Heather Berube and her husband, Eric, find joy in their five children and one grandson. As a travel consultant for almost 20 years, she loves to travel and explore with her family and help others do the same. Heather grew up on the West Coast and has served in various music and teaching capacities as well as Young Women and Relief Society presidencies, and ward and stake Primary presidencies. She loves learning and currently serves as a Service Coordinator in South Jordan, Utah.
The discussion of pornography can stir up difficult experiences and emotions in those affected by its use. I do not wish in any way to minimize the pain and damage that a struggle with pornography creates for those working to overcome, and for a spouse and/or loved ones. From circumstances in my family and extended family, I understand the impacts of pornography, betrayal trauma, and the additional harm that can come from resulting attitudes and behaviors.
My intent is to share ways to shine the Savior’s light into the darkness of pornography use, to help build hope and healing by reducing shame, increasing the understanding and compassion we can offer, as well as testifying of the Savior’s grace. Hope and healing are possible as one draws on the power of Jesus Christ and his healing Atonement.
A quick search of “pornography” on churchofjesuschrist.org yields some recent links along with some older, less optimistic ones relevant to the church’s current position. I cannot speak to this as an expert in any way, only as one who seeks to love and encourage others in their journey. Therefore, I am simply sharing and directly quoting very current, hope-filled resources from church leaders, church publications, and church members who are respected experts in the field.
Jill Manning is a licensed marriage and family therapist who specializes in pornography addiction and recovery. Manning — who in addition to her clinical work is a researcher, author, consultant, speaker, and activist — noted that it is a diverse group of individuals who struggle with this issue. She stated, “I cannot deny the predominant patterns and correlations that my colleagues and I see and that will apply to many.’
In a Church News Article, Manning identified the following five characteristics that apply to many who struggle with pornography use:
- The first characteristic is a lack of education about healthy sexuality and marital intimacy.
- The second characteristic is pornography use was normalized by someone in their family or social circle. Those who are addicted to pornography often have someone in their family or social circle — a parent, a sibling, a cousin, a close friend, someone in their sphere — who normalized pornography use, Manning said. ‘And the way that lands for them is they erroneously believe that makes it OK; if this person that I love and trust is involved in this, then is OK.’
- Third, Manning has observed that mental health issues are often intertwined with the problem of pornography addiction. In response, these issues should be identified and treated. ‘One study actually found that 75% of those that are struggling with compulsive pornography use have one or more mental health issues that have never been properly diagnosed or treated,’ Manning said. Some of the most common mental health issues could include ADHD, depression and anxiety, bipolar disorder, chemical dependency, impulse control disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder or attachment disorders.
- The fourth characteristic of those who struggle with a pornography addiction is that they had access to pornography.
- The fifth characteristic in those struggling with pornography addiction is the vast majority have experienced trauma of some kind in their background, said Manning. In response, families should promote healing.
Many who deal with pornography addiction have experienced significant trauma — including physical, sexual, or emotional abuse or neglect or something that interrupted the ability to process emotions appropriately in healthy ways, she said. These types of traumas create vulnerability to get sucked into the influence of pornography, which becomes a way to regulate emotions, escape stress or self-soothe loneliness, she added. ‘We should encourage those who need help to heal those traumas and get the support that they need.’
Dr Cameron Staley, a psychologist and member of the Church, shares that often when pornography addiction programs don’t achieve the desired result, one of the main reasons is an over focus on the ‘symptom’ of pornography viewing instead of addressing the underlying problem, not because individuals lack will power or don’t know how to control sexual urges. In an LDS Living article Staley advises that, “Considering pornography as a symptom, and then identifying what’s generating that symptom, can help individuals move forward.”
In her article, “Shame v. Guilt”, Brene Brown defines shame …as the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging – something we’ve experienced, done, or failed to do makes us unworthy of connection. So does shame drive porn, or does porn drive shame?
