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ARTICLE: Seven Things to Do After You Look at Pornography

A lot of Christian advice about porn addicts is unhelpful — meaning, it doesn’t contribute to real progress
in repentance, healing, restoration, and recovery. Most of all, it
fails to address the issues that underlie porn use. Often, Christian
advice either has its head in the clouds of theology and biblical
references, or is a list of superficial how-tos, and gets knocked
beneath the sand of real life — of failure, and the struggle to hope.
How is the gospel relevant to failing and trying again? And failing and
trying again? And failing and trying again?

We too often allow unattainable ideals to dictate what we allow
ourselves to say — the issues we allow ourselves to address with the
congregation, with the struggler, with the mirror. Are we allowed to
talk about what Christ can do (and what we can do) right after
pornographic indulgence? Or do we look to the clouds and hope for the
best? “Why think about how God meets you in the midst of failure? You
shouldn’t even be in an ‘after pornography’ situation.” But often many
are and because God can and does act in the moment of regret.

It is often in the moment after the closed door, the
darkness, the screen-light, the hidden act — after pornography
indulgence — that Satan spins his most eloquent web: menacing patterns
of thinking; bargaining with a disapproving and distant God; twisting us
in on ourselves in self-hatred. It is in the moment after
pornography indulgence that Satan does his finest work. It is in this
moment that we need God to do his finest saving. Here are some specific
ways to search for grace the moment after the dark act of pornography
indulgence:

1. Know your Enemy.

As soon as you indulge, you either plunge into self-hatred, or into
self-avoidance. Satan is satisfied either way. Both paths believe his
accusations (Matthew 16:23; 2 Corinthians 7:10). Recognize that you have a powerful personal agent who is singularly focused on your destruction (Job 1:7; Ephesians 2:2; Jude 1:19).
Every experience you have — your thoughts, your hatreds, your impulses,
your emotions, your plans, your ideas — must take into account that
Satan is at work. The sooner you forget that, the easier it is to
believe hidden, subversive, subtle, destructive lies. When Jesus tells
the Pharisees that their father is the devil — the great liar — it is of
course no surprise that they don’t know that. Satan wants them to forget that he is their father, because evil gains power when it is forgotten (John 8:44).
Don’t forget: After you indulge, you are still mid-battle with a
tenacious, evil person bent on stealing your life, and he has not yet
gotten it.

2. Fight self-hatred.

There is no question: Pornography is the twisted manipulation of
innocence for the raw crave of erotic appetite. To have a grieved
conscience is a good thing. But when Judas realized “I have sinned by
betraying innocent blood,” it is not surprising that “he departed, and
he went and hanged himself” (Matthew 27:4–5).
It’s a common feeling: to want to punish ourselves for betraying the
innocent. In twisting innocence, we twist ourselves. It is not a
surprise that suicide rates are high among pornography users. “I’m not
as good as Christian preachers and bloggers want me to be.” To warp
human dignity, in the end, only warps the user more — psychologically
deforming to self-hating; contorting into self-disgust. We abhor,
criticize, despise, and detest ourselves. Wallowing in self-deprecation
and feeling like paying penance to God for sin is a sad and ironclad
torture. It is false, and it is a wicked oppression. But grace does have a word on this.

It is no wonder David uses such deeply physical metaphors when he
pleads with God for grace over sexual sin: “blot out my transgressions,”
“wash me,” “cleanse me,” “in sin did my mother conceive me,” “purge
me,” “wash me” (again), “blot out my iniquities,” “create in me a clean
heart.” (Psalm 51:1, 2, 5, 7, 9, 10).
It’s a simple, roaring plea: “It’s in me. Get it OUT!” “Stop me.” “I
hate it.” “I hate me.” “Bleach me.” God gives us a liturgy of sorrow and
hope stretched out in the same howl. Fight, with David. Scream that,
with David. Replace the groan of human self-hatred with an unbroken war
cry of divine love.

If you are tempted to wallow, don’t let your (good) intuitive hatred
of sin lead you to hate yourself. Be patient with yourself, because God
is patient. He is fighting for your life (Genesis 32:24; John 10:10).
He has not forgotten you. He has not left you. Keep fighting with him.
Keep gasping for the air of divine life — the Life-Giving Spirit (1 Corinthians 15:45).

3. Fight the haze.

Right after indulgence, a haze kicks in. Jesus knows. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8).
Purity is a feast on luminescent virtue. What is impurity? It is
feasting that becomes self-isolated, avoiding of God and man and self,
numbed, dazed, deadened, desensitized. Sexual impurity induces a
spiritual cataract. Again, the feeling is common — browser history
cleared, slogging through the rest of the day, lumbering from task to
task, from person to person — meaningless, personless, passionless. This
experience is integrated into the fabric of pornography indulgence.

