Michael Pearl on his NoGreaterJoy.org site wrote an article entitled “Freedom From Addictions” – this article was forwarded to me by one of my loyal readers (thanks – Jeff). Obviously if you have read many of the articles on this site, especially those on masturbation and the viewing of erotica, I do not believe these practices are wrong, in and of themselves.
However I have stated many times on this site that engaging in masturbation and viewing erotica (even erotica that does not depict Biblically immoral behavior) can become wrong if we allow these things to control us, instead of us controlling them.
““Everything is permissible for me,” but not everything is helpful. “Everything is permissible for me,” but I will not be brought under the control of anything.”
I Corinthians 6:12
For instance, food is good, and it gives us pleasure to eat our favorite dishes. However food can become bad if we live our entire lives for our next meal. The same principle applies to our sexuality, which is a gift from God. When experienced in measured amounts (just like eating in measured amounts and at appropriate times) the pleasure we receive from our sexuality can be a very good thing, and we don’t have to feel guilty about it.
But if you abuse the freedom God has given you with regard to your sexuality, and you spend every waking hour of the day looking at erotica and masturbating, then you are now being controlled by your sexuality, instead of you controlling your sexuality.
Michael Pearl’s full article – “Freedom From Addictions” can be found at http://nogreaterjoy.org/articles/freedom-addictions/
With all that said – let me highlight some quotes by Mr. Pearl and show where I agree with him on some things, and disagree with him others.
Mr. Pearl states:
“Addiction is the state of being enslaved to a substance or habit, the cessation of which causes emotional distress or bodily trauma. It takes away from ordinary life responsibilities such as work, relationships, or health, and consumes a disproportionate amount of time and energy…
Addictions can be substance based, like drugs or alcohol, or non-substance based, like video games, social media, gossip, exercise, gambling, shopping, overeating, abusing one’s self, and pornography. Addiction comes through frequent and continual reliance upon the action as a source of pleasure. Any source of pleasure can become an addiction. All addictions begin with pleasure and turn to dependency.”
I completely agree with Mr. Pearl’s definition of Addiction as stated here.
Mr. Pearl States:
“Researchers can place you in a functional MRI (fMRI) machine and show you a series of pictures, noting the part of your brain that has activity, and how intense that activity is compared to the average subject.”
I have cited on multiple occasions the research findings from the book “His Brain, Her Brain” that confirm that there is actually a biochemical reaction that men get from seeing women, whether clothed, partially clothed or nude:
“the average man’s brain is sexually stimulated by visual cues and is built for variety…
Using functional MRI scans, researchers examined the brains of young men as they looked at pictures of beautiful women. They found that feminine beauty affects a man’s brain at a very primal level – similar to what a hungry person gets from a good meal or addict gets from a fix. One of the researchers said, “This is hard core circuitry. This is not a conditioned response.” Another concluded, “Men apparently cannot do anything about their pleasurable feelings [in the presence of beauty]”
Dr. Walt Larimore, MD – pg. 99 “His Brain, Her Brain”
So I agree for the most part with what Mr. Pearl said about MRI’s revealing what we are attracted to. I think it gets a little subjective when we start talking about what is normal “intensity” for one man, than another as I think some men are just more visual than others.
Mr. Pearl states:
“Some things are harmful (wrong) only when done in excess, like eating, shopping, use of electronic media, etc. But other things are harmful (wrong) from the very first experience, like drunkenness, getting high on drugs, or viewing pornography…”
Mr. Pearl mentions some things that are only wrong when done in excess – agreed. But then he lists some things that when done only once cause damage. One bout of drunkenness could cause damage, if your drove, operated machinery or tried to do many other things, so on that I would partially agree. However if a surgeon were operating on man and the only pain reliever he had was alcohol, then in this case it would be right for this surgeon to get this man drunk(and this drunkenness would not cause damage) before performing surgery, so as to alleviate the pain(“Give strong drink unto him that is ready to perish..” Proverbs 31:6).
