EPISODE 55: How much power does pornography have?Sep 27, 2020
How much power does pornography have?
So many of us want pornography to have no power over husbands, over our children, over our own lives.
Yet, so many of us allow pornography to have so much power over us.
Let’s just talk, for a minute about the attractive capacity of pornography.
Let’s be honest – the human body is beautiful, arousal feels great, climax is enjoyable.
When we see others doing something that is beautiful, arousing and enjoyable even outside of pornography, that fires all kinds of empathic receptors in us.
As humans, part of this group of creatures that our Father in Heaven has put on the earth to learn and grown, empathy and mimicry are key components of our survival and success.
We are also creatures of comparison. We look at someone and we think about how we compare to them. Are we taller or shorter, better looking or not as handsome, stronger or weaker, all of that is part of the game our brains play to determine if we are sexually compatible with or mating rivals with others.
Add to that the human sex response, which is one of the strongest drives within our system, and you can see how pornography might draw you in and keep you entertained for a long time.
When I think of all the things I just mentioned and how so much of our biology drives us toward this highly pleasurable, highly rewarding, low cost option, it’s no wonder that the statics show that in one study of 18-35 year olds over a six month period, 98% of men and 73% of women reported internet pornography use.
That is astounding. I would hope that the figures are lower among LDS Men and Women, but without data on that, I’ll just say that these figures give us a picture of it’s overall usage within society.
So what does someone get from viewing pornography. And again, my goal is to be clear and honest about what I perceive to be the realities of the issue. Just as we discussed on my podcast “get on the map” you need to know where you are so you can get to where you want to be.
From my perspective the number one and most significant reason, and possibly the only reason many people who have a moral objection to pornography viewing continue to view pornography is, pornography relieves uncomfortable or negative feelings.
I want to note that I saw a post on social where a wife was saying that the husband was viewing pornography occasionally but that they were unclear why he kept going back to it. It was something they had tried to figure out, but had no success doing. This is why coaches often say, it’s hard to read the label from inside the bottle.
This is one of those things that demonstrates to me why everyone should have a coach. Tiger Woods has a coach, Tom Brady has a coach, CEO’s, business leaders, world leaders and presidents all have coaches because they want to be the best they can be. And even the most brilliant among us sometimes has trouble seeing how our swing might be adjusted, how our actions might be improved, and how our thoughts are creating a result that is no longer serving us.
For those men and women who are dealing with pornography use that they would rather not have in their lives, most often they are doing so as a way to address the feelings they are untrained in dealing with. What I mean by that is, all of us have coping mechanisms that we use to feel more at ease in various situations, some of them create long term positive outcomes and others create long term negative outcomes.
For most pornography users that I work with, they feel the momentary and immediate relief created by arousal and as a result their immediate discomfort abates. While simultaneously setting themselves up for unpleasant conversations with their spouse, decreased trust in self and belief in self, and increased negative emotions.
So, pornography is a huge draw biologically. It also has significant capacity to help us manage immediate discomfort. Those are the reasons why we perceive pornography to have power.
Now let’s talk about the reasons pornography is completely rejectable.
Some out there would like me to say, “it’s disgusting” or place some moral judgement on the behavior and on those who both create and view the material.
I’m not going to do that. The reason I’m not going to do that is because my goal here is to help people who want to stop the behavior in their own lives. I have never, not once, met anyone who positively responded to shaming in a long term, sustainable way.
And here I take the example of the Savior into account. How did he treat anyone who sinned? The woman brought in adultery for example. There were no protestations of innocence. She did not say anything to indicate she was unaware of the rules, so I think it is safe to assume that she had, in fact, had sex with a man outside of the marital covenant.
The men who had brought her, their purpose was to make an example of her to the community and make Jesus condemn this woman to certain death by stoning. That’s right, these guys wanted to throw actual rocks at this woman in an effort to deter her and others from this behavior.
Jesus, rather than participate in this farce of justice seeking instead said, “let him who is without sin cast the first stone”.
I won’t cast stones, being all too aware of my own weaknesses.
Now, let’s talk about how we can choose to reject pornography, notwithstanding the considerable reasons it has a draw on our attention and our physical desires.
First, decide what you want your moral line to be.
Going back to the couple who were having trouble figuring out what kept drawing the husband back into viewing things they had chosen to see as unacceptable in their marriage.
I often talk about agency in terms of the three main components. To have agency you have to know what is right and wrong, you have to consequences and you have to have the capacity to choose.
Let’s set aside those last two and talk about what is right and wrong. For many people viewing pornography is ok. For many others it is not.
1. When it comes to the power pornography has over you, you must first decide what, for you is right and wrong.
Are bikini pictures ok, but nudity is not. Is a sex scene in a movie you are watching with your spouse ok, but solo watching is not.
