In 2007 I’d only been qualified as a counsellor a few years and this big, good-looking, 30-something guy walked into my office and explained that he wanted some help as he just couldn’t stop watching internet porn and masturbating.
So far so good; I’d struck this before. But what did my head in was that he was in his second year of theology studies as he believed God had called him into ministry, and he was engaged to a stunning young woman also studying for the ministry. So one minute he’s studying the Word of God and the next ‘jerking off’ to porn.
This seeming oxymoron really caught my attention and sent me on a learning journey that I’m still on 13 years later. Over this time a number of myths I’d believed have since been debunked:
- “Christians don’t use porn.” According to a 2014 Barna survey in the USA, 64% of men use porn at least monthly compared to 54% of self-identified born-again Christian men.1 So following Jesus doesn’t make much difference to American men’s porn use. Why would it be any different here?
- “It’s just a male thing.” It’s conservatively estimated that a third of regular visitors to adult sites are women.2 Pornhub’s 2019 own insights show that nearly 40% of its New Zealand viewers identify as women.3
- “Porn isn’t a big issue in New Zealand.” New Zealand is ranked 13th in the world (per capita) for page views on the Pornhub website.4
- “It’s mainly a teenage boy thing.” One source indicates nearly one third of New Zealand Pornhub visitors are aged 25 to 34.
- “A little bit of porn never really hurt anyone.” According to Psychology Today, two separate studies show that over 50% of divorces in recent years mention porn use by one of the spouses as a major contributing factor and 69.6% of partners or spouses of sexual addicts reported PTSD symptoms as part of the initial disclosure episode. There is increasing scientific evidence that shows that porn use significantly rewires the brain to the point that the user prefers sexual fantasy, porn and masturbation to sex with a real person. Recent studies also show that the percentage of young men in their 20s who suffer from erectile dysfunction is increasing markedly and this has been attributed to porn use. The objectification and commoditisation of women in porn is pernicious and scary for anyone who is, or will be, in a sexual relationship with a sex addict.5
Porn use is only one type of chronically problematic sexual behaviour (CPSB), or one form of ‘sex addiction’ as these behaviours are still commonly called. The main criteria for CPSB is for sexual behaviours to:
- conflict with a person’s commitments and/or
- conflict with a person’s values and/or
- conflict with a person’s self-control and/or
- result in negative consequences and/or
- lack fundamental sexual responsibility.
If this is you, you need to get specialised professional help. Unfortunately, only 7-9% of churches are facing into this tsunami, so many churches and church pastoral systems feel out of their depth and don’t deal with this topic well.
I haven’t yet met a Christian with problematic sexual behaviour/sex addiction who hasn’t fervently prayed, been prayed for, sought deliverance, punished themselves or been punished by others, read Scripture more and genuinely sort freedom from this addiction. This ‘white knuckling’ approach more often than not increases feelings of shame and powerlessness which kick-starts the cycle of use to feel better.
Paul in Romans 7 outlines so well this ‘I do what I don’t want to do and don’t do what I do want to do’ struggle between the law and sin that Christian sexual addicts experience so intensely. He concludes this piece (verses 24-25, NIV) with “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!”
So there is hope and freedom from this addiction but it can’t be done alone. For many, humbling oneself to get specialised professional help is the first step towards recovery. Depending on the severity of the addiction, it’s common for a person to be in active recovery for a number of years. This will normally include a mix of being in a group, counselling, having accountability partners, a formal therapeutic disclosure, a rites of passage experience, couples therapy and helping others.
Unfortunately, there aren’t many counsellors who both hold a Christian world view (and therefore understand the spiritual dynamics at play in an addiction like this) and have done specific training in working with clients and their partners around sexual addictions. Those who do come with some understanding of addictions can be helpful, but the commonly used co-addict model of working with partners of sex addicts is certainly not. It may be possible to work with a counsellor who is open to learning and doing some professional development and specialised supervision in this area. You could suggest that your counsellor or pastoral care person make contact with Sex Addiction Specialists Aotearoa (SASA) for some assistance with training options.
Contributor: Andrew Connolly
Andrew grew up in the Huapai/ Helensville area and after time in other New Zealand cities and four years working in the squatter communities of Asia with YWAM and Servants to Asia’s Urban Poor, he returned to the Helensville area in 1996. Since then he completed a number of qualifications including a B.Min and a Masters in counselling. He has worked as a counsellor with men, young men and their families since 2002. He specialises in transitions, spirituality, spiritual and sexual abuse, sex addictions, clearing anger, parenting, contemplative spiritual practices, debriefing and community development.
- Proven Men Porn Survey (conducted by Barna Group), located at www.provenmen.org/2014PornSurvey.
- “The Overlooked Population: Women and Sexual Addiction,” Marnie C Ferre: NCLAP, nclap.org/overlooked-population-women-sexual-addiction.
- “Breaking Down Porn,” Henry Talbot et al: Office of Film and Literature Classification, classificationoffice.govt.nz/assets/PDFs/Breaking-Down-Porn.pdf.
- For articles on porn addiction and its effects on sexual intimacy, see psychologytoday.com/nz/blog/inside-porn-addiction.
Scriptures taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™