Your Brain on Porn

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Watching just 5 hours of porn has been proven to significantly change people's sexual beliefs and attitudes. Find out 5 distinct ways that porn warps your brain, as well as 5 biblical ways to renew your mind and find freedom.

43 thoughts on “Do Christians Overhype Porn Addiction?

  1. Great article, Luke, and well-researched! You’ve raised a really important issue but also kept the main thing the main thing. Years ago, it was important for me to admit to myself (and more significantly, to others) that I had a ‘sexual addiction’. Only those who have experienced it know it’s true power, regardless of what we call it. I also knew it to be sin as well, and that it was slowly destroying me, which is what sin does. At the same time, the secular world and lately the field of neuroscience has made some significant discoveries that are relevant and helpful to the Christian in his or her struggles. I think we look on with a sense of bemusement on one hand and exasperation on the other when we see how the secular world seems to dance around the issue in so many ways. Addiction? Definitely. SIn? Yes. Brain imbalance? For sure. Take all of these together and find healing ultimately in Christ, who gave Himself for us in our addiction / sin / brain imbalance.
    Thanks again, my friend, for getting us to think more deeply on these issues.

    • Thanks, Rob. I believe it is important to not get trapped in either-or thinking: is it a sin problem or a medical problem? The reality is that we should not be surprised that sin can make us sick. When speaking of “all kinds of lusts,” Paul said the law of sin “dwells in my members” (Romans 8:23), i.e. the physical members of his body. Elsewhere he says “the sexually immoral person sins against his own body” (1 Corinthians 6:18), and I thoroughly believe that modern sexual compulsions are evidence of this.

      Dualistic thinking can plague the church in many ways. When it comes to sin, it is popular to think that any problem below the neck is a physical problem and anything above the neck is a spiritual problem. In reality, sin impacts the whole person.

      What do you think about my four “camps” of thought? Which of these four do you fit into (if any)?

    • This was one of THE best articles i have read on the issue. Wow. Wow. Wow.
      So distinct and well researched and addresses positives and negatives for all 4 camps. Not even really negatives but just ways to help ANY and every one handle how to place responsibility,blame, compassion and empathy…very very good. I would fall into the 3rd camp. Biblicists…ive been blessed to be in some great churches since my husband came out of insane pornography and adulterys…roughly 3 years ago. I am sad to say he does not seem humble or repentant and has continued to act out and I feel forced to finally say that we need to divorce. :( still praying for him and looking for wisdom. His name is jay. Pray for him. We have 4 kids. :(

    • Hey Shaylee. I’m so glad this article was helpful to you. I see a lot of virtue in each camp, and at the outset of researching for this article, I didn’t expect that. I thought I would firmly fall in one camp and then advocate for it. In the end, I think we really need to approach this subject with enormous charity among Christians—let iron sharpen iron.

      So sorry to hear about your husband. What an awful circumstance. Do you have support for yourself as you consider your options?

  2. Good question! In re-reading your four camps, I think I’m in the Redeemers group. You’re so right, dualism tempts us to reduce the issue to either just a spiritual problem (hence those who want to cast out the demon of lust and reclaim the territory, and I am sure there are situations where that is entirely the thing to do), or just an emotional / physical / or even a self-control issue on the other hand (which is also often a part of it). An integrative approach factors all of these in and sees us in a wholistic way that is rooted ultimately in our redemption through Jesus. And a healthy and ultimately effective path of sobriety, growth and wholeness takes it all into account.

  3. Hey Luke,
    Thanks for your article ; I feel a kinship and a further empowerment from all four camps you discribed !
    I appreciate your call and passion to help all people . Your work has helped me . Thank you

  4. Thank you Luke for this well written article. Your underlying love and concern for your readers comes through in the depth of your research and in your faithfulness to the Word in plainly identifying sin and its remedy. It is a sad commentary on our culture and many of our churches, that we are drifting further and further from the pillars of biblical truth. “Thy Word is Truth.”
    My main comment is regarding the field of neurology which, as you say, has reshaped the ASAM definition of addiction due to work with brain scanners and color MRIs. They now conclude that, in this discussion, porn addiction is “a primary, chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory, and related circuitry.” Their are many assumptions and presuppositions involved in both the use of the technology and the conclusions, none of which address the issue of causation. You alluded to this in your response to Rob above in that sin can and does make us sick. You mentioned Rom 6:23 and 1 Cor 6:19 which specifically mentions sexual sin. In God’s created order since the fall, sin has a profound effect in us, soul and body. Ps 38:3-5 is another clear example, “no health in my bones because of my sin.” The point is that science can have some input on the “what,” but never on the “why.” So even their definitions are suspect since many manipulate the application of them – e. g. using the concept of addiction as a valid excuse for sin, or assuming that hypofrontality is the cause of the addiction(sin) rather than the result. We must measure everything against the infallible and sufficient Word. My thesis is that in a very high percentage of cases, the abnormality is the result of sin. However, there is always the possibility or organic/genetic birth defects. Even so, God knows our frame and calls us to obedience. When we sin, praise God, we have an advocate with the Father.
    To respond to your four “camps” breakdown. I do see some overlap in each, but I am definitely a Biblicalist in your vernacular. In fact, I am a biblical counselor and always try to listen carefully, get to the heart issues, and point people to Christ through the process of dehabituation (put off) and rehabituation (put on). Covenant Eyes and your work are sometimes important factors in that process. Thanks again brother. In Christ our Hope, Brian

    • Thanks for your thoughts, Brian.

