Prepare for a Post-COVID Explosion of Porn Addicts and An Idea to Keep From Going Stir Crazy

Note: I posted this on LinkedIn this morning, but I think it makes sense here, too.

The saying goes that idle hands are the devil’s plaything, and I think that’s never been more literally true. There are a lot of men and women in this world whose COVID-19 idle hands are likely turning them to online pornography. Not all will end up as addicts, but some probably will who never would have otherwise.

In a world where PornHub is offering premium access to Italian residents in a quarantine PR stunt and other sites are bracing for record-shattering traffic, I fear that porn addiction statistics are going to skyrocket during this worldwide pandemic.

In a normal scenario, I think most of us preach the opposite of social isolation to those seeking recovery from pornography addiction. Now, we’re encouraging everybody to embrace the aloneness.

I only did 12-Step groups for most of that first year of recovery, but they were crucial, as were weekly face-to-face appointments with my therapist and another weekly support group I participated in. Had they all been cancelled, and I was left alone, I don’t think I would have had the strength to abstain that first year, or maybe two.

I think about all of those men and women who have tried to kick the addiction on their own to this point. Many of them are stuck white-knuckling it through their seemingly endless days and even longer nights.

I’m worried about those who will never see the addiction coming. I’m worried about women who think porn addiction only happens to guys or older people who think it’s a younger person’s problem. I worry about people who have told themselves they use porn “recreationally” and didn’t have a problem who now are utilizing it two, three or four times more than usual. I’m worried about younger guys and gals who have never looked at online porn regularly who now find themselves discovering just how deep and dark the world gets and I’m worried about those who are addicted and are escalating the extreme nature of the content they are looking at because nothing else in the closed-for-business world can tweak their pleasure centers.

And the answer is… we have no perfect answers. It doesn’t matter how many letters you have after your name, whether you fancy yourself a pornography addiction expert or not, whether you’ve been an addict or not, or which spiritual building/book/deity you prefer. We’ve never seen a global health crisis in the age of the Internet, nor in a world where porn is so pervasive.

A few days ago, I put out a message on LinkedIn letting people know if they wanted a non Covid-19 person their podcast, I could talk porn addiction, and I was expecting one or two reactions. I’m booked on four shows and did two over the weekend. We actually talked a lot about being stuck at home and the lure of pornography.

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I came up with one potential solution that everybody who feels like they’re on house arrest can utilize. It once helped me. Maybe it can help you in the coming days when it feels like the walls are closing in on you.

For those who don’t know, I once did six months in county jail. With few people to talk to and my safety never an issue, it only took a couple of weeks before I was going stir crazy. The key to keeping my shit together was routine, scheduling and knowing what was coming next.

I always knew the next 2-3 things I was going to do, whether they would take 15 minutes (doing a Sudoku puzzle) or 2 hours (watching another insipid superhero movie on FX or USA). I knew what I was going to do after that, and after that. It allowed me to create the illusion that I was always busy, had a full schedule and always had something else to do.

My activities were reading the newspaper, writing letters, cleaning the pod, reading books, doing Sudoku, doing crossword puzzles, talking on the phone, exercising, showering, writing books, napping, reading the newspaper, playing cards, talking to people and watching TV. I’m sure there were other things I did and don’t remember, but I always had a basic structure for my day, even if the specific tasks weren’t always the same. Sticking to a schedule and having a plan for my day allowed me to have some of the normalcy of my busy life in the outside world and I think maintaining that structure allowed me to reintegrate much easier than I expected.

If you’re an addict, partner of an addict or help addicts and need to talk, I’m here, by email, telephone or video call. If you’re looking for something to read, I’ve got a ton of blog entries on this website and my books are on Amazon. If you’re looking for resources, this site can help, or I can help you find what you need as well. And if you need a podcast guest, my headphones are always ready.

I have no magical answers. Nobody does. But when you think about, we don’t even in the best times either. We just pretend we don’t need each other as much, so maybe that’s a lesson we can take from this weird era in history we’re living through. We need each other so much more than we admit or recognize.

Your one-minute answer to “Why Don’t Addicts Just Stop?”

