Confronting Pornography: A Book Review

April_2006_book. Edited by Mark D. Chamberlain, PhD., Daniel D. Gray, LCS., and Rory C. Reid, MSW.

In recent years, we’ve heard a great deal from our church leaders about pornography. The book, Confronting Pornography (published by Deseret Book), is a compilation of advice from therapists and others who counsel LDS members struggling with pornography and sex addiction. The twenty-seven short articles in the book provide practical information from a gospel perspective on how to (1) understand the issues and prevent pornography addiction, (2) support those who struggle with pornography use, including both the individual and the family members affected, and (3) take steps to overcome pornography and sex addiction.

First, this book cleared up a few misconceptions for me. I thought that all the talks from our leaders about porn were akin to the general exhortations for the men to do their home teaching and to step up the plate and act responsibly towards their families. Or, on a bad day, that these talks were fixating on a natural curiosity, and were making people feel guilty for biological responses and feelings. I mean, can people really become “addicted” to pornography and sex?! Sex addiction sounds like a vaguely psychological rationalization to justify bad behavior and to drum up sympathy for the offender. I think I first heard the term “sex addiction” in relation to President Clinton’s dalliances with intern Monica Lewinsky – and it made me laugh out loud! Come on.

However, this book – and subsequent research on Google I did while writing this review – presents disturbing information that, unlike extramarital affairs with interns, porn and masturbation can become compulsive activities, wherein eventually the participant loses his or her ability to enjoy a meaningful sexual experience with a loving partner – and masturbation becomes a desperate compulsive act done in secret and steeped in guilt and shame.

We’ll get to more of the definition and consequences in the next few paragraphs, but for those of you interested in a basic book to understand the influence and issues of pornography (without pictures), this is a good book to read. Confronting Pornography contains the generally accepted body of knowledge of porn and sex addiction, but the advantage to reading this book is that it presents these issues from a believing LDS perspective. Many therapists and medical professionals agree that spiritual healing is an integral part of overcoming any addiction, and this book provides that context. So if anyone you know struggles with porn, I recommend this book (and probably therapy).

On to the review:

The Problem
The first section is “Understanding the Issues and Preventing Problems”. Pornography is generally defined as the explicit depiction of sexual activity in literature, films or photography that is intended to stimulate erotic, rather than aesthetic, feelings.

Typically, people look at porn to become aroused and to masturbate to sexual climax, and not just to look at the pictures (remember, porn IS all about sexual arousal). It’s still an open question as to how and why a casual user of porn becomes “addicted” – and, indeed, some health care professionals discourage labeling porn use and masturbation as an “addiction” – but it is accepted that porn use and the resulting sexual climax releases certain chemicals in your brain. And just like drug addicts and alcoholics, porn “addicts” become addicted to the neuro-chemical changes that take place in the body during sexual behavior. Because porn and masturbation change the participant’s mood through biochemical reactions – porn users typically turn to porn to “self-medicate” when they are bored, lonely, stressed, or sad (see Chapter 6 for an excellent discussion of how porn use becomes “self medication”).

How do you know if you are “addicted” to pornography? Some factors to consider: (1) your pornography use is a secret, and is isolated from a caring and committed relationship, (2) it is abusive or degrading to yourself or to others, (3) you use porn to avoid dealing with painful feelings, (4) you feel powerless over your compulsion to use porn, and (5) your porn use negatively affects your family and work relationships.

People typically think of porn addicts spending money on strip clubs, prostitutes, and phone sex (which can destroy your financial security) and compulsively downloading and viewing porn at work (which can jeopardize your job), but more insidious are the effects of porn on your relationships with others and to your spiritual well being. Many porn addicts become desensitized to and uninterested in sexual experiences with real people in committed relationships. It seems counterintuitive that you could become desensitized to sex and love through porn, but it’s true. Addicts don’t necessarily enjoy sex more than other people. They feel guilty and ashamed of their behavior. But their addiction compels them to act out sexually.

The most severe consequences of pornography addiction are spiritual.

“The Savior taught “Whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery…in his heart (Matthew 5:28 ). Lust is defined in the dictionary as the strong physical desire to have sex with somebody, usually without associated feelings of love or affection. It is not possible to view pornography and experience emotions of love, delight, generosity, consideration, sympathy, and kindness. We attempt to extract sex and experience it in isolation from the other aspects of genuine love….The end result is a state of numbness, isolation, and loneliness. (p. 31.)

In addition to identifying the problem of porn addiction, this section of the book also provides a good overview of the problem of accessibility — particularly with respect to the ease of accessing porn on the internet. Everyone has a computer these days, and the internet provides many of the essential components of a pornographic sexual experience all in one place; isolation, secrecy, fantasy material, endless variety, around-the-clock availability, and instant accessibility. Many people who would not even think of skulking down to the drug store to buy porno magazines, now have unfettered and anonymous access to hard core pornographic images at the click of a button. Some estimates claim a quarter of websites accessed are pornographic. Chances are someone you know looks at pornography on the internet regularly.

Support and Healing
The next section of the book discusses “Supporting Those Who Struggle”, both the individual participant and his or her loved ones. The book provides a lot of helpful information for spouses who struggle to understand their (typically) husband’s pornography use. The overall message being that spouses should not take their husband’s use of pornography personally.

It’s not uncommon for a wife to believe that if she were more attractive, more alluring, if she were “enough for him”, he wouldn’t turn to these perfect images of other women. This belief is totally unjustified. If a man’s satisfaction with his wife depended on physical attractiveness or sex appeal, we would expect men married to supermodels or movie stars to be the most faithful of husbands. p. 153.

(And anyone who reads the tabloids at the gym is no doubt baffled by stories of Halle Berry’s husband cheating on her, or Hugh Grant’s indiscretions with a prostitute when in a long term relationship with Elizabeth Hurley).

Spouses should also be aware that their husband may struggle with the aftereffects of psychological trauma from family or childhood relationships that is fueling the addiction.

The book then discusses how important it is to communicate your emotions to your spouse, and to help him see the consequences of his behavior. Chapter 13 is entitled “From Victim to Agent: Rising Above a Spouse’s Pornography Problem”, and discusses how wives should recognize that pornography use is their husband’s problem, and that it may even be indicative of a serious illness. Spouses should realize that they need to be supportive of their husbands, but not try to solve the problem for him. Wives should turn to the Savior for their own comfort and the strength to forgive.

“Forgiveness does not require us to accept or tolerate evil. It does not require us to ignore the wrong that we see in the world around us or in our lives. But as we fight against sin, we must not allow our hatred or anger to control our thoughts and actions”. p. 167 (quoting Elder David E Sorenson)

Overcoming a Pornography Addiction
The authors generally agree: if you have a serious problem with (see definition of addiction to) porn, you will need outside help to overcome your problems and to heal damage porn addiction causes to your relationships with others. Turning to an experienced therapist may help to address the root causes of the addiction, but, first, you yourself need to recognize the imperative to change and be motivated to take the first difficult steps towards recovery.

Along these lines, there may be some specific roadblocks to recovery from addiction. One is differentiating between guilt versus “internalized shame”. Whereas guilt is a healthy response after making a mistake that motivates people to change their behavior so that what they believe matches what they do, internalized shame can be debilitating to spiritual progress. Someone with internalized shame believes that he or she is fundamentally bad and unworthy of love. Internalized shame may be acquired from destructive family relationships, childhood trauma (i.e., bullying, sexual abuse), or related experiences contributing to a negative self-image. When a person internalizes a high level of shame, that person loses hope, and typically needs professional intervention to overcome these feelings of shame and unworthiness before they can progress.

Chapters 20-23 discuss specific steps to take to disengage from a pornography habit, and how to lay the groundwork for a lasting recovery. Again, for anyone suffering from an addiction, the authors recommend therapy, but the book does give excellent advice about replacing destructive behavior with “Personal Dailies” such as journal writing, scripture study, exercise, and meditation, and how to pick yourself up and move on after a relapse.

In its concluding chapters, this book provides honest examples of people who have struggled to overcome pornography addictions. Recovery is extremely difficult for many people, but, as the examples show, addiction is an untenable and destructive state. There is hope.

I would recommend this book for a basic education on the influences of pornography and the nature of addiction, and to learn of additional resources to support those struggling with pornography use and addiction.

Comments

  1. Oh yeah, sexual addiction is real and it can really mess up your life.

    That’s why a lot of the flippant comments I read on the nacle frankly tick me off.

    A lot of you guys don’t have a clue what you’re talking about when you make light of this. It literally destroys people.

    I’m not saying this from a stance of Puritan moral outrage. I’m simply taking a practical approach about a real mental illness.

    This stuff isn’t “OK.” My advice is to stay away from it. It is every bit as mentally destructive as alcohol. Saying it’s “no big deal” is incredibly irresponsible (or ignorant, take your pick). People ruin their lives and the lives of those around them with what started out as a “mere bit of experimentation.”

  2. Steve Evans says:

    Seth, who are you railing against?? Your comment is hilarious.

  3. Steve Evans says:

    Elisabeth, how do you evaluate a book like this? What’s your overall review? Does it work? Is it well-written? Worth purchasing if you’re not a porno-hound?

  4. Steve Evans says:

    …not that you are a porno-hound. I’m sure that your pornography use is well in check.

  5. Steve,

    I don’t remember who. And if I did, I wouldn’t name anyone in particular.

    But comments like the one I detailed come up almost every time sex-issues are discussed on BCC, FMH, and other sites.

  6. Steve Evans says:

    Classic, man.

  7. Elisabeth says:

    Seth – the message of this post is that pornography is dangerous and incredibly destructive. I think you agree, but not sure…

    Thanks for the comment, Steve! I liked the book overall. It was fairly well written, and surprisingly unbiased with respect to the actual “science” of addiction. I particularly liked the gospel context of the book – the message of turning to the Savior for healing and support, which is key to recovery for almost everyone.

    There is a lot of good information in this book, but the biggest impact from reading it for me was to view those who struggle with porn with more compassion. I’m not horrified by pornography, but I certainly don’t understand the compulsion – and at times this would lead me to be dismissive and insensitive – what’s the big deal?. Now, I have a better sense of that – and how it can be so destructive. And it makes me sad to know someone reading this review or comment is suffering because of this addiction – or the effects thereof.

    I think this book is worth purchasing, but you can find a lot of this stuff online. The editors of this book participate in the LDS Sexual Recovery website – go to http://www.ldsr.org, and you’ll find much of the information published in the book.

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  9. Elisabeth says:

    DKL: By a “meaningful” sexual experience, I mean a sexual experience with an actual person you care for – instead of with a computer screen or a magazine. Thanks for the opportunity to clarify, and I’d appreciate it if we didn’t discuss the definition of “meaningful” any further than that for our purposes here.

  10. Oh I get it now.

    You all thought I was ripping on Elisabeth.

    No. I wasn’t.

    All clear now?

  11. E,

    Any discussion of women as porn users? Is there such a thing? And if porn is solely a male problem, how do we explain (from a Gospel perspective) the powerful male sex-drive which seems to lead some men to pornography?

  12. Elisabeth says:

    Hi, Ronan, no substantive discussion in the book about women porn users. There was a brief mention of women who indulge in porn because their husbands encourage them, and that women should not do things that make them uncomfortable.

    Don’t think that you are unique if, as a wife, you’ve been enticed to participate in some way. While there can be a great deal of overlap between men’s and women’s reasons for getting involved in sexual activity, a woman is usually motivated by a desire for emotional intimacy and a sense of connection with her partner. p. 160

    There has been a lot of discussion in the popular media as of late about women and porn use – so it’s not confined to men (but it is of a different quality and type).

    As for the biological sex drive, biologically, men are biologically driven to crave sex with different partners. Marriage to one women is a cross many have to bear (kind of like same sex attraction, I guess).

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  14. Steve Evans says:

    DKL, your libertine philosophies serve you well — except when addressing this particular audience. I think that we can safely say that most of us are not interested in hearing justifications for porn use and how “meaningful” relationships are a modern myth.

    On the bright side, you’ve given Seth R. a real-world target.

