Q&A Time: Reader wonders if he is really a pornography addict

QUESTION: I like to look at a lot of porn on the Internet, but I’m not quite sure I’m addicted. How do I really know?

ANSWER: Well, you’ve come to a porn addiction site to ask a question about something that sounds like you think may be a problem. That’s red flag territory to me. Does it really matter if we call it a bad habit, negative hobby or addiction? “Addict” and “Addiction” are really just labels. There is no blood test to take that comes up “Addict” or “Non-Addict.”

There are variations on what being an addict means to people. I came to the realization I was an addict when I checked off these boxes:

  • A desire to cease my behavior, but an almost unconscious inability to do so.
  • Negative effects of the behavior started having an effect on my regular life, but again, I couldn’t stop.
  • Promising myself to stop the behavior despite seeing the negative effects, and still being unable.
  • The behavior escalated in duration, frequency, and extremeness to meet the needs it once did.
  • Eventual financial, personal, or legal issues arose as a result of my addiction.

You may be in the early stages of addiction, where nobody can see what’s going on except you. You may be in the ongoing stages, where it’s starting to have an effect and people are wondering what’s wrong with you or you could be in the critical phase where things are close to going very bad for you. I was in the last stage and didn’t realize it. I didn’t call myself a true porn addict until more than a year after I was arrested and had stopped using it. For a more in-depth understanding of the phases, click HERE.

If what you need is that label of “Addict” to get some further help and look into it deeper, then by all means, you’re an addict.

If you feel like you can’t stop, or at least limit your behavior and it’s having negative effects, you need to stop this as soon as possible because you can find yourself heading down roads you never thought you would. I ended up engaging a teenage girl in a chatroom. That’s still crazy for me to write. Maybe you don’t get in legal trouble, but what if you reached a point where you couldn’t “finish” with your partner unless you were looking at porn? That’s becoming a bigger problem than ever. What if you lost your job because you were just trying to sneak a peek at work? More than a quarter of people say they have viewed porn at work…a potential addict seems like they’d be in that group.

We haven’t even talked about what the REAL problem is. Porn addiction, like all addiction, is almost always a symptom of something else. It’s a coping mechanism, a masking agent and a survival instinct rolled into one. You may not think there is a deeper problem, but I bet with a handful of therapy sessions, you might start to understand there’s some other stuff going on there.

So…yes, you’re an addict. Go get help. You can check out my Resources page if you need a place to start. Click HERE

 

If you liked this Q&A, check out the others HERE

You can check out my Resources page if you need a place to start getting help. Click HERE

If you’d like somebody to talk to who has been there about porn addiction, be it yours or someone you love, but aren’t ready to make the leap to get help from the medical community, I can be a great resource. For more information, click HERE

DISCLAIMER: I have no formal training in counseling or medicine. My advice comes from experience as an addict and as someone in recovery for over four years. Please take my words only as suggestions and before doing anything drastic, always consult with a professional. If you’d like me to answer a question publicly, either post it in the comment section or visit the contact page. Questions may be edited for brevity and clarity.

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?

 

 

Spotting the Signs of Pornography Addiction

The main reason I’m publishing a book in early 2018 telling the story of my demise in late 2013/early 2014 is because I want people who suspect they may have a problem with pornography addiction – or believe someone close to them does – to seek help long before I did. Truth be told, I knew sex addiction was a real thing. I didn’t know porn addiction could be.

And while I’m sure you’ll all be buying multiple copies to share with friends, for those who don’t but are still wondering about the signs, the good people at Addiction.com came up with a list talking about the stages of porn addiction. Looking back, I can see my journey through all three stages clear as crystal.

