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What Every Bishop Should Know about Men with Pornography Addictions/Pornography Abuse Problems

Version 1, April 1998

Copyright 1998, by Clean-LDS, an e-mail support group administered by S. Rex Goode. Document edited by J. Michael McGrew. This document may be freely copied and distributed as long as this copyright notice appears in each copy.

"An addiction should be treated just as if it were a danger to the health, well being, and long-term happiness of the family."

Preface

This document has been put together to assist LDS bishops and priesthood leaders and other interested persons in dealing with problems related to pornography addiction or pornography abuse. It has been compiled from a combination of professional resources as well as from the personal experiences and insights of pornography addicts and abusers and others who have assisted them in the recovery process. It should be noted that much of the basic research and conceptual framework presented here is taken from the writings of Dr. Patrick Carnes. (See the references to Carnes' work listed at the end of this document.) The perspective of the document is LDS, though this in no way implies any official endorsement of the content by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or any of its general or local officers. The editor of the pamphlet is solely responsible for its content.

Bishops may find the introduction to be the most helpful starting point. (That's why it's called the "Introduction"!) It is, in a sense, a broad overview with suggestions on how to work with someone who has an addiction to pornography. The rest of the document contains information which may help clarify some of the specific issues which most pornography addicts must deal with. So don't be overwhelmed by the size of the document. Read the introduction, then read the rest as time permits or as you feel a need for understanding of more of the specifics.

Outline of Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Terminology
  3. Barriers vs. Boundaries
  4. The Addictive System
  5. The Role of "Acting in"
  6. Recovery: an Alternative to "Acting in"
  7. 12 Step Groups
  8. Multiple Addictions
  9. Some Observations
  10. Proclaiming the Possibility of Success
  11. Reading List

Introduction

In the sections of the document that follow this introduction, you will find definitions of the terms used as well as some discussion of what seem to be some central issues surrounding pornography addiction and abuse. As a priesthood leader who is charged with assisting individual members of the Church in their efforts to repent from sin, someone has or will come to you confessing that they have a "problem with pornography" and other issues related to it. You should understand that not everyone who indulges in pornography is addicted to it. If their experience with it has been casual or at least short term, the ordinary steps of repentance may be sufficient to help them overcome the effects of this sin. However, if you determine that the "problem" has been long term or has other characteristics of an addiction, your approach will need to be quite different. No amount of exercising self-control by itself will rid them of the addiction. Patrick Carnes' Sexual Addiction Screening Test (SAST) (From Contrary to Love) may be helpful in determining the extent of the problem. Another definitive question to ask is: "How would you feel if you couldn't have sex (or whatever form their addiction takes) for a month?" If they feel panicked, they are probably addicted and react this way because they fear withdrawal of their form of support.

Pornography addiction is a sexual addiction, and like many other forms of sexual addiction it is treatable. But you should expect the treatment to be a long-term one. It may be helpful to think of a sexual addiction as similar to an alcohol or drug addiction.

The following points summarize an approach to helping someone who has an addiction to pornography or is at least a pornography abuser.

First: Establish a caring, understanding, loving relationship. Don't act surprised, and don't condemn or add to the guilt if at all possible. These people can do plenty of that for themselves.

Second: This is not a problem you can tell someone to "Just stop it!" The things they are doing are symptoms of something much bigger. Addicts cannot "Just stop it!" any more easily than cancer patients can simply "Just stop being in pain."

Recognize that the symptoms defining the sexual addiction are often a result of some form of abuse endured as a child or adolescent. Abuse causes distorted or irrational thinking. This distorted thinking can cause emotional pain. Addiction is also usually the expression of some sort of unmet need that causes emotional pain. Acting out the addiction is merely a way of medicating the emotional pain they may feel. Just as some people turn to drugs or alcohol to "forget" their pain, others may turn to sex, pornography, etc. to do the same.

