Before you begin reading – I would like to note that this article is rated PG-13 given the specific subject matter and detail related to pornography and its effect on the body.
Pornography is a touchy subject in many churches and Christian marriages. Thus, it should not shock us that it will be touchy in this blog as well. While there are many directions I could take with this, I’d like to open by outlining a few “porn facts” to orient our minds toward the reality of its cultural prevalence.
- Pornographic websites receive more regular online traffic than almost any other streaming service. They are accessed more than Netflix, Amazon, and Twitter combined on a monthly basis.[i]
- 30% or more of all data transferred across the Internet is porn related.[ii]
- The terms “sex” and “porn” rank fourth and sixth among the top ten most popular search terms on the Internet.
- The world’s largest pornographic site attracts 60% of its total visits from mobile devices. The site is the 18th most frequently visited on the planet and has a global visit duration of 10 minutes 49 seconds. It attracts 1.5 billion worldwide combined visits and its page views beat that of Google Japan, Google Germany, and Google Russia.[iii]
- Eleven pornography sites are among the world’s top 300 most popular Internet sites.[iv]
- One of the most popular pornographic sites receives 64 million unique hits per day.
Here are a few “safe for work” considerations as well.
- A 2016 survey of 813 U.S. teens and young adults (13–25) revealed that 26% of adolescents (both boys and girls) aged 13–17 actively seek out pornography weekly or more often.[v]
- Research has demonstrated that children are more susceptible than adults to develop an addiction and suffer from developmental side effects on the brain, given pornography (over)stimulates the pleasure center prematurely.[vi]
- It has long been understood that use of pornography has increased aggression in males, victimization of females, and resulted in early-onset impotence.
- 47% of Christians state that pornography is a significant problem in their home.[vii]
- While the statistics for churchgoing men using pornography are both well-documented and alarming (between 59-64%), increasingly concerning is that 34% of churchgoing women state that they intentionally visit pornographic sites as well.[viii]
This is the tip of the iceberg, and if I am being transparent, is only the “safe” data I thought was wise to address in the context of this article. This has only been compounded by the lingering effects of the pandemic on modern internet use.
In 2020, almost immediately upon quarantine orders being issued across the globe, reports of pornography viewing skyrocketed, with usage up a global average of 5.7% during the midweek (the typical low point), with some country’s spikes has high as 12-14% increases.[ix] It was only further exaggerated when one of the most globally popular sites made its premium subscription services free, worldwide, for an entire month.[x] 3 years later, in 2023, pornography use remains near this astronomically high rate.
Brothers and sisters, it goes without saying that this is a significant and culturally pervasive issue. It is a call for vigilance of our eyes and minds, and a diligent pursuit of God’s design for sexuality. And if I am being fully transparent with you, I would not be addressing this in such a manner if I did not know this to be relevant to the modern church. Each week, I and my counseling colleagues in local churches and biblical counseling practices are seeing a significant rise of people of both genders opening up about their battle against pornography. These sinful habits taking root now are sure to cause pain and heartache as we now begin to transition out of this, should we neglect its reality. To that end, in love, this steep incline necessitates a response.
The following are my recommendations to take immediate steps in your life.
“I acknowledged my sin to you,
and I did not cover my iniquity;
I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,’
and you forgave the iniquity of my sin.” (Psalm 32:5 ESV)
In Psalm 32:5a, the first thing King David wrote was related to acknowledging or recognizing sin for what it is. He chose not to hide or rationalize it and addressed it as such by cutting it off. This is an example we must consider and follow. No change will take place on an issue such as this unless we are willing to acknowledge use of pornography as not just “a problem,” but sinful. An unwillingness to acknowledge it and cut it off is a choice to live in denial. Acknowledging pornography use for the significant problem it is creates the environment where transformation and progress are able to take place.
Change, and subsequently overcoming a sin issue, always starts with confession. If you are battling with lustful desires, Psalm 32:5b must be practiced; confess your sin to God and those who have been directly affected and ask for their forgiveness. David patterns this by confessing his sin with confidence, knowing God will forgive.
