Spotting the Signs of Pornography Addiction, Updated

I’m putting a new introduction and conclusion on this blog entry, but the meat of it ran on December 11, 2017. It is the most frequently viewed article on this site and really speaks to the reason I put the site up in the first place.

Porn addiction is a very real thing. Since this blog first appeared, the World Health Organization finally included Sexual Impulse Disorder among its diagnosable conditions in its International Classification of Diseases (ICD) guidebook used by mental health clinicians worldwide. Hopefully the American Psychiatric Association will update their Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Medical Disorders (DSM), which tends to be favored by American clinicians (and insurance companies) when it comes to this disease.

Porn addiction really is a disease, and like any disease, there are stages. 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.

I look back on this article 13 months after I initially posted it and can even more recognize my life during those stages. The further I get down the recovery road, the more surprising it is that I didn’t recognize a problem sooner. I guess my alcoholism, mainly because of the attention it gets from the mainstream, grabbed my attention.

Well over 1,000 people looked at the first version of this article. I hope that they walked away with the two points I’ve consistently tried to make about pornography addiction: First, it can happen to anyone. There is not stereotypical addict. I could line 10 people up and tell you to pick the five addicts and it would be an exercise in futility. Second, if you have a problem, get some help. It’s OK to admit that you can’t do this on your own. The most important thing is you get up before things get to that critical point. If they can get critical for me, they can get critical for everyone.

Since this article went up, I’ve appeared on around 60 podcasts, radio and TV shows talking about pornography addiction, sharing many of these warning signs. Hopefully it’s done some good. If you’d like to check any of them out, visit HERE. As for seeking help, or simply to learn more about the addiction, check out the RESOURCES page and if that doesn’t do it for you, just contact me directly HERE.

 

Q&A Time: Should I Go to Inpatient Rehab for My Addiction?

QUESTION: I have been told by my girlfriend that she thinks I should go to rehab for my porn addiction. I don’t think I need to leave for a month because it’s not that bad. What should I do?

ANSWER: This is probably worth a conversation with a professional so they can weigh-in. Assuming they don’t see losing you for a month or two as lost revenue, they’ll probably guide you in the right direction.

I probably urge people to go to inpatient rehab quicker than most, but that’s because my two stints, first for alcohol and a year later for porn, were the most transformative experiences of my life. Both times I walked into the facility as one person and walked out somebody else.

It’s easy to make excuses why you shouldn’t go. You have a job, help with the kids, have other responsibilities. I would counter that needing a break to take care of one’s health is just as important as all of those things.

My wife ran the house when I did my 10-week and 7-week stints at inpatient rehab, respectively. Thankfully, we were in a financial position where that was possible, but even if we didn’t have savings, I would have found a way. I would have asked for help from family and friends. People don’t want to do that, but people generally like to help people who are helping themselves. Insurance can help and many of these places will consider payment plans. If finances preclude you from one rehab, keep shopping around. I had horrible insurance for my alcohol rehab. I just flat-out couldn’t go to most, but eventually, I found one and I can’t imagine it being a more positive experience if the amenities had been better. I haven’t had a drink since I went there. Isn’t that the point?

I’ve encountered so many people who make excuses why they can’t go to rehab, and while they are almost always valid, I also bring up the point that my wife ran the household for six months while I served my jail sentence. In that case, I did have to ask my parents for help, and it wasn’t a surprise when they were there for us.

With jail, I didn’t have a choice to go or not. We had to adapt. What would happen if your partner was caught for drunk driving and sentenced to 30 days. Would your world implode? Probably not. You’d figure it out and you’d get through it. My wife is proof of that. You can adapt when you HAVE to, and since this is your health we’re talking about, it makes sense to adapt.

I actually think the time that I was away was like a rehab for my family. They needed time away from my energy and my illness. They needed to reconnect instead of hovering around me like satellites. I actually made the comment to my wife shortly thereafter that they all seemed to be far more functional and healthy when I returned both times because they didn’t have to deal with me.

I know people who have had successful recovery having never stepped foot into rehab and I know plenty of people who have never been able to get into a recovery groove despite having gone to rehab five or six times. Like anything, it’s the level of commitment one puts into their recovery. It’s hard, really hard some days, but rehab was the foundation upon which I built my recovery.

I truly believe I would not have had the strength to maintain recovery as well as I did had I not gone to recovery and begun the process of understanding how I became the person I did. Maybe I would have reached the same place over a longer time period with just one-on-one and group therapy at home, but I know just how much inpatient rehab did for me.

