by Rachel Coyle
Several years ago, while working on a Master's Degree in Biblical Counseling, I began to see a very disturbing trend among women: the use of pornography. First there was Denise*. She had been a Christian for a while, but her struggle with pornography began many years prior. Being saved did not mean instant freedom from pornography in her case, and she sought me for help. Then Michelle opened up to me about her 10-year-plus "off and on" involvement with pornography. She thought praying for freedom was enough... it wasn't. Next, Heather came to me for counseling, trusting me enough to share how deeply enslaved to pornography she had become. For her, it had digressed to more perverted types of sexual sin.
Over the course of several months, each of these women came to me (independently) for counsel. I then realized that pornography is, indeed, a problem with which women struggle.
Pornography in and of itself is a sensitive topic. It becomes taboo among many Christian communities to suggest that women are enslaved to it. The devastating result is that many women are in bondage to pornography, feeling very alone and unsure of where to turn for help. Are you surprised to learn that pornography and masturbation are problems that women can struggle with, or have you lived that struggle? Maybe you have been approached for help. Wherever you find yourself on this spectrum, I encourage you to keep reading! In this brief series of articles, I hope to provide practical and biblical help for those of you who are using pornography or who want to help someone who does.
What is Pornography?
Know this: pornography is available in many forms, not just visual images. Most of us associate pornography with what we can see with our eyes—pictures, movies, television, Internet, etc. However, the mind's eye is just as influential as the physical eye. In Matthew 5:27-28, the Lord Jesus teaches the capacity for sin that both the physical eye and the mind's eye have: "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall not commit adultery,' but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart" (NASB). Here, the Lord teaches that adultery is not limited to a physical act. Through the impure thoughts of her mind's eye, a woman can commit adultery in her heart. Applying this principle to pornography, we can conclude that a person can commit the sin of pornography by reading literature that encourages her to conjure up impure images in her mind, even if she is not looking at images with her eyes.
How is this relevant to our topic? Erotic literature is pornography. It may take the form of a romance novel, magazine article, or Internet chat room. Now we are getting down to the nitty-gritty, for here is where most women find their struggle. While some women are drawn to visual images, many are captivated by words on paper which tantalize their imaginations. What she reads, she visualizes in her mind. This often produces within her a desire for sexual release, which she may find through masturbation. Repeated use of pornography, often accompanied by masturbation, leads to slavery (see Rom 6:12-14, 16).
There is Hope for Freedom
Have you been dabbling with any form of pornography? Do you find yourself turning to it again and again? Perhaps you have been using pornography for years. Maybe it has been a long and daunting battle. Let me assure you, there is hope for freedom! The good news is that pornography is a sin. I know it looks like there is a typo in the last line, but there isn't. The reason this is good news is because Jesus Christ came to set us free from sin (1 Tim 1:15; Rom 6:5-11, 17-23). When it seems like sin abounds in your life, remember that God's grace abounds far more (Rom 5:20). If you need a dose of hope, take a look at the following Scriptures: Psalm 119:133; Romans 5:1-8, 6:17-19, 22; 1 Corinthians 10:13, 1 John 1:9, Jude 24-25.
The hope of being transformed by God begins with realizing that pornography is sinful and confessing your struggle to God. Beware of "victim mentality," blaming your struggle on your past, on any circumstances, or any other person. Although any number of things may have influenced your involvement with pornography, you must take responsibility for your current sin. Sin thrives in the dark and secret places, so bring it into the light (1 John 1:5-10). Share your struggle with a godly woman whom you trust. You could show her this article and ask her to become an accountability partner. Once you bring sin into the light, you are on your way to freedom from the slavery of pornography.
An Issue of the Heart
Just as a nasty weed will continue to sprout in a beautiful garden unless it is pulled out at the root, sin will continue to sprout up in our lives unless we attack it at the root. In other words, it is not enough to get our act together and change our behavior so we look "cleaned up" on the outside. ThatÕs what the Pharisees did (Matt 23:27-28). Remember that we cannot fool God; He does not look at appearances, but at the heart (1 Sam 16:7). Our hearts are what cause us to sin (see Mark 7:21-23). It is not enough to merely stop indulging in pornography; it is vital to address issues of the heart: what motivates a woman to use pornography and what keeps her coming back for more. (This is not the same for every woman!) If you are using pornography, consider what is drawing you personally toward pornography. What do you want from it? (I.e.: Personal pleasure? Escaping painful feelings? Avoiding responsibilities?...)
Living it Out
As a counselor, it is important that I give homework so that my counselees will learn to apply the things we discuss together. Here is a project for those of you who want freedom from any form of pornography:
Start a "Journal of Tempting Times." Create four columns:
1) Record when you are tempted to use any form of pornography and what you are tempted to do.
2) Describe the circumstances surrounding the temptation. (I.e. "It was right after I had an argument with a friend.Ó ÒI had a bad day at work." "I was bored.")
3) Write down what you were thinking during the time of the temptation. ("I am so stressed out about my family." "I just wanted a high." "I have so much to do and not enough time.")
4) Record what you actually did following the temptation. (Remember, temptation is not sinful, but this is where you make the choice either to please God, or to sin against Him.)
Be as specific as possible in this journal. There are several benefits to this exercise. First, as you are faithful to keep track of your temptations, you will begin to recognize patterns. You will notice what form(s) of pornography you are most drawn to; you may notice that similar circumstances trigger a temptation; you might realize how your thoughts send you on a downward spiral into sin. Recognizing such patterns will help you be prepared for the battle. Consider what these patterns reveal about your heart—your thoughts, feelings, attitudes, desires, etc—and what changes you need to make, by the grace of God. Ask the Lord to help you be diligent to study His Word and learn godly ways of handling situations in which you would normally be tempted to use pornography (Ps 119:9-11).
More to Come
In our "microwave generation," we often expect God to change us instantly, but do not understand our part in that change. Learn more about "God's Process of Change" in the next issue of MTL.
*Each of the names used are pseudonyms for real counselees.
Rachel Coyle has been teaching and counseling women for more than nine years with a desire to esteem Jesus Christ and His life-changing Word. She has earned a Master of Arts degree in Biblical Counseling from The MasterÕs College (Santa Clarita, CA) and is also a certified counselor with the National Association of Nouthetic Counselors (NANC). She and her husband, who serves in the U.S. Army, and their daughter are currently stationed in Germany.