Note: This is part three of a five part series on pornography

Part I: My porn addiction
Part II: Porn, devil or an angel?
Part III: Three ways to kick porn out of your life
Part IV: The fight for sexual sanity in a world awash in porn
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art V: The pointlessness of pornography

November 29, 2012 (LifeSiteNews.com) - But even if we can all agree that porn is a devil, that is only the beginning. That we even come to hate pornography is no guarantee that we will be freed from its allure. Many are those who have believed that they had their porn use “under control,” but who, upon seeking to quit once and for all, have found themselves inexplicably returning again and again, in defiance of their convictions and their good sense. It turns out that the temptation of anonymous, responsibility-free sexual pleasure on demand is a remarkably enduring one, even if we know from experience that all its promises of happiness are an illusion, and that if we give in it will only end in loneliness, bitterness and self-recrimination.

To cut porn out of your life once you have welcomed it in is no easy thing: for many it requires hard work, constant vigilance, and dramatic measures. And many will fight discouragement as they discover that despite their most ardent resolutions, they continue to fall back into a habit which they have come to despise. The first and most important lesson these will have to learn is how to set up realistic expectations, and how to forgive themselves when they fail to live up to them. This is especially important for people who may be part of communities or families that have not yet caught up with the reality of how completely porn has flooded our culture, and where frank discussion about the issue or any hint that any of their members might be struggling with it, is verboten. Part of my hope in writing this series is that we might begin to break open the barriers of communication, to throw unreasonable expectations out the window, and to smash the damaging perfectionism that can lead to a crippling shame. This does not mean that we are in any way compromising our convictions on the issue. What it does mean is that we are willing to give those who feel entrapped by porn the space they need to start taking the practical steps required to heal and overcome.

When I think back over my own years of wrestling with this problem, I can detect clear patterns to my successes and my failures. In particular, I can remember three specific, protracted porn-free periods of my adolescence. Each of these now seems to offer a specific insight into how one might gain the upper hand in the battle for sexual sanity. I offer them not as definitive, or comprehensive techniques for putting porn behind you, but simply as examples gained through personal experience.

The first period of reprieve came when I was 17, when I first went to college – a small private Catholic liberal arts college located in Michigan. As soon as I arrived I fell madly in love with a girl from California, whom I will call Christine. This love had about it all the vehemence and ardor of a first love, and, as Christine professed to return the sentiment, it was not long before we were dating. Like most adolescent relationships, it didn’t last. But what I find instructive looking back is that, in the first place, my love was so vehement and sincere that I honestly could not imagine even wanting to use Christine in any way, and so our relationship was thoroughly chaste. But, even more interesting and to the point, is that this love killed all desire for any sort of illicit sexual pleasure. And this was, I think, for two reasons: firstly, because when set up against Christine all other women, and most especially the uni-dimensional actresses featured in porn, seemed to pale by comparison; and, secondly, because my love made me desire to be worthy of the love I received from Christine, a goal in which a porn habit could have no part.

I am not, of course, saying that everyone who wishes to quit porn must have a passionate romance. But this experience points to a profound truth – that love (true love, and not mere “feelings”) is self-transcendent. Love draws us outside of ourselves, and focuses all our attention on the beloved, and makes us desire the happiness of the beloved even above our own. This is true across the board, whether we are talking about romantic love, or friendship, or the love between family members, or love of God. Love is the exact opposite of selfishness. It makes sense, then, that in love I should have found an antidote for porn. Porn, after all, is essentially selfish: its sole purpose is to gain pleasure for oneself by using someone else, without intention of giving anything in return. There simply is no more noble or constructive goal.

Practically speaking, what this suggests is that if we want to beat a porn habit we should start looking for ways to give to others, rather than focusing on ourselves. This can express itself in a million different ways, even in the most mundane details of our lives, but for the person struggling with porn, it might mean spending more time developing close friendships, or looking for volunteer opportunities, or even developing new and constructive hobbies - for the love of learning or of art, or even of sport, are authentic forms of love. Anything at all, really, but the endless, suffocating hours locked up in our own rooms, far away from people, surfing the internet, watching television or movies, playing video games, and, inevitably, watching porn.

For myself, this insight was confirmed after I met my wife, to whom all I said above applies 100-times over. Earlier this week a liberal social media site linked to the first installment of this essay on porn. Many of the commenters there accused my wife of “forcing” me to give up porn (the implication being, I suppose, that it is selfish of her to ask so much of me). They weren’t entirely wrong. My wife has “forced” me to give up porn, and many other bad habits besides. But only in the sense that any miserable wretch who has ever encountered a woman far more beautiful, pure, and good than himself, has been “forced” to recognize his own wretchedness and aspire to become worthy of her. Love does that. It is a form of bondage, but a bondage that is far more liberating than any of our popular concepts of freedom. To be free to wallow in our selfishness and misery is no freedom at all.

Yes, it is difficult to overstate the role my wife has played in teaching me the remarkable power of love to purify. And yet, she cannot claim first position in this respect, for I have also begun to understand, at least a very little, the Great Lesson: that the only truly reliable Love, the only one that truly has the power in the long run to transform us from the selfish beings we are into something really admirable, is found on our knees, in the silence of a church. But more on that later.

Another seemingly banal, but nevertheless noteworthy period of success, occurred when I later transferred to another Catholic liberal arts college, this one in Virginia, after spending a year working. At this college, the Internet was only available on public computers located in the library – across campus from my dorm. And, as simple as it may sound, the removal of the source of the temptation to a distance, largely killed the temptation itself.