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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: While many call me a pornography addiction expert, 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.

MAJOR NEWS: Compulsive Sexual Behavior will now be labeled as ‘Mental Health Condition’ by World Health Organization

Yes, it will probably take another decade of studies until the DSM (the Bible of Psychiatric Diagnostics), accepts it as a diagnosis, but the World Health Organization (WHO) has just released its latest literature, The ICD-11 (11th version of the International Classification of Diseases) and compulsive sexual behavior is now listed as a diagnosable mental health condition.

This is actually a super huge deal.

Why is this so important? Because health professionals around the world treat this as one of the most important guides to diagnose physical and mental health issues. It’s also used by government agencies around the globe. The WHO is a well-respected organization with no political agenda.

If you’re reading this from the US, you’ll get this analogy: It would be like NBC (WHO) going on the air 10 minutes before everyone and announcing there was an earthquake. Ten minutes later ABC and CBS (DSM) would catch up. It’s akin to breaking news and now it will take a long time to understand what the real fallout is.

Unfortunately, many insurance agencies side with the DSM when it comes to these kind of things. I had to be processed into rehab with an impulse control disorder to have insurance cover my treatment. Even gambling addiction, which is recognized by the DSM, is still scoffed at as a legitimate diagnoses by many insurance companies.

While WHO came just short of calling this compulsive sexual behavior and addiction, it does define it as preoccupation to the point of obsession with and loss of control over sexual fantasy and behavior.

So the next time somebody says to you “Sex addiction isn’t real” or “Porn addiction isn’t real” you can punch them in the stomach and say, “Well Joshua Shea and the World Health Organization says it is!”

We now return you to Wheel of Fortune, already in progress….

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Getting Trivial Things Off My Chest – June Edition

I know these secondary, late-week posts usually come out on Thursday, but I’m especially avoiding work today and I really hope that none of you have lives that are so empty you’re setting your clock by when I post something. I mean, I’m flattered if you do, but you really should go outside more if that’s the case.

Speaking of being flattered, I don’t want anybody who nominates me for the Sunshine Liebster Mystery Super-Cool Flying Monkey and Friends Award to think I don’t appreciate it. I do, very much. It’s the kind of thing I would have rolled around in like catnip seven or eight years ago. Somewhere on my front page would be a giant list of all the awards I’ve won to prove I’m special. I could say I’m all healed, but I often wonder if I look at appearances on podcasts and radio shows as my catnip these days. Anyway, thank you for nominating me for these, but I feel like they don’t quite mesh with what I’m trying to do with this site. If you want to award me with something, write a positive review of my book on Amazon. It could stand a few new ones.

In that last paragraph, I mention that podcasts/radio interviews have replaced capturing awards as my currency of validation. That’s the cynical way of looking at it. You could say I’m not at all better than I was when it comes to validation by attention and the difference between a plaque on the wall of my former office and a jpeg of a radio station logo on my website are negligible. The other side is to say that I’m trying to build a reputation as a pornography addiction expert and one of the ways to build a reputation as a porn addiction expert is by showing others regard you as such. I think the easiest way to do this is to somehow say, “Look! These people think I’m a porn addict expert!” If all of these other people have said I’m an expert, then surely it can only help my future as an author or speaker on the subject, right? Isn’t what I’m doing just marketing?

Having the struggle of “potential past negative behavior” vs. “actual important marketable skill” is an internal debate I’ve had a lot recently. Maybe not exactly in those terms, but I’ve been left wrestling with different facets of my personality, and the positive or negative spin I put on them. During recovery I think I made the mistake of believing everything that made me who I was could be attributed for my downfall. I had a good work ethic…but I recast it as unhealthy obsession during early recovery. My charisma was relabeled a negative defense mechanism. My eccentric, creative streak was, upon further review, seen as a deficit of a broken mind. Now I’m left wondering if I was overcompensating during early recovery, trying to eradicate everything I was because of where it led me. Or, was I 100% correct in early recovery and now I’m looking for faults in early recovery thinking so I can excuse certain aspects of my personality?

Maybe having that kind of internal debate is an indicator things are better than they used to be. I didn’t wrestle with this kind of stuff in the past.  Maybe there is no right and wrong. Maybe it’s all just a matter of interpreting and I can’t view these things with blanket policies. Is it self-indulgent to list every interview I’ve done? Sure. Will that help me get other interviews eventually leading to more opportunities? Probably. Is my sobriety toward either porn or alcohol in jeopardy because of this behavior? Not that I have felt, and I’ve obviously really, truly over-examined it.