Our loved ones may not be so quick to show forgiveness in the way God so freely does. One’s spouse is likely to feel violated, have broken trust, among a host of other complex thoughts and feelings. Regardless, it is better to confess than be caught. Forgiveness for a confessed wrong is far more easily granted than for something one has been caught doing. I cannot encourage this enough. If you have struggled in this way, the single most important means of breaking the bondage you are in is through the freeing power of confession.
If one is going to beat pornography, they must understand its personal allure. Believe it or not, it is fairly rare that porn usage is for as simple a reason as lust. More often it is a grasp at control of some other area in life that feels uncontrollable; a desire to quiet a worrisome temperament, or the desire for “more” in their current sexual relationship with desires going unmet. Most recently, the most common response I and others in the counseling community are hearing is for “stress relief.” Ultimately, each of these responses and many others are alternative means of coping (an emotional response to a stressful situation). Regardless, the point is that one must assess the reason behind why the allure of pornography tempted them to the point of compromise and seek to address it for what it is.
Due to the guilt and shame components associated with the use of pornography, many individuals or couples choose to quietly address this by themselves or in the confines of their marriage. Without going into a wealth of detail related to the complexities of marriage dynamics, broken trust, and a host of other resulting issues, as a counselor, I submit to you that this is unwise. In matters of broken trust and sexuality, while spouses should certainly be kept closely aware as trust is restored, it is best for men to hold men accountable and women to hold women accountable.
This accountability should involve the maximum and most painstaking efforts to demonstrate initiative and trustworthiness. Accountability should be completely transparent. It should not be seen as a burden, but as an act of freedom. If the sin has been cut off, this should not be a dilemma (though if it was to the level of addiction, it is likely going to be a struggle and involve feelings associated with withdrawal. But struggle and resistance are far from the same).
Let me be clear: any resistance to accountability is the sign of an unrepentant heart and likely an indicator that someone is not genuinely interested in change (or is still hiding something). It is a veiled form of pride. The person was hiding things that resulted in the use of pornography. More hiding will not help you or your loved one out of it.
As a helpful aside, I recognize the string of public shame. Accountability does not mean you broadcast this to your small group, peers, crew, or coworkers. It means you have a tight-knit, trusted circle of people who will genuinely hold you accountable and encourage you in sexual health.
Specifics for accountability:
- Software that tracks and prevents Internet access (Covenant Eyes, Qustodio, Net Nanny, K9 Web Protection, Web Watcher).
- Passcodes for TVs, smart phones, Apps, iPads, tablets, and video game consoles that have access to YouTube and other sites, and any electronics that could result in relapse being held by an accountability partner.
- All electronics must be accessed in public places.
- Video calls are timed, with strict adherence to start/stop times and immediate access to computers upon completion in an effort to earn trust.
- At least one, if not two, men or women (gender specific) to journey with the struggling individual in sexual wholeness and transparency. This is not a casual friendship, but akin to someone being available in the midst of addiction and relapse. These individuals should receive detailed reports from software and have weekly, if not daily, contact.
- Mentoring: this should involve specific discipleship related to the reason(s) porn was attractive (the heart issue) and create the practical means by which desire for use of porn is eliminated in favor of holy sexuality and sexual activity.
- Potential use of a sexual integrity group, available in the form of church support mechanisms and “anonymous” group models.
When pornography use is confessed or uncovered, the process of healing will necessitate time (which needs to be invested wisely). First, time should be invested in enhancing communication. Both in and out of marriage, communication is essential to recalibrate one’s mind on how to view other people God’s way (people created in His image) and not in the way that pornography damages or dehumanizes them. Specifically in marriages, communication is also essential to rebuilding trust, expressing unmet desires, and forging a path forward to prevent sexual integrity relapse.
A second application of time is a bit more physical, but important. Some of you may be aware of my studies in the neuroscientific reality of neuroplasticity. What I am going to share now leans into this. I’ll illustrate the point highlighting marriage but also make a general application below. Consider 1 Corinthians 7:5, which says:
“Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.”
“Agreement for a limited time” in the context of healing after pornography is significant. Without laboring on unnecessary neuroscientific detail, use of pornography damages the body. The pleasure center of the brain is over-stimulated and causes irregular releases of a neurotransmitter called dopamine (the brain chemical that makes us feel good). Further, for pornography to meet its intended end, there are other forms of external, physical stimulation required as well. This creates a direct connection between internal (brain) and external (organ) forms of stimulation that damage the body inside and out.
