Is Porn Addiction a “Real” Addiction? Duh.

Since I’ve started doing media for my book, I’ve been faced with the same question a few times: “What do you say to people who claim sex and/or porn addiction is not an addiction?” So, just to clear things up…porn addiction is an addiction. I promise. You don’t need to learn for yourself.

I have a couple of schools of thought on this question and its answer. First, is the part of it being an addiction. In all truth, I have no idea if it meets the standards of the mental health powers in the world. I believe I heard recently that despite a big debate, sexual addiction was not included in the latest DSM (it’s the like the Bible of the psychiatric ward in describing, diagnosing and treating mental health conditions) and is still considered an impulse disorder.

When I went to rehab for porn addiction, they had to diagnose me with an impulse disorder to get insurance to cover part of my stay. Despite the fact the vast majority of therapists and counselors I’ve talk to believe sex/porn addiction is a thing, people who suffer and can only get help if their insurance aids them will still be unable. That’s just a shame.

As I’ve mentioned elsewhere on this site, to me, an addiction is a pattern of repeated behavior that has negative consequences on one’s health and life that despite great pain, shame and despair cannot be stopped by willpower alone.

My introduction to porn and the feelings it gave me were similar to that of my introduction to alcohol. I felt a sense of excitement and danger, since I knew I could get in trouble for utilizing either. It felt like I discovered something special and could use to help me through life. My ongoing use patterns were similar when it came to anxiety reducing and self-soothing and when it got to a critical point, I was making dangerous decisions with both vices. If my alcoholism is an addiction, I don’t understand how my porn use isn’t because they largely served the same purpose and caused the same internal reactions in my body.

 

Porn addiction can be bad for business

When somebody suggests that pornography addiction is not a “real” addiction, take a step back and view their situation and how pornography addiction becoming a thing could hurt their narrative.

I did a quick plug for my book on a podcast that boasts it’s about healthy sexuality. It’s just really about celebrating one’s sexuality and taking shame away from the subject. I agree with that and think it’s good. Whatever two consenting adults want to do is fine with me, even if that’s looking at porn….although I don’t advise it.

If sex and porn addiction are real conditions, then suddenly this host now has to tip-toe around these negative consequences of what may start from completely healthy behavior. Suddenly, it’s like a craft brew beer show having to deal with the pink elephant in the room of alcoholism.

I’m on a mailing list for people who may be good “professional” guests for radio shows or to provide comments for journalists’ articles. I got one this morning that said:

Statistics suggest our porn tastes are getting less kinky. According to this xHamster trend report, interest in some of the kinkier stuff is dissipating. There’s been a real cultural shaming around porn this past year with legislatures across the country declaring porn a public health crisis. This has been echoed by conservative groups and religious groups. I’m looking for sex experts to weigh in on this topic. If you have insights to share, please send them my way.

A year ago, I would have written to the reporter who submitted this query and tried to chew them out, but my initial rage is now tempered with an understanding of why the reality of porn addiction would scare someone…especially someone writing for a website or magazine called “Kinkly” where this request came from.

I’m probably more liberal than 90% of you reading this. I’m neither conservative and while I have a spiritual side, I’m not at all religious. Has there been a real cultural “shaming” or has there been a real cultural awareness? Is attaching the labels of “conservative” and “religious” supposed to turn all progressive liberals away from the truth? Porn tastes getting less kinky could be good news in addiction circles. Since the use of bizarre, non-mainstream and illegal pornography often arises in the critical phase of addiction, less people requesting this stuff could suggest that the skyrocketing numbers of people self-reporting porn addiction could be leveling. That’s a good thing, unless you’re making money off of it.

Any curtailing of pornography, even if it is an overall positive for public health is never going to be seen as a positive for a company producing a product called Kinkly. By their very name, less kink is bad for business.

I doubt that the podcaster who interviewed me or that Kinkly journalist wants anybody to have an addiction, but I think that they are looking at this through the eyes of their bank account. A narrative where porn addiction is a real thing does not help their bottom line so it’s better to argue against it. There’s good money to be made in enabling addiction. Socially, the problem with that stance is that it encourages people who may need help to believe their behavior is not outside the norm and that it is healthy. By telling people who may have a problem that they don’t, they’re doing far more harm than good.

 

A final perspective

Finally, I reach my bottom line with this…who cares what it’s labeled? I know it’s important for insurance companies and people who need to put others into little boxes, but it is just a label. If a person goes to two psychologists and one diagnoses the person with addiction and the other professional doesn’t…does the person have an addiction? It actually doesn’t matter what those two psychologists said. That person is leaving the office in the same condition that they arrived, addict or not.

