A number of months ago now, I received an e-mail from a young woman.
Help! I am addicted to pornography!
She went on to explain that in the last six months, she had watched pornography twice, and she just felt so horrible because she knew she was addicted.
My response: “No you’re not.”
Obviously, I did not phrase it quite so bluntly. Up front, it might seem harsh, even inconsiderate, but the reality is, there is freedom in that realization. After I finished responding to her, I set off exploring this concept of pornography ‘addiction.’ I realized something:
We Christians love to (over)use that word, and it’s hurting us.
Honestly, I am just as guilty as the next person in overusing the term addiction, and perhaps it is because we do not really have any other term to describe the situation we find ourselves in. Pornography is actually not classified as an addiction, though it probably should be. I am no psychologist or mental health professional, but there seems to be research to support this. Take for instance, this video interview with Dr. Bill Struthers.
As well as the work of the people at Fight the New Drug . So, whether or not modern psychology recognizes it as such, I do believe, pornography has addictive tendencies in that people can experience a draw toward to pornography that is similar to the draw and need created by drugs. However, not every person who drinks is an alcoholic. Not every person who smokes a joint is addicted to crack.
Not every person who watches porn is a porn ‘addict.’
Our flippant use of that term within religious circles makes us look neurotic in a way. One small failure and you must be addicted and beyond hope of recovery. Watch porn once and you must go to therapy. It sets the perfect backdrop for hypocrisy and shame. I had a reader once tell me that she would divorce her husband if she caught him looking at porn even only once. That is a shame.
As I was researching this whole idea of pornography addiction, I came across a secular response to a Christian article. The Christian article, published by a mainstream Christian group, highlighted the stories of three women who were ‘addicted’ to pornography. Reading through the article myself, I would not consider any of these women ‘addicted’ and neither did this secular columnist.
He spent the entirety of his article ridiculing the use of such a severe term (addiction) to describe such a small problem. None of the stories shared seemed to detail even compulsive porn use, more of a curiosity. His conclusion was that the fact that religious people call such benign instances ‘addictions’ just shows how repressive our faith is.
I would tend to agree with him.
Though I know the Christian faith is not repressive by any means, when we flippantly use such severe terms inaccurately, it paints us (and God) as judgmental and unforgiving.
The fact of the matter is ‘addiction’ is not something to play around with. Does that mean that we should not use the term at all? I say no because I believe it can be used accurately (maybe not diagnostically so but descriptively), but it needs to be used carefully.
We would all agree that there is a difference between someone who tells a lie and someone who is a compulsive liar. Likewise, there is a difference between someone who saw porn while scrolling through the TV channels and another who spends hours searching for pornography at detriment to life, limb, and reputation.
Please keep in mind I am not talking about whether or not is wrong, nor am I saying that sin has a hierarchy as if viewing porn once a week is ok, but twice a week will land you in hell. What I am talking about is how we talk about it in our faith circles. Because the world is watching us and the world is listening to us. In that world, people watch pornography just for fun, just like they would watch a TV series. That does not make it right, good, or healthy, but it also does not mean they are addicted.
The same is true within the church. Being a Christian who watches porn does not automatically make you a porn addict. Even if you are a Christian who enjoys watching porn, that does not make you a porn addict. We need to use that term sparingly. I am going to expound on this again in another post and will talk about how labeling ourselves as addicts can actually hurt us. Right now, though, I want to point out some characteristics of addiction.
- Obsession– the addict constantly thinks about the addicting agent (porn, sex, drugs, alcohol). The addict will engage over and over seemingly against her own will, without care of risk.
- Loss of Control– the ‘just one more’ mindset. An addict sets out with limits or goals but loses the ability to fulfill that goal or stay within those limits (think: overspending). Additionally, she finds it difficult to control her behavior around others.
- Denial of harm- even though others may pick up on negative effects in the addict’s life, she insists that her actions are not hurting her or anyone else.
- Withdrawal- in the absence of the agent, an addict may exhibit symptoms of withdrawal such as moodiness.
- Secrecy– the addict will work to hide the behavior from others, especially if it has been detected by family or friends.
- Blackout- the addict may experience a sensation of completely forgetting what happened. She might spend two hours on the internet looking for porn and have no idea what happened in those two hours.
Given that information, then, a porn ‘addict’ is not someone who happens to read a romance novel every three months or who watches porn with her boyfriend every other week (again, not saying that makes it OK!). A porn addict instead would be someone who spends a large majority of her day seeking out, engaging in, fantasizing about, or acting out porn.
She may spend hours a day doing this even though she is losing sleep and unable to tend to her every day life (hygiene, homework, projects, etc). She makes plans to indulge in pornography, lying and deceiving, if necessary to be sure she can do as she wants. If she is unable to have her ‘fix,’ her body and mind rebel. She may experience physical pain or become extremely irritable, depressed, or even suicidal.*
That is not to say that it is OK to use porn as long as you are not addicted. I do not believe that at all. However, I do think it is important that before you label yourself or someone you love as an ‘addict’ you step back and evaluate the facts.
Is it really an addiction or is it just a misinformed sex drive?
*Again, I am no mental health expert. If you are experiencing symptoms of depression or thoughts of suicide, or engaging in activity that puts you in immediate harm, please contact a professional.