Abstinence for a limited time does two things. First, by eliminating pornography, it allows the brain to heal, and rewires itself (neuroplasticity) to its God-given design. Secondarily, simultaneously removing pornography and the sexual stimulation in marriage allows the body to heal from the sinful stimuli required for pornography to create its intended conclusion. This results in not only the pleasure center healing, but the other connection points between body and brain healing; thus, creating a relatively normal sexual experience within the context of marriage again after roughly 30 days.
As a note to the unmarried: your bodies endure the same damage. However, it is likely the healing time will be accelerated due to the lack of secondary sexual activity that exists within marriage.
Sometimes, the reasons for pornography use run deep. Additionally, it may have a physical impact on the body which has resulted in early-onset impotence, depression, feelings of anxiety, or feelings of loneliness and isolation, some of which are already a heightened concern during this pandemic season. This may require the partnership of a biblical counselor. If that is a necessity for you or a loved one, please do not hesitate to reach out to our the RGCC team at www.rgcconline.org.
Brothers and sisters, as I shared earlier in this article, this is a real danger, with escalating ramifications. The steady increase in the use of pornography on a local and global scale will result in uncharted heartache, unless we respond swiftly, charitably, gracefully, and in (tough) love (despite the difficulty of this). May we, together, be vigilant to that end.
[i] Alexis Kleinman. “Porn Sites Get More Visitors Each Month Than Netflix, Amazon and Twitter Combined.” www.huffpost.com. May 4, 2013, updated December 6, 2017.
iii Jonathan Marciano. “Top 300 Biggest Websites: Based on Both Mobile and Desktop Data for the First Time!” www.similarweb.com. July 19, 2016.
[iv] “Pornography and Public Health Research Summary.” http://endsexualexploitation.org/wp-content/uploads/NCOSE_Pornography-PublicHealth_ResearchSummary_8-2_17_FINAL-with-logo.pdf.
[v] Barna Group, “The Porn Phenomenon: The Impact of Pornography in the Digital Age,” (Ventura, CA: Josh McDowell Ministry, 2016). https://www.cbcrh.com/home/180005292/180009741/docs/The-Porn-Phenomenon.pdf?sec_id=180009741.
[vi] Frances E. Jensen with Amy Ellis Nutt, The Teenage Brain: A Neuroscientist’s Survival Guild to Raising Adolescents and Young Adults, (New York: Harper Collins, 2015); Tamara L. Doremus-Fitzwater, Elena I. Varlinskaya, and Linda P. Spear, “Motivational Systems in Adolescence: Possible Implications for Age Differences in Substance Abuse and Other Risk-Taking Behaviors,” Brain and Cognition 72, no. 1 2010): 114–123.
[vii] Tim Clinton and Joshua Straub. God Attachment: Why You Believe, Act, and Feel the Way You Do About God. (New York: NY: Howard Books, 2010), 36.
[ix] “5 Things You Can Do at Home While Quarantined From COVID-19 (That Don’t Include Watching Porn).”https://fightthenewdrug.org/5-things-you-can-do-while-quarantined-from-coronavirus/. April 14, 2020.
[x] “Pornhub is Now Offering Free Premium Worldwide—Here’s Why That’s Problematic.” https://fightthenewdrug.org/the-problem-with-pornhub-offering-premium-to-the-world-because-of-covid/ March 24, 2020.
Stephen Ganschow, Ph.D.
Biblical Counselor, RGI Training Program Instructor
Stephen Ganschow, Ph.D., has been with Reigning Grace since its inception. While he provides some long-distance counseling, his current role is strategic development, consultation, and teaching within Reigning Grace Institute as an instructor. Additionally, he serves as the Pastor of Counseling at Bethel Church in northwestern Indiana. He is a Level II-certified biblical counselor with the ACBC, is certified by the IABC, and has various specialty certifications in a wide array of counseling disciplines. Additionally, he is pursuing an Ed.D. in Community Care Counseling, with an emphasis on the pastoral counseling and the local church.