Caught in the Web of Pornography

How an "innocent" interest can build into intense addiction.

by Carol McGalliard

Pornography. Just the harmless pastime of curious boys and sex-deprived men — or so I thought. My perception of pornography changed dramatically when a friend e-mailed me about a personal crisis: She had just discovered her husband’s addiction to Internet porn. He confessed that his first look had hooked him.

Thus, I no longer see porn as harmless but as dangerous, capable of catching unsuspecting victims in its web.

Nearly 2,000 years ago, Jesus Christ warned about what happens when the eye looks at what it shouldn’t: “The eye is the lamp of the body. . . . if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness” (Matthew 6:22, 23, NIV). What an apt description of pornography: darkness. A person’s first exposure to it often triggers a powerful combination of biological, psychological, and spiritual factors that leads addiction. Pornography eventually becomes as enslaving as alcohol or cocaine. With a rush of adrenaline, a seemingly harmless glimpse at sensual material consumes one’s whole being.

Easy access

The increased availability of porn on the Internet has escalated the problem of sexual addiction. A study released by MSNBC/Stanford/Duquesne estimates that 200,000 Internet users are hooked on porn sites or on other online sexual materials. Online adult entertainment has become a $56 billion-a-year industry. And that’s just Internet porn.

The organization N2H2 provides filtering software to millions of online users worldwide. According to their database, commercial pornographic Web pages have increased by 1,800 percent since 1998. They have identified over 260 million pages containing indecent content. The horrifying truth is that any child, adolescent, teenager, or adult with Internet access can fall deeply into this perverted sin.

Statistics bear this out:

  • Teens are the biggest purchasers of hard-core porn.
  • Sexually explicit material is one of the major sources that young males seek to learn about sexuality.
  • The average age for first-time contact with pornography among sex addicts is 11.

Progressive addiction

Unlike sniffing cocaine, looking at pornographic material imprints the mind with images that don’t just go away. “It’s almost like it branded my brain,” said one man. A female addict reported, “I would be able to replay the images I had seen for years.”

It’s no surprise, then, that such effects are not easily negated. Overcoming addiction to porn takes years and affects a person and everyone around him for the rest of his life.

The reason breaking free takes so long is that addiction to pornography is progressive. With the first exposure, a person is hooked. He then needs more stimuli to get the high, develops to more and more deviant behaviors, and takes greater risks. The results of those risks can be devastating: legal problems, sexually transmitted diseases, lost relationships, destroyed families, loss of employment — even bankruptcy. Eventually, the person loses his ability to think and reason.

High cost

In An Affair of the Mind, Laurie Hall writes of the devastating results of her husband’s addiction to pornography. Her husband once served in the military honor guard and helped entertain foreign diplomats at the White House. For that position, he had White House security clearance. He later worked for a national company where he managed a team of several men.

This husband’s journey into pornography began with one film and progressed to more deviant acts that were both dangerous and degrading to him and his wife. The addiction continued for years until it crippled his mind so that he can no longer function in his manager position. Today this man stuffs small chocolates into boxes at a factory and scrapes chocolate off the factory floor. He still leaves for work every morning with his briefcase, however, just to remind himself how much pornography cost him and his family.

Disturbing studies

This man certainly isn’t alone. Patrick Carnes is one of the leading authorities on porn and sex addiction. In Don’t Call It Love, Carnes cites a study of 932 sex addicts. Ninety percent of the men and 77 percent of the women questioned said pornography played a significant role in their addictions. Evidence from another study suggests that when men are exposed to repeated presentations of hard-core, nonviolent adult pornography, they

  • develop distorted perceptions about sexuality
  • develop an increased callousness toward women and no longer consider rape a crime
  • view non-monogamous relationships as normal behavior
  • develop an escalating appetite for more abnormal or violent types of pornography; normal sex no longer satisfies

The 1970 Presidential Commission on Obscenity and Pornography concluded that “exposure to pornography is the strongest predictor of sexual deviance.” Serial killer Ted Bundy proved this. Before his death, he confessed that as a teen, he began using pornography and that violent porn had been a major factor in leading him to act out his crimes.

Hope for porn addicts

Fortunately, there is hope for porn addicts. But it isn’t where most of them expect to find it.

Kim Whitehurst is a licensed professional counselor who specializes in treating sexual addiction. He has counseled many men who wrongly concluded that being in a spiritual environment like church or seminary would cure the problem. These men found it necessary to openly confront the problem by seeking professional help and/or submitting to the accountability in a 12-step program for sex addicts. They discovered that overcoming addiction requires a community of friends with whom they could share their deepest struggles and still be accepted.

Kim, a recovering addict himself advises, “My warning to any teen or adult who is considering looking at pornography out of curiosity: Don’t do it! You can become addicted.

“We’re afraid to talk about sex,” he continues. “But if there’s someone you know who has a problem with pornography, the best thing to do is confront them and tell them it’s destructive and it’s wrong. There are places they can go to get help and be freed from its bondage.”

While counselors and support groups provide invaluable help on the road to freedom, Christ is the only real hope for overcoming addiction to pornography. He wants to cleanse the addict’s heart of sin. He wants to be the friend that the addict turns to for courage and strength in his struggle. When an addict approaches Him with a heart willing to turn from sin, Christ will never reject him, no matter what his behavior has been.

No one can truly free himself from the web of pornography. He needs others. And he needs the companionship of a suffering Christ on the long and difficult road to recovery.

Where to seek help