The traditional "tools" for dealing with many ills of this life are not effective by themselves in dealing with sexual addictions. Reading the scriptures, praying, attending church or the temple, etc. are all good, but they are insufficient. Boyd K. Packer's oft-quoted analogy of the stage of the mind and using good thoughts, music, etc. to crowd the bad off the stage is good. But it is really only effective for someone on the outer fringe of the addiction -- and possibly only for those who are not addicted at all, but merely tempted. In the words of one pornography addict:

"When I was younger, I tried to sing 'Put Your Shoulder to the Wheel' to avoid my thoughts. I reached the point where I could sing the song and still concentrate on pornographic thoughts. I developed images related to the song I could watch while singing the song, and even still at times it was nearly impossible to keep my mind off of the pornographic thoughts."
Third: Recognize that the member's problems may be bigger than the bishop is capable of handling alone. The member may need to be referred to professional counselors who recognize and support our beliefs concerning masturbation, sexuality, pornography, etc. By trying to provide counseling in areas where he is not remotely qualified to help, the bishop may end up driving the person further away because of the inherent shame the individual feels and the tremendous effort it took to approach the bishop. Depending on the nature of the difficulty, it may be better to refer the member to appropriate psychotherapists. The bishop can then work alongside them to support their efforts and help resolve all of the issues related to the repentance process.

Fourth: Help the member recognize the addiction as a regular pattern of acting out that can be observed and recorded. This may be done by asking him to recall the last time he acted out, and the time before that, and before that, etc.

Fifth: Begin to help the member understand what drives him towards his behavior: What was the catalytic event or environment leading up to the behavior? What drives him towards it? What kind of flawed thinking does he exhibit, and how can he overcome it?

Sixth: Identify resources for him to follow as he begins to understand more about the addiction, the causes/triggers, and the tools to overcome. The following list contains a sample of a wide variety of available resources, not all of which may necessarily be appropriate for all addicts.

  • Clean-LDS Web Resource: An Internet resource devoted to helping the LDS community in overcoming sexual addictions, especially addiction to pornography. Its current URL is
  • http://www.springsofwater.com/desert/clean/
  • Clean-LDS Mailing List: An anonymous support group conducted over email where LDS people can feel loved, no matter what their problems, interact with others who are currently or have in the past dealt with similar struggles, describe their struggles and receive support in overcoming them. For more information, including how to subscribe, check the following URL:
  • http://www.springsofwater.com/Clean/Clean.html#MailingList The email address, for those without Web access is ldsr@ldsr.org or, if you don't have Internet access call Rex Goode, the Clean-LDS list administrator, at (503) 491-1982 for information on either of the above resources.
  • LDS Social Services
  • Sexaholics Anonymous and other support groups. Below are the World Wide Web URL's of a few of the available organizations which offer 12 Step programs similar to Alcoholics Anonymous as well as other types of support.
  • http://www.sa.org/ Sexaholics Anonymous (12 Step) This website has a locator for meetings. http://www.sca-recovery.org/index.html Sexual Compulsives Anonymous (12 Step) http://www.netwizards.net/recovery/sex.html SEX & Relationships Groups http://www.ncsac.org/ National Council for Sexual Addictions and Compulsion
  • Self-help Books and References: See the Reading List at the end of this document.

Terminology:

Addiction vs. abuse

In discussing this topic, it will be helpful to establish some common terminology. The terms "pornography addiction" and "pornography abuse" refer, respectively, to 1) a pattern of abuse of pornography that indicates powerlessness to abstain from viewing pornography, and 2) any viewing of pornography that is occasional but somewhat compelling.

Some people can see pornography and not be interested in it. They don't look for it and when it is presented to them they turn away from it and decline to view it. It's easy for them to not look at it.

Others may seek out pornography at some period in their lives hoping to fill some of their needs only to become disappointed and then never return to it.

Just as not everyone who drinks alcohol is an alcoholic, not everyone who abuses pornography is a pornography addict.

Acting out

In addiction methodology, "acting out" is a term used to refer to a phase of indulgence in the thing one is addicted to. For example, a drug addict is acting out while in a phase of partaking of drugs or of searching for drugs. Some will more narrowly define acting out as taking drugs only. A compulsive overeater is acting out while overeating, looking for food, hiding food for later consumption, purging, etc. In relation to pornography, acting out describes not just the actual viewing of pornography, but also the search for pornography and any other activity related to it.

While checking in with support groups, many addicts will use phrases like "I acted out yesterday," which means they indulged in their addiction. This is not a clear enough usage, however. Acting out is a frame of mind together with related behavior, rather than just instances of going all the way (e.g., taking drugs, drinking alcohol, having sex, overeating, or viewing pornography).

With this in mind, rather than saying, "I acted out yesterday," it is probably more accurate for the addict or abuser to say, "I am acting out these days."

The reason this distinction is important is that overcoming these things requires work on the whole person, not just stopping the specific behavior that represents the peak of acting out.

