7 minute read

How Pain Leads to Porn

Last Updated: February 19, 2014

Sam Black

Sam Black joined the Covenant Eyes team in 2007 after 18 years as a journalist, serving as a reporter and editor for newspapers and magazines in six states. Sam is the author of The Porn Circuit, and he creates partnerships with like-minded organizations to strengthen the worldwide fight against pornography.

Porn was Dan’s anesthetic, numbing his wounds and relieving the ache of unmet desires.

As a skinny kid who felt unattractive, Dan Wobschall’s gaze would fall to the floor or maybe to his shoes when he tried to talk to a girl. He felt inadequate, and the bullies who used him for sport reinforced these feelings.

How Pain Leads to Porn

At the impressionable age of 12, Dan stumbled onto a porn magazine and discovered short-lived escapes that would draw him back again and again. He knew it was wrong (even though he knew his dad secretly used porn too) but when he felt life’s stresses or anger or loneliness he soothed the pain with porn and masturbation.

“As a teenager it was a way to deal with emotional hurt,” recalled Dan, who founded Every Man’s Hope. “If a test didn’t go well, if I had been picked on…I didn’t turn to drugs or alcohol. Porn was my drug of choice.”

That drug was powerfully addictive and remained with Dan into adulthood, eventually damaging his career as an EMT and nearly costing him his marriage.

The Pain-Porn Connection

Dan’s story isn’t unique, according to Dr. Mark Laaser of Faithful and True. Emotional trauma and the temporary relief that porn and masturbation bring are often intertwined to usher in addictive behavior.

Often people who use porn to cope, especially younger generations, miss the connection of their self-medication. Even if they use porn to escape stress, anger, anxiety, or depression, they often view their porn use as simply recreational.

Changing Times

Emotional stress was commonly an initiating factor in compulsive porn use for men who reached their teen years before the early 1990s, said Jonathan Daugherty, executive director of Be Broken Ministries. Porn was less accessible before the Internet, and emotional trauma and escape behaviors regularly played a starting role in attachments to pornography.

However, since the mid-90s, the typical initiating factor for habitual porn use among men and women is simply its over-abundance in modern society and its never-ending trail on the Internet, said Jeannie Hannemann, co-director of Reclaim Sexual Health, a Catholic online recovery program. With the growth of smartphones and tablets, the proliferation and acceptance of porn has exploded.

While emotional trauma may not play as big a role in initiating addictive behavior, it certainly helps seal the deal for many men and women.

Emotional Difficulties Contribute to Porn Use

Many times people do not even recognize that stress and emotional difficulties are playing a role in their habitual porn use, Daugherty said. Often, young adults simply feel entitled to porn. They like it and don’t believe there is anything wrong with it, even if their addiction is costing them their job or marriage or damaging their relationships.

“They don’t make the same connection with their emotional wounds,” Daugherty said. “They don’t necessarily see the escapism and the self-medication.”

At least, not immediately. With counseling, men and women commonly uncover the wounds and feelings of inadequacy that porn and masturbation temporarily relieve. “I don’t think anyone as a kid makes the conscious connection,” Daugherty said. “That is what recovery is all about—awakening the unconscious.”

Daugherty, who has found freedom from porn addiction himself, came from a good home with a caring family. However, his family had a habit of leaving problems unresolved. It was better to look good for the local church and community than to resolve deeper issues. He didn’t immediately recognize how unresolved conflicts played a role in his escapist behaviors until he began to peel back the layers and deal with issues long ignored.

Emotional wounds are often deeply rooted, stemming from childhood, teen, and even adult trauma. All families have healthy and unhealthy qualities, and even mistakes “create wounds in the human spirit,” Dr. Laaser teaches. Rather than burying painful memories, which may include physical, mental, and sexual abuse, these memories need to be brought to the surface, where they can be examined with a good friend or counselor.

Porn Carves More Wounds

Like most porn addicts, Dan discovered too late that the images and videos he used to escape reality brought him more pain. Because of the cycle of addiction and the need for heavier and harder doses of porn to create a state of arousal, Dan sought more deviant porn in his later stages of addiction.

“How did I ever convince myself that it was OK to go there?” Dan recalled. “It just got deeper. It deepened my anxiety, because I realized what I was doing was wrong. Rather than running from the stress of porn, I went deeper into it.”

“It traps you in a cycle,” he said. “It takes a tough situation and pours gas on it.”

Dan’s description is apt, agree Daugherty and Hannemann. In helping others in recovery, it’s a common refrain among porn addicts that they use more porn when they begin to feel the pain that porn brings to their life.

“It’s not that they are calculating this, it just becomes part of the process,” Hannemann said. “They feel the rush and thrill followed by extreme guilt. Now porn use is part of their escape from the guilt. They return to the scene of the crime.”

