Part 1, Part 2
Check your porn (or erotica) and sex addiction symptoms and signs
Think you could be addicted to pornography (or your partner thinks you are)? Curious or even desperate to know if your behaviour is normal or not? And, if you are addicted – what on earth can you do to help yourself?
If you think you’ve got an addiction, that would suggest to me that you know you’re spending too much time thinking about, watching and/or engaging in any and all things sex-related. I’m including erotica here too – just in case you thought that wouldn’t count. ;-) According to Prof Jeff Logue, erotica is more relational and favoured by women, while men tend to use pornography. *)
I’m going to make the assumption that you are feeling worried and that you really want to change your behaviour. So I’m delighted that you’ve landed on this page – it hopefully means you’re perhaps ready to challenge yourself, confront your addiction and start turning your life around.
(Just before we continue – if you’re here because you’re worried your partner is addicted to sex or porn, there’s plenty of info in this article that will be helpful for you too.)
I can only imagine, based on my 24 years’ experience as a professional (couples) counsellor, how difficult it must have been for you to realise that your behaviour has got out of control. Maybe you feel you’re totally dependent on sex and need it daily or even hourly. And you’re doubtless have kept that side of you hidden, you’ve so very unfortunately lived a lie, possibly even for years. I suspect you’re now feeling pretty isolated and lonely.
Perhaps you didn’t notice the progression of your interest from soft-core to hard-core porn, or how much more time you started to spend satisfying your cravings. I suspect it’s a daily battle for you to try and contain your urges, and that you’re experiencing an ever-increasing need for stronger stimulation.
It makes no difference which sexual behaviours you engage in: masturbation, use of (internet) pornography, prostitution, multiple affairs, chat-room or online (cyber) sex, or any number of other sexual behaviours – legal or illegal.
In this article, I’m aiming to…
- help you understand the nature of your particular addiction to porn
- familiarise you with self-help strategies for overcoming your porn addiction.
- show you where you can get help, and how to build up the courage to access that help
But first, remember: there’s a difference between doing something frequently and being addicted!
So, let’s start by figuring out if indeed you are addicted to porn…
(By the way – for the purposes of this article, I’m not making a distinction between sex and porn addiction. You’ll know which applies to you.)
Could you really be addicted to sex and porn/erotica?
It’s a little tricky to classify a porn addiction. There are no definite signs and symptoms of sex addiction in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM v) which doctors use to aid diagnosis of mental illness. Also, there’s disagreement between professionals about whether or not addiction is the right label to use. Not to mention the fact that there are no standard measures for deciding when, where and how often you should or shouldn’t engage in sexual behaviours. So, as you can imagine, it’s a bit of a grey area!
But one thing’s for sure: addictive behaviour in relation to sex and porn is an increasingly common phenomenon, and it ruins the lives of everyone involved. (That’s not a judgement, by the way! Just a sad fact, for all concerned.)
Let’s put all of this into a wider context – watch this video to learn how porn addiction works…
An addiction, or simply normal behaviour?
Just because you like watching porn, read erotic material, engage in internet sex or visit sex workers doesn’t necessarily mean you’re out of control and addicted.
Fantasies are not a measure of addiction either. Neither is masturbation because you’re bored, feeling anxious or depressed (more on that later), or having sex outside of a committed relationship.
You may have started exploring sex or watching porn initially as an escape from the stress or boredom of everyday life. Or you might have considered yourself to have a high sex drive that couldn’t be satisfied by a single person or relationship.
Whatever your particular circumstances and desires, your initial choices were based on your wants, needs, awareness, knowledge, values and beliefs. But because you’ve found yourself on this page, I suspect that your choices have started to make you feel uncomfortable. And I’d guess that your behaviour has increasingly had a negative impact on you, and any or all of the following:
- your (mental) health (see also: How to deal with depression)
- your finances
- your social well-being
- your view of the world
- your loved ones.
You might feel that you’re no longer able to control your urges and desires. You might also have an overwhelming need to satisfy your cravings instantly – and you might find yourself acting on that need more and more often.
If your preoccupation with porn and sex is having a negative impact on any area of your life, it’s definitely something you need to address.
Here’s a porn addiction test you can take. There’s no need to fill in your email address – it’s completely anonymous and you’ll get an immediate result.
Signs you’re addicted to pornography
What about your partner?
There are other signs and symptoms that aren't necessarily indications of an addiction in their own right. However, in the right context, they could all point towards a bigger problem. In any case, they definitely don’t contribute to a well-balanced sexual relationship.
How many of these sex addiction symptoms do you recognise?
- You're increasingly critical of your partner's attractiveness - your choice of porn stars (often surgically enhanced) differs from your partner's appearance.
- You've no patience for foreplay and gently pleasuring your partner.
