Possible porn addict looking for options
August 31, 2009 6:25 PM   Subscribe

Am I addicted to pornography? If I am, what can I do? Is there a Porn Addicts Anonymous?

This is a question I have wanted to ask for a while but didn't think I could until right about now when, after days of not looking at porn, I had a short online viewing session and felt bad (again!). I am mainly looking to hear from other people who have been in this place and have advice based on their experience, though I am grateful for any input.

My questions are: 1) Am I addicted to pornography, as opposed to just being another horny 20-something? 2) If I am, what can I do? I have seen therapists, and have recently been considering attending a group - but I really don't know where to go, or what I might be getting into.

Number One. Am I an addict? The fact that I even need to ask is, I realise, a big give away, but I am still confused.

I started seeing pornography at an early age and it soon became a significant part of my daily routine. I had unlimited access to the net from my early teens and have regularly found myself, all through school and college, looking at it for one or two hours a day, perhaps more. Those are hours when I had intended to do something else but ended up on the net instead. Partly this is because I was a student with little to do in general. Nowadays, I don’t find myself running off to the toilets at work to wank because I am too busy and barely think about it. But the urge hits me frequently in idle moments, and the kinds of things I want to look at tend to become more and more extreme over time. This worries me enormously and I have frequently had feelings of shame. I have desperately wanted to conceal the amount I looked at porn, and the material I looked at, from everyone I knew.

I saw a therapist, while younger, to help with feelings of inadequacy and urges I was deeply ashamed of. I have struggled to come to terms with the things I have occasionally run into online - some of it illegal, always accidentally stumbled across and swiftly deleted, some of it really distasteful things that I actively pursued. It was all stuff that left me ashamed of being found out and unhappy with who I was. After regular episodes of bottoming out, sometimes alienating others because of my usage, and then swearing off porn forever before slowly getting back into it, I recently took some fairly drastic measures. I went to a family member, admitted my problem, downloaded software that regulated my activities and let them choose the passwords. I use less porn but don’t feel fully accountable because I could, at worst, tell them to fuck off if they tried to confront me and there would not be much in the way of consequences. But it has had a substantial effect on me.

Things are different now to when I used it in the past. I look at vaguely sexy stuff maybe once a fortnight as opposed to hardcore porn once a day. I have a good job that I am proud to do, lots of friends, a girlfriend I love, and basically the kind of life I thought I would be doing well to have when I was younger and less confident. But I can’t shake off the pornography. It still haunts my thoughts at all hours. I feel like a dry drunk, not using but still with the same problems I always had. The bad feelings, in this ‘dry’ period, have certainly diminished but without quite going away.

I don’t know why I have these urges – is it plain old habit, or something much more powerful? – did something traumatic happen to me, or am I simply a normal guy who wants to have sex with lots of different girls and is looking for a release? There are those hours of the day when, in the past, I may have used porn. At these times, sex acts stick in my head on a loop. It is like I am watching them without a computer being there. The extreme stuff often comes to mind and I feel awful all over again. My girlfriend recently revealed that she was into a few of the practices I used to want to hide my interest in. But it wasn’t enough. I am beginning to think that even if I could do the naughtiest things to the hottest girl in the world, it wouldn’t be enough.

If I went into treatment, would I be expected to suppress urges that I think are normal? Like the urge to have sex with my girlfriend? I know it is called Sex Addicts Anonymous for a reason, but would I still need to put my physical relationship with my girlfriend on hiatus and basically give it away to her that I am trying to deal with something? I care about her very much and don't want to diminish our relationship or the sex life that bolsters it.

Number Two: I mentioned I saw a therapist when I was younger. I went back to him when the problem flared up again, responded to his sessions, and was referred to his colleague. I did not feel too great after the one session I had with this guy. Frankly, I felt like I was being both judged and ignored. The previous therapist seemed far better but even if he had the time to see me (he doesn’t) I would have to ask my parents for the money. They are aware of my problem and have always been supportive, but I don’t feel able to deal with it if they are in the mix. I want this to be between me and people who I see when I want to. I am still considering going back to the new guy (it might be too hasty to dismiss him) but the expensive private treatment just doesn’t seem a viable option. I read about an alcoholic’s experience in AA and was struck by his enthusiasm and the level of availability of meetings. They are on at all times, every day, no excuse for not going to one – and it beats the once a week forty five minutes, “I’m sorry but I have to stop you there,” treatment that this psychoanalyst offers. Is there an equivalent anonymous for me? Are meetings as frequent?

