Sometimes, I find myself babbling during a podcast and stumble into something that makes a lot of sense I’d never put into words before. It’s kind of the same process as therapy, which is why I urge people to see a therapist, even if they only think they are babbling for 49 minutes. That 50th minute may be where the magic happens. Likewise, if you can get people to invite you onto their podcast, they’ll ask you questions and you’ll be forced to explore the answers.
Anyway, I’ve been reflecting on something I said a while back on a podcast, and have begun discussing it with a few people because it’s nothing I’ve heard before, but it’s something that just seems to make sense to me and I’d be curious if it makes sense to you.
For partners (yes, generally women dealing with a man, so forgive me if I do the non-PC thing and sometimes assume this is the arrangement) of any kind of addict, the partner is not the reason the addict got into their addiction. With addictions like gambling or drugs, this is just generally a given. Wives usually don’t wonder what they did wrong that caused their husband to be a video game addict and husbands don’t wonder what they did wrong to make their wives food addicts. The boyfriend didn’t make his girlfriend and alcoholic and the girlfriend didn’t make her boyfriend a cokehead.
This dynamic is often ignored or overlooked when it comes to porn addiction. The partner of the addict, upon learning of the addiction, will often go through a process called betrayal trauma that can last days, months or years. Essentially, it is the pain and hurt of both knowing that your partner was “living a double life” coupled with the pain that their addiction involved sex/nudity/other people, which crosses a certain line of harmful intimacy/cheating/betrayal in the mind of the non-addict. Often, it destroys relationships.
Now, here’s the thing. Regardless of the betrayal trauma occurring, the porn addict is sick. We know that they have a brain disease that is likely a system of a much bigger issue, including unresolved childhood trauma or another mental health issue. I don’t want to be seen minimizing the betrayal trauma, but it is not my focus right this second.
I can tell you that based on my story and based on the story of many sex/porn addicts that I know, have interviewed, have met, etc., the addiction is never about lust. Never. In my case, my addiction allowed me to subconsciously create a false sense of control. I didn’t realize this while in my addiction, but it’s crystal clear now after six-plus years of recovery. I wasn’t an addict for the naked girls or taboo feeling of getting away with something. It was serving a need I had since early childhood, when I had my sense of safety regarding control taken away.
I can also tell you I didn’t drink because it tasted good or I liked the social lubricant. I’d say 95% of my drinking was done alone, isolated, simply to numb my brain to the point I wasn’t thinking beyond the very surface.
Cocaine addicts don’t snort because it’s fun to watch white powder disappear. Video game addicts don’t sit in front of the TV or computer for 15 hours because they appreciate fine digital graphics. Food addicts don’t like cake that much more than you and I. All addicts have a brain disease happening. It’s not about the substance or behavior. It’s about the subconscious pleasure, safety or sense of wellbeing the addictive behavior or substance provides, and it becomes the priority in life.
I think it’s also important to mention that almost all addicts suffer a decreased sex drive and need for intimacy, except those who are abusing stimulants like cocaine, or those who have just experienced a chemical-induced high. For the most part though, especially in males, there’s enough science to show that there is usually a slowing or shutting down of the libido. Ask a heroin addict how important sex and/or intimacy is to them.
So back to porn addiction. Why do female partners suffer from such betrayal trauma? I believe it has nothing to do with the addiction itself. I think the fact that there may be an addiction is often forgotten and lost in the betrayed person’s mind. They focus on the perceived intimacy/fantasy with another person that comes with their partner’s use of pornography. That use usually ends with an orgasm – just as the act of intercourse does. If intercourse is supposed to be “sacred” and reserved for only the partner, it’s understandable why they are hurt.
In researching my second book, learning these women’s stories and reading many of them on online forums where they post and receive advice, it stuck out to me that while many of these women clearly had partners who had an addiction, others had partners who seemed to barely have an unhealthy relationship with pornography, and even more simply caught their partner looking and had no real evidence to reach a conclusion that he was an addict.
I’ve come to wonder how often this kind of betrayal trauma happens with the female partners of men who are not porn addicts, because I think these are the female partners who really have to worry.
We all know the person who can have the occasional beer or two, or the person who can play video games for an hour and then put it away for several days. I visit a casino two or three times a year with my wife, never lose more than $40 and always walk away if I’m lucky enough to win $100. I don’t bet on sports or play the lottery, so I’m not sure if I can even be called a recreational gambler, but let’s just say I am for the sake of this article.
