Becoming a Healing Presence:
In the last podcast, I talked about internet pornography as a destroyer of purity of heart. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God on this earth. And I talked about the size of the problem, that it’s a hundred-billion-dollar industry, bringing in more money than the National Football League, Major League Baseball, and National Basketball [Association] all combined. And that our youth are viewing internet pornography in a great way: 87% of male youth and 31% of female youth say they watch internet pornography.
I’m going to continue today talking about—I want to get to the solution or what we can do about this huge problem. A few more facts about the problem itself: 37% of pastors admit to having a problem with internet pornography. The hotels report that for religious conventions, internet pornography on the TV increases significantly. There’s so much to say about this. Those who are interested in truly living a life of integrity and purity and are doing the best to do that, by that pursuit become more, frankly, sexually attractive to other people, because there’s a link between eros in its original sense, in its good sense—there’s a link between authentic integrity, spirituality, and sexual attraction.
That’s not even a bad thing, necessarily. We’re attracted to various things and people in various kinds of ways. The question is what we do with those temptations. But we need to know, those of us in counseling, and those of us in ministry of various sorts, that the temptations are going to be greater to the extent that we are trying to pursue integrity. And that’s okay. It’s okay to be tempted. It is not okay, in any way, to give in to the temptation, to toy with the temptation, to allow it any life in our head and heart.
St. Maximus the Confessor says that lust and anger are similar passions. That is to say, if we were to use the metaphor of the earth, that the earth’s crust would be the manifestation—lust or anger—but deep down, magma, the fire of passion, the earth at the center of our hearts, is a similar passion. It simply erupts as a volcano would. It erupts in Australia or it erupts in Japan. So this pool of passion erupts erupts as lust or anger. Now that’s a very interesting observation. St. Maximus the Confessor was an enormously profound person who understood human psychology, the human way.
Using that information for us, we can know that the similar passions, lust and anger, that if one increases one, one is likely to increase the other; or, conversely, decrease one and decrease the other. So one of the things, pastorally, one is aware of—and we do, again, have to be wise as the serpent, but innocent as doves—when we see people, especially males, who are just angry, angry, angry, we can wonder if there may not also be a lust problem involved, and perhaps even fueling it—now, I say that as a clinical psychologist—especially in and around many young men.
I spoke with a seminarian a while ago, who came to see me about anger, his anger in his marriage. “Dr. Rossi, can we close the door and talk about my anger in my marriage?” Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. We talked for a while, and he said he was so angry that he really didn’t think he could get ordained. So we talked about that and anger management. After a while, I said to him, “Can I ask you a question? Have you watched any internet pornography in the past three months?” He said, “Yes,” and then we started a conversation about that, and it became really clear that he was addicted to internet pornography, watching it very regularly. I will try to define that in a little bit.
Frankly I’ll try to explain what it did to him. He was so unable to control his viewing of internet pornography that he said it was an addiction. If someone came to any of us, me or you, and say that they had [been] out of control with alcohol or cocaine, we would send them to Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous. Why? Because the person’s out of control; the person’s an addict. In this seminarian’s case, I said, “You know what, so-and-so, there is a group around here called Sexaholics Anonymous. There’s a meeting six days out of seven locally, and in those meetings there are persons who are there not because of any activity with other humans, but because of internet pornography.” He decided he would go, and did go. Now, a year later, two years later, three years later, whatever the number is, he has his internet pornography and his lust addiction under control, and, predictably, the anger problem is much more under control, and he is ordained, and he’s on his way.
I have given talks at West Point Military Academy, and years ago I was told by persons who said that at the military academy in the beginning, when internet pornography first came on computers, their attitude was, “Well, basically, boys will be boys.” Although there are women at the academy, it’s mostly a male institution, and pornography is mostly a male problem. “Boys’ll be boys. Let them do what they have to do—as long as they’re good soldiers.” And it didn’t take long for them to understand there’s a correlation between watching internet pornography and poor soldiery, that can be defined as not being a good soldier.
The armed forces are built on the principle of the buddy system, that is to say, “I’ll watch your back; you watch mine. We’ll walk down a street in Afghanistan with our backs touching, and I’ll make sure no one shoots you in the back, and you make sure nobody shoots me in the back. Okay? Okay.” At the military academy, the realized that the buddy system was somehow being cut into by internet pornography, and persons were learning to get their pleasures by themselves, and therefore losing human connection.
