How to Cleanse Your Mind of Porn Images

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Someone recently wrote to me asking how he could “cleanse his mind” from the many pornographic images he had chosen to look at over the years.

This is a question I get frequently, so I thought I’d take the opportunity to address it.

I first stumbled upon pornography at the age of eight (hear more of my story here). It was at a relatives house; I was playing out the back and had wandered into his garage. I opened up a cool-looking wooden trunk in the corner, started rummaging around and, there it was; a centerfold of a naked woman.

I can remember nothing else about that day, but I can still (vaguely) recall that image; I even remember the background was purple. Weird.

Alright. That was twenty two years ago.

What Can Be Done?

What are we to do with these images that still exist deep within our subconscious, that reemerge at the strangest and even most inappropriate times?

Here’s what I did…and do. It’s something that was recommended to me many years back by Jason Evert in his audio set Pure of Heart (I strongly recommend it).

Several years ago, while living in Ireland, I walked into a chapel, got on my knees before a statue of the Blessed Mother and spiritually adopted every woman I had ever seen and objectified in pornography.

This did not require me conjuring up the images one by one and, as it were, handing them over the Blessed Mother. That, it seems to me, would’ve been imprudent to say the least. Instead, I prayed something like the following:

Blessed Mother, I surrender to you every woman I have ever seen and objectified in pornography. I give them to you. Guide them, protect them, lead them to your son.

Don’t Just Pray Against, Pray For The Temptation

Now, whenever I remember an image (which, I should say is rare), I don’t just pray against the temptation, I pray for the temptation. That is, I surrender this woman, who I have spiritually adopted, into the care of Mary Immaculate and pray for her.

I now see these sorts of temptations as a wonderful opportunity for intercessory prayer! If these temptations are coming from the Devil, then praying for these women isn’t going to please him and may, I suspect, even disincentivize him from sending them!

Even when I am not tempted, I often pray for these women. When I pray the rosary, I might say, “Mary, I give you those victims of the porn industry that I have spiritually adopted.”

So the next time you are reminded of an image you’ve seen in the past, you might pray something like the following:

Dear Jesus, I give you this woman; this victim of the pornography industry. Help her to know you. Help her to be happy. I give you her family, her children, if she has any, and her soul. Protect and heal her from the wounds she has received. And may I, dear Jesus, never think about this woman as a thing to be used, but as a person to be loved. Hail Mary . . .

Join The Conversation

What are some ways you have found helpful?

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42 thoughts on “How to Cleanse Your Mind of Porn Images

  1. Catholic tradition is also rich with ancient meditation techniques designed to either empty the mind of imagery (I.e. apophatic practices like centering prayer and contemplation) or to fill it with sacred imagery (I.e. cataphatic practices like the rosary, the daily office, or lectionary divina). Another key step in weaning the self from a compulsion is adopting a practice that you can come back to each day, I fact several times a day. The daily office (aka the Liturgy of the Hours) offers anyone a way to make each part of the day sacred through prayers unique to each hour, prayed everywhere in the world by clergy and laity alike. I’d recommend it to anyone trying to sanctify the mind.

  2. I have found not only praying for the women but also for my own sexuality to be purified to be the greatest help. When an image comes to mind instead of trying to suppress or cut it off, I offer it up by thanking God for sexual desire which is a good thing and a gift. I ask that he purifies my desires that they may be what he created them to be. I believe the problem is not our sexuality or our desires, but that they have been twisted and made impure. Come Holy Spirit living in Mary, raise is up into the men and women we were created to be.

    1. Amen, it is so powerful for a twisted sexuality view to be replaced by a life giving sexuality grounded in God’s purposes. Over time, holding to this positive image will be transformative in a way that simply fighting against the negative cannot. I think this is part of what St. Paul was referring to as he spoke of the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:1-2).

      1. Can you be more specific about which part of sex and pleasure you perceive to be in conflict with God’s purposes, please?

      2. I think perhaps you misunderstood me. I don’t think sex and pleasure are in conflict with God’s purposes. It is clear that God intended sex to be pleasurable, and furthermore uniting and life producing. The problems are introduced when sex is wrenched from that context and pleasure is united with lust instead of life, and it becomes a means unto itself. Pornography accomplishes this evil effectively and efficiently. The woman (or man) in the pornographic image is there only to serve the user’s sexual pleasure, and her body, instead of being a source of life, is broken down into parts and objectified. This denies the human being who is the object of lust any dignity or inherent human worth, and begins to destroy the ability of the user to love others, especially a spouse, as God intended. This is only the beginning of the evils of pornography and a twisted sexuality.

