This is a thorough book review of Jesus is Better than Porn: How I Confessed my Addiction to My Wife and Found a New Life” by Hugh Houston.
There is much to like in this book. I really appreciate the brother’s heart and the way he writes and much of what he says. Coming at this from a freedom that came drastically and is sustained without an effort (much through the influence of Christian naturism and the philosophies behind it), we disagree in the approach of eliminating the power of porn. We agree on the problem, yet differ on the solution. Read his quotations in quotes and my comments in italics to see the points of agreement versus the areas of disagreement.
“I chose to write this using a pen name in order to share my most intimate thoughts while maintaining my privacy. My wife and I have been missionaries for most of our adult lives. We have four adult children.”
I get this. In fact, I use some anonymity on this site as well. However, I have the naturism point of view that immediately would not be understood by the vast majority of Christians. I long for the day when I can be totally open about this. “Hugh” isn’t a naturist. If I had been truly delivered from porn aside from naturism, I’d tell the masses in my own name. That never happened for me without the catalyst of naturism. Now I can share principles of Imago Dei with others who would not listen to me if they knew about my naturism, but I shouldn’t shy away from speaking openly about being delivered from porn. So I don’t fully understand why this brother should use a pseudonym. He probably doesn’t want to scandalize those he ministered to for many years.
“A few years later I went away to college, where I ended up studying theology and preparing to become a missionary. I fell in love with a wonderful Christian woman who is still my wife to this day. Like many guys, I thought having a wife and a healthy sexual relationship with her would cure my desire to look at porn. I was dead wrong.”
I identify with this. I too thought being married would solve everything.
“After binging episodes, before I turned off the computer, I would make sure to wipe my search history clean and erase all of the cookies from my browser. Then I would vow to myself and to God that this was the last time I would ever look at porn. This happened dozens, if not hundreds, of times. Each time I promised God and myself that I wanted out of this predicament, vowing that this time I would try harder and this time I really meant it. I now know that the worst lies are the lies we tell ourselves. It’s been said that porn is a lot like throwing yourself off a cliff. You get a great rush all the way down, right until you smash into the rocks below. Who in their right mind would throw themselves off a cliff for the thrill of the fall?”
Again, I’ve had the same experience and feelings. This is good writing.
“What is porn anyway and why is it so bad? In Matthew 5, Jesus discusses murder, adultery, divorce, etc. In each of these situations the great sin which separates us from God is the fact that we have turned a human being, made in his image, into an object of anger, scorn, lust, etc. God is love. As his children he wants us to love everyone. It’s impossible to live for God while transforming his children (our brothers and sisters) into mere objects. This is why pornography is so hideous. To lust after another person degrades and devalues another human being as a “thing” to be used for our own personal self-gratification. Pornography is dehumanization at the most intimate level of our being. That’s why it’s so ugly. And in the end we dehumanize ourselves in the process.”
No issue here. Full agreement and I’m glad he phrases the situation this way.
“I know that I should have confessed my sin to a friend or to someone at church. But I was the pastor. I was the one everyone looked up to, who taught everyone how to do what was good and right. How could I confess my hypocrisy? That fear kept me quiet. My dark, dirty secret was like an albatross around my neck.”
Again, I can relate. I did confess to some people and to my wife. I used to be a “good boy” with a bad secret. Now I know I’m a “bad boy” with a great secret. We don’t have to remain “bad.”
“Renewing your desire for God’s help is not a one-time event. It has to be a continual process, one day at a time, one hour at a time, one minute at a time.”
This is where we start to differ. For me, it was a one time decision to see the world and others differently that changed everything. Phrases like “that’s someone’s daughter” didn’t do it for me. It was rejecting lies that we are all visual and can’t help ourselves, and Imago Dei (image of God) that caused me to respect and honor all people with a renewed mind, and the resulting remapped neural pathways.
