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Covenant Eyes: Who Watches Porn? 3 Key Predictors of Porn Use

Jay Stringer looks at 3 common reasons people watch porn and how identifying these predictors can help people heal.

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.

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 546xmore 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.

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.

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.

About the author, Jay Stringer

A licensed mental health counselor and ordained minister, Jay Stringer has spent the last decade working on the frontlines of the demand for pornography and sexual exploitation. Stringer holds an MDiv and Master in Counseling Psychology from the Seattle School of Theology and Psychology and received post-graduate training under Dr. Patrick Carnes and Dr. Dan Allender. Jay's first book, Unwanted: How Sexual Brokenness Reveals Our Way to Healing, will be released in the fall of 2018. His book includes original research on over 3,600 men and women struggling with pornography. Visit Jay's website to download a free chapter. Follow Jay on Twitter: @_jaystringer