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The Addiction No One Wants to Talk About

Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart once famously wrote that while “hard-core pornography” is hard to define, “I know it when I see it.” Most of us would agree.

But what about addiction to pornography? Can we know this when we see it? For years people have debated whether we can actually become addicted to pornography. Yet the effects of sexual addiction — defined as “obsessive sexual behavior regardless of the growing negative consequences for the person or their relationships” — are hard to miss.

According to Patrick Carnes of the Gratitude Program at Pine Grove Behavioral Health and Addiction Services in Mississippi, perhaps eight percent of adult men and three percent of adult women become sexually addicted at some point in their lives, and many of them become addicted through pornography.

For those who demand detailed, scientific evidence of a malady we see every day, well, now we have it. Cambridge University scientists say that compulsive porn users show the same kind of changes to the structure of their brains as those addicted to alcohol or drugs.

Lead scientist Valerie Voon says, “We found greater activity in an area of the brain called the ventral striatum, which is a reward center, involved in processing reward, motivation and pleasure.”

“When an alcoholic sees an ad for a drink,” she continues, “their brain will light up in a certain way and they will be stimulated in a certain way. We are seeing this same kind of activity in users of pornography.”

Of course, friends, we’ve known for years about the harmful effects of pornography, which is a demonic twisting of our natural, God-given desire for physical intimacy. For example, in their book entitled Hooked, Drs. Joe McIlhaney, Jr. and Freda McKissic Bush describe how pornography and promiscuity change the physical structure and chemistry of our brains, damaging our ability to love, bond and engage in a sexual relationship with our husband or wife.

Now that Cambridge has given its imprimatur to this kind of research, perhaps we can actually start talking about stemming the filthy tide of pornography in this country, a tide that is engulfing men and women, marriages, and families. As we’ve mentioned on BreakPoint, some European governments are beginning to take steps to rein in pornography. And if they can, we can.

But what about those who are already ensnared in this evil? Is there any hope? Absolutely. Josh McDowell Ministry runs a website called “Just 1 Click Away,” with all kinds of resources and help. The Brushfires Foundation, which I’ve talked about on BreakPoint, is another exciting new ministry with the mission to help people find and live out God’s design for sexuality and relationships, and to equip transformed people to spark change by serving others — especially those impacted by sexual brokenness.

Meanwhile, the Gratitude Program I mentioned a moment ago offers a 45-day intensive treatment regimen for sexual addiction and sexual trauma.

You might want to find out from your pastor whether your church or one in your area offers a support group.

And there are other reputable ministries, too. If you come to and click on this commentary, we’ll link you to them.

Yes, we now have scientific proof, if we needed it, of porn addiction. But the cure cannot be merely scientific. Our Christian worldview reminds us that humans are created in the image of God. He is the ultimate source and satisfaction of our longings. And when we turn to Him, we will be on the road to seeing our lives, even our sexual lives, mended for His glory.

BreakPoint is a Christian worldview ministry that seeks to build and resource a movement of Christians committed to living and defending Christian worldview in all areas of life. Begun by Chuck Colson in 1991 as a daily radio broadcast, BreakPoint provides a Christian perspective on today’s news and trends via radio, interactive media, and print. Today BreakPoint commentaries, co-hosted by Eric Metaxas and John Stonestreet, air daily on more than 1,200 outlets with an estimated weekly listening audience of eight million people. Feel free to contact us at where you can read and search answers to common questions.

Eric Metaxas is a co-host of BreakPoint Radio and a best-selling author whose biographies, children's books, and popular apologetics have been translated into more than a dozen languages.

Publication date: September 30, 2013

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