“I never stopped to consider how many people live just fine without sex. No one can live without water and we all have to eat to survive. Sex is a wonderful blessing from God intended to bring a husband and a wife closer together, but anyone can survive without it. We won’t burst if we go too long without sex, nor will we shrivel up and die.”
Yes! Reject that lie.
“What helped me understand how this desire works was imagining a person who tries to quench their thirst with seawater. They can drink until they pop, but they will only get thirstier. Saltwater can never quench anyone’s thirst; in the same way, the more a person looks at porn in an attempt to fulfill their need for intimacy, the needier they become. Worldly desires can never be satisfied, they always crave more and more and more. John D. Rockefeller started Standard Oil and was America’s first billionaire. When a reporter asked him, “How much money is enough?” He responded, “Just a little bit more.” …It’s an endless battle, like pouring water into a bottomless pit or using gasoline in an effort to drown out a fire.
I was in that endless battle and was told it’s every man’s battle. I believed them, and so that was my frame of reference and in turn my reality. I was conditioned to respond that way. Now, I like to say that it will be a battle as long as you think it will be.
“Motivational speaker, Zig Ziglar urged people to get rid of “stinking thinking”. Well, there is nothing worse than a carnal mind using other people for its own selfish ends. The best way I know of to push all of those immoral images from my brain is to replace them with thoughts which are pure, true, noble, admirable, and excellent. Our primary battleground in the war against this plague (or any other undesirable practice), lies in what we decide to think about, what we allow to occupy the space between our ears.”
This is partly what I’m saying. A change in thinking is vital, and that’s the literal meaning of the word “repentance” anyway. The main difference would probably be another lie that “nude is lewd.” He says “immoral images,” and he’s speaking of pornography which has a sexual and enticing bent. When you begin to see the body as “very good” like God does, porn loses its allure. I have no desire for it any longer, and even a fully naked body won’t cause me to be tempted or stumble, because I see them differently, not as a purely sexual object, but as a whole person.
“My best strategy (really the only strategy that works) is to avoid every impure thought and to stay as far away from the slippery slope as possible.”
Then you aren’t free or healed or fully transformed. If you are, there aren’t slippery slopes. No matter what the visual stimuli (not that I seek out anything that is sexual in nature) you can control your thoughts. If you are free, you don’t have to work hard to avoid temptation, because you aren’t tempted by that any longer. I’m more likely to be tempted by too many brownies, and need to work on renewing my mind when it comes to over-eating like l have with my issues of lust.
“Filthy or impure thoughts cannot be toyed with. Only a fool tries to see how close he can get to the edge of the slippery slope before sliding down all the way to the bottom.”
Avoidance and hyper-vigilance keeps us weak and susceptible. Facing even full nudity with zero issues is the most obvious sign of victory I can think of. I use this example a lot because it makes so much sense- a former alcoholic should be able to be around alcohol and be okay with it for them to be really delivered.
“zero tolerance policy.”
I hate porn. Jesus is better. I don’t see simple nudity as porn. I may stumble upon something that is pornographic by accident, but it has no power over me, because I have respect and honor for God’s image bearers.
“Crisp boundaries will mean eliminating most TV shows these days, as well as most movies. You will want to dwell on things that are edifying and beneficial.”
No problem with what’s edifying and beneficial, but it’s weakness to be so scared of seeing flesh! Maybe there is something beneficial to see in a show that shows nudity! You can’t watch Schindler’s List without issues? (Extreme example, I know.)
“[Otherwise you] will never find freedom.”
This isn’t freedom! It’s a tragic existence and a bondage of another kind.
“In the past, I would allow myself the “luxury” of looking when women were technically “clothed”. In reality, there are at least two things wrong with this kind of thinking: I was still lusting by ogling women’s bodies and degrading them as mere sex objects. One thing leads to another, and I’d soon find myself at the bottom of a slippery slope.”
