Pornography Addiction

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Man creates a world according to his own image and it is pleasurable, captivating, seductive, but addictive. This behavior has disastrous consequences for the individual, family and society at large. The prevalence of pornography addiction and “cyber-love” are truly alarming and underestimated because of their “private” character. Corrupted worldview, perverted lust, social isolation, addictive cyber-sex are just different faces of the same problem, which can lead to disrupted families, social handicaps and personal dissatisfaction. This article is meant to bring a fresh perspective on pornography addiction and to offer an Orthodox Perspective on recovery options.


Some relevant Numbers

According to the Internet Filter Review website, “Porn revenue is larger than all combined revenues of all professional football, baseball and basketball franchises.”[1] The same source cites that out of the total search requests made in one day, 25 percent of them are pornographic in nature . According to Robert Weiss, 60 percent of all the visits on the Internet involve a sexual purpose.[2] Mike Genung is an ex-sex addict, who now maintains a website aimed against pornography and who presents detailed and yet disturbing pornography statistics.[3] With 12 billion a year in United States and 57 billion worldwide, the porn industry is one of the leading industries and by far the most profitable industry considering the balance between initial investment and revenue. In 2000, 60 percent of all websites were sexual in nature and these numbers grew proportionally with the Internet expansion.

Currently, according to Family Safe Media, the average age of first Internet exposure to pornography is 11 years old![4] Most of the 90 percent of 8-16 year olds having viewed porn online was while doing homework, which leads to another painful statistic: the largest consumer of Internet pornography id the 12-17 age groups.[5]

How did we end up here?

In his Harvard address, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn offers a critical and analytical perspective on today’s Western civilization and he traces its evolution (or rather regress) to the Renaissance period, which represents the birth of rationalistic humanism or humanistic autonomy . By removing any sense of responsibility toward God, the development of society became more and more materialistic and anthropocentric. “Freedom was given to the individual conditionally, in the assumption of his constant religious responsibility .”(Solzhenitsyn, Aleksandr. “A World Split Apart” P.4) Without this, the conscience of society is numbed by the spiritual mediocrity and unable to respond to human decadence. In this kind of society, we will find people like Anthony D’Amato, famous legal theorist, who praises pornography for its educational role in society and claims that access to pornography caused a significant decrease in the number of rapes in the United States (D’Amato, Anthony. “Porn Up, Rape Down”) (if only for a second, you are tempted to believe it, I recommend you to read: “Dangerous Relationships: Pornography, misogyny and rape” by Russell, D.E.H 1998, in which he proves that violent pornography often promotes and eroticizes rape as a sexual act that is enjoyed and/or desired by females ).

In this kind of society, 38 percent of all adults and 70 percent of non-religious adults think that pornography is “morally acceptable .” [6] The consequences are inevitable. Replying to the question: “How many porn addicts are in the Church,” Chuck Swindoll said: “The most recent studies available suggest that one out of every two people-that's 50 percent of the people sitting in our pews, are looking at and/or could be addicted to Internet pornography… Truth be told, that statistic could be even higher… .”[7] Now, this is alarming!

Lack of prompt ethical social response

Pornography and other related derailed online activities were the result of "unlimited freedom," people enjoyed online. It was a social movement toward moral decay. In this case, the solution lays in the problem: thought education and popular campaigns, people are aware of the dangers and develop an authentic ethic social response.


When dealing with couples, we see both unity and diversity. The very nature of a couple consists of a person, who freely has chosen to share his/her life with another human being. This decision leads to a commitment and eventually it is blessed and sanctified by the Church in the Sacrament of Marriage. Both participants of the couple bring in marriage a significant load of knowledge, believes and life experiences; and sometimes addictions. Pornography addiction is one of the most subtle and yet dangerous, because of its private character. Genung presents cases of marriages, in which the husband managed to hide his pornography addiction for ten or even more years and only accidental events led to the painful realization of the problem. It secretly poisons a marriage and the effects can be devastating (in a later chapter of this paper I will address in detail its vicious effects on marriage)

The root of the problem lies in the individual primarily and only secondly in the life of marriage. One of the most dangerous myths is that single persons, who struggle with porn addiction, think to themselves: “I might have a problem, but it will go away once I am in a sexually active relationship/once I get married.” Therefore, I think it would be beneficial to the theme of the paper to spend some time on the issue of pornography at large.

