5 Top Questions About Pornography Addiction and Recovery
1. What is pornography addiction?
Did you know that therapists recognize that people can be addicted to behaviors as well as substances? Pornography addiction is a behavioral addiction characterized by compulsive use of pornography that causes negative consequences in the user’s life. Obsessive viewing and thinking about pornography interferes with responsibilities, relationships, and personal control. Addicted individuals are unable to stop viewing pornography consistently in spite of the problems it is causing in their life.
As in all addictions, the user turns to an unhealthy behavior to pursue reward or relieve pain and stress. The individual uses the sexual response system to alter their moods much like an alcoholic turns to the bottle to cope rather than confronting their problems in a healthy way.
The American Society for Addiction Medicine (ASAM) asserts that problematic sexual behavior can be an addiction, and defines characteristics such as being unable to stop, loss of control, craving, not recognizing problems with behavior and relationships, and dysfunctional emotions.
While opinions vary about whether viewing pornography can be addictive, our position is that there is sufficient research to explain how pornography can change the reward circuitry in a user’s brain, and evidence is growing to show that pornography causes significant changes in brain function. If defining it as compulsive or problematic behavior is more comfortable to you, that is fine. We don’t want the definition to stop anyone from getting help to overcome the damaging impact of pornography.
2. What are the effects of using pornography?
Some people claim the pornography is harmless entertainment, but research and people’s experiences show that it can have many damaging effects on people’s lives. This list of some common effects is just a few to be aware of.
- Viewing pornography creates distorted and harmful expectations of sexuality and bodies. Studies have found significant changes in beliefs such as thinking that rape is more acceptable.
- Individuals may lose interest in other satisfying parts of their life and become preoccupied with using pornography or acting out sexually.
- Pornography use may become addictive. Someone addicted to pornography centers their life around it.
- Viewing can be progressive, with users viewing more deviant and even criminal material over time.
- Studies have shown that individuals become more self-centered because the limbic part of the brain dominates. The effect on relationships is often catastrophic because the part of the brain that helps an individual be aware of problems is consumed by pornography.
- Rather than improving a person’s sexual experiences, viewing pornography often leads to dissatisfaction with a partner’s performance and appearance. Pornography is increasingly correlated with male sexual dysfunction.
3. What is recovery from pornography addiction?
Recovery is living life in healthy ways with a change in heart. It begins when a person starts connecting the dots between their pornography use and the effect it has on their life and relationships. Admitting there is a problem is the first step to recovery
Abstinence, which is not viewing pornography for a period of time, is a first step in recovery. True recovery, however, is more – it is a lifestyle change.
As a person learns to be accountable and gains healthy ways to deal with the pain and stress in their life, they begin to correct the underlying destructive thoughts and behaviors that led to the addiction. A person in recovery is honest about problems, actively engaged in steps such as therapy, 12 Step groups, education, and spiritual counseling. They are learning new skills to manage stress, relationships, and healthy sexuality. They recognize thoughts and actions that lead to viewing pornography and know how to interrupt the process and stop the behavior.
To recognize progress, it can help to reflect on how seriously a person is working to achieve recovery. The recovery process takes time, often 1-2 years, and support from loved ones and qualified professionals.
4. What are the first steps to take to gain control over a pornography addiction?
The first step is to come out into the light about their behavior, starting by admitting their out-of-control situation to themselves. Next they can be honest with people who need to know the truth such as a spouse, parents, or others who care about their happiness. It’s important to be accountable for the impact their behavior has had on their loved ones. Full disclosure to a spouse is necessary; however, using professional help in this process is wise.
It is critical to clean up the environment – get rid of sources of pornography and set personal rules for managing access to sources and situations that are triggers. Invite a friend or sponsor to be an accountability partner.
Building a team of support can make all the difference. Recovery is achieved most often by those who commit to using four sources of help:
- Education on the issue
- Qualified therapy
- 12-step support groups
- Support from a spiritual leader
Continually learning to understand pornography addiction and recovery will help maintain long-term recovery. Each resource can add a valuable new perspective. Many men and women have successfully left pornography addiction behind. Anyone who hopes to regain control of their life can expect success in time with commitment to the process.
5. How can I find a qualified therapist?
The best therapists for guiding recovery from pornography addiction will have specialized training and experience in sexual addiction. Ask if the provider includes both individual counseling and group therapy, which has been proven to be effective. If married, ask about services for spouses of the person seeking recovery. Learn if the therapist shares your values about pornography being harmful and addictive. What is their definition of recovery and their treatment plan for recovery?