At the same time, I don’t want to think of myself as an addict because I wonder whether I am in possession of a bad habit rather than a full blown, soul destroying addiction. I am not doing illegal things or spending every hour of the whole day in front of the computer or keeping twenty girls on the go. I wonder – do I fit in to the sex addict category? Also, and as you can probably guess from the length of this post, I feel better when I express myself at length. I don’t know if sharing in bitty chunks with others is going to help. I don’t want to waste anyone’s time.

Practicalities of seeing a group - if you think I should go to a meeting, where can I go? I am based in London. Is there a site where meets are listed?

My work is very high profile and when it comes down to it all I would love to follow my bosses and achieve a strong personal media presence. Will group treatment ruin my prospects?

I am so sorry for the length of this essay and appreciate the chance to vent to you all. Thank you for any and all thoughts.

Throw away email address: addictithink@hotmail.co.uk
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (23 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
"At these times, sex acts stick in my head on a loop. It is like I am watching them without a computer being there."

Back in my Nintendo days I would close my eyes and see pixelated patterns, whether I wanted to or not.
Back in my Diablo days I would close my eyes and see hell's minions and hear that annoying hell-baby scream/wail thing from level 5 over and over.
When I go fishing all day I see waves at night.

Of your entire story, the quoted apart above would be the least concerning I think. If you look at something all the time the patterns of it stick in your brain.
posted by ian1977 at 6:34 PM on August 31, 2009 [5 favorites]


This is a confession not a question.

Yes you are addicted, look back over some of the verbs used in the question. Good luck.
posted by fire&wings at 7:04 PM on August 31, 2009 [1 favorite]


The word "addict" ceased to be helpful in contexts like this. You need to rephrase it more like, "Does my interest and enjoyment of pornography hurt myself or others around me?" I see no evidence in your post that it hurts you or others around you, although obviously you could be hiding something. Most men in the world who have internet access watch porn videos and check out porn on the internet. Most men in the world masturbate when others aren't looking. Most men in the world also spend time with prostitutes. Most men in the world do things to have sexual pleasure that reduces their time for other things. you don't sound unique or deranged to me. Compared to other vices many have (maybe even you or I) these seem benign to me.

I had a friend who started going to SLAA (sex and love addicts anonymous). Tried to get me to join. End of the friendship. I went to one meeting to humor him. But hey, if you want to kiss and tell, that's a good a place as any, so don't avoid it just because it didn't do it for me.

"if you want to sing out sing out
if you want to be free be free
cuz there's a million ways to be
yeah you know that there are

and if you want to live high live high
if you want to live low live low
cause there's a million ways to go
yeah you know that there are"

cat stevens right?
posted by peter_meta_kbd at 7:22 PM on August 31, 2009 [1 favorite]


From my reading of your post, the only problem that pornography seems to give you is guilt about looking at pornography. It doesn't sound to me like you have an unhealthy dependence on porn, but if it causes you significant distress, that should be the indication that something is wrong. Maybe checking out a sex addicts anonymous meeting would help you to put your problem in perspective and decide if you need further treatment.
posted by solipsophistocracy at 7:35 PM on August 31, 2009 [6 favorites]


Are you spending money you don't have on porn? Are you creating a significant amount of credit card debt on porn? Are you watching porn at work or on someone else's computer?

Those are symptoms of addiction.

Zoning out on porn is not as serious a problem as addiction, and might signify that you are slightly depressed or bored.

A little porn isn't a bad thing, really.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:44 PM on August 31, 2009


My girlfriend recently revealed that she was into a few of the practices I used to want to hide my interest in. But it wasn’t enough. I am beginning to think that even if I could do the naughtiest things to the hottest girl in the world, it wouldn’t be enough.

