The sad truth of our world is that the “use” of people is almost constantly in your face. You are growing up in the midst of a social experiment: an experiment where explicit adult material depicting the human body and sexuality (aka pornography) is freely and readily available on any device at any time, and you as a young person are being targeted by a multi-billion dollar industry. Pornography can be found in images, movies, YouTube clips, novels – any form of media which somehow encourages us to use another person (it exploits the human body and/or sexual intimacy for personal/sexual pleasure.) However we find it: by accident, through friends, in popular movies & TV shows, or by searching for it, we go looking for it because we want to be loved, because of our hurting and broken relationships… and sometimes, simply because we’re bored. This isn’t just something that affects teenage guys or young adult men – pornography addiction can affect guys or girls at any age.
Understand both that you are being targeted by the pornography industry, and that porn flips around the basic message of our faith “my body, given for you” to “your body, taken by me” – because it depicts the body as something to be used.
I’m assuming that if you’re here, you are already convinced of the ways that porn does harm to your brain, your heart, and the world around you. The question now is, what do you do if you have a problem with porn?
Obviously, the best way to defend against pornography is not to watch it at all, and to be discriminating what we do with the media we take in – be it on our mobile devices, computers, TV’s, movies… as a race that is often visually stimulated, what we take in absolutely has an impact on us. But in the twenty-first century, that’s a lofty goal: one person’s good sense (and self-control) against the machine that is the porn industry. But take courage! There are things you can do to avoid porn, or to beat a habit you have which may very well be an addiction (they compare the addictiveness of porn to that of heroin.
In his book Integrity Restored, Dr. Kleponis presents a 7 point plan for recovery from porn addiction. These aren’t 7 steps you do one-by-one, but rather 7 things you can do to help build up the tools necessary to stop (or avoid) looking at pornography. The idea is to work on each of them daily – and having some means keeping track of this (like an accountability partner) will help you have the best chance of success.
Point 1: Self-Knowledge/Commitment:
First, you need to make a decision not to use porn anymore: to say more than just “I should stop” but “I’m going to stop.” And even if you fall short here, you need to cling to this decision (if this is more than a passing curiosity, it’s going to take some work to move on.)
Next, you need to be aware of your weakest moments. There are external triggers – things you might see which might trigger curiosity, but there are also internal things that might make you act out: moments you’re bored or burned out, lonely, angry/apathetic/afraid/alone, sad/stressed/selfish, or tired… it’s often a combination of these that leads someone to go somewhere online they know they shouldn’t. Recognize and avoid the danger zones (chilling on your phone in the middle of the night is one such point for many… and there’s very little useful on TV in the middle of the night!)
Point 2: Purifying Your Life
From the perspective of our faith, here’s where we put into practice Jesus’ comments from Mark 9:43-47 to heart: “And if your hand/feet/eye causes you to stumble, cut them off/tear it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one hand/foot/eye than to have two and to be thrown into hell…” – we get rid of those things that are making us sin. For some people, this can be dramatic (getting rid of those devices or access which cause the trouble); for others it’s learning to avoid the near occasion of sin. If you’ve had a habit of viewing this kind of material (or you don’t want to start a habit), you need to weed out material and circumstances that don’t belong. This can be as simple as charging your cell phone outside of your room, deleting anything from your phone/computer/etc that shouldn’t be there, or skipping scenes on DVD’s when they come up.
Point 3: Support & Accountability
Ask anyone who has overcome any sort of addiction, and a lot of credit goes to the support system around them… things like sponsors and trusted family members. If porn addiction is similar to other kinds of addiction, it shouldn’t surprise us that we need help here too! Even if it’s only starting to be a problem, ask for some help. Connect with safe people who will challenge you but keep your confidence – ideally, your parents; but also teachers, counselors, me – adults who are invested in you, who want you to do and be well.
One other layer of accountability that’s available online: there is accountability software like that found at CovenantEyes.com – helps build a layer of protection around you to help you avoid this help.
NEW! Life Teen recently reduced an amazing help called “The Victory App” – which is both free and amazing. Check it out!
