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When we think of porn, we tend to think “sin”.

(It’s Sheila introducing this post, but I’m going to put Rebecca as the author since most of these are her words below!)

When it comes to porn, what if there’s more going on than just “sin”? What if an action can be sinful, but what if the impetus for that action was more based on trauma, or hurt? And what if that unresolved trauma makes it so much harder to quit the action?

This week on the blog there was a very interested and deep conversation between an anonymous guy and Rebecca (my daughter and the co-author of The Great Sex Rescue–it’s available for pre-order!). I think that conversation has the potential to be quite healing, so I’d like to share it here today. This conversation started in response to our podcast on emotional health and men, and how men aren’t hardwired to sin. (And these have been edited for brevity):

You say that men aren’t meant to sin sexually. And I totally agree with that but why is it that sex and porn are the most common things that men are drawn too?

I can so relate to Andrew’s story because it sounds so much like my own. I always struggled with fear and insecurities because of my emotionally abusive dad. And early on I found an erotic book at home and I got hooked and have sadly been since then. It got worse when I became a teen. I remember hearing my dad screaming at my mom and I felt so guilty and so much shame because I had just masturbated. And I felt that it was all my fault but still I went back to it.

And even after becoming saved it was still a struggle. And I wonder sometimes why? Why sex and porn if we aren’t overly sexual creatures? I didn’t grow up reading the books you mention and my mom and dad never had the talk with me. I heard that sex before marriage was wrong(my parents are christians) but not much more. But I felt like a monster the first time I ejaculated. And that shame and guilt follows. I guess a lot of these men defend this because they have to sometimes deal with their own monstrosity (many are just plain evil and defend it abuse people sadly). Because I know I try to deal with it. The constant feeling that you are horrible is something that eats you up.

My therapist (who sadly doesn’t think porn is wrong but understands that it is hurting me) thinks that the shame and guilt is a huge problem. She has even said that I shouldn’t read blogs like this because they usually just makes me feel worse when I feel that I can’t reach the level of perfection I should. And I wonder if that happens with many men. Specially when you hear that it shouldn’t be that difficult and we have the Holy Spirit and so on. 

LIke my therapist told me today when she said that I need to stand strong when temptation comes and I said that yes it is that easy but why can’t I do it? and she then tells me that its not easy. That trying to minimize the enormous task it is only adds more shame because it just more and more builds up the idea that something is awfully wrong with me. Which I am still convinced about.

Men in the church haven’t known how to deal with it and then have had to find a way to somehow excuse or accept it. Because if there are so many men watching porn and not stopping, are all those men bad? Doesn’t that just show that men are evil and women are just better? 

My story hasn’t ended as well as Andrew’s though. My search to deal with the problems I had led me to a sexual relationship with my now wife, both wanted it. But I realize now that it wasn’t based on love on my part. A regret I live with and try to deal with . It has sadly been through porn for a long time but I am trying to get better so that I at least can be a decent husband for her.

Anonymous

When we say men weren’t created to sin sexually, what we mean is that there IS freedom and sexual sin isn’t simply a birthright of being male. There are many gender differences in terms of destructive behaviours–women are far more likely to self-harm in high school and attempt suicide than their male counterparts, but we don’t say God made girls to be suicidal. Women also are around 2x as likely to experience some sort of anxiety disorder than their male counterparts are but, again, we don’t say that anxiety is “every woman’s battle” and we don’t tell women that are anxious, “Well, that’s just a part of being a woman.” Rather, we help them fix it and we say, “This doesn’t need to be your entire life. There is hope.” And then of course, there are eating disorders which range from 3 times to 9 times as likely for women to develop than men, depending on the criteria used to define an eating disorder.

I think your musings about the acceptance of pornography use are really insightful, and I think one of the big problems with dealing with the porn problem in churches is that it’s dealt with simply as a sin issue that we just have to muscle our way through to resist. But for many men porn use stems from sexual abuse in childhood, including being far too young when they were first exposed to pornography. If a man’s first exposure to sex was seeing a violent porn clip when he was were 10 years old, and that triggered a porn addiction because of curiosity and shame that led to diminished coping skills because porn became his only real way to handle stress for 8 years, that’s going to need a lot more to overcome than simply confessing and deciding to not do it again.

