By: Hooman Keshavarzi
One of the greatest struggles of life, especially for men has been the challenge of desisting from unlawful interactions with the opposite gender. This is especially difficult on account of this desire being a natural human inclination that is universal to all human beings. Allah (SWT) has made human beings with a natural attraction for the opposite gender in order to gratify their desires (in lawful relationships, i.e. marriage), to increase closeness between couples and for procreation. Though a very natural inclination, sexual appetite, like all other natural impulses that drive human beings, when exceeding the bounds of normality as defined by religious ethics is unhealthy and blameworthy.
The Qur’an exhorts human beings by saying, “Tell the believing men to lower their gaze and be modest. That is purer for them. Lo! Allah is aware of what they do. And tell the believing women to lower their gaze and be modest, and to display of their adornment only that which is apparent, and to draw their veils over their bosoms, and not to reveal their adornment save to their own husbands” (24:30-31).
Also, it is understood that the fornication of the eyes can diminish one’s spirituality as it blackens the heart. For Imam Al-Shafi one time complained to his teacher Waki of his weak ability to memorize sacred knowledge (thought to be not only stored in the mind solely but also resting in the heart). His teacher advised him to leave the disobedience of Allah, and said, “sacred knowledge is a light from God and the Light of God cannot dwell in the heart of a sinner”. The mistake Imam Shafi had made was to look at the exposed shin of a woman on route to one of his destinations. So many people may negate their spirituality through the fornication of the eyes.
Gender Difference in the Struggle
There is a slight difference between the experiences of sexual gratification as experienced during a climax (orgasm) between the genders. For men, the climactic experience is heightened and its means to climax are predominantly centered in the visual cortex. Therefore, men tend to experience sexual gratification and pleasure through seeing a woman whom they deem to be attractive. The extent to which she is beautified (based upon his sexual appetite) will determine his inclination and the joy that he experiences in advancing toward her. In contrast, women tend to respond more to emotion and a feeling of psychological closeness between her and her lover. During orgasm, a hormone known as oxytocin is released and this hormone is predominantly linked to social bonding. This is also known as the milk-let down release which is triggered when her baby suckles her. Although this may be difficult for some readers to digest, this is why some women report experiencing orgasm when nursing their babies. Nonetheless, women tend to feel a heightened sense of satisfaction during sexual intimacy when she has intense feelings for her lover and makes a deep connection with him.
What can be deduced from the above is that generally, while it is equally important for women to lower their gaze, men will have a more difficult time controlling their eyes as this is a gateway to their sexual desires. Hence the Prophetic tradition, The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said, “I have not left behind any fitnah (trial/difficult test) more harmful to men than women” (Bukhari). Generally, men are the highest consumers of pornography and the pornography industry generally targets men for this very reason. Therefore, it is more important for men to be aware of this weakness and to work harder at controlling this desire. In contrast, since women draw pleasure through social bonding, it is more important for a woman to mind her modesty by closing channels of communication that could lead to her becoming fond of a man.
After an analysis of 400 million web searches, researchers concluded that 1 in 8 of all searches online are for erotic content (Covenant Eyes). Pornography has become more readily accessible and is easier to obtain since its inception. More than half of boys and nearly a third of girls see their first pornographic images before they turn 13 (Covenant Eyes).
Given the accessibility of pornography and widespread consumption, it has the potential to be very addictive. In fact, 64-68% of young adult men and about 18% of women use porn at least once every week (Covenant Eyes). This kind of addiction can have devastating effects on people’s lives and relationships. The American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers reports that 56% of divorce cases involve one party having “an obsessive interest in pornographic websites.”
The nature of addiction is very real. Oftentimes, pornography is a gateway toward masturbation. Masturbation leads to self-induced orgasm. When an individual experiences orgasm, there are multiple neurotransmitters that are released in the brain. Some of which include serotonin, dopamine, epinephrine, and norepinephrine. These neurotransmitters are responsible for the experience of pleasure, energy, motivation, motor control and functioning, euphoria, etc. It is important to understand that these key neurotransmitters are also the ones that are usually replicated or manipulated in the consumption of illicit drugs. Such drugs include heroin and cocaine. Therefore, we must recognize that there is a neurochemical process component to orgasm and that due to the degree of pleasure that is experienced during climax, this causes an addiction similar to the addiction to illicit drugs. In fact, Al-Ghazali stated that the closest worldly pleasure that remotely resembles the experience of paradise is orgasm. The only difference is that the neurochemicals are released internally in the brain rather than an external substance putting them there. So once we understand this as a sexual addiction, we can begin to address it in the same way that we address drug addictions.
