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Dismantling the Myth: “You Can Look, But You Just Can’t Touch”

Last Updated: July 29, 2021

James Cordrey
James Cordrey

James Cordrey is an author, blogger, and speaker who trains men how to fight for purity and freedom so they can escape the snare of pornography. He leads men on a journey of becoming the warriors they were designed to be in order that they may influence the world and their relationships for good. He loves the arts, the outdoors, sports, a good cup of tea, and stimulating conversation. James live near Philadelphia with his wife and three children. He more of his stuff at intentionalwarriors.com.

Years ago I worked with a guy who was very open about the fact that he looked at pornography.

He was married and had a few kids, but he brought porn magazines to work and made no attempt to hide them—except from the boss—who he knew would frown on porn use at work and probably fire him.

My co-worker’s motto was: “You can look. You just can’t touch.”

“You Can Look, But You Can’t Touch.”

I was in my late 20s and I had certainly heard that saying before. In fact, I was secretly living by that same motto even though I was a Christian and I knew I shouldn’t be looking at all.

I kept up a front, telling my co-worker and others that “You can look, you just can’t touch” was not true—because that is what a Christian man is supposed to say—but the hidden reality of my life was something else.

I had bought into the lie that looking wasn’t such a big deal. But if “just looking” were truly innocent, my life would never have fallen apart the way it did.

I never acted out sexually with another person, but over the course of 12 years, I watched loads of porn. And it did real damage.

The pain of betrayal that my wife felt when she learned about my addictive pattern was real. My compulsive behavior of watching porn affected my performance at work and it made me more and more isolated from real people as I chose the fantasy of porn over actual relationships.

“Just looking” is much more than just looking.

I should have known this based on Matthew 5:27-28. In that passage, Jesus says that the man who “looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”

The truth was, until I got serious about dealing with my addictive pattern, I had always thought Jesus was expecting too much of people—at least of me—and He didn’t understand that not looking at women lustfully was simply impossible.

Jesus knew that looking actually changes you. It conditions you to think of people as nothing more than sexual objects, which damages your ability to simply relate to other people as, well, people.

Watch a lot of pornography, and before long the only way you are able to look at women is lustfully.

Pornography also teaches you to sexualize all of your experiences. A trip to the grocery story, or to the bank, or to any number of non-sexual places becomes infused with eroticism. After all, that’s what happens in porn movies.

Even Science Shows the Negative Effect of “You Can Look, but You Can’t Touch”

“Just looking” is much more than just looking.

In his book The Brain That Changes Itself, Norman Doidge writes:

The current porn epidemic gives a graphic demonstration that sexual tastes can be acquired. Pornography, delivered by highspeed Internet connections, satisfies every one of the prerequisites for neuroplastic change.

Pornography seems, at first glance, to be a purely instinctual matter: sexually explicit pictures trigger instinctual responses, which are the product of millions of years of evolution. But if that were true, pornography would be unchanging.

Doidge goes on to say that he made an interesting discovery as a result of talking to his male patients who viewed pornography.

They reported increasing difficulty in being turned on by their actual sexual partners, spouses or girlfriends, though they still considered them objectively attractive.

When I asked if this phenomenon had any relationship to viewing pornography, they answered that it initially helped them get more excited during sex but over time had the opposite effect. Now, instead of using their senses to enjoy being in bed, in the present, with their partners, lovemaking increasingly required them to fantasize that they were part of a porn script.

In short, scientific evidence reveals that “just looking” has a serious effect on those who view pornography. There is now anecdotal evidence that some men suffer from erectile dysfunction as a result of looking at too much porn, and Doidge says he has seen that in some of his patients.

The same thing happens if your form of pornography is lusting after women as you are out and about. Neuroplastic change is occurring, as is a re-shaping of the desires of your heart.

The Apostle Paul understood this concept. Although not speaking directly about pornography and its effect on our brains, Paul issues a broad call in Romans 12:2 when he writes: “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”

The renewing of our minds that Paul calls for corresponds to the forming of new neural pathways that Doidge describes in his book.

