Addicted To Porn

Providing a way out

Addicted To Porn

Consider the following facts: in the United States, 12% of internet websites (4.2 Million) are pornographic; in 2006, worldwide pornography revenues ballooned to $97.06 billion; 70% of 18-24 year old men visit pornographic sites in a typical month; 20% of men admit accessing pornography at work; 56% of divorces involve one spouse’s continued use of internet pornography. Among Christians, the following statistics are quite sobering: pornography addiction is at the top of eight sexual issues damaging to the congregation; 53% of Promise Keeper men viewed pornography in last week; 47% of Christians say internet pornography is a problem in the home; 50% of all Christian men and 20% of all Christian women are addicted to pornography (source: pureHOPE). In many Asian countries pornography is illegal but the enforcement of laws is lax. Thus proliferation of pornographic material abounds.


Understanding Addiction

Addiction is understood as the state of either physical or psychological dependence on the use of a substance despite negative consequences (APA Dictionary of Psychology, 2007). The term is often used to refer to alcohol or any other drug of choice. There is however what is referred to as behavioral addiction. Instead of using alcohol or drugs, the individual participates in certain activities despite enormous negative consequences. Unregulated sexual activity, uncontrolled gambling, and unregulated food intake are examples. Addiction to pornography or porn is included in this category.


The Pathway to Porn Addiction

Pornography refers to writings or images with sexual content that are likely to cause sexual arousal (APA Dictionary). Quite often the material has no redeeming artistic value. The usual route that is followed in porn addiction is not dissimilar to that in alcohol or drug addiction. Here is the sequence:


(a) Recreational Use. Nobody wakes up one morning and says, “I am going to be an alcoholic!” Addiction to alcohol often starts with one or two drinks. The brain reward system activates the chemical called dopamine that is responsible for the experience of pleasure from the use of alcohol. The same happens with someone addicted to porn. There is usually a starting point where one is exposed to the visual image of an activity that is sexual in nature. This exposure activates the release of the brain chemical (dopamine) that results in pleasurable sensations. The individual will now begin to seek for the pleasurable experience again.


(b) Problematic Participation. The next step in the sequence is the continued use of the drug despite problematic consequences. In this stage the drug user now meets the criteria for drug abuse. This means that use has now become recurrent and the individual is beginning to experience significant impairment or distress. There are now specific problems which can be attributed to the use of the drug of choice, such as: a failure to fulfill job, home or school obligations; the experience of legal problems; or conflict in social or interpersonal relationships. It is important to remember that any single one of the preceding consequences is enough to determine the problematic nature of the activity. For the individual who is in this stage of problematic exposure to pornographic material, the activity keeps on recurring even as negative consequences have started to develop. For instance, the person is now missing work or unable to fulfill obligations in school because of the activity. Conflict in the user’s relationship with his or her spouse may also be attributed to the behavior. For someone who has personal ethics that dictate the unacceptability of continued exposure to objectionable sexual material, the enormous amount of guilt and shame can be debilitating.


(c) Addiction. From recreational exposure to problematic participation the behavior reaches what is termed as full-blown addiction. This is now equivalent to dependence in substance use. Here the person has developed tolerance to the drug. To compensate for this, the drug dependent will increase the amount of use or will accelerate frequency of use to get the usual high. From three drinks, the use increases to six drinks on the weekend or the individual takes three drinks twice a week. The reason is because the body has developed tolerance to the usual dosage. The same occurs in addiction to pornographic activity. The individual who is now addicted is no longer satisfied with the usual schedule but will now increase the length of time designated for watching or watch with more frequency. Other potential items to remember in this stage are the following: a profound sense of lack when the activity is stopped and the longing can only be relieved when the activity is resumed; the actual time spent is more than what was originally intended; there is persistent effort or desire to either cut down or stop the activity; a great deal of time is spent planning for the activity; and the activity continues despite knowledge of any resultant physical or psychological problem that is likely caused or exacerbated by the activity. In this last item the addicted individual continues with the activity despite loss of capacity for sexual intimacy with the spouse, or despite health problems directly related to the activity. In the addiction phase the individual has completely relinquished control to the activity. There is such a strong compulsivity that has occurred that the activity has now become fully consuming. There is also the presence of craving much of the day as evidenced by constantly fantasizing about pornography.


Underlying Issues

In many individuals who are addicted to a substance or to a behavior, there is an underlying issue that has not been addressed. Here are few examples:


(a) Childhood sexual abuse. It is not uncommon for those who are addicted to pornography to declare their experience of childhood sexual abuse. The past traumatic experience has remained unresolved. Their perspective of human sexuality and its expression has been impaired early on in their development.


(b) Grief and loss. The issue of unresolved loss of a cherished object which results in an emotional response of grief is not unusual in addiction. As a matter of fact, one way to look at addiction is that it provides a coping mechanism to sedate the pain of the past.


