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How do I know if I have a porn addiction?

Updated: May 11


porn hub addict
How do I know if I have a porn addiction?

Sex is a natural part of life, a union between two individuals, an act of love, essential for the survival of human beings. But when does the craving for sex become problematic? When does our need and desire for erotic love become unhealthy?

Problematic sexual behavior can have harmful effects on an individual and the people around them. Masturbation, cybersex, pornography use, telephone sex, going to strip clubs and so on, are some of these potentially problematic behaviors.


People are drawn to sex and all that comes with it; to know and be known in the nude, and as the real and symbolic pinnacle of intimacy and vulnerability in relationships. But in today’s world, people have been deceived into believing they can experience all that they desire through pornographic imagery, one night stands, and paid sex. The Internet has made it increasingly easy to access a huge variety of sexual content and caters to every sexual fantasy – including fantasies people didn’t even know they had!


The constant bombardment of sexual images and content on social media and the inescapable advertisement of porn websites when browsing the Internet make it almost impossible to ignore. A half-naked woman with seductive eyes promises pleasure and an escape from mundane and lonely reality. It seems so easy and painless, how could you resist?


The regular consumption of pornographic material has been shown to have a negative impact on a person’s brain as well as intimate relationships. It is estimated that 46% of men (and 16% of women) in America view porn in any given week. Watching porn develops tolerance over time, meaning an individual will consume increasing amounts of pornographic material and more explicit content. This leads to addiction and therefore, watching porn inevitably escalates from a pleasurable activity to an addictive behavior, leading an individual to compulsively seek out and view pornographic material.


Porn addicts usually start through exposure to porn as a child but other motivations for using porn can include using it as a way to relieve stress and anxiety. Once a person starts using porn, they lose the ability to control this behavior as they become biochemically tolerant to viewing pornography and become addicted to the dopamine high. This has a negative impact on their life and relationships; interfering with functioning in multiple life domains like family, work, interpersonal relationships, and social, emotional and spiritual functioning.

So how do you know that you or someone close to you might have an addiction to porn or other sexual behaviors?



Thinking about yourself or someone you know, consider the following questions:


- Have your attempts to resist [sexual behavior] repeatedly failed?

- Despite wanting to stop, reduce or control [sexual behavior] have your efforts failed?

- Do you regularly engage in [sexual behavior] more than you want to?

- Does obtaining [sexual behavior] or thinking about [sexual behavior] take up an excessive amount of your time?

- Are you preoccupied by [sexual behavior]?

- Does engaging in [sexual behavior] interfere with your occupational, academic, domestic or social obligations?

- Does the [sexual behavior] cause ongoing or regular social, financial, psychological or physical problems?


If you answered yes to any of these questions, you may be experiencing a sex or porn addiction.


But what can we do about it?


First, in order to overcome the addiction, we need to understand what it is and where it comes from.


Porn addicts are not inevitably warped or perverted. Their habit has developed due to a biochemical addiction. Personal choices, unresolved trauma, repressed emotions and experiences give rise to feelings of shame, guilt, self-hatred, depression and anger. These feelings can contribute to more self-defeating, avoidant and isolating behaviors which, in turn, perpetuate the cycle of addiction and suffering.


Loneliness and isolation are key drivers in developing addiction and research has shown that sex addicts often report neglect during their childhood. The ‘Rat Park’ experiment, conducted by Dr Bruce Alexander in the 1970s, sheds light on the relationship between isolation and addiction.


Previous to Dr Alexander’s research, studies on addiction placed rats in cages, all alone, with no other stimulation or community, and placed two water dispensers inside – one filled with regular water and the other laced with cocaine or heroin. The rats repeatedly drank from the drug-laced water until they eventually overdosed and died. The conclusion from this research was that the drug itself was causing the rats to become addicted.


Dr Alexander took a slightly different approach and put the rats in a park, a miniature theme park for rats. They were able


to play, have sex and roam around freely with others. The two water dispensers, one with plain water and one with drug-laced water, were also placed into the park. Remarkably, the rats preferred the plain water and even those who consumed the drug-laced water did not do so excessively and none of them overdosed. This experiment shows the power of community over drugs.


Often partners of porn addicts focus on the sex part and don’t realize or understand what actually underlies the addiction. The addict is often good at hiding and denying the severity of the problem and can make their partner feel like the issue lies with them. Denial is a very frustrating aspect of addiction and is a major barrier to getting treatment and starting the journey of recovery.


Addiction has a duplicitous nature and actually convinces the addict that they don’t have a problem! It shields the person from seeing the detrimental impact it’s having on their life and allows them to minimize the severity of the problem. When you broach the topic, does your partner withdraw, pull away and avoid you and the conversation?


Let’s consider Tom, a successful business man with a wife and two children. Tom watches porn regularly as he often travels for work and spends many nights alone in a hotel room. He doesn’t want to cheat so he watches porn on his laptop whenever he can. Over time, his need spills over to watching porn in the bathroom at work and sneaking out of the bedroom at night while his wife is sleeping. Their sex life is almost non-existent because Tom can no longer get aroused without watching porn.


