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Why Is Pornography Addiction a Serious Problem?

In ancient times, pornography was “writing about prostitutes.” (See the ATQ article Is Sexual Sin and Temptation a Bigger Problem Today Than It Was in the Early Church?) Today pornography is a multibillion dollar industry that is spreading a wide net by providing sexual arousal on demand.

1 Unlike most cultures that restrain and channel eroticism and sexuality so that a people’s energy isn’t squandered through dissipation and compulsive sex, modern culture is drenched with sexual images, sexualized. It is so obsessed with short term sensual pleasure that sexual self-control and chastity tend to be popularly viewed as manifestations of mental or emotional disorder.

Paul’s warnings against intercourse with a prostitute in 1 Corinthians have been too easily overlooked in respect to pornography.

All other sins a man commits are outside his body, but he who sins sexually sins against his own body. 2 Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body.” (1 Corinthians 6:9-20 NIV)

If large numbers of evangelical Christians began using cocaine on a regular basis, we wouldn’t be surprised when many of them developed serious problems relating to cocaine addiction. Yet although pornography is as addictive as cocaine, legal, and available anonymously, we are surprised—even shocked—that large numbers of Evangelicals are pornography addicts.

“Porn is not swallowed or rubbed on the skin. It enters the body directly through your senses, such as your eyes and ears. This gives it a direct link to your central nervous system, specifically, the pleasure centers in your brain. Porn provides instant arousal, a real enticement in these days of “give it to me now!” The physiological changes that happen when using porn happen almost immediately: your heart beats faster, your breathing gets shallower, and you start to feel a throbbing in your genitals.” 3

Pornography provides a high-quality counterfeit of the sensual ecstasy of sex. Rather than experiencing sexual and emotional pleasure as part of a meaningful relationship with a real person, the pornography addict deceives his own body to substitute arousal through illusion and fantasy for real relationship.

For many centuries Christians have contemplated the impersonal religious prostitution associated with fertility religions in other times and places with rightful abhorrence. Yet they largely overlook the fact that a new form of “fertility worship” has moved in to fill the void of loneliness and meaninglessness in our rootless culture, and that the modern form is far more subtle, insidious, and addictive than those of the past.

Physiological effects of pornography are as great (or greater) than actual sex with a prostitute. 4 Sex with a prostitute involves a degree of realism, and more likelihood of remorse, sympathy, or disgust. Pornography has all of the perfection of illusion, with no physical-relational strings attached.

The social and familial consequences of overstimulation and obsession with sexual pleasure are “coming home to roost”. Until recently “conventional wisdom” about pornography held that it was either harmless or beneficial as a means of overcoming “sexual repression.” Today many secular psychologists are acknowledging the escalating effects of rampant pornographic addiction and describing its symptoms and effects.

