PTSD Spirituality: How Do PTSD Porn Habits Exploit Us?

One of the frequent questions I have received over the last few weeks has to do with PTSD and pornography.  Often the inquiries center around questions like why do PTSD sufferers imbibe porn? Can heavy porn usage be overcome?  Is porn usage a form of adultery?  Can the porn user ever get their life back and not be controlled by porn?  PTSD and porn want us to be meat puppets exploiting others while we ourselves are exploited.  It does not have to be this way.  There is hope and healing.

Using Porn to Try and Feel Viable, Meaningful, Alive

PTSD related porn cases arise when our sense of self-worth has been damaged.  The trauma, even a horrible trauma like sexual assault, causes adrenaline rushes that the trauma survivor may try to recapture without going back to the PTSD-initiating trauma. 

Seeking to feel alive and in control, the trauma survivor’s early porn use may help them feel alive and less vulnerable.  They may get some initial thrill but it dissipates quickly because no healthy relationship is formed or strengthened.  Indeed, their healthy relationships are harmed and alienated.  PTSD porn habits try to fool us into thinking we are finally in charge of something.  We discover that it controls us as it leeches the trust, love, and affection from our relationships.

Porn Damages All Parties, even the Sex Worker

Usage of pornography damages all of our healthy relationships.  To that end, the usage of pornography damages our relationships with God, our communities, our very own self, and even the Creation itself.  The Creation is made to empower goodness and enables us to more fully understand our relationship with God and others.  Pornography misuses the creation into a relationship of exploitation and enslavement.  Creation placed humanity in the image and likeness of God while porn wants us to be a set of disposable meat puppets.

One of our most important relationships is with our spouse.  It is natural for the spouse of a porn user to ask why their partner seems to find more satisfaction from a stranger’s image than from their mutual love, trust, and vulnerabilities.  In the case of PTSD, the porn user is usually not making a statement about their marriage or love for their partner – although it is quite natural to interpret porn use in that way. 

The porn-addled trauma survivor seeks to feel alive and at the same time lock down emotions, perceived weakness, and vulnerabilities.  They seek a physical gratification without love or commitment; they have been rendered sexually dumb and mute as they are losing the capacity to love in all of its possible dimensions.  The PTSD sufferer does not seek to harm the spouse but does so anyway through the withdrawal of affection and trust.  Both parties suffer.

Sex workers’ humanity and dignity are also diminished and exploited by PTSD.  They get their own trauma through actual physical abuse, but also in the realization that the commercial culture only values them in physical terms.  Being a sex worker can give that man, woman, or child their own case of PTSD.  PTSD wins when people use porn to self-medicate their PTSD.  They then not only further destroy themselves and their families, but also help inflict PTSD on the very sex workers they have exploited.  It is a vicious circle that allows some people to make money and ruins everyone else at the same time.

Porn Usage Deepens PTSD’s Alienation.

PTSD damages our spirit and distances it from all things that could give it nourishment.  The use of porn is PTSD’s attempt to alienate both partners (and in some instances even the extended family).  Porn use perverts our physical affections and willingness to be vulnerable to someone we trust.  The precious gifts shared with our partner are intended to be life enhancing, but PTSD’s porn habit transforms those gifts into injuries inflicted on a stranger.  Everyone loses as everyone becomes more alienated from one another and their own sense of self-worth.

Part of the illusion of having a sexual encounter with a sex worker is that the PTSD sufferer does not have to reveal anything about themselves to the would-be partner.  They do not have to reveal any of their vulnerabilities being seen or shared.  In other words, they seek sexual gratification and a sense of aliveness without having to risk a relationship.  They exploit the sex worker and deny their legitimate partner’s need for love and growth at the same time.

