Watching pornography often involves several rituals—whether we’re aware of it or not. And whether we’re aware of it or not, it likewise requires rituals to break free from watching pornography.
Anti-Ritualism in America
If you’re a Christian struggling with porn, that may seem odd. A 2017 Pew Research poll showed that over a quarter of adults in the U.S. consider themselves spiritual but not religious. That number has remained steady into 2021, with 30% of Americans not claiming to have any particular religious affiliation. In our post-modern culture, the notion of “organized religion” seems to bear a stigma rooted in oppression and control.
The word religion was derived by Cicero from the Latin word relegre, meaning to “go through again in reading or thought.” It’s an interesting area of contention within the Christian community, between those who favor the traditional liturgical church ane those who prefer a freer, evangelical setting.
I rejected the idea of tradition in the Church for over 20 years. Somehow, I believed that all rituals were rooted in paganism. I thought they couldn’t draw us closer to God and that doing the same thing over and over again with the expectation of different results was the very definition of insanity. Many Americans trapped in porn believe the same thing—and it seems a bit absurd when I reflect back on this now.
The Sanity of Rituals
Doing the same thing again and again while expecting different results is NOT the definition of insanity. (In fact, there is no definition or diagnosis for insanity listed anywhere in the American Psychiatric Association’s DSM-5.)
If you think about it, we do many things over and over again that merit different results and are anything but “insane.” A person might carry out the same exercise regimen daily (ritual) in hopes of becoming more fit and trim. A person may brush their teeth two or more times a day in hopes to reduce plaque and maintain whiteness. A person may attend church every week expecting the result of drawing nearer to Christ.
These are just a few common examples of repeated actions that anticipate different outcomes, and all very sane!
So, what are rituals?
First, let’s wrap our heads around what a ritual actually is. Apart from religious ceremony, many rituals are embedded into our culture and carried out in accordance with social norms. e
In summary, a ritual is any act, or series of acts, repeated in a precise manner.
What is insanity?
Insanity is a legal term used to describe a person who can no longer distinguish fantasy from reality. In a court case, this person is so disconnected they are free from any legal responsibility for their behavior.
Doing the same thing over and over again may not be insane, but certain rituals can lead to insane behavior, detaching us from reality. Whether we are aware of it or not, pornography often requires us to participate in several of these rituals. Get deep enough into pornography, and the line between what is fantasy and reality will become blurred— a world that is truly insane, and one we would never agree to be a part of when thinking clearly.
The Insane Rituals of Porn
Pornography warrants us to develop and carry out several ritual acts both before and after. This includes the time we spend in the car fantasizing over the websites we plan to visit after the long drive home, right up to the moment we draw the shades and lock the door behind us. Even the sequence of steps we might go through afterward to cover our tracks, destroy evidence, and restore the room to its original state are part of our ritual.
How Rituals Develop in Addiction
Pornography provides us with only a moment of pleasure and usually leaves us feeling empty and ashamed afterward. Ritualization is a powerful catalyst that fuels our addictions and tendencies, gives us a sense of control, and prolongs our desire to act out, strengthening the high. Sometimes it’s the ritual itself that entices us to act on our desires.
In the early 2000s when a person had to go through a whole series of steps to log on to the internet, it wasn’t uncommon to hear of men becoming aroused by the sound of a dial-up modem kicking on. Just the thought of acting out can be a trigger. The same could be said about the routes in which we drive home, the places we visit, certain shows we choose to watch, the rooms of our home that we enter alone at certain times, or any pattern or series of events we instinctively set into action before getting into the act.
How rituals bypass our rational judgment.
As Christians, following through with something as addictive and destructive as porn is a complex process that requires us to bypass our rational judgement, disregard any of the consequences that our sinful behavior leads to, and attempt to put God in a box until we are through doing whatever it is we are doing.