  1. We are so awash in pornography these days that most of us don’t recognize it anymore. Of Internet users in the United States, 40 percent visit porn sites at least once a month. The number rises to more than 70 percent when the audience is men aged eighteen to thirty-four. The Internet has long been a driving force for the porn industry, pushing the bounds of access speed, streaming downloads, and file sharing. Now the cell-phone industry hopes porn will do for it what it’s done for the Web — make it very, very rich. The pornography industry brings in between $10 billion and $20 billion in the United States alone, and around $60 billion worldwide. (Hard numbers are hard to find, since cable giants and hotels chains are loathe to publicize their take from the skin industry.) That’s more than all professional sports. It’s three times more than Google, Yahoo, and MSN make in a year—combined. (quoted from “Not Your Father’s Pornography” by Jason Byasee). Back To Article
  2. Because they are “sins against the body,” sexual sins utilize the body’s powerful instinctive drives to create degrading forms of addictive behavior that wreak havoc both for the sinner and everyone within his/her sphere of influence.
    The Bible exalts human sexuality within marriage. It uses the image of husband and wife to portray the intimacy that exists between Christ and the church (2 Corinthians 11:2; Ephesians 5:21-33; Revelation 19:7), which is why Paul describes sexual sin with special concern. By means of sexual sin, the human will becomes the instrument by which the body’s reproductive instincts are misdirected to destructive ends, and, in turn, the body’s wholesome physical drives become complicit in enslaving the human will. The personal and social repercussions of sexual sin are extreme. Back To Article
  3. “Studies have found that just by being exposed to graphic sexual material, males . . . and females [become sexually aroused]. The reactions are instinctual. Porn is so powerful as a sexual stimulant that the physiological changes can happen automatically even when the viewer doesn’t like the idea of porn or feels uncomfortable with some of its content. In terms of triggering a sexual response, our eyes see no difference between sex on the screen and sex in real life. So as far as your sexual arousal system goes, when you are watching porn, you are there. . . .
    ‘Oh come on,’ you’re probably thinking. ‘How can porn be like a drug? I can’t smoke it, drink it, or shoot it up.’ But the fact is that porn can have as powerful an effect on your body and brain as cocaine, methamphetamine, alcohol, and other drugs. It actually changes your brain chemistry. Porn stimulates and area of the brain known as the ‘hedonic highway,’ or median forebrain, which is filled with receptors for the neurotransmitter dopamine. Dopamine is released when you get sexually aroused. It is also released by other pleasurable activities, such as kissing, intercourse, smoking a cigarette, or taking other drugs. Porn causes the dopamine production in your system to spike. This dramatic increase in dopamine produces a drug-like high some researchers believe is most similar to the high caused by crack cocaine.” (quoted from pages 18 and 19 of The Porn Trap, The Essential Guide to Overcoming Problems Caused by Pornography, Wendy and Larry Maltz). Back To Article
  4. “As we mentioned earlier, watching porn stimulates the release of powerful chemicals, such as dopamine and testosterone. These chemicals not only relate to sexual arousal and pleasure, but also are released in real life when someone is sexually attracted to and falls in love with someone else. In addition, powerful human bonding hormones, such as oxytocin and vasopressin, are released with orgasm. They contribute to establishing a lasting emotional attachment with whomever, or whatever, you happen to be with or thinking about at the time. The more orgasms you have with porn, the more sexually and emotionally attached to it you’ll become.
    “A relationship with porn can act like an affair. It can take time and energy away from an existing intimate relationship. People who use porn often operate with the same kind of secrecy and deception as someone having a sexual affair. When a porn user is confronted by a partner, there is often denial, lying and attempts to cover up the wrongdoing. Without realizing it, maintaining a “love affair” with porn can become more important than staying connected to someone in real life. Also, if you use porn regularly, the mental images and scenarios of porn can keep playing in your mind during sex, making it hard to feel connected and intimate with the real person in your life. (The Porn Trap, The Essential Guide to Overcoming Problems Caused by Pornography, Wendy and Larry Maltz, p. 23.) Back To Article
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Why Shouldn’t Sex Be Casual?

Because it was the Creator’s intention that human beings have the freedom to make their own decisions, everyone has to come to terms with the basic issues of life. One of these issues is that outside of certain bounds some of the most profoundly pleasurable and meaningful things can become the most destructive.

The emotions connected with human sexuality are so powerful and multi-faceted that we can only begin to describe them. The complementary spiritual and physiological components of male and female find unique fulfillment and intimacy here. Significantly, this profound experience provides the context for the conception of new human life.

Tragically, some in every generation make the sensations of sex the goal of the experience. They neglect the legitimate bounds for sexual experience and eventually face the consequences of that neglect.

Mankind has long been aware of sexual attraction’s tremendous potential for destruction. In The Odyssey, the great Greek poet Homer pictures its power as almost irresistible. In order to avoid being lured to his death by the enticing song of the Sirens, Ulysses commands his men to lash him to the mast of his ship, to plug their ears, and ignore his cries.1 The Old Testament, too, contains solemn warnings regarding the danger of illicit sexual attraction.

When wisdom enters your heart, and knowledge is pleasant to your soul, discretion will preserve you; understanding will keep you, to deliver you from the way of evil, . . . from the immoral woman, from the seductress who flatters with her words, who forsakes the companion of her youth, and forgets the covenant of her God. For her house leads down to death, and her paths to the dead; none who go to her return, nor do they regain the paths of life. (Proverbs 2:10-12,16-19)

For the lips of an immoral woman drip honey, and her mouth is smoother than oil; But in the end she is bitter as wormwood, sharp as a two-edged sword, her feet go down to death, her steps lay hold of hell, lest you ponder her path of life—her ways are unstable; you do not know them (Proverbs 5:3-6).

Jesus also portrays the destructive power of sexual immorality with great seriousness:

“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell” (Matthew 5:27-30).

The apostle Paul wrote:

So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more (Ephesians 4:17-19 NIV).

The Bible says that God is the source of all of the love we know in life ( 1 John 4:7 ). It declares that if we don’t know love, we don’t know God ( 1 John 7:8 ). Because we are created in God’s image and love is God’s primary way of making Himself known to us, the longing for love is deeply rooted in our nature. We usually encounter God’s love first in the context of relationships with people. But many people have become so focused on immediate pleasure, they have fallen for the lie that sex is “just a physical function,” romanticized and taken too seriously by earlier generations.