How does Pornography Addiction affect the Couple?

Before answering this question, let us see what a healthy relation looks like. A healthy romantic relation should have the following characteristics: investment in the well-being of the loved one, respect, admiration, sexual desire, intimacy, commitment, exclusivity and understanding.(Bergner, R.M. & Bridges, A.J. (2002.)) Pornography addicts’ behavior have the exact opposite of all these characteristics: the beloved becomes secondary, as the addiction becomes primary; by objectifying women, the level of respect and admiration is diminished; as any other addiction, the addict develop a resistance to the material and is looking for more aggressive and “hardcore” elements,[8] which affects the intimacy and sexual desires in the couple. By showing interest in other persons of the opposite sex, commitment and exclusivity are broken as part of the marital act.

The negative effects presented above are mostly present in cases, in which the pornography addiction remains a secret. If it is shared with the spouse, it creates a very high level of distress, anger, rejection and can leave deep marks in the relationship. This is a quote from a letter from Mrs. Genung to her husband, an ex-pornography addict:

“It really flared my insecurities up. I measured myself up to other women 'in your eyes'. I was always trying to see what you'd find more attractive in others - where my flaws were. In the beginning of our marriage it was the worst. My insecurities plus your addiction equaled disaster.I watched porn movies a few times out of curiosity to see where I was lacking in bed. In a way it was self-torture. 'I wasn't good enough', 'I didn't measure up'. What was it that you were looking at or drawn to that I couldn't fill? I was constantly looking at women (probably more than you) to see if you'd notice her smaller waist, her bigger chest, her whatever… Your sex addiction ruined the little bit of self-esteem I had back then, and there wasn't much of it to begin with. It put me on guard for everything - I was afraid that if I wasn't "perfect" (whatever that is) you'd leave or stray… Today I still struggle with insecurity; I'm paranoid about any pictures that might be in something we might get in the mail, or even a magazine I might want to read. It’s not that I think you're going to go back to where you were, but that you'll see in that picture what you don't have in me.” [9]

On November 10, 2005 Jill C. [Manning] submitted a 52 page official testimony to the Family Subcommittee on the Constitution, in which he presents statistics and results of a much extended research work. The conclusions are in accordance with the example presented above. Some of the most important consequences of pornographic abuse by one of the partners include:

  • Decreased Sexual Satisfaction for both partners: the addict developed a resistance to normal sexual experiences and the spouse feels objectified: “ I am no longer a sexual person, but a sexual object to him…he is just using me as a warm body ”
  • Decreased Sexual Intimacy as a change in the meaning of sexual intercourse, which leads to unusual soliciting, self-centered behavior and blaming.
  • Financial Difficulties caused by costly sexual practices and by decreasing job security.
  • Decreased Self-Confidence of the partner and guilt of the addict

Marital Responsibility

Pornography addiction is no longer a personal problem. Sometimes, addicts say that is nobody’s business what they do in the darkness of their rooms and therefore it does not affect anybody. It is true that anybody can tell who has an alcohol addiction or drug abuse problem, but it is more difficult to tell if someone struggles with pornography addiction. But it is as dangerous as any other:

“It has been suggested by some of the pornography addiction hypothesis that pornography addicts should experience similar patterns of symptoms to those involved in physiological addiction to substances such as drugs or alcohol; for example, euphoria while taking the drugs, and physical and/or psychological problems when they attempt to quit, desensitization to the addictive substance, and the need to increase their dosage in order to maintain their euphoria. ” (Accessibility, Affordability and Anonymity are the three A-s which differentiates Internet pornography from other pornographic source in “Sexuality and the Internet: Surfing into the new millennium” Cyber Psychology & Behavior, 1(2) 181-187)

