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Overcoming pornography: Hope for those who want it
We’ve been providing marriage and relationship education for over fifteen years. Through our Dasi-Ziyad Family Institute and our work as Grhastha Vision Team (GVT) team members, we help couples handle a variety of situations from financial to emotional to sexual, to spiritual. We’ve witnessed many, many relationship challenges for couples. One of the least talked about but quickly increasing challenges for married couples in our society is pornography. More couples are asking for help and we respect those who are able to admit that they’re struggling with this problem.
"What surprises me" is that Americans are still surprised to see sex addiction ruining lives, says Michael Leahy, author of "Porn Nation," a book about sex addiction.
"We just don't realize that we live in an increasingly pornographic culture, a sex-saturated society where some people get really fixated on it," said Mr. Leahy. "You can be married to a Christie Brinkley - or a Halle Berry - and it really doesn't matter because it's never about your spouse. It's about your pathological relationship with pornography or other [sexually explicit] material. Everything else becomes irrelevant."
What is pornography?
Pornography is the depiction of erotic or sexual behavior in movies, pictures, books, photography or writing that is intended to cause sexual excitement.
Addiction to pornography or porn is one of the most challenging addictions to overcome. From Spain to California, Australia to Canada, Nigeria to Calcutta, millions of people all over the globe struggle with this powerful vice. Once they admit they have a problem, they have made the first step to overcoming it. ‘”It’s like being addicted to cocaine”, one client cried. “I want to stop but I can’t.” And he rightly claimed this dilemma because people addicted to pornography feel the same release of neurochemicals in their brain that causes them to feel pleasure, as cocaine addicts do. Unfailingly though, after experiencing this kind of pleasure, the participant feels extreme guilt or shame. Especially for those on the devotional path, the guilt can be overwhelming.
Internet pornography and cybersex (the sneaky) addiction
As Internet usage has increased, so too, has the availability of online pornography. Addiction to pornography online, called cybersex, is a type of sexual addiction. This kind of sexual addiction is tricky because viewing sex on the Internet is accessible anytime the viewer wants to make it happen and because the Internet is anonymous. No one has to know what the individual is viewing or doing. Someone could spend hours online, in the privacy of their own home, car or office, while pursuing sexual fantasies that are impossible in real life.
Your spouse cannot compete with fantasy or illusion
The hurt caused by this addiction often devastates the entire family. Because real people cannot compete with fantasy, cybersex addiction can substitute for and destroy genuine intimate relationships. Spouses often feel rejected, unattractive and betrayed. Additionally, because this addiction is compulsive behavior, it requires hours online to feed it and is a real impediment to healthy relationships just from the sheer amount of time wasted on it. You must really believe, accept, and know that pornography specifically, and illicit sex in general, is not healthy for you, your family or the community.
How do you know that your behavior is addictive? Here is a checklist for sexual addiction:
• Your sexual behavior causes you to act against your underlying values and spiritual beliefs
• Your sexual behaviors create negative legal, relationship, career, emotional or physical consequences, yet you persist in engaging in those sexual behaviors anyway
• Your sexual activities hurt the ones you love but you still do them
• Your sexual activities take up more time, energy, thought and focus than they should or than you would like
• You frequently tell yourself: “After this, I’m not going to ever do this again. This is the last time that I am going to watch it or read it." But you still return to the same or similar sexual situations, as if by compulsion, in spite previous agreements (to yourself or your spouse).
Spiritual Growth and Progress
Arjuna said: “O descendant of Vrsni, by what is one impelled to sinful acts, even unwillingly, as if engaged by force?”
The Supreme Personality of Godhead said: “It is lust only, Arjuna, which is born of contact with the material mode of passion and later transformed into wrath, and which is the all-devouring sinful enemy of this world.” (Bhagavad-Gita)
It is clear that pornography, masturbation, exhibitionism, voyeurism, etc. fall in the category of illicit sex, and definitely check our progress on the spiritual path, in addition to causing pain to oneself and one’s family. When a devotee makes the commitment to get initiated and live a life of surrender to Lord Krsna, we make firm agreements to avoid any kind of illicit sex. “That’s’ why we came to you,” a young couple confided. “We need help to save our marriage and honor those vows.”
Some Real Hope
Pornography, like many other vices, is an abominable activity. It is like a tornado that undermines your spiritual growth and progress and ruins healthy family life; it can destroy your relationships and it deepens the deep well of illusory life. It leaves in its wake guilt, shame, fear, heartache, disgust, and feelings of despair and hopelessness. It is never satisfied. As one young client told us, “No matter how much I give in to the urge, I always feel the need to do it again. This thing is a relentless master.” These unhealthy drives are a result of past karmic influences, weakness and current environmental conditioning. But for those who are serious about reclaiming their lives, there is hope. It is a sickness from which you can recover.
“Even if one commits the most abominable actions, if he is engaged in devotional service, he is to be considered saintly because he is properly situated.” (BG. 9:30). This statement in no way condones the deliberate and repeated sinful activities that people do. You can’t trick God. He knows when there is genuine repentance and sorrow for wrongdoing.
