Mailbag is an occasional Q&A of your inquiries regarding faith, sexuality, and relationship from an LGBT perspective. We aren't theologians or counselors, but we're walking the same path as many of you and will do our best to answer the questions you have. You can submit your own question here.


Hi Dave and Tino,

I love your blog and respect your perspectives so much. Which is why I'm hoping you'll be able to offer some advice on my situation. I grew up very conservative and until recently was  Side B . I've finally come out, moved to a Side A understanding and have even started dating.

In the past eight months, I've had two relationships that both ended because I wasn't invested enough. Both guys gave me feedback that they thought I was disinterested and that I was not capable of intimacy. Living for a decade as a Side B Christian, I got used to going it alone. I enjoy my solitude and feel easily cramped by another person.

But more than that, I don't want to put myself back out there because I use porn and I don't want to give it up. Porn has been such a big part of my life; it more or less fills the role a relationship would. But it makes none of the demands a relationship does. I can go to it whenever I want, without attachments. It's also spoiled me because I have all of the most perfect bodies at my disposal doing anything I could possibly want to see.

I say this not to defend my porn use. I think that the porn industry is probably damaging to the people involved, and it sickens me that I am part of the problem. But I can't seem to stop using it because it works so well. As a closeted christian it has been my only outlet. I know that if a relationship goes to a certain point, I will have to come clean with my partner and give up the habit. 

Moreover, I don't really need emotional intimacy with a partner. I've always had more than enough friends for that. The only needs those friendships aren't meeting are sexual ones. And so for the foreseeable future, porn is my go-to.

But it's also gross, and I don't want to be in the same situation a few years from now. It makes me sad to think that I am emotionally or relationally stunted because of this addiction. But I think that is the situation. I want to be able to give my partners more of myself, but I don't know how. And in the meantime porn continues to be a crutch.

Any words of wisdom you have on the subject would be greatly appreciated. 

Thanks,

Stuck and Disgusted

 

Dear SAD,

Thanks for writing, and thanks for your honesty. I doubt there's a man on Earth with an internet connection who hasn't struggled with pornography. Many women do, too. It's an epidemic, in part because its use is private and anonymous, and in part because we've come to see it as a "victimless crime," even though that's far from the truth. The porn industry itself victimizes people, but I'd argue that the biggest victim of your use is you.

That said, I don't want to shame you or anyone for using porn. Making you feel worse will only perpetuate the cycle. I spent years in men's accountability groups, which invariably devolved into miserable sessions of shame-laden confessions. We began to judge our spiritual "success" by how much or how little we looked at porn, masturbated, or otherwise acted out. It was legalism at its worst. There were men who remained completely abstinent from any kind of sexual outlet, but to me their hearts seemed far from God. And there were other men who regularly acted out in every way imaginable, but I saw them yearning and searching for God with a passion others seemed to lack.

My point is this: Look at porn as the symptom, not the problem. You already seem well aware of your addiction and the need it serves: It's quick, simple, and free from any complications. You're also aware of the problems porn causes: It's isolating, self-serving, and emotionally stunting. It's isolating because you are practicing a sexual act outside of partnership, and while porn may give the illusion of intimacy, the reality is that you are alone. It's self-serving because you have only yourself and your own pleasure to worry about. And it's emotionally stunting because you never have to consider the feelings or needs of another person; you never have to work through the messy and complicated dynamics that relationship requires. So long as porn is sitting at the throne of your heart, it will rule your capacity to deeply love.

SO LONG AS PORN IS SITTING AT THE THRONE OF YOUR HEART, IT WILL RULE YOUR CAPACITY TO DEEPLY LOVE.

You know all of this, though, don't you? On some level you say it works, because you get intimacy from friendships but can then disappear and get your fix, alone, on your own time and at your own leisure. But you've written in to us. Why? Is it because on a deeper level, you know it's not sustainable? You say you've experienced the consequences in your failed attempts at dating. You have never had to do any truly challenging relationship work with your friends because you can come and go as you please. And you have the depressing notion that you'll be in this same spot ten years from now, quietly gratifying yourself alone in a dark room while the rest of the world moves on without you, working through their own lives and relationships. I'm projecting a lot of my own past onto this, by the way, so please correct me if I'm wrong.

The question, then, is how to disrupt the pattern. My first piece of advice is to not worry too much about the porn. As I said before, it's the symptom. The problem is your loneliness, and your desire to make authentic, deep connection. Porn fills that need in the most superficial of ways. So when you're inclined to use it, take a minute to ask yourself if you're lonely or isolated, ask what's going on with your life, and ask how you can instead go make a connection in a healthy way. Spend a long moment really feeling your feelings, and try to identify what comes up (sadness? guilt? anger?). You are building the emotional muscles that are weak from your mindless use of porn. And if you still look at porn after, don't kick yourself for it. It's a learning process, and shame never brings forth solutions.

Next, you have to ask yourself if you really want relationship. Right now, porn seems to serve you better, even when you know it's ultimately fruitless. Are you ready to let go of your crutch? It doesn't sound like you are. My sense is that you have a lot of work to do before the next dating prospect comes along, at which point you'll have to decide if you're willing to earn the kind of intimacy that good relationship requires. Because guess what? It's a lot of work. You have to work on giving to that person and tending to their needs, which is often in direct conflict with you and your wants. This goes far beyond mere pornography. This reaches into the depths of true relationship, which is often as painful as it is glorious. 

Focus on going toward relationship rather than going away from porn. Practice intimacy with your friends—push these relationships deeper or find relationships that will allow you to be fully seen and fully vulnerable. True connection, even platonic, fills us up. It gives us what we need. And when we are genuinely filled with love and affirmation, porn loses its grip on us. If you can go toward the good thing and gain distance from the bad things, you'll find that your heart is better prepared to respond to a dating relationship when it comes along.

Finally, make a practice of praying daily for the transformation of your heart, without infusing your conversation with excessive guilt. Jesus just wants to talk with you.  It sounds like Christianese, I know, but it’s not merely for the value of communicating daily with God—it’s also an opportunity to practice something that requires discipline. Your heart has been on autopilot and has atrophied. It’s going to take regular, consistent exercise to build it into the robust emotional muscle that can sustain the challenges of deep intimacy.

 

David Khalaf is a fiction writer living in Portland. Like our Facebook page or follow us on Twitter: @daveandtino.

Photo by Mary Watkin, used with permission through Flickr Creative Commons.

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