One of the most frequently asked questions I get when I do podcasts is something along the lines of “When the average person looks at an addict, they can’t understand why the addict doesn’t just stop. Why can’t they?” For someone who doesn’t have the experience of being an addict, it’s a question that makes sense to me. I have no idea how so many things in this world work or why they are the way they are. The best way to find out is to ask, so for all of those who have ever wondered, I provide this 1-minute answer from my appearance on The Come to the Table Podcast.

Even if you’ve heard my story before, I’d urge you to at least listen to the first 20-25 of this episode as it’s a conversation I’ve not had before, touching on my spirituality, upbringing in the church, the modern state of the Catholic Church, and a quirky “would you rather” game.

LinkedIn vs. WordPress, a Tale of Two Mental Health Communities

I spend a fair amount of time on LinkedIn these days, both to try and get my book into the hands of mental health/addiction professionals and to make connections with those professionals as I still figure out how my pornography addiction education mission can best move forward. It’s a very different world than WordPress.

Before I get into it, I have to say the No. 1 strangest thing that I’ve witnessed among mental health professionals on LinkedIn is just how many of them like to create memes where they quote themselves. It’s seriously fucking weird! I don’t know if it’s a marketing thing where they hope others will share it or if it’s just a narcissistic side of them that sometimes comes with people who are smart and have the capability to heal, but I’m never going to get comfortable with it. You let other people quote you. You don’t quote yourself.

meme

Anyway, for me, the biggest difference is that the community I’ve cultivated on WordPress are either struggling addicts, former addicts, people with mental health issues, or empaths. Demographically, it’s all over the spectrum from teenagers to people in their 70s, male, female, located all over the world in various socioeconomic conditions, but there is also a comfortable sameness with just about every person, including me. It’s a firm understanding that we don’t have all the answers. That kind of self-awareness and humility is quite often not seen among the ranks on LinkedIn.

I remember being introduced to the street smarts vs. book smarts theory when I was probably 12 or 13 years old. There were those kids, like I was expected to be, who excelled in their studies and would go on to do smart things in smart careers and then go home to their smart wives and smart children at the end of the day. Then there were the other kids, they were the ones who would fill the labor and service jobs, but they’d have a real-life worldliness that I couldn’t understand because things came almost too easy to me. While I could do the taxes of the other group, I’d be dependent upon them to protect me in a fight.

As I’ve learned, that concept is moronic. Facebook proved that some of the kids who should have died by accidentally electrocuting themselves because they were so stupid go onto great things and some of the kids with the most potential flame-out the hardest.

The one place I do see this idea somewhat played out, though, is in the world of addiction. When I got into my first rehab, I met people who I thought I’d have nothing in common with. Many became good friends. A guy who got kicked out of the Hells Angels for being too violent and getting in too much trouble with the law was probably my best friend in my first rehab. What did we have in common? We knew addiction and it was enough to bond us. I learned this lesson again at the second rehab, and at the limited 12-step meetings and group therapy sessions I attended. Addiction made us street smart whether we were an 18-year-old meth addict or a 68-year-old sex addict.

But, if there is street smart in that equation, there has to be book smart, and I’ve finally met this side of the coin on LinkedIn. I like LinkedIn because it is kept professional, relatively politics-free, yet there is still a lot of inspiration and videos of dogs doing cute things.

There are a lot of people in mental health/addiction who have dealt with an issue, but on LinkedIn, not every one of those people are quick to share. Part of my recovery is being as honest as I possibly can as often as I possibly can, so I don’t go to any length to hide my history with pornography or alcohol.

The book smart are the mental health professionals who have never had a major issue with addiction or their own mental health. They’ve witnessed health conditions that they are very qualified to diagnose and treat, yet they don’t know what it’s like to have been there. It’s like someone who is an expert in ancient Egyptian history. I still think a goat herder who actually lived in Egypt during the building of the Pyramids could probably beat them in a game show, even if they were only a peasant. There is just something to be said for experience vs. theoretically knowledge.