So I was told—I can’t guarantee this, but I was told—that at the military academies they don’t allow the cadets to view internet pornography. Why? Because they’re interested in getting good soldiers and Marines and sailors, wherever else that road goes. So, again, I need to say, that was told to me by an officer at a military academy. I don’t teach in a military academy, so I can’t swear by it, but I do teach at a seminary, and I am in contact with students at St. Vladimir’s, St. Tikhon’s, and Holy Cross, and I do know that there are a whole bunch of students, male, red-blooded, testosterone-bloodstream-filled males, who have serious internet pornography problems.
When I say serious, my definition is watching internet pornography more than once every three months. For me, anyone who watches internet pornography more than every three months has a serious problem. You might even say an addiction. [I’ll] say a word about the seriousness of the problem, because I and you are going to hear a couple of objections to viewing internet pornography [as bad]. The first objection is: “It doesn’t hurt anyone. I do it alone.” That’s a lie. It’s a lie, because most persons called “porn stars” on the screen are young and attractive and apparently enjoying what they’re doing.
In truth, they’re pretty much drugged up to do that, and most internet pornography persons—I’m reluctant to call them “stars”—die before the age of 50 from unnatural causes, that is, drugs or suicide. Many die before the age of 35. That is to say, those apparently happy humans are not happy for very long, and probably not very happy even then when they’re performing, so it does hurt every what’s called [a] “hit,” every time a person on the computer or any other—iPhone or smart phone or other small hand-carried—device, any time a person goes to a pornographic site, that hit is counted, and that, then, contributes to the success or failure of the persons doing it. Therefore, it contributes to the ultimate death, demise, of those young persons. So not done alone at all, although it seems so.
The other objection is: “It’s not that bad. There are worse things I could do.” That’s an objection that I have heard, and that you’re likely to hear. Here’s the answer to that objection. Jesus said, “If any man looks at a woman lustfully, he has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” We also know that that means that any woman or any man who looks at a man—it’s generic. If any person looks at another lustfully, he or she has committed adultery in his heart. In Jesus’ time, adultery was punishable by being stoned to death. Adultery.
So internet pornography is deadly. Once-every-three-months adultery is simply not acceptable. It just is not acceptable. A person who has a serious problem, let’s say is an addict, if a person was addicted to other stuff, we would use other solutions. I’m going to say something that I’ve had a bishop say to me. “I’m really glad you explained this,” because it’s true, and I’ve run this by two very prominent theologians—I won’t mention their names now—who said that this is right on, that one of the solutions that does not work is what I would call “revolving-door confession.” That is to say, a person goes to confession, says, “I watch internet pornography,” and is told, “Well, I’m glad you told me. You fell down, get back up, and keep coming back, and perhaps do this or that spiritual exercise, say a hundred or a million Jesus prayers or something.”
That approach, that is to say, the spirituality approach alone to an addiction is not sufficient and, in fact, makes the problem worse. The denial deepens. Why? Because a person can go into the privacy of confession, continue to say what’s happening, have the sins absolved, but get no help. So something has to happen in confession and out. Confession and prayer are not sufficient for any addiction, and I’ll go into a couple things that can be done about this, but we need to be clear that we’re not playing games with this. There are human beings at stake. There are marriages at stake.
Right now I’m counseling a couple that I gave a whole thing on marriage enrichment, and said a few words to about internet pornography, and the wife found out—looked at the history of her husband’s computer—that he was viewing internet pornography, and that marriage, it’s intact and getting stronger, because they’re working on it, but it eats away. Women will say, once they discover that their husbands are viewing internet pornography, that they knew something was wrong, and it’s like there was a hidden mistress in the house who couldn’t be found but lived there. The wife sensed, intuited, something wrong in the marriage. That’s where it is. That’s where it goes.
By the way, my own opinion is that women generally, because of the differences in men and women, generally speaking, women do not take it seriously enough. Too many women, in Orthodoxy and out, say, in effect, “Boys will be boys; men will be men. As long as nothing else is going on, if he has to do that every so often, I can live with it.” No.
That activity is eating—it’s a cancer—at the marriage and the relationship. It’s destroying the love ability. So I certainly encourage women, young and not-so-young, when they in any way discover this, to express disgust. “I really don’t like that, and I want that to stop. Don’t ever do that. I don’t want that to happen.” I say that particularly to college-age women. I know. I taught at a secular university for years. Guys will invite girls over to, you know: “Come on over and hang out and we’ll talk and watch a movie, and then watch some internet porn.” And young women participate in it, as if it’s one more thing to do! No!! It’s not. It’s ruinous.
