The goal here is to gain an understanding and have an experience of porn addiction you can bring to your work - when you might need to educate, conduct assessments to determine whether or not one is addicted to porn (or other means of relief), and formulate treatment plans.
I - What is addiction?
Before we get into porn addiction, let’s talk about addiction, so that we have a working definition and consensual understanding of what we’re dealing with and what recovery entails – a general overview.
The Relationship Model of Addiction™ (TRMA™) defines addiction as a relationship with a means of relief of pain from unconscious unmet emotional needs.
TRMA™ is founded on the premise that our need for love and connection and what happens when our basic emotional needs are denied; that pain is a natural and inevitable consequence. And the need to relieve pain (emotional or physical) is a basic human need as well. No one is going to be in pain very long before taking desperate measures to relieve it. The more pain, the greater the need for relief will be and the more likely we’ll find a means of relief.
Depending on the level of pain, one way or another, we will find a means of relief. The means range from substances like drugs or food, activities like porn, sex, gambling, or people as in the case of love addictions and codependency, or our imagination and distorted perception.
At some point, a relationship materializes; a relationship like any other relationship forms with the means of relief. You get emotionally involved with, dependent on and attached to the means of relief. This relationship becomes primary, and all consuming, very much like carrying on a secret love affair. All other relationships are rendered secondary - dramatically less important and less of a priority.
Relationships with means of relief can be presumed to be pathological, unhealthy or ‘bad,’ as they never provide an iota of real nourishment, only a temporary feel better feeling, until the increasing backlog of pain from unmet emotional needs comes bubbling up, and then, of course, the desperate need to relieve it takes over.
Wherever there is a relationship with a means of relief, denial is operating. Dependency and denial work hand in hand, and generally don’t exist, one without the other. Where there is
denial, look for a relationship with a means of relief close behind.
Denial works to preserve the affair by distorting reality without the addict knowing that his perception is, in any way distorted. The relationship is kept concealed from others, as well as from oneself. Life could be spiraling out of control, relationships on the verge of collapse, while anyone in the throes of an addiction will go on business as usual, as if the juggling act will continue indefinitely, perhaps forever, without any consequences. Denial makes it impossible to assess what’s happening with any degree of objectivity.
From TRMA™ perspective, recovery is a transitional journey - getting out of unhealthy, addictive, non-emotionally nourishing relationships and into healthy, emotionally nourishing ones. There are The Three Stages of Recovery: I – “Breaking-up” (with the means of relief); II - Developing the Relationship with Self; and III - Creating Emotional Nourishing Relationships (consists of relationship training).
Relationships with means of relief are generally considered to be ‘bad’ relationships because they provide no real nourishment and leave a residue of pain from unmet emotional needs. As is the case with any ‘bad’ relationship, you must “break-up” before you can get better or begin developing healthier relationships. Passing through Stage I into Stage II is, for all intents and purposes, is saying, “Good-bye” to a ‘bad’ relationship and “Hello” to your new best friend; one replaces the other. This newly developing relationship with Self allows access to internally based resources that provide guidance, creative inspiration and nourishment from within, which, up to that point, hadn’t ever been utilized or known to exist.
Having a relationship with your Self and increased Self-awareness are pre-requisites for crossing the threshold into Stage III. Creating Emotionally Nourishing Relationships. Stage III is about gaining the knowhow that empowers the transformation of all of your relationships and ‘relating encounters.
When you are making deeper connections or are in intimate relationships, the addiction – the relationship with the means of relief - naturally extinguishes itself. When your need for love and connection is getting met (from your relationship with your Self and relationships with others), “secret love affairs” will no longer be the lure they were when you were far more desperate for relief.
II - What is porn addiction?
Porn addiction implies an emotionally based relationship with pornographic images (the means of relief). As is the case for any relationship with a means of relief, the porn addict gets emotionally involved, dependent on and attached to pornographic images (or story lines). The potentially extraordinary, irresistible, mind-mood altering effect occurs when emotionally charged images are combined with real bodily excitement, which peaks when there is an orgasm (as is the case when masturbating); but which is then followed by a crash, a bout of emptiness, in a “less than” reality, with only his next rendezvous to look forward to.
