I have a porn problem

I’m going to start out with a warning: What I’m going to talk about here may be graphic and painful to read. It’s also incredibly personal to me, and it’s forcing me to open myself up in a way that is uncomfortable to me, but my heart tells me that this is something that is incredibly important. My purpose in doing this is not to scare, disgust or hurt anyone. I merely want to underscore problems that exist within LDS culture, and if I water down my struggles to make them “church-appropriate,” it becomes difficult to understand just how damaging the sexual rhetoric is within the church.
I spent years believing that I was addicted to pornography. My self-esteem and self-image were, in many ways, crippled by constant guilt and shame. I tried to blend in and act happy like everyone around me, but inside I felt an immense amount of pain. I would try to stop, perhaps make it a few weeks, slip up, and then repeat the whole cycle over again. I frequently dealt with feelings of hopelessness and self-hatred.

One day something happened that made years of pain and guilt melt away in a single moment, and subsequently changed me forever: I read some fascinating research which claimed that pornography addictions exist almost exclusively in groups that teach that pornography is addictive.

At that moment my “addiction” vanished because the way I viewed pornography, and my sexuality, changed. So what happened? Why did this have such a huge impact on me?

I realized that I had been set up to fail from the first moment that I learned about porn and sexuality. Leaders taught me that porn was horribly addictive. I believed that one look at it had the potential to ruin my life. I knew that after viewing it, I would no longer be pure and that those images would be burned into my brain forever. I read statements which claimed that every convicted rapist and murderer had admitted to looking at porn. I knew that a heroin addict claimed that porn was the hardest drug he’d ever tried to quit. I knew, because of everything that I had learned through my teenage years, that no woman would ever want to date or marry me if I had looked at porn because I would be “permanently damaged” and unable to fully respect her. Youth leaders told us that men were naturally sex-driven and that our only protection was to suppress any sexual desires we had and to encourage all the women around me dress “modestly” so that we wouldn’t be tempted. Phrases such as “modest is hottest” became common in church settings.

All of this scared the hell out of me. The church taught me that as a man, I was a sexual monster.

I experienced all of this. The church painted porn in the most horrific light possible. To make things more difficult, the definition of “porn” was stretched to include everything from actual pornographic videos of sex all the way down to girls wearing a short skirt. Cheerleaders were porn; swimsuits were porn, bare shoulders were porn, slight cleavage was porn, exposed stomach was porn. “Porn” went from being something that I could only find on the internet to something that walked around me daily. Instead of having to worry about the occasional browser popup, I had to worry about the entire world around me.

If I told you not to think about elephants right now, what is the first thing that pops into your head? Now try not ever thinking about elephants ever again. Is that realistic?

My journey with pornography was similar to trying not think about elephants, only more challenging because unlike elephants, sexuality is something that is an integral part of me and something that I encounter every day. Telling someone to suppress their sexuality is like telling them to suppress their breathing: Eventually, you just start to feel like you’re suffocating, so you take a breath in desperation because your body needs air to survive.

I tried to draw a symbolic line and figure out where sexuality went too far. A seminary teacher once told my class “if it turns you on, turn it off.” In my head this made sense, so I tried to follow it. Every time a thought came into my mind that I considered impure or lustful, I immediately pushed it away. I believed that those feelings came from a dark side of my sexuality that I had to strive to choke out of existence. Those thoughts haunted me. I tried to embrace the light side of my sexual attraction, where I solely admired girls for their smiles, beautiful eyes, tidy hair or friendly personalities.

But one day I slipped up. I saw a girl in a swimsuit, and I realized that I liked how her legs looked.

Normally this is where I’d push the thought away, but this time I didn’t. I remember feeling so burned out from trying to police myself that I just couldn’t do it any longer.

The very next moment a sense of dread hit me right in the stomach. I knew that I was finished.

Everything the church had taught me about porn and sexuality came flooding back to me. I knew that I had slipped up and that I was completely powerless. I had let an image into my mind that would never leave.