  15. Wow. Great post Elisabeth. I think this could become the gold standard post in the ‘nacle on the dangers of porn.

    Steve – I knew who Seth was talking about. It wasn’t any BCCer (or DKL).

    DKL – Who cares what the history of “meaningful relationship” in the world is. There is a standard that we can acheive today and the restored gospel helps with that. Why not just set that as our goal?

  16. I don’t understand your last post, DKL. Pornography isn’t really taboo anymore. Thanks in large part to the Internet.

    Elizabeth, this was a great post. Thanks.

  17. DKL, I tend to agree with the problematic conception of addiction being more and more expanded. I think it fits for things like heroin or cocaine. Maybe for people with certain brain or chemical limitations it even fits for gambling, sex, porn and other such things. But we’re normalizing addiction in such a way that everything is becoming an addiction if people want it and do it even when their desires are destructive. It’s the unfortunate “diseasification” of psychology. It really devalues free will tremendously.

    None of that is to say these things aren’t real problems nor to suggest that it isn’t a habit.

    I think the problem comes from the collision of behavioralistic analysis of psychology ala Skinner with the more traditional biological conception of the mind – especially success with things like depression and bi-polar disorder. Behavioralism can only talk in terms of what people do, not why they do it. But I think with regards to what is or isn’t a habit why people do what they do is of key importance.

    So we end up with behavioralist definitions given a more “internal” biological conception. It just doesn’t work.

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  19. I second Geoff J. Besides, all the arranged marriages of the west that DKL refers to were for the aristocracy which made up only a small fraction of the population. The blacksmiths and milkmaids of Europe had no dynesty to support and married as they chose.

    And as for arranged marriages, such as those practiced in India, well “arranged” does not equate to “forced.”

    You know, thinking about it some more, I am very, very tired of this attitude that the modern era is the only enlightened era and that all the things we think of — like “meaningful relationships” — could only be the product of our superior education, morals, equality, philosophy, fill-in-the-blank. Human emotions have been the same since the beginning of the human race, whether you believe that was in the Garden of Eden or an odd tribe of primates on the African savannah. We always have and always will value love and loyalty. There is nothing exclusively “modern” about meaningful relationships.

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  22. Elisabeth, does the book treat Pornography and Sex in similar ways as alcohol? That is, one can obviously have sex and not be an addict. I am assuming that one can have seen porn and not be an addict. At what point does regular sexual relations devolve into a need for therapy?

  23. I can’t believe we’re now having a debate over whether pornography is bad! The mind reels…

    By the way, here’s a summary of a scientific study showing that not only pornography but any image of a sexually attractive woman tends to fog men’s brains. Of course, it isn’t plausible to propose a world in which there are no sexually attractive women; so to fix this issue we’re probably going to have to rely on male self-control — and, as Elisabeth so nicely put it in the post, on Jesus.

  24. Elisabeth says:

    J – good questions. The book discusses the addiction process at length and presents an interesting flow chart in Chapter 11 entitled “The Loss of Agency to Addiction”.

    The flow chart shows the progressive stages to addiction from:

    (1) a single act done in ignorance or experimentation; to
    (2) a repeated act sought out deliberately to alter mood (bored, stressed, etc); to
    (3) a habit; to
    (4) an addiction or compulsion where the user loses his or her ability to resist doing it.
    The author doesn’t go into much detail about the progression from one stage to another – in other words, how do you go from the casual user in #2, to the addict who loses his agency in #4? It’s not clear, I think, why a particular person is drawn to and becomes addicted to porn while others aren’t and don’t – other that some people may have a predisposition to porn addiction, just as some have a predisposition to alcohol or drug addiction (be it genetic, behavioral, cultural or otherwise).

    To answer your last question, I don’t think people who engage in “regular sexual relations” need therapy. But the authors say if you despair because of lack of control and loss of agency over your compulsion to view porn and masturbate, and if your family relationships are deteriorating because of your porn use, you should probably seek help.

    One aside on terminology here, I hope technical definitions or our vernacular understandings of “addiction”, “habit”, etc won’t get too much in the way of focusing on the very real issue here: that some people struggle and cause great pain to themselves and to their families because of pornography use. Whether it’s a choice or an addiction – the book encourages a Christlike understanding and compassionate perspective in which to love and respect people who struggle, and to support them in overcoming their self-destructive tendencies, habits and/or addictions.

  25. That makes sense, Elisabeth. The authors aren’t making the case that teenage boys should be sent to councilling for masturbating, though, right?

  26. I can’t believe the book doesn’t address women and porn more thoroughly. I know numerous women–in and ouside of the Church–whose pornography habits would fall under this definition of addiction. And remain unconnected from any desire for emotional connection. The popular generalization that women seek emotional connection DOES NOT mean that ALL WOMEN do nor that NO WOMEN derive anything else from sex.

    As for the use of the term ‘addiction’ for porn or sex, I think that many, probably even most people, compulsively seek sexual stimulation. For some, this compulsion leads to a neglect of family and work responsibilities, etc., to the level that it’s appropriate to call it an addiction. “Not being able to stop” alone, though, I think is a poor criterion. It seems to apply to drug use or smoking, say, as a single criterion for whether the activity is addiction. However, none of us could go without eating or breathing. There exist distinction such as 1) eating disorders or 2) hyperventilation for when either gets out of control. But I think that for the 95%+ of men and 40-70% of women (depending on whose study you trust) who ‘cannot stop’ masturbating (and most of whom use porn in some form), ‘addiction’ does not describe all or even most.

    Perhaps, as with alcohol, the Church merely draws an absolute line that will protect the weakest member–those who would become sex/alcohol addicts, even though most would not; and thereby protects all members.

  27. Thanks for highlighting this book. Since it seems relevant to some of the comments here, I’d like to mention that I’m currently working with one of the editors of this book as well as a BYU neuropsychologist to do a lit review of the current research concerning how the brain responds to pornography. It will be published in a major journal. When we commenced this review research, I personally was hoping to find evidence that the brain responds to porn in a way that mimics its response to other addictive substances. But. . . from a neurological point of view, if anyone’s curious, the literature at this point is, as far as I can tell, definitely inconclusive. Much research remains to be done, and new neuroimaging techniques facilitate that, but be wary of any claims that say porn is physiologically addictive at this point (these authors don’t claim that). Having said that, there is reliable and credible psychological evidence as to the psychologically addictive and disruptive nature of porn (and other sexual behaviors) for certain individuals, and this is absolutely legitimate. I strongly agree with Elizabeth’s comment (24) stating that “some people struggle and cause great pain to themselves and to their families because of pornography use.” That’s the real issue to focus on.

  28. Elisabeth says:

    J #25: No. In fact, the authors make it clear that it is an extraordinarily difficult task to avoid porn and to control our reactions to it in a world depicting (in great detail!) and condoning sexual promiscuity. In fact, I was pleasantly surprised by the tone of some of the essays – they didn’t blame or condemn, but rather focused on how to overcome the compulsive behavior causing shame and spiritual estrangement.

    Geoff and Susan – thanks for your kind words. I think if people could discuss pornography demonstrating compassion and love for those whom it affects, more people would admit to and address their destructive pornography habits – instead of suffering in shame and silence.

  29. I have little problem privileging “meaningful” relationships (as defined by Elizabeth and stipulated to by DKL above) over most other kinds of relationships, whether they have been enjoyed by a tiny minority of humanity or not. I hope technological and economic progress allows more and more people to enjoy those sorts of relationships. And if pornography is a destructive influence on such relationships or a barrier to having more of those relationships (as I believe it is), then that is another reason to oppose its production and use.

    I firmly believe pornography can have deleterious effects. I find both the production and consumption of pornography distasteful–although my paternalistic instincts cause me to believe the producers and distributors of pornography have a higher degree of moral culpability. I am happy to see, however, Elizabeth taking a more compassionate tack towards compulsive consumers of pornography.

    I enjoyed President Hinkley’s talk in priesthood session a few years back and I viewed it as timely. Since that talk, however, it seems the church has been caught up in a pornography hysteria. In saying this I am not trying to minimize the evils of pornography, but rather to put them in perspective. Pornography has achieved a scapegoat status that competes with child molesters–in either case one need merely say the word(s) and we collectively nod our heads in agreement and condemnation–often because we are told the one surely leads to the other.

    We don’t want to continue down this road for several reasons–the most important being that this approach is likely to so completely marginalize those church members who use pornography that they will either hide its use rather than seek help or they will leave the community. I am not arguing that we ought to normalize consumption of pornography; rather that by lessening the taboo we have a better chance of effectively addressing its effects. Thus more of our discussions ought to take as their starting point that we ought not to use pornography but then affirm our commitment to living with and helping those who do.

    Part of that shift in discourse would involve moving away from emphasizing the potential for addiction and discussing instead the effects pornography has on one’s spirituality. The addictiveness of pornography is perilous grounds on which to base our objections, and in any case it detracts from the more central problem–that repeated viewing of pornographic images is deadening to the soul.

  30. Radically anonymous says:

    But remember that much pornography viewing does not happen in immediate temporal proximity to masturbation, and that the majority of masturbation is not directly related to viewing pornography. Two different problems. You’d do well to keep them separate to simplify the discussion.

  31. DKL,

    Surely you realize that your intellectualizing isn’t going to offer much to the people actually stuck with this problem?

    You know it’s a rock when it hits you on the head.

  32. Eric Russell says:

    Elisabeth (24) May I point out that there is absolutely no evidence that stage #4 actually exists. There is no reason to believe that they aren’t actually just people with very weak wills. But I understand your overall point and agree.

    And Radically anonymous (30) I ‘m not sure I buy that. Seems to me like that’s an idea manufactured to take the heat off of the spilling of seed.

  33. I’m confused, Seth. Your rocks = spears???

    I don’t think DKL ‘intellectualizing’ is at all counter-productive, even if you don’t see the value. Your own ‘sympathizing’ or ‘intellectuazing’ or mine for that matter on this thread. . . is probably going to stop anyone’s porn habit. If it does great. So why does it matter if DKL’s not ‘going to offer much help’?

    If any of us are to ‘help’ with ‘the problem’ we need to answer a few questions:
    1. is there a problem? (it seems that ‘porn’ has the Prophet and many in society alarmed. but the book is aimed more specifically at ‘porn addiction’ or ‘problem porn use’)
    2. what exactly is the problem? (when GBH talks about ‘porn’ what does he mean–and not mean? and is all porn use problem porn use?)
    3. who is affected by the problem? (this question is related to 2. but it matters for you and DKL, whether 1) anyone who sees bikini-clad women on TV has a problem or if we’re talking about 2) people who use hard-core porn daily–or somewhere in-between. if so, where? also–what about producers, affected-family members, etc.)
    4. what is the best means of addressing or eliminating the problem for those affected? (the books authors clearly favor counselling; Church members have to consider which privileges and disciplinary processes are appropriate).

    All of these and other questions involve a certain amount of intellectualizing. We may define’sex addiction’ too broadly to the point of its being a useless catchall scapegoat OR if so narrowly that it doesn’t fully address harms to producers (including exploited ones) and affected family members. Potentially ‘porn addiction’ (in any but the narrowest sense) is a chimera resulting from a narrow and scientifically ill-informed view of the world OR maybe the result of the psych/counselling/social-work industry’s desire for a greater market (i.e. the same people who brought you post-traumatic stress disorder).

    Seth, you may think any or all of those questions is 1) uninteresting or 2) unlikley to help someone you know… but even if that’s the case, it does justify spiteful or unChristlike spear-tossing, quickness to anger, or dismissal of someone else’s thoughtful ideas.
    or
    Steve, ‘safely saying’ people aren’t interested a) doesn’t make it so b) nor does it make the questions invalid. they might be threadjacks, but that’s not the same as saying they’re unworthy or uninteresting.

    Seriously, I don’t think there has been a Golden Age of “meaningful [sexual] relationships” nor of freedom from pron. So saying something like the “new [shape of the internet] porn problem portends fewer meaningful relationships” is doubly flawed.

    But saying “we should figure out how to control/prevent porn addiction AND how to make relationships stronger is not”.

