Recognising Sex and Porn Addiction

 

I recently provided some training in Recognising Sex and Porn Addiction. In writing this month’s blog, I thought about sharing this with you to see if you recognise yourself, or, someone close to you?

People can use a variety of words to describe their sexual behaviour from sex and porn addiction, hypersexuality, sexually acting out, sexual activity and compulsive sexual behaviour disorder. You can use whatever words you are comfortable or least uncomfortable with in describing your sexual behaviours.

By the age of 10 years, most children will have saw porn or certainly have an idea of it. By the age of 15 years, 20 – 60% of boys will have looked at porn and by the age of 17/18 years. 85%. We are in the age of digital natives. For those born post 1980 and usage of the internet and technology is a normal way of life. So young people and adults may have grown up with porn viewing it as ‘normal entertainment’. So, to what degree do you think porn is normalised and indeed the sex industry generally and how would you recognise whether you think it is having an adverse effect on you?

In considering this, it might be helpful to have a definition of sex and porn addiction; know what it is not; consider the common myths and behaviours of sex addiction, what stops people asking for help and the importance of having an assessment by someone who is knowledgeable to consider whether you genuinely have an addiction and what to do.

 

Let’s look at a definition of what sex and porn addiction is

I use the World Health Organisation (WHO) definition who classify the sexual behaviours as an impulse control disorder and not an addictive disorder. Generally speaking, classification is first described as a disorder and later may become classified as a behavioural addiction such as gaming or gambling addiction.

The 4 components of Compulsive Sexual behaviour Disorder (CSBD) are: -.

1.Being pre-occupied and out of control with persistent repetitive sexual behaviour.

2.Continuing with the sexual behaviours despite harmful consequences.

3.Numerous attempts to reduce or stop the sexual behaviour despite adverse consequences or deriving little or no sexual satisfaction from it.

4.The pattern of behaviour to control intense, sexual impulses or urges resulting in repetitive sexual behaviour is manifested over a period of time – 6 months or more.

 

What sex and porn addiction is not.

Sex addiction is not about underlying conditions.

The WHO, in defining CSBD, were keen to address one of the most common concerns that self-diagnosis would be based on a person’s evaluation of moral incongruence. Diagnosis should not be based on psychological distress caused by moral judgements or disapproval.

Moral judgements can be based on societies views of proscribed norms which are forever changing and there is constant conflict between who is responsible between the individual, family, church and government.

Morally you may disagree with certain sexual activities but if you are not not pre-occupied with it or it is out of control, then this may not be an addiction.

If your sexual activity contravenes your own values and beliefs and you feel it is harmful to you then it may be an addiction – if you are enjoying the behaviour with no remorse or regret or emptiness then it may not be an addiction.

 

Sex addiction and porn addiction is still widely misunderstood.

Sex addiction is not driven by sexual desire although it may have started off that way, but it’s not about sex any more than alcohol addiction is about savouring the vintage of the wine or contemplating how the grapes were grown. If you are alcohol dependent you are drinking to drown your emotions often to the point of black out and no memory to numb your feelings.

Similarly, sex and porn addiction become the route to escape from difficult emotions. The problem can be many people have little or no awareness of their feelings and therefore don’t make the link between emotional pain and sexually acting out. The difference between compulsive / addictive sexual behaviours is that sexually acting out becomes the only way to manage your emotions.

Sex addiction can be thought about as having the opportunity to act out as well as what might be driving the sexual behaviours such as attachment and trauma issues. Gabor Mate talks generally about addiction and his belief – ‘Its not the why of the addiction – it’s the way of the emotional pain’. Sex addiction, however, is unlike any other addiction because it violates the person and very core of intimate relationships.

 

Some of the most common behaviours of CSBD

These include internet addition – pornography, webcam and cybersex and fetishes and visiting sex workers.

Porn Addiction is a modern phenomenon and the Internet has enabled porn to be freely and widely available without cost.

