The Truth About Pornography in the Church (Part 2)

Is it possible for someone to be addicted to pornography?  Many people scoff at the notion that there is, in fact, such a thing as porn addiction. But ask the man who climbed into a dumpster to retrieve the porn he shamefully discarded days earlier. What do you think he might say? There is no doubt in my mind that pornography addiction is real. In my roles as a pastor and a clinical social worker, I\’ve seen the devastating impact of porn addiction on individuals and families. Like marijuana, porn is a “gateway drug.” It can lead to other forms of sexual addiction. Dr. Patrick Carnes is a pioneer in the field of sexual addiction treatment. His research and writings provide us with ample evidence that pornography, along with masturbation, can be highly addictive.

The popular contemporary Gospel artist, Kirk Franklin, has spoken of his previous struggles with porn addiction. He, along with his wife, Tammy, took the bold step of going on The Oprah Winfrey Show, in 2006, to talk openly about his addiction and its impact on their marriage. I thank God that they had the courage to put a public face on this problem. However, Kirk is not the only Christian man who has struggled with pornography. Someone has jokingly said that 70% of Christian men have struggled with some form of sexual sin, and the other 30% have a problem with honesty.  How big is porn addiction in the Church?  A ChristiaNet poll suggests that as many as 50% of Christian men and 20% of Christian women are addicted to porn. Research reveals that 37% of pastors are frequent or regular consumers of internet porn. Even if these numbers are a bit inflated, they are shocking, nonetheless.

In his “Faithful & True” workbook, Dr. Mark Laaser gives us a helpful framework for understanding addiction. He indicates that there are five key words in the definition of addiction: (1) Repetitive, (2) Degenerative, (3) Unmanageable, (4) Medicative, and (5) Destructive. Aside from these key words, porn is addictive because the user is often motivated by secrecy and shame. According to Dr. Laaser, in order to classify a behavior as an addiction requires “a pattern of repetitive use for at least two (2) years- however, not necessarily every day.” Secondly, an addiction is “degenerative” in that it “intensifies over time.” Dr. Laaser says, “The person requires more of the activity to achieve the same effect.” Third, an addiction is “unmanageable” in that the addict is powerless over the addiction and cannot stop, no matter how hard he or she tries.   Fourthly, an addiction is “Medicative” in that the addictive substance or behavior is mood-altering. Simply put, addicts “self-medicate” to numb themselves, in an attempt to escape painful emotions. Lastly, an addiction is “destructive,” and in some cases, deadly. Addictions have led to destroyed marriages, wasted time, depleted finances, ruined careers, and clinical depression.  In fact, addicts are statistically more likely to complete the act of suicide. Sadly, a friend of mine, who was addicted to porn, among other things, took his own life.  He was a fellow minister and mental health professional, who even wrote a book on addiction, to which I contributed. News flash!  Anyone can fall into the destructive trap of porn addiction.

In 2004, a panel of experts testified before a Senate subcommittee that pornography is dangerously addictive. The neurological effects of porn on the brain were called “toxic.” They indicated that exposure to porn, over time, can actually alter the brain\’s chemistry, much like addiction to drugs. Dr. Mary Anne Layden, a psychologist, was one of the witnesses at the Senate hearing. She said that “the same criteria used to diagnose problems like pathological gambling and substance abuse can be applied to problematic porn use.” Anthropologist, Dr. Helen Fisher, has found that neurotransmitters, like dopamine, saturate the limbic pleasure centers of the brain. Thus, the pornography addict longs to come back for one more “hit.” But “one more” turns into 2 more, and so forth. One expert has called internet porn “the crack cocaine of pornography addiction.” With millions of adult web sites, a pornographic image is only a click away. Look at it this way . . . Your brain is like a digital camera, and your eyes are like lenses.  Every time you look at a pornographic image, you are storing it in your memory, for years to come.  How tough is porn addiction to overcome?  Dr. Victor Cline says, “Sex and pornography addiction can be a more difficult addiction to break than cocaine.”

Sobriety from porn addiction includes “progressive victory over lust.” Lust is the self-centered desire for that which is forbidden by God. Lust is the driving force behind this addiction. The one who is being lusted after has been reduced from a person made in the image of God to a mere object of another\’s satisfaction. That\’s why Paul said, “Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry (Colossians 3:5, NIV).”

Now that I\’ve established that porn addiction is a real problem, I\’d like to offer a solution, in the form of an acronym for the word A.I.R.  The “A” is for ACCOUNTABLE, the “I” is for INTENTIONAL, and the “R” is for RELATIONAL.  First, if someone wants to begin the process of recovery from porn addiction, he or she must become accountable to others who are on the road to recovery, themselves.  12-Step recovery fellowships, like Sexaholics Anonymous (SA), have helped many obtain and maintain sobriety. Some have found more acceptance in recovery meetings than in their own local church. Also, there are Christian-oriented programs and workshops that address the problem of porn addiction, such as Every Man\’s Battle. Secondly, one must be intentional about going “to any lengths necessary” to stay sober.  This includes removing any “stash” or external triggers of the addiction. Finally, a person who is “happy, joyous, and free” from lust is relational.  God has wired us for relationships. Some Christians might say, “Jesus is all I need to be set free from my lust.” But such people don\’t fully appreciate that God works through people. After all, even the Lone Ranger had Tonto. Consequently, every addict needs to experience “God with skin on.” Many people are learning how to avoid the trap of isolation. In fact, they have found that it is impossible to recover without connection to a supportive community.  After a lifetime of searching, they are finally experiencing “true intimacy” with others that has absolutely nothing to do with sex. If you are in bondage to pornography, I invite you to come up for some fresh “air” now, before you drown.    
Reverend Joel A. Bowman is the Founder and Senior Pastor of Temple of Faith Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky. He is a native of Detroit, Michigan. He was licensed to preach the Gospel, in 1994, at the Historic Second Baptist Church of Detroit. Pastor Bowman is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker who practices astherapist and pastoral counselor. Pastor Bowman can be reached at