Porn: How to quit

SELF | 10 mins

An interview between two guys who have conquered porn addictions—packed with wisdom for any guy who wants to join them:

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The further you get from war, the quieter the bombs become.

I’ve never served in the military. But I have been to war—one I thought might kill me in the end. Pornography got its claws in me during college. Hurt from the abrupt end of a relationship, living alone, and fairly isolated, it found me weak and it pounced. Before I knew it, most nights had become a cycle of ecstasy, shame, and clearing my browser history.

I’m over a decade clean. While the war has ended, I remain on guard, because I believe pornography will completely and utterly destroy you. But I’m not here to convince you that you’re in a war. Rather, I’m here for the people who see the bombs and long for a way out.

I called a friend who’s journey is more recent. I met Sean in the middle of his war with pornography. As I write this, he is 177 days clean. We sat down for an honest conversation about addiction, recovery, and freedom.

Caleb: So you’re twenty-one now, and finally tasting some recovery. But before we get to that, what’s your backstory with pornography?

Sean: I first saw it when I was thirteen. It started with a pop-up on my computer. But it flipped something in my brain. It was an easy and quick descent after that.

I was regularly watching it by age 14, and for the next seven years or so, it was a habit. It would almost always go this way: (1) I’d watch porn. (2) I’d feel incredibly guilty and resolve to stop. (3) Those feelings would fade, lust would come back all the stronger, and I’d watch it again. Lather, rinse, repeat—for years.

Caleb: How often did you want to be free from it?

Sean: Every freaking day. But my approach to finding freedom wasn’t the right one. I figured pornography was a personal problem, so I should be able to solve it on my own. Nothing could be further from the truth. I wasn’t going to get myself over that hill. I think the longest I ever lasted, on sheer willpower, was three weeks. But a moment of weakness and all that ground was lost again.

Caleb: So you believe the reason your addiction lasted as long as it did is that you never told anyone?

Sean: Absolutely. My willpower just wasn’t sustainable. I was raised in a great house surrounded by wonderful friends and the thought of them finding out my secret, locked me up tight. I was so nervous to tell anybody. I wanted to deal with it on my own, but because I made that decision I had no one supporting me. I needed other people to get free.

Caleb: What pushed you forward?

Sean: In short, the worst day of my life. I had spent a week on vacation with my girlfriend and her family. We’d been dating over a year.

The last night we were there, we stayed up late having an incredible conversation. One thing led to another and she bluntly asked me if I had ever watched porn. It was a do-or-die moment. I loved this girl, and I wanted a future with her based on honesty. So I told her the truth—I told her that I’d wanted to stop for years, but hadn’t found the power to do so. We both cried. But she was incredibly understanding. She told me she would support me while I fought to conquer it. What started as an incredibly difficult conversation actually ended in a really sweet place.

Not even five days later we were back from vacation at our respective homes talking on Facetime before going to bed. I was really short with her—not mean, just giving short answers trying to end the call because I wanted to go watch porn. We finally got off the call and I went to it. She was texting me, and I didn’t respond for hours. Finally, she asked me again, “Are you watching porn right now?”

My heart sank to my stomach. I answered her honestly and the conversation went dead. She wanted no part of talking to me. Which I completely understood.

The next few days were my rock bottom. Finally, I called a mentor, an older guy I really respected, and for the first time was completely honest with someone else about my addiction. I wanted to save my relationship with my girlfriend, and I didn’t know how. My mentor told me to man-up, and go apologize to her in-person. From then on he involved himself in my life. He texted me every day and asked the hard questions.

It was probably the hardest conversation of my life to hear how my choices had completely damaged our relationship. She told me that porn made her feel second best—like I’d rather be living an online fantasy over real life with her. It was hard for her to trust me. For the next few weeks, every time we were together was like walking on eggshells. But we kept digging in, talking about it, and being 100% honest about our feelings.

Caleb: So that next day, after you were caught—was that Day One of being clean?

Sean: Yes, that next morning, after she caught me—that was Day One. I haven’t looked at porn since that night.

Caleb: What did you actually change in your life to give yourself the chance to succeed? You already said that willpower wasn’t enough.

Sean: Instagram and Snapchat were big sources of temptation for me. It was so easy to find images there that would drive me back to watching porn.

