The Effects of Pornography on the Spouse and Marriage
When a wife discovers her husband’s pornography use, the emotions experienced are similar to the grieving process associated with the death of a loved one: shock, disbelief or denial, anger, depression and, finally, acceptance. Acknowledging, accepting and allowing those feelings to take their course are important. Pornography frequently changes the addict’s personality, influences the way he treats others and causes an emotional distance from those around him. The spouse often feels betrayed, rejected, abandoned and unimportant. Feelings of deep loneliness and responsibility for the addiction are almost universal. Anger at the addicted spouse and even toward God is common. “I did everything I was supposed to do. Is this what I get for it?” They may feel abandoned not only physically and emotionally, but also spiritually.
Pornography addicts frequently pressure their spouses to keep the issue private. This isolation compounds the downward spiral of unhealthy feelings and counter-productive behavior. Without appropriate help and counseling, the emotional, physical and spiritual health of the spouse will deteriorate.
Pornography use may eventually lead to divorce. Statistically, fifty-five percent of divorces are related to pornography. Nevertheless, a large number of couples are able to find recovery and healing through recognition of this addiction and by seeking appropriate help. Several factors influence the probability of healing the relationship:
- Marital recovery is more likely if the addict willingly discloses the problem and is completely open and honest before he is caught
- The addict chooses to get appropriate help, including counseling and participation in a 12-Step program rather than assuming he can recover on his own
- The couple has realistic expectations. Change takes time and there will usually be relapses. With good counseling and support, however, these slips become less severe and less frequent
- Restoring a healthy relationship is much more probable if both the addict and the spouse get the counseling and support they need
- Many counselors recommend not making any major life decisions for at least a year. Over time, trust can be rebuilt and the relationship can heal if both partners are willing to do their part.
Whether you are someone struggling with pornography use or a loved one of someone who is struggling, you need to find someone who you can talk honestly and openly with. Many people in recovery have regularly scheduled appointments with a church leader, for progress and accountability reports, plus they have a sponsor from their 12-step group. In addition, regular meetings with a counselor are strongly recommended. (See The Basics: Counseling). Healing can begin, both for the addict and the loved one, when secrecy and shame are replaced with honesty, openness and humility.
For those Struggling with Pornography
One of the first steps along the pathway to recovery is coming out of hiding and speaking with another trusted individual about your behavior. Most people find it challenging to tell another about their pornography habits and other associated behaviors, but until you do, it is unlikely that you will make any real, lasting progress. Given the nature of addiction, it is generally impossible to actually quit your behavior without the assistance of others. Once you can admit and talk about the problem, the shame and guilt generally begin to dissipate. There is a peace and self-acceptance that comes from openly discussing your pornography behavior with other trusted individuals. Consider honestly discussing your behavior with a spouse, parent, religious leader or serious girlfriend.
For close relationships, such as a spouse or serious girlfriend, honest disclosure is not only important for recovery, but also for restoring trust and saving your relationship. You cannot hide your behavior forever. Eventually it will come out and it is much better to be upfront about your addiction initially than for your loved one to discover your behavior on their own at a later date. Talking to religious leaders, if available, is also important. Religious leaders provide an opportunity for individuals to openly confess their behavior, get spiritual encouragement and can offer added accountability.
Additionally, it is important to have someone you are accountable to that can help you when you feel the desire to view pornography. Start by finding someone you can trust, a parent, leader, close friend or other relative, and ask for help. Then find a sponsor, someone who has recovered from your addiction, and can help you overcome challenges you face on a day-to-day basis.
As you become open and honest about your behaviors and work the steps of recovery, progress will occur. Recovery is possible, but it takes work to break the chains of your addiction.
For Those Impacted by Another’s Addiction
For spouses, girlfriends, parents and others who are impacted by the pornography addiction of another, it is important to find someone you can trust to talk with. Especially for spouses, there can be intense emotions upon discovering that your husband or wife is participating in pornography. Often times the individual viewing pornography will pressure their spouse not to tell anyone regarding their behavior. Keeping silent can create unnecessary emotional turmoil. It is important to be able to talk through the emotions you are experiencing. Find someone you trust. Helpful individuals may include a religious leader, parent, close friend, therapist, or sibling. Speaking with a religious leader, if available, can be particularly useful in helping to put life in perspective and maintain spirituality.
Identify key individuals who:
- Will keep confidences
- Provide a safe place to talk
- Will not negatively judge you or your loved one and
- Can offer some support and direction
Be respectful of any confidence that is shared with you by your loved one through not broadcasting the pain you may feel to all who will listen. Instead, confide in select individuals who can actually help and support you. Be respectful and discrete about whom you talk to, but make sure that you get the help that you need.
For those viewing pornography, therapy is an important component of recovery. Individuals frequently view pornography in part as a coping mechanism for other problems in life. By finding a qualified therapist that works well with your personality, individuals can better assess core issues and triggers that drive them to view pornography. Once these issues and triggers are identified, therapists can then help support individuals as they work to replace these addictive habits with healthy behaviors.