However, Lord Krsna is keenly aware of the weaknesses and pressures that we deal with in this age. These words by the Supreme Lord in Bhagavad-Gita indicate the magnanimous nature of the Lord and show us that if we are sincere and serious about our devotional practice, we can rise above any abominable activity through heartfelt repentance and continuous chanting of the Holy Names of the Lord. Sincerity is shown by truly being sorry in our heart and by asking forgiveness from the Lord and from your spouse. Taking active steps to distance yourself from sinful activity and sinful thoughts demonstrates your seriousness.
Tips for breaking addiction to pornography
When you acknowledge that you have a problem with Internet porn, or pornography in general and that you no longer want to be a servant of this addiction, you have taken the first and most important step towards claiming a more balanced life. It’s easy to deny addiction, but your commitment to become healthier and honor your spiritual vows will help you to make progress.
Find ways to spend fun time with your spouse and family
Now research from the University of Denver supports the idea that finding moments to be together free of financial, family or other stresses, “just to have fun together”, is not an indulgence.
"The more you invest in fun and friendship and being there for your partner, the happier the relationship will get over time," says Howard Markman, a psychologist who co-directs the university's Center for Marital and Family Studies.
"The correlation between fun and marital happiness is high, and significant." For men, the connection is even more important, the researchers say. They found that men are more likely than women to call their spouse their best friend.
The following are more tools, some from the Sexual Recovery Institute (www.sexualrecovery.com), to help you begin to get the addiction under control. While you can put many of these in place yourself, make sure you get some outside support as well. It’s all too easy to slip back into old patterns of usage, especially if you use the Internet heavily for work.
• Identify any underlying reasons that need treatment. If you are struggling with depression or anxiety, for example, pornography addiction might be a way to self-soothe rocky moods. Have you had problems with alcohol or drugs in the past? Does anything about your Internet use remind you of how you used to drink or use drugs to numb out? Take a hard look at whether you need to address treatment in these areas, whether it is therapy for depression or going back to 12-step meetings.
• Increase your coping skills. Perhaps blowing off steam on the Internet is your way of coping with stress or angry feelings. Or you may have trouble relating to others, feeling excessively shy or feeling like you can never read people right in real life. Building skills in these areas will help you weather the stresses and strains of daily life without resorting to compulsive Internet use. Related Help guide sites can be found below.
• Don’t accept self-destruction by sabotaging your own success and well being. Be careful that you don’t allow your feelings of inadequacy, and your unconscious desire to prove to others that you are not good enough for them to trust you. Take charge of your life. When thoughts come to you to participate in pornographic activities, have a plan for what alternative things you will do.
• Create goals for yourself. Acknowledge where you are and Identify where you want to be. If possible, do this with your spouse or with a skilled marriage/family educator.
• Strengthen your support network. The more relationships you have in real life, the less you will need the Internet for social interaction.
Set aside dedicated time each week for spouse or other family. If you are shy, try finding common interest groups such as an exercise class or online (trancendental) book reading club devotional book reading club. This allows you to interact with others in a non-threatening way and allows relationships to naturally develop.
Here are some real, current examples:
• Join Mother Indrani Tele Conf. - Spiritual Warriorship Classes. This event repeats every week. Call: 213 289-0500 Access code: 87 36 85# Reading and discussion from HH Bhakti Tirtha Swami's books with Q&A
• Akrura Dasa is a spiritual life coach who currently a travelling teacher, facilitator and coach and his email is
firstname.lastname@example.org Gita Coaching - “Helping devotees succeed!”
• No matter what, chant the Holy Names (Hare Krsna Hare Krsna Krsna Krsna Hare Hare Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare)– this is the prime benediction for humanity and purifies and strengthens anyone who sincerely and regularly calls upon the names of God – if possible, chant regularly with your spouse.
• Whatever you do, don’t give up on endeavoring being free of this prison of pornography.
Sometimes people struggle with a masturbation addiction in addition to porn addiction. Masturbating and reaching climax only strengthens your addiction to porn. Even if you only struggle with masturbation addiction, there is still a chemical dependency on the brain’s neurochemical interactions. Your brain does not recognize the difference between healthy sex with your spouse and releasing the chemicals (through masturbation) by yourself. So you become addicted to the easiest way to release the chemicals – alone -- and to doing the act far too often.
“Pornography addiction is total insanity. But that's what addiction is – total insanity," says psychologist Douglas Weiss, who leads the Heart to Heart Counseling Center for sex addicts in Colorado Springs, Colo. Pornography addiction "isn't something that you have to stay stuck with," he says. "Your marriage doesn't have to be destroyed; your kids don't have to have big holes in their souls. And you can live a congruent life."
So there’s good news in this very trying situation. The good news that is that with determination and commitment to practice your spiritual lifestyle, with help from friends and family and/or Marriage & Family Educators, you can find healthy, wholesome alternatives to pornography and reestablish your relationship with your spouse and your relationship with God. We know. We’ve helped quite few couples to recover from this devastating problem.
By Krsnanandini Devi Dasi and Tariq Saleem Ziyad
Co-Directors, Dasi-Ziyad Family Institute