You often hear of porn issues in terms of being an addiction. Is it really an actual addiction, or is it a compulsion? Or is this merely an exercise in semantics? Does the distinction even matter? Let’s explore.
The case for it being an addiction naturally lies in the fact that it’s highly addictive. In fact, science seems to show that the bonding or imprinting that occurs through pornography is stronger than most drugs in many ways. Steve Pokorny’s book, “Renewed Vision” recounts much of the research on the science behind these questions. He states on page 13, “The chemical reactions set off when a person uses pornography are similar to those that occur when a person uses cocaine. Yet unlike cocaine, a porn user does not need a physical substance to get their high; he (or she) can simply use pornified images to set off a chemical cocktail in their brain and body.” In chapter 3, Pokorny delves into the ways dopamine, norepinephrine, testosterone, oxytocin, vasopressin, and serotonin all come into play in various ways that both hijack and damage the brain. They created strong attachments and dependencies that cause a craving for more. On page 85 of “Clean” by Douglas Weiss (which we shall review thoroughly very soon) he puts it this way, “Your brain is the pleasure center for your body, especially when you have a sexual release. When you release sexually, your brain receives the chemical mother lode of endogenous opiates. These opiates are the single highest chemical reward for anything you can ever do. You can run and work out, but sex is by far the biggest chemical high we get in life.”
What differentiates frequent porn use and actual drugs is the physical dependency. If you are coming off of drugs, your body will go through withdrawal. Coming off of porn also has its own version of detox, yet as stated, no physical substance is needed; it’s primarily mental. In my case, the “addiction” practically vanished overnight.
Quoted in Pokorny’s work are various studies that lobby for “compulsion” as the best classification for an attachment to pornography. Data does not seem to support that the problem is truly addictive. Page 81 tells of a study that was done to measure the late positive potential (LPP) which involves the brain science of emotions. Whereas with a drug addict’s drug of choice, there is a radical increase in these LPP levels, the research found a decrease in LPP levels when viewing sexual images compared to non-sexual images. The lead author of the the study, Dr. Nicole Prause, said “…it would seem advisable to drop the “addiction’ label when talking about people who are having issues regulating their porn use because it does not appear to be accurate.” However, the disclaimer is made that previous research using the term “addiction” should not be discounted. That said, there are many studies in secular spaces, like “Fight the new drug” that show how pornography is one of the most “addictive” “drugs” out there due to their accessibility and affordability and its effect on the brain.
Pokorny states on page 81-82, “As I have seen with some of my clients, many people who are hooked on pornography have a deep-seated belief that they can never be free. They have been programmed to believe that all they’re really capable of is ‘white-knuckling’ the issue and counting the days before their next fall.”
I asked a young man who said he was addicted to porn the following questions, as he was trying the same tired old solutions with no real success. I asked: Do you want to be addicted to porn a year from now? Did you want to be addicted a year ago? I didn’t want to be for 20 years, but I was, until I wasn’t. Almost instantly and effortlessly, I got to where I wasn’t, and I’m still not and I don’t ever see myself going back to that state again. Insanity has been said to be doing the same things and expecting a different result. If you are caught in an endless cycle, it’s insane to stay there and not try something new and outside the box!
For me, the point isn’t so much whether you call it an addiction or a compulsion. The fact is it was a problem. It limited my effectiveness and worse yet it hurt my family. As the father of boys, how could I expect them not to be a statistic when I was a statistic? It was like an addiction and it was a compulsion. When I did the regularly prescribed “Christian” ways of dealing with porn, I got the results you can expect— seasons of “victory” numbered in days, weeks, months, years if lucky, but always with a struggle. Since changing the compulsion and the motivation and my own desire, I haven’t had an issue and I don’t need to be counting either days or years! No more chips every month. No accountability necessary. No filter software or internet blockers. There’s no need for any of that.
Is Jesus cruel? It seems awfully cruel to make 50% of the general population out to be a constant threat of provoking men’s lust. Talk about cruel and unusual punishment! (Now I know men aren’t in danger. If anyone is in danger, it’s the women who have to deal with men who think there is only a carnal response available to them.)
Does this idea of God jive with scripture? Not in the slightest! Matthew 11:28-30 ESV says, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” The ever-present vigilance required to avoid the opportunity for lust when it’s virtually everywhere is not a light and easy burden. I know because I carried it for 20 years. Removing the expectation to lust makes all the difference and exchanges feelings of dread for the joyous living of every moment previously lost.
