Addicted to pornography?

The bad news is that it can introduce negative side effects; the good news is that it is curable

pornography cartoon 521 (photo credit: MCT)
pornography cartoon 521
(photo credit: MCT)
In recent years, I have been seeing more and more clients who have an addiction to viewing pornography on the Internet.
While for many, looking at some pornography on their computer doesn’t lead to any major problems, for others, this behavior turns into a full-blown addiction that takes a heavy toll on their lives.
The statistics are alarming. Studies in the United States indicate that about 64 to 68 percent of teen and adult men view Internet pornography occasionally, with 8% to 21% becoming addicted to this behavior.
Women are not immune. Eighteen percent of women state they occasionally look at porn sites.
Also, there appears to be a significant increase of reports of Internet pornography viewing by senior adults, who may be trying to combat boredom or counteract loneliness and depression.
People addicted to Internet porn come from all walks of life: professionals, white-collar and blue-collar workers, the secular and religious, including the ultra-Orthodox. In fact, porn addiction is an equal opportunity disease; all segments of society are at risk.
Josh, a 45-year-old man, would say goodnight to his wife, always telling her that he just wanted to surf the Net to unwind. Unwind he did, looking at porn sites and only retiring to sleep afterwards.
This went on for many years. One night his wife caught him, and was both outraged and deeply hurt. She later reported to me that she felt Josh had been unfaithful. She and Josh had sex very infrequently, and now she understood why.
She was ready to file for divorce when Josh, in a panic, came to me for help.
One of the first things Josh told me was that he was suffering from erectile dysfunction. This further complicated their relationship.
Josh’s wife also participated in his treatment, and sent me the following email: ”We have been married for 20 years. For the past seven years, Josh has been using this pornography.
I feel betrayed, cheated on. It sounds crazy to say that he has been unfaithful, but what else can you call it when your spouse spends his evenings looking at pictures of other naked women and your marital relationship is suffering. I have become more self-critical about my weight and how I look, and have done everything to try to look prettier – but to no avail. My self-esteem has dropped very low as well as my own libido. I just can’t go on like this anymore. Please help us.”
Why is Internet porn so addicting? The addiction to Internet pornography usually begins with curiosity, and is followed by experimenting with viewing pornography sites. Any search engine can help the individual accomplish this instantaneously. But not everyone who views these sites becomes addicted.
Therefore, it is important to understand who is prone to getting hooked. Some of these individuals may have preexisting psychological problems that they are not dealing with effectively, be it career choice, midlife crisis, work issues, relationship problems, and/or another issue. In other cases, people may suffer from an undiagnosed mood problem and/or untreated anxiety, and their psychological vulnerability leads them to use Internet pornography to counteract these mood states. Vulnerable individuals, as described above, discover a potent “elixir” to help relieve their problems.
Most porn addicts are completely unaware of their using this behavior to self-medicate their problems. During the porn viewing, this addictive behavior is further reinforced by the brain’s release of powerful neurochemicals that are part of the pleasure centers of the brain. Once in motion, almost anything associated with pornography viewing becomes conditioned to the behavior, making it even more difficult to stop.
Examples of such triggers include images of viewed pornography scenes that are retained in the mind of the addict, the place where one views pornography, the computer, the time of day, and any other associations that can cause a craving to return to repeat this behavior. High-risk individuals are prone to experience uncontrollable and compulsive urges to obtain sexual satisfaction through this form of entertainment. Some addicts report staying at home for porn sessions that can last as long as eight to 10 hours.
Similar to drug addictive behavior, the problems arise when urges to view pornography conflict with an individual’s daily responsibilities.
For example, instead of leaving for work on time, the addict may decide to stay at home and watch porn. The shame and guilt that often accompanies these compulsive sexual experiences do not stop this individual from repeating the act. Since Internet porn addicts, like drug addicts, develop a tolerance to what they view, they need more and more novelty in the kind of sexual acts they see in order to feel satisfied, and are often driven to endlessly search for these novelties. Exposure to such material can grossly distort beliefs about normal human sexuality and ruin interpersonal relationships.
Patients that progress in this fashion often report feeling unsatisfied with their sexual experiences and with their partners. This may lead many guys, like Josh, to develop erectile dysfunction with their partners after years of being addicted to online porn. Their spouses fail to arouse them since online porn has become the primary source of getting turned on. The good news is that when porn viewing on the Internet stops, ED in almost all cases goes away.
Help Internet porn addiction is treated like many other addictions. Comprehensive state-of-theart treatment includes cognitive-behavioral therapy, relapse prevention therapy, motivational counseling and participation in 12-step groups.
For some individuals who suffer from a preexisting psychiatric illness, psychiatric consultation and medication may be a necessary adjunct to treatment.
After getting the addiction under control, therapy can help the individual explore the emotional antecedents that put him/her at such high risk.
The good news: This is 100% treatable, but will likely be one of the most difficult things the individual has ever done. If these individuals ever want a normal sex life again, there is no other choice.
The writer is a marital, child and adult psychotherapist, with offices in Jerusalem and Ra’anana; he also provides online videoconferencing psychotherapy.