Saturday, December 4, 2010

Reasons Why Your Husband or Son Use Pornography

I am not an expert on the reasons why men and boys use pornography, but, while I was a bishop, I gained much insight while counseling with many who struggled with it. After five years of working with this issue on a regular basis—and, blessedly, seeing the vast majority gain control over it—I have seen some patterns emerge.

I know women use pornography as well, perhaps more commonly in written form, such as romance novels, rather than graphic, visual images, but while I was a bishop, no women came forward seeking help with this problem. This does not mean that the problem did not exist in our ward; it only means I have had no experience in counseling women in this area. So my observations today are limited to men, young and old.

I want to make one thing very clear at the outset. If you are a wife or mother of a man or boy who uses or has used pornography, I believe, under no circumstances, is it your fault. You are not responsible for that choice nor are you the cause of that choice.

Yes, you may have some bearing, some influence, for good or ill, on a husband or son, but you have not and cannot make the decision to view pornography for him. It is his choice, and he is responsible for it. God does not ask us to bear the burdens of another person's choices, though we often suffer the consequences of bad choices or reap the benefits of good choices of those who are closest to us.

Thomas S. Monson recently said:
If we make the wrong choice, we have no one to blame but ourselves. President Brigham Young once expressed this truth by relating it to himself. Said he: "If Brother Brigham shall take a wrong track, and be shut out of the Kingdom of heaven, no person will be to blame but Brother Brigham. I am the only being in heaven, earth, or hell, that can be blamed." He continued: "This will equally apply to every Latter-day Saint. Salvation is an individual operation."
Here are four patterns I saw in men or boys that contribute to the use of pornography. I'll warn you that my language may be a little bold or direct, but this is only for the sake of clarity. We must seek clarity in our communication if we want to be effective in it.

Pattern number one: Very commonly, if a man or boy's masculinity is undermined by an overbearing wife or mother, frustration over this can lead to the use of pornography. If she often shows him disrespect, is constantly negative or critical, or regularly implies that he is incompetent or stupid, or acts as a "helicopter mom" (overly involved in and controlling of his life, to the point of being invasive, as opposed to being supportive and nurturing), this can result in him being more vulnerable to the temptation to use pornography.

I never saw it as a one-sided problem, though. It always takes two to dance this dance. I see it as is evidence of weakness on his side. I don't blame you for feeling frustrated about his weaknesses. All I am saying is the two are connected in some way. But no matter how you are dealing with him, your behavior is not the cause. You are not the cause! It is always rooted in him.

I don't fully understand the psychology behind this kind of emotional strain, but I know it is real. For married men, pornography use under these circumstances has little to do with them having a normal or fulfilling sex life. Most of them do, in spite of the pornography (though pornography can affect their sexual performance). But they may use pornography to subtly express their anger and frustration over not being able to fulfill their natural sense of adventure, or as a result of how they perceive that they are viewed by the most important female in their life. It is complex, but, in my experience, this shows up again and again and again.

Now the man or boy of course has a responsibility to be bold (but not overbearing), to be self-confident (but not arrogant), and to stand on his own two feet, and to express his masculinity, but sometimes does not know how because he has not had proper role models or has been oppressed by an overpowering mother, usually one with impossible expectations.

Many women are very attracted to masculinity. They like it when a confident man steps in to take control of a situation that has gotten out of control, or when he steps forward to provide for, protect, defend or fight for her honor, even when it means defending her against her own children! Masculinity, when it is not taken to the aggressive or animal level, provides a sense of security for many women.

Some women take on masculine roles themselves, especially when they have had unreliable or untrustworthy male role models when they were young, but few of them really want to or like to. I know there are always exceptions to observations like these, but generally, you will find that the desire for a nobly masculine man in a woman's life is very common and very strong.

When those masculine qualities are missing or weak, when a man does not know how to be truly masculine, and his wife is constantly negative or deprecating about it, both lose out. When the masculinity she seeks is missing, and she gets down on him for it, this approach almost always backfires.

Sometimes when a boy or man is learning how to be masculine, he needs to be taught how. He needs support or help. He needs room to practice. He needs training, to be shown good role models. He needs patience and tutoring. An oppressed man is an unhappy man, and if he does not show his frustration over his oppression through pornography, he will often take up some other addiction to gain an illusion of power or control in his life. It is strange but true.

