Category Archives: Pornography

TED Talk Highlights Brain Changes that Stem from Porn

THE BAD NEWS: Porn alters the brain in ways that inhibit arousal and detract from “in person” sex, creating an epidemic of erectile dysfunction

THE GOOD NEWS: When you stop porn use, your brain can (over time) heal itself

Check out this fascinating TEDx lecture by Gary Wilson. It’s well put together, and really needs no introduction.

Be forewarned: some people who read this site are easily triggered to sexual temptation, and very sensitive to the materials I put on here. So know that there is a brief picture of women in bikinis at one point in the lecture.

But I hope that won’t keep you from watching. It’s very thought-provoking, and I hope that every person who has access to the internet watches this video.

 

Let me know what you think in the comments. 🙂

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When does “looking” become “lusting”?

When does a look become lust? Where is line that separates normal, healthy, God-given sexual response from sinful, destructive lust?

Christians generally focus on Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 5:27-28 as the standard for moral purity: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” So if this is our goal, we need to be clear about what it actually means to “look at a person lustfully.”

Let’s say you go to a restaurant. You look over to your left, and notice someone at the next table who is very attractive. Maybe they are dressed provocatively. You look at them, and their attractiveness registers in your mind. You might even notice something about their body that is attractive or alluring.

Is that lust? When does awareness and/or sexual attraction cross the line into lust?

Christians have been wrestling with this question for generations. Many wise people have written and taught about this. Let me suggest three words that are helpful in drawing the line between looking and lusting:

1. Looking becomes lusting when we stare

Intuitively we all know that there is some difference between looking at someone and staring at them. It’s one thing look at, or notice someone, it’s another to intensely watch them, to “visually feast on them.”

This is where the much maligned and often misunderstood “two-second rule” applies. The two-second rule suggests that looking at someone for a short amount of time is normal and socially acceptable. But looking at someone for more than two seconds constitutes staring and generally signifies crossing the line into lust.

While trying to legalistically apply this “rule” doesn’t work very well, understanding the principle behind it can be helpful.

Neuroscientists tell us that if we look at something intently for an extended period of time, that image gets burned into our brain, and we can recall the image later. We encounter millions of images and sensory impressions as we go through each day. Most of these we either ignore or pay such scant attention to that we can’t recall them later. They move in and out of our consciousness and aren’t retained.

But some of these images and sensory impressions make a deeper impression. They are retained if we pay focused attention to them … if we “take a mental picture.” That’s what happens if we stare at someone.

Let’s go back to the restaurant example. So you see someone who is attractive and/or dressed in such a way that catches your attention and possibly even creates a minor sexual response. But then, instead of fixating on that, you turn your attention elsewhere. You get involved in a conversation with your companion(s), and other thoughts, sights, and sounds take up our attention. It doesn’t take long for that earlier stimulus to fade, as your consciousness is filled with other thoughts and other stimuli.

But if you were staring, you were burning that image into your memory. Later that day, if you sat down and closed your eyes, you could probably call to mind that person, or that image.

2. Looking becomes lusting when we fantasize

Sometimes we do this while we stare: we build a fantasy in our minds about the person we are starting at. We imagine talking to this person, starting a relationship with this person, or doing something sexual with this person. In the later instance, way we are literally “committing adultery in our minds” as Jesus talks about in Matthew 5:28.

When we start to obsess about the person, when we spin stories or scenarios in our minds about them, then we have crossed the line into lust.

3. Looking becomes lusting when we objectify

To objectify someone is to cease to view them as a person, and instead view them as an object. We do this when we focus on a person’s body – or body parts – instead of focusing on them as a person. Then we move from relating to them as a human being to thinking about them, looking at them, maybe even evaluating them in the same detached, objectifying way we might look at a pornographic picture.

Habitual pornography users can struggle to build healthy relationships with members of the opposite sex because of this tendency. Viewing pornography trains you to objectify people, focusing on their body and sexuality. Sexual thoughts can intrude in your consciousness as you are trying to relate on a social level with someone.

