Does any rational person believe he or she can take crack cocaine without being affected by its addictive powers? Probably not.

Yet when it comes to pornography, many people assume they can take it or leave it. Or they become frustrated when their spouse isn’t able to “just stop.” The truth is, pornography can be highly addictive.

Addiction doesn’t always happen immediately. There are three “pre-addictive” stages that a person typically goes through before developing an addiction to pornography. They are:

Accidental exposure. This can happen to almost anyone — even children. Many people report their first exposure to pornography happened as a child or adolescent. Often that becomes one of the strongest memories they can recall from their youth. Sadly, such exposure often leaves a minor feeling confused about sexual matters.

Attraction. Curiosity often compels a person to think about what they’ve seen and want to take a second and third look at pornography. In some ways, such curiosity is normal. Tragically, the negative effects of pornography don’t take long to set in. “It takes as little as six one-hour exposures to soft-core pornography to change your belief systems,” says Laurie Hall, author of An Affair of the Mind.

Awareness. As a result of his or her initial exposure to pornography, a person may become hypersensitive to the presence and availability of sexualized images in magazines, books, television, videos, and other materials available in libraries, at stores, and on the Internet. Over time, they may feel increasingly tempted to view such materials. Remember, addiction is a progressive event, meaning it happens over time and in stages. In Healing Sexual and Pornography Addictions, Dr. Victor Cline outlines

four stages of pornography addiction:

Addiction. At this stage, a person is hooked on pornography. They think about it often and view it with increasing frequency. Their thought life can become consumed with sexual fantasies with decreasing regard for any potential devastating consequences.

Escalation. Because of the law of diminishing returns, an addicted person may seek out “rougher, more explicit, more deviant” pornography.

Desensitization. At this point, the person is willing to view pornography he or she once would have considered “shocking, taboo-breaking, illegal, repulsive, or immoral.”

Acting out sexually. These behaviors may include “compulsive promiscuity, exhibitionism, group sex, voyeurism, frequenting massage parlors, having sex with minor children, rape, and inflicting pain on themselves or a partner during sex.” At this point, a person often feels he or she is trapped and cannot change his or her behaviors. Their life may feel — and indeed may be — completely out of control. Thankfully, there is hope.

Copyright © 2004 by David Sanford

David Sanford is president of Sanford Communications, Inc., and author of the Living Faith Bible.

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