  34. i mean, “‘. . .stronger’ is not.”

  35. Actually, “norm,” most threadjacks are indeed unworthy and uninteresting.

  36. “Actually, “norm,” most threadjacks are indeed unworthy and uninteresting.”

    I think in a thread about a book, and a book review, ithe questions I list which the book answers (or seeks to) and the other questions raised by how appropriate its framework is to those questions are perfectly in-line with such discussion. Did you want to talk about the book?

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  38. I serve by Church calling in the pornography addiction programs of LDS Family Services in my geographic area, and have also worked with community groups in the sex addiction/compulsivity area.

    I am not trained as a clinical psychologist, and cannot speak to whether what we refer to as a pornography or sex addiction or compulsion should technically or intellectually be considered an “addiction” or “compulsion.” I know that sex addiction or compulsion is not in the current DSM. I have heard some researchers express some hope that it might be in the next edition, but I think it will be a while. I also understand through the LDS grapevine that some of the Brethren have personally expressed intellectual doubts whether pornography addiction should really be considered an “addiction”, but the leadership at the highest levels believes that it is (or should be treated that way), and that is why the Church and Family Services have endorsed the 12 steps (originally developed in AA, with slight wording modifications by the Brethren) to assist in recovery from pornography (and sex) addiction.

    The people (and their families) who participate in the recovery workshops or in the support groups do not spend much time wondering whether this is technically or intellectually an “addiction” or “compulsion.” Whether it meets that definition or not, for those suffering, it surely bears many or most of the indicia–shame, hopelessness, self-loathing, impulsivity, irrationality, etc…–of addictions to other things or substances. Most importantly, the helps developed in other addiction treatments are extremely helpful in recovering from pornography or sex addiction.

    My own pragmatic view is, if treating it as an addiction or compulsion (which it certainly appears to be and feels like in the lives of those affected) helps people and their loved ones recover and heal, then I have no problem calling it that and treating it that way.

    I do recommend the book. Particularly for those suffering as addicts or loved ones, I think the second portion discussing treatment and healing is especially good.

  39. Alas norm,

    The “spears” stuff was all talk. I got nothin’. That crack was solely for Steve’s benefit.

    I don’t really relish the idea of getting into a point-by-point debate with DKL.

    a) I’ve heard those debates take 6 months off your life

    b) DKL has read more books than I have

  40. DavidH,

    You mentioend the modified 12-step program you use. First, Can you comment on how successful you’ve seen that program be? (How ‘Mormon’ is the adaptation of the 12-step process: which has a religious/spiritual aspect–but not one in the mold of, say, church discipline.)

    Second, what were your thoughts on the “overcoming” section of the book, as related to your experience at LDS Services? (what forms of therapy does LDS Services employ–and what do you view as most helpful?)

    Third, what in your opinion (or as to the goals of therapy) = ‘lasting recovery’? (if we’re examining the contours of ‘addiction’–for LDS Services does lasting recovery mean ‘cold turkey’ in the AA 12-step, not-another-drop sense? Or something else?)

  41. 11 — Ronan, yes there are women who are sex addicts and porn addicts. There’s no reason to think there are any different proportion of women with those problems than men, there’s just an increased sense of shame and silence for female addicts of all kinds. When AA was formed, it was understood that only men were alcoholics, so Bill W’s wife formed Al-Anon for spouses of alcoholics, who were understood to only be women. Today, everybody in the field knows that women are alcoholics and addicts and that men are spouses of alcoholics and addicts. Sexual addictions are several decades behind in terms of society accepting the realities of it, but the modalities and recovery are remarkably similar.

    Except that sexual addictions are harder to recover from. Word from a sex addict who had come off of heroin was that he’d rather come off of heroin again than what it took to recovery from sex addiction.

    I’ll be back to the thread later, but I have to go baptise somebody.

  42. As far as the whole “addiction” thing,

    I agree with DKL that the blanket descriptor of “addiction” can often be misleading. There are certainly big differences between a chemical dependancy on alcohol and a compulsive need for pornographic images.

    However, I’m fine with the “addiction” label if it gets people to take the behavior seriously and stop acting like the mere fact that they want it makes it OK.

  43. Gang, we’ve taken the liberty of editing some of the comments thus far in the thread to remove some of the more condescending personal attacks. We don’t have an explicit comment policy here, nor do we need one — just play nice (and that goes for everyone).

    –The management

  44. Since discussion of pornography in the Church doesn’t exist outside of the disconnected “don’t do it” sermons from Hinckley et al … what is a Mormon to do if he decides he needs to buy this book?

    Does it come in a brown-paper wrapper? [And if you saw your neighbor get it wrapped that way, would you think he was buying actual porn?]

    Where does he put it? On the bedside nightstand? In the bathroom? Does he remove it from the coffee table when the home teachers arrive?

    Not that I need to purchase it, of course … (not that there’s anything wrong with it).

  45. I feel somewhat like a chicken for posting semi-anonymously on this topic. But, I would like to chime in and add a few cents to the discussion:

    I am really discouraged by the talk in the comments that seem to trivialize this problem. Maybe it isn’t as wide spread as people think, maybe it isn’t an addiction, whatever… but it is a very real problem in my life. I am married to someone who compulsively uses pornography. And I completely agree with DavidH’s statement, “My own pragmatic view is, if treating it as an addiction or compulsion (which it certainly appears to be and feels like in the lives of those affected) helps people and their loved ones recover and heal, then I have no problem calling it that and treating it that way.”

    Regardless of what it is, it is still a problem and people need help dealing with it. Thanks for this review Elisabeth because now I’ll purchase the book and read it over. One thing I wish we could get more support on in an LDS context is the issue of codependency. It is not enough to just tell a spouse, “This problem is not about you.” A spouse also needs serious support, therapy, and encouragment her/himself to deal with the issues that addiction brings into the family.

  46. M. Thanks for your comment. I’m not sure which comments seemed to trivialize problems you’ve encountered. But none of mine should be read that way.

    I agree that David’s statement is apt, and pragmatic:
    “My own pragmatic view is, if treating it as an addiction or compulsion . . . helps people and their loved ones recover and heal, then I have no problem calling it that and treating it that way.”

    ‘Helps’ is the key word. (And the answer is not clear–but I hope David and others can make it so)

    I think we should be clear about which people need what kinds of ‘help’– in some cases it’s obvious that intervention is necessary. (However, I agree with JStapley that therapy for every teenage boy seems to be unwise–though some might advance the notion. My intuition is that it would do more harm, encouraging shame and self-hate. However if it ‘helps’, then perhaps my intuition is wrong.)

    If treating porn use like a disease/addiction/compulsion hurts, rather than helps–I think we can all agree it should be avoided. I imagine your desire is to ameliorate/avoid the devastating results of sin in your family, and allow for true repentance & forgiveness. I hope the Church’s resources and teachings provide help and healing.

  47. RE: 42, “There’s no reason to think there are any different proportion of women with those problems than men.” Incorrect. The vast majority of pornography is produced for a male audience (heterosexual male, I’d add, but let’s not go there). While no doubt plenty of women struggle with various compulsive sexual behaviors, they tend to be victimized by the porn industry on the production side, not consumption.

    An outsider’s perspective….With all due respect, online Mormons seem weirdly obsessed with talking about porn. Maybe it’s a bloggernacle thing. It’s a little creepy. I have to wonder if the blanket prohibition of masturbation doesn’t fuel a lot of this. The combination of guilt + frustration + lying is a recipe for the development of compulsive behavior. Talk about unintended consequences.

    Quick question: Is masturbation always considered a violation of the Law of Chastity ?

  48. The LDS Family Services Addiction Recovery Manual can be purchased from the distribution center or downloaded free in pdf format at http://www.providentliving.org/familyservices/AddicitonRecoveryManual_36764000.pdf (Towards the beginning of the manual you can read both the original AA 12 steps and the slightly modified version approved by the Church for use in the program.)

    The manual is intended for all addictions, including chemical and process addictions (pornography or sex addiction is considered a process addiction).

    The 12 step support group meetings sponsored by LDSFS are listed at http://www.providentliving.org/content/list/0,11664,4177-1,00.html

    The two types of meetings are (1) Addiction Recovery Program (“ARP”) meetings, for addictions of all types, and (2) Pornography Addiction Support Groups (“PASG”), for pornography or sex addiction. (Many people struggling with pornography or sex addiction or compulsions are more comfortable in a separate PASG meeting than in the regular ARP meeting, but an addict could attend either.) There are meetings for addicts and in some places meetings for family members and/or codependents. As can be seen from the listings, in most places, the PASG groups are for male addicts only. In a very few places there are PASG groups for female addicts.

    At this point, PASG groups (at least in our area) are only for adults. Individual counseling is available for youths struggling with pornography or sexual issues or addictions and can be very helpful.

    There is no panacea. Not everyone who attends a 12 step meeting recovers, and almost no one does so immediately. But many, many men have found that participating in support group recovery meetings and working the 12 steps (which is a program of personal repentance and individual spirituality) is the “missing piece” of the puzzle, that helps them, with God’s help, to put together substantial periods of sexual sobriety and serenity. Among other things, being with and listening to people who have been able to become sober gives a sense of hope that is qualitatively different from the encouragement that comes from exhortations from people who have not found themselves in the grips of the addiction.

    Is a person ever “cured” (before the resurrection)? I do not know. But I know many men (inside and outside the Church) who have been free from those addictive behaviors for many years, even decades.

    Please note that I speak only on my own behalf here and not in my capacity as a Church service missionary.

  49. norm (#26) said,

    “I think that many, probably even most people, compulsively seek sexual stimulation.”

    Huh??

    Most people like sex, granted, but I don’t think that necessarily translates into “compulsively seek[ing] sexual stimulation.”

  50. M,
    Thanks for commenting here. I think many people in the church do trivialize it. I remember once the bishop in a married student ward talked to the RS and mentioned that porn was a problem for some husbands (I forget all the other things he also discussed)
    I remember at the end the RS president stood up and said, “It’s just so hard to believe that here in Provo there are problems like this.”
    I felt pretty wise, being married 4 years at the point, and I could have slapped her. Obviously there were women in that room who were struggling with this in their marriage–husband’s with a porn problem, and she just made them feel like crap.
    ANyway, even if it isn’t about you, the wife, you have every right to be angry, to feel he has violated your marriage vows, and to expect him to stop. I think the compassion comes in as you try to help him stop. But forgiveness and trust, I’m sure, are hard to find again.
    I think for some porn users, it is not an addiction. But for others it is. I think that addicts can’t stop on their own, even if they want to. The first step (like any addiction) is admitting that they have a problem that is ruining their life and their family and/or job.
    Some people do trivialize it, but some people realize that it is a very real problem. I have had friends in your situation, and so I can sympathize. I think that it is important to remember that he isn’t the only good man whose been sucked into a dark addiction.
    I wish you good luck as you deal with this situation. I hope there is a happy ending for you.

  51. eve. is the leap to ‘most’ that far past many? (perhaps I overstate… but it really depends on what you mean by compulsive, and I suspect we use the term differently:
    my meaning: impossible for them not so seek sexual stimulation.
    your meaning (?): ???

    (the what is compulsive debate is similar to the one above about whether a porn habit = addiction/disease/etc. these doctors think masturbation in children is normal, uncontrollable, but becomes a problem when it’s compulsive–not sure how they define compulsive)

    http://health.enotes.com/childrens-health-encyclopedia/masturbation

    Webster’s “compulsion” = “an irresistible impulse to perform an irrational act”; i’m not sure how best to define ‘compulsively’ medically vs in everyday parlance.

    what do we mean by sexual stimulation:
    well, medical professionals and researchers observe ‘masturbation’ in a super-majority of infants and children. [just do google around and try to find the %'s for boys and girls, men and women yourself--this tends to be a sexy topic among researchers]
    I take it we want a narrower definition, or age group.
    we should probably include sex with partners and not just flying solo–right? are sexual thoughts/fantasties stimulation? what about desperate housewives or supermarket novels?

    what do we mean by irrational?
    –my nonLDS friends will say “I masturbate (or smoke or do cocaine) because it feels good”. There are better reaons: prostate health, for example. BUT, i don’t think that’s what we mean by irrational. None of my male friends (I’ve asked) can say they’d be able to stop. (even those in relationships.) a few, but not most, of my women friends say they can get by without masturbating. or sex.