An excellent article in the New Era, “5 Things Worth Knowing About Pornography,” by David Edwards, this question is answered by explaining:
“The shame cycle is one of the adversary’s tools to keep people trapped. Viewing or reading pornographic media may bring temporary pleasure, but shortly afterward come feelings of guilt. These feelings are normal, because every person has been given a conscience, or the Light of Christ, so that we can know good from evil (see Moroni 7:16). Those who have the gift of the Holy Ghost have His warning voice, and they notice when He withdraws. But Satan tries to get us to either dull our spiritual sensitivity or transform our healthy feelings of guilt into destructive feelings of shame.
The difference between guilt and shame comes down to its focus. Guilt is focused on our relationship with God. The scriptures call it “godly sorrow,” which “worketh repentance to salvation” (2 Corinthians 7:10). It’s a good thing because it can lead to real change. Shame, on the other hand, is focused on self—self-image, self-regard, and what others think of us—rather than on how to draw closer to God. Instead of thinking, “I did something bad; I need to repent,” we think, “I’m a bad person, and I can’t change, and nobody could ever love me, including God, so I may as well stop trying.” That’s the cycle: sin can lead to shame, which can lead to self-loathing and despair, which can lead to continued sin.
The shame cycle can be especially strong with pornography. For example, one symptom of shame is embarrassment, which can lead people to hide what they’ve done, including (or perhaps especially) from [a spouse], parents, siblings, and priesthood leaders. That’s what Satan wants. He doesn’t want a pornography user to get help and repent. He wants to keep them trapped, and the shame cycle is one of his best tools for doing just that.”
The shame that comes from pornography is “a paralyzing self-loathing that stops all forward motion with its insistent repetition that we are unworthy failures at the very core.”
It can be easy to get caught up in a cycle of using pornography and shaming yourself. However, you are a son or daughter of God, and you have infinite worth. You’re never beyond the help of Jesus Christ and His Atonement. When you make mistakes, it doesn’t mean that you are a bad person. As Elder Dale G. Renlund taught, ‘God cares a lot more about who we are becoming than about the mistakes we have made’.
Because judgmental and insensitive questions can stir up feelings of shame, here are some examples of what not to say to someone struggling with pornography:
- You know it’s wrong, right?
- You could get over it if you prayed (or read your scriptures, attended meetings, or simply tried) more.
- It’s ok—lots of members struggle with it. • Just stop thinking about it.
- You know you could lose your job or get divorced.
Sharon Eubank shared that “Shame hinders progress and healing and needs to be reduced as much as possible when having conversations about pornography.”
Elder Anthony D. Perkins in his 2017 Southern Utah UCAP keynote address so aptly stated: We need to strive for homes and places of worship that are shame-free zones. Jesus Christ never shamed anyone, anywhere, anytime — EVER.
Addict, Addicted or Addiction
Some may think that the labels of addict and addiction are helpful in motivating change. However, for many who are working to overcome pornography, these words can feel less than empowering and can evoke more shame. Experts can’t seem to agree on whether or not pornography use can even be defined as an addiction as noted on Wikipedia: Pornography addiction is an addiction model of compulsive sexual activity with concurrent use of pornographic material, despite negative consequences to one’s physical, mental, social, or financial well-being. However, neither the DSM-5 nor the ICD-11 classify compulsive pornography consumption as a mental disorder or addiction.
“About ten years ago, I began studying the effects of pornography on individuals and relationships. I heard claims all my life about how dangerous, destructive, and addicting pornography was for individuals and families. So I set out to be the first researcher to prove that unwanted pornography viewing was an addiction. But I was wrong…and so were a lot of others. I was stunned when our neurological research in the laboratory did NOT support the belief that unwanted pornography viewing was an addiction. The more I studied the more I realized there were many well-meaning clinicians offering addiction-based treatment for a problem that isn’t even classified as an addiction.
Many people label themselves as “addicted” to pornography. I caution you to not take on that label incorrectly. Most young people who struggle with pornography are actually not addicted. And incorrectly using this label may make it harder to end pornography use because of the shame, decreased hope, and self-loathing that comes with it.”