1. All addictions have attached triggers. In the brain, memory, emotion and sensation can all be linked together. There is a neuropsychological principle, “Neurons that wire together, fire together”. So when an individual has consumed pornography that leads to orgasmic pleasure, then many of the environmental conditions preceding that experience become cues or triggers stored in the memory and can trigger a craving response when there is exposure to those cues again. For example, these may include:
– Being alone in a house
– Working on a computer
– Seeing some exposed skin on a woman on the way home from work.
– The location or room that they usually watch pornography in
– The time of day
– Materials in the room (e.g. art, furniture, etc)
All of the above among other things can trigger a craving response. In order to extinguish the craving response, one must break the association built between those triggers/cues and orgasm/pornography. Here are some measures that may be taken:
– If possible, abandon the triggers. For example, cease the usage of the computer.
– If the above is not possible, then exposure to the trigger should be coupled with a protective variable.
For example, using a computer while you are in a populated room.
– Associating other pleasurable activities in that room. For example, turning the room into a play
room such as putting a ping pong table there, etc.
2. Harm reduction principle. One must take an honest assessment of oneself for this cure. If you feel a victim to your own addiction and are finding yourself hopeless against going ‘cold turkey’ or abandoning this practice altogether, then one should employ a two-fold strategy designed to eventually eliminate usage altogether. This strategy entails cutting out the visual stimuli (i.e. pornography) altogether. The second part of this strategy is to use masturbation as a release without the visual stimuli. So once a craving is experienced, masturbation can take place without the image.
After doing this, one should focus on reduction of frequency toward the goal of complete abstinence. So if one was masturbating every other day, then they should reduce it to once a week without the visual stimuli.
3. Seek assistance from Allah – you must come to the recognition that no one can truly help you except Allah. One can make the dua, “O Allah do not leave me to my nafs even for a blink of an eye”.
4. One should also continuously repent for their sin and ask Allah to accept the efforts you are making toward a cure and let Him know that you want to stop this altogether and would never like to return to it.
5. Enhance lawful relations. If you are unmarried, then it might be a good idea to begin to speed up your marriage process, but make sure that you are still selecting a spouse that is a good person for you in all senses not just one you are attracted to. If you are already married, then it is time to enhance your relationship. Oftentimes, many spouses feel shy to express their sexual fantasies to one another. In Islam, sexual intimacy is not a shameful or bad act. Rather it is praiseworthy and celebrated. Therefore, one should be open with their spouse while being sensitive to their potential discomfort with the topic to explore strategies to enhance sex in the relationship. However, these suggestions should be kept within the bounds of Islamic law.
A great assessment as to whether this is indeed a problem for you or not, is to rate yourself on the following questions on a scale of 1-10 (10 being the most pleasurable):
I. How much pleasure do I derive from being intimate with my spouse?
II. How much pleasure do I derive from watching pornography and masturbating?
If your answer to the second question is rated higher than the first, then you MUST enhance your relationship with your spouse, otherwise combating your addiction will be extremely difficult.
6. Parental controls on all computers and devices. K9 protection is a great parental control tool that can be used to block out illicit content in your web usage. Have a friend set this up for you, so that you do not know your own password.
7. Putting a punishment on yourself – Make a pact with yourself or a close friend if it is helpful that every time you watch pornography and masturbate, you will give a significant sum of money in charity or fast continuously for a week. The idea is that, your lower nafs has to make a choice between two pleasurable things: (i) holding onto money or food or (ii) masturbating. If the punishment is felt harshly enough on the nafs, the nafs will incline toward that which it finds more pleasurable.
The above may also be a display to Allah that you are trying so hard that you may be forgiven for the sin on account of your exertion and He may even empower you to defeat your lower nafs.
8. Fasting – fasting and a reduction of eating has been linked with decreasing one’s sexual appetite.
9. Changing your thinking – Imagine if your sister were an object that other men looked at. Ask how you would abhor and dislike it for your mother, daughter, sister, and aunt; this was how the Prophet (SAW) put it to a man who came seeking permission for zina.
10. Create disgust. This is a concept known as aversion therapy. It may or may not be helpful or advisable to all. This should be used as a last step. While you are masturbating and/or looking at pornography, when you are just about ready to climax, look at a very disgusting image that is highly not pleasing. This will cause a negative item to be associated with the act of masturbating and will begin to diminish the pleasure experienced and reduce its occurrence.
Gilkerson, L. (2003, February 19). Get the latest pornography stats. Covenant Eyes. Retrieved from: http://www.covenanteyes.com/2013/02/19/pornography-statistics/