Treating the New Generation of Porn Addict

Therapists who treat people suffering from addictive/compulsive porn abuse are reporting a possible shift in their clients: “Up until the last decade individuals seeking treatment for such porn-related problems often reported a history of trauma — early physical or emotional abuse or a profound traumatic event like a rape or similar sexual violation in adult life,” says Stefanie Carnes, PhD, a sex addiction expert, researcher and president of the International Institute for Trauma and Addiction Professionals.

That’s no longer always the case, says Dr. Carnes: “While we still have many clients who report having a meaningful trauma history, we are starting to see more and more young people talking about ‘feeling hooked’ on online porn, even those who appear to have little or no prior history of family trauma, sexual or physical abuse. These users appear to be driven by the endless stimulation of infinite varieties of Internet porn and the dopamine rush that intense, graphic porn can bring.” Thus, she says, we may be seeing what some researchers are calling a new generation of compulsive porn user.

Treatment for individuals suffering from contemporary porn addiction caused by exposure is similar to treatment for trauma-induced porn addiction, but with a few key differences.

Identifying Porn Addiction Prior to Treatment

Porn addiction is generally defined as an extreme preoccupation with sexual images that lasts more than five months. A hallmark of porn addiction is that the individual is unable to quit or regulate their use in a way that doesn’t interfere with their daily functioning, despite ongoing negative consequences. When they try to quit, they may exhibit withdrawal symptoms, like anxiety or irritability. Porn abuse is often accompanied by compulsive masturbation and/or other sexual activity, but some porn addicts confine themselves to simply looking at erotic images in what appears to be a form of pleasure-induced dissociation (much like the compulsive gambler).

Treating the New Generation of Porn AddictHow much porn is too much porn? This is likely as individual a question as “how many drinks a day make someone an alcoholic?” Nonetheless, some researchers suggest that as a general benchmark, anything over 11 hours of online pornography use per week is a sign of the kinds of problems therapists see in active addiction. Researchers are continuing to develop targeted scales, such as the Cyber-Pornography Use Inventory, to measure it.

Signs of porn addiction include:

  • Spending time that you would prefer to spend doing other things — feeling “caught up” in porn use
  • Porn use and its effects are interfering with your relationships (intimacy, sexual life with partner), work (viewing porn at work or too tired from viewing porn at home to succeed at work) or obligations (dropping out of social or recreational events to use porn)
  • Having a highly active secret porn life, hidden from those close to you (spouses, lovers, partners)
  • Porn abuse has escalated into undesired (in the big picture of your life) offline relationships, anonymous or casual sexual hookups/anonymous sex
  • You’ve tried to quit or change your use but can’t
  • You become irritable, even angry, if unable to access your device to look at porn; for example, your spouse wants to be intimate, but you want to get to the porn
  • Your use of porn is actively distressing to family members and loved ones, yet you ignore them or make excuses

One way to find out if you’re addicted is to try to do without porn for a week. If a week goes well, try two. If you get to a month and you find yourself having no problem, then there probably isn’t one. But multiple failed attempts to eliminate or sharply decrease porn abuse likely indicates that you have a problem.

What Are Your Treatment Options for Porn Addiction?

Whether your compulsive/addictive porn abuse can be traced to childhood trauma or is the product of overexposure to hard-core porn coupled with a risk for addiction, your basic treatment options are initially quite similar — most often involving individual and/or group therapy (preferably with a certified sex addiction therapist), education and relapse prevention/social support through 12-step meetings, faith-based groups or in therapy groups dedicated to working on this issue.

Therapists treating this potentially new generation of porn users add social and relational skills training to the treatment plan to address social deficiencies, which are inevitable when you spend hours a day lost to porn. These strategies might include various forms of social support, conflict resolution, encouraging relationship-based recreational activities, active listening and assertiveness training.

According to Todd Love, PsyD, JD, LPC, an Athens, Georgia-based psychotherapist specializing in pornography addiction, for some young males, simple education — explaining the impact of porn — can be a game-changer. “Once young males learn what they are doing to their brains by watching so much porn, many are able to stop immediately,” he says. “For others with addictive tendencies, it can take much longer to quit.”

Dr. Love also recommends online support groups such as Reboot Nation, which encourages members to take a break from pornography, and NoFap, which offers support to members trying to curb porn use and compulsive masturbation (fapping). “The simple act of stepping into a room — real or virtual — filled with other people who suffer from the same or similar problems can be immediately therapeutic for the individual,” he says. “Then there’s the added benefit of mutual support and group coaching.”

There are a number of other options as well, including Sex Addicts Anonymous, Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous, Sexaholics Anonymous and faith-based support groups like guardyoureeyes.com, which offer daily affirmations, accountability partners and online support.

Love cautions that these self-help strategies don’t work for everyone. “There is a subgroup of people who struggle at a deeper level and need one-on-one therapy to address underlying problems,” he says. “There are still others who are fundamentally compromised in their impulse-control abilities, such as individuals with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.” Love has found mindfulness-based strategies combined with cognitive behavioral techniques to be effective for both of these groups.

There’s also a broad stratum of people who won’t get help. “Sadly, many porn addicts are often reluctant to seek help because they don’t view their solo sexual behaviors as an underlying source of their unhappiness,” says Rob Weiss, LCSW, CSAT-S, an internationally recognized tech/sex addiction psychotherapist who has developed sex addiction and intimacy disorder programs across the U.S. “Even guys who get props for affairs or the occasional sexual ‘score’ from peers will not get the same when talking about a solo act, which can appear as more desperate,” he says. When they do seek assistance, it’s often for related symptoms, like self-injury, depression, loneliness and relationship troubles, rather than for the porn problem. “I urge anyone who has a porn addiction to be upfront with their therapist in order to get an integrated treatment plan that addresses all the issues,” stresses Weiss. “Porn addiction and compulsive masturbation are nothing to be ashamed of, but not living your life to its potential is very sad indeed.”

Love and many other sexual addiction therapists don’t see porn as inherently bad, or good, for that matter. “Porn itself isn’t necessarily a problem any more than alcohol is a problem,” says Love. “Chronic overconsumption of pornography by some vulnerable populations, however, is problematic in the same way that chronic overconsumption of alcohol by some vulnerable populations is problematic.  The key is to understand who is using it, how, and why.”

This article is the final one in a three-part series on a new generation of porn user. Here are the previous two articles:

Part 1: The New Generation of Porn Users

Part 2: What Happens When Children Watch Porn

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