Acting in

Acting out has an opposite, known as acting in. This is a phase of behavior that is just as addictive as acting out but does not involve activities directly related to the object of the addiction. Acting in is also known as "white-knuckled abstinence" and for alcoholics, a "dry drunk." In the gospel context, "unrighteous dominion" is often a form of acting in.

Addicts who are acting in are tightly self-controlled but also finding it necessary to tightly control others. They often become extremely critical of others and appear to be fanatical or self-righteous. During this phase there is complete and utter abstinence and the addict may feel that this time it will last.

Unfortunately, it is like a swinging pendulum and when acting in reaches its height, it will inevitably swing back to acting out. The key to overcoming lies in actually getting that pendulum to stop swinging.

Some abusers of pornography may not be willing to admit to pornography addiction and they may be right. They may be experiencing some difficulties with pornography abuse but not the pattern that marks outright addiction. The terms "acting out" and "acting in" still apply to them.

Triggers

Nearly all addicts have certain situations or circumstances that will act as triggers for their addictive behaviors. These are subconsciously used as an excuse to begin the process leading up to acting out. For example, a disagreement with a spouse, which is not resolved satisfactorily, may cause the addict to subconsciously convince himself that he needs to act out to escape the hurt or possibly just to get even with the spouse. Often these triggers are "knee-jerk" response mechanisms. The addict may not be consciously aware of them.

Barriers vs. Boundaries

In dealing with pornography problems, there are many options to help throw up barriers between the addict and the supply. These have their place but they cannot take the place of good, solid recovery. The best they can do is buy a little time. One significant danger is that the pornography addict or abuser will employ methods, such as software to keep him off certain areas of the Internet, and then will neglect the more important task of healing. This is like building a fortress with the enemy inside. It is, as was mentioned earlier, merely a form of acting in which will likely propel the addict back into the addiction cycle.

More important than building barriers is building boundaries. Acting out is an activity of no boundaries. In fact, most addicts and abusers have a great deal of difficulty identifying appropriate boundaries and distinguishing between boundaries and barriers. This is one area where a concerned and loving priesthood leader can give meaningful help. The wisest counsel is, of course, to stay away from the cliff edge rather than seeing how close you can get to it without falling. The addict should be encouraged to set boundaries for himself that help him stay out of the frame of mind that leads him to act out. Boundaries, though invisible, are often much stronger than the thickest barrier.

Boundaries must be specific to individual needs and based on individual triggers. Sometimes the addict must set boundaries for the behavior of others toward him. For example, he may have to tell a parent that he will no longer accept certain criticisms and insist that certain subjects be avoided in conversations or he will end the conversation.

Of course, the addict may not know what triggers him. That will require some introspection.

What triggers the addiction? What boundaries can be set to manage these triggers? What boundaries have been set and how have they helped? These are questions that every addict should ask himself and for which he should work hard to find the answers.

To illustrate the difference between a boundary and a barrier, consider the following situation. John has browsed through pornography on the Internet and made contacts with other pornography addicts through chat rooms and other email contacts. Now he finds that almost daily he receives a barrage of electronic mail which is pornographic in content. If he reads through those messages, it triggers in him a desire to go looking for more serious pornographic material. So John decides to set up a mail filter which deposits suspicious messages in a special mail folder. One problem with this approach is that sometimes, nonpornographic material gets put in that folder accidentally, so he feels he needs to open the folder and check out what's there periodically to keep from losing the legitimate messages before he deletes the entire contents of the folder. However, he often gets sucked into the pornographic messages while he's at it and ... off he goes.

The mail filter is an example of a barrier. Obviously it is far from fool-proof.

Another barrier for John would be for him to set up an option on his mail software that would automatically delete this folder every time he starts to read mail. Although a stronger barrier, it can always be disabled whenever John really gets the urge to browse for pornography.

An example of a corresponding boundary that John could set for himself might be to decide "I will only open the folder and delete the messages when so-and-so is with me." This too can easily be bypassed. However, setting such a boundary leaves the responsibility to take whatever steps are necessary on John's shoulders.

Boundaries are better than barriers because they still leave the addict with the choice and the responsibility to take whatever steps are necessary to get at the root causes of the addictive behavior.

The Addictive System

The addictive system has four components:
  1. The erroneous core beliefs of the addict.
  2. Impaired thinking caused by these erroneous core beliefs.
  3. An addiction cycle.
  4. Unmanageability.