      To speak some to your comments about neurology, I see Christian neurologists much the same way I would see a Christian archaeologist: both are engaging in an exploration of the material world, and (hopefully) doing so based on Christian assumptions and presuppositions.

      Here are my questions for you:

      1. Do neurologists and neuropsychologists (Christian or otherwise) claim that hypofrontality is a cause of addiction or just a description of what addiction entails?

      2. I agree that some use the concept of addiction as an excuse to sin. Is this because their particular definition of addiction is suspect, or do you think that any definition of addiction will tend to lead people that direction?

      3. Is part of your concern about the ASAM’s definition the inclusion of the word “disease”?

      Thanks for your thoughts!

  5. Hi Luke,

    It’s time to jettison the whole term “porn addiction” (and “sexual addiction” for that matter). There is no universally accepted definition for these terms and it causes born-again believers to become obsessed with themselves instead of fixated on the loveliness and awesomeness of Christ (remember, we’re new creations in Christ Jesus).

    Take for instance the book, Every Man’s Battle, which posits that every man, Christian or otherwise is at least “fractionally addicted” to porn. Fractionally addicted? — what in tarnation are they talking about? Are we going to use the “addiction” word with “porn” when we in Evangelical Christianity can’t even settle on what the definition of porn actually is, let alone porn addiction.

    I want you to go ahead and define specifically what porn is and then ask if your filtering software “knows it” when it detects it.

    What you’ll find is that our Christian communities have defined “porn” so broadly and has conflated so many different types of imagery and mediums as being “pornographic”, that you would have extreme difficulty getting ten Christian laymen to agree, let alone ten Christian therapists.

    • Certainly the definition of porn is important if one is to define porn addiction. I completely agree with you. The definition of porn is pretty nebulous, but one of the best one’s I’ve read is: “Pornography consists in removing real or simulated sexual acts from the intimacy of the partners, in order to display them deliberately.” That said, Covenant Eyes has an rating system that deals with a wide variety of materials, not just pornography.

      Do you believe that the label of porn addiction (or even sex addiction) universally makes believers focus on themselves, or is that just true of the individuals you personally know?

      How do we classify a book like Every Man’s Battle? Good question. In one sense we may say they land in The Redeemers camp, but we should probably create a fifth camp and call it “The Muddlers.” There are a whole lot of Christians who just use the term “porn addiction” inconsistently and don’t think much about the implications behind the term. I can’t say that is true about Every Man’s Battle, since its been more than 10 years since I read the book. Still, the notion of being “fractionally addicted” to something stretches the definition quite a bit.

    • When a person already addicted to porn online, this leading to depression and can be one of the side effects of porn addiction. The feeling of powerlessness and feeling like you will never get it back. You feel as if you are losing a part of yourself. It’s painful, and disempowering, and scary. I been a lot having this kind of addiction, then I seek help here in greatnessahead.com and the program they gave me truly help me to quit porn addiction for good.

  6. Great questions Luke. I hope this exchange will be helpful to some of your readers. First, to address your comment: I agree there is a parallel between neurology and archeology. In fact this helps illustrate the point I am driving at. The job of either of these professionals is to report facts based on that which is observable and repeatable. However, all too often the results of such research get lumped in with the prevailing view at the university or institutional level. Some things improve and change, but rarely outside of the mainstream views of this world. I am not saying there is nothing helpful in their science. I am saying that the scripture is clear that we are to be biblically discerning and not overwhelmed with their degrees and knowledge. We can be humble, respectful, inquisitive, and skeptical at the same time.

    We know from scripture that men suppress the truth in unrighteousness. Rom 1:18f. – and that God is then active in their self deception and incorrect conclusions. We also know from 2 Pet 3:4,5 that “science” will employ the concept of uniformitarianism to “prove” their theories regarding origins and the human condition. To simplify it – God’s Word is Truth and changeless. Man’s theories are ever changing and quite possibly deceptive. Therefore, it is best to say what God says, and apply the appropriate portions of His Word to each of our problems and lives. To get to your specifics:

    1. Luke: Do neurologists and neuropsychologists (Christian or otherwise) claim that hypofrontality is a cause of addiction or just a description of what addiction entails?

    Brian: Fair question. I don’t know. I suspect that there is a range of applications on this point. However, as a general observation, the “recovery industry” as a multi-billion dollar enterprise uses these types of definitions to draw people in and keep them in a closed circuit system that offers “coping skills” and temporal help. Only the gospel of Christ offers the Way to eternal life. We work lovingly and patiently with the counselee along a difficult, but clearly defined path to solve immediate problems with long term results. It is a whole person approach body and soul through the Word and the work of the Holy Spirit. In a sense, it is not important or relevant what a person’s label is from some other form of therapy. I can offer real Hope regardless of changing theories and labels. How did gospel counseling work before modern psychology and medicine? By God’s grace in conjunction with the proper application of the Word and the work of the Spirit.