Let’s say for whatever reason, my wife was 100% anti-casino and anti-gambling. Maybe her father gambled away her college fund or her mother lost the family house…whatever. If she were to ask me never to gamble again, I would not have a hard time walking away from it. I find it fun watching the reels of the slot machine spin, but it’s a moment I wouldn’t miss if it disappeared from my life.
Let’s say some friends ask me to meet them for steaks and blackjack this weekend at the casino. I have three choices as I see it: I can decide not to go because it follows my wife’s wishes, I can tell her that I got the offer and gauge her response deciding accordingly, or I can decide not to tell her and just go.
If I go without telling her, it doesn’t make me a gambling addict. I may want to see my friends, do something without her, have a steak…whatever. I continue to stay within my “lose $40/win $100” gambling rule I’ve set for myself. Let’s say that my friends make a plan to do this once a month. It may be my only chance to see some of them, I appreciate the camaraderie, whatever, but I decide to make it a regular thing. This also does not make me a gambling addict.
It makes me a serial liar. It makes me someone who puts my own wants above some very specific boundaries set by my partner. It reveals a self-centeredness that shows I’m probably not a very good partner. But it doesn’t make me a gambling addict.
Now let’s consider the guy who looks at pornography but is not an addict. I absolutely believe that most people who use pornography, both men and women, are looking for little more than visual stimulation to help them achieve an orgasm.
I believe that these people (who are the vast majority of society in the under-50 group of men and under 35 group of women) learned along the way that they can satisfy their sexual needs with a self-induced orgasm. Masturbation is a selfish thing, but nobody understands how to work your equipment better than you do.
Intimate lovemaking is a wonderful thing, but sometimes in the eyes of many, just having sex with somebody they barely know can be the release they need, even if there is no love or true intimacy involved. Again, not moralizing or judging, just recognizing a fact. And sometimes, despite the option for intimate lovemaking exists with a partner, a person simply wants to experience the faster release of self-orgasm because they are not in the mood/too tired/whatever to invest what is necessary for mutually beneficial lovemaking.
I do not believe that the non-porn addict becomes an addict when they opt for occasionally masturbating over having sex with their partner.
But, like with my gambling example, what if the female partner views pornography as a reprehensible thing? What if she views her partner’s masturbation as a slap in the face and rejection? She has every right to set those boundaries, but does his breaking them without her knowledge automatically mean that he’s an addict? Of course not. Does lying about it automatically make him an addict? Not at all.
Yes, addicts lie. So do husbands and boyfriends who are caught doing something they shouldn’t. Addiction and lying are horrible character traits, but they are not mutually exclusive. One involves a disease and the other is just about covering one’s tracks. Five-year-old kids lie. Politicians lie. Salespeople lie. That doesn’t make them addicts.
Here’s the most important distinction between the addict and the liar who uses pornography: One is mentally and physically programmed beyond their control, the other just likes to get off. Addiction is certainly nothing I’d wish on anybody or their partner having gone through it with porn and alcohol, but I wasn’t using just to get off. In truth, when my porn addiction was at its worst, there was no “grand finale” orgasm. I wasn’t using it for sexual gratification – I don’t think I ever was. Yes, frequency of intercourse with my wife slowed down, but I got a very different need met when I was with her vs. when I was utilizing pornography throughout the first 11 years of our marriage before my addiction came to light.
I believe the recreational user is getting the exact same need met when they look at porn vs. when they have actual intercourse. Yes, there may be a fluctuation in the intimacy level, but I believe the recreational user choosing to use porn is simply looking for the orgasm and uses pornography as a visual aid.
The next question becomes is it better to be with a partner who has a disease of the brain that has nothing to do with you, or do you want to be with someone who has no pre-existing condition and is consciously choosing porn over you?
I’m not going to debate that human emotion is a tricky subject and that betrayal trauma shouldn’t register regardless of your answer to that question, but if I was in the situation of so many women who discover that their partner is looking at porn, I’d take some selfish comfort in knowing it was a disease and not a rejection of me.
Am I crazy here? Am I correct? Assuming I am anti-pornography, I would be more concerned about my role in my partner’s viewing of pornography if they were not an addict vs. if they are. Being an addict is an extenuating circumstance. Being a liar just means your partner is an asshole.