- What is pornography?
- How is viewing pornography progressively addictive?
- What are the specifics of pornography and sexual addiction?
- How big of a problem is pornography?
- Is pornography a problem for women?
- If the problem is so big, why am I not more aware of it?
- Will discussing pornography make the problem worse or even raise curiosity?
- Why is pornography so dangerous?
- Is pornography addictive?
- What is sexual addiction?
- In what ways might pornography serve as a “drug” or coping mechanism for other problems or kinds of stress?
- How can I tell if someone I love is addicted to pornography?
- What does “sobriety” mean?
- What does “recovery” mean?
- How does viewing pornography affect the friends of those addicted?
- How can I best support a recovering loved one?
- How can I best support a friend or loved one who is in a relationship with a pornography addict?
- What if a friend or loved one does not want recovery?
- What if my friend or loved one says he wants to recover, but continues to have relapses?
The 12-Step Program
- Why is attending a 12-Step meeting so important to recovery?
- What are 12-Step Programs?
- What are the elements of a good 12-Step program?
- What are LDS “ARP,” “PASG” and “Family Support Group” Meetings?
- What are “SA” and “S-Anon”?
- What are the 12 Steps of Recovery?
- What can I expect when I attend a 12-Step meeting?
- What does involvement in a 12-Step program entail?
- What is a sponsor?
- How can I find a good sponsor?
- Which is more important, a 12-step support group or professional therapy?
- What if there is not a good 12-Step group in my area?
- What if the addict is a youth who is too young to attend 12-Step meetings?
Protecting Against Pornography
- How can I avoid pornography?
- How can I protect my child from pornography?
- What can I do in my home to increase internet safety?
- Why should I teach my children about healthy sexuality?
- As a parent, when should I begin teaching about pornography and sexuality?
- How can I talk to my child about pornography and healthy sexuality?
- How should I respond if I discover my child is viewing pornography?
Do I Have a Problem?
- How can I tell if I have a pornography problem?
- Why is it important to be open and disclose my pornography problem to someone?
- Is recovery possible, and what does it involve?
- What recovery programs and resources are available for me as an addict?
- How do I find the right counselor?
- How do I “stay clean” or avoid relapse?
- How does viewing pornography affect me and my relationships?
- How does my viewing pornography affect my spouse or loved one?
- How does my viewing pornography affect my children?
- Does discovering or disclosing a pornography addiction generally result in divorce?
- As a recovering addict, what can I do to heal and strengthen my marriage?
Spouses of Addicts
- How should I respond if I discover my spouse has a problem with pornography?
- Why can’t my spouse just stop viewing pornography?
- How is the addiction of a spouse/ or loved one likely to affect me personally?
- How is the addiction of a spouse likely to affect our relationship?
- As the spouse of an addict, what can I do to find healing for my damaged relationship?
- How do I find hope and healing for myself as the spouse of an addict?
- What programs and resources are available for me as the spouse of an addict?
- How do I balance my need for support and healing with my desire to maintain my spouse’s anonymity?
Dating and Pornography
- Why should I discuss pornography with the person I am dating?
- When should I discuss pornography with the person I am dating?
- How should I discuss pornography with the person I am dating?
- What should I do if I suspect someone I am dating has a pornography problem?
- How is dating someone with a pornography addiction likely to affect me?
- What will likely happen if I choose to marry someone with a pornography addiction?
- As a recovering addict, what factors should I consider in dating?
- What factors should I consider when deciding whether or not to continue a relationship with someone who is addicted to, has been addicted to, or is in recovery from a pornography addiction?
- I am dating (or have dated) someone with a pornography problem and I am currently struggling with negative thoughts about myself and my appearance. What should I do?
- How can I educate those I lead about pornography?
- As a leader, how can I best help an individual with a pornography addiction?
- As a leader, how can I best help the spouse of an individual with a pornography addiction?
- What is an enabler?
- How can leaders, spouses and parents avoid becoming enablers to those dealing with pornography and sexual addiction?
- What has a prophet and apostle recently said to the brethren of the church about the seriousness of the plague of pornography?
Pornography is “material that is sexually explicit and intended primarily for the purpose of sexual arousal.” It may depict nudity or sexual behavior, and includes written materials such as romance novels, photographs, movies, electronic images, video games, internet chat rooms, erotic telephone conversations, music, or other media.
Dr. Victor Cline has explained the addictive process as follows:
In my experience as a sexual therapist, any individual who regularly masturbates to pornography is at risk of becoming, in time, a sexual addict, as well as conditioning himself into having a sexual deviancy and/or disturbing a bonded relationship with a spouse or girlfriend.
A frequent side effect is that it also dramatically reduces his capacity to love (that is, it results in a marked dissociation of sex from friendship, affection, caring, and other normal healthy emotions and traits which help marital relationships). His sexual side becomes in a sense dehumanized. Many of them develop an “alien ego state” (or dark side), whose core is antisocial lust, devoid of most values. In time, the “high”” obtained from masturbating to pornography becomes more important than real life relationships….It makes no difference if one is an eminent physician, attorney, minister, athlete, corporate executive college president, unskilled laborer, or an average 15-year-old boy. All can be conditioned into deviancy. The process of masturbatory conditioning is inexorable and does not spontaneously remiss. The course of this illness may be slow and is nearly always hidden from view. It is usually a secret part of the man’s life, and like a cancer, it keeps growing and spreading. It rarely ever reverses itself, and it is also very difficult to treat and heal. Denial on the part of the male addict and refusal to confront the problem are typical and predictable, and this almost always leads to marital or couple disharmony, sometimes divorce and sometimes the breaking up of other intimate relationships.
He has summarized the progression as follows:
- Addiction. The person finds he compulsively views pornography.
- Escalation. The addicted person seeks progressively harder core pornography to get the same effect.
- Desensitization. Tolerance increases to progressively explicit material.
- Acting Out Sexually. The person seeks to act out fantasies viewed in the pornography (prostitution, adultery, etc.).
Discussing the specifics of pornography can be uncomfortable. However, it is important that priesthood leaders, parents, and spouses understand in general terms the varying levels of pornographic material and associated experiences so they know what specific questions to ask and what to be aware of. Soft-core pornography generally consists of models posing topless or nude, as is common in Playboy magazines. Hard-core porn involves images of people actually engaging in graphic sexual acts or poses. On-demand pornography is available on the internet for a cost, allowing viewers to specify the exact acts they want to see performed in front of the camera.
The sexual activity available at strip clubs varies greatly depending on state laws and the level of enforcement. At strip clubs, so-called lap dancing and other such activities may involve direct physical contact with private parts of the body. Some strip clubs have private rooms where simulation sex acts take place. As the sexual addiction progresses and escalates, addicts frequently become involved in activity with prostitutes and in other immoral, unbounded sexual encounters such as anonymous sex and one-night stands. The addicts’ actions may eventually evolve into more deviant forms of sexual behavior such as the viewing of child pornography, sexual abuse of self or others, rape, and sex in the context of violence.
The following are statistics from various studies regarding pornography. Although more accurate information is needed, the following reflects the magnitude of the problem.
- In 1997, approximately one out of every six Internet searches related to sex.
- Each day there are 23 to 60 million unique visitors to pornography websites.
- Revenues from pornography now exceed the combined revenues of all professional football, baseball, and basketball franchises.
- Some 34,376,000 unique users (23.68% of all Internet users) visit pornography websites and view an average of 239 pornographic web pages each day.
- By the end of 2004, 420 million pages of pornography existed on the internet.
- It is estimated that 13.97% of online pornography consumption is by children ages two to seventeen.
- Some 83% of youth watch pornography at home.
- Approximately 70% of youth ages fifteen to seventeen reported accidentally coming across pornography online, and 23% of those youth said this happens “very” or “somewhat” often.
- Of all consumers of online pornography, 71.61% are male and 28.39% are female.
- Nearly 9 out of 10 (87%) young men and nearly one third (31%) of young women report viewing pornography.
- Forty million Americans regularly visit porn sites.
- Seventy percent of men between the ages of eighteen and twenty-four visit porn sites in a typical month.
- The average age at which a child first sees online porn is eleven years old.
- In 1998, 45% of the Protestant clergy surveyed reported using pornography.
- Forty-seven percent of families in the United States say pornography is a problem in their home.
- Every second, more than 28,000 individuals are looking at pornography on the internet.
- Pornography is a worldwide industry, generating $97 billion annually.
- Every second consumers spend $3,075.64 on pornography.
- Nine out of ten children between the ages of eight and sixteen have viewed pornography on the internet, in most cases unintentionally.
- Every thirty-nine minutes, a new pornographic video is created in the United States.
- Twelve percent of the websites on the internet are pornographic (approximately 24,644,172).
While pornography use is currently not as common among women as it is for men, the number of women who view pornography is rapidly increasing. Seventy percent of new pornography websites are geared towards women. Pornography addiction in women frequently takes different forms than for men. For example, men tend to respond to visual images, while women initially tend to be more drawn to verbal and written forms of pornography such as graphic romance novels, explicit chat rooms, or online romantic role playing. Many women are drawn into social media relationships that can lead to the production of self-pornography for dissemination to individuals they meet online. Some women agree to watch pornography with their boyfriend or husband as a way to “spice up” the relationship or in an ineffective attempt to keep him from viewing it alone. In many cases, women can become addicted to the pornographic material. The same dangers of addiction and the same process of recovery that apply to men also apply to women.
