I was about 15-years-old when I first discovered masturbation. When I discovered pornography, it exacerbated the habit until I eventually became addicted to it. Whenever I was tempted, I would find time to look at porn and masturbate. When I was upset or lonely, I’d do the same. Even if I were just bored I would find the time to masturbate with porn. I would masturbate from anywhere between one or several times a day. Sometimes there would be days when I didn’t masturbate at all, but the inevitable urge for that instant gratification would always win once it came. I kept it a secret for eight years. My parents never caught me and I never talked to anyone about it, even those few friends I had who admitted to masturbation and pornography use. These friends, however, didn’t admit the habit in admission of their guilt; they admitted it in the promotion of masturbation and pornography use. I can’t speak for women, but nearly all men today will tell you that masturbation and pornography are healthy, even some Christian men. They have been fooled and blinded by the Devil in this thinking.
It is common secular thinking that masturbation and pornography are normal. In fact, they even say that everyone should masturbate regularly while they look at pornography, even if you’re married. There is no logical argument for their side other than the argument that “it’s normal.” There is nothing normal about it. A consensus for an activity does not normalise it. Too much porn coupled with masturbation can lead to erectile dysfunction. Pornography and masturbation are like a drug. With any drug, the more you use it, the more you build your tolerance to it; and the higher your tolerance, the bigger the dosage needs to be in order for you to “get that high” again. It is the same thing with pornography and masturbation. The more you use it, the more you’ll only be aroused by porn. You have to keep going to it more and more and find more hardcore images in order to satisfy your libido. It can even lower your sex drive, which will ruin your sex life with your spouse. Why bother with sex when you can have whatever fantasy you want with internet porn at your disposal? There are many physiological and psychological negative effects to your brain on porn besides the two I mentioned. For any male who is struggling with masturbation and pornography, I recommend you read a book called Wired for Intimacy: How Pornography Hijacks the Male Brain. It’s a phenomenal book written by a Christian neuroscientist, William M. Struthers, who writes on the negative chemical effects pornography and masturbation have on the male brain, as well as the spiritual effects.
Besides the negative physical effects, what negative spiritual effects does it have? Since I am a man, I can only speak on the effect this has on men. However, most of what I talk about can work vice versa for women. The most obvious spiritual effect is that it causes men to have a lack of respect and honour for women. When a man is addicted to pornography, he no longer views a woman as a human being created in God’s image. He sees her as an object to be used for his sexual gratification. The moment he sees an attractive woman, he begins to undress her with his eyes. He is not concerned with her as a child of God or as a simple human being, but as a thing to be used for his pleasure. This inevitably leads to failed relationships. Pornography becomes his idol and he loves porn more than he loves his wife or girlfriend. He is no longer able to relate to his significant other on the emotional and spiritual level because she comes second to porn. Instead of following Scripture’s exhortations to honour and respect women, he disrespects and dishonours her by how he views and treats her because of pornography’s effect on his mind and his spirit. God’s Word says, “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her… In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself” (Ephesians 5:25, 28). Paul’s exhortation to the Ephesian Christian men through Christ is for them to love their wives just as they love their own bodies. How can you love your wife as your body if you’re mistreating it for impure, sexual pleasure? If you mistreat your body, you’re going to mistreat your wife/girlfriend. One can make the argument that this is only in reference to married couples. Sure, you can make that argument, but if you’re single, how can you love your future wife as a man should if you’re sexually misusing your body while you’re single and looking at women as sexual objects while your single? If you’re doing that now and get married tomorrow, nothing’s going to change. Not unless you surrender your sin to Christ and allow Him to make the change in you.
Pornography also intensifies the selfish drive to serve oneself rather than others. Pornography and masturbation make you feel good, but not the kind of good that can be used to make peoples’ lives better. It becomes all about you. Just because it feels good doesn’t mean it’s good for you. Not only that, but if you’re married your sex life becomes all about you, not your spouse. St. Paul said, “Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control” (1 Corinthians 7:5). Paul is saying that it’s permissible for a married couple to come to an agreement about not having sex for a period of time, for whatever reason that may be. However, he also says not to sexually neglect each other, lest Satan use that to tempt one or both into sexual sin. Pornography causes the man to neglect his wife, and vice versa. Because, as I said earlier, why bother with sex when you can have whatever fantasy you want with internet porn at your disposal? After all, you know exactly what to do to please yourself more than your spouse does, and that is a huge problem.