    90-99% of men masturbate. (statistics vary, but I’ve never seen any below 90%). That’s basically one half of ‘people’. a good number of those men (or at least a huge number of them) have regular sex partners. Yet they still masturbate with the same frequency as those w/o partners.

    if you took a hundred men and asked them not to masturbate for a month, and offered $500 bucks say–i suspect you’d still have a 90% failure rate. if that’s not a compulsion, i don’t know what is. (if you asked them not to use porn, you might have greater success–not sure)

    (now I haven’t run such an experiment, but I don’t think many people, regardless how volitional they think their sexual activity is, would be able to give up all sex).

    the real answer to your Q, Eve, depends what you mean when you say ‘compulsively’–daily? weekly? ever?

    (most people here are taught to believe that masturbation is abnormal, a disorder. when in fact, not engaging is masturbation is abnormal statistically. Search on AskAlice, WebMd, Menshealth, etc health resources–you’ll see countless women complaining about masturbating men (and vice versa in lower numbers). nearly every health professional says that the problem is with culturally engrained expectations. they say: the behavior a) won’t change and b) doesn’t mean anything about attraction or commitment to partners.

    SCIENCE and the WORLD (which we are not trying to be like) say: it’s normal, even healthy, and there’s data to prove it. (if it’s normal can we call it a compulsion? it’s also ‘normal to cuss or forget things or yell at one another–but that doesn’t make it right).
    The CHURCH says: it’s not right; don’t do it.

    SCIENCE and the WORLD also say: alcohol is good, even healthy, in moderation. the Church says: it’s not right (now).

  52. A few anecdotes for you all-
    1) I grew up in an area where porn was all over the place; it was viewed openly at high school parties, and passed around all the time in school. I had a lot of exposure to it growing up, but I didn’t end up addicted to it. I think the reason for that is, I had a lot of hobbies growing up that I spent huge amounts of time with, like music, sports, cars. etc. I really wish that the GAs would take a different approach to this issue. Instead of just saying “Stay away from it” to adolescents and grown men, they should be encouraging parents to raise their kids with serious hobbies that bring them a lot of satisfaction and excitement. Just saying “stay away” after the fact is not very helpful if someone doesn’t have healthy ways to experience fun and excitement, and those healthy activities should be cultivated from a young age.
    I know guys who have had serious problems with porn, and most of them have zero hobbies. No music, no sports, nothing. These things can serve a great preventive purpose.

    2) Among the guys I know who have struggled with porn, several of them have completely snapped out of it, to the point where they now look back and say “What in the world was I thinking?!” and they have stayed away from porn for years and have very successful marriages. This is a problem that absolutely can be overcome, permanently.

    3) There was a discussion recently on an LDS dating site where a guy asked the girls on the site, “If you had a choice between dating a guy who used to have a porn problem and a guy who was sexually active in the past, but both men had repented, who would you choose to date?” and the girls almost all chose the guy who had been sexually active. I’ll bet that conversation was terrifying for any guys on that site who might have struggled with porn before. I understand that for a lot of guys who get into porn, it does become a lifelong struggle that affects their relationships. But I know vastly more guys who have dabbled in it at some point, then found a way to abandon it and move on more or less permanently. This was the case with several of my roommates at BYU, and a lot of guys I met afterwards in my singles wards.
    I really think that it’s very harmful to scare women by saying that if a guy has ever had a porn problem, then now he’s scarred for life, damaged goods, and way too risky for you to date. That actually gives the problem more thunder and causes more problems than it solves by creating a very harmful feeling of internalized shame, like the book referred to. A lot of us have had some unhealthy exposure to porn in the past and have moved on, with zero desire to experience it in the present or future.

  53. here’s a Christian site with statistics on pornography, porn addiction, pastors/christians/men/women with problems, etc.

    http://www.blazinggrace.org/pornstatistics.htm

    if you ask me, the big tension here:
    “61% of married Christian men masturbate
    13% of Christian married men said they felt it was normal.”
    (by self-reporting)

    “. . . confidential survey of evangelical pastors and church lay leaders. Sixty-four percent of these Christian leaders confirm that they are struggling with sexual addiction. . . ”

    “17% of all women struggle with porn addiction”
    “34% of female readers of Today’s Christian Woman’s online newsletter admitted to intentionally accessing Internet porn in a recent poll.”
    “1 in 3 visitors to all adult website are women”

    Men and especially women notoriously underreport on sexual activity polls. Even confidential ones. I would love to see a comparison between Christian and non-Christian. Or LDS and non-LDS, for that matter.

    My honest opinion: this is something we’ve been institutionally dishonest with for a long time. The internet has made the problem very transparent, very fast, and we’re having a hard-time dealing with it.

  54. norm, I guess I’d disagree with the idea that it’s

    “impossible for most people not to seek sexual stimulation.”

    The definition of compulsive you give is

    “an irresistible impulse to perform an irrational act”

    What’s irrational about seeking sex?

  55. Eve. I agree completely that sex is and can be rational.
    Basically, i think that’s equivocating with the term rational (or irrational) but also with the term ‘sex’.

    (sex with children or animals is ir-rational–right?. extramarital sex for sex’s sake = rational to some, but not to others. sex with your spouse = rational. notice all three fall under ‘sex’)

    the equivocation with ‘rational’ is simply illustrated:
    1. being bulemic is rational. I want to lose weight and bulemia is a way to lose weight. so bulemia is rational (there’s a reason for it; but in another sense of rational, bulemia is clearly not rational)
    yet, we consider bulemia among compulsive behaviors.
    2. sex is rational. i want pleasure and sex gives it to me. all sex is rational. (there’s a reason for it)
    –most LDS will say that not all sexual stimulation is ‘right’ and what’s not right is not ‘rational’.
    perhaps the webster’s definition is inadequate.

    Eve…
    is sex compulsive? do you think it’s controllable for everyone?
    (and by that I don’t mean channel-able. i.e. do you believe that every man and woman can simply decide to be a-sexual? to turn off their physical & psychological need/desire for sexual stimulation?)

  56. 27 — Why be wary of studies that show that sexual addiction is a physical addiction? I broached the subject of physical v psychological addiction with Rex Goode, owner of LDSR, and he told me that the newest information in the field indicates that it is at least as much a physical addiction than it is psychological, particularly with regard to withdrawal.

    30 — I don’t know where your claim of separation of porn and masturbation comes from. I don’t know that it matters. When the two are used together, it’s a very dangerous combination — very destructive to your life, and very hard to quit. And I know very few people who use one without the other.

    42 — I don’t understand why anybody should care whether anybody here considers sexual addition or addiction to porn to be “real” addictions. That’s not intended to be particularly pointed at Seth here, but, really folks, what’s the point of trying to deny that sexual addiction is a real addiction? Sexual excitation stimulates the pleasure centers of the brain in ways that strong amphetamines do. The body builds up a tolerance, and requires more and heavier stimulation to get the same effect. The addict becomes unable to stop their behavior without help, and there is withdrawal when trying to stop the behavior. The people who have studied sexual addiction have no problem acknowledging that it’s an addiction. More to the point, if someone self-identifies as an addict, who among you is going to have the gall to tell them that they’re wrong?

    If they’re trying to use their addiction to excuse their behavior, by all means feel free to jump them because of that. But if someone is an addict struggling to find recovery and sobriety, and you kick them while they’re down with this “it’s not really an addiction like alcohol or heroin” then they should be ashamed of themselves for speaking with such ignorance and such cruelty. Until you’ve walked the path, it’s smarter to hold your tongue.

    44 — You just go to the shelf and you buy it. When you get home, you put it wherever you put books that you read while you read it, and then you put it on your bookshelf when you’re done with it. It’s nobody’s business if you’re reading it for your own benefit as an addict, or whether you’re reading it to learn how to support an addict you know, or if you’re just reading it to better understand a huge problem facing our society and our Church. And you do know an addict, whether you know who it is or not. I doubt you’ll find any congregation larger than a small branch that doesn’t have several.

    45 — Thanks for having the guts to say what you said. And amen on the need for better support for coaddicts — better not always meaning warm and fuzzy support and saying “oh, poor you.” Addicts and coaddicts have difficulty in assigning responsibility where it lies — they both tend to agree that the addict’s behavior is the responsibility of the coaddict, and they both are wrong when the do. Sorting things out and helping everybody see their individual contribution and how they can change that is important for all parties involved. There are way more coaddicts than their are addicts, and way more addicts in recovery than there are coaddicts in recovery. Ask anybody in any 12 step fellowship and they will verify that.

    47 — The volume of product doesn’t mean that there’s any shortage of available porn to keep an equal number of female addicts going, and you’re failing to take into account female-oriented soft porn, such as smutty romance novels. The female addicts I’ve known don’t care to be marginalized by attempts to make this an all-male or even mostly-male problem. It’s an equal opportunity problem.

    I once heard a Sexaholics Anonymous member point out that, at AA, he found lots of people from lots of kinds of spiritual backgrounds, many of whom found God for the first time in AA, but, at SA, he almost only found people from a strong spiritual background. This is primarily because religious sex addicts know that what they’re doing is wrong, so they’re more likely to look for a way to stop than someone who believes that sex without boundaries is fine. This doesn’t mean that only the lives of religious people are affected by sexual addiction — not at all.

    And yes, masturbation is always a violation of the Law of Chastity. It’s also, interestingly enough, a violation of the definition of sexual sobriety used by Sexaholics Anonymous.

  57. Blain,

    Thanks for these statements, “The people who have studied sexual addiction have no problem acknowledging that it’s an addiction. More to the point, if someone self-identifies as an addict, who among you is going to have the gall to tell them that they’re wrong?
    If they’re trying to use their addiction to excuse their behavior, by all means feel free to jump them because of that. But if someone is an addict struggling to find recovery and sobriety, and you kick them while they’re down with this “it’s not really an addiction like alcohol or heroin” then they should be ashamed of themselves for speaking with such ignorance and such cruelty. Until you’ve walked the path, it’s smarter to hold your tongue.”

    That gives me a lot of support right now. Thanks for your E,S,H.

  58. Elisabeth says:

    Thanks for the helpful comments so far. I should clarify that although Confronting Pornography does offer some discussion of the mechanics and biology of addiction, the main focus of the book is on healing deep spiritual wounds, however inflicted.

    For those of you who are more interested in defining “porn”, “addiction”, “agency”, or the differentiation between the sexual proclivities and interests of men vs. women, this is probably not the book for you.

    With respect to spiritual healing, this is my favorite passage from the book:

    Throughout the process of working with [those who struggle with porn], there will be a constant battle to handle circumstances either Satan’s way, or the Lord’s way. Satan’s paths will always cause worse and worse and more and more extensive damage; the Lord’s way will encompass moves toward healing, wholeness, and forgiveness.

    Satan would have someone blame, manipulate, and control [the person]; the Lord would have someone try to love, forgive, and help that person. Satan would plant seeds of disgust, repulsion, and bitterness for past mistakes and weaknesses; the Lord would cultivate compassion and forgiveness. Satan would continually bring past deeds forward, never letting them be forgiven; the Lord would ask that past misdeeds be given to Him, letting Him be the one who hands out judgment and retribution. Satan would have someone hold relentlessly to hurts and injuries; the Lord invites that person to come to Him and to have those wounds healed. Satan would make someone feel as if overcoming the transgression is impossible, that weaknesses will always prevail; the Lord would have someone believe, “I am able to make you holy” (D&C 60:7), and that He “knoweth the weakness of man and how to succor them who are tempted” (D&C 62:1).

  59. Some of the conversations here remind me of how intelligent high schoolers who have little actual experience in anything might approach this topic. It’s a lively conversation that pretty much misses the point.

    As someone whose spouse is addicted–and I use that word quite deliberately–to porn, perhaps I can add something to it.
    First of all, this problem–and again, this is a problem, not an imagined one–is very pervasive. I have other active LDS family members and friends who are also involved in porn and what I am about to say also applies to them. So, although I write from the perspective of my experience, I can also say that these experiences are not unique.

