Porn and the Pandemic, part 2

As we continue the conversation on Porn and the Pandemic, I want to put forth a challenge to Christian leaders: How is our “way forward” different than the direction that conventional and secular leadership travels? One of the casualties of the past 12 months has been the willingness to trust God when we can’t see where we are going. We could even refer to this as Courageous Faith. Or, how does our faith inform us?

With these questions in mind, these final two questions address issues that are directly connected to our worldview. Read on!

How does repeated exposure to pornography affect intimate relationships and mental health? 

This is the question I wish we were talking about 50 years ago.

Pornography presents itself to people of all ages as a “victimless crime.” Simply put, the only person impacted by the viewing of porn is the viewer. Nothing could be further from the truth. Numerous studies show that the male brain can store sexually explicit images in our memories for decades, whether they be recalled from previous relationships, movies or erotic pictures. This means that many of us bring countless numbers of “partners” with us to the marriage bed at night. Many men have confessed to me that the woman their were making love with was not their wife, but instead the acting out of fantasies from their porn viewing earlier in the week.

For the “betrayed” person in the relationship (usually a woman), this leads to a toxic cocktail of anger, shame, and deep feelings of inadequacy. She begins to question everything he is looking at on his phone, why he suddenly closed his computer, why he was late from work, and who he had lunch with that day. “Why”, she wants to know? He can only shrug his shoulders and say “I don’t know.”

Yet men do know. For many, they report feelings of inadequacy as husbands, fatigue from being beat down at work and in life, and being bored (particularly in 2020). Here is the question I ask all men: “What doesn’t say NO to you?” Porn, alcohol, food, gambling, and other vices for which recovery groups exist will not say NO to you when it seems like everyone in your world does.

Yet the ability to “delay gratification” is an essential part of emotional and social development as emerging and maturing adults. Pornography promises instant gratification (the average time spent on porn sites is about six minutes…enough time to find an image and act out to it.)

Many men report that they prefer masturbation over sex with their partners because it is “less complicated.” Recent studies reveal that Americans have having less sex than ever, leading many researchers to conclude that the effects of stress, screen time, and anxiety are impacting sexual intimacy. I suspect the real culprit disrupting countless numbers of bedrooms is pornography.

Repeated viewing of pornography is like the blazing of a trail in the human brain. Research around the brain over the past 20 years has revealed the presence of neuro pathways that are much like that of a hiking trail. The more you walk it, the more clearly defined and established the trail becomes. Porn has been shown to create these grooves in the male brain, essentially becoming an emotional default system for patterns of thought and emotion. Addiction, as far as the brain goes, happens when we process new information against the deeply worn pathways in our processing abilities. This is what many have experienced in relationships when trying to “rewire” the mind’s responses to both pleasant and unpleasant intel.

But you can teach an old dog new tricks. Research around neuroplasticity, or the brain’s ability to reinvent itself, suggest that men can take steps to retrain themselves to unblock these patterns of defensiveness and emotionally arrested development. One of these steps is called a “reset.” This means a man will voluntarily abstain from ANY sexual experiences for upward of 90 days. This allows the brain, along with counseling and recovery work, to develop a newer relationship with sex and relationships. Thus far, the news is good.

How can people get help?

There is help for those who experiencing unwanted sexual desires or behaviors. For anyone looking for a Christ-centered approach to recovery, I recommend Celebrate Recovery (CR). CR is an effective step program out of Saddleback Church and available over the country. There are a variety of specialized groups that deal with addictive behaviors, such as alcoholism, co-dependency, and sex addiction. I also recommend the Samson Society, a Christ-centered approach to recovery from sex addiction and unwanted sexual behaviors.

For counseling, there are many paths. I recommend finding a Certified Sex Addiction Therapist (CSAT) in your community and do your own vetting. Not all therapists are the same, so buyer beware.

There is help. You are not alone. As someone who is doing the work, and working with countless other men, I believe the best days are ahead for those willing to put in the time. It’s worth it!

Chris Cannon is director of Healthy Leaders at HomeWord. He can be reached at chris.cannon@homeword.com

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Chris Cannon

Chris Cannon

Chris Cannon is the Director of Healthy Leaders at HomeWord. With more than 25 years of pastoral leadership behind him, Chris brings a genuine heart for the health and well-being of those who are on the front lines of churches by providing a safe, non-judgmental space for leaders to unload the burdens.

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