It felt like playing whack-a-mole (or “whack-an-elephant,” if we want to reference my earlier analogy). Things are pretty easy at the beginning of the game, and you start to feel pretty confident in yourself, but the speed inevitably starts to ramp up, and you begin to struggle. Eventually, you miss one, and then two, and then three, until suddenly you’re seeing mole after mole pop up and disappear before your brain can even process what’s going on.

My journey with porn felt exactly like a game of whack-a-mole. I felt like I quickly lost control of myself, and every time I frantically tried to regain control of the situation, I ended up losing more and more control.

I don’t remember how long after this I decided to venture online and Google the word “porn,” but I do remember the overwhelming sense of shame that I felt for what I was doing. I also remember distinctly knowing that it didn’t matter because I had already failed. Porn was the ultimate end-game for Satan, the perfect trap from which even God couldn’t save me. I was a piece of chewed gum, a glass of water that had been dirtied by a few drops of oil. There was no fixing me, so why bother fighting in the first place?

Occasionally, I did try to fight. When the shame and guilt built up, I convinced myself to stop. I decided to go back to the way things were before my game of whack-an-elephant overwhelmed me. I tried shoving away all of the “evil” thoughts and only focus on the good. I knew (because I had learned in church) that porn was supposed to be the lowest, most vile thing in the world, and I felt an immense amount of shame for finding it enticing at all. My low self-esteem and high self-blame would always get the better of me: I thought so little of myself that I inevitably decided that I wasn’t worth fighting for, and I slipped back to watching porn.

I hated myself. I was desperate to regain control, but nothing seemed to click. I spent nights frantically begging God to help me, hoping that some bargain with him would help get rid of this evil piece of me. I’ve heard dozens of stories about gay members of the church bargaining with God to change their sexual orientation, and I can completely relate because I was virtually begging God to take away my sexuality. I wanted to be free of it because I knew it was filthy and evil. There were times that I even thought about castration as a way to prove to God that I was loyal. It seemed extreme to me at the time, but I’ve since discovered that a lot of Mormon men had similar thoughts when they struggled with porn in their teenage years.

Eventually, the time came for me to go on a mission. I saw all of my friends leaving, and I didn’t want to be the odd one out. Every week at church I was being asked when I was going to put my papers in, which only put more pressure on me. I had to perform, and act like everyone else around me. I couldn’t let anyone find out that I was the one young man who had failed to keep his mind clean. I managed to pull myself together before leaving. Yes, I lied in some my interviews, because I badly wanted to measure up to everyone else. I didn’t want to endure even more shame by being told that I wasn’t ready to go, or worse, by being denied the chance to go at all.

But an interesting thing happened on my mission. I found out that many of my fellow missionaries struggled with the same self-hatred and loathing that I had. I learned that many missionaries were still struggling with porn and masturbation, even as missionaries.

Suddenly I wasn’t alone.

Coming home from my mission I was determined to keep myself free from porn, but as is the case for a lot of people, I eventually fell back to my old ways. I was disappointed in myself for slipping up after two years where I had managed to keep myself mostly clean, and as a result, the cycle of self-hatred, guilt, and shame began again.

The thing is, even at the peak of my “addiction” I wasn’t viewing porn all that often, perhaps only a few times a month. I grew up believing that viewing porn more than a few times created an addiction, so I thought that I was addicted.

Then in November 2015, the church policy regarding the children of gay parents came to light. This was a life-changing event for me, and you can read more about it here. For the first time in my life, I honestly questioned whether the church truly held a moral high ground. All of this had an interesting byproduct: My porn problem started to go away.

This change was so immediate that it felt jarring to me, and I couldn’t quite figure out why it was happening, but I just didn’t care about porn very much anymore. My sexuality was still completely intact, and I didn’t feel like I had to suppress anything. I could see a girl on campus wearing a short skirt and a tank top without having to fear anything; there wasn’t a single sexual thought to cross my mind. I could still find her attractive without being terrified that she was going to unleash some sexual monster inside of me.