Traditionally, the topic of pornography and sexual addiction has been taboo, so it was rarely discussed openly. There has been a stigma associated with the viewing of pornography along with an assumption that good people do not view it. This created a social culture that strongly resisted the recognition of pornography as a problem or addiction. Today, pornography is being marketed as a healthy pastime. Additionally, the idea is being perpetuated that only religious prudes with over-active guilt complexes disapprove of it. Much of society does not recognize pornography as a social concern. Unlike other addictions, pornography and sexual addiction are relatively easy to hide. This perpetuates the myth that pornography really is not a widespread problem. In actuality, it is a very real problem that needs to be discussed and addressed openly.
In society today, pornography is rampant; virtually all children will be exposed to pornography by the time they graduate from high school. As a result, it is necessary to discuss pornography openly. Without this discussion, children and teens are left with the impression that pornography is rather harmless. They are left totally unaware of its addictive nature and of the fact that regularly viewing pornography can destroy their ability to experience healthy and empathic relationships with others. Openness does not mean condoning immoral behavior or lessening consequences; instead, it involves teaching the truths about the consequences of viewing pornography and creating a relationship where exposure to pornography is discussed.
While some people feel there is nothing wrong with pornography, evidence shows that there can be very real and dangerous effects on both individuals and society as a whole. Research indicates that pornography can be extremely addictive. Pornography conditions a person to respond emotionally and sexually to a self-centered, artificial world. Many online relationships are similar to pornography in that they are not based in reality: what individuals “read and see about people, relationships, and sex is distorted.”
Research demonstrates that repeated exposure to pornography results in 1) increased callousness toward women, 2) trivialization of rape as a criminal offense, 3) distorted perceptions about sexuality, 4) increased appetite for more deviant and bizarre types of pornography, 5) devaluation of monogamy, 6) decreased satisfaction with a partner’s sexual performance, affection and physical appearance, 7) doubts about the value of marriage, 8.) decreased desire to have children, and 9) viewing non-monogamous relations as normal and natural behavior.
Many wonder why those viewing pornography do not just stop when they have a sincere desire to do so, especially as they experience dramatic negative consequences associated with the behavior. Most accept the concept that drugs and other substances can be addictive in a neurobiologic sense, in other words, they can change the chemistry and function of the pleasure/control centers of the brain, a process called neuromodulation. Can this happen with “natural” addictions also, such as with food, pathological gambling, and sexual addictions? The last ten years has produced research into the neurobiology of addiction which has provided strong evidence that the same “molecular switches” that induce and perpetuate drug addiction are also operative in natural addictions as well. This evidence supports the model that all addiction is perpetuated by an imbalance in the dopaminergic reward systems of the brain, this being associated with pathologically functioning control/ reward centers.
The human brain is programmed to incentivize behaviors that contribute to survival. The mesolimbic dopaminergic system rewards eating and sexuality with powerful pleasure incentives. Cocaine, opioids, alcohol, and other drugs subvert, or hijack, these pleasure systems, and cause the brain to think a drug high is necessary to survive. Evidence is now strong that natural rewards such as food and sex affect the reward systems in the same way drugs affect them, thus the current interest in ‘natural addiction.’ Addiction, whether to cocaine, food, or sex occurs when these activities cease to contribute to a state of homeostasis, and instead cause adverse consequences. There are some professionals as well as those involved in the pornography industry that disagree with the research and suggest that pornography may become a compulsion but not an addiction. The pornography industry and its apologists want to minimize any research pointing to an addictive basis for this devastating social and individual emotional illness. Rather than consider what is now a growing and substantial body of research supporting the existence of natural addiction, they attack or ignore any such research or researcher, generally saying that sure, pornography can be a “problem” for some. They obtusely point out that since there is no specific study on pornography, nothing can be said with regard to pornography as an addiction. In so doing they ignore current research as they minimize and marginalize.
Sexual addiction is best described as a progressive intimacy disorder characterized by compulsive sexual thoughts and acts. Like other addictions, its negative impact on the addict and on family members increases as the disorder progresses.
Over time, the addict usually has to escalate the addictive behavior to achieve the same results.
For some sex addicts, behavior does not progress beyond compulsive masturbation or the extensive use of pornography or phone or computer sex services. For others, addiction can involve strip clubs, soliciting prostitutes, or illegal activities such as exhibitionism, voyeurism, obscene phone calls, child molestation, or rape.
The National Council on Sexual Addiction and Compulsivity has defined sexual addiction as “engaging in persistent and escalating patterns of sexual behavior acted out despite increasing negative consequences to self and others.” In other words, a sex addict will continue to engage in certain sexual behaviors despite facing potential health risks, financial problems, shattered relationships, or even arrest. Lust is the force behind sexual addiction: our healthy sexual feelings or our normal human sex drive are taken over by lust. Lust is the opposite of human intimacy; it’s a self-indulgent fantasy which separates the sex from emotional connection. It is always insatiably ‘hungry’ and the addict will risk family, job, and church to indulge in this hunger. As on addict stated, “Lust is the most important thing in my life, it takes priority over me.” (White Book, Sexaholics Anonymous, p 42).
While many individuals initially seek pornography out of a desire for excitement, anticipation, and pleasure, pornography is also often used as a way to escape from or cope with feelings of anxiety, fear, anger, stress, frustration, boredom, restlessness, loneliness, and insecurity. In this way, pornography becomes a drug used to cope with life problems, just as alcohol or illicit drugs might be used.
Every person finds ways to deal with the stress, anxiety, fear, boredom, and insecurity in their life. An addict is a person who has used addictive activities or substances as a way to deal with these things. Because pornography is readily accessible and can serve as a way to cope with anxiety, fear, boredom, etc., it often is used. This use can easily escalate into addiction.
If you are concerned that a loved one might be viewing pornography, the best course of action is to ask him or her directly. The following questions may also help identify if there is a problem. It is important to note that some of these conditions are common and may not necessarily be caused by pornography use, but by other life conditions or circumstances.
- Have you caught your loved one viewing inappropriate material or found pornographic material for which your loved one denies responsibility?
- Does your loved one spend time on the computer after everyone else is in bed or stay up late for unexplained reasons?
- Does your loved one quickly change the computer screen or turn off the computer when you walk by or enter the room?
- Does your loved one frequently clear the internet history on the computer?
- Does your loved one have substantial amounts of unaccounted-for time and avoid disclosing his or her activities?
- Is your loved one working long hours at the office over prolonged periods of time for unexplained reasons?
- Does your loved one seem tired or worn out? When questioned, do his or her answers seem odd or unsatisfactory?
- Is your loved one missing appointments and deadlines without a satisfactory explanation?
- How does your loved one respond when you address the topic of pornography? Does he initially seem uncomfortable or non-responsive?
- Does your loved one seek out and view increasingly graphic and sexually explicit movies and TV shows?
- Does your loved one seem withdrawn, “checked out,” or emotionally disconnected for long periods of time?
- Does your loved one spend less time with the family or seek isolation frequently?
- Does your loved one seem more irritable and on edge?
- Have you experienced a “gut feeling” that something is wrong?
- Does your loved one seem to be unable to see his or her part in relationship conflicts and, instead blames others when discussing such issues?
- Does your loved one become angry over little things?
- Do you periodically notice sharp contrasts in behavior which might include being more disconnected, uninvolved, and critical?
- Has your loved one become more concerned with or critical of physical appearances?
- Does your loved one send conflicting messages regarding his or her feelings and desires for your relationship?
- Are there charges on your credit card statements to unfamiliar companies?
- Are there long-distance phone charges to unknown numbers on your phone bill?
- Are there unaccounted-for expenditures?
- Does your spouse seem to go unusually long periods of time between acts of sexual intimacy?
- Does your spouse seem to pressure you for sex even when you make it clear that it is not something you want to do?
- Does your spouse seek to experiment with sexual behaviors that you find uncomfortable or unacceptable?
- Does your spouse ask you to view sexually explicit material to improve or “spice up” your sex life?
For those attending SA meetings or Sexaholic Anonymous, sobriety is defined as “having no form of sex with self or with persons other than the spouse.” In addition, true sexual sobriety “includes progressive victory over lust[,]…the driving force behind … sexual acting out.” According to the SA White Book and Step into Action Books:
Physical sobriety is not an end in itself but a means towards an end–victory over the obsession and progress in recovery….In practical terms, we stop entertaining lustful fantasy. We stop using the internet to look for pornography images….We choose a different route to avoid places where lust triggered us or we acted out…..If we are going to a business or event where we know there will be lust or sexual triggers (such as a supermarket, mall, or an airport), we call someone….If we are uncomfortable in any given situation, we simply leave…..Our sobriety becomes the most important thing each day in every circumstance.
