Man creates a world according to his own image and it is pleasurable, captivating, seductive, but addictive. This behavior has disastrous consequences for the individual, family and society at large. The prevalence of pornography addiction and “cyber-love” are truly alarming and underestimated because of their “private” character. Corrupted worldview, perverted lust, social isolation, addictive cyber-sex are just different faces of the same problem, which can lead to disrupted families, social handicaps and personal dissatisfaction. This article is meant to bring a fresh perspective on pornography addiction and to offer an Orthodox Perspective on recovery options.
- 1 PREVELANCE
- 2 PORNOGRAPHY - A FAMILY ISSUE
- 3 ORTHODOX PERSPECTIVE ON RECOVERY
- 4 CONCLUSIONS
Some relevant Numbers
According to the Internet Filter Review website, “Porn revenue is larger than all combined revenues of all professional football, baseball and basketball franchises.” The same source cites that out of the total search requests made in one day, 25 percent of them are pornographic in nature . According to Robert Weiss, 60 percent of all the visits on the Internet involve a sexual purpose. Mike Genung is an ex-sex addict, who now maintains a website aimed against pornography and who presents detailed and yet disturbing pornography statistics. With 12 billion a year in United States and 57 billion worldwide, the porn industry is one of the leading industries and by far the most profitable industry considering the balance between initial investment and revenue. In 2000, 60 percent of all websites were sexual in nature and these numbers grew proportionally with the Internet expansion.
Currently, according to Family Safe Media, the average age of first Internet exposure to pornography is 11 years old! Most of the 90 percent of 8-16 year olds having viewed porn online was while doing homework, which leads to another painful statistic: the largest consumer of Internet pornography id the 12-17 age groups.
How did we end up here?
In his Harvard address, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn offers a critical and analytical perspective on today’s Western civilization and he traces its evolution (or rather regress) to the Renaissance period, which represents the birth of rationalistic humanism or humanistic autonomy . By removing any sense of responsibility toward God, the development of society became more and more materialistic and anthropocentric. “Freedom was given to the individual conditionally, in the assumption of his constant religious responsibility .”(Solzhenitsyn, Aleksandr. “A World Split Apart” P.4) Without this, the conscience of society is numbed by the spiritual mediocrity and unable to respond to human decadence. In this kind of society, we will find people like Anthony D’Amato, famous legal theorist, who praises pornography for its educational role in society and claims that access to pornography caused a significant decrease in the number of rapes in the United States (D’Amato, Anthony. “Porn Up, Rape Down”) (if only for a second, you are tempted to believe it, I recommend you to read: “Dangerous Relationships: Pornography, misogyny and rape” by Russell, D.E.H 1998, in which he proves that violent pornography often promotes and eroticizes rape as a sexual act that is enjoyed and/or desired by females ).
In this kind of society, 38 percent of all adults and 70 percent of non-religious adults think that pornography is “morally acceptable .”  The consequences are inevitable. Replying to the question: “How many porn addicts are in the Church,” Chuck Swindoll said: “The most recent studies available suggest that one out of every two people-that's 50 percent of the people sitting in our pews, are looking at and/or could be addicted to Internet pornography… Truth be told, that statistic could be even higher… .” Now, this is alarming!
Pornography and other related derailed online activities were the result of "unlimited freedom," people enjoyed online. It was a social movement toward moral decay. In this case, the solution lays in the problem: thought education and popular campaigns, people are aware of the dangers and develop an authentic ethic social response.
PORNOGRAPHY - A FAMILY ISSUE
When dealing with couples, we see both unity and diversity. The very nature of a couple consists of a person, who freely has chosen to share his/her life with another human being. This decision leads to a commitment and eventually it is blessed and sanctified by the Church in the Sacrament of Marriage. Both participants of the couple bring in marriage a significant load of knowledge, believes and life experiences; and sometimes addictions. Pornography addiction is one of the most subtle and yet dangerous, because of its private character. Genung presents cases of marriages, in which the husband managed to hide his pornography addiction for ten or even more years and only accidental events led to the painful realization of the problem. It secretly poisons a marriage and the effects can be devastating (in a later chapter of this paper I will address in detail its vicious effects on marriage)
The root of the problem lies in the individual primarily and only secondly in the life of marriage. One of the most dangerous myths is that single persons, who struggle with porn addiction, think to themselves: “I might have a problem, but it will go away once I am in a sexually active relationship/once I get married.” Therefore, I think it would be beneficial to the theme of the paper to spend some time on the issue of pornography at large.
How does Pornography Addiction affect the Couple?