Women are not more spiritual than men, our struggles are often just different. Because yes, this is more of a pull for men on average than it is for women. And there will be some men who have life-long struggles with it. But not all. And that’s missing in the conversation.

But what else is missing is WHY men get hooked on porn to begin with. And a lot of times it’s stories like yours–emotional abuse, shame and embarrassment, a lack of education about healthy sexuality, a lack of open conversation. Imagine how your story may have been different if instead of yelling at you when they found out, you were able to have real open and honest dialogue about this where you weren’t shamed for having sexual curiosity but instead you were coached and helped to understand healthy sexual expression when you were 12, 13, 14. I guess my question is, with all of these other factors in the equation, why is the immediate assumption that you got hooked on porn because you were male? Because reading your story it would make sense that if you were in a healthier environment it may not have happened to you. So the issue may not be maleness as much as abuse and dysfunctional dynamics that affect women and men differently. If you were a girl, perhaps you may have still had a porn problem. Perhaps you may have developed an eating disorder to cope with the feelings of worthlessness. Perhaps you would have attempted suicide. There’s no way of knowing. But the issue for many is not maleness: it’s trauma, frankly.

I’m not a therapist clearly, but I just hope I can encourage you to have compassion for yourself, especially your younger self. You were a little boy, you were in an environment where you did not feel emotionally safe and did not have anyone teaching you about how God made sexuality to be more than a set of rules. Your adolescent brain was desperately seeking some way to cope and relieve stress and feelings of inadequacy, and pornography and erotica offered some comfort. Obviously that’s a maladaptive and unhealthy strategy, but I hope you can see yourself not just as a horrible sinner but forgive that confused, hurt little boy you were when this all started. Self-compassion can be a huge tool on the road to healing, no matter what the issue at hand is.

Rebecca Lindenbach

What you say makes sense but as you say I think the problem is that it is treated only as a sin issue. The examples you talk about women aren’t seen as sin issues. They are often a consequence of a messed up world who treats women as objects. It’s easier to see that women in that position need help.

Porn is often seen as something else. The monster inside so to speak and as I said I think that many times the men in the church don’t know how to deal with it and don’t understand the why so at the same time as they want to say that its wrong they have to deal with their own shame and failure in this and then I guess it comes out like they are saying that we cant do anything about it. I believe some just use it as an excuse to continue to sin but I do think some genuinely want to quit. I know many of the books the blog mentions are bad but I have also heard many men who has read the book and overcome their sin and says that it really helped them. But maybe they overcome it in the wrong way?

I do think as you say that the church must become more (dare I say it) therapeutic. The church need licensed therapist and more teaching about how we humans work on a psychological level. Specially when it comes to porn. But sadly we don’t. Instead the message is shame and guilt. To be honest, your answer was one of the first even on this blog where the message doesn’t sound like all men are the worst. But i guess that my own shame filters what I read and just makes me feel worse. So the church need to introduce more psychology at the same time as not losing the message that with Christ we can overcome everything. Because thats another risk that when we know the cause of the problem we just give up and blame it on our past. My therapist has called me out on that (even tough she wishes I would let go of the shame thing and just accept that its ok to watch porn every now and then) and has said that I need to take responsibility and decide what to do with instead of finding excuses. Something I think is an important part of maturing emotionally.

Lastly I just want to say that my parents weren’t screaming because I had masturbated. My father was screaming at my mother because they had problems and my dad always screamed and was emotionally abusive. I sat in my room but I had learned that God punishes sin so I blamed myself for my parents marital problems and my fathers behaviour. Me masturbating had unleashed God’s anger. And that’s tough to live with even to this day. My parents didn’t believe in therapy and thought psychology was bad because it could lead people astray from God. I don’t know how common that is in churches but I think that can also make it difficult for men to find help. Many times we are referred to pastors who aren’t licensed therapists and then we don’t receive the help we need.

