Pornography and Relationships

When people find out I have training in sex addiction they tend to be more bold and ask me questions about it.  The questions I get most often surround internet pornography.   A lot of the time, the questions are about whether someone needs to tell their partner about it, or how to bring it up in a relationship.

First of all, internet pornography isn’t a problem in all relationships.  Some couples watch it together and use it to enhance their sex life.  Other couples don’t mind that their significant other has his/her own sexual fantasy world outside of their relationship.  However, sometimes it is a problem.  Most of the time it is because the person is using it too much, or is lying about using it at all.  Internet pornography isn’t the root of all evil, it mostly comes down to how you are using it and whether you’ve made it a “secret” part of your life.

If it has been kept a secret then it can cause a huge problem in the relationship.  If someone doesn’t own up to their use of internet pornography, and it’s discovered by their partner, it can cause trust issues.  If you are lying about your internet pornography use, then know it is only a matter of time before it blows up in your face.  Most people lie about it because they are ashamed of it or feel they are using it too often and don’t want to admit the frequency.  Either way, if you are too afraid to be open about it, you have a problem.

If it is a problem, you need to figure out why.  Is it because someone told you it was wrong, disrespectful, disgusting or perverted?  If the answer is yes, then you have a couple choices before you.  You can agree with the belief above that it is wrong, disrespectful, disgusting or perverted and work to find more right, respectful, acceptable or better things to do with your time.  You can also learn to change your belief and let go of the shame holding you back.  Neither of these options is easy, but they are necessary to resolve guilty or shameful feelings.

Is it because you believe your partner would reject you or make you stop if he/she knew?  If the answer is yes, then you again have a couple of options.  You can find someone who won’t reject you, or stop before they find out.  The other option is to be open and honest about it and see what happens.  Lying is not an option.

If you are in a relationship where your partner is against internet or any other form of pornography, take a step back and figure out what is more important to you.  Obviously, if you could keep both, you would.  However, if you have to make a choice, weigh the pros and cons.  How much does this person mean to you?  Enough to make a sacrifice?  Would you rather lose this person to keep the pornography that seems to relax and distract you from your stressful life?  Most of the time, the pull to internet pornography is the fantasy.  It gets you out of the real world and helps you to find a release.  Some people find it hard to relax without it.  For some people, they may need to let their relationship go until they find someone who is okay with their internet pornography habit.  They realize they don’t want to quit and don’t feel like lying to cover it up.

Other people will find that their relationship is too important to them.  They would rather find another way to relax besides using pornography.  It isn’t easy, but it can be rewarding to find that you don’t NEED to watch porn to get through the day.  Be honest about the fact that you will most likely miss it.  Hopefully your significant other is giving up some stuff for you as well.  Relationships do require sacrifice most of the time.  Everyone wants their cake and eat it too, but in the real world, this isn’t always possible.

If you’ve come to the conclusion that you need to give it up, be aware that it won’t be easy.  You may slip up.  The tendency is to cover up those slips.  Instead, I would encourage you to be open about your struggle.  Let your partner know you are giving this up for them and it isn’t easy for you.  If you don’t share about it, you’ll build resentment in the relationship.  Then it usually comes out in frustration, and you’ll end up throwing it in their face how much you’ve sacrificed.  Telling your partner about your struggle will help them understand you better.  It can help a relationship to admit to your partner how much they mean to you and that you’re willing to give up something you enjoy to make them happy.  If your partner isn’t understanding of your struggle or thinks it’s disgusting that you like porn so much, then you have a whole other problem on your hands.  For you to continue to be honest, you’ll need to be with someone who loves you and wants to try to understand you.  You also will need to get past any shame you may feel about your use.

