I recently learned that my adult son is having serious marital problems and that one of the issues reported to us was his internet sexual addiction to pornography. He has done so well in school and in his career, and has been a committed Christian from a young age. I have been in shock that he could have such an addiction and told him so. But I wonder what else I can do and how to understand this. –A Father “In Shock”
Dear “Father In Shock”:
The topic of “sexual addiction” comes up more than any other in questions posed to this column. Mark Laser (2011) documents that in his conversation with Christian leaders he finds that from 50-66% of Christian men and 25-33% of Christian women struggle with pornography at some time. While the source of sexual addiction was once seen as coming from some form of trauma experienced earlier in a person’s life, the advent of the Internet has led to many people simply getting “caught” in a powerful web of sexual activity that is often seen as anonymous, affordable, and available. Those who become involved often find that pornography is definitely available, but that it can get expensive and it is not always as anonymous as one is led to believe.
Not everyone who views pornography on the internet is addicted. Addiction has been defined as a “pathological or dependent relationship to any form of sexual activity,” which becomes unmanageable (or out of control), gets progressively worse, and has negative consequences for a person’s life (Laser, 2011). Others have said that there are “recreational users”, “at risk users”, and “addicted users” of internet pornography. However, it is noted that if you take a “recreational user” and add enough stress or depression to the equation, you can easily get an “addicted user.” Whether your son is technically addicted or not would take an assessment by a professional, or attendance at a 12-Step meeting such as Sexaholics Anonymous (SA), Sex Addicts Anonymous (SAA), or Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous (SLAA).
One thing that you can do is to attend some 12-step meetings yourself that are designed for the spouses, parents or relatives of those addicted. SA, for example has SA-Anon meetings for those who are trying to understand the addiction of another person. You can also suggest resources for your son such as looking for a “Celebration Recovery” group in a church, or on-line resources for Faithful and True Ministries (http://www.faithfulandtrueministries.com), L.I.F.E. Ministry (http://www.freedomeveryday.org), or Covenant Eyes (http://www.covenanteyes.com). All of these will help to develop a pattern of accountability and understanding that can break the addictive pattern.
While it is a natural reaction to for you to feel “shock” and want to pressure your son to stop this activity, remember that people who are addicted go through a pattern of fantasies, ritual, and acting out which always ends up in despair. Adding more guilt and shame to this despair actually complicates the problem and sometimes makes it harder to get help. Increasing your understanding of the problem, compassionate (non-reactive) listening, and prayer provide the best opportunity for change.