Psych Central


Publicity photo courtesy of http://donjonmovie.tumblr.com/

Publicity photo courtesy of http://donjonmovie.tumblr.com/

CAUTION: Don Jon may be highly triggering for sex and porn addicts. Those recovering from sex and porn addiction should view this film with caution, perhaps bookending the movie with calls to a sponsor or another supportive person in recovery.

The Flick

The late-summer/early-fall film season has presented moviegoers with not one but two sex addiction themed, A-list cast, wide-release offerings. First there was Thanks for Sharing, glowingly reviewed in my previous Psych Central blog. Now we have Don Jon, starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Scarlett Johansson. The fact that the silver screen has finally turned its attention to sexual compulsivity is very exciting, even more so after Thanks for Sharing so truthfully depicted the trails, tribulations, and joys of sex addiction recovery. Unfortunately, Don Jon, a story of porn addiction, is a mixed bag in terms of accuracy. It gets quite a lot correct, most notably it’s portrayal of active porn addiction, but it misleads – badly – in terms of healing from this disorder.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character, Jon, nicknamed “Don Jon” by his male pals because of his prowess with the ladies, is a Jersey Shore wannabe obsessed with his body, his apartment, his religion, and porn. And not in that order. Porn is definitely number one on his list. He logs onto his favorite websites and masturbates multiple times daily, despite the fact that he constantly picks up and scores with “dimes” (the term he and his friends use for women who rate as a ten in their eyes). Simply put, the in-person sex Jon has is not nearly enough. As soon as the lucky girl has fallen asleep, Jon is out of bed, laptop open, engaged in yet another round of porn abuse and self-stimulation.

Despite his preference for porn over the real thing, he meets and falls for Scarlett Johansson’s character Barbara, another Jersey Shore casting call reject. Barbara, in addition to being the hottest thing Jon has ever laid eyes on, is addicted to sappy romantic movies. She objectifies the men and the relationships in those movies every bit as much as Jon objectifies the women he sees online. This is quite evident in her treatment of Jon, as she expects him to conform to her movie-induced vision of what the perfect man should be. For starters, she insists that he go to night school, even though he has no real interest in doing so. She also insists on meeting his family, and that he meet hers. And of course she doesn’t put out until he bends to her will.

The sticking point in Jon and Barbara’s relationship is not how controlling she is. He has convinced himself that she’s “the one,” so he’s mostly willing to do whatever she asks. It is only after she catches him masturbating to porn – immediately after she’s finally had sex with him – that conflict arises. This behavior does NOT fit her image of Prince Charming. Jon lies and says it was a one-time thing, that porn is gross, and that it will never happen again. But as a porn addict, of course, Jon continues his behavior without a second thought.

Porn Addiction: What the Film Gets Right

Porn addiction occurs when an individual, male or female, loses choice over whether he or she will view pornography (with or without masturbation). 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 either directly or indirectly leads to negative life consequences there is probably a serious problem. Research suggests that porn addicts typically spend at least 11 or 12 hours per week using porn. Usually the time spent is double or triple that amount. A few of the more common indicators of porn addiction are:

  • Continued porn use despite consequences and/or promises made to stop
  • Lying, keeping secrets about, and covering up the nature and extent of porn use
  • Anger and/or irritability if confronted about problematic porn use
  • Reduced or even nonexistent interest in sexual, physical, and emotional connections with real-world partners

In the film, Jon displays all of these signs. As mentioned already, after being caught looking at porn by Barbara he promises it will never happen again, and then the behavior continues unabated. He lies about his porn use not only to Barbara, but to his priest in confessional. He becomes angry and resentful after Barbara confronts him and questions the morality of what he is doing. And he definitely struggles with real-world intimacy – including with Barbara, the woman he says that he loves.

Jon even seems very aware of his issues with porn and intimacy. Several times during the film he readily, perhaps even gleefully, admits that he prefers “porn sex” to the real thing. One gets the impression that he only chases real women to appease his marriage-minded mother and to keep his friends from thinking he’s odd. Furthermore, he is deeply in denial about the negative effects of porn on his relationship, telling himself and anyone else who will listen that all guys use porn, and looking at porn is not a relationship betrayal.

The clincher in the “porn addiction diagnosis” is that after Barbara breaks up with him, Jon’s porn use escalates significantly. In confession he admits to looking at and masturbating to porn 37 times in the week following the split. (That’s about double his usual confession number, not counting the week that he lied and said he hadn’t looked at porn at all.) It is clear from this escalation that Jon is using porn and masturbation to escape, numb out, and dissociate from the pain of his and Barbara’s breakup. This desire for emotional disconnection is a key element in the formation and maintenance of addiction (in any form). The simple truth is addicts don’t use to feel better, they use to feel less.

