Interview With Dr. Dan Allender – Pornified Masculinity & Hope For Restoration
Dr. Dan Allender, Professor and Founder of The Seattle School of Theology and Psychology and The Allender Center, joins Restoration Project in the battle for men’s souls. As a leading expert in the area of sexual shame, harm and recovery, we have asked him about the pervasive epidemic of pornography, its effect on men’s hearts, and what gives him hope for healing.
Dan has also contributed to Restoration Project by writing the foreword to our Man Maker Project: Boys are Born, Men are Made book, and has authored numerous books of his own, including Healing the Wounded Heart.
I had the great privilege of studying under Dan Allender for my MA in Counseling Psychology. He has become a friend, mentor and inspiration. When it comes to the landscape of the human heart, I know of no one else who can articulate with kindness and hope the path to restoration than Dan. Thank you Dan!
RP: Dan, thanks so much for being with us today. As you can imagine, in our work with men we often bump up against this Goliath called pornography. It’s pervasive and constant. Why do you think porn has such a stranglehold on men today?
DAN: Pornography intersects two core domains: lust and power. The desire for sexual touch and play is God-written in our body and heart. We were made for union and joy and becoming one flesh. This is one of the strongest desires of the human heart — male or female. Sadly, pornography wets that desire and then moves the heart toward power and control. The trajectory of all pornography is from the come-hither-I-want-you allure to the degradation of one’s object of fantasy.
RP: What does pornography do to a man’s heart?
DAN: Pornography doesn’t make you a better lover or increase your desire to love. Instead, it takes another for your use and then over time exploits the person/image for only your pleasure. It is an angry, self-absorbed, demeaning form of sexuality. But it works because it requires almost no risk (other than getting caught) and allows the private world of sexual misuse to remain hidden. I don’t know of many people who can use pornography without eventually feeling ashamed, hidden, and disqualified. Evil gains a strong hold in the heart as the shame, contempt, and hiddenness operate with impunity.
RP: So if porn introduces and intensifies shame, what then?
DAN: Shame is the awareness that what I feel, think or do is toxic. If tasted, it would cause disgust or if seen, it would bring disdain. The biological origin of shame is spitting out milk or meat that is foul. We are not made to take into our body or heart something disgusting that degrades us. The only way to keep taking in pornography — knowing that it is cheapening us and defrauding others, especially our spouse and children, is to dissociate what we are really doing and to embrace the foulness as proof that something is darkly ugly about our being.
“The only way to keep taking in pornography…is to dissociate what we are really doing.”
The people I work with who struggle with pornography feel simultaneously stained and entitled. At the moments when the craving is intensely furious there seems to be no means in the universe to lessen the internal pressure other than to lose one’s mind (dissociation) and paw the computer and eventually one’s sexual organ to release the rage. The result is pleasure mingled with shame and regret. When this toxic mix filters through the soul there is the breathing out of relief and the breathing in of disgust.
One simply has to ask: Why do you need to feel like a piece of sh–? What in your life and story demands you submit yourself to feeling simultaneously powerful and disgusting?
RP: So then how is it that good-hearted men get caught in on-going porn use and addiction?
DAN: We are more and more distant from truth, deadened to emotion, and broken hearted. Not broken hearted as in sad or full of grief; instead, we are broken into fragmented selves that are unable to do much other than posture and pretend we are someone whom we know we are not. This deep inner schism enables us to function as one self with our spouse and an hour later to lurk on a site where seduction and role-playing allows us to escape to another fantasized self. It simply weakens our capacity to choose righteousness and live with honor and goodness. Evil loves to divide and then conquer. It does so first through seduction and then pounds us with accusations. We often make agreements with evil that we are losers or helpless or sexually dark. Once that foothold is secured it can land troops and provisions for an outright overthrow of your heart over many, many seasons.
RP: We work with a lot of men who have been “white-knuckling” it for a while – trying hard to avoid porn. They experience “victory” for a time, but often find themselves sliding right back in. How can guys really find healing?
DAN: Trying hard not only doesn’t work, it sets you up for another self-entitled reentry into the addiction. The only path I have seen to work is growing in a holy desire for beauty, goodness, and truth that is greater than the hidden and dark power of sexual degradation. That path requires you look straight in the face all the sexual experiences of shame, humiliation, powerlessness, hurt, and anger that underlie the desire to steal innocence, kill beauty, and mar love.
RP: How is porn abusive?
DAN: We are sexual beings from birth. Who used you first? Who violated your innocence and introduced you to pornography? That event is in fact a form of sexual abuse. Until we name and address the certainty that evil has from birth been trying to pervert your sexuality, then the efforts to change the future fall in the trap that you refuse to address your past.
RP: In your work with sexual abuse, shame and recovery, what hope can you offer a man struggling with pornography addiction – or just living as a man in today’s porn-ified world?
DAN: There is truly as much hope as our conviction that Jesus death covers our sin, his resurrection frees us to live, and his ascension gives us remarkable gifts to be used for his kingdom. Dealing with our broken sexuality requires us to face where we are cowards with our spouses and children. It demands we face our fears that keep us safe and angry. We will never deal with our sexuality until we are ready to deal with our whole life — most particularly our failure to name and bring our broken parts of our heart to Jesus. This is not act of contrition or a single prayer. It is not going forward to the altar, nor is it an oath to not fail ever again. It is a heart that says: Hell no.
“Restoration requires a heart that says: Hell no! @danallender”
Whatever the price and whatever the terrain that must be walked, I will come face to face with what I fear and despise about my heart. The hatred is not the sexual struggle with pornography or other sexually addictive behaviors — instead, it is the unaddressed story of your suffering and anger in a world that has not honored you or delighted in you as God intended. Deal with those wounds and you will find sexual sin not only silly—actually outright stupid silly, but far, far more utterly beneath your lovely, noble warrior heart.
RP: Thank you so much Dan. As always, your words are poignant, direct, and kind. Thanks!