But then we come to pornography. I agree that there is bad pornography that is harmful to a man even from the very first use of it. If a man is feeding his mind with images of homosexual sex (including lesbians), incest, orgies, swinger sex and other disgusting or perverted acts I agree this is harmful.
But Mr. Pearl would include under his definition of pornography, regular nudity, such as nude women, paintings, drawings, photos and movies of couples engaging in normal heterosexual sex. On this I would have to disagree with his inclusion of these as wrong for a Christian man to view when they are not. These images do not violate God’s design of heterosexual sex and there is no shame or wrong in enjoying the sight of such images.
Mr. Pearl’s attack on man’s maleness
But then Mr. Pearl gets to one of his most false statements in this post:
“It takes repeated experience over a period of time to develop an addiction for alcohol or drugs. It takes longer to develop addictions to social media, gambling, gossip, and overeating. But the day a boy goes through puberty he is already addicted to pornography, for he is created to crave the female form in all of its beauty and lust. It just takes one glimpse at the naked form on a cell phone for a young boy to be fully addicted, like the former alcoholic who takes a single drink and finds himself entirely in the grip of the addiction he laid down ten years earlier. All young men are recovering pornography addicts and will remain so the rest of their lives, even if they have never seen the first image.”
Mr. Pearl takes a very negative view toward male sexuality, even more than I usually see from those Christians who believe similar to him.
So the day a boy starts puberty, he is already “addicted to pornography”? That is like saying the day a baby is born, they are “already addicted to food” because they have an instinctual desire to feed from their mother’s breast.
Instead of looking at a young boy’s coming of age, and his appreciation of the female form as a gift from God, Mr. Pearl sees male sexuality as a curse, a sin, something to be suppressed. Mr. Pearl’s attack on male sexuality is not found anywhere in the Word of God, but they are as Paul states in Colossians 2:22 – the “commands and doctrines of men”.
Mr. Pearl would claim he is not a Christian ascetic (a believer in the false heretical doctrine that says Christians are not to enjoy anything pleasurable – even sex with their own wife). But by his statement that when a boy starts puberty, he is “addicted to pornography” Mr. Pearl is falling into the error of Christian ascetism, he is just using a targeting his ascetism to particular practices which he deems to be immoral.
Lies told about erotica, and the real truth
It is possible, very possible, for a young man, a middle aged man, or even an elderly man to enjoy erotica that does not depict Biblically immoral acts, and also for a man to masturbate with or without these images and NOT become addicted to either one.
The great lie that is told by many Christian leaders (and even non-Christians who come from feminist backgrounds) is that erotica (which they lump in with true bad pornography) and masturbation always lead to addictive and deviant behavior that becomes more and more depraved.
The truth is that this does not have to be the case. In fact, the reason that people do perverted things is not because of Erotica, or even because of truly bad pornography (which is wrong), but because they already had this evil in their heart to do long before they ever looked at a photograph.
Let me describe the process that happens to many Christian men (and see if this describes anything you have gone through as a man).
The act sex between a man and woman is reserved for marriage, our sexuality is not
As Christian men, we are raised by our Christian parents, and taught by our Christian churches to believe that sex is reserved for marriage. This is a very Biblical concept, not just a tradition.
“Marriage must be respected by all, and the marriage bed kept undefiled, because God will judge immoral people and adulterers.”
This passage from Hebrews makes it clear that God only sees one kind of sexual contact between a man and a woman (and only a man and woman – see Romans 1:27) as honorable, and that is within the bounds of marriage. Premarital sex, homosexual sex, orgies, adultery and all other sexual acts between two persons outside of the marriage bed are by definition dishonorable, and will be judged by God.
However, while God calls us as Christian men to wait until we are within the protected bounds of marriage to have sex with a woman, he does not tell us as men that we must suppress our entire sexuality until we are married.
Many people have a hard time with the concept that our sexuality, and the act of sex between two persons are two very different things, but they are different.
The first signs of womanhood and manhood
For a young woman, the first sign of her womanhood is the day the she gets her first period. For young man, the first sign of his manhood is the first time he receives pleasure from the site of a woman’s body. It is as though a switch flips, one day he notices nothing, and the next day a whole new world opens to this young man.
