[This article addresses the taboo of problematic and addictive porn use. It is a case to remove the stigma and to shed light on some of the challenges someone with porn addiction faces. It is not about diagnosing addiction in you or someone else.

If there is an interest in that particular topic, I will write a follow up article devoted towards that goal. ]

The thought or mention of porn brings up a myriad of reactions in most people. Sometimes the reaction is conflicting. Embarrassment, disgust, intrigue, and excitement are some of the top responses. Ick is a common reaction too.

Pornography is complicated and most of us don’t see it as 100% good or 100% bad. We fall on a continuum. Where we fall publically may be different than where we fall privately.

There is an ick factor of pornography for many. I experience it. I admit I have some double standards I grapple with at times. What is okay for me, may creep me out if I knew it about someone in my personal life. Maybe. I may experience no judgment with my clients on a certain topic but if someone in my personal life exhibited those interests or behaviors, it may be a problem between us. Maybe. It is complicated. For all of us. Backgrounds, religious views, sexual values and experiences all play into this ick reaction.

Some of the ick for all if us is obvious…. ‘perversion’ in images or video (however you define perverted), the reports of how the actors are mistreated, degradation of most of the female actors, the perceived weirdness of the voyeurism of seeing others naked or engaging in sex acts and the thought of knowing someone is looking at it in order to be turned on or to masturbate to. Sometimes those things are just ‘icky’. Deeper things can be at play too—we may feel at odds with our interest in seeing it or feel confused about what we want to see. Some of this ick is because our society has a weird relationship with pleasure and because we still have a lot of shame and embarrassment surrounding masturbation or self-pleasure. And porn is typically associated with self-pleasure and sometimes thinking of someone else getting turned on or masturbating icks people out. So the ick grows.

There is also the question of is looking at pornography cheating if you are in a committed relationship. This debate can raise ‘ick’ to ‘pissed off’ or ‘betrayed’ quickly. It all depends on the relationship, the communication and the activity. I address this further in tomorrow’s article.

Pornography is relevant to each of our lives in some way. You need to face this if you read this article and think this would never and could never hit your life. You are wrong. Porn addiction will pop into your life in some way at some point. Through a spouse, yourself, a child, a friend, a family member, a co-worker. It not only could happen, I guarantee you know someone already who is battling this addiction. I’ve seen all sides of addiction. As a therapist, I’ve supported individuals battling addiction or are ‘unaware’ of the ‘severity’ of their use, I’ve wiped tears of partners of those who are addicted and experienced the devastating effects of this addiction, I’ve answered thousands of questions about porn use and I have been in a relationship with someone who suffered from porn addiction. It is everywhere and hardly anyone is talking about.

To start the discussion, I must acknowledge that even the idea of an addiction to porn has controversy attached to it. Some don’t believe it is an addiction, some believe that porn or sex addiction has no business being attached to AA or NA and professionals debate if porn and sex addiction are a mental disorder. I find the debates important and interesting and if you want further information, I suggest reading up on the debates. For the sake of this article, however, I am coming from the place that porn addiction is real and legitimate and that the terminology is currently acceptable. If you don’t believe it is a ‘true’ addiction, the discourse is still relevant because the problems exist no matter what you call it and no matter what origin you think ‘causes’ it.

For many there is nothing more dirty than finding out someone has an addiction to porn. There is a stigma attached to porn addiction that isn’t as prevalent in alcoholism or drug addiction. I am not belittling the stigma of other addictions but I’ve witnessed a difference as an observer, a clinician and as a support for those battling porn addiction. And the stigma is because it involves sex and it raises issues unique issues due to the issues people and our society have with sex and sexuality. This stigma reinforces people not seeking help, not talking about the addiction process and not sharing recovery stories.

At the end of this article, I have a link to a story written by someone in recovery of porn addiction. It is raw and real and hard to read at times. I strongly encourage you to read it. Be open to his story. Be aware of your reaction to it. What upset you? What pulled at your compassion strings? What questions do you have? What was your overall reaction-Anger? Disgust? Sadness? Fear? Curiosity?

I remember many years ago when a friend and her husband went public with his porn use and their pathway to recovery years. I was floored. Floored she was so public about it. I admit that even I had an initial, private reaction that was slightly judgy. It was wrong and I knew it quickly.   It didn’t take long to replace judgment and gossipy feelings with admiration, gratefulness and awe. They were on the cutting edge of shedding light on an icky topic and they weren’t shying away from it. The good they did was enormous. I remain in complete admiration of them for taking their journey public and giving a face to the hushed topic. They showed it could be any of us. Any of us. And they helped make it something that could be voiced and made public. This was new. There work made it easier for me to have the courage to do this in my work.

Years later, there are still not many people coming forward talking or asking about this problem. In my area, if you want to go to an AA meeting, you look it up on line and you have many choices to pick for a meeting, locations, times, topics, and styles. If you want to go to a SA or SAA meeting, you have to know someone who knows there are meetings, you have to call the number and leave a message and then you are called back by a member for a screening. If you make the screening, you are told when and where. And until recently, you had to travel a half hour for that meeting. The Sexaholics Anonymous main book’s spine and front and back covers are completely white so its owner’s do not have to hide the book or be discovered. I know of no other A material that does that. This is significant in the message. There is a difference with this addiction and people are suffering greatly because of this ick stigma. This isn’t right.