Tom’s wife confronted him after looking through his Internet browsing history but he dismissed her by saying ‘it’s no big deal’ and ‘all men watch porn’. She started doubting herself and started feeling rejected and abandoned; feeling she could not live up to the women or the sex her husband watches on a daily basis. If you find yourself relating to this and are concerned that your husband or partner has a pornography or sex addiction, you can reach out to me or another specialist for consultation. You should seek help!


Research has shown that pornography can affect the quality and stability of relationships. Porn can create unrealistic perceptions and expectations of sex. Normal sex becomes uninteresting for many porn users, leading couples to have far less sex. This can ultimately threaten the intimacy and bond between two people. Pornographic content features violence and degradation of women by objectifying them, placing unrealistic expectations on women and is inherently misogynistic. Watching porn can escalate into having actual affairs and seeking out sex workers to temporarily satisfy the ever growing internal void of a porn addict. In this view, it’s not surprising that porn has been blamed for the end of relationships and even marriages.


Young men have reported that their porn usage destroyed their relationships and ruined their enjoyment of sex altogether. As a consequence, online ‘porn recovery’ support groups have been formed, which allow men to discuss the issue of porn addiction and help each other to rebuild relationships and be able to experience healthy sex. Again, this shows the power of community in overcoming addiction.


Understanding the person and where the addiction comes from, showing compassion and patience instead of shaming the addict can seem like an almost impossible task. Maybe you have caught yourself thinking or saying ‘Don’t you have any willpower? Think about the people around you! Just say no! Stop being so selfish!’


Could it be that you or your partner have the desire to stop, to do the right thing but are unable to and continue doing the very thing you or they do not want to do?

By taking a look at the neuroscientific perspective of addiction, we understand that addiction does not just appear or stem from a lack of moral values. It is, in fact, a disease which can alter the brain’s ability to control impulses and think rationally. Most often, the malfunction starts in childhood and can develop into an addiction over time.


Persistent neglect and trauma cause stress hormone levels to be chronically high, which rewires the developing brain. It turns a repeated imbalance into a permanent trait such as anxiety, aggression or a tendency to dissociate (or detach from reality). Some people learn to soothe this discomfort through viewing pornographic content and/ or using other drugs.

The chemical that plays a crucial role in porn and sex addiction is dopamine, as it helps to soothe distress and produces the sensation of pleasure. Once the brain has become accustomed to the flood of dopamine resulting from watching porn or engaging in compulsive sex, the brain reduces the natural production of this chemical. This allows addiction to take hold and hijack the brain’s reward system, leaving the addict feeling low and ‘needing’ porn or other compulsive sexual behavior in order to feel normal again.

This is how porn addiction can become all-encompassing.


The addict becomes obsessed or preoccupied and trying to abstain from their behavior feels overwhelming and intolerable. Addiction means a loss of control over the behavior, repeatedly failing to stop and continuing despite the harmful consequences to relationships, employment and health. The addict is a slave to cravings and is often in denial about the devastating consequences of their addiction. The need to restore balance overrides all reason and control and addicts repeatedly put their fix before children, spouses and friends.


Healing and recovery from addiction, including an addiction to porn or sex, means understanding the addiction, achieving abstinence and dealing with the underlying issues that led to addiction in the first place. Confronting and bringing to light painful feelings, memories and experiences can be scary at first but it is part of the journey to finding wholeness, peace and restoring our relationships with other people and God.

We are relational beings; we need connection in order to thrive. A hallmark of addiction, depression and anxiety is isolation and loneliness, as shown in the rat experiments mentioned above. When we have community and healthy relationships, we can heal from addiction.


Recovery is more than just abstaining from the compulsive behavior. It means taking a deep-dive, identifying, processing and resolving underlying issues. Real change takes hard work, time and courage and for many addicts, facing up to their internal pain can be overwhelming and frightening. But no addiction or problem is beyond the power of God to remedy.

Effective treatment for sex/ porn addiction is psychotherapy. Therapy can help an individual to identify and process the layer of underlying issues that are contributing to their problematic behavior. An individual learns how to control their urges through replacing unhealthy coping mechanisms with healthy behaviors and ways to manage their emotions.

Many addicts grew up in chaotic or emotionally toxic families and did not learn to build a basic sense of trust in other people. The substance of the addiction feels like a trustworthy friend and can relieve the persistent unease, at least for a short time. In order to heal, the addict must develop a healthy self and learn to be in healthy relationships with others. Developing healthy boundaries in relationships allows a person to feel safe and be emotionally vulnerable at the same time.


References:

https://www.psychiatrictimes.com/view/what-does-rat-park-teach-us-about-addiction

https://psychcentral.com/blog/sex/2012/03/porn#4

https://www.esquire.com/uk/culture/news/a6624/why-young-men-are-quitting-porn-in-2014/

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