It really comes down to what you believe about internet pornography and whether you feel okay with what you’re doing.  Remember, you can change your belief, but you can’t change your partner’s.  You can agree to change your habits to please your partner, or find someone who feels the same way you do.  You do have choices, they just won’t all be easy ones.  If you have shame about your pornography use, it will be helpful to find a way to resolve it.  Find a non-judgmental person to help you process your feelings and help you figure out your choices.  You need to decide whether you will make changes to cut back on or eliminate your use of pornography or whether you will accept who you are and what your doing as is.  If you’ve tried to stop and find that you can’t, even with a great relationship as motivation, find a counselor who understands internet pornography and sex addiction to help you.

In Love with an Addict

I remember what it was like to be in love with an addict.  In my case he was wanting to quit, and I was going to help him.  Of course I didn’t know how bad it was.  Like most addicts, he minimized or denied most of what he was doing.  I believed him because I’m an honest, trusting person.  I got caught up in a rollarcoaster of happiness and disappointment.  I became addicted to wanting to save him.  Leaving the relationship was nearly impossible at first.  It took several tries, great friendship support and few counseling sessions to get me to finally leave.

I hope to give some good insight to those who may still be struggling in this type of relationship today. First, the hook.  I believe people who are addicts have learned or already have a natural tendency to be excellent liars.  I got into the relationship under false pretenses.  He led me to believe he only smoked occasionally.  This made sense because at first he seemed ambitious and fun to be around.  He had goals, was getting his Master’s Degree and seemed to have a very loving family who lived down south.  I didn’t realize how much I was being manipulated.  I really did believe that he liked me and wanted to be drug free.  I also didn’t realize how long, how often, how much, and how many different types of drugs he was using.  I was sucked in by the lies.

After a few months I became familiar with his mood swings.  When he was depressed he would tell me how much he needed me and that I was the reason he wanted to do better in his life.  It is easy to see through all that crap now, but at the time I needed to hear that from someone.  I realize now that if my self-esteem had been stronger, I probably wouldn’t have fell so hard for his lines.  When he was happy, it was so great to be around him.  He would stay drug free for a week, maybe two and I would get my hopes up.  Then the depression and the admission that he had yet again slipped back into old habits.  Little did I know how much he was using behind my back as well.  He was good at hiding it.  I was also naive and didn’t realize all the signs I would notice today.

I see very clearly now how my weaknesses, not just his, played into this whole relationship.  For a long time I blamed him for everything.  I didn’t want to admit that I was co-dependent.  I was finally able to admit the reason I stayed around so long is because I felt empty without him to worry about.  He became my life.  If you asked how I was doing, it would depend on how he was doing.  If he was having a good day or week, so was I.  My purpose in life was to help him.  I realize now, that I have a lot to give the world, whether I’m in a relationship or not.  I also know very well that no one can save anyone else.  I was trying to control his life, and he led me to believe for awhile that I could.  However, all along, he was in control of his destiny and I was just along for the ride.

Being in a relationship with an addict is an allusion.  There is no relationship because addicts are selfish and their partners are usually too selfless.  There is no equality, honesty, trust, or real love.  He was using me, and because of reasons stated above, I was using him.  He may have had moments when he honestly wanted to quit, but they were fleeting.  He wasn’t ready, and I couldn’t make him ready.  He needed to be able to quit for himself, not for me.  That was one of my many mistakes and misguided beliefs.  Sometimes, love doesn’t conquer all.  He needed to love himself before he could love me, and I needed to do the same thing.  We were both missing something.  He looked to drugs to fill the void, and I looked to him.  It didn’t work.  This relationship taught me a lot.  I lived and I learned!

If you are going through something like this, know that you aren’t stupid and you aren’t alone.  It is easy to fall in love with someone when it seems at first that they need you so much, but remember that you can’t rescue them.  You can support them if they decide to change, but you can’t make them change.  You can throw their drugs or alcohol away.  You can hide their porn or lock up their money so they can’t gamble.  They will still find away to get what they want if they want it.  Their addiction comes first.  No matter what you want to believe, they can never put you first if they have an addiction.

