The first memory I have of watching pornography is when I was 11 years old. It’s amazing that I didn’t even have the vocabulary to describe what I was witnessing, yet the innocence of my brain and body were gone in an instant.
I didn’t know it then, but my body and mind were awakened to a world of sexual stimulants that I was never made to endure. According to an article by the New York Times, 93% of boys and 62% of girls are exposed to online pornography during their adolescence. This is an issue that goes beyond the church walls.
Porn addiction is more than mere videos or online seductions. Pornography is defined as the “printed or visual material containing the explicit description or display of sexual organs or activity, intended to stimulate erotic rather than aesthetic or emotional feelings.”
It can be easy to say, “Well, since I don’t watch these videos or go to these websites, I don’t have a problem.” Wrong. How many times have I written off the absurdly graphic sexual encounters described in various books as pure literature or even worse, entertainment? They are stimulants that create a very real reaction.
My sexual education came from an awkward 5th grade class, an even more awkward 8th grade health class, pornography, and friends who were sexually active. The only times I can remember hearing about sex in church were once in a Sunday School class where the teacher said she could tell just by looking who has had sex, and a few relationship/marriage talks.
As the good Christian girl, I pledged to stay abstinent until marriage. However, my seemingly perfect chastity was made murky by the secret I kept.
When I was 19, I had an encounter with God that changed my life. Long story short, I decided enough was enough and I had to give my life to Jesus—my entire life. I knew I would be different from that moment on. I mean, Jesus had my heart so all of my bad habits left immediately, right? Wrong.
A few months after that, I found myself in a room by myself watching porn. Although something had changed… I realized there was a pattern for why and when I watched porn.
Shame. Fear. Control.
There’s an amazing ministry called Restoring the Foundations. They are trained to identify and help mend different hurts one collects as a byproduct of being a human.
One of the things they examine is the cycle of shame, fear, and control. The cycle goes something like this: A person feels shame for something they’ve done, they’re afraid of being discovered, so they try to control the situation themselves.
The clearest example of this is Adam and Eve in Genesis. They ate the fruit they were told not to eat, they were ashamed, they were fearful of being discovered, so they tried to control the situation by fashioning for themselves makeshift clothes to cover their nakedness.
Shame, as opposed to guilt, attaches itself to a person’s identity. It’s the difference between saying “I made a mistake” and saying “I am a mistake.” This is how I approached pornography.
There would be a trigger, mainly an emotional trigger, something that made me feel lonely or afraid. Then, I would engage with porn. Afterwards, I was ashamed.
I wasn’t the good girl everyone thought I was. I tried to control the situation myself. I tried so hard to be perfect on the outside to veil the mess that was inside. I could only control the situation until another emotional trigger set the cycle off over and over again. This pattern also illuminated that porn was just the symptom of a bigger problem.
Where do we go from here?
Learn your triggers. After I recognized the triggers that sent me running to the counterfeit embrace pornography offers, I could preempt my reaction to run to porn. Instead, I ran to God.
Ask for help. This will never get old. The thing about shame is, it breeds in darkness. It festers in your deepest thoughts. It feeds off of the lies you believe about yourself. Identify safe people you can ask for help. You weren’t made to live life alone. Above all, ask God for help. The same power that raised Christ from the dead lives in you. That’s a pretty stacked deck.
Accept the fact that you are loved. I elevated the shame I felt over the truth of God. According to Him, nothing can separate me from His love that is in Christ Jesus (Romans 8). According to Him, I am chosen. According to Him, I am forgiven.
According to Covenant Eyes’ 2013 pornography statistics report, fifty percent of Christian men and twenty percent of Christian women admit that they are addicted to porn.
It’s an age old debate. Bigger is better. Size matters. But contrary to all the urban myths, the black man’s biggest sexual organ lies between his ears. And none of this is more evident in the African American male community than when it comes to pornography. I address men here because, honestly, they are 543% more likely to look at porn than women. As of this writing, over 451, 597,025 searches have been conducted since the start of 2013. Yes, that’s only three months! 1 out of every 4 online searches is for pornography. Unfortunately, because the church doesn’t address this issue adequately, many Black Christian men feel like they are alone in their battle to remain porn-free. But statistics have shown that 1 out of every 2 Christian men are addicted to porn (while 1 in 5 Christian women admit porn addiction). 9 out of 10 boys are exposed to pornography before the age of 18. Sadly, 2 out of every 3 young men feel that porn is an acceptable way to express their sexuality. And the pulpit isn’t exempt. 51% of pastors in a recent poll admitted that porn was a potential personal temptation. My goal here isn’t to bombard you with statistics. Instead, I want to highlight a major, potentially unaddressed problem in the African American faith community.
