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Defeat Lust & Pornography 9 minute read

Jay Stringer’s 3 Key Predictors of Porn Use

Last Updated: May 18, 2022

What if I told you that your use of pornography could reveal your way to healing? As a licensed mental health counselor and ordained minister, I’ve seen firsthand that sexual brokenness is the stage through which the work of redemption can play out in our lives. Although we are prone to hiding or despising our pornography use, I invite you to the counterintuitive path of curiosity. The journey to freedom from pornography involves the humility to recognize there is far more you do not understand about why you use it.

I recently completed research on over 3,600 men and women struggling with unwanted sexual behavior, be that pornography, an affair, buying sex, etc. I found that the sexual fantasies, porn searches, and sexual behaviors we pursue are not random. They are a direct reflection of the parts of our story–past and present–that remain unaddressed. If you want to find freedom from pornography, you must identify the reasons that bring you to it.

Related: What Your Sexual Fantasies (Might) Say About You

Perhaps you’ve found yourself not able to turn off your allure to porn. If so, a far more beneficial approach to recovery than combating lust is to focus on the themes that drive and necessitate your use of pornography. Until these themes are transformed, you will find yourself in the same, pernicious cycle of pornography use. So who watches porn? Here are three major themes that predicted pornography use from men and women in my research.

Those with a Lack of Purpose

There was a very predictable increase in pornography viewing for men who experienced a lack of purpose in their life. The main takeaway is porn appeals to men who do not know who they are or do not know how to get what they most deeply desire. If you lack purpose in your life or you feel an acute sense of paralysis in your career, pornography can easily become an incessant squatter in your life.

Futility and lack of purpose are opposite sides of the same coin. In Genesis 3, the curse for a man is that everything he does will be characterized by futility. Genesis 3:17 -19 (NLT) states the curse for a man: “All your life you will struggle to scratch a living from it. It will grow thorns and thistles for you…By the sweat of your brow you will have food to eat until you return to the ground from which you were made.” Men intuitively know that even in their greatest seasons of accomplishment and connection, there will be a looming sense that it will all fade away. Futility is the ominous experience that whatever we attempt to build will inevitably fail, crumble, or be surpassed.

It is against the backdrop of futility that pornography seduces men. Pornography is appealing precisely because it creates a world without thorns or thistles.¹ Only requiring you to bring your lack of purpose, your futility, and your disappointment, porn will give you a world where, for a moment, it all goes away. The madness of pornography use is that it appeals disproportionately to men who lack purpose and identity. When these men attempt to find freedom from porn, they inevitably fail because they attempt to maneuver through life without their most dependable getaway car. Their failure then becomes further evidence that they are consigned to a lifetime of futility.

Those Who Experienced Sexual Abuse

The heaviest consumers of pornography in my research had 8% higher rates of past sexual abuse compared to those who did not watch porn or moderately consumed it. As awful as it might sound, trust is the paradoxical foundation of sexual abuse. The majority of people who have known sexual abuse were groomed by someone they knew–their parent, brother, sister, babysitter, neighbor, or pastor. Trust sets up the diabolical impact of abuse–the same person that ushers us into sexual arousal (which may include the introduction of pornography) and sexual shame is also the one who delights in us, connects with us, and pursues us.

Perpetrators of sexual abuse are aware that their victims likely come from dysfunctional family systems. They carefully position themselves as the antidote for the harm, neglect, or boredom a child is experiencing. The madness of sexual abuse is that the initial relationship feels so right before it begins to feel so wrong. They may comment on how strong your arm is, how nice your outfit looks, or invite you to a privileged position within a group of friends. These initial moments of praise and attention set the stage for future sexual abuse.

Later in life, pornography becomes appealing because it recreates some of the original sexual experiences established in the sexual abuse. In porn, like abuse, we feel bonded and aroused by the same material that also ushers us into sexual shame and secrecy. Many people who have histories of sexual abuse often devote a lifetime to combatting pornography at the cost of healing the harmful sexual template established in abuse.

Those Who Feel Shame

The more you feel shame, the more porn you will watch. It might sound obvious that shame drives pornography use, but the stagger power of it may alarm you–men in my sample were nearly 300x more likely to pursue pornography for each unit of shame they felt about their behavior. Women were 546x more likely to increase their porn use depending on the level of shame they experienced. It has to be said, shame, not pleasure, drives pornography use. As a clinician and researcher I am convinced of this reality: we are bonded to shame and judgment, far more than to erotic material.

Related: Silence–The Sound of Female Sexual Shame

When we experience shame, it attempts to convince us that we are unwanted. In response, we pursue behaviors that confirm it. Although contemporary addiction thinking is that we go to pornography for escape or medication, I’ve found that men and women pursue pornography for the purpose of judgment. We intuitively know that each time we indulge in pornography, we will feel less lovely and connected. Therefore, our pursuit of pornography is intended to convince us that the holy longings of our heart will never come to pass. Knowing our hope has been compromised, we experience shame.

