Health

The porn problem: Prayer isn’t enough

Dr. Peter Kleponis explains how pornography is addictive and why addicts need help

 

They realize they are not bad people trying to be good. They are sick people trying to get well.”

The public is becoming increasingly aware that pornography addiction is a real problem for many men and women in our culture—and Catholics are no exception.

Yet as Catholics, our first thought may be to try to eradicate any sinful behavior with some good old-fashioned perseverance and, of course, grace from the Sacrament of Confession.

I had the opportunity to talk with Dr. Peter Kleponis, a clinician who also is the Senior Advisor for Educational and Clinical Programs for Integrity Restored, who has helped many men and women in their healing journey breaking free from porn. He told me about why, most of the time, perseverance and grace are important, but they aren’t enough to break free from pornography use.

First of all, do all porn users automatically need professional help? In other words, when does a porn user become an addict? Does it parallel drug addiction?

Not everyone who struggles with pornography use is an addict. Just as a person can have an alcohol problem and not be an alcoholic, so can a person have a pornography problem and not be a porn addict. Dr. Patrick Carnes (2007) notes 10 characteristics of problematic online sexual behavior:

  1. Preoccupation with sex on the Internet
  2. Frequently engaging in sex on the Internet more often or for longer periods of time than intended
  3. Repeated unsuccessful efforts to control, cut back on, or stop engaging in sex on the Internet
  4. Restlessness or irritability when attempting to limit or stop engaging in sex on the Internet
  5. Using cybersex on the Internet as a way of escaping from problems or relieving feelings of helplessness, guilt, anxiety or depression
  6. Returning to sex on the Internet day after day in search of a more intense or higher-risk sexual experience
  7. Lying to family members, therapists, or others to conceal involvement with sex on the internet
  8. Committing illegal sexual acts online (for example, sending or downloading child pornography or soliciting illegal sex acts online)
  9. Jeopardizing or losing a significant relationship, job, or educational or career opportunity because of online sexual behavior
  10. Incurring significant financial consequences as a result of engaging in online sexual behavior

If a person is struggling with any of these signs, I recommend seeking the help of a competent mental health professional who is certified in the diagnosis and treatment of sexual addiction. While those who struggle with a pornography problem, and not an addiction, may need help to overcome their problem, they don’t necessarily need to be in a recovery program.

Isn’t porn just like any other sin? Why can’t we just pray for grace to turn away from it? Why is therapy sometimes necessary?

While viewing pornography is sinful, we know it is an addictive substance. Once a person becomes addicted they lose their ability to say “no” to it. Their free will is compromised. While prayer is necessary to overcome an addiction, much more is needed. As with any disease, pornography addiction requires professional help. This includes counseling, support group meetings, education, and growth in virtue.  

More to read: 4 Reasons people avoid seeking counseling (and why they don’t hold up) 

Most often the pornography use is really the symptom of much deeper issues. It becomes a coping mechanism to deal with the pain of deep emotional wounds. Until the root causes of those wounds are identified and healed, no true sobriety can be achieved. Thus, a comprehensive recovery program is necessary for true healing.  

Is getting free of porn addiction then smooth sailing? Or are stalls common in the recovery process? If so, why?

Stalls are very common in recovery. I often say progress in recovery is a matter of “two steps forward and one step back.” Recovery is a process and there will be slips along the way. Deep emotional wounds are often uncovered that must be dealt with.  This can be very painful and can take a while to address and heal. This can lead to slips. “Slip” stands for Short Lapse In Progress.  When a person has a slip, we can use it as a learning tool to help them further identify the roots of their addiction and to achieve a deeper level of healing. Eventually the slips disappear. The key is to not get discouraged if the recovery process doesn’t go as fast or smoothly as one would like. With patience and perseverance, one can succeed in recovery!

I know that you, together with Integrity Restored and a number of other clinicians, are hosting a Men’s Intensive Weekend in September … is there something that is more effective about spending a concentrated couple of days working on this issue, rather than many sessions that are spread out?

By participating in an intensive workshop, a person can achieve in three days what would normally take three to six months of weekly counseling to achieve. It’s a great jumpstart into recovery. This makes it more economical. It’s also helpful for those who may feel they have stalled in recovery and need more encouragement to get the process moving again. By interacting with others in the workshop, participants learn they are not alone and receive valuable support and encouragement. Through interactive teachings and small group activities, participants learn about pornography/sexual addiction, the root causes of their addictions, and begin to develop an effective personalized recovery program. They will have the tools to successfully continue on their recovery journey after they leave the workshop.

What sort of tangible changes have you seen in people’s lives?

I have worked with many men who have attended intensive workshops for pornography/sexual addiction. They leave the workshop with a clearer understanding of what pornography/sexual addiction is, its root causes, and what a comprehensive recovery program entails. They have greater insight into the specific roots of their addictions and what healing is needed in their lives. They come away with a stronger confidence in their ability to overcome their addiction. They are often excited about recovery and are not afraid to reach out for help. They realize they are not bad people trying to be good. They are sick people trying to get well.  They have the humility and courage to succeed in recovery.

More to read: Four Secrets to Sexual Healing 

For more information about Dr. Kleponis’s upcoming Intensive Workshop, visit here. For more resources on healing from pornography, visit integrityrestored.com.