Seven Things to Do After You Look at Pornography

It is no wonder David uses such deeply physical metaphors when he pleads with God for grace over sexual sin: “blot out my transgressions,” “wash me,” “cleanse me,” “in sin did my mother conceive me,” “purge me,” “wash me” (again), “blot out my iniquities,” “create in me a clean heart” (Psalm 51:1, 2, 5, 7, 9, 10). It’s a simple, roaring plea: “It’s in me. Get it OUT!” “Stop me.” “I hate it.” “I hate me.” “Bleach me.” God gives us a liturgy of sorrow and hope stretched out in the same howl. Fight, with David. Scream that, with David. Replace the groan of human self-hatred with an unbroken war cry of divine love.

If you are tempted to wallow, don’t let your (good) intuitive hatred of sin lead you to hate yourself. Be patient with yourself, because God is patient. He is fighting for your life (Genesis 32:24; John 10:10). He has not forgotten you. He has not left you. Keep fighting with him. Keep gasping for the air of divine life—the Life-Giving Spirit (1 Corinthians 15:45).

3. Fight the haze.

Right after indulgence, a haze kicks in. Jesus knows. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8). Purity is a feast on luminescent virtue. What is impurity? It is feasting that becomes self-isolated, avoiding of God and man and self, numbed, dazed, deadened, desensitized. Sexual impurity induces a spiritual cataract. Again, the feeling is common—browser history cleared, slogging through the rest of the day, lumbering from task to task, from person to person—meaningless, personless, passionless. This experience is integrated into the fabric of pornography indulgence.

There’s usually nothing to be done, if we’re honest, except ride the wave—the muddle, the daze. Keep praying (Ephesians 6:18). Keep gasping for air. Stay awake. Keep breathing. Morning mercies can be the emotional reset button we need when we spend our daily emotional cache on pornography (Lamentations 3:22–24). The lamenter is gasping. He prays what he cannot do. “The Lord is my portion … therefore I will hope in him” (Lamentations 3:24). Really? Will you hope in him? Prayer is an act of hope. The prayer is the lamenter’s portion of the Lord’s work. Keep taking a step forward. Keep taking a breath. Without repeated indulgence, the haze will eventually wear off.

4. Guard others.

Pornography is a training session in the skill of using others for personal pleasure. Just be aware that you are now inclined to use people in close relationship the same way you use those in pornography—with selfish motive, with neglectful attitude, unrepentantly. Pornography puts relational blinders on us—it deeply impedes our ability to love others well. So, the best course of action is to walk as if we have physical blinders on: Tread slowly, and assume that we are currently very vulnerable and prone to treat those around us as subhuman. After indulgence, it is vital to keep in mind that those not on the screen deserve the respect and dignity that we just failed to show those on the screen.

Pornography soothes its users into a drama, a character, a story with a script and lines and actions: one person for pleasing, one person for being pleased; one person making sacrifices, another receiving sacrifices; one subhuman, one god. It takes self-control to remember that pornography is a false story—to fight the false drama which pornography gives to us, we must actively think less of ourselves and more of others: to remember human dignity, the love of Christ for those around us, our not-God-ness. The Spirit works in us to keep the flesh from ruling us (Galatians 5:17)—the Keeper protects others from the consequences of our thinking that we are God.

5. Confess to a friend.

Confess sin to a friend who will not excuse you, but equally as important, who will not crush you. Sometimes, when looking for help to get up after pornography indulgence (Proverbs 24:16), others only push back down. Find the friend that gives hope that heals when they hear confession. The purpose of confession is “that you may be healed” and “pray for one another” (James 5:16). Of course, the value of “the prayer of a righteous person” is that it “has great power as it is working” (James 5:16). Power to do what? To “cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). Confession to a friend (most appropriately, a same-gender friend) is not a barrier between the sinner and Christ, but a means of fixing brokenness. The wise sinner confesses to those who will not “crush the afflicted at the gate” (Proverbs 22:22) nor “call evil good and good evil” (Isaiah 5:20). Consider attending a regular Samson Society meeting in your area.

6. Use your clarity for good.

Yes, there might be a haze after indulgence. But there can also be a flood of clarity—the hindsight of regret. “When Judas … saw that Jesus was condemned, he changed his mind” (Matthew 27:3). Judas’ clarity took him down a wrong path. But you can use your clarity to get back on the right one. Likewise, Paul writes about Israel’s rebellion, “Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did” (1 Corinthians 10:6). Sometimes, we desire evil anyway. And in that case, we serve as an example to ourselves.

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Paul Maxwell
Paul Maxwell (@paulcmaxwell) is a PhD student at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, and philosophy professor at Moody Bible Institute. He writes more at his blog, paulcmaxwell.com, and pretends to like coffee.