What happens when sexual excitement is combined with emotionally charged images?
The accompanying visual images or the images conjured up from reading a pornographic story both, ignites and intensifies the level sexual excitement, which also ignites the imagination, which also intensifies the level of (emotional) excitement of unmet emotional needs getting met, albeit through the imagination. Imagination makes anything possible and any wish come true.
The porn addict will opt for the “secret love affair” over any real relationship every time, that he not only knows he could count on “it,” (the image or imaginary relationship), but is also far more enticing than anything reality has to offer.
In The Nature and Function of Fantasy, Susan Isaacs describes the emotional dynamics of fantasy from a psychoanalytic perspective. “Fantasies are the primary content of unconscious mental processes. They are psychic representations of libidinal instincts. Early in development they become elaborated into wish fulfillments.” She sees fantasy as a symbolic representation of underlying needs. In other words, fantasy is a form of projection. We fantasize about what is missing in our lives. The specific content of fantasies largely depends on which needs are frustrated and which people and objects are associated with satisfaction and frustration.
The question gets asked all of the time, when does the addiction/relationship begin? Oftentimes there is a beginning point. For some addictions like food, sex and love addictions and codependency, it’s far more difficult to determine the beginning point because those addictions develop over time. For the other addictions, it’s a different story. With regards to substance addictions, the relationship begins the first time the extraordinary mind/mood altering effect is experienced, which is usually the first time using. With gambling it may be the rush of winning for the first time – the hook occurs then. Certainly is the case with pornographic images or story – the hook occurs at the point of discovery - the first time the seeing the images or reading or imagining a story at the same time there is sky-rocketing sexual excitement, that will eventually get topped off with an orgasm.
What could be better than being the star of your own love story, that is fueled by sexual desire, with jail-breaking freedom, especially when there is a history of longstanding disconnection and deep-seated self-doubt and insecurity, that unfolds in the safe confines of your imagination? Everything you could ever wish for happens exactly as you wish, every time, while denial is looking over your shoulder making sure that reality doesn’t crash your party.
III - My Discovery Experience…I was 16 when my porn addiction began…
At this time in my life, and perhaps my whole life, I was coping with an inferiority complex, a deeply ingrained sense of inadequacy, not being good enough, undeserving, under-valued, and even unlovable.
Girls didn’t like me. While it seemed that I was always on the lookout for girls, they were never on the lookout for. I was short, with crooked-yellow teeth, bad skin and a big nose. I didn’t have what they were looking for so it seemed. I was lonely and inherently undesirable with nothing anyone would want. No one knew who I was, and I was dreading the possibility no one ever would. I felt invisible and destined for mediocrity.
I needed someone else to validate me before I could validate myself, or ever be myself, that I could only ever by myself - come out – if there was someone to be myself with. There was so much emotion inside of me, such a strong need to express myself, such a strong sexual appetite with a stronger need for love and intimacy. It wasn’t like I was just trying to get laid. I was a
tormented love-starved virgin watching everyone else seemingly get what I had been eluding me for years, until I met Mrs. Taylor.
Despite the loneliness and alienation that pervaded my inner world, there was some reprieve some of the time, some places I liked to hang out. Going to Sarah and Harry’s candy store and newspaper stand was something to look forward to everyday after school for a vanilla egg cream and toasted English muffin with butter.
In order to get to the counter, I had to pass a plentiful magazine section that included Playboy and Penthouse, among others, none of which ever piqued my curiosity. If I had to pick one over the other, it would be Penthouse for providing a full body shot as opposed to the top, “breasts only” shots that Playboy employed. At any rate, two-dimensional pictures did not provide enough stimulation or excitement to be effected enough to care. At the very least, I was looking for a three-dimensional experience, live and in person.
One day while I was waiting for the toasted English muffin, sipping on the egg cream, I started walking around scanning the various magazines titles, killing time. I noticed an array of books and best sellers. I was impressed that Sarah and Harry grew their fountain, newspaper and magazine business by adding so many books to their inventory. My eyes fixated on a plain, off-colored cover, The Woman Next Door.