Call it a compulsion. Call it an obsession. It’s a habit. It’s an addiction. These are all just labels that don’t change the fact that I have a problem. What does splitting hairs actually do except waste time on a debate where the answer isn’t important?

When that podcast host gave her dissertation about porn addiction not being real, she then asked what I thought. I told her that it didn’t matter to me what she called it. I’m the same person after she finished her thought as when she started it. I told her to walk a mile in my shoes and tell me it’s not an addiction. And I told her that I didn’t actually care what her stance was on the concept of the addiction because I live with it and it was all the proof I need to know that pornography addiction is an actual addiction.

She ended the interview at that point.

 

My First Television Interview Is Now Available to Watch

They say the camera ads 10 pounds, so just subtract that from what you see. They also say it’s all about the editing. While it’s always really hard to hear other people tell my story, I don’t think I could have asked them to do a better job with this interview. It was scary waiting to see how a 40-minute interview would be boiled down to 2 minutes, but I’m pleased with the outcome… Click Here to Watch

Check Out My Appearance on ‘The Virtual Couch’ Podcast from January 11

I had a terrific time recording an episode of The Virtual Couch with Tony Overbay. A video version will be available in upcoming days that I’ll add here, but for now, I’d encourage you to give it a listen through one of these links:

170x170bbITunes or SoundCloud

If you prefer your podcasts with video, there is this version from Vimeo:

Virtual Couch Podcast Ep 27 Joshua Shea “The Addiction Nobody Will Talk about: How I Let My Pornography Addiction Hurt People” from Path Back Recovery on Vimeo.

 

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If you’re struggling with porn addiction and would like a free ebook from Tony, you can pick one up at his website, The Path Back

I Can NEVER Forget Alcohol Was Just as Big a Part of The Problem

When I was a young teenager, crafting intricate plots in my head to get my hands onto pornography, I didn’t think a lot about drinking. My schemes – really just variations on “bring it up to the counter and pay for it” – never extended as far as alcohol, yet it played just as big a role in my eventual downfall.

I mentioned in my book that the first time I saw legit pornography, I knew I had discovered something special. The reaction to alcohol was almost exactly the same. It wasn’t until I went to rehab that I was able to realize my drinking was never of a recreational, “normal” manner.

While I had taken a sip here or there, the first time I was able to enjoy any real volume was at a cousin’s wedding. They way overestimated the head count, leaving plenty of empty seats at the reception…seats that had plastic glasses of champagne ready to go.

I was about 14 and I don’t remember how much I had to drink that night, but it was the first time I ever felt tipsy…and it felt good. I had that clichéd sense that I was funnier, smarter and an all-around better person with the liquor in me. It also had that sense of danger I craved and often felt when I looked at porn, too.

It wasn’t until I was 16 that I drank with any regularity. During my junior year of high school, I was able to land a radio show at Bates College, which quickly gained a lot of notoriety. I had plenty of college students and guests on the show who would bring me beer whenever I wanted. I also learned about the one place in town that would always sell it to me.

By my senior year of high school, I was drinking weekly, but it was never in an environment with kids my own age. It was either at the college or with adults I worked with at the local newspaper. Truth be told, I never went to a single party in high school. Drinking with my peers sounded painful. I drank to be accepted by older people because I didn’t like who I was.

I think the people I drank with weren’t the kind who drank with kids their age in high school either. It was social, but it almost always felt medicinal and not recreational. Newsrooms, at least in the mid-1990s, were full of unhealthy people still pissed off they were recently forced outside to smoke cigarettes. They didn’t drink for fun. They drank so they could do it all again tomorrow. I understood that even then.

Once I was properly diagnosed and medicated for mental illness issues in my mid-20s, the drinking slowed quite a bit as I built a family and real career.

It wasn’t until I launched a magazine at the publishing company where I was a part-owner that I returned to the medicinal nature of alcohol. I suddenly found myself in situations where networking was necessary…and I’m a painfully shy person in real life. Thankfully, those situations almost always had cash bars.

At the end of the day of work, instead of leaving to go to a nearby Happy Hour, we kept the fridge stocked at work. It’s kind of fucked up now that I think about the fact we bought as much beer and wine as we did pods for the Keurig machine. We wanted to have that young, hip vibe, so a well-stocked fridge with a glass front told everyone we were different and didn’t mind alcohol in the workplace.

