My research project: exploring the lived experience of problematic internet porn users.

Hello dear reader,

Firstly, I must apologise for my lack of content and posts in recent times. I must admit I have been feeling a little guilty about that lately. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had some great ideas and notes I’ve jotted down here and there about things I’d like to share with you but I haven’t gotten around to actually posting them! But, in my defense, I’ve had a lot going on this year. Working full-time as a counsellor in the drug and alcohol space which is both challenging and super rewarding as well as trying to fumble through the last few subjects for my Masters (in Counselling & Psychotherapy) has, I must admit, taken up a lot of my time and energy. And now I’m about to embark on my first ever research project which is equally daunting and exciting!

My research project is an exploration of the lived experience of self-identified problematic porn users. I am quite aware of some of the controversy surrounding sex and porn addiction and of some of the backlash that has occurred in the recent media in the wake of the #metoo movement. I think there needs to be a deeper dialogue here and less of the name calling and semantics of whether or not something is labelled an “addiction” or not. Case in point, I had to change the name of my study and take out the word “addiction” to get it approved. The issues as I see it here seem to be multiple and complex. I will attempt to outline them here, forgive me if I digress as I am really just thinking out loud here (in a public forum such as a blog which is so 2018!) anyway… here we go:

  • Diagnosis as a precursor to treatment.

What’s in a name? Well funding and access to treatment as it so happens. The term “addiction” is no longer used as a discreet diagnostic term in the DSM-V. Instead the term “substance use disorder” is used under the umbrella category of “addictive disorders”. For example, if the substance of choice is alcohol then you have an alcohol use disorder. The DSM-V  is the latest edition in a succession of ever expanding diagnostic categories which is used by psychologists, psychiatrists as well as government funding bodies when deciding who and what gets funding for Medicare backed treatment options. For example, if you are wanting to access treatment for mental health issues under Medicare, your doctor can only diagnose you with a condition that is recognized in either the DSM-V or the newly updated ICD-11, which finally includes a diagnosis of Compulsive Sexual Behaviour Disorder, which can include compulsive internet pornography consumption. This is a positive step towards understanding, clarity and hopefully funding more more research in this area.

Despite this, there are still claims in the media that sex addiction is “not the same thing” as compulsive sexual behaviour disorder, including misleading headlines such as, “Sex addiction may not be real, but the world’s leading health group just recognised ‘compulsive sexual behaviour disorder’.

That is not to say there are no treatments available for those who identify as sex or porn addicts but they will most likely get treated for their co-morbid conditions (anxiety, depression, or a co-morbid substance use issue) or if they have the means, there are many private counsellors and therapist out there that do recognise that porn and sex addiction is a real phenomenon regardless of how the DSM-V  or the APA wishes to treat it.

In light of the inclusion of Compulsive Sexual Behaviour Disorder in the ICD-11 the AASECT  position on the term “sex addiction” (that it, “does not find sufficient empirical evidence to support the classification of sex addiction or porn addiction as a mental health disorder”) seems outdated, however, I see their position is still the same on their website. Whether or not something is called an addiction or compulsion is really a matter of semantics. The real issue is suffering. The suffering that is experienced by individuals who have developed real problems and consequences due to their use of internet pornography.

See this article for a therapist’s view of classification of sex and porn addiction as a discrete disorder: Dear Anyone Who Thinks Sex Addiction Does Not Exist…

  • Social factors.

In the wake of the #metoo movement, and as a result of the likes of Harvey Weinstein, Tiger Woods and Kevin Spacey to name a few of the high profile celebrities who have recently gone into treatment for “sex addiction”, following being outed for sex related crimes and sexual harassment claims, there has occurred a social media backlash of sorts denouncing the term “sex addiction”. It has been viewed as just a convenient excuse for bad behviour and in some cases as a way to avoid what some would consider appropriate punishment for their actions. This writer does not mince her words when declaring, “Sex Addiction does not exist”, with the equally clearcut sub-heading which declares:

“Sex addiction is a label used by rich, powerful men to avoid punishment for sexually violent behaviour.”