Early Warning Signs

  • Lying about, keeping secrets about and covering up the nature and extent of porn use
  • Anger or irritability if confronted about the nature or extent of porn use
  • Sexual dysfunction with real-world partners, including erectile dysfunction, delayed ejaculation and an inability to reach orgasm

I had girlfriends who hated everything about porn and those who didn’t. It didn’t matter to me. I’d deny to both that I looked at the stuff. I had folders for my folders on my computer. As a young guy in my early 20s, when I was with a female sexually for the first time, I almost uniformly was never able to perform to completion, unless I did it myself. I was intimidated by the fact I didn’t have the full control of the situation as I did with pornography. It was scary to let myself go. I would have to think of porn and think of what we were doing in terms of porn to perform. By the second or third encounter, it was not like real-life porn anymore because with traditional porn, it’s one-and-done.

Ongoing Signs

  • Escalating amounts of time spent on porn use, with hours and sometimes even days lost to pornography
  • An inability to form lasting social and intimate romantic relationships
  • Intense feelings of depression, shame and isolation
  • Disintegration of relationships with family, friends and romantic partners
  • Loss of interest in non-porn activities such as work, school, socializing, family and exercise

The pattern for my intimate relationships that lasted longer than a couple of months featured a dramatic drop in physical intimacy after the initial rush was gone. With porn, everything was new every time. After the 100th intimate encounter with a girlfriend, you know how the movie ends. I never allowed my physical relationships to become emotionally or spiritually intimate. I equated intercourse with only physical pleasure, because that’s all porn was to me.

Other signs were that I would look forward to people being out of the house so I could look at porn, or planning to watch later when I wasn’t at home yet. Watching regular TV was a trigger if I saw an actress and wondered if she’d done any nude scenes in the past. I couldn’t wait to do the research online to find out.

Critical Signs

  • Viewing progressively more intense or bizarre sexual content
  • Escalation from two-dimensional porn viewing to use of technology for casual, anonymous or paid-for sexual encounters, whether in-person or via Webcams
  • Trouble at work or in school (including reprimands and/or dismissal) related to poor performance, misuse of company/school equipment and/or public use of porn
  • Physical injury caused by compulsive masturbation
  • Financial issues
  • Legal issues (usually related to illegal porn use)

This is my crash. Ignoring a crumbling business, ignoring my psych meds, not getting any sleep, allowing my alcoholism to rule me, being up at 3 a.m. so I can talk to women in chatrooms…eventually leading to convincing a teenage girl to expose herself. I lost my job, I went to jail for six months and I’ll be on the sex offender registry for life.

The critical signs and that type of behavior lasted only a couple of months in a 25-year stretch of looking at porn, back to me being a kid. But as with most diseases, when it gets critical, things go downhill fast.

Two years before my arrest, I thought I was just a guy who probably watched a little more porn than the average person. I wish I had seen all of the red flags that were soon to arrive.

I’ve said it many time and I’ll say it even more moving forward: I blame nobody but me for my heinous acts. Despite any mitigating factors, it’s on me for dropping the ball when it comes to my mental, physical and spiritual well-being. Had I recognized these warning signs, I wonder if things would have been any different. I hope they turn out different for you and your loved ones.

 

 

Ideas That Have Helped in My Recovery

When I started this blog, I wanted to make sure that I didn’t try to get too far into the science of addiction, nor present the idea that I had the “answer” for anything. I’m not a doctor, but I do have a story to tell that shows one can work hard and conquer their porn demons. I love reading other people’s blogs, especially those people who follow my ramblings. Many of these brave people are in the early stages of recovery, and not just from pornography.

Those first days and weeks are the most difficult. It’s why most people don’t get through them. Unfortunately, too many people view handling an addiction like going on a diet. It’s not like that at all…even if you have a food/eating addiction.

 

Avoid Addiction If It’s Not Too Late

Learning about the brain science is interesting, and will help you understand why addiction is a disease. I disagreed with that assessment for a long time, but once the science was explained to me, it was rather obvious I was using conservative 1950s macho thinking in defining addiction. I don’t delve too much into it on this site because I’ve already done the damage, as have most addicts.

