Not just a Sex Addiction – Pornography

There is a great deal written about the toxic aspects of pornography in the lives of people from many walks of life and sadly, this material is far less than the easy, abundant clicks to access mountains of online pornography.   The insidiousness of Internet porn is reaching into the lives of many men (at much younger age) and into the lives of many women, as women too become more visually stimulated than ever before.

  • Pornography in any form is unhealthy.
  • Pornography is often at the expense of people who do not necessarily choose of free will to make this material.
  • Pornography objectifies people.  It dehumanizes them into something that can be consumed at one whim for our own selfish desire.
  • Pornography is not real.  The situations depicted are fictitious, often the models are airbrushed and often present people in situations which are not healthy.
  • Pornography is often violent in nature and illustrates an unhealthy imbalance and use of power to dominate another.
  • Pornography distorts healthy love and sexuality, and often poisons marriage relationships as well as the marriage bed with unrealistic expectations of our partners and a twisted idea of sexual intimacy.
  • Pornography is not a healthy, life-giving depiction of healthy love or intimacy because by its nature it is self-centred.
  • Pornography begets more pornography.  The type and content of porn will often become more explicit and dehumanizing as use continues in order to get the same hit of dopamine and arousal.
  • Pornography is addicting.
  • Pornography gives you a false sense of control and power.  No risk to really engage with another human being in the legitimate building of healthy relationship.

While Internet pornography addiction has a strong sexual component, Gary Wilson suggests in the article "Cupids Poison Arrow" that it may be a mistake to group pornography addiction with sex addiction for a couple of key reasons:

  • Sex addiction involves real people; Internet porn addiction has a relationship with a screen so to speak. Internet porn addiction has a strong component in the search for images, the fast, rapid images / video, and the novelty it provides.
  • Internet porn addiction is more closely related to video-game addiction and generally doesn’t spill over into sexual activity. In fact, men who consume large amounts of internet porn often find it difficult to become aroused by real women - even women they find attractive.
  • Internet porn addicts often report they would like to have one steady girlfriend or may, in fact, have one steady girlfriend and want to respond to her, where sex addicts generally are looking for a variety of sexual partners.
  • For many internet porn users, they are unable to get and maintain an erection in real-life intercourse, and this is typically not an issue for sex addicts.
  • Porn addiction seems to be more prevalent as access to high-speed internet increases. Sex addicts generally are interested in living people and Internet porn addicts are interested in the fast images and may actually impeding healthy sexual performance in real life.

These are important distinctions. Gary Wilson suggests these differences demonstrate that treatment for internet pornography addiction may be different than that of sex addiction. For example, a young internet porn addict may be given a pill for erectile dysfunction instead of counseled to deal with the source of dysfunction that is his porn addiction. Wilson suggests other may be treated for depression or concentration issues while never addressing the elephant in the room!

Pornography consumption has changed with the increased availability of high-speed internet. In a study done a few years ago, 9 out of 10 college-aged men (1/3 of women) were consuming internet porn. Internet porn use is not unlike the effect of junk food on the body that increase neural triggers. The neural triggers reward the brain (i.e., make us feel good) and are directly related to the instinct to pursue. In consuming empty intimacy, we artificially activate these neural triggers and thus reinforces the toxic behaviour.

While often pornography is used for masturbation, internet porn “replaces the imagination with multiple tabs, constant searching, fast forwarding to the perfect scene, a voyeur's perspective and so forth.” The bottom line is internet pornography is significantly more neuro-chemically seductive than masturbation alone.

Moreover, it appears that the an orgasm is not the chief goal of internet porn users.  This is demonstrated by the accessing of porn on the office computer, sharing clips on their phones etc.    It appears that the addiction, even in the face of great risk, is the shot of dopamine (a neural transmitter that gives us a sense of pleasure and well-being) each time one views pornography.  An orgasm and its release of neural transmitters certainly reinforces this, but it is the quick, short burst of dopamine released when viewing internet porn that creates the addiction.

Internet porn is readily available with only a few clicks and in effect, like video games it provides an easy encounter without having to seek a living partner.  The challenge is as one becomes more addicted to the dopamine rush,  one will often engage in riskier internet behavior to get the fix - for example, accessing porn while on the job.

There are a number of issues that make pornography and particularly internet pornography so toxic.