Core Beliefs

The four core beliefs of sexual addicts are:
  1. I am basically a bad unworthy person.
  2. No one would love me if they really knew me.
  3. If I have to rely on others to meet my needs, I'll be disappointed.
  4. Sex is my most important need.
Sex addicts tend to view themselves as having heightened sexual needs above that of the general populace and often offer that as an excuse for their behavior. The truth is, it is the other way around. The heightened sexuality is a result of their behavior, not the cause.

Impaired Thinking

These faulty beliefs cause impaired thinking manifesting itself in things like denial, paranoia, sincere delusions (believing his own lies), and unreasonable blame of others for his failures. There is also a splitting of consciousness into two thought processes. One says "I'm meeting my needs or the needs of someone else" and the other says, "And I'll be able to look at some pictures I've been denying myself." This is both denial and sincere delusion.

The Addiction Cycle

This is the one where behavior actually comes in. The cycle has :
  1. Preoccupation. The addict becomes preoccupied with fantasies and sexual thoughts. It is a trance-like state. He often views himself as if from the outside, completely engrossed and obsessed?
  2. Ritualization. A certain set of behaviors leading up to the compulsive behavior itself that can best be described as rituals. Because of the trance, the addict is on automatic pilot and rituals are the easiest way to accomplish what he's trying to do without interrupting the trance.
  3. Compulsive Behavior. This is the point when the deed is done. It is what the preoccupation and ritualization were leading up to.
  4. Despair. The pain, shame, fear, and hopelessness that comes after the fact. People who haven't experienced this don't quite understand how profoundly sorrowful this stage is. They think it is just an act to gain sympathy, but it is so very real. There's certainly nothing wrong with this stage except for how hard the addict can be on himself, and of course the fact that it isn't helpful. The worst thing is, due to past experience, often the addict knows of no other way to find relief from this stage than to begin again at the preoccupation level, which provides the palliative dose that eases the pain.

Unmanageability

This is the aspect of the addictive system that manifests itself on the outside. For hardcore cases it involves things like arrest, venereal disease, loss of jobs and income, etc. That doesn't mean that there aren't unmanageability issues for a pornography addict. They are there, just not as visible. For example, loss of intimacy and declining relationships are signs of unmanageability.

The four components of the addictive system (core beliefs, impaired thinking, the addictive cycle, and unmanageability) are not necessarily chronological. They support each other and keep the person in bondage. They can each be addressed individually. For example, the addict may reach out to a friend in the fourth stage of the addictive cycle. This would be a courageous thing to do and well timed. People are more likely to seek help during the despair step than during the others.

One important thing for an addict to do is to address the core beliefs. Though an addict may believe consciously that he's basically a good and worthy person, looking deep into his feelings about himself may reveal something quite different.

Generally speaking, there is a lack of true intimacy in the life of an addict. This is a lack of ability to share deeply felt spiritual and emotional experiences with another person. This intimacy has nothing to do with sex. A key element in the recovery process will be for the addict to learn to develop appropriately intimate (i.e., emotionally, not sexually, intimate) relationships with others.

With sex addiction comes an impairment of the ability to be intimate with others without attendant eroticism. It's a difficult issue to tackle, mostly due to the swinging back and forth between acting out and acting in. While acting out, there is a false intimacy involved, but the addict is not emotionally present. While acting in, there is a forced separation from true intimacy. An addict acting in must, of necessity, avoid all meaningful contact with others. Intimacy is too easily eroticized.

Having a pattern of years and years of eroticizing things through pornography, fantasy, and masturbation causes those feelings to be transferred to almost all intimate experiences.

What an addict needs to learn is how to be truly intimate, thus avoiding the pitfalls of acting out and in. It's interesting that the first course of action most people think a sex addict should take is to isolate himself until he gets some self-control. This is very counterproductive, worsening the abandonment and isolation issues which are already at the heart of his problems.

Instead, to help, we should find appropriate and meaningful ways to teach the addict how to have an intimate relationship with someone that is not eroticized. It will often take a lot of patience on someone's part, and even a willingness to take the risk of being the object of erotic feelings.

A related difficulty that most pornography addicts experience is that they idealize the objects of their addiction (male or female) to the point that they do not view them as real persons, with feelings, emotions, or families who love them.

Love is the addict's most important need, not sex or pornography or whatever else the object of the addiction might be.