The direct pain of porn varies. In addition to deep feelings of guilt, a man or woman may discover they have difficulty becoming aroused for sex with their spouse. Porn is their primary outlet for sexual expression. For men, this might include impotency. Both men and women can panic over this, she said, and may feel they are sexually and mentally broken.

“You use pornography to escape emotional wounds, but you create new wounds while you are using it,” Dan said. “It’s messed up what your mind will do to you.”

3 Steps to Find Freedom

Dan Wobschall, Jonathan Daugherty, and Jeannie’s husband, Bruce Hannemann, are thriving examples of living lives free from porn in restored marriages. The key in each of their lives is finding outside help. All four agree that attempting to escape porn addiction alone is futile.

There is no one cure for everyone, but here are three basic steps to break the chains: (1) learn about porn’s addictive power, (2) get support, and (3) understand that this is not an overnight fix.

1. Learn

Knowledge precedes understanding and understanding precedes change.

Those who have never felt the compulsions of addiction, might encourage you to skip this step and just “stop it.” But doesn’t it make sense for reasoning human beings to gain insight about why they feel so out of control? At the same time, the new insight gained should never be used as an excuse.

Rather, understanding pornography addiction can help one see more clearly the path to freedom. For instance, it is helpful to understand triggers that might cause one to fall in their walk to recovery. As another example, a person quitting porn may decide after 10 days of abstinence they aren’t doing so bad and a porn excursion won’t be that harmful. In fact, the opposite is true. Using porn while trying to escape it can make recovery that much harder and longer.

In Ephesians 1:18 Paul says, “I pray that the eyes of your heart be enlightened in order the you may know the hope to which he has called you…” Paul encouraged his readers to enlighten their hearts to Christ and His teachings, so that they could discover a great hope for a restored life. Everything about the human brain and the body’s neurochemistry was designed by God with a specific purpose. It is vital to understand how those systems were designed, how they have been corrupted, and how they can be repaired.

To get a strong overview, read The Porn Circuit: Understand Your Brain and Break Porn Habits in 90 Days.

2. Support

Quitting an addiction alone is a fool’s errand. Most counselors will tell you they have never met someone who has quit porn without the support of accountability, counseling, or a similar form of support.

There are several online support programs to help people escape pornography. Choose one that best fits you. Here are a handful with which Covenant Eyes has worked directly:

A valuable way to find ongoing support is through 12-step programs like the Sampson Society and Celebrate Recovery. At these meetings, men and women find people who have walked a mile in their addiction and they will find proven practices that bring sobriety.

Protecting mobile devices and computers is vitally important, but filtering is not enough. Addicts will find some way to get around a filter when temptation is at its worst. Internet Accountability software is much more valuable, because it monitors how the Internet is used and sends a report to a friend or mentor. That allows life-changing conversations to take place where a person can discuss how and when they are tempted and the issues that lie beneath the surface.

Covenant Eyes Internet Accountability played a huge part in helping me stay away from the sites I used to go to,” Dan said. “Accountability is so huge. Christ is at the center, but accountability helps you in a tough fight that you can’t do alone.”

Learn how to have an effective Accountability relationship by reading the free e-book Coming Clean: Overcoming Lust Through Biblical Accountability.

3. There are no overnight fixes

After binging on porn, many men and women feel ashamed and promise themselves, God, and others they will never use porn again. They may even mean it at the time, but it never sticks for the habitual user who doesn’t institute a plan of action.

Last night’s promise will be broken the following day or week, and the person feels caught in a vicious circle from which there seems to be no escape. Simply making promises without a real plan will fail. It’s guaranteed.

Dr. Laaser encourages addicts to start their journey to freedom with 90 days of total abstinence from sex. Other therapists will adhere to this same principal but will allow sex with one’s spouse. That may not seem that long to some, but to a person who has masturbated to porn weekly, several days a week, or daily, it may be the equivalent to climbing a mountain. Learn more about the first 90 days free from porn in The Porn Circuit.

Escaping the cycle of porn addiction is a road that is walked daily with help and support and tools that provide protection and encourage accountability. The destination to freedom isn’t just over the hill, it is over many hills. During the journey, people turn over stones to discover why porn became a part of their life, including emotional wounds, self-centeredness, and the false promises that porn provides. There is no one single track. Wounds, mistakes, and life are one’s own as are the discoveries to living porn free, but there are common threads and many people are sharing their stories of victory and the practices that helped them to become porn-free.