    2. Luke: I agree that some use the concept of addiction as an excuse to sin. Is this because their particular definition of addiction is suspect, or do you think that any definition of addiction will tend to lead people that direction?

    Brian: Again, a great question – I think the answer varies with how it is applied. Some people come to biblical counselors as a last resort. They have tried everything else. In some cases they come with labels that they cling to and use as a cloak for sin. I must be somewhat familiar with the labels in order to help, but I try to patiently get to the heart issues and redirect to the biblical language. As you know, the scripture never uses the concept of alcoholic, but speaks of a drunkard. There is no perfect or foolproof method because we are dealing with sin in ourselves and others. Some will turn away in anger. Others will embrace the Word, do the homework, and begin to put the specifics of scripture to practical use in their lives. Radical, accountable change like Covenant Eyes is often necessary. And there is often genuine joy, hope, heart change, and healing in individuals and families – praise God alone.

    3. Luke: Is part of your concern about the ASAM’s definition the inclusion of the word “disease”?

    Brian: Yes, of course, because I think the disease model should be reserved for actual organic problems like cancer and diabetes – even though those conditions may be contributed to by behavior (diet). The human heart is deceitful above all things (Jer 17:9.) To add of multitude of DSM board consensus labels that are behavior based, and not organic just feeds the propensity to sin and the proclivity to deal with guilt by dismissing it. Some are necessary like Autism Spectrum. Some are ridiculous like “oppositional defiance disorder.” It seems every sin has a disorder label now.

    I believe there is a legitimate place for psychology, but not when it crosses the line into theology, which it easily and often does. However, I also believe that God has given us sufficient revelation in the Word to develop a theology and methodology of counseling that brings glory to God and genuine, temporal and eternal help to a sinner – even one “addicted” to porn. 1Cor 6:9 “Such were some of you.”

    Let me say in closing that I greatly appreciate your informed and inclusive approach. I believe your work helps many of your readers, including me. Our goals at Covenant Eyes and in personal counseling are the same – to help people where they are, by pointing them to Christ, who alone can save us…

    In Christ our Hope,
    Brian

    • Thanks for your thoughts, Brian.

      One thought comes to mind. Biblcal counselor Ed Welch points out that the Bible itself uses the disease metaphor when talking about sin. Citing passages like Isaiah 1:5-7 and 53:6, he states that Scripture emphasizes that sin has many things in common with a disease. Like a disease, sin affects our entire being, it is painful, it leads to death, and it is absolutely tragic (Addictions: A Banquet in the Grave, 61). However, the Bible also never loses sight of moral responsibility. Alcoholism and porn addiction are a lot like diseases: they feel as if we have been taken over by a virus, making us spiral out of control—but it is a voluntary slavery. Dr. Welch calls this the dual nature of sin: “This enlarged perspective indicates that in sin, we are both hopelessly out of control and shrewdly calculating; victimized yet responsible. All sin is simultaneously pitiable slavery and overt rebelliousness or selfishness. This is a paradox, to be sure, but one that is the very essence of all sinful habits” (34).

      For this reason, I have no problem likening sin to disease as long as it is done the way the Bible does it. Disease is a good metaphor for sin, but it is not the only metaphor.

  7. Your point is well taken Luke, and I think we have come to the essence of our somewhat semantic but important distinction. Dr. Welch’s book is excellent. I have gifted it in certain cases. The sections you quote are underlined in my copy. However, the next phrase from Ed on p. 61 makes my point clearly. After he says, “it affects our entire being, it is painful, it leads to death, and it is absolutely tragic.” He goes on to say, “Yet, there are also ways that sin is not like a disease. It is something we do rather than catch, we confess it rather than treat it, the disease is in our hearts rather than our bodies, and only the forgiveness and cleansing found in the blood of the Great Physician is sufficient to bring thorough healing.”

    The Bible uses sickness and illness as metaphors or illustrations for sin. There is no blood test or biopsy – no organic pathology for sin. Sin is against God. It starts from idolatry of the heart. A disease like HIV/AIDS may be the result of sin, but it does not define the sin itself.

    Since you mentioned Ed’s book on addictions, I will mention Dr. William Playfair’s book called, “The Useful Lie”. Playfair is a Christian medical doctor who gives an insider’s view of the “recovery industry” and twelve step programs – lots of real statistics and quotes. It’s an expose’ of a multi-billion dollar fraud upon the public including the church particularly by using the disease model to avoid the concepts of sin and guilt. You may not agree with everything, but Satan’s inroads into our culture’s conscience become quite clear. And his method is not new – first the doubt, then the lie. “Has God said”, questioning God’s Word. Then the big one, “You shall not surely die.”

    The reason I don’t use the word disease much is because the world has kidnapped a metaphor and made it the thing itself, which can and does lead people astray. That is my job as a biblical counselor to guide people away from deception, to Christ using the lighted paths of the Word.