Recovery from pornography or sexual addiction requires more than just stopping or abstaining from the behavior. Abstinence from viewing pornography is important, of course, but true recovery requires a lifestyle change as well as a change of heart. It is about recognizing and admitting to being an addict, setting appropriate boundaries to protect against future acting out, learning to cope with life’s challenges in healthy and appropriate ways, being willing to work on recovery daily, and changing underlying behaviors causing the individual to seek out pornography. Some factors that can indicate a person’s progress in recovery include:
- Is he completely honest, open, and transparent in discussing his pornography problem—past and present?
- What steps are being taken to recover?
- Does he fully disclose his problem to his spouse, significant other, parents, therapist and religious leaders?
- Does he work with a sponsor?
- Does he participate in a 12-Step program?
- Is he getting appropriate counseling?
- Does he still continue to acknowledge himself as an addict and continue to work his recovery program?
- How long has he gone without viewing pornography? Research has shown that it takes at least seven to twelve months before an addicted individual is on his way to establishing true and lasting sobriety. Complete recovery requires time.
- Does the person work on issues underlying his pornography addiction? Is the person working to change attitudes and behaviors regarding healthy sexuality, developing relationship skills, learning to address unresolved problems, and dealing with life more constructively?
- Is he more concerned about helping others who might also be suffering from pornography addiction than about his own image and reputation, or keeping his behaviors related to pornography a secret?
Often friends of those addicted will initially experience feelings of disbelief, fear, disgust, betrayal, distrust, shock, denial, sadness, and anger. Individuals may wonder if they can ever trust the addict, if the addict poses a danger, and why the addict would continue in such behavior. Being addicted to pornography can also cause the individual to be emotionally unavailable and cause a distance in relationships. Discovering a pornography addiction may initially be especially devastating for youth who previously looked up to the addict as a mentor.
Some people may deal with these emotions by withdrawing from the relationship. Others may try to maintain a feeling of normalcy by avoiding the issue and pretending nothing has changed. Others may try to inappropriately step in and try to fix the problem without the tools necessary to assist the individual in finding true recovery. Those associated with the addict may experience a grieving process similar to what a spouse undergoes. It is important for them to identify and learn to work through these emotions.
One of the most painful parts of supporting a recovering addicted loved one is coming to accept the lack of control over whether or not the addict chooses to pursue recovery. Recovery is the personal responsibility of the addict. Recovery is the personal responsibility of the addict. Addicts have to become ready and willing to find recovery for themselves. It is often difficult to find the balance between patience, encouragement, and acceptance versus enabling destructive behavior. Do not confuse attempts to micromanage the addict’s recovery with true support and encouragement. A few important elements to keep in mind are:
- Focus on personal choices that you can make regardless of the other person’s decisions. Take responsibility for your own peace and emotional well being.
- Get help for yourself and recognize the ways that being in a close relationship with an addict will likely affect you. Many find counseling and a 12-Step program to be critical in this process.
- Do not take responsibility for the addict’s recovery. Recognize and accept that being a policeman is not helpful to the addict. The addict must ultimately choose his own course of action.
- Set boundaries and have the commitment to stick to them. Although an addict can makes his or her own choices, he or she cannot dictate the choices of others or avoid the consequences of violating the boundaries of others.
- Try to identify ways in which the addicted individual is reaching out for help and recovery. Find ways to connect with him that are emotionally supportive, safe, and uplifting. Reaching out can be a tremendous source of encouragement and support.
When individuals are in a relationship with a pornography addict, they frequently feel isolated, alone, or helpless. Friends or loved ones of those who are directly impacted by the pornography addiction of another can best help by being available to support them. Listen and allow your friend to share his or her feelings in a safe, confidential environment. Do not tell that person that you know what it is like. Do not try to solve the individual’s problems or tell her what should be done. Encourage the individual to seek appropriate professional and religious counseling, find a sponsor, and attend meetings of support groups. Let the suffering individuals know that they are loved, accepted, and supported as they make important decisions. Learn about pornography addiction and encourage your friend to do the same.
Ultimately, the person struggling with the pornography addiction must be the one to decide if he or she wants to do the work and make the lifestyle changes necessary for recovery. Continue to be understanding and supportive, but read about the problem of becoming co-dependent or enabling the addict in his or her behavior. Encourage the addict to get help. Regardless of whether an addict wants to recover, it is important to provide support to the spouse of the addict. Encourage the spouse to get appropriate help and to set boundaries for protection in the relationship.
Although a relapse can be a setback, what really matters most is the actions the addict chooses to take after a relapse. Does the individual try to excuse and or minimize his return to pornography, or is he contrite, with a broken heart? Help addicts understand that just because they may suffer a relapse does not mean they are a lost cause. Feelings of shame, humiliation and worthlessness can compound addictive behavior. Assure the addict that God loves him and will help him gain recovery. At the same time, do not minimize or disregard acting out behavior. Help the addict realize that the relapse is serious. If appropriate, ask questions about what events may have triggered the slip. Encourage addicts to be regularly accountable to someone about their behavior choices, continue to attend 12-Step meetings, and work with a sponsor and therapist. Addicts can learn from their mistakes as they seek appropriate counsel and guidance. Recovery is hard work and requires serious lifestyle changes. By encouraging the individual to identify specific steps to avoid future slips and by expressing love and support, you can help struggling individuals to find hope, determination, and the courage needed to continue in their recovery program.
The 12-Step Program
For those who are seeking recovery, committing to participate in a 12-Step program is often a critical milestone in the recovery process. Many people have attempted to stop viewing pornography on their own, only to eventually fail and/or relapse. For many addicts, it is only when they break the secrecy surrounding their addiction, admit that they will not be able to change on their own, and join a 12-Step fellowship that real recovery is found. The White Book of Sexaholics Anonymous states:
We sexaholics do not presume to be authorities on addiction of any kind, much less sex addiction….Some researchers even confess to being baffled by what addiction really is….We speak from our own experience as seen through recovery.
We have a solution. We don’t claim that it’s for everybody, but for us, it works.
There is an unwritten step underlying all twelve. Call it Step Zero: “We participated in the fellowship of the program”. No one seems able to stay sober and progress in recovery without it, 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 (emphasis added).
For those closely impacted by the addiction of another, attending a 12-Step program is also important. One of the least understood components of sexual addiction is the devastating effect it can have on a spouse or loved one. In the process of trying to cope with the problems of living with a sex addict, a spouse or loved one frequently develops his or her own set of negative behaviors or co-dependent habits which are debilitating to the individual and destructive to relationships. Regardless of whether the addict chooses to follow a recovery program, the spouse or loved one of an addict should work his or her own recovery. Attending 12-Step meetings is a vital part of that recovery.
It is important to note that support groups, or 12-Step programs, are not substitutes for therapeutic treatment and individuals should also seek appropriate professional counseling as a key part of their recovery process.
12-Step programs have been unusually successful in helping those struggling with addiction find recovery. There are over 100 different variations of 12-Step recovery programs in existence today. They address virtually every imaginable type of addiction. All of them, including the LDS Addiction Recovery Program (ARP), are based on the original 12-Step program of Alcoholics Anonymous and the AA Big Book (first published in 1939). Other 12-Step programs deal with specific issues such as drug addiction, food addiction, codependency, over-spending, and gambling. 12-Step programs are non-professional and non-profit. While effective in promoting recovery from addiction, they are not intended to replace therapy led by trained professionals. All 12-Step programs share a number of elements that aid in the recovery process:
- Openness: Breaking the shame and secrecy surrounding an addiction is one of the first steps in overcoming it. Meetings provide a safe, supportive environment to share feelings and experiences with others who understand what you are going through because they have experienced the same thing.
- Specific Boundaries and Recovery Plan: A 12-Step program can provide specific rules and definitions of abstinence or sobriety that are used to measure progress and recovery. The program also offers literature and instructions for recovery that can be applied on a daily basis to help the individual overcome addiction.
- Accountability: Addicts check in frequently with a sponsor and also report their progress at meetings. These interactions provide accountability and transparency. They also help to dissipate the shame surrounding addiction so the addict can focus on the actions needed to achieve recovery.
- Support: Recovering addicts share their experience, strength and hope with new members who are just starting the recovery process. Newer and more experienced addicts in recovery all find support and encouragement by attending meetings, talking with other group members, making outreach calls, reading literature, working with a sponsor, or serving as a sponsor.
- The Twelve Steps: Working the steps on a daily basis is critical to addressing the emotional and spiritual issues behind the addiction. Daily effort is necessary to achieve long-term success.
- Higher Power: All 12-Step programs focus on turning to a Higher Power for intervention and healing. Most 12-Step programs are non-denominational. They are careful to define the concept of God as broadly as possible so their program can feel inclusive to as many people as possible. Latter-day Saints who participate in 12-Step groups understand this Higher Power to be our Heavenly Father and recognize that recovery of both addicts and loved ones comes through the power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ.