This is one of the ways that PTSD causes further isolation and destruction of healthy relationships.  The PTSD succeeds in driving a wedge between the partners with porn.  The PTSD sufferer and the spouse both get stressed by the porn usage.  The person with PTSD may then retreat to even more porn as a faulty means of stress relief.  The cycle repeats itself, people get angry and hurt, relationships are further damaged and PTSD laughs at us.

Is Porn Usage a Form of Adultery?

While I have met a few couples where the non-porn user says it is fine for the other partner to use porn, the other 99% of couples are not very happy when their partner is a major porn consumer.  I have also seen how porn damages relationships between the college students I teach.  Often a young woman discovers her boyfriend or fiancée has a porn habit.  He hid it from her.  That keeping of secrets is in itself offensive.  Sometimes he will say he will stop…and discovers he can’t stop.

For the one or two Christians who read this essay, Jesus makes it pretty clear that a man who lusts in his heart after another woman has committed adultery (Matthew 5:27-28; see also the second half of Proverbs 6).  Given the historical context of these scriptures, one knows they apply to both genders and not only one.

Porn generates lust in one’s heart, not love.  While modern American culture has a hard time differentiating between love and lust, we can say that lusting after a sex worker damages our love for our real live partner.  While we are capable of infinite love that always grows, lust will drain love from our relationships.  Lust is not about love, relationships, commitments, forgiveness, nor vulnerabilities.  It is no wonder that PTSD tries to compel us to engage in porn and lust.  

The lust of porn is not converted into love for one’s partner.  The couple may engage in the physical act of lovemaking, but the porn-addled partner is thinking of a sex worker while the lovemaking occurs.  That act love is rendered counterfeit as he or she was not really present to their partner.  Thus, alienation is deepened.

The more we do lust, the more our ability to have a healthy love is damaged.  We are further alienated from our would-be loved ones, and we quickly discover that the porn no longer serves us, but we serve it, we become enslaved to something that is atrocious and anti-Life.

Seeking  More Porn Thrills Leads to Deeper Dangers.

Quite often what initially feels like a benign use of pornography slides into more and more types of depravity.  In my generation, which grew up before the internet’s arrival, porn users started out by looking at pictures of a sex worker in a magazine.  If the disease takes hold, then satisfaction is soon lost from simple images and more diverse forms of porn are sought out: multiple partners, animals, various forms of agricultural machinery, and even children.  They shift away from single images and now need video to get the same thrill or less as before.

Child molesters and consumers of child porn don’t start out with those perverse appetites.  They started on something “simple” like images of one or two adult sex workers.  The ability of those simple images to thrill is soon lost and the porn user gravitates to more extreme types of porn.  Eventually, seeking to recapture that elusive thrill or sense of aliveness, some of them end up on child porn sites.

The thrill, the sense of being alive, they received from milder forms of porn goes numb on them.  Looking at two or three adult sex workers no longer gives them the thrill or sense of aliveness that it did earlier.  So they are compelled by the PTSD to delve ever deeper into the porn swamp.  If they dig deep enough they may discover some momentary thrill, but that too goes quickly numb and they are forced to dig deeper as the PTSD porn addiction leads them along like a dangling carrot in front of a goat.     

PTSD and Porn Turns Us into Goats.

 Part of the Porn Curse is We Go Deeper and Get Fewer Thrills.

Committed (is addicted a better word?) porn consumers always seek more diversity and quantity in their quest for momentarily satisfaction.  This consumes a lot of their available time and the person becomes less productive, more alienated from their healthy relationships, and they may eventually get a visit from the FBI or local law enforcement. 

It is sadly amusing that the same internet outfits that sell supposedly non-traceable child porn services also then steal the user’s credit card data, their identity, and sometimes turn them in to law enforcement.  I am told by the internet wizards that nothing is 100% anonymous on the web when it comes to porn.  If someone cares enough it can be traced, warrants issued, people arrested, and relationships devastated.

You Can be Healed of Porn Addiction.

We don’t need to despair of ever being healed from the damaging influences of pornography.

