Overcoming Porn: Why Spiritual Advice Isn’t Enough

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In this post I’d like to address what I consider to be a problematic approach that Christians sometimes take when counseling those addicted to pornography.

It’s the nothing-but-spiritual-advice approach.

This approach is problematic for two reasons. 1) It fails to understand the nature of addiction, and 2) It doesn’t work (unless you’re Kirk Cameron in Fireproof—and you’re not).

Defning Terms

What do I mean by the nothing-but-spiritual-advice approach?  I mean advice such as the following:

  • “You need to be praying a rosary every day.”
  • “Have you thought about becoming a daily communicant?”
  • “In Ephesians, St. Paul says that the sword we must use to ‘stand against the wiles of the Devil’ is the word of God. Are you spending time in the word each and every day?”
  • “St. Teresa of Avila says that there is nothing like Holy Water to put demons to flight; are you using holy water?”

The problem with this advice isn’t that it’s bad advice; it’s fine advice! It becomes problematic, however, when this is all that is offered. The nothing-but-spiritual-advice approach demonstrates ignorance concerning the nature of addiction (not that all porn users are addicted, but many are) and its impacts on the brain.

This Is Your Brain on Porn

The fact is that  many neuroscientists are now explaining in scientific language what those of us who have been addicted to anything already knew: The addictive state leaves us in constant craving for a neurochemical cocktail (endorphins, dopamine, serotonin, etc.) that, with compulsive use, effectively re-sets the pleasure thermostat of our brain. The result is that alcoholics need more booze, drug addicts need bigger hits, and porn users need ever more intense kinds of sexual stimulation—just to feel “normal.”  (Learn more here).

More is Needed

Once you realize that pornography has this deleterious effect on the brain, you see why the nothing-but-spiritual-adivce approach 1) fails to understand the nature of addiction, and 2) therefore won’t work.

Look, surely if you encountered a severely depressed person you wouldn’t offer nothing-but-spiritual-advice; you would, or should, I think, offer spiritual advice, but you would also say something like, “are you seeing anyone about this?” or “I’m not an expert but maybe there is a chemical imbalance. Do you think drugs might be necessary?” Similar questions could be asked of the porn addict.

Why It’s Offered, Why It’s Received

So that’s why I think this sort of advice is so often offered (“often offered.” Say that ten times fast!); many people (priests included) are simply ignorant of the neurological consequences of porn addiction. The reason I think that it’s so readily received without question is that Christians can feel guilty questioning the nothing-but-spiritual-advice approachThey rightly believe that, they “can do all things in [Christ] who strengthens [them]” (Phil. 4:13), and that “nothing will be impossible with God” (Lk. 1:37).

But these two verses (plus the many more you can think of) do not mean that we give nothing-but-spiritual-advice to a cancer patient, or nothing-but-spiritual-advice to a drug addict. No, in fact if we cared for that person we would point them to competent specialists who can aid them in recovery—the same is true with porn addiction.

Spiritual advice is necessary, and that’s why in my five-step battle plan I offer it as my first step, but more is needed. Here are five steps that, in my opinion, are essential to anyone who hopes to be free of pornography.

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2 thoughts on “Overcoming Porn: Why Spiritual Advice Isn’t Enough

  1. pornography is an addiction just like drug addiction. But when you use science, especially neuroscience to explain the porn addiction .I would suggest you to please reefer into the Neurophysiology of addictive behaviors on the basis of research and please mention the neuroscience and scientific terms in a way that is consistent with science or else people who understand science and scientific articles will consider this kind of articles as bogus science…

  2. Hey Matt,
    i need your help. i want to get off porn: i want to completely rip it out of my life, but how can i do this? i have a lot of time on my hands nowadays and im currently job searching. what am i supposed to do during my “free time” whenever i’m alone? Every time i am by myself, this sin fills my mind and i can’t seem to take control over it. i’ve gone to confession at least once a week now, for the past 4 months and i keep telling myself, i’m gonna do better this week, but i keep face-planting it. i’m falling for despair, thinking that i can’t do it anymore. For some odd reasons, i always feel the most tempted to do a bad deed such as look up porn material or even masturbate righ after going to confession. Matt, i’m really desperate for your help (or someone that can help me out) and for prayers. i want to find happiness and peace in my life but i don’t know how exactly to accomplish this. Please give me a hand.

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