Of all my years counseling Christians and non about the dangers of pornography, there are 9 common emotional and situational patterns that trigger porn use. Some of these are simply symptoms of a deeper problem, meanwhile others only serve to justify a depraved craving. I don’t want to harshly judge those who have fought tooth and nail to sanctify themselves from this perverse exercise, but I also don’t want to downplay the grave sinfulness of it either. Having said all this, I pray these reasons below serve one purpose. And that is, to become awakened to the deceptive justifications and pitfalls our hearts give into, so that we might repent immediately before clicking on that ad or link.
Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts!
And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!
I desire that this will be our prayer.
Although there are many external countermeasures we can take to make no provision for the flesh (Rom. 13:14), since temptation begins in the heart (James 1:14-15), we must know ourselves well enough to guard our hearts against the seeds of sin so that it cannot grow into a tree. So here are 9 common emotional and situational triggers that many have groomed themselves into, which has caused them to give in to pornography.
1. Unrighteous Anger
It sounds dumb at first, but there are many husbands who choose to watch pornography because they are angry at their spouse. It does not have to be because the spouse is depriving them of sex either (something we’ll discuss below). It can be an unloving remark, she is nagging you, or is disappointed because you aren’t living up to her expectations, and so on and so forth. But what we don’t realize as husbands is that while we run to pornography to get a hit of sexual dopamine to escape our anger, the very thing we are doing will only exacerbate our frustrations with our beloved wife. It will only continue to fuel our anger. Not temper it. And it will groom your emotional frustrations to seek temporal satisfaction through illicit gratification, not through godly sanctification.
And while I can sit here and talk about husbands, women are just as susceptible these days to resort to porn for the exact same reasons. Not only that, single men and women also turn to porn for a digital escape from their feeling of anger and frustrations with their family, friends, or circumstances in life. Anger rests in the bosom of fools says Solomon (Ecc. 7:19). And anger can lead to many forms of sin (Pro. 29:22), which includes pornography. And not just outbursts, violence, or saying unkind things. So when we are angry, no matter who we are angry at, or what we are angry with, let us repent of our unrighteous anger before it causes us to burn with unbridled passion.
Bitterness is an interesting emotion (not in a good way). It can cause discontentment, jealousy, and anger. None of these are mutually exclusive of course. And any one of these can feed off each other in an instant. But what is interesting is how many times someone can be bitter about a trial, toward a person they love or hate, or a situation they cannot control, and yet, find themselves lured by the deceitful pleasures of porn to help them escape or find relief from their own bitterness.
Someone gets a promotion and you don’t. A co-worker gets recognized for a job well done, and not you. Your friend is a better preacher, sports player, musician, and you’re not. You’re not the best mother, father, boss, pastor, student, etc. You are not happy with the way your life has turned out. You’re upset at your earthly circumstances. And the list goes on! No matter what it is, you can find yourself in a sea of bitterness just for a drop of temporary desires. And if that desire is not achieved, or leaves you disillusioned somehow, setting your eyes upon even the fleeting pleasures of porn, once again, only makes things worse! It is no wonder that the book of Hebrews warns against this kind of idolatry when it says:
Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled; that no one is sexually immoral or unholy like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal. (Hebrews 12:14-16)
An interesting observation is how sexual sin is linked to a “root of bitterness” springing up within you, which can lead to apostasy (a major motif in Hebrews). When you trace this out, this is an allusion to Deut 29:18, where Moses warned the children of Israel about falling away and following after the gods of other nations, like they have previously done. And if we know anything about the children of Israel’s story, they fell into sexual immorality constantly, meanwhile pursuing idolatrous behaviors like the nations around them. And their incessant complaining against Moses and the LORD was only a symptom of their idolatry. And this is exactly what we do if we pursue porn, and groom our hearts to find pleasure in it.
Depression is a strong emotion. It leaves us damaged, defeated, and downtrodden. Having dealt with seasons of depression and specific times in my own life, I can attest that it is a mental prison. Some are in this state more often than others. But regardless of the reasons for being depressed, one thing that I have counseled and warned against is the lure of porn while in it.