Pure Minds Online | Issue 39 | More in this issue: Timebombs in Kids’ Hands | The Impact of a Gift | 2013 Covenant Eyes Buyer’s Guide for Game Consoles (and Other Gadgets)

Photo credit: 24258698@N04
  • Comments on: How Pain Leads to Porn
    1. Anonymous on

      I’ve been fighting this thing for a few years and I’m in a men’s group specifically for sexual addiction. At times it seems impossible, especially when it is so accepted today as “guys being guys”. This Is especially true for my generation, 18-30 ish. Bottom line is many people simply do not care, and even go so far as to mock those who hold to certain standards. This is far more painful for me, even within churches some people say porn and related activities are a petty vice at worst.

      As a single man I’ve wondered if the entire concept of being dingle and free from porn and/or masturbation isn’t just a delusion. II’ve tried the group and many other things, such as praying and the whole higher consciousness thing and I still can’t get over some of it. Lots of doubts…

      Reply
      • Luke Gilkerson on

        Hi Anonymous,

        I think it is great that you are standing against the lying voices around you that tell you to lower your standards. Your standards should be based on what the Son of God said, not was the sons of men say.

        I will say this: being single and free from masturbation is a pipe dream as long as everything else stays the same. If a man feels like he can walk around in our over-sexualized world, doing the same things he’s always done, entertaining the same thoughts, engaging in the same patterns of life, and be free from lust…this is a foolish thought. Men like you and I have trained our minds to think the wrong way about women for decades, and those habits aren’t broken without some serious changes.

        I’ve got a couple recommendations for you.

        1. Take your accountability relationships to the next level. Find real friends who are willing to help you fight for purity with you. This book might be a help in that regard.

        2. Read more on how your view of sex can change. I highly recommend reading “Counseling Men Toward Lasting Freedom from Pornography” by J. Alasdair Groves and listening to “Sexuality and Christian Hope,” a sermon by Tim Keller.

        Pray also about pursuing a relationship with someone, and then take the initiative and start something with a godly woman. To desire sex and intimacy is not sinful, and if you pursue a dating relationship for the right reason, it can have a very edifying effect in your life.

    2. Bj.j. on

      Does this help really work

      Reply
    3. Steve Etner on

      Hi Anonymous:
      Another very important factor to consider is investing time in reading the Bible.

      King David asked the question, “How can a young man be pure?” (Psalm 119:9). He then answered it by saying “By living according to (God’s) Word. Then just two verses later he wrote “I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.”

      There is power for cleansing and healing in the Word of God. Jesus, when tempted by Satan in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1-11), quoted Scripture as his only defense against the attacks of the enemy. Why? To leave us an example. To show us that we too can thwart the lies and misleadings of the enemy with Scripture.

      We are able to lead transformed lives only when we change our thinking (Romans 12:2), and only God’s Word will change our thinking. Peter was able to walk on the water only when his entire focus was on Christ (Matthew 14:22-23)

      I was personally addicted to porn & masturbation for over 30 years. It began as a pre-teen and nearly destroyed my life. I didn’t know real change, genuine victory, and a lasting difference in my life until I committed to two things:

      1) daily reading God’s Word, storing it up in my heart, drawing me into a closer relationship with my Heavenly Father;
      2) weekly meeting with a godly man from my church who prayed with me, studied Scripture with me, and held me accountable by asking me the tough questions.

      BJ asked the question above “Does this help really work?” The answer is a resounding YES! And I place myself up as Exhibit A. Proof that we truly can do all things through Christ who gives us the strength (Philippians 4:13).

      Reply
      • Luke Gilkerson on

        I agree, Steve. This is key.

      • Roy on

        how does reading words from the pages of a book come anywhere near being a relationship of any kind, much less a personal or intimate one? I have found absolutely no refuge or comfort in scripture. It’s just more words, you can’t actually experience forgiveness, or mercy or grace, only read about them.Love that has to be taken on faith is no love at all. It can’t help with years of rejection or a broken heart. Believing something is true and experiencing it for yourself are nowhere near the same thing. Please, someone show me where I’m wrong, I desperately want to EXPERIENCE being loved and cared for and valued.

      • Chris McKenna on

        @Roy, Sometimes, we find exactly what we’re looking for. If coming into a relationship with Scripture, one has determined that it’s lifeless and cold, then that’s probably what will be found.

        In Hebrews 4:12-13, we read, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. 13 And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” Also, in Matthew 7:7-12, we read, “7 “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. 9 Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? 11 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!”

        I wonder what would happen if there was a sincere commitment to see not only God’s Word, but life in this way. That God is living and active everywhere. That He’s in the exciting and the mundane. In my experience, God tends to show up not only when we least expect it, but also when we have tuned ourselves towards Him. Also, our team wrote an e-book for singles (if that’s your situation) with a chapter that tries to answer the question “Why Read the Bible.”

