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Defeat Lust & Pornography 5 minute read

How Did I Get Here: 3 Building Blocks of Compulsive Porn Use

Last Updated: May 16, 2023

Starting the journey away from pornography is like finding a position on a map. And to find out where you’re going on the map, you need to understand where you’ve come from. To move ahead, we need to look back.

So often, we just want to move forward. We tell ourselves, “Forget about the past. Let’s just move on.” We not only say that to ourselves—we might also say it to others who are hurt by our porn use. Sometimes we do this with God too. Though we feel deep shame when we confess our sexual sin to God, we often take that forgiveness for granted. We put past sin behind us without a deeper understanding of why it happened in the first place.

We need to pause. We need to engage in self-reflection. How did I get here?

Building Block 1: Early Exposure

Many who struggle believe they are uniquely defective, or at least faultier than others they know in their church or sphere of friends. How can they fight so hard and fail so often? The truth is, there are common patterns that lead to porn and sexual struggles. Most often these issues begin in the formative years.

The late Dr. Mark Laaser called these issues “building blocks” because they lay a foundation upon which sexual attitudes and behaviors are built. These building blocks are often collected while the human brain is still developing and more vulnerable. Because these issues and behaviors develop early and are so basic, they become deeply rooted in how we think, what we find sexually exciting, and how we react to any number of scenarios and stressors.

Natural Curiosity Gone Haywire

Children are naturally curious about what the opposite sex looks like naked. This is normal.

But this natural curiosity is overwhelmed and traumatized by modern pornography. In an instant, a child progresses from total ignorance about sexuality to an assault of imagery and video they do not understand. Modern porn is often explicit, violent, and debasing. Children are startled and shocked by what they see, but they may also be naturally curious and want to see more.

How old were you when you first saw porn? Most adults can tell a story about the first time they saw porn as a child. They may forget everything else about that day, but they can tell you vivid details about the first time they saw porn.

Building Block 2: Drama and/or Trauma

Childhood and adolescent scars come on a broad spectrum in our fallen world. Physical, emotional, and sexual abuse might immediately come to mind, and they are indeed common in the histories of men and women who medicate with porn and sex. But sometimes the wounds are more subtle and are ignored as too trivial compared to being beaten or sexually abused. But these seemingly subtle wounds are real and impactful, nonetheless.

The death of a close family member, divorce, feelings of abandonment, loneliness, being bullied in school, or being derided by teachers or others in authority all have a significant impact on kids. Surprising to many Christians, homes with strict and rigid rules are also a hallmark for men and women who struggle with porn and sex. Dr. Patrick Carnes’s research found that people who struggle with sexual compulsivity were often raised in rigid family systems.

Fantasy and Escapism

Often by accident, pornography use turns to escapism. At first, pornography and masturbation arise out of natural curiosity, but over time, their ability to distract and their euphoria become coping mechanisms for adolescent feelings of fear, anxiety, stress, anger, sadness, frustration, depression, and more.

Children and adolescents are exceptional at deflecting hurts and escaping pain with strategies that are born out of desperation and immature reasoning. Their strategies of evasion to seek comfort over time damages their growth into mature adults.

Acknowledging childhood wounds is not about shifting responsibility. Recognizing the hurt caused by family, friends, and abusers doesn’t release the compulsive porn user or the sex addict from examining themselves, changing their behavior, and rebuilding their heart and mind. And although it may be troubling to think about revisiting old wounds, uncovering the harm that was done and conceding the impact of these wounds is paramount to understanding, acceptance, and healing.

Building Block 3: Repetition

With time, experience, and practice, the desire for pornography can feel like a physical and emotional need. Many porn users not only regulate negative emotions with porn, but they also watch porn just to feel “normal.”

That’s because repetitive use of pornography physically changes the neurocircuitry of our brains. The brain learns to be triggered by pornography and pornographic thoughts and creates neural pathways that crave the neurochemical rewards of sexual excitement and orgasm. Neural pathways process the information we receive and create new ways of thinking and habits.   

Neuroplasticity

The lifelong ability of the brain to wire and rewire its neurocircuitry is referred to as brain plasticity or neuroplasticity. For instance, the brain can increase or decrease the strength and number of synapses that communicate an emotion or feeling. This allows information or memories to flow more or less quickly.

This brain neuroplasticity also operates under a dynamic of “use it or lose it.” Do an activity more often and the brain will create neural pathways that make an activity easier to think about and complete.

This is good news! God designed our brains to be renewed. Stopping porn behaviors and focusing on fun, healthy, and creative activities is a key part of “losing” neural pathways that crave porn.

Renewing Your Mind—With Victory!

When the Apostle Paul teaches in Romans 12 to present our bodies as a living sacrifice and to cling to what is good, he is honoring how God created our physical brains. It’s not just the truth we know that changes us. More importantly, it’s the truth we obey that renews our mind, body, and spirit.

“… I urge you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God; this is your true worship. Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God” (Romans 12:1b-2).

Don’t you love that promise? By renewing our minds, we can discern God’s perfect will for our lives, and it shows us where we are on the map. To help you on your journey, Covenant Eyes has created a free app packed with courses that walk you through the path to victory.

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