Furthermore, what we worship molds our hearts. Hours spent looking at porn, or lusting after real women in our lives is worship. What we give our hearts to, over time, becomes the only thing we really want.

Jesus told us to love the Lord our God with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength (Mark 12:30), and that underscores a core teaching in scripture: when we worship—whatever it is we worship—we do it with every part of ourselves.

“Just looking” is much more than “just looking.”

  • Comments on: Dismantling the Myth: “You Can Look, But You Just Can’t Touch”
    1. Kerri

      I have been blessed by reading the amazing articles here, on Covenant Eyes. After years and years of this battle (though my husband wasn’t exactly battling, more like stalling….giving me enough new ‘ah ha’ moments to keep me thinking he was on the path to change), it is truly healing to know that all of my concerns were not unfounded! My husband could not understand the pain it caused me when I would find out, again, that he had been looking. I realized it was a true addiction when things such as some of his children seeing this (they walked in on him), nor losing his job over this stuff was enough for him to quit. Recently I found out he was looking again. There was no blow up on my part. I just knew I “was done” with all of this. He has started Celebrate recovery over a month ago.

      I can attest to the fact that porn will mess with your relationship with your spouse. There are so many areas that are affected, and this article does a good job pointing some of them out.


      • Kerri,
        i am so sorry for the pain you have experienced as a result of your husband’s porn use. you have endured much devastation. i pray that God will continue to bless you through great resources such as the material here at Covenant Eyes. Even more, i pray that He will draw near to you and comfort you with His very presence.

      • For 25 years my husband struggled, or sometimes didn’t even try to, with an addiction to pornography. It was so painful for me. It affected my confidence in myself and I didn’t have the same love or attraction for him as I did when we were dating because he was cheating on me, if only in his mind. I finally demanded that he speak to our Pastor, who came over and really took this issue seriously. He didn’t just give him a pat on the head and tell him that all men struggle with this. Instead, he had my husband really look into my eyes and see the pain there. He had him open up completely, confessing everything that he had looked at over the course of our marriage and then he had him pray a prayer asking for forgiveness. This was followed by a letter that he had my husband write to God with a copy given to me and to him, which we were to keep. He took a vow before God never to watch porn again. That was 8 years ago and my husband has been set free! He marvels at how life has changed since he lost the desire for the evil of porn. Our sex life is amazing because I am free to love him without feeling like I am in a porn movie, and he has become so loving towards me and happy.

        To all the ladies out there with husbands who are addicted to this trash, they can overcome this IF THEY REALLY WANT TO. My Pastor got my husband to finally admit that he hadn’t really wanted to give it up because it was fun but he now saw the pain that it was causing to me and our marriage and he was ashamed. This sin needs to be taken seriously by our Pastors and these men can truly “do all things through Christ” who will strengthen them!

      • JeremiahP

        I am this husband. I am glad for Covenant Eyes, and even more glad for a wife that has given me hundreds of chances to change, but is being firm that this is the final point of no return. I have lost my job, ruined my relationship with my wife, and harmed my family in so many ways that I doubt that complete restoration is possible. I know God is good and can do miracles, and I hope that He will in my marriage and with my family. I appreciate the 40-day challenge in particular because it forces me to pay closer attention to my behavior on a regular basis. Although I’ve been reading a lot of articles on Covenant Eyes already, there is a devotional. I am already starting to comment toward men and women alike on this site to seek to kill this beast in their lives. I don’t want to see the same destruction that my family and I have faced for so long. I have been involved in Celebrate Recovery and one-on-one counseling at my church. I am 90+ days free from porn, and my main focus is on staying away from all shreds of sensuality, halting all masturbation, and being very careful to capture every thought and view every tiny thing as an attack from the enemy.

        To my wife, I appreciate you and I want you to know that I am taking this more serious than I ever thought.

