Sexaholics Anonymous has a great set of literature that serves as a vital supplement to help members of the LDS Church who are struggling with pornography and compulsive sexual behavior. One of those books, Step Into Action, contains this definition of lust: “Lust is excessive and unreasonable thoughts or feelings that drive us to use or manipulate ourselves, others, or things for self-centered destructive purposes. Lust is what we get when we impose a distorted spiritual attitude upon a natural drive.”
To render this definition more clear for what we talk about on this website, I’d add in versions of the word “sex ” in key places: “Sexual lust is excessive and unreasonable sexual thoughts or feelings that drive us to manipulate ourselves, others, or things sexually for self-centered and destructive sexual purposes. Lust is what we get when we impose a distorted spiritual attitude upon sex.”
As you can see, lust is not a good thing for members of the LDS Church or anyone else. It is harmful; it is manipulative by definition. It leaves the luster and those around him less than what they were before the lust. Lust is not sex but rather the misuse of sex. Lust is not passion, but that’s what a lot of people assume because they’ve never experienced anything other than lustful passion. They cannot conceive of lust-free passion and intimacy and most aren’t aware that it even exists.
Some Latter-day Saints who are caught up in lust-driven behavior either individually or with others including a spouse, conclude at some point that lust is messing up their happiness and serenity in life. This is not an issue of guilt as some would suggest–usually with a tone of derision and condescension. But these are not repressed and uptight simpletons. They are just regular, intelligent people who see that lust is making them and their relationships unhealthy. Heavenly Father has given them a gift of discernment and they have been humble enough to employ it.
Lust is a drug. It’s changes our moods, our perceptions, our behavior, our personalities and our minds. All these changes mean that lust also changes our spirit, and not in a good way. Like many other harmful drugs, lust can be addictive.
As a recovering sex, pornography and lust addict, I think that cocaine provides a good analogy. Cocaine is dangerous and harmful for a lot of reasons, but it’s not necessarily addictive to every person who consumes it in the very moment it’s consumed.
Some people are hooked the first time they try cocaine. Others find that over time, cocaine has become an obsession for them. Lust is similar. I was probably hooked at age five or six. I can’t really remember a time since then–at least until I found real recovery–when lust wasn’t an obsession for me to some greater or lesser extent.
Given that lust is unhealthy, an individual without an addictive personality will hopefully recognize lust and eliminate it, sort of like eliminating certain unhealthy foods and lifestyles. Those members of the LDS Church who have addictive personalities, however, are in a different boat. If they are addicted to lust, they can’t merely stop lusting and have that be the end of it. They need treatment which includes counseling, 12 Step and the inspired guidance of a well-informed priesthood leader. If they are able to stop without this treatment, it simply means that they weren’t addicted. Rather, they were mentally, emotionally and spiritually healthy but engaged in unhealthy and harmful behavior.
My personal definition of sex and porn addiction (lust addiction) is about as unscientific-sounding as they come, but I challenge anyone to find a more useful one for Latter-day Saints. Here it is:
I have a problem with porn and compulsive sexual behavior that is making me unhappy, so I stop.
Then I stop again. Then I stop again. Then I stop again. Then I stop again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again.
I can’t stay stopped.
I am addicted. I need to get help.
Those LDS men and women with a lust addiction can see–or at least sense–the downward spiral of their lives and spirit. They stop their behavior repeatedly but can’t stay stopped. It’s a pretty scary place to find yourself.
Will power is never enough. Secrecy and isolation are necessary for addiction to thrive so any activity that encourages the addict to remain isolated and to keep secrets reinforces the addictive behavior. Solo activities such as a prayer and scripture study can be easily hijacked by an addicted mind, convincing the addict that keeping everything quiet is the best way to deal with the “little problem.”
If a Latter-day Saint determines that he or she is addicted to lust, a dual course of action is necessary. The addict must seek (1) repentance and forgiveness of sinful behavior as well as (2) recovery from the disease of addiction. They are not the same thing. They are related and interconnected, but they are not the same thing. Too many Mormons think that they can just do some quick, hard praying “with real intent” and the problem will just go away.
The single most important factor for successful recovery from addiction–any addiction–is whether the addict is willing to associate with other addicts further along in recovery. That is not to say that a bishop’s inspired guidance, personal prayer and scripture study aren’t important. I’m just saying that few addicts recover without the help of other addicts in recovery. Some would say that no addict recovers without the help of other recovering addicts and that anyone who says he has is a liar. I’m not to the point where I’ll say it myself, but I’m getting there.
In any event, Heavenly Father has clearly not left us alone on this issue. There is hope. There is happiness. There is a light at the end of the tunnel. There is recovery.
Image 1 credit: By Tam (Gibson’s Steps) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Image 2 credit: By Unknown, U.S. Government photo available through the National Archives [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons