Porn Addicts, Do You Know What Triggers Your Behavior?

Addictions of all types are cyclical in nature, a fact that I discussed in an earlier post to Addiction.com. In that article, I described in detail the six-stage model of addiction that I tend to use when discussing sex and porn addiction, noting that the cycle is always set in motion by a “trigger” of some sort. I then described triggers as follows:

Triggers are catalysts that create a need/desire to act out sexually. Most often, triggers are some sort of “pain agent.” Pain agents include both emotional and physical discomfort, either short- or long-term. Depression, anxiety, loneliness, boredom, stress, shame, anger and any other form of emotional or psychological (or even physical) discomfort can easily trigger an addict’s desire to escape, avoid and dissociate. Positive agents can also serve as triggers. So if a sex addict gets fired from his or her job, he or she will want to act out sexually; and if that same addict gets a great new job, he or she will want act out sexually. If triggers are not dealt with in a healthy way (dissipated via a healthy, non-addictive coping mechanism like talking to supportive friends, family members or a therapist), then the addictive cycle inevitably progresses.

I also pointed out that the addictive cycle is most easily broken shortly after triggers first arise. If not, the cycle inevitably progresses and the addict loses touch with reality – i.e., the addict enters “the bubble.” At that point, the potential of negative consequences is no longer considered, and the odds of interrupting the cycle without outside intervention diminish significantly. This means that recovering porn addicts, if they want to maintain their sexual sobriety, must learn to recognize their triggers so they can intercede before the addiction spins forward. If a porn addict can learn to identify his or her triggers and counteract them before they take root and push the addict into the bubble, he or she has a better-than-average chance for long-term recovery, meaningful healing and a happier, healthier life. If not, the addiction may win out.

Triggers: What to Look For

Generally speaking, triggers for porn addiction fall into two main categories – internal and external.

  • Internal triggers for porn addiction typically involve emotional (or sometimes physical) discomfort. In other words, depression, shame, anxiety, anger, fear, guilt, remorse, boredom and/or any other uncomfortable emotion can trigger a desire to look at porn. For instance, if/when a married porn addict’s spouse is away for a few days (or even a few hours), the addict might feel lonely or abandoned, and this emotional discomfort can trigger a desire to go online and act out.
  • External triggers for porn addiction typically involve people, places, things and/or events. For instance, if/when a sex addict sees a sexy coworker or a lingerie catalog (or anything else that reminds the addict of sex), he or she might also feel a desire to look at porn.

Porn Addicts, Do You Know What Triggers Your Behavior?Sometimes triggers for porn addiction are both internal and external at the same time. In other words, a porn addict might have a tough day at work (an external trigger) that causes feelings of shame (an internal trigger), with both triggers creating a desire to look at porn. And this double whammy can easily be exacerbated by other triggers, such as noticing a sexy billboard on the way home.

A few of the more common internal triggers for porn addiction are:

  • Boredom
  • Loneliness
  • Anger
  • Resentments
  • Fear
  • Anxiety
  • Sadness, grief and/or depression
  • Stress
  • Shame
  • Frustration
  • Feeling unloved and/or unwanted
  • Feeling unappreciated

A few of the more common external triggers for porn addiction are:

  • Travel (especially solo travel)
  • Ended relationships
  • Unstructured time alone
  • Negative experiences (of any type)
  • Positive experiences (of any type)
  • Unexpected life changes (of any type)
  • Substance use or abuse
  • Unexpected exposure to sexual stimuli (driving past a strip club, seeing a sexy magazine at the newsstand, encountering an attractive person, etc.)
  • Financial problems
  • Arguments
  • Family issues

Each of these lists could be extended indefinitely. In fact, practically anything can serve as a trigger for porn addiction. Even memories of past traumas can serve as triggers in the present moment. For instance, if a porn addict’s spouse looks at the addict in a certain way, that might bring up memories (either conscious or unconscious) of an abusive parent, resulting in current emotional discomfort – fear, shame, resentment, etc. – even though the spouse’s expression may not in any way be meant as threatening or potentially abusive.

So triggers are tricky little things. And, unfortunately, they are pretty much unavoidable. This is true for all addicts, not just porn addicts. Alcoholics can be triggered when they drive past the local bar. Drug addicts can be triggered when they watch TV crime dramas where drugs are part of the plot. Gambling addicts can be triggered when they see a deck of cards or a set of dice. And addicts of all types – including porn addicts – can be triggered simply because they must deal with the rollercoaster of life and the emotions it induces. In short, triggers are everywhere, and there is not much that porn addicts can do about that fact beyond learning to recognize when they’ve been triggered and ways to intervene when that occurs.

I will discuss healthy intervention strategies in a future post. For now, I will simply reiterate that if a porn addict can learn to identify his or her triggers and to deal with them before they push the addict into the bubble, then he or she has a much better chance to stay sober and to heal from the addiction.

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One Response to Porn Addicts, Do You Know What Triggers Your Behavior?

  1. James Elmore July 28, 2016 at 9:45 pm #

    This is a wonderful reminder of the importance of having something prepared when you feel triggered. I sat down and thought about what benefits my addiction provides (passion, beauty, variety) and then made a list of healthy substitutions that also provide those results (service, gardening, photography). Ultimately I came to see that my desire for passion was really a lack of passion for myself and for my life and purpose. That technique and others are offered in a free .pdf at http://havingorwanting.com

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