Before answering this question, let us see what a healthy relation looks like. A healthy romantic relation should have the following characteristics: investment in the well-being of the loved one, respect, admiration, sexual desire, intimacy, commitment, exclusivity and understanding.(Bergner, R.M. & Bridges, A.J. (2002.)) Pornography addicts’ behavior have the exact opposite of all these characteristics: the beloved becomes secondary, as the addiction becomes primary; by objectifying women, the level of respect and admiration is diminished; as any other addiction, the addict develop a resistance to the material and is looking for more aggressive and “hardcore” elements, which affects the intimacy and sexual desires in the couple. By showing interest in other persons of the opposite sex, commitment and exclusivity are broken as part of the marital act.
The negative effects presented above are mostly present in cases, in which the pornography addiction remains a secret. If it is shared with the spouse, it creates a very high level of distress, anger, rejection and can leave deep marks in the relationship. This is a quote from a letter from Mrs. Genung to her husband, an ex-pornography addict:
- “It really flared my insecurities up. I measured myself up to other women 'in your eyes'. I was always trying to see what you'd find more attractive in others - where my flaws were. In the beginning of our marriage it was the worst. My insecurities plus your addiction equaled disaster.I watched porn movies a few times out of curiosity to see where I was lacking in bed. In a way it was self-torture. 'I wasn't good enough', 'I didn't measure up'. What was it that you were looking at or drawn to that I couldn't fill? I was constantly looking at women (probably more than you) to see if you'd notice her smaller waist, her bigger chest, her whatever… Your sex addiction ruined the little bit of self-esteem I had back then, and there wasn't much of it to begin with. It put me on guard for everything - I was afraid that if I wasn't "perfect" (whatever that is) you'd leave or stray… Today I still struggle with insecurity; I'm paranoid about any pictures that might be in something we might get in the mail, or even a magazine I might want to read. It’s not that I think you're going to go back to where you were, but that you'll see in that picture what you don't have in me.” 
On November 10, 2005 Jill C. [Manning] submitted a 52 page official testimony to the Family Subcommittee on the Constitution, in which he presents statistics and results of a much extended research work. The conclusions are in accordance with the example presented above. Some of the most important consequences of pornographic abuse by one of the partners include:
- Decreased Sexual Satisfaction for both partners: the addict developed a resistance to normal sexual experiences and the spouse feels objectified: “ I am no longer a sexual person, but a sexual object to him…he is just using me as a warm body ”
- Decreased Sexual Intimacy as a change in the meaning of sexual intercourse, which leads to unusual soliciting, self-centered behavior and blaming.
- Financial Difficulties caused by costly sexual practices and by decreasing job security.
- Decreased Self-Confidence of the partner and guilt of the addict
Pornography addiction is no longer a personal problem. Sometimes, addicts say that is nobody’s business what they do in the darkness of their rooms and therefore it does not affect anybody. It is true that anybody can tell who has an alcohol addiction or drug abuse problem, but it is more difficult to tell if someone struggles with pornography addiction. But it is as dangerous as any other:
- “It has been suggested by some of the pornography addiction hypothesis that pornography addicts should experience similar patterns of symptoms to those involved in physiological addiction to substances such as drugs or alcohol; for example, euphoria while taking the drugs, and physical and/or psychological problems when they attempt to quit, desensitization to the addictive substance, and the need to increase their dosage in order to maintain their euphoria. ” (Accessibility, Affordability and Anonymity are the three A-s which differentiates Internet pornography from other pornographic source in “Sexuality and the Internet: Surfing into the new millennium” Cyber Psychology & Behavior, 1(2) 181-187)
One of the characteristic of a marriage is the reciprocal responsibility of the partners’ physical and psychological well-being. Therefore, men and women, be watchful of this vice of your spouses as it poisons your marriage! Look out for symptoms that might point out a pornography addiction of your spouse. Do you feel that your partner is neglecting you and/or prefers the company of Internet? Has his/her world view changed in regards to interacting with or perceiving other people, especially of opposite sex? Is he/she more socially isolated and prefers to be alone? Does he/she experience loss of sexual desire or have unusual sexual demands? There are many signs for pornography addiction and we, as part of the couple, are responsible to be mindful and react accordingly. If you acknowledge the presence of addiction, do not blame yourself, seek help immediately and challenge her/him. But more importantly, love him/her even more! Probably, he/she experiences shame, guilt, and remorse. In a later chapter I will address the issue of recovery: from pastoral and professional perspective.
ORTHODOX PERSPECTIVE ON RECOVERY
In chapter 27 of the book of Proverbs, we read: “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another. ” As Christians, we are called to see the people struggling with various addictions as sick and suffering fellow men and it is our responsibility to be that iron, which sharpens the iron. Especially if the one struggling is our spouse, we cannot turn away and abandon him or her. We are called to hate the sin, but love the sinner. The recovery process is very long and arduous, but with the appropriate tools, it is possible.
