I paid for sex with an awful lot of women over the course of thirteen years, but I don’t remember any of their faces and I never bothered to ask for their names. Any name a prostitute might have offered would have been fictitious anyway, as far from reality as my own fevered fantasies. What I do remember, vividly and viscerally, is the shame I felt after each encounter. I remember the disgust, the despair, the trembling self-castigation as I drove away. I remember feeling like the world’s biggest fraud whenever I kissed my wife or hugged my kids, or when I stepped into the pulpit to preach. I despised my own hypocrisy during those years, but my secret behavior was driven by something I did not understand, and no amount of righteous anger could make me stop.

The First Time

     I had been married for seven years when I paid a prostitute for the first time, but I completed that transaction as smoothly as a seasoned customer. The truth, of course, was that I had been imagining various versions of that scene since adolescence, thanks to pornography. Now I found myself on stage, an actor rather than a member of the audience, and when the performance was over an avalanche of self-loathing swept me away.

nate larkin blog

     My wife is a kind and loving person, my closest and most loyal friend. I had never imagined that I would ever be unfaithful to her, nor had I noticed that pornography had been pushing me in that direction. During the stressful years of early parenthood I had rationalized my porn use, categorizing it as a sort of marital barricade, a preventative to infidelity, a harmless way for me to meet my sexual needs without burdening my wife. Taking care of myself in that way seemed almost chivalrous. I told myself that I was not cheating on my wife because I was not engaging with real people.

     And that, in the end, is what carried me over the line. Porn is both alluring and unsatisfying. On the one hand, porn offers artificial intimacy with absolutely no risk of rejection, pleasure to be enjoyed at one’s own whim and entirely on one’s own terms. This is a very seductive offer, and for a brief moment porn does seem to soothe the deepest longing of the human heart, our hunger for connection. But the experiences created by pornography are illusions. We are bonding with phantoms, tying ourselves to tantalizing images that all too quickly disappear, leaving us lonelier and hungrier than before. Meanwhile, the pursuit of virtual partners erodes our ability to form and sustain an emotional connection with an actual partner. Over time, porn use ripens into an intimacy disorder.

     As I moved deeper into the murky world of commercial sex, I made a disturbing discovery. My capacity to feel pleasure was fading. I was going through the motions day after day like a zombie, no longer enjoying the pursuit but unable to stop. This was baffling behavior. Why did I crave something that made me feel so bad? Why the compulsion? Unable to tolerate my rising inner turmoil, I simply went numb.

“…I had rationalized my porn use… I told myself that I was not cheating on my wife because I was not engaging with real people.Nate Larkin

     There is a big difference between numbness and peace, and I am grateful today that I have experienced the difference. After years of secret struggle I finally stumbled into a church basement one evening and blurted out my story to a group of strangers. These recovering addicts, whose stories sounded eerily like mine, welcomed me into their circle. It was there that I found the intimacy I had been looking for, a heart-to-heart connection with other human beings and with God. In time, as I took the steps my new friends suggested, the pain that had been fueling my addiction subsided and the compulsion receded. For the first time in forever, I was at peace.

     I don’t mean to imply that my battle with sexual temptation is over. The urge to return to old habits still surfaces sometimes, usually when I am under stress. It is in those moments of heightened vulnerability when Covenant Eyes has been especially valuable for me. More than once, the knowledge that I am no longer alone in cyberspace has caused me to pause and reach out to my trusted ally instead, to talk about what is really going on.

This article first appeared at covenanteyes.com, a great resource for anyone concerned about porn.