The Secret Sin

Andy is a young, committed Catholic, a graduate of a strong Catholic university where he met his future wife. They courted, married, and within two years had a baby on the way. Despite his youth, Andy landed a mid-level management position with a highly reputable marketing firm. He felt he was in a bit over his head, but was grateful for the opportunity, because the pressures of supporting his family were already weighing on him. The job was demanding, and the hours long.

One evening while working late and playing a video game on a short break, Andy stumbled onto a porn website, not realizing the gaming site had been a gateway to sexually explicit websites. Within a matter of weeks, Andy was making daily visits to chat rooms and porn web sites, mainly to relieve the stress and anxiety of work. He knew it was wrong and every day he resolved not to do it, but the temptation was so strong, especially now that his wife seemed totally wrapped up in the new baby, and had little energy to meet his emotional needs.

What Andy didn't realize was the highly addictive nature of his porn activity. Even at this entry-level porn use, he was already caught in the web of a chemical-like dependency called the "crack cocaine of sexual addiction."

Pornography or cybersex addiction can progress much more rapidly than any other chemical or behavioral addiction — the individual can become addicted in only a matter of weeks or months. The internet has an extraordinary capacity to introduce a trance-like state. Hours may pass while the individual is completely preoccupied with chatting online or gazing at pornographic images on the computer screen. This trance-like state is the first key element in the addiction cycle, which intensifies with each repetition. Another key element is the immediate gratification or pleasure that results from the sexual behaviors often associated with the viewing of pornographic materials (usually masturbation).

But, though there are moments of intense pleasure (releasing soothing and pleasurable hormones that are natural opioids), this self-gratification is compulsive, associated with severe mood shifts and is often accompanied by a feeling of powerlessness to change, self-pity, degradation, and shame. The sense of isolation and hopelessness can be so severe that there is only one thing that can help the user feel better…and the cycle begins again. 

Secrets, Lies, and Betrayal

 Relations with his wife diminished as Andy's addiction grew stronger. His wife really couldn't compete with the intriguing models (and the increasingly deviant sexual images) he found on the internet. He began making demands on her sexually that she was not willing to accept, which then gave him further justification in seeking solace in the computer images. Andy's increasing disappointment with interpersonal relations became yet another reason to view more porn and to talk with anonymous women online. "I do it to help my marriage," he said.

Andy told himself that the women in the chat rooms liked him for who he was, without any strings attached — unlike his wife who always seemed to be making demands on him. Andy would come home from a difficult day at work only to be accosted by his annoyed wife, who would thrust a cranky baby into his arms. He could barely stand to come home to the smell of diapers, the disappointment of his wife, and the baby's noisy squalling. Andy couldn't wait until he could be alone with the computer to finally relax in an erotic haze. He became more and more isolated. He began losing sleep as well. He was getting up in the middle of the night to view pornography online, and this took a toll on his ability to perform at work. Andy was soon living a double life: attending Mass with his family, appearing to be a good Catholic husband and father, while spending hours on the Internet cruising porn sites or in chat rooms.

Most porn addicts are trying to recreate the intoxication of young love. They feel they live in an unfair world in which bosses demand too much, wives complain and nag, and children are ungrateful. The porn addict tells himself that he deserves a break. The only relief he gets is from the addiction itself — which then leaves him feeling guilty and filled with self-loathing. These uncomfortable feelings can only be "drowned" — not in a drink, but in the erotic haze that is said to be 30 times more powerful than cocaine.

Addictive sexual behavior is unlike healthy sexual behavior in that it is a compulsion for instant gratification, it is associated with severe mood shifts (from the erotic haze to depression), is impersonal and emotionally detached, is not fulfilling (the addict always needs more, without feeling fulfilled), and is accompanied by negative self-worth, shame and guilt.

In the past, only those who chose to sneak into an adult bookstore or X rated movie theater were able to access pornography. The risk and ordeal of purchasing pornography kept many away. The Internet changed all that. In fact, pornography was one of the original financial backers that transformed an obscure research project into the information highway.

For the porn industry, it became the perfect drug delivery system — available 24/7 to millions of Internet users right in their own home, many of whom are children. This is called the "Triple-A engine" of affordability, anonymity, and accessibility driving the 57 billion dollar porn industry. Today, 4.2 million pornographic websites are just a mouse click away. 89% of teens in chat rooms have received unwanted solicitations of sex, and 90% of 8-16 year olds have viewed pornography online (most while doing homework). 

