I am working very hard to recover from a sexual and porn addiction I’ve had since I was about 13 years old. My therapist and I are still trying to figure out what caused it, unfortunately I have a pretty bad memory and can’t remember what happened at a young age. My current issue is this: I don’t want to sexualize anyone or anything other than my wife. I used to stare at women constantly without giving it a second thought, but now I am terrified to even look at another woman. Even noticing another woman, I feel like that just makes me evil incarnate. I don’t want to notice another woman, especially not her body. Whenever it inevitably happens it makes me feel absolutely awful. I don’t start sexualizing them, but still, I notice them and/or their body. It’s like my brain is amazingly good at noticing women too. I can’t help but notice so often. I find myself blurring my vision while walking through the store in an effort to not even see a female. I realize this is not healthy either. I need help finding that line between sexualizing women and being able to look around and go about my day and seeing women and not giving it a second thought. I have also been porn free for almost two months now and stopped “checking out” women for almost as long.
First of all, I commend you for your commitment to living a life of sexual integrity and fidelity to your wife. Undoing a lifetime of being ruled by your appetites is no easy endeavor and it’s normal to hit some snags that create feelings of hopelessness. Thankfully, you don’t have to spend the rest of your life looking at the ground in fear and anxiety that you’re going to betray your wife.
It’s important to recognize that even though your fear of looking at women is coming from a sincere desire to undo a lifetime of lust, it’s actually intensifying your focus on the very thing you are trying to avoid. When our brain identifies something as a threat, we become more drawn to it so it doesn’t hurt us. It’s a helpful survival reflex when we’re in physical danger, but when we’re dealing with threatening thoughts, it can inadvertently increase our fixation and suffering.
Overreacting when we feel threatened only makes things more difficult for us. I love the Savior’s response to Satan when he was tempted in the wilderness. Though we don’t have many details about their interactions, it’s clear enough to me that the Savior was able to see clearly what was in front of him and stay non-reactive. We don’t read that he was panicked, fearful, or overwhelmed in the face of such evil designs. He co-existed with these threats and stayed congruent with his purposes.[i]
These women aren’t a threat to you or your safety. They’re regular people just like you and me who are going about their days doing the best they can. Their bodies help them get things done, connect to those they love, and enjoy all that life has to offer. They need you to see more of them, not less of them. They need you to see them as human beings who are full of love, joy, anxiety, uncertainty, fear, hope, silliness, and countless other emotions. When you treat them like they don’t exist, you’re objectifying and dehumanizing them just like you do when you’re sexually lusting after them. In both scenarios you’ve stripped away their humanity to serve your lust or your fear.
You’re not an evil or awful person for noticing women’s bodies and feeling an attraction. Please be more kind to yourself and allow yourself a little space to connect to your values when you find yourself crossing over into lust. This isn’t permission to indulge without accountability. It’s permission to allow yourself a little space to shift gears so you can get aligned with your true self. Keep your head up, see everyone around you, and allow yourself to be a full human seeing other humans.
For example, if you notice yourself fixating on a woman’s body parts, take a deep breath and recognize that you’ve lost connection to her humanity. Instead of cancelling her out like she’s not a person, keep breathing to slow down the panic and fear response while considering her as a real human being. Make her as real as possible by observing or imagining her in her relationships, her work, her interests, her struggles, and her celebrations. Sexual fantasy is one-dimensional and removes the full truth about other people.
If this overwhelms you, then practice this with people to whom you’re not sexually attracted. Deepen your ability to see others and notice what happens to your anxiety and panic. When you can see that others aren’t a threat, you’ll be able to relax more and feel more connected to others. Remember, that the opposite of addiction isn’t sobriety…. it’s connection.
Geoff will answer a new family and relationship question every Friday. You can email your question to him at [email protected]
If you’ve broken trust with your spouse and want a structured approach to repairing the damage you’ve created, I’ve created the Trust Building Bootcamp, a 12-week online program designed to help you restore trust and become a trustworthy person. Visit www.trustbuildingacademy.com to learn more and enroll in the course.
About the Author
Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in St. George, Utah. He specializes in working with couples, pornography/sexual addiction, betrayal trauma, and infidelity. He is the founder of LifeStar of St. George, Utah (www.lifestarstgeorge.com) and Alliant Counseling and Education (www.alliantcounseling.com). Geoff is the co-author of “Love You, Hate the Porn: Healing a Relationship Damaged by Virtual Infidelity”, the host of the Illuminate podcast, and creates online relationship courses available at www.trustbuildingacademy.com. He earned degrees from Brigham Young University and Auburn University. He is married to Jody Young Steurer and they are the parents of four children.
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[i] Matthew 4:1-11