For others closely associated with those viewing pornography, such as spouses, parents and those in serious dating relationships, therapy can also be helpful. Many spouses and those in serious dating relationships express feelings of betrayal and other intense emotions upon learning of their partners’ behaviors. Parents frequently express frustration and an inability to effectively handle this issue. Therapy can provide a safe place to sort through the emotions experienced and provide a professional perspective in making important decisions. For spouses and those seriously dating, attending therapy sessions with the person viewing pornography can also be effective.
Finding a qualified counselor
Finding a qualified counselor for pornography and sexual addiction is critical to the recovery process. Genuine commitment to on-going counseling from a qualified therapist is typically required for a minimum of 12 to 18 months for those who are addicted. It is also important for those closely impacted by the addiction of another to find qualified counseling. Since all individuals have unique personalities, however, even a qualified therapist may not be a good fit for you. It is important to find a therapist that works well with your personality.
The following questions may be helpful in finding a qualified therapist. If after seeing a therapist for 3-6 weeks you are finding therapy sessions unhelpful, you may consider looking for another therapist that works better with your personality.
When evaluating a therapist, some important considerations are:
- What training has the therapist received in dealing with sexual behaviors and addictions?
Therapists dealing with sexual addiction often need extensive training and education. You may want to ask the therapist if he or she is a member of a national organization for sexual addiction and if he or she has received any specific certification or training.
- Does the therapist specialize in sexual addiction and how many years of experience do they have treating these problems?
Good therapists specializing in other psychological problems may not be the best for treating sexual behavior.
- Are counseling services provided to the non-addicted spouse?
Involvement of the non-addicted spouse in therapy is often important for their well being and also that of the marriage.
- Does the therapist or clinic provide group therapy?
Experience has shown that recovery is enhanced when the individuals and couples participate in group therapy.
- What does the therapist believe the effects of viewing pornography are?
Therapists often have varying opinions regarding whether pornography and engaging in related activities is problematic behavior. Ensure the therapist you are seeing shares your beliefs and value system.
- Does the therapist believe that pornography use can be classified as an addiction?
If a therapist does not believe pornography is addictive, then their method of treating the behavior is likely to be substantially different. LDS Church leaders have stated that it is an addiction. Additionally, current research demonstrates that the changes in the brain caused by pornography viewing are very similar to the changes in the brain caused by addictive drugs and alcohol.
- What steps are considered necessary to recover?
Some therapists do not believe recovery is possible, or do not exhibit a strong understanding of what recovery requires.
- How does the therapist define “sobriety” and measure success in treating those who view pornography?
Discovering how a therapist defines sobriety and measures success can also help you gauge the effectiveness of treatment. Sobriety is not having sex with self or others, other than your spouse. Recovery involves being totally honest and coming out of hiding, a life style change to create a pornography free life, working with a qualified counselor, working with your bishop, participating in a 12-step recovery program. It takes 12 – 18 months to gain solid recovery.
Why Join a 12-Step Group? Committing to participate in a 12-Step program is a critical element of the recovery process. It is usually when addicts finally admit that they are powerless to change on their own and become willing to join a 12-Step program that they find real recovery. 12-Step programs are non-professional, non-profit groups. Programs provide (a) specific boundaries and recovery plans, (b) accountability to a sponsor and regular reporting at group meetings, (c) support and encouragement, (d) a step-by-step process for pursuing recovery and making life changes, and (e) an emphasis on the need to turn to a Higher Power for help and intervention. The “12 Steps of Recovery” set forth the process individuals follow to make the spiritual and mental changes that enable them to find and maintain long-term recovery. The steps were originally written and experienced by members of Alcoholics Anonymous and closely correlate to the LDS view of the repentance process.
For those viewing pornography, many commit to stop again and again. They talk to others, read material, participate in programs and even see a therapist, only to relapse after days, weeks, months or even years of not viewing pornography. The element that is generally missing, and often most resisted by addicts, is fully committing to attend a 12-step program and work the steps of recovery. Ironically, those who gain long-term recovery frequently indicate that fully working the 12-step program was the most important step in their recovery. The White Book, written Sexaholics Anonymous, explains that “[n]o one seems able to stay sober and progress in recovery without [the 12-steps], though some try. For most of us, without associating in some way with other recovering individuals, there is no lasting sobriety and none of the fringe benefits of recovery, growth, freedom, and joy… We don’t try to explain this; it is simply a fact.” (page 63 of White book). The “crucial change in attitude began when we admitted that our habit had us whipped” and “[w]e came to 12-step meetings[.]”
Productive participation in a 12-Step group initially requires attending several meetings per week, working the 12 Steps daily and regularly reporting to a sponsor. A sponsor is someone who has worked the 12 Steps, found recovery and is willing to serve as a mentor. Their experience uniquely qualifies them to help others suffering from the same addiction. They promote accountability, give hope and offer specific guidance on how to avoid relapses.