One of the characteristic of a marriage is the reciprocal responsibility of the partners’ physical and psychological well-being. Therefore, men and women, be watchful of this vice of your spouses as it poisons your marriage! Look out for symptoms that might point out a pornography addiction of your spouse. Do you feel that your partner is neglecting you and/or prefers the company of Internet? Has his/her world view changed in regards to interacting with or perceiving other people, especially of opposite sex? Is he/she more socially isolated and prefers to be alone? Does he/she experience loss of sexual desire or have unusual sexual demands? There are many signs for pornography addiction and we, as part of the couple, are responsible to be mindful and react accordingly. If you acknowledge the presence of addiction, do not blame yourself, seek help immediately and challenge her/him. But more importantly, love him/her even more! Probably, he/she experiences shame, guilt, and remorse. In a later chapter I will address the issue of recovery: from pastoral and professional perspective.


In chapter 27 of the book of Proverbs, we read: “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another. ” As Christians, we are called to see the people struggling with various addictions as sick and suffering fellow men and it is our responsibility to be that iron, which sharpens the iron. Especially if the one struggling is our spouse, we cannot turn away and abandon him or her. We are called to hate the sin, but love the sinner. The recovery process is very long and arduous, but with the appropriate tools, it is possible.

Hitting the Rock Buttom

One of the characteristics of a sex addiction is the tendency to isolation, secrecy and privacy. This can go on for years before it is revealed; and sometimes it is too late. There are three distinct instances when our intervention as pastors is requested:

1. When the addict comes upfront asking for help, when the spouse learned about the addiction or when we are the initiators. Ted Roberts talks about confronting the Christian congregation in matters as sex addictions: “I gave an altar call for people struggling with sexual issues. No one moved at first. Then, the dam broke and they lined up three to four deep at the altar. ” (Robertson, Ted: “Pure Desire”) This is a very bold attitude and I believe ineffective in our communities. However, we can send a clear message, in which we can destroy the two myths that keep addicts away from confronting their problems. “I am the only one fighting this” and “I am not hurting anybody. ”[[10]] Also, we have to provide a safe place where they can feel comfortable analyzing and efficiently fighting the addiction.

2. The second instance when a pastor is approached is when the spouse accidentally discovers the sex addiction of the husband and the situation, if handled wrongly creates a great marital distress. In earlier chapters, we have already discussed the consequences of various addictions on couples. So, here they are, the wife feeling betrayed, lied and cheated on, while the husband can experience feelings of guilt or still blinded by his passions, gets defensive or even blames the wife for his failures.

3. The third instance is the repentant addict seeking help. Have you ever read the Parable of the Prodigal Son as the story of an addict? Hieromonk Savatie Bastovoi proposes a new approach: the son enjoyed the riches of his father (marriage) until the day when he thought that it is not good enough; so, he left the house and really enjoyed his time away (the virtual world of easy pleasure and lust.) But, this consumed him until he had nothing to offer, and was a slave (the dark side of any addiction.) He ended up eating with the pigs; it was nothing human left in him (inability to see clearly; all women are sexual objects) As any addict he creates plans to avoid responsibility for his actions and does not trust the endless love of his father (an addict does not trust that his spouse can provide him with enough love and support to help him fight the passions.) Desperate, he comes to the priest for comfort and help .

These are three unfortunate cases, but still with chances of recovery. Now it is time for the Lord to act and the priest to become His healing hand. The priest has to asses the situation and to approach them adequately. He has to talk to them individually and as a couple. I would like to emphasize a point of tremendous importance: the wife is the victim and needs to be tending to, but she also plays an important role in the healing process, through forgiveness and loving attitude.

