Are you a Porn Addict?

When it comes to Sex Addiction – for me,  I am not sure, for me the Jury is still out.   Perhaps that comes from working in Mental Health in Soho,  an area that has rightly always been associated with sex.   However,  over that time we saw more and more cases of people addicted to Porn.

When it comes to Porn addiction I throw my hands up on the air and admit I’m a believer, Porn addiction is real, its easy to get into, for the young is a real problems and its thriving.

Let me break it down for you.

The nature of addictions

To understand any mental illness you have to appreciate one thing – what you are looking at is not the issue – its the body/psyches answer to the real issue. It’s a coping mechanism, a way of managing feelings like depression or anxiety.  If our way of avoiding those bad feelings is  an addictive substance or process (like eating, watching porn, or gambling)  then our ‘great’ solution’ takes on a life of its own, and we excahnge an inner problems, loneliness, anxiety, or depression for something worse.

Here are the classical addictive substances, Tobacco, Alcohol, Opiates (Heroin and a plethora of derivatives) and Coffee. Few people come to therapy with a bad coffee problem but its classified as an addictive substance.

Russell Brand described Heroin as “A bit moorish” and that a perfect description because all these substances are very pleasurable but as time goes on you need more and more to give you that original hit (which is another definition of an addiction substance).  The classical addictive substances are,  Tobacco, Alcohol, Opiates (Heroin and a plethora of derivatives) and Coffee. Few people come to therapy with a bad coffee problem but its classified as an addictive substance.

Activities can also become addictive. Eating can become addictive – you develop what is politely called a ‘disorder’.  Well Porn Addiction is similar to having an eating disorder because its an an addiction to an activity rather than a substance and some 37% of Sex Addicts also have an eating disorder.

And here is a third part of the addiction definition.   It takes you beyond the boundaries of who you feel yourself to be  – it owns you,  you do not own it, and believe me, ‘addiction’ can lead you down some pretty dark roads.  In Alcoholics Anonymous there is a saying that ‘until you reach Rock Bottom you cant start recovery’.  And that is sort-of-true.  You come to a point when you can not longer live with your own behaviour.  That’s a great place for a change,  however you can always reach Rock-bottom and keep digging.

So whats the big problem here? 

I want you to imagine that someone takes coffee, an already addictive substance (but who cares?) and adds an ingredient that makes it 1000 times more addictive, and then delivers it to you for free.  Now,  you would be necking Java night and day.  Coffee would switch from being  a simple Starbucks pleasure to a health sapping nightmare.

For Porn that mystery ingredient,  that multiplier, is the high speed Internet.  You have a constant supply of porn 24/7 much of available no charge or on low charge subscriptions.   There is no need to fight against the shame of going into sex shops for your dose,  no embarrassment in the Newsagents and no problem in serving the under 18’s – you’ll have no worries about hiding your porn collection from mom or your wife and every taste is catered for.  There are no opening hours day and night its available.  Plus, remember the test for addictive substances is – the more you use,  the more you need.   In the beginning when you take heroin you just need a little taste, after a short while,  that teeny-weeny dose no longer hits the spot and you’ll need a mother lode.  Porn is the same and it will take you to some very dark places.

Porn gazing is like ‘time-out’.  You are not in normal consciousness.  It’s an altered state, devoid of normal standards of self control.  It is my contention that much of the downloaded kiddy porn is not due to old fashioned pedophilia so much as it is the Porn Addicts search for more forbidden material.

Addiction has a function.  It blots out our anxieties and depressions.  And so,  if you stop using porn,  you are likely to feel the very things that your addiction helped block out,  and that’s when a proper therapist really helps.    This is specialised work. ( http://www.cosrt.org.uk/ Is where you will find properly trained professionals).

And so what’s so harmful? 

Your sex drive is the fuel that drives relationship.  When puberty kicks in boys tend to become fixated around getting a girlfriend or about not having a girlfriend.  We go looking for a partner.  Sex is mysterious and it’s also terrifying.   The word awesome may the most overused on the web but awe is the terrifying feeling when you see God.  Thats what it means.  And there is something of awe in real sex.

Just asking a girl to dance is fraught enough – girls your age tend to go for older boys.  Rejections – humiliations- failure, are all part of the learning  here.  Plus, the lies other boys tell about their sexual experiences make it even more confusing.   But these are terrific learning experiences as well.   You need to be able to fail socially and keep going.