Much of the benefit obtained from attending a 12-Step meeting is derived from the other members present. Accordingly, the efficacy of 12-Step meetings is as varied as the people who attend them. It is important to find a meeting that works for the individual seeking help. Depending on the availability in the area, many LDS members in recovery have found both LDS-sponsored and non-LDS meetings to be extremely helpful. Effective groups will have:
- Meetings attended regularly by a reasonable number of people who have found healing and recovery and who can share their experience, strength and hope
- Available sponsors who are experienced and qualified to guide newcomers through the recovery process
- Recommended literature specific to the addiction and a methodology for working the 12 Steps
- A definition of sobriety consistent with the value system of the individual seeking recovery
- Regular meetings several times each week conducted by someone who has gained recovery from the specific addiction
If after attending several meetings of a particular 12-Step group, the individual seeking recovery does not have a positive experience, he or she should look for a different group that can better meet his or her needs and matches the above criteria. It is important to try several different groups and to not give up until a group is found that works for the individual. See www.salifeline.org for more information on finding 12-Step meetings, both LDS-sponsored and non-LDS.
The LDS church sponsors several 12-Step recovery groups. Addiction Recovery Program (ARP) meetings are open to men and women who want to recover from any type of addictive behavior, and they use the twelve steps as a sequential way to better apply the Atonement of Jesus Christ. The Pornography Addiction Support Group (PASG) is specifically for pornography or sexual addiction and the corresponding Family Support Group is for the loved ones of those addicted. The PASG and Family Support Group meetings follow the same format as ARP meetings and use the same manual, the Addiction Recovery Program: A Guide to Addiction Recovery and Healing. The LDS Family Service’s program is also working on a family support guide to assist those who have a loved one in addiction.
The manual, as well as ARP, PASG, and Family Support Group meetings can help struggling individuals by continually reinforcing the connection between gospel principles, reliance on our Father in Heaven, and utilizing the Atonement of Jesus Christ in the recovery process. The number of people attending meetings and the frequency of meetings held can vary greatly depending on the location. If your area does not have a strong PASG program, LDS members seeking recovery can help strengthen their local program by going to non-LDS groups to gain recovery and then return to share their experience with the LDS group.
Sexaholics Anonymous (SA) is a 12-Step program designed specifically for those who are struggling with sexual addiction, which includes pornography. S-Anon is a 12-Step program designed to help those who are affected by someone else’s sexual behavior. While these programs are non-denominational, their principles are very similar to those of the LDS faith. It is important to note that there are a number of other non-LDS groups for sexual addiction. An advantage of SA in particular is that its definition of sexual sobriety is consistent with LDS beliefs: “No form of sex with one’s self or with partners other than the spouse [and] progressive victory over lust.” Some other groups do not necessarily promote the same standards of chastity, but instead encourage members to create their own definition of “sobriety.” As LDS members look for appropriate 12-Step groups, they should make sure that the group’s definition of sobriety matches their belief system. Many members of the LDS faith have found SA and S-Anon to be especially effective in helping to achieve recovery.
The Twelve steps of recovery set forth the process by which individuals make spiritual, emotional and mental changes that enable them to recover from addictive behavior and maintain long-term abstinence or sobriety. The steps were originally written and published by Alcoholics Anonymous, but very closely correlate to the process of repentance and applying the Atonement of Jesus Christ. An LDS version of the 12 Steps has been reworded slightly to more accurately reflect correct doctrine as taught in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The original wording of each step is given below, followed by the LDS wording for that step. The 12 Steps are:
Step 1. We admitted we were powerless over our addiction – that our lives had become unmanageable
LDS: (Honesty) Admit that you, of yourself, are powerless to overcome your addictions and that your life has become unmanageable.
Step 2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity
LDS: (Hope) Come to believe that the power of God can restore you to complete spiritual health.
Step 3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him
LDS: (Trust in God) Decide to turn your will and your life over to the care of God the Eternal Father and his son, Jesus Christ.
Step 4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves
LDS: (Truth) Make a searching and fearless written moral inventory of yourself.
Step 5. Admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs
LDS: (Confession) Admit to yourself, to your Heavenly Father in the name of Jesus Christ, to proper priesthood authority, and to another person the exact nature of your wrongs.
Step 6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character
LDS: (Change of Heart) Become entirely ready to have God remove all your character weaknesses.
Step 7. Humbly asked God to remove our shortcomings
LDS: (Humility) Humbly ask Heavenly Father to remove your shortcomings.
Step 8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all
LDS: (Seeking Forgiveness) Make a written list of all persons you have harmed and become willing to make restitution to them.
Step 9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others
LDS: (Restitution and Reconciliation) Wherever possible, make direct restitution to all persons you have harmed.
Step 10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it
LDS: (Daily Accountability) Continue to take personal inventory, and when you are wrong, promptly admit it.
Step 11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood God, praying only for knowledge of God’s will for us and the power to carry that out
LDS: (Personal Revelation) Seek through prayer and meditation to know the Lord’s will and to have the power to carry it out.
Step 12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to other addicts, and to practice these principles in all our affairs
LDS: (Service) Having had a spiritual awakening as a result of the Atonement of Jesus Christ, share this message with others and practice these principles in all you do.
At 12-Step meetings, a group leader will generally begin by reading verbatim a set script, followed by readings from selected program literature and an opportunity for group members to share with others about the readings or their specific recovery experiences. As is tradition, speakers generally introduce themselves by first name only, after which the group responds, “Hi, _____ (name).” Although the format of the meetings may feel odd to newcomers, the script soon becomes familiar and comfortable as the attendees learn the importance of each concept. There are no dues or fees for membership, although a basket will generally be passed around at non-LDS meetings so that attendees can contribute a dollar or two in order to meet obligations of rent and operating costs.
Initially, involvement in a 12-Step program usually entails attending a minimum of three meetings per week. Some programs encourage even more. Attending a meeting specifically designed for your addiction is ideal. However, it can still be useful to attend other types of 12-Step meetings, especially if meetings for your particular addiction are not available. If meetings are not readily available locally, an increasing number of live telephone or online meetings can also be found.
Working the twelve steps on a daily basis is what makes the 12-Step program work. This process includes studying prescribed literature, journaling, and reporting on commitments made to a sponsor. Having a sponsor is critical to the recovery process. As progress in recovery is achieved, those in recovery have the opportunity to fill service positions within the program. This may include being a sponsor, being responsible for the group’s literature library, acting as a secretary to the group, or serving as liaison to the 12-Step group’s regional body. Maintaining recovery requires that we “give back what [we] have so generously been given.” Many recovery addicts report that the most effective way to safeguard their own sobriety and recovery is to work closely with other addicts who are trying to find that same recovery.
Sponsorship is a critical component of all 12-Step programs. Sponsors are those who have worked the twelve steps and have found sobriety and recovery from a specific addiction. Because of their experience, they are in a unique position to help guide others suffering from the same addiction through the recovery process. They provide hope, accountability, and specific guidance on how to avoid relapse. The literature of one 12-Step program encourages the newcomer to “find a sponsor who has what you want and ask how it was obtained.” A sponsor will give assignments designed to help gain and maintain recovery. The assignments may include specific rules of conduct, attendance at meetings, reading various kinds of literature, and reporting on a designated schedule. Typically those struggling with addiction call their sponsor at set intervals to report their progress and get support or practical feedback as they encounter daily problems. The addicted individual may also call a sponsor or any other program member at any time when they feel tempted to act out.
While the need for addicts to have a sponsor is generally recognized, many people do not understand the critical role that a sponsor can play in the recovery of an addict’s spouse or loved one. The spouse’s sponsor can give support and validation and help the loved one understand that he or she is not responsible for the addict’s behavior. The sponsor can also help the spouse or loved one set healthy boundaries for personal protection.
The LDS ARP program generally uses the term “support person,” acknowledging that recovery is facilitated by having a specific person from whom an addict can receive confidential advice, encouragement and support.
Sponsors can be found at 12-Step meetings. Although anyone who is in recovery from a specific addiction can generally be a sponsor, it is important to find a sponsor who will work well with the individual seeking help. It is also important to remember that each sponsor offers unique insights and perspectives. At different points in the recovery process, individuals may feel a need to change sponsors. Some considerations in selecting a sponsor may include:
- Sponsors ordinarily should not be related or closely associated with the individual (i.e. a spouse, partner, family member, loved one, or even close friend). They need to provide an impartial perspective.
- Sponsors should be emotionally and spiritually stable in their own recovery. Unless they have thoroughly worked the steps and continue to do so, they cannot provide the insight necessary to help someone else.
- Sponsors should be readily available, willing to accept phone calls, and encourage those they sponsor to reach out to them whenever needed.
- Sponsors should keep confidences and maintain the anonymity of the person they are helping.
- Most programs suggest that sponsors be of the same gender as the addict. This is especially important for pornography and sexual addiction.
- Sponsors should hold individuals to their commitments. A good sponsor is someone who is honest and calls the addict out when he or she starts minimizing commitments or slipping into addictive or enabling behaviors.
- Sponsors must care about the individual. Effective sponsors will listen with empathy and act out of love and a desire to help the individual they sponsor succeed.
12-Step groups and professional counseling are equally important to recovery. Most individuals with successful recovery spend a substantial amount of time in counseling and the 12-Step program. Even though 12-Step support will serve as the foundation for long-term recovery, professional treatment provides a critical component for individual and relationship healing. For most people, a multi-dimensional approach works best. Like a rope, the real strength is not in the individual strands, but in weaving many strands together. A balanced recovery program will include an open-ended period of 12-Step support, individual and couples counseling, group counseling, education, proper nutrition and exercise, spirituality, and other lifestyle changes. Even though a handful of individuals and couples have apparently experienced recovery doing only one or the other, the majority of individuals and couples benefit from a multi-dimensional approach.
