Guest Post: Facing Up to Pornography and Sexual Addictions

Note from Josh: This week, I welcome my fellow Maine resident, Jane Ives to the site to share some wonderful pieces she’s written. I think that regardless of where you are in your addiction, or if you’re not addicted and just starting to learn, Jane provides some incredibly valuable information and resources here.

“How could this have happened?” agonized a retired pastor and his wife, devastated by their adult son’s confession that he had become addicted to pornography. Growing up in a Christian home does not guarantee immunity to the sexual poison permeating our society. Pornography generates billions of dollars worldwide in revenues from magazines, videos, strip clubs, escort services, telephone sex, pay-per-view cable channels, and websites.1 Pornography accounts for 12% of websites, 25% of search engine requests, and 72 million visitors a month worldwide. Some of these visitors, quickly bored or repulsed by what they see, move on. At least 5% of these visitors, however, are already addicted, and another 10% will likely become addicted to the instant and anonymous gratification of online chatrooms and videos.2 These facts challenge us to address a problem that undoubtedly affects persons in our churches and in our communities. First, however, we need to understand how pornography can ensnare and corrupt.

The United Methodist Book of Resolutions, 2004, defines pornography as “sexually explicit material that portrays violence, abuse, coercion, domination, humiliation, or degradation for the purpose of arousal” and also labels as pornographic any sexually explicit material depicting children.3 Unlike art that elicits awe and respect by celebrating the beauty of human bodies and erotic love, pornography portrays men and women as sex objects, titillates, creates unrealistic expectations, deadens the ability to experience real intimacy, and may encourage potentially dangerous attitudes and behaviors.4

Research shows that viewing pornography can cause physiological changes in the brain that may influence behavior and relationships. Pornography, especially when viewed in a high state of arousal, creates an imprint of the experience that impels the viewer to come back for more of the stimulant effect. Over time, persons viewing pornography may become desensitized, requiring more explicit and more deviant materials to get the same effect. Research documents a high correlation between frequent use of pornography and sexual abuse and violence. Children and youth have confessed to acting out what they have seen, and sexual offenders often report a history of viewing pornography5. In Out of the Shadows: Understanding Sexual Addiction, Patrick Carnes notes that persons who become addicted to pornography may easily escalate to voyeurism, self-exposure, adultery, prostitution, sexual harassment, and assault.6 Carnes describes an “Addiction Cycle” that begins with obsessive thinking about sex, followed by unique rituals or routines leading up to and enhancing the excitement of compulsive sexual activity. Once in this cycle, addicts cannot control or stop themselves; afterward they may seek release from their shame and guilt by obsessive sexual thinking, starting the cycle all over again.7

Addicts may rationalize that their compulsions have no adverse effect on their marriages, families, or work. Their secret lives, however, often cause them to withdraw, neglecting their families, work, and other responsibilities. Feeling unworthy of genuine love, they may turn to illicit sex more frequently to ease their increasing isolation. Once addicts realize that their lives are out of control, skilled therapists and caring communities – Twelve Steps programs in particular – can help them examine their behavior, break out of their isolation, and reclaim a sense of personal worth. Because secrecy deepens the bond of any addiction, talking about it with trusted advisors is often the first step toward healing.8

What can the church do?

  • Affirm sexuality as a God-given gift that can enrich our lives and relationships.
  • Teach reverence for the human body and respect for the feelings and needs of others.
  • Make clear that anyone may be vulnerable to pornography’s addictive lure.
  • Note that Jesus’ warning about committing adultery in our hearts (Matthew 5:28) addresses the deliberate choice to welcome and entertain tempting thoughts and fantasies, which may occasionally present themselves to anyone.
  • Equip parents and teachers to help children process their likely exposure to pornography, whether accidental or deliberate.
  • Provide information through teaching, programs, and print material to help people understand and face up to this problem.
  • Research locally available trained counselors and groups for referral of addicts and families seeking assistance.
  • Speak out against public displays of pornography and against media that qualifies as “soft porn” and glorifies risky behavior.
  • Express concern for the actors and models exploited in pornographic videos and materials, recognizing that some of them may be victims of sexual trafficking.
  • Encourage parents to monitor their children’s internet and cell phone use, noting the dangers of visiting chatrooms, sexting, responding to strangers on line, and posting personal information.
  • Counsel parents and other adults to view media programming with children and youth, calmly discussing the underlying messages to which they are exposed by asking reflective questions. (“What would you do in that situation?” “What might happen next?”)
  • Welcome and include recovering addicts, holding them accountable to their healing programs and establishing behavioral covenants to protect others, especially children and youth.

