What is Pornography Addiction?

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What is Pornography Addiction?

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What is pornography? It's pictures, videos, writing, or other material that is sexually explicit. It often involves the depiction of erotic behavior (as in pictures or writing) intended to cause sexual excitement.

The word "pornography" comes from two Greek words that mean "prostitute" and "writing," so the original meaning is "writing about prostitutes." But today, even though there are still lots of salacious books, pornography is largely about visual images—in magazines, movies, videos and the Internet. Modern technology has brought us photography, videography and the Internet. Now anyone with a TV or computer can watch porn 24/7 in the privacy and secrecy of his own home. This has made it extremely easy to become addicted—a  tragic consequence of scientific achievement.

In a study of 932 sex addicts conducted by Dr. Patrick Carnes, 90 percent of men and 77 percent of women indicated that pornography played a significant role in their addiction (Don't Call it Love: Recovery from Sexual Addictions, 1991, New York, Bantam).

What's wrong with pornography?

Pornography is destructive to the mind and heart of the viewer even when he's not addicted to it. God gave the Ten Commandments to steer humanity toward a happy, healthful life and away from the automatic penalties of disobedience. The Bible is filled with praise for God's wonderful laws. Psalm 119 is by far the longest chapter in the Bible at 176 verses. It's entirely about praising God for His Word and His laws. Psalm 119:97 says: "Oh, how I love Your law! It is my meditation all the day." Psalm 119:9 is helpful for people struggling with pornography addiction. It says: "How can a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed according to Your word."

The seventh of the Ten Commandments is "You shall not commit adultery" (Exodus 20:14). This brief umbrella command refers to all the various kinds of sexual sins. And sexual sins are the most self-destructive of all. In 1 Corinthians 6:18, the apostle Paul wrote: "Flee sexual immorality. Every sin that a man does is outside the body, but he who commits sexual immorality sins against his own body."

And Jesus Christ revealed the spirit of the law: "But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery in his heart" (Matthew 5:8). Therefore lust (sexual fantasizing and craving) is a sin against God. What Jesus said applies just as much to looking at a visual image of a woman. It's the same principle if a woman is lusting for a man. Therefore, virtually all deliberate viewing of pornography is sinful because of its lustful nature.

What's wrong with just looking? God designed our minds, hearts and bodies as they are so people would be attracted to the opposite sex. He made men to be more visually-oriented, and He made women to be beautiful. God's plan is to motivate men to get married and for each man to enjoy his wife for the rest of his life. This is somewhat summed up in Proverbs 5:18-19, which says: "Let your fountain be blessed, and rejoice with the wife of your youth. As a loving deer and a graceful doe, let her breasts satisfy you at all times; and always be enraptured with her love."

At the same time, God doesn't want any man to see any naked woman other than his wife, and doesn't want any woman to see any naked man other than her husband. That way, all the excitement is focused on one's spouse. And no man has his mind desensitized because he is comparing his wife's body with a thousand other nude bodies that he's seen on the Internet. So viewing pornography is never harmless, even when it's not yet an addiction.

Pornography is addictive!

Peering at porn often starts as casual curiosity, but that often becomes the appetizer for more and more indulgence in what God forbids. The frequent viewings become a habit, and the habit soon becomes an addiction.

Viewing porn excites the mind and sexually arouses the body. A natural consequence is the carnal desire to act out sexually and relieve the sexual tension. Most often, this is done by masturbation. Pornography and masturbation are both habit-forming, and the two together become a powerful force for addiction. The self-stimulation to a sexual climax is momentarily pleasurable, and it can initially elevate a person's mood, providing a momentary "high." That usually results in the temptation to repeatedly replicate these feelings, potentially producing an obsessive-compulsive pattern if not stopped in time by the obvious red flags.

Addictive behaviors often cause chemical alterations in the neurotransmitters of the brain which, in turn, alter moods. These changes can temporarily dull pain or produce pleasurable sensations. They therefore reinforce the addiction.

