How to Quit Porn: A Letter to Christian Men
I can remember very vividly what it was like to feel the pull of pornography. I can remember those long nights, exhausted but still alert, looking for my fix. I would drag out the ritual for hours: sometimes on the Internet, sometimes visiting adult video shops, sometimes engaging in phone sex.
I would have told you then I wanted to stop, but the very idea of stopping was terrifying to me. As a Christian, the conviction about my porn use haunted me. But the idea of completely removing porn from my world sounded like air being sucked out of the room: what would I be left with if I didn’t have this crutch to lean on?
Lies About God That Kept Me Trapped
There was a time when I had given myself over to the lie that looking at porn, no matter how hard I tried not to look, was an inevitability. For the first few years of this downward spiral, I was racked with guilt. During the last couple years of it, I was too exhausted to feel guilt anymore: it was just a foreboding sense of hopelessness. There were times I had no faith that I would ever change.
If you would have asked me if I was doubting God’s ability to change me, I would have said no. After all, God can change anybody, but only if they “do their part,” right? Only those who muster up enough faith can call on God to do a miracle, right?
But I was believing a lie about God: a lie that said God can only change the willing. The fact is sin runs in our veins; none of us are willing. None of us can create faith within ourselves. It is a gift from God (Ephesians 2:8). I needed only to come to God with my empty hands, my weak faith, and my total helplessness and say, “I believe; help my unbelief” (Mark 9:24).
The Lies About Sex That Kept Me Trapped
I was single at the time and had also bought into the lie that marriage and sexual intimacy were somehow basic rights that had been denied me. I believed sex was not only a desperate biological need, I believed sexual pleasure was, in a way, the goal of life: a promised land I had yet to enter. Porn was my way of cheating the universe that had denied me; it was my tantrum at God.
Had my mind not been so clouded at the time, I would have been forced to admit marriage was no more a “right” than anything else in life: it is only by God’s undeserved mercy and patience that I have any blessings in my life at all. Had I been thinking straight I would have understood that sex was not a “need” at all (at least, not in the proper sense). It was I, not God, who had turned a normal sex drive into something “desperate.” It was I, not God, who had elevated sexual pleasure to a place it was never meant to occupy.
I say all of this not to be “down” on our God-given sex drive, but to put it in its proper place: for only when it is in its proper place that I can enjoy it without it enslaving me. Sex is good (very good, actually). Sexual pleasure is good. Marriage is good. It is even good to desire them. But when I believe I “need” them, then God becomes a capricious Creator bent on placing people into impossible situations, demanding chastity but pushing us beyond the breaking point.
Knowing these simple truths—that sexual pleasure is a desire, not a need—then I am free to place it alongside other good desires and alongside God’s commands and see it for what it is. I am free to repent of my warped and selfish version of sexual pleasure without fearing that I am denying or rejecting some essential part of me. And I am free to pray to God without anger in my heart for “making me this way.”
Lies About Marriage That Kept Me Trapped
I write this today as a married man. Getting married certainly did not cure me of my desire for porn. No, God had begun transforming my heart long before I ever met my wife, and even now, I still depend on Him to continue that transforming work.
Believing “marriage will fix me” kept me trapped because it meant as long as I was single I could settle for less than God’s standard.
I believed marriage would be the cure-all, my “in-house fix.” But the very nature of porn addiction exposes this lie, doesn’t it? Marriage is about intimacy with ONE woman. But what I wanted in porn was the VARIETY: it was never enough to lust after one woman. What kept the porn-viewing ritual going for hours was the high I got from thinking about “the next girl,” the next video clip, the next picture, believing there was always something better around the corner just waiting to be discovered. Often I would stop looking at porn and just “get the job done” not because I wanted to stop looking but because I was exhausted.
Sex in marriage is something GOOD, something in keeping with God’s design, but what I wanted in porn was the sense of the “FORBIDDEN.” Marriage doesn’t cure a desire for porn because even in a sexually vibrant marriage, your wife is not forbidden. She is yours. The sinful, coveting heart that I had before marriage is the same sinful, coveting heart I have in marriage. So long as I am vulnerable to coveting, I am vulnerable to lust.