    Addicted men, ones who are honorable in all other ways and who really love their families, when given a choice, choose the porn. When given a choice between their jobs and porn, they choose the porn. Men who lack discipline in no other aspect of their lives, and who desperately want to stop, keep using porn. Sounds like addiction to me. It’s that compulsive of a hehavior.

    When a spouse finds out, it rocks his or her (but usually her) world, but that is just the beginning. It is an addiction accompanied by great shame. It is accompanied by lies. It is accompanied by hypocrisy. It is accompanied by repeated broken promises. It sometimes is accompanied by blame (everyone but the addict is at fault–and the wife can be a very convenient target). It makes the whole temple marriage seem like a sham. It makes the woman feel undesirable, no matter how fabulous she may actually be. It makes her feel objectified. It decreases her sense of self worth. It often makes her feel sick, especially if she has deliberately kept herself away being exposed to porn. It makes her feel insecure in the marriage (i.e. what else don’t I know about him, what else can’t I trust about him). It weakens trust and respect, and that when other marital problems come into play, the marriage is already shakier because of the porn use. I don’t even want to get into how it affects a couple’s sexual life. But, even when the husband knows all this, the porn use doesn’t stop. It’s a rotten problem, both for the addict and for everyone else associated.

    I appreciate that such a topic needs an intellectual analysis–I’ve seen blogs addressed to LDS women in which the women just essentially cry on each others’ shoulders about this problem, and they are lacking in substance. But the topic deserves commentators who are willing to address the substance of the problem, not just address, lawyer-like, nuances of words that are used to describe it. I recognize that many of you are addressing the substance of the topic. Thanks for addressing it with such respect Elisabeth.

  60. J, thanks for saying so intelligently what I you did. One reason I feel kind of weird not using my full name in these posts is that I have made a boundary for myself in that I will not lie about my husband’s addiction. I have been an enabler for too long, hiding behind the “what will everyone else think?” stigma. Well, I’ve hit rock bottom and my spouse has not. I choose recovery and he is deciding if he wants to. He will soon lose his family if he doesn’t enter active recovery. That’s my bottom line.
    Like J, says, the porn wins over the family, love, relationship every time UNLESS the addict enters active recovery and chooses to work on the addiction, stop the behaviour, and repair relationships. Often times, because of the temple marriage covenant and vows a spouse makes with the addict, the co-addict (spouse) will clinge to the relationship and try to do all that she/he can to help the addict fix the problem, often times trying to manage, control, or make the problem her/his own. That doesn’t work. I’ve tried that. That’s not healthy and it only helps the addiction continue. An addict can really only lose the addiction on his/her own. He/she needs the love and support of family, spouse, friends, etc. but they choice to stop must be his/her own. You can’t love someone out of an addiction. The hard part is letting your spouse know that you love him/her, but that you hate the addictive behaviour and that you won’t do anything in your power to let it continue (by enabling, covering up, managing, protecting).

  61. I very much appreciate this conversation and would like to add another perspective to those that have been shared already.

    I dated someone for almost two years who had been addicted to pornography. When we started dating he’d been “clean” for almost eight months. He was upfront with me about this problem from the beginning of our relationship and I respected his honesty. I felt like he was a man of integrity and that I could trust him so I decided to continue to explore a relationship with him.

    He remained clean the whole first year of our relationship. We’d grown very much in love and were seriously discussing marriage. I left for an internship for a few weeks and while I was away he relapsed and became deeply embroiled in pornography again. He chose not to tell me about it. After I returned our relationship was different in ways I couldn’t quite understand at the time. A few weeks later I discovered him viewing internet pornography. It was a devastating moment for both of us. I held him as he wept uncontrollably in my arms with guilt and self-loathing.

    I deeply loved this man and wanted to help him in any way I could. I fasted and prayed with him, read what I could find on overcoming pornography addiction, was patient and forgiving and never spoke a word of condemnation to him or shamed him in any way. This was the state of things for several heartbreaking months. Many times he wished to die. He even spoke of castrating himself. I was absolutely convinced that he would do anything to overcome this problem but nothing seemed to help.

    He felt certain that getting married would cure his addiction. At times I wanted to believe that, but I’d done enough reading on the subject to know that that’s just not usually the case. Ultimately I refused to marry him until this issue was fully resolved. I just couldn’t do it. He grew more and more bitter towards the church and God (who he felt had abandoned him). He also began to resent me for refusing marriage. Eventually I severed all ties with him in order to safeguard my emotional well being.

    I share this very personal story because I think that advice to wives should be different than advice to girlfriends. I think love, patience, and forgiveness should be shown if your husband is struggling with pornography. I don’t think divorce is necessarily the only route. Having said that, I don’t think that Christian love and compassion require a woman to bind her life to a man who struggles with this.

    There are those who would vilify and demonize those who struggle with pornography. That is clearly wrong. On the other hand, there are those who would err in the other direction, wanting to help, willing to sacrifice themselves out of love and concern and they should be reminded that God does not expect them to give themselves in marriage to someone who is addicted to pornography.

  62. Rosalynde says:

    DKL (#8): I’m all for historicizing the discussion, but simply to dismiss our present-day social calculus (sex+emotional intimacy=fulfillment) as a modern anomaly is to miss the point with regard to pornography: despite—or rather, precisely because of—the historic specificity of “meaningful sexual relationships”, and because of the centrality of those relationships in modern processes and institutions of socialization and social welfare, those relationships are reproductively adaptive for modern humans; thus to the extent that pornography interferes with those relationships, it is maladaptive. Sure, pornography satisfies an evolutionarily adaptive drive. So does high fructose corn syrup. But just because the craving for sweetness was adaptive in some long-ago environment of evolutionary adaptiveness doesn’t mean that diabetes isn’t a real modern disease; stimuli that satisfy biological drives, in other words, can be maladaptive in particular contexts. (And any practice that inhibits men from seeking sex with real live women is, obviously, extraordinarily maladaptive from the evolutionary point of view!)

    If you want to work on revising modern concepts of romantic love, I’ll happily collaborate, but I don’t think normalizing porn use is the place to start.

    Mathew (#29): I’ve heard the point about shame—that is, that making porn users feel ashamed of their behavior actually drives them to further engagement—made a number of times, and since I don’t know any better, I guess I can’t really refute it. But while shame may be harmful for current porn users, it’s almost undoubtedly a useful ideological strategy for deterring potential users. Indeed, ideological mechanisms for internalizing the punitive arm of state and ecclesiastical power—what we generally call “conscience”—have been one of the most effective social controls in the modern world. I simply don’t see how we can loosen the shame-stigma of pornography without normalizing its use, and I think it’s silly to believe that normalizing its use won’t result in even more experimentation and exploration and, ultimately, heartache.

    Elisabeth: How did you react when you read that wives of porn users shouldn’t take their husbands’ behavior personally? That seems to me an utterly ridiculous thing to say. There’s nothing that she COULD take more personally, and there’s no reason why she should accept it with equanimity and forgiveness (except in the general Christian sense). She has every right to feel very personally disgusted and repulsed by her husband’s very, very bad taste in sex.

  63. Elisabeth says:

    Rosalynde – I agree with you that it is probably unrealistic to expect wives to be able to separate their personal feelings of betrayal from their husband’s ponography use. But the point the authors are making is that wives should not hold themselves responsible for their husband’s struggles because they (the wives) are not able to satiate their husband’s sexual appetite (fueled by pornography use).

    I’m not sure if you’re using hyperbole here, but I take issue with your words “disgusted and repulsed”. I think these words suggest the absolute wrong approach towards people struggling with addiction. It’s not merely a matter of “bad taste”.

    And I agree with Anon – if your boyfriend’s or husband’s porn use and/or addiction is creating misery for you and your family, ending the relationship may be the best solution for all parties. 

  64. The sudden emergence of the word “addiction” in official LDS discourse seems like an intentional (if useful because the term is so loaded) misuse of language. Condider the following definition of addiction (from Merriam-Webster):

    1 : the quality or state of being addicted
    2 : compulsive need for and use of a habit-forming substance (as heroin, nicotine, or alcohol) characterized by tolerance and by well-defined physiological symptoms upon withdrawal; broadly : persistent compulsive use of a substance known by the user to be harmful.

    I don’t see how the use of the term “addiction” as used in emerging LDS discourse fits either definition. It seems insulting to those who actually stuggle with true substance abuse problems, those with a physiological component and therefore true addicitons, to just lump any undesirable behavior or sin in the category of addiction.

  65. DKL, I think your thoughts are interesting, but they should be under a new post about “deconstructing modern romantic norms,” or something like that. This discussion is much less abstract, now that real people are being discussed.
    J and M (and anon), I really sympathize with your struggle. I know a couple of guys who have been hooked on porn for years and have not been able to break free of it. As I said in my previous post, I am probably much more hopeful than many people in thinking about this because I and many other guys I know have had some exposure to porn at one time or another, and we were able to walk away from it more or less permanently. It can be done.
    This advice may be too late for the men you’re referring to, but if men don’t have hobbies, things they absolutely love to do, then their spare thoughts will invariably be occupied by sex. I asked a porn-addicted friend of mine what he would do to fill his time if he suddenly became very rich and never needed an income again and could do whatever he wanted to with his time. He had no response. The guy literally has no hobbies, so there’s nothing else competing for his mental attention during his moments of vulnerability.
    My wife goes nuts sometimes with all the various interests I have, but she also knows that they have a very effective preventive effect, keeping my mind interested in things other than sex.
    So if you’re ever single again, make sure you go after guys who have all kinds of fun hobbies that they have been doing for years. And if you have young sons, get them immersed in little league, music, art, welding, model trains- whatever, until they latch onto a few things they can keep interested in for the rest of their lives. They’ll drive you nuts asking for those things every birthday and Christmas, but you’ll know you’re filling an important void in the long term.

  66. Dave,

    There are enough people who self-characterize as porn addicts to make that semantic discussion a moot point.
    We understand what you’re trying to say, and we agree to disagree. Can we move on to the more substantive issues here?

  67. Toasty, you can talk about anything you want, but if you consciously misuse language in doing so, don’t expect your statements to carry much credibility. There are thousands of people who self-characterize as having been abducted by aliens. There are thousands who self-characterize as having been healed by the miraculous waters of Lourdes. Such self-characterization doesn’t grant validity to the objective assertion. I don’t think an appeal to self-characterization justifies misuse of language.

    A good essay on the general topic is Orwell’s “Politics and the English Language.”

  68. In re the issue of whether use of porn is “bad taste”: it is, and it is certainly something more. Most porn out there objectifies women in the most fundamental way: the images of the sexulized women exist solely to satisfy a male sexual urge. As a feminist, I loathe porn. It teaches a man that one of the primary functions that women serve is to satisfy him sexually. It does not encourage a mutual, participatory sexuality. And no matter how intelligently a porn user resists that message, his subconscious gets the message that women are objects to be acted upon, not subjects to be acted with. Think through what you know about sex, and about the female sexual drive, and imagine how a man who has had several years of this kind of conditioning will instictively behave, even if he has the most semsitive of intentions. I think too of President Hinkley’s sermon in which he reads a letter from a woman who attributes years of emotional abuse to her husband’s abuse of porn. I don’t in any way want to suggest that a porn addict will automatically become an abuser, because this is most certainly not the case. However, porn encourages the mindsets that make insensitive behavior more likely to happen. And sometimes abuse. It really weakens a relationship, on very fundamental levels.

  69. Steve Evans says:

    Dave, “if you consciously misuse language in doing so, don’t expect your statements to carry much credibility.”

    Dave, I can see the problems is relying on purely individual self-characterization. But what of the fact that our church leadership characterize it as addictive? Do we dismiss that characterization as a bunch of old men misusing language? If that ‘misuse’ is intentional, are you more inclined to reject it, or to accept it? We can complain about misusing the term “addiction” if we want (though personally I believe it is a bona fide addiction) — but as Toasty says, that path of discussion doesn’t really help us very much.

    Again, I guess the topic of whether or not pornography is addictive isn’t what Elisabeth had in mind for this post.

  70. MikeInWeHo says:

    RE: 56 “Sexaholics Anonymous” ?? Odd, I’ve never heard of them. I think they’re a fundamentalist-oriented splinter program (but not sure). In my professional life, we refer people struggling with these behaviors to Sex Addicts Anonymous, http://saa-recovery.org/

    They’re the group that’s comparable to AA. SAA does not define sexual sobriety in a way that precludes all masturbation. That would be absurd from a psychological perspective, and utterly doomed to fail. Obviously sex addiction (if we use the term) is not identical to alcoholism. The recovering alcoholic can never have a drop of booze. The recovering sex addict is not required to live a life of celibacy, no sexual fantasy, no masturbation, etc. It’s nowhere near as black-and-white. I can see from this string, however, that the highly restrictive sexual mores of the Church provide more clarity. But once again I would argue that they also unintentionally feed the problem. I’m not saying it makes the Law of Chastity bad, I’m just saying it’s a two-edged sword.

    I like how the LDS counseling groups distinguish between chemical addiction and process addition, btw. That makes a lot of sense.

  71. One more thought re: 56

    Perhaps Sexahol can be used as an alternative fuel (see also Earth Day string). Bet it has a great octane rating.

  72. Mike, Have you read any of the SAA literature you are talking about? I have and a lot of people define their sobrieties differently, and a lot of them choose to abstain from masturbation and from sexual relations outside of a committed relationship. Addicts define their sobrieties based on the way they act out in their addictions and what triggers their addictions. Of the SAA literature I have read, a lot of people choose abstaining from masturbation to acheive sobriety.

  73. Rosalynde,

    I have no idea if making porn users feel ashamed drives them to further engagement or not. It may be that intense shaming adds to a porn hound’s feeling of hopelessness which increases the chances that the person will capitulate to future desires–but I’m not particularly attached to that theory. Nor, as I have already stated, do I want to normalize pornography.

    My earlier point is only that the level of shaming we currently place on pornography users in Mormon culture makes it harder to help them because it simultaneously makes it more difficult for them to reach out to the community and for the community to create a space within the community for them. My sense is that in the unofficial hierarchy of sin within the Mormon world, pornography use has been recently elevated into the “super sin” category. I question whether it belongs in that category–or if its place ought to be somewhere in the second tier where it formerly resided.

    Reading the experiences of some of the people dealing with this issue in their marriages drives home just how destructive a force pornography can be. On the other hand, there are different degrees of pornography use just as there are different degrees of any sinful behavior. My concern about elevating the sinfullness of pornography derives from my sense (supported only by anecdotal evidence–and I would be happy to see some reliable stats) that a significant percentage of our members will use pornography at some point in their lives, but it will become a regular habit for a much smaller percentage. In our current rhetoric the progression from exposure to addiction is practically a given. Since I don’t believe this is a reflection of reality, I am suspicious of the current “shame quotient” that sprung from that rhetoric.

    If we shame consumers of pornography to a degree that is not porportionate to the sinfullness of the act (or, to use a different measure, the potential harmfulness of the act), then we engage in a sort of collective unrighteous judgment. The legal equivalent is to attach disproportionate penalties to violations of the law. Now it may well be, as you posit, that intense shaming will result in less pornography consumption within the Mormon community (although the point is debatable), but I think we need to carefully weigh whether the means justify the ends. Not only are we confronted with the potential for unrighteous judgment, but in our rush to perform boundary maintenence, we risk cutting off many of our brothers and sisters who might be easily helped and kept within the fold.

    In the political arena unjust laws often end up on the books because no one wants to be accused of being soft on crime. I believe we now have a similar situation within the church laity. It wouldn’t hurt us to step back and assess whether our perspective is the proper one.

  74. Rosalynde (#62): And any practice [pornography in this case] that inhibits men from seeking sex with real live women is, obviously, extraordinarily maladaptive from the evolutionary point of view!

    Elisabeth (#63): husband’s struggles because they (the wives) are not able to satiate their husband’s sexual appetite (fueled by pornography use)

    Uh, which is it? Does it make a husband uninterested in sex with real live women, or so unnaturally interested that a wife cannot possibly keep up?

  75. I heard an interesting point in stake conference this weekend. I don’t know if it was meant to use this point specifically regarding sins such as pornography and masturbation … but pornography was specifically mentioned in the talk along with other potential issues/sins that might be-devil some people. The idea is that before and after a sin is committed, the Lord and Satan basically reverse their positions. So:

    ——
    BEFORE THE SIN

    Before a sin is committed, the Lord takes the following position: “I the Lord cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance.” (D&C 1:31)

    Before the sin is committed, Satan will tempt a person by minimizing the sin, saying “just this once” or “it’s not that big a deal.”

    ——-

    AFTER THE SIN

    After the sin is committed the Lord states to the sinner: “Behold, he who has repented of his sins, the same is forgiven and I, the Lord, remember them no more.” (D&C 58:42)

    After the sin is committed Satan maximizes the sin. He will tell the sinner that he/she is a scumbag, a sinner, unworthy, etc. to such a degree that the sinner has no business trying to pray, attend church, etc.

    In reading this post I was reminded of this concept of Satan’s after-the-sin stance when Elisabeth mentioned the matter of “internalized shame” (as opposed to guilt).

  76. Elisabeth says:

    Christian – Those two scenarios aren’t mutually exclusive in the trajectory of a sexual relationship. The husband could be uninterested in sex with his wife (or real women) because his wife (or the real women) can’t measure up to his visual expectations or keep up with his sexual demands.  Or he could just become so desensitized to real life sexual experiences – he’s just not aroused by anything other than pornographic images.

  77. I’ve heard commentaries both on this post and others that somehow the Church (meaning SLC) has failed in its approach to porn.

    My question is – what would you have SLC do? Twenty-five years ago, they were telling everyone to be careful of the music they listen to and the books they read. I’m sorry, but the message has been consistent — and accurate — for over 2 decades…

  78. Anon (single who broke up with the boyfriend) I appreciated your comments from the single world.

    My current ward is full of women chasing after (or hoping to be chased by) a very few LDS guys. The options are familiar and grim: 1) marry an LDS guy who is perfect (few-to-none of these) 2) who is gay (comparatively plenty) 3) who disobeys a variety of commandments (some for each commandment) or 4) who has a compulsive disorder asuch as porn addiction or substance abuse (many(?)). 5) marry a non-member (the overwhelmingly majority of whom have a porn problem). 6) don’t marry.

    (Men’s options in the same ward are less grim, but involve the same categories/choices, with more people in each.)

    most non-member women expect men to have porn problems and deal with them–many begrudginly but few believing that there is any other type of straight man (or at least that the cost of an asexual man OR a prude, etc. is not worth it–the same society that brought us the porn problem has trained these women to expect less from their men). Thus, men with compulsive porn behavior associate lower costs (not having to fix their perhaps unfixable problem) with dating/marrying outside the fold. If they leave the ward, fewer men remain for the active women.

    Adding to the problem, many women outside the fold consider a man who unusually predisposed to being monogamous, who does not drink/smoke/do drugs/gamble/attend strip clubs, etc. is a steal.

    The amazing, talented, and accomplished women that abound in my ward, and the not-so-any-of-those who also abound. . . can seem equally amazing to guys outside the fold. When a) flaws Mormon culture magnifies make them less desirable, or b) when, as in my ward, the sheer numbers disadvantage forces them to ‘date/marry-down’.

    But we have, in both cases, incentives problems. The temple marriage is the brass ring. Men having porn problems, can face a life-time of struggle and an angry betrayed-feeling spouse–or simply marry someone else with different expectations, e.g. a non-member or girl from ‘the mission field’ or a convert. Meanwhile, the low percentage of women able to net a guy in the ward are queens for the day (hated and revered) many of whom later go on to suffer having imperfect, compulsive husbands. the ones who end up not married are often still jealous–all things considered.

  79. Matthew’s post (#73) touched upon several points that I very much agree with, so I’ll try not to repeat them.

    While I don’t want to trivialize or minimize the seriousness of a pornography problem (particularly with respect to its effect on a marriage), I believe that it would be beneficial to take a step back and try to objectively understand the addiction/compulsion/sin/whatever. I really believe that the manner in which we, as a people and a Church, handle pornography is in need of some improvement.

    It would seem that I rarely pass a Sunday without hearing pornography in some way mentioned during the block of meetings. It’s certainly been elevated to a level that equates it to a number of other horrid sins (which level is only second to murder and denying the Holy Ghost, in the minds of many Mormons). My problem is that this gives the impression that pornograph-users are terrible, vile, wicked people. If that’s really the case, then why are so many well-intentioned, active, otherwise-good Latter-day Saints involved in it? In reality, pornography is a substance that even good LDS men who love their families may feel naturally attracted to and have difficulty resisting. A former bishop of mine once said, “I don’t have a problem with pornography, but if I put my guard down for one minute, I would.”

    Once again, I’m not trivializing the problem. It’s a big, serious problem, and should be treated as such. But in all of the talks and discussions I hear in Church and conference, I don’t hear a lot of sympathy for the porn-users. I fear that merely detailing the seriousness and wickedness of the habit discourages other members from offering care and support to those caught up in pornography, and further intensifies users’ feelings of self-hatred and shame. Without a positive outlook, self-esteem, and support from others, it’s not likely that they’ll ever be able to break the habit.

    Additionally, merely saying “avoid pornography” isn’t necessarily practical advice for current users. Additional material is available (as has been mentioned in this thread), but I would personally like to see more practical, specific advice for breaking the habit presented in public forums (like conference).

  80. Elisabeth says:

    Amen, Steve M. (and Mathew). 

  81. I agree heartily, Steve M.

  82. Thank you for this thread. This is so necessary of a topic.

    Various people have talked about shame. The problem could be addressed and taken care of much faster if it weren’t so taboo. It’s depicted as so undercover, so shameful, that it remains hidden in many contexts.

    On the one hand, it’s important to keep things first inside the marriage. Clearly, some problems need to be addressed between spouses, in privacy. But on the other hand, the reality of porn use needs to be known. People should not struggle alone with their problems, or feel that they are the only ones who suffer.

    As to the potential harm, porn use can become particularly problematic – whether we call it addiction or habit or whatever else – when it damages relationships with the people we love.

    I agree that it is not the fault of the spouse, and the spouse should not feel ashamed or guilty or at fault. On the other hand, Rosalynde has a point that the spouse has every right to be offended. Porn use brings foreign images into an area that is reserved for the marriage. Particularly in the context of an eternal marriage, it is bound to cause pain and hardship for the porn user’s spouse, and such consequences are a real harm to the marriage, inflicted by porn use.

    I’ve got some close friend/family members who struggle with this issue, and I’ve seen the effects it can have on families. I understand the difficulty felt by porn users trying to break their habits; and I’ve seen the pain felt by loved ones. The problem is very real. I don’t know the solution, but it sounds like this book has a lot of useful information. The comments here have also contained a lot of good insight — various attempts to threadjack notwithstanding — and hopefully can help people who suffer from this issue. I’m going to be pointing a few people I know to this link.

  83. [deleted at the request of the author following admin edits]

  84. Believing that any wife (religious or nonreligious, LDS or nonLDS) is not hurt by a husband’s compulsive and continual seeking out and viewing of pornography is wishful thinking. The feeling of betrayal and repulsion on the part of female partners of male sex/pornography addicts is not limited to members of this or any other religion.

    Re: Sexaholics Anonymous versus Sex Addicts Anonymous.

    There are a number of different 12-step fellowships with respect to sex addiction (sometimes called “S-groups” or “S-fellowships”), many of which were founded in the early 1970s. Links to them can be found on this page, compiled by the National Council on Sexual Addiction and Compulsivity, now known as the Society for the Advancement of Sexual Health: http://www.ncsac.org/addicts/addict_groups.aspx#addict

    Heart to Heart, an independent LDS focuses 12 step fellowship, also sponsors groups with respect to sex and pornography addiction: http://www.heart-t-heart.org/

    We have brothers in our LDSFS-sponsored PASG groups who also participate in and find helpful other S-groups or fellowships, including Heart to Heart, SAA, SA, SLAA and perhaps others. Some S-fellowships are stronger in some geographic areas that others.

