I’m Still Stereotyping Addicts…Are You?

I had a terrific discussion last night with a mental health professional and we talked about the stigmatizing stereotypes around not just pornography addiction, but addiction in general. I recognized that for some addictions, I probably still have a bit of “smartening up” to do.

One of the things I preach whenever I talk to a group or do an interview is that there is no stereotypical porn addict. I was a white-collar, married, father-of-two who was seen as a pillar of the community. Heck, when you think “porn addict,” you probably don’t think of a guy who was awarded the Key to the City. But I know people also don’t think 50-year-old female nurse, or high school art teacher or well-respected dentist, but I met these people and dozens if not hundreds more during my journey.

Do you know who I didn’t meet? The pimply-faced, 19-year-old who is living in mother’s basement who is socially awkward and has never kissed a girl in real life, but I think this is most people’s image of who a porn addict is. I’m sure he’s out there, but I’ve never met him.

We talked about my belief that this kind of stereotyping helped contribute to the opiate/opioid crisis. The drug problem we face today shouldn’t come as a surprise. There are episodes of Dragnet from the late 1970s where they are talking about the dangers of heroin. You can go back to rap music from the late 1980s and early 1990s where they are talking about abusing Vicodin. It’s not like we didn’t see it coming. Opiates/opioids were not invented in 2009, yet it only seems like we’ve cared about it for 10 years or so.

Why? I think it’s because we put such a stigma on drug users in the 1980s through many of the anti-drug campaigns. “Just Say No to Drugs” is a good message, but I think my 8-year-old mind also heard, “…because those who say yes to drugs are dangerous and/or bad people.” I believe as a society, we looked down on drug users as being from the wrong side of the tracks. We may have had a distant cousin or a friend-of-a-friend who had a cocaine issue, never imaging how close to home the opiate/opioid epidemic would eventually hit for most people only a couple decades later.

That same decade, we gave a lot of attention to AIDS. It was really the cause of the 1980s, and I’m not saying that’s a bad thing. Thankfully, a ton of money went into research to create drugs like AZT and societal standards, like how donated blood is handled or needle exchanges for IV drug users, changed. Earlier this month, it was the anniversary of Magic Johnson announcing he was HIV positive. Remember when that happened? Many of you are probably too young because it took place November 1991. Everyone thought he’d be dead in a year because up until that point, people died that quickly. Twenty-eight years later, he’s still here. I bring up AIDS because it shows what we can do as a society when we heap attention, money and research on a problem: We can solve it.

It wasn’t until I went to my first inpatient rehab that I actually met heroin users. I met meth users and pill poppers and people whose alcohol addiction made mine seem like a walk in the park. Essentially, I met people who I would have crossed the street to avoid before I got there.

What I recognized was that these were some of the most real people in the world. They didn’t judge me and they helped create a safe space where I could be myself and share my truth. Unlike the people who I dealt with every day in my professional life, they were open and honest and made me feel OK for being who I really was. Luckily, I adapted quickly and changed my attitude about who drug users really were. I needed to meet these people before I could change my mind.

The same is true about those with eating disorders. At the second rehab I was at there were probably 8 women and 1 man in their eating disorder program. Sex/porn addicts have a lot in common with people who suffer with eating disorders. I’ve only had this proven further to me in the fact that this blog about it is the most read entry in the history of this site.

In getting to know several of these women very well, I can tell you that not all of them were stick thin. I don’t think anything they ever saw on TV or in a fashion magazine led them to become the way they were. Some of them could be quite complimentary toward certain parts of their appearance. Getting to know them one-on-one blew apart 95% of the stereotypes I had about women with eating disorders.

I’ve not met any people who need a 12-step group like Codependents Anonymous, but I don’t have the greatest stereotype of codependent people in my head, nor do I about people who end up with video game addiction or a few other maladies out there. The conversation I had last night made me recognize that I still classify certain people a certain way because I just haven’t had the personal interaction with them, yet I’ve had enough interaction with other kinds of people that I should know better by now.