Sometimes I wonder if the cartoonist who drew the animation I use on this monthly article knows his “guy screaming at stoner” creation is used on a site about recovering from porn addiction, and if not, what they’d think when you told them.

I have no idea what the reason is, but over the last 7-10 days, I’m doing double the traffic on this site than I have been, so thank you to all of the new people for checking things out and the regulars for coming back. I know if I took the word “porn” out of the title and put “fashion” I could get 10 times the views, but I’m not really doing this for quantity. I’d rather have 75 people quietly visit this site per day and get something out of it than 750 trolling their likes and only looking at the pictures. Again, thanks, I appreciate your continued quality support.

What did it feel like to be a porn addict?

As I was reconfiguring my home page yesterday, feeling it was time to freshen things up by giving the book promotion a less prominent place, while still feeding my ego by listing all of the podcasts and radio shows I’ve done, I recognized that unlike Playboy magazine, people actually do come here for the articles and one I’ve never written about is what it felt like to be a pornography addict. Yes, that run-on sentence was 71 words.

It was shameful and lonely.

During most of my recovery, I’ve operated under the idea that I got some very mixed messages about sex and sexuality when I was a kid, and while that’s true, all of the messages were received in a negative way. Whether it was the conservative Catholic attitude of my parents or the inappropriate actions of my caregiver, I was left feeling like sexuality was a bad thing at about the age of 5.

Knowing that, on the surface it seems odd that I would have had such a visceral positive reaction to seeing pornography for the first time as a 10-year-old. You’d almost think I should recoil in disgust. Instead, for the first time, I found a “safe” outlet for my sexuality and although it would be many years before I regularly had my hands on the stuff, but I was an addict the first time I saw it.

Once I had the resources and ability to regularly consume porn, I knew it was an activity that you don’t talk about, pretend you’ve never heard of it, and talk down about the people who do use it or treat it all as a big joke. In essence, you’re denying who you really are.

Why? Because of the shame. Because you desperately don’t want to feel the humiliation or distress that comes from being judged not just by others, but by yourself. You know you’re doing something society has deemed as abnormal and wrong that’s rotting your soul, but you can’t stop. You can’t stop because you’re weak and that weakness is another reason to be ashamed.

It’s also a solitary addiction. My alcoholism was much more of a social addiction. It’s OK to drink. It’s even OK to drink too much from time to time. How many stories in this world have started with, “There was this one time that I was totally wasted…” I think a real argument can be made that my alcoholism was more critical for a longer time than the porn. I don’t feel nearly the shame about that. Maybe I should, or maybe the porn has vacuumed it all up, but I think it’s about how society views alcohol vs. porn.

While the very end result of indulging a porn addiction, a three-second orgasm, obviously feels good, there is nothing to enjoy about being a pornography addict. It’s a search for something that you can connect with because you can’t connect in usual ways to the outside world. It’s a search for intimacy and it’s a way to just block out all of those things that have happened to you that were out of your control when you were younger. It’s a lonely, lonely path.

I think one of the biggest reasons for writing my book, maintaining this website and offering advisement/support is simply because I wish somebody would have told me, “You’re not a freak. You’re not a bad person. You’re not the only one. It’s OK, you’re just ill and need to deal with some painful things and there are people who will help you in a safe, non-judgmental environment out there. It’s going to be OK.”

These days, I feel like a pornography addiction expert. I can quote stats all day long, have met dozens of people in real life and hundreds online with the issue, I read about it like there’s no tomorrow and of course, what porn addict expert isn’t complete without his own tale. But just because I may be a pornography addiction expert doesn’t mean I don’t still think about that dark place I was many years before I knew porn addiction was a thing or anybody else was dealing with the same thing.

You don’t have to live with the shame and the isolation of pornography addiction. Yes, it’s going to take society a long time to come around to treating pornography as an addiction, but you can do the research on alcohol and see how they treated alcoholics in the early 1900s. You’d rather be a porn addict now than an alcoholic then. It may not be in our lifetime, but society will come around. But you can’t wait for that.

You’re OK, and you can be much better. You’re not alone. Just reach out for help.