Because porn provokes large doses of dopamine in the mind, giving us a high of good feelings, it temporarily frees us from our mental oppressiveness. But despite this, in reality, it leaves us chained up in the dungeon of deceitful lusts after the high is over. And only drags us deeper and deeper into this dark, mental abyss. The escape we seek in watching porn in our depressive state only serves to trick us, not heal us. And even when we are simply sad, and not depressed, we are in just as much danger of looking to porn for some form of pleasure and delight, rather than facing the emotional discomfort sadness and depression brings to us.
I would add here that sadness and depression are not sinful emotions. They certainly can be symptoms of something sinful, but it is not always the case. I am only seeking to warn those who have, and who may be looking to porn for a way out. Also, we should remember that sadness and depression can be used for our good (Ecc. 7:3; Psa. 119:67-61) if we trust the LORD while we are in it. If we would only look to the LORD as our reward and strength, would not be robbed from the genuine and pure joy that can only come from God alone (see Psalm 42 & 43).
Like depression, the feeling of loneliness seems to be rampant. There are many single men and women who struggle with this emotion. Indeed, there are those who are surrounded by people who also struggle with loneliness! Even married couples. But the thing we must beware of is when that feeling of loneliness leads us to watch pornography. Because some people are looking for companionship or romance, porn seems to be a suitable substitute. But it is nothing of the sort! It only leaves a lonely person to feel even lonelier. Because after the excitement and counterfeit simulation of love has faded away, it is just you, by yourself, and your sexually abused conscience.
God is an omnipresent God in whom we should seek and delight in when we are feeling lonely. David says:
Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.
My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
It is also God’s covenant mercy and loving kindness David says is better than life (Psa. 63:3). If you have received his mercy and saving kindness, you have something that is better than anything this life can offer. And you are never truly alone! While at times we will feel lonely in this life, we must remember that God does not forsake his own. Like the clouds that hide the sun, we must know that God is still there, even when the dark clouds of loneliness roll over us (depression can be included in this illustration). And though he seems hidden, he has not abandoned us. Therefore, if you are feeling lonely, pay careful attention that you do not groom yourself to watch porn.
5. Being Alone
Whether we realize it or not, there is a difference between being alone and feeling lonely. Loneliness deals with the emotion, even if company is around. Being alone is spacial. That is, when no one is actually around. And for some, being alone is the worse thing for them. Because being alone provides an opportunity to watch pornography. When I counsel those who watch porn, I ask how often they are alone? And depending on the answer, I follow up with, how often they watch porn when they are alone? The answer is not surprising, because they’ve groomed themselves into this habit. Even worse than this is how often purposeful planning is involved. It isn’t just opportunistic, although common too. But there are some who will plan their alone time to get away so that they can consume as much porn as they can without having to look over their shoulder.
It is inevitable that we will be alone at times. And having our electronic devices doesn’t help the fact that we have access to porn whenever we want. But remembering that God is always watching (Ecc. 12:14; Heb. 4:13) should cause you to pause, fear, and repent before you happily take the opportunity to be alone. Also, if you love God, and have publicly confessed your allegiance to him, that should further quench the flaming darts of temptation to be alone (John 14:21). And perhaps, just perhaps, you should strongly think about filling your time and space with activities where no electronic devices are accessible. Spending time with family and friends, reading Scripture or a book in an public environment, using a public computer (i.e. library), or taking advantage of other locations where the temptation to watch porn is far from your reach is absolutely an option.
Bottom line: If you are prone to watching porn when you’re alone, or look forward to being alone so that you can, you must recognize this and steer yourself away from such an opportunity. If it is inevitable, cutting power to electronic devices, crying out to God, spending your alone time in worship and prayer, and giving yourself wholly to thanksgiving and spiritual exercise should be zealously sought after, by God’s grace. Strongly resolve to glorify God in that moment. Ponder his goodness, his faithfulness, and our LORD Jesus dying on the cross to give us a victorious life over pornography. You might be by yourself, but let your thoughts be enraptured and in awe of his beautiful holiness.
All of what we’ve covered so far is indeed a web that we entangle ourselves in more often than we’d like. And boredom, though a seemingly insignificant trigger and justification, is indeed a real problem.
