Why Cold Turkey Is Not Enough

By Min-Soo Kang

When a younger person confesses an addiction to pornography and/or masturbation, the goal may seem simple: stop watching pornography and masturbating!

But, overcoming an addiction to pornography and masturbation is not an easy undertaking. The phrase “old habits die hard” couldn’t be truer for these vices.

In our digital age, we seem to have been given all the necessary tools for freedom: accountability software, filters, blockers, statistics, testimonies, etc. Yet, we keep finding our young people back in their addictive cycles. Why can’t they stop?

With each fall, they can grow distrustful of their promises to God that they will “never do it again!” The shame and guilt that often comes with relapse can make it difficult for them to get back up and try again, or even continue being vulnerable with you.

A key truth in the path towards freedom is that simply quitting pornography and masturbation “cold turkey” is not enough.

Up to this point, pornography and masturbation have become a solution of sorts; they meet a particular need for our young people. If they didn’t, they would not keep using them. That being so, if we help remove these practices from their lives but don’t help them address their deeper needs, it’s only a matter of time until they pick them back up again.

Alcoholics Anonymous has described this phenomenon as the dry drunk syndrome. While they may have quit drinking, a dry-drunk is someone who has not dealt with the emotional baggage that led them to alcohol in the first place. If you just take away the physical part of addiction, you haven’t changed anything about the person. It is hard not to expect them to go back to their vices.

In order for this syndrome to be overcome, a dry-drunk must be willing to uncover the roots of their addiction. The same is true for someone struggling with pornography and masturbation.

In Matthew 5:27-30, Jesus, with vivid imagery, commands us to remove all the sources of our temptation, all the things that lead us into sin:

29 If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell”

In these verses, Jesus also states the truth that sin begins in the heart:

27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart “

The condition of one’s heart is an important focal point in finding freedom from pornography and masturbation. We must give attention to all the reasons why our young people are turning to these things in the first place.

Here are some questions that might shed light on their deeper needs and possible triggers:

  1. What was going on in your life before your last exposure to pornography and masturbation? What motivated you? These questions can reveal the cause and effect relationship that often accompanies pornography exposure and the use of masturbation. For example: were you feeling bored? Did you have a fight with someone? Did you have a bad day?
  2. What type of pornography do you usually seek after? What do you fantasize about when you masturbate? The answers to these questions can uncover what someone is craving for , or what they are not receiving in their lives. It could be a need for care, being desired, exercising control, a need for intimacy, etc.
  3. What problems would you face if pornography and masturbation were not a part of your life? Because pornography and masturbation have become a solution of sorts, being without them can cause discomfort and pain. Allowing a young person to imagine a life without their coping strategies can reveal what they are trying to avoid.

The HALF exercise is another way to reveal the condition of a young person’s heart:

Take a sheet of paper and fold it in half, then fold it in half again. You should end up with four separate squares. At the top of the first square, write the word HURTS. For the second square, write the word ANGER. For the third square, write the word LONGINGS. For the final square, write the word FEARS.

Ask what some of the areas of hurt, anger, longings and fears have been in their lives recently. The answers to these questions can reveal some of the reasons why they are medicating with pornography and/or masturbation.

At its core, the use of pornography and masturbation are not sexual but are often rooted in our deepest relational needs and longings. By continuing to walk with, support, and engage a young person, you are already providing invaluable intervention in their struggle.