I’m glad he used quotes for the word “luxury.” I agree with this bit about objectifying. When one’s thinking is pornified, it doesn’t matter if someone is “clothed” or not, seen or from memory or imagination. Your thought life dictates your behavior, and if you don’t change how you think, your responses will never change. This slippery slope business reminds me of my friend’s great allegory called “The Chain” – https://mychainsaregone.org/the-chain/
“The only way to develop clean and healthy thoughts is to ruthlessly eliminate every impure thought. This means changing the channel on the TV and turning off the computer or my smartphone whenever I’m feeling vulnerable to lust.”
Just don’t be vulnerable to lust. It’s a self imposed chain you keep on when you can easily take it off. See link on previous comment in case you skipped over it!
“not looking back a second time when a woman catches my eye.”
Or try loving the person as a human being, as God does. It’s very hard if not impossible to love and lust at the very same time. (One caveat is that even married men who love their wives can even lust and objectify them. In those moments, they are operating more out of lust than in love and problems will arise.)
“Perhaps I will modify these boundaries someday, but for now, I know they are my lifeline. These guardrails are my friends who protect me from the slippery slope of doom. I ignore them at my own peril.”
No, no, no! Jesus is your lifeline. Look at your own book’s title. Imago Dei is his intent. You don’t need friends or any of these boundaries, and you don’t need a struggle or fear of falling again! This makes me so sad.
“Randy Alcorn puts it this way: “When it comes to sexual temptation, it pays to be a coward. He who hesitates (and rationalizes) is lost. He who runs, lives.”
What a terrible quote! Be a coward? That’s your advice? What low expectations! What a low view of the Savior’s power to renew your mind and make you truly new. These are said with good intentions and a motivation to be strong, but it reinforces weakness.
I know I’ll be accused of rationalizing, but it took courage to get to this place. I’ll always choose courage of convictions over cowardice and fear (which are not from God).
“This strategy of quickly and ruthlessly throwing certain thoughts in the trash and instantly replacing them with beautiful, worthwhile ideas has served me well.”
Porn is meant to sexualize and titillate. But even the actor of porn is a person, made in the image of God, worthy of honor and respect on that basis alone. What if you saw them in a new light? They are a beautiful creation of God, the pinnacle of his creation. What’s his or her story? How did they end up in pornography? What if instead of using them as an object for your own pleasure, seeing them as filthy and obscene, and feeling guilty for even seeing them, what if you prayed for them and loved them as a human? Would this not change the whole dynamic? Of course this is probably not your attitude if you are seeking it out. Get to this point so if you accidentally were to come across something of the like, it’s an automatic impulse to move on, and not a dangerous situation.
“…it seemed like it was an endless task, and sometimes, it felt like I would never make it.”
I’ve felt that way too, but it shouldn’t and doesn’t have to be like that.
“Joseph Frascella, director of the division of clinical neuroscience at the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) wrote in Time Magazine: “Addictions are repetitive behaviors in the face of negative consequences, the desire to continue something you know is bad for you.” The Science Of Addiction, Michael D. Lemonick. Time. New York: Jul 16, 2007. Vol. 170, Iss. 3; pg. 42”
It’s been debated if porn is addicting in and of itself. It’s like a drug. It’s effects can be more powerful even. But I’ve come to see it more as a compulsion than an addiction. I did have addictive tendencies, for sure, but treat the compulsion, and it all goes away and practically instantaneously. Let God do that work in you, regardless of your own willpower, strength, or efforts.
“In my own dark, confused, and self-justifying mind, what I was looking at didn’t even qualify as pornography. Porn was something far more perverted and degrading. My excuse was, I had only been looking at pictures of women without their clothes on. Didn’t God make women beautiful? Wasn’t God the one who created and designed men to be attracted to the opposite sex? What I was doing wasn’t really so bad, was it? Later, when I finally worked up the courage to confess my sin to my wife, she saw things much differently. She said that I had betrayed her with hundreds, if not thousands of women. It felt as if I had invited these women into our home and had sexual relations with them. It made her feel unloved, unworthy and rejected. I had never even stopped to consider such an idea, but when she said it, I knew that she was right.”