    If there is one thing I would say to your dear readers Luke, it is this. Friends, this is deadly serious business. The further down the wrong path you are, the harder it is to claw your way back – but in Christ you can and must. There is genuine Hope in Him. He knows our frame. He has been tempted as we are, and He has shed His blood on the cross, that we might be completely washed and cleansed from all our defilement. Search the scriptures, use Covenant Eyes, get additional help if you need to. It is a matter of eternal life and death. God calls us in the gospel to life in Christ. Brian

    • Thanks for your reply, Brian. I agree with you (and Welch) and there are many ways in which sin is not like a disease. I would only choose to use it as a metaphor if I thought it would be helpful. I’m always in favor of redeeming terms hijacked by the world, but this, of course, would be a long and difficult process in today’s culture. I only quoted Welch to help me arrive at the same balance he did: don’t be afraid to use Scriptural language of disease to talk about sin, but be prepared to tangle with the world’s definitions and draw contrasts where needed.

      In light of this discussion, I’d love to get your thoughts on my recent article about neuroscience and pornography, specifically in a Christian context. I’d love to get your feedback, since you seem to have a good grasp on some of the intricacies.

      I agree wholeheartedly this is a serious matter. I think John Piper’s words are noteworthy:

      “As I look across the Christian landscape, I think it is fair to say concerning sin, ‘They have healed the wound of my people lightly’ (Jer. 6:14; 8:11, ESV). I take this to refer to leaders who should be helping the church know and feel the seriousness of indwelling sin (Rom. 7:20), and how to fight it and kill it (Rom. 8:13). Instead the depth and complexity and ugliness and danger of sin in professing Christians is either minimized—-since we are already justified—-or psychologized as a symptom of woundedness rather than corruption.

      “This is a tragically light healing. I call it a tragedy because by making life easier for ourselves in minimizing the nature and seriousness of our sin, we become greater victims of it. We are in fact not healing ourselves. Those who say that they already feel bad enough without being told about the corruptions of indwelling sin misread the path to peace. When our people have not been taught well about the real nature of sin and how it works and how to put it to death, most of the miseries people report are not owing to the disease but its symptoms. They feel a general malaise and don’t know why, their marriages are at the breaking point, they feel weak in their spiritual witness and devotion, their workplace is embattled, their church is tense with unrest, their fuse is short with the children, etc. They report these miseries as if they were the disease. And they want the symptoms removed.

      “We proceed to heal the wound of the people lightly. We look first and mainly for circumstantial causes for the misery—present or past. If we’re good at it, we can find partial causes and give some relief. But the healing is light. We have not done the kind of soul surgery that is possible only when the soul doctor knows the kind of things Owen talks about in these books, and when the patient is willing to let the doctor’s scalpel go deep.”

  8. Great quote from Piper! Thanks for posting it. I agree sadly and wholeheartedly. I see the effects of some hijacked terms that have become institutionalized in our culture and even in our churches. I am dealing with these effects in personal ministry while you are dealing with them in a more broad, public forum. Therefore our approach maybe a bit different at least in terms of emphasis. But iron sharpens iron and I appreciate the exchange brother.

    I will be glad to reply to your earlier article when I get the chance. Writing helps me condense and defend ideas that I am developing through prayer, reading, and experience. This is a second career for me, after 40 years in the business world. I appreciate this kind of forum because a sentence or two might really help someone struggling. I will soon be going into a doctorate program while counseling. So, this also helps sharpen concepts for a doctoral project.

    May God bless you, your family, your work, Covenant Eyes, and your readers. Keep up the great work,
    In Christ our Hope,
    Brian

  9. Hi Luke,

    Nice try on your definition of porn but it strikes me as being much too nebulous and undefined and would only further serve to inflame the hoardes of Christian ministries, pastors and bible teachers that rant on and on about “pornography addiction” but rarely if ever define what they are even referring to. Would you agree with me that you can’t avoid what you can’t define? Frankly, though I disagree with the U.S. Supreme Court’s opinion on many issues, I think that their definition of pornography is better thought out and more rational than anything I’ve ever read. You should re-read it.

    You asked: “Do you believe that the label of porn addiction (or even sex addiction) universally makes believers focus on themselves, or is that just true of the individuals you personally know?”

    If a born-again believer is the righteousness of God in Christ Jesus and is always clean and close to God, would it be accurate to describe their essential identity as “addict”? If you believe that you are defined by your bad behavior instead of who you really are in Christ, then what are you going to do more: bad behavior or good behavior?

    The author and bible teacher Joseph Prince is correct: If you believe right about yourself, then you’ll act right. If you believe wrong about yourself, then you’ll act wrong. Good fruit (behavior) is the “fruit” of salvation, not the “root” of salvation.

    The answer to your question is yes, it affects all believers (not just the ones I know):

    When believers in Christ Jesus focus on their sins or sin consciousness, it detracts away from the fact that God performed radical soul surgery on their hearts through the sacrifice of Jesus’ Blood. All of sins were perfectly judged on the Cross, past, present and future. The power of the Law and condemnation incites sin but the good news is that the Law and our flesh was nailed to the Cross with Jesus so we have nothing to feel condemned for any longer. The Cross and the Resurrection changed everything.

    • Hi Ed,

      I’m not sure how that definition would “inflame” such people, but I’m open to you explaining why.

      Which Supreme Court definition are you referring to? There have been several.

