Admin note: Porn use is, unfortunately, not an uncommon problem among men (even in the Church). It’s become more common among women, too.
What can we do about this? If too much negative energy is directed toward the problem, people become fearful about talking about pornography, and the negativity can stigmatize those who use pornography. There is a great deal of concern about the shame that exists around the problem of pornography use, and rightly so.
The flip side of the coin, however, in recognizing that porn use is not uncommon, is that too often people will minimize the problem. “Well, everyone is using it, and since most men in the Church are using it, and most men seem happy and fine, it must not be that big of a deal.” With this mindset, people might tend to keep their pornography problems to themselves — staying in a state of isolation and secrecy — two of the “perfect storm” variables that can turn a bad habit into a full-blown addiction.
But even beyond increasing the risk of addiction, secrecy and isolation rob people of the sweetest experiences that can come from finding support from others and accessing the power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ.
Hope and Healing, this website, is about not just avoiding the worst problems that pornography can bring to a life and to a marriage. We see many trying to convince themselves that if they don’t have a full-blown addiction, they are fine. We want to invite people to learn more not just about avoiding full-blown addiction, but, more importantly, we hope to invite people to understand more about the hope for healing that is real. We believe as more people experience and share the amazing joy and freedom that come from living a life in honesty, humility, and reliance on God, shame and fear will have no choice but to take a back seat in our culture.
In reality, none of us can fully rely on God or access all that the Savior’s Atonement makes possible when we hide our weaknesses and sins from ourselves, God, and others. Those in addiction recovery understand this perhaps better than almost anyone. As such, it’s such a joy to share recovery stories here.
The following guest post is by Howard, who shares some of his thoughts on how recovery has helped him overcome both shame and dishonesty that hurt him, his relationship with God, his relationship with his spouse, and his relationships with others. The peace and joy he is discovering is what awaits any of us who are willing to look at our fallen, human selves with courage and honesty.
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I thought it was a little pornography problem
I am a pornography/sex addict. To read some of my story, you can check out the post: https://www.hopeandhealinglds.com/2016/05/21/my-story-of-pornography-addiction-and-recovery-hopelds/
I appreciate efforts to destigmatize pornography use. There is, however, a subtle difference between normalizing a behavior and destigmatizing a behavior. We need to resist the temptation to normalize porn use, especially for Church members. We can be forgiving and nonjudgmental of someone with this problem, but we cannot allow this behavior to be viewed as normal, even though it is very prevalent.
I have been viewing pornography and masturbating for most of my life, and I have been working recovery for the last 15 months. I am seeing the other side of the coin now, and I have learned some things in recovery.
I have learned that my marriage, which I would have previously said was satisfying and healthy (and was very healthy by the world’s standard) was not really healthy. God commanded us to cleave to our wives, and my behavior in my marriage was definitely not cleaving. Me lying to my wife and hiding my addiction from her and [seeking sexual pleasure] using virtual images thousands of times was very damaging to myself and to my relationship with her — even when she did not know about my addiction. I could not be fully present in my marriage with her because there were walls between us — walls that I created. On the outside I looked happy, but on the inside there was an empty space.
We all long to be loved for who we are, but for so long I was too afraid to show her who I really was. I was too afraid to face the damage I had already done and face the damage that would be done. Instead of living my life in faith, I lived it in fear.
My marriage may have been okay by worldly standards, but a marriage measured by worldly standards is not what God wants for me. He offers me a celestial marriage, one that He is a part of.
After 15 months of individual recovery work by both myself and my wife, we are both in a much better place in life than we were before I told her about my addiction. We are happier and more at peace with ourselves, and every aspect of our marriage is improved. We don’t have to escape and numb out to our reality any more.
I’m beginning to feel the absolute joy it is to share myself completely with my wife. I’m not perfect at it, but there is immense joy in feeling totally supported by my wife, who now supports all of me (because she knows the truth) instead of supporting the person I made her believe that I was. She gets to see the worst part of me and decides to stick by me and stay married to me. And I get to do the same for her.
