Porn Addiction: Where Do We Begin?

Cropped man and woman using electronic device free image

A few weeks ago I was able to attend a great seminar on porn addiction through the Archdiocese of Los Angeles (ADLA). The seminar discussed the causes, the use, and the treatment of pornography addiction and how pastorally it should be addressed. The reality of pornography is that addictions to it are radically growing as a normality in our society. Contrary to some beliefs, porn addiction is not limited to any certain age group, sex, or economic class. Here are a few saddening statistics taken from covenanteyes.com:

  • The average age of exposure to pornography is now 8 years old.
  • 1 in 5 mobile searches are for pornography.
  • 25% of married women watch pornography.
  • 64-68% of young adult men use porn at least once every week.
  • 56% of divorce cases involve one party having “an obsessive interest in pornographic websites.
  • 70% of wives of sex addicts could be diagnosed with PTSD.

While these statistics are staggering on their own, they don’t even begin to look at those in the porn industry who are trafficked, pressured, contracting diseases, or abused in the process. While our immediate reaction is often one of disgust, with so many people using or knowing someone who is addicted we need to take a step back and look at the issue with honesty and understanding. At the ADLA seminar Dr. Peter Kleponis, with Integrity Restored, described that the average age of exposure to pornography is now 8 years old, and “by the time they graduate high school they are dealing with a 10 year old addiction”. With youth encountering pornography without understanding and with so many adults already addicted, it is important not just to know how to respond to it, but also to know how this addiction begins.

  1. Exposure.

Most people aren’t purposely looking for it the first time they see it. Most children are shown by friends, family, or stumble upon it accidentally. With modern day cell phones with internet capabilities one of the most dangerous weapons a young child can hold is a cell phone. Dr. Kleponis poses the question that if a parent wouldn’t leave their kid alone with a stranger for 10 minutes why would they leave them alone with the internet? Young teens and children these days not only have access to the world at their finger tips, but they have access to it completely unsupervised. If children don’t go looking for it themselves they are often shown by friends or family who are unsupervised. With the average age of exposure now being 8 years old, the saddening question is not “if” they will see it but really when?

2. Hurts & Trauma

As I mentioned in my first welcome blog, part of the therapeutic process involves making the unconscious in ourselves, conscious. Many struggling with porn addiction are also struggling with poor self-image in some way. Low self-image can be related to many things including, low self-esteem, past abuse, family issues, and bullying. Poor self-image is often characterized by thoughts and themes of being unlovable and unworthy of intimacy. Pornography often provides a temporary, but fleeting, sense of intimacy and pleasure followed by a crash. Viewing pornography can be fueled by a misplaced desire for intimacy and love. Much like other drugs porn can be used as a way to cope and distract someone from dealing with pain, anxieties, and fears. All of these factors with poor self image can often be encountered in the adolescent years. Porn can provide temporary relief but is followed by shame which creates a reinforcing cycle of negative self image and guilt. Poor self-image, lack of self-knowledge, and exposure to porn at a young age create an easy recipe for a possible addiction.

3. Shame & brain change

Like other drugs pornography has serious impacts on the brain and actually changes the way the human brain works. Watching pornography habitually changes the way an individual sees others, experiences excitement, and even acts in relationships.

Let’s take a mini crash course on what happens with neurochemistry in the brain when pornography is viewed.  When pornography is viewed we see a release of dopamine in the brain which is associated with feelings of pleasure and reward.  The release of norepinephrine also occurs and can burn an image into the brain, resulting with many porn users reporting that they are unable to get an image out of their mind. At orgasm oxytocin and vasopressin are released that actually bond the viewer to the pornographic images, neurochemicals that would naturally bond a husband and a wife together in the marital act. With the absence of real intimacy the climax is followed by a crash and feelings of shame. With continued use tolerance builds as more and more dopamine is now needed to produce the same pleasurable/reward based effects in the brain. As the tolerance increases,  hard-core porn is often sought out for a greater level of excitement. This growing tolerance often can lead to the search for more violent and outrageous types of pornography that will provide a greater sense of risk. The greater the risk, the greater the reward but also the greater level of shame. As someone builds a dopamine tolerance, the post-climax crash become steeper and shame becomes greater. Porn creates a vicious cycle in the brain of growing negative self-image after viewing porn that is reinforced by neurochemistry. The dopamine tolerance and the growing negative self-image because of shame can lead to individuals seeking out porn again and again to self-sooth and balance levels of dopamine and pleasure.

With the combinations of early childhood exposure, poor self-image, and chemical changes in brain, use of pornography can very quickly become a devastating and vicious cycle and addiction. Understanding some of these causes and where it begins can be the first steps in beating this addiction. There is hope in overcoming an addiction to pornography and there are many tips and ways to begin overcoming this addiction. Stay tuned for more information/tips and check out a few great resources below to begin overcoming an addiction to pornography:

To schedule an appointment with Adam Cross MFTI please call (805) 428-3755, email amc.cross7@gmail.com, or visit the contact page at https://adamcrossmft.wordpress.com/contact/

 

Kleponis, P., DR (Writer). (2017, March 28). Pornography: A Pastoral Response. Live performance in Los Angeles Cathedral, Los Angeles.


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