It is important to be aware of how effective the 12-Step groups are in your area at helping individuals find recovery. If you are struggling to find 12-Step meetings near you or would like help strengthening local groups, contact firstname.lastname@example.org. For specific information on organizing SA meetings, visit www.sa.org. To organize S-Anon meetings, see http://www.sanon.org/default.htm. To request that a LDS PASG or Family Support Group meeting be created in your area, contact your local LDS Family Services, http://www.providentliving.org/ses/emotionalhealth/contact/1,12169,2128-1,00.html.
Many children and youth are now addicted to pornography. Without appropriate help, their addiction can inhibit their ability to form healthy, emotional relationships with anyone. Because of the special considerations for teens, there are no regular, public 12-Step meetings available. There are counselors who specialize in this age group. Additionally, some therapists offer group sessions specifically for youth.
Protecting Against Pornography
Because of the changes in the way information is disseminated through high-speed media, there is no way to completely avoid pornography. Accidental exposure occurs even with the best software filtering programs. There are, however, some ways to decrease exposure. The most important method is to be personally committed to self-regulation. Individuals must be ready to turn away from provocative images that are displayed in advertising, written material, magazines, movies, television, games, or any electronic device connected to the Internet. Decreasing exposure to media is a good way to reduce the desensitizing process that occurs in our hyper-sexualized culture. It’s important to note that today’s mainstream media contains sexualized content that would have been considered “soft-core” pornography 30 years ago. Personal standards must be established ahead of time to avoid desensitization to offensive, immoral or pornographic material. Not only is decreasing exposure to triggering media important, but it is also important to personally monitor ongoing emotional and relational health that could increase vulnerability.
Education is essential in helping children become aware of the dangers involved with using pornography. Most people do not know that viewing pornography can quickly turn into a lifelong addiction that is extremely difficult to overcome. Teach children what to watch out for and how to respond when they encounter pornographic images or information. Regular, open communication about pornography with family members reinforces the commitment to core values and family rules that are established and agreed upon.
Careful consideration should be given when determining what kind of internet access to give children with phones, games or computers. Parents need to monitor the use of electronic devices. Vigilance is required even after taking precautions. Parents should be aware that 79% of pornography is viewed in the home—either their own home or that of a friend—so they need to establish rules regarding internet use. Although filters will not prevent a child from viewing pornography if that child is determined to do so, it will provide an initial delay and block most easy or accidental access. Having discussions about media use, posting guidelines for computers, and drafting a family pledge signed by all members may be beneficial. Additionally, watching for negative changes in a child’s behavior is important. If any such changes are noticed in a child’s behavior or a parent is concerned about possible pornography use, it is important to talk to the child and get help immediately if needed.
Individuals and parents can do many things to safeguard their homes from the harmful influences found on the Internet. While there is no foolproof system, some simple steps can help to reduce the risk of family members seeing encountering pornographic materials. Please visit www.salifeline.org for more information.
• Become educated about computers and how the Internet works. Your Internet browser allows you to view a history of sites that have been visited (although the history can be deleted).
• Place computers in high-traffic areas of the home. Kitchens and family rooms usually have the most traffic. Because these rooms usually do not have doors, they are typically less secluded than bedrooms. Position computer monitors so the screen faces outward for public view.
• Install Internet filters on electronic devices. Learn their features and how to use them. Good filtering programs have an un-erasable history of websites (including chat rooms) that have been visited and when they were visited. They can also provide a record of incoming and outgoing emails. Some filters allow you to password-protect the Internet or certain types of websites. Others allow you to set limits on when the Internet is accessible.
• Teach family members about the dangers of Internet pornography, including how to escape if an inappropriate site is accidentally accessed. Usually it is recommended to just push the off button to shut down the entire system or to walk away.
• Teach family members to tell their parents if they encounter any form of pornography while on the computer or elsewhere. This will help reduce the fear or shame of accidental exposure. It also serves to open discussion about the dangers of pornography.
• Teach family members to use the Internet for a specific purpose only. Aimless surfing makes it easier to happen to come across inappropriate sites.
• Teach family members to avoid public and private chat rooms, bulletin boards, forums, or unfamiliar areas on the Internet. Such places present a substantial risk for children and adults.
• Teach children not to share any personal information online without parental knowledge and permission. Many predators pose as children to gain access and to information that may put children at risk.
• Be aware of the policies of your children’s school and the local public library regarding Internet use and accessibility.
• Teach family members never to open email from someone anyone they don’t know. Even emails apparently from those you know could be a problem.
Our culture is filled with misleading and destructive messages about sexuality. If we let children learn about sexuality from the media and other influences that surround them, they are unlikely to develop a healthy concept of sex. When children understand healthy sexuality, they are better prepared to counter the unhealthy myths about sex and can better understand why pornography is so destructive. Parents must actively seek opportunities to teach children about gender roles, sex, and love. This should include the physical, emotional, and spiritual aspects of sex, including the proper, healthy role of sex within a marriage relationship. Given the prevalence of sexual and pornographic material in the world, teaching should begin early if parents wish to be the principal shapers of their children’s attitudes about sex. Teaching about healthy sexuality helps build openness, trust, and love, which allow children to feel comfortable discussing other subjects with their parents as well.
Pornography should be discussed much younger than most parents think. The average age of exposure to pornography is eleven. Parents should begin teaching very young children about modesty, privacy, and self-respect. Starting with basic concepts when children are young makes it easier to transition to discussing pornography more directly later on. By age eight, children are verbal, open, curious, less embarrassed, and old enough to understand many significant concepts. If a child can access the Internet, it might be a good time to talk with them about pornography.
Teaching begins by answering questions asked by children at any age simply and without embarrassment. Teaching about healthy sexuality includes providing instruction about the body and helping children understand that there are parts of the body that are kept private. Parents can effectively educate their children about pornography by finding appropriate teaching moments to discuss many of the same questions and issues presented in these questions.
When children unexpectedly view inappropriate or provocative material, they often instinctively hide it from their parents out of shame and embarrassment. Taking every opportunity to bring such material out in the open is important. Parents can begin teaching about pornography simultaneously when teaching about the body. For example, if a child picks up a book that illustrates personal parts of the human body, a parent could respond with a comment such as, “I see that picture caught your interest. Do you have any questions? Let’s talk about it.” Similarly, when a child views something sexually provocative or pornographic, acknowledging the material without discomfort or surprise is important. A parent might say, “I see that caught your attention. When we run across those kinds of pictures it is important to change the channel [close the book, throw it away, etc.] and then tell a parent.” It is important for parents to take the time to explain why the material is inappropriate and what to do when inappropriate material is encountered. Teaching children about what to do when they see pornography is just as important as teaching children what to do if they are exposed to any other drug.
This type of communication sends a clear message to children that parents are a good resource when they have questions. Children need to see that parents know what kinds of material are available, that they are not shocked or embarrassed by it, and that they have clear rules about what material should or should not be viewed. Responding to young children openly and factually with simple statements and explanations is generally best. As children get older, additional opportunities will arise to have more detailed discussions. If the topic does not arise on its own, find ways to bring up pornography and discuss it as children get older.
First and foremost, stay calm and do not overreact. A child’s recovery is going to be influenced by his ability to trust and confide in his parents. If a parent overreacts, she will likely cause the child to be more secretive down the road. If he senses that his parents understand and still love him, however, he will be more likely to communicate with them and allow his parents to be a part of the recovery process. Do not be afraid to be honest and open in your discussions. See “Creating a Safe Place to Talk about Dangerous Things” by Jeffery Ford in the appendix of this manual.
It is important that children understand that their parents love them and want them to be happy. Help them understand what pornography is, why it can be damaging, and why viewing pornography is of concern to everyone. If a child is regularly viewing pornography, ensure that he gets help. It is critical that children 1) come out of hiding and talk with their parents and an ecclesiastical leader, 2) become educated about pornography addiction and recovery, 3) be taught how to set boundaries, 4) get therapy, and 5) attend a 12-Step meeting regularly.
Although it may seem counterintuitive, the parent must also become educated, learn to set boundaries for the child, attend counseling, and participate in a 12-Step program. Discovering a pornography problem can be very devastating for parents who feel they have no real control or ability to affect the situation. It is common for parents to feel guilt for not having been able to prevent the problem. By actively taking these steps, parents can learn to deal with their child’s addiction appropriately and effectively and also experience healing themselves.
Do I Have a Problem?
