Articles

Porn and Power: How Pornography Isn’t Simply About Sex

A Christian Counselor Explains

Part 1 of a 4-Part Series
CHRISL PORN 1 8154282051_acd5a7af22_zMen struggling with pornography often arrive for counseling with two basic fears: First, that pornography is threatening to take over their lives, if it hasn’t already. Second, that they are going to be shamed for their character, then instructed simply to read their Bible and pray more.

Another simplistic but common treatment approach is to focus on the act itself and corresponding behaviors, thoughts, and feelings. Steps are formulated to identify cognitive-behavioral triggers and patterns, and to replace them with healthier ones.

At one level, this is sound thinking. As an ultimate strategy, it is also a bit naive – neurologically and narratively.

Science and Story

Neurons matter, of course. Science clearly shows how “neurons that fire together, wire together.” In other words, repeated exposure to pornography will condition the brain into to pave neural pathways of visual fixation that dead-end in neurochemical chaos – leading to self-hatred, emotional castration, and relational dysfunction.

Pornography abuse engages a person far below ocular, chemical, and cognitive levels. So, while coping tools and redirecting strategies are critical in rewiring the brain for health and healing (as we’ll explore in Parts 3 and 4), they are not the whole story.

Sex and Power

What’s missing is narrative. The story of a man’s life.

Sexuality and neurology are both rooted in narrative. And central to that plot line is the hidden shame and anxiety that both propel a man into pornography, and hold him hostage there.

Addressing pornography as simply a cognitive-behavioral issue doesn’t acknowledge how it’s serving a deeper psychological function – how it’s telling a certain story in order to soothe a man’s sense of disempowerment.

Because pornography is not primarily about sex.

It’s about power.

Sad ManCursed by Futility

To understand the man’s story in this way, it helps to revisit the “first story” in the Garden of Eden.

One of the tragic consequences of The Fall is that humanity suffered the twin curses of futility –Adam’s hardship working the land – and loneliness – Eve’s relational strife and heartache.

The consequence of God cursing the ground was that men would toil through thorns and thistles to bring life from it. Similarly, women would labor to bring life through childbirth and relationships.

One cautionary note here: The biblical text here is not suggesting stereotyped gender roles, such as work and home. This ‘false binary’ is a more recent socio-economic byproduct of modernity, gender socialization, and industrialization. In the nuance of reality, a woman can be a numbers-savvy corporate executive – who as a leader may instill a certain relational heart in her team. And, a man can be a very nurturing stay-at-home father who also orders and manages resources in unique ways.

Distinguishing “Role” and “Calling”

The biblical text states that both men and women are called to rule and subdue, fill and multiply. Also, men and women alike struggle with both futility and loneliness. It’s part of the shared human experience.

Again, while over-generalized role restrictions should be avoided, there are still noteworthy gender distinctions. Genesis indicates that men and women both have core attributes and strengths – or callings – that express the heart of God in equal but slightly different ways: the strength of man’s innovating and administering, and the strength of a woman’s relational attunement and engagement.

We should resist any kind of rigid reductionism about women having “less” innovation or leadership prowess and men “less” nurturing capacity – these are largely social constructs. But it does mean that the core heart of men and women are oriented differently in how they reflect their Creator, and this “calling” shows up regardless of the particular “role.”

The Need to Control: Our Core Wounding

If this sounds ambiguous and prone to sexual conflict, then … yes, and yes! It’s part of the creative, life-growing tension that we are called to hold in how we encourage and learn from one another.

Our weak ego-selves war against this tension. As men and women we often attempt to control and exert dominion over one another. We diminish the other in order to compensate for differences in our core wounding. Men most fear work-related hardship and futility (“I’m not enough!”). Women most fear loneliness and relational strife (“I’m too much for others!”).

Christian Counseling: Retelling a Man’s Story

As we’ll see in Part 2 of this 4-part series, pornography is driven by a man’s struggle to cope with his loss of power and control. Often his futility is so tyrannized by fear and shame that it’s difficult to name.

As a result, men abandon their calling, themselves, and the people in their lives. They flee the tragic loss in their story – the very thing they’ll need to rewrite it. They reach for and hide in the false security of a “pseudo-story” – otherwise known as pornography. The pseudo-story promises to restore his sense of adequacy and virility.

If this story resonates with your own, know that you are not alone. Professional Christian counseling can provide more than simply a bigger toolbox (of coping skills) to address pornography and sexuality issues. It is meant to uncover the core of man’s heart and calling, and re-imagine the story that he was meant to tell.

Photos
“The Toll of Adam and Eve,” courtesy of SNappa2006, Flickr CreativeCommons (CC BY 2.0);
“Sad Man,”courtesy of Abd allah Foteih, Flickr CreativeCommons (CC BY-SA 2.0)


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