Addict or Not, Therapy is Something All People Should Consider

I’m starting this about an hour before I head to my biweekly therapy session and it occurred to me that I’ve never really written at any length about the role it has played in my life during my addictive phase or the major piece it has been on my journey in recovery.

I first went to a therapist when I was 20. In late August that year, my close friend Mark was killed by a drunk driver and it sent me into a tail spin I had never experienced. After two months of barely being able to get off the couch, I finally went to therapy. While the therapist and I didn’t click, the five or six sessions I had helped me get things back on track.

A couple of years later, when I was (I think) 24, the first long-term relationship of my life ended with my live-in girlfriend. I was not mature enough to be in the kind of grown-up relationship she wanted, but her leaving was much like a death and I spiraled again.

I sought help again and finally clicked with a therapist, but it was when I created my first major misconception about therapy. I was waiting for a magic bullet statement that would put life into perspective. I was waiting for the one directive, the one instruction that would suddenly make sense of everything.

After about 18 months, we stopped with the sessions. I felt like I’d evolved to a good point mentally. Over the next 12 years or so, as I got married, built a family and career, I’d periodically check back in with him and eventually saw a couple of other therapists for small 4-6 week chunks for a tune-up, but never clicked with any of them.

The reality was that I was never 100% honest with them. I downplayed my alcoholism and never mentioned my porn addiction. I was just waiting for the secret and thought it was taking a very long time and an awful lot of therapists and I still had nothing. Talking to someone always helped, but they weren’t FIXING me.

 

Going into therapy for real

Then, the police showed up at my door and life as I knew it came to a grinding halt. I hadn’t seen a therapist in probably five years at that point. I was riding too high on my own BS to notice what was happening and dearly paid the price.

One of the first things I did was to go see my doctor and get a referral to a new therapist. This was within 48 hours of being arrested and while I was a little uncomfortable with the fact I was being referred to a woman for the first time, beggars couldn’t be choosers at that point.

I don’t remember much of our first two sessions prior to leaving for 10 weeks for alcohol rehab on the other side of the country. The one thing I do remember she said was, “Don’t just play along. Give it a chance and see if you can get something out of it.”

Thankfully, after about a week, I heeded her advice and came to accept I was as textbook alcoholic as they make them.

When I returned, I continued our sessions, usually twice a week, for about nine months. We talked a lot about my anxiety concerning the legal situation swirling around me, but we also about things I had begun uncovering at rehab including abuse from a babysitter, how I viewed sexuality, what drove me to drink, and how someone like me who defined himself based on his professional endeavors was going to exist in a world where I’d never have another white-collar job.

Maybe the rehab helped jumpstart the process, maybe I was just sick and tired of the life I led for so long or maybe it was the fact that it was a woman in my age bracket, but therapy was different this time around. She understood my strange sense of humor. She actually gave me advice. She helped me understand I wasn’t a monster, a pedophile, a scourge on society…but that I did have issues when it came to pornography. If not for her, I never would have attended my second rehab for porn addiction.

I also came to recognize that a therapist is not there the way a doctor who prescribes medication is there. She can’t tell me some magic statement to change everything. It’s called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for a reason. I had to train myself to stop my thought processes dead in their tracks and analyze why I made certain decisions or held certain beliefs. It’s a bit grueling, but it provided more insight into who I was than anything else in the recovery process.

Once you understand who you are, that’s when you can start making changes. Too many people – including me for years – just wanted to skip to the changes part. Therapy doesn’t work that way.

 

A lifelong journey in therapy

I continued to see her after the second rehab and she testified at my sentencing, which I think helped give me reduced time. She visited me in jail and I resumed seeing her regular when I got out six months later and continue to see her to this day, more than four years after I first met her.

We got through the porn and alcohol stuff a while ago, although we do revisit it. Those are really symptoms and we talk about causes.

Now, we’re getting into some of the primordial ooze that is at my deep, deep core. It’s the stuff that is the building blocks of my mind and wired into my DNA. It’s why we’ve gone from weekly one-hour appointments to biweekly two-hour ones. Sometimes I just need to babble for 75 minutes before making some massive breakthrough that I needed four years and (when including the other therapy and rehabs) thousands of hours to get at. Some days, it’s absolutely exhausting and takes so much out of me, but it’s a necessary thing to evolve as a person.

I spend a lot of time on message boards and answering email from addicts and their loved ones. As many of you know, I actually started my own little advising side gig because of the time I spend doing this. While it’s far from professional therapy, I can at least ask a few new questions and raise a couple of issues that the person I’m working with hasn’t considered before. Then, I try to steer them toward professional therapy.

