Wounded or lustful
Speaking recently at a day conference on the problem of sexual addictions, I reflected on the experience of some who have earnestly prayed and repented of their sexually addictive conduct (mostly accessing pornography) yet have found no relief. Access to pornography is a massive challenge to our society: people engaging with the material, sometimes unaware that the continuing exposure to sexually stimulating material is literally “rewiring the brain”. Sexual addictions expert, Patrick Carnes, talks of the tsunami that we are experiencing in terms of the amount of pornographic material that is available and being viewed, and his concern for how this is fundamentally altering both the brains of the users, but also is reshaping the way that women are viewed in our society and that we have no idea about the long term effects of this. In “The Brain the Changes Itself”, Norman Doidge examines how the neuroplasticity of the brain is associated with the ways in which pornographic material itself has changed in response to changing tastes – that is attraction to pornography is not a simply a pure instinctual matter of lust but is malleable.
Much material written in response to this pervasive climate warns of the dangers of using pornography, and talks of the remedy being at various levels:
1. Striving for abstinence – in Steve Arterburn’s terms, refusing to “throw gasoline on the fire”.
2. Replenishing the soul in connection with others: a place where you are both supported and confronted.
3. Seeking character development that goes beyond simply controlling the unhelpful behaviours.
4. Recognising that sexual fulfillment found in using pornography is an imperfect version of what God has designed our true sexuality.
5. Warning about thinking that marriage will solve all sexual addiction problems.
6. Fully surrendering the sin to God and seeking His forgiveness.
All good advice, but for some, it seems insufficient. They have installed internet filters, found an accountability partner, repented and sought prayer for their battle and worked on deepening their relationship with God. They may have achieved some recovery, but are still caught in the grip of the addiction. By the time they have arrived at counselling, they are experiencing deep shame, not only about the actions that they are engaged in, but also their inability to stop them.
The missing piece in the puzzle is often the uncovering of deep unmet needs that have arisen during childhood and teenage years, in families where for a variety of reasons the needs of children were not met, and the addictive conduct, which has been adopted to meet those unmet needs. This would fit in with points 2 and 3 above, but the wounding and subsequent neediness is often subtle and hidden: then further hidden and anaesthetized by the addictive activities. The lack of experience of steady, unconditional love leads to a variety of disrupted attachment behaviours, and consequent unhealthy activities which seek to make up the deficits. Gerald May in “Addiction and Grace” talks of our hands being full of the things which we are addicted to and our desires for them, leading to us being unable to receive the good things that God has for us.
So are those addicted to pornography wounded or lustful?
(I know that I raised this topic a couple of years ago on behalf of the wives of men using pornography, but recent discussions have suggested it is worth putting out in this forum again).
Feature photo credit: bark