In a Relationship, Is It Selfishly Better to Find Out Your Partner is a Porn Addict, or a Recreational User? I say Addict.

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.

Therapy and Fellowship, not Online Forums, are the Key to Pornography Addiction Recovery

I know anything is possible and there are people who have done it different ways, but I firmly believe that if you are seeking to permanently eliminate your pornography addiction, you can only do it with professional help, often bolstered by the (real-life) interaction with other addicts. Anything short of this and you’re setting yourself up for failure.

You know when you do something that irritates you, but you can’t help it, like letting the dishes pile up in the sink or watching mindless reality TV? I do this with online forums where guys talk to each other about their pornography and masturbation problems.

I find it frustrating because it feels like 95% of these men will never understand that they are statistically unlikely to beat their addiction on their own. Many include “counters” in their signature that show how many days they’ve been without porn or masturbation. It’s rare that they ever get above 20 days. They relapse and relapse and relapse again.

Their solutions?

“I need to try harder. I need to put filters on my computer. I need to try yoga. I need to distract myself when I feel the urge. I need to get out and meet people. I need to turn off my phone. I need to meditate. I need a girlfriend.”

Usually less than a week later, they’re singing the same song. It’s clear that they feel guilt and shame about their addiction, but there are other men like me on the site who have years of recovery who talk about how we got to this point, but almost all of it falls on deaf ears. I sometimes wonder if they want to do something about their addiction, or they want to do just enough to convince themselves they are trying, but somehow they are the special snowflake who is just never going to be able to get into recovery.

There are others who remind me of people who consider themselves political, but really just regurgitate the talking points they hear on TV. These are the ones who try to tell you that they can “re-wire” their brains, but when you ask them about the science behind what they’re doing, they mumble-write something about dopamine and usually admit to not knowing everything, but knowing it’s true, much like climate change deniers.

I can give you a dissertation in how brain chemistry works with addiction, but I’ll save it. Bottom line is you’re never going to rewire yourself out of that childhood trauma causing the addiction.

The lazy, ignorant and stubborn don’t recover. That’s just a fact.

If it’s not one of those things, I think it boils down to fear. Sitting across from a real person, face-to-face, and having a conversation is much different than typing essays on a computer and waiting hours to read equally one-side responses. It’s scary to be that vulnerable and ultimately, intimate, with another person if you’re not used to it.

The main excuse I hear when it comes to avoiding therapy is that somebody doesn’t have the money or the time. First, the time excuse is BS. Send me a copy of your schedule and I’ll find plenty of time for you to get help. You just make it a priority. As for money, there are plenty of mental health treatment programs funded by local, state and national sources that will pay for, or at least help you out, with the cost. In my part of Maine, there’s an agency that covers three counties and offers steep discounts depending on your income. And if you don’t qualify for an income break, your lack of funds is just another excuse. Put your mental health in front of the big movie package on your cable system.

The only other way I’ve seen people recover – and many of these people don’t have loads of pre-existing trauma – is through a form of group therapy. It can be a 12-step group like Sex Addicts Anonymous, a spiritual approach like Recovery Today or a secular approach like SMART. I’ve been to all three and while none were the ultimate answer for me, it’s clear based on the people who are deep into recovery in all three groups that communal fellowship plays a big role in recovery.

I’d still urge people who go this route to get some professional help just to make sure they’re not missing anything, but I am confident that this is a way for some to achieve successful recovery.

This does not mean that blogs like this, online forums and bulletin boards are a communal fellowship approach. They’re not. They exist on a screen, not in real life. I believe that they can be secondary or tertiary levels of support, much like researching in books or watching YouTube videos, but the amount of people failing again and again seems proof enough that anything you find on a computer or telephone screen cannot be the sole solution.

I’ve said this plenty of times: Any route to recovery is the right route to recovery. The key word in that sentence is “recovery” not “any.”

If you’re reading this and you’ve failed again and again and again, it’s time to stop doing what isn’t working and try something new, or step-up and own it: you don’t really want recovery bad enough.

 

Figuring Out if You’re A Casual or Problem User of Pornography

For this article, I’m going to suspend the discussion of whether pornography use in moderation is not unhealthy or if there is any moral component to the decision to utilize pornography. I’ll tackle those issues later on. For now, I simply want to provide a list of questions that people who are wondering if they have an issue with pornography can ask themselves to better understand their situation.

I think words like addiction, habit, obsession, compulsion and problem are more subjective than objective. Their definitions can be fluid and feature a lot of crossover from one term to the other. Ultimately, it’s up to you to honestly decide whether you have an issue or not with pornography and more importantly, what you’re going to do about it should you conclude there may be something there.

For the purposes of this article, let’s assume that much like there are people who can drink, play video games, gamble or eat in moderation – yet are not addicted, nor have a problem – that there are also people who can view and utilize pornography in moderation. At what point does “recreational” use start to bleed into being a problem? Asking yourself these questions may help point you in the right direction:

Is there any sort of trauma in your past? This doesn’t necessarily have to be sexual abuse, either. It can be physical or emotional. Roughly 90% of full-blown addicts of anything can trace their past to find some kind of meaningful trauma. With porn addicts, the number is 94%. That still leaves an opening to be an addict with no pre-existing trauma, but the two often go hand-in-hand. If your parent killed themselves in front of you, a sibling molested you, or any number of other major negative events in your life happened as a young person, addiction may be a symptom of how you deal with that trauma.

Is there any co-occurring disorder or previous addiction existing? While not at the numbers of trauma and addiction, more full-blown addicts have some kind of mental health issue than those who don’t.  These mental health problems may include bipolar disorder, PTSD, OCD, depression, anxiety and a number of other diagnoses. Also, it is very easy for someone who is addicted to one substance or behavior to become addicted to another. Addictive behavior is not limited to one addiction at a time, although there are people who trade addictions, successfully battling one obsession only to take on another.