It is quite clear that the meshing of the terms “sex addiction” and “sex offences” is occurring to the point where some people see them as one and the same thing, (they clearly are not). Not all sex addicts are sex offenders and vice versa. See this article interviewing Dr Stephanie Carnes, daughter of Patrick Carnes who first bought the concept of sex addiction to the public’s attention with his many books on the topic, for a more balanced view. The point here is that social factors are part of the reason why the topic of sex and porn addiction is so controversial. Some commentators are wary of pathologizing a normal human behaviour. Some think that sex addiction is a term used to shame people and judge people who’s sexuality falls outside of the norm. These concerns are understandable but are a little far-fetched and not backed by the most recent research evidence.

What I find interesting is that no-one would question someone who self-identifies as an alcoholic to the same extent as some researchers are questioning porn users who identify as “porn addicts” – (see this article titled, “Believing you are addicted to porn is what causes psychological distress,” for an example of the popularization of this potentially damaging idea).  So why is there such a spotlight placed on sex/porn addicts?  The article is basically talking about the research of Joshua Grubbs and his team who have been researching the concept of “perceived addiction” to pornography and religious morality as factors in psychological distress related to porn use. I have no doubt that for some individuals, religious faith (or religiosity as it is sometimes called) and morality does add another dimension to the harms they are experiencing due to excessive porn use, but it is not the single factor as many other studies can attest to. I could list a bunch here but just head on over to www.yourbrainonporn.com for a comprehensive list. The Grubbs’ studies, for some reason, ignore a lot of other research in the area of porn use where users do not feel any moral misgivings about using porn but still describe symptoms which mirror those who are in addiction to substances such as alcohol or cocaine, including symptoms similar to tolerance (e.g. escalation of types of porn consumed over time), compulsion, desire, triggers/cravings, inability to curb use despite a desire to do so and symptoms similar to withdrawal.

  • Addiction and semantics

Words have power. In recent times there has developed a reluctance on the part of some clinicians, organizations and media to use the words like “addict” or “addiction” when describing what are in essence addictive behaviours. There is a reluctance to use these words as “labels” because of the social stigma attached to them. Most individuals I talk to as an alcohol and other drugs counsellor who are in recovery are the first to call themselves an “addict”. Speaking to recovering addicts, they appear to welcome the “label” or the description of their behaviour by this one word as a way to perhaps name their problem in the most efficient way, especially those from a 12 Step program. If this is the case, who are we as clinicians to correct them and say you’ve got it wrong? There is one word that seems to describe the behaviour most accurately for all these people, whether they are suffering from a substance use disorder or a “problematic behaviour”, and that word seems to be addiction. Following the philosophy that in order to cleanse oneself of an issue, one has to first acknowledge and accept that an issue exists in the first place, for many, the word “addiction” or “addict” best seems to do this. Whether or not the term is accepted by the media, clinical and scientific community is really irrelevant when it comes to recovery and healing from the wounds both caused by and those that have predated someone’s addiction. The fact that the DSM-V lists substance use disorders under the umbrella heading of “Addictive Disorders” should be enough to give the word some credence as the most accurate, descriptive term for a set of behaviours which involve physical, psychological and neurological factors that share common features (see Love et al., 2015).

  • The importance of honouring lived experience

Carl Jung, one of my favourite therapists, philosophers and thinkers knew that statistics only tell a part of the story, the “ideal average” as he called it. In order to tell the truth of experience one needs to use words rather than numbers. As a former journalist, it is always the story that interests me most. As researchers, we should not lose fact of the importance of personal insight and experience. As a qualitative researcher, my study is in the form of an online survey asking open ended questions and my aim is to explore what problematic users of internet pornography experience.

Here is a link to the participant information page:

https://pornresearchstudy.wordpress.com/  

Update (October 2018)

The survey is now closed. I now begin the daunting task of coding and analysis of the results. The information page will remain live for the next few months in case participants need to access the support pages listed.

References & further reading:

Garcia, F., & Thibaut, F. (2010). Sexual Addictions. The American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse, 36(5), 254-260.

Goodman, A. (2001). What’s in a Name? Terminology for Designating a Syndrome of Driven Sexual Behavior. Sexual Addiction & Compulsivity, 8(3-4), 191-213.

Harper, C., & Hodgins, D. C. (2016). Examining Correlates of Problematic Internet Pornography Use Among University Students. Journal of Behavioral Addictions, 5(2), 179–191.

