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In helping other men overcome pornography, counselor, businessman tap their struggles

WICHITA, Kan. (BP)–Even though his use of pornography culminated in his forced resignation from a church staff in 1997, a Christian counselor believes it is possible to find healing from the addiction.

“I don’t buy the ‘once an addict, always an addict’ mentality,” said Steve Fetrow. “I don’t think the answer is behavior modification. It’s surrendering to Christ.”

Since stepping down as youth pastor of a nondenominational church, Fetrow began doctoral studies on sexual addiction.

For the past year, he has also served as counseling director for a Wichita, Kan., church. Among about 40 people he has seen, more than 90 percent have been men — and 25 percent have been pastors.

Fetrow’s problem originated with pornographic magazines he and a buddy viewed early in his marriage. It then heightened after he and his wife went for counseling six years into the marriage.

Determining they had sexual problems, the counselor showed them a video. While it supposedly was sex therapy, Fetrow called it pornographic.

“He unknowingly fed a frenzy in me,” Fetrow said. “I couldn’t get those images out of my mind.”

That led to viewing R-rated movies, then soft- and hard-core pornography. Finally, he had an inappropriate relationship. Although he broke it off, a second led to adultery. When it become public knowledge, he resigned.

Fortunately, he said, he worked for a caring church, which secured him intensive treatment at Stonegate Resources, a ministry in Colorado Springs, Colo.

Fetrow is moving there soon to work with Harry Schaumburg, Stonegate’s founder and author of the book, “False Intimacy,” considered a leading resource in treating sexual addiction.

Fetrow is often asked whether men trying to quit this habit should tell their spouse or keep it secret to avoid damaging the marriage. He responds, “The marriage is already ruined. The wife just doesn’t know it.”

While there are no guarantees that a man won’t lose his marriage or job over such a confession, he advises full disclosure.

“I encourage people to be honest, not rationalizing or minimizing it, or telling half-truths,” Fetrow said. “For those in pornography, that’s been a lifestyle.”

With children, it’s tougher deciding when to reveal the truth, he said.

His two daughters are too young to understand what happened. But he intends to discuss his past someday so they will know of his struggles. As they mature, he also wants them to be open and vulnerable with him and his wife.

For those whose problem is serious enough to seek counseling, Fetrow strongly believes in finding a Christian whose treatment is based on God’s Word.

“If someone goes to a secular therapist, they’ll probably use what I call ‘castration,'” he said. “That’s behavior modification techniques and 12-step groups. Then the rest of their life is spent living on the edge of a cliff, waiting for one step to fall over.”

Since it is such a serious decision, Fetrow suggests carefully screening candidates’ credentials, biblical approach and ethical background.

Pastors can help with referrals, he said. There are also referral networks. Among those he listed are the American Association of Christian Counselors (1-800-526-8673 or www.aacc.net) and Focus on the Family (1-800-232-6459).

The time required in counseling will depend on how long and deeply a person has been involved, Fetrow added.

Accountability to a friend plays a strong role in recovery and avoiding danger. The selection needs to be “soaked in prayer,” asking for the Lord’s guidance, Fetrow said. He recommends considering existing, positive relationships as one source.

Fetrow has met weekly with a friend for the past three years. They ask each other about their relationship with God and spouse, temptations and struggles, and how they can help each other.

“If you’re struggling with pornography, give your partner access to your computer and allow him to check it, unannounced, at any time,” Fetrow suggested.

For John Wolf, accountability was crucial to his recovery. In addition to counseling, he needed a friend to confide in, he said.

The Oklahoma City businessman bought a cell phone and called his partner daily for two years. That helped him withstand such temptations as an adult bookstore on the way home from work.

Wolf follows certain habits to avoid a relapse, even though it’s been eight years since his habit was uncovered.

He buys gasoline at a station he knows doesn’t stock pornographic magazines. He refuses to set foot inside a video store and never meets privately with women, including business lunches.

“It’s the Billy Graham approach to life,” Wolf said, referring to the evangelist’s practice of avoiding one-on-one sessions with the opposite sex. “I don’t get near the edge of the cliff to danger. I don’t want to find out if I can endure temptation.”

At home, Wolf doesn’t subscribe to cable television, prohibits channel surfing and uses an Internet provider that screens out questionable material.

The Internet is particularly dangerous, he said, which is why he has a household rule prohibiting the use of chat rooms or late-night computer use. Everyone’s e-mail is open for inspection. His wife holds the passwords to filtering and auditing software to prevent tampering with the settings.

Today, Wolf seeks to help others overcome their problem. His testimony became widely known after he wrote a 1999 Sunday school lesson on the topic for LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.

He has organized “The Truth Works” ministry and a year ago published “Four Steps to Freedom,” a booklet on living a porn-free life. Copies are $3 and can ordered by calling (405) 239-6245.

Many Christians and other men have come to him for help. One buried his head in his hands and broke down as he told of being kicked out of his home. His addiction to pornography finally led to incest with his daughter.

“He said, ‘John, I never knew it would go this far,'” Wolf recalled. “If a guy stays into it, he will wind up in sexually deviant behavior.”

However, this doesn’t mean its power can’t be broken, Wolf said. Like Fetrow, he believes in biblically based counseling, as well as prayer and Scripture memorization.

Among Wolf’s favorite verses are Job 31:1, Ephesians 4:27, 1 Thessalonians 5:22, James 4:7 and 1 Corinthians 10:13. He likens knowing Scripture to Jesus overcoming Satan’s temptation by quoting Scripture.

“A lot of times, I have found my ability to flee temptation is proportionate to my quiet time, my relationship with God,” Wolf said. “If I get real busy and avoid my quiet time, I see where temptation is strong.”

    About the Author

  • Ken Walker