On the church’s Addressing Pornography website, we read that many people who struggle with pornography may label themselves as addicted. This label can be harmful and misleading if it isn’t true.
“…it is important not to label even intensive or habitual use of pornography as an addiction because that does not accurately describe the circumstances or the full nature of the required repentance and recovery. Having a better understanding of where a person is in the process will also allow a better understanding of what action is necessary to recover.”
Elder Dallin H. Oaks continues with
“…a word regarding how we treat those who have been ensnared by pornography. All of us need the Atonement of Jesus Christ. Those struggling with pornography need our compassion and love as they follow needed principles and steps of recovery. Please do not condemn them. They are not evil or without hope. They are sons and daughters of our Heavenly Father. Through proper and complete repentance, they may become clean, pure, and worthy of every covenant and temple blessing promised by God.
Being Unkind Is Never Justified: Sometimes the knowledge that pornography is evil can bleed into our perceptions of others. I know it did mine at one point. When I was younger, I would hear about people who struggled with pornography and my internal reaction would be anger and even disgust. But when my friend told me about her struggles, I was in a better place to comfort her because I had grown more aware of my own sins and weaknesses over the years.”
I’d like to conclude with a closing thought from Elder Dallin H. Oaks about the importance of a close, personal relationship with our Savior:
“Throughout our lives, all of us will encounter material with sexual content. With the guidance of our loving Savior, including the assurance from the sacramental covenants that we may always have his Spirit to be with us (see D&C 20:77), we can always respond appropriately. I testify that this is what we should do to enjoy the blessings of Him whom we worship. As we do, we will more fully receive the peace of the Savior and we will remain on the path to our eternal destiny of exaltation.”
From the Church’s website, we learn that: “Grace is the divine help or strength extended to us through the Atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ. Through the grace of God, everyone who has lived will be resurrected—our spirits will be reunited with our bodies, never again to be separated. Through His grace, the Lord also enables those who live His gospel to repent and be forgiven. Grace is a gift from Heavenly Father given through His Son, Jesus Christ. The word grace, as used in the scriptures, refers primarily to enabling power and spiritual healing offered through the mercy and love of Jesus Christ.
Everyone on earth experiences physical death. Through the grace of Jesus Christ, all will be resurrected and will live forever (see 1 Corinthians 15:20–22; 2 Nephi 9:6–13). Because of personal choices, everyone also experiences the effects of sin (see 1 John 1:8–10; Mosiah 16:4). These effects are called spiritual death. No one can return to the presence of God without divine grace. Through the Atonement, we all can be forgiven of our sins; we can become clean before God. To receive this enabling power, we must obey the gospel of Jesus Christ, which includes having faith in Him, repenting of our sins, being baptized, receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost, and trying to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ for the rest of our lives (see Ephesians 2:8–9; James 2:17–22; 2 Nephi 25:23; 31:20).
The grace of God helps us every day. It strengthens us to do good works we could not do on our own. The Lord promised that if we humble ourselves before Him and have faith in Him, His grace will help us overcome all our personal weaknesses (see Ether 12:27).
Believe in the Savior’s Healing Power: Jesus Christ can help you in the growing process of repentance, and He has the power to enable you as you strive to overcome pornography. He understands how you feel and is waiting to take that burden from you. Don’t think that turning to Him adds to His burden. He has already paid the price for you. Instead, do your best, come closer to the Savior, and ask Him to help you heal, to change your desires, and to give you more strength to move forward.”
“As we continually strive to overcome our challenges, God will bless us with the gifts of faith to be healed and of the working of miracles. He will do for us what we are not capable of doing for ourselves.”
As we transform our thinking and conversations around pornography for ourselves and for our brothers and sisters, we can find and point the way to power and redemption through the grace of our Savior, Jesus Christ. Part 2 of this article will focus on building community and support for all who are affected by pornography use by offering connection, empathy, and hope. May our strivings reflect Elder Soares wise counsel as we seek to become our best self and treat our sisters and brothers with charity and encouragement as they seek to do the same