The Call to Genuine Repentance

The notion of repentance is often misused and in order to understand its true meaning, one needs the guidance of a spiritual father. In our Orthodox faith, unlike Western understanding, repentance does not have a legalistic perspective. It is, indeed, “an act of reconciliation, of reintegration into the Body of Christ, which has been torn asunder by sin,” [] but it is so much more. Repentance should also not be limited to remorse about an evil deed, nor to feeling sorry about hurting somebody. This is the beginning of a long process; repentance is not an instance, but a process. “The Greek term for repentance, μετανοια, denotes a change of mind, a reorientation, a fundamental transformation of outlook, of man's vision of the world and of himself, and a new way of loving others and God. ” Saint John Chrysostom says: “it is necessary to repent, not merely for one or two days, but throughout one's whole life .” (De Compunctione I, i PG 4,7:395 and I, ix :408)

With these in mind, how can an addict benefit from true repentance? As in other addiction interventions, the pastor could experience a certain degree of resistance from the addict. This is caused by the biological neural structure as a consequence of prolonged exposure to exciting factors and should not discourage the process. The first step is trust in the priest and the spouse can play an important role in building this trusting relationship.

The addict’s worldview is altered by his addiction: women are objectified; notions like intimacy, vulnerability, self-esteem and self-offering are perverted; everything evolves around him. Therefore, the true “metanoia” represents a complete change of the worldview. Addiction is a process and repentance is also a process, a reversed-engineering. If addiction is a movement from life to death, repentance, as a theanthropic act is a Pascha, a Passover from death to life. Therefore, the addict is called to transcend the fallen state and once again taste life. Fr. John continues

“Metanoia is the gate­way to oneself, to one's fellowman, and to heaven. It leads inwards, but it also leads outwards by leading inwards. The world ceases to rotate round the self and begins to gravitate towards the other - the divine and the human other. Sin has the opposite effect.” [11]

This is what exactly is needed in addiction: a change of mind, a change of focus, a gravitating toward the spouse, centered on Christ. This is the true calling to repentance.

Healing is a connected process for both spouses. There is no efficient repentance if the wife is not present. Addiction degraded the Sacrament of Marriage and both members are called to redefine their relationship: Genung said that only after forgiveness, God’s grace can penetrate the wife’s heart and reach the husband. After adultery, marriage will never be the same; the initial innocence is lost forever, but through individual and joined efforts, both of them can reach an authentic state of repentance and regain what was lost.

Recovery Through Couple Counseling

Like a person affected by stroke, who lost the ability to talk or walk, the addict has to re-learn in small steps how to love sacramentally and turn away from sin, toward his spouse and God. On the other hand, the spouse has to assess the emotional damage, so she would be open to receiving her husband’s love and consequentially, healing. This stage is maybe the most delicate and the priest is called to extreme sensitivity and discernment. Marital intimacy, closure and trust are the most damaged and they both have to strive to achieve the previous state of unity. Therefore, I think that the recovery process is somehow similar to the pre-marital sessions. Sin is a regress in the marital journey; but, they can get up and start over. Therefore, the initial sessions are meant to be a re-alignment to the path to theosis.

The Service of the Holy Sacrament of Marriage

The goal of this stage is to help the couple realize the meaning of being married, to refresh in their mind the goal of marriage. At this point, a positive perspective is needed; the transgressions should not be even mentioned, because the focus is now on re-connecting the addict to his wife. The remembrance of wedding day is especially important because it has been a moment of satisfaction, fulfillment and unity in their lives as a couple. Also, it will become a reference moment and will decrease the marital tension. After the relaxed and content space was created, the priest talks about the Service of Marriage itself, emphasizing key aspects of the commitment they were called upon. “The exchange of rings as a pledge to share and exchange both their physical and spiritual goods, a pledge of eternal love and devotion ,” [12] the crowning as symbols of marital priesthood, but also martyrdom (witness) they are called to, the common cup as a sign of ultimate communion and finally the receiving of Holy Communion as a symbol of entering the realm of Kingdom of God as a couple are just few aspects that can be touched.

