The ABCs of Porn Addiction | An LDS View

The real reasons why so many LDS men can’t kick their pornography addiction.

Photo by Frank Gualtieri (in the public domain)

WHY CALL THIS ESSAY “The ABCs of Porn Addiction”? Well, I briefly considered calling it “The Essay No One Wants to Read,” but then decided to plunge in and call it what it is, an explanation of exactly what keeps so many Mormon men from being able to find a permanent, bullet-proof way of staying away from pornography and compulsive sexual behavior. Before I do so, however, I want to make three points as background. First, although my intended audience is primarily Latter-day Saints, I am not suggesting that Mormons are any worse off in terms of pornography and sex addiction than society in general. We’re not. Many, if not most, men in America these days have significant problems with pornography and compulsive sexual behavior. For a fair number of these men, the response is simply to shrug and not to worry about it. “Men will be men. That’s how we’re wired. Gotta satisfy the urges or it’ll make us ‘unhealthy.’”

In contrast, I think that a large percentage of our Mormon men are suffering so badly right now because they are unable to live a life of integrity and are miserable as a result. They repeatedly and inexplicably engage in sexual behavior they know to be wrong and it is eating them up on the inside. In addition, a significant number of our women are struggling and suffering because they are unwilling to buy into the false but commonly-peddled notion that women just have to accept that “their men will be men”—pornography and masturbation are just part of the package. For Mormons—and others—something in our hearts and minds is telling us that this just isn’t the way it’s supposed to be. This isn’t what God intended.

Back From the Abyss and Finding Recovery.

Second, I speak from the position of one who has been to hell and lived to tell about it. I am a recovering sex and pornography addict. For years, I acted out secretly on my addiction. During those same years, I fought to overcome my “little problem” like a man possessed. I refused to let it suck the life out of my marriage and my family. I refused to let it steal my soul. Until I found real recovery, however, my addiction was entirely indifferent to the depth of my devotion to faith and family, and methodically sucked and stole away at its leisure. That’s what addiction does.

Third, when I talk about being an addict in recovery, the emphasis is on recovery. Being in recovery means that I used to act out on my addiction but now I don’t—at all—ever. This doesn’t mean I’m somehow “cured” and will never have to worry about compulsive sexual behavior ever again. Like a recovering alcoholic, I will return to my drug if I ever quit working my program of recovery. The exciting thing for me, however, is that I’ve finally found a recovery path that works. It has enabled me to stop engaging in the behavior that was killing me and killing my marriage.

The ABCs of Porn Addiction

Photo courtesy of somadjimm by way of stock.xchng.

Before recovery, my wife and I both felt like we were sliding off separate cliffs into oblivion and just barely holding on by our bloody fingernails. Then one day, I stopped. I surrendered, gave it all up, turned it over to a loving Father in Heaven who had been patiently waiting for me, and walked away from it. Again, this doesn’t mean I just started to ignore the problem and miraculously it went way. I walked away from the addictive behavior by walking into a program of recovery that included therapy and 12 Step meetings.

I can now look my wife straight in the eye and tell her I’m sexually sober. I couldn’t do that before recovery. She knows my sobriety date and knows how long I’ve been sober. She knows that with God’s strength and blessing, I have repented and forsaken the sin. She looks back into my eyes with confidence, knowing that finally I have the ability to stay sober and never go back. Before recovery, she wasn’t able to do that. Things are much different now. I am able to live a life of integrity. My wife is able to live a life without fear.

Along with others in recovery, I have found what countless Mormon men are dying to find but failing: complete sexual sobriety. My wife has found what so many Mormon women would give up everything to have: a sexually sober husband. We don’t say this lightly or by way of boasting. We are talking about it because we want other people to have what we have—or simply to know that it is even possible. We want to see LDS husbands and wives with confidence in each other. We want to see Latter-day Saint women who trust their husbands, who don’t cry themselves to sleep at night, who don’t wonder what happened to their “happily ever after.”

We want to see Mormon men worthy of the priesthood they bear, worthy to lay their hands on their children’s heads and utter blessings that are too wonderful to describe, worthy to attend the temple with their wives and feel the presence of angels, worthy to stand as disciples of Christ having felt the full redemptive power of His Atonement. We want to see our people enjoying peace and love in this life with no secrets gnawing away at their insides.


