Pornography is like a wildfire in its consuming, destructive capacity. The good news is that just like nature can turn fire into an opportunity for renewal, the Atonement of Jesus Christ can enable us to cultivate beauty from ashes.
Samantha’s post about pornography does an excellent job of pointing out some of the very real dangers of this societal plague. Pornography use is more prevalent and problematic than ever. It’s a normal human response to feel overwhelmed or helpless when facing such a complex and damaging problem. Despite these challenges, there are many reasons for hope. Whether you face issues of pornography use personally, care about someone who does, or just want to be better prepared, here are 10 reasons to be hopeful and optimistic in the face of a pornography epidemic.
1. Not all pornography use is addiction
Many researchers and mental health professionals agree that sexual addictions can be just as real and harmful as chemical addictions. But that doesn’t mean that anyone who has looked at pornography, even many times, is addicted. This means that for most people struggling to change their behavior, basic spiritual and behavioral suggestions can be effective.
Distinguishing between pornography use and a pornography addiction can be challenging. Some of the key differences include continuing use despite repeated attempts to stop, using pornography to cope with emotional stress, spending large amounts of time and/or money on porn, and using even when it causes negative consequences like losing a job, not being able to complete school work, or interfering with relationships.
Take away: Both addiction and non-addicted use can cause significant problems. Both can be overcome. Knowing the difference tells you which strategies will be most effective.
2. The brain is highly plastic
In psychological fields, plasticity refers to the brain’s capacity to change and adapt throughout our lives. These changes can occur as a result of our environment as well as our behavior. While this means that pornography use does change the wiring in our brains, healing can be equally permanent. It’s rarely enough to simply stop looking at porn. Stopping is an important step in the process of accessing the Atonement; however, repentance entails a deeper change of heart and mind. As we continue to love and learn in healthy relationships, our body and spirit can both heal.
Healing through Jesus Christ is so much more than erasing the effect of sin. The process of repentance, of seeking and receiving Grace, is designed to make us like Christ. Just as the Atonement didn’t put Adam and Eve back in Eden, our journey through mortality isn’t just about pulling weeds. God wants us to be a garden in full-bloom. Trials may be just what we need to push us toward greater growth then we would otherwise reach.
3. Therapy works
Can a person overcome pornography use or addiction without professional therapy? Absolutely! Can broken bones heal without medical treatment? Sure. It may take longer and be more painful. It would certainly be less expensive. Call me old-fashioned, but when I break my arm or get sick, I want a doctor. Some doctors are more skilled than others, sometimes the best they can do is prescribe lots of rest and fluids. And most of the time seeing a doctor helps speed recovery and reduce complications.
If a person would seek professional help for a physical ailment, why wouldn’t they also seek professional help for emotional, mental, or behavioral concerns? Therapy can be helpful in identifying addiction, addressing underlying issues that may contribute to continued use, and increase the power of your own efforts. If you have been impacted by someone else’s pornography use, therapy can help you sort through the pain and confusion. If you’ve tried fighting this wildfire on your own and feel like you’re still losing the battle, consider enlisting professional help.
4. Pornography is one of Satan’s greatest weapons
By itself, pornography is addictive and destructive. However, the current cultural climate has brought together a number of different risk factors to create “the perfect storm” which leaves so many people vulnerable to this attack. A young man or woman caught up in pornography quickly loses confidence and direction. What more could the Adversary want than to prevent so many chosen spirits from accomplishing the good God has sent them to do?
So what’s the good news here? Weapons are used in war. Satan’s war is not really against the children of men. It’s against their Father. That means that in this battle, no one is facing temptation alone. Whether we are fighting on our own personal front or suffering the fall-out of another person’s battle, God is on our side. And the fact that the Enemy has had to resort to a weapon like pornography must mean that the stakes are very high. He is threatened by your potential for good. And if he is that scared, Heavenly Father is even more committed to helping your succeed.
5. Shame is the greatest obstacle to healing
Pornography addiction feeds on secrecy. It thrives on people being too ashamed to talk about it. And who wants to talk about it? How many people do you know raising their hands in Relief Society or Elder’s Quorum to talk about their porn addictions? But I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard people talk themselves out of opening up to a family member, bishop, or friend about the issue. The excuses are usually pretty familiar. I can kick this if I really commit, so there’s no need to drag someone else into this mess. Now this really is the last time; I’m done. I just need to try harder, it’s not like they can change me anyway.