At the end of this article is a link to a CNN report on the former NFL player Terry Crews. Watch the short clip. Read the comments below it on FB. If you ever doubted the stigma attached to this issue, read just 30 of the comments. You’ll see the controversy, the emotions surrounding the topic and the stigma attached to it.

So what is porn addiction? At the bottom of the article I will give some (flawed) examples of on line quizzes. I have problems with each of them but it is basically what we have to deal with. Even the 20 question survey in the front of the SA book isn’t great. I say this because, although the questions certainly fit someone who has an addiction, it doesn’t encompass a vast array of behaviors that are severely problematic or also addictive and if someone does one of the tests and doesn’t score in the range, their addiction and problematic behaviors can be validated and they won’t seek the help they need. I include these inadequate quizzes because this is where most people will seek information first. Most people will not go to a mental health provider for a screening. Many people don’t know they could or should. And to be frank, my experience is that most mental health providers and medical professionals are not adequately trained to properly screen. Finally, sex therapists and counselors are still not readily available to many areas and if they are there, most individuals and couples do not know this is the most appropriate specialist to seek. If they do know of a therapist, most therapists have a long wait list and potential clients typically don’t have the stamina to follow through with an initial appointment if the wait is over a week. The wait is typically a month or two.

Writing this seems awfully negative and hopeless. In a way it is but I don’t want you to be given a flowery version of what it will look like if you are seeking help for yourself or a loved one. Know the obstacles, be armed with information and kick ass through them until you get help. It will take perservence. In the road to recovery, it won’t be the last time you’ll need that skill. What I can promise you is IT WILL BE WORTH IT. There are treatment centers, there a mental health providers who can give great support and aid in recovery. There are support groups out there and lots of books and on line resources. Life without active addiction is rarely easy but it is worth it. Long term recovery is a life that is lived in an authentic state and that is a gift to those who seek it. It doesn’t guarantee a stress free or problem free life but it does provide a framework to live life with coping skills and support-to a level most people don’t experience.

Do you have a problem? The short answer is if you are asking then you most likely do have a problem. Please do not be afraid to ask the question. If you look at porn, have the courage to be honest about your usage and the possible effects it may be having in your life.

Does a loved one have a problem? This is more complicated because an outside source can be missing context and be bringing his or her own issues to the table. Doesn’t mean it is inaccurate but it isn’t as quick as a ‘yes’. Find support. Read books and , support groups and/or seek professional guidance. If you are correct in a problem or addiction you are going to need support.

Do you have an addiction? That can’t be confirmed with a mental health or medical provider’s screening. A good one will do both yes or no questions as well as get a rich history of sexual behavior and porn use as well as seek spouse or family input if relevant and safe to do so. But….if you are questioning whether you are addicted or not, my experience has been you are. It is rare in my work that someone asks me that question and after doing the above, that I conclude it is neither a problem or an addiction.

They are the lucky few are the ones who ask the questions and seek help. They have a chance for recovery and they have a level of awareness that will help them in the journey ahead. I have so much concern for those who secretly wonder and aren’t reaching out to anyone-friend, family or professional.

How it typically goes:

The journey starts privately. Small wonderings if the behavior isn’t healthy, looking at or taking on line tests, trials and failures of self control, efforts to justify and normalize it.

Next usually comes consequences within relationships. Anger from spouses, loss of closeness with relationships, bitterness, judgment, distrust….

How the individual responds to both of these phases is critical. It is crucial they open up to the possibility of a problem and the desire to live a different way. To embrace this desire, they have to believe not living like that is better than continuing it. And they have to see how that is possible.

None of that is easy for an addict. It isn’t easy for someone who is ‘just’ having problems with porn use too.

You’ve heard the phrase before: you can’t change someone who doesn’t want to change. This is true for someone battling porn addiction. They won’t see it, they won’t accept it and they won’t seek help. And if they don’t accept the truth of their behavior and the consequences, they will not make it through the inevitable hard times in the journey of recovery.

If you are concerned about your porn use, be kind to yourself. Be honest with yourself. Seek support. Seek information. Seek safe allies. And fight it. Fight it like hell. Believe in a better life for yourself and believe you are worth it. Be in it for the long haul as recovery will not be a quick fix.

It is a journey. A tough but worthy journey. Start on it today.

If you are worried about a loved one or want to understand the effects of porn use and addiction on significant others, read tomorrow’s article.

Write your reactions to this article and the links. Ask yourself questions. Ask your loved one questions—without judgment. Without anger and accusation. Be brave enough to go there personally and publically. I also welcome stories, questions and comments. I know this topic isn’t easy but avoidance is boring and doesn’t serve us.

Let’s talk. Xo, Dr. Juliana

Link to article written by a porn addict in recovery:

Putting a Face to Porn Addiction

On line test examples:

http://www.mensfitness.com/women/sex-tips/quiz-are-you-addicted-to-porn?page=4

http://virtual-addiction.com/online-pornography-test/

http://www.allthetests.com/quiz31/quiz/1412095288/Are-you-a-porn-addict

Link to Terry Crews CNN report and FB comments:

Actor speaks out about his porn addiction

Actor Terry Crews is opening up about his addiction to pornography, which he says "really, really messed up my life." http://cnn.it/1mY6BKo

Posted by CNN International on Wednesday, February 24, 2016