There were lots of meetings and dinners with clients where a buzz was almost unavoidable. At the end of long days, I’d drink at home to come down from the hustle and bustle of my day, and when things started going south, the alcohol helped ease my nerves and quell the stress.

Whether I needed liquid courage, a social lubricant, an anxiety-reducer or a sedative, alcohol always knew just how to take care of me. It could read my moods better than any human.

The problem with this belief is that it’s not true. Alcohol just deadened my nerve endings. I was seeking a disassociated numbness that made coping with difficult situations easier. It worked, but like the athlete who fills their body with steroids for short-term gain but who ruin their long-term health, I couldn’t see where things were heading.

My rock bottom was a stew of alcoholism, porn addiction, neglected mental health, failing familial relationships and a crumbling business. I’ve stopped trying to parse out percentages of blame. I don’t know what the formula exactly was, so I avoid all of those things.

Yes, this blog is about porn addiction, but I need to stay just as vigilant toward my alcoholism. At my first rehab, we did an exercise about poor choices. I realized I probably drove drunk 400-600 times in my life. I obtained illegal porn less than 1% of that number. Just because the porn arrest was the catalyst for the needed changes in my life four years ago, it doesn’t make the other aspects that brought me down less important.

There are very people who have one addiction. It’s just easy to point to the one that seems like it’s the biggest problem. I didn’t really wrap my arms around the idea of porn addiction prior to my arrest. But I knew I was drinking too much. I can’t forget or lose sight of that.

Legally, I can’t drink again until August 2019. My probation will be up at that point. I won’t be celebrating with champagne.

Thank You to Those Who Have Followed This Site – Here’s Why I Wrote The Book

As I promised, I’d let details of my book, The Addiction Nobody Will Talk About: How I Let My Pornography Addiction Hurt People and Destroy Relationships, release out here and I’m happy to say it’s now available for pre-sale on both Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com and will be officially released on January 10. I want to thank everybody who has read this site for the four months it’s been active. The vote of confidence has made me believe there Is a market for my cautionary tale.

To be perfectly honest, I’m nervous about what comes next. What happens if it doesn’t sell? What happens if critics hate it? What if no critics review it? Will it help people? Will it just piss people off? I’ve probably had hundreds of articles, columns, editorials and other pieces with my byline over the last 23 years, but I’ve never released anything so raw and brutally honest. I’m scared how it’s all going to shake out.

I’d like to share a passage with you from The Addiction Nobody Will Talk About, from the introduction, that explains why I wrote the book. When my confidence wavers that I’m doing the right thing, I’m going to remind myself to return to this spot.

 

“In rehab and jail, I met some of the most real people on earth, once they were willing to let down their guard and accept who they really were. They were never just an alcoholic or just a porn addict. There was always a suitcase full of other issues happening, and addictions are just coping mechanisms to deal with sadness, anger, self-loathing, and fear. Toss in pre-existing mental health conditions, and you’ve lit a fuse that will eventually go off. Mine was thankfully snuffed out when the police showed up at my door. Had they not, I think my story would have eventually resulted in death, as unfortunately too many stories I know ended.

I decided to finally start putting pencil to paper after many long conversations with a thirty-year-old guy I met in jail named Tom. He was busted on a probation violation for a dirty urine test. Life got the better of him, and he succumbed to heroin again. He was awaiting a hearing to find out if he’d have to go serve the rest of the armed robbery sentence he was released early from only six months prior.

He had done three of the five years he was given for robbing a McDonald’s after hours. His ex-girlfriend was a manager, and he knew they transferred a giant amount of money from the time-locked safe to the bank on Tuesday nights between 11 and midnight. He jimmied open the drive-thru window, made his way to the manager’s office, and took over $5,000. Tom wore a mask, and if not for the unique handle on the gun he used being captured on security camera footage, he never would have been apprehended months later.

Tom needed the money to pay some very, very scary people off from whom he had purchased heroin. Despite being a good-looking guy who probably could have been a model before the drugs and one of the smartest, most-well rounded people I’ve met, heroin had Tom in its grips and even three years away from dope while in prison wasn’t enough to stop.

With many long, personal conversations about his shitty upbringing and lack of parental guidance, I saw in Tom what I saw in myself at the time of my arrest: a scared little boy who didn’t know how to make his way in the world and just wanted to be loved. I tried not to make connections with anyone in jail, but despite our many differences, we were very much the same.

The day I started writing this book was the day Tom asked me about sex addiction. He wondered if he was a sex addict. He liked porn, but since his first consensual sexual experience at twelve (his first non-consensual was around the time he entered kindergarten), he’d been with over eight hundred women. He knew the answer, and I think it was the first time he ever really admitted to himself that his addictions went further than drugs.

