Life + Culture

Is Your Pain the Root of Porn Use?

Is Your Pain the Root of Porn Use?

The real root of sexual sin — all sexual sin — is pride. Therefore, I argued recently that the most powerful weapon against sexual impurity is humility.

One reader wrote to me with an objection. He shared how for over two decades he had unsuccessfully battled an addiction to pornography. This sin destroyed his marriage, ruined friendships, and killed aspects of his ministry as a Christian.

He had prayed countless times over those years for deliverance, but couldn’t get free until about a year ago when the Lord helped him address deep emotional pain and face certain fears. Now he experiences much greater freedom. Pain and fear, he said, were “the root issue[s] that drove me to use porn to medicate.” He believes his pride in hiding his sin contributed to his bondage, but his pain was at the root.

I’m grateful this reader so humbly shared his past struggle and his current freedom (praise God!). The issue he addresses is an important one, and I didn’t address it clearly in my article. While I believe deep emotional pain can play a significant role in our sexual sin, I don’t believe pain is ever at the root of sin.

Pain and Sexual Sin

What does the Bible have to say? I’m amazed that the Bible never references our past pain when directly addressing our sexual sin. Why might that be?

Is it because we now experience whole new levels of evil and abuse that didn’t occur back then? Clearly not. Are we more sexually broken now? No. A survey of the sexual prohibitions in Leviticus 18–20 — the sinful sexual practices of the inhabitants of Canaan (which are probably not exhaustive) — reveal just how long sexual perversion and abuse have been part of the human experience.

Is it because the Bible was written before we really understood human psychology and the effects of emotional pain? No. The ancients had different cultural and value blind spots than we have, but they were by no means psychologically ignorant. The Bible in particular is amazingly penetrating when it comes to the human psyche. The New Testament love ethic, which if embraced brings profound emotional healing and health, remains far more radical and progressive than twenty-first-century people are generally willing to be (Luke 6:27; 10:27; Romans 12:9–21; 1 Corinthians 13:4–7; 1 Peter 4:8).

Then, why is it that when we read about the woman at the well in John 4, the adulteress in John 8, the incestuous man in 1 Corinthians 5, general human sexual immorality in Romans 1, or any other text where sexual sin is mentioned, the Bible doesn’t identify emotional pain in connection to our sexual sin? It’s because the Bible doesn’t see pain as the root issue. It tells us that we are “tempted when [we are] lured and enticed by [our] own desire,” which “when it has conceived gives birth to sin” (James 1:14–15).

God Knows Your Pain

But the Bible is anything but silent about our pain. The whole book is about the glory of God in our salvation from the psychologically destructive guilt of sin and deliverance from all emotionally wounding evil and futility.

The world has no therapy to compare with the healing our damaged and diseased souls experience when we receive God’s complete forgiveness of our sins and extend the same forgiveness to those who’ve sinned against us (Luke 11:4; Matthew 18:21–22; Romans 12:19–21).

God is more in touch with our pain than we likely grasp or perhaps believe. Jesus came to endure all the same temptations we face and to suffer more rejection, abuse, and horror than we ever will. And he did this so he might not only be the perfect sacrifice for our sins (Hebrews 9:25–26), but also become the most sympathetic, compassionate, merciful high priest we could possibly have. In him, we draw near to God despite all our defilement, and receive all the grace we need for all our brokenness from his incomprehensively big, loving heart (Hebrews 4:14–16).

Pride Manipulates Pain

So, what role does emotional pain play in our sexual sin? It makes us more vulnerable to our own sinful pride.

In saying this, I am not blaming victims of sexual, physical, or emotional abuse for the damage others have inflicted upon them. The damage is real and horrible. I have dear loved ones who have suffered unspeakable things and consequently struggle in numerous ways, including sinful sexual issues. I tremble over the judgment that will befall the perpetrators if they do not repent and seek refuge in the only real refuge: Christ.

But what is going on inside us when we try to medicate our pain through sinful sexual thoughts or behaviors? We are experiencing the terrible reality that our enemies are not only external abusers. Our worst enemy is within. This enemy seizes the vulnerability of our legitimate pain, which cries out for real healing and manipulates it as an opportunity to consume others for its own benefit.

And the awful truth is this enemy is our own sin nature. I identify this sin as pride, because throughout church history pride has typically been considered the source sin, the deepest sin root for every sin fruit.

And it’s our pride that wants to believe sinful sexual gratification will medicate our pain. And it’s not just sex. Pride wants to believe other sinful perversions of good things will also medicate. It moves us to medicate with overeating, anorexia, alcoholism, and workaholism. It moves us to try medicating with “cleaner” obsessive pursuits, like academic or athletic achievement, fitness, others’ approval, social status, parenting success, and ministry success. Pride even moves us to try medicating with medication — the sinful use of prescription or illicit drugs.

Address Pain, Kill Pride

This is why I say pride, not pain, is the root of sexual (and other kinds of) sin. Pain provides a vulnerable weakness and therefore an opportunity for sin. But it’s sinful pride that seizes that opportunity to pursue our selfish desires (James 1:14).

There’s no question that pain can be a significant factor in our battles with sexual sin. Deep soul-wounds can make us vulnerable to particular sinful temptations, so to address sexual struggles we often must address pain-induced vulnerabilities.

But the root of sin is pride, not pain. Pride perverts. When pain wants comfort, and we are drawn to seek comfort in sin, pride is manipulating our legitimate desire for healing into a selfish pursuit of consuming others. And if we capitulate and then experience conviction or are somehow exposed, it will quickly morph into self-pity and make this defense: “I did this because I am wounded.” But that’s not true. We feel pain because we’re wounded; we pursue sin because we’re prideful.

We must address our pain with the healing God offers. But we must also be killing our pride. Which is why our most powerful weapon against sexual sin is humility.

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