It is also true that a person in a relationship with an addict usually puts the addict first and becomes dependent on saving them.  The most important thing to learn is to put yourself first.  You are important too.  That was a big lesson for me to learn.  I know now that I can only control and save myself.  You are just spinning your wheels if you’re focusing all your effort on someone else.  Taking care of yourself isn’t being selfish, its being responsible.  I couldn’t be in a healthy relationship if I didn’t take care of myself.  I would drive my husband crazy.  The best gift you can give your partner is to be a confident, well adjusted person.  Life is a balance.  I found I can take better care of others if I’ve first taken care of myself.  Just because I focused on myself didn’t mean I couldn’t be there for others.

I hope you will remember that as well.  If you want to save anyone in this world, save yourself.  Then you will be able to help the people who really want help.  You know how I know when someone really wants help?  They are willing to go see a professional.  If they think they can do it themselves or have convinced you that they only need you, they are lying about wanting to really change.  I know it won’t be easy to leave, but it may be the only thing that will get them to change.  If they always have you to rescue them, it may make things worse.   I also know some people will never change.  Please focus your energy on what you can control, and try to let go of needing to save anyone else except yourself.  For more information, please see this website:  Co-dependents Anonymous  or see books listed on my page: Great Books on Sex and Relationships.

Weiner Addiction

Okay, I couldn’t pass up the headline from the last couple of days about Representative Anthony Weiner.  What is interesting to me about this story is that Rep. Weiner stated that his wife knew about his online behavior before they were married but was under the assumption that he stopped once they got married.  However, the whole world knows now that he did NOT stop the behavior.

As a counselor I hear about this a lot.  Students or former clients of mine have admitted that they went on porn sites or sent and received naked pictures of themselves to people when they were single.  They also admit to thinking they would be able to stop the behavior once they were in a committed relationship, but find they can’t stop.  Some come into counseling because they are worried their partner will find out.  Some people come into counseling because their partner did find out, and in an attempt to save their relationship they agree to see me.

A lot of people I see are surprised that they weren’t able to control their urges to go into sex chat rooms, look at porn, or send naked pictures of themselves.  They almost always admit that they love their current partner and don’t want the relationship to end.  They almost all admit as well that they wouldn’t be happy if they found out their partner was going into chat rooms, sending naked pictures or going on porn sites behind their back.  They realize they can stop for a while but at some point the urge comes back to continue the old behavior.  I explain to them that this usually happens because of a couple different reasons.

One, it is a stress reliever.  Flirting online with someone creates a fantasy world.  It is an escape that helps a lot of people deal with stress.  When you are single it isn’t hurting anyone else and it is a good way to unwind without using alcohol or drugs.  It also helps single people feel less lonely.  This is why it is hard for people to understand why someone would continue this once they are in a good relationship.  They shouldn’t feel as lonely or sexually frustrated, and most of the time they don’t, but the escape is still a stress reliever.  Talking to your partner can be helpful, but sometimes a relationship adds stress.  Sometimes people avoid talking to their partner about their stress and pretend everything is fine.  When this happens it is then easy to turn to sex on the internet as a form of relaxation like you did in the past.

Second, it is an adrenaline rush.  Taking a risk and sending a naked picture to someone can get the blood pumping.  It can be a turn-on to send a naked picture to your boyfriend or girlfriend, but you lose some of the risk and excitement involved.  In yesterday’s post I talked about it being very tempting to be able to get away with something.  I think it is even more of an adrenaline rush to send naked pictures, sneak into chat rooms or porn sites while hiding it from your partner.  This can become very addicting in the sense of the rush you feel when you get away with something you shouldn’t.  Something that was exciting when you were single is even more exciting now that you are in a relationship.  Some people avoid taking risks, but others can easily become addicted to it.