The focus of this paper is recovery of the couples from sex addictions; therefore, I will not to over-emphasize any of the pastoral aspects. They are meant to be starting points for any priest confronted with this problem. Also, the priest should assist the couple in their recovery by providing further resources on every aspect of the treatment. Father Theodore Stylianopoulos provides an excellent perspective on the rite of Marriage with deep theological insights . (Stylianopoulos, Fr. Theodore, Toward a Theology of Marriage in the Orthodox Church, in Greek Orthodox Theological Review, Boston, 1977 volume XXII, number 3)

The Theology of Marriage

After discussing the day of marital commitment, the priest should approach a very difficult, but vital aspect: the Theology of Marriage. I will briefly re-emphasize the importance of each of these steps: man, in his broken nature, turned his face away from God, and because of the prolonged exposure to sin, he cannot see clearly. As a joke, it is said that masturbation causes blindness. Nothing can be more true! It most certainly creates blindness; if not physical, spiritual for sure. By providing a fresh perspective on life and marriage, the priest opens the spiritual life of the addict and offers in exchange of dark, light.

“Through the presence of Christ in marriage, the water of natural passions is changed into the fruit of the vine, the noble wine that signifies the transmutation into the new love, a charismatic love springing forth to the Kingdom. (Evdokimov, Paul. “The Sacrament of Love” Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir Seminary’s Press, 1985, p.122)"

Than, how can we experience Christ’s presence in our marriage? The Orthodox theological literature on this issue is extensive and in depth. A.M. Stavropoulos emphasizes two aspects of marriage: as a sacrament of love and as a little church: “the four main lines, on which a spirituality of marriage is based and which can appropriately define Christian marriage: its sacramentality, its vocation to share in and witness to God’s love for humanity; sanctification of and by the family; and the apostolate of the Christian family. ” (Stavropoulos, A.M. The Understanding of Marriage in the Orthodox Church, Le Messager Orthodoxe, 58, 1972) Charalambidis presents Marriage as an image of Kingdom of God, because in marriage both the man and the woman are called to restore the authentic personhood, which transcends the notion of male and female. This is possible only through an authentic and ontological unity in the Holy Spirit . The same theme is presented by Father Calivas in his article. Marriage becomes a new life in Christ, because Christian spouses conscientiously work to transform their home into Church. In this new identity Eros is transformed into agape . (Calivas, Alkiviadis. Marriage: The Sacrament of Love and Communion in The Greek Orthodox Theological Review, Boston 1995, Vol. 40, Nos. 3-4 )

I am well aware of the theological depth and richness of the articles mentioned above. The purpose of this step in the recovery process is not to make the couple theologians or to reveal the fullness of dogmatic understanding of Sacramental Theology. In order to grasp the meaning of the resources offered, one needs a solid theological background. The priest should be comfortable working with these terms, but a good theologian is the one able to express deep theology in simple words. Therefore, the sole goal is to make the couple realize that Marriage is not about a social agreement between two people for the welfare and fulfillment of the individual. This is the contemporary perspective on marriage. The spouse is supposed to make you happy and if you are not, divorce is an accessible solution. The first reaction in the case of pornography addiction is disgust and repulsion, but this can be the beginning of something beneficial, beautiful and rewarding. Each fall is an opportunity for rising.

Fighting Guilt and Blame

Especially if the addict come from a Christian background, guilt and shame is often related to sex addictive behavior. Stephen Arterburn says that sex addiction is cyclical; “after the act, the sex addict feels intense guilt and self-reproach (often promising himself it will never happen again). Days or weeks later, the scene is repeated. ” Yet, “addicts will often act out sexually in an attempt to block out the very pain of their addiction. This is part of what drives the addictive cycle. ” [13] This guilt builds up over the years and leads to anxiety, anger and inner emptiness. Depression and low self-esteem are often consequences of pathological remorse.