Boredom can be caused by many things. As sinful human beings, we are never satisfied. As a culture of controversy and entertainment, our pursuit of the next rush of excitement and thrill makes matters worse. We find it hard to pay attention in school or in church because our minds are bombarded with Facebook, movies, and photos that constantly feed our desire for something interesting and exciting. Unfortunately, we are paying a heavy price for our spiritual health. Because the consequence is that long term reading now becomes hard. Critical thinking, meditation, and deep thought become burdensome. And unless what we are doing is exciting and entertaining, we lose interest.
What we don’t realize is how much porn gorges the unsatisfiable desire for entertainment. And for the same reasons we mentioned above for depression and loneliness, the dopamine high we receive raptures us from our boredom and excites us. If only we can find more pleasure and joy in God, and his commandments and providences (Ecc. 2:24-25; 3:12-13; 9:10; 12:13), our hearts would not be enamored sinful pleasures. And like David who should have been out to war, instead of at home in Jerusalem before he sinned with Bathsheba (2 Sam 11:1), we too should remember what we ought to be doing when we find ourselves bored, and looking for something to do. The saying is true, “Idle hands can be the devil’s playground.” Therefore, beware of boredom as a segway to watching porn.
Along with the epidemic of emotions our nation faces today, anxiety is also at the top of the list. Anxiety manifests itself in many forms. And what can cause it is just as daunting. But unlike depression, anxiety swings the pendulum in the other direction. It can lead to emotional overdrive, panic attacks, and excessive worrying. This leads to lack of sleep, distracted thinking, inattentiveness, and bodily stress. In my experience counseling those who use porn, asking what they are anxious about can put my finger on root causes. Financial concerns, trouble in the home and work, or irrational fears are some examples that can lead someone to be overwhelmed. On the other hand, even righteous concerns like disunity in our local church, evangelism prospects, and the persecution can all contribute to anxiety/worry. The problem for some, however, is that porn has become an escape to relieve their hearts of the troubles they are facing life.
Just like drug addiction and alcoholism, porn addiction is a sinful means to an end. But just like any addiction, that means will be your ruin. Knowing what to do when feeling anxious is vital in our walk with Christ. Philippians 4:6 teaches us that we should seek God in prayer and thanksgiving, letting our requests be made known to God, rather than becoming anxious. The apostle Peter has a similar exhortation, commanding us to cast our cares on the LORD, because he cares for us (1 Pet. 5:7). And if we are paying attention, too much care for world and the lust of other things (like porn) can reveal that we are not Christian (Mark 4:19).
But the essential thing I would like to point out here is that we need to discern the exact moment your heart is seeking porn in order to calm those anxieties. It shouldn’t be a surprise that you look for ways to find relief from your anxieties. And there are plenty of foods, drinks, and non-sinful pleasures that God has providentially given for us all to enjoy so as to bring temporary relief in this fallen world (Ecc. 2:25; 5:18; 1 Tim. 6:17). But porn isn’t one of them. It is a demon disguised as an angel of light. It promises pleasure, but only gives a curse. So we must fear God, and seek his majestic presence, in order to hate porn and use it as a means to ease our anxieties.
8. Sex Deprivation/Revenge
Yes, married couples can and do deprive one another. It should not be the case, but often some resort to porn after being rejected by their spouse. This is a depraved reason, and it often leads to bitterness, anger (as mentioned above), and other ranges of emotions, but it is a common justification that causes one to seek porn. Because spouses deprive one another, a subcategory of this trigger can be revenge. By watching porn, they are getting back at their spouse. Without realizing it, they are developing another way of coping with the stressors that almost all married couples have to deal with. And this leads nowhere but destruction. Of your own marriage, and your own soul.
Before you rush to porn when being sex-deprived, the one thing we must remember is that sex is not the end all be all of marriage. It is a good thing, but not the definitive thing. Paul admonishes spouses to give ourselves to another, and only by agreement, and for a limited time, can we keep ourselves from one another (1 Cor. 7:5). But, if you notice from this context, the fundamental problem Paul is addressing is a lack of self-control and sexual temptation (read 7:2-5). The bottom line issues are not that spouses are depriving each other, and are commanded to give up their bodies whenever the other spouse wants sex. The issue is sexual purity and self-control. Which is the very thing we are seeking to address by noticing within ourselves what drive us to go outside the marriage bed in order to adulterously lust after sexual images.