A second cause, closely tied to the first, is low self-esteem. If a boy or man has low self-worth, he can be tempted a little more readily than his more confident counterparts. Low self-confidence leads to a "who-cares-because-I'm-no-good attitude." If he lives in an environment where he cannot develop or express his talents, where he is not respected or trusted, where someone isn't there to believe in him or to root him on, feelings of low self-worth can occur and open the door to temptation.

A third reason is a combination of boredom and curiosity. This is a more common problem for boys than men. When boys are left to their own devices, spend long hours at home alone, with free access to the Internet, don't have a channel for their adventurous side, and whose parents are too nervous or shy to discuss sex openly and appropriately with them, curiosity can get the best of them.

Many boys and men are like emotional fire hoses. If they don't have a way to channel those emotions, those feelings can be destructive of their well-being. If properly channeled, those emotions can be protective and life-giving. Boys need help in this area. They need to be understood, have high (but not overwhelming) expectations, of themselves and by others, and they need outlets for their curiosity that won't corrupt, hinder or slow their emotional growth.

My final observation is around addiction. A sexual addiction, especially one that started at an early age, can be very difficult to overcome, especially when aspects of it are not fully addressed. It is like playing Whack-a-Mole at Chuck E. Cheese's. When you are dealing with an addiction, you may whack one aspect of it on the noggin, but then another one shows up in an unexpected spot, sometimes months later. You have to keep whacking until you have bonked them all. They are not going to go away by themselves. They need to be flushed or lured out, and then properly dealt with. It takes a thoroughgoing approach. A cursory or short-term approach will not work.

To recap, once again, I am not a professional counselor. I do not understand all the psychology that goes behind pornography use. But as a spiritual counselor, I saw several patterns emerge that have common application. The four most common patterns I saw were:
  1. Undermined masculinity
  2. Low self-esteem
  3. Boredom and curiosity
  4. Addictions not fully addressed
I would love to hear about your experiences and insights. Your comments could help another who is struggling with pornography or someone who loves one who uses it. And if you are a professional therapist, please add to these four patterns with your own observations. You can comment anonymously if you prefer.

As always, thank you for reading, and God bless you.

(I have followed up on this post with another post, which I also encourage you to read.)

13 comments:

  1. I think all four of the causes that you outline applied to me, but low self-esteem became more prominent after I started viewing porn, which resulted in a vicious cycle: porn -> low self-esteem -> porn.

    While growing up, I was taught by my mother and church leaders that any sexual gratification was wrong. The first time that I held a girl's hand and sat next to her, I got a normal male physiologic response which seemed to qualify as "sexual gratification." I felt guilty. I was 18 years old at the time. My awkwardness around the opposite sex didn't go away when I came home from my mission. I wanted to be with women, but I wasn't ready to get married.

    When I accidentally encountered internet porn, it was as if I'd been dieting all my life and then suddenly discovered potato chips. You can't eat just one. Porn provided an outlet for an appetite that could not be otherwise satisfied. Unfortunately, if porn is the only sexual outlet you've ever had, you can't function normally with a real woman...

    I've gradually become better at functioning normally with my wife and less interested in porn. "Gradual" is the key word here. [...] Without a wife like mine, I can't imagine how someone with a background like mine would be able to kick the porn habit.

    The repeated emphasis on porn in stake and general priesthood meetings suggests that porn use is pandemic in the church. Masculine instincts have been castigated throughout the history of Christianity. Paul might as well have said that testosterone is the root of all evil.

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  2. Those are interesting observations. I would recommend that wives or mothers concerned about the subject also click on the Church's official website (via LDS Family Services) on the matter, from the standpoint of the individual, the parent, the spouse, a youth, or a leader: combatingpornography.org

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  3. As a wellness practitioner and one who helps others overcome difficult things including addictions, I feel another contributor is a disruption in the mind/body which can come from any of the things you mentioned or from abuse or other traumatic events. When those disruptions are resolved, the accompanying emotions go along with them. Although I have not dealt specifically with porn addiction with my clients, a male friend of mine has, and I'd like to share his website. His services, along with the Savior's help, which he incorporates make the whole business much more doable.

    http://wholesomelives.wordpress.com/about-dr-arden-compton/

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  4. It is true that pornography is also a problem for women. At the age of 16 by chance I came across graphic images that I knew were wrong but at the same time felt compelled to continue to look not only once but again and again until i was 18. I would realize that it was wrong and distance myself from anything that would trigger me again. But would feel those urges and relapse. It was not until I admitted to myself and my Heavenly Father that i needed help was I able to finally able to realize that there was hope and that I could overcome this. I was at the time to afraid to talk to my Bishop and went at it alone. It was a long hard process and I would not advise holding off from seeking the council of your bishop. Even after I had stayed away from pornography and repented I questioned if I had done all that I could to ensure of my forgiveness. I had been sitting in my college institute class and a scripture was read talking about how our sins for which we had not repented of would be shouted from the roof tops in heaven. I then knew that I needed to go to my bishop for council. I was afraid but once I had told him of my wrong doings and how I repented of them he said to me that he could feel that I had truly repented and that my Father in Heaven loved me and knew that I was truly repentant. There is nothing greater than to know that your Father in Heaven is pleased with you.

