I looked at porn for the last time three years ago today. For over 10 years, I never thought I’d be free from the addiction that was destroying my life. This is my journey.
Like many other men, I was exposed to porn at an early age. I was introduced to pornographic videos and masturbation by some of my friends in middle school. I quickly became hooked on fantasizing about sexual acts, masturbation, and porn. Growing up in a family that attended church, I knew these actions were wrong and didn’t line up with God’s desire for my life. I felt immense shame whenever I acted out, and I made promises to God to stop time and time again. But no matter what I did, I just couldn’t stop my behavior. As a result, I fell deeper and deeper into sin and I began to live in a cycle of isolation, secrets, and shame.
In early high school, I got deeper into porn when high speed internet made it’s way into my home. I began regularly watching hardcore pornographic videos, which took up hours of my time on a monthly basis. I knew of all the popular porn stars, I knew the websites, and I knew where to go to find anything I wanted. As a result, I fell deeper and deeper into bondage to sin, shame, and isolation. I went through cycles of trying hard to stop and lasting up to a month without acting out, but soon returning to the place I promised myself and God that I would never go again. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t stop my behavior.
Life was a ticking time bomb of putting my willpower to the test.
When I came to college, I got involved in a campus ministry and started opening up about my sexual struggles. I began trying harder than ever to stop my behavior. Many individuals with good intentions advised me to get accountability, read the latest books on why porn is wrong, memorize scripture, say no to sin and look to Christ, and pray more. So I did all of those things, but it wasn’t long before I found myself right back at square one looking at porn. I felt horrible because I just couldn’t stop my behavior and I was doing all of the things people were telling me to do. I thought that if I just had more self control and loved Jesus more I’d be able to stop this behavior. As a result, I continued to live in a binge purge cycle, meaning I would go anywhere from a day to several months without porn or masturbation, but inevitably return. Life was a ticking time bomb of putting my willpower to the test.
As I prepared to graduate college, I applied to work for a campus ministry. But, rightly so, my application was deferred due to my struggle with porn. I was told that in a few months, they’d check in with me again and I may be accepted if there was more victory over my sexual struggles. With little resources to offer me for help, I put my willpower to the test once again and went several months without looking at porn. As a result, I was accepted for employment. During this time, I decided that I really needed to find lasting help with my struggle and I eventually wanted to see others in my position offered help as well.
Soon after, I found out about a sexual addiction recovery ministry called Pure Desire Ministries International. Sure enough, they had a recovery group in my area which I began attending. It was in this group that I realized for the first time that I had a serious sexual addiction, not just a moral problem. I learned that I had developed this addiction as a way of medicating pain in life that I had experienced from friends and family. As we live in a fallen world, the hurtful actions and words of others, whether intentional or not, can leave lasting pain in our lives that must be healed. So I began to identify and understand this woundedness that had driven my behavior for over ten years of my life.
I realized the reason I struggled for so long to stop my behavior was not that I wasn’t morally upright enough or committed to Christ enough. I learned sexual sin starts out as an immoral decision but quickly becomes a brain problem. I learned much about the neurochemistry of addiction and how my brain had been physically rewired over time, which is a main reason I kept returning to porn and masturbation. I learned about the atrophy that had taken place in my frontal lobe (the judgment center of the brain) and the neurological freeways that had been developed as I made the same destructive choices over time. Of course, I was responsible for my choices, but this helped me understand why I had tried time and time again to stop my behavior but failed.
For the first time, I understood how healing could take place in my life…
Over the next few years, I worked my way through many sexual addiction recovery resources and was part of several recovery groups. I also went through Pure Desire’s 11 month clinical outpatient treatment program with the founder of the ministry, Dr. Ted Roberts. Through this process and meeting with Dr. Ted weekly, I worked through a lot of the pain in my life that had led to my addiction. For the first time, I understood how healing could take place in my life and I used the practical tools in front of me to see that happen. I began a new lifestyle of complete transparency, reaching out for help when I was tempted to revert back, calling guys from my recovery group throughout the week, and working through the pain that was driving my behavior.
I found healing as Christ and His view of me transformed the faulty core beliefs about myself I had developed due the painful experiences in life I had faced. I finally found the freedom through Christ that I had dreamed of for years.
Since an early age, I had been to so many different counselors to find help for obsessive compulsive disorder, depression, anxiety, and tourettes. I had never seen so much understanding and growth until this process as I identified and faced the driving pain behind these issues. I learned healthier ways to deal with pain and stress in life as I moved toward trusting Christ rather than resorting to my coping mechanisms.
Going through the clinical outpatient program with Dr. Ted Roberts was one of the best but most difficult things I ever did. The program involved hard Spirit-filled work on a daily basis as I implemented recovery disciplines and faced the pain from my past head on. Like most, there were no quick fixes to finding healing and freedom. Sure, God could have healed me in an instant from this addiction, but His method is often a process. Sure, He could have physically removed my old neurological pathways that had been developed and instantly created new ones in my brain, but He didn’t do that because He had a better way.
