What drives you to porn? What are the specific triggers that cause you to crave it?
There may be a number of triggers. You’re hungry. You’re anrgy. You had a bad day at work. You’re feeling rejected.
Or, simply, you’re bored.
That last one is huge! One survey of a Catholic high school found that 90% of the young men admitted to viewing pornography at least occasionally… and for 48% of them, boredom was the biggest trigger.
Boredom! Who can be bored even in a COVID-19 world? There are plenty of things to do: work, clean, bake, learn a new skill, help the kids with homework, watch TV or play video games, read a book, whatever. In fact, boredom is even advertised as a virtue. A number of memes in lockdown have featured inspiring tales of historical figures during their own periods of quarantine: look, Shakespeare wrote King Lear, or Sir Isaac Newton invented Calculus, or whatever other real or absurd claim people feel like making.
But the reality is, we’re still bored. And more often than not, our boredom leads us not to increased creativity, but to sloth and acedia.
The Problem of Boredom
We’re probably familiar with sloth. The book of Proverbs describes it as a path to ruin: “A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest, and poverty will come upon you like a robber, and want like an armed man” (Prov. 24:33-34). In other words, it’s laziness. It’s the fable of the ants and the grasshopper in real life.
Acedia is an ancient monastic concept that eventually got subsumed by the deadly sin of sloth. In Acedia and Me, Kathleen Norris borrows from the fourth century monk Evagrius to explain it in part as a hatred of our current status, be that physical location or relationships:
“In a consumer culture we are advised to keep our options open, so that we are always free to grab the new, improved model when it appears. It is not easy for us to recognize acedia in ourselves, as it prompts us to see obligations to family, friends, and colleagues as impediments to that freedom” (p. 25).
Later, she quotes pastor Fred Craddock to explain it this way: “It is that capacity of the human spirit to look out upon the world and everything God made and say, I don’t care” (p. 115).
In other words, we are so trained by culture to look for the new that we can’t stand the old anymore—we get bored of our “old” house or apartment, our jobs or chores, and even our immediate family or roommates. We stop caring about them. And one of the possible outcomes of that boredom is that we turn to pornography for novelty and self-fulfillment.
Rick James writes:
“When we come to Christ, our accumulated restlessness does not simply vanish. We have a dulled palette and an enlarged appetite for sensation, saturation, and experience that has been cultivated over years of sensate feasting. The way of purity has become doubly difficult: there is more sensual opportunity, and our fleshly appetites are two to three times normal size.
Pornography carries with it a buzz and an excitement both chemically and emotionally. The attraction of this buzz as a cure for boredom is what brought many of us to our involvement with the material in the first place, and it is what so easily drags us back. It only makes sense, then, that our struggle for purity will involve a battle with boredom.”
So if boredom is one of our triggers to porn, how do we combat it?
1. Recognize and Repent
Norris writes, “As any reader of fairy tales can tell you, not knowing the true name of your enemy, be it a troll, a demon, or an ‘issue,’ puts you at a great disadvantage, and learning the name can help to set you free” (p. 4).
Maybe this is the first time you realized that you’re fighting an evolved form of boredom. Maybe your anger at your spouse and boss is less anger over something specific and more a dissatisfaction with the ongoing sameness of the relationship. Take some time to repent of this, both to God and, if appropriate, to another person.
Confess not only your sinful actions, but actions that are just generally wasteful. Rick James says, “Awareness of sin should not be confined to where we committed evil with our time, but where we’ve wasted it.” This does not mean that there is no room for pleasure for the sake of pleasure, of course. God built rhythms of rest into our lives through the Sabbath and the Year of Jubilee. But consider whether you’re trying to avoid something in your leisure, or how your leisure activity of choice may be leading you to deeper temptations.
2. Practice Thanksgiving
1 Thessalonians 5:15-19 says, “See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit.”
If one of the motivations behind our porn use is the slow-simmering anger of acedia, then one of the best ways to kill it and draw closer to God is to practice gratitude actively. Maybe you have the world’s worst boss. Thank God for the opportunity to show the same love for him as Christ showed for you on the Cross.
Maybe you’re sick of being stuck in your small home with your husband and kids. Praise God for the opportunity to get to know your family, and for having a roof over your head and a fridge you can decorate with your kids’ art. Slowly over time, you will begin to recognize even in those trying circumstances the good and perfect gifts that come from above (James 1:17).
3. Cultivate Hobbies
Alexander Rhodes, founder of the online recovery organization NoFap, conducted an informal study of his members and found that those who were most successful in quitting pornography had included other activities (sports, hobbies, etc.) as part of their recovery process. The parable of the unclean spirit in Matthew 12:43-45 illustrates this: it’s not enough to simply rid your “house” of demons. You must fill the empty space with something better lest the demons come back stronger than ever.
If your trained response to boredom is to turn to porn, then take some time to pick something else to do instead. When you start thinking to yourself, “Well, okay, what am I going to do today,” buy a cheap guitar and start learning some basic chords. Or find a set of daily drawing prompts and practice your art. Explore a local park. Or learn about your kids’ hobbies and do them together.
Whatever you choose to do, remember this: you were created in the image of a Creator God. And the best way to counter the lies of pornography and boredom is to embrace that image. As author Jonathan Rogers says, “The act of creativity is speaking the counter-narrative of what the world is telling us.”
Reject your boredom. Reject your acedia. Reject the lies that are driving you to porn. Tell a better story instead.