Hitting the Rock Buttom
One of the characteristics of a sex addiction is the tendency to isolation, secrecy and privacy. This can go on for years before it is revealed; and sometimes it is too late. There are three distinct instances when our intervention as pastors is requested: when the addict comes upfront asking for help, when the spouse learned about the addiction or when we are the initiators. Ted Roberts talks about confronting the Christian congregation in matters as sex addictions: “I gave an altar call for people struggling with sexual issues. No one moved at first. Than, the dam broke and they lined up three to four deep at the altar. ” (Robertson, Ted: “Pure Desire”) This is a very bold attitude and I believe ineffective in our communities. However, we can send a clear message, in which we can destroy the two myths that keep addicts away from confronting their problems. “I am the only one fighting this” and “I am not hurting anybody. ”[] Also, we have to provide a safe place where they can feel comfortable analyzing and efficiently fighting the addiction.
The second instance when a pastor is approached is when the spouse accidentally discovers the sex addiction of the husband and the situation, if handled wrongly creates a great marital distress. In earlier chapters, we have already discussed the consequences of various addictions on couples. So, here they are, the wife feeling betrayed, lied and cheated on, while the husband can experience feelings of guilt or still blinded by his passions, gets defensive or even blames the wife for his failures.
The third instance is the repentant addict seeking help. Have you ever read the Parable of the Prodigal Son as the story of an addict? Hieromonk Savatie Bastovoi proposes a new approach: the son enjoyed the riches of his father (marriage) until the day when he thought that it is not good enough; so, he left the house and really enjoyed his time away (the virtual world of easy pleasure and lust.) But, this consumed him until he had nothing to offer, and was a slave (the dark side of any addiction.) He ended up eating with the pigs; it was nothing human left in him (inability to see clearly; all women are sexual objects) As any addict he creates plans to avoid responsibility for his actions and does not trust the endless love of his father (an addict does not trust that his spouse can provide him with enough love and support to help him fight the passions.) Desperate, he comes to the priest for comfort and help .
These are three unfortunate cases, but still with chances of recovery. Now it is time for the Lord to act and the priest to become His healing hand. The priest has to asses the situation and to approach them adequately. He has to talk to them individually and as a couple. I would like to emphasize a point of tremendous importance: the wife is the victim and needs to be tending to, but she also plays an important role in the healing process, through forgiveness and loving attitude.
The Call to Genuine Repentance
The notion of repentance is often misused and in order to understand its true meaning, one needs the guidance of a spiritual father. In our Orthodox faith, unlike Western understanding, repentance does not have a legalistic perspective. It is, indeed, “an act of reconciliation, of reintegration into the Body of Christ, which has been torn asunder by sin,” www.goarch.org/en/ourfaith/articles/article8493.asp but it is so much more. Repentance should also not be limited to remorse about an evil deed, nor to feeling sorry about hurting somebody. This is the beginning of a long process; repentance is not an instance, but a process. “The Greek term for repentance, μετανοια, denotes a change of mind, a reorientation, a fundamental transformation of outlook, of man's vision of the world and of himself, and a new way of loving others and God. ” Saint John Chrysostom says: “it is necessary to repent, not merely for one or two days, but throughout one's whole life .” (De Compunctione I, i PG 4,7:395 and I, ix :408)
With these in mind, how can an addict benefit from true repentance? As in other addiction interventions, the pastor could experience a certain degree of resistance from the addict. This is caused by the biological neural structure as a consequence of prolonged exposure to exciting factors and should not discourage the process. The first step is trust in the priest and the spouse can play an important role in building this trusting relationship.
The addict’s worldview is altered by his addiction: women are objectified; notions like intimacy, vulnerability, self-esteem and self-offering are perverted; everything evolves around him. Therefore, the true “metanoia” represents a complete change of the worldview. Addiction is a process and repentance is also a process, a reversed-engineering. If addiction is a movement from life to death, repentance, as a theanthropic act is a Pascha, a Passover from death to life. Therefore, the addict is called to transcend the fallen state and once again taste life. Fr. John continues
- “Metanoia is the gateway to oneself, to one's fellowman, and to heaven. It leads inwards, but it also leads outwards by leading inwards. The world ceases to rotate round the self and begins to gravitate towards the other - the divine and the human other. Sin has the opposite effect.” www.goarch.org/en/ourfaith/articles/article8493.asp
This is what exactly is needed in addiction: a change of mind, a change of focus, a gravitating toward the spouse, centered on Christ. This is the true calling to repentance.
Healing is a connected process for both spouses. There is no efficient repentance if the wife is not present. Addiction degraded the Sacrament of Marriage and both members are called to redefine their relationship: Genung said that only after forgiveness, God’s grace can penetrate the wife’s heart and reach the husband. After adultery, marriage will never be the same; the initial innocence is lost forever, but through individual and joined efforts, both of them can reach an authentic state of repentance and regain what was lost.