Are you addicted to pornography or masturbation? In my case, it didn’t take long to recognize once the porn was removed from my life, masturbation dropped to almost nothing. I masturbated more as an indicator to end a porn-viewing session than anything else. There are many people who have the opposite story. They were able to easily stop watching porn because it turned out pleasuring themselves was their actual vice. There’s a fairly easy way to determine which you’re addicted to, or if it’s both. For the next week or two, allow yourself to look at porn, but don’t utilize it to masturbate. Conversely, masturbate all you want, but do it without visual aids. You should be able to determine a trend among obsessive thoughts where your addictions truly lay.

Are there rituals around your use? Addicts generally use in the same way almost all the time. My alcohol use, which was certainly an addiction, came with rituals. I never drank cans of beer. It was either a bottle or in a pint glass when I was away from home. Corona, specifically, couldn’t touch my lips without a lemon or lime wedge. At home, I didn’t drink beer, just tequila and Red Bull. I’d only drink at night at home, and it always had to be in one of the three large plastic tumblers we had. I always poured the tequila and Red Bull the same way, almost parfait-style. First a dash of Red Bull, then tequila, then Red Bull, then tequila, and so on until the tumbler was full. That’s routine, or ritual and is common with addicts.

Do you lie to others, or yourself, about your usage? OK, it’s pornography, I get it. We all want to pretend that we’ve never looked at it, despite statistics saying those that don’t are in the massive minority. When the topic of pornography comes up in mixed company, do you stay quiet? Do you try to hide the role pornography plays in your life, especially the amount of time spent looking? Would you like about the time you spend if asked point-blank? When you’re finished looking at it, do you make deals with yourself that you won’t spend as much time engaged in the activity, yet you can’t keep the promises to yourself? Are you spending any money on pornography outside of typical Internet fees? Do you find yourself sometimes picking isolating to look at porn over other activities? Do you rationalize that the time you spend or material you look at is not as extreme as others with addiction, so if they have a problem, you have less than a problem? The answers are all small red flags that add up.

I am by no means a doctor, but do know how I answered these questions when I was in the throes of my addiction. I’ve also done more research and met more pornography addicts than most professionals, not to mention I’ve been through plenty of group and one-on-one therapy for my formerly rampant addictions. I understand if you don’t like your answers and want to discredit my opinion…but that may also be a sign you want to avoid the truth about your addiction.

As I mentioned earlier, anybody can diagnose you as an addict, but what matters is that you believe you have a problem. More importantly is deciding what you’re going to do about it. Next time, we’ll talk about what to do next when you’ve reached the conclusion you need to do something about your problem.

 

Q&A Time: Reader Wonders About PMO and NoFap as Porn Addiction Cures

QUESTION: What do you think of these PMO/NoFap sites out there for porn addiction? Do they actually work?

ANSWER: I guess it’s one of those “Results May Vary” situations and if they are able to stop the addiction and send you into recovery, then it’s a success. I’ve always said whether it’s rehab, 12-step groups, therapy or cold turkey, as long as you take care of the addiction, it probably isn’t as important the path. That said, I have reservations about these kinds of sites.

For the unaware, PMO stands for “Pornography, Masturbation, Orgasm” and NoFap is a slang term for abstaining from masturbation. This PMO/NoFap movement, from what I’ve researched, came out of the site Reddit, with men challenging each other to abstain from these activities.

Some men came to find that when they abstained, their lives became better, so they became devoted to this concept, singing its praises almost like a religion. They usually don’t mention that this all came to pass because of a popular Seinfeld episode, “The Contest” where the main characters try not to masturbate to win a bet. These might also be the people who celebrate Festivus.

I post on several message boards in the pornography addiction community, more as a porn addiction expert than as a person in recovery because I’m looking down the road at 5 years coming up. I’ll never be recovered, but at some point, you make way for the new guys who need the attention.

I sometimes get a little bit of flack on these boards because I’m a big believer of a medicinal/therapeutic approach to addiction vs. a holistic/DIY-style approach. I’ve never done a study nor read one about it, but I can’t help but believe based on what I’ve witnessed that science has it all over basic willpower and other guys cheering you on. Willpower and cheers are what push fat guys to succeed in softball leagues.

I think these boards can be an important part of recovery, but the number of guys who relapse and who don’t want to face the real core issues of their addiction – and many don’t want to call it an addition, period – is much greater than the people like me who ventured down a more traditional healthcare path.

Also, there are a lot of sites out there that have done little more than commoditize porn addiction recovery. Most of these sites will have very simple programs to follow (for a low fee) and like to sell T-shirts to college kids with slogans like “Porn Kills Love”. It’s catchy, but that shirt won’t resolve your childhood trauma.

Despite many PMO/NoFap devotees not wanting to admit they are addicts because that creates a different set of issues to contend with, I truly believe addiction is just a symptom of a larger issue. You can white-knuckle it for a month and not look at porn or masturbate, but have you really dealt with the core issues?

This has been part of my reservation to endorse 12-step programs on their own. I know they help. Heck, they helped me, but they really don’t deal with the scientific concept of addiction. I’ve met many people in AA who are still hardcore drunks despite the fact they haven’t had a drink in two decades. It’s because they haven’t dealt with the problem that caused their alcoholism.

If PMO or NoFap works for you and that’s all you need, fantastic. If it’s part of a larger program of recovery, great. I have no qualms with anybody mixing and matching recovery techniques in designing their own program. My problem arises when men fixate on this as the ONLY solution and stick with it despite relapsing again and again and again. That’s not recovery. That’s failure.

 

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

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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.