Kraus, S. W., Voon, V., Kor, A., and Potenza, M. N. (2016) Searching for clarity in muddy water: future considerations for classifying compulsive sexual behavior as an addiction. Addiction, 111: 2113–2114.

Kwako, Momenan, Litten, Koob, & Goldman. (2016). Addictions Neuroclinical Assessment: A Neuroscience-Based Framework for Addictive Disorders. Biological Psychiatry, 80(3), 179-189.

Love, T., Laier, C., Brand, M., Hatch, L., & Hajela, R. (2015). Neuroscience of Internet Pornography Addiction: A Review and Update. Behavioral Sciences, 5(3), 388-433.

Wilt, J., Cooper, E., Grubbs, J., Exline, J., & Pargament, K. (2016). Associations of Perceived Addiction to Internet Pornography with Religious/Spiritual and Psychological Functioning. Sexual Addiction & Compulsivity, 23(2-3), 260-278.

 

 

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Some simple ACT strategies for managing urges, cravings and triggers

What is ACT?

ACT stands for Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. ACT is a powerful way to learn how to manage anxiety by accepting your thoughts and feelings and taking control of your life by taking committed action in the present to create a more meaningful, richer life in the future. It has a lot of tools and helpers that you can use right now to help you with any uncomfortable thoughts, memories, worries, feelings or urges, cravings and triggers that may present themselves on your recovery journey, as they invariably do.

ACT uses mindfulness based strategies to help you get present. Getting present is the first and fastest way to take control of your meandering mind. Mindfulness can be described as focused attention on what is happening both internally and externally without trying to change, judge or struggle with whatever is happening for you in that moment. This allows you to take control and make better choices.

Following are some mindfulness based ACT strategies.

Contacting the present moment 

Grounding is a mindfulness based exercise which involves grounding yourself in the present moment in order to ride out any emotional storms that come your way.

The purpose of grounding yourself is not to make the storm go away or change how you feel about it but simply to hold you steady until the storm passes on its own.

What to do

When a painful feeling, thought or memory threatens to ‘capsize’ you don’t try to control it or push it away or bury it deep, instead;

  • Stop what you are doing.
  • Push both feet firmly into the floor
  • Clasp both hands firmly together
  • Take a deep breath in and let it out fully
  • Notice your pain…. and also notice the following
  • Notice 5 things in the room
  • Notice 3 or 4 things you can hear or smell
  • Notice the sensation of your body being supported in your chair or if you are standing, the feeling of standing on something solid. Feel the certainty of the ground beneath your feet holding you up.
  • Take another deep breath and remember that even though your pain feels and is real, so are these other things. 

“Defusion” exercises

Defusion is another form of mindfulness which involves detaching yourself, ‘unhooking’, or creating some space between you and a disturbing, negative, worrying or otherwise unhelpful thought that has been getting in the way of you living the life or being the person you really want to be. There are many ways to practice defusion. Below are some simple strategies that can be done alone or with a therapist or another supportive person.

 

1 – I’m having the thought that…

One of the simplest ways of recognizing your thoughts for what they are (just words or images, floating in and out of our minds) is to put the phrase, “I’m having the thought that…” right before whatever your unhelpful thought may be. For example, if you are struggling with feeling unwanted or unloved you may have a thought that comes up for you frequently which is, “Nobody cares about me”.

When you have this thought all the time, it can understandably cause you to feel even more unwanted and unloved because you are ‘fused’ with the message of that thought, or to put it another way, you have convinced yourself that the thought is true and believe it 100 per cent. This causes you to feel even worse.

However, if you try changing, “nobody cares about me” to “I’m having the thought that nobody cares about me” – it suddenly takes on a different meaning. You are no longer telling yourself you are uncared for, you are simply recognising that you are having a thought about nobody caring. Notice the difference in how your feel when you put the words, “I’m having the thought that…” before such thoughts.

2 – Naming the story

Often we tend to tell ourselves the same old thing on repeat. Like a broken record in your head, our minds tell us all sorts of things that are often remnants of old conversations, memories and messages that we may heard from parents, teachers or other adults from childhood. Often we find these thoughts are similar in some way and soon enough, you may notice that they tend to be variations on a theme. Often, it’s a variation on the “not good enough” story. Not this enough, not that enough etc. Whatever it is, once you recognise your stories it’s time to practice letting them go if they no longer serve you. Try the following exercise it order to do this, especially when a particularly triggering thought takes hold.