So, what do I tell the people who come in to see me that are going through what Representative Weiner is going through?  I reinforce to them that at first it is going to be easy to resist.  If you watched Rep. Weiner on television you know that he is horribly embarrassed at this moment and feeling deeply regretful.  Those feelings will carry people going through the same thing a few months and they won’t be tempted at all to send any naked pictures.  At some point though, the feelings of embarrassment and regret will fade.  Most people in this position will be tempted again when their partner’s guard is down and their stress is back up.  It could be months or a year down the road, but at some point they will be tempted again.  Having awareness about the patterns of behavior is a huge step to avoid future temptations.

When temptation does arises, I encourage people in this position to have other ways to reduce stress.  If you are a natural risk taker, find ways to take risks that don’t put your relationship in jeopardy.  You have to replace the behavior with something else or your brain will betray you to get what it needs.  I also recommend finding ways to connect to your partner and being able to communicate to them when you are feeling stressed.  If you have been tempted to hide problems from your partner in the past, I recommend being more open in the relationship.  Both partners need to be aware that this problem won’t just disappear.  It will get easier in time, but there may be times when it is hard to resist.  If your partner is willing to forgive you and stay in the relationship it is very helpful if they understand that it is easier to resist temptation if you can talk through those rough moments with them.  Working through it together can help you get through them without falling back into old habits.  Some people have had their partner keep them accountable by checking the history on their computer or opening up their phone and phone bill to them if needed.  Admitting that you can’t always control your urges is so helpful.  When you think you can handle everything on your own is when most people get into trouble.

As a disclaimer, I am not stating the Representative Anthony Weiner has a sex addiction.  I am not diagnosing him.  I also haven’t diagnosed many of my former clients with a sex addiction just because they struggled with sex online.  Just like some people don’t have an eating disorder, but they definitely have issues with eating, I believe it is the same way with sex.  You can have sexual behaviors that definitely harm your health or relationship, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you have an addiction.  I only want to make a point that a lot of people who start something when it seemed harmless as a single person have a hard time stopping later when they thought it would be easy.  I think awareness is the key so I’m using Representative Weiner’s story as an example of why this behavior happens even if a person is in a great relationship.

When Sex becomes Addiction

I’ve read that addiction is a state of mind that permeates one’s life.  It’s like you are running frantically to stay one step ahead of fearful feelings.  Like someone scurrying through life to avoid getting drenched by a dark rain cloud that is in constant pursuit.  To start recovery means to stop running, sit still, and get drenched in the rain.

An addict does everything possible to avoid pain.  Addictions are a way to fill an emptiness or a hole that is left from feeling unloved.  Sex becomes a way to connect to someone.  At first it seems like a perfect way to fill the void.  A lot of addicts at first have a fantasy that if they just meet the right person all their problems will just go away.  Usually the problems compound in relationships.  Sex addicts feel ashamed and therefore put up a wall between themselves and others.  They continue to feel alone even in the most intimate situations with other people.  They may keep pursuing different sexual partners to find that fulfillment but keep coming up empty.  Even though they want to stop having meaningless sexual encounters, the compulsion to continue the behavior is very strong.

Many sex addicts also use alcohol and drugs  as part of the sexual ritual.  Alcohol and drugs can give a sex addict courage to meet their next sexual conquest, remove inhibitions or heighten romantic delusions.  For many sex addicts, sex without drugs or alcohol is almost impossible.  It helps them relax and not really think about what they are doing.  Other sex addicts use alcohol and drugs to numb the pain afterward when the reality of the sexual encounter hits them.

Addiction to sex is much deeper than really loving to have sex.  Addiction produces shameful feelings.  If you engage in something you love you usually feel really good afterward.   Sex addicts have the same characteristics as other addicts.  They have tried to stop their behavior and can’t.  They have withdrawal symptoms when they don’t engage in their addictive ritual.  They feel very shameful about their actions.  It is negatively affecting their work, school, or social life.   Here are some questions to think about if you are concerned you may be a sex addict.

Do you feel compelled to have frequent sex either with a partner or by masturbating?