        I was agreeing with @natespherd, because I understood him to be raising up the power of a positive image of sexuality that is conformed to God’s purposes. In other words, when sex is in its proper life giving context it is a great good and a gift from God. Furthermore it is a part of the sacrament of marriage which is sacred and a vessel of the grace of God. Sex in this context is not only life producing in the sense that it can produce children, but it is life affirming spiritually.

        When I referred to St. Paul encouraging the Roman church to be transformed by the renewing of their minds I understand him to be talking about conforming the mind to God’s universal truths and realities. For example, sex is more than a biological act. It has an inherent and universally true purpose, meaning, and context that extends from God. When our minds grasp these universal truths they are more powerful than the lies that strip life and humanity of the worth God imbued them with. I think @natespherd hit the nail on the head because not only do we need to resist sin, but we also need to renew our minds by taking hold of the universal truths of God. Hopefully that clarifies what I meant.

  3. Matt, this is wonderful counsel. I have found in the past that trying to force the image out of my mind while trying to pray against the temptation only seemed to give the temptation added power. I still do pray for the Lord’s protection for my mind, heart, and spirit as part of my regular prayer (which He has answered!). However, these days, in the moment when an image comes unbidden into my mind, I accept the fact that years of addiction has left me with scars. This is to be expected, but these scars will heal and fade. I don’t hold on to the image, but rather acknowledge the fact like seeing a leaf in a river floating by and away. Then engaging in intercessory prayer like those that you have described is incredibly helpful, and it gives no foothold for the Devil in that moment. I kind of look at it like this: instead of making prayer a weapon to bludgeon temptation with, prayer is my defense that wraps me and fills me with God’s love.

    As a side note, the scars really do fade. It has only been a little over three years for me since God finally helped me break free of pornography, and I have been practicing a similar approach to that which Matt describes for two of those years. In that time, slowly but surely the images have come less often, with less intensity, and less vividness. I still have scars but God is healing them slowly, and remaking my mind just as St. Paul promised He would. Last, I would urge all the men and women out there struggling with against lust to remember that the battle with lust generally begins well before the moment of falling down. Practicing self control in what you interact with and engage your mind with is very important. If you allow your mind to play around with sexual fantasy your body will follow suit and put you in a mortal struggle very quickly. So practice self control as a spiritual discipline for the Lord, and when the stray thought pops in take it captive through humility and reliance on God and His grace through intercessory prayer.

    Thanks Matt as always for your great posts, encouraging positivity, and dedication to this subject.

    1. Wrong road, Johnson. You’re filling your minds with lust and supporting an industry that uses porn actors and actresses while destroying their lives. And what happens when “ordinary” porn no longer turns you on. What do you seek next?

  4. I am a non-Catholic but Christian who likes to observe and discuss the Catholic perspective. I respect the history of your Church and its recent embrace of intellectualism vis-a-vis science and, in particular, evolution, and also P. Francis’ supposed rejection of “trickle down economics”… But, as an observer, I find it sometimes difficult to understand the niche in which sexual pleasure is appropriate between two people who love each other. I am resistant to the notion that sexuality must be so coarsely categorized. Isn’t sexuality meant to be enjoyed?

    1. Some very short points: 1. Yes, Catholics firmly believe that sex is to be enjoyed between two people who love each other. 2. In fact, Catholics believe that sex is so important, so special, so intimate, such a precious gift from God, that it can only really be enjoyed between two people who love each other enough to make a life-time commitment to love, honor, and cherish each other until one or both dies.

      Catholics believe this because they believe that sex exists to strengthen the bond between two people in order to form a family unit. There is now science which backs up the notion that sex does in fact create a bond between partners — women release oxytocin during sex, men release vasopressin. The chemical mechanisms are different, but the effect in both cases is to promote social and affectionate bonding between the individual and his/her sexual partner.

