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How Reading Books (For Fun!) Can Help You Overcome Porn

Last Updated: October 21, 2022

Are you on the lookout for new ways to fight the temptation to look at porn? Obviously, there are a LOT of great books and articles out there to help you quit porn. You can check out our article 22 of the Best Books on Porn Addiction and Recovery. Or, just keep browsing through the 2,000+ articles in our blog archive!

But what if I told you that reading books for fun could undo the damage that pornography does to your mind, retrain your focus, and help you enjoy the good things that you want to enjoy? Yep, all true.

If that’s all you need to motivate you, shut off your screen and grab a book! But if you need a bit more of a push to get you out of the digital information rut, keep reading.

The Challenge of Reading in a Digital Age

Reading books is difficult for many. Most of us read constantly on our devices, but it’s usually short snippets, headlines, or summaries (and every now and again a longer article like this one).

Even self-professed bookworms often find it challenging to carve out space for reading in today’s fast-paced culture. Hugh McGuire founded LibriVox and Pressbooks, two online platforms that promote books and reading. Despite his passion for books, he found that digital distractions had reduced his reading to almost nothing:

“I love books. And yet, I wasn’t reading them. In fact, I couldn’t read them. I tried, but every time, by sentence three or four, I was either checking email or asleep.”1

As difficult as you may find it to sit down with a book, watching porn has never been easier. Pull your phone out of your pocket, a few clicks and swipes, and you’re there. Not to mention watching porn gives a FAR MORE intense rush than reading a book.

So how can reading a book compete with porn?

The Benefits of Reading

I believe, and an increasing number of info-weary readers with me, that relearning the discipline of reading books provides you with MASSIVE benefits. And these benefits directly translate into porn-fighting power.

Here’s how.

Reading rewires your brain.

In the past we’ve explored the way looking at porn rewires your brain—often with very damaging effects. As we might suspect, reading likewise rewires the brain.

However, whereas porn is associated with shrinking the decision-making centers of the brain, reading is positively associated with making new neurological connections, effectively expanding your mental capabilities.

“Scientists have uncovered the first evidence that intensive instruction to improve reading skills in young children causes the brain to physically rewire itself, creating new white matter that improves communication within the brain.”2

Numerous studies have shown how reading positively affects the brain.3 If you’re looking to cleanse your mind from years of watching porn, a good book might help.

Reading improves focus and clarity.

The practical corollary of “rewiring your brain” is improved mental clarity and focus. The more you exercise, the more exercise your body can do. Likewise, the more you read, the more clarity and focus available for reading.

One of the reasons digital porn causes so much damage is it feeds our natural instinct for “new and exciting.” The tendency is to just keep clicking and clicking, leaving the real world a fuzzy blur.

Plenty of habits can serve as a positive substitute for pornography—including a million distractions available on your phone or other digital devices. But few of these will train your mind for extended periods of concentration and focus like reading a good book.

Reading reduces stress.

Did you know that 30 minutes of reading can reduce your stress as much as 30 minutes of yoga? The stress-reducing benefits of yoga have been well-established. But in 2009 a group of researchers published these findings.4

Reading for just half an hour lowered stress-related symptoms. We’ve written before on the relationship between porn and stress. If you find stress driving you back to porn, make a goal of reading for a few minutes each day.  

Reading increases empathy.

Perhaps the most surprising way that reading helps overcome porn is through increased empathy. Specifically, reading fiction has been shown to train deeper emotional resonance with others.5

Researchers have noted that watching porn can result in decreased empathy. This manifests in seeing women as sexual objects, but some research shows that it can also desensitize people toward crimes of violence and other destructive behaviors.

When you take up a book—especially a novel—instead of pornography, you begin training your brain to empathize with other people again. C.S. Lewis once said that the real benefit of a book is that you see the world through another person’s perspective. Whereas porn shrinks your perspective to only see body parts and your own gratification, books will broaden your horizons.

Why are you still reading this? Go find a book.

I get it, digital habits die hard. Your phone is constantly calling to you. You probably have notifications on an app somewhere. Hugh McGuire faced similar challenges despite his love of reading, he made a few simple rules for himself:

  • Shut off all screens after dinner.
  • Remove smartphones and tablets from the bedroom.

There may be other tricks you can try, such as setting a timer for 30 minutes and reading for the duration. If you’ve got really bad internet-squirrel brain, you might want to try just 10 minutes at first. Whatever it takes, fight through the initial temptation to revert to digital distraction.

Final Thoughts on Reading

At Covenant Eyes, we always return to the importance of relationships. You can read solo, but it can also open up some wonderful avenues for relationships! Some of my deepest friendships have been formed by bonding over books. Joining a book club can be a positive reinforcement of your reading habit, and provide even more motivation to steer clear of pornography.

Additionally, if you are looking for ways to enrich your accountability relationships, add a book to the mix. Of course, we already mentioned the great books on fighting porn. But you may also benefit from reading something unrelated with your ally. Try a novel, for example, and discuss how the characters’ lives and actions relate to your own experiences.

Lastly, if your marriage has been damaged by porn, consider reading together with your spouse as a way of rebuilding intimacy. My wife and I read out loud to each other, and it’s a wonderful way to relax away from the constant distraction of our screens. It’s deepened the spiritual side of our relationship, as we’ve read the Bible together. And we’ve learned a lot together by reading books on parenting, nutrition, and a few novels.

Now, seriously, power down and grab yourself a book!


1 Hugh McGuire, “How Making Time for Books Made Me Feel Less Busy, Harvard Book Review, September 1, 2015. Accessed on October 5, 2022 at https://hbr.org/2015/09/how-making-time-for-books-made-me-feel-less-busy.

2 Carnegie Mellon University, “First evidence of brain rewiring in children: Reading remediation positively alters brain tissue,” ScienceDaily. Accessed October 4, 2022 at www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/12/091209121200.htm.

3 Gregory Berns, Kristina Blaine, Michael Prietula, and Brandon Pye, “Short- and Long-Term Effects of a Novel on Connectivity in the Brain,” Brain Connectivity (2013): 590-600. http://doi.org/10.1089/brain.2013.0166.

4 Rebecca Joy Stanborough,”Benefits of Reading Books: How It Can Positively Affect Your Life,” Healthline, October 15, 2019. Accessed October 5, 2022 at https://www.healthline.com/health/benefits-of-reading-books.

5 P. Matthijs Bal ,Martijn Veltkamp, “How Does Fiction Reading Influence Empathy? An Experimental Investigation on the Role of Emotional Transportation,” PLoS ONE 8 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0055341.

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