  1. Listen to your thoughts. What is your mind telling you. (Give yourself some time to do this, a few days or a week at least.)
  2. What are they? (If it helps, write them down)
  3. What’s the story?  Remember, it’s just a story. It can be true or false, correct or incorrect but is it helpful? Does it help me in any way to keep thinking this way?

If no, practice letting the thought go.

3 – The Worry Later Plan

Take a deep breath and exhale completely before and after this exercise.

  1. First listen to your thoughts.
  2. What are they? What are you worrying about? (Write them down if it helps to clarify them.)
  3. Ask yourself this question; Can I do something about this right now?
  4. If yes, do it. No matter how small.
  5. If no, then let it go and worry about it later. (Sometimes you can schedule a time to worry about this particular issue. You can even set an alarm. Often you might find that when worry time comes, the thing you were worrying about may have dissipated.)

4 – Mindful Stop

Do this anytime you are feeling uncertain, overwhelmed or anxious:

(This was taken from from Russ Harris’, The Happiness Trap)

Now here’s one especially useful, ultra-brief, and very simple mindfulness practice, that you can easily incorporate into your busy daily routine, no matter how pressed for time you are. I call it the mindful S.T.O.P. Here’s how it goes:

S – Slow down (slow down your breathing; or slowly press your feet into the floor; or slowly stretch your arms; or slowly press your fingertips together)
T – Take note (with a sense of curiosity, notice your thoughts & feelings; notice what you can see and hear and touch and taste and smell; notice where you are and what you are doing)
O – Open up (open up and make room for your thoughts & feelings, and allow them to freely flow through you; use any defusion or expansion skill you like)
P – Pursue values (reconnect with your values, and let them guide whatever you do next)

For more on mindful stop you can visit:

http://www.thehappinesstrap.com/how_to_do_a_mindful_s.t.o.p

5 – Letting go

We often spend a lot of time struggling with unwanted thoughts, memories, fears or sensations. This often adds to our distress. For example, with anxiety, we might wish that we didn’t feel anxiety, we might tell ourselves, “I shouldn’t feel this way!” – then we might get angry about our anxiety, so before long we have anxiety, anger about our anxiety and soon enough we might start to feel depressed about our anger and our anxiety – so we now have 3 uncomfortable feelings that we are struggling with. Often our emotions become bigger or appear to be unmanageable when we refuse to look at them directly or are afraid to face them. Often, we find when we finally stop to notice and allow ourselves the luxury of experiencing our reality for what it is (instead of fighting with ourselves about how we should or shouldn’t feel) we find our emotions aren’t as big and scary as we once thought. 

So, what if you were able to just let go of struggling with unwanted thoughts and experiences. What if, when anxiety came up instead of feeling dread or annoyance we just simply noticed it, acknowledged it and took a few deep breaths and carried on with our day? How would that change the way you manage stress and discomfort? 

*

Try these exercises in your day to day life, you can use the “Mindful S.T.O.P” exercise every time you feel yourself beginning to struggle with an unwanted thought or experience. Pretty soon you won’t need to go through the all the steps, you will just be able to Notice, Acknowledge, Accept and Move On!

Remember,  the point of power is always in the present moment.

If you want something to change

When working with persons who are struggling with any mental health or emotional issue, it is interesting to note how attached people become to the behaviours, beliefs and/or relationships that are the main cause of their difficulties and the reason for their appearance in the consulting room. This is not surprising, in psychology, defensive behaviours […]

Porn addiction – it’s not just you. Truth, reality and hope for addicts and partners.

In 2014 I wrote a serious article with a slightly tongue in cheek heading called  Is internet porn the beginning of the end for the human race?  Now while I admit, I may have been exaggerating slightly, the premise of the article was clearly not entirely without justification. It may seem a little far fetched but if, as I saw tonight while out at dinner, parents are using screens to placate/regulate a child’s behaviour out in public then what does that really mean for that child and their ability to engage with other humans later in life? What happens when, as a society, we are more comfortable relating to a screen or to another human being through the medium of a screen, than we are when faced with a flesh and blood human. One that you can’t simply swipe away when convenient?