When I asked why he never mentioned it to me, he said he was more embarrassed by the sex than the heroin. I knew what he meant. It’s easy to talk about my alcoholism openly. I’m seen a hero by some for trying to conquer that beast and people congratulate me for going to rehab and being sober for over three years at the time I write this. Those same people who want to pat me on the back and shake my hand for dealing with alcohol addiction don’t want to touch me and go searching for hand sanitizer when I mention porn addiction or sex addiction rehab.

Tom’s admission made me reflect on the people I met who entered rehab for a drug or alcohol problem, but after spending time with admitted sex and porn addicts, they came to realize their sexual behavior was often negative and many times an unhealthy coping mechanism. Tom was just recognizing this. I’ve seen a lot of these “a-ha!” moments when people first connect-the-dots and realize their sexual behavior may be an addiction. It’s powerful, and sad.”

 

I said to a friend of mine the other day that whether the book is a winner or a loser, at least it’s out of my system and in the world. He said that it won’t be a loser because not writing it would have been the loser move. I’ll try to hold onto that in the next few weeks as we find out if any media is willing to cover it, bookstores are willing to stock it and people are willing to buy it.

I hope you’ll consider investing a few dollars on the book. If you’ve enjoyed my articles on this site to this point, you’ll find the genesis of how it all began and learn a lot more about my struggle on a personal level.

Once again, thank you to those who have been supporting me on this site for a few months. I appreciate it. Welcome to those who may just be discovering it. I hope that this book and the site can begin to help open a dialogue about pornography addiction. It’s a problem that’s not going away and it has to stop being The Addiction Nobody Will Talk About.

(You see what I did there?)

I Have a Cover!!!

Front CoverI was so psyched to get the cover of my first book sent to me by my publisher over the Christmas holiday. For the first time, it feels very, very real, which is both scary and exciting.

I’ll talk a lot more about the book when it becomes available in January, but from what I can tell, it’s the first memoir about pornography addiction where the author uses his real name and shares the story of ending up in jail for making poor decisions. Many publishers were scared to take on this book, but thankfully Joshua Tree Publishing out of Chicago understood what I was trying to do.

I saw the book typeset for the first time as well. It’s one thing to work on a Microsoft Word document for 18 months, and then it’s another when you see it in a real-life 251 page layout. I think it’s a good length and hopefully will inform and yes, entertain, people as well. It’s not a dry recitation of statistics, nor a graphic tell-all. It’s basically about a guy who seemingly had it all, didn’t see the warning signs he was sick and saw his entire life implode by his bad decision making. The book flashes back to parts of my life that likely contributed to my attitudes toward sexuality, while also chronicling my descent to rock bottom with pornography and alcohol.

It’s ironic that, technically, this is probably by 15th or 16th book. I’ve done a lot of ghostwriting and have released a book under a pseudonym. Despite all of those, this is the one that leaves me feeling raw and exposed for the first time.

I’ll be letting everybody know more about the book release in the upcoming weeks. If anybody knows of particularly good book review blogs, I’d love to hear about them. I need to start making a list for my publisher of where I want promotional copies to be sent. Thanks.

What is the definition of ‘Pornography’?

I read the results of a survey the other day and in the comments section a man said he was first introduced to pornography through HBO. Another said Victoria’s Secret catalogs. My first reaction was, “Hey! That’s not porn!” But if they think it is, am I really in any position to argue?

Throughout my recovery, dealings with the law, writing my book and the vast amount of research I’ve done on the topic in general, I’ve only seen textbook definitions of the word pornography. I have come to the conclusion that pornography is not a “thing” – it’s a concept.

It’s a grand idea that can be delineated 100 different ways. For instance, when I say the word “vehicle” what does that mean to you? We can all agree it has to do with transportation, but our individual definitions lay in the details.

We can probably all agree that pornography involves the depiction of sexual behavior. Beyond that, it gets tricky.

The Miller Test

First, let’s see what the folks in Washington have to say…

Based on past rulings, the federal government and our courts have a very strict interpretation of pornography, which makes almost everything NOT pornography. For something to deemed pornographic, it has to be labeled as obscene.

Obscenity was defined in the 1973 case of Miller v. California. A guy named Miller who ran a porn video business sent out brochures in 1971 that depicted sex acts. A man and his mother got a few in the mail and called the police. After losing by a jury in California, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled in his favor 5-4.