This is a very, very common feeling for people who are just starting to explore their kinks. "Gee, I smacked her ass during sex and I liked it and wanted more. And then the next week I tied her up and spanked her and I liked it and wanted more. Obviously this is a slippery slope! I'm just going to keep wanting more and more kinkier and kinkier things forever!"

But for most of us it turns out not to be a slippery slope. Eventually, given enough of a chance to explore, we do get to a point where we're having fun, we're content with the stuff we're doing in bed, and we don't feel the need to go any more extreme. (And for a lot of us, that bottoming-out point is sooner than we initially expected. There's a big gap between "hot fantasy" and "worth doing in reality," and there are plenty of things that I expected to want that it turns out I'd rather just think about.) Anyway, this may or may not have any bearing on the porn issue. I'm just saying, that "More! Again! Harder!" feeling can be a perfectly normal reaction to exploring a fantasy for the first time.

That said, there's a difference between the (common and healthy) feeling that you're insatiably excited about exploring this stuff, and the (common but less healthy) feeling that there's some sort of void inside you that you're using sex to fill. It's possible that what's going on is you're feeling empty and awful for other reasons, and using sex to distract yourself from that empty awfulness, and that's not so good. And if that's what's going on... well, it sounds like you don't want to hear this, but I'd recommend therapy, which is one of the better tools we've got against that sort of empty feeling.

Two thoughts on the therapy thing, though. One is, a lot of places it's possible to find group therapy — not 12-step addiction recovery groups, but groups where people talk about all sorts of problems, depression and loneliness and anxiety and whatever else they're struggling with — for cheaper than one-on-one therapy. It sounds like you might get more out of group therapy anyway, so if it saves you cash and suits you better than the one-on-one stuff, hey, two birds with one stone. Thought number two is, it's not uncommon to see a few different therapists before you find one you click with. If the new guy sucks and the old guy's unavailable and overpriced.... well, is there any way you can keep shopping around? If you seriously think you want therapy, then it's worth putting some serious effort into finding a therapist who meets your needs.
posted by nebulawindphone at 8:56 PM on August 31, 2009 [2 favorites]


You may very well be "addicted" to pornography, but I don't think that's as much a problem as your neurotic attitude towards it. Bottom line, pornography is harmless--and possibly even helpful--until it becomes an impediment to relationships with others. Romantic and otherwise.

You say you have a great relationship with your gf...have you talked about porn? Specifically, you masturbating to porn? What does she think? Does she do the same? Does she like it? Would she be interested in adding porn to your "regular" sex life? Find out the answers to these questions. Fears and worries that rattle around in our brains can suddenly become remarkably benign when shared with someone else.
posted by zardoz at 9:00 PM on August 31, 2009 [2 favorites]


We can't tell you if you really have a problem or not. If it's bothering you this much, you need someone you can talk to about it in more detail. You've got the new therapist but you don't like him. Fair enough, try a different therapist. It can take a few tries to find a therapist you like and who works well for you. Many therapists will do some work on a "sliding scale" where you can pay a reduced fee if you have a low income; you can ask about this up front when you're calling to schedule an appointment.
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:05 PM on August 31, 2009 [2 favorites]


You're not a porn addict. You're a shame addict.

Drop the shame, and the porn won't bother you so much.
posted by ook at 9:23 PM on August 31, 2009 [4 favorites]


You mention psychoanalysis. Perhaps not just a different therapist, but a different type of therapy, would help you get a handle on your feelings.
posted by vincele at 9:42 PM on August 31, 2009


The big name in the psychology and treatment of internet sex addiction is Patrick Carnes He has some online tests on his site which might help you think about the answer to your questions. He's also written some books that patients of mine have found very helpful - I'd particularly suggest you look at In the Shadows of the Net if you're looking for just one book.

I find the question of "am I an addict?" is most helpfully answered by exploring yourself openly, with guidance and support. In my opinion, therapy combined with 12-step groups have a tremendous synergistic effect. But you have to find a therapist who understands addiction. Many therapists don't know much about addiction and some have a poor opinion of 12-step groups.

