My first exposure to pornography was in the middle of class in sixth grade. A friend dropped a picture of a naked woman on my lap.

I remember looking at it for a second and then calmly handing it back. I felt no shame.  No lust. With no frame of reference to process the image, all I felt was confusion.

Yet even though I only saw the image for a brief second, I still remember it.

My classmate was clearly disappointed I didn’t have a stronger reaction, but neither of us realized his one-second prank would still be with me 35 years later.

Pornographic images and videos have a way of burning themselves into our brains like no other. They drive our curiosity and help shape our sexual expectations.

Can you remember your first exposure?

As a conference speaker and pastoral counselor, I’ve asked that question hundreds of times. Everyone has an answer. Many confess they’ve struggled to break the habit for years.

If you or someone you know is struggling with pornography, the following can help.

Break a porn addiction by admitting the problem

Humans have an uncanny ability to justify behavior. Even if you felt great remorse over your past use of porn, you’ve also likely struggled with a slew of internal justifications: “It’s not a big deal,” or “I’m not hurting anyone.” “As long as no one finds out I’ll be OK.” Or my personal favorite, “I’m not really cheating.”

The first step in breaking an addiction to porn is to admit you have a problem. In Jesus’ eyes there is no distinction between lust and adultery (See Matthew 5:27-28). So yes, it is a big deal. You are hurting someone—your spouse and yourself.

And yes, you are cheating.

Confess your sexual sin to God, and ask for His forgiveness. Then find a mature believer you can trust and confess again. This may be the hardest thing you ever do, but it is a critical first step.

For more on what that confession might look like, read “Finding Freedom from Pornography”

“Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed” (James 5:16).

Break a porn addiction by understanding your longings

Viewing porn does more than provide sexual stimulation. It can be used as a stress-management technique, to regulate mood, and help you feel wanted, desirable, or in control. Men and women have different underlying longings that make them susceptible to the lure of pornography.

To beat a porn addiction, you must understand the “benefit” porn provides you beyond the sexual fix. Deep down, there is a need that must be understood and brought to Christ.

My underlying longings were complex. Abandoned by my biological father at an early age, I struggled to understand my worth and believe anyone would want me.

The more I brought my feelings of inadequacy to God, the more He was able to heal them and the weaker the attraction of pornography became.

Break a porn addiction by installing barriers

Jesus said, “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell” (Matthew 5:29).

While it’s clear Jesus was speaking metaphorically, the point is unmistakable. We must be prepared to make sacrifices to prevent future sin. And the best time to prepare for moments of weakness is during moments of strength.

Cancel your online-streaming services. Install blockers on your phone and computer.  Give a trusted friend the password to your phone and the right to check it at random times. Or go old school and buy a flip phone.

Take whatever steps necessary to give yourself the best chance of success in the future.

Break a porn addiction by getting support

Shame often keeps us from receiving the help we need to break a porn addiction, but it shouldn’t. First Corinthians 10:13 says, “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation, he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.”

This verse encourages us in at least two ways:

  1. We are not alone in our temptations. Whatever your struggle, others have experienced something similar.
  2. God promises a way out.

Often the way out involves talking to a pastor, counselor, or another believer who can give you the support you need when you are at your weakest.

Amidst global fear, open your arms to God’s care with our Soul-Care Homecation

Break a porn addiction by knowing your habits

Relapses into sexual sin rarely “just happen.” Typically, there’s a ritual chain of events that takes place beforehand. If you learn to identify your habits, you can interrupt the pattern before it goes too far.

A typical pattern might look like this:

  1. Can’t sleep, so you get out of bed.
  2. Turn on the computer
  3. Start looking for interesting things to read.
  4. “Innocently” follow links to borderline content.
  5. Deliberately follow links to pornographic content.
  6. Feel remorse.
  7. “Sanitize” your browsing history.
  8. Return to bed.

If you catch yourself going down a familiar road, do something to break the pattern. Do 20 pushups, make a sandwich, or write your spouse a surprise love letter.

Even a small change can be enough to break the cycle.

Break a porn addiction by retraining your brain

The brain’s reaction to pornography is very similar to that of heroin. It’s powerful and highly addictive but not impossible to beat.

Thankfully, our brains can change over time. In the same way you can learn to play an instrument or master a new hobby, you can retrain your brain away from pornography.

Unused neural pathways shrink. New ones can form and strengthen by repeated exposure. The key is to starve the pathways leading to sexual sin and strengthen the ones leading to godliness.

“I made a covenant with my eyes not to look lustfully at a young woman” (Job 31:1, NIV).

For example, many mainstream shows are nothing more than “soft porn” with improved plotlines. Instead, focus on stimuli that honors God and your spouse. When you have sex, turn the lights on, play music, and fill the room with scented candles. The sights, sounds, and scents can help solidify new neural pathways and retrain your brain toward healthy sexual expression.

“Let your fountain be blessed, and rejoice in the wife of your youth, a lovely deer, a graceful doe. Let her breasts fill you at all times with delight; be intoxicated always in her love” (Proverbs 5:18-19).

Break a porn addiction by fasting from sex

Extreme cases may require a complete “sex fast.” Abstaining from all sexual stimulation (physical, visual, mental) for 90 days to “reboot” your sex drive.

While this might seem drastic, many seasons in marriage require an extended sex fast, (illness, deployment, pregnancy, etc.). The ability to control your impulses is an essential part of your vows of fidelity.

Talk with your spouse. Agree to a specific amount of time and hold each other accountable. Then when the fast is over, celebrate.

“For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise, the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control” (1 Corinthians 7:4-6).

It’s possible for anyone to break a porn addiction

Accessibility and societal norms have changed drastically since my first exposure. From commercials and halftime shows to streaming media, sexualized material is having an impact on people at earlier and earlier ages.

If you find yourself struggling to break free from its clutches, take heart. King David struggled with sexual sin and even committed murder to cover it up. Yet God called him “a man after my own heart.” (Read David’s prayer of repentance in Psalm 51.)

God’s love for you is not dependent upon your ability to beat the addiction. He understands your struggle. Romans 5:8 tells us, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

If you are willing, God will work with you to break your porn addiction.  Victory is possible.

For more help listen to Exposing the Darkness and My Battle with Porn on FamilyLifeToday®.


Copyright © 2020, by FamilyLife. All rights reserved.

Carlos Santiago is a senior writer for FamilyLife and has written and contributed to numerous articles, e-books, and devotionals. He has a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a master’s degree in pastoral counseling. Carlos and his wife, Tanya, live in Little Rock, Arkansas, with their two children.

 

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