There are many complex issues that spouses need to navigate through when it comes to this very important topic. And the purpose is not to go through all of them and write a book on solutions. What I want us to remember is that being sexually deprived and/or seeking revenge are personal triggers (excuses) to watch out for. And how we view sex in our marriage is a fundamental factor. If it is the end all be all, then we have an inordinate affection, and this will only cause more friction. But also, if porn is your solution to escape and cope with the conflict, you are inevitably pouring gasoline on the fire.
9. Because We Want To
I couldn’t write a blog about commons reasons why we watch porn without saving the most important, and central reason why many watch it — because they want to. Regardless of all the triggers, the emotional turmoil, and battles within, we must swallow the hardest truth(s), and be brutally honest with ourselves if we ever are going to be sanctified from this horrendous practice. There are many who don’t watch it out of revenge, deprivation, depression, sadness, anger, anxiety, loneliness, or boredom. They watch it because they want to.
James 1:14 is clear. We are tempted when we are drawn from our own lust and enticed. Our LORD Jesus states that sexual immorality comes from within the heart (Matt. 7:21). Ephesians 4:22 commands us to put off the old man which is corrupt through deceitful desires. And we are told repeatedly if we walk according to the Spirit, we won’t fulfill the lusts of the flesh (Romans 13:14; Gal 5:16). So we must remember that we are not victims, but perpetrators. We must accept responsibility for grooming our desires toward porn when we don’t deal with our emotions and circumstances biblically. But we must also remember that if we are Christians, because of Christ, those lusts and passions no longer have dominion over us (Gal. 5:24). That is, porn does not get the last word.
Now I know that, as Christians, there will be a constant fight against sin. We lament our remaining sin and are dying daily, being conformed to the image of Christ. Like Paul, we cry out, “Who will deliver us from this body of death!” (Rom. 7:24) And that which we hate, we end up doing (Rom. 7:15). But, do we hate it because of how it makes us feel, or do we hate it because of WHO we’ve sinned against? Take your time to answer this. Because this is crucial.
If you have noticed the pattern from all 8 situations above, the key element is escape. Escape from our circumstances and situations that aren’t to our liking. We don’t want to deal with the conflict, the noise, and the hard work associated with them. The other key element is all the “triggers” that we have groomed ourselves to accept that arouse us to engage in pornography. So instead of running to the infinitely beautiful and worthy Savior as our refuge in our emotional and situational turmoil, we groom ourselves to run to a cheap idol. We accept raunchy counterfeits to temporarily escape our troubles rather than his righteous commandments. Inevitably, we sell ourselves into slavery.
But in order to hate our sin rightly, we must grasp that this isn’t some spiritual martial art that you can learn in a dojo. It first requires a regenerative work on the heart from an omnipotent and merciful God! And if we have experienced this wonderful salvation, but find ourselves in this pit, we must reset our gaze back upon heaven and realize to WHOM we committed this heinous sin against. Because when we don’t, it is easy for us to develop these emotional and situational habits that leave us trapped in the hamster wheel of pornography without realizing it. Heavenward is where we should set our compass when we’ve lost our way.
My friend, if you or someone you know has fallen into this trap, first, make them aware of the way they have possibly groomed themselves. Ask them about the situations and emotional state they often find themselves in when they look to pornography. Then, eliminate any justification(s) they find to use it. Even phrases like, “I don’t know why this is happening,” or “I hate being in this situation” can be vague cover-ups for the reasons why they find themselves watching porn. With that in mind, let them know that they watch porn because they want to, and have groomed themselves without realizing it to crave it, and move on from there to find the trigger points. Don’t let the heart abused by porn cover up the root cause! Finally, though not exhaustively, spiritually compel their gaze to heaven. Compel their conscience to see the grandeur of our God, and greatness of their offense. It isn’t about accountability partners, or just removing the stumbling blocks out of your life (although that is good). The heart must reignite the love for God that has been dampened by pornography. Unless we realize that it is God who is and should be the center of our affection, porn is more than happy to sit on that throne. But if we are in Christ, that power already belongs to Him.
-Until we go home