We cannot afford to ignore the devastating consequences of pornography and sexual addictions, nor can we safely assume that members of our congregations or of our families are not – or will not – be affected. Sound education, prevention, and recovery support ministries can help keep individuals, families, and communities healthy and safe.

Sources:
1 William M. Struthers, Wired for Intimacy: How Pornography Hijacks the Male Brain (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 2009), p. 20
2 Michael Castleman, “6 Ways Porn Can Hurt Your Sex Life,” www.aarp.org
3 The United Methodist Book of Resolutions, “Pornography and Sexual Violence,” p. 166
4 Rev. Cynthia Abrams, “Sex and the Church: Pornography and Sexual Addiction,” www.gbcs.org
5 GCSRW, “Prevention of the Use of Pornography in the Church,” www.gcsrw.org
6 Patrick Carnes, Out of the Shadows: Understanding Sexual Addiction (Center City, MN: Hazelden, 2001), p. 37-38
7 Ibid., p. 19-23
8 Ibid., p. 4-7

 

Resources for Facing Up to Pornography and Sexual Addictions

Reading List

Cybersex Exposed: Simple Fantasy or Obsession?, by Jennifer Schneider, M.D., Ph.D. and Robert Weiss, LCSW, CSAT (Hazelden Information Education, 2001). The authors explore pornography use and other sexual behaviors on the internet, using case studies to illustrate how such practices may become addictive and how to seek healing from sexual compulsions.

Every Heart Restored: A Wife’s Guide to Healing in the Wake of a Husband’s Sexual Sin, by Fred and Brenda Stoeker, with Mike Yorkey (Colorado Springs, CO: Waterbrook Press, 2010). This book offers guidance for wives whose husbands are addicted to pornography and sex and who are struggling for sexual purity.

Lonely All the Time: Recognizing, Understanding and Overcoming Sex Addiction, for Addicts and Codependents, by Ralph Earle, Ph.D., Gregory Crow, and Kevin Osborn (NY, NY; Pocket Books, 1998). This easy-to-read book explores sex addiction and co-addiction in family systems, describing causes, symptoms, and a comprehensive approach to recovery.

Many Roads, One Journey: Moving Beyond the Twelve Steps, by Charlotte Davis Kasl, Ph.D.(Harper Perennial, 1992). The author explores the wisdom inherent in Twelve Step and other models of recovery, suggesting ways to adapt them to a variety of experiences and beliefs. She also explores societal roots of addiction and dependency and ways to address them.

Out of the Shadows: Understanding Sexual Addiction, by Patrick Carnes, Ph.D. (Center City, MN: Hazelden, 2001). The author describes sexual addiction as a “pathological relationship” that becomes more important than anything else. As tolerance increases, sex addicts, like alcoholics, need the “mood-altering experience” just to feel normal; then they may quickly escalate from pornography addiction to more dangerous behaviors, often with devastating consequences. Dr. Carnes offers hope and advice for recovery, recommending Twelve Step groups and similar strategies in particular.

Treating Pornography Addiction: The Essential Tools for Recovery, by Kevin B. Skinner, Ph.D. (Provo, Utah: Growthclimate Inc., 2005). The author explains how pornography affects the mind of the user and becomes addictive. He outlines steps for rewiring the mind and breaking free.

Wired for Intimacy: How Pornography Hijacks the Male Brain, by William M. Struthers (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2009. The author, a Christian neuroscientist and researcher, explores various aspects of pornography’s effects on sexual behavior and intimacy. He describes the healing process as sanctification, making daily decisions to see the image of God in each person, appreciate women without “consuming” them, and move “beyond objectification to real relationship, presence and intimacy” (p. 189). He lists helpful books and websites at the back of the book.

