I can’t tell you how many women I’ve talked with over the last 10 years that have told me some version of “Porn is ruining our relationship,” or “porn caused our divorce.” And, through Covid, with everyone locked up in their homes, this distraction, that can lead to an addictive problem, has only gotten worse. (This is a long blog – but porn is a BIG issue so bear with me.)
Why is the over viewing internet porn likely to lead to an addictive problem ?
Porn creates an effect in the brain that is a 1,000 times that of alcohol. Cocaine, another powerful stimulant, creates a chemical high in the brain 100 times what a drink of alcohol does. The viewing of porn can quickly hijack the executive, logical part of the brain, says Mari Lee, a Los Angeles based therapist who specializes in sex addiction.
The internet has made sexual images – which, in general, are more reinforcing to men than to women SO available. Not that women don’t develop porn problems, but statistically more women have relationship addiction (chat room) issues.
Why are some men more vulnerable to porn addiction? As with developing any addictive problem, if you have a family member with an addictive history, have suffered trauma as a child (abuse, difficult divorces and child custody, neglect), or have substance abuse issues yourself, you can be more likely than others to develop a problem.
And, of course, there’s the pleasure aspect. Sex is pleasurable and for those with addictive tendencies, MORE is sometimes never enough. This rewires the pleasure reward centers of the brain. But, as recovering porn addicts will state, after awhile the pleasure diminishes though the addictive drive does not and depression and anxiety deepen.
How His Porn Addiction May Affect You as a Wife/Girlfriend:
You may experience:
All of these feelings are normal. I encourage journaling, talking to a safe friend, counseling and plenty of Self-Care – exercise, getting enough sleep, meditation or music to soothe the stressed brain.
His porn problem isn’t just his problem because it affects you. As a spouse or girlfriend you may be the push your partner needs to get help. Talk with him, share how you feel calmly and clearly and how specifically his porn problem is affecting you.
When I have a couple come in for a first session and she says he has a problem and he says he doesn’t, I gently reply, “Well, if someone who loves you says there’s a problem, there’s a problem.” And, women, get help for yourselves, even if he’s not ready.
Stephanie Carnes, Ph.D, addiction specialist, states that “Addiction is a primary, chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory and related circuitry. This is reflected in an individual pathologically pursuing reward and/or relief by substance use and other behaviors.”
Does Treatment Help?
Yes, it does. As with any addictive problem, recovery is a process and takes time and work.
Recovery is about understanding, healing, new coping behaviors for stress and anxiety. Partners of sex addicts need to understand the illness, how it affects them, how to set boundaries and if they want to stay with their partner, how to support themselves through his recovery process.
Support groups are so important. Two groups specifically for partners include S-Anon and COSA. Alanon, the original 12 Step Support group for those whose partner is addicted is still available and most groups are online because of COVID restrictions, though that is beginning to change.
Treatment Options Include:
12 Step Sex Addiction groups. These are free and supportive of recovery similar to A.A. or Narcotics Anonymous. Google Sex Addiction groups in your city.
Private Counseling: Again Google therapists in your area that have experience with addiction and preferably sex addiction. Contact your insurance provider to see if they have recommendations.
In-Patient Treatment: For some a safe, supportive 30-60 day treatment program is the best way to detox, heal and rebuild better habits.
Here are two I recommend:
The Meadows: Arizona https://www.themeadows.com/
Hazelden Betty Ford Clinic Palm Springs https://www.themeadows.com/
As a Certified Drug and Alcohol Counselor for over 25 years I’ve seen how difficult this behavior can be to break because the brain gets rewired with the intense activity. Normal sex then feels lukewarm until brain and behavior have been retrained and re-sensitized to normal sexual sensitivity and sensuality. That takes time and practice. Be patient.
Porn addiction is treatable and recovery is definitely possible with help.