Redeeming the Look: Retraining the Eyes of Porn Users
by: Jonathan Hart, LPC
In the previous blog of this series, “Training In Use: The Pernicious Effect of Sexualization and Pornography”,I explored the reality of objectification and the way that a person’s eyes and mind are trained (particularly by porn) to use another person’s body parts. This blog will look at ways of breaking that habitual pattern.
When a person recognizes the need to stop using porn and to stop using others in his or her mind, many find themselves stuck. They don’t want to do this anymore but feel that they can’t stop looking. It is certainly true that we cannot stop seeing. As I mentioned in that previous blog, sexualization is everywhere. The likelihood that an image specifically designed to activate our gaze and desire will enter our field of view is 100%, whether that image is an ad on a billboard or a person wearing an attractive outfit.
Please note: I am not saying that a person wearing an attractive outfit is “asking” to be used in a sexual way. The reason anyone wears an attractive outfit is to attract attention, that is, to activate gaze and desire on some level. We simply want to look good to others. There is nothing wrong with this in a healthy context. It is the training of porn and commercial objectification that turns healthy attraction into unhealthy sexualized desire and use.
The one who realizes that they need to stop using others sexually has to learn how to stop using people with their eyes and mind. One popular solution that is prevalent at the moment is the idea of averting your gaze. The idea is that when you find yourself looking, you yank your eyes away from the triggering image or body. This is aimed at working against the reflexive look by removing your gaze before you shift into using or objectifying the body.
This is a needful step, much like the alcoholic staying away from bars. However, this cannot be the only step, because there is no way to stop seeing. Ultimately, the work for the ones who use people with their eyes is not to change what is seen, but how it is seen. The work is to learn how not to use.
I call this “Redeeming the Look”.
People who use must learn how to see attractive people without using them in their heart and mind, to see with respect and regard for dignity. Ultimately, the goal is to be able to see a whole person with a story, a life, with dreams and desires, rather than to focus on and use only their body parts.
We have to confront the reality of sexualized use in porn specifically. We have to see it for what it is. The truth is that a significant percentage of people in pornographic images do not want to be there. This is contrary to the illusion presented by pornography. Many have been kidnapped, involuntarily addicted to drugs, and forced to perform for the cameras. If you think about a person in this situation, it changes how one looks at the image. It activates compassion and sorrow rather than lust and use. It changes our willingness to engage in the use.
Many people in porn are there voluntarily. Some are there just to make money. What about them? I ask you to consider what it takes to get a person to set themselves up for public display and use in this fashion? Who told them that their value or power was only in their body, that their parts are the only thing about them that matter? I suggest that this never comes from a healthy, balanced life or self-image.
Again, confronting this reality changes how we see the person. When we consider the whole person, their whole story and life, our willingness to use is reduced and our compassion is activated. (For more on this, I recommend visiting https://fightthenewdrug.org/for a wealth of solid information and awareness about the pervasive effects of porn.)
There is more to challenging and changing the mental and emotional components and behaviors of those trained by porn and commercial sexualization, certainly more than a blog can contain. This is a look at the basic principles that can begin the process. If you are looking for to change, don’t try to do this yourself. It doesn’t work that way. Reach out to a professional who is experienced in treating sexual addiction. Get the help of your family and friends. Community is essential. Change is possible.–JEH