Help for Porn Addiction: 3 Critical Steps for Accountability Partners

Often I’ve wondered what I would learn if I was a fly on the wall of a counselor’s office. I don’t feel a great need to snoop on others’ private problems; I just feel there is something to be learned listening to an honest, raw conversation about things that really matter to people. When all the masks are off and the guards are down, how can I really listen and speak to others in a way that helps them navigate through their toughest problems?

 

To offer us some help for porn addiction, David Powlison writes a story in the Journal of Biblical Counseling, letting us be the fly on the wall of his office as he interviews a man he calls “Bob.” Bob reflects back on his preoccupation with fantasy, lust, and pornography. While Bob does most of the talking, the interview allows the reader to get into Bob’s head and see how he was able change. (Read the pdf here: “Slaying the Dragon.”)

At one point in the interview Bob talks about going to another counselor for his problem, but these visits did not ultimately help him to repent of his pornographic fantasies.

He mentions three things he wishes his counselor would have done.

1. Get Specific

Bob says when he met with his counselor he almost spoke in code. “I was not explicit enough as to what my sexual problems were,” Bob says, “I said I struggled with lust, but everybody struggles with lust. It would have been helpful if the counselor had been more specific in his questions.”

Accountability conversations need to be specific. Specific questions should be asked. Are you masturbating? Do you watch porn? When? What did you see? How does your fantasy life cause you to think about and treat women? What are your fantasies? (For a detailed list of questions, download, “Christian Accountability: A Discussion Guide.”)

Often we confess in vague generalities because we want to temporarily soothe our guilty consciences. The real ugliness of sin is not unearthed. We take comfort in the confession process itself, treating people (as Jonathan Dodson says) like “Protestant confessional booths.” More specific questions cut through the self-deception. Then, when the guilt, ugliness, and evil of sin is acknowledged, this gives both you and your accountability partner to relish in God’s forgiveness.

2. Go Deep

It wasn’t through Bob’s counselor but through his pastor’s preaching that Bob later came to realize that his lust was not just a struggle, but was actually a form of self-worship—idolatry. “I never really came to see that I was trying to serve two masters,” Bob says. “For me, the basic idolatrous self-worship expressed itself in pornographic fantasy.”

In our accountability conversations, it is important to get to the heart of sin. According to the Bible, sin isn’t just a dysfunction or personality flaw: it is related to what we worship. We may not be used to thinking along the lines of idolatry because we associate idols merely with statues carved out of wood and stone. But the Bible also identifies that idols live in the heart (Ezekiel 14:3).

As Pastor Tim Keller says, when something captures our imaginations and hearts, when something makes us feel personally significant and secure so much that it guides our choices, these are our potential idols. “Sin isn’t only doing bad things,” Keller writes, “it is more fundamentally making good things into ultimate things. Sin is building your life and meaning on anything, even a very good thing, more than on God.” This is idolatry.

What idols do we find under porn addiction? There isn’t just one. For some the idol might be the image of the porn girls themselves: he is worshiping her beauty. For others the idol might be something the fantasy woman gives him in his fantasy world: approval, respect, a desire to be loved, a desire for companionship, comfort, pleasure, control, power. Many of these thing are good things, but we worship them when our thirst for them becomes an ultimate drive.

Good accountability partners make it a practice to explore the question, “What have I been worshiping?” When we look at our day-to-day choices, habits, dispositions, motives, purchases, and daydreams, what themes do you notice? What idols are hiding beneath the obvious sins? (To help you ask these kinds of questions, read, “6 Reasons Men and Women Are Drawn to Porn.”)

3. Get Personal

Part of Bob’s recovery was coming to terms with his past. His old counselor didn’t explore this angle. Bob says, “I’ve come to understand some things in my background better. An incident when I was molested by a babysitter, several voyeuristic incidents where I witnessed naked women, and the reading of Playboy were all incidents that I think contributed to patterning my sexual sins.”

Bob recognizes these incidents didn’t make him sin, but they did shape what objects his lust gravitated toward. Knowing his past, Bob understands more of where he is most vulnerable.

Good accountability conversations need to take time to explore the past. First, this can be a very powerful exercise for building genuine friendships. Second, it helps us to understand the things that drive us.

Photo credit: pezz