In dealing with the LinkedIn community, I’ve gotten a vibe again and again that I’m dealing with people who think they have answers to our world’s growing pornography addiction problem, even if they haven’t dealt with a lot of clients who have it yet. They have the answers because, on an academic level, they’ve always had the answers.

Depending on who the person is and their exact background, the answer may be 101 different things, but they are relatively sure they have the answer, even when the answer is that porn addiction isn’t a real thing. Whether it’s sweat lodge workshops, filters galore on your computer, or the same tired arguments against porn that have been around for 50 years and never worked, they have THE answer.

Now, I don’t want to slam all of them. I’ve made some great friends and important contacts. They know who they are and I’m grateful to have you in my life. But, I’ve also met people who wouldn’t give me the time of day because I’m just a former addict with no letters after his name. It feels like those who even bother to acknowledge that I’m trying to actually bring resources to the table for addicts with my books, presentations and website mostly just pat me on the head and tell me to run along while the grown-ups figure out the answers to the world’s problems.

On WordPress, there’s sometimes a victim mentality of people who just can’t get out of their own way, and I think on some levels don’t want to, in order to get better or improve their situation. WordPress has a lot of wallowers, and they frustrate me to no end. On LinkedIn, that frustration comes from a superiority mentality of people who have plenty of knowledge, but very little experience. I think the real money will be in creating the social media app that exists somewhere in the middle.

What’s most ironic is that I spent no time on LinkedIn before my newest book came out, yet it basically is a street smart/book smart take on porn addictions for partners of addicts. If you want to support a street-smart troll, click HERE to learn more about the book.

And of course, all of this said, if you want to join me on LinkedIn, feel free.

 

 

Always Staying Ahead of the Next Obsession is the New Normal in Recovery

Anybody else feel weird when a repairman is at the house, like you’re not sure just how much of the process you’re supposed to participate in or what proximity you’re supposed to maintain? I’ve got the guy in my mud room right now trying to figure out why my dryer won’t dry and am trying to work from the breakfast bar in my kitchen, but am not getting the regular stuff done, so I figured I’d write an entry to stay busy.

I’ve noticed my mind is trying to find something to glom onto in the last few months and it all seems to have to do with the computer or some kind of communication.

At the end of last year, it was blogging. I was justifying daily entries by saying I was getting more hits than ever and building up my base which could only help me eventually turn the porn addiction writing and educating into a money-making entity, but taking a step back, it was clear that I wasn’t reaching that many people and certainly not very many new people. The reality was, I liked seeing the little bar on the stats page go up and I liked the interaction with people and started to depend on it at much as interaction with people in real life, which I don’t think is healthy.

I’ve been winding down the amount of podcasts I’m doing, too. They are a free means to reach potential readers of my books or people who want to utilize my counseling/advising service, but every one hour podcast you hear probably involves three hours of actual time dedicated to it. I was trying to book 3-5 per week which was taking too much of my time. Thankfully, a couple of very smart people told me that I need to shoot for quality, not quantity. I recognized that I wasn’t really after the attention as I may have been 10 years ago, but just wanted to feel like I was always doing something to push the book. I’ve always confused working smarter with working harder. Balancing those two things is going to be a life-long struggle.

As these things have waned in my life, I found myself introduced to Reddit. First, I found a couple of porn addiction boards, some about addicts and some about partners. I liked being a voice in the conversation, but it was the same conversation over and over and over. Not long after, I was introduced to the “roast” page. I found it hilarious. I’m one of those people who love it when people roast me. I’ve always had a good sense of humor when it came to myself and believe I had a good sense of humor when it came to roasting others. It turns out, I have a gift from God for roasting people. I started to get people up-voting my roasts in the thousands and was told by a few that considering I’d only been on Reddit 10 weeks but had around 50K upvotes, they thought I could be among the fastest in the history of the site to reach a million. This is when I started to take it too seriously. I started finding the “system within the system” realizing that roasting females got more votes and roasting between noon and 4 p.m. EST was best and just overanalyzing the whole thing. I was stopping work mid-project to head over to see if there were new people who needed roasting. So I deactivated my account. It was creatively fun, but again started to show signs of becoming a bit of an obsession — and I didn’t even have a way to explain it away or rationalize it as doing something good.