If you’re not addicted to any harmful substance/behavior, I’d urge you to read the book The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. It doesn’t go into much on addiction, but explains how and why we develop habits that can lead there. For most of us, our addictions are coping mechanisms to deal with problems we may not be able to easily define. If you can deal with those problems before relief through bad habits is established, you may have the upper hand in the battle with addiction. I was too late to the text, and wonder if it really would have helped anyway. An inclination toward addiction + raging narcissism = nothing was going to stop me.

 

Things I’ve Learned, Advice I Can Offer

Before I digress too far, let me bring it back to the addicts. I can’t tell you what the magic combination of ingredients in your recovery cure are going to be. It’s something that you have to experiment with. Relapse is common and it’s OK…it just means you need to tweak the recipe. Here are some of the things that really helped me maintain what is about now a few months shy of 4 years sobriety.

  • Figure out if you have an addiction to pornography, masturbation, or both. In my case, as most, they went hand-in-hand (total pun intended). A person told me early on that they decided it was OK to masturbate as long as they didn’t look at porn, and it was OK to look at porn as long as they didn’t masturbate. When they couldn’t marry the visual and physical pleasure, it wasn’t the same. It’s like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich without one of the ingredients. It’s OK, but you don’t generally partake. I think this technique doesn’t actually solve anything, but is a good jumping-off point for people looking to wean themselves from porn and/or masturbation.
  • Understand that a porn addiction is not like a drug or alcohol addiction in some ways, so it demands a different outcome. It’s more like an eating disorder. The goal is not complete abstinence from sexual behavior. It’s about developing a healthy sexuality. I wrote a blog about this concept HERE.
  • Look at cross-addictions and mental health issues. Most addicts have some mental health concerns. I was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder at 20, bipolar disorder at 25 and PTSD at 39. I also was a workaholic and an alcoholic. While porn addiction was the lynchpin of my undoing, it was just one of the items on the buffet for me to deal with. Had I only dealt with my porn addiction in recovery, I never would have been successful. I’ve not had a drink since April 1, 2014 and rarely work more than a 30-hour week these days. I’m also diligent with my psych med schedule.
  • Find a group of people to remind you that you’re not alone and you can lean on. There may be multiple groups that fill multiple roles. My family understand me in ways nobody else does. My longtime friends understand me in another way. The friends/providers I’ve met in recovery yet another way. You can’t handle life on your own – your addictions have proven that truth.
  • Removing myself from my situation was the only way to address both my alcohol and porn issues. I was fired from my job following my arrest, so the workaholism took care of itself, but I can honestly say had I not been able to leave Maine and spend 10 weeks in California at Spencer Recovery Centers for alcoholism or 7 weeks in Texas at Sante Center for Healing for my porn addiction, I couldn’t have done it. I needed intense one-on-one and group therapy away from the surroundings that were the petri dish for my sickness. You can read about that HERE.
  • Consequences help. It did not take me long to recognize without the police intervention, I was heading on a road to death. Since that day, I have either been out on bail, incarcerated, or out on probation. With each came a list of consequences should I break the rules. Would it be easy to break the rules? In most cases, yes. But having lost so much and had my life turned upside down, I know what can ACTUALLY happen when an addiction gets out of control. The further penalties I could pay for straying are a huge motivator for staying on the right track.
  • Appreciate this is going to be a life-long battle and try to stay positive. Porn is not the enemy, masturbation is not the enemy, your brain chemistry is not the enemy. There are no enemies in this struggle. It’s going to be hard enough to navigate recovery, you don’t need to hate anything. There’s stuff going on that you need to figure out and it will take a long time…until the day you die. Until recently, I had a 2-hour weekly support group meeting and a 1-hour one-on-one counseling session. My support group was moved to monthly and I’m talking to my counselor about increasing our one-on-ones to two hours. We probably spend 10-15% of our time at this point talking about the specific addictions, but the other 85-90% can be tied to it because I am an addict. Like anybody with a chronic medical condition, I have to stay on top of it or it will become worse.

