These strategies can be useful in overcoming all forms of sexual addiction.
The first concept to understand is that of triggers. These are factors which stimulate the desire for viewing sexually explicit material and stimuli. Some of the common triggers I hear about are boredom, depression, anger, loneliness, rejection, anxiety, fear, stress, sadness, shame, guilt and low self-esteem. Most of these are emotional states from which the individual seeks relief. Triggers can be visual or auditory as in movies, music, magazines or even in looking at someone in a way to become sexually aroused. It is also possible to become aroused by another person's behavior. In today's world many people have become increasingly provocative in their interactions with others. Often this type of behavior occurs in a work setting, but I have known (counseled or spoken with) a number of people who have been tempted and acted out even in faith communities. The adversary, the devil, has infiltrated all social contexts.
When you can identify the triggers in your own life, you can begin to develop safeguards and alternative responses to these triggers. This is what we in the addiction field call relapse prevention strategies or plans. These plans are an integral part of recovery or emancipation from sexual slavery or idolatry.
With emotional types of triggers, like those mentioned above, we need to find alternatives to managing these emotional states that are infinitely better than pornography or any kind of escapism. This often involves a holistic approach—addressing mind, body, and spirit. Nutritional enhancements including foods, vitamins and herbs can positively affect mood and brain chemistry. Exercising regularly can help with mood issues and stress management. In situations where extreme forms of depression or other mental issues exist, medication might be needed along with counseling. In these cases, seeking the appropriate medical or professional help is recommended. Often people will self-medicate by using drugs, alcohol, or engagement in behaviors to elevate mood or cope with stress when there are more effective means of coping with these conditions.
When the triggers are electronic in nature, like a computer and the Internet, safeguards need to be put in place. There are software programs that prevent sexually explicit material from being accessed. The addicted person should have someone else install the program so that only the friend or significant other has the password. Spyware programs are also available to alert an accountability partner of an attempted access. The same type of safeguards can be utilized with television programming.
When real people in one's environment have a provocative effect, this can be more challenging. But with all triggers, there are solutions. One obvious solution is to never let your eyes linger on the tempting sight, but move out of eyesight from the person who has become a spiritual stumbling block. This is implied by what Jesus said in Matthew 5:27-30. Another concept that works, if applied consistently, is "bouncing of the eyes." This strategy merely means making a conscious decision to look the other way when one sees something that has a sexually erotic effect. This is in contrast to ogling and lusting for a person who is sexually stimulating and/or provocatively dressed. Taking second and third looks should also be avoided. One finds something else to look at or just look away. Job was a good role model. He said he made a "covenant with his eyes" (Job 31:1). For that verse, the Good News Bible says: "I have made a solemn promise never to look with lust at a woman."
Matthew 6:22-24 offers a principle that can be applied to the idolatry of sexual sin. "The lamp of the body is the eye. If, therefore, your eye is good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If, therefore, the light that is in you is full of darkness, how great is that darkness? No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon." The principle here is specifically about serving God versus materialism and the lust for money. However, when we put the lust of the flesh through our visual sense ahead of righteousness and our love of God, we are in a similar place with the same question to answer: What do we want to serve, God or pornography?
Gateway to other sexual sins
Pornography opens the door to other forms of sexual sins. While it starts with fantasy stimulated by visual images, it often leads to other forms of sexual sins. Similar to drugs, where one is often looking for a better high, those seeking pornographic highs often seek material that is increasingly stimulating—from soft porn to hard porn, from still pictures to videos, from viewing relatively "normal" sex to viewing increasingly perverted and even violent sex. For many, it eventually leads to other forms of sexual sins such as phone sex, Internet sex, prostitution and extramarital affairs. As mentioned in the previous article, 70 to 90 percent of sexual addicts started with pornography.
One point I wanted to make before looking at other relapse prevention strategies is to remind everyone about setting healthy boundaries in relationships. This means that if you are married, you need to avoid intimate conversations with anyone of the opposite sex or being alone in a private room with that person for any length of time. You should also avoid flirtatious or sexual conversations, because they can lead to sexual fantasies or lust. When married, your intimate conversations should be reserved for your spouse. If there is a problem in your marriage, seek a counselor, preferably a Christian counselor, to help with communication and relationship issues.
Be proactive with relapse prevention
Returning to relapse prevention, I would strongly encourage being proactive, especially in spiritual ways. This means a spiritual approach to each and every day that will strengthen you against temptation. The apostle James wrote: "Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you" (James 4:7-8). And then strive to stay close to God!
In Matthew 6:33, Jesus Christ stated: "Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things shall be added to you." "All things" can include the mental, emotional and spiritual resources you need to defend yourself against temptation. It has been my experience in working with people with sexual addictions and weaknesses that if they start their day with prayer and time in the Bible, they are much better prepared to deal with the world's temptations and stresses and Satan's attacks. Among other benefits, having the mind filled with godly thoughts is effective in blocking out negative thoughts and temptations.
When you are tempted, God and Jesus Christ are only a prayer away. As Jesus admonished His disciples, "Pray that you may not enter into temptation" (Luke 22:40). A prayer can be worded, "Father, please help my eyes to be pure for you. Please uplift my mood to cope with whatever distraction is pulling me down spiritually, Father."
There are many other resources people can access to support their efforts in overcoming pornography addiction or other forms of sexual addiction. There are support groups in practically every community across the country and around the world. Many are in churches. It is such a pervasive problem that more and more people are seeking and finding help in these groups. Some of them are treatment groups run by professionals. Others are run by men and women who have made major progress in overcoming these problems and are helping others. Men and women can find these resources by looking online for meeting places. One Christian 12-step group that I think is doing a good job is Celebrate Recovery. It tends to address all forms of addictions, but there are some that are specific to sexual issues. It has a spiritual approach that includes God at the center, repentance, self-examination, making amends to injured persons, and helping others as a final way to support and continue one's own healing.
Relying on mentors, accountability partners, sponsors and similar support persons is also helpful, because they give you someone to turn to in your hour of need. Of course the most important source of help is our Heavenly Father through Jesus Christ. God is there for us if we would only call upon Him.
I am recommending two books that I have heard are very helpful as well: Being God's Man in the Face of Temptation by Stephen Arterburn and At the Altar of Sexual Idolatry by Steve Gallagher. There are other good books on this subject and some include workbooks that offer daily exercises to help heal, guide and direct toward recovery.
Other books and authors that may help those struggling with sexual addictions are: A Hunger for Healing by J. Heath Miller; Pure Eyes by Craig Gross; Surfing for God—Discovering the Divine Desire Beneath Sexual Struggle by Michael John Cusick; and Growing in Christ while Helping Others by John Baker.
Two final thoughts to leave with those who have engaged in pornography and other sexual sins: 1) Please contemplate the pain and suffering that such sins inflict on an innocent partner such as a spouse. The damage done to a spouse and a marriage is usually extreme and needs its own healing process. 2) Please contemplate how dysfunctional lifestyles and bad habits are often passed down from generation to generation. What kind of role model are you for your children, grandchildren, and nieces and nephews? What kind of legacy will you leave for future generations?
Please also read related articles in the Breaking Free section of our website at www.ucg.org/blogs/breaking-free. And the Breaking Free staff expects to add more and more related articles as time goes by.
Those of us engaged in counseling and writing regarding addictions regularly pray for all those who suffer from any addiction. We pray that God will bless you with success in breaking free from any bondage—and that you will remain free and filled with the joy that comes from living a good and godly life.