Pornography addiction shares many things in common with other forms of addiction but it is secrecy and feelings of shame with which it is most strongly associated. Symptoms of depression often follow.
Secrecy reinforces pornography addiction
The priority for any addiction is to protect the supply and use of the addictive substance or behaviour. Concealment provides this protection, putting off potential exposure to the questions, judgements and restraint of others. Secrecy helps prevent any challenge to the continuation of compulsive use. As soon as significant others know what is going on there is a risk of confrontation and therefore a threat to carrying on. Secrecy also helps to reinforce any denial of the loss of control and any self-justification and/or minimisation of the frequency of consumption.
With secrecy comes increasing isolation. Dealing with the loss of control alone often leads to a desperate sense of loneliness, to which the addictive response is typically more of the behaviour that is causing the problem: compulsive consumption of pornography. It is like bingeing on food that contains no nourishment.
The state of disconnectedness
Addiction has been described as a state of disconnectedness because it removes people from meaningful relationship with others. This is never more clearly illustrated than with pornography addiction. The behaviour is all about rapid, repeated stimulation and short-term gratification and by its nature involves no meaningful interaction with another real person.
As with other addictions tolerance may occur, which means that the behaviour has to be repeated more and more often to produce the same effect. New and increasingly extreme images may be sought to be sure of an arousing effect.
Effects of pornography addiction
It is often the case that a person does not realise they are hooked until problems appear in other aspects of their life. These would generally show up as effects on intimate relationships. Someone may typically avoid sexual encounters with their partner possibly because, where men are concerned, they have developed PIED (Pornography-Induced Erectile Dysfunction) which means they can no longer achieve an erection without the stimulus of pornography. They may also or alternatively begin to seek out other forms of sex that does not involve real relationship. A key factor, as in other forms of addiction, is the amount of time committed to viewing pornography, which interferes with normal life.
Evidence suggests that the secrecy associated with compulsive pornography consumption leads to partners feeling excluded. It reduces trust and increases the chances of interpersonal conflict. As with other addictions, it becomes clear a third party is threatening the relationship; in this case, pornography.
The first steps to change
- Acceptance that there is a problem
- Honesty with yourself about amounts, type and frequency of pornography use
- Disclose to a non-judgemental person/ trusted professional
- Acceptance of help
Given that central to pornography addiction is isolation and disconnectedness from relationship, a residential treatment episode is worth considering as it provides the opportunity to share openly with others and reconnect in a safe environment.