Simply put, an individual has a problem when he tells himself that he is not going to look at pornography anymore and then finds himself doing it anyway. Pornography addicts return to thinking about, planning for, and participating in secret behaviors that take priority over healthy and important activities. The following list may help individuals in deciding if help would be beneficial:
• Feelings that the ability to stop viewing pornography is out of control
• Recurring patterns of “stop-start” behavior with frequent or consistent relapses
• Continued pornography use despite possible adverse consequences and losses including time, money, job, education, marriage, and family relationships
• Escalation of behavior including increased time spent viewing pornography, the need for increased stimulation and viewing or participating in harsher and more graphic forms of pornography
• History of lies, secrecy, deception, and living a double life in order to maintain the appearance of normality while participating in the viewing of pornography and other sexual behaviors
• Feelings of guilt, shame, and low self-worth related to one’s sexual behavior
Pornography addiction thrives in secrecy and often breeds feelings of shame and guilt which tend to cause the problem to escalate. Admitting and disclosing pornography use is the first step in stopping for good. Once an addict can admit and talk about the behavior, the shame and guilt often begin to dissipate. Talking to others can provide needed support, additional resources and accountability.
In contrast, keeping pornography behavior secret can actually create more emotional arousal, which may lead to additional acting out. “Asking for support is not easy, but living in recovery requires absolute honesty and the courage to ask for help. Denial, self-deception, and isolation are hallmarks of addictive behavior. These traits make it difficult to achieve lasting and stable progress in recovery without the support and perspective of others. It is important for an addict to enlist the help of appropriate and effective support people as soon as possible” (LDS.org).
Recovery is definitely possible, though difficult. Those who are completely committed to doing what it takes to find and maintain recovery are successful. Keep in mind, however, that the individual must desire recovery. The five elements of healing are:
• Come Out of Hiding: Coming out of hiding and honestly disclosing the problem to a spouse and ecclesiastical leader is essential. Committing to continued honesty and transparency is fundamental to the recovery process.
• Become Educated: Gain education regarding pornography addiction and the recovery process.
• Set Boundaries: Set specific boundaries to avoid situations that will compromise your commitment to recovery.
• Work a 12-Step Program: Find a sponsor, attend group meetings several times a week, and work the 12 Steps on a daily basis.
• Get Therapy: Seek professional counseling from a qualified therapist who specializes in sexual addiction.
12-Step programs: To find a 12-Step program, see the following websites:
SA Lifeline: www.salifeline.org
LDS Family Services: http://www.providentliving.org
Therapists: To find a therapist, see www.salifeline.org. Ask church leaders, family members, or friends for references for a therapist who specializes in sexual addiction. Additional resources for finding a therapist include the following:
• LifeSTAR Network: http://www.lifestarnetwork.org/
• Society for the Advancement of Sexual Health (SASH): http://www.sash.net
• LDS Family Services: http://www.providentliving.org
• Association of Mormon Counselors and Psychotherapists: www.ldsamcap.org
Books: To view books that can aid in the recovery process, see the resource lists in the appendix of this manual or visit www.salifeline.org.
If additional help is needed, please email SA Lifeline at email@example.com.
Finding professional counseling is essential to the recovery process. Most individuals and couples struggling with the impact of pornography will benefit from a combination of individual, couple, and group treatment. Support groups or 12-Step programs are not substitutes for therapeutic treatment. In selecting a therapist, the following considerations may be helpful:
- What training has the therapist received in dealing with sexual behaviors and addictions? Because of the complex nature of pornography addiction, specialized training is highly desirable. Ask the therapist if he or she is a member of a national organization for treatment of sexual addiction and if he or she has received specific certification or training.
- Does the therapist specialize in sexual addiction and how many years of experience does he or she have treating these problems? Good therapists specializing in other psychological problems may not necessarily be the best for treating sexual behavior.
- Are counseling services provided for the non-addicted spouse? Involvement of the non-addicted spouse in therapy is paramount for the spouse’s personal wellbeing and also for the health of the marriage.
- Does the therapist or clinic provide group therapy? Experience has shown that recovery is enhanced when individuals participate in group therapy.
- What does the therapist believe that the effects of viewing pornography are? Therapists often have varying opinions regarding whether the viewing of pornography and engaging in related sexual activities are problematic behaviors. Make certain that the therapist you are seeing shares your beliefs and value system.
- Does the therapist believe that pornography use can be classified as an addiction? Therapists who do not believe pornography is addictive will probably not be as effective in treatment.
- What steps are considered necessary to recovery? Some therapists do not believe recovery is possible or do not exhibit a strong understanding of what recovery requires.
- How does the therapist define recovery and measure success in treating those who view pornography? Discovering how a therapist defines recovery can also help gauge the effectiveness of treatment.
Addictive tendencies frequently do not completely go away. Nevertheless, as many individuals diligently work the steps of recovery, the behavior is kept in check and they never act out again. This is often referred to as recovery. Maintaining recovery generally involves continuing to work the twelve steps, setting and keeping boundaries, and having some permanent form of accountability through participation in a recovery program with a sponsor and/or with a religious leader or friend. Prompt and complete honesty in admitting any slips of behavior is critical. Those who avoid relapse are generally those who recognize that they are still addicts and are vigilant in continuing to utilize the tools of recovery. They also learn to recognize negative emotions and thought patterns leading to compulsions to act out on their addiction through pornography use. They address emotional needs by making necessary adjustments and reaching out to others for support long before those needs turn into addictive behaviors and acting out.
Viewing pornography can distort realistic views of healthy sexuality, lead to the objectification of women, and promote sexual gratification as a top emotional priority. Insensitivity to a partner’s personal needs and feelings are often a hallmark of relationships where pornography is involved. Even though pornography may be viewed in secret, the inability to connect with a partner and loved ones is often felt by all.
Because pornography involves emotional, chemical, and physical stimulation, it can reset the brain in such a way that normal, healthy sexual experiences become unsatisfying and unfulfilling. Increasingly extreme or deviant sexual acts are often required to bring about sexual satisfaction. As a result, pornography addiction frequently destroys healthy marital relationships and can lead to sexual acting out with self and others or other immoral behavior. Some statistics indicate that the likelihood of infidelity is increased by 300% percent where pornography is involved and 55% of divorces in the United States occur at least in part as a result of pornography use.
Pornography use destroys trust and respect and can make the user emotionally and physically unavailable to his partner. Pornography becomes a counterfeit attachment, drawing attention and time away from other relationships such as with a spouse or girlfriend. Additionally, addicts turn to pornography to satiate emotional needs and numb uncomfortable or painful emotions. This progressive behavior chokes the life out of healthy emotional, sexual, and spiritual intimacy between individuals.
Not only does viewing pornography damage relationships, it can also have a direct and destructive effect on the wellbeing of a spouse or loved one. Pornography addiction can destroy a spouse’s sense of being uniquely important to their partner. Many spouses report feeling a sense of betrayal, having low levels of self-esteem, having decreased trust in their partner’s commitment to the relationship, feeling diminished sense of security, and experiencing reduced marital satisfaction.
These negative emotions can manifest themselves in many ways. Wives may try to overcompensate in the hopes of regaining their husband’s attention or approval. Anorexia or other eating disorders are common among spouses of addicts, along with an unhealthy sense of responsibility for the success of the marriage and the addict’s behavior. Spouses may swing between feelings of anger, hatred, anxiety, and unhealthy compulsions to protect their partner and marriage from humiliation. The feelings of hopelessness may even escalate to thoughts of self-harm or suicide.
Pornography addicts frequently exert pressure on their spouses to keep the issue secret. Many spouses feel trapped in an unhealthy kind of isolation because they are unable to discuss their feelings or receive necessary needed support and help. Without appropriate help and counseling, the emotional, physical, and spiritual health of the addict’s spouse may be in as much danger as that of the addict himself.
Pornography causes a change in the way the user relates to others—especially to their children and spouse. The pornography user learns a simple, one-sided sexual response which eliminates intimacy. The user actually loses his ability to emotionally connect with others. Instead of warmth, empathy, and compassion, the user interacts with family members with detachment and criticism. He is emotionally unavailable. This can be very damaging to children.
In some cases, discovering or disclosing a pornography addiction may eventually lead to divorce. Some statistics indicate that 55% percent of divorces are related in some way to pornography. It is much less likely to result in divorce if the problem is disclosed by the addict, rather than discovered by the spouse. A large number of couples are able to find recovery and healing for the addict, the spouse, and the relationship. Several factors increase the probability of being able to heal the relationship, as outlined in the next answer.
Both the person addicted to pornography and the spouse must find their own recovery before any significant progress can be made toward healing the relationship. Pornography addicts frequently discourage their spouses from talking about the problem, getting counseling, or attending a 12-Step program. There is an instinct to keep the problem private in an attempt to protect the marriage. In reality, keeping the problem quiet is more safe and comfortable (i.e., less volatile) but is often very damaging to both the addict and the spouse. As difficult as it is, a recovering addict who truly wants to heal and strengthen the marriage should do everything he can to encourage his spouse to reach out and get help for herself.
Once both partners are committed to and consistently working their own recoveries, trust generally will slowly return to the relationship. Hope and optimism will grow. This does not mean, however, that the rest of the journey will be easy. During this time, marital counseling in addition to individual recovery programs is usually necessary. Understand that pornography addiction often causes a substantial amount of emotional and relational trauma for the spouse. It is important that an addict allows his spouse time and space to heal at her own pace. An addict should be sympathetic to his spouse’s feelings of anger, frustration, ambivalence, and hurt. As an addict makes an effort to strengthen the relationship and work on his individual recovery, the three recoveries (his, hers, and ours) begin to support and complement one another. Specific actions that can be taken by the addict to help strengthen the marriage include the following:
- Fully commit to completing all necessary elements of recovery.