If a priest does not handle these extreme cases correctly, a sex addiction correlated with profound guilt can evolve into sexual anorexia: “the beginnings of compulsive religiosity may signal the onset of a period of sexual anorexia.” [14] These are extreme cases and not the focus of the paper. However, two points have to be made: a priest, even with the best intentions, can do more harm than good; therefore, in some cases, the addict has to be referred to professional psychologists. Secondly, guilt is a serious issue and it has to be treated accordingly. When an addict comes forth begging for help, there must have been a terrible inner turmoil; the priest and the spouse are called to sympathy and sensitivity.

Unfortunately, this is not the case in many situations. Instead of realizing that the struggle has to be against the flesh, the spouses turn against each other. Blame occurs as a “normal,” but destructive reaction of the spouse and the priest is called to take sides: “clients typically believe that if the therapist can change the other person, everything would be fine. ” (Mamalakis, The Spiritual Life and How to Be Married in It, Raising Lazarus, p.217)This is where efficient marriage counseling plays a tremendous role in recovery. The feeling of betrayal creates a large amount of anger and the priest should help them direct this anger against the sin and to make this a joint effort. The addict experience grief, as he looses his “best friend,” the addiction and only by violent anger against sin (Gal 5:13-25), can he succeed.

Prayer Life and Confession

When we are hurt, we truly realize our brokenness. In pain, the beauty is revealed. When exhausted by cry, we are truly ready to see God’s love. These are all statements applicable in the case of anyone struggling but even more so, in the case of struggles against our own fleshy passions. If sin is turning away, prayer is turning toward. In prayer, the addict turn to God and to the spouse and in prayer, they both acknowledge their brokenness and their trust in God. In prayer, relationships are healed and love connections are restored.

In this chapter, a special emphasis should be placed on Confession, as the ultimate restoration of the repentant sinner. It is not an absolution of guilt, but it addresses the very foundation of one’s visceral struggles. It is a way, in which the repentant is being constantly motivated and inspired; it is the way the spouse receives divine power to forgive and to love. It is the place where the addict breaks out and cries, hoping for healing and comfort. “The addict usually finds a great sense of relief after admitting the secret of addiction. The end of the double life and shame may bring a premature sense of accomplishment. ” [15]

This chapter was meant to provide a healthy foundation for a full, permanent recovery, following the steps of professional addiction fight. Finding a “support group” in the spouse, and together in God, with the help of the spiritual father is the foundation of a successful recovery. Also, one of the most devastating consequences of sex addiction is the permanent feeling of emptiness (which leads to depression, low self-esteem, social isolation etc.) and the only real alternative is the life-giving love of Christ. Only in prayer and Confession, the addict feels relieved and loved. In God, the spouses learned again to love each other sacramentally, to transcend the restrains of loving and to continue their struggles to actualize God’s Kingdom on Earth in the Sacrament of Marriage.


Pornography addiction, Internet affairs and Cyber-sex are all different faces of the same problem: a selfish reaction of an individual, in which the focus is shifted from the significant other to himself. By creating a world of his own with the main purpose of self-gratification and irresponsible pleasure, one is tempted to isolate from society and get immerse in his seductive and addictive creation. Once addiction occurs, he develops a tolerance and therefore need a stronger dose of stimulant. This can lead to compulsive sexual behavior (in case of pornography,) offline affairs (in case of Internet emotional affairs) or to irresponsible sexual actions (from cyber to real sexual intercourse.) Everything is a process and because of the private character of sexual behavior, it is discovered when the individual hits rock bottom: low self-esteem, perverted worldview, abusive relationships, marital distress and many other.

This is when recovery process is required. The priest is called to work hand-in-hand with a Christian psychologist, as they share the same goal: the restoration of the individual and couple affected to the state preceding the addiction. Pastoral and psychological sessions overlap and are congruent. A special emphasize is put on the spouse, because she is also a victim of addiction; feelings of disappointment, betrayal, anger are very common. With great sensitivity, the priest is called to assist the couple in directing these negative feelings against sin, rather than each other. This attitude can bring genuine healing, as they experience an authentic joined repentance, which is a profound “change of heart” and renewed worldview.