To overcome impaired thinking, the addict must work first on the core beliefs. Also, shame is overcome by confessing to someone he knows will not reject him when they hear the truth. Denial is a direct result of shame. The addict can overcome paranoia by being honest about other people's intentions and assuming that their motives are noble. He must fight the sincere delusions with brutal self-honesty, recognizing the truth whenever possible.

Most pornography addicts have feelings of worthlessness and unworthiness that are a direct result of viewing pornography and of the acting out which usually accompanies it. The following are a few suggestions for the addict or abuser that seem to help:

  1. Make specific, daily goals that focus your thoughts on the Savior. For example, have goals of daily prayer and scripture study. These activities provide spiritual thought material for you to fall back on when you are tempted with inappropriate thoughts.
  2. Remember that God is doing everything He can to help you. When you fall, it is unfair to imagine that He is angry with you. He may be disappointed that you have not obeyed His commandments, but He is always loving and always willing to help you improve.
  3. Keep an ideal in mind. One important ideal for a male is to be worthy of the priesthood and of a temple recommend. As you go through the day, ask yourself, "Would a worthy priesthood holder do this?" This works for all kinds of activities, not just pornography.
  4. It's hard to find a balance between expecting perfection and progressing too slowly. You can't give up hope. Yesterday may have been a disaster, but today is the first day of the rest of your life. It is a clean sheet of paper. There is hope in the atonement, in the plan of salvation, and in the love of Christ, which He gives to us.
  5. Involve yourself in meaningful service to others. Volunteer at a hospital or nursing home. If you have interest in home building or woodwork, participate in a local Habitat for Humanity project. Find something to do to help others that you find interesting yourself.
  6. Do something on a regular basis to improve yourself. This can range from reading wholesome material to actively participating in a hobby.

The Role of "Acting in" in Perpetuating Addiction/Abuse

It is important for the addict or abuser to understand the concept of acting in so he can know when he is doing it. In a sense, acting in is the "contagious" part of any addiction, the part that passes addiction down from parents to children.

Acting in is a counterfeit for real recovery, because while one is acting in, he is being completely abstinent from the thing he is addicted to. It seems to him that he has found the key, which lies in excessive self-control. This is false, however. Abstinence is not the same thing as recovery. It is often the case that acting in can be maintained for extended periods of time, but without real recovery, the inevitable outcome of acting in is to cycle back through to acting out again.

Acting in is an excess of control, not only of one's self, but of others. This excessive control is necessary for the addict to maintain his abstinence. Since he is not able to tolerate any deviation in his personal plan, when he deviates or when others deviate from his way of doing things, he feels his hard-bought abstinence being threatened.

No one can ever control his environment enough to make himself completely safe, which is why acting in is not a good solution to addictive problems.

How can an addict know when he is really in recovery and not just acting in? The following questions provide some key indicators.

  1. "Do I maintain my abstinence by tight self-control and control of those around me?"
  2. "Do little interruptions in my plan for my life cause me to return to pornography?"
  3. "Do I set rigid and excessive boundaries for myself to keep myself in line?"
  4. "Do I set rigid and excessive boundaries for others?"
  5. "Am I frequently anxious about being out of my home and being in unfamiliar situations or places?"
  6. "Do I avoid making friends or keep all conversations at a purely formal and impersonal level?"
  7. "Do I feel something missing in my life? Is there an unfulfilled hunger?"
  8. "Do I think of my personal needs as unimportant?"
  9. "Am I meticulous and prompt about the things I do? Do I insist that things MUST be done right, making people under my control redo them if they aren't done right?"
  10. "Do people think of me as a fanatic?"
  11. "Do I frequently criticize others or complain about them behind their backs?"
All of these behaviors indicate someone who is acting in, using excessive self-control to keep himself safe from acting out.

Addiction is usually fostered in upbringings where love is conditional, earned for doing things right. It is based on the two opposing and ideas of always doing things right, and of doing things to medicate pain. It happens in a mindset of feeling that love is earned and that when love is not given, one can feel better by indulging.

There is nothing at all wrong with doing things right, but as with so many other things it depends highly on one's motivation. If a person does things right out of a sense that doing things right is the only way to be loved, he is setting himself up for failure.

Recovery: the Alternative to Acting in

If self-control is not the answer, then what is?

What is more important to the addict than determining if he is acting in is to determine if he is truly "in recovery."

A person in recovery makes some important breaks from the acting in model.