I started a new diet today because I’ve been eating crap food at all hours and seem to find myself thinking about food more than in the past. My weight isn’t too bad compared to where it’s been in the past before I started a diet, but I’m a good 20-25 pounds more than I should be. My mind should not be a place where Chicken in a Biskit crackers or Cheetos take up any real estate. Hopefully my junk food cravings go away as I lose a few pounds. After all, bikini season is just around the corner.

I guess my point, as I spy the guy starting to reassemble the dryer, is that for recovering addicts like me who can easily turn something new into an obsession, vigilance and analyzing your patterns of behavior is a constant necessity. Yeah, it would be better if I didn’t sucked into something new and want to master it immediately, nor be able to explain why quite often why mastering it was a good thing. But those aren’t the cards I’m playing with and recognize your situation, tendencies, and limitations is a key part of being healthy I’m always learning.

Guest Post: Facing Up to Pornography and Sexual Addictions

Note from Josh: This week, I welcome my fellow Maine resident, Jane Ives to the site to share some wonderful pieces she’s written. I think that regardless of where you are in your addiction, or if you’re not addicted and just starting to learn, Jane provides some incredibly valuable information and resources here.

“How could this have happened?” agonized a retired pastor and his wife, devastated by their adult son’s confession that he had become addicted to pornography. Growing up in a Christian home does not guarantee immunity to the sexual poison permeating our society. Pornography generates billions of dollars worldwide in revenues from magazines, videos, strip clubs, escort services, telephone sex, pay-per-view cable channels, and websites.1 Pornography accounts for 12% of websites, 25% of search engine requests, and 72 million visitors a month worldwide. Some of these visitors, quickly bored or repulsed by what they see, move on. At least 5% of these visitors, however, are already addicted, and another 10% will likely become addicted to the instant and anonymous gratification of online chatrooms and videos.2 These facts challenge us to address a problem that undoubtedly affects persons in our churches and in our communities. First, however, we need to understand how pornography can ensnare and corrupt.

The United Methodist Book of Resolutions, 2004, defines pornography as “sexually explicit material that portrays violence, abuse, coercion, domination, humiliation, or degradation for the purpose of arousal” and also labels as pornographic any sexually explicit material depicting children.3 Unlike art that elicits awe and respect by celebrating the beauty of human bodies and erotic love, pornography portrays men and women as sex objects, titillates, creates unrealistic expectations, deadens the ability to experience real intimacy, and may encourage potentially dangerous attitudes and behaviors.4

Research shows that viewing pornography can cause physiological changes in the brain that may influence behavior and relationships. Pornography, especially when viewed in a high state of arousal, creates an imprint of the experience that impels the viewer to come back for more of the stimulant effect. Over time, persons viewing pornography may become desensitized, requiring more explicit and more deviant materials to get the same effect. Research documents a high correlation between frequent use of pornography and sexual abuse and violence. Children and youth have confessed to acting out what they have seen, and sexual offenders often report a history of viewing pornography5. In Out of the Shadows: Understanding Sexual Addiction, Patrick Carnes notes that persons who become addicted to pornography may easily escalate to voyeurism, self-exposure, adultery, prostitution, sexual harassment, and assault.6 Carnes describes an “Addiction Cycle” that begins with obsessive thinking about sex, followed by unique rituals or routines leading up to and enhancing the excitement of compulsive sexual activity. Once in this cycle, addicts cannot control or stop themselves; afterward they may seek release from their shame and guilt by obsessive sexual thinking, starting the cycle all over again.7

Addicts may rationalize that their compulsions have no adverse effect on their marriages, families, or work. Their secret lives, however, often cause them to withdraw, neglecting their families, work, and other responsibilities. Feeling unworthy of genuine love, they may turn to illicit sex more frequently to ease their increasing isolation. Once addicts realize that their lives are out of control, skilled therapists and caring communities – Twelve Steps programs in particular – can help them examine their behavior, break out of their isolation, and reclaim a sense of personal worth. Because secrecy deepens the bond of any addiction, talking about it with trusted advisors is often the first step toward healing.8

What can the church do?

