Why addiction to pornography is so insidious: A counsellor shares the challenges
Christine Leow // September 9, 2020, 6:14 pm
Walking with someone with porn addiction includes the challenges of changing mindsets and dealing with relapses. Photo by Soumil Kumar from Pexels.
The people he counselled were not adults. They were teens. They didn’t stumble onto pornography. They went looking for it while they were still in Primary School. And they didn’t stop at just looking.
Up to 51% of Christian youths and young adults have viewed porn at least once in the past year.
“After accessing porn every day and excessively masturbating, it came to the extent that these were no longer enough. The teen said he had to experience the real thing,” said Pastor Randy Khoo from The People’s Bible Church:
Another started to send messages to the girls in his school. Twenty of them.
When they ended up in the counselling room with the pastor, both boys had already been addicted to pornography for years.
Journeying with these youths is something that Pastor Khoo, who is also in charge of his church’s Pastoral Counselling & Family Life ministry, is committed to. But the road to recovery is fraught with challenges, he said.
1. But everyone is doing it
The statistics should make most people sit up. But it has been a double-edged sword in counselling.
“There’s rationalisation: If everyone is doing it – siblings, family, church leaders – it may be bad but not that bad.”
According to a Whole Life Inventory survey, three in five husbands and one in five wives in Singapore have viewed pornography.
The young are not exempt. In a 2018 CNA report, counselling centres interviewed said there was a rising trend of clients aged 25 and younger seeking help for sexual and porn addiction.
The church isn’t spared. The Whole Life Inventory survey also revealed that 51% of Christian youths and young adults have viewed porn at least once in the past year.
But the prevalence of the porn problem has also oddly legitimised it.
“The kids say, ‘Everyone is doing it. I just happened to be the one that got found out’,” said Pastor Khoo.
“So, there’s rationalisation. If everyone is doing it – siblings, family, church leaders – it may be bad but not that bad.”
“Wives who know that their husbands access porn consider it adultery.”
One teen even did research and found websites that supported porn saying that it was good for relationships.
To counter this narrative, Pastor Khoo gave his counsellees articles “printed out and summarised because it appeals to them” with evidence that pornography damages marriages and relationships.
“Wives who know that their husbands access porn consider it adultery,” Pastor Khoo found.
2. Two steps forward, three steps back
Relapse is a reality in recovery.
“The counselling sessions benefit (porn addicts). They experience success initially. They go for a month, even six weeks without viewing pornography,” said Pastor Khoo who teaches behavioural change as part of re-directing addicts’ attention to other pursuits.
Often, however, stress causes them to go back to old habits.
“For one of the youths, it was exam stress that caused him to relapse,” said Pastor Khoo.
When that happens, dealing with the disappointment, the despondency and even the renewed rationalisation can make counselling an uphill task.
3. It’s also a brain thing
Porn alters the brain. It triggers the release of the kind of chemicals that make lasting changes in the brain and allows the brain to form strong neurological pathways. This is why addiction to porn is so difficult to shake off.
“It’s not a matter of their sincerity or their spirituality that they have not overcome their addiction.”
“You can’t remove the pathway. You have to come up with new pathways,” said Pastor Khoo.
“Addiction is a spiritual issue, but we can observe this spiritual component through biological changes as well.”
This is something Director of Kallos, a Christian magazine for young women, Quek Shiwei noted as well.
“A lot of girls say, ‘I’m going to quit, I’m going to quit’ and try to use sheer will power, not realising this neurological component.
“When it doesn’t work, they say, ‘Maybe I’m destined to fail. Maybe I’m a sinner at heart.
“That’s when I tell them it takes years to overcome the addiction and to have proper expectations. Then the guilt and shame are lifted and they can see that it’s not a matter of their sincerity or their spirituality that they have not overcome their addiction.”
4. Sorrows of secret shame
Self-loathing and shame often prevent people from stepping up to ask for help with their addiction to pornography. It’s even harder for Christians.
“One of them told me he was a leader in the church. He was concerned about how people would look at him if anyone found out. He said, ‘People will think that I’m a fake’.”
It took several sessions before Pastor Khoo could even bring God into the conversation.
“In those whom I’ve counselled … it all comes back to the fathers.”
“Even then, his words were, ‘God doesn’t like me, God hates me’. It was tough but it led to the biggest breakthrough for me because I was able to talk to him about the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32).”
Pastor Khoo got his counsellee to picture the son returning to his father.
“Then we talked about where the father was when the son returned and he had a picture of the father just standing there.
“But when we went to the parable and read that the father actually ran to the son and embraced him, it became a breakthrough for him. We both teared.”
Seeing God in the right perspective, said Pastor Khoo, is a turning point for many people he counsels.
“In those whom I’ve counselled, and it’s for different issues, it all comes back to the fathers. They have issues with their fathers.”
5. Where is the community?
A lack of a safe community can impede recovery.
“For healing to take place, you need a community,” said Pastor Khoo.
So, while counselling can work for a while, unless there is a community to support the person, the progress can be undone.
Added Quek: “We did a survey last year and the people we asked said they wanted to break free from porn but didn’t have anyone to keep them accountable.
“They said, ‘I wish I had a community’.”
Salt&Light Family Night: Real talk on pornography
According to a Whole Life Singapore survey, three in five husbands and one in five wives in Singapore have viewed pornography.
Young people are not immune either. A 2018 CNA report noted that there was a rise in the number of younger people, those aged 25 and below, seeking help for sexual and porn addiction.
With porn so easily available now because of the Internet:
- How prevalent is the issue amongst Christians in Singapore?
- How can we resist temptation?
- How can we seek healing and restoration?
In the next Salt&Light Family Night, hosts and family champions Carol Loi and Alex Tee will be joined by people who have journeyed with those trapped in an addiction to pornography:
- Quek Shiwei, Director of Kallos
- Pastor Randy Khoo, The People’s Bible Church (Pastoral Counselling & Family Life)
Come together to learn how to live free of pornography.
Date: Tuesday, September 15, 2020
Pre-registration is required.
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