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Siren Song: Overcoming Pornography Temptations

Last Updated: June 15, 2015

Luke Gilkerson

Luke Gilkerson has a BA in Philosophy and Religious Studies and an MA in Religion. He is the author of Coming Clean: Overcoming Lust Through Biblical Accountability and The Talk: 7 Lessons to Introduce Your Child to Biblical Sexuality. Luke and his wife Trisha blog at IntoxicatedOnLife.com

In Greek mythology they are called the Sirens, mythical seductresses of the sea. These creatures of great beauty sit in the flowery meadow on small, rocky islands in the Mediterranean. The Sirens are divine beings with the wings of birds and voices that can enchant any sailor. Ancient sources describe their “siren song”—a beautiful music that compulsively lures sailors toward the island, only to have their ships capsize on the rocks.

This is, perhaps, one of the best analogies I can give to describe the lure of pornography and its addictive nature. We don’t intend to crash the ship of our lives on the rocky shore, but the siren song calls to us. For many people, once pornography sinks its hooks into us, we forever feel the draw of it. It is like a compulsion, a disease in our blood that never seems to go away.

Siren Song: Overcoming Porn Temptations

How did ancient seafarers sail by the Sirens without being overcome by their songs? Two ancient myths give us a glimpse…

Odysseus: Bind Me to the Mast

Homer’s Odyssey tells of the adventures of Odysseus, one of the champions of the Trojan War. In the Odyssey he is counseled by a goddess to beware of the Sirens. She warns him that if he should come within range of their sweet song, they will draw him to his death. Beware, she says, all around the island there is a great heap of dead men’s bones, tokens of the Sirens’ power.

At her insistence Odysseus plugs the ears of his fellow sailors with wax so they will be unaffected by the seductive music. But because he wants the pleasure of hearing the Sirens, he commands his men to bind him half-way up mast of the ship, standing upright. He tells them further, “If I beg and pray you to set me free, then bind me more tightly still.

As Odysseus’ ship sails within an earshot of the islands, suddenly the wind falls into a dead calm. The Sirens see Odysseus coming and begin with their singing. “Come here,” they sing, “and listen to our two voices. No one ever sailed past us without staying to hear the enchanting sweetness of our song.” In their song they promise Odysseus divine foreknowledge of all that the gods and men will ever do.

Odysseus is overcome by the song and demands that he be set free, but his men bind him with stronger ropes until they are out of the Sirens’ range. Disaster is averted.

Orpheus: A More Beautiful Song

Apollonius of Rhodes also writes about the Sirens in The Voyage of the Argo, the tale of Jason’s voyage to find the Golden Fleece. A centaur warns Jason about the Sirens, and sure enough, the sailors encounter them. As a fresh breeze floats over their ship they see the island. The Sirens’ watchful eyes spot Jason’s ship and begin to sing. The sailors are overcome with desire and are ready to cast their ropes from the boat to the shore.

Suddenly one of the heroes on board, the legendary musician Orpheus, pulls out his stringed lyre and begins to play. His music overwhelms the voice of the Sirens, as the sailors ears are filled with Orpheus’ tune, and the ship sails by the island without incident.

Two Styles of Accountability: Odysseus vs. Orpheus

When it comes to accountability, what sort of people are on board your ship? When you come within range of the siren song of lust, what kind of accountability will you rely on? Ideally, we need both.

On one hand you might be more like Odysseus: accountability is about finding friends who will bind you with stronger ropes. You want others who will help you set personal boundaries and rules for yourself. You want someone to hold you to task to your goals. You want someone you can call in the middle of the night in the midst of a tempting situation. These people hold you accountable to your behavior.

On other hand you might be more like Jason: you want people like Orpheus who can help you get to the heart of your internal motivations. These are men and women who know that the only way to break the spell of sin is with a greater spell, a more enchanting song. These are friends who hold you accountable to believing God’s promises, which are more delightful than anything pornography can deliver. These people hold you accountable to your heartfelt beliefs.

In actuality, we need both in our accountability relationships. It is wise to fight the battle on two fronts: behaviors and beliefs.