Women, Sex, and Addiction: A Search for Love and Power, by Charlotte Davis Kasl, Ph.D. (NY, NY: Ticknor & Fields, 1989). The author explores the cultural conditioning that tells us “sex is love, sex is power, and sex makes us important” (p. 10) and its impact on women in particular. She discusses the link between spirituality and sexuality, providing guidance for healing from addictions to sex and romance, as well as sexual codependency.

Your Sexually Addicted Spouse: How Partners Can Cope and Heal, by Barbara Steffens and Marsha Means (Far Hills, NJ: New Horizon Press, 2009). The authors share research, personal experiences, and case studies that portray partners of sex addicts as post-traumatic stress victims, rather than co-dependents. This book offers practical wisdom for such partners and for those who want to help them heal.

Untangling the Web: Sex, Porn and Fantasy Obsession in the Internet Age, by Robert Weiss, LCSW, CSAT (NY, NY: Alyson Publications, 2006). The authors discuss how to identify and address pornography addiction. They also offer helpful suggestions to parents concerned about their children’s exposure to pornography and sexual content on the internet.

Organizations and Websites

Cornerstone Intimacy and Healthy Sexuality: Creating Hope and Healing for Families Dealing with Sexual Integrity Issues (Atlanta, GA), http://www.cornerstoneprofessional.net. Visit this website to learn about therapy (intensives and ongoing support), training, and conferences; sign up for an e-newsletter; and read reviews of recommended books. For more information, call 770-457- 3028.

Internet Behavior Consulting Company (IBC), http://www.internetbehavior.com. Visit this website for research reports, training events, an e-newsletter, and an Internet Sex Screening Test.

Parents Television Council, 707 Wilshire Boulevard, Suite 2075, Los Angeles, CA, 90017, http://www.parentstv.org. This nonprofit research and education organization lobbies for enforcement of broadcast decency standards and publishes a newsletter to inform parents of negative and harmful media messages, as well as family-friendly programming.

Porn Harms, a project of Morality in Media, 1100 G Street NW #1030, Washington, DC 20005, 202-393-7245, http://www.pornharms.com. The website offers expert commentary on the negative effects of pornography, including a blog, webinars, and a Facebook link.

Setting Captives Free, http://www.settingcaptivesfree.com, offers an online free, anonymous 60- day Bible-based program titled “Way of Purity,” as well as resources for recovery from other addictions.

Sexaholics Anonymous, http://www.sa.org describes its Thirteen Step program and White Book, provides links for locating meetings and therapists throughout the nation and the world, announces upcoming events, and offers brochures for download and purchase.

Society for the Advancement of Sexual Health (SASH), http://www.sash.net. This website provides a Sexual Addiction Screening Test, an e-newsletter, conference announcements, and other resources.

 

Jane P. Ives, Marriage and Family Ministries Consultant (8/30/15) 10 Quaker Lane, Portland, ME 04103, 207-210-7876, Janepives@gmail.com Copyright United Methodist Discipleship Ministries, http://www.umcdiscipleship.org -Used by Permission

For more articles like this, please visit www.marriagelovepower.net

The Third Addiction was Workaholism and I Must Never Forget It

I don’t know exactly how it happened, but in early recovery, I talked a lot about my workaholism with therapists and in different processing groups I was a part of, but somewhere along the way the porn addiction education/advocacy took over and it has largely remained a silent part of my story.

While I was a moderately well-known guy in Maine’s largest high school, I don’t know if I’d cross the line into the word “popular” and like most of my life, don’t think the word “well-liked” would have been applied by many. I was never able to hide my Machiavellian tendencies, but didn’t care. Unlike many who were experiencing their glory years before my eyes, I saw high school as little more than a legal requirement for whatever was next.

Screen Shot 2019-12-23 at 8.50.25 AMThat changed the day between my junior and senior years of high school when, at 17, I walked into the local newspaper office as an employee for the first time. Unlike working at the baseball card store at the mall or the Burger King on the Maine Turnpike, I didn’t detest going into work. I actually loved it. I started at the bottom rung as a sports clerk and within two years I was handling the beats of writers on the city side when they were on vacation or when the position was vacant. It was somewhat understood they weren’t going to hire a 19-year-old multi-time college dropout for a full-time position.