- Disclose past behavior. By postponing disclosure or confessing a little bit at a time out of the fear that the spouse “can’t handle everything,” the healing process is often impeded and the resulting hurt prolonged. It may be wise to consult with a therapist and/or sponsor before making the full initial disclosure.
- Continue to promptly disclose any slips promptly. Honesty and openness (transparency) are essential. Most spouses report that although relapses are difficult to deal with, secrecy and lies are intolerable. Graphic details are not necessary, but the spouse should know the type of slip, the duration, severity, and frequency of acting out.
- Set realistic expectations about the recovery process. Change takes time and there will almost always be slips or relapses. Recognize that the marriage also takes time to heal.
- Recognize the trauma a spouse may be experiencing. Reach out to the other person, try to alleviate her workload and spend time together doing activities that can help rebuild the relationship (walking, gardening, cooking, etc.).
- Encourage the spouse to get counseling and support. Attending counseling as a couple is also helpful.
Spouses of Addicts
Feeling intense hurt, sadness, low self-worth, betrayal, anger, or even hatred is common.36 It is important for spouses to recognize how they are responding, emotionally, and to find a trusted friend or family member or ecclesiastical leader with whom they can share these feelings and seek support. It is also important to honestly share those feelings with the addicted spouse.
Keeping things in perspective is important. Having a pornography problem does not negate everything good in the addicted spouse. Still, it is a significant, serious problem and should not be minimized. Remembering positive experiences can help provide motivation to work through the difficult times ahead and apply the necessary effort to save the marriage. It is helpful to try to be calm and compassionate. On the other hand, feeling responsible to change the addict’s behavior or lashing out in anger is not helpful. The addict’s spouse needs help and support as she works through her emotions and sets appropriate boundaries. Getting help will ensure the emotional well-being of the spouse and will aid in repairing the marriage relationship.
Pornography is addictive. Once the addiction is established it is extremely difficult to quit and it is almost impossible to stop without outside help.
Many spouses of addicts feel a sense of isolation and abandonment after discovering the addiction. It is common for the addict’s spouse to avoid telling others about the addiction, hide her feelings, or pretend that nothing is wrong. She often feels a great deal of pressure to protect the addicted spouse and preserve the image of normalcy. As the addict’s spouse withdraws, it is common for her to feel increasingly lonely and hopeless. Depression and even thoughts of suicide may result.
Discovering an addiction can start a chain of devastating emotional responses. Many spouses of addicts experience intense anger, while others respond by feeling numb and listless. Thoughts such as, “How could this happen to me?” or “What did I do to deserve this?” are common. Many spouses have feelings of guilt or a false misplaced sense of personal responsibility for the addiction. Spouses often experience feelings of low self-worth and fall into thinking, “This wouldn’t have happened if I had just been a better wife,” or “If I was were just more attractive or sexy, this wouldn’t be a problem.” This type of thinking is often followed by feeling the need to fix the problem and the belief that some action on their part, such as working harder to be pleasant or losing weight, will make the problem go away. When such efforts to fix the problem do not work, feelings of fear, anxiety, hopelessness, and despair increase. Fear and uncertainty about the future—“What is going to happen? If I were to leave the marriage, what would I do? What about the children? What about our marriage?”—can become overwhelming.
As emotional wellbeing deteriorates, spouses often fall into counter-productive behaviors or dangerous coping mechanisms. Spouses commonly try to be the policeman by constantly monitoring the addict or trying to manage his recovery. They frequently become obsessed with looking for “evidence” by checking their spouse’s email, reading their journal, looking for unusual charges on credit card statements, or checking the calls on their spouse’s cell phone. Many develop eating disorders such as anorexia, bulimia, overeating, or under-eating. Serious depression is very common. Hopeful feelings like “We have finally gotten to the bottom of this and will put this behind us forever,” alternate with feelings such as, “There is no hope for ever getting out of this endless cycle.” The addict’s spouse may wonder what is wrong and why they she feels so out of control.
Discovering that your spouse is addicted to pornography can turn your world upside down. Many spouses of addicts feel deeply hurt, betrayed, angry, ashamed, numb, sad, depressed, or helpless. Many initially worry that they will never be able to trust their spouses again. Spouses often feel uncertainty and fear for the future. The cycle of feelings experienced is very similar to grieving for the death of a loved one and may include the following symptoms: (1) shock, (2) disbelief or denial, (3) anger, (4) bargaining, (5) depression and then, finally, (6) acceptance. Acknowledging, accepting, and allowing those feelings to take their course are important steps. Addicts frequently withdraw and disconnect from relationships. The addict may exert pressure on the spouse to protect his secrecy or to not pursue help. It is crucial for spouses of addicts to get help, regardless of whether the addicted approves.
It is just as important for the spouse of an addict to reach out and get help as it is for the addict. This means developing a strong support network, getting appropriate counseling, participating in a 12-Step program, and having a sponsor. If both parties are willing to do their part in working toward recovery, usually trust can be rebuilt over time and the relationship can begin to heal. The initial focus, however, needs to be on individual recovery. While many spouses of addicts want to jump in and work on fixing the marriage relationship, working to heal the marriage can be ineffective and even counterproductive as long as the addiction and its effects on the addict’s spouse are active and unresolved. It is like pumping air into a tire that has a hole in it. As long as the hole is there, any air pumped into the tire will just leak out. The hole in the marriage needs to be repaired first as each individual gets help. Repairing the marriage relationship will come later. Counseling from a qualified therapist who specializes in sexual addiction is often useful in this process.
Spouses of addicts frequently fall into behaviors that are counterproductive to the recovery process. They may try to control or compel the addict’s recovery. On the other extreme, they may be so afraid of “rocking the boat”’ that they will not set boundaries to protect themselves or set consequences if those boundaries are crossed. Relationships have the greatest chance of healing if the spouse focuses on her own individual recovery and well-being rather than obsessing about her spouse. The spouse of the addict also needs to set the clear boundaries and expectations with the addict as well as establish consequences if the boundaries are crossed they are not met.
For the spouse of an addict, there are many things that can be done to more effectively handle the difficult emotions and trauma that may be experienced. The following are five elements to healing that many have found helpful:
Break the secrecy: Develop a support system and find others to safely confide in. This may include a parent, a close friend, a religious leader, and/or a therapist.
Become educated: Learn about the nature of pornography addiction. While spouses of addicts can support recovery, it is important to understand that the addict is responsible for the progression of his own addiction and it that cannot be fixed by trying to control the addict.
Practice self-care and set boundaries: Slow down and allow time before making life changing decisions. Prayerfully set boundaries defining unacceptable behavior in order to protect your emotional, physical, and spiritual wellbeing. Make time for daily physical and spiritual care.
Get Therapy: Seek appropriate personal and marital counseling.
Find a 12-Step Program: Network with the spouses of other addicts. Work the 12 steps of recovery and find a sponsor.
12-Step programs: S-Anon is a 12-Step program for spouses or other family members whose lives have been impacted by the behavior of sex addicts, including those with pornography problems. It is allied with Sexaholics Anonymous.
SA Lifeline: www.salifeline.org
LDS Family Services: http://www.providentliving.org
For the spouse of a pornography addict, getting the support and help needed is particularly difficult because doing so involves disclosing the addict’s behavior to someone else, and thus breaking anonymity to some degree. One of the most serious side effects of a pornography addiction for the spouse of an addict is that she can either consciously or subconsciously be manipulated into remaining quiet and suffering in silence. It is important to realize that although the addict has control over his actions, he has no right to control his spouse’s behavior. The addict’s spouse must feel free to build a safe support network, to attend recovery meetings, and to seek appropriate counseling. The decision about how much information to disclose and to whom should be made with sensitivity and discretion. Many women find it helpful to share what they are experiencing with a trusted friend, family member, ecclesiastical leader, sponsor, or support group. Indiscriminate disclosure of a pornography addiction is not advisable and can result in adverse consequences for children and others involved.
Dating and Pornography
In varying degrees, virtually everyone will have some exposure to pornography which affects their views of sexuality. This may range from casual exposure to serious addiction. Given the breadth of widespread promiscuity in society, it is important to discuss how each individual views and will handle pornography regardless of whether the person has previously had a problem. Openly discussing pornography can safeguard individuals and relationships. A person can be: 1) currently addicted, 2) previously addicted but now in recovery, or 3) never addicted with minimal exposure to pornography. By determining the category the other person in the dating relationship falls into, an individual can gain valuable insight concerning how to proceed appropriately with the relationship. Even if there has been minimal exposure, it is important to openly discuss pornography and set necessary boundaries to prevent future problems.
For those who have had or currently have a problem with pornography, it is very important to discuss this with any person they seriously date. Pornography use is extremely addictive and can frequently reoccur unless significant preventive measures are taken. By talking about this problem early on in a relationship, individuals can learn to develop open communication and set appropriate boundaries that will safeguard both people, help guide relationship decisions, and create a safe, trusting environment.