How does this relate to porn addiction? Well for many years the debate on porn was centered around the notion that succumbing to the temptation of porn signified some kind of moral failing. From a religious/Christian point of view, it was a question of sinfulness.  A sign that one has allowed oneself to become infected with one or more of the seven supposed deadliest of sins, lust and/or gluttony. Or, from a feminist point of view, porn is seen as the vile exploitation of women as sexual, one dimensional objects with no humanity other than form. Exposure to pornography was seen as something that was detrimental to our morality and incremental to men’s seemingly unquenchable appetite for all things sexual. Yet as Naomi Wolf ironically points out in her article, The Porn Myth in actuality, the end result of too much exposure to pornography has had the effect, not of turning men into sexually ravenous beasts, but the complete opposite; sexual and emotional anorexics who can no longer relate authentically to a real life woman or get aroused by one. As it turns out, excessive viewing of pornography in this digital age turns men off, not on.

As numerous studies now show, repetitive and compulsive viewing of internet porn by men, (and a growing number of women) induces the opposite effect than one might expect, and just like a person who is addicted to a substance grows increasingly desensitized to the drug whilst continuing to crave it more and more, a person who is addicted to pornography finds he/she ends up on pretty much the same, well trodden treadmill. Intensely wanting something that can no longer provide the temporary relief and stimulation it once did.

Recent research implies that internet pornography is as addictive as certain drugs and affects the brain the same way. But, porn’s special hook is that it taps into that human need for attachment by adding into the mix hormones that are normally associated with bonding, love and connection. In effect, a porn addict becomes more attached to porn than anything or anyone else in their life. As a consequence, relationships, marriages, work and soon enough, the relationship with the self begins to suffer.

Porn addiction, like any addiction goes through stages – however, unlike most other addictions, the physical effects of porn addiction are virtually invisible, and the psychological and emotional effects are quite subtle, at first. In-fact, many porn addicts may seek treatment of a variety of mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, OCD, as well as physical ailments, stress, other addictions and finally sexual performance before anyone “thinks to ask about their porn viewing habits”.

But more and more studies clearly link issues related to sexual performance, including as I mention in my previous post, erectile dysfunction in men in their late teens and early twenties, (something that was almost unheard of 10 – 15 years ago) back to extensive viewing of internet porn. It is only when they can no longer get an erection, or ejaculate even with porn that some men start to make the connection between their excessive viewing of porn and other issues in their life. Often this is the only thing that eventually get’s their attention. (Their partners, if they have partners, may have known for some time that something was happening, or rather…not happening!)

This sorry state of affairs is bad news for both porn addicts and partners of porn/sex addicts, many who spend night after night lying in bed next to a partner that never seems to be ‘in the mood’ for sex. The result can be devastating to marriages, relationships and the self-esteem to both parties. The secretive nature of most men’s porn addiction may also mean that some partners may not know that they are in a relationship with a porn addict or even if they are aware of their partner’s porn habit, they may not make the connection at first either. Or they may not know the extent of their partner’s porn viewing. The damage this causes relationships is thus far unmeasurable.  One site states that 56% of divorces in the U.S. involve one party having an obsessive interest in pornography among other staggering statistics.

So, is the news all bad? Well, no. Latest brain research shows that the brain is actually very flexible, and  malleable, kind of like plasticine. In-fact the term for the way the brain can change itself, based on what is experienced is called neuroplasticity. This is good news. As I mentioned in an earlier post, the same way you get yourself into a sticky situation is largely the same way to get yourself out of it. While the allure of internet porn may have lost its charm many clicks ago, the habit that it has created will be hard to break. Hard, but not impossible. For men who have lost the ability to relate to women, emotionally and physically, and for partners of addicts there seems little alternative, other than to dissolve the relationship, which let’s face it, is fairly likely. It can’t be much fun to be in a relationship with a porn addict. However, chances are that if you leave a relationship with one porn addict, you are more than likely to run into another just as addicted, or on his way to being so, seeing as in America at least, sex addiction (which porn addiction is a form of) has reached epidemic status, according to this 2011 News Week article.

So, how do you beat a porn addiction and reverse its affects on the brain? Well the answer is simple, if not easy and this is simply to stop it. Stop all contact with porn and masturbating to porn and give your brain a chance to rewire itself and re-learn, or rediscover what comes naturally.

