Pornography addiction

This is a topic in which I am very emotionally invested, and have a great deal of personal experience.  For those who are unfamiliar with my story, I'll briefly cover some background.  (If you'd like more detail, I'd recommend that you read my book or this blog, and also watch my YouTube videos.)

I started looking at erotic images and pornography when I was in high school, and was addicted to porn until about 2010, when I was 26 or 27.  Just as with masturbation, I felt a great deal of shame and guilt whenever I looked at it, but I found myself compelled to keep going back for more.  I remember several different incidences when I would spend hours on end looking for more and more hardcore stuff to look at.  I was in fact addicted.

I do not think that everyone that looks at pornography is addicted to it.  In fact, I would say that a good percentage of people who view it are not addicted to it.  And I think the main reason for that is they have a healthier understanding of sexuality.

As a Mormon, since viewing pornography is a serious offense, I would confess it to my bishop.  I can count at least 8 different bishops that I confessed to during the time I was struggling with this.  I spent countless hours in the bishop's office, getting advice on how to overcome this temptation and strengthen myself spiritually against the evils of pornography.  Three of my bishops recommended going to see a counsellor about the matter.  I resisted the first two times because I was uncomfortable with the concept of seeing a counsellor.  But, I finally went and it was a very positive experience for me.  I would actually recommend seeing a therapist to anyone who is having rough emotional experiences or difficulty with any major issue in their life.  It's not just for crazy people.

Anyway, I first went to the LDS church's 12 step addiction recovery program, adapted from AA's 12-step program.  I would recommend going, but its effectiveness varies from place to place.  The official policy of the church is that you do not discuss the particulars of your addiction--some people are there for alcoholism, some for narcotics addiction, some for porn addiction, etc.  This makes it rather awkward when discussing your own personal feelings and things like that.  I think the reason the church does this is because they don't want people to give each other ideas or strengthen each other in their desires to participate in their addictions.  But, I think a more open environment is much better.  For me, it was perfect because at the time I went, I was not comfortable admitting to a group of people that I had a problem with pornography.  I had a reputation of being a very straight-laced, upstanding Mormon boy and I wanted to maintain that façade.

After a couple months of going to the addiction recovery group, I reluctantly went to see a therapist.  This was one-on-one.  A couple times Karen came along, but most of the time I was alone (and I continued to go for at least a year after Karen died).  At first, I hated it.  He would pry into my personal life and ask deep, probing questions that I didn't want to discuss.  But, after a few sessions, I opened up, we reached a healthy level of mutual understanding, and I looked forward to my visits with him.  In fact, I would often email him between visits and let him know how I was doing.  It was a very positive experience for me and I think it was an integral part of me becoming more authentic to myself and to others.  I matured emotionally a great deal while visiting with him.

Around the time I started seeing my therapist, I also started this online program designed specifically for helping people overcome pornography addiction.  I believe it is a good resource, and I would recommend it to anyone who feels they are addicted and wants help to overcome.  The main appeal to me was that it described the science behind how the brain works and why it becomes so easily addicted to pornography.  It was very educational, and I think that knowledge was a big part of what enabled me to break free of my addiction.

Now, having given a little bit of my own background, I want to say that while I believe that pornography addiction can be just as damaging and consuming as any other addiction, I think that the radically conservative sexual views taught by many churches is just as, or even more, harmful.  Just as I discussed in my two recent posts about sex, I think that the LDS church, and many others, goes way too far in its proscription of sexuality.  This article here is an example of how extreme it can be.  I do think that helping young men/boys overcome sexual addictions is important, but the militaristic setup of this camp has it all wrong.  One of its key philosophies, that's been proven wrong, is that keeping someone physically active will drain them of their sex drive.  It's nonsense, and practices like this should be shut down and exposed.

I participated in a support group moderated by my therapist that was specifically for LDS men who were struggling with pornography addiction.  I got to know one of the participants very well.  He had lost all hope of ever recovering from his addiction.  He felt that the temptation was simply too strong--that he nearly always had an overwhelming urge to look at pornography.  It consumed his thoughts.  I felt so bad for him, but there was nothing I could do to help him.  Nothing I or the therapist could say would give him hope that he could overcome his addiction.  And, the whole time I just kept thinking that he wouldn't be nearly as addicted as he is if he hadn't grown up in a church that so harshly judges any deviation from the sexual prescription dictated by its dogma.  I honestly believe that if he had grown up in a house where it was okay to look at porn, and it was okay to masturbate, that he would not be as addicted as he is.  This is the great danger that I see in having such rigid and radical views on sex and pornography.

