Sunday, August 28, 2011


I was at a meeting of men, and during the discussion, one man said “Yeah, guys run to pornography as a way to seek intimacy.” Everyone nodded. Internally I thoroughly disagreed. At least in my experience it is exactly the opposite. I have many friends who are married and going through problems, relational problems with wives due to various reasons (money, children, family, travel, working too much, etc. I do believe all these have a common root). Contrary to what was said, many of these friends have sought pornography as a way to experience pleasure while avoiding intimacy. It’s actually easier to engage with a relationally fictional image or movie and please yourself than to engage with this woman with whom you do not agree, this woman with whom you are fighting, this woman with whom (dare I say) you are not loving? Rather they seem to be avoiding intimacy, because intimacy is hard.

Porneuo. It’s from the Greek. And it means “I fornicate.” Porne and pornea means prostitute and prostitution. Lately I’ve dived into the dark underworld of pornography. I say dark, but acknowledge that many people see it as neutral or good.

“There’s one thing about me that ruins my chances of being with any woman. And that’s pornography.” I have a friend who is struggling with pornography and his apathy over his addiction. He actually feels bad because he doesn’t really care about changing. So I hear I go, again. I step In the gap and offer to struggle alongside him and fight with him.

The first thing I told him is that he does care. And that’s the first step. You see, he doesn’t care about his addiction to pornography but he does care about the fact that he doesn’t care. If he did not, there would be no internal struggle with his apathy. It’s one level removed, but it’s a start. He doesn’t know why he doesn’t care, but he doesn’t like it. He’s said he doesn’t like it, and that’s caring about his apathy over his use of pornography.

He also comes from a perspective of wanting to wait for marriage, but his problem is that he doesn’t believe there is anyone out there for him, so if he’s not getting married why not get all he can now—pornography with masturbation, prostitution, etc.? Why not?

The problem, of course, with the thinking is that he comes from some in-built presumption that he will get married or that everyone does. So the notion of “waiting for marriage” assumes marriage when in reality not everyone gets married. And even within his religious tradition, though it’s not promoted, singlehood is promoted as a viable option (by Jesus and Paul). But saving something for a state (sex for marriage) which may not be his future does not work well with him. And I understand; his thinking makes sense. That’s why I don’t like the phrase “save for marriage,” at least not for him. It’s causing problems in this space.

What’s a better way forward for him is how to have healthy expressions of sexuality no matter your state single or married, so that you are not holding out for something that may never come. Healthy expressions of sexuality don’t imply anything (i.e. sex) other than what it says. In fact, I have a men’s group that I meet with and this is a point I try to highlight because too often in most groups (religious or non-religious) I see that we, as people, swing one way—to the body or to the spirit.

We have a body and are therefore like animals (as Rob Bell might say). But animals have sex with no meaning. They have sex at certain times and in certain seasons (excluding a select few like dolphins) and then they stop. As soon as sex is over that’s it. There’s no attempt to attach meaning, extrapolate, prognosticate, or deeply and profoundly bond (now this is a broad generalization, as zoologists can show examples of bonding). Many people lean this way “We ain’t nothing but animals. So why don’t we do it like they do it on the Discovery Channel.” The problem is that we are more than “animals” in that sense. And we run into problems when we act like animals on the Discovery Channel.

We also have a spirit. And as humans, actions and interactions have meanings and re-meanings. So with a spirit we are like spirit-beings or like angels (or the concept of angels). The problem here, of course, is that angels have no bodies, physical cravings for food (need), water (need), sex (want), shelter from the elements. So angels can ignore such things and deal only with higher meanings and connection with God. The problem, of course, is that we have bodies. We’re sexual beings and run into problems when we act like angels. (i.e. a man waiting for marriage can still find healthy ways to express desire of his beloved without sex or getting as close to it as possible, but without some healthy expression problems will arise in the heart and mind of the woman as to why this man doesn’t desire her; it’s like my female friend waiting for marriage said to me “I want a man who won’t have sex with me but I want him to want to have sex with me.”)

So we’re caught in the tension of both. In so many areas, as humans we’re explicitly unique in that we live at the nexus, in the intersection, in the tension of two overlapping regimes—in this case, spirituality and physicality. So in many groups I’m a part of, including my men’s group, people swing one way or the other, or I’ve seen groups pray to be released from the desires of one—body or spirit. Far better than the release from one, is learning the art of living in the tension, being comfortable with the discomfort. That’s what it means to be human.

So my aim with my friend is not to remove the desire, but rather to keep it, honor it, and learn how to live with his desire healthily. I do not advocate a paradigm of avoidance or resistance. Resistance doesn’t work; it’s much easier to avoid something if you’re never able to do it in the first place (easier to flee from a temptation than to resist it). Avoidance is messy, as well, because one may always linger or come back to that which one avoids if given leisure. Replacement is more powerful.

But this world of pornography is intimidating to me. Its hold is other-worldly. The percentage of men involved is in the 90’s, no matter if they are religious adherents or not, political leaders or not, schoolteachers or not, adults or teenagers. It’s everywhere. Luckily there are tools to help with computers and websites and programs. The only problem is that such extreme work (breaking a habit) calls for extreme action. After all, repeated thoughts become actions; repeated actions become habits; repeated habits, lifestyles. So it takes time to change a lifestyle or (my favorite word) replace old habits with new habits (not just avoid old habits—they’re habits after all). But the person must be willing. In the case of my friend, we have to make some changes to his computers in the meantime while changing habits. We’ll see if he’s ready for this first part.

We’ll see if I’m ready. The number one thing this teaches me is that no one is above temptation of something. In other words you never outgrow the need to deal with temptation, and anything—any lifestyle, any habits, any actions, any thoughts—I see around me is something it’s quite possible for me to engage.

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