What has largely now been accepted as the standard for obscenity is:

  • Whether “the average person, applying contemporary community standards”, would find that the work, taken as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest,
  • Whether the work depicts or describes, in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct or excretory functions specifically defined by applicable state law,
  • Whether the work, taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.

Have you ever seen anything more broadly defined? All this really says to me is that illegal forms of sex – bestiality, underage, necrophilia, etc. – are patently obscene, but you could make an argument for almost anything else not being obscene. When does a smutty romance novel become literature? When does an adult movie become an artsy, independent film?

Much like health care and taxes, the government clearly isn’t going to help us figure out what “pornography” really means.

Put On Your Clothes

Since I was a kid, I always associated sex with nudity. I thought there were only three reasons to be nude: A medical examination, taking a shower or having sex. I was raised in a conservative home where people didn’t walk around naked. My mom would castigate my father for simply making the trek across the hall from their bedroom to the shower in his t-shirt and underwear. We didn’t talk about sex, we didn’t display nudity – and my mom’s reaction to both were the same – so there had to be a connection.

I think my young mind came to the conclusion that if an instance of “real life” nudity didn’t involve a medical exam or taking a shower, then it must fall into the “sex” category.

I think we can agree a strip club has certain sexual connotations. Is it the same thing with a nude beach? Many strip clubs aren’t allowed to go bottomless. So are completely nude people at the beach more sexual because they are displaying their sex organs? Are either of these instances actually pornographic since it’s “real life”?

I bring this up because there is a lot of interpretation that has to take place when one discerns what is or isn’t sexual. I remember watching a film in sixth grade that actually showed the tip of a man’s penis from inside the vagina at the time of ejaculation. Aside from still wondering how they got a tiny camera there, I don’t remember it as particularly sexy. It was clinical, yet it was technically more intimate than any adult film I’ve ever seen.

‘But I Know It When I See It’

In 1964, Justice Potter Stewart uttered that oft-used line when declining to define obscenity in a case before the Supreme Court. I think it’s the standard most of us use, but I think in this increasingly complex world, a better definition might need to be created

Some would say that there are levels like “softcore porn” or “hardcore porn” but those are also largely concepts. To me, softcore features either the act or simulated act of intercourse, without showing the actual genital interaction.  But, if you’re watching someone lead a naked man and naked woman who are wearing fetish gear on a leash while another man and woman ride their back…is that softcore or hardcore? No actual sex is being depicted, just an alternative sexual behavior. So is it actually pornography? It seems way more explicit in some ways than people dry-humping on a late-night Cinemax movie, doesn’t it?

I go back to the survey I read the other day. It was conducted by a Christian group, so I expected more conservatism in the answers, but the men who provided comments really opened my eyes to what some consider pornography. Like the nude beach, Cinemax movie or whips-and-chains scenarios, it caused me to really think about what it is when I use the term “pornography.”

Can I just say, “I know it when I see it”? If some guy thinks a Victoria’s Secret catalog is porn, but I think it’s more just a nuisance on my end table…who is right? Penthouse Magazine is more explicit than Playboy, but which one is porn? Both? Neither? Am I indulging in pornography sitting at a strip club, or do I have to be watching on TV or a computer? Does the medium matter? Is it porn if it’s real life vs. digital or printed?

My conclusion

I’ve learned in recovery, the answers to questions that start with Who, What, When, Where or How can give you clues, but the real depth is found in questions that start with Why. Instead of asking myself “What is the definition of pornography?” I started to wonder “Why do I feel the need to define it?”

Then I realized the real answer: It isn’t important. If somebody is an alcoholic, what they had to drink is just a detail. If somebody is a gambling addict, it doesn’t matter if they lost it all on slot machines or sports betting. The kind of pornography – and if it reached the point that it met my eventual definition – somebody is addicted to has nothing to do with whether they should be given help.

Pornography addicts need help. By that point, what they looked at to reach addict status isn’t important (unless it is illegal). Further, only they can determine what they must stay away from in the future. I can’t go into online chatrooms, but you can fill my house with Victoria’s Secret catalogs. The opposite may be true of the guy who took that survey. We both identify as having a problem and have sought help.

If you think you’re an addict but are unsure, I hope the hesitancy is more about the effects on your life and not what it is you’re consuming. In rehab, I heard stories from some men that curled my toes and others that made me wonder what they were doing there. It was wrong to judge like that. We were all pornography addicts, regardless of what the definition is of “pornography.”

I’d be interested in hearing what other people think. Do you have a hard-and-fast definition?