      I completely agree that the identity of “addict” is not befitting of a Christian. I wrote a whole article about not having a “struggle-based identity,” so I find nothing wrong with what you’re saying here. I would only distinguish between a description of one’s transgression and condition (“addiction”) and one’s identity (“addict”). You might believe one entails the other, but that is probably going to be based on one’s personal understanding of what addiction actually is (which is, again, the question this article is raising).

      I totally agree with your sentiments about believers not focusing on their sins, but why does that forbid us from labeling them? The Bible clearly has many descriptive labels to various vices. If I said, I am “caught in transgression” (Gal. 6) or I “lust” (Matt. 5), does this mean I’m focusing on my sin, or am I merely confessing what my sin is?

  10. Hi Luke,

    You said in your porn definition:

    “Pornography consists in removing real or simulated sexual acts from the intimacy of the partners, in order to display them deliberately.”

    The reason why a definition like this stirs up the Christian Evangelical bloggers and commenters is that there is no way to define: “removing real or simulated sexual acts from the intimacy of the partners”. How can you look at any given picture of actual or simulated sexual acts and know for sure that there is no “intimacy” being displayed? Your definition is entirely subjective and broad subjectivity appeals to legalistic tendencies in believers (myself included).

    In terms of Supreme Court definition, this snippet from Miller vs. California provides the best test that I ever read:

    “Whether the work, taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value.”

    It’s not perfect but it’s avoids the broad brush approach.

    Your article about struggle-based identity is not too bad — but I take issue with the notion that as born-again believers we have a “sinful nature”. Nowhere in Scripture does it teach that. If we accepted Christ into our hearts then we have a radically new nature. We are righteous and perfect saints who sometimes sin because of focusing on the flesh (which was crucified with Christ).

    In terms of focusing on sin vs. our new nature. Honestly Luke, how many so-called “recovery ministries” actually focus on how saved, righteous and forgiven that we are in Jesus? Not any that I’ve ever seen. They focus exclusively on categorizing, cataloguing and confessing various kinds of sin and deviancy. Then when you throw in something like “porn addiction” which has been so poorly defined, you have yet another thing for Christians to self-occupy their minds with. As believers, we are not born for a pre-occupation with sin and sin consciousness. It always creates more of what we are trying to avoid.

    Here are my questions for you:

    1. If you, as a born-again believer, happen to view hard-core commercial pornography for 20 hours straight, are you still as 100% righteous, perfect and pure as Jesus is?

    2. Do born-again believers have to confess their sins in order to be forgiven by God?

    Be careful in how you answer these two: it will reveal what and how you actually think about yourself.

    • The definition I used doesn’t point to whether any actual intimacy is on display, but the fact that sex has been removed from the realm of intimacy at all by being put on display. I could see where the definition might get muddy in people’s minds. Perhaps it should be worded somewhat differently. The Miller vs. California definition brings a little clarity to it, as do other Supreme Court cases, but more recent cases are heading in some disturbing directions.

      If it is true that my definition will inflame certain Christians, I take issue with the idea that the Miller vs. California definition won’t do the same. The same ruling further defines obscenity as something “the average person, would find that the work, taken as a whole, appeals to a lewd curiosity.” I think if a Christian or a church has certain presuppositions about pornography, nearly any definition could be problematic. Let’s both aim at clearing up our definitions, and while we do that, let’s help Christians get to the root of their presuppositions. (I hope this article is a step in that direction.)

      In my other article, don’t believe I said we have a “sinful nature” but that sin is part of our nature. This is clearly taught in Romans 7 and Galatians 5 (unless, of course, you don’t think our physical members constitute part of our “nature”). I completely agree with you that as believers, the new creation has come. “The Spirit is life because of righteousness,” but the body is still dead because of sin (Romans 8:10). I’m not trying to mince words here. I agree with your wording of things 100%. Before Christ, we were fighting a battle we could not win. With Christ, we are fighting a battle we cannot lose because our identity is entirely rooted in Him, not this sinful age. But, I might add, we are still fighting a battle nonetheless. That battle exists because of sin “in our members” (Romans 7:23; Colossians 3:5). Perhaps the semantic issue is the word “nature.”

      How many recovery ministries do I know that focus on one’s new nature? Quite a few, depending on what you consider a “recovery ministry.” I’ve spoken to many church and parachurch leaders who run groups where they insist members not call themselves addicts, but rather they insist members identity as “new creations in Christ” who have struggled with the sin of pornography. Around here we get approached by church leaders all the time who are moving in this direction with their recovery ministries.

      For instance, one group I know meets weekly and before the end of the meeting, everyone stands are recites Question 60 of the Heidelberg Catechism:

      Question: How are you righteous before God?
      Answer: Only by true faith in Jesus Christ.
      Even though my conscience accuses me
      of having grievously sinned against all God’s commandments,
      of never having kept any of them,
      and of still being inclined toward all evil,
      nevertheless,
      without any merit of my own,
      out of sheer grace,
      God grants and credits to me
      the perfect satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness of Christ,
      as if I had never sinned nor been a sinner,
      and as if I had been as perfectly obedient
      as Christ was obedient for me.

      This and similar confessions are the lifeblood of many of the groups I’ve hear about.