Are you confused by your sexual behavior?

Do your sexual fantasies or obsessions about romantic involvements interfere with your concentration or your abilities?

Do your sexual activities include the risk, threat, or reality of disease, pregnancy, coercion, or violence?

Has your sexual behavior ever made you feel hopeless or suicidal?

Do sex and romance usually involve alcohol, drugs, or compulsive eating or not eating?

Do you have trouble just being friends with men or women because you think about being sexual with them?

Do you usually feel remorse or shame after having a sexual encounter?

Do you feel anxious, depressed or irritable when you try to stop your sexual behaviors?

If you answered yes to several or all of these questions you may want to learn more about sex addiction.   The websites below have a lot of useful information.  There is no cure from sex addiction.  A person who is no longer engaging in their addiction is in recovery.  Recovery is the process of standing in the rain and dealing with pain.   Without help many people are “white knuckling” their recovery.  Facing the pain alone without the guidance of how to get through it is an almost impossible task.  There are counselors specifically trained in sex addiction that can guide you through the beginning of the recovery process if you feel you are struggling with this type of addiction.

The Fascination With Internet Porn

Do you know my 6-year-old nephew can find porn on the internet by Googling Disney wrong?  That is how easy it is to find it on the web.  The people who produce porn are geniuses.  They make it easy to accidentally find it and hook you with curiosity.  For many hormone crazed teenagers it is a temptation too hard to pass up.

By the time you are in college you could be so hooked, you have your favorite sites loaded up on your computer ready to go.  Some people have it downloaded to their phones and can watch it anywhere they want.  But beware.  Remember that the brain is a very habitual.  Once it gets used to something, it likes to keep repeating the experience.  If you find that looking at porn sites or going into sex chat rooms relaxes you, it could make you prone to needing porn or chat rooms to relax all the time.

The one way to avoid any addiction is to not get too used to any one thing as an escape from your day.  If I went home every night and drank wine to relax.  What would happen the one night I didn’t have any wine?  I would probably freak out.  But if I went home tonight and had a glass of wine to relax, then tomorrow I went for a walk, the next night I ate a bowl of ice cream, and then the next night I called a friend to vent I wouldn’t get attached to any one thing to help myself feel better.  I’d be making my brain use different ways to get that much needed break from reality.  Then if one of those things is unattainable at the moment, I wouldn’t freak out.

I’m not saying pornography is evil, although some people would disagree.  It can be very disrespectful and very degrading to women.  Which is why a lot of women don’t like it.  I could talk for a long time about all the things wrong with pornography and why it is bad for our culture.  I want to stick to the addiction side of it for my blog.  I’m not writing this to shame anyone into stopping.  I want to make people aware of why it is addicting and how to avoid it or stop if you want to.

If you need it to relax or unwind from your day and pornography is the only thing that works, you have a problem.  You have now become dependent.  Internet pornography is like heroine.  It is very hard to just do it occasionally and not get hooked.  The first step is to find other ways to relax.  You have to find something to replace the time you spend using porn to decompress your brain.  Everyone needs down time.  Work to find more than one thing to get that accomplished.  Just like you need more than one tool in your tool box.  You need more than one way to relax and feel good.  That way you can avoid becoming too dependent on anything, not just porn.

Internet porn…good, bad or addicting?

Is internet porn bad for you?  Depends…for some people I would guess it is just something they do occasionally to relax and unwind.  For others, it is a world they can’t seem to get away from.  I also know that it isn’t a problem unless you can’t afford it, affects your work/school, affects your relationship or all of the above.

