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For Someone Addicted to Porn

The FYI's Porn Addiction Toolkit

This is a segment of The FYI’s Porn Addiction Toolkit. For more resources and support, check out the rest of the toolkit.

Understanding Porn Addiction

An addiction is a pattern of behavior that is difficult to control or stop, despite a person knowing that the behavior leads to negative consequences. Whether it’s viewed occasionally or often, porn is harmful and Islamically prohibited. A key marker of a porn addiction is when a person finds it incredibly difficult to stop watching, even when they want to. People with an addiction to porn often feel that they cannot control their urges and that their urges control them instead.

For Someone Addicted to Porn

An addiction is a pattern of behavior that is difficult to control or stop, despite a person knowing that the behavior leads to negative consequences. Whether it’s viewed occasionally or often, porn is harmful and Islamically prohibited. A key marker of a porn addiction is when a person finds it incredibly difficult to stop watching, even when they want to. People with an addiction to porn often feel that they cannot control their urges and that their urges control them instead.

  • Experiencing overwhelming cravings to view porn
  • Spending large chunks of time watching porn
  • Frequent masturbation
  • Losing attraction or interest in sex with spouse/partner
  • Delaying/losing sleep
  • Spending more time in isolation
  • Lying to hide the behavior
  • Feeling guilty or ashamed
  • Losing interest in hobbies/interests
  • Falling behind on responsibilities
  • Unable to focus on anything else

Many people, including those with addictions, wonder why porn addiction is difficult to overcome. Isn’t it as simple as just stopping the behavior?
The reality is that porn harms the brain over time. It physically changes how our brain works. Let’s take a look at how this happens.

  • Deep inside our brain, we all have a reward center that contains a chemical called dopamine. Dopamine is released into our brain every time we do (or anticipate doing) something that we enjoy, like eating dessert or spending time with loved ones.
  • Viewing porn also causes the brain to release dopamine, but at unusually high levels. After watching porn, the rush of dopamine tells your brain: “Hey, this is a good thing! Keep doing it.” With repeated exposure, your brain will even release dopamine in anticipation of viewing porn again. Just expecting to view porn will result in the rush of dopamine!
  • With time, your brain does what it is supposed to do – when it likes something, it makes those chemical pathways stronger. So, our brain alters itself to crave and find those pleasurable experiences again.
  • As these cravings increase in the brain,they disrupt the part of the brain that helps a person make healthy decisions and control their impulses–the CEO part of our brain called the Prefrontal Cortex. This change in our brain is one of the key markers of addiction. 

So even if a person may want to stop watching porn, the part of their brain that helps them make the right decisions and stay away from porn is compromised. The more that a person gives in to their desire to view porn, the stronger their cravings become. They start building tolerance–they need more of the behavior to reach the same dopamine “high.”

Porn consumption has similar effects on our brain as other negative behaviors, like smoking tobacco. The key difference is that tobacco is expensive and requires an I.D. whereas porn is available anywhere with an internet connection, completely free of charge! Easy access to porn makes it even more difficult for people who are addicted to give up their habit. It also makes it incredibly easy for those who may “occasionally” watch porn to fall into addiction. 

  •  

Taking Steps Towards Recovery

If you are someone who is trying to quit porn, despite how overwhelmed you may be feeling, know that there is hope and support for your recovery.

Many people who are addicted think that they can stop watching porn at any time but find it difficult to stop when they want to. Others might minimize or deny the problem, or justify why they use porn. Denying the addiction and the impact that porn has on your life is one of the biggest obstacles to recovery. The first step to the healing journey is to be aware of your problem and to accept that it is a problem. Take a deeper look at the harmful effects of porn in other areas of your life like family, career, overall productivity, emotional wellness, social life, etc. Think it isn’t affecting you? Read these examples of denial.

Why is it important to you that you quit porn? You may have many goals that you want to achieve in life. Porn may be keeping you from being the best version of yourself. It may be harming your relationship with Allah (swt) or your loved ones. Write down your reasons, post them somewhere visible to you, and look at them often to stay motivated.

Do this soon as you’ve made the commitment to stop watching. Eliminating easy access will help you on the healing journey. Try implementing some of the following strategies mentioned below.

  • Delete all pornographic images or videos from phones, tablets, and computers
  • Dispose of pornographic magazines, CDs, and videotapes
  • Unsubscribe from websites and mailing lists
  • Install anti-porn and accountability software like TrupleCovenant Eyes or Qustodio.
  • Set a data usage limit on your devices.
  • Use an app like Vid Angel to filter out sexual content that can be triggering.