Porn Addiction: What the Film Gets Wrong

For most of the movie, Don Jon is relatively on the money in terms of presenting a realistic picture of sex and porn addiction. Unfortunately, it goes very far awry when it shows Jon’s “recovery.” His catalyst for change is Esther, portrayed by Julianne Moore, a fellow student in Jon’s night school class. Even though Esther is much older and visibly troubled – getting high before classes, launching into crying jags, even bringing Jon a porn video she likes after she notices him sneaking peeks on his smartphone – they strike up a tentative friendship, which, not surprisingly, turns sexual.

After Jon’s relationship with Barbara finally ends, he tells Esther what happened and why, including the fact that he prefers porn to in-the-flesh encounters. Esther tells him that good sex is not just about getting off. She says it is a two-way street that requires an emotional connection, that you have to look into the eyes of the other person and really be present. This of course is very good advice, but not instruction that an active porn addict has much hope of absorbing and following with any degree of aplomb. After a porn addict has done a great deal of work to establish a solid foundation of sobriety, and after he or she has also at the very least begun the process of uncovering and dealing with the underlying emotional and psychological issues that drive his or her addictive behavior, he or she can start to actively seek this type of truly intimate connection. But right away, after one short conversation with an emotionally troubled woman? Not so much. Nevertheless, Jon looks deeply into Esther’s eyes and they “make love” in a very intimate way. And thereafter Jon somehow manages to stay away from porn, as if all his internal issues simply disappeared with a few well-placed words of counsel.

Frankly, this is the sort of unrealistic, feel-good fantasy ending that one typically finds in the romantic films that Barbara loves. It is not in any way an accurate portrayal of how real people recover from pornography addiction. In fact, it rather seriously misleads viewers about the ways in which porn addiction can effectively be dealt with.

The TRUTH about Porn Addiction Recovery

As mentioned above, porn addicts (like all addicts) engage in their addiction as a way to escape, numb out, and otherwise self-regulate uncomfortable emotions, life stressors, and underlying psychological conditions such as depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, childhood trauma, and attachment deficit disorders. Essentially, addicts are emotionally/psychologically vulnerable individuals who’ve learned to self-soothe with a behavior (or a substance), and over time that behavior (or substance) has become their default mechanism for dealing with any and all physical, emotional, and psychological discomfort. It is only when their addiction spirals out of control and results in serious negative consequences that most addicts (of any type) think about changing their behavior.

Unfortunately, porn addicts are often reluctant to seek help for their addiction even after they realize it’s a serious problem because they are too embarrassed to talk about their solo sexual behaviors with another person. As a result, they often seek assistance for their addiction’s related symptoms – depression, loneliness, inability to form or maintain intimate relationships, and the like – rather than for the porn addiction itself. Many attend therapy for extended periods without ever discussing or even being asked about porn use or masturbation. Thus, their core issue remains underground and untreated.

Regardless of what Don Jon would have us believe, recovery from porn addiction does not occur when the addict finds a caring and empathic new lover. Many porn addicts have tried this path, without success. In truth, overcoming and healing from porn addiction most often requires extensive counseling with a trained and licensed addiction specialist, preferably a clinician whose work focuses on compulsive sexual disorders, such as the therapists at the Sexual Recovery Institute in Los Angeles. Many porn addicts benefit from inpatient treatment as a way to jump-start healing process, finding 24/7 help at facilities like The Ranch in Nunnelly, TN. Usually these more intensive treatments are coupled with or followed by addiction-centric group therapy and 12-step recovery in Sex Addicts Anonymous, Sexual Compulsives Anonymous, Sexaholics Anonymous, or Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous.

 

Robert Weiss LCSW, CSAT-S is the author of Cruise Control: Understanding Sex Addiction in Gay Men, and co-author with Dr. Jennifer Schneider of both Untangling the Web: Sex, Porn, and Fantasy Obsession in the Internet Age and the upcoming 2013 release, Closer Together, Further Apart: The Effect of Technology and the Internet on Sex, Intimacy and Relationships, along with numerous peer-reviewed articles and chapters. A licensed UCLA MSW graduate and a personal trainee of Dr. Patrick Carnes, Mr. Weiss founded the Sexual Recovery Institute in Los Angeles in 1995. Currently he is Senior Vice President of Clinical Development with Elements Behavioral Health.

 

 


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    Last reviewed: 16 Oct 2013

APA Reference
Weiss LCSW, R. (2013). Don Jon and Porn Addiction: A Hit and Miss Portrayal. Psych Central. Retrieved on April 23, 2014, from http://blogs.psychcentral.com/sex/2013/10/don-jon-and-porn-addiction-a-hit-and-miss-portrayal/

 

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