I’ll be honest, I didn’t want to cut social media out. But I saw, so clearly, that it was my front door into porn. So I deleted both apps. It’s been one of the best choices I’ve ever made, but I honestly don’t regret it at all. The freedom I have now is way better than the vague connection I had with “friends” through those social channels.

I also agreed to be completely honest with my mentor and my girlfriend and when I was feeling strong urges to go back to pornography, I told them I would text them. And I did. It was so embarrassing, but I wanted freedom more than anything. Every time I texted them, they agreed to stop and pray for me. It’s hard to explain, but knowing that other people were fighting for me was a huge motivation to keep me fighting.

I recognized that porn was a stronger temptation when I was tired, so I removed all the technology from my bedroom. I started charging my phone in the kitchen and my laptop in a side room. It sounds lazy, but just that distance was enough for me to not get up in the middle of the night when lust was after me.

Caleb: What were those first few days like?

Sean: The first 45 days were hell. Every single one was a battle. I’ve read how pornography rewires our brains, and I think that first month and a half my brain was still trying to run those old patterns. Some days, I was just happy to get to the bed and shut my brain off for a few hours. I was asking for help and prayer, a lot. The temptation was practically non-stop. But the more days that passed, bit by bit, the urges grew weaker.

Even with a few weeks of success behind me, I didn’t consider myself “clean.” I kept talking to my mentor weekly, asking for prayer almost every day, and following the patterns I’d set in place to stay clean. I knew that when I felt confident that I was “better,” it would be the most opportune time for me to fall back into it. So I treated every day like a battle and kept running my plan. My focus was getting to the next day—small gains. And then 50 days passed without porn. And then 100. And then 150. I’m almost to 200 days clean, and it’s so much easier now.

Caleb: Just because temptation gets weaker, it doesn’t mean you stop being provoked to look at porn. So what do you do now when that temptation comes back?

Sean: The first thing I do is pray. Just stop whatever I’m doing—and just pray. I ask God to protect me, to go before me and make a way out of it. My first couple of months, honestly, prayer didn’t feel like it helped. But now that I’ve tasted some freedom and I’ve experienced God fighting for me, prayer has become my go-to weapon. If I’m feeling particularly weak or vulnerable, I’ll text my mentor and girlfriend, just like on Day One of this journey.

I also have started talking it out in my head. That probably sounds weird, but I’ve found that temptation is based almost solely on feelings—it’s rarely logical or reasonable. So I’ll stop and tell myself, “this is bad for you, it’s bad for your girlfriend, it will take over your life.” At first, my feelings generally dictated what I did, but now logic wins every time.

Not to sound like a Puritan, but I’ve become very conscious of what I allow myself to see. If there is a sex scene in a movie, I’ll look away. I don’t need those images floating around my head. If I’m at the gym and an attractive girl crosses my path, I look away. I know how that sounds, but it’s just not worth it to me to fall back in that pit again.

Caleb: What would you say to someone wanting freedom from pornography? What wisdom can you give from your experiences?

Sean: First thing, absolutely, is to find a support network. My community was the number one thing that helped me stop. I know you want to believe that you can conquer it on your own—you can’t. So find a community that will fight alongside you. And then, every day, you have to choose to be honest with them. It’s embarrassing, but it pushes you forward.

Identify your front doors into pornography and put up guardrails. Again, for me, it took the inconvenience of keeping electronics out of my bedroom and deleting social media. It sucked. But it worked.

Finally, and probably most important, ask God for help. I believe that He was proud of my effort to choose freedom and I knew that I needed his power to make it. I remember praying to him once, out of desperation, “I don’t care anymore. Do anything you want. Just get me out of this.” Once I got to that point, and I believed he wanted my success, nothing else mattered but killing this thing.

Honestly, If I can do it, anyone can. I believe you can conquer this thing. It’s incredibly difficult. But freedom is so worth the fight.

Written by Caleb Mathis on Apr 9, 2019
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Discussion Questions

  1. What strikes you most about this article, and why?

  2. What are your biggest front doors to pornography or triggers that tempt you toward it? What could you do this week to eliminate them?

  3. Who is a safe person you could tell that could help you get freedom too? Reach out to them right now, and start the conversation.

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