We do not just let God and let go.
One thing to note is that the majority of the time the word “healing” occurs in the New Testament, the Greek word “therapeuō” is used. This is where we get the English word “therapy.” That’s no accident. Most of the time, I think God designed healing to be a process as it often draws us deeper into dependence and relationship with Him.
According to addiction experts, renewing the mind and healing from an addiction involves intentional work over time and is a 2-5 year process.(1) We are commanded in Romans 12:2 to “be transformed by the renewing of your mind”. God has given us an active role in participating in the healing work that the Holy Spirit wants to do in our lives. We do not just let God and let go. Philippians 2:12-13 says “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” As the Holy Spirit gave me the desire to change and the ability to carry that out, I saw growth through steps of obedience and discipline over time. The Holy Spirit worked as he changed my heart, desires, and rewired my brain which produced healing and lasting freedom.
Jesus didn’t pay the penalty for my sin on the cross so that I could be enslaved to my addiction for the rest of my life.
Today, I’ve been free from this addiction for three years. I praise Christ for this freedom and the healing work He has done and is doing in my life. During all of my years struggling with sexual sin I lived in such despair, self hatred, and secrecy. Having struggled with a sex addiction for over 10 years, feeling extreme despair and hopelessness, I never thought I’d see the freedom that I am seeing today. Several years ago, I couldn’t have imagined a life without porn. I’ve heard many people say “This is something you’ll struggle with until you die.” I can tell you today, that is not true. You can be set free from this addiction and never return to it again. Jesus didn’t pay the penalty for my sin on the cross so that I could be enslaved to my addiction for the rest of my life. He died and rose from the grave to set me free. He also didn’t set me free from this addiction so that I could keep this story of redemption to myself.
God is now using me to see other individuals restored to sexual and emotional health. A large portion of my job is helping campus ministry staff find freedom who would have otherwise been disqualified from employment due to sexual integrity issues. I also coach students and staff as they launch sexual addiction recovery groups on their campuses. I’ve been given the opportunity to develop Living Free, a sexual addiction recovery curriculum that I’ve have been writing in partnership with Dr. Ted Roberts and Pure Desire. Our prayer is that this resource will be part of the solution to the overwhelming need for an effective gospel-centered discipleship resource specifically geared toward college-age men. Formatted to be completed in two semesters, this workbook represents decades of combined experience training men to identify and understand the underlying factors that create and reinforce addictive sexual behavior. Living Free will take individuals beyond simply “trying harder” to methods and principles that produce lasting health and freedom. You can find more information using the following link: Living Free.
If you are struggling with a sexual addiction, you are not alone and there is hope. As an insight into how rampant sexual addiction is, here are some statistics from one study. Pure Desire Ministries International recently conducted 3,000 surveys throughout evangelical churches in the U.S. Their survey included a clinical Sexual Addiction Screening Test. The results they found were astounding. 66% of the men, 40% of the women, and 55% of the pastors qualified as having a sexual addiction.(2) Sexual addiction is one of the fastest growing addictions in our day. Many are experiencing hopelessness and a loss for answers when seeking lasting change. But greater hope is offered to us than we ever could have imagined.
Jesus offers us forgiveness for fraud, righteousness for rags, and transformation for treason.
A new identity lies at the core of this hope and healing. Not one of better self-esteem, but of better God-esteem. Not one of believing in a better you, but of something that doesn’t sway and can’t be taken away. Before a perfect and loving God, we all fall drastically short. We all have committed treason to the utmost degree by turning from Him and His perfect law. But the beauty of the gospel is that Jesus offers us an inconceivable exchange. We trade our enslavement for freedom, porn addiction for true love and satisfaction, and abandonment for adoption as sons and daughters of a better kingdom. Jesus offers us forgiveness for fraud, righteousness for rags, and transformation for treason.
Jesus lived the perfect life that we could never live, fully obeying a holy and perfect God, and took the punishment and eternal separation from God that we deserve. He freely offers us pardon for everything wrong we have done or ever will do. He freely offers us adoption as sons and daughters into His royal family. This changes everything. No matter what you truly believe about yourself as a result of your experiences in life or the actions or words of others, Jesus offers you an identity as a perfect and loved child of God that is permanent unlike any other source of identity that can be taken away. When understood and applied to our lives at a deep level, the gospel is our only answer from the enslaving bondage of sin. There is hope and healing, and I am one of the many who have experienced it.
To learn more about the sources of sexual addiction and how healing is attained, check out the article I wrote summarizing the most important things I’ve learned through my journey here: Understanding Sexual Addiction.
1 Patrick Carnes, ed., Clinical Management of Sex Addiction (New York: Brunner-Routledge, 2002) 14-18.