The LDS PASG and ARP groups and SA (Sexaholics Anonymous) groups: The LDS church has two specific types of 12-Step groups. Addiction Recovery Program (ARP) meetings are open to men and women who want to recover from any type of addictive behavior. Pornography Addiction Support Group (PASG) meetings are for pornography addicts with a corresponding “Family Support Group” for spouses or loved ones. There are also a number of non-LDS 12-Step groups that deal with sexual addiction. Sexaholics Anonymous (SA) groups are functioning in many areas and provide a very effective program for recovery from pornography and sexual addiction. S-Anon meetings are available to help those who are affected by someone else’s sexual behavior (i.e., a spouse).
Much of the benefit derived from a 12-Step meeting comes directly from the associations and interactions of the people who attend. Accordingly, the quality of 12-Step meetings can vary greatly. It is important to find a meeting that works for the person seeking recovery.
Effective groups will have:
- Regular meetings several times a week conducted by someone who has recovered from that specific addiction
- Meetings with a reasonable number of people who have found healing and recovery and can share their experience, strength and hope
- Available sponsors who are qualified to guide newcomers through the recovery process
- Literature specific to the addiction and a methodology for working the steps
- A definition of sobriety that conforms to the value system of the individual seeking help
If, after attending several meetings and working the program, the individual seeking help does not feel connected to the group, he should consider looking for a different 12-Step program. In areas where LDS PASG meetings are firmly established, it is possible for each of the above criteria to be met by attending the LDS-sponsored meetings. If the LDS-sponsored meetings are less developed, there may not be sufficient numbers of people in recovery to find an appropriate sponsor and get the help needed. Many members have found that also attending SA and S-Anon meetings can be helpful. Members who attend SA or S-Anon groups and gain experience, sobriety and recovery can then return and share their experience, strength and hope with those in the PASG or Family Support group meetings, thus helping to strengthen the LDS program.
It is important to note that there are a number of non-LDS groups for sexual addiction which are attended by LDS people. An advantage of Sexaholics Anonymous is that their definition of sexual sobriety is consistent with LDS values: “No form of sex with one’s self or with partners other than the spouse.” Members of SA also work to achieve progressive victory over lust. Some of the other groups do not necessarily promote the same standards of chastity.
Information for Loved Ones of Those Addicted to Pornography
How has my loved one’s addiction affected me? Those impacted by the addiction of another need to realize that they have been harmed and deeply affected by the addiction of their loved one. It is not a simple thing to heal from these wounds. There are 12-step meetings specifically for the loved ones of addicts. These meetings are a place where those closely associated with addicts can come to terms with their feelings of frustration, hurt, anger, confusion, depression and perceived powerless. You may feel that there is nothing you can do to change your
circumstances or you may be trying to facilitate your loved one’s recovery. Many have found the most critical component of sorting through these emotions, identifying specific actions that can appropriately be taken and finding balance and peace in life on a day-to-day basis is a 12-step support group.
The 12-step program will give you the strength you need to change by helping you gain support from others, establish specific boundaries, provide accountability through a sponsor and help you apply 12 important steps or principles that will help you succeed.
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Occasional Use Versus Addiction
An important question when discussing pornography use is the debate concerning where the line between occasional use and addiction should be drawn. Here are some things to ask about occasionally use of pornography.
Why am I looking at pornography? Some answers to this are, “I love the rush I feel when I view pornography,” “I find it helps relieve anxiety, boredom, depression, loneliness,”
- Ask yourself if pornography is a good way to meet your emotional needs. Everything it portrays is a lie – do you see any danger here?
I really have a strong curiosity about what’s out there.
- Pornography presents a false, deceptive portrayal of sexuality and relationships. The information you get from viewing pornography messes up your ability to have healthy relationships.
Am I OK with the way women and sexuality are portrayed in pornography?
- Obviously, pornography is totally fake and ignores honest emotion and healthy intimacy. Many people have found this creates a real conflict and they become less able to connect with friends and family – have you considered that this could happen to you?
Am I OK with the possibility that I could become addicted?
- Be honest – you are watching pornography because it fills a need for you – this is the way addictions start.
Do I intend to use pornography for my whole life – after I am married, when I have children, when I have serious church callings?
- Since pornography presents lies, distortions, and miss-programs your brain, why are you viewing it at all?
Dr. Jill Manning explained the problem with pornography use. She stated, “Pornography use is not simply a habit, it is a mood altering, belief changing, relationship damaging, addiction forming, socially harmful, spiritually deadening and life crippling practice through which one practices the ways of the adversary.”
The bottom line is that if you are viewing pornography, you are doing something which does not benefit you. It messes up your thinking, makes your vulnerable to a really destructive addiction, and changes the way you treat friends and family. Why would you do that? And if you have quit and then gone back to viewing pornography, that is the major indication of addiction.