So what do we need to know? First off, anyone who is in any way viewing internet pornography or counseling someone with that needs to know the great enemy is isolation, not to be telling anyone, except in confession, which is not sufficient—anyone who is not telling someone, inside and outside of confession, needs to stop that isolation, because it leads to despair. It leads to excessive shame. “I wish I didn’t do this, but I do do it.” I actually had a priest call me on a Monday morning, crying, married, with children, who said that he was watching internet pornography on Saturday night after his wife went to sleep. He was watching internet pornography until two o’clock in the morning, and then said the Divine Liturgy and delivered a homily that Sunday. Monday, he was crying. [He] was in a different state that I live in. I actually flew to his state and we talked. That’s crazy-making. That cannot go on long without something crashing and burning. That’s where the road can go.
Again, we need to know: the great enemy is isolation. Therefore, all persons who have any way need to know that accountability, that is, telling a trusted human being about one’s activity and one’s feelings below that, on a regular basis, that that’s the step out of the activity, that is to say, disclosure, disclosure to another. So it’s not sufficient to surrender to the Lord alone in my heart. That is required, but the secret is to surrender to the Lord and another human being inside of and outside of confession. I know it sounds hard—huh!—but we also need to know what we’re dealing with.
Two things I would recommend: There’s a software called Covenant Eyes: C-O-V-E-N-A-N-T-E-Y-E-S. It’s Evangelical Christian. It’s a wonderful website where a person can go into the website and for $8.99 a month put in names of two trusted friends and then those trusted friends get a summary of that person’s computer use every month. There’s much more to say about that. This is Dr. Rossi, my email address: realsimplenow—R-E-A-L-S-I-M-P-L-E-N-O-W—@gmail.com. Just email me and I’ll give you more information about this, but it is possible to join a group in Covenant Eyes and receive the service for two dollars a month. Given my position, I know people who have these kinds of groups, so anyone who’s interested could become members of that group and have Covenant Eyes. This is breaking the isolation factor.
To be blunt, I personally am a member of Covenant Eyes although I don’t look at any pornography, and somebody, a trusted human, an elder of mine, gets a weekly report! He says to me, “Al, I get your Covenant Eyes report, and it’s bo-ring!” Well, that’s not bad news.
The other thing I want to recommend to think about down the road is Sexaholics Anonymous. There are different groups for overcoming sexual addiction. SA (Sexaholics Anonymous) is recommended by the best of theologians I know for those who need it, because it has the Orthodox bottom line: no sexual activity outside of a heterosexual, monogamous marriage. However, there are many sex addiction groups out there: SSA, SRA, SLA. Many, many different kinds of groups. All the other groups besides SA allow the person who goes to have their own what’s called “bottom line”: to do things according to their own definition. So the other groups allow masturbation or sexual activity between committed persons or even not-so-committed persons. In this podcast, I simply recommend SA for those who need it.
SA can be found by going to http://www.sa.org, and getting information, or email me and I can provide more information. But I would say that I know there are seminarians—many seminarians; I’ve been teaching at St. Vladimir’s for years and years, decades—many who have graduated who say that SA is virtually the best thing that ever happened to them, because it took the monkey off their back. They understood that God is doing for them what they couldn’t do for themselves, and now they’re relating to themselves, their wives—and many of these persons are married—and to God in a totally different way. That destructive activity is now under control, one day at a time.
That’s what I want to say about that. I’ll also give the phone number for Sexaholics Anonymous, located in the South: 615-370-6062. Again: 615-370-6062. In some persons’ minds, there’s a stereotype, a wrong stereotype, about Sexaholics Anonymous. It’s viewed as for perverts only. That’s not the case. Sexaholics Anonymous—and SA groups differ group to group—many members are there—they’re all there for the same purpose: to stop sexual activity outside of a monogamous, heterosexual marriage—who are trying to do that from internet pornography, and some for erotic literature. Most SA meetings are for men, but there are some women who go as well, as I was saying. There are women who are addicted to different kinds of sexual activity, including internet pornography.
But for now, that would be my set of recommendations. Three recommendations: First, break the isolation by talking to a trusted friend; two, consider Covenant Eyes, that’s a report received by trusted people; and, third, the possibility of Sexaholics Anonymous, because internet pornography is a raging addiction and Christ is greater than the addiction. There’s nothing to be afraid of. The culture is the culture, and Christ is greater than the culture. So we walk as free, vigorous people, not constricted and not downtrodden because there’s so much going on. No, no, no, no. We rely on Christ, and, as far as we can, become pure of heart.