New Era Magazine
It has been an incredible day on the snow-covered mountain, the most challenging climb you and your buddies have ever attempted. Nearing the peak, you spot a deep crevice just ahead—the kind of crevice that can swallow up a hiker and leave no trace. Will you walk to the edge of the slippery slope and risk everything? Will you warn those behind you or let them take their chances?
Pornography is like that crevice. One of its greatest dangers is that you might not even realize how treacherous it is until you are caught in its trap. Three young Latter-day Saints have shared their stories anonymously. We will call them Blair, Ryan, and Rob. They hope their experiences will help others avoid this trap. And, for anyone with a similar struggle, they give advice on how to escape.
Blair: I grew up in the Church and have a testimony. However, there is a part of my life that few people know. At age seven I often saw a pornographic poster on a teenage neighbor's wall. It left an impression in my mind that I could not forget. Unworthy thoughts led me to develop an unworthy habit I felt I couldn't break.
Ryan: When I was about 12 years old I went to a friend's house and found him and a bunch of neighborhood boys gathered around the computer. I joked, “Hey, are you guys looking at pornography?”
They said, “How did you guess? Come check this out.”
That was the beginning of a problem in my life. I soon began using our family computer to find more and more images.
Rob: You usually don't realize you have a problem until you are in so deep you can no longer see the light. That's what happened with me. I was curious and justified my involvement with pornography by reminding myself that guys at school were involved with it too, and it didn't seem like a big problem for them.
Just Looking or Getting Hooked?
Pornography first appeals to curiosity. Somehow, just looking doesn't seem all that dangerous. Every one of us has gone into a store just to look—not to buy. But this is a huge store, with almost unlimited merchandise. Once we are in the store, the invitations to satisfy our curiosity are endless. And so curiosity is never satisfied.
There are lots of things in life—like rattlesnakes or abandoned mine shafts or drugs—that we may be curious about. But knowing how dangerous they are, we walk away or leave the party or turn off the computer.
Actually, with pornography, there is no such thing as just looking. Looking is the problem. Viewing pornography triggers sexual feelings. We can easily get hooked on those pleasurable feelings, especially if they seem to relieve stress or anxiety—and we can start a cycle of addiction just as difficult to break as an addiction to drugs or alcohol.
Rob: Curiosity turned to interest, and interest developed into a strong habit. Soon I was addicted. I would get home from school, go straight to the computer, and be there for hours. My social life suffered. So did my schoolwork, family ties, and—most important—my spirituality.
At the very time I most needed the promptings of the Spirit in my life, I was less and less able to feel anything. Life became a constant struggle against depression.
My soul hungered, but the only thing I fed it offered no nourishment. I would get down on myself, so I would delve into pornography to feel better. But the pornography would upset me even more.
Totaling the Damages
Guilt, fear, and depression are common emotions for those involved with pornography—guilt, because they know what they are doing is wrong; fear, because they are terrified their secret will be found out; and depression, because they no longer feel the Spirit. Relationships with family, friends, Church leaders, and the Lord are damaged.
Blair: My self-confidence dwindled in church, school, and everywhere. Many times I felt very alone, awkward, and unworthy. If a girl liked me, I would think, “She wouldn't like me if she really knew me.” I would shy away from being social.
Rob: Through all those years I attended church, but I was mentally inactive. I kept going to church so I wouldn't upset my parents. But I knew the lifestyle I was caught up in was wrong. I noticed a change in my own countenance day by day, year by year. I became calloused and hardened. I found myself lying to my parents, my bishop, everyone around me. Inside I was going through personal turmoil and spiritual torment.
The Key to Change
As these young men struggled with their addiction to pornography, each tried to overcome it on his own. But like a hiker trapped in a dangerous crevice, each needed help. Talking to the bishop became the key to changing the direction of their lives.
Blair: I prayed for strength to leave these temptations alone. I made a list of things like prayer, scriptures, and clean thoughts that would help me draw close to God. But although I worked hard, it didn't solve my problems.
The thought of confessing to the bishop made me cringe. I felt it would be better to tell the bishop about the problem when it was in the past. But I finally realized it wasn't ever going to be in the past if I didn't confess. If God already knew my struggles and I felt comfortable talking about them in prayer, why not talk face to face with God's servant? Once I finally decided to confess, I felt a reassuring peace that it was the right thing to do.
If you are using pornography, you are not morally clean, even if you haven't done anything else immoral. Rob talks about realizing that he wasn't worthy to go to the temple or on a mission.
Rob: I humbly bowed before the Lord in tears and pled for strength beyond my own. Night after night I prayed, and finally I knew I had to talk to my bishop about it. That was the hardest part—admitting to someone else that I had a problem. I kept thinking I could handle it myself and no one would ever have to know. I wanted it to be something just between God and me. But I finally matured to the point that I realized that was impossible. I approached my bishop and began a long and difficult repentance process. Repentance may have been difficult, but it was also comforting and filled with hope.