They walked back that stance when I was 20 and the industry moved to 100% desktop publishing. The software used at the time, QuarkXPress, was not hard for me to pick up, but for those people who had worked decades pasting up columns in the old-school way papers were made, the transition was rough. I was hired full-time to design pages at night while still keeping the technically part-time with full-time hours gig of writing during the day.

Screen Shot 2019-12-23 at 8.51.37 AMI felt important in the newsroom. I wasn’t among people who made poor decisions and now had to make burgers for Canadian tourists on the turnpike. I also didn’t have to deal with 9-year-old boys who wanted to tell me I was wrong about a baseball card that was made 30 years before they were born. These people didn’t see age and it was empowering. I was expected to deliver as good as the person sitting next to be who had been there 20 years and had a college degree.

Thankfully, I rose to the occasion and tried to work as many hours as possible. I took to design like I took to writing and felt completely in control of my life when I was part of the team putting together the Lewiston Sun Journal. There was no porn addict within those walls. Despite approaching legal drinking age, I didn’t have a beer before my shift, which I can’t say about every shift at Burger King. It’s one of the few jobs I’ve ever had when the boss announced someone could go home early, I’d shoot my hand in the air like Horshack on Welcome Back Kotter.

As the years went by and I grew my resume and climbed up the editing ranks to a point I rarely wrote anymore and was learning the administrative side of things, I always loved the news/publishing industries. Forget no two days being the same. No two hours were the same. I met amazing, sometimes famous people. I experienced things I could have only dreamed about as a kid, I saw government work from the inside and made decisions to help shape how the public received its news. It always felt like I was doing something that mattered.

I launched my magazine in 2009, 16 years after I’d entered the journalism business, despite only being 33 at the time. I had literally spent half my life working at newspaper and magazines and finally had my own.

Screen Shot 2019-12-23 at 8.52.56 AMI won’t go through the highlights or lowlights of the next four years, but for everything my professional life had provided prior, it was now exponential. I had responsibility like never before, but I loved devoting my life to the professional cause. Over the five years the business existed, we launched another magazine and a film festival. Work became just about the only thing that I defined myself on, which was a shame, because I had the world’s greatest wife and two terrific kids that I didn’t spend enough time with. If they wanted to do something with me, it was usually tagging along to one of my professional commitments.

When things took their real turn for the worse and I full-on began to neglect my mental health, it felt like work betrayed me more than anything. When the magazine was collapsing under its own weight and my lack of business skill, it felt like my world was imploding. Instead of medicating properly with my bipolar medication, I abandoned that and used alcohol and porn to soothe the wounds. Yeah, that sounds stupid in retrospect to me, too.

I think I talked so much about work in early recovery because I was still very fresh from losing my professional life. I knew no matter the outcome of any legal matters, my time creating a product for a local audience was over. One of the first “a-ha!” moments of recovery was recognizing that the only place I ever felt I had control, work, had in fact been an illusion for quite some time. I was a flight attendant on a plane plunging to the ground giving passengers comforting glances while they looked back at me saying, “You genuinely don’t recognize we’re going down, do you?”

Screen Shot 2019-12-23 at 8.54.41 AMOne of the biggest moments in early recovery was when a friend, a former Hells Angel member who had been kicked out for illegal activity and was essentially hiding from the law at rehab while his pregnant girlfriend half his age tried to kick heroin, brought up the fact I wasn’t the successful businessperson I portrayed myself to be.

It was a bit of a kick in the groin hearing it, but he was right. Had things not turned out the way they did, I would have driven that magazine straight into the ground within about six months. That’s not success and that’s not control. I had both of those for a while, but began lying to myself when they had disappeared.

In the moment, my workaholism probably did more to hurt my family than either of my addictions. I think when it comes to family, one of the most important things is simply showing up and being there. I rarely did this and missed some key moments.

I do have to add that part of my ongoing recovery has been not torching everything to the ground that was connected to my magazine. We did a lot of good work and shared many important stories. We gave awareness to good causes and worked hard to make our community a better place. None of that should be tainted by the horrible way it all ended, although I’m sure for many, it is. Despite that, I’ve shared a few of my favorite covers with you as I don’t think anybody has seen this magazine I often write about.