There are more spiritual and physical detriments than what I covered, but I want to move on to my recovery story. My addiction to pornography caused me to seek other sexual habits. One year while I was in the Army, I came home from leave after my tour in South Korea. My girlfriend at the time had a huge sex drive, and she pressured me into having sex with her. Of course, I wanted it too, so I’m just as much at fault as she is. I lost my virginity to her. We didn’t have sex just once; we did it a lot. There was a certain point when my guilt in the sin just hit me. All I could think of when I looked at her was my guilt and my shame in committing this sin. I told her that I feel guilty about giving in to sexual temptation, and I told her that we should both seek repentance and reform our sexual behaviours, but she didn’t listen. She didn’t want to stop having sex with me. So, I broke up with her. After her, I fell into deeper sexual sin in my hypocrisy. Without going into detail, I had a lot of cyber sex with women I met on online dating sites. This caused my shame and guilt to get even worse, but in spite of my shame, I kept on doing it. However, my shame got so bad that I just stopped doing cyber sex overall. This is when I hit my bottom. My shame got so bad that I experienced extreme self-loathing, which I suffered with for about a year. No matter how many times I repented, I deeply hated myself. I kept telling myself, “How the hell can God forgive me for something like this when I can’t even forgive myself?” I couldn’t see how God could love and forgive me because of these sins, even in spite of my constant repentance.
I mentioned at the beginning that I kept this all a secret for eight years. The first time I ever confessed my pornography use to anyone was with a pastor. I was honourably discharged from the Army for completing my active duty service in January 2013. Having returned home, I wanted to find a church close to where I lived because the people at the church I used to attend before I left stopped talking to me. So I found a good church that was about a 5-minute drive, and immediately I began connecting with the people there and the associate pastor. As my relationship began to build with the pastor, there was a specific Sunday during his sermon when he used the example of his suffering with pornography as a point in his message (I don’t remember what the message was). Since we were pretty close at this point, we got together for lunch at Panera Bread that week and I confessed to him what I was going through: my use of pornography and masturbation, sexual experiences, and the deep shame and self-loathing I felt in spite of my constant repentance.
As we were discussing this, he invited me to participate in an upcoming men’s retreat called Edge Venture. Their mission statement on their website is as follows, “For every man to discover who they are in Christ through their affirmation, brokenness, and healing.” So, I jumped at the opportunity. I can’t give too much detail about what we do on the weekends during the retreat, but I will share the biggest experience I had there. During the weekend, the men on staff guide you to see the affirmation you have in Christ—the affirmation of love, grace, and mercy He has for you. They also help you to realise your brokenness in sin—that all mankind is broken in sin. Then you experience healing with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. During the weekend, we were doing a certain exercise for all men to experience in small groups. I can’t give too much detail about it, but basically in my experience I was confessing this deep feeling of self-loathing I had and the root of them. It wasn’t just pornography—it was also feelings of feeling stupid, worthless, unlovable, and so on. As I was confessing this, unbeknownst to me, someone on staff was writing on sticky notes everything I was saying. After I was done talking, they had me face the cross in the room, gave me the sticky notes that were a list of reasons for my self-loathing (e.g. pornography, stupid, worthless, ugly, unlovable, etc.), and told me to place them all on the cross. There were 33 sticky notes on the cross—thirty-three reasons why I hated myself and thirty-three lies for why I believed God didn’t love me and couldn’t forgive me. With those lies on the cross, they told me that all those things died on the cross with Jesus. That really hit me. I hadn’t realised that until this point—that my sins died with Jesus on the cross, and that these lies I kept telling myself are lies from the Devil. These weren’t reasons for God to hate me; these were reasons for God to love me and He died for me because of these things. After this, they had me sit down on the floor with my eyes closed. They asked me what colour I imagine when they say the word “purity.” I said white, so they put a white balled up cloth in my hand (they told me what it was). Then, one of the staff members came up from behind me, wrapped us arms tightly around me, and I just lost it. I bawled my eyes out. Before that weekend, I daydreamed constantly about what it would be like to hug Jesus; all I wanted was to embrace Him and not feel like crap anymore. Not only was the staff member who was hugging me representing Jesus, but within me all I could feel was that cool, warm feeling of the Holy Spirit. At that moment, I felt my self-loathing being released from my spirit as I was bawling my eyes out. For the first time, I finally believed that God really does love me and He forgave me a long time ago. I don’t have to forgive myself because God forgives me. Since then, I am finally able to see me for how God sees me in Christ.