I believe Jesus would call a spade a spade and to lust after other women is adultery of the heart. But I also believe in chaste nudity, where the ability to fellowship nude with other like-minded people without feelings of lust can be a beneficial experience for both husband and wife and not be sin. Crazy? Perhaps in your thinking. Before, yes I broke my wife’s heart many times over by committing adultery of the heart with many women I treated as objects. That is different than naturism, which is not the same as porn and doesn’t have the same goal. My wife is with me on this because it’s true! We are closer than ever, and it set her free from her own body issues as well!
“…sin will take you further than you want to go, cost you more than you want to pay, and keep you longer than you want to stay…. Change may not be easy, but it is a thousand times better than the alternative!”
Change IS easy. And there’s a whole other alternative which is far better than the options you suggest.
“Too often I saw porn as my friend, my source of comfort, rather than as my enemy.”
The porn industry and the objectification of humans made in the image of God, and the devil who hates Imago Dei is the true enemy, not the people caught up in it. The serpent must be the one who told Adam and Eve they were naked (see Genesis 3:11).
“Today I can say that I don’t want to eat worms ever again. I want to be free. I want to fly!”
You can! There is no wanting to. Be transformed by the renewing of your mind. A butterfly can’t go back to being a worm when it has truly been transformed through metamorphosis!
“Bad habits are a curse; good habits are a blessing. In order to live the life I wanted to live, I needed to unlearn my bad ways of acting and begin to develop good habits. This required time and effort on my part, but the benefits made it all worthwhile. Just like learning to ride a bike, the person who wants to learn a new sport or acquire a new habit will fail. Slips and falls are to be expected. All that’s needed is to get right back up and go back to doing what is good and true and healthy.”
This is pretty good, but with the effortless solution I suggest, slip ups are not expected.
“…I found my journal to be helpful.”
Cumbersome and not needed.
“Triggers are everywhere. We live in a sex-saturated society. I had to prepare for temptations to pop up in unusual places, and always be ready to say a quick and decisive ‘NO!’”
If you develop a new mindset, saying “no” is a breeze.
“I had to remain focused and maintain my mind in ‘battle mode’ in order to make good choices quickly and easily.”
I was so tired of “battle mode.” It’s so much better to just leave the battlefield!
“If we don’t plan ahead, act intentionally, and respect these limits, we are doomed to fail. We will fail every time. We can lament afterward that we didn’t really want to do what we did, but because we made the decision to cross the line, down the slippery slope we went.”
Or you can opt for true freedom and have success every time!
“The only way for change to take place in my life is for me to take responsibility. I have to recognize that I am not a victim. I’m in charge. It is up to me to learn from past mistakes, ask for help, make a plan and move forward to carry out that plan. And do all of this of course, with prayer and help from above.”
It’s true that it’s our own fault and no one else. But this is backwards. It’s help from above and not our own strength that causes the change that makes us free.
“I discovered that in [my wife’s] mind my involvement with pornography was if I had had an affair or worse yet, multiple affairs. I had betrayed her and abandoned her to be with other women whom I found much more attractive and desirable. She was nothing to me. I loved them. That’s not at all how I felt. I wanted to break free from the pull of my addiction. I desired the real love and intimacy, which only she could give me, but how could she trust me again?”
She felt like that because it is that. It’s not like that. It is adultery.
“Those first weeks and months after I told her were extremely difficult for both of us.”
Sorry it took that long! I had similar experiences the first times (multiple) that I had come clean with my wife. That is until a permanent fix took place. Then it was a matter of days.
“I was the definition of a hypocrite. I professed that I wanted to live for God and proclaimed that I believed in pure living and respecting women. I had never made a pass at another woman or kissed another woman, so I did not see myself as a hypocrite. In my confused, muddled thinking, I had compartmentalized my sin. I did not realize that pornography was like radiation, contaminating every corner of my life.”