(c) Co-occurring disorders. Depression and anxiety are common psychological disorders which co-occur with addiction. As many as 6 in 10 clients coming for addiction treatment admit to another psychiatric diagnosis (National Institute of Drug Abuse).


Helping the Porn-Addicted

The following five components need to be integrated in helping the porn addicted:


1. Acknowledgement. Denial is the basic defense of the addicted. Psychologically, it functions as a buffer to the pain that will be experienced in accepting the truth. Breaking the denial pattern is where the greatest challenge of the professional clinician lies. Motivational Interviewing may be applied here, which recognizes the client’s level of motivation for change and emphasizes the themes of importance – the value one places on change and self-efficacy – the belief or confidence in one’s ability to achieve change (Prochaska and DiClemente, 1983). The old saying which goes, “The first part of problem resolution is the recognition of its presence” applies in helping clients addicted to porn. The responsibility of the clinician is to lead the client to some level of acceptance that the problem is current and has resulted in negative consequences.


2. Medication therapy. This is especially true of those who have co-occurring disorders. For example, if a porn addict is suffering from depression, this has to be addressed with medication therapy so that the recovery program from addiction will become strong. If depression is unaddressed, it will continue to fuel the addiction and any sincere help that is offered will be jeopardized. Unabated addiction will in turn exacerbate depression.


3. Counseling. This can be approached either individually or as a group. Porn addiction may be a delicate matter to talk about at the start and so an individualized approach may be appropriate. Here it is strongly suggested to apply cognitive-behavioral approach which addresses the following sequence: triggering mechanism → activating of thought → intensifying of emotion and craving → and actual behavior of either acquisition of pornographic material or actual exposure to the material. A porn addict needs to identify triggers, avoid whenever possible the triggers which have been identified, and deal differently with unavoidable ones. Recovery from addiction will be jeopardized if triggers are not identified and avoided or dealt differently.


4. Physical Exercise. There is evidence linking regular exercise with strong recovery from addiction (Prochaska, 2009). Health practitioners have all been reminding us that physical exercise helps in production of antibodies that fight the onslaught of common diseases. Physical exercise also helps in management of mood and stress. This is on top of the practical benefit of toned physicality which can become a source of emotional satisfaction by itself.


5. Spirituality. People who are addicted to a substance or a behavior can benefit from joining a group such as The 12 Steps in Recovery program. Originally envisioned for alcoholics, the content of the 12 Steps has been applied to a vast array of recovery programs including those addicted to pornography. There are at least three basic purposes accomplished in becoming a member of this group:


(a) Accountability. One of the primary hindrances to full recovery is lack of accountability. Membership in a small group encourages the recovering addict to be accountable and to provide accountability to others. The message is this: “We are here to help you and you are not alone.” The 12 Steps group fosters honesty and the attitude of being willing to be willing – that is to recover.


(b) Demonstrated Grace. Addiction is a relapsing disease. Addiction is also a learned coping mechanism with underlying issues. To relapse is to return back to old ways of coping, in this case to watch pornographic material. In 12 Steps groups, grace is demonstrated by accepting with open arms the individual who has relapsed. They neither make judgment nor censure this individual. They know from personal experience that to come to the door to join the group is in itself a gesture of courage and therefore must be appreciated.


(c) A Different Path. The 12 Steps encourage participants to choose a different path. What has been done in the past, even those which were done in the name of religion, did not work. If it worked, the problem of addiction would not have developed. The Alcoholics Anonymous people would often say, “If nothing changes, nothing changes.” So, if a porn addict keeps on doing the same things, he or she will not be surprised if the results remain the same, that is: they are unable to break free from the addiction. So, why not choose a different path? By going through the Steps, which are inherently biblically-based, the individual will discover old ways of thinking, feeling, and doing which are unproductive. Now they can develop new ways of thinking, feeling, and doing which will potentially work. Also, they can get involved in the lives of others who are struggling with the same issue. By doing so, they strengthen their own recovery while providing inspiration to those they are helping.


Concluding Remarks

Behavioral addiction such as addiction to pornography is a growing problem that cannot be ignored. It has infiltrated the Christian church. The Church is at a juncture where it can extend help to those who are suffering from this personal and social menace. Faith in Christ demands extension of help to the sick and not to the well (Mt 9:12). It compels the believer to demonstrate grace to the downtrodden, the shamed, and the enslaved (Mt 25:45). The option of the community of Christian faith is no longer to answer the question: Shall we help or not? The appropriate question to ask is this:  With what level of competence shall we extend help?


Dr. Val Gonzales holds two licenses in the state of Texas: Licensed Professional Counselor and Licensed Chemical Dependency Counselor. He is married to Chelly Molinos Gonzales and they have two grown up children, Philippe Eirenaeus and Tina Rachel.