Typically, people who are quickly attracted to this form of addictive behavior do so to escape some emotional state such as depression, loneliness, anxiety, fear or shame, or to escape from the reality of their circumstances. As a man once told me, "In that world, I'm king."

However, for most addicts, there is a flip side of the coin. Many feel intense shame and grief for the addiction because it goes contrary to their own belief systems and consciences.

Faulty beliefs about self

Some people become sexually addicted even though they came from a healthy and wholesome family background. They first look at pornography out of curiosity and thrill-seeking and then are gradually seduced by the lure of the eroticism.

But more often than not sex addicts have dysfunctional backgrounds and usually have distorted views of themselves. Dr. Patrick Carnes, a pioneer in sexual addiction, has identified four core beliefs of most sexual addicts. Many of the core beliefs that addicts have are acquired from family systems that are dysfunctional. Dysfunctional families are those where poor boundaries exist among family members, emotional needs are not being met, or where abuse of one form or another might exist. Individuals who come from families where addictions have occurred have a greater probability of, or predisposition for, acquiring addictive behavioral patterns.

Here are the core beliefs Carnes outlines in his book, Out of the Shadows.

1. I am basically a bad and unworthy person.

2. No one would love me as I am.

3. My needs are never going to be met if I have to depend upon others.

4. Sex is my most important need.

Dr. Carnes believes that the roots of sexual addiction begin in childhood. He writes: "When a child's exploration of sexuality goes beyond discovery to routine self-comforting because of the lack of human care, there is potential for addiction. Sex becomes confused with comforting and nurturing."

As with other forms of addiction, a number of characteristics are common to sexual addiction. Here are some to be aware of when confronting porn addicts.


Denial is a defense mechanism that maintains the addictive behavior by failing to admit or minimizing the seriousness of the behavior. The first step towards overcoming any addiction is acknowledging that you have a problem. Only when you can truly be honest about your actions and their consequences and take personal responsibility can a healing process begin.

Compulsivity and Dependence

Compulsivity is a recurring impulse that is difficult to resist. The tension of a negative emotional state is relieved when a behavior or chemical is introduced that causes a neuro-chemical reward. That "reward" reinforces and perpetuates the behavior. When this process is repeated multiple times, it creates a physical and/or psychological dependency.

Tolerance and Escalation

Over time, what used to produce a desired effect and state of mind becomes less effective, and this is called tolerance. What typically happens is that the individual needs more of the drug or behavior to get the desired result. With pornography, the cravings tend to degenerate to porn that is more erotic, explicit, kinky or violent. Or the person may act out sexually in more high-risk behaviors such as going to strip clubs, using "escort" services, or connecting with prostitutes online. This escalation leads to increased levels of shame and guilt, which leads to increased desire to "medicate" the mental pain through escapism, and the cycle of dependency increasingly gets reinforced.

Powerlessness and unmanageability

At this point in the downward spiral of addiction, the individual begins to suffer consequences that may impact areas of life such as marriage, family, spiritual life, financial, legal, and possibly others. It's often at this point that one finally seeks help. The best way to start the recovery process is to seek the help of our all-powerful Heavenly Father. At this level of enslavement, we need God's help to emancipate us from the sinful bondage.

How pornography progresses from bad to worse

According to Dr. Victor Cline, an expert on sexual addiction, there is a four-step progression of this addictive behavior:

1. Addiction: Pornography provides a powerful sexual stimulant or aphrodisiac effect, followed by sexual release, most often through masturbation.

2. Escalation: Over time, addicts require more explicit and more deviant material to meet their sexual needs. They desire (even think they require) rougher, more deviant, more explicit, and kinky kinds of sexual material to get their "high" and "sexual turn-ons."

3. Desensitization: What was first perceived as gross, shocking, disturbing, in time becomes common and acceptable. Tragically, healthy sexual relations with one's spouse seems boring.

4. Acting out sexually: There is an increasing tendency to act out behaviors (including violent behaviors) viewed in pornography—imitating what one has seen.