That is the only solution. I did say it was simple, but not easy. Recovering from porn addiction (for addicts and/or partners) takes time, courage and commitment and it is not easy to do without support. There are some very good websites now that can assist, (which I shall list below in the resources) but the assistance of a therapist who is aware of the nature of porn and sex addiction, one who will take it seriously can be fundamental to long lasting recovery. At least, having a close friend or understanding partner (if that is possible) that you know and trust is also important. The reason being that porn and sex addiction most likely mask other issues. Issues such as fear of intimacy, abandonment fears, attachment disorders, and perhaps even trauma. Once the defence of porn has left the building, then there is nothing to protect your unconscious and chances are some deeply buried emotional wounds may re-open.

It’s important to be aware of this possibility as many who try to ‘re-boot’ as it is called on websites such as Your Brain on Porn and Fight the New Drug often try many times and fail because they are inadequately prepared or lack support.

If you are experiencing porn addiction or are the partner of a porn addict, seek help from a qualified therapist and/or see some of the websites listed below for more information.

SOURCES
http://www.covenanteyes.com/2013/02/19/pornography-statistics/
http://fightthenewdrug.org/get-the-facts/#sthash.ubb4Ty3m.dpbs
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3050060/
http://blogs.psychcentral.com/sex/2013/05/the-prevalence-of-porn/
http://yourbrainonporn.com/cambridge-university-brain-scans-find-porn-addiction
http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=125382361
http://newsok.com/the-five-stages-of-pornography-addiction/article/5407775/?page=2
http://nymag.com/nymetro/news/trends/n_9437/index1.html
http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2015/jun/13/a-letter-to-my-ex-husband-who-preferred-pornography-to-me
http://www.newsweek.com/sex-addiction-epidemic-66289
http://globalchristiancenter.com/mens/overcoming-temptations/16765-pornography-in-the-church-a-new-epidemic
https://www.lds.org/tools/print/article/narrow/?lang=eng&url=/topics/pornography/audiences/youth/teenagers-and-pornography-addiction-treating-the-silent-epidemic
RESOURCES
http://www.covenanteyes.com/ (Internet filtering service)
http://yourbrainonporn.com/
http://www.fightthenewdrug.org/
http://www.posarc.com/ (Partners of sex addicts resource center)

The positive side of addiction – or how to turn ‘bad habits’ into your best self

This morning I was having breakfast with a friend and the conversation turned to the topic of obesity. A rather large lady had sat behind my friend and he had no choice but to move his chair closer to our table and found himself wedged in somewhat and unable to enjoy the rest of his meal in comfort. (As is the case with most cafe’s in Sydney’s inner west, adequate space between tables to allow for people of all shapes and sizes is considered an unnecessary waste of valuable real estate.) The question was asked, Unavoidable health conditions aside, what makes some people go from merely overweight, which let’s face it most of us are, to being dangerously, uncomfortably and in some extreme cases, morbidly obese?

I posited this response, Perhaps for some people who struggle with weight, there gets a point where they feel that no matter what they do or how hard they try, they are never going to be as thin, or as perfect or as whatever as they think they ought to be and at some point they lose the battle or give up fighting and think, What’s the point in trying? I may as well just eat whatever and not give a f&^%k. And before they know it they have gone from merely overweight to obese.

Or for some people, perhaps it starts with their relationship to food and eating. They turn to food as a source of comfort, as way to self-soothe and regulate emotions. When you feel sad, depressed or hopeless, that 4 litre tub of ice-cream can seem like a true friend. Nothing like a bit of self-indulgence to make yourself feel better, at times. However, when it becomes a regular thing rather than an occasional indulgence it can become a problem.

And the problem with too much self-indulgence, whether it be food, drugs, alcohol, sex or any habit forming, mood regulating behaviour is the little hook of dependency, (When you start to depend on your self-soothing behaviour too much, or as a way of avoiding dealing with unpleasant, or uncomfortable realities). And the fact that too much of a good thing can easily turn bad. The human body/mind is a delicately balanced conscious/unconscious machine and it doesn’t take too much to throw it off kilter. So while eating food is something we all need to do and is essential to our health and well being …too much food, or too much of the wrong types of food will make us overweight, feel sick or just plain unwell and in some cases, obese.