The Anatomy of Addiction

Patrick Carnes, Ph.D., pioneer in the field of sexual addiction, maintains that all sexual addicts have certain faulty, core beliefs that make them vulnerable to addiction. They experience a fundamental lack of self-worth and a mistrust of others that come from early childhood experiences (whether through some traumatic incident or through impaired early attachment experiences) and are reinforced by our culture. The four dysfunctional core beliefs are:

1.       I am a bad, unworthy person

2.       Nobody would love me if they really knew me

3.       My needs are never going to be met, if I have to depend on others

4.       Sex is my most important need

Viewing pornography is accompanied by self-gratification and triggers arousal, satiation and an increase in fantasy, which induce powerful neurochemical responses in the brain similar to those induced by addictive drugs and alcohol. When these neurochemical changes happen repeatedly, the responses to sexual behaviors become habituated, and these behaviors are now "hard-wired" in the brain.

Yet this cycle repeats itself, often escalating as the user compulsively seeks increasingly deviant websites, or even tries to live out some of his sexual fantasies. The user may try to stop, but discovers that he experiences anxiety, restlessness, and unease (symptoms of withdrawal). Often the secret sin is never disclosed — until a loved one stumbles upon his addiction, or until he loses a job, or gets caught engaging in an illegal sexual act.

Once discovered, it is difficult, but not impossible, to treat. The treatment requires an integrated model of individual therapy, a self-help twelve-step group such as Sexaholics Anonymous, and a strong spiritual program with frequent reception of the sacraments. Our Catholic faith can combat the faulty core beliefs of the addict, but often therapy is needed to face the issues of the past that gave rise to the feelings of worthlessness, fear, and mistrust. Oftentimes, there is a childhood trauma or abuse that needs to be addressed.

There is a growing movement to address the problem of pornography and to offer hope to those afflicted. In his pastoral letter, "Bought with a Price," Bishop Paul S. Loverde outlines the nature of the offense and counters many of the false arguments that attempt to justify pornography. Just last week, the second largest Canadian wireless phone company pulled their plans to sell pornography on mobile phones, after the Archbishop of Vancouver, Raymond Roussin, urged Canadian Catholics to boycott.

If anyone is suffering from pornography addiction, a first step is to take a look at the website which was developed by Catholic mental health professionals and especially designed to help Catholics (and their families) who are afflicted by the scourge of pornography.

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  • Guest

    This is such an important article to be written.  Porn is eating humanity alive.  The amount of money made/spent on porn is way beyond all four networks.  It is inside our society like oxygen.  Thank you so much for writing this.  Keep stuff like this coming.  We need it badly.

    Porn awaits like a velvet and satin clamp.  I do not know one man who has not had to deal with this issue since the internet age.

    Prayer, Theology of the Body and fasting can help us overcome this sad and very, very addicting sin.  God's grace is beautiful.  Hope in it.  For with God all things are possible.

    GK – God is good!

  • Guest

    I as a man have never had any interest in pornography and I never will, do to the intersection of Saint Joseph. This is the Saint to pray to about this issue. In moments he will teach the freedom of saying no to sex. Then you will be free to love whom you want, like your wife.

  • Guest

    And penance–we can all offer penance for our own sins, and those of others, as well as for the healing of those addicted.

    Father in Heaven, we ask that You send Your Holy Spirit to be in us, around us and upon us, that your Sacred Heart make lukewarm souls fervent and that your Divine Mercy deliver us all.  We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ Our Lord.  Amen.

    Offer everything up–don't miss a single chance to make a penance.  The annoying guy who cuts you off in traffic; stepping on a Lego for the umpteenth time; the frustration and seemingly endless heartache to find your soulmate; you name it, it can be offered.  I'll even loan you my morning offering prayer:  "Lord Jesus I give you my day; Mother Mary please help me on the way.  Amen."  Covers all the bases before your feet hit the floor.

    We are the Mystical Body of Christ–with God's love and grace, we can overcome.  God love YOU.

    "I can do all things through Him who strengthens me."  Philippians 4:13

  • Guest

    Don & gr8bskt,

    Thanks for the great advice.  Must be dedicated and devoted and disciplined through the intersesion of Mary and Joseph and grace of the Holy Spirit.