        To other men, I strongly suggest giving it your everything and not allowing any shred of lust or sensuality to enter into your life. Fight it like you were fighting someone trying to take your life, because that is essentially what Satan is trying to do – suck all life from all of the most important relationships you have.

      • So glad the 40 Day Challenge is going so well for you! Thanks for the encouraging words!

    2. JeremiahP

      Sorry, I meant that I am Kerri’s husband.

      • Broken

        What would you say to the wife (married 11 years) whose husband thinks he can do it on his own and refuses to get real about the problem, continuing the behavior and leaving his wife in relational and sexual intimacy drought….?

      • Kay Bruner

        I would say, get help for YOU. Find a good counselor who can help you process the emotions you’re experiencing, and who can help you make good choices about healthy boundaries in the relationship. There may be more options for you than you have been able to consider so far. An outsider’s view can help you think through things clearly. Locate a group and start attending regularly: Celebrate Recovery, S Anon, xxxChurch. You should be able to google “support groups” and find numerous options in your area.

        The bottom line is this: he will have to take responsibility for himself. And YOU will have to take responsibility for yourself. It’s terrible to see someone you love go down this road, but you don’t have to go into the pit with him.

        Get help, get support, and make healthy choices for you. Blessings, Kay

    3. Mark lewis

      I am sitting here at this exact moment a broken man. I was a 20 plus year porn user. I have been married fir 22 years to a beautiful woman that has given me 3 wonderful kids. To top it all off I am a Christian. I have taught youth groups etc.
      Over the years my wife has continually walked in on me while i was looking at porn. She had prayed and prayed and begged me to stop. I was always sincere in wanting to although i never fully understood what she was saying to me about how it made her feel.
      She insinuated a few time about leaving and i would agai. And again beg God to help me. I truly coukd not help it. I woukd go to the alter at church and cry and beg God to help me. I guess he knew i wasent serious because i could never get victory over it. Kim has had enough and finally told me she does not love me anymore and wants a divorce. The most sad thing abiut this is on March 10th i was at such a low point, considering suicide and all, i begged God to take it away and he did! I have been porn free since March 22nd.
      I started living for the Lord and started making good choices. My wife has noticed this and is puzzled but appreciates my effirts…but she says its too late. Does anyone, especially ladies that have been in her shoes, have any advice for us?
      I dont know if she woukd be even willing to listen at this point but i can try. She is still in the home and im feeling desperate. Im trying to give her soace and just be the best Christian father and husband I can be.

      • Kay Bruner

        Hi Mark.

        Well, in the counseling world we have a name for the situation you’re describing: “the walkaway wife.” What it means is, the wife has tried for years and years and years to make the marriage work, and the husband wasn’t much interested until she finally decided to leave. And now he’s willing to try.

        We see this all the time.

        There is no advice for “us” in this situation. Your wife has been trying to create an “us” for 20 years, and you haven’t been willing to participate. I don’t know if she’d ever want to participate in that again.

        There is only advice for YOU at this point. Accept her choice, and take responsibility for your own healing. Whether or not she chooses to re-engage in this relationship, GET WELL. Stop living in the world of lies and pretend, and get yourself well and whole.

        If you are serious about recovery, you need to find a Certified Sex Addiction Therapist, right now.

        There is no way you’re going to rid yourself of a 20+ year habit without serious, sustained help. You’ve got a lot of work to do. Because a porn addiction is not just about porn. It’s about blocking your ability to engage with your own emotions. It’s about stunting the growth of your marriage when you aren’t emotionally trustworthy for your spouse–you’ve only cared about your own satisfaction. It’s about objectifying other people for your own ends, over and over and over. It’s about a bunch of stuff you don’t even know about yet. You need help to untangle that mess. Please get it, now.

        Whatever your wife chooses, YOU choose to be healthy.

        The “miraculous healing” after the shock of your wife’s departure from the marriage is NOT the final destination. It can be a start, but only if you choose to take responsibility for yourself and start working. Make that call right now.

        Wishing you every blessing, Kay

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