There are many reasons why people turn to porn in the first place. It could be accidental exposure, a lack of education about sex, or difficulty managing sexual desires. Think about why you first turned to porn, and what it is that fuels your addiction now. Many people addicted to porn also use it to cope with uncomfortable emotions, like stress, anxiety, or feeling lonely. They turn to porn to relax their body when these difficult emotions come up, usually unconsciously. Porn replaces discomfort with pleasure, but only momentarily. Learn more here. 

A trigger is a feeling or situation that makes you crave porn. When triggered, you feel that you need porn to feel better. Every time you feel the urge to look at porn, write down exactly what you were feeling or thinking. Use an app like Fortify to track your relapses and what may have triggered them. By being mindful of your triggers, you’ll start to recognize situations that make you more vulnerable to relapsing. With this awareness, you can find ways to deal with your triggers more effectively.

Emotional Triggers:

  • Feeling lonely
  • Feeling sad or depressed
  • Stressed, anxious or overwhelmed
  • Feeling that you need to “reward” yourself

Cognitive (thoughts) Triggers:

  • “I’m unlovable. No one likes me,”
  • “I haven’t had an orgasm in X days so my body needs this.”
  • “I’m not strong enough to resist.”
  • “I’m not smart enough to do this assignment.”

Situational Triggers:

  • A provocative ad online
  • Sexual content during a show you are watching
  • Peer pressure from friends watching/sharing porn
  • Boredom or lots of free time
  • Fighting with a loved one

When you recognize what’s fueling your urge, deal with the trigger directly. Let’s say you feel lonely and upset after getting into a fight with a friend or family member, and you recognize that this is triggering your desire to watch porn. Address the underlying issue behind your trigger – it could be that you are feeling unheard, misunderstood, or disappointed in how you reacted. Recognize your feelings by writing them down. Write down what you might do differently next time. Talk to someone who will hear you out but also give you good advice on how to deal with the situation. If you need to apologize or have a follow-up conversation, plan when and how you will do it. Rather than sitting in your feelings and then turning to porn, recognize the trigger for what it is and try different ways to address what it brings up for you.

One common trigger for porn is boredom or too much free time. Make a daily routine and plan to stay busy and engaged. Also, make a list of things you can do as soon as you feel triggered. One really good tip is to avoid being alone – call a friend, leave your room, or find a way to be around other people right away. Try exercising, gardening, etc – whatever works for you.

Once committed to recovery, some people find that stopping porn (and masturbation) immediately is the best approach for them. Others struggle with this approach, especially if they’ve developed a habit of viewing porn multiple times a day. In that case, a more gradual approach might help. The first step would be to eliminate the visual stimuli (watching porn) and the second  step would be to reduce the behavior (masturbation). Whether you choose to quit gradually or immediately, becoming aware of your triggers and practicing some of the other strategies listed here is still important for your long-term recovery.

Fasting has been described by the Prophet (pbuh) as one of the ways to control sexual desire, and is a strategy that some people use to curb their addiction.  “O  young men, those among you who can support a wife should marry, for it restrains eyes (from casting evil glances) and preserves one from immorality; but he who cannot afford it should observe fast for it is a means of controlling sexual desire.” (Sahih Muslim) Although the Prophet (pbuh) refers to young men, this advice applies to any person, male or female, who is struggling to control their sexual urges.

Shame is the idea that “am a bad person.” This thought reinforces the belief that you are a bad person who is incapable and unworthy of change. Guilt is the idea that “This behavior is wrong or bad.” It gives you the chance to accept your mistake, ask for forgiveness, and change your behavior. Shame will only trap you in the addiction cycle, while guilt allows you to take responsibility for your behavior.

  • Yes, this will be incredibly difficult. But porn thrives off of secrecy and isolation – hiding your habit from your spouse can exacerbate your addiction. See tips here and how to disclose the addiction. You can use some of these suggestions to start the conversation. Also see the section of this toolkit titled “Support for Spouses…”
  • Recognize that your spouse may experience a great deal of trauma and shock at first. You’ll need to give them space to process their feelings. Try to see things from their perspective and regulate your emotions as they come to terms with what you’ve shared.
  • If you are considering marriage or are engaged, realize that an addiction to pornography is not simply resolved by marriage. If you are struggling with an addiction to porn, get help to treat your addiction before proceeding with the marriage process.

If you are on your path towards recovery, use this checklist to assess your readiness for marriage.

The journey of recovery can be challenging, as you may cycle between recovery and relapse. Know that with a commitment to change and a plan of action, recovery from porn is possible with the help of the Most Merciful. Turn to Him, ask for His help, and keep asking for it each time you fall. He hasn’t left you alone when you relapse, He’s just building you up each time so you get stronger and gain self-awareness in your recovery, inshAllah (God-willing).