Another kick in the shins is when we realize that we are using our ‘little indulgences’ to feel better a little too much and find that it’s not so easy to stop the behaviour just because we decide that we want to. It’s not that easy, because a habit has been formed. By the point you consciously realize that, Hey I can’t fit into any of my clothes, is that really me in that photo?! I really ought to eat better/less exercise more…. I’ll start tomorrow. Your brain, your unconscious brain more specifically, has formed some deep, well worn, neurological ridges and short cuts to feeling ‘better’ and it doesn’t see any good reason to stop or change just because you say so.

Using food as an example, however, this can apply to any addictive or habit forming behaviour, let’s say you have decided that you want to lose weight and have decided to cut out all junk food, from today! You do fine for a couple of days, and then on day three you have a particularly bad day. You forget to set your alarm, so you sleep in and run late for work. Then, you have to give a presentation and you find that because you were so rushed that morning, you have left your notes at home and so the presentation doesn’t go all that well. Your boss calls you into her office and has a serious yet well meaning chat with you about it. The rest of the day you are feeling down and just pissed off with yourself and by 3pm you are really starting to think about venturing over to the vending machine for a chocolate bar to go with your afternoon coffee. You somehow resist the urge and make it through to the end of the day without caving in. You are feeling pretty proud of yourself and positive until you get a text from a friend cancelling your dinner plans. This wouldn’t be such a big deal except this is the third time in a row they have cancelled and you suddenly get the feeling that they don’t want to see you anymore. You feel hurt and rejected and what you really want to do is call them up and ask them what the hell is going on? But, instead you slump home and make yourself dinner, it’s healthy because the day before yesterday when you decided that you were going to change your eating habits you threw out all your junk food and bought healthy, fresh food to make real dinners with, rather than the ready to eat meals in a box and snack food that would normally fill your pantry. After dinner, you feel unsatisfied. You are craving chocolate. You are craving chocolate so bad you can’t sit still. You try and take your mind off it but even your favourite TV show is just not making you laugh as much as it normally does. Your mind keeps thinking of chocolate…an ad for Cadbury’s comes on and that’s it. A sign! You can’t take it anymore. You get in your car and drive to the convenience store…

It’s not until you are sitting, staring at an empty packet of Cadbury family size chocolate, the purple wrapper sitting there on your coffee table looking crumpled and defeated, that the reality of what has just occurred sinks in. Oh no… you think. Why couldn’t I stop at just a couple of rows like I said I would. Why did I have to eat the whole thing! So the comfort once experienced has now turned into self-loathing, shame and defeat. You go to bed feeling worse than before. The sweet, indulgent treat that was once your source of comfort and escape has now turned on you and you feel enslaved to its destructive charm. Laying in bed you start beating yourself up (figuratively of course!) and reminding yourself of what a failure you are and how, No-one will ever love me and what’s the point in trying anymore, people are all f&*^k anyway and will only let you down in the end. It’s all too hard and too much to think about now and anyway, it’s time for bed. You feel so tired. May as well call this a bad day and think about it tomorrow.

And so the cycle continues…

So how to break this cycle? Well there are ways…. And the good news is the same way you got yourself into a sticky situation is largely the same way to get yourself out of it. The difference is taking control. Instead of allowing your unconscious brain to just do what it thinks it needs to do to keep you safe, (and that’s emotionally and physically safe) you need to consciously take control of your own life… The bad news is, it’s not the easy, familiar route to just ‘feeling better’ that you have become used to. It involves making some conscious, and at first un-comfortable and un-familiar choices that will eventually create new habits, new ways of being and relating to yourself and others. It involves facing those realities, or those painful memories and/or unresolved traumas that you have avoided for so long. It also involves forgiveness. Forgiving yourself, and anyone else for those hurts, slights, misguided actions, un-thoughtful words and sometimes even unspeakable acts that may have been committed against you in order to free yourself from the burden of unexpressed anger and resentment.

It’s not as easy as eating a block of chocolate, or taking a hit of heroin, or drinking yourself into numbness or losing yourself for days and days watching internet porn or staying at home, ‘working’ instead of going to that party, or spending hours in front of a poker machine or maxing out your credit card on online psychics, pornography or prostitutes or whatever it is you do to make yourself ‘feel better’.