The following table correlates characteristic acting out behaviors, their corresponding acting-in tendencies, and the counterpart characteristics that are signs of recovery. This is taken from a model proposed by Dr. Patrick Carnes. The correlation is important to observe.
 
Acting Out Acting In In Recovery
Boundaries: Collapse Excessive Natural
Anxiety: Release Safety Peace
Intimacy: Emotionally
absent
Isolated Present and
Intimate
Needs: Excess Deprivation Met or sense of peace
Feelings: Anger Fear Joy
Responsibility: Defiant Obsessive Realistic
Presence: Seductive Fanatical Loving
Structure: Chaotic Rigid Flexible but disciplined
Perceptions: Unqualified Judgmental Compassionate but firm
True recovery results in an inner strength that is more effective at keeping the world and its enticements at bay. It involves a change of heart. Why do some people have no problem with pornography? Because they don't have the heart for it. It is not a daily question for them. This should be a goal of every pornography addict.

"And now, because of the covenant which ye have made ye shall be called the children of Christ, his sons, and his daughters; for behold, this day he hath spiritually begotten you; for ye say that your hearts are changed through faith on his name; therefore, ye are born of him and have become his sons and his daughters." (Mosiah 5:7)

"And they all cried with one voice, saying: Yea, we believe all the words which thou hast spoken unto us; and also, we know of their surety and truth, because of the Spirit of the Lord Omnipotent, which has wrought a mighty change in us, or in our hearts, that we have no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually." (Mosiah 5:2)

This change of heart results in a new creature, one that is not shackled by the worldly lusts. It is important to note that this does not include an end to temptation or the need for vigilance. It simply means that white-knuckled abstinence becomes unnecessary. Change your hearts, and the behavior will naturally follow. "Let thy bowels also be full of charity towards all men, and to the household of faith, and let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly; then shall thy confidence wax strong in the presence of God; and the doctrine of the priesthood shall distil upon thy soul as the dews from heaven.

"The Holy Ghost shall be thy constant companion, and thy scepter an unchanging scepter of righteousness and truth; and thy dominion shall be an everlasting dominion, and without compulsory means it shall flow unto thee forever and ever." (D&C 121:45-46)

Acting in also usually involves "tricks of abstinence," like using software to lock out pornography access on the internet, or like singing hymns to drive out impure thoughts.

This isn t meant to downplay the value of hymn-singing in overcoming evil thoughts. The suggestion is fine for those who deal with stray thoughts. For those who are more seriously addicted, this kind of gimmick can turn on them. Occasional employment of things like hymn-singing, scripture-reading, and on-the-spot praying can result in these things becoming triggers that feed addiction.

It is more important to make hymn-singing, scripture-reading, and prayer a continual thing, not last-ditch efforts at self-control. Used properly, these things will make all the difference. Used as tricks to regain self-control, they will become increasingly ineffective until they actually become triggers. This is illustrated by the following anecdote:

"[When] I [was a] youth, I started singing a certain hymn every time I walked by a certain establishment that triggered inappropriate fantasies. It became less and less effective to sing the hymn. Then, one day in sacrament meeting, the hymn started and my mind immediately reverted to that horrid place of evil." It is better to change our hearts to love the hymns, feast upon the scriptures, and pour out our hearts continually to God in prayer. We are counseled to let "virtue garnish [our] thoughts unceasingly." Casual use does not do.

Another thing to practice in overcoming addiction is to avoid judgment, criticism, and anger. As the Lord indicated in the scripture just cited, acting in can be avoided by filling our bowels with charity toward all men.

A common form of acting in is to criticize and look down on those whose ability to abstain seems weaker than our own. Practicing charity and humility will avoid this pitfall.

If the addict will do all that he can to truly bring himself into line with the Savior and his gospel, avoiding uncharitable feelings towards others and the temptation to commit unrighteous dominion against himself, he will indeed find that abstinence and recovery will come to him "without compulsory means."

First Steps to Recovery

So what are the first steps towards recovery?
  1. Recognize and admit the addiction, rather than trying to pass it off as a moment of weakness. Pornography addiction is characterized by a pattern of "moments of weakness" that repeats itself regularly.
  2. Get help, immediately! Don't let the person deal with it alone or without someone who is experienced in working with addictions.
Some qualified and effective resources are listed at the end of the introduction to this pamphlet.