I don’t remember how long it was until I finally discovered the research on porn addiction and religions, but by that time I was seriously questioning my future in the church. I’d started to see too many groups being suppressed or hurt: Women, gays, liberals and people who had earnest gospel questions were all being hurt in one way or another. I finally started to realize that this type of suppression had been going on for my entire life (and well before it) and I had been blind to it.

Pornography Addiction Related to Religious Beliefs, According to Researchers

Religious People More Likely to Think They’re Addicted to Porn

I don’t remember how I stumbled on these articles, but I can confidently say that finding them was one of the most important events in my entire life. Any remaining fear that I had over porn immediately vanished, all because I was finally able to view sexuality from a fresh, healthy perspective.

As I said near the beginning of my post, my habit disappeared almost immediately. Not long after this, I came to an important realization: My addiction never came from pornography, it came from the church. The church had taught me to hate myself and my sexuality. They perpetuated a cycle of shame that made me feel dirty. Anytime that I started to feel better about myself I would hear another lesson about porn addiction in church, which inevitably lowered my self-esteem and self-image, leading to relapse.

I feel like I’ve come to a much healthier view of sexuality now. Pornography holds little to no interest for me anymore, but I don’t believe that it’s inherently evil. I do believe that pornography addiction exists in the world, but it’s not what the church claims it is. Viewing porn once or twice does not make you an addict. The church taught me that women in porn were sex objects, but the church has turned both women and men into sex objects simply through their sexual rhetoric. The sexist teachings that the church perpetuates toward both women and men is repulsive to me now. Women shouldn’t have to cover themselves up or worry that their natural beauty is going to turn some random guy into a porn addict, and men shouldn’t believe that they are sex-driven animals lacking self-control. I’m incredibly happy that I can now hold a conversation with a woman without having to worry about what my brain or her clothing will do to either of us. I no longer believe that I have a porn problem, I simply just have a problem with the church’s porn rhetoric.

I am free.

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5 Thoughts

  1. Thank you for taking the time to write this. You may not get many responses to this, but I for one can tell you this is very meaningful. My journey through this nearly ended in suicide. Fortunately, though, I am free as well now.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for your kind words! I’ve actually been overwhelmed by the positive responses that I’ve received to this! I’ve shared this anonymously in a few places and read many comments similar to yours. I’m happy to hear that you’ve put yourself in a better situation!

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  2. Sigh. Thank you so much for this. I dated a guy at BYU who was so thoroughly convinced he had a porn addiction and sounds to fit your story almost perfectly. Years later, my husband is studying marriage and family therapy and we have come to realize the same things you have – that porn is NOT inherently bad (and can actually be good for your marriage). It just depends how you use it. It makes me so sad how the church is creating such unintended harm. I left the church a year ago and the church’s stances on sexuality was one (of many) reasons I left. So thank you for your candid response. My next question to you is: how can we help true believing members realize their developing sexuality is good without doing violence to their beliefs? Like is there a way to point out that the church is so incredibly wrong on this topic without leading them down the rabbit hole (if they don’t want to go down it)?

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    1. I see sexuality as a tool. We can choose to use it to help ourselves or to hurt ourselves. Porn is a tool, and it can strengthen a marriage in certain circumstances. People in the church believe that porn is evil because the church leaders say that it is.

      My reason for writing this post in the first place was largely because I feel a huge need to help people in the church realize that their developing sexuality isn’t bad. In a lot of cases, they’re just looking at it in the wrong light. Sexuality is not an addiction for an overwhelmingly large majority of people in the church who believe they have an addiction. I want people to see that.

      Your second question is more difficult, and it’s one that I’ve struggled with a lot. I think that studies (such as the two that I shared in my article) should be shared more publicly. I would argue that the church can claim that pornography is morally degrading (they have the full right to do that) but that to claim that it’s an addiction is an obvious exaggeration. You can point out that porn addiction may be the result of the culture that exists within the church rather than something caused by ones sexuality. Sharing personal experiences can be incredibly powerful as well. You’re more than welcome to share mine if you can’t share anything yourself or don’t have anything you feel you can share.

      I’m actually thinking of creating a follow-up post on this. Your questions really got me thinking, so thank you for that!

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