I don’t think it really matters who you are or what your story is. Having somebody who is rooting for you and on your side, yet detached from the ongoing saga of your life, is extremely helpful. I’ve learned that you have to click with the person and they aren’t going to reveal the secret to life to you, but they can guide you to the far reaches of your mind.

That’s a scary place for some people. It was for me and if you told me in the beginning how much work it would be, I wouldn’t be able to fathom the mountain I was going to have to climb. At some point, we may go to monthly one-hour sessions for check-in purposes, but I know therapy will always have a role in my life.

Even if you think you’re the healthiest person in the world, I urge, urge, urge you to consider seeing a therapist. I’m proof that they work and can exponentially make your life a better experience.

 

In Overcoming Addiction, Long-Held Dreams Can Still Come True

It’s fascinating how things work out. Andy Dufresne just wanted to work on a boat project and the younger version of Joshua Shea just wanted to walk into a library and see one of his books on a shelf. Life got in Andy’s way. He was falsely accused of killing his wife, ran a sweet embezzling scheme while behind bars and escaped prison. Of course, he was also a fictional character in The Shawshank Redemption. I, on the other hand, am as real as my mind allows me to be.

Life got in my way, too. When I was 17-year-old high school senior, I saw an ad in my local newspaper’s sports section advertising the position of “sports clerk”. The clerk’s job was to take calls from coaches whose games we didn’t cover either because they were too far away or because we didn’t have the staff and it was deemed unessential for real coverage.

One day, about six weeks after starting, the first round of fall playoff games were rained out. Since the department was down two people, the “real” adult writers were overworked and instead of giving them overtime, they gave them the day off. The editor thought we’d just fill the section with national stories.

A few hours into our shift he came to me and said, “Hey, this is the first year in like a decade the Lewiston High School field hockey team made it to the playoffs. Why don’t you call the coach and have her give you a sense why she thinks they may go far in the playoffs?”

Since I went to Lewiston, I said to my editor, “I’m friends with the two captains, I can call them both, too.” He was impressed I went the extra mile. The next morning, my first bylined story was in the paper.

I almost never had to take another sports clerk call after that day. I was given a staff writer position and was still a high school student. A couple months later, I had proven myself enough that when a job opened in the regular news department, I took it. I fell in love with journalism and never looked back.

Fast-forward 15 years and I’m a magazine publisher, I’d started a film festival and was a local politician. None of this was young Josh’s bucket list stuff. It paid the bills and helped fuel my narcissist side while I hid my addictions, but this stuff was never part of the “dream” plan, they were just good gigs.

As you probably know if you’ve read this site in the past, my world ultimately imploded with my very public arrest for an inappropriate chat room session with a teenage girl. I lost everything I’d worked for professionally. After an intense recovery, I went to serve 6 months in jail. While there, I finally wrote a half-decent book about my addiction. That process revealed to me that I want to help people who are dealing with this issue and help educate those who know nothing and live in a world of stereotypes and assumptions.

When I got out of jail, I continued with recovery and spent the next year editing and polishing the manuscript down to a workable document. I finally found a publisher who would print it.

What’s interesting now, several months after it was officially released is that it’s popping up on the radar of libraries. They automatically get most best sellers or books from the “Big 5” publishers, but little books like mine often go unnoticed.

Thankfully, mine is starting to gain a little bit of traction in the library community. There really isn’t a book written from a male perspective using real names and real events that illustrates a descent into addiction like mine out there. Like the book or hate it, it still can be a resource unlike anything out there and I think that’s why it’s gaining traction.

Not too long ago, I walked into a library that I knew had the book. I went to the New Arrivals section and saw it sitting there, on a shelf with books by authors I recognized and books on subjects I’d want to read about.

Twelve-year-old Josh wouldn’t have believed the subject matter, nor would he have believed that he would write over 2,000 newspaper or magazine articles before his first book would come out, but he would have been psyched to see a book he wrote sitting on a library shelf.

It was a bumpy road on a route to hell and back I’d never advise anybody to take, but there it was…a dream come true.

Morgan Freeman has one of his best voiceover lines of all time at the end of The Shawshank Redemption: “Andy Dufresne crawled out through a river of shit and came out clean on the other side.”

Yeah, that sounds about right.

Kennebunk

If you’d like to see a list of libraries my book is in, Click Here

If you’d like to buy the book, Click Here