Comments

The ABCs of Porn Addiction | An LDS View — 82 Comments

  1. My daughter’s boyfriend (return missionary) just told her he had a porn addiction before his mission. How worried should I be? What questions does she need to ask him? He didn’t have any problems on his mission but has only been home a few months. She doesn’t know any details, such as: How young did he start viewing porn? How often and serious was the addiction? Did he have counseling before his mission? Was it serious enough to need counseling now? Does she need to know all these questions? Any insight and experience with this problem would be greatly appreciated.

    • I hope I’m no too late, but find out all you can! I’ve been married 14 years and just found out my husband has been addicted to porn for 20+ years except for his mission and a while after. If they really didn’t take care if it then, it WILL come back!

  2. Why is the title specifically targeted to men? I know you mention “(and women)” frequently in your article, but I feel as though you’re saying the a-b-c method and porn addiction in general, applies only to men. Are there ever women at SA meetings?

    • Good point. When I wrote the essay, I didn’t know any LDS women who were also sex addicts in recovery. In contrast, I knew a number of LDS men. I could only write about what was familiar to me and what had been expressed to me by other men.

      Since then, I’ve met a few LDS women in recovery. One of them recently wrote a guest post here on RowboatAndMarbles.org. She and other LDS women talk about how difficult it is for them in a culture that places such a premium on the appearance of perfection. But they–like a lot of LDS men–are coming to see that they’re not alone. They’re also learning that the surest path to recovery is by following in the footsteps of other addicts who are further along in recovery. Isolation and secrecy are just as deadly to women as they are to men.

      Women occasionally attend SA meetings where I live and they make a tremendous contribution to the tone and spirit of the meeting.

  3. I am a 24 year-old Mormon returned missionary guy that was recently engaged to the girl of my dreams. She knows that I have struggled with pornography “in the past,” and that I am occasionally tempted by it. I desperately want to take care of this BIG PROBLEM by myself. I am terrified that she will not want to marry me if I still have a significant problem. The thing is, I didn’t really think I had THAT big of a problem anymore. However, I do know i will always have to deal with it. Here is an outline of my current pornography problem; I very rarely think or fantasize about pornography and I never feel inclined to look for it. The only times that I catch myself seeking pornography is when I accidentally see a sexually charged image on the Internet. 9 times out of 10 I immediately put it out of my sight and think no more upon it. Occasionally (every 2-4 months), however, I will see such an image while in a “bluish” mood and will seek for additional arousal. These instances last for about 15 minutes. I will be deeply grateful for any insight.

      • Not a huge fan of downplaying prayer and scripture study repeatedly in this article. When I prayed 4-10 times a day and read my scriptures for 30 minutes + I had not problem in my life. When I stopped, then the problem would eventually return. However, I would probably not be categorized as an addict, and your article is careful to make a distinction between consumers and addicts.. I’ve read accounts of addicts, and I’ve never even come close to experiencing what they have.

        I do however love your insights into the relationship “lust” hits. I totatally do that. You put in a way that was masterfully written. Also, your little plurp how online facebook flirtations can also be lust hits. That is so true. Placing a simple comment to “lift someone elses spirts” while secretly fantacising about that person is a dangerous game to play.

        While I don’t agree with large chuncks of the article, there are some insights that I will carry with me for the rest of my life. Thank you.

        • Joe, thanks for the comment and for visiting the site. Please understand that I’m not denigrating actual prayer and scripture study at all. They are very important to me and my recovery. What I am bringing to light, however, is dishonest behavior–stuff I used to do instead of actually dealing with my problem. Rather than talking to the bishop or educating myself about addiction, I dishonestly convinced myself that prayer and scripture reading were going to solve the problem–so I could keep this whole thing a secret.

          If secrecy and isolation were what really motivated me to keep trying “prayer and scripture study” as a solution to my problem, it’s no wonder that program didn’t work for me. It appears that I’m not alone either and that a lot of other addicts have had the same experience of failure due to dishonesty of purpose.