The issue of how much the girlfriend should be involved, how much you should tell people in your support network - these are all questions that can be addressed with a therapist and/or a group. There's no single right answer, though many people find it's important to surround themselves with people who know what's going on who can support them. It can be very difficult and powerful to stop the secrecy that often goes with pornography addiction. If you start working a program, your girlfriend will almost undoubtedly notice differences in you and in your relationship, as you'll probably be trying to form a different relationship with your impulses.

The issue of exposure from being in a group is one that everyone who goes to a group contends with. I'd suggest you find a group and just visit for one meeting. Try not to judge. Just listen to what people have to say, and see if anyone says anything that you can relate to - that's working the meeting. Hope this is helpful - feel free to memail me if you'd like some elaboration on any of these thoughts.
posted by jasper411 at 10:11 PM on August 31, 2009


Shame feeds addiction. Addiction thrives in secrecy.

The greatest gift of good therapy and twelve step programs is the safe, open environment in which you can be your "worst" self and find out that you can live through that confession, come out on the other side, and be a thriving, whole person.

Every person, whether they are an addict or not, can be nurtured by honest discourse. If you can't talk to your girlfriend about what you consider your deepest darkest secrets, then find someone you can (good therapist, whoever). Owning your actions, and being honest, can whither all kinds of destructive behavior.
posted by whimsicalnymph at 10:31 PM on August 31, 2009 [2 favorites]


I had unlimited access to the net from my early teens and have regularly found myself, all through school and college, looking at it for one or two hours a day, perhaps more. Those are hours when I had intended to do something else but ended up on the net instead.

After regular episodes of bottoming out, sometimes alienating others because of my usage, and then swearing off porn forever before slowly getting back into it, I recently took some fairly drastic measures.

But I can’t shake off the pornography. It still haunts my thoughts at all hours. I feel like a dry drunk, not using but still with the same problems I always had.

At these times, sex acts stick in my head on a loop. It is like I am watching them without a computer being there. The extreme stuff often comes to mind and I feel awful all over again.

I am beginning to think that even if I could do the naughtiest things to the hottest girl in the world, it wouldn’t be enough.


You wrote all this. It reads like someone who feels unhappy and powerless over this and out of control. These sound like the signs of a problem to me. If it's causing you even minor stress, it's worth addressing. The worst thing that's ever happened to you is the worst thing that's ever happened to you. Meaning, don't put too much stock in what others think, they aren't you.

Sex Addicts Anonymous might be a good place to start. Also, sometimes finding a good therapist takes time and some initial meetings with some not-so-good therapists. It's all part of the journey, don't let it stop you completely.

Good luck to you.
posted by iamkimiam at 12:36 AM on September 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


There has been a lot of good advice here about the crippling affects of shame. Sincerely, that's the thing that's hurting you most. Others have covered this territory well; I'll only remind you that you need to keep in mind that the relationship between your shame and the way you live is far too direct right now. You feel (probably rightly) that you're spending too much time staring at a computer screen; but it does not follow that you're a worthless person, or that you've damaged yourself, or that you're 'an addict' (to anything but shame). But please notice this: masturbation for many people can sometimes take a strong shame element, and that's unhealthy; my experience, with jerking off and many other things, is that when I habitually do something which instantly makes me feel ashamed, the shame is part of the mechanism that's compelling me to do it. And shame is a pretty crappy reason to masturbate.

anon: The previous therapist seemed far better but even if he had the time to see me (he doesn’t) I would have to ask my parents for the money... My work is very high profile and when it comes down to it all I would love to follow my bosses and achieve a strong personal media presence.

This seems like at least one of the cruxes of the problem. First, you're young, and dependent to some degree on your parents; notice please that it's significant that you don't want to have to talk to your parents. You don't have to talk to your parents, of course, but this is just another part of your story that has these echoes of your feelings of shame.