Strong Ropes and a Ten-Stringed Lyre

On one front, we need friends who can help us develop external roadblocks that keep us from lustful behaviors when temptation is fierce.. Good accountability partners are people who ask you about the temptations you face and what your exit strategies should be, who help you identify your triggers. They bring the “strong ropes” to bind you when you don’t have the moral strength to bind yourself.

On the other front, we need to get to the heart of our beliefs—what are we believing about porn or cybersex that makes it so alluring to us? We give into temptation because it’s enjoyable on some level, but what sort of itch is it scratching for us? There is something about that fantasy world we crave. Some accountability partners are people who can help you see these deeper motives and hold you accountable to finding a greater satisfaction in God than you do in porn.

CS Lewis reminds us, in the long run, the only thing that overcomes a spell is a stronger spell:

The New Testament has lots to say about self-denial, but not about self-denial as an end in itself. We are told to deny ourselves and to take up our crosses in order that we may follow Christ; and nearly every description of what we shall ultimately find if we do so contains an appeal to desire…Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.

Do you think I am trying to weave a spell? Perhaps I am; but remember your fairy tales. Spells are used for breaking enchantments as well as for inducing them. And you and I have need of the strongest spell that can be found to wake us from the evil enchantment of worldliness…”

What are your traveling companions like?

  1. Some of us have none. We sail alone and so we crash into the rocky crags time and time again. We have no one to help us in the midst of temptation. We have no true friends who are willing to help us fight sin.
  2. Some of us are aboard Odysseus’ ship. We have faithful companions who are willing to help put up barriers in our life to keep us from temptation when it is strongest.
  3. Then some of us, perhaps very few of us, have traveling companions like Orpheus, friends who are able to remind us of greater pleasures, a more enchanting song. They are able to help us see the false promises of porn for what they are and to remind us the promises of the gospel are better. They know how to play the strings of our heart in such a way that we become godward again.

These myths and fairly tales reveal what we have always known to be true: we need others on board our ship.

G.K. Chesterton was right when he said fairy tales are more than true, not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.

  • Comments on: Siren Song: Overcoming Pornography Temptations
    1. Struggle on

      A song of Sirens, I couldn’t have described the allure of porn more perfectly. Although it is a song that destroys the the one being captivated & the one who is captivating. Awesome article.

      Reply
      • Luke Gilkerson on

        So glad you find this helpful!

      • Julian Williams on

        My only issue with this analogy is that Odysseus cheated the system. His men heard nothing while he still got to enjoy the feeling the song brought.

      • Scott Schumacher on

        I , too, thought about the lack of fortitude that Odysseus has. Why not plug his own ears? Ah, bc he wants to give in. He wants to enjoy the song. He wants that pleasure. Meh, and so it was. And so are some of us. Some of us know that we aren’t strong enough to avoid the pleasure. Some of us (as in Odysseus’s case) are in positions of leadership. I bring this up, bc for those in leadership, there is an added level of “who can help me, as I’m supposed to be leading these people?”. Who is at his level on that ship? No one. So it shows a great deal of humility to tell his men what he told them. Sure, he could have set a better example and plugged his own ears… But again (as the point of this article shows) we all react differently. So, for those who know they are more prone to giving in, Odysseus is set forth as an example.

      • DJT on

        Luke, i love your writing. Thank you. Thank you for helping break down this pornography thing and addiction many of us as believers struggle with, but are many times to ashamed to get help with. Please, i hope you write a book someday.

      • Mark Brown on

        @Scott Schumacher: I think I see what you’re saying. Odysseus knew that if he only plugged his ears he would give in to the temptation to unplug them “just to listen for a moment”. He knew he wouldn’t be able to resist that temptation so, “bind me to the mast”.

        There’s a wonderful song about this “Sirens by The Gray Havens”, I think I heard about it here.

    2. George Kotiadis on

      Great analogy. We must also consider who is the captain of our ship. Thanks for these insightful articles.

      Reply
      • Rick on

        Very true. Good point.

    3. John on

      This is incredibly powerful and poetic. Stunningly insightful. The Odysseus versus Orpheus image really captures the push and pull of forces (“run from” versus “run to” as you put it) involved in change.