These days, I don’t define myself on my work, whether it’s the mindless ghostwriting I do for corporate clients or the pornography addiction education route. But I don’t define myself based on the family now either. I try not to define myself at all beyond a man constantly searching for balance.

Assuming this is the last thing I write before Christmas, I wish those who celebrate a Merry Christmas. If you’re in the midst of Hanukkah, enjoy that. Or Kwanza. Or whatever you’re into. Don’t let differences between people define us. There’s enough of that going in the world.

PornHub Lets Us Know How Bad Things Are Getting, Part II: Trust These Numbers?

I promised I’d be back with Part II of looking at select statistics and what they may mean from PornHub in 2019. As I said last week, they may be having a major contribution to the pornification of our society, but they do know how to present a report to make amateur behavioral economists happy. But with today’s stats, I’m a bit more dubious.

Looking by the Ladies

When I’m doing podcasts or presentations, the question always inevitably comes up: “Are there female porn addicts?” The answer is yes, but until I saw these numbers, I didn’t have any idea this many women were actually looking at pornography.

If you remember last time, I mentioned there were 42 million visits to PornHub annually, or 115 million per day. The site reports, on average, that 32% of its visitors are female. That represents an increase of 3% over 2018. Basically, that means 38 million visits per day are from women, and again, PornHub is now the third largest pornography site in the world. That puts daily visits for women well over 100 million for just the three largest sites on a daily basis.

The reality is, women are mostly built the same as men, but in the pre-Internet world of strip clubs, adult bookstores and adult theaters, porn was not marketed to women and was difficult to find. Now that we all have an iPhone or Android in our pocket, access is an even playing field and the pornography companies know it.

Countries that have a higher average than that 32% include top-ranked Philippines and Brazil (39%), Mexico (36%), and Australia and Sweden (35%). France, Spain and Canada are at the average and countries coming in below include United States and Italy (30%), United Kingdom (28%) and Germany (25%).

Most of the Top 10 search terms for women are related to lesbian sex. Also, of the most searched-for pornstars by women, only three of the top 12 were men. PornHub added that among porn featuring only gay male performers, 37% was consumed by women.

Problems with This – PornHub doesn’t ask the casual user their gender. I have no idea if this is the case, but with some of their “member” services I’m sure there is demographic profiling to sign-up and perhaps they are extracting and extrapolating their numbers this way, and they could be 100% correct. I don’t doubt they are far off, but I’d like to understand their methodology.

Also, and this is as good a place as any to mention it, although it’s not just a female search issue. In none of their data do the search terms “incest” or “teen” appear. As a former addict who stays away from the stuff, I’m not going to go count the instances that these two words appear on the front page of PornHub, but faux incest between teen siblings or child/parent are among the most popular genres of porn currently according to every article I’ve read. Maybe if you put them up front on the home page nobody has to type in the words to find them. We can talk about the psychology of that being a popular search another time, but to not admit it’s what people are watching makes all of these stats somewhat dubious.

How Old Are You Now?

PornHub places the average age of one of its users at 36 years old. Instead of trying to explain what the results were, it’s easier to just look at the pie chart they created:

Screen Shot 2019-12-16 at 7.24.20 PM

The average user in the United States is 39 years old according to PornHub data, with 32% of users making up the largest demo, in 25-to-34. It claims that only 15% of American users are under 24 years old. The numbers are almost carbon copies for Canada, where like the UK and Italy, the average user is also 39. The youngest goes to the Philippines at 32 while Spain recorded the oldest at 41.

Problems with This – This is a case of making the numbers work for you. PornHub measures people between the ages of 18 and 65, but it measures the youngest demo over a range of only six years, 18-to-24, whereas every other age group has a ten-year range.

Do some math with me and tell me if I’m wrong. If 25% of their users are 18-to-24 and 36% of their users are 25-to-34, that makes 61% of users under 34 years old. How can the average age be two years older?

And much like the “teen” and “incest” omissions, notice that there is no category for users under 18 years old. Why? Because it’s bad PR. Despite the fact that in America, there is no need to prove your age to gain access to the site, apparently there isn’t a single underage person going to PornHub. Yeah, right.

Again, I’m guessing they’re measuring this with some kind of membership or premium level and even if underage teens can gain access to it, they’re not going to admit that they are not of age. They’re going to claim to be, oh, I don’t know…36?