This was my first step to recovery. That’s right, I didn’t stop using pornography after this, but the point of the weekend wasn’t to give me a magic recipe to immediately stop the habit. The point was the consequences I suffered because of the porn—extreme self-loathing. I believe I was cured from most of the spiritual detriments, but I still had to be cured from the physical detriments. I was literally physically addicted to porn. To my brain, I still needed it. This was back in 2013, and I didn’t stop using until 3 years later. I’m writing this in July 2016, so this wasn’t that long ago. I was hanging out with a close friend of mine, who recently became a new friend, and we were talking about spiritual warfare as he also told me of his addiction to pornography. His addiction was worse than mine ever was, and I realised that if he can do it, then I can do it. So, we prayed a prayer of spiritual warfare for protection against the Devil and his demons. Ever since then, nothing has been the same. He also invited me to join the accountability group he was in, and since joining, it has helped tremendously. Before then, I never had accountability with anyone; I always tried overcoming it by myself. Overcoming this addiction, or any other kind of addiction, is impossible by yourself. I cannot tell you how much having accountability helps. It’s not just the accountability, however; it’s also the amount of spiritual support and prayer we all receive from each other. We all know exactly what everybody’s going through because we’re all going through the same thing, and the amount of prayer we receive from each other is amazing. So if you’re struggling with pornography addiction, or any other kind of addiction, I encourage you to join some sort of accountability group.
So now, I am finally physically free from pornography addiction. Even today is the longest I’ve ever been sober. Because of this new freedom, some things have changed. I am able to focus more on God, and I’ve found that His Word and wisdom come to me much easily now. Even after Edge Venture, some shame still dwelt with me, but never to the point of self-loathing. The shame was just the feelings necessary to see my sin and in response, to repent of those sins. Now, however, I no longer feel shame. I feel free. Free is the only word I can think of to describe it. I now know more than ever the touch of God’s grace.
Even where I am now—though I am sober—I am still recovering. My sobriety does not mean I no longer face temptation. I still face it every day. When I first experienced sobriety, I faced these extremely intense cravings at random moments, and it was really difficult not to give in to the temptation. I also experienced sexually intense dreams. These are actually withdrawal symptoms of no longer using pornography with masturbation. Every now and then, I may face a craving. And I still experience temptation when I see a beautiful woman. However, the difference now is that I am trusting God to give me the strength necessary to fight temptation. Compared to a lot of stories I’ve heard from other men who suffer with pornography addiction, I’ve had it easy. For some, the road to sobriety is a lot more difficult for them than it was for me. Some experience a week of sobriety, then they act out, are sober again for another week, and then act out again. If you are on the road to sobriety or are just starting and you act out a couple times, do not give up. It is not over. God is with you. Every day away from pornography is a milestone—every minute away from it is a milestone. I strongly encourage anyone struggling with pornography addiction to get involved with an accountability group. Talk to your pastor about it, or you can even contact me. My accountability group uses Google Hangouts to make video calls for those who can’t physically be present. We would love to have you. You are not an impossible case; victory is possible. It all starts with admitting your guilt to Jesus, surrendering the sin to Him, and having fellowship with brothers in Christ who understand what you’re suffering through. If you’re a woman, I recommend the same thing: talk to a pastor and/or woman you trust, and seek an accountability group with women. It is not impossible for God to help you because it was not impossible for Him to die for our sins.