      Applying the points discussed above, we can see that 1. Neither pornography nor masturbation is sex between two people who love each other, so, logically, Catholics believe that that kind of sexual gratification is an improper way to enjoy sex and bad for the soul. Likewise, 2. pre-marital sex or extra-marital sex is not sex between two people who love each so much that they’ve gotten married, so, again, logically, Catholics believe that that kind of sexual gratification is an improper way to enjoy sex and bad for the soul. In short, we think you’re not getting ENOUGH enjoyment out of your sex life, you’re probably settling for less, and you should be focused on the prize of having hot married sex.

      Even if those short points fail to persuade you that Catholics are correct, I hope it at least briefly sketches what Catholics believe and the logic and rationales behind it.

      Most people’s reaction to those teachings is, “Well, that’s a very high standard! Most people are going to fall short of it!” That’s probably true. Jesus preached a lot of high moral standards that people fall short of all the time. Jesus’ disciples complained, “Lord, that is a hard teaching!” yet Jesus didn’t back down from giving hard-teachings. We’re called to be as close to perfect as we can be, and regarding everything else, to pray for strength to be good and moral and kind, and to ask God to forgive us when we are not.

      1. P.S. I may be going out on a limb here, but I think what I outlined above is more or less consistent also with what most Protestant churches and even what most of Judaism teaches about sex and marriage. There some, but not a lot of, disagreement among Christians and Jews about what God wants our sex lives to like.

    2. Yes, sex is meant to be enjoyed. That being said, my opinion as a former protestant Christian, is that the problem with the protestant/evangelical Christian understand of sex is that it is not placed in the context that God intended. Many protestants would affirm that sex should only occur within the bounds of marriage between a husband and wife, and it is meant to be enjoyed within those constraints. They do not acknowledge that Christ “raised marriage between the baptized to the dignity of a sacrament” (CCC 1660). This may not seem like a big deal, but if you read the Catechism it places marriage in a fuller context than protestant Christianity does. As a sacrament marriage (and sex within that) consists of the visible, tangible experiences we see and feel, but also conforms to the invisible realities of God and confers grace.

      When you rip sex out of that sacred setting and strip it down you end up with the movement that exists within protestant evangelical circles now that over-emphasizes physical sexual pleasure as a component of marriage. Mark Driscoll is a prominent example of a major protestant pastor who represented a degraded view of sex in his sermons. I know that there are plenty of protestant Christians who have rejected his views, but I wonder if they have a fully developed positive view of sex within marriage. It is not enough to only sense that a certain view is wrong. If we don’t have a strong positive view we are always vulnerable to falling into an improper one.

      That is my two cents. Sex is meant to be enjoyed, but I would encourage you to spend time studying the Church’s teaching on marriage so that you can have a strong, deep, and full understanding of the sacrament of which it is a part.

    3. With respect, the Catholic Church’s embrace of intellectualism re science and its openness to Darwinian evolution are not ‘recent’. The medieval Church was a hotbed of scientific research and progress. It is arguable that the scientific method at least partly arose in Europe through the influence of the Church’s theology of creation and the synthesis of faith and reason by Thomas Aquinas and others. Also, the Church has never uttered a word against Darwin’s writings. I appreciate your openness to the Catholic perspective – just good to have a more accurate historical picture of it!

    1. Amen to that, prayer and fasting will open the door so God can change your life, but if you need immediate results, a silent hour in an adoration chapel is the way to go…

  5. St Francis de Sales recommends something sort of similar, basically, that one should immediately summon to mind a vivid mental image of Jesus crucified and there kiss His wounded feet. Like you, he states that the devil hates this so much that if one is consistent in this response, the temptations will cease.

    1. I should have named the actual source, which is the book _Introduction to the Devout Life_ by St Francis de Sales. (It can be downloaded as a free ebook. I won’t post a link in case that is not allowed, but the website is Christian Classics Ethereal Library – run by Protestants, but has quite a few different Catholic classics available.)

      Now that I am rereading the passage, the saint recommends this recourse for all temptations, not just temptations against purity, stating “…this way of dealing with temptation is so offensive to the Evil One, that, finding he does but provoke souls to an increased love of God by his assaults, he discontinues them.”

  6. St. Alphonsus, Doctor of the Church, gives the following advice regarding temptations: “Call on Jesus and Mary until the temptation is gone.”
    The great spiritual master, Dom Eugene Boylan, in his classic This Tremendous Lover, writes that spiritual reading is as important as mental prayer for the contemporary Catholic. A rigorous regimen of such reading provides fuel for prayer and fills the mind with good thoughts and images which help to crowd out the bad ones.