The more I think about it, the more I realize this truth cannot be overstated. The reason that porn use has exploded can be attributed in large part to the advent of this new technology: the Internet. It is true that the Internet itself is neither morally good nor morally bad, but what it has done is give the pornographers a path straight into our bedrooms, so that, at any time, an entire world of sexual fantasy is but a click away. So it is that many a man or woman sits down at a computer with no intention whatsoever of looking for pornography (possibly even with the very deliberate intention not to look for it), and then suddenly “finds” him or herself doing exactly that. It’s too easy. Once exposed to porn, the temptation to look just “one more time” is forever scratching, scratching, scratching, just below the surface of our brains, every time we sit down at a computer, until we feel that we will go mad unless we give in to it.

It was just as I was graduating from college that smart phones were starting to become common. This no longer made it possible to keep the Internet out of the dorms. And frankly, I pity the students who came after me, who will not have the freedom, as I did, to live and learn free from the influence of the primary source of addiction today. Some porn experts say that porn is as addictive as cocaine. Imagine for a moment if all that a cocaine addict had to do was pull his cell phone out of his pocket and press a button to get his next hit, for free?

And so, here is method number two of kicking porn out of your life: put as much distance as possible between you and the Internet. I realize that in the age of Facebook, Netflix, and Google, this will strike many as an impossible, if not insane, suggestion. And for many it may not be necessary. But most of those who have repeatedly tried to put porn behind them, and have repeatedly failed, will be forced to admit that this is because accessing porn is simply too easy. Put down your guard for a fleeting moment while surfing the internet, and voila! You’ve clicked on a link you shouldn’t have. You’ve searched for a word you know will lead you places you shouldn’t go.

If the price of freedom is limiting your access to the Internet, I say choose freedom. If porn is your problem, seriously consider disconnecting the Internet from your house. And if you must have a cell phone, don’t get a smart phone with Internet access. If you do need the Internet, go to your library to use it. And if you absolutely need the Internet at home, install filtering software on your computer, and ask someone else to set the password. Do whatever is necessary to remove the source of temptation to as great a distance as possible. The greater the distance, the less vehement the temptation, and the more space you will have to live your life without this albatross hanging about your neck.

The third period in which I achieved some consistent success in my own battle to cast off this albatross overlaps with the second. It happened at the same time as I began to recover from a protracted period of religious agnosticism, as well as fall in love again - this time with my wife. Both factors added fuel to the fire of my hatred of porn. While I had already been making considerable steps in dealing with the problem, I no longer wanted anything to do with it…ever. And so I decided to take a dramatic step. I decided to do something I had never regularly done before. I decided to start fasting: two days a week I would go without breakfast and lunch.

The results were remarkable. If you have ever fasted you will know what I mean. There comes a point in the day when suddenly the hunger pangs fade into the background, and this is replaced with a real sense of peace. It is a kind of pleasure, but of a completely different - frankly, higher - category than what we normally call “pleasure.” All the clamoring of the body for this and that or the other thing vanishes, the mind clarifies, and there is a strange, buoyant sensation of being “in control.” It doesn’t necessarily happen to the same degree every time, but even when the annoyance of not eating never quite goes away, there is still found a kind of intellectual satisfaction in having given the finger – as it were – to what Francis of Assisi called “brother ass” (the body), and forced it to listen to us for a change.

Every Lent, like clockwork, the media runs a series of bemused articles in which they interview “on-the-street” Catholics to find out what they’re “giving up” (chocolate, Facebook, coffee, TV), as if nothing could be stranger than all this business of self-denial for the sake of Jesus. In reality, the idea of giving something up for the sake of something else is just good old fashioned common sense. Saints and mystics have touted the power of fasting in achieving self-control for millennia. Of course, for various reasons we don’t trust saints and mystics, but really, anyone who has spent thirty seconds in self-analysis will have realized that he often has conflicting desires, and will see that some are good and some bad: and that it sometimes takes a real effort to choose the good ones over the bad.

And so it is not surprising that if we are only ever accustomed to giving ourselves what we want, as soon as we want it, that we so quickly give in to temptation, even when we know doing so will only hurt us in the long run. We cannot isolate one of our habits from another, because our minds are not isolated parts. We are one whole person. And if we have a habit of self-indulgence, or at least of never explicitly denying ourselves anything, when porn comes knocking, it feels natural to open the door. So why not take a cue from the Catholics and “give something up” on certain days of the week, for no other reason than to take control of your own life and prove you can? It hardly matters what, as long as it is something you like, and that you can legitimately do without. Coffee, chocolate, the internet, movies, TV – these are the common ones, and they will do just fine. Or, if you are able, do an all-out fast.

These are just three ways to beat porn, based upon my own personal experience. There are, of course, hundreds of other ways to kick porn out of your life, some of which will be specific to your own unique circumstances in life. However, many of these other ways are ultimately contained within the three I have offered here.

The one thing that absolutely will not work is to do nothing, hoping that temptation will one day just “go away.” Temptation will never just go away. And certainly it will never be overcome, not without a deliberate, concentrated effort. Someone once famously joked that temptation will stop ten minutes after we’re dead. We cannot dream ourselves into the person we want to be. Life is a struggle, and it requires hard work. If we do nothing, we slide backwards. We must always be climbing upwards. So, don’t be afraid to take drastic actions to get your own problem under control. Extreme times call for extreme measures. And when it comes to the battle for sexual sanity, the times have never been more extreme…ever.