Internet porn starts as a pursuit of pleasure and then becomes compelling because of unending novelty which gets your arousal system skyrocketing. This consent novelty is known as a supernormal-stimuli which has a powerful effect on the brain. This stimuli is known as the ‘crack cocaine’ of sex addiction.

What happens is that the constant novelty of porn produces copious amounts of ‘dopamine’ – the ‘seeking and searching’ chemical for pleasure and reward. Dopamine amps up your reward circuity where you experience craving and pleasure and this is where you get hooked on porn.

‘The Coolidge effect’ is an example of how unrelenting novelty can drive behaviour. It got its name from US president Calvin Coolidge. The story goes that he and his wife were touring a farm. The farmer proudly showed Mrs Coolidge a rooster that could copulate with hens all day long.  Mrs Coolidge coyly suggested that the famer tell that to Mr Coolidge. The farmer duly did and the president said ‘With the same hen?’ ‘No sir’ replied the farmer. ‘Tell that to Mrs Coolidge the present retorted’.

Excessive porn use has can lead to sexual dysfunction.  Repeated exposure to supernormal – stimuli lowers the arousal threshold sometimes leading to problems with arousal and maintaining an erection. In professional terms, this is known as PIED – (Porn Induced Erectile Dysfunction) as attraction to real partners fade because they aren’t constant novelty with rapidly changing visual cues. So sadly, you get desensitised to their regular partner and their sexual relationship can feel as it is ‘stolen’.

Cybersex – chat sites whether talking or messaging can be very risky, they are often monitored by the police as young people under the age of 18 may be on these sites listening or partaking. How do you know the person you are talking to or messaging is over 18 years?

Fetishes –often start around the age of 2/3 years where the child develops a special interest in for example, shoes because they are sitting on the floor beside their mum or teacher and associate shoes with comfort and familiarity and be soothed by it.  They can maintain that interest and being soothed as a child and when puberty arrives the comfort and soothing can become arousing and sexual and be misinterpreted as a sexual fetish.

 

Common myths about sex addiction

Some people wonder whether they just have a high sex drive/appetite and not a sex addiction. How do you determine what’s a higher drive than normal? Do you enjoy it, do you feel its compulsive? If there is enjoyment and no ambivalence, you may not have a compulsion so may not have an addiction. Doing something a bit too much does not equal an addiction. If you are drinking a bit too much and it affects your work then you can ease back. Addiction is you try to ease back but fail. Then you have the elements of addiction.

Other people say they just have a lot of sexthere may be a lot of sex but is there a feeling of being isolated, spending more time with pornography than with people, feeling you have low mood.

Some people can blame their sexual activity on their relationship – ‘if we hadn’t of argued then I wouldn’t be acting out’.  Normally a person’s sexually acting out pre-dates their relationship – in other words the CBSD emanates from the past and the person’s psychological pain which existed before becoming a couple. In meeting with the partner, I talk about ‘The three C’s’, that is the partner did not Cause it, cannot Control it and cannot Cure it.

 

What stops people disclosing sex addiction

What stops people disclosing sex addiction is guilt and shame and often ‘character-damming labels’ which not only affects the sex addict but also their partners and families. Often people have lived with secrecy perhaps for many years and with that what has been felt as ‘unspeakable’ until now. I do not underestimate the magnitude of feeling shamed and its impact of ‘muting’ people.

In feeling such guilt and shame it’s normal to have intense self-loathing and self-hatred. When this happens, I remind them of their inherent health in that they have showed strength and resilience in seeking help. That in therapy, I am with them in providing a safe presence where they will be met, seen and not judged.

 

The importance of an assessment

So, in ending this month’s blog, if there are some things you recognise about yourself or someone close to you, it is important to have an assessment by someone who is knowledgeable to consider whether you genuinely have an addiction or not.

I offer an assessment process and a written formulation and if there is an addiction a treatment plan. How long that takes in working through the treatment plan is up to each individual.

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