After learning about a course that Dr. Gerry Crete offers for couples after the discovery of pornography use, Canon Greg Goebel interviewed him about this issue and about his course to learn more about recovery from pornography use.
Pornography is wrong, but is it also addicting?
We believe that pornography is morally wrong, and is also a social sin because it hurts people who work in that industry. But Is pornography also addicting? How does a person get drawn to it?
Although not recognized by the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders published by the American Psychiatric Association) as a mental disorder or an addiction, it clearly meets the criteria of addiction when it progresses. Here are some questions I might ask to determine if a pornography addiction is present: Has there been a negative effect on your relationships as a result of your pornography use? Have you neglected your responsibilities (home, family, work, etc.) as a result of pornography use? Are you spending more and more time seeking and viewing pornography than before? Has the type of pornography you view become more and more disturbing? In other words, are you aroused by material that you didn’t previously find arousing? Have you stopped doing activities you previously enjoyed in order to view pornography? Have you tried repeatedly to stop using pornography but failed to do so? If you answer yes to one or more of these questions, you may have an addiction to pornography.
How does pornography affect the brain and the outlook of the user?
Studies have shown that pornography works on the brain in the same way that other substances such as heroin and other drugs do. There’s an interesting study by Cambridge University that shows that pornography triggers the brain in the same way that drugs do.
From my perspective, pornography answers a basic need in an illicit and dishonest way. People who view pornography actually want to know, “Am I lovable?” “Am I desirable” “Am I accepted?” Pornography appears to answer these questions in the affirmative in the moment. And this is coupled with the physical stimulus of arousal (and most often paired with masturbation) to create a “memory” or “state of mind” that the brain wants to return to whenever it is triggered by difficult emotions such as loneliness, sadness, pain, or even boredom.
How does pornography use affect marriage relationships?
Although there have been a number of shifts in societal views about pornography, it is my experience as a Christian marriage and family therapist that most wives consider pornography use by their husbands to be a form of adultery. When pornography use is discovered, many wives feel a deep sense of betrayal that causes many painful feelings and seriously disrupts the relationship.
What do people feel like who are struggling with this?
People who struggle with pornography addiction often have a very deep sense of shame. They often feel strongly that no one, including God, would love them if they knew about their problem. Even if they believe in God’s love and grace, they often believe that sexual sin is an exception. It is an important part of my work to help people discover that God forgives ALL sin and that God loves them always, even in sexual sin.
How can clergy, in particular, deal with pornography use at a personal level? How can they help others?
There are many studies that show that clergy are not at all exempt from using pornography. In fact, clergy porn use is high. One Barna research study showed that 57% of pastors have struggled with pornography, whether currently or in the past. The fact that they have a role as a pastor or spiritual guide adds to their sense of deep shame. It is important for clergy to seek and receive help just like everyone else.
It is important that clergy do not treat sexual sin like it is a separate category from other sins. God forgives ALL sin when his children come to him in repentance. It is true that sexual sin has a way of distorting our view of ourselves in a particularly insidious way. But that is all the more reason to bring it into the light and provide support for people who need it. This “disease” gets worse when it is watered with shame and silence. We all need to feel loved, desired, and included. And we all have sexual impulses and desires and responses. God gave us sexuality, and so it is essentially a good like any other good if used in the way he intended. So we need to be honest about the fact that we live in a fallen world and so sexuality is also going to be a source of struggle. But we are not left without hope. Clergy need to lead the charge in helping people see that there are many interventions, both spiritual and therapeutic, that can help people overcome any addiction, including pornography addiction. No sin is greater than God’s love.
You offer online courses to help people through this issue. What are your courses, and how do they work?
Souls and Hearts has developed a course “Restoring Marriage after the Discovery of a Pornography Issue”. This course is designed for couples in particular but can be used by individuals as well. You purchase the course and work through each module. There’s a video for each module where I provide education/information. There are also activities for husband and wife to do individually as well as activities for the couple to do together.
As you progress through the course, you learn skills, gain information and resources, and work toward healing and a stronger marriage. There is a great deal of information in this course that comes from years of working with couples struggling with this issue. But I have come to believe that people who want to get married, but currently struggle with pornography usage, will also benefit greatly. In fact, the course may help single guys wanting to be married avoid many pitfalls!
But one aspect of the course that is unique is that the partner’s (often the wife) perspective is also included. Many wives suffer and do not get the proper care and education that they need. This course addresses this great need. Another unique feature is that I am is available to answer questions in the course through the comment feature.
The course provides the following:
- A step-by-step process to restore your marriage and live free of pornography
- Why you or your spouse has a dependency on pornography
- How to set new boundaries
- How to break the cycle of addiction
- How to discover true intimacy with your spouse
- The right questions to ask your spouse
- How to disclose to your spouse that you’ve been using pornography
- How to process your sense of betrayal
- How to begin the healing process
- Where to find support and resources
They are currently offering a 50% off Easter season special here: http://www.soulsandhearts.com/offers/9VyAwtxm?coupon_code=EASTER50
Dr. Crete also offers video counseling through www.transfigurationcounseling.com
Dr. Gerry Crete is a marriage and family therapist and professional counselor specializing in the treatment of trauma and addictions, as well as marriage counseling and treatment of clergy and religious. Dr. Crete is the founder of Transfiguration Counseling (www.transfigurationcounseling.com) which provides video counseling and has offices in downtown Cumming, at St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church in Alpharetta, GA and at Epiphany of our Lord Byzantine Catholic Church in Roswell, GA. He is also the co-founder of Souls and Hearts (www.soulsandhearts.com) which is an online platform providing mental health education to Catholics through courses, podcasts, and blogs. Dr. Crete earned his doctorate from the University of Georgia. He has been married for 28 years, and he has three grown children.