In my own journey away from pornography, there came a point when I recognized that lust had impacted my ability to see people accurately. Normal life would sometimes seem more sexualized than it was, so that there were times when seeing someone sunbathing, or out for a run, or wearing a form-fitting outfit, or even grocery shopping would become for me a battle with temptation.
As a Christian man who wanted to do better, for years I responded with a simple strategy: I tried to not look. Employing the same strategy, I also installed internet filters and accountability software on my computers.
But this strategy alone cannot defeat lust.
In fact, it may actually fuel lust.
Let me explain:
A thousand times a day every day, your imagination fills in the gaps between what you see and what you perceive. This God-given mechanism is designed to help you interpret the world around you so you can respond accordingly. And your experiences of the world—your childhood, temperament, attachments, traumas, things done to you, and things you’ve done and do—all condition your mind in how it’s going to create those gap-fillers.
To illustrate, look at the image below. What do you see?
In a literal sense, your eyes see two circles inside a rectangle, but your imagination works quickly to try to make sense to fill in the gaps and see the image as a whole. For me, I first saw a Lego piece, but as I continued to look, I saw the face of a robot, something like Disney’s Wall-E.
For you, even if you didn’t initially see what I saw, chances are you do now, and moreover, you cannot unsee it. (Check out Things You Cannot Unsee (And What They Say About Your Brain for an interesting read on this.)
I’m far from a brain scientist, but I have to imagine there are principles here that apply to those of us who have habitually viewed pornography or other sexually explicit content. Highly sexualized content feeds our imaginations with ideas and images our brains will draw from to fill in gaps, so that what has been viewed in secret seeps into everyday life to fill in gaps between our sight and perception.
What’s more, every time we lust, we double down on what our brains are using as gap-filler in that situation or with that type of person. In essence, giving in to lust tells our brains, “The gap-filler your providing is accurate; this is a sexualized situation/person.”
But here’s the pinch: When we look away in the moment of temptation, we tell our brains the exact same thing: Both lust and looking away affirm that the gap-filler our brains are showing us is the truth.
So coming back to my point: Just averting our eyes or installing a filter is inadequate. We need to look deeply at how our imaginations became conditioned to “see” the way they do, and this includes dealing with past wounds, things done to us, and things we’ve done.
And as we do, one important strategy we can employ is to re-engage our imaginations to practice seeing as God sees.
By re-engaging our imaginations I mean we need to feed our imaginations better, truer, more beautiful ideas and images. This means being honest with allies about the faulty gap-fillers when they arise, and actively thinking and meditating on what is real instead. It might also mean finding safe and honoring ways to get to know the stories of real human beings who have suffered in the porn industry. It means making deliberate media choices to explore music, shows, and movies with compelling stories, great cinematography, moving soundtracks, and rich character development. It means reading or watching fiction or non-fiction in which men and women are depicted realistically, heroically, or honorably.
I’d love to hear from you: What specific music, shows, movies, and books do you love that depict men and women realistically, heroically, or honorably? What resources have you found helpful in pulling down the faulty illusions of porn in order to see real men and women?
Looking to see,