- Elder Aaron Tan (PSPC)
Pornography Addiction – Termites in Our Homes
I remember a time, many years ago, when my house was experiencing strange power trips for no reason. It was not every day, but it happened perhaps once or twice a month. Each time I would reset the circuit breakers and everything would be fine for a while. Being trained as an Electrical and Electronics Engineer, I sought to find the cause of the problem but could not find any obvious causes – until one day I decided to strip all the trunking around the main power supply cables and to my horror I found that hundreds of termites have built their nest in the trunking and they were slowly eating through the cable insulation! I had to spend a small fortune calling in a pest control company to get rid of the terminates and an electrician to repair my cables. I had all but forgotten about this incident until recently when a colleague of mine was relating how she discovered that termites had infested her kitchen cabinet when she was doing renovations. Everything looked okay on the surface, but inside the wood was all rotten and she was thankful that the cabinet did not collapse and cause injury.
What have termites got to do with pornography addiction?
Like termites, this addiction can fester inside our homes among our family members, regardless of gender or age, under a pristine façade of normalcy without us noticing it until relationships start breaking down and we start to see behavioural changes happening for no obvious reasons. It is insidious because this usually happens in secret – it is easy to hide because pornographic content is readily accessible any time, anywhere, online via our personal laptop computers, tablets and mobile phones.
How serious is this problem?
In an article published by Thir.st in 2019 titled, Singapore, We Have A Porn Problem, Josh McDowell, renowned American apologist and author, was quoted saying, “If you marry someone who watches pornography, you can kiss your intimacy goodbye. Because there’s not a woman in Singapore that can compete with porn.”
That article also quoted Joanna Koh-Hoe, CEO of Focus on the Family Singapore, as saying: “51% of Christian youth and young adults have viewed porn at least once in the past year”. This statistic was taken from the organisation’s Whole Life Inventory survey with cumulative data from 14,000 respondents aged 13 and above across churches in Singapore.
The problem with pornography is not new, but it has just escalated in recent years almost exponentially because “it’s available, accessible, affordable, anonymous, appealing, aggressive and addictive,” said McDowell. According to his own research there are more than 26 million porn websites now – in a year, over 6 trillion porn videos are watched worldwide.
“Nobody can grasp how big porn is,” McDowell said. “To look at all the web pages, it would take around 8.2 billion days or 23 million years.”
This report was in 2019 before the Covid-19 pandemic hit. If things were bad then, today it has become even worse! Stuck at home with nowhere to go during the past two years, both adults and children have sought entertainment by going online and inevitably many have discovered pornographic content and have been hooked by it.
In an article published in Today Online in 2021, it was reported that there has been a drastic increase in people seeking help for compulsive sexual behaviour which includes excessive online pornography use. According to that article, some counsellors approached by TODAY said that they have “seen children as young as 12 who have trouble tearing their eyes away from sexual content after stumbling upon it”.
We Care Community Services, a community-based addiction recovery centre that runs a sex, porn, love addiction recovery programme therapy, reported that they have seen their number of cases rise from 50 in 2019 doubling to more than 100 cases in 2021. On average, most of these individuals were in their 20s and about 10% under the age of 18, including one who was 12 years old.
What is the effect of porn addiction? Is it just a moral issue?
I remember when I was very young my grandma would tell us children to close our eyes whenever an underdressed woman appeared on TV and she would say in Teochew, “Cannot see! See already spoil your brains and you cannot study!” That wise advice has now been supported by research that shows how watching pornography can actually alter our brains!
Neuroscience News.com published an article titled, Watching pornography rewires the brain to a more juvenile state, where they reported that “porn use has been correlated with erosion of the prefrontal cortex — the region of the brain that houses executive functions like morality, willpower and impulse control”. This damage is called hypofrontality, which predisposes an individual to behave compulsively and make poor decisions. The pre-frontal cortex is less developed in your children and that is why they have difficulty regulating their emotions and impulses. What this research is saying is that watching porn can reduce an adult brain to a more juvenile state.
