Part 4 of a 4-Part Series: Porn and Power
The first three parts of this series made some key observations about pornography:
- Healing requires more than cognitive (changing thoughts) or behavioral (changing lifestyle) approaches, although both are important.
- A man’s sexuality and shame are deeply rooted in narrative, in long-buried stories of emasculating loss that drive men to seek relief and power in porn’s degrading “pseudo-story.”
- The pseudo-connection and risk-free predictability of pornography promises to override a man’s fear of futility and impotence.
Colorado pastor/counselor Michael John Cusick, in his book Surfing for God: Discovering the Divine Desire Beneath Sexual Struggle, outlines the “broken promises” of pornography:
- To validate manhood without requiring strength
- Sexual fulfillment without relationship
- Intimacy without risk and suffering
- Passion and life without connection to your soul
- Power over women, without responsibility
- Comfort and care without needing to depend on others
Research studies note how boys lose touch with their inner world, and with the narratives composing their emotional core Selves, because they are shamed and socialized to avoid this terrain from a very young age. (See my father-son series here on “co-narrating” a masculinity beyond “the Boy Code.”)
Plugging in to our digital world makes it easier than ever to disconnect from this core Self, or the “soul” that Quaker writer Parker Palmer likens to tenacious, resilient “wild animal” timidly lurking at the edge of a forest. Do not mistake timid for weak. If anything, the “soul” Palmer describes has too much Self-respect to expose itself to a man who cannot honor it with the disciplined fullness of his attention, and with the thirst for Self-discovery.
Daring to Slow Down
Mindfulness exercises like yoga, meditation, and contemplative prayer literally corral the hyper-functioning brain. This creates structured space for “soul care” – for welcoming and listening to those younger, wounded, abandoned parts of the Self that have been anxiously acting out of their neediness and longing for connection.
Cusick in his book compiles a number of mindfulness resources and meditative/centering prayer guides that call men back to ancient Christian practices. He likewise affirms the modern neuroscience of how these practices can improve mood regulation, focus, concentration, energy and self-control – rewiring a man’s “weed-whacked and trampled down” neural pathways.
Mindfulness and soul-care can be learned. Cusick outlines “4 ways to practice soul attentiveness.”
- Stalk Your Triggers: First, identify your sexual triggers – the types of people, places, images, experiences, and situations that stir your cravings and the temptation to act out sexually. Make a list of these trigger points so that you can strategically position yourself to head them off before their energy overtakes you. While you can’t avoid every woman with auburn hair or certain perfumes, you can take a more proactive, vigilant stance.
- Interrogate Your Cravings: Turn the tables and prosecute your cravings, cross-examining them instead of being held hostage by them. You might be surprised by what they have to say. Caution: This doesn’t mean scolding your cravings, which are part of both your biochemical make-up and your wounded, disconnected self. But it does mean holding these cravings accountable, with firm yet tender curiosity.
Listen closely: What’s the legitimate desire they are trying to communicate? What’s the deeper longing not being met?
- Surf Your Urges: Merely gritting your teeth and suppressing your urges only intensifies them. Cusick cites University of Washington addiction researcher Alan Marlatt, who coined the term “urge surfing” to compare the swell of compulsive urges to ocean waves.
Cravings, like waves, slowly build momentum but then dissipate – even the most intense carvings usually ebb within 30 minutes. Rather than fighting or resisting the wave, the force of which usually pulls you under, consider turning and riding out the wave.
“Urge surfing” involves (1) pausing to observe the body’s sensations and feelings, then speaking them out loud several times: “I feel an emptiness or anxiety in my gut, tingling in my genitals, tightness in my shoulders…”
(2) Focus attention on body areas and continue voicing descriptions to yourself as an outside observer – is it a pinprick or baseball-size? Hollow or heavy? How is your body sensing and reacting?
(3) Refocus on these body areas throughout the wave, describing changes as they occur. Cusick notes that “the point of urge-surfing is not to eliminate cravings, but to experience them differently,” which is empowering in itself.
- Carry Your Tension: There is a life-giving tension between those volatile surface urges that seek easy pay-offs – and the deeper, God-woven desire to defend our spouses and pursue meaningful adventures. Holding this tension means to embrace suffering – the growing pains of a fuller and more embodied Self, not the suffering of masochistic denial.
Pornography and masturbation – the path of least resistance – diminish a man’s sense of Self by sapping a life-force and prematurely resolving a very necessary inner tension. We preserve our creative energy for life and love when we resist discharging this tension for a collection of pixels on a screen.
Christian Counseling: Beyond Symptom Management
Pornography is a problem, but it first needs to be seen as a behavioral symptom of a deeper issue woven within a deeper story of unmet needs, and reflecting a more complex man than previously imagined.
Professional Christian counseling can help you to turn this issue into an opportunity for discovering the deeper Self – the man the Psalmist exclaims is “fearfully and wonderfully made.”
Palmer, Parker (2004). A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward An Undivided Life. San Francisco, CA: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Michael John Cusick. (2012). Surfing for God: Discovering the Divine Desire Beneath Sexual Struggle. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson.Photos
“Project 50 . . .” courtesy of Sean McGrath, Flickr CreativeCommons (CC BY 2.0); “Side Slide,” courtesy of Sandy Pirouzi, Flickr CreativeCommons (CC BY-SA 2.0)