You can probably see that these three words — staring, fantasizing, and objectifying — are related, and they often go together in practice. If you’re staring at someone, you might also be fantasizing about them. If you are fantasizing about someone, you might also be undressing them in your mind … objectifying them.

Obviously things like pornography, sexual chat, and erotic stories all fit into this category of lusting. They don’t satisfy our sexual desire, they feed it and create desire for more. They don’t build intimacy. They don’t bring people together. They alienate people, because they train people to objectify and fantasize, rather than to love, serve, and relate.

Our goal is to treat other people with love and with dignity as persons. When we view people primarily as objects for our viewing and critique, or view them primarily from the standpoint of potential sexual partners, we are severely limiting the ways in which we can connect on a human, non-sexual level.

Recovery from sex addiction is more than just an obsession with not lusting

There’s a line in How it Works that says, “If you have decided you want what we have…” I must say that as I’ve sat in many meetings over the years, I’ve wondered if I really want what some of the long-time sober people have.

I encounter people at meetings with distressing frequency who have significant sobriety, but exhibit this pattern: week after week they are checking in with almost obsessive detail about things like seeing a woman in a grocery store and taking a second look, or seeing a magazine ad and not “bouncing their eyes away” within the allotted 1.5 seconds. I appreciate their zeal, but it makes me uncomfortable to think that this is the future we are inviting people into:

obsession with not lusting

It seems to me that real recovery is something more than that, something bigger than that. I get it that people want to be scrupulous about their boundaries, and that a meeting is a place to get things off our chest, and share even minor dalliances with middle circle behaviors. But there’s got to be more. There’s got to be more talk, more focus on the inner aspects of recovery, Continue reading Recovery from sex addiction is more than just an obsession with not lusting

Does the rise of video games and online porn mean the demise of guys?

Does the rise of video games and the proliferation of online porn mean the demise of guys? Researchers are increasingly saying “yes.” (Note: if you are a parent of teen or pre-teen boys, you might want to keep some Xanax handy as you read this.)

Psychologist Dr. Philip Zimbardo is a professor emeritus at Stanford University. Zimbardo teamed up with artist and psychologist Nikita Duncan to write “The Demise of Guys: Why Boys Are Struggling and What We Can Do About It. Following are some excerpts from a recent article on the CNN website featuring Zimbardo’s comments.

Young men — who play video games and use porn the most — are being digitally rewired in a totally new way that demands constant stimulation. And those delicate, developing brains are being catered to by video games and porn-on-demand, with a click of the mouse, in endless variety.

Such new brains are totally out of sync in traditional school classes, which are analog, static and interactively passive. Academics are based on applying past lessons to future problems, on planning, on delaying gratifications, on work coming before play and on long-term goal-setting.

Guys are also totally out of sync in romantic relationships, which tend to build gradually and subtly, and require interaction, sharing, developing trust and suppression of lust at least until “the time is right.”

A recent study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that “regular porn users are more likely to report depression and poor physical health than nonusers are. … The reason is that porn may start a cycle of isolation. … Porn may become a substitute for healthy face-to-face interactions, social or sexual.”

Every compulsive gambler, alcoholic or drug addict will tell you that they want increasingly more of a game or drink or drug in order to get the same quality of buzz.

Video game and porn addictions are different. They are “arousal addictions,” where the attraction is in the novelty, the variety or the surprise factor of the content. Sameness is soon habituated; newness heightens excitement. In traditional drug arousal, conversely, addicts want more of the same cocaine or heroin or favorite food.

The consequences could be dramatic: The excessive use of video games and online porn in pursuit of the next thing is creating a generation of risk-averse guys who are unable (and unwilling) to navigate the complexities and risks inherent to real-life relationships, school and employment.

Note: I don’t agree with everything in the article. For example, I’m not a fan of using extreme examples (like the Korean man who died while playing StarCraft, and the Norwegian mass murderer who played a lot of video games before resorting to shooting people in real life) to make the argument for the destructiveness of a habit. Let the research speak for itself. People who ignore their body’s needs for food and water to the point of death, and/or people who become mass murderers have other issues besides playing computer games and watching porn. Nevertheless, this article is worth reading and thinking about.