“In my mind, I was a good, godly man, a good father, and a caring, faithful husband—I just had this problem in one area of my life. I had erected a wall of lies around this behavior. This allowed me to lust after women in my mind and yet hold on to the belief that I was one of the ‘good guys’ because I had not reached out to another woman on a physical level… I was lost in denial. Treating a human being as an object for one’s own sexual satisfaction is a monstrosity. When I convinced myself that looking at pictures didn’t hurt anyone, I was only deceiving myself. How was I able to brainwash myself into believing that my fascination with pornography did not qualify as betrayal and adultery? Because this is what I wanted to believe. I had to close my eyes to the truth in order to live with myself.”
Excellent comments and very true.
“A friend of mine sat down to examine how pornography had affected his life and discovered he had broken all 10 of the 10 commandments; the sins connected to porn addiction seem to cover them all! Take a look at this list: You shall not have any gods before me.–I set up pornography as a “god”. You shall not make for yourself idols.-Pornography was a big idol for me. You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God.-I denied God in my heart and thought that he did not care about my sin. Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.–Those impure images were in my head every day. Honor your father and mother.–To my shame, I searched for porn in their house. You shall not murder (or hate)-I’ve been hateful in my thoughts and actions. You shall not commit adultery.-Pornography by its very nature means betrayal. Jesus said, “whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5: 28). You shall not steal.–I looked at what was not mine and stole from others. You shall not give false testimony.–I lied time after time to cover my tracks. You shall not covet your neighbor’s house or wife.–The definition of porn.”
Wow. Me too. This is good to consider and lament.
“in spite of the fact that society and the media bombard us with the idea that the human body is beautiful and should be admired and that sex between two consenting adults is healthy and normal, these guys still know first-hand something has gone haywire.”
It’s God’s idea that the human body is beautiful and should be admired. Sex is meant to be beautiful within the confines of relationship. Others are not to be objects for sex. You describe the pornified view Hollywood and the media sell and you in essence agree with them. The naked truth which sets you free to love people as image bearers and praise God for his creation is a new and wholesome mindset.
“What breaks my heart is that, as the weeks and months go by, I see these guys come and proclaim their eagerness to begin anew. They come and post: ‘One day clean!’ ‘Two days with no porn.’ ‘One week with no porn and no masturbation’. There are threads where everyone commits to 30 days clean or 100 days clean. And everyone rejoices when a fellow struggler actually reaches one of these milestones. But more common is the guy who remained clean for a week or two, or maybe even three, and then says: ‘I slipped. Back to square one.’ It’s so terribly tragic!
Breaks my heart too. And it’s so needless!
“Just getting up and determining to try harder next time will not be enough—it will never work. Trust me. I know from experience, and I’m guessing you do, too! That’s why it’s necessary to take the time to think about and write down what some would term a ‘battle plan’. Meaning, that you need ‘to plan your work and work your plan’.
I agree with the first part, but then you suggest to do what you just admitted doesn’t work.
“What steps do you need to take today, tomorrow and the next day in order to reach your goal?”
Just one: change your mind.
“She is beautiful and I am attracted to her body, thus I become stimulated.”
That’s a conditioned response and learned behavior. It’s a lie and needs to be unlearned.
“Your battle plan might look something like this…”
Here is the start of the very cumbersome plan of not necessarily bad things, but things that aren’t really needed to change your mind about people and the body.
“Permanent changes will not take place overnight. Have you heard how to eat an elephant? One bite at a time! Recovery is that way. It’s necessary to take small steps day by day, always with an eye on the finish line.”
Permanent change can come overnight and in one step!
“So here I am, fighting to stay clean, just for today, with His help!”
Don’t fight to stay clean! Be clean. A fight or struggle means you haven’t been freed from bondage with a redeemed view of the body.