 

You’re Almost Done Reading, I Promise

I could probably list off another 20 things that help me. Hell, I could probably list another 200. But I could also list 200 things I thought would help me, but didn’t. I know for someone just starting out in recovery hearing those numbers is daunting, but it’s just a little bit every day. You’re either regressing and living in addiction or your progressing and living in recovery.

If there is anything I can say or do to help anybody out there, please don’t hesitate to send me a note. I can’t tell you how to beat this, but I can tell you that there is a path, you just have to find yours.

In-Patient Rehab was Critical to My Recovery

I’ve heard a lot of people say if you’re not committed to recovery or don’t believe you have a problem in the first place, don’t waste your money on inpatient rehab. I couldn’t disagree more.

When I entered my first facility, Spencer Recovery Center in Laguna Beach, California, I didn’t believe I had a drinking problem at all. A year later, when I arrived at Santé Center for Healing in Argyle, Texas, I didn’t understand just how deep my pornography addiction ran. I am proof that you can enter treatment with a negative or misguided mindset and leave with a very different perspective.

If you’re 100% hell-bent on not learning a thing and you can’t wait to keep doing whatever it is that got you there, odds are you’ll be out the door in the first week anyway. I don’t know what nationwide statistics are on people leaving rehab – either on their own or at the request of the facility – but those who have addictions they aren’t going to address don’t last very long.

The process of rehab is simple and worked on me. They tear you down and then they build you up. That’s greatly oversimplifying it, but they provide an outlet by which you can examine your behavior, habits and addictions with little interference from the outside world. The only people you have quality interaction with are medical, psychiatric and counseling professionals, and your fellow patients.

Simply taking a break from the outside world is good for anybody who is having issues with addiction. It’s certainly no vacation, but unplugging from real day-to-day life is crucial. I don’t know how people make intensive outpatient programs work for them. I needed to be away.

Thankfully, my alcohol detox was mild and I didn’t need one from pornography, but I’ve witnessed some people in real pain. I can’t imagine what that’s like, but once they reach the other side, many have told me they feel better than they have in a long time. We can debate the merits of filling these people with new medication, but having a place for the body to rid itself of poison is huge.

Once cleaned out, the real work begins in accepting the addiction. If you’re like me and didn’t think you had an addiction, they’ll work with you to get there with baby steps. First, I was somebody who didn’t always use alcohol wisely. I could accept that. The leap to “problem drinker” wasn’t that far and when I started getting honest with myself I accepted the idea of “functional alcoholic.” Once you recognize there is no “functioning” addict, it’s not hard to arrive at the fact I had an addiction. This process took me about 8-10 days.

I’m not going to go deep into 12-Step mantras here. You can read my blogs here and here about my experiences with them. Simply being around other addicts, both within the walls of the rehab and in the rooms of AA and SAA proved to me I was not alone. Knowing that allowed me to open up and examine how I got to where I did. For me, it was not a fun process, but it was one that was necessary for recovery.

After being stripped emotionally naked, you’re provided with tools and techniques for hopefully overcoming your specific addiction. Some are the same for all addicts while others are tailored to your exact case.  Eventually, you reach a point where you’ve been there a while and feel invigorated. Those who are near the end of their stays at rehab look like some of the healthiest people on earth from my experience. Or, the juxtaposition of how they looked when they arrived is so great, they can’t help but look like new people.

More than the work done in groups or with the professionals, I think the vast majority of my healing came from spending time with fellow patients. In my case, attending programs that also had people with drug problems, eating disorders and other addictions was crucially helpful.

I’ve only been to two rehabs, so I’m not going to pretend I’m an expert on the programs and amenities at any other than I’ve attended. I’m sure the staff, facilities, food, etc. vary in quantity and quality all over, along with price. One thing I have noticed with the two places I’ve attended and many others I’ve researched is that when they get individual star reviews on places like Facebook or Google, it’s either 1-star or 5-stars. This means it works, or the person didn’t try. A place with an overall review of 2.5 stars is perfect in my opinion.