Related: Destroying Porn Addiction Starts With Destroying Shame

Most of us attempt to hide or run from our shame. Herein lies the problem: shame’s power is so often derived from our flight from it. This sets us up to live as prey to shame rather than take authority of our life. The antidote to shame is to turn towards it by telling others the places where we harbor it. In the scriptures, the presence of God and the transforming power of the Spirit are most often found in places of weakness and shame. Why would it be any different for us? Sexual shame can be the geography for the arrival of God.

Pornography Reveals Our Way to Healing

Pornography reveals your sin, but far more, it reveals the themes of your life that God is relentlessly committed to transforming within you. In this way our sexual struggles are messengers. You may not like the news they bring, but they will continue to knock on the door of your heart until you listen to what they are attempting to tell you. Rather than exclusively focusing on saying ‘no’ to pornography, learn to say ‘yes’ to purpose, ‘yes’ to healing the harm of abuse, and ‘yes’ to turning to face your shame.

Resources and investments for your journey:

  1. Get a free chapter of my upcoming book, Unwanted: How Sexual Brokenness Reveals Our Way to Healing.
  2. For lack of purpose: Watch this TEDx talk “How to be more powerful than powerless,” based on a ten-year research study by Ron Carucci. Most of us vastly underestimate the power we have in our lives. If career paralysis or confusion is present in your life, check out the work of Liminal Space to guide you through career transitions.
  3. For healing sexual abuse: Register for the Allender Center’s e-course on sexual abuse. Use the promo code COVENANT for $50 off their course. Dr. Dan Allender is an expert in understanding the harm of sexual abuse and the path to healing.
  4. For beginning to explore sexual shame: Watch the film The Heart of Man (or read the guidebook). Through magisterial storytelling and stunning imagery, we see that sexual shame is not a barrier, but a bridge to healing.

Start Your Journey to Freedom

To help men and women on the recovery road, Stringer, The Heart of Man movie, and Covenant Eyes are working together to provide support. Journey Into the Heart of Man with Jay Stringer provides a five-month course that includes inspiring presentations, a self- assessment for people to see how their story shapes their sexual choices, and exercises to bring change. Stringer said, “Just as our sexual brokenness is not random, our journey to freedom is not either. In the Journey Into the Heart of Man, I wanted to equip accountability partners, small groups, and faith communities in a way they have not been equipped before to find healing.”

The recovery journey takes time and focus…to grow, learn, have fun, explore, and discover. How long? Stringer said most of his clients find freedom in two to five years. That doesn’t mean they are acting out during that time, but it takes time to shake off the debris of the past and live free.

Start Your Freedom Journey Today

This post contains affiliate links. Covenant Eyes receives a portion of the profits of purchases made as a result of the links above.


¹I am indebted to Dr. Allender for this insight into futility and pornography.

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  1. Kris

    God does work wonders in mysterious ways but we are also so very blessed and worthy of our many challenges in life! The Holy Bible and Christian music has helped me so far through my personal problems and has given me wisdom and strength and much love and blessings

  2. Patrick

    In your research was there any connection between porn use and people that were adopted? I was adopted as an infant and I’ve struggled with a porn addiction for the past 15 years. It has caused major damage both financially and emotionally in my marriage. While I wasn’t sexually abused as a child, I was physically. I’ve dealt with major issues of shame and lack of purpose. I’ve been able to fool myself by being able to not watch it for a week or 10 days but I inevitably stumble and go back watching. I want to love the life God intended for me to live and I’m grateful for this resource.

