Steps for Overcoming Pornography Use

Do you struggle with an addiction to porn? It is estimated that 40 million adults regularly view porn, and these numbers increase dramatically when you include those who say that they watch porn occasionally. If you know the difficulty of viewing porn, you are likely familiar with the cycle: You give in to temptation to view the porn; you feel guilty, dirty, and ashamed and you vow never to look again; you kick the habit for a bit until the next business trip, or fight with your wife, or stressful situation at work, and you convince yourself that one more time won’t hurt anything. Then the cycle begins again. You may know all too well the damage that porn can do to your marriage and to those you love. Yet, quitting the habit at times feels impossible. Scripture assures us that God’s Spirit dwells in us, empowering us to live in freedom from the power of sin. How can you find freedom from this destructive habit?

Know your Triggers

Pornography is like an energy drink for the soul. It gives you a jolt, a rush of adrenaline, and a momentary thrill. Like a student chugging an energy drink before a test to cover up for poor study habits, a person will often turn to porn to cover up for a deeper concern. We might log on to a porn site after a particularly stressful week at work to provide some distraction. Or, we pull out our phone after a fight with our spouse; after all, the images on the screen don’t ask us to do the hard work of vulnerability that a real relationship requires.

Or if you travel for business, porn might be an easy way to ease the loneliness that you feel while you are away from home. If you want to fight temptation to pornography, begin by paying attention to what is going on in your spirit when the temptation amps up. Identify the stressors that heighten your desire for porn so that you can ask God to help you turn to more appropriate ways to cope with those inner stressors.

Come Clean

One of the hardships of a pornography addiction is the shame that it brings to us. We feel embarrassed for having given in (again). We feel guilty for a habit that may well devastate those close to us. We feel afraid of being caught but ashamed enough that we feel no choice but to hide this habit. The truth is, in most cases healing and recovery can happen best when you share your struggle with your spouse. Keeping a habit and a struggle hidden may work as a short-term solution, as it avoids the inevitable pain, anger, and disappointment that your spouse may feel.

However keeping the secret will ultimately undermine the trust that your spouse has in you. Disclosing your habit will be painful (and the fallout may be considerable) in the short-term, but ultimately it is the first step towards rebuilding trust in the marriage. Be prepared, this will not be an easy conversation. Your spouse may feel a range of emotions, anger, hurt, betrayal, disgust, or sadness. Your job in telling her is not to explain your actions or defend yourself, neither is it to point the finger (“If you would only have sex with me more often, maybe I wouldn’t feel the need to look at that stuff!”) but to listen, validate their feelings, ask for forgiveness, and commit to repentance. The next few days, weeks, or even months will be tough, and you will need to be patient as your spouse works through the complexity of emotions.

If you are the spouse of someone who has revealed to you that they struggle with porn, you have a right to feel all of the emotions that are described above. You have the right to share those feelings with your spouse without having to defend how you feel, and you have the right to be heard. In the future, your spouse will need your support as they overcome this addiction, but to give that support you will need the freedom to share your emotions with them.

Seek Help (from Others and from Each Other)

For this reason, seeking counseling can be beneficial. Meeting with a pastor, or a licensed counselor or therapist can provide specific guidance for your situation and can offer tools that will help in your recovery, and will assist in healing your marriage. As well, there are support groups that can be a valuable source of support because they surround you with others who have walked this road before.

However, a key step in many recoveries is learning to lean on each other. Since a person will often turn to pornography to deal with a particular stressor (loneliness, anxiety, stress, boredom), one of the ways to resist this temptation is to communicate those stressors to the one with whom we are covenanted to be open and vulnerable with. Asking your spouse to listen and explaining that you need their encouragement and support helps them to recognize the valuable role that they play in your recovery. This gives them a chance to be for you what porn has often been.

Rest in Grace

Finally, rest in God’s grace. Hebrews 4:15 reminds us that Jesus is one who was “tempted in every way that we are, yet was without sin…[so] we may draw near to the throne of grace that we may receive mercy, and find grace to help in our time of need.” This is a tremendous promise for anyone who struggles with a persistent sin. Jesus knows the power of sexual temptation because he no doubt faced it. Knowing and overcoming its power means that he can empathize with you. If you embrace Jesus as your savior, you can be assured that he doesn’t look down on you in disgust, or turn his face away from you, embarrassed over your struggle.

Jesus knows the power of sin, but he also has conquered it. It no longer holds the power of condemnation over you. You may relapse into old habits, and your victory over porn may be, at times, two steps forward, and one step back; however, in Christ, there is no longer any condemnation against you (See Rom. 8:1). Rest assured in this promise!

Overcoming the power of sin, especially the sin of pornography, is not an easy road to walk. There may be setbacks along the way, but Christ empowers us to walk this road with him! He will help you to overcome this sin, and to live in victory over your sin.

About the author — Rev. Dr. Rob Toornstra

Rob Toornstra has pastored a church in Salem Oregon for the past ten years. He has been married to Amy for fifteen years, and together, they are enjoying the adventure of raising two girls and one boy. For fun, Rob enjoys cooking, reading, aviation, and geocaching.  He is the author of "Naked and Unashamed: How the Good News of Jesus Transforms Intimacy" (Doulos, 2014).

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