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1. What is pornography addiction? Why is it such a big problem in society? What influence does it have on relationships in general and on our marriages?

Perhaps we should start with what constitutes an addiction because the surprising fact is that, in most ways, being addicted to pornography doesn’t differ at all from some of the other less taboo addictions like smoking, alcohol, gambling or narcotics. Any addiction at its root, is a psychological disorder, a disease in which a person’s capacity for healthy emotional intimacy and interpersonal connection, is disrupted by the use of a chemical or substance such as nicotine, alcohol or other drugs.  Some addicts on the other hand, use a certain behaviour or experience (e.g. gambling, pornography) which causes the brain to unnaturally release normal biological chemicals into the bloodstream.

As the usage of these chemicals or chemical inducing behaviour is repeated, the addict builds up a dependency on them. Before long the abnormal behaviour, in the case of pornography and sex addiction, becomes normal and preferred to the addict. The addict starts to intentionally avoid meaningful social and interpersonal contact, depending on the pornographic material to dull or numb some source of unresolved emotional pain. The addict learns to use pornography much like any other addict uses their drug of choice. He will use it in the morning, to get out of bed. He will use it in the middle of the day to get through. He will use it at night, to relax and go to sleep.

This dependency is precisely why pornography addiction causes problems in relationships, and marriages and society. For as long as a person we love, a spouse, is going through their emotional disease without treatment, they will avoid all the healthy, honest and meaningful forms of connection which allow millions of people to go through the normal ups and downs of life without using a drug such as pornography. These healthy forms of connection are things like communication, listening, expressing one’s feelings to a trusted partner or loved one and both accepting the other person and receiving acceptance from the other person. These forms of interpersonal connection characterise any healthy relationship and the complicating factor with pornography is that the drug trains the addict’s brain to want and pursue sexual intensity without any emotional intimacy. This disorder in healthy human experience makes it rather difficult to sustain healthy relationships, which in turn affects the general health of society at large.

2. Why is pornography referred to as an addictive experience/ behaviour? What is so addictive about pornography?

It is easy to identify what is so addictive about cocaine or liquor for example. We easily see the changes in behaviour and the scientific world has published more than enough research on how addiction to substances or drugs comes about. It is not so easy though when it comes to identifying what makes pornography so addictive.

One way to start understanding the problem with pornography is to understand that the human body is designed to release its own natural chemicals and hormones during normal healthy human experiences such as deep, meaningful conversation with a friend or loved one, or sexual intercourse in a committed, monogamous relationship. These good chemicals are hormones such as dopamine (the relaxing chemical), endorphins (the pleasure chemicals) and oxytocin (the bonding hormone).

Looking at the graphic sex scenes or images in pornography or even fantasizing casual, illicit sex, causes the body to release unnaturally high, unnecessary amounts of dopamine and endorphins into the bloodstream. This same unnatural release happens when a sex addict uses other experiences such as ‘sexting’ or sex chat sites or prostitution. In a very plain way of speaking, the body is put in a space where it is manufacturing its own drugs. The pornography user (without knowing it) becomes dependent, ‘hooked’ on this unnatural chemical release and seeks to replicate this artificial relaxation and pleasure experience through repeating pornography viewing as often as possible.  This addictive mechanism is further strengthened by the emotional cycle that goes with the behaviour. The addict is filled with shame and guilt after using, and may even feel depressed. Disappointed that pornography or masturbation or casual/illicit sex has not made them feel better or valid or worthwhile, the addict will often resort to even reusing pornography to numb the negative emotions of using in the first place. Thus the cycle restarts and further deepens the addictive pattern.

The disease of addiction comes with a number of false beliefs that the addict holds about him or herself. These false beliefs among others are, “I can’t tell anyone about my pain, no-one will understand”, “I have to keep my pornography habit a secret, people will reject me if they found out who I really am”, “I am not worth being truly loved or understood”,  “No-one can truly meet my needs, I have to take care of myself”. These false beliefs make it easier for the addict to keep the secret and go through the shame alone – often for many years without treatment. Pornography, masturbation, sexual fantasy and casual, illicit sex are very, very addictive and supremely destructive to emotional, mental, sexual and spiritual health.