Like other addictions, watching porn is known to increase the amount of dopamine secretion in the brain which brings about feelings of pleasure. Over time, the body can build up a tolerance and produce progressively less dopamine. This in turn causes porn users to increase the amount they consume, and in increasingly extreme content including depicting sexual violence, child abuse and so on.
Other than dopamine, another neurochemical that is released is oxytocin – a chemical that is released during sex that brings about the feeling of attachment and satisfaction. Some people call this the ‘cuddle’ hormone because it makes couples want to cuddle up after sex.
In the long term, pornography will lead to sexual dysfunctions, especially the inability to achieve erection or orgasm with a real life partner. Marital quality and commitment to one’s spouse eventually erodes. As time goes by, it could also lead one to find satisfaction outside of marriage in affairs or paid sex – just the fact that these are forbidden adds to satisfy the increasing need for excitement to get the dopamine pumping. The weakening ability to self-regulate due to the changes in the brain could also lead one to act compulsively to abuse others sexually.
For younger porn users, it undermines their ability to develop healthy loving relationships with the opposite gender. People gradually become just objects for consumption rather than individuals of worth. In an article published by Focus on the Family, Effects of Porn Addiction on a Teen Brain, they reported research that showed when teens view pornography they can develop:
· Unrealistic sexual beliefs and values
· An over-focus or obsession on sex
· Sexually aggressive behaviours
· An earlier interest in having sex
· Sexually permissive behaviours
· Questions about their own body
· Behaviour problems
· Depressive feelings
· Bonding issues with others, including their parents
· Questions about their sexual performance
They also put forward that boys and girls tend to see the same content through a different lens:
Girls tend to be uniquely drawn to the underlying explicit fantasy behind the sexual images. The fantasy overshadows the relationship. Girls look for perfectly chiselled bodies that match what they see on screen.
Boys, on the other hand, tend to be drawn to the pictures, excitement, novelty and video content. Then, they want a girl to dress and act like the characters they see on screen.
There is much more that can be said about the negative impact that watching porn can have – neurological, psychological, behavioural, relational impacts that clearly go beyond just a moral issue based on old-fashioned values. There is actual damage done to our physical and spiritual lives. There are many good materials online which my article will not be able to cover so I will leave that for your own further research.
How do we detect if there are ‘termites’ in our families?
In the TODAY article quoted earlier, the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) outlined some tell-tale signs that parents and teachers should look out for, including whether the child or youth:
· Focuses on sexuality to a greater extent than on other aspects of his or her life
· Has more sexual knowledge than similarly aged children
· Interacts spontaneously in sensual or sexual ways, for example, tries to sexualise play with others, makes sexual sounds, talks about sexual acts
· Bribes or emotionally or physically manipulates another child or youth of any age into sexual behaviours
· Engages in compulsive masturbation or preoccupation with pornographic materials, and such behaviour persists despite intervention by adults
It may be harder to detect addiction for adults. Adults are better at hiding what they do, especially if both spouses are busy with work and may not pay a lot of attention to changes in behaviour. The lack of interest to be intimate could be easily explained as tiredness or stress from work. Until one day…BOOM! Something happens and one gets found out. This could be when a wife accidentally finds her husband’s phone unlocked and she sees a video paused halfway, or she comes home early one day from work and catches her husband watching a video, or worse, the husband gets sacked for accessing pornography at work.
What to do if the secret sin is found out?
Because porn addiction festers in secret, the first reaction of a person when probed is denial, and in many cases they could even be in denial that they have a problem. What do we do if we find out our child is hooked into pornography?
As Christian parents we need to approach our children with sensitivity and understanding. We should not panic or fly off the handle and chase them out of the house, banishing them forever. We want to create a safe space for them to come clean and acknowledge their addiction. I found this article by Focus on the Family useful: How Do You Respond to Your Teen’s Suspected Porn Use? In the article they advocate that the first step should be to confront the denial, help them face the truth and then to establish a positive path forward together from a Biblical perspective. They also laid out some useful steps to take.