For me, my line has really been, if it is arousing media, print, pictures or videos I avoid it.
What I’m saying is, you have to choose the line. Your line. Not the church’s line, not your wife’s line and not the line of anyone else. Your line.
Obviously, you may want to choose a line that closely mirrors that of the church or of your spouse or someone else.
But whatever the line is, it has to be yours.
Let me give you an example. For me, I always had a line that I wouldn’t pay for pornography even when I was choosing to use pornography regularly.
That line was my own, because I chose it.
We do this in all sorts of ways in our lives.
Some people don’t eat broccoli, that is a line they draw in their lives. My wife doesn’t eat meat, I think she’s weird because just the word bacon makes me want to have a BLT. But that is her line.
2. Once you know your line and you have clearly defined it, experiment on how you can stay on the side you want to be on.
For my line, any arousing media, it wasn’t easy to figure out at first because I was not in tune with the way I was feeling. I had to practice being aware of the feelings I had going on in my body and the subtle difference between objective and curious. Objective lead to understanding, curious lead to one click too far.
On the journey to self mastery, I found that it was important to be careful of what curiosity would end up at, usually disappointment in myself.
Where, objectivity and understanding rarely led to that next click because I wasn’t looking to see anymore than I already had. Being objective about what I was seeing allowed me to notice that what I was seeing wasn’t going to lead to anything on my side of the line I had drawn.
Experimenting through objectivity allowed me to assess what was happening, what would happen and what had happened without judgement. I looked at facts and worked to set shame aside.
This allowed me to understand the process that I was using to avoid my emotions and then begin to reassert my agency in choosing to feel stressed, lonely or upset rather than avoid them with pornography or any other buffer.
This is the part that you are going to need to be willing to fail at and understand that there is a likelihood that things may get worse before they get better. Just like when a golfer adjusts their swing to improve mechanics, oftentimes they get worse before they get better, you will probably experience the same.
Don’t give up, don’t let your spouse derail you (because sometimes they want to because they want to see immediate results) and don’t waste the learning process by thinking you have to start over.
Start from where you are and try something new.
3. Pornography never shows up in your living room as a naked body and tells says, “we’re here and you’re going to watch” which means that you have to give consent all along the process. Which means, you have to practice saying no.
In the program I do I teach people a simple three step process to processing urges.
Urges are just powerful emotions that are driving us to do something. that something often feels good.
I use rachael hart’s Stop, drop and breath and I talked about this particular skill on my podcast Willpower is the wrong tool
I’ll link to it in the show notes https://player.captivate.fm/episode/60c4b417-5156-4da3-bd32-13e40dc3c708
The problem that most of us have is that we fight our urges. We fight that thing that we think is just showing up in our lives.
There are a couple of problems with this.
First, fighting takes up a lot of mental energy and it doesn’t feel good. It requires you to battle it out with the one person that you can never beat, yourself.
Second, when we fight we are setting up a situation where there has to be a winner and a loser. The win/lose equation that you create is your higher brain vs. your lower brain. Well, your lower brain or your lizard brain has one overarching responsibility, to keep you alive. So, in the battle between existential fulfillment based on moral principles and keeping you alive, guess which one is going win out 99% of the time?
You might say, but pornography doesn’t keep people alive. Try telling that to the part of your brain that only functions in terms of how much dopamine it gets, how to keep you from getting hurt, feeling bad, or dying, and how to save as much energy as possible. Pornography hits all three of those criteria pretty hard. It’s a low cost way to fulfill basic biological urges within the sex response, which is a high dopamine activity and when you’re doing it you don’t feel sad or lonely or frustrated because you feel aroused.
Rather than fight with your lower brain you have to allow your urges to exist without acting on them. You have to see them without seeing them as the enemy. You have to observe them without engaging.
You have to become the narrator of your own wildlife film. Observe, narrate, never engage.
Saying no is both saying it with words and with relaxed, consistent willingness to feel urges, knowing they can’t do anything unless you consent.
That is where the real power lies. In your own capacity to just be without having to do.
Seeing pornography as a thing that has a power of attraction and you have the power of rejection sets up a simple set of questions that you can use to place your higher brain back in charge of your decision making around it.
First, What side of the line is this on?
Second, do I already know how to stay on my side of the line?
Third, do I have to act on this or can I just allow it without doing anything?
Questioning your thoughts and urges calmly and without judgement will allow them to just leave when they are not really as useful as they seem to be at first.
Questioning the thoughts and feelings that you have, allowing them to exist without fighting them and recognizing them for what they are, suggestions from your brain will show you that pornography doesn’t have power over you, but that you are consenting to its influence in your life.
I hope that doesn’t come across as harsh or judgmental. I hope that within that statement you find the hope and freedom that is available to you when you correctly understand the influences in your life and treat them according to what you want and not what they might want for you.
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