I picked it off the shelf and began reading. After a couple of paragraphs into it, I was riveted. As I snuck peaks over my shoulder to make sure no ne was looking, I could remember feeling the pulse in my neck so strongly I was afraid it could burst out of my skin.
I was completely transfixed by the characters and the story. Billy, a lonely isolated, inexperienced, insecure 16 year-old paperboy, was going door to door for his collections, when Mrs. Taylor answers the door and invites him in. I certainly never knew anyone like her.
Mrs. Taylor was a beautiful, well-endowed, lonely woman, with a husband who never gave her the time of day, looking for love herself, who was wanting nothing more than to make a difference in someone’s life, and who was sensitive to how nervous and self-conscious Billy was and knew just what to do to quell his insecurities.
This was a life-changing event for me. I was never the same afterward. Masturbation was never the same. It was only a year before at age 15, when I started masturbating (being the “late bloomer” I was). I remember the contrast. Yeah. It was exciting to finally be able to pleasure myself and experience what it’s like to ejaculate, but it was in no way life changing. I was living in a state of longing and heartbreak everyday.
Mrs. Taylor added another whole dimension - never being alone again, when masturbating. Time after time, I watched the same plotline and dialogue unfold.
I wouldn’t say that it was front and center all the time, but I would say that far more of my time, attention and energy was spent on carrying on my “secret love affair” than on anything or anyone else, as she was far more exciting than anything I had going on in my life at the time.
What Goldstein and Kant said about pornographic images certainly applied to me. “Single encounters with a book or a movie of an erotic nature are so emotionally arousing that the feelings and images persist in consciousness for months and years thereafter.”
I stabilized and set on a track of recovery at age 23, when I met Kathy. Kathy was my first love, my first sexually intimate relationship. Although I had wondered whether she’d be able to hold up against Mrs. Taylor a bit in the beginning, it didn’t take long for me to beginning feeding off of the nourishment this relationship provided, that we loved and were more deeply connected to each other than either of us ever were to anyone else. This was the first time reality trumped fantasy.
My first real, intimate relationship was the beginning of the end of my relationship with Mrs. Taylor, I no longer needed her, as I was no longer suffering in isolation and loneliness. I was no longer settling for “the next best thing” after finally finding my way to healthy, emotionally nourishing relationships.
John-Paul Day, a 50-year Edinburgh architect who was addicted to porn his entire adult life, shared a similar experience in his first “non-addictive” sexual relationship, describing the contrast between his experience in recovery. “The thing about it is that unlike real life, it is incredibly safe. I’m frightened of real sex, which is unscripted and unpredictable. And so I engage in pornography, which is totally under my control. But, of course, it also brings intense disappointment, precisely because it’s not what I’m really searching for. Rather than being like a hungry person standing outside the window of a restaurant thinking he’s going to get fed, as I’ve done all my life, now I’m now inside the restaurant enjoying a great meal.”
I’ve concluded that being in an intimate relationship and “carrying on a secret love affair” (with images) is like oil and water - one or the other. I was unable to connect with real people or function in a healthy relationship when “carrying on,” and I was no longer able to “carry on” with imaginary others when I’m “carrying on” with real people in nourishing relationships.
I remember how affected I was when I was reading R.D. Laing talking about what happens when we’re masturbating. “The masturbator has a body that experiences real orgasms in imaginary situations. Imagination induces real physical effects, but they are subtly different for m the experience of sex with a real person. Thus accustomed to the orgasm of masturbation, he becomes unsure of how to handle himself in real relationships…He’ll expect real people to act as he imagines while masturbating.”
Mariott echoed what Laing said, that pornography leads men to want the experience they have in their pornographic fantasies to happen in real life; that porn addicts view others and relationships through a “pornographic filter” that causes confusion and makes fantasy and reality indistinguishable. “The more time one spends in this fantasy world, the more difficult it is to transition to reality.”
But it was what Laing stated that left me reverberating with wonder and foreboding.
“Real bodily excitement mixed with fantasy holds for many a fascination mixed with horror.”
He might as well have been talking to me about my porn addiction, what happened and how it was for me.