The Greatest Porn Computer Ever

When I appear on video podcasts, I always make sure to have my phone nearby so I can lift it up at some point and say the “greatest pornography computer ever now fits in every 14-year-olds pocket.” I didn’t realize just how correct I was.

From 2018 to 2019, pornography access via smartphones grew by 7% to 76.6%. Porn access via desktop computer dropped to 16.3% and tablet use dropped to 7.1%. Three-out-of-four people accessing porn are doing it by phone and that certainly skews to a younger generation.

In the United States, 81% of PornHub’s viewers are accessing via smartphone and only 12% are using a desktop computer. Only 74% of UK residents and 71% of Canadians access via smartphone. The highest percentage country for accessing via desktop is Russia, at 34%.

Problems with This – I actually have no problem with how PornHub reported this data. They’ve got the ability to track not only what device you’re using, but what operating system, browser, game console, etc. I believe what they’re claiming here. Big Brother is watching you, even when it’s just to spy on you checking out his porn stash.

My only problem with this data is anybody (parents, spouses, etc.) who still believes they can keep someone’s eyes off of pornography at this point are fooling themselves. This isn’t 2005 and NetNanny can lull you into safety. Heck, take out all of the devices from your house. There’s a great big world out there full of them, and it’s a world that needs to start talking about pornography addiction education or these numbers are only going to get worse.

And, just because I’d like to end on some good news, even PornHub admits that certain events cause it numbers to plummet, specifically sports. What’s it going to take to have a Super Bowl every weekend?

Screen Shot 2019-12-16 at 7.56.45 PM

Pornography Cannot Become Just Another Political Issue

When I’m up with the dogs at 5:30 a.m., letting my wife sleep an extra hour because she has to head for a job outside the house and I have a leeway in catching a nap if need-be, I’ll browse headlines in the Google News feed. I rarely ever read stories unless it’s good news, but an article on pornography was featured today and I’m not sure what to think.

I stopped reading halfway through to be honest because there wasn’t a ton of substance to it. Essentially it said that there are a small handful of Republican members of Congress who have been making waves about doing “something” about pornography. It talked about how this issue was more one of the radical liberals in the 1970s and 80s, but seems to have evolved as the other side’s cause in recent years.

Most of you know my stance on the pornography industry. You can’t fight it. Much like prohibition, it would be destined to fail. And unless it involves children or animals, porn may be immoral or unhealthy, but it’s not illegal. I don’t want the government defining what is or isn’t pornography. That’s not its role. Pornographic magazines are failing not because of any government interference. They’re dying because print media as a whole is collapsing. Let the market define its needs.

I would like to see an embrace of some kind of health curriculum in schools that makes basic pornography addiction education mandatory. A middle school teacher could literally spend only 30 minutes on it in one class per semester and I believe it could change a generation. If Congress is willing to pony up the money for that, I don’t care if it’s a Republican or Democrat; it’s a bill I can get behind.

As an ex-journalist, my former life before recovery was consumed with news and like almost everybody with access to social media, I didn’t mind sharing my opinions on whatever the topic of the day was. I think that was done far more to see myself pontificate and get like-minded people to tell me how right I was vs. truly changing anyone’s mind.

In recovery, I largely limit myself to headlines and stay off all social media except LinkedIn. I suppose I have my website to expound on issues, but it’s still 97% politics-free. I do this because despite my disconnect, which has moved me even further into the middle of the political spectrum, it has certainly not been lost on me that this country is divided more than anytime I can remember.

Now, it doesn’t worry me too much. As a student of history, this is a cyclical occurrence, not an anomaly. If you think politics seems bad now, go read the Hamilton biography by Ron Chernow upon which the musical was based. That was a disgusting, divided time that makes today seem much more civil. I guess it can and may get worse, but I don’t worry about it bouncing back eventually.

Unfortunately, the issues of pornography, pornography addiction and pornography addiction education are coming along during this time of people dividing into little tribes and circling the wagons. I’ve mentioned this before, and I think most people truly in the middle agree, but there’s very little difference between the two political parties except for the small details. Both sides act completely boorish, make unintelligible statements, pander to their base and are far more about power than figuring out solutions. You’ll know if you’re one of these people if you immediately thought, “That’s not me! That’s the other side!” Sorry, buddy, it’s also you.