  • Many internet porn users express an inability to be able stop searching and looking for internet porn.  For many males, using the internet is synonymous with accessing pornography.
  • Many porn users understand the risks of their behavior - i.e. being fired from work, hurting their spouse, spending money they don’t have, ED etc. but in spite of the cognitive understanding of the dangers are still compelled to engage in the activity.
  • Many Internet porn users often report bouts of depression and low self-confidence.
  • Many internet porn users report they find it difficult to be aroused  by a real woman.  Even those they may be sexually attracted to.  For all intent and purpose they suffer from internet porn induced erectile dysfunction.
  • Erectile dysfunction even with extreme porn use.  The law of diminishing return suggests that the amount / kinds of porn to acquire an erection will increase over time because you are no longer aroused by the material, so to get the stimulus you require, you search for more porn and different kinds of porn to capture the feeling.  An example of this is if you start with static images, one may find themselves needing more explicit images and then video, etc.  It is progressive consumptions to maintain the same effect.

The challenge is we need to recognize the issue for what it is - an addiction.  As such we need to address the root issue - while sexual in nature, it needs to be addressed in other ways too.  Many recovering internet porn addicts have reported that after discontinuing their use of internet pornography for 6 to 8 weeks many of the above symptoms diminish or disappear all together.   As obvious as it may sound, the answer is as simple as “stop it”.  With most addiction it is not always that easy.   It is important, however, that we recognize it for what it is, a real problem which has far reaching implications, not only for our own health and relational well-being but also our ability to have healthy, authentic relationships with other people.   Like most other addictions, one needs to come to a place where they recognize their problem as a problem, and that they are incapable of doing anything about it on their own.  By owning the problem, you bring this issue into the light - you can’t deal with an issue you deny you have.  It is in the place of accepting you have an issue that you can begin to address it.

Get Help.  There are many resources available to help you address your addiction and deal with many of the root causes.

Find a support group for those who are struggling with internet porn addiction.   These groups should be led and sponsored by agencies who understand addiction and can provide meaningful support and accountability.

Look for safeguards (tools) for the computer you access porn with.  It may be unreasonable to eliminate all computer access but certain safe guards can be put in place to help reduce the likelihood of coming across triggers while on-line and they may also inhibit your ability to deliberately access it.

Address area’s in your life where you may have experience hurt and rejection.  While often the case, many pornography users are also longing for a deeper sense of genuine intimacy.  Often they have experienced hurt and rejection in doing so and choose a “safer” means (safer meaning not being rejected) of intimacy even if it ins’t intimacy at all.

Look to God. Invite God into your addiction.   God desires for all of us to be healthy and whole.  To be healthy participating members of healthy community and relationships, and wants you to live in freedom.  God, in Christ is an ever present source of hope and help to overcome any addiction.  Don't believe for a second that God has abandoned you until you get yourself together!  God is faithful in the muck and mire that life can often be and He is is ready and able to help you into wholeness and freedom.

Address healthy sexuality in your life.  For many in the church there is a great deal of shame and dysfunction around sexual intimacy.  The old adage “Sex is dirty and bad, save it for someone you love” needs to be reshaped around a healthy, mature discussion about sex in our communities.

Beware of Shame based remedies. Despite popular opinion, shame is not a motivator towards health.  Shame actually has the opposite effect and often re-enforces the unhealthy behaviour.  Church communities need to address healthy sexual stewardship and seek to remove the puritanical shame which clouds much of our discussion and thinking around sex and faith.  By doing so, we go a long way in helping people to be healthy and faithful sexually while avoiding moralism, shame and hidden abuse and addiction.   This will open the door for those who struggle with addiction, especially addiction that is considered sexual in nature, to receive support and acceptance in their faith community instead of feeling like they have to keep it buried.

The bottom line is internet pornography addiction at its core is not a person who is hooked on sex but one who is addicted to Internet porn; its delivery and engagement like that of a video game addict.  While the images are sexual in nature we miss the target when we treat it simply as a sexual issue.  Internet pornography while prevalent is not healthy.  It impacts your own sexual performance in real life, it can draw you into high risk behaviors with the types of porn you access and where and how you access it.  It can also distort and damage your relationships in real life, with real people you care about and they care about you!

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source: Cupids Poison Arrow by Gary Wilson & Marnia Robinson, Psychology Today

For more information it may be worth visiting Gary Wilsons website: www.yourbrainonporn.com

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