          These days, I prayer in order to connect with Heavenly Father and I study the scriptures in order to better understand His will. I no longer use those two activities as a smoke screen to cover up “my little problem” in order to stay in secrecy and isolation.

          When I get emails from other LDS addicts in recovery, they seem to relate most often to “dishonest prayer and scripture study.” Once we figured out what true recovery required and how honest prayer and scripture study fit into that recovery, we were able to recognize the dishonesty that had motivated us in the past.

          • I’ve been addicted to porn since I’ve 8 years old when someone showed it to me; after being told it was wrong several years later in church (what parent would think that would be a problem with their 8 year old?) I’ve spent nearly every day since for the last 21 years praying and reading my scriptures trying to ‘cure’ myself. Sure, it helps, and sometimes I’ve gone 2 months with no problems (managed 2 years out on my mission)…until out of nowhere it hits again, and no matter how much I loathe it 99.9% of the time and don’t want to indulge, it only takes that one time to send me right back down to the bottom of the pit, where I begin once more the long journey out. After having a conversation with someone and praying recently, I finally really swallowed the last bit of my pride and realized that this whole time I’ve been asking the Lord for help, I was subconsciously and consciously ignoring the very tools He’s provided to do just that! God has provided counsel and programs to help us with these issues, and by refusing those tools out of pride, thinking we can do it on our own, we are denying the very help we so frequently pray for…if insanity can be defined as doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results, then I’ve been insane. At least for me, it’s time to let go of the last bit of illusion of self control that I have, and realize that I can’t do it on my own…if 21 years of fruitless battle hasn’t taught me that, then I don’t know what will. I’m tired of being a slave, whether it’s once a day or once every few months…once is too much.

  4. Well, he is certainly not going to “get over it” on his own. If he really wanted to change he would seek out a recovery program (here you will find only people that understand this addiction). If he isn’t then he has chosen the addiction over you and your three children. Why are you settling for this? Are you aware of the pain this inflicting on your kids? Stop enabling him and get out. At least for now. If he finally gets sober then great – THEN, and only then, can you and he start to heal your marriage. You are absolutely right that you cannot “cure” him, but why would he change when there are no real consequences for him? You are a powerful force in his recovery, you can also be a powerful force in his continuation with this destructive, deceitful practice. You are both acting like the victim and until you take back control of your life you will stay a victim. Your choice. Use your voice and find your strength. He will be able to find his own strength through you as you put your foot down and demand more from life. He needs to earn his right to be with his family.

    • I don’t agree with your advice. I am not a victim just because my husband is a porn addict. I have my own life and I can choose to be happy or go down the same path my husband is choosing. I choose to be happy! Just because someone’s husband is addicted to something does not mean that they need to get divorced. It depends on the people involved and what is good for those people. I have kids and we are happy. My husband has an addiction but that does not make him a bad person satan just found his weakness and he needs to learn to over come it.

      • I have been in recovery for about 4 years from codependency. I have learned that the Atonement can heal me no matter what my husband is doing. I can still find peace and happiness no matter what because the Atonement is for me as an individual and it has nothing to do with what my husband or anyone else is doing. Like it has been said before not every situation is the same and there is not just one solution that works.

  5. I have a question maybe someone can answer. Why does porn addiction change their personality? All the addicts I know are moody when craving porn.

    • All addicts are like that regardless of the drug. Here’s a link to a Tedx lecture about the effect of porn on the brain:

      You might also check out Dr. Donald Hilton’s book He Restoreth My Soul: Understanding the Breaking the Chains of Chemical and Spiritual Addiction Through the Atonement of Jesus Christ. He’s an LDS neurosurgeon. Great book.