The big problem, I think, is the fact that you do 'high-profile' work and see a 'strong media presence.' My advice is this: don't seek that kind of career. If I'm reading your question correctly and you're young enough to be somewhat dependent on your parents financially, you ought to be young enough to have a certain amount of time left to decide what you want to do with your life. Understand please that it's very hard in any society (but especially this one) to straighten out your sense of shame and stay positive about your life and the way you're living it; that's a project that every adult has to undertake. But public figures in the West have (I think) less chance of sorting themselves out on this count and living happily and healthily than any of us can imagine; the pressures of being in the public eye are notorious for cracking even the most disciplined of us. In that context, a context in which you'd be submitted to all manner of judgmental and cruel criticism, it would be very, very difficult to keep in mind the fact that you're free to have whatever sexual (or other) preferences and pleasures you'd like; and if you can't remember that, it's going to be hard for you to get to a better place.
posted by koeselitz at 2:16 AM on September 1, 2009


By the way, if there is such a thing as pornography addiction (I agree with whatever poster above said that 'addiction' is a word that isn't really very useful in this context) it is absolutely nothing like sex addiction. Sex addicts have sex with strings of random partners; this requires a social impulsiveness, a changed sense of self, a rampant self-destructiveness; and it takes sex addicts a lot of work to deal with these difficult issues and come back to themselves. Looking at pornography three hours a day (or whatever it is for you) is nothing like that; pornography-based masturbation is characterized by the fact that there is absolutely no risk (whereas risk is something sex addicts tend to thrive on), it's characterized by a host of mostly self-produced problems like 'what if someone found out?' whereas sex addiction is generally a way that people who feel they have too many problems try to distract themselves by creating more. Psychologically, spiritually, practically, sex addiction and 'pornography addiction' are not the same thing.

That's very important for you to realize, since there's really only one 'cure' for pornography. If you want to seek it, do this: you say that you have a girlfriend you love. Sit her down and talk to her. Tell her everything. Tell her: 'I have a habit of looking at pornography. It's gotten kind of annoying to me, and I'd like to try to cut it down a bit. You mentioned a while ago that you really liked x; and that's actually crazy, because I've been interested in x all along, only I was too ashamed to tell you. This is just a habit that I think is making me way too ashamed about stuff. If you're willing to help me with this, here's what I need from you: I really want us to have more sex.'

And then? Have sex. Have a lot of sex. Sex, sex, sex. Every time, every place, every circumstance, every hour of the night and every moment of the day. Have sex as much as you and she possibly can. There is no cure for pornography like sex.

That's because it's very, very hard to feel ashamed of yourself for what you've just done when there's a person sitting there next to you who did it too.
posted by koeselitz at 2:37 AM on September 1, 2009 [3 favorites]


I wonder if the issue is not so much the porn as

"I have struggled to come to terms with the things I have occasionally run into online - some of it illegal, always accidentally stumbled across and swiftly deleted, some of it really distasteful things that I actively pursued. It was all stuff that left me ashamed of being found out and unhappy with who I was."

It sounds like your feelings centre around a kink that perhaps isn't seen as normal by most people. Is this something you've discussed with your girlfriend? Why does it make you feel ashamed? What is 'distasteful' about this?

If you feel porn is interrupting your normal life, then whether you fit the diagnostic criteria for being an addict is irrelevant - *you* feel you have a problem, and you feel the shame associated with this.
posted by mippy at 2:47 AM on September 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


By the way, if there is such a thing as pornography addiction (I agree with whatever poster above said that 'addiction' is a word that isn't really very useful in this context) it is absolutely nothing like sex addiction. Sex addicts have sex with strings of random partners; this requires a social impulsiveness, a changed sense of self, a rampant self-destructiveness; and it takes sex addicts a lot of work to deal with these difficult issues and come back to themselves.

koeselitz, are you a licensed psychoanalyst? Is that definition from the DSM-IV? Because, frankly, you're wrong. Sex addiction is not neatly limited to people who have sex with strings of random partners. I've known people who self-identify as sex addicts; AFAIK most of them have discussed this with their therapists; some of them limit their "addictive behaviors" ("acting out") to porn. One of them has sex with someone they hate - but only one person at a time, and not a string of random partners. One is in fact physically chaste - a "dry drunk", if you will - because they don't trust themselves sexually.