If you’re interested, you can watch Zimabardo’s 2011 TED talk on “The Demise of Guys” here.

What do you think? Do you agree with Zimbardo?

Five things every recovering sex addict needs to know about fantasy

Many people live with heads full of fantasies. This is especially true of sex addicts. Some of these fantasies are sexual, some are not. Along with sexual fantasies, many of us have fantasies about what it would be like to have a certain amount of money, drive a certain car, or achieve a certain celebrity status. For many people, the daydreams of childhood continue on into adulthood — they just become more sophisticated.

Our fantasies exercise their power by creating scenarios which promise to meet our deepest needs. Instead of being fearful and uncertain, in his fantasy he is decisive and courageous. Instead of being isolated and lonely, in her fantasy she is surrounded by friends. Instead of being poor, in his fantasy he is rich. The same is true about sexual fantasies. At their core, sexual fantasies reveal our longings for connection, intimacy, and acceptance.

 

1. Fantasies create a vicious cycle

Fantasies are destructive. Obviously, sexual fantasies feed the lust that is at the center of sex addiction. Addicts nurture and meditate on these fantasies, which feeds their addiction and keeps them from engaging reality.

But non-sexual fantasies are also destructive because they also keep us from engaging reality. When I was in training for life coaching, I remember one of my teachers harping on the dangers of fantasy. She wasn’t warning us about sexual fantasy: her concern was with fantasies about getting rich, winning the lottery, being famous, and the like. She said the problem with fantasies is this (we’ll call it the “law of fantasy”):

The more you are fantasizing about something, the less you are actually doing about it.

Part of this is simple time economics. There are only so many hours in a day, and only so much energy at our disposal. Every minute spent fantasizing about what life would be like if a certain goal is reached is a minute lost to the pursuit of that goal in actuality.

But it’s worse than that. Fantasy doesn’t just keep us too occupied to take action … it actually robs us of the energy and enthusiasm we need to pursue our goal.

Fantasy creates a vicious cycle: By not engaging reality, the addict’s life gets more unsatisfying as his or her problems grow. This creates even more motivation for the addict to escape reality through fantasy, which makes the real-life problems worse, and increases his or her desire for escape. Instead of doing the things they need to do to positively affect their future, addicts indulge in fantasies that keep them from moving forward in life.

 

2. Engaging in fantasy keeps us from pursuing our vision

Fantasies and vision are both pictures in our minds of something we wish were true for us. But in contrast to fantasy, vision is more closely tied to reality. In fact, this is the primary distinction between the two … vision is a desired future about which I can see steps to take to move me towards it. Fantasy is something that is disconnected from my reality. It’s out there in the distance.

Think of it this way: Imagine being on one side of a chasm — and being able to see the other side. You might be able see great things on the other side, and wish you were there, but there is no way to get across. So you just imagine “what-if” scenarios about what it must be like to be there. That’s fantasy.

Now imagine that there are some ropes that span the chasm. It might not work to simply walk across, but you see some things around that you could use to reinforce the rope, and build a bridge of sorts to get across. Seeing the good things on the other side motivates you to work on building the bridge so you can actually get there.

That’s vision. With vision there is always a bridge between our present reality and the future dream.

Fantasies keep us stuck in the situation we are in. They don’t motivate us to move forward. Quite the contrary: they are coping strategies that enable us live with the status quo. Vision gives us hope, motivation, and direction that allows us to get moving. Even if a vision is idealistic, it is still tied closely enough to reality that we can see a way to move forward to achieve it.

 

3. How to tell if what you have is a vision or fantasy

So is the picture in your head a vision or a fantasy? How can you tell? Ask a very simple question:

What can I do to achieve it?

Is there a path for me to move forward to make that future a reality in my life? If there is a path you can see, and you get excited about taking that path (even though it might seem daunting), then you have a vision. If not, then you have a fantasy.