    To this very day at age 21 I still have those urges but each time they are less and less intense. I know that it is my Heavenly Father and Savior Jesus Christ that help me along the way. It is never too late all you need to do is take a hold of your Saviors out stretched hand, he atoned for your sins so that you could be forgiven...... It is never too late!

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  5. I also wonder what effect making a big deal out of pornography plays. I did not grow up in an LDS environment and I really don't get that worked up about porn. It doesn't really do anything for me (maybe because I am a gal) but I don't see it as the horrendous evil that others do. My son never really got into the porn thing. I am sure he saw it, this is the internet age after all, but it didn't become a part of his life. Some of his friends who come from very strict families where that type of thing is strictly forbidden are more drawn to it.

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  6. I started at 12 and have more or less gone on for about 20ish years off and on. Started with regular curiosity and the whole thing has driven me to almost suicide. My Bishops have had done everything from counselling to nearly kicking me out of the Church which never helped. Now, I just never tell the Bishop... I am single.

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  7. You have to keep whacking until you have bonked them all.

    Awesome. I'll keep whacking and bonking.

    Something that your analysis didn't find is that the desire to look at pornography is natural, normal, and good. Most men will naturally want to look at pornography. Most men will come across pornographic images through no fault of their own. And when they see these images they will be stimulated in a way that feels good.
    Then due to teachings from their church, they will feel guilty. They will feel guilty for (again, often through no fault of their own) seeing images of naked women, and they will feel guilty for feeling stimulated (again, which is a healthy, natural response). And they will feel guilty because they've been trained to feel guilty.
    What mitigates the guilt that one feels? Well, if I remember right, looking at pornography made me feel good. It stimulated me. I'll try that again. And you have whats called a vicious cycle.

    Of course, I doubt that as a bishop you had many people coming to confess their sins, and then trying to blame the teachings in Sunday School for their addiction. Buuuuuut I wouldn't be surprised if there were some connection there.

    To clarify. I'm not attacking the church, or the doctrine of Christ. But I think the way the subject is broached with young teens in Sunday School can be, and often is, unhealthy and damaging. They are told that pornography is disgusting, unnatural, and anathema. But then they see pornography and it is stimulating, exciting, and feels good. Dissonance.

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  8. You have clearly missed the most common reason. In the words of the immortal Tom Lehrer, "dirty magazines are fun!"

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  9. I have seen a few places where the statement has been made that a man's pornography is in no way shape or form, no way, no now, any fault of the wife no matter what.

    I have to agree in the end the husband is at fault unless the wife sits him in front of a computer and forces him to view it.

    It just seems to me that making such a strong statement leaves the door open for the wife to absolve herself from being even a possible contributing factor.

    If I wife constantly rejects her husband even for things like hugs, let alone sex, and then gets angry at him for bringing up the topic and how it hurts him. I can't see how she is not contributing to the pressures that push him towards using pornography.

    Maybe my case is really a corner case, butt he "it's 100% the husbands fault" theme seems to not prompt some wife's for at least some introspection as to how she can help her husband.

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  10. I have gotten over this [pornography] easily whenever there has been hope for prosperity, but America just doesn't reward effort and greatness (unless it is great greed) much any more, and in reality, being honest and just has cost me success most all of my life.

    I have dated, and hit-it-off with a lot of very attractive, smart and all-round great girls, but healthy sexuality feels an eternity away when you can't make more than $12,000 a year with a solid college education.

    In my opinion, the modern epidemics of depression and lack of hope for the future are two of the largest causes of pornography...