I’m not going to wait until January 1 to start. My November 22 resolution is to stop stereotyping people who suffer from any addiction or behavioral disorder.

Why do I have a pornography addiction awareness blog?

I was giving an interview to a podcast yesterday and was giving my standard answer to the “Why did you write this book?” question and it occurred to me that I don’t think I’ve ever directly answered the question on this blog which is strange, because the two reasons I write this blog are the same two reasons why I wrote the book.

1. To reach my fellow addicts who need to go get help

First, for addicts, or people who engage in pornography use more than they wish, I try to use my experience as a cautionary tale. Statistics suggest that one-out-of-three men between the ages of 18 and 35 believe they use too much pornography, have a problem with it, or are in the throes of a full-blown addiction.

I didn’t recognize I had a pornography addiction until long after I was arrested for inappropriate behavior with a teenager in a chat room. I believe one of the reasons that I never thought about porn addiction was that I never heard anybody talking about it.

Would it have stopped me before I let it get too far? I don’t know, nor will I ever know, but I can at least try to be that voice I never heard.

If you believe that you have a pornography addiction, please begin to get some help. That could mean a 12-step group, rehab, a therapist, online forums, research…whatever. Just don’t sit there are let the addiction fester. Check out the Resources page for more info on multiple ways to get help.

I know there is an addict reading this now who thinks, “I may have an addiction, but it clearly wasn’t as bad as yours.”

That’s probably true, and consider yourself lucky you have yet to reach the critical point that I did. If you think that I had some idea I’d ever reach the place where I was capable of going into a chatroom, look for a woman to talk to and make the mistake of engaging a teenager…well, you’re wrong.

I would have sworn to you probably up to the last two or three months before I made that horrible mistake I was incapable of doing such a thing – and I would have been telling the truth.

The gambling addict never thinks they’ll lose the house, the guy who snorts cocaine never thinks he’ll be putting a needle in his arm, the person who find solace in food never thinks they’ll get to 300 pounds.

If you have a problem – it doesn’t have to be an actual addiction yet – get some help soon. Stop this before it festers into something you can’t control.

2. To remind non-addicts there is no stereotypical addict

If you’re a male under 40 years old and you don’t look at pornography regularly, you are in the minority. If you’re a female under 40 that doesn’t visit a pornographic website at least twice a year, you’re in the minority. 98% of married men and 70% of married women under 35 report having looked at pornography at least once in the last six months. It’s not just people born post-1978 either.

Most people look at porn, but they won’t admit it. I think that they believe that people like themselves don’t look at porn and they are an exception. We need to acknowledge that more people look at porn than ever before, even if they’re not talking about it.

When I was in rehab for porn addiction, in 12-step groups, or in a group therapy setting, one thing always struck me: These are not similar people. I have met doctors, nurses, lawyers, teachers, people ranging in age from 19 to 78, the rich, poor and everything in between. I’ve met several women and people who can claim to be of just about every race.

Why is it important that we not stereotype who a porn addict may be? When we stereotype, we miss the outliers. If we’re led to believe that every porn addict is a 22-year-old pimply faced kid who lives in his mom’s basement and has never kissed a girl, we’re going to miss all of the others. It’s kind of like how we seemed to all agree that opiod users in the 1980s and early 90s were homeless types who weighed next to nothing and were making bad choices, not actually sick people. Now, almost everyone knows someone struggling with opiods and they don’t fit the morally bankrupt hobo profile.

Your husband, daughter, father, co-worker, clergy member, etc., may not only look at porn, they may have a problem with it. How would you really know?

I was a 37-year-old civic-minded business owner with a wife and two kids when my recovery began. I believe that the reason I had so much negative fallout locally was not only because of the charges against me, but because the community felt duped. Since I didn’t wear the tag of pornography addict on my sleeve, I certainly couldn’t be one, right? Well, they were wrong and I think felt betrayed for it. The reality is, you can’t spot a porn addict. The moment you think you can, you’re stereotyping and potentially missing something important.