[Through her own recovery, she has learned that] she doesn’t have to pretend to be the perfect Mormon wife anymore. She can have hard days, hard feelings, and can share them as she needs to and knows I still love her. Now she’s real and I’m real and we can build our love on reality, not falsehood.
It is easy in the Church to look at other families and marvel at how amazing and healthy their marriage and family life is, but often this is a front that we as Church members put on for each other. [We sometimes] talk about culture problems in the Church, and this is one of them. You can’t really know what goes on behind closed doors in friends’ and colleagues’ marriages. We put on fronts to look good and appear righteous and blessed. Addicts become experts at building beautiful and believable facades, and this is often what we are seeing with other people’s lives and marriages.
If we [who have struggled with porn use] can’t tell our spouses or our bishops about our porn use, no one is going to talk about their marriage or family problems to their friends or fellow ward members either.
I’ve also found out that even though I was only viewing porn once a week, I was expending a huge amount of mental energy on my lust addiction. I viewed women and others only based what I could see or what I could imagine, rather than seeing their inherent worth as a daughter of God. I didn’t see how I could serve them, I only saw how I could serve myself. Porn is all about taking. The main concern is “what can I get?” and people become objects from which you can do the taking. It is impossible for that kind of mindset to not affect the rest of your life. You start to unconsciously ask yourself “What can I take from this person?” Children, spouse, coworkers, even in my church callings — my underlying motivation was “What can I get out of this?” You may have altruistic times where you are heeding the Spirit and not acting selfishly, but the objectification of others and the selfish “taking” will continue to seep into the rest of your life. As soon as others didn’t act the way I wanted, then I would get angry and resent that I couldn’t control them.
I have learned that my pornography addiction was not only a sin against God and a sin against my family, but a sin against the world. As long I was engaging in a 100% selfish behavior, I could not be the person who God needed me to be. I felt distant and apart from every other person because of the lie that I hid. I always went to Church and served in callings, but as long as I was serving myself I couldn’t serve God fully as a priesthood bearer. I know I missed opportunities because I was too busy thinking about myself.
For example, when I served as Deacon’s quorum adviser a few years ago, I would prepare my lessons on Sunday morning, and I rarely felt the Spirit while presenting them. Now I am in the same calling, and many times I am spending a month or more preparing the lesson and I feel the Spirit every time I give the lesson and lead the discussion with my young men. Now that I am not engaging in my selfish addiction, I am a much more capable tool in God’s hands. Those we are called to serve need us to be our best selves, to be actively repenting and turning our lives over to God’s will. I know that God will hold me to that standard after this life — to be honorably fulfilling my priesthood callings. We can’t say that we love God, yet do [selfish] things toward His children.
After hearing many stories of couples who have faced sexual addiction, one recurring theme is that for the betrayed spouse, the worst thing is the deceit. Having their partner view porn and masturbate wasn’t as bad as their partner hiding it and in some cases outright lying to them about it. I would urge [anyone who struggles with pornography use in secret] to pray to God to give you the courage to go to your spouse [or a family member or trusted friend or Church leader] and tell him/her about your pornography use. If you disclose to your spouse, you will retain a thread of trust that will be lost if s/he has to catch you in your secrets.
To you are confident you have a strong and healthy and amazing marriage, I would say: tell your spouse. If you are built on the rock, your house will survive. And if you are built on the sand, your house will fall, and you will both need to learn how to rebuild, using Christ as your foundation.
For those who need help, there is a great fellowship of people who are recovering from this problem and you can be a part of it. In this fellowship you will be seen for who you are, the good and the bad, and loved for it, and loved for the efforts you are making to be free.
I know that for 23 years, I thought I had just a little problem and that it wasn’t a big deal. I was wrong, and if I can help anyone else avoid the pain that comes from those lies, I would love to.