  6. Andrew:
    I’ve been coming to your website for some time, and making comments on your offerings from time to time. I don’t know why it took so long for me to read this bulwork of an essay, but I’m glad I did so today. I’ve been feeling oh-so confident at times over the past year, since I began my recovery process with an intensive 3-day retreat. At times, I would be so happy to say in group, that I have 2 1/2 months ‘sobriety’. And when hearing from some of the other men that they had struggled just yesterday, I would feel so good about my ‘progress’. What I was doing, though, was exactly what you described…putting an ‘x’ on the calendar date. I would also see women at the store, the mall, wherever, and think…well you know what I thought. I have been lusting all this time, even though I admitted it only in the instances of my acting out. No porn, no masturbation alone does not mean no lust.
    I love your ABC description, as well as your description of lust – ANYthing that is coming into my mind, eyes, world that could in the LEAST be medicating for me. Like Sports Illustrated (which I looked at, but didn’t think was so bad), or church girls in their short dresses, and high heels. Hey I wasn’t ‘acting out’, so I was good, right? NO, I WAS ACTING IN! I love that concept!
    I just have to ask you, though – you had to get this info from somewhere, or someone. Did the a->b->c model come from a book that you could recommend?
    Thank you, thank you, thank you! I love you so much, for what you did for me today!

    • SH: Thanks for the kind words. The ABC thing was all me, but the idea came about when I was trying to figure out a way to quickly explain to Latter-day Saints why our anti-porn fight was currently failing and was in fact destined to fail: We were chopping frantically at the branches (porn) instead of the trunk (lust) and the roots (debilitating negative emotions). And the thing about the roots–as we’re both learning–is that they actually have little to do with sex and porn. When I wasn’t in recovery, I was self-medicating to drown out painful or uncomfortable emotions just as an alcoholic would. It’s just that I was doing it with lust rather than booze.

      The principles underlying the ABCs, however, certainly aren’t my own. They are drawn mostly from the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous and the White Book of Sexaholics Anonymous. I think those two books are vital reading for anyone trying to understand the “porn problem” or sex-pornography-lust addiction. The White Book in particular is very clear that the problem is lust, not just porn, and that a lust addict becomes incredibly adept at finding sources of lust from which to take lust hits even while he’s telling himself what a great job he’s doing at “staying away from porn.” It has been quite a humbling experience to read and reread the White Book, each time seeing more clearly how much I’ve obsessed over lust during my life, even from a very young age.

      The great thing for me is seeing the progress that comes from working my program. Sexaholics Anonymous has helped me find a release from my mental obsession with lust and re-enter life to enjoy healthy connections with Heavenly Father and the people around me.

      Thanks again for reading.

  7. Thank you,

    This article was one of the sparks that have led me to start my recovery again in earnest. I have been spending years in denial that I have been taking hits from things not traditionally thought of as my drug of choice.

    To know that it can be as easy as A, B and C is so reassuring. I know my path will not be easy. I do know that it will be worth it.

    Working step one.

  8. Andrew,

    I’ve only just discovered your site and I wholeheartedly agree with what you wrote. The big difference for me is I don’t deny any of my addictions. I only lack the courage to come clean to my wife/family and finally admit to them that I have a problem.

    Unfortunately, my lack of courage stems from the research I’ve done about my addiction. Generally speaking, most web sites (and people) generally express disgust and hatred toward those in my predicament. Although I fear the eternal consequences, I seem to fear the temporal ones even more.

    “Heavenly Father, can I get over this problem on my own, or do I need help from other people?” — I’ve asked this question many times. Unfortunately, I already know the answer, yet the weak and afraid side of me keeps hoping that maybe if I ask with enough emotion, if I truly humble myself, the Lord will make an exception for me. I know this won’t happen, but it’s like trying to win the lottery. There’s always the hope that maybe I’ll be that “1 in a trillion” winner.

    “Heavenly Father, I am beaten. I can’t do this anymore. It is hopeless! I need You to do for me what I can’t do for myself. I need You to…” — This is where I’m at now. I’m begging for the strength I need to accept the consequences of my actions. The problem is, I know those consequences will be like throwing a rock into a swimming pool. The ripple affect will devastate my immediate and extended family alike. I wish I knew of a way to find the courage to just take that step needed to put me on the path to recovery.

    Regardless, I will continue to read your articles as I’m sure they will only strengthen my resolve to take that “fateful step” need to get my life back on the straight and narrow.

    I’m truly thankful for what you have put together.

  9. Hey Andrew! I love this article! Read it many times! I have some questions for you about what being “in recovery” is (and how addicts might fool themselves into thinking they are) and about sobriety.

