I am a Catholic woman on the continual road to recovery from pornography addiction. I do not pretend to have all the answers to healing; in fact, I still struggle with relapses back into addiction even after periods of one or two years of being clean. I am simply honored to share things I find helpful in my own journey and in journeying with others who share the same burden. My hope is that you experience consolation in the knowledge that you are not alone in your struggle. And, I want to offer you encouragement through the following tools that have aided my journey.
Often, viewing porn acts as an outlet for boredom, loneliness, and stress. A great way to combat all three of these is by spending time in community. Community is slightly different than “having friends” or “hanging out.” Community means having intentional friendships with people that desire your holiness. These are people that you can hang out with to have fun! But they are also not afraid of your struggles and wounds. They provide meaningful relationships in your life and serve as a source of joy, growth, and accountability.
Please don’t misunderstand, I am not claiming community replaces counseling or spiritual direction. Professional counseling acts as a safe environment to process deep wounds and traumatic experiences. I personally have seen many counselors for a variety of issues (including pornography addiction) over the last three years. That being said, community is a powerful source of life, encouragement, and healing.
If you do not have a community of intentional friends in your life, put yourself in places where you can meet these kinds of people. Check in with your local parish priest to learn about small groups or other connections. You can search Facebook to find local Catholic young adult groups or community events. Maybe there are Christian mission or service opportunities in your area that you could reach out to as well. There you can encounter other individuals who desire spiritual growth and intentional friendship.
2. Consistency in Accountability
This requires first having an accountability partner. If you don’t have an accountability partner, choose someone of the same sex you see regularly and are comfortable sharing vulnerably with. If you are an accountability partner for someone struggling with porn addiction and you want more direction, consider these five suggestions as you take on this role.
Once you have an accountability partner, I find it incredibly fruitful to schedule regular check-ins. You may need them once a month, or once a week, or even every other day—no shame! At one point in my struggles with porn, my accountability partner texted me at the end of almost every day to ask if I fell. The check-ins can be simple, but they should dive into hard questions including:
- How many times have you fallen in the last week?
- What images, videos, movies, books did you seek out?
- On what devices do you access porn?
- What were your triggers leading up to the incident?
- When do you plan on going to confession?
Asking these questions is all fine and good, but it is the consistency of this accountability that will actually make an impact. It may be disheartening. When you check in every day and the answer is always failure, it can seem like there is no growth or progress. Persevere! Be patient, be consistent, and have hope.
3. Have a Plan
As you establish a consistent check-in with an accountability partner, it is also helpful to establish a plan for times of temptation.
The moment you start thinking about pursuing pornography, your brain releases chemicals that make it much more difficult to combat temptation. Your body actually begins preparing itself for a sexual act; certain muscles can tense up, you become more sensitive to touch, your internal body temperature might go up. Long story short, you can’t just walk “into the valley of evil” and think temptation will pass you on by. Establish a plan.
Start by evaluating the times of day/month, places, and activities that leave you commonly falling into porn. In my own life, I know that I am aroused the most when I am ovulating (about 2 weeks after my last period ended). There is a span of about 30 minutes to myself every evening. When I am ovulating, that whole week I know that those 30 minutes will be a battle I lose every time if I am at home doing nothing. So, I schedule things for that time! I can go to adoration, take my dog for a walk, play guitar or call a friend. Schedule it, put it on your calendar, and tell your accountability partner about your plan so they can follow up.
If you find that your plan continues to fail, go back and reevaluate. In my previous example, my plan to play guitar during that time was not effective. I had to use my phone to find chords and lyrics, and I always got sidetracked to bad websites. After a few weeks passed and I reevaluated, I recognized that I have to fill that time out of the house. Staying in the house and busying myself with an activity consistently failed. My updated plan is going to adoration!
I am a woman. When I seek out porn, I look for images and videos of women. This reality fills me with shame often and is a huge source of confusion regarding my sexual identity. I understand that men struggle with pornography addiction and I know that those individuals bear a heavy cross. I do not discount any shame they feel. However, typically there is more shame surrounding women who struggle with pornography addiction.
Women trapped in pornography addiction need encouragement and affirmation. Brene Brown, a psychologist known for her Ted Talk Listening to Shame, articulates the difference between shame and guilt: “Shame is a focus on self, guilt is a focus on behavior. Shame is ‘I am bad.’ Guilt is ‘I did something bad.’” I see in my own life and in the lives of many other women addicted to porn this common tendency toward shame. Because I look at something so bad, there is something in me that must be bad, that is corrupted, that is dirty and unworthy of love.
I need reminders that, yes, what I did was wrong, but who I am is good.
5. Daily Prayer Life
Ultimately, viewing porn stems from unfulfilled desires to be known, to be loved and to experience intimacy. Establishing a life of daily prayer accomplishes two things. First, it helps me stand in the Truth that I am loved. Second, it fosters discipline and self-mastery. (Well, a daily prayer routine does much more than these two things, but those are the two things I will focus on for the topic at hand.)
I am a single woman in my twenties living with a young Catholic family. While this is good and beautiful, it is a constant reminder of the lack of spousal intimacy in my life. All I want is to share life with a man and to be a mom. When I bring this aching emptiness in my heart to the Lord, especially in the context of Eucharistic Adoration, my Holy Hour often is about the Lord showing me how much He loves me. I leave this time knowing that only His love will ever satisfy me. Only when we rest in the love of Christ can we find peace and healing from addiction. And even then it will still be a battle! But, internalizing the truth that we are loved by Him and then living with the resolve to love Him back will lead to a path free of pornography. That road is long and hard, but totally worth it.
Internalizing the Lord’s love and living for Him requires a life of daily prayer. Fuzzy feelings are nice, but they do not get us to heaven. We must sacrifice for God by giving Him at least a small part of every day. When I started fostering a prayer life as a senior in high school, I began my daily prayer by reading the Gospel of John. I would read two verses every night before I went to bed. It was literally less than five minutes. As a few weeks went by, five minutes turned into twenty minutes, then into forty-five!
The more I sat with the Word of God, the more He spoke to me and the better I listened. He kept saying over and over and over how deep is His love for me. Within three months of beginning a daily prayer life, I saw a drastic decrease in the amount of porn I consumed. I went without looking at pornography for over a year and a half! A large part was due to grace. But, I know that I also grew in self-discipline. On nights I was exhausted, I held fast to my resolution and prayed anyway. Sometimes I wanted to pray and sometimes I did not; regardless of my emotions, I chose to pray. Committing to a life of daily prayer leads to discipline and self-mastery that are absolutely necessary in defeating pornography.
As you continue in your struggle against pornography addiction, please do not give up hope. Know that the Lord loves you and He does not abandon you, even if you feel abandoned. Truly, He wants to heal you.
I leave you with a quote that stands as a continuous encouragement for me: “Take delight in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:4). If you desire freedom, focus on Him, delight in Him and hope in Him. He will give you the desires of your heart.