It is important to show them what the Bible says about sexual impurity and to flee temptation. Some verses include: 1 Corinthians 6:18, 2 Timothy 2:22, and Colossians 3:5. Then encourage him/her that God can and will forgive if he/she would confess his/her sin to Him and seek His help to fight it. Encouraging verses could include: 1 John 1:9, 1 Corinthians 10:13, and Ephesians 6:11-13.
We also need to try to find out the underlying cause for the addiction – perhaps it could have stemmed from a lack of self-confidence, a poor self-image, stress, boredom, and so on, and to work through with him/her to help them back up on their feet. We also acknowledge that it would be difficult to ‘unsee’ the images that they have encountered because these would have been etched into their memories which can come back to tempt them again. Here is where we need to teach them to divert their thoughts and Philippians 4:8 would be a good verse to share with them to help them substitute those sinful thoughts with good ones.
What about between spouses? How would one spouse deal with the disappointment, betrayal, pain and distrust caused by the offending spouse? Rebuilding trust is never easy – it takes a long time to establish the bank of trust, but all it takes is one incident to empty out that bank, and even cause it to go into deficit.
A sincere, no-excuses apology is a good starting point. Coming out clean to admit that there is a problem and that help is needed is a first step towards the healing. Both sides need to be on board the journey. I found this article by Focus on the Family useful: Restoring Trust After Pornography Addiction. In most cases, seeking pastoral help and engaging the support of professional counsellors would be needed.
How to prevent pornography addiction from happening?
As in many illnesses, prevention is always better than cure. Here are some tips to help keep the family safe:
1. Walk close to the Lord as a family, love the Lord and love one another. Daily devotions and prayer together builds relationships and helps to mitigate the need to look for fake love elsewhere.
2. Put in place regular exercise routines – over time, regular exercise remodels the reward system, leading to higher circulating levels of dopamine and more available dopamine receptors. Getting high from exercise is definitely healthier than getting high from pornography.
3. Put in parental control software on the children’s mobile devices and computers and manage their online time.
4. Sign up for screen accountability sites such as Covenant Eyes (https://www.covenanteyes.com/) which monitors the sites you visit and reports it to your accountability partner.
5. Share access to each other’s computer and mobile devices. The fact that my wife can look into my phone and my computer any time she wants ensures that I do not hide anything from her.
6. Arrange the computers the family use for work, e-learning, etc. in a common area, if possible. This point and the one above is to remove opportunities for the ‘termites’ to fester in secret.
In closing, I must declare that I am in no way an expert on this topic. My only hope in writing this article is to help fellow Brothers and Sisters in Christ be more aware of the rising problem with pornography addiction which now cuts across gender, age groups, social status, religions, etc. I have barely scratched the surface on this topic but there are already many good resources available online for your own reading. Articles provided by Focus on the Family are a good resource to start with. This is not a simple problem to deal with, and I would strongly advise parents, and couples, facing pornography addiction issues in the family to seek professional help.
May the Lord guard our minds and hearts to keep them pure for His praise and glory.
Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.
Proverbs 4:23 (ESV)
____________________________________________________________  https://thirst.sg/singapore-porn-addiction-problem-josh-mcdowell/  https://www.todayonline.com/singapore/watching-porn-getting-addicted-experts-tell-cases-theyve-seen-and-risks-linked-sexual   https://www.focusonthefamily.com/parenting/effects-of-porn-addiction-on-a-teen-brain/  https://www.focusonthefamily.com/parenting/how-do-you-respond-to-your-childs-suspected-porn-use/  https://www.focusonthefamily.com/marriage/restoring-trust-after-pornography-addiction/  https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/five_surprising_ways_exercise_changes_your_brain#:~:text=Exercise%20can%20make%20your%20brain%20more%20sensitive%20to%20joy&text=Over%20time%2C%20regular%20exercise%20remodels,expand%20your%20capacity%20for%20joy.