3. Is this something we associate exclusively with men? Or is that an outdated opinion?

It is easy to identify what is so addictive about cocaine or liquor for example. We easily see the changes in behaviour and the scientific world has published more than enough research on how addiction to substances or drugs comes about. It is not so easy though when it comes to identifying what makes pornography so addictive.

One way to start understanding the problem with pornography is to understand that the human body is designed to release its own natural chemicals and hormones during normal healthy human experiences such as deep, meaningful conversation with a friend or loved one, or sexual intercourse in a committed, monogamous relationship. These good chemicals are hormones such as dopamine (the relaxing chemical), endorphins (the pleasure chemicals) and oxytocin (the bonding hormone).

Looking at the graphic sex scenes or images in pornography or even fantasizing casual, illicit sex, causes the body to release unnaturally high, unnecessary amounts of dopamine and endorphins into the bloodstream. This same unnatural release happens when a sex addict uses other experiences such as ‘sexting’ or sex chat sites or prostitution. In a very plain way of speaking, the body is put in a space where it is manufacturing its own drugs. The pornography user (without knowing it) becomes dependent, ‘hooked’ on this unnatural chemical release and seeks to replicate this artificial relaxation and pleasure experience through repeating pornography viewing as often as possible.  This addictive mechanism is further strengthened by the emotional cycle that goes with the behaviour. The addict is filled with shame and guilt after using, and may even feel depressed. Disappointed that pornography or masturbation or casual/illicit sex has not made them feel better or valid or worthwhile, the addict will often resort to even reusing pornography to numb the negative emotions of using in the first place. Thus the cycle restarts and further deepens the addictive pattern.

The disease of addiction comes with a number of false beliefs that the addict holds about him or herself. These false beliefs among others are, “I can’t tell anyone about my pain, no-one will understand”, “I have to keep my pornography habit a secret, people will reject me if they found out who I really am”, “I am not worth being truly loved or understood”,  “No-one can truly meet my needs, I have to take care of myself”. These false beliefs make it easier for the addict to keep the secret and go through the shame alone – often for many years without treatment. Pornography, masturbation, sexual fantasy and casual, illicit sex are very, very addictive and supremely destructive to emotional, mental, sexual and spiritual health.

4. Are there any statistics on pornography usage among adults in South Africa?

Accurate, reliable statistics on pornography usage among adults presents a challenge exactly because many addicts and even casual users choose to keep it a secret and generally lie about it to even themselves, due to false beliefs about themselves or about the reactions of those whose approval and acceptance they value.

5. What are the signs or symptoms that indicate someone may be addicted to pornography? What does one do if you find out your spouse is addicted? Where and how do you look for help?

Most indicators that someone is addicted to pornography are the same indicators of addiction to other addictive substances or behaviours:

  • Sudden, erratic mood swings/ temper outbursts
  • Significant withdrawal from interpersonal and social contact (beyond the ‘alone time’ anybody needs from time to time)
  • Gradual disinterest in  what used to be of interest (hobbies, friends, spirituality etc)
  • Drop in performance at work or in studies
  • Not being able to keep track of and account for unbudgeted spending

There are however some indicators which may signal a warning light for pornography/ sex addiction (these don’t always occur one at a time):

  • Sudden, drastic  increase in appetite for sex (specifically frequency and physical intensity – must always be intense or raunchy)
  • Gradual decrease in appetite for sex, until he/ she no longer even tries to initiate sex and there is no intercourse for very long periods of time (very regular gaps of more than two weeks where it’s not related to any emergency or medical issue)
  • General emotional distance. Emotionally unavailable. Avoids having conversation that need one to deeply and truly share emotions.
  • Interest in sex is always with little to no emotional connection, foreplay is only physical and always has to be intense and usually expecting one’s spouse to be instantly ready (like the women in porn videos always are)
  • Noticeable irritation or agitation when sexual desires are not met immediately.

6. What does the treatment of pornography addiction look like? How does one support a spouse who is addicted?

There must be an unbelievably difficult balance to strike between supporting and rejecting, precisely because pornography/ sex  addiction touches relationships so deeply.

2018-06-29T09:04:06+00:00

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