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Pornography Isn’t The Root Issue (Jason Mahr)

Jason Mahr giving a Ted Talk on his addiction to pornography.
Jason Mahr giving a Ted Talk on the insights that helped him break his porn addiction.

The root issue of pornography is often something other than pornography itself. This is especially true for people who don’t approve of pornography but nonetheless indulge in it on a regular basis. The root issue is almost always emotional in nature. When people feel angry, sad, anxious or depressed, they often medicate these emotions in a a manner that contradicts their values.

How we medicate our emotions says a lot about our character. When we are feeling down, do we appeal to the darkest parts of ourselves and the world or do we reach out in love until the negative emotion passes? The fact is that pornography is more like alcohol than medicine. It provides temporary relief from pain followed by an emotional hangover and an increasing incapacity to deal with that pain. In other words, pornography is a vicious cycle that keeps people coming back while leaving them increasingly weak and dissatisfied.

Jason Mahr was a Christian pastor and had a ministry before his pornography addiction got so bad that he couldn’t deal with his life problems. After his church made him seek professional help, he learned that his need for approval was a driving force behind his addiction. Fortunately for Jason, he was able to break his addiction, save his marriage, and get his family back, but he paid a steep price in the process.

So my freedom didn’t come from getting rid of porn, even though that was a good thing, but it came from learning how to handle rejection. I learned that instead of letting rejection shape me, I can learn from it, and not become depressed, and have that need to feel approved. You see, how we handle rejection is the key, and that is always within our own control.

Jason Mahr

I’ve reposted the sobering TedTalk from YouTube. As always, you can check out the complete transcript down below. For more, see the complete archive of articles on integrity.


Have you ever lived a lie? What kind of impact did it make on you? And on the lives of others around you? For the past 20 years or so, for the better part of the last 20 years, I’ve been a pastor. I’m a religious man, I’m a family man, a man of faith, and by admission, I’m a total hypocrite. That’s right. I preached to people for years, trying to get them to follow a strict set of rules that I wasn’t even willing to abide by.

And that’s not the worst part. As a pastor, I was trying my best to make a positive impact in the lives of others, but secretly I was involved in a relationship that was taking over my life. It was leaving me wounded and depressed, unable to even manage the relationships that mattered to me. So the best thing that could have happened was when I ended the relationship.

In a spirit of full disclosure, and to make things as awkward as possible, I’m actually going to read to you a few portions of the breakup letter I wrote for the relationship. It goes like this: “When we first met, it was just like any new and even secret dating relationship: lots of attention, obsession, that constant feeling of being on a high. I really couldn’t get enough of you because you were always there to pick me up when I felt down.

But then things changed. Even though you always were able to make me feel good physically, you had this way about you that made me feel terrible about myself inside. And then came the realization that you were lying to me. I realized you weren’t even faithful to me: You were in a relationship with almost all of my friends. I was a fool to let you into my life and to believe your lies.

Now, since I broke up with you, it hasn’t been easy, but I’ve managed to get my family back, my marriage back, and, most importantly, my heart, mind, and soul back. Because believing the best about myself may seem like a leap, but it is the best jump I’ve ever made. So now, I’m inspired and I’m on a mission to keep as many people as I can from being hurt by you. And I’m not going to spare your feelings, and say something like: ‘Oh, don’t worry. It’s not you, it’s me.’ Because dear pornography, I’m glad things are over between us. Stop trying to contact me, because remember: It’s not me, it’s you.”

I was able to write that letter because I had an eye-opening moment, just a few weeks before. On the verge of losing another job, the church leader sat me down, he said: “Jason, I really believe in you, but I believe that there’s something broken inside of you that you can’t see. So instead of being another church that just casts you aside, we’re actually going to hire you a life coach to figure out what’s really going on inside.”

In the course of the conversations with my life coach, Gary, my struggle with pornography became the major topic of discussion. When I revealed this struggle to Gary, he says: “You know what? Thanks for being vulnerable, I appreciate that. Now, the next step for you is to go back to that church leader, and I want you to share with him what you just shared with me.”

“You want me to share my darkest secret with someone that I respect and I want approval from? You got to be kidding me.” Well, I took the leap, and it didn’t work out the way I wanted to. I didn’t get shamed, but I didn’t get to keep my position either. In order to stay employed, I accepted a position at the church as a janitor, for the next year.

The eye-opening moment was when Gary said to me, “Jason, did you know that porn isn’t your problem? Viewing porn is a behavior, just like any other addiction. You are using porn to medicate the actual problem.”

That changed my life because it shifted my attention away from the behavior to the problem. And what was the problem? For me and almost every other addict, it’s this: the need for approval. I mean, who doesn’t want approval? Right? But that became a problem because I could not handle rejection. When we feel rejected, we get depressed. When we get depressed, we look for something to pick us up to make us feel better, and that is where we open the door to all kinds of addictions in our lives.

My addiction of choice happened to be pornography, just like 71% of men and 38% of women today. This is a dangerous addiction because it gives us an escape from reality, but also a false sense of approval. And this is the draw: We become addicted to what makes us feel approved.

So my freedom didn’t come from getting rid of porn, even though that was a good thing, but it came from learning how to handle rejection. I learned that instead of letting rejection shape me, I can learn from it, and not become depressed, and have that need to feel approved. You see, how we handle rejection is the key, and that is always within our own control.

So when it comes to overcoming addiction: Are we looking in the wrong place? Addictions are just the symptom of a deeper problem. Maybe the cure for addiction isn’t even in striving for approval.

I’ll leave you with this thought. Imagine what would happen if we wouldn’t allow the rejection of life to negatively shape our identity. Then we could focus on the root issue. And with a little bit of humility, and a little bit of vulnerability, healing takes place. And my friends, there’s nothing hypocritical about that.

Thank you.

An intellectually curious millennial passionate about seeing people make healthy, informed choices about the moral direction of their lives. When I’m not reading or writing, I enjoy hiking, web-making, learning foreign languages, and watching live sports. Alumnus of Georgetown University (B.S.) and The Ohio State University (M.A.).

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