A ‘Good Catholic Kid’s’ Porn Addiction, and the Need for More Leadership

My Story

I’m a cradle-Catholic. The middle child of 7 born to a Catholic mom and dad in the Midwest. Indiana, to be precise.

Growing up, Catholicism was everywhere. We went to mass almost every day and, if we didn’t, it usually meant hell was freezing over. I was homeschooled K-12 and we used Seton Home Study School, which means I was more literate in my faith by age 10 than the average Theology graduate from Franciscan University of Steubenville.

Most of my childhood revolved around school, mass, and other church events. I served at daily Mass from the age of 7 and I was closely involved with the priests at our parish. My family was well known at the parish and I was one of the “chosen ones,” destined for the priesthood. At least, that’s what all the old ladies thought.

 

I share none of this to complain about my childhood, I enjoyed being involved in the church and I’m grateful for the rigorous Catholic education I received. It has served me well in life. I share all of this to paint the picture of the sort of young man I was perceived to be.

If you had suggested to anyone who knew me or my family that I was a porn addict at age 9, they would have laughed in your face. “You mean Tom and Stacy’s kid? No way, that boy’s a saint.”

The thing is, my story isn’t all that unique. It’s the story of many Catholic adults, men and women, who grew up in a world that their parents did not understand. I discovered porn on my family computer through a google search. We had dial-up internet. My parents had no idea what I could get into.

Fast-forward a few years. I’m 26 years old. I’m still a porn addict. I’ve had good times and bad times, I’ve made it stretches where I was winning, but I ended up back in the trenches. At this point, I’m farther along than I’ve ever been, but the progress is slow. Very, very slow.

So how did I get here?

I sought help from a counselor when I was 21. I was having a mental breakdown and my dad suggested I get help. This counselor was the first human I interacted with who treated my addiction clinically. I’ll get to why that’s important soon.

As a young Catholic boy, the Catholic world I grew up in created and enforced a few ideas in my mind. I learned these things either indirectly or directly, but that’s immaterial. The result was that to my mind, sexual sins were the most horrifying sins a human could commit. I also saw those sins as unforgivable and believed they would surely demand the wrath of God’s justice. I grew up believing that men and women are sexual beings, but they must fight that sexuality at all costs. They must never be mastered by their passions and must maintain tight control of their sexual desires.

That was a problem for a young man like me. I was very sexual. I was very curious, and, as it turns out, I was also very emotionally damaged.

Like most Catholics my age, I was raised by parents who grew up in a world that was far less overtly pagan and, consequently, they were completely unaware of the dangers and pressures that their children were facing on a daily basis. The internet, sex education, and the hyper-sexualization of advertising, film, TV, and music all told me one thing about sex and how I should see my sexuality. On the other hand, my parents rarely discussed anything relating to sex and when I would ask questions, I was often met with an ambiguous answer that would leave me more confused than before. Over time, I learned to fear my body and my sexuality. As a result, when I discovered porn at a young age, the shame and fear was overwhelming.

The point of all of this is that the counseling I received in my early twenties was the first time I understood my addiction to be just that, an addiction, my entire outlook on myself and my lifelong struggle changed in that moment.

Although I began to understand myself and my addiction more, that didn’t change the perception and environment of the Catholic community around porn. I still found myself embarrassed to go to confession. Why? Because sometimes I would be chastened by the priest, as if I enjoyed telling him it had been 5 days since I went to confession and yes, I had looked at porn twice. Or I would be greeted with, “5 days? I think you have a problem.” Yes, yes I do.

Trust me, if I was taking advantage of God, I would have become Protestant. They just say “sorry” and everything’s fine.

Have I ever been presumptuous? Maybe. I ask myself every time I go to confession and many times I confess it, just in case. It’s hard to tell when you find yourself committing an action you find repulsive because you literally can’t stop. The only thing that keeps you sane sometimes is thinking “God will forgive me.”

I’ve found great comfort in St. Therese, who said that God’s justice demands what He will take our humanity into consideration. I believe that.

I went to college at Franciscan University of Steubenville. Again, even though all evidence points to the fact that most men my age are dealing with this affliction, we all acted like we weren’t. The confessional was the only place it was discussed. I never told anyone, and no one ever told me. A couple of the priests on campus would mention it periodically in their homilies, but never in a meaningful way, and there was never any mention of real help that was available for people in this position.

I worked for the marketing and communications department at Franciscan. I must have shot or edited 50+ speakers that came to campus. Not one of them was addressing pornography. Prayer, mission trips, the lives of the saints, you name the topic, it was a headline for a speaker. Anything but pornography.

Why am I sharing all of this?

Pornography is an epidemic. 93% of men and 62% of women under age 18 have looked at porn in the US. To suggest that it was only once is naïve. Pornography is more addictive than heroin, and that is the most addictive substance on planet earth.

Pornography is also free, it costs nothing. It’s available at a moment’s notice on the nearest tablet, phone, computer, smart tv, gaming console, or anything else with a browser. I know because I’ve used every single one to get to porn.

