Do you think you’re addicted to pornography? Do you want help but are unsure on what to do? To help understand the signs of pornography addiction and what someone can do to overcome pornography addiction, I have interviewed psychologist James S. Graves, PhD, PsyD.
Tell me a little bit about yourself.
“Some people would say that I’ve had a portfolio career ‘” four different professional careers over the last 40 years. I received a PhD in human physiology from Duke University in the mid 1970’s and worked as a scientist, professor and health education executive until the 1990’s. For most of that time I was attracted to the field of psychology and volunteered for crisis intervention services that used paraprofessional counselors. I co-founded and was Interim Director of a crisis intervention and drug abuse prevention service while doing my dissertation research at Duke. Finally, in the mid-1990’s the time and place were right for me to return to school for a Doctor of Psychology (PsyD) degree and ultimately licensure to practice clinical psychology. During my training years and beyond, I have worked in a psychiatric hospital setting providing psychotherapy for people addicted to various substances, pornography and sex. Also, I have treated several pornography/sex addicts in my private practice in Pasadena, California.”
What are the signs that someone is addicted to pornography?
“The current Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM ‘” IV) used by all mental health professionals does not recognize the use of pornography to any degree as an addiction or mental disorder. However, clinical experience verifies that some people engage in sex and/or pornography in a compulsive way to the detriment of their lives. The prevalence of pornography/sex addiction is increasing due to accessibility via the Internet. Pornography and cybersex are available at the click of a mouse, while prostitution and nearly-anonymous casual sex take a little more effort ‘” but not much.”
“The DSM ‘” V, due to be published in 2012, is proposing a new disorder, called Hypersexuality Disorder, which encompasses compulsively engaging in masturbation, pornography, sex with consenting adults, cybersex, telephone sex and frequenting strip clubs. Two key factors in identifying any compulsive behavior as an addiction are: 1) the behavior is causing personal distress and/or impairs some aspect of one’s life; and 2) repeated efforts to reduce or eliminate the behavior that risks harm to oneself or others have failed.”
“An example of this type of addiction was provided by a successful executive in his 30’s who came to my office expressing his desire to abstain from viewing pornography. His wife of only two years, whom he considered the “love of (his) life,” felt betrayed when she discovered his habit and had separated from him until he could demonstrate his abstinence. Even at the risk of losing his marriage, he was finding it impossible to cease his viewing of pornography websites with subsequent masturbation. He even considered installing a filter in his computer that would eliminate that easy access but couldn’t bring himself to do it.”
“In short, pornography/sex addiction harms the person’s life in some way, and the addict finds it very difficult to quit without some form of outside help.”
What type of impact can pornography have on a person’s overall life?
“The use of pornography, per se, is not necessarily harmful to a person’s life. The pornography business ‘” encompassing print, video and live ‘” is a multibillion dollar industry; so, millions of people are consumers ‘” most without any harm to their lives. And, the use of pornography is not only an individual activity, as some couples mutually enjoy viewing pornography as a prelude to having sex. However, it is the compulsive use of pornography or compulsively engaging in other sexual activities in the face of potential negative consequences that makes them harmful.”
“The most common negative consequence in pornography/sex addiction is the damage done to committed intimate relationships. It is difficult, if not impossible, to nourish a truly intimate relationship while having sexual diversions with others. People in monogamous relationships often feel betrayed by a partner’s secretive use of pornography, much in the same way as if the partner had engaged in an illicit sexual affair. Cybersex, phone sex, internet “dating” and other more explicit forms of sexual betrayal are typically very damaging and often lethal to committed relationships.”
“Careers can also be dramatically affected by pornography/sex addiction. In the last few years we have watched the demise of several prominent political careers due to sexual diversions ‘” from sexual harassment of underage Congressional pages to consorting with prostitutes for both hetero-and homosexual liaisons. While not all of these cases in the news result from true addictions, some have a very compulsive character to them as well as obvious potential negative consequences.”
“A young man in his mid-20’s came to my office fearful that he was going to be expelled from medical school with only one year left. He had been admonished by the school’s administration for his inappropriate conduct while on clinical rotations in a hospital setting. He felt compelled to “hit on” practically every female nurse or fellow student to the point of causing them to feel harassed. He would also engage in frotteurism (i.e., rubbing his genitals against an unsuspecting and nonconsenting woman). He would use pornography to promote masturbation several times a day. In short, his life virtually revolved around sexual activity, and he was at risk of losing his future medical career as a result.”
How can someone overcome his or her pornography addiction?
“The neurobiology of pornography/sex addiction is similar to that of most other addictions. A part of the brain, called the Reward System is activated during sexual activity in much the same way that alcohol, cocaine, amphetamine and many other drugs act. People who have chronically depressed and/or anxious mood often seek out ways to activate the Reward System, in order to alter their mood. Simply put, many addicts ‘” whether from substances or behaviors ‘” are looking for ways to counteract feeling bad. Thus, the process of overcoming the addiction requires two stages: abstaining from the compulsive behavior to break the habit and then discovering the origins of and resolving the issues causing the bad feelings that emerge as a result of the abstinence. This two-stage process often requires the involvement of two different resources: an addiction-related group and individual psychotherapy.”
“The most common addiction-related groups are 12-Step organizations, and there are 12-Step groups for pornography/sex addicts, such as Sex Addicts Anonymous (SAA) and Sexaholics Anonymous (SA). Recognizing that 12-Step groups don’t work for everyone, there may be other types of groups in a given location. The support of regular attendance in a group is often necessary for the addict to initiate and maintain abstinence. In those groups that recommend sponsors, having this resource can be extremely valuable in managing urges to lapse into the addictive behavior.”
“Because support groups are not designed to deal with deep psychological issues, it is usually necessary to undergo individual psychotherapy. Only through this process can the origins of the depression and/or anxiety be addressed effectively. Choosing a therapist who has an understanding of the addictive process is important.”
What last advice do you have for someone who wants to overcome pornography addiction?
“Get help! Pornography/sex addiction can be horribly destructive to one’s life and relationships. In part, because of increased availability and opportunity, it is a difficult addiction to recover from, especially when attempting recovery alone. A competent and experienced mental health professional can provide the important individual psychotherapy and help guide the client to a support group that is effective for him or her.”
Thank you Dr. Graves for doing the interview on recovering from porn addiction. For more information on Dr. Graves or his work check out his website on www.DrJimGraves.com.
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