You Are Not Alone
Speaking of those who struggle with this problem, one bishop says: “Help is available. The repentance process is just that—a process. It takes time to break negative patterns, and each small victory must be acknowledged, reinforced, and celebrated along the way. Sometimes those I have worked with still struggle, but at least they are not hiding anymore. They have begun to build a support system. They have realized they don't have to face this challenge alone.”
A former bishop explains: “Besides my own family, I don't think I loved anyone in my ward quite as much as I loved those who came to me with broken hearts, seeking forgiveness and peace. They cared more about what the Lord thought of them than what any person thought. I respected their courage and desire to make things right. I shed tears over them. I rejoiced when they were clean and whole again. And afterward I never looked at them as former sinners—only as beloved brothers and sisters.”
“Trust in the Lord,” counseled Elder Richard G. Scott of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. “He knows what He is doing. He already knows of your problems. And He is waiting for you to ask for help” (Ensign, May 1989, 36).
How Is Blair Now?
I felt relief when I stopped pretending. Sharing the burden with my bishop and my family meant I no longer had to deal with this addiction alone. Now I hold on to this support system.
A problem that dominated my youth could not be overcome overnight. This road has been long and hard—and it continues. It isn't enough anymore to look happy. I want to be happy. I am coming to know Christ and the Atonement with much deeper and more personal meaning. The Atonement gives me the strength I need so my self-confidence and self-respect grow step by step each day.
I was honest with my bishop. And when my dad talked to me about the Internet sites I was visiting, I was honest with him too. We worked on the problem together. We decided not to have the Internet in our home for a while. That was a big help.
I'm turning 16 soon, and I'm glad I decided not to let pornography control my life. I feel better about myself, and I think about young women differently than I did before. With my bishop's help, I'm preparing now for the temple, a mission, and a great marriage one day.
It took a lot of time and sincere effort to break bad habits. Eventually I was judged by my priesthood leader as worthy to serve a mission. The best feeling in the world was to go through the temple and know I am clean. The Spirit I wanted to feel during all those teenage years came flooding into my heart and life. I am so thankful for the Atonement of Jesus Christ. The adversary still works on me, trying to get me to backslide. But I have learned to put on the armor of God every day. I know Jesus Christ loves me, and I love Him.
The best way to avoid a problem with pornography is to stay as far away from it as possible. But if you are struggling with pornography or any unworthy habit, please talk to your bishop or branch president. He loves you, he will be discreet, and he can help you put the power of the Atonement to work in your life. With the help of the Savior and His servants, you can gain the strength you need. You can become clean and worthy in every respect.
Staying Far from Danger
It is both dangerous and wrong to deliberately view things that stimulate sexual thoughts. Our environment is full of such things. And because they are often legal and common, it is sometimes impossible to avoid seeing them.
But you don't have to let them trap you. If you put on the full armor of God every day by praying, studying the scriptures, and doing your best to keep the commandments, you will develop the strength to withstand this and any temptation.
Here are some other ways you can stay far from the lethal spiritual crevice called pornography.
- Know it when you see it. A simple definition is this: Pornography is any entertainment that uses immodest or indecent images to stimulate sexual feelings. So even a mainstream television program or advertisement can be pornographic. If images trigger sexual feelings in you, you should avoid them.
- Break the emotional connection. There is a connection between any addictive behavior and emotions such as stress, anxiety, and depression. If you are feeling stressed or anxious, try to deal with those feelings directly—rather than using pornography or any other destructive means to cover them up. Prayer, scripture study, exercise, positive friends, and regular Church attendance can all help. A parent, a Church leader, or another trusted adult can be a lifeline if problems seem too big to resolve alone.
- Surf smart. If you have the Internet at home, ask your parents to install an Internet filtering service. But don't rely on the filter alone; it may fail you. The only real control is self-control. Do keep your computer out of your bedroom; keep it where others will be around.
- Be a modern-day Joseph. Remember what Joseph did when Potiphar's wife tried to trap him in an immoral situation? Joseph “fled, and got him out” (Gen. 39:12). In other words, he ran. When you are exposed to pornography, leave immediately—whether by a mouse click, a channel change, or a quick exit from a friend's house.
- Get the most powerful help of all. Don't let your spirit grow weak from lack of spiritual food. A steady diet of righteous influences—such as prayer, scripture study, Mutual, seminary, and a careful study of For the Strength of Youth—can give you the strength you need to navigate through a world that has spiritual crevices at every turn.
This article was originally published in the October 2002 New Era magazine.