If shame is the greatest obstacle to healing, that means it isn’t lack of willpower. It isn’t lack of desire. It isn’t not trying hard enough. The only way to defeat shame is through opening up to others. If you’re serious about changing, the best thing you can do is reach out to others. Start with a leader, a parent, a significant other, or a friend. If someone is reaching out to you, recognize that this is a huge step and a testament of their desire to change.
6. Culture can change (And you can help)
I talked above about a culture that sets youth up to be vulnerable to attacks from the Enemy. The good news is that culture changes all the time. We are accustomed to thinking of this process in negative trends. You know, “The world is getting so wicked.” But it doesn’t have to be that way. Every time one of us speaks up in support of those fighting to overcome this behavior, every time we focus on the goodness of the gift of sexuality, every time we speak frankly and respectfully about sexual intimacy, we combat that toxic culture. The question is not whether we can change the culture, the question is: are you going to contribute to the change or silently promote the status quo?
7. More on Shame
Shame is different from guilt. Guilt, like Godly Sorrow, is a recognition that we have acted in a way that violates our knowledge of right and wrong. In other words, “I did bad.” Shame says, “I am bad.” Shame tells us that we are defined by our mortal weakness. Guilt is a gift from God to help us improve. Shame is a tool of Satan to trap and control us. If we are going to succeed in combating pornography, personally or culturally, we will have to confront and disarm shame.
Shame so often masquerades as humility. Shame is at work in phrases like: I can’t believe I slipped up again! I am so messed up. I don’t deserve forgiveness after what I did. How can God love so vile a sinner as me? I’m not really worthy to expect or even ask for God’s help or comfort right now. People say they love me, but if they knew the real me. . . Maybe I’m just not cut out for the Celestial Kingdom.
Take away? If your feelings move you closer to Christ and motivate you to strive to be better, that’s guilt. It’s good. If your feelings tend to keep you stuck in a cycle of sin and discouragement, that’s shame. Shame is never from God. Do all you can to confront and disarm shame.
8. Sex addiction is not about sex
It can be easy to be distracted by the overtly sexual nature of a pornography addiction. And pornography inescapably affects our beliefs and experience of sexuality. Still, it’s important to understand that at its heart, pornography addiction is not about sex. It’s much deeper than that. Healing addiction requires first addressing legitimate needs for social connection, true intimacy, and emotional coping skills. As these issues become resolved, addiction’s grip is loosened.
9. Real relationships and authentic living are AWESOME!
For people involved in pornography use, it can often seem like real-life relationships are too much work and doomed to be imperfect. The allure of rejection-free fantasy is powerful. The thought of engaging and embracing difficult emotions and stress rather than escaping through porn can be frightening. And what about the fear and vulnerability that comes from loving someone human and flawed?
The reality is that life is beautiful. It is going to hurt sometimes. It is often frightening. We all risk making mistakes. Loving anyone requires our own vulnerability. Even with all this difficulty, it’s worth it. Nothing on the internet can compare to the joy of human relationships. No soothing escape can match the fulfillment of meeting and overcoming life’s challenges. It may take several months for your brain to “reboot;” but as it does, you will be amazed at the profound happiness you experience through everyday living and loving.
10. You are not alone
Satan would like nothing more than to convince every one of us that we are alone in our struggles. He wants us to feel isolated and powerless. God hasn’t left us alone. Wherever you are, whatever your circumstances, you have allies and support all around you. Elder Jeffery R. Holland testified:
“My beloved brothers and sisters, I testify of angels, both the heavenly and the mortal kind. In doing so I am testifying that God never leaves us alone, never leaves us unaided in the challenges that we face. “[N]or will he, so long as time shall last, or the earth shall stand, or there shall be one man [or woman or child] upon the face thereof to be saved.” On occasions, global or personal, we may feel we are distanced from God, shut out from heaven, lost, alone in dark and dreary places. Often enough that distress can be of our own making, but even then the Father of us all is watching and assisting. And always there are those angels who come and go all around us, seen and unseen, known and unknown, mortal and immortal.”
*If you or someone you love needs counseling, seek it out. Website posts can only be helpful to an extent.