12 Step Groups

Addictions generally cannot be overcome alone or in a vacuum. One of the most important steps an addict can take is to recognize that he is powerless over the addiction and must turn his life over to Christ. This is the central theme of 12 step groups, like Alcoholics Anonymous and Sexaholics Anonymous. The following is a comment by one Latter-day Saint who is a self-professed pornography addict: " I've tried everything and what is working for me is Sexaholics Anonymous. There is power for me [in] sitting in a room and hearing other men qualify about how they've been acting out through masturbation, porn, affairs, prostitutes, etc. ... They all come back to the reason of trying to medicate their low self-esteem, pride, fears, sexual issues, etc.

"For me, looking at it as an illness that I'd tried my best to fix but I could not and only God could, has worked. This is more than just saying, Oh, I have faith and I'll be good and ask God to help me. It means saying I'm completely powerless over the entire thing and I turn it over to God to work it out for me and I stay powerless and helpless as He does the work. This is a tough one for most of us Mormons, as we think God only helps those who help themselves. This is true but sometimes we've backed ourselves into a corner and we must use the ultimate bit of faith to do nothing but be completely powerless and helpless."

Multiple Addictions

It is important to understand that most addicts are multiply addicted. That is, they are rarely addicted to only one thing. In fact, pornography is part of a suite of related sexual addictions, which encompasses all kinds of inappropriate sexual behaviors. These commonly include masturbation, fantasizing, voyeurism, exhibitionism, womanizing, and casual sexual encounters, to name a few. Often the addict will have addictions, which are seemingly unrelated to each other. For example, he may also be an overeater, or a substance abuser, or a workaholic.

Busy-holism is one manifestation of addiction to other things. It is an avoidance mechanism that keeps the addict from addressing those issues that make him sick. It is evidence of unmanageability. To slow down would require him to face up to his feelings, so subconsciously he keeps filling his life with things that help in avoiding either feeling or acting out.

One way to combat busy-holism is to consider the cost in terms of its effects on other family members. Compulsive and addictive problems are often multigenerational. They can be traced back in family histories for many generations. As an example, one addict's great-grandmother was a gambling addict. His generation is the first generation in the family since the late 1500's where couples have stayed married to their first spouses. It is also the first generation of the family to have been raised entirely in the Church. But even with the Gospel in their lives, there are still problems of addiction and abuse in the current generation. Whether wittingly or not, problems are passed from parent to child over many generations. No matter how hard the addict tries to keep his addiction separate from his family life so that the children will not be part of the cost of the addiction, they will inevitably be affected.

If the unthinkable were to happen and a child became gravely or urgently ill or in danger, nearly any parent would clear everything out of his schedule in order to be there for that child. Yet, even though the addiction of the parent represents a danger to the child in a sense, a communicable disease the child is in danger of being infected with the addicted parent keeps his killer schedule and neglects to take the time he would have taken if the danger seemed more clear and present.

An addiction should be treated just as if it were a danger to the health, well being, and long-term happiness of the family.

Some Observations

One pornography addict wrote: Looking back on my life, I find that I have spent a lot of time avoiding the things I really should be doing, and not necessarily always by running to pornography. I have procrastinated the deadlines because they were uncomfortable, I didn't really know how I was going to meet them, didn't have a clue how to write that computer program and so it looks hopeless, etc. I've found many distractions to indulge in as I avoid the difficult task at hand. As a result, I developed a reputation for being late with many of my assignments in school. I'd put it off until I could no longer do so and then I'd belt it out. I'd usually do quite well when it was all said and done, and I'd usually realize that it wasn't as bad as I had expected it to be once I got started. In The Road Less Traveled, Dr. M. Scott Peck refers to this difficulty. He says we all need to develop the trait of being able to delay gratification. A lack of ability to delay gratification is very much a part of addiction. We turn to our drug of choice because there is a certain gratification in it. It is a source of sensory stimulation that can't be obtained by the mundane things we should be doing but don't feel like doing. Even when we don't turn to our drug, we often turn to other things less important.

Dr. Peck tells of a woman he was counseling who was having lots of trouble getting all of her work done. Finally, one day he asked her if she liked cake. She responded that she did. He asked her how she eats cake. She usually ate the frosting and left the cake, not because she didn't like the cake, but because she didn't like it as much as she liked the frosting.

Such was the pattern of her workday. She did all the things she liked to do first, and then had the rest of the day to look forward to having left only the things she hated doing. Not much incentive there to do the distasteful but necessary things, when you look at your afternoon and think, "I wish I were somewhere else, doing something else."

