In recent years I’ve had a lot of patients in my clinical practice asking for help with managing their internet pornography addiction…a lot! It seems like internet pornography addiction has become a very common problem for so many people, especially for men.
With the ease of internet pornography available it is no wonder that so many people struggle with this problem. After all, if other addictions with alcohol, drugs, food, and so forth were only a few clicks away via your computer or smart phone (and completely free to boot) these addictions would be much more epidemic too. Imagine yourself sitting at your computer and with a few clicks you could have a quality beer or a hot fudge ice cream sundae delivered for free to your home. Wow….that would be amazing and might make addicts of us all. Well, internet pornography is like that…a few free clicks on your computer away to what you desire.
Often someone finds their way to my clinical office because they got caught engaging in computer pornography at home by their spouse, girlfriend, or child or perhaps they got caught at work. Since I work mostly with Catholics and Episcopal often folks talk about this problem with their local clergy who refer them to me for help. Typically they feel ashamed of their behavior yet also feel that they can’t stop it either. They really are addicted and can’t seem to control their impulses even when threatened by their spouse or significant others or by their boss. Some have lost their jobs, spouses, and some are also in trouble with the law as well.
So, what can be done to help people recover from pornography addiction? No simple answers here but there are some helpful principles to consider.
First, self monitoring can be helpful. Asking someone to write down each time they engage in the problematic behavior and examine the antecedences and consequences of each pornography engagement episode is useful. What lead up to the behavior (e.g., stress, boredom) and what were the consequences after the behavior (e.g., feeling guilty, relieved). This self monitoring procedure can be helpful to determine the risk factors and influences on pornography engagement. Self monitoring is also an intervention too. If we write down every time we do something we wished we didn’t, we are likely to think twice before doing it in the first place.
Then, addressing interventions strategies from a biopsychosocial perspective can be very productive.
1. Consider a consult with a physician for possible medication use to lower the impulse. For example, although extreme, often medications are used to reduce sexual impulses among sex offenders. Medications are also used to better deal with some of the co-morbid issues too such as anxiety and depression.
2. Get regular exercise to find a more healthy way to manage sexual and life energy.
3. Work to improve your sexual relationship with your spouse/significant other.
4. Consider masturbation without the use of pornography.
1. Work to personify the person in the pornography pictures or video. They are not sexual objects or objects at all but are full human beings; they are someone’s daughter, son, mother, father, sibling, and friend. They are people with hopes and dreams, chores, and hobbies. They aren’t objects at all. If you personalize them it is hard to exploit them or their images. If you imagine them as someone's duaghter or mother for example (or perhaps your own sister) you might not find pornography so engaging.
2. Think of pornography addiction just like any other kind of addiction (i.e., alcohol, drugs, food). Strategies to manage other addictive behaviors can be applied to pornography too. Think of it as a problematic habit that is hard to break.
1. Create an environment that makes engaging in pornography very difficult. Socially engineer your desired behavior. So, be sure that you install appropriate computer filters to prevent pornography from getting on your computer or mobile device. Keep desktop computers in public places. Consider reporting in to a friend or colleague. Consider joining Sexaholic Anonymous (SA). Consider engaging in spiritual and religious pursuits if so inclined too (e.g., prayer, meditation, spiritual direction, and volunteerism).
Sadly, some of my patients have said that pornography has been a “gateway drug” to prostitution and find themselves hiring sex workers when pornography loses its thrill or becomes boring. Some have also claimed that pornography use has destroyed their view of more traditional sexual behavior that now seems dull and boring in comparison. So pornography for many has become the fisrt step in a multiple step addiction that is harmful to themselves and others.
Finally, ask yourself what do you really desire anyway? Does pornography give you what you really desire or is it more like eating cotton candy: tastes good for a moment but is pretty empty and unsatisfying? Reflect on what you really want (e.g., love, acceptance, being desired) and then ask yourself what gives you consolation vs. desolation. I’d bet that satisfying real relationships (sexual or not) are more likely to provide the consolation you desire while pornography leads to desolation for most people.
So, what do you think? How do you think folks should manage their pornography addiction?