  • Affirm sexuality as a God-given gift that can enrich our lives and relationships.
  • Teach reverence for the human body and respect for the feelings and needs of others.
  • Make clear that anyone may be vulnerable to pornography’s addictive lure.
  • Note that Jesus’ warning about committing adultery in our hearts (Matthew 5:28) addresses the deliberate choice to welcome and entertain tempting thoughts and fantasies, which may occasionally present themselves to anyone.
  • Equip parents and teachers to help children process their likely exposure to pornography, whether accidental or deliberate.
  • Provide information through teaching, programs, and print material to help people understand and face up to this problem.
  • Research locally available trained counselors and groups for referral of addicts and families seeking assistance.
  • Speak out against public displays of pornography and against media that qualifies as “soft porn” and glorifies risky behavior.
  • Express concern for the actors and models exploited in pornographic videos and materials, recognizing that some of them may be victims of sexual trafficking.
  • Encourage parents to monitor their children’s internet and cell phone use, noting the dangers of visiting chatrooms, sexting, responding to strangers on line, and posting personal information.
  • Counsel parents and other adults to view media programming with children and youth, calmly discussing the underlying messages to which they are exposed by asking reflective questions. (“What would you do in that situation?” “What might happen next?”)
  • Welcome and include recovering addicts, holding them accountable to their healing programs and establishing behavioral covenants to protect others, especially children and youth.

We cannot afford to ignore the devastating consequences of pornography and sexual addictions, nor can we safely assume that members of our congregations or of our families are not – or will not – be affected. Sound education, prevention, and recovery support ministries can help keep individuals, families, and communities healthy and safe.

Sources:
1 William M. Struthers, Wired for Intimacy: How Pornography Hijacks the Male Brain (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 2009), p. 20
2 Michael Castleman, “6 Ways Porn Can Hurt Your Sex Life,” www.aarp.org
3 The United Methodist Book of Resolutions, “Pornography and Sexual Violence,” p. 166
4 Rev. Cynthia Abrams, “Sex and the Church: Pornography and Sexual Addiction,” www.gbcs.org
5 GCSRW, “Prevention of the Use of Pornography in the Church,” www.gcsrw.org
6 Patrick Carnes, Out of the Shadows: Understanding Sexual Addiction (Center City, MN: Hazelden, 2001), p. 37-38
7 Ibid., p. 19-23
8 Ibid., p. 4-7

 

Resources for Facing Up to Pornography and Sexual Addictions

Reading List

Cybersex Exposed: Simple Fantasy or Obsession?, by Jennifer Schneider, M.D., Ph.D. and Robert Weiss, LCSW, CSAT (Hazelden Information Education, 2001). The authors explore pornography use and other sexual behaviors on the internet, using case studies to illustrate how such practices may become addictive and how to seek healing from sexual compulsions.

Every Heart Restored: A Wife’s Guide to Healing in the Wake of a Husband’s Sexual Sin, by Fred and Brenda Stoeker, with Mike Yorkey (Colorado Springs, CO: Waterbrook Press, 2010). This book offers guidance for wives whose husbands are addicted to pornography and sex and who are struggling for sexual purity.

Lonely All the Time: Recognizing, Understanding and Overcoming Sex Addiction, for Addicts and Codependents, by Ralph Earle, Ph.D., Gregory Crow, and Kevin Osborn (NY, NY; Pocket Books, 1998). This easy-to-read book explores sex addiction and co-addiction in family systems, describing causes, symptoms, and a comprehensive approach to recovery.

Many Roads, One Journey: Moving Beyond the Twelve Steps, by Charlotte Davis Kasl, Ph.D.(Harper Perennial, 1992). The author explores the wisdom inherent in Twelve Step and other models of recovery, suggesting ways to adapt them to a variety of experiences and beliefs. She also explores societal roots of addiction and dependency and ways to address them.

