Editor’s note: Concern about the consequences of pornography use in Utah has set the Beehive State apart from national trends, as lawmakers grapple with what they have recently labeled as a vice that threatens public health. The Daily Universe explores how the issue impacts Utahns, both politically and personally.
Last in a series.
Overcoming a pornography addiction is “absolutely possible,” according to those who have worked to conquer it and two licensed therapists who assist in the journey toward sobriety.
American Fork LDS Family Services Counseling Manager Ben Erwin has been a pornography addiction and recovery therapist for 10 years. Erwin said he loves his work because it allows him to help people heal and improve.
“It’s like they were trapped in slavery or bondage and now they’re free,” Erwin said. “It’s a wonderful feeling.”
Erwin said an important part of helping someone through a pornography addiction is understanding how an addiction affects the user internally.
“In one of the general ways, it makes them want to isolate — emotionally, spiritually, intimately — from others,” Erwin said.
A BYU senior who prefers to be called “James” said he was innocently exposed to internet pornography when he was 14. His fear of talking about it with friends and family soon led to addiction.
“How pornography addiction grew in me was by my pride and shame,” James said. “Pornography was a place that I could go to feel superior, mature and understood. My ability to hide this secret quite effectively from parents, friends and associates did much to grow my pride.”
BYU alumnus Jonathan Harris, who agreed to have his name published, said an essential part of his recovery process as a pornography addict was breaking habits he had developed such as isolation, lying, manipulation and leading a double life.
“Recovery is not just about stopping the act of viewing pornography,” Harris said. “Recovery is completely unlearning behaviors that are engrained in you.”
LifeWorks Counseling Clinical Mental Health Counselor Marshall Lamm said people become addicted to pornography because the brain’s limbic system knows that pornography outperforms almost everything else in terms of natural pleasure.
“The limbic system is not in charge of your morality; it’s among other things in charge of telling your body what feels good,” Lamm said. “If it finds out it has access to pornography, the brain is going to pick that when the user is stressed, bored or in any kind of negative emotional state.”
Nicole, who asked to be identified only by her first name, said processing and letting go of emotions that were trapped within her was vital to recovering from her pornography addiction.
“I was not getting my emotional or physical needs met in a healthy way, so I turned to all these things that seemed to always be there for me, even though they were harmful for me in the long run,” Nicole said.
Lamm said pornography users often begin to feel increased irritability because everything else in life pales in comparison to the chemical high of viewing pornography. These feelings that develop within a pornography addict often affect their family members.
“Family includes lots of rewards and challenges,” Lamm said. “If you’re struggling with pornography addiction and challenges come up within a relationship, you’ll want to run to pornography because it will make you feel better.”
Pornography use is not the cause of other problems in an addict’s life, but rather a symptom of other root problems, according to Harris.
“I didn’t become addicted to pornography because I wanted to become addicted to pornography,” Harris said. “I became addicted to pornography because there were other problems in my life that I was not addressing. Porn became comfortable and I bonded with pornography.”
Lamm said he chose to assist with pornography addiction therapy because he saw a big need for pornography counseling.
“There are a lot of young men whose minds are getting manipulated to do something they really don’t want to do in their right minds,” Lamm said. “I want to help.”
Harris said there is no generic formula that can be applied to solve every pornography addiction. He said he believes recovery is different for every individual and that there is a “custom, personal solution” that will work for each addict.
“Recovery in my opinion is simply a matter of learning how to un-bond with pornography and bond with new things in your life — positive, wholesome activities,” Harris said. “You can’t just carve out this cancer and then expect it to not come back if you don’t fill it (the hole) with something else.”
James said his first step toward real recovery was having the courage to not only tell his bishop about his addiction, but his parents as well.
“Some very sacred spiritual experiences arose out of that step of faith, which gave me my first sense of self-worth,” James said. “Recovery was achieved as I reconnected with the people who loved me and wanted to help me.”
Nicole said overcoming a pornography addiction is not just a one-time recovery, but one that requires a lifetime of careful maintenance to keep.
“It’s definitely an ongoing process to retain your health, to retain a Christlike countenance and retain recovery from addiction,” Nicole said.
James said even after breaking free of his pornography addiction, negative experiences in his life caused him to relapse because he had “never addressed the deeper issues of coping with emotional distresses.” He then created physical and spiritual barriers to help him to avoid relapsing in the future, such as limiting internet access and praying daily.
“If you use every opportunity of failure to learn and apply just one truth, you will find yourself weaning off the world and relying more fully on faith in the Savior as your coping strategy,” James said.
Nicole said when she feels stuck in her recovery process, she turns to mentors in her life who have been in her situation before and know how to help her find the solutions she is seeking.
“Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ never intended for us to go through these hard things alone,” Nicole said. “They always intended for us to help each other.”
Helping others through the recovery process and then seeing them conquer pornography addiction is a great feeling, Lamm says.
“All of a sudden, they can see colors again, they can hear music like it was meant to be listened to and they can appreciate beauty because their brain is no longer looking for the high that can come from pornography,” Lamm said. “It’s a beautiful thing to be a part of.”
Stories in “The Pornography Plague” series: