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class="post-4553 post type-post status-publish format-standard has-post-thumbnail hentry category-faith category-mark-latkovic tag-addiction tag-pornography tag-secret" id="post-4553">
Nov
26
2014

Strategies for Overcoming Porn

As we saw in the first part of this article, the porn addict has a terrible secret. But who can he tell? He fears telling his wife and he’s ashamed to confess it to a priest. He has all of the shame, guilt, and paranoia that go with leading a double life. But it’s not really a double life, it’s another life, with all of the risks associated with it. It is a fantasy world of his own making that he has substituted for reality – a substitute for living in the real world among real people and real goods. He likes that other world, however, and doesn’t see a way out of it, even on the days he thinks he’d actually like to get out. But his soul has become deadened. Spiritual things seem either boring or unreal. He has spent too many years in the sexual fantasy world, which can now seem on some days more like a prison – a “porno prison” he has constructed lustful look by lustful look.

therapyBut sometimes, miraculously, the Holy Spirit touches him and so he prays to God to give him hatred of the shadow world (with all its sins) he has built, although he doesn’t always really mean it.  You see, he still can’t imagine his life without the fleshly fantasy world. Life in his sexually charged alternative universe is intoxicating. But, like St. Augustine, he nevertheless prays to God something along these lines: “Grant me chastity and continence, only not yet” (Confessions, 8.7.17). This is a real start towards positive change, toward conversion.

The man who struggles against porn also finds himself at war with masturbation. Early in his adolescence he discovers that pornography is the “fuel” for masturbation, the kindling for his sexual release. The two are made for each other: they go “hand in glove” (forgive the expression). In order for him to overcome his addiction to porn, he must also control his desire for the pleasurable physical sensations associated with the sexual stimulation of his own genitals involved in masturbation. If he can curb this bad habit of self-abuse, he will go a long way towards controlling his compulsive hunger to consume porn and vice versa.

But because of the sexually depraved culture that he lives in (similar to St. Augustine’s!), the pornography addict will find it challenging to quell and finally conquer his twin addictions – porn and masturbation. Porn, for him, will be “the thorn in his side” (cf. 2 Cor 12:7). But the virtue that he needs to achieve – chastity – is not by any means a hopeless cause. Despite the siren song of the secular culture that tells him porn and other sins against chastity are normal activities – indeed liberating ones – with God’s grace, prayer, the support of a “12 Step” program (e.g., Sexaholics Anonymous), and the development of the virtues of temperance and fortitude, the porn addict can overcome his bad habit (i.e. his hidden vice) and live in “the glorious freedom of the children of God” (cf. Rom 8:21). He is, despite his addiction, able to freely choose a life without pornography.

He must also fervently want to stay close to Christ, especially in the Eucharist. He must tell himself, and believe it, that he doesn’t want to do anything – not one mortal sin – that would prevent him from receiving the Lord in the Sacrament of Communion. So, he must come clean, walk out of the shadows, be honest with himself, admit his sin, repent of it, seek forgiveness in the Sacrament of Reconciliation and ask Jesus for a pure heart. It is then that he will begin to see that, deep within himself, what he really desires to find in porn, and can’t – bodily and spiritual union – is found in the reception of the Lord’s Body and Blood. Here the consuming is infinitely more satisfying and infinitely more real.

But, in order to maintain his sexual sobriety, the former porn addict must also work on healing his wounded sexuality, re-forming his broken relationships (especially with his wife, if married), making new friends, and learning the proper way to think, to feel, and to look sexually. In this regard, St. John Paul II, in reflecting on the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew’s gospel, spoke of the true meaning of Jesus’ interpretation of the 6th Commandment, as becoming capable of “respecting the spousal meaning of the body” (Veritatis splendor, no. 15). From now on, one not only refrains from adulterous acts, one no longer even looks at a woman lustfully. For that woman is someone’s wife, someone’s daughter, or someone’s sister. The man now sees the full personhood of the woman “beyond her body and her sexuality.” She is no longer viewed as (and reduced to) a sex toy or sex “object”, but rather viewed as a subject – a human being, like him, with thoughts and feelings and needs for such things as love, respect and affection.

Yet shedding the familiar bad habits of old, even after conversion, is not easy. There will be days when he wants to fall back into the old habits, the old routines, the old patterns of sin. This temptation must be heartily resisted with the weapons of prayer and fasting, the practice of serving others, and the avoidance of the near occasion of sin. In addition to spiritual help, he may also need psychological help in the form of counseling (Readers may find this article on sexual addiction by psychologist Dr. Victor B. Cline helpful). Ultimately, he must master his sexual fantasies, live in the real world, and love God and neighbor. Still, he knows from experience that his “spirit is willing, but his flesh is weak” (cf. Mt 26:41). But he must never give up! With God, Jesus tells us, “all things are possible”! (See Mt 19:26). And, the Psalmist says, “His mercy endures forever” (See Psalm 136:1).

Mark S. Latkovic, S.T.D. is a Professor of Moral Theology at Sacred Heart Major Seminary (Detroit, MI), where he has taught for over 23 years. He is co-editor of St. Thomas Aquinas and the Natural Law Tradition: Contemporary Perspectives (The Catholic University of America Press, 2004), as well as author of What’s a Person to Do? Everyday Decisions that Matter (Our Sunday Visitor, 2013) and numerous articles in scholarly and popular journals.
Articles by Mark: