Prior to 1994, if you wanted to view pornography, you had to get dressed, get in your car, drive to a seedy shop in a bad part of town, and fork over hard-earned cash for an overpriced magazine – all the while hoping not to be seen by the neighbor’s teenage kid, your boss, the police, or your spouse.

Today, thanks to streaming video over the Internet and smart-phones, finding porn doesn’t even require getting out of bed. In the digital age, access to stimulating sexual imagery of every ilk imaginable is virtually unlimited – easily and instantly downloaded. And most often it’s free.

For the average person, porn provides a quick and convenient means to a pleasurable end, typically turned to when an emotional or a close physical connection is either not available or not desired. However, current research tells us that for approximately 5 to 8 percent of the adult population, porn use can evolve into an addictive behavior, quickly escalating from a pleasurable distraction to a behavioral compulsion that leads to depression, isolation, loneliness, shame, and negative life consequences.

As a licensed sexual addiction treatment expert with over 20 years experience in the field, I deal with this challenged group of individuals every day and stand witness to the endless ways that readily available cyber-porn can, for some, ruin intimate relationships, family life, self-esteem, and careers.

Consider Mel, a single 26-year-old structural engineer. After graduating a local college, Mel was offered a great job in a major city several hundred miles from the small town in which he grew up. He excelled at his work, earned a quick promotion, and even bought his own small condo. As bright as his life appeared on the outside, Mel felt deeply lonely.

After all, he didn’t know anyone in his new city. His new life circumstances served to amplify uncomfortable emotions he had always experienced, but never expressed – feelings of deep inner loneliness and unmet longing. Mel found that after a long workday the quickest way to ease his uncomfortable feelings was to turn on the computer. Soon he was immersed in a daily routine of work followed by long evenings in front of his computer monitor searching for porn.

He would often spend four or five hours a night viewing and masturbating to increasingly more intense content. Over the course of several months, his porn use escalated to material he had never thought he would view, including extreme S/M and adolescent pornography. Eventually, he started viewing porn and masturbating during lunch breaks and after hours at work. Not surprisingly, one of his female coworkers inadvertently saw what he was doing, reported it, and he was immediately fired.

Even worse, a routine company search of his computer revealed a few of the illegal images he’d downloaded, information that was then reported to the police. Today Mel is living with his parents, his condo sold for legal fees. He is jobless, confused, ashamed, and facing potentially severe legal consequences.

So where is the line? At what point does “a convenient means to a pleasurable end” turn into an emotionally crippling addiction?

Generally speaking, porn addiction occurs when the individual viewing pornography, with or without masturbation, loses choice over whether or not he or she will engage in that behavior. Like drug abusers, porn addicts initially use porn to feel better, to soothe themselves and distract from life stressors. When the individual says “I don’t want to look at porn anymore” and returns anyway, when porn use interferes with and/or overtakes healthy activities, and when porn use begins to create negative consequences, there is most likely a serious problem.

Research suggests that cyber-porn addicts spend at least 11 or 12 hours per week online (including tablets, smartphones, laptops, and traditional computers), but the amount of time spent can be double or even triple that amount. Possible signs that porn use has escalated into addiction include:

  • Continued porn use despite consequences and/or promises made to self or others to stop
  • Escalating amounts of time spent on porn use
  • Hours, sometimes even days, lost to viewing pornography
  • Viewing progressively more arousing, intense, or bizarre sexual content
  • Lying, keeping secrets, and covering up the nature and extent of porn use
  • Anger or irritability if asked to stop
  • Reduced or even nonexistent interest in sexual, physical, and emotional connections with spouses or partners
  • Deeply rooted feelings of loneliness, and detachment from other people
  • Drug/alcohol use or drug/alcohol addiction relapse in conjunction with porn use
  • Increased objectification of strangers, viewing them as body parts rather than people
  • Escalation from viewing two-dimensional images to using the Internet for anonymous sexual hook-ups and to find prostitutes

As Max’s all-too-common story illustrates, the consequences of porn addiction can be severe. Typically, they include one or more of the following:

  • Inability to form necessary social and intimate relationships
  • Disintegration of pre-existing primary and secondary relationships
  • Loss of time and focus on family life and other enjoyable activities
  • Physical injury caused by compulsive masturbation
  • Intense feelings of depression, shame, isolation, and loneliness
  • Porn use combined with drug and/or alcohol abuse
  • Job, career, or educational losses
  • Legal and/or financial trouble

Sadly, porn addicts are often reluctant to seek help because they don’t view their solo sexual behaviors as an underlying source of their unhappiness. And when they do seek assistance, they often seek help with their addiction’s related symptoms – depression, loneliness, and relationship troubles – rather than the porn problem itself. Many attend psychotherapy for extended periods without ever discussing (or even being asked about) pornography or masturbation. Thus, their core problem remains underground and untreated.

Recovery from porn addiction most often requires extensive counseling with a trained and licensed addiction treatment specialist, coupled with or followed by group therapy and/or a 12-Step recovery program. Getting help for porn and sexual addiction can feel shameful, embarrassing, and humiliating, and, as with any addiction, the pain and consequences of the addictive sexual behavior have to become greater than the fear of seeking help before the person becomes willing to get help.

It is important to note that porn addiction is most often a symptom of underlying emotional and relationship concerns that will require longer-term psychotherapy and support to overcome, but this psychotherapy and support can be successful only after the presenting behavioral issues have been eliminated.

is the author of three books on sexual addiction and Founding Director of the premiere sex addiction treatment program, The Sexual Recovery Institute. He is Director of Sexual Disorders Services at The Ranch and Promises Treatment Centers. These centers serve individuals seeking sexual addiction treatment, love addiction treatment, and porn addiction help. Specifically, the Centers for Relationship and Sexual Recovery at The Ranch (CRSR) offer specialized intimacy, sex and relationship addiction treatment for both men and women in gender-specific, gender-separate treatment and living environments.

Follow Robert on Twitter @RobWeissMSW

 


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    Last reviewed: 6 Sep 2012

APA Reference
Weiss LCSW, R. (2012). How Much Porn is Too Much Porn?. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 2, 2014, from http://blogs.psychcentral.com/sex/2012/03/porn/

 

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