My therapist said just before I entered my first rehab, “Don’t just play along. Keep your mind open.” I’m glad I did. I’m one of the few who has not relapsed, but even among those who did, I have to believe that they did get something out of their experience. No, it’s not a cure-all – you still have to leave and face the real world, but I would urge anybody with addiction who has the means to absolutely spend time in an inpatient rehabilitation treatment facility.

 

 

Hating My Vices Is Counterproductive to My Recovery

When I talk about my addiction and recovery with people, I often find them start to attack the substances I developed an addiction with. I think this is a distraction to recovery. It’s blaming something else, instead of taking responsibility for myself. I can’t change history, but I can control my future.

I don’t hate pornography. I don’t hate alcohol. I don’t hate work. I don’t hate anything that can claim me as an addict.

Yeah, I’m an alcoholic, work-obsessed porn addict and yes, I understand and fully subscribe to the idea that I have a disease that needs to be managed. But, I also don’t think the world should be without the things I couldn’t handle just because I couldn’t handle them.

There are plenty of non-addicts who hate porn, and there are plenty of reasons to find the material harmful and distasteful. There are studies that illustrate the harmful effects it can have on the mind, relationships and attitudes toward sex and intimacy. There are also plenty of first-person accounts how porn destroyed people’s lives.

But my battle isn’t against the evils of porn. It’s against the evils of addiction.

I recognized the rush that came with looking at pornography going back to being a pre-teen. The first time I saw it was a lot like the first time I felt the buzz of alcohol at 14 or 15. I knew that I had discovered something special – but as years wore on, I also recognized my compulsion toward it was not similar to those around me and probably not healthy.

But here’s the thing, not managing those compulsions is on me.

My story is one of addiction and recovery, not of railing against an immoral industry. I wouldn’t want any of my loved ones starring in or making porn. It seems like part of the entertainment industry that will chew you up and spit you out. I don’t know if the ratio of happy-to-unhappy porn industry veterans is any different than other forms of entertainment, and anecdotally, I feel like I hear a lot more heartbreaking stories than ones of triumph.

Based on statistics of Internet usage, it’s not like pornography is an underground thing, with some studies suggesting that a quarter of all Internet search engine requests are related to pornography. They’re not all coming from some pimply-faced 19-year-old in his mom’s basement home on a Saturday night. Somebody…many somebodies…are using it, dare I say, the right way?

You may think porn is disgusting, gross and scuzzy or it’s the finest example of our First Amendment in action. I can respect both sides. Debates about porn’s place in our society just derails my message that consuming it can grow into a nasty addiction leading down dark roads.

However, just because there are those of us who can’t handle it doesn’t mean it should be eradicated. Or if it should be eradicated, it shouldn’t be because of us.

Did you know there is a Clutterers Anoymous? Debtors Anonymous? Online Gamers Anonymous? They may seem far-fetched to anyone not in them, but I have a feeling the issues those people cope with and the addictive demons inside of them are cousins of those embedded in my DNA.

That said, I want the right to be a hoarder, go into debt and play online games probably as much as those addicts want the right to look at porn, drink alcohol and work 16 hours a day. Simply because a small group has issues with a substance or behavior does not mean that substance or behavior should be banned – unless it’s already illegal for good reasons, like hard drugs.

If I suddenly started eating nothing but fatty bacon and sausage three meals a day, I’d eventually have a heart attack. Is it the fault of the food? No, it’s the fault of me. The food wasn’t ingested in moderation. I let things get out of control and escalate to dangerous levels. I can’t blame the pig, the butcher, the grocer or the restauranteur who served it to me.

My fight isn’t about porn being immoral, degrading, or evil. That’s a political and social argument that has nothing to do with my recovery.

I don’t hate porn. I hate what I let it do to me.