  7. Act of Charity | Handbook of Prayers – Rev. James Socias, Publisher
    O my God, I love you above all things, with my whole heart and soul, because you are all-good and worthy of all love. I love my neighbor as myself for the love of you [and as you have loved me/us]. I forgive all who have injured me and ask pardon of all whom I have injured. [May they forgive me. Please forgive me!]

    cf Litany of Humility (Cardinal Merry del Val) from the same Handbook above
    … [May they love you more than I, provided I love you as I should,…]

    may whatever good they do and suffering they endure, heal their sins, help them to grow in holiness, and may you reward them with eternal life (cf Roman Rite, Sacrament of Reconciliation)

    PSALM 51 (v 50) Miserere: one for self and one for them, daily.

    Another Act of Contrition (Cf PSALM 119 (v 118): 136)
    My eyes shed stream of tears because us men do not keep your law.

  8. A very wise priest taught me to use the Trinitarian formula to rid my mind of these images.
    “Heavenly Father in the name of Your Son Jesus Christ send down the Holy Spirit to empty my mind of these images and keep them away so I may see every woman as a wonderful creation of God.”
    A wonderful post and most important topic.

  9. Thank you for the advice. I will try it.

    Also, I have found that everytime I start to conjure up these images I make myself think of the Crucifixion. No action, just a snapshot and I just keep replacing any other images in my head with that image until it is gone. Because I do this everytime I believe it forms the mental habit so that I no longer conjure impure images but immediately bring up the Crucifix.

  10. You can’t give someone else’s soul to God and Jesus. They have to believe in him on their own. The prayer is good, but the method seems a little like “I see it I control it” to me

  11. Hello I was wondering what to do and what to expect from my partner in life and if dating is really a thing or not.

    I know there is much to be said about being shallow and I do not want to set my standards to high, so that no woman would ever be able to attain it. However, I want a girl who is basically a tom boy aka she shares many interests I do like sports, hiking, camping, fishing. I don’t really want her to be a stereotypical woman. But am I asking to much or going about things in the wrong way. I mean at the very least I have a list that

    1. She needs to be catholic ( or at least have strong faith in God)
    2. She needs to lead a healthy lifestyle ( aka makes good choices, no drugs, not an alcoholic)
    3. She is active (she plays at least one or two sports well enough to play with me, she does something good for her body, some kind of workout)
    4. She is attractive to me (Not that looks are everything and I’ve had my fair share of relationships so I know what I want and It’s not wrong for me to think she is beautiful)
    5. She challenges me (now this is one I have a hard time with because I know she must lead me to be better, and as far as my faith goes and how i am to treat a woman, with respect and chastity she leads me down a better path and makes me want to be a better man for her. However, does she need to challenge me more than that, like i am pretty active guy, I work out about 3-4 times a week, I run, I play almost every sport under the sun, and she is not really that althletic. However, I am not looking for a man. I want a woman, and she does have interests in sports just as much as me, and I know even if i found a woman who was really really good, she may still be just under my skill set)

    I don’t know. I want to date her and I want to be in a relationship with her. I kinda don’t know what love is. I mean of course I want to have sex with her and have kids with her. Thats natural, but it goes deeper than that. We’ve worked hard to be pure and stay chaste. I’ve talked with her parents about it. her dad and my dad had a talk about what to be and what was best for us. I just want her to be happy and I want to be happy too. And I don’t want to settle for anything I want my wife to be the perfect woman in my eyes and although she is not the best at every single thing, I know she could work towards it. Not that I don’t accept her for who she is now. I just, would like her to share a few more interests in the sports side. (she does like watching baseball and other sports)

    I am just really torn, because on one side. yes I could leave her and just friend zone her. and she would definately be someone I would see as a friend for life. We get along really well she is so damn cute and she has the same humor as me and the best laugh. On the other side I could see us being together and we could make each other very happy, I just worry if something happens down the road it will kill what we will have and I will not see her again.

    She is about 19 and I am 22 about to graduate from college, My mom says she needs time to mature and I agree there are somethings she is nieve about but so am I. I do not claim to be the smartest guy in the world but I just want to do the right thing. I read theology of the body, I know for a fact having sex with someone you love is better than using women, we both have made a pact to sotp watching porn, and thank God I have fought off all tendencies for it and have been clean for 3 months now.