I made this meme the other day which shows the difference I feel every day. Praise the Lord for a better way!
Our former pastor was once talking about how men are hardwired to respond with automatic sexual arousal at the sight of flesh, and my wife snapped back at him, “No, you’re wrong! That’s what both the world and the church tell us all the time, but it’s not true. I know men who don’t respond like that.” When I believed as this pastor does, I would respond to visual stimuli in like manner. After rejecting that lie, the compulsion is gone and so is the addictive behavior.
10 thoughts on “Addiction or Compulsion?”
Programs that attempt to treat addiction start with admitting you are an addict. This is the language they use. But that is a shamed based approach. The compulsive behavior isn’t something you are, it is something that you do.
Saying you are an addict offers no clear path or effective tools to stop the behavior, and in fact is an obstacle to change. Change who you are is much more difficult than changing something you do.
Looking at it as a compulsive behavior more easily allows you to ask what benefit am I seeking from this behavior, and what is missing in my life that I’m trying to fill with this behavior. Once the root issue is identified, it can be addressed and corrected.
I believe that as a generalization, the base issue leading to compulsive pornography use is a lack of real connections with people in life. That when one builds strong and intimate relationships, relationships where the person can be open and honest, and authentic, the need to look at strangers engaging in sex is reduced to a point the behavior can be controlled. It can be something you choose not to do.
My $0.02 on the matter, which given today’s inflation is worth less everyday.
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Excellent observation! Thanks so much for sharing it here. I do prefer compulsion for the same reasons.
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I’ve never tried to think of the distinction between addiction and compulsion. I guess I always thought addiction was a chemical thing, but as this blog points out there are big chemical things happening in the brain when exposed to pornography. At any rate, there are so many people struggling under the weight of porn and the destruction it causes in their lives. You and Mrs. Phil have done so much to wake people up to what we could be doing.
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I also have never thought of the distinction. However, when I was regularly succumbing to the temptation, the best way to describe it was that I felt compelled to give in. The idea of “white knuckling it speaks strongly to my story. When temptation came, I’d grit my teeth, hang on and hope I could hold out till the temptation passed. On rare occasions, I would succeed, knowing that another temptation would come eventually. Actually, the temptation is just a frequent now. I just look at it and “meh”, and move on. I never really understood how God could provide a way out of temptation.
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“Meh” is a great place to be!
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The idea of “white knuckling” brings a picture of the TV show Ninja Warrior. The premise of the show is the question, how long can you hold on? The knowledge that comes with that is that no-one can hold on forever. What bothered me with Valiant Man and Every Man’s Battle was that their solutions all had “hanging on” as the basis of their plan. They talked about the need for grace in the process, but for me personally, it felt like grace was secondary to my effort. Actually, I think they make good observations. It’s the premise they interpret them from is false.
Indeed. Defeatist and destined to fail. It’s sad because they are well intentioned, but the premise is wrong.
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When I wrote my “Porn Addiction” article for MCAG (mychainsaregone.org), I used the then common “addict” terminology for an habitual behavior that was indeed compulsively motivated, but by a wrong mental focus. The brain chemicals are God’s gift, but those good gifts are subject to secretion by a false stimulation. This is why truth sets us dramatically and dynamically free. If we chew on and swallow a lie, we will miss the liberating truth. Holding and preaching an objectifying sex-focus on the human body, which was never God’s will for us, are why the church has for so many years “missed the mark” of God’s target: the human heart.
When we embrace God’s truth about our physical bodies as embodiments of His image, temples for the Holy Spirit, incarnational manifestations of precious individual spiritual beings whose unique identities are loved and celebrated by Him, a death sentence is pronounced on the pornographic treatment of external human anatomy. The pornifying behavior cannot survive, when the internal lie is cut off and replaced with truth. Because the internal conception has changed, the external perception will change. We will see the human body, naked or clothed, with divinely oriented eyes. Whatever the previous degree of involvement with porn, whether called a compulsion or an addiction, this is God’s way for it to finally end.
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Such great insight, brother. This is a wonderful comment and truth. We abuse God’s good gifts and we miss out on His much better way. It’s wonderful to walk in the truth and enjoy the benefits of life as intended!