Sex in marriage is also a GIVING act, but what I wanted in porn was entirely SELF-CENTERED. For me, porn fuelled a life-long fantasy to be desirable, irresistible. While fantasizing or watching pornography, porn stars were not the focus of my attention: I was. The porn girls were more or less trophies of my fantasy: their “beauty,” their avidity, and their hysterically euphoric response to “me” was the whole point. Nothing about lust prepares someone to be a real lover.
For all these reasons, it should seem obvious to us: the pleasure of marital sex cannot quench lust any more than fresh baked bread quenches my desire for cake. Lust is the function of a sinful heart—not just a “single” heart.
That said, there is something powerfully transforming about marriage…
Know How to Take a Wife
The apostle Paul writes,
“For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from unchastity; that each one of you know how to take a wife for himself in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like heathen who do not know God; that no man transgress, and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we solemnly forewarned you. For God has not called us for uncleanness, but in holiness. Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you.” (1 Thessalonians 4:3-8, RSV)
When it comes to God’s sexual standards, Paul gives us the bottom line: we are called to be SANCTIFIED. This literally means we are to be consecrated or set apart to God, and thus set apart to His desires for our sexuality.
Paul believed this meant knowing “how to take a wife” in an honorable way. Paul is telling his readers to turn their attention to and learn what it means to acquire a wife in a way that is holy, in a way that shows we are set apart to God. It means showing “honor” to women and to the God who made them: giving them the dignity fitting of their worth as people created in the image of God.
Reading this as a single man meant I was to repent of my life of fantasy that treated women like objects and instead set my mind to understanding what it meant to pursue, date (or “court” if you prefer), and marry a woman in an honorable way.
Today as a married man, this means continuing to show the same honor to women, and to prize my wife as one created in God’s image and one I should willingly die for.
When a man sets his mind to this, whether single or married, it can have a powerful impact on his heart. It helps him to see and choose the beauty of self-giving love over the false beauty of fantasy. God has given to husbands the high calling of emulating a divine kind of love that can be described as nothing less than breathtaking: “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25). This was how Christ won his bride: He died for her. It is this kind of love-to-the-death, this self-giving love, we are meant to find so captivating.
When I was knee deep in porn every week, one of the motivators that kept me coming back again and again was my sincere desire for intimacy—but an intimacy without risks. I wanted to be close to others, but necessarily vulnerable. I wanted a real relationship, but I wanted to be in control. Porn gives us this illusion: we can feel “connected” but not have all the mess of a real relationship.
More than anything I needed to run to God as a Father who is sovereign over my relationships. Relationships are risky. Hearts can be broken. Emotions are messy. But God promises that everything we go through will work for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28). God can and will take all our relationships—even our failed ones—and use them to conform us to the image of his Son (v.29). Knowing this, we can pursue genuine intimacy with others in a godly manner, not run to the fake security digital sex.
When an attractive woman comes across a man’s field of vision and he feels that twinge of desire, that man can prayerfully confess:
“Lord, my eyes easily lead me astray. The sin in me wants to treat this person as an object that makes me feel special, significant, and attractive. Forgive me when I indulge my lust. But you, God have pointed me to a truer beauty. I turn my thoughts now to Christ who shows me what love and faithfulness really look like. Enlarge my heart and give me power to understand the love Christ has for me, even in my sinfulness. Let this immeasurable love pierce through my selfish desire to make everything—and everyone—revolve around me. I turn my heart now to my wife, the one you have given me. Inspire me to love her with the same kind of love.”
Dr. Tim Chester says it best: “A life-with-porn versus a life-without-porn is a poor choice. A life-WITH versus a life-WITHOUT. If you set it up in these terms then you won’t produce lasting change. We need to set it up (as it truly is) as a choice between life-with-porn versus life-with-God. We need to show how God always offers more than porn” (Porn Free Church).