The Importance of Getting Help

Despite wanting to quit porn, people with addictions get stuck in the cycle of addiction because they try to battle the addiction on their own. They often fail, and this makes them more likely to turn back to porn. Because addiction thrives off of secrecy and isolation, one of the most important things you can do for your recovery is to get help. But it can be uncomfortable to open up to someone else – it will take some courage and motivation. Remember that the discomfort of the initial conversation will be temporary, while the support you’ll receive as a result is one of the best things you can do to heal from the addiction.

For Someone Addicted to Porn

Find Support on Your Journey to Recovery

Tell someone you trust about your addiction, like a friend or a mentor. Ask for their support and for permission to reach out when you struggle.  If you are using an app like Fortify to track your recovery, your trusted person can follow your progress and keep you accountable.

Like Naseeha Mental Health or NISA Helpline. They provide confidential support and share resources to get you started on your journey, or to help you stay motivated if you’re losing hope. Most helplines allow you to receive help anonymously.

You don’t have to deal with your addiction all by yourself. Support groups create a safe space to share your thoughts, struggles, emotions, and coping strategies. Many are even available virtually (like this reddit community for Muslims struggling with porn). Some support group programs are designed to help with recovery through a 12-step process. Remember that isolation fuels addiction; joining a support group can help you battle feelings of isolation and shame with comradery and hope for recovery.

A licensed professional therapist can help you put together a plan for recovery by helping you identify triggers for your porn use and brainstorming coping strategies that will work for you. Try to find a therapist who has experience working with porn users or sex addicts.

Some programs are hosted online, like Purify Your Gaze, a program for Muslims who are looking for support in their struggle with porn. You can also search for a local addiction center that offers treatment programs for people dealing with compulsive behaviors.

Quitting porn is a marathon, not a sprint.

Even with the strongest commitment to quit, freedom from a porn addiction can take several months to a few years. Relapsing does not mean that recovery isn’t working and that you can never quit porn. Rather than feeling discouraged by the time it takes, set the right expectations for the journey ahead.

Despite wanting to quit, you will struggle with your cravings. Sometimes, they will overpower your desire to stop viewing porn. This is expected and it does not mean that you are failing. You are undoing the changes that happened in your brain during the addiction. With consistent effort, you’ll see that the periods of sobriety will get longer and your relapses will happen less often. Recovery is a process, so be patient with yourself and take it one day at a time.

Addiction changes your brain, and is fueled by subconscious patterns of thought and behavior. It will take time to become aware of these patterns and make healthier, more mindful choices. Just like you cannot run a marathon without training for it, quitting porn takes time and requires finding strategies that will work for you. You also need people who will help you stay motivated and hold you accountable.

Research shows that staying away from porn, even for short amounts of time, helps with quitting.  So when you relapse, don’t throw in the towel and consider your sober days wasted. Know that the time you spent away from porn before the relapse still counts towards your recovery. After the relapse, consider the very next moment a chance to stick to your commitment.

  • Reflect on the situation. What triggered you? What could you have done differently? Write down practical steps you can take to avoid falling into the same triggers.
  • What did you learn from the relapse? Are there strategies you used to use that you’ve eased up on? Keep track of what has helped you the most and try implementing these strategies again.
  • Be mindful of your feelings. Don’t repress them or distract yourself from them. They are there to teach you something.
  • Learn about and challenge the negative thought patterns that many people addicted to porn fall into.
  • Talk to an ally, therapist, or friend. They can be there for you after a relapse, help you stay motivated, and hold you accountable if that’s what you need.
  • Look back at the goals you set for yourself and reasons why you wanted to quit. Revisit them each time you relapse to stay motivated.
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Allah (swt) sees your sincere desire to quit, and He sees every action that you take towards recovery.

  • He is As-Shakoor, The Appreciative, and He recognizes how hard you are trying. His forgiveness is available to you as long as you are sincerely regretful and committed to making an effort to be better.
  • When you have relapsed or feel far from where you want to be, it can be hard to believe in yourself. Ibn Ata Allah says, “If you find yourself having less hope in God when you make a mistake, then realize you are only relying on your efforts, and not God’s mercy.” In those moments, renew your faith in Allah – turn back to dua’a and recognize that He is able to help you and nothing is possible without His will.
  • Relapsing does not mean that you’ve completely failed, nor is it a punishment from Allah (swt). It is a minor setback on the journey, and you can ask for forgiveness, recommit and keep going.
  • When you’re feeling overwhelmed, know that Allah (swt)’s mercy and forgiveness is always near. When you fall, He doesn’t give up on you so don’t give up on yourself. 

Say, Oh my servants who have transgressed against themselves by sinning, do no despair of the mercy of Allah. Indeed, Allah forgives all sins. Indeed, it is He who is the Forgiving, the Merciful. (Az-Zumar 53)

Thinking about therapy?