        Peace, Chris

    4. Chris on

      To the anonymous guy that posted the first post. Thank you so much for your post. I am relating to you in so many ways. I’m 24, have been seeing a sex therapist monthly, going to his support group weekly, for a time I was going to SAA groups weekly in addition, covenant eyes on every device, exercising to help with mental and emotional health, full transparency with my girlfriend, yet after a year have not gotten very far! I listen to sermons on purity all the time, I read articles like this as well as books and am getting no where. I, too, have a lot of doubts and am feeling hopeless. I’m wondering if a 24 year old was meant to be abstinent and porn/masturbation free.

      I have a lot of friends, but some who I tell about my addiction distance themselves away from me (although some of those are porn watchers also). Others who offer to help are never available when I reach out for help. I can’t seem to find any real accountability.

      Reply
      • Luke Gilkerson on

        Finding real accountability can be very difficult in this day and age. We have become very isolated from one another. Please click on the links I gave to Anonymous. They might be a big help to you.

        I also recommend you check out Finally Free by Heath Lambert and Closing the Window by Tim Chester. These are two of the best books I’ve seen on this subject.

        Lastly, let’s say you read all these resources and listen to all these sermons and you still aren’t “free.” I encourage you to remember that freedom is a gradual thing. Israel didn’t take the land all at once, but little by little (Exodus 23:29-30). In one of the article I linked in my above comment, Alasdair Groves writes…

        I prefer to think of victory in terms of fruit (or battles won, if you prefer combat imagery) that comes from the progressive re-orientation of our hearts.

        Thus, victory is:
        – Hating your sin. This eventually becomes a genuine and instinctive disgust when exposed to the vile lewdness that pornography seeks to glorify, even if there is some simultaneous arousal.
        – Seeking grace. Simply going to the cross and seeking forgiveness more quickly, wallowing in guilt less and loving Christ’s mercy more are all victories. Eventually there is a joy in repentance that leaves a man feeling passionate to honor Christ with sexual purity and it spills over into his struggles with selfishness, pride etc. God’s grace with sexual sin actually teaches us about the depths of mercy in ways I have rarely seen elsewhere. As repentance becomes a brokenhearted delight—like singing and weeping at the funeral of a godly friend— you are tasting victory.
        – Saying no. You begin to say no to temptations that you previously would have considered inescapable. You get a pornographic video in your e-mail while in your hotel on a business trip and you immediately delete it. Six months ago it was inconceivable to go on a business trip and not watch smut on HBO. In fact, as grace teaches you to see saying “no” as more important and desirable, you begin to seek out places where you can cut things out of your life that tempt you. Perhaps at first you just stay off the computer after 10 p.m. when your housemates will likely be in their rooms. Then maybe you conclude that you need to stop watching movies alone and that even when you watch with others you need to avert your eyes during scenes that display sexual things even though you might potentially “miss something.” Eventually you may stop watching football altogether for a time, because you can’t seem to draw your eyes away from the cheerleaders and you would rather lose something innocent that you enjoy than expose your soul to those brief moments of sexualized captivation. Saying no becomes an act of faith, not only affirming that God alone gives what is good, but also learning to find joy in self-control.
        – Pursuing accountability. You start with confession. Over time, you invite brothers around you who are regularly asking you where the pinch points of temptation are in the coming week. Then you are going above and beyond their questions, speaking honestly about the struggles in your heart and where you see the Spirit leading you. It means that accountability is not a shameful necessity, but a wonderful chance to bring your actions and your desires into the light and to beg your friends to make the gospel specific to you once again. “Could you remind me again that Christ forgives me and that I am not condemned, and will you tell me about how you are growing too?”
        – Victory is in evidence when you begin to delight in absenting yourself from tempting situations rather than feeling like you are fasting while sitting in a restaurant. It’s as simple as seeing your own selfish desires recede as you earnestly serve those around you. It’s finding more refuge and comfort in Scripture (which used to simply bring a guilt trip). It’s a life of repentance over the sins of your heart as well as the actions they lead to. It’s a deeper love of Christ and what he has done for you at the cross flowing out of deeper awareness of your sin. It is a glorious, unmerited freedom yielding a harvest of gratitude rather than a cycle of guilt and despair.

    5. Roy on

      you talked all about the symptom and what to do about it, but what about the “PAIN that leads to porn”
      Do you really think that just hearing that it’s part of God’s plan or that he is close by while you suffer,or that it will work to your good is comforting? I cannot find the help or comfort in these things, please help

      Reply
      • Chris McKenna on

        @Roy, I can’t tell if you’ve tried any of the more traditional routes to dealing with past hurts, but everything brought out into the light and covered in the saving name of Jesus automatically loses its strength over us. This is done verbally, in relationship with another person who you can talk to. Inviting in the Spirit of God to intervene and heal. My hope is that you can find Jesus-centered counseling. In my town, we have something called Set Free Ministries to help surface and heal these issues: http://www.setfreeministries.com/default.aspx

        God is for you!
        Peace, Chris

    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *