Will getting married cure a porn addiction?
Like pretty much everyone else on the planet, many Latter-day Saints are struggling beneath the burden of fear, shame and humiliation that happens when a person can’t forsake the sins of pornography consumption and related compulsive sexual behavior. Sex and pornography addiction afflicts both men and women these days. It afflicts individual members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in roughly the same numbers as those outside the Church. In other words, being a Mormon–in and of itself–does not seem to provide much protection from becoming addicted to pornography and sex. This is perhaps not what Latter-day Saints would expect to hear. What’s going on? We are in the midst of an epidemic but we don’t understand the disease.
Large numbers of young LDS men (and women)–many only recently returned from their missions–are finding themselves drawn deeper into a murky cesspool of sexual images and behaviors. As with a tar pit, the more the victim struggles, the deeper he gets sucked into the ooze. A big part of the problem is that addicts and those who surround them simply don’t understand the nature of addiction and what is required to overcome and recover from addiction.
During my time in Sexaholics Anonymous, I have heard many married men both inside and outside the Church speak about their struggles with pornography and sex addiction. Their stories are often very similar. Almost always, they are familiar with the “Marriage Cure.” This is where a guy fighting to overcome the frequent or occasional compulsions to binge on porn that overwhelm him comes to expect that once he marries and becomes sexually active with his wife, the compulsions to act out with porn and masturbation will evaporate. In other words, marriage is supposed to cure his porn problem. But it doesn’t. Anywhere from a few days to several months into the new marriage, the addict finds himself again drawn to pornography and masturbation. And he begins to act out again.
The “Marriage Cure” is not the only cure that LDS men and others continue to employ in their desperate attempt to overcome their unwanted porn-centric behavior. We try everything–most preferably if it can be done in secret and isolation. There’s the Geography Cure where we move to a new location and commit that with a fresh start, we will never act out again. There’s the New Laptop/New Computer/New Cell Phone Cure. “I commit to keep this computer/phone free of porn!” There’s the New Year’s Resolution Cure. “A new year means a new start for me–without porn. And this year, I really mean it!”
There are also some more painful “cures” such as the Confession and “Complete” Honesty Cure where the addict keeps confessing to his wife and bishop in the hopes that one of these times, his commitment to stop is going to stick. This is closely related to the Shame and Humiliation Cure. This is where the addict, spouse or the priesthood leader–or all three–attempt to “incentivize” the addict by making him feel ashamed and humiliated because of his behavior. The idea of course is that someday and somehow the pain of shame and humiliation will be sufficient to truly jump start the addict in his abstinence and then keep him abstinent. These “cures,” however, aren’t cures at all.
Addicts also try the Picture of the Savior/Prophet Next to the Computer Cure; the No Computer After 10:00 PM Cure; and the Computer in a High Traffic Area Cure. By themselves, they don’t work either. Addiction cannot be overcome by a simple attitude adjustment or merely by replacing “dirty” thoughts with clean ones. A recovery program that consists only of fervent prayer and scripture study is also doomed to fail because these activities do not fully treat the disease of addiction in all its facets: spiritual, emotional, mental, physical and neurological. All these attempts at a cure can never succeed because they only jab weakly and pitifully at the symptoms of addiction and not at its sources: debilitating emotions and the powerful draw of lust. Read “The ABCs of Addiction,” and you’ll see the problem in a whole new way.
Take heart, however, because there are many Latter-day Saints who have found complete recovery from their addiction. They no longer act out. They don’t binge on porn. They don’t fantasize about it. They don’t seek it out. When it crops up unexpectedly, they are able to turn away immediately and let it go. In effect, they are finally able to turn the channel in their minds, something they had never been able to do in the past. They are not “cured” but they have found complete recovery, which, it turns out, is even better than a cure.
As we discuss throughout this website, recovery from sex and pornography addiction comes when the addict begins a specific program that includes all the usual spirit-building activities familiar to Latter-day Saints (i.e, prayer, fasting, scripture study, church attendance, meeting with the bishop) AND, IN ADDITION, counseling with a therapist trained and experienced in addiction recovery, as well as frequent and thorough participation in an effective 12 Step group that includes sponsorship, phone lists and multiple meetings each week. How’s that for a run-on sentence? Men who find recovery from their pornography and sexual addiction also find that they have become new men. They are men of God, disciples of Christ, with no secrets and no shame. Just ask an addict in recovery if he would rather be in recovery–or merely cured.