  85. DKL (#83),

    I agree with several things you have said. Porn definitely is normal outside the Church – a girl I worked with recently loved watching Queer As Folk on HBO because she really enjoyed watching men having sex. And most porn star women nowadays brag about what they do, claiming a sense of empowerment rather than exploitation. It is all very much in the mainstream, and that is the part that people don’t “get.”
    With that in mind, I agree that we’re not being helpful at all when we portray guys as being freaks because they look at porn. Some guys do develop a compulsion they can’t break, but I think the vast majority of men who look at porn are not “addicted” in that way.
    In answer to queuno’s question (#77), the best thing we can do for our young men and women is to assume that they will be exposed to porn at some point in their lives. It is absolutely going to happen. So when it does happen the question is, does that person have a good enough upbringing, self-image, and variety of interests to be able to put aside the porn instead of dwelling on it?
    I happen to get a serious rush from going on very long bike rides, among other things. So as exciting as it is to see the naked female body, I always know in my mind that there are other, more exciting things out there that I love to do. In my mind, porn has much stronger rivals for my attention. If I didn’t have all of those rival interests and someone told me to “just stay away from it,” there is no way I would be able to, and I would be in the same circle of sinning and self-loathing in which so many LDS porn users find themselves.
    There is what I call the “Bermuda Triangle of Men’s Thinking,” which is the triangle of sports, machines, and female bodies. Of course, for many of us, that triangle is more like a quadrangle or more, but among the porn addicts I know, there is not even a triangle. There is only porn. So I think that part of breaking that cycle has to be the emergence of other hobbies and interests that provide the porn user with healthy ways to get excited.

  86. MikeInWeHo says:

    RE: 72 I’ve read some of it. I know that some married people in recovery from sex/porn addiction refrain from masturbation. Most of my clients are unmarried, however, and some struggle with much more dangerous behaviors such as casual sex, online “hook-ups” etc. But hey, I’m inactive and not living in a black-and-white moral world. If somebody can replace unsafe, casual sex with masturbation (until marriage/monogamy), that’s a huge success. I understand that it’s quite different from the perspective of most of the people writing here.

    RE: 79 Really?? Porn is mentioned every Sunday? Wow. (Imagine jaw dropping here….) It really is an obsession.

    RE: 86 “Porn definitely is normal outside the Church.” Just because your colleague liked Queer As Folk doesn’t prove that. It does seem, however, that “porn” is more broadly defined by the LDS. And apparently much more widely discussed.

    What is the LDS definition of pornography, anyway?

  87. Elisabeth says:

    I don’t think the Mormon vs. non-Mormon distinction is fair or particularly relevant, and it trivializes the problem for those members of the Church who struggle with pornography use. The Financial Times printed an excellent article a month ago discussing the negative effects of pornography use on professionals in England without mentioning religion at all.

    The LDS Church expects its members to follow standards that non-members typically find much too restrictive (i.e., no extramarital sex, no drinking). Whether the Church sets up people for failure with unrealistic expectations about porn use and masturbation is a legitimate question, I suppose, but not one that is very productive in the context of this discussion.

    As I mentioned in the post and in some of the comments here, the authors of the book are fairly clear about separating porn use from porn “addiction“. Not every porn user is an addict (however we define the term), just as not every person who drinks alcohol is an alcoholic. We shouldn’t use language in our Church discussions about pornography that label porn users as sexual deviants or criminals in embryo. This public shaming prevents people from getting help when they need it, and encourages more people to leave the Church to seek support and comfort elsewhere. 

    Kaimi – thanks for your comment. I do agree with Rosalynde that women have a “right” to be disappointed and offended because of their husband’s porn use.  Although anger, rage and hurt feelings are perfectly natural emotions, the person who has been offended must work through these feelings and try to forgive the offender before any real progress can be made.  The authors of the book encourage spouses to work together, especially at first, even realizing that the deleterious effects of porn use severely impact the non-participant (typically the wife).  Of course, ending the relationship may turn out to be in everyone’s best interests, but even then, the spouse who has been offended should try to forgive and work through the angry feelings for her own spiritual well being.

  88. 57 — M. Glad to help.

    62 — Use of porn is already normal. Check the stats on the percentage of all teens who have used porn in the past week. Applying shame to try to stop people from using porn is to be too little and too late. Shame is not a useful mechanism for change — shame is a very effective method of encouraging the hiding of problems, rather than the resolving of them. Guilt, properly applied, can be useful in recovery, but shame isn’t.

    64 — I would suggest trying some research into the topic. Don’t Call It Love by Patrick Carnes would be a good place to start. It will give you some useful information so you can begin to understand the nature of sexual addictions. You could also find the SA “White Book,” which is like the AA “Big Book” only it’s white and a lot smaller and about SA. The description of “The Problem” there might help you understand something useful as well.

    For now, trust that those with “legitimate” addictions to narcotics and alcohol who have experience with sexual addiction recovery don’t have a problem with seeing it called an addiction.

    67 — Those with experience in the field do not agree with you that referring to sexual addiction as an addiction is a misuse of the term. I’ve put a source on the table to substantiate that. Please place yours on the table or back away from your point.

    70 — That’s amusing. SAA has a definition of “sobriety” that is somewhat pliable — not quite as bad as that of SLA, which allows everyone to define “sobriety” for themselves, but not in keeping with the standards of the Church either. SA is very closely affiliated with the AA approach (Sexaholic being a very silly word made to connect to the Alcoholic nature). SA, SAA and SLA all formed more or less at the same time, none of them “splintering” from the others. That you haven’t heard of them suggests to me that you need to get a lot more up to date on the field — they’ve been around a long time now. Carnes would, again, be a good place to start. I’m surprised at how much you have to say about them when you’ve never heard of them.

    77 — I wouldn’t say the Church has failed. I think the Church has been a bit slow in getting real about this issue, but it’s catching up rather quickly now. Pres. Hinckley can’t seem to be within five feet of a microphone without grabbing it to say that porn is dangerous and that we should stay away from it. And the discussion is starting to be more constructive than “No, don’t do it. Don’t. No.” like it has been most of my life. There is the discussion of involving counselors, rather than just taking the matter to your bishop, and that’s a good step also. The ARP/PASG program is a very good step, legitimizing the 12 Steps (even if they are Mormonized) in an LDS context as clearly as it’s been done to date.

    I think the next step is to bring it down to the point that any time we’re talking to a collection of people, we’re talking to people who are using porn on a regular basis. Not everyone is, but, when we’re talking about youth, a clear majority have had some exposure to porn, and that’s true when we talk about adults as well. Simply saying “stay away” isn’t enough information. We need more clear instruction for how to get away once we’re there, and we need lots and lots more ARP/PASG groups than currently exist.

    79 — Very good points, very well said.

    83 — Point b is the weaker part of your analogy — there is a higher possibility of non-addictive use of alcohol than there is of non-addictive use of porn. Porn causes immediate changes to brain chemistry on the first glance — it takes more than one drink to get the same effect.

    88 — Excellent point. Being baptized doesn’t make us fundamentally different than those who haven’t been. If you question the “normalization” of porn within the Church, run a set of stats on porn usage in the greater society by your bishop and see if he things those sound about like he would expect to see them in your ward. I think you’ll find that he’ll say that they’re closer to those numbers than he’s comfortable with, and that he wishes he didn’t have to spend as much time dealing with the issue as he does.

  89. Honestly, I don’t care if it is “normal.”

    It was also “normal” for the Huns to rape the women and pillage the village. Every “normal” young raider did it. It was expected.

    Trying to use the word “normal” to put a more positive spin on the behavior we’re talking about here is irrelevant and unhelpful.

  90. Look, I appreciate the concerns that our youth are indulging in self-destructive self-imaging. Wallowing in pity and pointless guilt is often part-and-parcel with destructive behavior.

    But the correct response is not to pat he young man on the head and say “there there now … masturbation is normal, porn use is normal, everyone is doing it. You’re just the same as every other young man your age.”

    All this tells the young man is “you’re a slimeball, but so is everyone else so that makes it OK. You can’t help yourself.”

    The road to hell is paved with good intentions. You seek to uplift the sufferer, but you do it by destroying his spiritual identity and moral destiny.

    Better to let the guy work out his own guilt than to try and put a false layer of fresh new paint over the crap on the wall.

  91. RE: 79 Really?? Porn is mentioned every Sunday? Wow. (Imagine jaw dropping here….) It really is an obsession.

    Yeah, seriously, it’s mentioned nearly every Sunday in my current ward. Recently, in a guy’s sacrament meeting talk, he quickly mentioned porn while listing several substances/sins to avoid. Just said the word once. Well, when we get to priesthood meeitng, the bishop gets up and says, “To follow up on what was discussed in sacrament meeting…” He procedes to give a mini-discourse on the evils of porn use. Our last 5th Sunday combined RS/PH lesson was on porn. What do you think the combined lesson will be about this Sunday? I’ve got my bets on porn.

  92. Elisabeth says:

    Seth, your comment #90 is a summation of the two extremes: (1) rail against the porn users as evil and wicked sinners, or (2) tacitly condone porn use and masturbation.

    The good news is that we don’t need to gravitate to either of these extreme approaches, because the Savior has provided a perfect example for us to follow in treating our brothers and sisters in this situation. Our Savior showed us that we neither have to deride and abandon those caught up in sin to suffer in shameful silence, nor do we have to accept their behavior and struggles as inevitable. See John 8 for more information.

  93. 90 & 91 — That only works if you think that “normal” is “okay.” I don’t. The natural man really is an enemy to God. Saying that viewing porn is normal doesn’t mean that it’s acceptable at all. You are correct in pointing out any number of unacceptable normal things.

    The purpose of accepting this as normal is simply to set aside all the “Oh, my gosh! I can’t believe that anybody I know would ever do something like that,” and accept the reality that many, if not most, of the people you know do things like that. When we get rid of the denial about the seriousness and pervasiveness of the problem, we can get on with the task of addressing the problem. As long as the lessons on the Law of Chastity are seen as talking about “the youth (elsewhere)” or about people in other wards, or about non-members, the problem will only continue getting worse.

    Until we can have lessons in YM/YW/EQ/HP/RS where people can say “This is a problem in my home” and receive support, love and help from the others in the room, the institutional Church (not its leaders) will be failing to be what it could be in addressing this problem. Our leaders can help the process along by saying things to encourage this, but they can’t change our hearts and our ways of interacting — we have to do that with the help of God. Thus far, my EQ has been a place where one member has been able to say that, and that was after a lot of work and a lot of time to increase the reality level on that and other issues in that room.

    The goal is not to say “I’m ok, you’re ok, let’s watch porn and feel okay about it” at all. The goal is to get real about this problem in a fundamental way so that we can change the problem. As long as we approach this in a third-party, arms-length fashion, we will not be able to change it. We will have to humble ourselves before God (Ether 12:27) and show the courage and strength that we will be given through that to be able to make that happen.

  94. Anonymous newlywed says:

    I’m married to a man who quit his porn addiction when we started dating. As he got to know me, he just didn’t want to use porn anymore. I was his first girlfriend, and we’re a bit older than the typical newlyweds. We’ve been married a few months. Is my marriage doomed because he’s going to return to porn?

    M, J and anon and a few others have shared heartbreaking comments about the way porn has affected their husbands. Toasty argues that lots of men view porn and then move on and don’t look back (see #52).

    When I found out I was dating and falling in love with a man who admitted he had been addicted to porn for more than 10 years, I asked my bishop if he’d ever seen anyone quit porn. My previous knowledge about porn addiction was based on GA talks in which a man saw a picture when he was 13 and eventually destroyed his marriage and there was apparently nothing that could be done. The bishop said, “yeah, men quit permanently all the time.” My fiance talked to his bishop about his porn problem, and asked about ongoing addictions the bishop may have dealt with and the (singles ward) bishop said that most of the men he counsels with about porn quit viewing it if they start dating real women. His bishop had him quit taking the sacrament for two weeks, but other than that he wanted to hear more about me and not so much hear about porn.