I’m concerned that if conservatives take up this cause right now, liberals will fight it simply because they feel they’re supposed to fight whatever conservatives want. Similarly, if the liberals were to take up porn, whatever position they took would be opposed by the conservatives not because of facts, but because that’s just the way things are done today.

I know I have people from both sides of the aisle who read my articles, and plenty of folks in the middle, too. I urge you, do not make whatever fight against pornography that may be on the horizon a political one. I know that’s easier said than done, but there are some issues that should bridge the political gap.

Do not let your party affiliation dictate your stance on pornography and if you’re active in your political community (boy, I don’t miss those days) be a voice of reason. If your side is for it, reach out to the other side. They’re probably not against it – just against the idea of agreeing with you. If your side is against it, explain to your brethren why this may be an issue that needs partisan walls to come down. And let’s be honest, you don’t want to be on the side that is trying to frame the argument pornography is not a problem. There’s far too much data against that position…although facts and data just don’t mean what they once did.

This cannot turn into just another political issue. It’s too important.

 

It Was Harder Growing Up With Religion Than Recovering Without It

When a new book comes out, I generally get a lot of messages and while it’s happening again, I’ve had several this week that had deeply religious connotations and I don’t know if they don’t read the site or I haven’t explained it well in a long time, but I figure since it’s Sunday, it would be a great day to get into the whole spirituality/religion thing with you.

I apologize up front as I know this is going to be all over the place, long and I’m sure unintentionally offensive to some.

I was raised by a devout Catholic father and a hugely, hugely devout Catholic mother. They were raised by largely absentee, alcoholic parents. Their faith was something they pursued as they both went to parochial school. They didn’t meet until college, but I think the fact their religious upbringing was so similar helped things.

As I told someone the other day, words like “God,” “sin,” “Bible” etc. are a little bit triggering for me and I think I know why. I have started to draw a lot of parallels to my need for control that was borne out of the environment where my abuse took case. Let me stress I was not abused in the church, but being in a place where I felt completely helpless and lost was not good for my mental health.

I was the inquisitive little kid who had questions at Sunday School or for my mother. The answer was usually the same, “Don’t ask questions” or “It’s God’s Law.” That’s not an environment for somebody like me, who already had power and control issues, was going to thrive.

The rare answers I got didn’t make any sense and attending church was a miserable experience, only second to Sunday school. I would say that other kids around me were having a better time, but based on the exodus from the Catholic Church in America, they just weren’t marketing it to kids in the ’80s very well. They did not communicate what God was supposed to be in a way that we understood. Like chemistry or physics in high school, eventually one gives up trying to understand.

Back then, you went through Confirmation at 15 or 16 and I made a deal with my parents that I’d agree to be confirmed, but at that point, I was going to stop going to Church. They did their job getting me that far, but I was done. I think they recognized I wasn’t joking. I didn’t hate their faith, but I didn’t have it.

My Higher Power, The Afterlife and Mom Gets Mad

Keep in mind that while I attempt to be respectful of people’s religious beliefs, I think the biggest thing missing from the religious (not necessarily spiritual) is the ability to put themselves in the shoes of someone who doesn’t subscribe to the exact same doctrine that they do. I mean, you only have to look at history’s great wars; almost all have a religious angle to them. One of the reasons that 12 Step Groups were not my ultimate answer was (aside from the fact that they don’t really mean “higher power of your choosing” because they end every meeting with a Christian prayer) there is no room to talk about what not having a higher power means.

I have never felt powerless over alcohol or porn because despite my lowest points, I was the only who actually had the power. I just chose not to use it. Today, I have a concept of a higher power that I simply call “the universe” and it doesn’t really have a set of rules, dogma or doctrine you have to follow. It doesn’t care if you get a midnight abortion or if gay people marry. It isn’t about raising a dime, nor about any particular book. I don’t pray to it, nor does it threaten to smite me when I don’t. My concept of it is vague, but I don’t need to have all the details. It’s a balancing energy in the universe and that’s all I really need to know. I have a Higher Power and that’s that. It just doesn’t have a name tag or handbook.