    Basically I just wish there was some checklist to know if its really love i have for her. Or if its all just lust and i am leading her on and she would be better without me. I don’t want to break her heart, she likes me alot and I am the first guy she has done anything with and I remember my first love and it meant alot too, so I know some of those first time emotions are going through her and I just want her to think more logically about it and understand what she really wants and that I am not just a first time kiss or love thing for her. Its not all sunshine and rainbows, this is no movie.

    So yeah, If I could get some help, this is kinda a life changing decision and I just don’t want to screw things up. I don’t want to be the bad guy, I want her to know I’ve put thought into everything and I just want whats best for her. And if its to leave her alone, it will hurt alot but If its the right thing I will do it.

    I could probably go on for days Please get back to me thanks. I am riding the struggle bus. anyone help me?

  12. What u need to be praying for is freedom from your Idolatry, queen of Heaven ancient Babylonian goddess worship. Jesus only taught us to pray to the Father no one else. Sorry. U worship Satan and man.

  13. Thanks for this article, Matt. I was introduced to pornography at the age of 11 by a friend. I viewed pornography in various forms (magazines, Internet) for 24 years. I have not looked at pornography for about 15 years after what I believe to have been a miraculous intervention. I still struggle with intrusive images popping into my head especially when it is triggered by something I hear or see. It usually happens at inopportune times.

    I will try to use the technique that you mentioned. It was never something I had thought of before, but upon reflection I think it is a wonderful idea to help further break these intrusive images.

    Thank you and God bless!

    Rich

  14. I’ve read many of the messages here and they’re inspiring and thought provoking.
    I agree porn can distort ones view of women and a healthy Relationship .

    I used to indulge on porn , the club scene and casual meaningless unfulfilling sex
    But one day I stopped .. I just wanted more

    I’m not going to qoute scriptures because I’m not good at it and I’d be fooling you if I tried . I will say this. I desire a woman to be my equal on this journey of life, to nurture grow and love .

    With us being flesh , to desire only her
    Only her body and only think of her in pleasure or lust .

    When I pursue love romance in a woman I want no one else, desire no one else
    And dont date. I won’t tell you how many years I have been celibate , you wouldn’t believe me but sex for me is not a craving
    But boring and dull if it’s not with the one I love..
    To make love is far more e lightening stimulating them any type of erotic pleasure your minds can think of

    Once you love her soul then all the rest that follows only compliments her

    That isn’t perfect but none of us are
    But if it keeps me from hurting or objectifying any woman and stops me from hating myself then
    That’s what I’ll do.

    You do what you need to do to help yourselves , no one way is the same way for everyone .

    Cheers

  15. Wow. I am a Muslim, not Christian, but your idea of praying for these women totally seems the right thing to do. Thanks, may God guide you!

  16. I have been helping people get over porn addiction and over the years I have developed some ways that might help in addition to the above mentioned method.
    1. Porn is a Spiritual problem and hence requires spiritual solutions. Dealing with it on a pure psychological basis doesn’t always help.
    2. The evil one takes grip of the mind and hence the “Temptation level” of deliverance may be required. [the prayer by Pope Leo XIII on exorcism can be said by the faithful for themselves or with the help of a Local priest.
    3. Pray the most powerful prayer in the world ” Lord Jesus have mercy on me a sinner” ( Article by Peter Kreeft) can help greatly if said like a mantra over and over again. Prayer to the angels/saints and especially to St. Michael the Archangel along with the precious blood prayer.
    4. Personal prayer must be at a very deep level. So I suggest just 3 minutes of “passionate prayer”. Praise thank and worship God like it is the last hour of your death.
    5. Keep an image of Jesus or Mary where you feel their presence thru the eyes. Gaze at those eyes many times a day and contemplate the love of God.
    6. If you are tempted to watch porn, then start praying for all Men and women on the screen. It will take a lot of power but once you start praying it loosens the grip on the arousal levels.
    7. A Sponsor or a Spiritual director, is required that you can share every detail of your thought process and start and accountability process. Find someone who can help you who is non-judgemental but really loves to help you

  17. How my heart smile reading this, I am beginning to think that all men don’t desire for purity of the mind and soul.
    I too has been struggling to stop thinking Ill sexual images, it makes me sad and sick. I want to see the world in a positive and pure way and this blog helps a lot. Thank you!!!

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