Whether we are aware of it or not, rituals are specifically designed and designated by each one of us to protect this complex process. Since rituals are predictable, following through with ritualized behavior creates the illusion that we are in control of the situation. It enables us to keep the blinders on so tight that we never experience a moment of clarity in which we might begin to consider aborting the mission. It keeps us on track to pass that point of no return, in which we can no longer decipher fantasy from reality; the true definition of insanity. Because that’s precisely the point we need to arrive at in order to feed our carnal desires without having a second thought.
7 Ways to Reconfigure the Rituals of Porn
So how do we begin to break these ritual behaviors? Here’s a pragmatic solution of “re’s.”
1. Replace the ritual.
Addiction is a powerful thing, and if you are serious about quitting porn, you’ve got to do whatever it takes to avert the threat. It’s not a permanent solution, but replacing one ritual with another can provide us with the quick fix we need in a moment of desperation.
For example, I have a friend at work who has been struggling with the ritual of going home late at night at the end of his shift and gorging himself. He has the opportunity to eat at a reasonable time but admitted that since he has been “clean“ (after overcoming substance abuse), eating late at night gives him something to look forward to at the end of the day. It provides him comfort and helps to fill the void of loneliness he often feels.
As someone who works the second shift in food service, I’ll be the first to admit that there is something very cathartic about going home after hustling all day long in the hot kitchen and sitting in front of the TV with a plate of food on your lap. But he’s been trying to lose weight, and this ritual is not helping his cause. He essentially replaced one addiction with another.
I suggested he start eating earlier and get into a healthy routine to replace the ritual. How do you do this?
2. Reimagine your routines.
A routine is nothing more than a sequence of actions regularly followed. By definition, it’s not much of a departure from a ritual. However, rituals are often associated with ceremony, religion, and tradition. There is something magical and mystical about them, and as we know, they have the power to keep us under a proverbial spell.
A routine is much more banal and mundane. Preparing for a holiday is a ritual. Going to work or school is a routine. The act of replacing a ritual with a routine can be downright begrudging and mundane. But it’s very important, so what does it look like?
From the anticipation to the act itself, pornography is a time suck. It drains us of our life force. We need to occupy the time in more positive ways.
- If you need to avoid going to your house for a while, you can go for long walks or hikes. You can take up a hobby.
- If it’s summertime, go fishing.
- If it’s wintertime, take up an instrument or start a stamp collection.
- Discipline yourself to sit down and begin writing the next great novel.
Whatever it is, if you have an addictive disposition like I do, you will latch on and be all in real quick. You may find that you are gifted in ways you never dreamed or imagined, and your newfound talent or interest will bless you, your family, and others tenfold!
(For more great suggestions, check out the free ebook, Hobbies and Habits.)
3. Re-evaluate your activities.
Next, we must re-evaluate and take inventory of our activity. I’ve heard it said that recovery can become an addict’s final addiction. We can easily become solely dependent upon the programs that are designed to help us, or worse – addicted to the process of recovery, itself. Then, it’s just another form of idol worship.
Anything that we prioritize over God can be an idol. At some point, we need to re-evaluate our new routines and make sure we are not simply trading in one harmful obsession for another. Perhaps some time has passed, and we can get through the week or month without looking at porn or acting out? It may be time to do an examination of consciousness, and decide if our other interests or routines are doing us harm, or continuing to keep us distracted from reality.
Part-time, I brew beer for a living and I really love a good beer at the end of the day. But there are times of the year I decide to refrain from alcohol. There’s no reason for this except that I don’t want it to become a habit. Nosce te ipsum —know thyself. And know thyself well enough to know when it’s time for a reality check!
Determine what is a healthy ritual or routine versus an unhealthy one. If it’s unhealthy and creating obsessive or bad behavior, let it go. If it’s positive and healthy, keep it in the daily rotation.
4. Repeat healthy routines.
I pray the Rosary every day, usually in the early mornings or afternoons in my car. I honestly couldn’t even tell you the last time I looked at porn, but I would be an idiot to give this daily ritual up! It has been a tremendous help in my everyday life as a husband, father, and general human being. Padre Pio called the Rosary a powerful weapon against sin.
