Breaking Free of Porn Addiction

Updated: Mar 25


There are a lot of men (and more women than you might guess) who seek counseling for what they might call a porn addiction. And while the word 'addiction' gets thrown around a lot, a porn habit doesn't have to meet the criteria for a clinical diagnosis to be a detriment to your life.


No, I'm not here to say that if you look at porn you need therapy. But I also don't believe it's anti-sex to recognize that pornography can have a way of taking up too much space in our lives. What matters to me as a counselor is the level of distress it's causing you, and helping you get to the place you want to be.


People look for help with a porn habit because you notice certain life impacts:

  • A sense of not being in control

  • Difficulty engaging with or reduced interest or in real sex/relationships

  • Spending a lot of time looking for the 'right' images/video

  • Thoughts preoccupied by porn throughout the day

  • Spending money on it

  • Risky use, such as at work or on devices shared with others

  • Conflicts with personal values

If you are troubled by the role porn is taking in your life, you're not alone.


It's Probably Not About Sex

Very rarely have I run into a man who said he was addicted to porn because his partner was no longer attractive--though that's often how it makes them feel. For many guys, they're distressed and puzzled most by the grip it seems to have on them despite that they'd much rather be connecting with their spouse.


Porn isn't just a quick and easy substitute for sex. It also offers us a variety of other counterfeits: a sense of connection, power, or a way to offload the shame, stress, inadequacy--any number of things which were likely at play long before pornography entered the picture.


There is a lot of overlap between sex, identity, and the vast spectrum of emotional and relational nuances to humans. What I've found is that when porn is taking up too much space, the roots of the problem are found weaving through those other areas. Just because the place where we attempt to work out the imbalance looks sexual doesn't mean the root issue is sexual.


Breaking with unwanted porn use will likely entail diving into your story and finding parts that could use re-authoring. And this is good news! Experiencing healing and moving closer to your authentic self is an even greater prize than kicking a habit.


Shame is a Bad Motivator

An anti-smoking group once ran an ad campaign showing smoker's lungs, black and burnt, warning of the dangers of cigarettes. The result was actually an uptick in smoking. Then they ran a positive-focused campaign that showed people enjoying food, exercise, and things that improve when you're no longer smoking. This tactic got the results they wanted.


Someone figured out that the 'scary' campaign created anxiety about smoking. But why do people smoke? Largely to escape anxiety. They had been trying to discourage a behavior by actually pouring fuel in its tank.


This is part of why I believe shame is not the way to address an unwanted porn habit. I've often found that it can be one of the primary drivers of the habit itself. By trying to shame ourselves over this issue, I believe we are sabotaging our efforts to move away from it.


The fact that porn is tempting is not a sign that something is wrong with you. Your body is not malfunctioning when it responds to provocative stimuli. This is something advertisers have known for generations, and it's something porn producers target. But it's not you being defective. Your body and your sexualness are both good.


Porn is Engineered to Hijack Your System

In general, our physical self is concerned with a few basic things: stay alive by meeting my needs while conserving my resources.


Our body has a very simple yet expertly designed system that tells us what we need to do, rewards us for getting it done, and remembers what works best. The more efficiently we fulfill these basic concerns, the better the reward and the stronger the memory.


This is an entirely physical system. Fairly easy to observe, understand--and manipulate. Think about junk food. It isn't just cheap. Its manufacturers know that your system is fooled by the ultra-calorie-dense material they are feeding you. It's convinced it's found a wonderful source of energy, and the reward center of your brain throws a party.


This is how cravings are programmed, and how they power an industry. Porn works much the same way. There's really no biochemical 'reward' we experience that's as potent as sexual arousal and orgasm. And porn helps us access greater levels arousal with almost no effort. The brain remembers this--and porn producers know it.


They're also aware of sexuality's overlap with all the other complex parts of our being. So much porn is--again--engineered to trigger an experience of counterfeit power, intimacy, innocence... you name it. Not only our bodies, but the wounded parts of ourselves come to crave that experience, all while knowing it isn't the answer.e


It makes sense that we are drawn to it and drawn in by it. But I believe we've got to face the fact that there is an intention to manipulate built into the industry. It's a habit that is designed to be consuming.


Don't Go it Alone

The quest to build more intentionality and authenticity into our lives takes a lot of courage, and we're going to need each other. The vulnerability required means we need an environment of trust and understanding where we can be real and face our hurdles without fear of judgment and shame.


If you are not happy with the role porn is playing in your life, you do have options to explore. Here are things to remember as you do:

  • Porn taps into real needs. This means your desires and attractions aren't the problem. Perhaps it's time to be more curious about them--not just reacting to them (that's what porn is), but asking and exploring what they're telling you.

  • You're a whole person who needs a wholistic response. This is about learning to intentionally care for sexuality but also your identity, your emotions--your story. A better path for you will address each level.

  • You aren't alone, so don't act like it. Counseling can be a good place to start. It's a safe and private way to address these kinds of challenges.

 

Mike Ensley, LPC is a professional counselor and runs Comeback Story Counseling in Loveland, CO.

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