      As for your questions…

      1. If someone is truly regenerate and they view porn for 20 straight hours, then yes, they are still a regenerate person, still adopted child of God, still co-heir with Christ, still seated at the right hand of God with Christ, still clothed with Christ, and still justified in the eyes of the Father because of Christ. As far as their current experience goes, he or she is also likely grieving the Spirit and may very well incur God’s loving fatherly discipline.

      2. Do born-again believers confess sins to be forgiven by God? No. They confess “Jesus is Lord” to be saved, believing in their heart that God raised Jesus from the dead. They confess their specific sins to one another and experience the richness of mutual prayer in order to be healed of the various ways in which sin harms us (James 5:16). They converse and encourage one another in ways that help each other see how sin is operating at the heart level (Hebrews 3:13).

  11. Luke,

    Your article is expertly executed. As Brian and other previous commenters have posted – well done and thank you for your time and efforts and passion with this subject and for your patient responses!

    I find your handling of this topic very helpful and encouraging. God bless you man.

    -Jerred

  12. Wow, I really liked this article and the subsequent comments as well. I learned a lot from them. I was attracted to the article because during a confession several months ago my confessor (a priest) used the term sexual addiction and I let him know that I did not really like the term sexual addiction for many of the reasons stated above. I fully admitted the fact that I had sinned and that the sin was habitual and told him so. I believe that this term is so loaded with meaning, and quite often meaning that is subjective, as well as being a pejorative term that it may do more harm than good. His view was that it was necessary to use this label so that we sinners take the sin seriously.
    Your comments detailed specifically why I think this label is not a good one for Christians to use. I think of myself as a child of God and a new creation in Christ. That keeps me forward-looking and not focussed on a pathology that existed in my past. And I believe it’s more ontologically correct.
    As far as which category do I find myself in? Well, I found myself agreeing with some content in each category. On balance I would say I am most comfortable with what you call Biblicalist viewpoint. You can’t go wrong with Biblical language. The redemption of the term addiction viewpoint I agree with too.

    Thanks for a very insightful article

  13. Luke, your makeshift definition of porn confuses privacy with sexual intimacy. While privacy can greatly enhance sexual intimacy, sexual intimacy and privacy are not the same thing. Look online for any definition of sexual intimacy and you will not see the concept of privacy intrinsically intertwined with it. Furthermore, you as a finite human being cannot separate the act of sex from the “intimacy of partners”. If two partners are being genuinely sexually intimate with each other, then “deliberately displaying it” cannot turn it into an artificial definition of porn. As author Walter Kendrick has pointed out, pornography is not a “thing” but an argument.

    The more narrow the definition of porn is the more legalism is brought to the table in its categorization and application. Any topic like porn, which carries so many contrary and conflicting definitions, needs to be described in the broadest terms possible. For instance, to me personally, porn is sexual material or sexualized material that serves no purpose, solves no problems and has nothing useful to contribute to public discourse. Is that definition subjective? — absolutely. But at least, it provides the benefit of a doubt to those who have differing definitions. For example, if we were talking about drug addiction, there are very certain and clear differences between smoking marijuana, smoking hashish, smoking crack cocaine and smoking meth and its varying effects upon the humans body. But trying to differentiate and categorize “porn” in the same way, isn’t so easy it? At the drop of a hat, we could have born-again believers locked into a contentious, irreconcilable debate as to whether a given marketing magazine from Victoria Secret or Fredericks of Hollywood was porn or not– even if it was only one single photo that was the course of the contention and the rest of the magazine caused no disagreement.

    I partially agree with your clarification that we, as believers, do not not have sinful natures. After all, at conversion the Holy Spirit came in and swept our spirits totally clean. That’s because a Holy Jesus will not live in a dirty house. We are totally clean apart from our behavior. We behave differently because we know that we are totally forgiven and clean — not because we are trying to get forgiven and clean and close to God. The power of sin is not found in our righteous natures — it is in our physical flesh. And when we shed these earth suits, then the last DNA vestiges of Adam’s fall will be totally annihilated (note that I said Adam’s fall, not our own fall). We were born sinners because of Adam’s sin, not our sin. And now, all of our sins, past, present and future are totally cancelled and forgotten and with it, our own consciousness of sin. We do not “fight sin” — we are totally dead to it — and our behavior changes by recognizing that God is not dealing with our sins any longer. We are complete in Him: that’s why it’s called a Finished Work (Jesus said it is finished!).

    I am glad to hear that you are seeing that recovery ministries are moving in the direction of defining and claiming our identity in Christ. I visit a lot of Christian support and blog pages and I do not see the focus on identity at all. What I see is this: get your filthy behavior right and then you’ll be acceptable and righteous in God’s sight and in the sight of others. Confess your sins so that God and other believers can forgive you. Change behavior so that you can prove to God and others that you are truly “repentant”. After all, Christ died for you — isn’t that the least you could do?

    Some further questions for you Luke:

    1. How does God discipline His children? — give me some examples.

    2. Do born-again believers have sinful hearts?

    3. Does God ever diminish or reduce his relationship with His children in any way whatsoever because of wrong behavior that misses the mark?

    • Your points are well-taken when it comes to definition difficulties. I continually see semantic issues as we discuss these matters more. Each term that is a part of each definition seems to require its own stipulations in order to be taken in the right light, so perhaps a short definition of pornography is not possible. I see the same with the Supreme Court definitions. I guess I feel less deterred by these obstacles. Definitions become clearer in the midst of discussion and dialogue, at least as far our ability to stipulate what we’re talking about.