Anonymous

Sheila just interjecting in the conversation here and say that I completely agree with Anonymous that we need more licensed therapists! Most pastors are not equipped to handle issues of shame, childhood trauma, etc. etc. That’s why, when we’re talking about healing from porn use, I tend to always point people to licensed counselors (not necessarily biblical counselors, but Christian licensed counselors), and especially those who are trauma informed and who understand about sexual health. We need to understand this not just as a simple sin issue, but as something far more complex. I completely agree that too often guys just go to pastors, and that compounds the shame. You need to see people who are actually equipped in this stuff!

Okay, on with the conversation:

Yeah, I think you’re right and we need to change the conversation so that there is a clear understanding that for many, many men porn use stemmed from a serious hurt or an emotional vacuum in their childhood or adolescence.

If we use the analogy of swimming a length of a pool, it’s perfectly valid and reasonable to say, “It’s not hard to swim a length of the pool.” But if a bunch of the men showed up to the pool wearing 17th century armor and never learning how to swim because they were spending their time learning to joust instead, swimming is going to feel like an impossible task. And what has happened is men have said, “Well swimming is impossible so this must just be men’s struggle.” They don’t ask, “What is in the way of me swimming and how can I overcome that?” They just try to muscle through and swim with the armor on, using the skills they have for jousting. And it’s a disaster.

With porn, we say, “Men can live a life free from porn.” But that’s not going to happen until men also understand that for many people, the struggle with porn is made so much more difficult because of all this baggage, and because instead of learning healthy coping skills during adolescence, many young boys used porn, so they lack the very skills needed to cope with stress without the aid of sexually explicit materials as an escape. They lack the skills they need to quit the porn!

What I hope is that we can start changing the conversation so that removing that armor and learning new skills isn’t seen as excuses, but as a part of the healing process. Because that’s not blaming it on the past, that’s just recognizing reality and choosing to change your trajectory while shedding that which is holding you back!

I also want to say, Anon, that your story really isn’t over. And if your therapist isn’t helping you, you can always consider searching for a therapist who understands pornography trauma and the negative effects of pornography (there are many out there, both Christian and secular!). But of course, I don’t know your whole story and if you’re getting good care that’s fantastic. 

But God really doesn’t work that way, where he punishes you for sins like that. I think God likely had a lot of compassion for the small, confused you back then. And understanding God’s compassion for us can make such a difference in how we see ourselves, our story, and our standing before God. Said a prayer for you today, I really do feel for your struggle.

Rebecca Lindenbach

I thought that was such a helpful conversation that may help others as well. Let’s remember that porn use is often rooted in shame and emotional hurt as adolescents, and then, in adolescence, those boys (and girls) didn’t learn the very coping patterns they would need to be able to fight the porn use later. 

That’s not to say that porn use isn’t bad in a marriage, or that we should just accept it. But we do need a more nuanced conversation about the harm that porn does. Yes, it harms the wives of porn users. Yes, it DEFINITELY harms those in porn, and contributes to sex trafficking. But it also harms the porn user, especially if that person began watching porn when they were very young. Think of the effect of watching all of that violence and degradation when you weren’t emotionally able to handle it. This leaves a mark, and to get over it we don’t just need repentance, but healing from that trauma as well–and a realization that in many cases you missed key steps in maturity growing up, and it’s now incumbent on you to seek treatment and learn those steps. 

Porn Use Hurt Emotional Growth - Can We Talk about How Porn and Emotional Immaturity Are Related?

What do you think? Has porn use ever caused trauma to you, or those you know? Let’s talk in the comments!

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Rebecca Lindenbach

Blog Contributor, Author, and Podcaster

Rebecca Lindenbach is a psychology graduate, Sheila’s daughter and the author of Why I Didn’t Rebel. Working alongside her husband Connor, she develops websites focusing on building Jesus-centered marriages and families. Living the work-from-home dream, they take turns bouncing their new baby boy, and appeasing their curmudgeonly rescue Yorkshire terrier, Winston. ENTJ, 9w8. Check out Why I Didn't Rebel, or follow her on Instagram!

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