The sexual drive pushes you through these pains, you learn to handle rejection to create real relationships based on mutual needs   Real sex drives you towards other people – it takes you out into the world and away from our family of origin into creating a new family of your own.

Porn undermines that process. It promises reward without rejection.  With porn you can have virtual sex with beautiful people with no problems everyone is eager and willing – there are no hurdles or emotional consequences.   Therapists talk about the 2/6/2 rule.  Let’s say you have real sex with a real partner,  and you do that 10 times,  it is likely that, twice the sex will be terrific – 6 times adequate and the other two times – well,  a cup of tea would have been better.  That is realistic.

With Porn there are endless partners including film stars and Pop Idols,  there is no rejection, no fear of failure, no courting,  no waiting,  no sweat, no smells, no mistakes, and nothing to drive you into the world or to facilitate relationship with others.  You are left locked into yourself. Whole stages of psychological and emotional development fail to take place.  That’s the damage.

You are not alone.  In 2010 Gary Wilson set up his on-line site – \Your Brain on Porn’ (2) which gets 20,00 unique visitors a day!  Reddit/no fap has some 138,00 members.(3)  And in China,  two Reddit, ‘No Fap’ forums combined, have 800,000 members all trying to drop this addiction. (Also check out www.nofap.com)

A science to addiction

In 2011 The American Society of Addictive Medicine released a new controversial definition of addiction calling it a ‘chronic brain disorder’.   The aim of this was to tilt the argument towards a physical malady and away from a behavioral or moral model.

When I was at college,  it was presumed that as you grew your brain developed until,  sometime after the age of 18, the brain was fully grown- fixed and it remained that way all your life.   Thankfully that idea was wrong.  With the gains in Neuroscience we now know that the brain is ever changing and developing to meet new needs.  The phrase we use is that the Brain is ‘Plastic’  and that means it remaps itself to adapt to new circumstances. It adapts to its usage.

The core component of the Nervous System is a Neuron, also known as a nerve cell.  It.s an electrically excitable cell that processes and transmits information through electrical and chemical signals.  These signals between nerve cells occur via Synapses which are specialised connectors.  They link together to form Neural Networks.  The phrase is that ‘When Neurons fire together they wire together’.

The building of neural pathways depends on the emotional strength of the experience and how often it happens.  The greater the high,  the stronger the memory, the stronger the route laid down, and the deeper the drive to re-experience that terrific feeling. In this way the brain creates highways of thought, emotion and obsession.

I think of this like a road map.  Little used, low-level activities activities have simple paths, we reserve the larger roads for frequent processes with good rewards,  but when it comes to behaviour which end in Orgasms, then you are constructing a giant motorway of connections, one which holds the promise of instant pleasure and draws you back again and again.  The problem is that the brains willingness to create those pleasure hormones diminishes – you need stronger and stronger material to get the same thill.   Thats what turns you into an addict – its physical.

The bad news is that the brain is adaptable and Porn Addiction alters it – the great news is that your brain is adaptable and you can change,

OK, So how do I know if I am addicted? 

Simples…. take this test.

Paula Hall is the UK’s leading expert on Sex Addiction – she is the ‘go to’ therapist – and author of the book ‘Understanding and Treating Sex Addiction.   On her site http://www.paulahall.co.uk/index.php/resources/am-i-a-sex-addict you will find a short plain English Test.  If after reading this article you have any doubts then – do it.

Is there anything I can do about this without seeing a therapist? 

Yes – sure – one of the myths of Porn addiction is that the addict is highly sexed as if your sex drive controls the search for porn – NO,  its the other way round, its the presence of the Porn is what drives the high sexual demand.  Masturbation does not cause addiction its the Porn that is the problem.  First step is to stop using the internet as a delivery mechanism – i.e. turn down the heat.   Switch to porn-magasines.   Start to turn down the heat.

Best of Luck

Martin

 

 

(1)  Check out, Norman Doidge 2007,  ‘The Brain that Changes itself, Stories of Personal Triumphs from the Frontiers of Brain Science’, New York Viking Press.  ( It’s very readable)

(2) Your brain on Porn www.yourbrainonporn.com  – there is a e-book for sale entitled of course – ‘Your Brain on Porn, Internet Pornography and the Emerging Science of Addiction’ and that is by Gary Wilson

(3) www.reddit.com – go to  Nofap

 

 

 

 

 

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