The reason porn is so prevalent in the faith community is because of its addictive nature. For years, the Black church has treated this as merely a sin issue, something to be expunged from a person’s life. Maybe it’s time we went a little further. Although it is important to realize that sex addiction is a sin, it is even more important to realize that sex addiction is a disease that needs proper treatment. In his work, Healing the Wounds of Sexual Addiction, Dr. Mark Laaser describes the cycle involved with sex addiction. He asserts that frequently sexual addiction progresses from fantasy, to porn, and ultimately leads to masturbation. The former naturally leads to the latter. Sound familiar? It should. “Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death” (James 1:15). The task of attempting to treat sexual addiction is to attempt to break this cycle. And, for many, that’s no easy task.
Laaser also asserts that the chemical changes present in sexual addiction mirror drug and alcohol addiction in many ways. In his opinion, it becomes important to treat sexual addiction with the same level of severity. He writes, “Just like alcoholics, sex addicts tell themselves they can quit tomorrow if they want to. They like to think they are in control, but they are not.” Here’s a video that explains the chemical changes in the brain as a result of pornography:
This is a very real issue—even for saved, sanctified, filled with the Holy Ghost Christians. So where does that leave Black men? Hopelessly left to our own vices? On the current trajectory, yes. But there’s hope. Psychologist Al Cooper stated that the allure of porn is driven by three engines: affordability, availability, and anonymity. Internet accountability group Covenant Eyes uses the imagery of a three legged stool to paint a word picture of each. Remove one leg and you make the stool much harder to sit on comfortably for someone dealing with a porn addiction. So here are some ways to remove those legs brothers:
1. Remove the Availability
There are tons of internet programs that block certain sites (here’s one). This seems like common sense, but you’d be surprised at how something as simple as putting a great porn filter on your computer can help overcome your addiction. For example, if I were a former alcoholic it might not be a good idea to visit liquor stores or sit in bars on my lunch break. Removing the temptation goes a long way in helping overcome the temptation. That’s why Paul was so adamant when he told the Corinthians church, “Flee!!!!” There’s a desperation associated with that word. The good thing about steadfast resistance is that eventually it will cause the tempter himself, exasperated from his futile attempts, to flee.
2. Increase YourAvailability Let me tell you, there is no way to overcome any addiction apart from God’s Spirit. Human nature drives us toward sin. Everything natural tells us that it feels right. Only the work of God’s Spirit can help us to overcome this temptation.
Jesus tells a story in the Gospels about an unclean spirit leaving a man, returning, and finding him more accessible. The man is “empty and swept out”. So ultimately the spirit brings seven other spirits with it. And Scripture says the last state of that man was worse than he was before. The problem was that this man didn’t replace what left with something (or should I say Someone) else. It’s not enough to remove the temptation. Overcoming any temptation is a three-step process: recognition, removal, and replacement.
Replacement necessitates increasing your availability to the Spirit of God. Finding ourselves empty and swept out in the porn context means those idle moments where we have nothing else to do. Sitting in front of the computer screen. www…(nothing comes to mind). Empty. Swept out. It’s those moments where decisions have to be made. Will I fill that void with my old habit (which gets worse over time)? Or will I become more available to the life-giving Spirit of Christ? The more we yield to the prompting of God’s Spirit, the less we make ourselves susceptible to our flesh. We are encouraged to walk in the Spirit, but that also necessitates making ourselves available to Him.
3. Create Some Accountability
I’m not talking about the false, “How you doings?” we toss around every Sunday before Church. Because honestly, if folks told you how they were really doing, there’d be no need for a service or a sermon. Prayer would become the focus. Hurting people walk in our churches every week, yet church culture teaches them to be “blessed”, “highly favored”, and problem-free. This can’t be any further from the truth of a lived-out Gospel within the community of faith.
When I say accountability, I mean two steps. First, is personal responsibility. Seems like Job was serious about this. This brother made a covenant with his eyes not to look lustfully at a woman. It might not be a covenant with your eyes, but find a way to make yourself personally accountable. The second step is being accountable to others: creating a space with people you trust where you can be real, transparent, and free to share. For men, this is very difficult. Most men hate talking (unless its about sports or other activities of common interest). That is, until they find someone they can trust. Throughout history, men have learned that collective effort is much more productive than compartmentalized, individual effort. Strength in numbers isn’t just a cliche, it’s a reality. When it comes to porn addiction, although it’s hard to stand alone, standing with others who have your back helps immensely. Illustratively, Scripture tells us that a threefold cord is not easily broken. Find some real, honest, brothers who can help in the accountability process.
In closing, I’m not writing this as a theory. In my college days, I had a “stash”. I know the addictive nature of pornography. But I also have experienced the power of God to overcome something that could have eventually led to my spiritual death. I’m not dismissive when it comes to the amount of temptation and stimulation men deal with regularly. But I am certain that the process described above can help overcome any temptation—including porn. If you are dealing with this issue, start with these three steps: Remove its availability, increase your availability (to God’s Spirit), and create yourself some accountability.