It’s not easy to face the void, not easy at all….but, remember, no-one said you have to do it alone.

If you have trouble kicking any addictive or unhelpful behaviour remember help is available, all you have to do is ask…

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Thanks to Mr R Buesnel for his valuable contribution to this post, for his insight, encouragement and generosity of spirit. 

Is internet porn the beginning of the end for the human race?

After a particularly robust discussion on the topic of internet porn addiction involving a frank and open exchange of views I took it upon myself to do some ‘research’ into the subject out of interest.

To be honest, pornography has never really phased me. Nor have I ever really worried about whether or not my partner looked at porn. I just thought it was something that ‘all guys do’ whether they admit to it or not so why bother getting upset about it. Each to their own was my attitude. But more than that, I also considered myself a pretty ‘open minded’ individual when it came to sex and sexuality. To be honest, I guess I had a pretty naive idea about what porn actually meant and what it actually entailed. It did occur to me that an industry which trades on the subjectification of one human being over another was in essence problematic. However, two adults engaging in mutually satisfying sexual communication is one thing, but pornography has nothing to do with that. Pornography, and internet pornography at that is an entirely other animal.

However, putting all morality and feminist discourse aside what I discovered about the very recent phenomenon that is high-speed internet pornography and the effect it is having on men and in particular very young men, is actually pretty terrifying to say the least.

In my research, which existed of Googling the words “brain porn” I came across this site: www.yourbrainonporn.com which I highly recommend for anyone who is worried about excessive porn use and if it could be affecting other areas of their life. Well, chances are it is, according to the most recent research on the neurology of the brain and how it responds in particular to excessive porn use. Some of the findings may be of surprising interest to some of you. I won’t go into all of them here but the one issue which I think is of alarming importance is the link between increasing instances of erectile dysfunction in men (some as young as 21) which is linked to over use of internet porn.

For some of these young men internet porn has become a way of life, so by the time they hit their early 20s some of them have been accessing and masturbating to internet porn since they were in early adolescence. The problem with that being thus, because the adolescent brain is still forming, a dysfunctional relationship between internet porn and sexuality has become hard wired into their brains, so much so, that they can no longer be aroused by a real life person. Their brains have come to associate sexual satisfaction with internet porn. After a while, some of them report that they have no interest  in actually having sex with another person, they would rather watch porn and get off. How absolutely whack is that?!

According to one recent (2014) Canadian study, 54% of young men aged 16 -21 reported some kind of sexual dysfunction including erectile dysfunction and inability to orgasm. Frequency and length of use can also contribute to problems with RL (real life) sex. That is, years of use and frequency of use can wear out the brain’s natural reward system, hijacking it so that it no longer associates sex with real life women as a reward. It associates sexual reward with sitting alone in your room, in front of a computer with one hand on your penis and the other on the mouse.

There has been some recent debate as to whether sexual addiction is a ‘real’ addiction or not. Well, according to the most recent (2013) DSM-V (Diagnostic & Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) it is, as the brain responds in much the same way and the psycho-social behaviours that sex or porn addicts engage in are much the same.  Avoidance of real life situations, inability to connect intimately with another human being, isolation, shame, increasing instances of depression and anxiety have all been attributed to excessive porn use.

My question is this, if left unchecked and our young men of today are forgoing sex with real girls for the thrill of masturbating to porn alone then what does that mean for the future of humanity and relationships in general? The internet has made it easier to connect at a distance, social media makes it easier to ‘connect’ with others by simply ‘liking’ their post or photos. But, as a species, are we in danger of losing our ability to meaningfully connect in other ways? And if young men in particular are choosing to connect with the image of a porn actress (who will never reject them) on a computer screen rather than risk engagement with a girl (who may reject them) then what about the future of the human race? What about real sex, you know that ol’ chestnut, yeah reproduction of the species? Well that takes real engagement with another human being. And yes, human interaction can get messy. (The sort of messy that you can’t always wipe up with a tissue!) And if half the species are losing their motivation to engage in sexual behaviour with potential mates, then is it only a matter of time until the machines take over all together….?

For more information and links to actual studies check out http://www.yourbrainonporn.com