What do I mean by this.  I have said that I am no longer addicted to pornography, and I am not.  I no longer feel any overwhelming need to look.  I never spend hours at a time looking at pornography.  I am not addicted, in any sense of the word.  Now, I do look at porn, erotic images, etc.  I do, and I don't think there's anything wrong with it.  I feel no shame attached to it.  I feel no guilt.  I believe it is a healthy expression of my sexuality.  I don't think there's anything wrong with being aroused by an image on a screen.  I don't think there's anything wrong with fantasizing about doing certain things with people that you see on your screen, or by yourself, or whatever.  I think this is a natural part of a healthy human expressing his/her sexuality.

This is a very delicate subject, and I hope to address all of the particular points of interest.  Now, while I do not think there is anything wrong with pornography or viewing it and enjoying it, I do want to make the disclaimer that there are many things that are intimately related to pornography that I think are very bad.  As I mentioned before, being addicted to pornography can be very harmful.  It can eat up your time and inhibit your ability to function at work or in your family.  If you're looking at porn and keeping that secret from your sex partner(s), that can be a scourge on your relationship, eventually destroying it.  And, if looking at porn is causing you to objectify people, that is also unhealthy.

In my opinion, the real question is not whether a person looks at erotic/pornographic images or not, it is whether they have a healthy outlook on sex or not.  Someone with healthy sexual views can watch porn and not objectify the people in the video or people in real life because of it.  But, someone can easily let it become unhealthy by thinking of the people in the video (or, more importantly, people that they know in real life) as sexual objects whose purpose is to gratify their own sexual urges.  This is not healthy.  It can lead someone to commit horrible acts that they would not otherwise do such as rape and molestation.

Again, I don't think it's the porn that's harmful.  I think it's people repressing their sex drives because they belong to a conservative church, and then all of that pent-up sexual energy manifests itself in horrific ways when the coping methods they've been using to control themselves break down.  I think the very best analogy I can think of is eating.  Suppose that you were literally starving to death--and I don't mean in the exaggerated sense that we Americans often use the word.  I mean, in the third-world country sense of you literally haven't eaten anything in days or weeks and if you don't eat soon you might die.  Then consider your life the way it is--you eat at regular intervals.  Pretty much any time you're hungry, you eat.  You don't go for more than maybe a couple hours of being hungry before you eat something.  The first scenario (being starved) is clearly unhealthy and the second (being well-fed) is healthy.

Now imagine two people--one from each scenario--both being presented with a buffet.  They will react differently.  The starving person might binge--they might try to eat as much as they can as fast as they can.  And, indeed, if they did so, they would become instantly sick.  That would be the worst thing they could possibly do to remedy their starvation.  The well-fed person, on the other hand, might overeat, but wouldn't feel any particularly strong need to eat as much as possible as fast as possible, and most likely they would simply eat a couple plates of food and then be done, not wanting to have the uncomfortable feeling of being stuffed or of getting a stomach ache.

This is analogous to sexual health.  The starving person represents someone who is sexually repressed--someone who is not engaging in the necessary sexual acts to satisfy his own body's needs.  The well-fed person represents someone who does satisfy his sexual needs.  The latter has far less problem controlling himself when a "buffet" comes along (maybe a chance to surf the net with no one looking, or possibly an opportunity for date rape or child molestation), because he's already satisfied sexually.  The former is far more likely to latch on to such an opportunity and milk it for all it's worth, because this is one of the very few chances that he gets to quench his sexual thirst.  This is precisely why sexual repression and extremely conservative sexual views are so highly dangerous.

I know these two different feelings--that of being sexually starved and that of being sexually well-fed because I have lived in both conditions.  For years and years, I starved myself sexually.  I repressed the urge to masturbate, I was celibate.  And now, I view my sex drive the same way I view my hunger pangs--when I feel the need, I satisfy the need.  I now have no sexual addictions of any kind.  It doesn't consume my thoughts, it doesn't encroach upon my personal life at work or at home.  When I was addicted to porn, I would spend all of the time I wasn't looking at porn thinking about all of the juicy pornographic images I would look up the next time I was looking at it.  Now, I don't do that.  I don't need to.  My sexual needs are being met.  I don't have to obsess about it.  I don't act compulsively.  If I'm hungry, I grab a bite to eat.  If I'm full, I go about my life as usual.