There’s usually nothing to be done, if we’re honest, except ride the wave — the muddle, the daze. Keep praying (Ephesians 6:18).
Keep gasping for air. Stay awake. Keep breathing. Morning mercies can
be the emotional reset button we need when we spend our daily emotional
cache on pornography (Lamentations 3:22–24). The lamenter is gasping. He prays what he cannot do. “The Lord is my portion . . . therefore I will hope in him.” (Lamentations 3:24).
Really? Will you hope in him? Prayer is an act of hope. The prayer is
the lamenter’s portion of the Lord’s work. Keep taking a step forward.
Keep taking a breath. Without repeated indulgence, the haze will
eventually wear off.

4. Guard others.

Pornography is a training session in the skill of using others for personal pleasure. Just be aware
that you are now inclined to use people in close relationship the same
way you use those in pornography — with selfish motive, with neglectful
attitude, unrepentantly. Pornography puts relational blinders on us — it
deeply impedes our ability to love others well. So, the best course of
action is to walk as if we have physical blinders on: Tread slowly, and
assume that we are currently very vulnerable and prone to treat those
around us as subhuman. After indulgence, it is vital to keep in mind
that those not on the screen deserve the respect and dignity that we
just failed to show those on the screen.

Pornography soothes its users into a drama, a character, a story with
a script and lines and actions: one person for pleasing, one person for
being pleased; one person making sacrifices, another receiving
sacrifices; one subhuman, one god. It takes self-control to remember
that pornography is a false story — to fight the false drama which
pornography gives to us, we must actively think less of ourselves and
more of others: to remember human dignity, the love of Christ for those
around us, our not-God-ness. The Spirit works in us to keep the flesh
from ruling us (Galatians 5:17) — the Keeper protects others from the consequences of our thinking that we are God.

5. Confess to a friend.

Confess sin to a friend who will not excuse you, but equally as
important, who will not crush you. Sometimes, when looking for help to
get up after pornography indulgence (Proverbs 24:16),
others only push back down. Find the friend that gives hope that heals
when they hear confession.
 The purpose of confession is “that you may be
healed” and “pray for one another” (James 5:16). Of course, the value of “the prayer of a righteous person” is that it “has great power as it is working” (James 5:16). Power to do what? To “cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
Confession to a friend (most appropriately, a same-gender friend) is
not a barrier between the sinner and Christ, but a means of fixing
brokenness. The wise sinner confesses to those who will not “crush the
afflicted at the gate” (Proverbs 22:22) nor “call evil good and good evil” (Isaiah 5:20). Consider attending a regular Samson Society meeting in your area.

6. Use your clarity for good.

Yes, there might be a haze after indulgence. But there can also be a
flood of clarity — the hindsight of regret. “When Judas . . . saw that
Jesus was condemned, he changed his mind” (Matthew 27:3).
Judas’s clarity took him down a wrong path. But you can use your
clarity to get back on the right one. Likewise, Paul writes about
Israel’s rebellion, “Now these things took place as examples for us,
that we might not desire evil as they did” (1 Corinthians 10:6). Sometimes, we desire evil anyway. And in that case, we serve as an example to ourselves.

As Piper might say, “Don’t waste your regret.” Use it for God’s glory
and your joy. Set up boundaries. Use the clarity that will surely fade
before the next moment of temptation to build structures that will
prevent this again. Go back and forth all you’d like on what structures
are dumb and ineffective, and which are sustainable preventative
measures — the basic truth is this: If you don’t have any formal
structures set up to prevent you from looking at pornography in the
future, it will absolutely, with 100% certainty, happen again. If you
have no structures, you have no place to be picky — choose something.
Here are some actions to choose from:

  • Get Covenant Eyes or X3Watch for all your devices.
  • Don’t let a single unaccountable browser app remain on your iPhone.
  • Delete in-browser apps that allow backdoor access to unaccountable internet use.
  • Get a friend to lock the app download function on your phone so that
    your native browser is not an option, and you can’t download Google
    Chrome (the Covenant Eyes/X3 app will function as the browser).
  • Delete pictures you have saved.
  • Tell a friend about the backdoors and cheat-codes you have in your
    back pocket. If you don’t plan at all, you’re planning to fail. Nowhere
    is this truer than in the practical fight against pornography
    indulgence.

7. Know your God.

Remember this: God loves you so, so much. He is unsettled by us (Genesis 6:6), and brokenhearted with us, and powerfully for you (Psalm 34:17–19). The haze can block us from God: “The stupid man cannot know; the fool cannot understand” (Psalm 92:6). But even when we cannot see him, even when we fail to obey him, let us pray: God, frustrate our plans to disobey (Nehemiah 4:15), and “no purpose of yours can be thwarted” (Job 42:2). More than anything: “God, help us to cast all our anxieties on you, because you care for us” (1 Peter 5:6–7).

He does not abandon the sinner. He does not depart from the indulger.
Wait in his love. “Build yourselves up . . . in the Holy Spirit”:
“keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord
Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life” (Jude 1:20–21).
Know the difference between the God-mask Satan would wear to deceive
you: disgusted, distant, unavailable, disinterested, and remember the
face of your real God: loving, patient, working, unsurprised,
unrelenting, unwavering in his grasp on you. He won’t let you go.
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