    So neither of our bishops thought his porn addiction was necessarily going to rule his life and destroy our marriage. They just shrugged it off, based on their experiences.

    What’s the difference, then? Some men can quit permanently and some men return to it. Is there an “addictive personality” type, where certain vulnerabilities make a person more likely to fill a need with an addiction? What’s the difference between a man who doesn’t look back and a man who can’t wait to get back? I liked Toasty’s point about having lots of hobbies. My hubby doesn’t have hobbies – he likes camping and hunting, but if we’re home, he’s plugged into his computer, which strikes me as dangerous, but surfing the Internet is all he really likes to do in his free time besides read novels. Do I nag him to get a hobby?

  95. Elisabeth says:

    Anonymous newlywed – I think Toasty’s point is right on – many men go through stages of varying degrees of porn use – with few or no lingering aftereffects. Still, it’s important to be open about your husband’s porn use – many people do go through periods where they relapse into old habits (the book has an excellent chapter or two on this: “Relapse Prevention” and “Revitalizing Recovery Following Relapse”).

    I’m not sure what your husband’s situation is, but you should watch out for this becoming a problem later on down the road. Not that it is inevitable by any means, but proactive steps to prevent a relapse (internet filters, etc.) and open communication about his porn use can stave off many of the negative effects of a dormant porn habit. In the meantime, I’d suggest finding more things to do together with your husband to replace his spending lots of time online.

  96. Anonymous newlywed,

    There is no certainty that he will go back to porn. Give him the benefit of the doubt. Hobbies are always helpful to keep one from idleness. If he likes the computer, why not computer games?

    Keep the faith! Unfortunately many judge those who have had a problem with porn to be lost causes. This is simply not true and not in keeping with the Savior’s view of us.

  97. Anon newlywed, I am no expert here, but I think that the general perception is that the solution to just about every problem in single adult units is resolved by getting married. That said, there are plenty of people who have quit distructive behaviors, including pornography viewing. Men are hardwired to be visually stimulated, but as Rosylande, noted, we are hardwired to enjoy sweet (though I don’t think the desires are comparable – once you have a bite of sugar, the measure of compulsion is not comparable (at least I think)). Anyway, in short, I believe that you can have a happy marriage.

  98. Anonymous newlywed,

    I am not sure anyone here can answer your questions. Every person and every couple are different. Reading this book, and discussing it with your husband might be very helpful.

    This addiction/compulsion thrives in secrecy. For many men and couples, breaking secrecy and honesty and openness seem key to lasting recovery. It is better for a husband to break secrecy and disclose to his wife that he felt the “pull” when seeing a sports magazine swimsuit edition or thumbed through it (or felt “triggered” when watching a television show) than to wait until crossing a more serious boundary before doing so. Letting the “sunlight in” early (and allowing one’s husband to be open about it) seem to be very helpful.

    Again, I do think this book is one of the better books published on the subject for Latter-day Saints.

  99. Anonymous newlywed says:

    Thanks. We have been very open about it, and I wasn’t shocked by his admission or repulsed by it. My reaction was helped by the fact that I was fairly recently recovered from my own sex addiction. I ought to buy the book for myself. I never looked at porn, but I had an unhealthy fantasy life that went on for more than a decade. The only acting out I ever did was to occasionally read a smutty novel, and then I just covered myself in self-hatred for being such a loathsome filthy specimen of womanhood. But it went on for years and I couldn’t stop. Whenever I tried, I failed so I hated myself more. And I was too ashamed to admit to anyone that my fantasy life was beginning to replace my real life in importance to me. What a stupid problem, huh?

    Eventually, other stuff in my life caused a crisis, I had a breakdown and was finally diagnosed with depression. Now I have no problems with my previous addiction, and am even slightly disgusted when a memory of what I used to do floats across my consciousness. I was self-medicating for depression with fantasies. It staved off a diagnosis for years.

    So I totally identify with an addict who believes that life is unbearable without the addictive behavior, and with the loathing that accompanies it. I couldn’t be shocked by him because I’d done the same thing and gotten over it.

    We’ve talked really openly about both of our problems. He’s asked me to keep him accountable and ask him about temptations and so forth. I haven’t asked him in a while. Maybe I’ll go buy the book and we’ll read it together.

    And I do ask him what he’s looking at on the computer all the time. He’s got lots of games, he’s a slashdot junkie, and he downloads TV shows.

  100. Anon. Newlywed,

    First of all, the fact that you and your husband have discussed his previous difficulties is a major step toward avopiding future problems. Once the compulsion to view pornography has developed, it never really goes away so there is no guarantee that he won’t look at it again. However, there is no guarantee that any man will not view pornography, regardless of his past behavior. That said, I think you and your husband are to be applauded for your honesty and courage.

  101. As someone that has personally struggled with this sort of problem, I thought it might be useful to get my two cents in. At the risk of inviting scorn, I should note that my problem went well beyond pornography into fornication and adultery. I’ll try not to get too much into my own experience here; I wouldn’t know when to stop and I’d end up with a chapter-length essay before I knew it. Just a few comments:

    First, on the question of whether or not “addiction” is an appropriate term, I agree with some others on this thread that this is somewhat beside the point. I know that there are differences of opinion as to whether sexual addiction is a true physiological addiction and I understand the concern that there might be a tendency nowadays to label every weakness or bad habit an addiction. However, I personally found the addiction metaphor useful in working to overcome (to the extent I have) my problem because 1) it facilitated an understanding of patterns that are associated with the bad behavior and steps that help to prevent recurrence, and 2) it permitted me to maintain a positive self-image in areas unrelated to the bad behavior, avoiding unconstructive self-loathing or despair that changes might be possible.

    Second, my guess is that that labeling these behaviors as disgusting, vile, repulsive, etc. is rarely useful in helping the offender reform. At best, such labels are one more obstacle to overcome. (Of course, as Rosalynde (62) points out, the affected spouse will likely see things much differently.) That said, from the orthodox Mormon point of view, I don’t see how such labels can be enitirely done away with, given scriptures such as “second only to murder” and “whoso looks upon a woman with lust.” As noted by others in this discussion, there is a tension between language (arguably) most effective in dissuading people from experimenting in the first place and language most effective in resolving existing problems.

    I’ll second the notion that “addiction/compulsion thrives in secrecy.” I’ll also second the notion that it is vital to have alternative hobbies. I would caution Anonymous newlywed against nagging, though. I find that my own hobbies (sports, reading, frequenting the bloggernacle, etc.) are unrecognizable as such by my wife. I bristle whenever she tries to impose her idea of a “man’s” hobby (handyman/do-it-yourselfer) on me.

    I am glad to see the publication of this book. For some like me, pornography is a way station en route to more serious offenses. From my perspective, the church is making some progress in dealing with the area of porn addiction and sexual addiction, though much more needs to be made. I was helped greatly by my own bishop who was completely oriented to helping me change my behavior rather than to impressing upon me its comtemptibility. My stake president was not quite as helpful, but neither was he unhelpful. Through them, I was able to get some tremendously useful counseling. Fortuitiously, given my circumstances at the time, the counseling respected my LDS background but did not try to foist LDS-inspired motivations on me. Unfortuanately, I am not convinced that everyone in a similar situation would be as lucky as I was.

  102. Anonymous newlywed says:

    I need to clarify the connection between depression and sex addiction that I mentioned in #99. Actually, I can’t clarify it because I don’t understand it. But as far as I can tell, the sex addiction was not a symptom of depression. It was something I did to mask the fact that something was dreadfully wrong with my thinking and coping skills and I didn’t want to face it. For years I didn’t even realize I had a problem underlying the problem I knew about.

    So fantasies were an avoidance technique to keep me from facing up to the really scary stuff. Depression did not cause my own addiction – I used my addiction to mask a problem. Once the underlying problem was addressed, the addiction evaporated.

  103. 94 — The way you can tell an addict from a non-addict is that the non-addict can quit more or less on their own by a show of will. An addict will make the same show of will, and might quit for a time, but will fall back into use again when things become difficult.

    There’s no way to tell the difference in the short-term. If it turns out to be an addiction, there are certainly more powerful steps that can be taken to get help and find recovery and sobriety.

    101 — Good job coming forward and sharing your es&h. Thanks for that.

  104. I agree with many that have posted that if we are going to make headway in the fight against porn we need to focus less on the ‘don’t do it’ and more on helping people fill their lives with good things. I think that among those LDS men that have fulfilling careers, considerablye amounts of meaningful time spent with family, good hobbies, and that strive to magnify a meaningful calling few of those probably have problems with pornography. I think the Savior’s parable on this is particularly instructive: Mathew 12: 43-45
    43 When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he walketh through dry places, seeking rest, and findeth none.

    44 Then he saith, I will return into my house from whence I came out; and when he is come, he findeth it empty, swept, and garnished.

    45 Then goeth he, and taketh with himself seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter in and dwell there: and the last state of that man is worse than the first…
    If our houses remain swept and empty they will most likely be filled with what the world offers, we need to focus on helping fellow members to fill their spiritual houses with those things that are good.

  105. I think we’ve made this problem into something more than it is. A man who looks at porn every day, and spends money on it, and enjoys porn involving sheep = man with problem. A man who looks at Playboy every now and again = normal. Now, I think the Church rightly asks for a higher standard, and I agree with it, but porn isn’t the most evil thing in the world. We are just making otherwise good men feel like freaks.

  106. Certainly doing healthy things–like hobbies–can help in the recovery process. It can be an important piece of the puzzle, just like medication, confession to priesthood leaders or another human being, honesty and breaking secrecy with one’s spouse, attending meetings, working the steps, or individual or group therapy might help. But for many people, simply “doing” things (or more things), like hobbies, sports, church callings, scripture reading, temple attendance, of itself, is not a cure. It is often said in the recovery community that we are human “beings”, not human “doings”. I know many brothers who have tried escaping pornography or sex addiction simply by “substituting” other healthy activities, and found that it was not enough (and in same cases–such as by overprogramming–made things worse).

    Of course, for those who are able to avoid the lure of pornography simply by trying to engage more fully in healthy activies, more power to you. But for those who find that it is not enough to escape, please know that you are not alone and there is help and hope.

  107. Steve EM says:

    While porn can be harmful to individuals and relationships, those situations are hardly common. Porn is most harmful to the “actors”, producers, etc. who wouldn’t be involved in “profession” if there were no mass demand for their product.

    Now Sex addiction? You might as well be discussing addiction to air or water. It’s a gross misuse of the word.

  108. MikeInWeHo says:

    The Internet is central to this whole thing. When I grew up there was a super-scary looking porn shop on the edge of town, and maybe a Playboy magazine behind the counter at the convenience store. That was it. In effect, I had zero contact with porn. Fast forward to 2006. My cable system overflows with pay-per-view porn channels, and we all know what the Internet brings. Much harder to avoid, and secular society has clearly become rather desensitized to its presence.

    Was thinking about that recently as I watched TV. The language would have shocked me 20 years ago, but today I don’t blink an eye. And it was nothing pornographic I was watching, just some cable sitcom.

    Perhaps the general coarsening of our society is the real underlying problem here.

    It’s a cycle that works like this: 1. society becomes coarse, 2. people become desensitized to vulgarity, nudity, and violent imagery, 3. the porn industry expands, media becomes more violent, etc, 4. return to 1 and repeat. (I’d draw them in a circle here if I could)

    The mistake people make, imo, is to be too focused on #3 and neglecting how it all works together. The Internet and other means of communication are too powerful, and porn too profitable, to ever put the genie back in the bottle. Porn isn’t going away. How can you make it boring and irrelevant to the majority of the LDS? How can the Church help slow or evening reverse the cycle of a coarsening society?

    I’m not sure that endless rumination about the evils of porn helps one bit, imho.

  109. Elisabeth says:

    Thank you for your helpful comments and insights. I am closing comments to this thread now.

    Should you have any additional comments or questions, please contact me at the following email address: info@bycommonconsent.com

    Best wishes.

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