      I think you and I both agree, as far as people intentionally viewing sexually titillating material is concerned, that it is sinful as far as motivations go. If I lust after an image of a woman from a bathing suit catalogue, I am guilty of lust. If I lust after a woman in a hardcore fetish film, I am guilting of lust. I am guilty of lust regardless of the intentions of the maker of the media. I think you and I will also agree that there has never before, in the history of the world, been more media available made by those who intend to provoke lust in the viewer (and, of course, make money doing it).

      As far as the definitions of “porn addiction” go, I think one of the big reasons why it doesn’t make it into the diagnostic literature is because of the nebulous definition of porn. “Sexual addiction” or “sex addiction” are probably less problematic for a variety of reasons, and that is why I chose to focus on that concept rather than merely “porn addiction” in the article.

      I think we’re on the same page when it comes to the sinful nature concept. I agree 100% with what you said.

      I want to get back to the core of what this article is about and your problems with my treatment of the subject. Can you summarize what exactly your take is and how this article fell short of that (briefly)?

      To address your questions…

      1. I probably can’t be as exhaustive as needed, but a look at Hebrews 12:4-11 gives a picture of the Lord’s discipline as a sign of His love and care. Here, the Lord’s discipline (παιδεία) is not merely about “punishment” but is a broader concept: the whole of His sovereign work in our lives that trains and educates us, cultivating sanctification and character. He disciplines us “that we may share his holiness” (v.10). His discipline is “for our good” (v.10). Nonetheless, discipline is often unpleasant (v.11). Discipline is something that must be “endured” (v.7). Discipline includes “reproof” (v.5), which can include conviction, correction, or exposure of sinful thoughts, motives, or behaviors. In the context of the Hebrews passage, discipline can most certainly include persecution (v.3-4). Elsewhere in the New Testament, discipline can also come via the education of the Scriptures (2 Timothy 3:16). The Hebrews text quotes Proverbs 3, which connects discipline to chastisement (literally, flogging), and in the divine context this can probably relate to all manner of unpleasant circumstances in our lives that bring correction and refine our characters, and all of them motivated by God’s fatherly love for us.

      2. Again, the semantics might get in the way on this one, especially when we consider the word “hearts.” If by “heart” you mean “who you really are,” or “your core identity,” then no, the heart is not sinful. If by “heart” you mean “the seat of your emotions, desires, and decisions,” then yes, the heart of a Christian can certainly be engaged in sin. As far as the second meaning is meant, several Scriptures speak to this. We are commanded to sanctify Christ as Lord in our hearts (1 Peter 3:15), purify our hearts (James 4:8), and guard against having an evil heart (Hebrews 3:12).

      3. I’m not sure what you mean by “diminish or reduce his relationship,” and perhaps that is because I’m inclined to say no. The New Testament speaks relationally when it comes to our identity: we are adopted sons. If my son sins against me, he doesn’t become less a son to me (either in my mind or biologically speaking). If my son leaves home and forgets all about me, he doesn’t become my son any less. Certainly, sin can grieve the Spirit (Ephesians 4:30), just as my children’s sins grieve me, but this doesn’t change their status as sons. In fact, the very reason why we can grieve the Spirit is precisely because we are sealed with Him for the day of redemption.

  14. Hi Luke,

    Thanks for all the creative and insightful articles that you write. They are helpful and insightful. I am writing to you from The UK, and I work with guys with porn and masturbation. I think terminology is very important and I would find myself in the redeemers camp. If someone is truly a Christian with the Holy Spirit inside of them, they according to Romans 6:18 they are slaves of righteousness and a fulfillment of Ezekiel 36:26 where it say that we are receivers of a new heart. I tell men when they look at porn or gossip, this is not a true expression of who they are in Christ. They are sons of the Father who sin. Living by faith in our new Identity is the foundation of our freedom. I have a us passport and when I sin, I don’t start saying, oh my gosh, I am such scum, I am no longer a us citizen, I admit that I have sinned and learn to grow by faith and live out who my Father says I am. I never say to anyone you are an addict, I say you are enslaved to a lie and trained yourself to be comforted by porn and masturbation. Identity is the source of our freedom and authority in Christ. Bless you.

    • Thanks for chiming in on this critical conversation. I think more people in the church need to wrestle with the implications behind their particular view, just as you have.

  15. I first want to say that this is a interesting article. I have a number of questions though, first and foremost, how did they define nonbeliever’s for the purpose of the study? Also something else I can help but think of in this article is, what if it is not the porn that has to go, but the religion condemning the sexual acts? Think of it yourself, what would you do if had power and really wanted to control your people? I would start a religion. I religion that ground people down making them guilty for things they can’t help, like sexual desire. While of course simultaneously building them up.
    I have read several stories of Christians addicted to porn and what I can say is that the negative effects seem to come from the religion and how it affects the person and those around them rather then the pornography itself.

    • “Religious” is defined fairly broadly in the study, but it certainly encompassed Christians of many stripes.