The FYI’s Therapy Guide can help.  

Additional Resources

Support Groups

Support GroupWeb AddressDescription
Nasiha Counseling Treatment Centerhttps://www.psychologytoday.com/us/groups/support-group-for-divorced-muslim-women/35702Support group for divorced Muslim women
Wasilah Connectionshttps://wasilahconnect.org/event/Wasilah Connections aims to be a social service organization that will create and support individuals by providing holistic support to the challenges people face. They provide divorce support groups regularly.
Islamic Society of Greater Houstonhttps://isgh.org/support/Support group for Muslims whose marriages have ended. You will find welcoming and supportive people who have shared similar experiences. Facilitators will guide the group to discuss important issues surrounding divorce.
Muslim Women’s Alliancehttps://mwachicago.org/Dedicated to empowering Muslim women and girls. MWA’s core focus areas are the development of leaders, fostering community service, mentoring women, and empowering the community through social justice awareness and action.

Organizations

Organization NameWeb AddressDescription
The Faith Trust Institutehttps://www.faithtrustinstitute.org/A national, multifaith, multicultural training, and education organization with global reach working to end sexual and domestic violence.
The Khalil Centerhttps://khalilcenter.com/counselingtherapy/Provides counseling and therapy services. Has web therapy sessions available. Discounted fees based on income, financial assistance, and insurance coverage.
Peaceful Families Projecthttps://www.peacefulfamilies.org/Programming includes prevention and intervention and addresses domestic violence among Muslim families and communities through collaboration with imams, community leaders and members, social service professionals, activists, educators, legal providers, and youth leaders.
Turning Point for Women and Familieshttp://tpny.orgProvides direct services like free counseling, crisis intervention, support groups, and advocacy & referral services for women/children affected by domestic violence that are culturally and religiously sensitive.
In Shaykh’s Clothinghttps://inshaykhsclothing.comA resource website for spiritual abuse in the Muslim community. They discuss the phenomenon of spiritual abuse, help those directly affected, and work on prevention by providing education, training, and policies.
Heart Women and Girlshttp://heartwomenandgirls.orgEmpowers faith-based communities to address sexual violence and improve sexual health literacy. They ensure that all Muslims have the resources, language, and choice to nurture sexual health and confront sexual violence. Their work is culturally-sensitive and developmentally appropriate for the audiences that they serve.
Wellness Through Counselinghttps://www.wellnessthroughcounseling.comCulturally sensitive therapy and counseling services. Provides individual psychotherapy, marriage counseling, and family therapy.
National Stepfamily Resource Centerhttps://www.stepfamilies.info/

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The Prophet (SAS) said, “There are no days in which righteous deeds are more beloved to Allah than these ten days”
(Bukhari).

Guarantee your blessings!

Zakat eligibility of The FYI

The Family & Youth Institute, or The FYI, is a well-known Muslim organization in the United States. It works to promote mental health and wellness by strengthening and empowering individuals, families, and communities through research and education. It has been working for many years to bring Islamic perspectives to understanding and promoting mental health in our communities.

It is dedicated to serving and supporting Muslims – safeguarding our deen, our families, and our future generations. Therefore, the work of The FYI comes in the category of ‘fi sabeelillah’ or the Path of Allah, within the eight categories where Zakat money can be used.

Zakah expenditures are only for the poor and for the needy and for those employed for it and for bringing hearts together [for Islam] and for freeing captives [or slaves] and for those in debt and for the cause of Allah, and for the [stranded] traveler – an obligation [imposed] by Allah, And Allah, is Knowing and Wise.”
(Al-Tawbah 9:60)

According to scholars who widen the meaning of fee sabeelillah to include any activities that promote Islamic growth, The FYI is indeed eligible to receive part of the Zakat funds for its programs and services. I urge Muslims in America to support this organization through their donations, general charity, and through their Zakat. I ask Allah swt to strengthen and guide The FYI to continue its good work in supporting Muslims.

Shaikh Ali Suleiman Ali, PhD

About Shaikh Ali

Sh. Ali Suleiman Ali was born in Ghana where he spent his childhood studying with various Muslim scholars. He then moved to Saudi Arabia and enrolled in the Islamic University of Madina.  He graduated with a degree in both Arabic and Islamic Studies. Dr. Ali went on to complete his Ph.D. in Islamic Studies at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

Sh. Ali serves on the Advisory Council of The Family & Youth Institute. He is the Senior Imam and Director of the Muslim Community of Western Suburbs in Canton, Michigan. Additionally, he serves as the Director of Muslim Family Services in Detroit and is a council member of the Fiqh Council of North America (FCNA). He is also a member of the North American Imams Federation (NAIF) and the Association of Muslim Jurists of America (AMJA).