Out of the Shadows: Understanding Sexual Addiction, by Patrick Carnes, Ph.D. (Center City, MN: Hazelden, 2001). The author describes sexual addiction as a “pathological relationship” that becomes more important than anything else. As tolerance increases, sex addicts, like alcoholics, need the “mood-altering experience” just to feel normal; then they may quickly escalate from pornography addiction to more dangerous behaviors, often with devastating consequences. Dr. Carnes offers hope and advice for recovery, recommending Twelve Step groups and similar strategies in particular.

Treating Pornography Addiction: The Essential Tools for Recovery, by Kevin B. Skinner, Ph.D. (Provo, Utah: Growthclimate Inc., 2005). The author explains how pornography affects the mind of the user and becomes addictive. He outlines steps for rewiring the mind and breaking free.

Wired for Intimacy: How Pornography Hijacks the Male Brain, by William M. Struthers (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2009. The author, a Christian neuroscientist and researcher, explores various aspects of pornography’s effects on sexual behavior and intimacy. He describes the healing process as sanctification, making daily decisions to see the image of God in each person, appreciate women without “consuming” them, and move “beyond objectification to real relationship, presence and intimacy” (p. 189). He lists helpful books and websites at the back of the book.

Women, Sex, and Addiction: A Search for Love and Power, by Charlotte Davis Kasl, Ph.D. (NY, NY: Ticknor & Fields, 1989). The author explores the cultural conditioning that tells us “sex is love, sex is power, and sex makes us important” (p. 10) and its impact on women in particular. She discusses the link between spirituality and sexuality, providing guidance for healing from addictions to sex and romance, as well as sexual codependency.

Your Sexually Addicted Spouse: How Partners Can Cope and Heal, by Barbara Steffens and Marsha Means (Far Hills, NJ: New Horizon Press, 2009). The authors share research, personal experiences, and case studies that portray partners of sex addicts as post-traumatic stress victims, rather than co-dependents. This book offers practical wisdom for such partners and for those who want to help them heal.

Untangling the Web: Sex, Porn and Fantasy Obsession in the Internet Age, by Robert Weiss, LCSW, CSAT (NY, NY: Alyson Publications, 2006). The authors discuss how to identify and address pornography addiction. They also offer helpful suggestions to parents concerned about their children’s exposure to pornography and sexual content on the internet.

Organizations and Websites

Cornerstone Intimacy and Healthy Sexuality: Creating Hope and Healing for Families Dealing with Sexual Integrity Issues (Atlanta, GA), http://www.cornerstoneprofessional.net. Visit this website to learn about therapy (intensives and ongoing support), training, and conferences; sign up for an e-newsletter; and read reviews of recommended books. For more information, call 770-457- 3028.

Internet Behavior Consulting Company (IBC), http://www.internetbehavior.com. Visit this website for research reports, training events, an e-newsletter, and an Internet Sex Screening Test.

Parents Television Council, 707 Wilshire Boulevard, Suite 2075, Los Angeles, CA, 90017, http://www.parentstv.org. This nonprofit research and education organization lobbies for enforcement of broadcast decency standards and publishes a newsletter to inform parents of negative and harmful media messages, as well as family-friendly programming.

Porn Harms, a project of Morality in Media, 1100 G Street NW #1030, Washington, DC 20005, 202-393-7245, http://www.pornharms.com. The website offers expert commentary on the negative effects of pornography, including a blog, webinars, and a Facebook link.

Setting Captives Free, http://www.settingcaptivesfree.com, offers an online free, anonymous 60- day Bible-based program titled “Way of Purity,” as well as resources for recovery from other addictions.

Sexaholics Anonymous, http://www.sa.org describes its Thirteen Step program and White Book, provides links for locating meetings and therapists throughout the nation and the world, announces upcoming events, and offers brochures for download and purchase.

Society for the Advancement of Sexual Health (SASH), http://www.sash.net. This website provides a Sexual Addiction Screening Test, an e-newsletter, conference announcements, and other resources.

 

Jane P. Ives, Marriage and Family Ministries Consultant (8/30/15) 10 Quaker Lane, Portland, ME 04103, 207-210-7876, Janepives@gmail.com Copyright United Methodist Discipleship Ministries, http://www.umcdiscipleship.org -Used by Permission

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