Porn damages everyone, with or without PTSD.  PTSD will, however, magnify the damage and alienation.  To prevent self-harm and/or suicide someone with PTSD needs to know and experience their own self-worth.  They need to know that they have absolute value.  Porn and PTSD tell them they have no soul, they have no value, that they are only meat puppets waiting to be exploited by others.

There are several things we can do to start the path of freedom from porn:

1. Talk to someone about it.  The whys and wherefores of porn usage.  What it did for you and why?  What, beyond animal lust, was the need or deficiency that porn was supposed to fix?

 2. Write down what you think porn does for you, physically, mentally, and spiritually.

3. Write down what a fully loving relationship should be.  Go ahead and be idealistic.  What are the features of a healthy relationship?  Does pornography promote any of those values or ideals?

4. Ask yourself if you can go porn-free for 14 days straight.  Most porn-addled folks say yes, and then find they cannot.  That paints a pretty clear picture of just who is in the driver’s seat between you and porn.

5.  Find another activity you can do instead of consuming porn.  We tend to be creatures of habit.  Often we will eat porn-flakes at the same time and place.  It usually starts out as being a “quickie” but develops into denied gratification that can take hours to sate.  Thus, finding something else to do is imperative.  Draw, paint, sing, pray – fill that porn-time with something else and you have a better chance of liberating your throat from the grip of porn.  This also holds true for alcoholics, they need to find something else to do with the time they used to dedicate to drinking.

6. Talk to God.  Besides finding a community to worship with, also have frequent one on one encounters with God.  Lay out some of the aspects covered in #1, #2, and #3 above.  God is a terrific listener.

7. Cultivate real relationships, healthy relationships.  If you are lucky you have a friend or partner you can tell the absolute truth to and still be loved.  This breaking of the silence will go a long way to healing the wounds that PTSD’s porn use will inflict on us and our friends.  If one of your friendships is based largely on watching porn together or swapping it back and forth, then you may need to reassess that toxic relationship.  That person may be trying to pry porn’s vise-like bite off of his leg too.  Similar to recovery from alcohol abuse, if the friendship is based largely on a shared detriment or addiction, then you cannot afford to imbibe all of those toxins.  Those toxins tar your soul.

8. If you have a hard time controlling porn yourself, then get a porn filter for your computer and have someone who you can trust activate it and password it.

9.  The longer you can go porn free, the easier it becomes.  Don’t do it in isolation, have a friend or spouse you can tell the truth to and who will help you on the journey.  It can be done alone, but is easier and more effective with a partner.  Expect to have some frustrations and withdrawal effects – it means you are starting to heal and that the porn is trying to coerce you back into its service.

10. What would be the tenth item be if you were writing this essay?  What advice would you offer someone trying to cultivate healthy relationships and break out of enslavement to porn?

Much of the above ten ways to recover from porn also applies to alcohol abuse, drug problems, and the viewing of hyper-violence movies, fights, etc.  Ask what they do for you.  Would you want your kids to be involved in it?

You can gain your life back.  PTSD does not have to run your life and compel you to embrace relationship destroying addictions.

While we pray for our healing and for those who struggle with PTSD, let’s also pray for those who are sex workers.  Pray that these people (human beings like you and I, created in the Image and Likeness of God!) y may also heal.  Pray that they may find freedom from an industry that treats them like meat to be consumed, expelled, and forgotten.

What if…?

If you were engaged in porn consumption and discovered  that the sex worker was your child, your son or daughter, or say, your sister or brother, would you continue to watch and play with yourself?  Why or why not?  We should cherish other people’s children as we would want others to respect the dignity and value of our own families and loved ones.

It is possible to break out of porn.  When we do, we will discover that our other PTSD symptoms will have less hold on us overall.  We can live and prosper in our relationships again.  PTSD does not have to win.  It may be a hard journey, but it is a doable, winnable, journey.

Semper Pax, Dr. Z

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