Question 5-2021 from Mr Fauzan

What can you say to a young person who is addicted to porn but is not in the position to get married yet?

Dear Fauzan,

              Addiction is a mental health issue. It is characterised by obsession, loss of control, needing a “fix” or experiencing a “high”. In connection to porn, it is not merely about enjoying it but more of porn-watching interfering with a person’s daily life, relationships and ability to function. It is a medical condition that requires appropriate professional attention.

So, actually, there is not much we would say to those who are not in a position to get married but are addicted to porn except “seek help” and then we would guide them where to go for help. We may have to convince them out of their blind spot pointing out tell-tale signs like porn-watching during work, neglect of daily responsibilities, wasting time and money on it, inability to stop even after trying, frustration and shame, even anxiety, insomnia or other mental health issues.

We would definitely not suggest such a person to marry before successful treatment because that may subject the new spouse to a potentially dysfunctional relationship all around. For that matter, we would say the same to addicted married people, because porn addiction cannot be treated by their spouses nor go away by simply having more sex. This is because addiction “is a medical condition that changes the brain and the body and causes the person to feel compelled to continue … partaking in an activity, even when doing so cause harm,” to use the words of “Medical News Today” website. Hence, its treatment requires psychological expertise on top of relationship counselling. That said, to those who are not yet addicted as defined in the opening paragraph, but are only starting to discover or beginning to enjoy it, there are a number of things we would say to them.

Firstly, we would assure them that their visual attraction to the human body is normal, as it is a natural instinct of a human being. But we would also remind them that this sexual instinct is only one sub-set of one aspect of our humanity, namely the body; whereas we are only truly human when our mind and soul participates along with the body in our decisions, choices and behaviour. Ogling on naked bodies demeans both the naked persons and those who watch them down to an animalistic level as it is devoid of the intellectual, social, emotional and spiritual dimensions of a truly human interaction. We can choose to let our base desire dictate our behaviour or instead be in control of it so as not to hinder our higher purposes in life. The only difference between the two attitudes towards the sexual instinct is that one is animalistic, while the other is human. But the choice is still ours.

If the youth choose to behave humanly towards their sexual instincts, it matters little that they are not in a position to get married. Their preoccupation would be with higher purposes of their life. In practical terms, it means they would be prioritising on their studies, career, activism or even sports and hobbies. And naturally, full-hearted involvement in such activities would take their attention off their sexual needs and develops them in the higher dimensions of human interaction which we mentioned above. In fact, if they are finding ways to avoid porn-watching, this would be good suggestion to give. And, if they are already active in these types of activities, they should intensify their involvement. It is not just about taking off their minds off sex, but also about developing their intellectual, social and emotional interaction skills as it is vital for a life-time of exclusive relationship with someone later when they are finally ready to marry. This is because, a healthy long-term sexual relationship in marriage is not one driven by the sexual instinct but instead is an extension of a wholistically intimate relationship with someone we truly love enough to forge a livelong exclusive commitment with.

If, however, the youth couldn’t care less about higher purposes in life and cannot see the harm in gratifying a natural, God-given instinct, then your focus should be on the long-term damage that porn-watching can cause to their long-term sexual health. Ironically, pornography diminishes sexual responsiveness by creating unrealistic expectations of sex which then cause anxieties due to their inability to match up to these unrealistic depictions of sexual performance as well as organs. This is not a mere theory but is reported in many books written by sex-therapists as they see a growing number of pornography-triggered cases of sexual dysfunctions lately, since the proliferation of online porn. We have elaborated on it in our video-clip as post #17 on and will deliberate it even further in our upcoming book “Sex, Soul and Islam”. In summary, porn distorts sexual reality through depiction of exceptional sexual capacities and endowments which are not representative of normal human capacity which is made worse by a large dose of make-belief through movie-making techniques.

If you have made your point clear with these points, but the youth are adamant at enjoying their porn-watching, what is left for you is advise them to look out for tell-tale signs as mentioned in the second paragraph above, because it is possible that they are beginning to get addicted. Only if they acknowledge these signs can you be of help in finding them the appropriate professional help available in your vicinity. If, however, they had readily responded to you positively and shown keenness to stop their bad habit, there are very practical self-help measures they can try like:

  • Delete electronic porn and bookmarks on all devices.
  • Discard all hard-copy porn.
  • Have someone else install anti-porn software on their electronic devices without giving them the password.
  • Have a plan — choose another activity or two that they can turn to when that powerful urge hits.
  • When they want to view porn, remind themselves how it has affected their life — write it down if that helps.
  • Consider if there are any triggers and try to avoid them.
  • Partner up with you who will ask about their porn habit and hold them accountable.
  • Keep a journal to track setbacks, reminders, and alternate activities that work.

There are plenty of self-help pointers online to help those seeking to wean themselves off porn-watching habit. In addition to considering these suggestions, appealing to the higher ideals of their belief-system would give them a solid reason to move away from this bad habit. In particular, if the youth is a Muslim, it is not productive to focus on the halal-and-harams of porn-watching at this stage because chances are they already knew this but it did not stop them either. This didactic approach tends to cause youths to react negatively at being told what to do. Instead, it is more productive to appeal to the universal understanding of what makes a human whole, which by the way is in line with our own aqidah or belief system.

Islamic rulings is only a good entry point for those who are voluntarily enquiring about it or to those who have decided to break the habit. Then they would be more receptive to reminders that it is haram to look at other people’s nakedness or awrat. They may also be receptive to the Prophet’s method of attaining self-control over all sorts of base desires through frequent fasting. In the end, whether you start from rulings or principles, whatever is appropriate to the young person, they need rational arguments that, in the long-run, pornography is harmful not only to their sexual health but also to their overall development as a human being.