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  11. Two words if this article describes you: GET HELP. Pornography use, in particular, is an addiction that people tend to try and hide. Confess to the Lord and to yourself. Confess to your bishop. Confess to your significant other. And CONFESS COMPLETELY! Do not hold important information back. And get help. Go to the ARP meetings. They are amazing. Satan wants you to think you can do it alone. He wants you to think you can conquer it and someday go back and tell everyone. You can't. You need help. Muster up the courage and FAITH to get help. Though there is often much fear about your close relationships, PEACE OF MIND is waiting for you on the other side of courage and confession. It is worth it. It's the only way. Satan may try to convince you otherwise. But the Lord's way is the only way to true deliverance.

    Also, I have to disagree slightly with the comment emphasizing the idea the desire to look at these images is a "natural, normal, healthy, and good" response for a male. Yes, it's natural. A lot of things are natural--like lying when you're in a bind, like stopping to watch a fight or other violence as you walk by. This is the natural man. But I feel it is the light of Christ, not the teachings of the church per se, that is the reason we feel guilt when we view pornography. You cannot do something bad and feel good. It is the light of Christ (if not the Spirit) that warns us that viewing porn is dangerous and degrading. Guilt is a God-given, appropriate response. GUILT, in my opinion, is the natural, healthy, and good reaction to sin. But I appreciate that that person is continuing to work to through his addictions.

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  12. No list of reasons for pornography use can omit the common triggers stated in the simple acronym BLAST:

    Bored
    Lonely
    Angry
    Stressed
    Tired

    Often the temptation to view pornography is an attempt to deal with emotions, whether to numb oneself or distract oneself. Unfortunately, using pornography as an emotional anesthetic is similar to taking a baseball bat to your head if you have a stomachache. Although you may experience temporary relief from your stomach (via distraction), the aftermath is even worse to deal with than the original pain/emotion.

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  13. I believe that the reason the Church has such a rampant problem with pornography is that the leaders are too soft on men (or women) who look at it.

    Porn use is a severe form of 'spouse abuse'. It is also 'adultery' & has the same eternal & spiritual consequences as any other form of adultery & abuse. One does not need to touch another person in order to commit adultery.

    Most church leaders seem very soft on most forms of spouse abuse. Most are not fulfilling their #1 duty to protect women from their husband's adultery & abuse, whatever form it takes, emotional, verbal, sexual, financial, physical, etc.

    When leaders start applying the needed consequences to those who use porn or abuse their spouse in any way, then it will start to be seen as the severe abuse & adultery it really is.

    Most people & leaders minimize the sin of porn use. Though it may be a 'natural man' tendency, a righteous man would never look at it intentionally & hurt & abuse his wife with it.

    Pres. Hinckley said that the consequence for any form of spouse abuse, especially when the spouse does not immediately fully repent & stop the abuse, is excommunication, which is a very important wake up call for the person to realize how serious a sin they are committing.

    A person using porn & abusing their spouse in this way has already been excommunicated in God's eyes & has lost the Spirit & Priesthood & their right to hold callings or a recommend or even membership. Being excommunicated by leaders is just a technicality. Church discipline is a huge incentive for the person to realize their need to repent, even if they don't do so until later, they at least know the Lord is serious about his laws & respect of wives & women.

    For as the scriptures say, when there is no punishment for something, it's as if there is no law against it.

    If leaders are soft on porn use, then it's as if it's not that bad & the man will usually have a harder time stopping the sin from being repeated. Thus, this is why porn use usually takes so long to get over.

    Ideally, if righteous men ruled society, all porn would be highly illegal to make or view.

    Only when we realize how severe & abusive porn use is to wives & all women, will we be able to stop this rampant plague among us.

    And even if the wife has her own issues & abuses, like witholding affection from her husband, it still does not lessen or justify the sin, or the consequences that are & should be applied to the man.

    I believe that if leaders will apply firm consequences upon the man, then more wives will feel they can offer more love & forgiveness to their husband, for they won't feel they need to apply consequences on their husband, if the leader is doing it as he should.

    There are many women with low-self respect who don't seem to mind the husband's porn use. But even with a wife's permission or forgiveness, it's still severely abusive to them whether they care or realize it or not.

    I believe that the rampant problem with porn in the Church is mostly civil & church leader's fault, for not expecting men to love, respect & protect their wives & keep their sacred marriage covenants & for not applying needed consequences for the abuse & adultery that it is.

    As Prophets have taught, Heavenly Father will surely hold leaders, especially Bishops & Stake Pres. accountable for the suffering of women from their husband's abusive porn habits, or any other form of adultery, abuse or abandonment, if the leaders did not do all they could to stop it & apply the needed consequences, as they are commanded & obligated to do or they will be held accountable for the sin & abuse upon their own heads also.

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