This post first appeared on Boundless

Practical Steps for Breaking Pornography Addiction

woman looking out at the ocean, holding freedom sign

There’s no easy formula, but there is hope. I’m living proof.

Pornography found me when I was 13. What started as innocent research for a school science project began a battle with pornography that followed me through high school and into college. At first, I felt it qualified as a safe expression of my sexuality — I had no risk of STDs or an unwanted pregnancy. But as I entered my senior year of high school, I realized I had a different problem — I couldn’t stop.

Every day after school, I would come home and watch pornography for hours on our family desktop. At school, I would read erotica on the school computers. After my mom went to sleep, I would stay up watching the adult channels (which we didn’t get, so I stared at the screen of static, waiting for scenes to slip through until I couldn’t stay awake any longer). As I lost sleep, my schoolwork started to suffer and my perfect GPA was in jeopardy.

I tried many different techniques to break free from pornography’s hold. Instead of finding freedom, I felt myself getting sucked in even more. The shame and stigma seemed like quicksand. With every failed attempt to break free, I felt more trapped.

I struggled for years. I had to hit rock bottom — actually becoming someone else’s porn by choosing to share nude photos of myself — before I finally found freedom. Many people who struggle with pornography are desperately searching for a formula of easy steps to break free from it. I searched time and again for the simple one-two-three solution.

Unfortunately, it’s not that easy. Pornography is a tricky, isolating struggle. Freedom for me looked less like three easy steps and more like a complete life makeover two years in the making. While the entire process is going to be different for everyone, here are some helpful steps you can take toward freedom.

1. Tell someone.

The first step in finding freedom is sharing your struggle with someone. This is a powerful weapon against the shame that can keep us trapped in sin like pornography. Telling someone — whether a friend, spouse, parent, pastor, mentor or counselor — isn’t about public shaming or punishment. You don’t share so they can be disappointed in you; you share so someone knows and can help you stop using porn and also find healing from it.

With pornography and sexual sin in general, anonymous confessions aren’t particularly helpful. While they may enable you to get everything off your chest, you haven’t really opened the door for freedom in your life. You’ve simply released some pressure. What you need to do is tell someone who is a part of your life.

I tried to avoid confession for years. I didn’t want to willingly knock myself off the pedestal of being the good Christian girl. In fact, I did everything I could to keep people from even imagining I might struggle with something like this. The thought of someone knowing terrified me.

I didn’t tell anyone. Instead, I hoped I’d get caught. When I did eventually get caught, they assumed it couldn’t be me because “women just don’t have this problem.” I thought getting caught would be my key to freedom, but it only made my struggle and the shame around it worse. I didn’t begin to experience any sort of true freedom until I finally confessed I struggled with pornography and couldn’t break free on my own.

2. Make viewing pornography inconvenient.

Once we tell someone, we can mistakenly believe it’s up to that person to do the work to get us out of this mess. That’s simply not true. In accountability models, we often base freedom on being caught and forget to focus on how to prevent being tripped up by sin in the first place. To experience true freedom, you need to stop relying on someone catching you and start taking steps to prevent it.

Some people take this idea to the extreme and say, “Get rid of your computer! Get rid of all of technology in your possession!” This is the 21stcentury interpretation of Jesus’ instructions to gouge out your eye if it causes you to sin. However, for many of us, completely avoiding any form of temptation is going to be impossible. We work in a tech culture that almost mandates use of technology and access to the internet. If you’re able to limit or even eliminate your tech, that’s great, but a better strategy is to make viewing pornography incredibly inconvenient.

We’re creatures of convenience. That’s why pornography is such a prevalent and pervasive struggle. We literally carry it around in our purses and back pockets. It’s right there, all the time. Sometimes, we turn to it simply out of boredom. It becomes a brain-dead, disengaged habit.

Only you know how and why you access pornography. You know what things make it easier for you to get to it without even thinking. Make note of your normal patterns. What kind of roadblocks can you throw in the way to stop the progression? Here are some ideas:

  • Enable restrictions on your phone
  • Install an internet filter
  • Decide not to have your computer/phone/iPad in your bedroom
  • Use technology in public places
  • Get rid of your headphones so everyone has to hear what you’re listening to

As part of my journey, I hacked into my computer and disabled the private browser. I enabled restrictions on my phone so that mature content required a passcode. I left my computer and phone outside of my bedroom so I wouldn’t be tempted to grab them when I was bored. This made other options, like reading or journaling, more convenient and also helped me develop better coping skills.

3. Figure out your triggers.

Once you’ve made indulging your struggle less convenient, you’ll have a better idea of what drives you to pornography. If it’s less of a brain-dead habit and more of a conscious decision, what are the things that trigger it for you?

Triggers are different for everyone. We sin when we are enticed and drawn away by our own lusts. Sin is, essentially, personal.

What triggers you may not trigger anyone else. For some people, triggers are emotional. For some, they’re situational. My triggers were a little bit of both. I found myself more tempted when under a lot of stress, when I watched movies on my laptop, and when I used a lotion I used in college. I learned to manage my stress, got rid of my laptop for a while, and threw away the lotion.

Not every trigger is avoidable, but when you know what triggers you, you are able to develop a plan for how to approach each one.

4. Fight for your mind.

Pornography is a unique struggle because, in a sense, you can’t be separated from it. Lock yourself in a room with no internet, books or TV and you can still struggle with pornography by simply going inside your own head. The battle for my mind was by far the hardest and longest part of my journey to freedom.

There were times in Bible college when I’d be praying, and porn videos would pop up in my mind. For a while I thought, I must be praying wrong, because how can this happen while I am praying? I had always been taught that our minds are like TVs. When a thought comes in that you shouldn’t think about, you just need to change the channel. How could these “bad channels” come through in the middle of prayer?

I started to find victory in this area when I started practicing the method shared by Paul in 2 Corinthians 10:5 — taking every thought captive to Christ. I stopped seeing unwanted pornographic thoughts as bad channels and more like unwanted intruders. I found an increased sense of freedom. I stopped relying on my own power to say, “I’m not going to think about this” and instead learned to call out to God, even in the middle of prayer. As I practiced this, the unwanted thoughts became less frequent.

5. Reconnect to relationships.

One key step to freedom we often miss is the need to reconnect to relationships. We make the mistake of thinking this will happen only after we are completely free. We feel we have to clean up our act first before we can be in community. When we treat a struggle with pornography like some sort of modern-day leprosy, we isolate ourselves even more from the very people who can help us heal our identity. Sin of any sort is an attack on our identity — pornography fundamentally so.

Overall, I found breaking free from pornography to be more of a journey than a moment. I tell people the night I confessed is the night I found freedom, but it was probably close to two years after that before I finally felt free. Those two years were filled with counseling, mentorship and, yes, failure. I also learned, grew, healed and connected to a community that has continued to support and encourage me.

Freedom is so much more than “stop watching pornography.” Freedom is living the life pornography didn’t want you to have. Freedom is having your identity restored. It is living under grace. Don’t believe you have to fight this on your own or that you have to get your act together first. Instead, push forward into community.

Shame will try to convince you that you have to hide your addiction and break free on your own, but grace has a different message. The message of God’s grace is that Christ has already won the victory over your addiction, and He’s already taken on the shame. His heart for you now is not to punish you or to “see you pay” but instead to see you healed, whole and walking in His freedom.

You can try to find freedom on your own, hoping you’ll be caught, or you can step into the light today and walk toward true freedom. It won’t be easy, but it is more than worth it. I know.

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