This again is where the law of fantasy comes in: the more you fantasize about something, the less you are actually doing about it. The more you fantasize, the less time and energy you have to plan and work towards a positive future. To put it another way: the more fantasy, the less vision.

 

4. In early recovery, vision needs to be centered around sobriety and health

It is vitally important for an addict in early recovery to develop vision for the kind of person he or she wants to be in recovery. It’s not important to have a grand vision for your life that is about having certain things or achieving vocational goals. In fact, it may be important for our recovery that we let go of some of our ambitions and attachments to achieving and having.

Instead of focusing on our grandiose plans, in early recovery it can be helpful to let those go. Instead try to imagine what it would be like to be an emotionally healthy person, with a healthy sex life, and a life of gratitude and contentment.

One way for people in early recovery to do this is to think simply in terms of what life could be like a year from today if they live in recovery and establish solid sobriety. That’s the basic broad “vision” that is helpful for recovery. Only later does one need to worry about further details being added in, like where to live, what to do for a living, the kind of car to drive, how to help other people who are addicts themselves.

At the beginning, forget about all that. Just focus on the vision of recovery first.

Can you imagine a life of sexual sobriety? Can you imagine living with contentment and joy, a life that does not include the MAP behaviors (masturbation, adultery, pornography)?

 

5. Creating this vision of recovery is hard – especially for sex addicts

Creating this vision of life in recovery is not easy. Many addicts feel a sense of hopelessness or futility about their prospects of success in recovery. This is especially a problem for sex addicts – because many recovery programs are new and access to “old timers” in the program is rare.

Many sex addicts are involved in groups or have a circle of recovering friends who struggle to stay sober and are living with repeated relapse. This can be discouraging, even debilitating. If we are surrounded by people who can’t stay sober, we will struggle with sobriety as well.

Addicts need to know – and really believe – that sexual purity, sobriety, and health are possible for them. One way of doing this is to spend time with people who have long-term sobriety – the “old timers.” This is another reason to be involved in a support group, especially one where you meet a variety of people who have significant sobriety. If you don’t have that in your local community, get involved in phone support where you can be connected to people who can feed your vision.

 

As my mentor Mark Laaser says, “Pay attention to your fantasies. They are messages from your soul that reveal your deepest longings.” If the fantasies are sexual, do what you need to do to turn them over to God, to discipline your mind to let them go and not allow the fantasies to create sexual arousal and lead you to act out.

But pay attention to the other fantasies too. What do you want your life to be like? What do you think about when you lie awake in bed at night? What do you daydream about? Pay attention to these thoughts. Seek to transition from mind filled with fantasies to a mind captured by vision.

How can you forgive your spouse in the aftermath of sexual betrayal?

In the process of recovering from sexual struggles, restoring relationships is vital … and hard. When sexual strugglers are married, their addiction / compulsion has led to repeated sexual betrayal in one form or another. Unlike other addictions, sexual addiction strikes at the heart of the marriage commitment. How can someone forgive that?

In the past year, my wife has started counseling wives of sexual strugglers, and we are now counseling couples together Continue reading How can you forgive your spouse in the aftermath of sexual betrayal?

Hacking Recovery: How to Improve 12 Step Groups (part 2)

Why do 12-Step programs work? What makes them effective? If we can figure out why AA and the 12 Steps work (what the “active ingredients” are) we might be able to improve them. In part 1 of this two-part series, I explored several factors that behaviorists suggest contribute to the success of 12 Step programs for treatment of addiction. In this article, we will look at three suggestions for improving 12 Step Groups.

Our inspiration comes from an article by Brendan Koerner that was featured in Wired magazine. Koerner cites a number of studies over the years trying to determine how effective AA is, and concludes with some suggestions for how to improve 12 Step groups. Their suggestions are interesting and instructive. Not surprisingly (given that it’s the techno-centric Wired magazine), two of the three recovery hacks involve better technology. I’ll list them, along with my added thoughts:

Continue reading Hacking Recovery: How to Improve 12 Step Groups (part 2)