Social media is no better. Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter, Vimeo, and many other social sites allow nude images and videos. And the ones that don’t have no problem with people getting really close to nudity.

As a culture, pornography is now considered a normal, healthy thing. Couples are encouraged to use porn to “get in the mood” and women simply expect the men in their lives to be engaged in this behavior. Many of the women are now engaging in it as well.

There are obvious negative effects of porn use, just turn on your radio to hear one or two ads for erectile dysfunction help on every commercial break. You ever found yourself wondering why there are so many of those commercials? Wonder no more.

Porn also causes depression, self-loathing, lack of motivation, and it literally re-wires your brain to care less about what is going on around you.

Spiritually, the effects are worse. Porn teaches men to objectify women, obviously, but it also teaches men that women want to be objectified. It convinces a man that a women likes being humiliated and taken advantage of sexually. It convinces women that they should enjoy being treated that way.

Porn creates the belief that women are sexually wired the exact same way that men are, that women desire sex the same way men do and that they should seek it out and offer themselves to the men in their lives. Or complete strangers.

If you ever wondered why apps like Tinder exist, it’s because of porn.

So what?

At this point, you might be wondering why you’re still reading. I might be coming off as a bit of a Debbie Downer.

The reality is quite the opposite.

I’ve been fighting porn, in one way or another, for 17 years. That’s not that long compared to some, but it still feels like quite a while for me. Every year I measure progress by where I was the year before. If I measured progress more frequently than that, I would get discouraged very quickly.

The main thing that has been a difficulty for me, is being open with others about my pornography addiction. My wife and my parents and a few others knew, but I had never told my closest friends.

What I came to understand, through the Grace of God, is that my fear of discovery was yet another way that I was sabotaging myself. I believed that I accepted myself, even with this struggle, but if that was the case, why did I not want anyone else to know?

The strongest effect that porn has on a porn addict is the isolation. The feeling of abandonment, of loneliness, and of being un-loveable and unacceptable by others. This feeling is one of the main contributors to staying trapped in any addiction, but particularly in porn addiction.

The purpose of a Catholic community is to be there for those who are most in need. The beaten, the downtrodden, the sinner. In some way, those words apply to each and every one of us. We’re all broken. We’re all sinners. The lie is that some sins are less forgivable than others. And yet, pornography addiction is misunderstood and mishandled by large portions of otherwise well-meaning Catholics.

Priests are oftentimes unaware of what is needed for addiction recovery and are therefore ill-prepared for handling the recurring porn addict’s confession. Mothers are often terrified and horrified to discover their innocent boy or girl is looking at porn, and react in the worst possible ways imaginable. Spouses feel hurt and betrayed when they learn their life-partner is a porn addict.

In all these cases, it is a lack of understanding about the nature of addiction and the real path to freedom from addiction that holds back the addict from recovery. The Catholic environment must adapt to this worldwide epidemic if we have any hope of winning this war.

Porn is here. It has taken hold in the lives of many, many Catholics. It is responsible for destroying lives, families, vocations, and souls. In the face of such an enemy, the only response is a unified front. The Catholic Church has been here for 2000 years. It has faced every enemy imaginable. Now it faces pornography.

There can be no more cover-up or denial of the scope of this problem. It’s no longer good enough for a couple people who have beat porn to give a few talks on “how they stopped looking at porn.”

This is a current struggle for millions of Catholics. This is a current struggle for the millions of people who want to help them.

If we cannot accept the reality of pornography addiction and accept those who struggle with it so that they can feel the love and support they need, this evil will only spread.

It is only in the Light of Life that this evil can be vanquished. It is only as a Catholic community, as a Catholic Church, that we can face this.

To any of those who are currently facing this addiction, you are not alone. There is hope and there are others fighting the same fight that you are.

To any of those who are helping porn addicts or are simply unaware of the danger, please, help me bring this conversation into the public square. Open your hearts to those who need your help. It is only as a unified Catholic community that we can face this evil.

St. Joseph, Terror of Demons, Protect Our Purity!

Amen.


John Welch is the Co-Founder and Co-Producer of Overt TV, a network for Catholics by Catholics dedicated to bringing Catholic teaching to the modern world.


See their videos at youtube.com/overttv

The post A ‘Good Catholic Kid’s’ Porn Addiction, and the Need for More Leadership appeared first on Those Catholic Men.

This article is reprinted with permission from our friends at Those Catholic Men.
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Those Catholic Men isn’t your typical men’s formation blog. It’s where young men who are facing real problems in today’s fast-paced, digital world come to seek direction, share wisdom, and receive guidance. It’s where husbands, fathers, brothers, and friends come to free themselves from the slavery of Netflix, alcohol, porn, social media, and video games. And it’s where tens of thousands of men from across the globe have found brotherhood and the Christ-centered lives they’ve been longing for. Visit us at ThoseCatholicMen.com.

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