      Reply
    4. Randy Bonner on

      I started to open an account 4-5 years ago. I didn’t have all my accountability partners information. I never finished. I’m now trying to set up again with a new partner. I can’t get app because it’s still on my cloud account. I can’t access the old app because I don’t remember password. Can you help?
      Thanks Randy

      Reply
      • Chris McKenna on

        Hi, Randy – a member of our customer service team at 877-479-1119 should be able to help you!

        Warmly,
        Chris

    5. Aaron Rhodes on

      I would like to adapt this article for kids and young adults who need advice on the type of friends they need in life. Something that could be taught in a middle school or high school English class, related to mythology. Like, would you be interested in doing that, or letting my wife and I try to adapt it? My wife is a teacher in a public school with a degree in English teaching.

      Reply
      • Dan Armstrong on

        Thanks so much for the request. Feel free to use the material with proper citation to Covenant Eyes.

    6. Gavin Sand on

      I think that this is a wonderful example and analogy of accountability. It shows a good message of how to run away from sin; specifically lust. Thank you for this short little article that you presented. I hope I will remember this when I am tempted to give in to worldly desires. I wish to think more on the large benefits of choosing to take the right path which leads to God. Instead of choosing the much smaller “benefits” that is on the wrong path; only leading to destruction. Remember, we all have a path to take and a choice to make. Which path will you choose to follow?

      Whomever may read this, I ask that you would keep me in your prayers. For I am still holding on to lustful desires. I am struggling to chose which path I will fully commit to take.

      Sincerely, -Gavin Sand

      Reply
      • J.R. on

        Hi Gavin,

        Will pray for you now, as soon as I hit the send key.

    7. Jim Zidan on

      This is awesome. Thanks for posting. I knew the story of Odyssius,butnot of Orpheus. Excellent contrast. Love the CS Lewis quote. Powerful and succinct.

      Reply
    8. J.R. on

      The utilization of the stories of Odysseus and Orpheus was, in a word, brilliant. One question, and one observation: Why is it that sexuality is so difficult? One cannot blame God for this, but at times I sure wonder why this aspect is so easily corruptible. But then, anorexics, alcoholics or greedy types probably say the same about their temptations! For me, the siren song was an attempt to dull a chronic anxiety condition that, despite trying everything you can think of, still remains (believe me, I have tried e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g, and I mean everything (if anyone here feels led to pray for me on this issue, I would be very obliged). IMHO, a lot of all addictive behaviour is the result of fear/anxiety, there since God called to Adam, “Where are you,” and he replied that he ran because “I was afraid.”

      My situation is a little different in that when I first became a Christian, I was as committed as one could be to following the Lord – not out of duty, but out of trust and love. I started dating a woman in my late teens, and insisted we memorize the book of 1 John before we even kissed. However, she was very, very aggressive. The first time she did her thing, I told her to stop, and if it happened again, I would break up with her. But she just kept nibbling around the edges, and very, very slowly I compromised. We did not have intercourse, but on the other hand, went too far. I eventually broke off our engagement, and went our separate ways, but this had really pulled me from my initial closeness with God. And the young men today have it even more difficult with aggressive women – which problem goes largely unaddressed in this culture.

      One further issue: I was married to a girl from Quebec who had an affair, then divorced me. I can really see the statement of our Lord’s, where if you divorce someone, you cause them to commit adultery, in a different light, for once you have had that intimacy, and it is removed, it is reaaally difficult to remain chaste. Thankfully, I did remain chaste, but did revert off an on to porn; but again, never dived in headlong, as I just couldn’t live without God being present in my life, so I think I was protected from the worst of it. I then met a wonderful Christian woman, to whom I have been married 30 years…. yet the struggle with purity remained. Heck, one night on a business trip I even had them remove the TV from the room, but other times I was not so successful. In any event, when the night gets dark, you can see the stars all the better, and Covenant Eyes, Luke’s writing, etc. are true guiding stars.

      – JR

      Reply
    9. Rick on

      Luke, this is a wonderful article! God has gifted you with great insight. I have always loved mythology and these two myths will certainly stick with me now, thanks to you. I wish I could have read it sooner… it’s 8 years old. I am blessed with friends in both categories but more so the Odysseus-type. God bless you, Luke and your writing ministry. -Rick

      Reply

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