Some people have suggested bringing up pornography by the second date. While that is probably too soon for many, here are a few questions to help guide determinations:
Are you “exclusive” (i.e., boyfriend and girlfriend)?
Is the relationship such that you can talk or have already talked about other significant personal issues?
Are you looking to advance your relationship by becoming engaged or married?
Does your partner know and trust you enough to disclose and discuss personal challenges?
For those who cannot answer yes to any of those questions, it is probably too soon. For those who can answer yes to one or more questions, now might be an appropriate time. For those who can answer yes to all questions, it is definitely time to discuss pornography. Discussing pornography before becoming engaged is very important.
There is no easy way to bring up this uncomfortable topic. One approach is simply to ask if the other person has ever had or currently has a problem with pornography. Another way is to initially share a personal experience or talk about a related article and then move into the topic. It is important to ask what the other person’s exposure to pornography has been, not if they have been exposed. Discussions might include when and where pornography was last viewed and what the response was. Ask what is being done now to protect against pornography addiction. If an addiction has previously occurred, ask what was done to stop viewing pornography. Did the other person see a counselor or attend 12-Step meetings? Ask them if they have had any relapses. If there is a problem, it is common to receive a vague, incomplete, deflective, or less-than-honest answer. For those who have any reason to think they are not getting a complete story, trust those instincts and bring the topic up again at a later date—or consider ending the relationship. A dating partner with difficulty telling the truth about pornography has the potential to become a spouse who does not tell the truth about it after marriage.
The answer is simple: talk to him. Discuss any concerns or suspicions with the other person. Consider using the questions in the brochure Pornography & Dating to guide these discussions or see www.salifeline.org. Be careful about the speed at which the relationship progresses until recovery is solidly underway. As always, encourage anyone addicted to pornography to fully disclose his problem and get appropriate help.
Pornography causes a change in the way the user relates to others. The pornography user learns a simple, one-sided sexual response which effects feelings of closeness and intimacy. This escalates into a loss of the ability to emotionally connect with others. Instead of warmth, empathy and compassion, the user often interacts with emotional detachment and criticism. He is emotionally unavailable, and may even suggest that this detachment is the fault of the person he is dating. This can be very damaging to your self esteem and confidence.
Pornography addiction is not a problem that is fixed by marriage and marriage won’t make the problem easier to fix. Additionally, this addiction will always escalate. A person with a pornography addiction cannot build a healthy relationship. Their ability to be unselfish, compassionate, and emotionally available is severely compromised by their addiction.
Although graphic details are not necessary, it is important to tell the other person the nature and extent of behavior related to viewing pornography early on in the relationship. Depending on the seriousness of the relationship, encouraging the other person to see a counselor or attend a 12-Step support program may be a good idea. Consider setting boundaries regarding the speed with which the relationship progresses based upon the recovery progress. It is frequently recommended that an addict be well along in the recovery process before entering into a serious relationship. In general, being in recovery for at least 7–12 months is recommended.
Recognize that those addicted to pornography can change their lives, but do not underestimate the power of pornography addiction. Love for the addict requires exercising patience and setting appropriate healthy boundaries at all stages of the relationship. This may require (1) waiting to move forward in a relationship, (2) deciding to end a relationship, or (3) setting and abiding by specific rules and guidelines regarding a relationship’s progression. An important factor in deciding whether to continue in a relationship is whether the person is in recovery or is actively seeking recovery from his pornography addiction. It is frequently recommended that there be at least 7–12 months of solid recovery before proceeding seriously forward. It is important that individuals understand what recovery looks like and are able to identify whether their loved one is in the recovery process.
If the other person is currently viewing pornography, it is important to proceed slowly with the relationship or to give serious consideration to ending the relationship. Be careful not to confuse emotions with the best course of action. Dating a person with an active pornography addiction can have very serious and unexpected emotional consequences. Carefully weigh the risks of continuing in such a relationship. Carefully evaluate whether the other person acknowledges that they are addicted, is willing to take the steps required to recover, and is actively doing everything in his power to overcome this addiction. It is important to talk with trusted individuals, become educated regarding pornography addiction, and set boundaries. Additionally, attending counseling as well as 12-Step support groups may be helpful.
It is not uncommon to experience some kind of trauma after being in a close relationship with a pornography addict. Common problems include anorexic or bulimic tendencies, obsession with personal appearance, feelings of low self-worth, decreased self-confidence, a feeling of spiritual darkness and abandonment, a decreased ability to trust and form healthy relationships with other men, and acceptance of unhealthy or abusive behaviors as normal.
If someone who is dating or has dated a pornography addict starts to experience any of the feelings listed above, it is important that she talk with someone. She may consider seeing a counselor and attending a 12-Step program. Getting support from a professional counselor who understands the impact of a pornography addiction is important. Talking with friends or family who can offer support and help put things in perspective is also helpful.
There are several obstacles to combating pornography including a lack of awareness surrounding the nature and magnitude of the problem, embarrassment discussing or dealing with pornography openly, and a lack of understanding about whom pornography affects. Leaders can be instrumental in effectively educating those within their sphere of influence by taking opportunities to arrange appropriate and effective presentations and discussions on the topic. The goals of these presentations may include helping others understand the following:
- The nature and magnitude of the pornography problem, as well as how it affects them, their friends, and their loved ones
- The need to confront the problem directly and openly
- The addictive nature of pornography and what steps must be taken to find recovery
- The effect pornography has on dating and potential marriage relationships
- Potential warning signs that a pornography problem exists
- The negative effects that an addict’s behavior can have on loved ones
- The need for individuals struggling with pornography addiction to disclose their problem and seek appropriate help
- The need to be sensitive to and supportive of those who are affected by pornography addiction—both those addicted and their spouses
- How to find the help and support needed for addicts and their loved ones
- The need to be proactive in teaching children about the dangers of pornography, taking steps to keep the home safe, and being prepared to deal with any pornography issues as they arise
Many individuals are afraid to take the initiative to confess a pornography problem. Directly asking specific questions, such as, “When was the last time you viewed or were exposed to pornography?” can effectively help open the discussion. Vague yes/no questions such as, “Do you have a pornography problem?” are less effective and generally do not lead to further discussion.
If an individual is struggling, encourage him to meet with you regularly. Consistent accountability regarding the specific recovery actions being taken and the length of his sobriety are important. When asked questioned, individuals may respond that they are not viewing pornography, but fail to fully disclose other acting out behaviors, such as regular or periodic masturbation. Provide and encouragement as they work their recovery program.
Encourage participants to (1) be transparent in disclosing behavior to their spouse and ecclesiastical leader, (2) become educated, (3) set boundaries, (4) get therapy, and (5) attend appropriate 12-Step meetings.
O Lord, wilt thou grant unto us that we may have success in bringing them again unto thee in Christ. —Alma 31:34
Pornography addiction often has devastating effects for the spouse of the addict. It is common for spouses to have significant trauma, yet fail to get adequate or appropriate help, support, and counseling. Recognize and watch for serious potential side effects such as depression, eating disorders, or thoughts of suicide. It is also common for the spouses of addicts to start questioning their faith in God as they struggle to understand why He would allow this to happen. Listen to and validate the spouse’s feelings. Become educated regarding the effect an addict’s pornography addiction can have on his spouse. Strongly encourage the affected spouse to (1) continue seeking support from trusted individuals, (2) become educated about the addiction, (3) set boundaries and practice self-care, (4) get therapy, and (5) attend appropriate 12-Step meetings. Take the time to learn about all of these actions and what is required for a pornography addict to achieve and maintain recovery, and what is necessary for his wife to find her own recovery.
A priesthood leader most frequently becomes an enabler when he suggests a solution for the addict’s “little problem,” and then proposes a course of treatment that primarily consists of daily prayer, scripture study, and better time management. The priesthood leader often does not understand that viewing pornography results in a “behavioral or natural addiction” and involves not just spiritual trauma but also serious mental and physical trauma that is not easily healed without the involvement of a qualified therapist and the support of a 12-Step fellowship.
Nevertheless, by assuming that this is just a bad habit that can be overcome through sincere personal effort, the leader misleads the addict, spouse, and parents into thinking that what they are doing is entirely sufficient for full recovery. They may dismiss professional therapy and 12-Step groups as unnecessary and oftentimes “overkill” for dealing with a valiant priesthood holder’s problem. The pornography user sticks with his resolve for a few months until he and the priesthood leader conclude that the “little problem” has been overcome and further check-ins are unnecessary. Without full addiction recovery work, the pornography user will lose his resolve and return to his pornography addiction, which evolves into acting out sexually.
Priesthood leaders must remember what pornography actually is. Pornography is Satan’s perfect weapon to mock and scorn the divine gifts of our bodies and our ability to procreate. In addition, it is highly addictive, so it can rob us of our free will. The damage it can cause to our souls is far greater and more serious than damage done by a Word of Wisdom infraction. Voluntarily viewing pornography, because it is a calloused disrespect of our divine nature, can cause a severing of our ties to God, leaving the natural man totally alone in the world without peace and hope. Viewing pornography is never a little problem. Read the letter from an addict to a bishop in the Information for Church Leaders section of the Help I Need More Information tab.