      The question of whether a religion should be disbelieved should not be decided on the basis of that religion’s psychological effects alone. If, for instance, I was asked why I am not a Muslim, I would not point to negative cultural elements within Muslim nations but I would point to the history of the founding of Islam itself, showing why I believe Muhammad was not a messenger of God.

      I know what you’re talking about when it comes to the negative effects of Christian belief, but I would contend that if the Christian gospel is wholeheartedly embraced and understood, it avoids these negative effects. These are the testimonies I hear all the time: “I thought I was unredeemable and that God hated me because I looked at porn. What I found out was that this belief was not in the Bible but was rather my false understanding. Now that I really understand what Christianity teaches, I not only don’t live in shame, but I find a real power to be the kind of man/woman I’ve always wanted to be.”

  16. Here’s the problem:

    1. Christians have no life, they don’t watch Movies, TV series, listen to Music.
    2. They have no way to vent or release the pressures of life.
    3. They fall in love with any ugly non-attractive person they see, without thinking, then after a year or so, they realise that person was actually unattractive all the time…And Gosh…Now they need a 2nd…a 3rd…a 4th wife. Only to discover that they keep looking around at all the new younger woman.
    4. Meanwhile, they have no life because they are busy keeping themselves from the “Evils on Television” and the “Evil People or Friends”, which are merely normal people and broadcast content.
    5. Christians see everything as the devil, especially the media, however, its the media that has given them intelligence to live this life.
    6. Christians have condemned something that could keep them occupied, example, friends and media.
    7. They are bored of life because that have pushed all things aside that could keep them entertained and now have fallen in the trap of “internet dating and casual dating and friends with benefits” And FINALLY, into browsing of thousands of Porn sites.

    • I’m not sure what this has to do with the theme of the post (the nature of addiction and the terminology we use), but you are making a lot of generalizations about a Christian’s experience and what Christians communities are like.

  17. Christians have rejected all the fun things in life, thinking that it is of the devil and now that they have abandoned all the normal entertainment of this world, they are doing worse things than the non-believers and the atheists. You will be amazed that those people live more decent lives than many Christians do because they know how to maintain the balance and vent the pressures of life in an appropriate way, which is non sexual. Basically 78% of Christians are possessed – even at the revival – or their God has no power to remove the demons in them that are making them watch porn or 78% of them or their God always loved the Ishmaelite’s and you know that’s where Islam comes from and 90% of them have never and I mean Never Watched Porn…And they have Internet and Cable Television and they pray and fast like Daniel. They interpreted the scriptures differently and have to defend themselves because everyone is trying to steal their Oil, their Gold and bomb them when they try and defend their selves because they are being robbed. Everyone in the old testament defended themselves in the Bible. Even Christ said sell whatever you have and take up a sword in the new testament of the Bible. He also slipped sway from people who were going to stone him or beat him to death. Basically, I am saying that Christians are bored with life…that’s where this longing comes from.

  18. Also, Christians use the “committing Adultery with their eyes” scripture a little too quickly when it comes to Television Media but they don’t see their husbands, boyfriends and sons checking out woman in real life. If you’re getting attracted to armpits, shoulders and legs at knee level, then you really need to be prayed for because that’s all they show on normal TV shows. Basically, its always when the girl on TV is beautiful, then she is a jezebel or devil, this is how Christian woman perceive it whenever they are jealous and its “Godly” or “Holy” if the woman is unattractive. And if the autocorrect spell checker corrects a word like “Jezebel” and puts a capital “J” in place of a little one, then suddenly, and out of nowhere, the ordinary Christian who does not know anything about anything and cannot sort out the problems in their everyday life – all of a sudden, becomes “Annointed” – and will say “Look how they are glorifying the the devil! – My Word – Don’t listen to this one! – You can see there is something wrong with this person just immediately -I can feel it in my spirit” Meanwhile its just the autocorrect and spell checker and now the sender looks like a full on sorcerer who can make the World turn in reverse and change the colour of the Sky and that’s how they got that big house and BMW. I hope everyone learns from this example because this is how Christians behave when they try to assert themselves.

  19. And don’t look at my Alias “NoSoul” and think that I am not a believer, you know it says that we have to wait for the “Day of Resurrection”. Oh – and I got the grammar wrong in the last sentence of my post and it should be “these are” instead of “this is”. Thank you very much for letting me post my comment which shows the other side of life that remains denied.

  20. Why did this conversation stop ? Why do christian groups that profess to help rarely delve into the depths of the
    battle with lust. Mostly Bible study about discipline, obedience , etc. ,all good but never revealing the battle of depravity. My experience is once in a while a true moment comes to help the struggler but most the time its a lonely battle. I knew Playboy lust was a dead end before I was a christian. I hated it. I hated the false promises. I began to hate sex altogether but couldn’t leave it either. Finally I gave up and surrendered to God. I really thought it would all go away. Instead it just got worse , and made me desperate to find help but it was always every bodies secret sin. This was in the seventies. The church has changed a little but not what I hoped for. It’s still a lonely battle. Most accountability groups are like a 6 month program or something. Then everybody goes on to some other topic. Like now you should be all cured or something. The next thing I expect is to be told I am not sincere or I’m half hearted.
    All the doubt makes joy hard to find.

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