Sometimes he finds himself looking at a woman’s cleavage as she passes by. He goes to school one day, and all of sudden he notices that his 24 year old school teacher is attractive. Where did this come from? One day she was just his teacher, the next day, she was a woman. The next time she comes by his desk to help him with something, it takes all he can muster for him not to look at her cleavage as she bends over his desk to help him with his school work.
Many Christians would tell this young man that he must suppress his desire, and the refuse to take pleasure from viewing any woman’s form (whether fully clothed or unclothed). They will train him to “look away” if a woman’s cleavage comes into his view, and to think of other things when his mind begins to wonder what a woman looks like without her clothing on.
Mr. Pearl’s techniques for suppression of male sexuality
“I promised to tell you how to be free from your addiction. The thing that has prevented you from ceasing your disgusting behavior is the misery you feel when you cease partaking… Science tells us that it takes about 45 days to wean the brain off of an addiction and rewire it so that it does not punish your attempt at abstinence. They sum it up in two words, “Reject and Replace.” Reject the old habit no matter the emotional cost, and, just as importantly, replace the old pleasure source with a new pleasure that is wholesome. Stop drinking and start exercising, or learning to play a musical instrument, or learn a new language, or take up that hobby you always dreamed of. Stop viewing pornography and start running or swimming or studying something interesting.”
Mr. Pearl – it is no more “disgusting” for a man to masturbate to an image of a beautiful woman than it is for you to see a commercial for your favorite food, then go home and eat that food when you are hungry. God reserves the act of sex for marriage, but our sexuality does not have to be repressed until marriage.
This is why God gave us the tool of masturbation, so that we could experience our sexuality without violating his laws before we are married. Even within marriage, masturbation can be a wonderful tool to balance out libido differences between a man and woman, and also help when either spouses has medical condition that temporarily makes them unavailable for sex with their spouse.
The absurdity of Mr. Pearl’s “50 day rule”
Mr. Pearl’s “50 day rule” may or may not apply to many real addictions, but it does not apply to things built into our human nature, like our two hungers, one for food and one for sex. You won’t lose your sexual desire for women, or you the pleasure you receive from the female form (even fully clothed) just because you stop looking at erotica for 45 days.
Most people have a natural need for human contact. If you take a person and locked them in solitary confinement away from all human contact for 45 days, do you think all of a sudden they would not need any human contact?
This is the utter absurdity of what Mr. Pearl is teaching with his 50 day rule. It is rubbish plain and simple.
In fact I would argue that suppression of normal sexuality actually leads true perversion. Many men who feel trapped in their own male bodies by their natural male sexuality, instead of looking at erotica that does not depict Biblically immoral acts, look at images with group sex, lesbian sex and all kinds’ images of immoral behavior. This is because they believe “if I am going to sin, I am might as well sin big”, then of course after they sin by looking at true pornography, they have a sudden rush of guilt that befalls them after they are done. This is cycle many good men of God fall into.
There is a better way
Instead of this cycle of guilt, there is a better way, a way to experience your sexuality, and that is to look at erotica that DOES NOT violate God’s law. Then when you masturbate, you have NOTHING to feel guilty about. I hope to spread this truth to as many Christian men as I possibly can, and I hope those of you reading this who agree with me will do the same.
You can choose to stop being ashamed of your God given male sexuality. You can learn to experience and enjoy your male sexuality to its fullest, both before marriage and after marriage all within the bounds of God’s law.
See my post – “Overcoming the Guilt Associated with Masturbation” for many Scripture passages that will help you on your journey out of Christian Asceticism and into Christian freedom.
Besides masturbation, you don’t have to be ashamed of glancing at beautiful women and enjoying the pleasure of their form. See this great series from BiblicalGenderRoles.com – How should Christian women respond to their men looking at other women
At the end of the article form Biblical Gender Roles, there is a helpful section for men about how to experience their male sexuality(enjoying the view of women around them) without acting in a ungentlemanly manner.
Unless otherwise stated, all Scripture passages are taken from the Holman Christian Standard Bible