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