  3. Wendy

    I never thought I would be dealing with a porn/sexual addiction, serial adultery and bisexuality in my marriage to my husband. I started out fully trusting, believing the best, loving and desiring to honor God, but early this year I started to understand that my entire marriage was based on a lie. My husband who deceived from the beginning, lived a double life and hid it so well for years. Deep down I knew things were not right, looking back there were red flags, but anytime I tried to seek out help I was told to submit, cook his favorite meals, build him up, encourage him and that would help. Four counselors later (he chose to quit every single one), I realized that he was going to remain unwilling to seek out healing. He fits all three criteria above, lack of purpose, childhood sexual abuse and shame. I truly have a lot of empathy for him on one hand, I imagine that little boy being abused and hurt, and my heart hurts for that part of him. Its been like trying to put together a puzzle and as the pieces have been put into place down through the years it now makes a clearer picture. Blame is a big part of his coping mechanism, and another reason why he won’t accept help, he truly doesn’t seem to see a need. I played the role of a good scape goat, giving more, trying harder, laying my life down and doing my part to work on me. I cried out to God for many years, confused, heart broken, full of fear and thinking if only I could do better things would be better. One of the biggest blessing through all of the pain and agony is that I have had the pleasure of knowing God in a way I never would have experienced Him otherwise. I have felt His love and presence, His protection, and provision. I have seen Him supernaturally carrying me and my children through all of this. He has led me to work on healing for myself. I have learned that having better boundaries is not wrong, but good and right. With my husband also being unofficially diagnosed with NPD, this was a struggle due to manipulative verbal and emotional abuse. My mind had to be renewed to overcome the lies thrown at me daily. I know now that my marriage is not salvageable due to the unrepentant sin, but I am grateful that God has poured out His grace and mercy and I have been able to forgive, be free from bitterness, and pray for his repentance. Someday I pray he will read articles like this and repent and truly begin healing. I now know I have done my part and feel at peace. I am grateful for Covenant Eyes and the tools they provide to monitor, educate and protect my children.

  4. Ken Darrow

    First a little background, I am 72 and been into porn since my teens. Not really knowing why except I liked the feeling. 6 months ago my wife saw me looking at porn and indulging in self pleasure and it has been a roller coaster between my lying (trying to protect her or so I thought) and the healing process. It has not been easy especially for my wife and her relentless pursuit of the truth. She shoul have been a detective. At my lowest point I broke down in a pastor’s office and came clean, the second best thing I ever did. The first of course was finally telling my wife everything.
    I can honestly say I cannot find what drove me to porn except my teenage hormones and then just realizing the high one received with a climax. Yes I am ashamed that I participated in this sin for so many years but I am so glad I have been clean for the past six months. My mind has never been clearer.
    My wife and I are still working through some issues and just pray that she knows how much I love her. This sin is so selfish we do not think about how it affects the ones we love.

    • Dan Armstrong

      Your story is inspiring!

  5. Greg Boldon

    Greg

    I had prostate cancer surgery six years ago. The doctor took not only my prostate but all ability to share sex with my wife. I still, however, feel a strong sexual libido and find myself succumbing to temptations to view pornography even I have no chance to “finish what my mind starts.”
    I am fortunate to a have an extremely strong willed wife who has stood by my side and not pressured me for sex, Of course I couldn’t respond even though my mind wants to take action. Our love has grown stronger. I however, seen porn even though I know it is destroying me from the inside out. I desperately need some direction. Thank you.

    • Chris McKenna

      Hello, Greg – man, what a difficult situation. I can’t even begin to imagine the struggle you must be experiencing. Does your wife know that you watch pornography? I’m not going to pass any judgment here. You know what Covenant Eyes stands for as a company who wants to help people live porn-free, so obviously, I’m going to prefer that everyone who I speak to will choose to not look. But, the choice is ultimately yours, as a couple. Even if she knows, I believe porn will eventually erode the non-sexual intimacy that you’re currently experiencing with your wife, as it vies for more and more of your attention (it’s just so darn progressive – from your comment, it sounds like you’re already experiencing some of this). Again, I’m trying to share information and leave the condemnation at the door – that’s my true intent. In those moments where the libido feels strong, are there any activities that you can pivot toward to redirect? Are you seeking counseling for the some of the grieving you might be feeling for the loss of manhood and intimacy you used to experience? I don’t have any silver bullet solutions. But, I am empathetic and truly hope you can find a solution.

      Regards,
      Chris

  6. Mark

    Thanks for this article. I recognized that the main problem in my life is the purpose of my work, life… And that second issue for me is the shame. But i do not know if i have to tell to the friend of mine who knows about my addiction on pornography about my shame. Shame which roots are in pornograpy using. If i should tell him all details what i was looking, seeking on the internet. Or what i tried to do throught webcams, videochat…etc. Please give me an advices if this is really nessecary to tell him about all of that. It this means the true accountability. Because i know that i need to have the accountability partner. Thanks for your answer.
    Thank you Covenant Eyes for your filtering, advices, articles and e-books.
    English is not my mother tongue. But i can speak and read of course in english.
    Btw i am from Europe….Middle EU, Slovakia. (maybe you know Czecho-Slovakia before 1993).
    Have a nice day and be blessed by the God Almighty :-)

    • Chris McKenna

      Hi, Mark – I’m always going to be a fan of coming clean on everything. I think this quote is pretty powerful, “The man who can keep a secret may be wise. But he is not half as wise as the man who has no secrets to keep.” E.W. Howe. Scripturally, we are called to live as children of light in Ephesians 5. Secrets own us. Haunt us. Tempt us. Don’t give it that power! I hope you find to courage to speak openly.

      Warmly,
      Chris

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