If you are single, it may not seem like an issue at all.  From my counseling experience I find it becomes an issue when single people get into serious relationships.   Their partner becomes upset when they look into the computer history and see just how often this little habit is being used.  I have had people (yes, some women watch internet porn) tell me they thought when they got into a serious relationship and were having regular sex that they wouldn’t want to look at porn on the internet as often.  But people have reported that even right after having sex with their boyfriend/girlfriend they still have the urge to get online to look at porn.  It is a different kind of high that uses fantasy.  Some people aren’t satisfied with having regular sex anymore.  Much to the dismay of the person they just had sex with.  It sucks to feel “not good enough”.  That is how many significant others feel when they find out their partner uses internet porn.  Maybe you will get lucky and find someone who wants to look at porn with you, but most of the time, it causes jealousy issues.

It can become an addiction that not only affects relationships, but work.  Some people  risk looking at porn sites at work and have lost their job because of it.  I’ve also worked with people who have used the company credit card to pay for their addiction.  An addiction to porn is like any other addiction, it comes FIRST.  I’ve even had some people tell me they can’t have the password to log into the computer at home or they will be tempted to get on porn sites.

It’s all fun and games until you want to stop and can’t.  What tends to happen is that what excited you in the beginning is now boring you.  Many people have to look for different, crazier things to get the same “high” effect they got the first time they looked at porn.  This has been leading people to develop obsessions with violent sex, beastiality, child porn, and any other kind of fetish you could think of.  I have people I’ve talked to that are ashamed of some of the things that now turn them on because what used to work doesn’t any more.

I feel like I could write about this forever and not cover everything that I’ve learned.  This is just a little information.  I will continue to write about this topic weekly to help people better understand what addiction to porn really means.   If you struggle in this area, there are people who can help you stop.  If it is still seems harmless to you, I’m glad, but be aware of the potential dangers of becoming addicted.

Am I a sex addict?

I get asked this question sometimes.   Many people love sex and think about it a lot, but does that make you a sex addict?  The answer is most likely, no.  Its a complicated topic.  I found in my training that addiction goes way beyond enjoying something and thinking about it all the time.  So here is a little bit of what I learned in my training in case you are wondering…am I a sex addict?

The definition of dependence is this:

1. Tolerance:  You need to engage in more sexual activities or engage in different types of sex to obtain the same desired effect.

2. Withdrawal:  You feel very irritable, anxious, and upset if you stop having sex as often as before.

3.  There is a persistent desire or unsuccessful efforts to cut down on sexual activities.

4. A great deal of time is spent thinking or engaging in activities to meet sexual needs.

5.  Important occupational, recreational, and social activities are given up to pursue sexual activities.

There is a definite loss of control.  Many addicts cope with stress by using sex to relieve tension.  They have a determination to find ways to maximize sexual behavior opportunities. They usually have concerns or guilt about sexual behavior.  They have feelings of unworthiness because of their sexual behaviors.  They vacillate between feelings of exhilaration in middle of the sexual act to feelings of degradation after the act is over.  The sexual behavior usually is increasing in intensity and frequency.  There is definitely a pattern and usually a ritual surrounding the addiction.  Example, if an addict always use a bar to find partners, the bar is going to become part of the ritual.  The addict won’t have the same effect if they find someone while walking around in Wal-Mart.

Also many times core beliefs are involved as well.  Many addicts have this belief system:

1.  Believe they are basically a bad, unworthy person.

2.  Believe no one could love them as they are.

3.  Believe their needs will never be met if they have to depend on others.

4.  Sex is their most important need.

These definitions are simplified.  When I first started studying sex addiction I had no idea of knowing how complex it is.  Like an eating disorder it is a process addiction and addicts have to learn how to live in moderation.  Unfortunately most sex addicts also experience huge amounts of shame and also usually have a lot of abuse in their childhoods.  Gaining recovery isn’t easy.

I want to assure most people out there that they most likely don’t have an addiction.  If you think this does describe you, please seek some professional help.  There are counselors trained in sex addiction.  Visit this website for information:

Most of the information I have given here came from my training with Dr. Patrick Carnes.  His books on this subject are listed on my book page.

I will be posting more about sex addiction along with internet porn addiction in future blogs.  I hope to get more information out there to help others.