“What makes a temptation tempting? I’ve mulled this over in my head over the past twelve years. Why am I not tempted to smoke a cigarette or to drink a beer? I see those things and I don’t give them a second thought. Some people struggle for years to give up these habits. The difference lies in the desire. I am only tempted by the things I desire. I believe we create, or at least we permit our own temptations.”
Pretty good insight here. James chapter 1 says temptation comes from our own lusts. For me, it all boils down to this. Temptation used to be everywhere. Now, temptation is nowhere (at least in regard to lust).
Today I can’t tell you I’m no longer tempted in the area of lust, but the degree to which I am tempted has diminished dramatically.
So sad. It should be eradicated entirely.
“It’s time for all of us to wake up and get RE-programmed feet, eyes, and brains. Today’s the day to begin teaching our feet the dance of life, not death!”
Agreed, but how? Not through man-made tactics and strategies.
“I assume that if Bathsheba was taking a bath on her rooftop, this was a common thing to do in those days. Wouldn’t David know he might just “happen” to see someone? David already had several wives. Why in the world did David’s feet take him up to the roof and why did his eyes spot the naked lady? How long and hard did David stare at this bathing beauty? And of course, that’s just the start of this story. David wasn’t content to simply be a voyeur. He sent someone to find out about her. How long did that take? Wasn’t there enough time for David to stop and think and come to his senses? And even when he discovered she was a married woman, married to a man David knew and respected, he took that next step and sent messengers to fetch Bathsheba.”
Right, it was pre-meditated coveting, not Bashsheba’s doing. Also right that it was a common thing in those days. That didn’t stop David from sinning, but simple nudity in bathing, exercise, and daily work, was commonplace. Nudity wasn’t the taboo that it is today.
“But just as the alcoholic needs to face up to where his problem might eventually lead him, the wise person will wake up and realize that to toy around with lust is like playing with fire. Which means getting burned is a very real possibility! Ouch!”
Yes, and as you’ve said, the desire needs to be eliminated- that’s when an alcoholic person is free, when they can go down the liquor aisle with no issue- not before.
Note: there is a nice section about lies we believe in this book. I mostly agree with that section which is worth the read if you get the book for yourself. I also had noted that I admired and respected the humility with which this section of the book was written. There are some great quotes that I’d love to include, but you can read it for yourself if you are interested.
“What is the key for you and me to finally escape the prison of habitual sins? We need to find our peace, happiness, and fulfillment in Jesus.”
I’d add “and see others as He sees them.”
“Can I live a life without lust? Only when I believe that all my needs are being met by the One who knows me the best and loves me the most.”
And when you respect the dignity of others as made in His image.
“What might seem innocent will quickly lead to a house that is infested with the ghosts and demons of addiction. Before you know it, the house can quickly lose its light and once again become horribly haunted, dark and dismal. Such is the enslaving nature of this and all addictions.”
The problem with this analogy is the hypervigilance required to guard against anything that would bring it all back. I don’t feel that at all.
“I have worked hard to free myself of these ghosts.”
I’m glad, but I’m even more glad that after working hard to no avail, I stopped working and let the Jesus you see as better do the finished work for me.
“That’s why a “zero tolerance” rule is the only way to fight them off.”
Could you be in a naturist park, a nude beach, or an art class with no issues? Could you worship nude with other believers of like mind? I can and so do thousands of other believers.
“It’s hard work to break loose, but every day it gets a little easier, even though the temptations still drop by and knock on the door when you least expect them. Drive the “ghosts and demons” away today and you will find that freedom lies just around the corner.”
You’re so close, but in my opinion (and similar experiences), you haven’t found true freedom yet.
“We are all “in progress”. I’m still dealing with a variety of sins (selfishness, pride, lust, anger, laziness—all mixed up in varying proportions). But the Lord is here beside me to help me. I have brothers and sisters in Christ, fellow-strugglers who can encourage me and point me in the right direction.”
Still struggle with lust? I thought this book was about doing away with that.
See other book reviews here.