    GK – God is good!

  • Guest

    this is not the kind of addiction that you can just "pray away".  Prayer and fasting and trust in the Lord is always the base of recovery, but porn addiction is much deeper than just a spiritual problem.  The best way to beat it is through prayer AND the help of a therapist.  A great book about this entire issue is called Healing Hearts and Minds by Mark Kastleman.  He goes into great detail about the chemical changes in the brain and how to go about beating it.  God bless.


    Someone who's been there

  • Guest

    Thank you for the article, CE!

    This is, in my opinion, the single most devastating problem in otherwise faithful men in the USA today. It is no longer required to go to some seedy part of town to look at porn – it's delivered, even unrequested, into our homes via television and the internet.

    Men need accountability. 

    If you have this problem, by all means pray — and then get rid of every piece of porn you have, get filters on your computer you don't have the password to, get to confession frequently, and get an accountability partner — a man who is unafraid to look you in the eye every single day and ask what you watched on TV last night, what time you went to bed, what web sites you visited, and even what aerobic machine you were on at the gym (re; ogling the female customers). And when you fail (and you will), admit it, and restart the process with doubled commitment.

    That is the only way I have seen that works.

    …and the current front line fight is that the porn industry is targeting the young. With cell phone porn. The first FCC license for cellular video advertising went to Playboy.

  • Guest

    I have been there, too, and overcoming pornography addiction takes every weapon in your spiritual, emotional, and physical arsenals. Attack it on all fronts, and most importantly, do not give up no matter how many times you fail. God will help you overcome this evil.

    I wrote some advice for breaking this addiction on my website:

    Breaking the Addiction to Pornography

  • Guest

    The strongest willed man cannot do this on his own.  We need the grace of God.  And check out the Theology of the Body.  We need it bad.  This stuff is insidious.  It has become part of marriages as well.  I invited it into my marriage and my youthful bride went along in the beginning, with many reservations, played down by me of course.  Sure it was soft porn but porn just the same.

    Men need help on this and the Church has it.  I love the idea of getting an accountability pal.

    GK – God is good!

  • Guest

    While it is more common for men, there are women out there who struggle with this too. Not as much research has been done on female users, but the little there is suggests that women have more trouble with 'pornography' per se – sexually explicit writing- whereas men struggle more with 'pornovision' – sexually explicit images. Unfortunately, our culture is flooded with both, but I think the media aimed at women can be more insidious, inasmuch as often the user doesn't think of it as 'porn', since it is a verbal description rather than an image. How many women, who wouldn't dream of buying Playgirl, wade through formulaic supermarket 'romance ' novels, which nowadays have little romance and a lot of very explicit sex scenes ?

  • Guest

    I think that addiction is a real man made problem because as long as there will be addicting things there will be addiction….for drug users i suggest a drug treatment center

  • Guest

    God loves you .

    gini007 – welcome, ‘new-name’ –

    You really dug this out of the archives. I welcome its ‘resurrection’.

    For, as a struggling ‘addict’ myself, I have recently found a simple device to help me.

    I look the young lady in the eyes.

    Simply, as it is possible, I make ‘eye contact’.
    I force myself to relate to ‘someone else’s daughter’.
    I force myself to see a young lady,
    who seemingly is unapparently needy of
    such degrading actions to be considered
    attractive, even beautiful,
    who looks at me and to me not to witness what –
    – similarly as with many abortions –
    many if not very largely most women feel forced into for money, attention, to feel wanted, in coercion to avoid exposure for some other error, etc.

    And, being brutally honest, I make note that even when I was single and about the ‘model’s’ age, such a good-looking lady would only have given me the most passing (and not even bothering to reject) look.

    God be with her. God be with me.

    Remember, I love you, too .

    In the Suffering of Christ, and in His hope of His Resurrection,

    Pristinus Sapienter

    (wljewell or …

  • Guest

    Welcome, gini007!

    Well said, wljewell!

    Pope John Paul II said the problem with pornography was not that it showed too much, but that it showed too little — it hid the human person made in God's image and likeness to give love and to receive love and reduced them to an object (or objects, like certain erogenous parts of the body) to be used simply for someone's selfish pleasure.

    We are all better than that.