Maybe the “horror” is never being able to reconcile with reality or real people and relationships, as they will invariably fall short of expectations and woefully short of their imaginary experience – their “secret love affair.” It’s never getting the need for love and connection met. As long as
they are involved with images and imaginary relationships, their relationship pursuits will be doomed. Their desperation to relieve their pain through their imagination will never die. The vicious cycle continues.
IV TRMA™Applied to Porn Addiction
What makes porn addiction unique is the psychological dynamics that dictate our experience. There is usually a discovery experience, where the relationship begins – the first time an extraordinary mind/mood altering effect register, as well as a highly emotionally involved relationship that develops with the means of relief (images combined with masturbation); in both of which there is a synergistic interplay of our bodies, emotions (pain) and our imagination. The bodily experience makes the imagined experience feel real, there is a release of pain or expression of unmet emotional needs by the images or story lines that are projected in the mind.
As the relationship with pornographic images progresses, the level of isolation is steadily increasing, as is disconnection from Self and all other relationships. There will be an increasing backlog of pain from unmet emotional needs. Over time, the porn addict’s relationship with images plateaus, the level of excitement wanes and the “carrying on” of his secret love affair” becomes more mechanic, routine and compulsively auto-erotic activity; life revolves around stealing away to masturbate, sometimes upwards of dozen times a day, masturbate “until it hurts.” He becomes less reliant on his imagination as his continued involvement or “rendezvous’” have more of a numbing and used as a more frequent and immediate, but short-lived escape.
Addiction to pornography is a difficult concept to grasp in general, partially because of how common and widespread it is. We are seeing astounding growth in the number of “adult” videos rented, magazines sold, internet porn sites built and porn “chat rooms.” The only way that such an infusion of pornography into the mainstream of social activity could have taken place is through mass collusion, delusion, denial and greed.
Like the use of alcohol, the act of viewing pornography is legal in the United States and has become normalized. Terms specific to alcohol consumption that sell, promote or glamorize, like “cocktail” are similar to those specific to pornography industry that refers to porn as “adult entertainment.” The dangers of potential abuse and addiction are deliberately covered up and misrepresented so that the public remains ignorant and continues to view it merely as “communication intended to excite sexual desire” and nothing more.
TRMA™ has profound treatment implications that apply to all addictions including porn addiction. The recovery journey cannot begin until after a sustained period of stabilization is achieved. This requires adherence to a program and a network of support. After a sustained period of sobriety or abstinence, the recovering porn addict can be guided through The Three Stages of Recovery.
In Stage I, recognition and understanding that you got yourself in a ‘bad’ relationship, that you are going to have get out of or “break-up.” Denial must get dismantled, the distinction between imagination and reality must be clarified before you understand that you must get out of your comfort zone of your imagination and begin relating to real people. There is no getting around the painful (emotional) withdrawal process before getting to Stage II, when there is no crutch or means of relief to fall back on, just an empty space that will eventually get filled when Self is discovered. Writing a “Good-bye” letter to the means of relief can often pave the way towards letting go and moving forward.
After “breaking-up” with pornographic images and replacing that relationship with the relationship with Self; then gaining the knowhow that empowers deeper connections and emotionally nourishing relationships, pornographic stimuli will no longer have the lure they once were. Rather than spending their lives defending against pain or relying on imagination to get unconscious emotional needs met, you’ll instead be growing and thriving because of the nourishment you’ll be receiving. The quality of your life and relationships stems from the quality of the relationship with your Self. Quality relationships ensure a quality life. ‘Relationship training’ is necessary in order to learn, become proficient, and perhaps master the art of relating and intimacy.
Brenner, C. An Elementary Textbook of Psychoanalysis. New York, New
York. Anchor Books, 1973
Goldstein and Kant Pornography and Sexual Deviance. Berkeley:
University of California Press, 1974
Isaacs, S. The Nature and Function of Fantasy, Developments in Psychoanalysis.
London, Hogarth Press 1952
Laing, R.D. Self and Others. New York, New York. Penguin Books, 1961. p.54
Linder, D. The Relationship Model of Addiction, Introducing a New Paradigm for Understanding Addiction, Recovery and Treatment, 2015
Mariott, Edward. Men and Porn, The Guardian Weekend, United Kingdom, 2003