Your stringent definition is useless; it's like defining an alcoholic as someone who drinks any liquor they can get their hands on. I have a friend who used to down at a minimum a 12-pack a night, until he went cold sober - but whiskey & wine held no allure for him.

Ergo, the OP is possibly a porn addict, even if he doesn't engage in sex with a string of random partners. More importantly, he has (self-acknowledged) self-esteem problems, and his behavior troubles him. All of this points to a need for therapy.

OP: No one here can say if you're an addict or not. The label ("porn addict", "sex addict", whatever...) isn't as important as the underlying issues. You do have issues you need (and want) help with. Seek help.
posted by IAmBroom at 7:13 AM on September 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


IAmABroom: There is no DSM-IV definition of sexual addiction. All of the varieties of 'sexual addiction' you listed fit perfectly into the description I gave (unless you'd like to claim that all compulsive porno-jerking is sex addiction, which is a point I guess you could argue if you chose.)

And if the only person who is ever qualified to talk about sex or addiction is a licensed psychoanalyst, then I don't see how any of us survive in life without such a degree.
posted by koeselitz at 8:17 AM on September 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


koeselitz, you said "Sex addicts have sex with strings of random partners" in a way that implied, syntactically, that that was the only way sex addicts behaved. (This may not have been what you meant, but it's the way that sentence parsed.)

IAmBroom points out quite fairly that people who self-identify as "sex addicts", and who self-identify as successfully receiving treatment for same, have lots of ways of expressing their out-of-control behavior, including masturbation and serial monogamous-but-self-destructive relationships.

The issues that clients and therapists describe as "sex addiction" include more unwanted and self-destructive behaviors than having "strings of random partners"--they include any kind of compulsive sexual behavior that the client feels is out of control and damaging his or her life.

I'm not sure that I think "sex addiction" is the most useful way to describe those behaviors and issues, but I know people for whom that conceptual model, and the treatment models that are inspired by it, have been literally life-saving.
posted by Sidhedevil at 9:23 AM on September 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


Sorry for responding and making this an issue. I'm certainly no professional, expert, or even extremely experienced, anyway. I've probably said to much anyhow, but let this stand as an apology; I'm stepping out to avoid causing further banderfilter here. Sorry again, all.
posted by koeselitz at 9:32 AM on September 1, 2009


Agreed with the remarks about the "guilt" being the problem, rather than the purported addiction.

I find myself quite the viewer of such material, but I've used it to better define what specifically I am interested in -- whereas many many women would catch my attention, but after having seen so many varying types and kinds, I know what I like best, and most women don't trip me up anymore.

If anything, hunting up for material that suits my narrow taste in it wastes loads of time that could be perhaps better spent elsewhere, rather than contributing to the darkening of soul.

Somewhat off topic: Draw two separate circles on a sheet of paper, and draw arrows pointing out of one circle, and arrows pointing in to the other. At any and every given moment, you do have the option of being one of those two circles -- one that continually reacts to everything thrown at it, like the grass tossed around by the wind.. or the one who is the circumstance thrower, like the wind who tosses around the grass. Simply realizing that the option is available, and choosing it, is more your issue, I think.
posted by Quarter Pincher at 12:52 PM on September 1, 2009


some of it illegal,

As far as I know there is only one kind of porn that is illegal. People telling the asker to chill out and let his freak flag fly should consider carefully what they are saying.

Keep going to therapy OP.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 1:55 PM on September 1, 2009


As far as I know there is only one kind of porn that is illegal. People telling the asker to chill out and let his freak flag fly should consider carefully what they are saying.

I think your small quote is out of context and thus misleading. The OP says that he has occasionally accidently stumbled upon illegal material but makes it clear he doesn't seek it out or like it. While I can't speak to the legalities of accidently seeing something illegal, it's certainly a completely different matter from a moral point of view.

The OP makes it clear that he himself never does anything (purposefully) illegal.
posted by Justinian at 8:15 PM on September 1, 2009


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