- Your goal is to climax because you’re only interested in giving yourself the feeling that comes from the surge of dopamine.
- You're finding real-life sex doesn't offer sufficient stimulation because you've become accustomed to increasingly stronger triggers.
- You're being secretive about your (online) behaviour. You may be hiding it because you know your partner's values and beliefs (or even your own) don't match your online taste for sex.
- You're no longer interested in having sex with your partner - you find it just doesn’t offer any satisfaction anymore.
- You're lying frequently, and desperate to avoid being found out and held to account.
- You avoid or become angry at your partner’s attempts to talk about sex and your behaviour (if she/he still dares to talk about it!).
- You've requested that your partner tries out different sexual acts without taking their likes/dislikes, level of comfort or degree of pain into consideration
- You're feeling increasingly distant from your partner - you're just not present in your relationship.
- You’re being abusive towards your partner - mentally, emotionally or physically.
- You feel like you’re leading a secret or double life.
If any of the above sound familiar, it’s absolutely time to take responsibility for your behaviour. There’s never any excuse for one partner to mistreat another, no matter the circumstances (see: Signs of an Abusive Relationship).
The need for sex and relief can suddenly become an all-encompassing urge. As with any kind of addiction (sometimes classified as a disease), it can feel impossible to overcome the cravings with willpower alone. But, again, as with any kind of addiction, you remain responsible for your own behaviour - and it is possible to kick a habit if you’re willing to put in the work.
What does 'being addicted' really mean?
A craving, compulsion, obsession or addiction occurs in a trance state. A trance state is a very natural state of mind. As human beings, we all float in and out of trance states numerous times during the day. It's a state of mind in which your attention is locked on a very narrow focus. You're barely aware of your surroundings and the passing of time. Values and beliefs fade into the background or disappear altogether whilst your imagination runs the show.
Here are some examples of when this happens:
- When you're totally absorbed by a piece of work
- When you're practising something with real intent
- When you're trying to solve a problem
- When you're about to win a race
- When you're listening to or watching something that really interests you (pornography!)
- When you're watching or hearing something truly amazing or inspiring
- When you're overcome by emotions, e.g. anger, fear or depression, or lust or want (craving for porn or sex)
Given that trance states are natural, you can see now that the state of mind is not the problem in itself. Instead, in the case of addiction, it’s what the mind is focusing on that’s the problem. And when it comes to sex addiction, that trance state is hijacked by porn, with an ever-decreasing pleasure and ever-increasing demand for stronger stimulation.
"The researchers found that sex addicts were more likely to choose the novel over the familiar choice for sexual images relative to neutral object images, whereas healthy volunteers were more likely to choose the novel choice for neutral human female images relative to neutral object images."
The link between porn and other addictions
We know now that as human beings we’re more at risk of becoming addicted to something (anything) when life doesn’t play out the way we’d like it to. Almost invariably that means that emotional needs aren’t being met in balance.
So if you have become addicted to porn, it wouldn’t just be a coincidence if you’re also addicted to other things too, e.g. food, spending money, gambling, drugs, gaming or alcohol. Any kind of addictive behaviour is indicative of below-the-surface unhappiness or discontent. But the good news? It’s absolutely within your power to fix all of that :-)
"... scientists found that three brain regions were more active in sex addicts compared with the healthy volunteers. Significantly, these regions – the ventral striatum, dorsal anterior cingulate and amygdala – were regions that are also activated in drug addicts when shown drug stimuli." **)
In order to stand any chance of living a contented, fulfilling life, our emotional needs have to be met in balance. This is a whole topic in its own right, so I’d really encourage you to learn about the human givens here. If you haven’t got time for that right now, here are some examples of problems which would unbalance your essential emotional needs:
- You may have not have been feeling very safe - in your relationships, in your surroundings, at work, at home or in any other way. This includes feeling physically- and/or emotionally unsafe for any reason.
- You may not feel that you belong anywhere or with anyone.
- You may feel bored and that you never truly achieve anything.
- You may feel that your life has no meaning or purpose.
- You may have been feeling powerless in important areas of your life (money, career, relationships etc.) before you became addicted to porn and/or other compulsions or substances.
- You may be struggling to recover from a major trauma
When our needs aren’t met in balance, we find ways to try and block out the pain, discomfort and unhappiness we’re experiencing. And they’re usually not very healthy ways!
But once you understand that, it’s much easier to start tackling the problems you’re facing. In the next part of this article, we’ll look at effective self-help strategies to help you overcome your sex/porn addiction. To prepare you: there are no simple, take-a-pill-and-all-will-be-well solutions. But I’m sure you knew that already!
Ready? Hop over to Part 2 for info on porn addiction treatment and sex addiction counselling.
Part 1, Part 2