    I have a loved who has recently come forward to tell me of his addiction (because he knows I have been working recovery as a spouse for 3 yrs with my SA) and he has also told his parents and his fiance that he has an addiction to pornography. (YEY for him being honest!) I feel he sincerely wants to recover, but also is in alot of denial of what recovery really looks like. Minimizes, and thinks he is doing “great.” In talking with him the other night, he said he was upset with his fiance because she didn’t think he was in recovery, and I promptly agreed with her after asking some questions. (That didn’t make him very happy) I asked him WHAT was he doing to ACTIVELY work his recovery… He says he hasn’t acted out for “3 weeks!” and was honest with his fiance. (both good things) However as far 12-step he hadn’t been for a while and was uncommitted. Nothing more than what I would call “white knuckling” by trying not to look, and trying to set up situations where he was not tempted, avoiding… okay… I encouraged that though that was exciting for him to be “sober, for 3 weeks” I tried to explain recovery was more than just “white knuckled” “sobriety”… Which brings me to my questions.

    How would you describe true sobriety? For instance, my own SA claims he has been sober for months, yet in nightly (well, when he feels like it) check-ins several times a week he is lusting, from watching the girl with the belly shirt and going into some fantasy, to driving around the station to get another look at the girl, and finding himself looking several times at the swimsuit calandars other guys have at work (because they aren’t his right!?). (Yeah, that one doesn’t sit right with me either…) But his justification is that he is “not looking at porn, or masturbating!” so that is sober for him… Going through this process, I am recognizing that some things come in stages and the farther in recovery one gets the more that bar is raised. While one may be working at one level (not looking at porn) someone farther along is working on another level (recognizing lust driven thoughts or actions and doing something active about it)…. So… How would you explain sobriety to an Addict? What does it look like, how does it progress? etc?

    Second question, How would you explain recovery in simple terms? I know what MY recovery looks like, and I think I have an idea of what it looks like for a SA, but how would you explain it to another SA? How does sobriety, honesty/rebuilding trust, creating safety, and repairing damage fall into that? (and yes, I realize 12-step covers that if someone is actively working it…) I just wanted to hear what you think in your own words.

    As always, I appreciate your insight and honest, straightforward answers!

  10. Good Article. I feel like I am starting to understand this lust addiction. So what I really need now is a plan to help my little boy not fall into this trap. I see guys in the comments saying their first exposure to porn was around 8 years old. Yikes….I had no idea it was an issue that young! I have one that age….What can I do? What would’ve helped you? What do you do for your own kids?

    • Personally, I think the biggest thing is to educate them, on their level, the importance of staying away from it, what it is, and what it does to a person. Keep the dialogue open between you and your kids so they feel comfortable coming to you and trust you to listen and not disregard how they feel. My experience is this 🙂

  11. I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that my problem with pornography was caused by the death of my Mom at age 13, 11 years ago. I had absolutely no problem when she was alive, but about 6 months after the death, I started to view pornography. I have accepted an official “story” about why it happened, but what do I do about the A: debilitaing emotional pain, that still appears even today?

    • I have found for myself, that I need to attend the temple weekly and having an amazing counselor really helps too. You just need to cling to the gospel for your life and you will be able to bear the burdens. I am not so sure I even understand exactly what co- dependency is. Probably because I am so stubborn I won’t let him convince me of “I’m working on it. I got it under control”. Do you mind explaining some?

  12. Yes…this is exactly what I want. The things you are wanting to help others achieve. I’d like to be in your support group 🙂 do you guys sponsor?

  13. I wish so very much that my husband would get help. I stayed with him, trying to convince him to seek help but he denies that his addiction is a problem. The final straw was when I caught him watching rape. We are now divorcing. My heart is broken.

  14. Andrew,
    Just a question of clarification. In the ABC’s of porn, I understand each aspect of it but I was wondering for my own definition of sobriety, if I engage in B have I lost sobriety or do I have to enter C. What are your thoughts. My experience, it is taking some time to overcome the C, it took some time for me to even accept that what I was doing, the whole ego seeking comment fishing, was a lust hit. I am currently reading a book “No more Mister nice guy” that describes my character defect. So in your experience and opinion is a person sober if they engage in B and avoid C. I am currently in program and am curious what you have to say.

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