People get awkward fast when I tell them that I don’t really care if there’s an afterlife. I don’t think there is, there has never been a single piece of proof there is, and while it’s a pleasant story, I believe that you get your years on Earth and then you’re done. And I’m far more OK with that than the people who hear me say it, because they can’t believe I’d have such a view. It’s fine because it doesn’t have to be your belief, and vice versa.

This is clearly turning into a ramble, but here’s a quick story for you. As I mentioned, I was raised Catholic by two very devout, wonderful people. I was baptized, did the first communion and confirmation all in the same church. Saw many of my relatives married and memorialized there as well, and midnight mass on Christmas was a regular stop for me even long after I left my parents’ home. There was a purge here of Catholic churches in Maine about 10-12 years ago. The numbers of parishoners had dropped so dramatically, the diocese said they couldn’t afford to keep the churches open. My family’s church ended up on this list of closures, like 5 of the 7 churches in our town. With our particular church, the reason given was that it was too expensive to heat the church between September and May. It’s a valid argument. The place was huge and old members were dying off like 8-to-1 against bringing in new members and tithing just wasn’t what it used to be.

My mom asked me to come on that last day and being a sometimes sentimental, nostalgic person, I said OK. I didn’t enjoy the thousands of hours I spent there, but knowing it would be my last hour was a little sad. When the service was over – ironically to a packed house like they hadn’t seen in years – there was an organization in the back that was collecting money to try and overturn one of Maine’s gay rights laws. It didn’t bother me because it’s an issue that’s been decided and the right side won. When we got to the car, my mother let loose on the Church, I think for the first time in her life and I wouldn’t have believed it unless I was there. I’ll spare the long diatribe, but she thankfully saw the complete hypocrisy and overall wrongness of a Church that couldn’t stay open because of lack of funds collecting funds for a group that wants to discriminate. I pointed out how well the UU church was doing in town in terms of both attendance and funding. They, of course, were gay-friendly. Since that day, my mother still goes to church elsewhere, but it’s with far, far less devotion than she did in the past. She’ll even skip Sundays if the mood strikes her. She’s finally come around to what I recognized a long time ago – you need neither a book, nor a building to have a relationship with a Higher Power.

In losing a giant chunk of my mom, the church lost one of its staunchest advocates.

Religion is Not The Only Road to Recovery

I promise I’m about to wrap this up.

I think that there are really three main branches to pornography recovery. Maybe it’s true of all addiction, but since I’m immersed in this culture, it’s what I see. Those three branches are religion, will-power, and science. People can absolutely dabble in more than one, but I find a lot of people who are into things like NoFap (will-power) refuse to see a real therapist and many religious people think you can pray away a medical condition. Obviously, I’m a big believer in the science side of things because that is my experience and it was successful.

Nonetheless, if you go to the WordPress reader and type in “Pornography Addiction” or “Pornography Recovery” you’re going to probably find 75% of the entries have some reference to The Bible. Beyond the whole shaming thing that religious people are so good at doing to others which is an entirely other issue, the overall theme of these entries is that one must follow a religious path to addiction recovery, just like you have to follow their religious path to the afterlife.

It’s just not true. I mean, I can point to plenty of people it worked for, but I can point to plenty of people, myself included, who are happy and healthy without a word of Scripture read in recovery.

I’m OK if you want to use God as a tool for pushing recovery as long as you’re not shaming the addict, but it can’t be the only tool used and it can’t be preached that without God, recovery is impossible. That’s plainly wrong and frankly, a dangerous thing to say for two reasons: a) You wouldn’t encourage a person with cancer or severe hemorrhaging to only pray…you’d get them real medical treatment; b) Somebody believing your attitude may be stopped from recovery if the religious route doesn’t work for them. Is it better they go your way and fail or go their own way and succeed?

I’m sure many of those who actually got this far were offended along the way, and I apologize if my words were ever poorly chosen. There were a few places I debated writing certain things, but went for it anyway. I know that my personal issues with the church and religion are just that – my personal issues – and I know they carry over into my writing, but in a space where I try to be honest to a fault, even when it rankles some feathers, I thought it was time to explain myself.

I don’t know if there was any theme here but I guess sometimes these blogs are just for ranting and working things out.