In spite of misleading presentations in the media, most people intuitively recognize the ugliness of impersonal, promiscuous sex. At some level, most people realize that sex involves more intimacy, vulnerability, and meaning than shaking hands, having a conversation, or flirting. This is why most people who engage in extramarital sex try to rationalize it by claiming some “special feelings” for their current “partner.” But how long are their “special feelings” likely to endure in an uncommitted relationship? For that matter, are their feelings real, or only illusions projected by darker desires—perhaps for control over another person?

What about the next “lover”? Will someone new produce “special feelings” of equal intensity? And what of the third, the fourth, the tenth? How long before the sickening realization that the fading “feelings” that accompany uncommitted sex have no roots? Once a person reaches this point of awareness (and many will not, and simply continue a blind pursuit of satisfaction they will never find) there will be few options. One is to despairingly abandon oneself to sensuality with no pretense of seeking love; another is to go from affair to affair, despairingly seeking the “perfect love” (even though one knows in his heart that each new affair takes him farther from his goal); and the last is to recognize the profound relationship between personal commitment, genuine love, and sexual ecstasy.

Sexuality is intended to be a banquet of intimacy. But since sex can occur without love or real intimacy, it must never be expected to provide the basis for intimacy (Proverbs 5:15-20 ). If it is, it will very quickly become a mere addiction, just another way of trying to kill the longing inside that has been placed there by God for the purpose of leading us to Him.

A person who uses other people for his sexual pleasure will become coarse and hypocritical. Such a change of character is inevitable. Misused sexuality separates the heart from physical intimacy. When misused this way, the focus of sex moves from the expression of unconditional affection for the beloved to other things, such as mere physical stimulation, power, or even the expression of self-hatred. Such deviant sexuality often transmutes into increasingly bizarre, overtly vicious behavior.2

The long-term effects of a recreational view of sexual relationships will be seen and noted by other people. But only the sexual addict himself has a firsthand experience of his spiritual and emotional changes. A sexual addict perceives sexual pleasure so differently that it would revolt and terrify a genuine lover. From the outside, the pursuit of sexual pleasure by a sexual addict—whether a “Don Juan” or someone less outwardly glamorous—appears desperate and all-consuming. How ironic that an addict’s desperate pursuit of sexual pleasure shows how little satisfaction and fulfillment he is finding.

God designed sex to be pleasurable, but the tremendous power of sex doesn’t flow primarily from pleasurable physical sensations of sex and orgasm. It flows from something deeper—a longing for genuine love and intimacy.

  1. The German legend of the Lorelei on the Rhine River, immortalized by the beautiful poem of Heinrich Heine is remarkably similar to the portrayal of the sirens in The Odyssey.

    Die Lorelei

    Ich weiß nicht, was soll es bedeuten,
    Das ich so traurig bin;
    Ein Märchen aus alten Zeiten,
    Das kommt mir nicht aus dem Sinn.

    Die Luft ist kühl und es dunkelt,
    Und ruhig fließt der Rhein;
    Der Gipfel des Berges funkelt
    Im Abendsonnenschein.

    (I cannot determine the meaning
    Of sorrow that fills my breast:
    A fable of old, through it streaming,
    Allows my mind no rest.
    The air is cool in the gloaming
    And gently flows the Rhine.
    The crest of the mountain is gleaming
    In fading rays of sunshine.

    Die schönste Jungfrau sitzet
    Dort oben wunderbar,
    Ihr goldnes Geschmeide blitzet,
    Sie kämmt ihr goldenes Haar.

    Sie kämmt es mit goldenem Kamme,
    Und singt ein Lied dabei;
    Das hat eine wundersame,
    Gewaltige Melodei.

    The loveliest maiden is sitting
    Up there, so wondrously fair;
    Her golden jewelry is glist’ning;
    She combs her golden hair.
    She combs with a gilded comb, preening,
    And sings a song, passing time.
    It has a most wondrous, appealing
    And pow’rful melodic rhyme.

    Den Schiffer im kleinen Schiffe
    Ergreift es mit wildem Weh;
    Er schaut nicht die Felsenriffe
    Er schaut nur hinauf in die Höh’.

    Ich glaube, die Wellen verschlingen
    Am Ende Schiffer und Kahn
    Und das hat mit ihrem Singen
    Die Lorelei getan.

    The boatman aboard his small skiff, –
    Enraptured with a wild ache,
    Has no eye for the jagged cliff, –
    His thoughts on the heights fear forsake.
    I think that the waves will devour
    Both boat and man, by and by,
    And that, with her dulcet-voiced power
    Was done by the Loreley.)

    Heinrich Heine (The English translation used above can be found in many different sites in the Web.) Back To Article

  2. Why else would sado-masochism in all its forms, promiscuity in spite the risk of AIDS and other STDs, and other such deviations from healthy sexual behavior occur? Back To Article
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