Point 4: Counseling may be needed (particularly if it’s reached the point of addiction!)
The root causes of pornography use can be many, and for some people it’s something that’s followed them around a long time. Uncovering it with the help of a trusted guide makes a lot of sense. I know some of us don’t like the idea of going to a counselor – but the help is worth it, because they help people in these sorts of situations all the time. It can lessen the struggle dramatically. A good friend of mine (and professional counselor), Melissa Guzik, has a great deal of experience in this area – not to mention that she has helped me develop the materials I’m sharing here.
Point 5: Spiritual Plan
Twelve step programs always include the need for a higher power to help us in our moments of need. This makes sense, because Jesus came to set us free – not to leave us enslaved to sin. And He loves us even in the very moments we fall. If the father of the prodigal son had no issue forgiving him (even though part of his life’s work was wasted on prostitutes), understand that our Heavenly Father has no problem whatsoever forgiving you for whatever participation you’ve had in this area.
Also, if you’re going to clear out the consolation that comes from looking at explicit material, you need to fill it with something. Self-control is a fruit of the Holy Spirit – and something you can practice (when it comes to things like fasting.) Confession is a great place to unload this burden and start over again (and again and again…) Trust that God won’t let you be tried beyond your ability (and that He will give you a way out!).
I also strongly encourage you to fast: Build up a habit of self-control (not feeding your desires as quickly as possible) by giving up on some kind of food for a time, a day, a week – sort of like Lent – so that this sacrifice helps you to learn to say no. Traditionally, Catholics fast on Fridays from meat – but you can do some other act of penance of this isn’t possible – but embrace it as a chance to beat this addiction!
Point 6: Education
Don’t be ignorant! Learn why pornography is bad, what it’s doing to your brain, how it can/does impact your romantic relationships, and the harm it does to those who are in the industry. Seek out resources that tell you more about who you really are and why you’re really here There’s a ton of resources out there – a few of which I’ll mention below:
- The Path of Recovery: 7 Things to do to quit using porn (from Dr. Peter Kleponis) – this is the seven point plan above in more detail.
- Fightthenewdrug.org – research done on the ways porn kills love, and what to do to quit the habit.
- Covenant Eyes – accountability software is a tremendous tool you can use to fight the battle against pornography (has a monthly subscription cost).
- Good Pictures/Bad Pictures is the resource I’m using to have a conversation with my own (younger) kids on this topic.
- http://www.arlingtondiocese.org/purity/index.aspx – A letter from (retired) Bishop Paul Loverde in response to the crisis he sees around him.
- http://nyfamilylife.org/chastity/ – downloadable resources for parents to help in the battle.
…additionally, Lighthouse Media has a number of recorded talks that delve deeper into these points: Matt Fradd has an excellent talk on pornography, the Hidden Battle; Jason Evert presents how to Detox from this addiction; Crystalina Evert talks about Women Made New (starting over when you haven’t lived God’s vision for your sexuality); together, Jason & Crystalina discuss Love or Lust; Lisa Cotter discusses Real Womanhood in place of today’s stereotypes and Christopher West has a presentation on Sexual Freedom – what it means to really be sexually free.
I’ve purchased a few copies of these talks that I’d be happy to pass on to you if you don’t have the ability to purchase them yourself – just send me an email via the contact page.
Point 7: Virtue
Vice is conquered by virtue. When we strive to lead a virtuous life, vice has no place there (because it inhibits our forward progress. According to the Catechism, a virtue is “an habitual and firm disposition to do the good” (CCC 1803). We can pursue a life of virtue… the Church recognizes for “cardinal” virtues (prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance), three theological virtues (faith, hope, and love), and many others: trustworthiness, loyalty, patience, respect, helpfulness, service, friendliness, courteousness, self-control, chastity, humility, patience, generosity… (you get the picture!) Find a virtue and cultivate it in your life. The focus becomes less on what you’re trying to avoid (porn) and more on becoming a better person – and this causes a ripple effect throughout your life, just as the porn had a negative ripple effect on your life.
Know that I am with you – I am praying for you – as you fight this battle. It’s one worth fighting!