There are some Christians that think daily recitation of the Rosary and even certain types of Prayer are in direct contradiction to God’s word. They say that people of certain religions babble on and on thinking their prayers are being answered by repeating their words again and again (Matthew 6:7). I want to challenge you to think again!
Repetition is an offering.
This act of repetition is not carried out simply as a means to an end. It is an offering. Fulton Sheen once said, “The lips move while saying the Rosary, because she knows that the external rhythm of the body can create a rhythm of the soul. If the fingers and lips keep at it, the spiritual will soon follow, and the prayer will eventually end in the heart.“
My friend and priest Fr. Ed Meeks tells men, “instead of reaching for the mouse, reach for the Rosary beads.”
It’s sage advice. If the Rosary isn’t your thing, practice Scripture memory. Choose some verses and recite them in times of temptation. Don’t know any? Here are a few to get you started: Psalms 91:5, Galatians 5:16, Hebrews 2:18, 1 Peter 5:8-11, and James 1:14.
5. Return to the original place.
We’ve already determined that the very act of looking at porn is a ritual. Christian or not, it becomes an idolatrous religion. We throw our whole body, mind and soul into the act of pleasing ourselves at the expense of exploiting others. We carry out these sacred acts in secret, exposing ourselves to sacred things we were never meant to see.
The religion of pornography is our escape from that reality, in a world far away. Ritual is the portal between those two worlds. One part of the ritual sets the stage for us to enter into that disordered world. The other part creates an illusion of restored order. It enables us to compartmentalize our actions and in some cases forget they even happened.
The most common Hebrew word that Christians translated as “religion” was teshuva. It means “to return to the original place.” Religion helps us return to reality from the fantasy that porn creates.
6. Relax in God’s control.
Finally, relax. God is in control. His steadfast love never ceases. His mercies are new every morning (see Lamentations 3:22-23). Today is a new day. If you are reading this, you lived to see another day. Praise be to God, and congratulations! You’ve been given yet another opportunity to make better choices. Seize the day!
If it means you need to drive home a different route, do it! If it means you have to avoid certain places at certain times, avoid them!
7. Rely on the Holy Spirit.
There should come a point in every person’s struggle with porn that they can rely solely on the power of the Holy Spirit. That’s not to say that the power of the Holy Spirit is not enough. It’s to say that sometimes, our misplaced desires are so strong that we simply give up and give in (see Matthew 26:41 and Romans 7:18).
It likely won’t happen right away, but with discipline and determination, it will happen eventually. It never gets easy, but over time it does get much easier. With each passing day that we avoid filling our minds with explicit images, they become more of a distant memory. Then they become like ghosts that only taunt us in moments of weakness. Eventually, they are barely recognizable anymore, as they vanish into the wind. But in order to get there, we have to start somewhere.
Final thought: Don’t reject tradition!
All of those years I rejected tradition. Despite my best efforts to not do so, I still found myself praying the same prayers and intentions daily. I still found myself trapped in the ritual of porn. This is not an attempt to “bash” those who might reject tradition. Once again, it’s reality check time. Assuming we are all Christians here, we are all fighting the same battle and calling on the same Christ. If what you are doing isn’t working, it’s time to try something else.
The war is real. Pray without ceasing!
There is no new sin under the sun, but there are new tools to help avoid them. Second to the Rosary, Covenant Eyes is a great tool in your arsenal of weapons against pornography. Our ritual behaviors thrive on the anticipation of having unbridled access to anything. Covenant Eyes will greatly limit that access.
Pornography is like quicksand. We must invest so much of our time, resources, and energy into getting out. Sometimes, all it takes is one misstep, and we’re up to our knees again. You can protect that investment with Covenant Eyes. Trust me; you’ll be glad you did.
Jay thank you for your article. I too am a Catholic who loves the Journey Home because I am an ex-Protestant. Thank you for your ideas and encouragement.
Thanks Mark. Keep fighting the good fight!