Reverse it and do the difficult, distasteful, or boring things first, get them out of the way, and be glad that the rest of the day is filled with interest, fulfillment, and positive gratification.

This will enhance the skill of avoiding self-destructive, but instantly gratifying forms of self-expression.

An Analogy

(As told by one addict ) I was seeing a psychiatrist a few years ago for [post-divorce] depression .... He told [the following]story: Imagine that you're neck deep in a pile of cow manure. (He phrased it less delicately.) Now, at first glance, that sounds gross; but if it was all you'd ever known, it might not be so bad. You'd be used to the smell, it'd be nice and warm and squishy and almost womb-like. Now, imagine that a friend comes up and says 'Hey, that's gross, why don't you come on out and I'll hose you down and clean you off and get you dressed.' But (especially for someone like me who's not a big fan of water-- swimming pools, cold showers, whatever), the thought of leaving that nice warm pile and freezing my naked butt off while I get hosed down even with the promise of warm fluffy towels and nice clean warm clothes afterwards is such that I don't want to do it. So I stay in my nice warm pile of dung. Sound familiar, anyone? In fact, most addicts will relate quite well to this story! Changing a well established pattern of behavior is difficult. It takes more than just verbal encouragement to motivate the addict to leave the familiar comfort mechanism of his addiction, even when it is destroying him, and adopt a healthier but less familiar pattern of behavior.

Relationship of Masturbation to Pornography Abuse

Masturbation is a problem which is very closely related to pornography abuse. As one abuser described it, masturbation almost universally accompanies the use of pornography. It is so closely tied to pornography abuse that many abusers and addicts do not separate masturbation from the pornography abuse itself. Consequently, they will assume that you understand this connection simply from their telling you that they have viewed pornography.

Feelings of Shame

Because of the nature of the sin and the culture within the church, most addicts attempting to recover experience significant shame associated with the addiction. It is important to remember that it takes significant effort to confess something like this to the bishop. The bishop's biggest challenge is to remain sensitive, accepting, and supportive while assisting the addict to obtain help.

Although prayer, scripture study, church and temple attendance, priesthood blessings, etc. are all helpful, by themselves they are insufficient. If they were enough by themselves to insure recovery, members of the church wouldn't need to go to their bishops for help.

Proclaiming the Possibility of Success

The Church sees the evil and the family-destroying effects of pornography and other kinds of sexual addictions and must speak out. The thing that nobody sees much of is the healing. Sad to say, statistically speaking, sexual addiction problems like pornography abuse fall into two categories: failure; and quiet success wherein the struggler moves on and never looks back. The former is proclaimed loudly in an effort to warn people away from the problems. The latter is usually aided by a priesthood leader and the struggler is counseled that since the Lord remembers his sins no more, he should not bring them up either.

One difficulty with this "hush-hush" approach is that badly needed success stories are nearly impossible to find. But there is another difficulty involved. That is the sin of ingratitude.

Recall the New Testament story of the ten lepers who were told by the Savior to go to the priests for a ceremony of purification. As they turned to go, they were all healed and excitedly went to do as Jesus had told them. One, however, paused and turned back to Him and gave thanks.

For the casual sinner who repents of pornography abuse, the advice to speak no more of it seems wise. But, for the addict, to say nothing of the healing he has been granted and to fail to give encouraging words to others similarly afflicted seem more like ingratitude.

Reading List

  1. Elder Ezra Taft Benson, General Conference, October 1959
  2. David D. Burns, Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy, Avon, June 1992, ISBN: 0380718030. Excellent reference for overcoming depression, but also very good at identifying the types of distorted or flawed thinking that also plague addicts.
  3. Patrick Carnes, Don't Call It Love : Recovery from Sexual Addiction Reprint Edition, Bantam Books, April 1992, ISBN: 0553351389.
  4. Patrick Carnes, Contrary to Love : Helping the Sexual Addict, Compcare Publications, July 1989, ISBN: 1568380593. The sequel to "Don't Call It Love".
  5. Patrick Carnes, Out of the Shadows : Understanding Sexual Addiction, 2nd Ed, Compcare Publications, September 1992, ISBN: 1568380550.
  6. Patrick Carnes, A Gentle Path Through the Twelve Steps : The Classic Guide for All People in the Process of Recovery, Compcare Publications, Revised September 1994, ISBN: 1568380585.

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