Over the past decade of working in this sort of ministry, I have run into many common mindsets or questions that seem to come up over and over again. It’s just the nature of the beast I suppose.
Some of these stem from legitimate frustrations, such as… Hey I struggle with porn and my wife won’t have sex with me. What can I do to help that situation?
Some of these are not so legitimate and basically serve as excuses for poor choices, such as… Hey, my wife won’t have sex with me so I think it’s OK to look at porn rather than cheat.
And some are a byproduct of confusion and misinformation such as… Hey, I struggle with porn because I’m horny like “most guys” so it’s hard to stop.
Admittedly, when dealing with these sentiments and perspectives it can be difficult because before we get to the real work of recovery and healing, we need to break through a load of bad programming that clouds the situation.
The “I’m just too horny” mindset is a perfect example of what I’m talking about.
When I try to help guys who fall into this category I find that they all seem to buy into the same set of lies that gets them thinking about their struggle in a non-productive way.
Below are four of the most common ones I run into:
Lie 1: I shouldn’t feel this way but I do.
To be honest, I don’t hear this one too often from those who don’t come from a religious or faith background, but in the “Christian” world I see this all the time. Much of this is because historically speaking, Christianity has often handled the topics of sex and sexuality in a very toxic manner reducing sex to an act only appropriate for the purposes of procreation and demonizing the idea of sexual pleasure.
The reality is that sexual desire and/or arousal is a normal part of existence. Yes, when allowed to run rampant or left unexamined it can lead to destructive choices but we need to get over this idea that feeling “horny” is inherently wrong or sinful.
It’s all about context my friend.
I can tell you that after a great date with my wife and some nice quality time together my arousal level is going to be elevated…. And there’s nothing wrong with that at all folks. In fact, if this wasn’t the case then I’d say that would be an area of concern and not a reason to celebrate.
Lie 2: I’m predisposed to feeling very sexual.
When I hear this one from guys, usually the thought being communicated is that they have some sort of genetic makeup that makes them especially prone to wanting sex all the time. And while there is some truth to the idea of being “predisposed,” it’s not what you think.
Being “horny” is not the same as being “hungry.” Horniness or arousal is a feeling or in more technical terms, “a combination of cognitive and physical responses to [often] erotic stimulus, which in turn can be internal or external.”¹
In other words, it is an emotional response and therefore something that originates in your brain.
You see a woman in a skimpy bathing suit (external stimuli). That sight creates an emotional response which in turn can lead to the feeling of arousal (notice I said “can lead” and not “will lead”).
Like any other feeling, we are free to embrace that feeling or reject it. Feelings are feelings; not facts. And while feelings are powerful, we all (should) have the ability to act on them or pursue other follow up actions that are more inline with our goals and values.
Of course when working with men who struggle with porn and masturbation this can get even more complicated because their “addiction” or chronic behavior has shaped their brain to react in certain ways when triggered by certain visual or emotional stimuli. This is what I mean when I say there is some merit to the idea of predisposition in that it’s not a genetic defect; but a byproduct of mental conditioning resulting from years of exposure.
Consequently, when I hear a guy say, “Hey I look at porn because I’m just horny” I’ll tell them that’s just how it feels at the moment. And that the reality is they are most likely being triggered by some emotional or environmental event which then signals to their brain it’s time for a sexual release to get “normal.”
Lie 3: I just need to try harder at controlling my urges.
Unfortunately this lie is one that continues to be reinforced by many in our culture and more specifically in Christian culture. I can’t tell you how many times a week I hear from guys that they just need to try harder, and can’t understand why they continue to pursue their unwanted sexual behaviors despite all their efforts to control their desires.
Just this week I saw an Instagram post from another organization that I will leave nameless related to horniness.
This particular line caught my attention…
“If immorality is your only outlet when you’re horny, you’re definitely able to control yourself. You can also safeguard your life from things that tempt you, which makes you horny less often”
Now understand that I don’t think what they said here was necessarily wrong, but rather just less than helpful to a person who finds themselves struggling with their sexual impulses.
First, agreed… We are under God’s authority and I get the whole obedience thing. But couching it this way implies that indulging your sexual arousal is simply a matter of not loving God enough rather than recognizing it for the complicated mental phenomenon it is.
I have worked with many pastors over the years who struggle with porn and I can say that the vast majority love and pursue God to the best of their ability each day, despite their sexual demons.
Second, If it’s just a matter of controlling yourself then why do so many people continue to struggle with their sexual choices even to their own detriment? Are they just that weak? This type of “you just need more control” messaging only serves to increase shame for those who don’t and skips over the real question… Why are you feeling that way in the first place?
Third, if someone lacks the willpower and self-control then the answer is apparently just blocking out all temptation. This is behavior modification thinking and never leads to real freedom. Yes, boundaries and safeguards are fine and can even be helpful – but they should never be your crutch or solution.
Healing is what you need.
Guys, there is certainly something to be said for discipline and exercising better self-control, but behavior focused thinking alone will not get you the freedom you want.
Lie 4: I’m a guy and guys just struggle with this stuff more.
This one I touched on in an earlier blog post. But as I said before, studies have shown that the gap between men and women, when it comes to the frequency of being preoccupied with sexual thoughts, is nowhere near as large as we make it out to be.
And to be honest, when you consider how decidedly weighted media and cultural sexualization is in favor of objectifying women vs men, is it any surprise that there is some sort of difference?
Yes, culture and media pander to the male sexual appetite around the clock.
Yes, the common cultural assumption is guys are just more horny than women.
But the reasons you struggle with or experience sexual arousal have everything to do with your brain, life experiences, and surroundings and nothing to do with the fact you have a penis.
At the end of the day, when dealing with the question of chronic “hornniess” we all would be best served to spend more effort acknowledging those urges, critically thinking through our feelings, and then evaluating those emotional experiences than making excuses based on genetic makeup or attempting to suppress our desires all together.
And as always, if you have any questions about this or need any advice on your sexual and/or recovery journey, ask us anything you want HERE and we’ll answer your question in an upcoming Office Hours segment
’ Giovanna Castro, Giovanna Castro, and Heather Urry on October 16, “Emotion, Brain, & Behavior Laboratory,” Emotion Brain Behavior Laboratory, October 14, 2014, https://sites.tufts.edu/emotiononthebrain/2014/10/14/being-turned-on-and-emotions/.